Welcome guest blogger J’aime Grant
Dr. Jaime M. Grant, author of Great Sex: Mapping Your Desire, is a sex coach, researcher and writer who has been active in LGBTQ, women’s and racial justice movements since the late 80s.
Recently, she has served as principal investigator for the National LGTQ Task Force’s ground-breaking reports on aging, Outing Age 2010 and transgender discrimination, Injustice at Every Turn (2011). A recent Huffington Post editorial on college policy and rape on campus, “Sexual Assault on Campus: College Policies Support Rape Cultures,” appeared in May 2015. Her forthcoming anthology, Friendship as Social Justice Activism(University of Chicago Press), is co-edited with Rohit Dasgupta, Niharika Banerjee, and Debanuj DasGupta. A feminist, sex activist and a clean and sober mother of two, Jaime lives and practices in Washington, DC.
TW/CW: sexual assault, addiction, depression, emotional and physical abuse
I am not a survivor of child sexual abuse. No one in my family ever touched me inappropriately. No one used me to gratify themselves sexually – not even once. However, and unfortunately, I am a survivor of sexual assault. In my journey to heal from the trauma, I found myself in a treatment setting for addiction, food issues or depression. All of the helping professionals – from the therapists to the psychiatrists to the medical doctors – all of them suggested that I dig deeper into my history of sexual violence
I spent a good part of my twenties and thirties in weekly therapy trying to address the outcomes of emotional and physical abuse as a child. My compulsions had compulsions. When I wasn’t drinking, I was bulimic. When I didn’t have my head in a toilet, I was getting high. When I was out of drugs, I dosed myself with sugar. Then I’d throw up. I did rehab and got sober at 29; I had great therapists for a decade and I often found myself searching for something to help me understand all that had happened to me.
Being among the loving and generous people involved in The HEAL Project has helped me understand that I already know my story, and that the daily conditions of my childhood combined with white supremacy and sexism colluded to make me extremely vulnerable to sexual predators in my youth and adult life. It’s clear to me now that a major risk factor in my abuse was a sexist framework of my ‘worth’ as a white woman and a failure to provide me with any resources or tools toward sexual self-determination.
Mostly, my childhood was filled with silences and horrible caveats about sex. My mother often told me that she would ‘snap my spine’ if I had sex outside of monogamous marriage. And that sex ‘was not all that it what was cracked up to be.’ The only other ‘education’ I received was a confusing book that explained pollination in great detail but explained human reproduction in only the vaguest of terms. There was nothing in the book about pleasure, about playfulness, about intimacy or connection – about the incredible gift our sexuality presents to us.
Alongside this lack of education and violent messages around abstinence, there were what I think of as amplified messages about me personally, about my body, my worth as a white girl, and coaching about how to act to be ‘appropriate’. Everyone in my family told me that I was the ‘beauty.’ I had long blonde hair that drew white cis boys and men to me in droves. People touched my hair all the time. Strangers congratulated my parents on my attractiveness, older men were full of comments that my family received as ‘compliments’. The only problem was: I was too loud and too ambitious. My mother told me that if she had looked like me as a young girl, she never would have spoken a word, and that I should ‘just sit there’ and let all the treasures of blonde and blue-eyed femininity come to me. My weight was another major drawback. If only I’d lose some, and have more self-control, then I’d have it all. My brother’s nickname for me in 6th grade was Thunder Thighs. When I was in 7thgrade, I went on Weight Watchers and the whole family would wait for me to come out of the meeting and tell them how much weight I’d lost. Everyone would cheer. Finally, I was on a winning team! I lost 25 pounds that summer, but gained it all back in short order when the internal chaos of being ‘hot’, 14, and resisting sexism didn’t evaporate with the weight. My only relief from yo-yo dieting would come my freshman year of college, when in a support group around food addictions, I discovered bulimia.
What The HEAL Project has taught me is this: our families don’t need to intend to harm us to do harm. My brother didn’t have sex with me, but he did tell me that I should forgive my college boyfriend for sexually assaulting me, because he had done similar things to girls during college, and it was just a part of growing up. When my mother met this ex — randomly, on campus as I moved in for my sophomore year – I was clearly shaken and she said: I think I could forgive him for just about anything. Certainly, in observing my mother’s life with my father, I had learned that it was a woman’s job to forgive and move on. That in fact, this was the glue that held any family together.
I’ve had suspicions that my mom was a survivor. She grew up an only child with two alcoholic parents and a half dozen doting, alcoholic aunts and uncles. She had a lot of attention and love, and from the little bits of her story that have either been leaked or momentarily exposed — two raging, difficult parents. She definitely had no education about sex, about anything other than moving from being a good virginal daughter to a happy productive wife and mother. One story that has been told with great hilarity about my mother is that in her early 20s, she asked her parents if she could move into the city with a girlfriend to be closer to her job as a legal secretary. Her father didn’t speak to her for three solid weeks, and that was that. She lived with her parents until she married my father at 26. One night, on a break from college, my father told me (after a six pack) that my generation had the right idea about sex because the women in his generation were told: ‘sex is dirty, sex is awful, sex is something you should never do.’ And then when they got married, it was supposed to be this wonderful culmination of their path as good, chaste women. He said: For a lot of women, it was a terrible shock.
That terrible shock was a crater of grief and depression that undergirded my entire childhood. It led my mother to repeat the mistakes of her parent’s generation – out of fear and out of love for me. I never went on a single sleepover as a child. I thought my mother was being horribly mean. Now I can see that she was trying to protect me by keeping me in her sights. This is another ‘clue’ I have around sexual violence in her story. My entire life with my mother, she never apologized for anything, but on her deathbed, she sincerely apologized for telling me to forgive my college perpetrator. I only wish she were here now, so that I could hold her and tell her that I understand, that we were both casualties to a construction of ‘normative’ womanhood that set us up for sexual violence throughout our lives.
Today, the process of digging deeper into my story has had many rewards — both personally and in the larger work for sexual liberation. I’m a long-time pro-sex organizer and coach. I’ve created a tool for sexual liberation, Desire Mapping, that I present via workshops all over the world — many CSA survivors discover or come to better understand their abuse histories in these workshops. I’ve written a funny and (I hope) deeply engaging sex book. I am in a vibrant and ongoing talk about sex with my two children – my white 18- year-old queer son, and my mixed-race 9-year-old bi-identified daughter. Everyday acts of sexual education and liberation fuel my recovery. Being on The HEAL Project advisory board has been a big part of that healing. It has put me in the company of brave fellow travelers who are also digging at their sex stories and, in doing so, learning new and more powerful ways to share them as a force for ending sexual violence.
Thank you for your words and work J’aime!