Sunday, February 28, 2010

crisis comes when comfort does not

I was three years old the first time someone touched me 'inappropriately'. Recently I learned that another child I know, also three, has had a similar experience.

When I received the news my instincts took me into helper-mode. I reassured the child's parents that everything would be fine, that they shouldn't panic. The first thing to do was a no-brainer: get the child away from the predator, make the child safe, no matter what the cost.

Once I'd been assured of the child's security I was able to relax and start thinking of the next steps. More than forty years after my own parents responded as best they could, I believe I have some valuable information about what it's like inside the head of an insecure child.

The abuse itself isn't the danger, at least not if violence isn't also a factor. Once a child has survived those confusing, earth-shaking moments, her needs turn to finding out what support she has. Is she on her own to pick herself up? Is it up to her to process what's happened and rebuild the breached wall?

How well do you expect a three-year-old could manage? What skills has she learned by that age? Not many, I can confirm. She has barely a grasp on the concept of boundaries; for that reason, there's no way she can successfully restore them on her own.

Still, it's simple. Looking back, I just needed to hear that what happened was wrong, that I didn't deserve to feel so awkward, that I was allowed to say "no" and that the boy would be punished.

I got none of that. The popular psychology of the day was to avoid discussion, move on and let the event pass out of existence.

Oops.

Within twenty years the confusion I felt had completely clouded my thought processes. I had no boundaries, I was afraid to say "no" and I struggled with depression, promiscuity and cravings for alcohol.

Thanks to time and some incredible therapists, I've made it beyond the years of crisis. I take an anti-depressant to keep the chemicals balanced in my brain, but I've held the same job for four years and I have a boyfriend I adore. Even just a decade ago that kind of stability seemed impossible for me.

And so, I wanted very much to speak with the child, to set her down a different path than my own. When her parents refused me I experienced a brief tailspin of feelings, worrying that their child would suffer as I had. I came to understand their fears, however, and because I trust them to keep their child safe in every respect I will keep a respectful distance, having reminded them that I'm willing to support them whenever they need me.

And when my little friend becomes a young adult I'll be there for her, too. I expect she'll do what I did when it comes time to process what happened from an adult perspective: she'll ask those who were in her life at the time what they know.

And if there are any fragments that need piecing together, I know just how to do it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

a wolf in sheep's clothing

It came to me in a flash as I listened to an old episode of the Savage Lovecast, Dan Savage's weekly podcast on all things sexual.

A young woman had e-mailed Dan, in the midst of the John Edwards/John Ensign/Mark Sanford debacles, to say that she was enjoying the podcast less because of Dan's apparent lack of support for monogamy.

If you've ever read Dan's column, you know he's got a talent for mockery. And when he spoke on the phone to the aforementioned and beleaguered young woman, he couldn't help but tease her by citing the Hebrew Scriptures and their many examples of men with '700 wives' as proof that monogamy is 'un-Biblical'.

"But if you want to fly in the face of God and have a monogamous heterosexual relationship," he told her, "I certainly support your choice."

It was when the young woman suggested Dan should extend his support to monogamists by offering them a 'pat on the back' for their efforts that it finally clicked for me, however.

Monogamy is not a virtue.

Treating it as one is a huge mistake, not only on an individual level, but on a cultural one as well.

Monogamy becomes a weapon, used to control sexuality. Think about the last time you heard a woman described as a "slut".

Monogamy becomes a political tool. Think Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, Mark Sanford, John Edwards, John Ensign.

Monogamy becomes a standard for heroics. Think Tiger Woods, before and after.

None of it is good for us. It keeps us from taking an honest look at ourselves, our nature, our needs. It keeps us from developing true sexual compatibility with our partners.

Making monogamy into a virtue keeps us from examining our own sexual health.

But when we see monogamy as a choice we find out if it's the right one for us. And whether it is or it isn't, we appreciate the importance of discussing it with our partners. Because now we want to know where our partners stand and whether we really are a good fit.

Tiger Woods should not be monogamous. I hope that becomes as clear to him as it is to me.

And I hope that he and his family learn to respect his sexuality, no matter what the world comes to believe.

Let him return to being a hero for his prowess on the course, and leave his sexual prowess where it belongs and where we prefer ours: with him and his partners, behind closed doors.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

dear john

When you were arrested and charged with an illegal act, I supported you with all my heart. Your crime wasn't victimless, as evidenced by the pain you suffered wondering how it would all turn out, but you didn't deserve the anxiety or all the other losses you experienced during that time.

I told you I would do anything to help you and I meant it.

Now that the consequences of your choices and the charges are known and your concerns have been alleviated, it is appropriate to celebrate. I don't begrudge you that.

But if you get caught violating your probation I will be furious with you.

You are a grown-up. You've been given a second chance. Do not fuck it up.