Past life

by Joy Farber @ littletreefarber

The scene though far removed remains vivid in my mind.

Images pulse in front of me like morse code.

A little girl– afraid– watches mute as acts that will shape her identity, and behavior for much of her life are committed.

The blue, glossy lockers are fixed to the walls outside the classrooms behind, and to the left. A few trees are scattered, and caged– not more than overgrown household plants on the cement to her right– creating the illusion of nature on the dilapidated school campus.

Two older boys– familiar to her only through her few “popular” attractive friends come running up behind her, laughing. At first she doesn’t see their faces– but eleven years later they are clear– burned into her mind.

She had switched from the skimpy tank tops and tight pants– her dress code of the year before– to a more comfortable outfit of oversized sweatshirts, and baggy men’s pants.

Before there was time to react– the sweatshirt was being pulled over her head. He stopped it at her face so she couldn’t see her assailants– looping his arms through hers, he held her there– her flailing no match for his strength.

His partner ran to the front, and reached out his hands. She felt a clumsy, uncomfortable grabbing at her chest. There wasn’t much to hold onto, but he tried his best– as if his failure to find developed breasts encouraged him to dig deeper.

She stood there, frozen as their laughter, and footsteps faded into the distance, and the remainder of the day was spent in silent waiting. How long would it be until people were talking– and what would they say?

The attention filled her with shame, and embarrassment. There was nowhere to escape. An older friend walked her home, stopping half way to kiss her. She had never kissed a boy she liked– just the ones that wanted her– and never asked permission.

Whether or not she attended school the next few days wasn’t important. When she did return, her pants were bigger, her hair was shorter, the sunglasses she wore in the morning didn’t come off, and the people she had associated with the previous week were replaced by the two “outcasts” a grade above her. Together they built a life– it was new, unfamiliar, but it felt safe. Her response now would be a simple “sorry, I’m gay.”

False face

The words became reality for her, and with them she felt protected.

She had assumed that telling all the boys in school when they gathered the courage to make their advances that she was gay would be a deterrent.

For the first little while, she succeeded in deflecting the attention that had made her hate them all. Those stupid, evil people who were only out for themselves, with no regard for the lives they may damage. Rage welled up inside, insulating her– the hot blinding flashes of anger somehow made it all hurt a little less.

To her horror, and dismay she realized soon after, however that this new identity would not do what she wished it would. While the physical attacks had stopped– the words still cut, sharper than knives right through her.

That one who had walked her home, unwilling to admit defeat appeared on the football field. No one else was there. They locked eyes, and there was nowhere to run. “So what if you’re a lesbian. Pretend my dick is a tittie, and suck it” he whispered into her ear. She could feel the heat, and moisture on his breath so close to her face.

She had no choice after trying, and failing time and time again– but to remove herself completely. She changed names, changed schools, and dove further into the new life she made for herself.

Love would fix all her problems, would cure the feeling of self loathing that inhabited her daily, would make her whole. And for two years she proved this. She met Elena at an amusement park. The place full of other people, lost and looking for love. The black boots, and white tube socks were the first things she saw. Walking slowly, slightly drunk through the crowd– the next thing she saw were those eyes. Golden, with a small ring of green around her pupils. They spoke of the pain that she knew all too well, and of the longing for love that they shared.

They were happy in their secret life together for a while– content in knowing that all they needed was each other. When Elena died– all hope for happiness was lost completely. Drugs, booze, one night stands with both women, and men, but nothing would make her feel whole again.

She ran from the truth, and continued to live the life that she had adopted years before. Thinking somehow that it would still fix her, that men would hurt her more than women could. She clung tight to it.

One day she met a man that saw right through her. She loved him, but there was nothing to like. The harshness of his tone, and unwillingness to let her be herself was painful– but he loved her, and that was all she needed.

He saw her for who she was. She felt exposed. It was uncomfortable, and in secret she still claimed her old identity, but from him she had to hide it. He didn’t like it, so she adapted. She made herself in to what he wanted.

About sex

Sex was always the interesting part.

She had read about it, listened in on conversations with her friends, seen it on TV, but when it happened in her life– it was much different. She felt the chill of the moist grass on her lower back. She leaned up against the tree, and pulled down her stockings. They were covered, and protected by the darkness around them. Her partner looked at her, but not for too long, and never in the eyes– she had her own reasons for that– and slid her face down between her thighs.

When it was all said and done, she didn’t feel much different. Perhaps she felt more confident, more like a woman– but these feelings didn’t last. It was more out of obligation than anything else. She was in a relationship, and when you’re in a relationship you have sex. That is that.

Years later when she had her first experience with a man it wasn’t much different. The light was dim through the brown floral pattern curtains. There were other people in the house, just outside the door, drinking rum in plastic cups in the kitchen. They all lived there, but the house didn’t belong to them. The sheets were pulled up– it was daytime, and she felt awkward, vulnerable, exposed. She was six feet tall, and way past slender. These two things combined had always made her feel she wasn’t nearly feminine enough– and the situation she had found herself in only made it worse. If he was the man– she was supposed to be the woman, but she didn’t feel like a woman at all. Maybe a scared little girl– but her body resembled that of a pre–pubescent twelve year old boy.

Nothing felt different afterwards, the nervousness she felt before they had sex hadn’t faded at all. She felt strange to lay in bed looking at a man. It was new. It was uncomfortable. But she didn’t say anything. She kept seeing him– but when she was out with her friends, and the liquor had taken hold of her, she would sneak upstairs with attractive women– always the one in power. She was the one in control. Still seeking this life that no longer made sense. Neither of them did, really. Neither one felt authentic, but what else was there to do? Life had become about drinking, and sex. There were worse lives to live, she figured.

It was years before she had her first satisfying sexual experience. Laying in bed afterward, held in his large arms she heard herself say (as if she was watching from outside her body) how anyone could think that sex with a woman measured up to that was insane. She didn’t have to test it anymore– she felt real for the first time. She felt like herself– though to be honest she had never quite known herself. She continued to keep the old part, the false face alive. It had been with her so long, she was afraid to let it go. But with each relationship after that– it faded into the distance and became a shadow, a ghost of the past, as if it were never there at all.

Here’s where it all connects

She sat in class– a class she had never imagined taking. If there was one thing she had learned in her life, it was that she didn’t like women. They were all the same. She was bored with their cattiness, their petty jealousies, their cruel behavior– but here she sat.

It may have been reading, it may have been listening, it may have just been a day dream– but she was hit in the gut all of a sudden with a memory so old, and so painful she could barely breathe.

This is where it all made sense. All the running, all the fighting, all the labels, all the language, this way of living she had been going in and out of for years. She thought of the two boys in the hallway at school, when she was much younger. She clenched her jaw when she heard those words in her head, the ones she had fought so hard to forget. She looked at the women in her class– and she thought of the man she had been spending time with the past few weeks. It was all so clear to her then. However necessary she felt it was, this had all been a lie. A lie so intricate that she herself had believed it for years.

There is beauty, and freedom in the pain of breaking down, and being exposed.

The words have changed. “I’m straight.”

These four pieces were originally posted by Joy Farber @ littletreefarber

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 2, 2011, in feminism, gender, sex and sexuality, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. A woman should never have to live that kind of life. Sexual harassment such as that would of course traumatize any girl. This also centers on how men are more likely to rape because they have strength, their anatomy, our patriarchal society, and violence to their advantages. This kind of sexual harassment is the most difficult to recover from because they were acquaintances, and it is the type of situation where the victim is most likely to keep a secret and keep to herself because she feels that she is most likely to be blame. It is so sad and unjust to incessantly hear about these kinds of stories.

  2. I find it pretty sad that a woman would have to live her life believing that she is a lesbian because she felt she had to hide herself from men after her repeated sexual harassment and abuse. After reading this it has opened my eyes and made me wonder about how many lesbians there are out there who are actually not really gay but only settling for what they believe is better for them. A woman should never have to go through sexual trauma and if she does it should be able to be dealt with by therapy or any way to keep her from running from who she is. When someones life is completely impacted by abuse they had endured as a child or any time in their life it is pretty sad and unfair. Luckily for this woman she was able to have the chance to be with a man who actually was for her and opened her eyes that all men are not the same and she now knows who she is and can be happy not living a lie.

  3. This is very powerful and sounds like it comes from a very real and painful place. It is sad that sexual assault comes in so many forms among a wide range of age groups. These days young boys are being taught that it is ok and even funny to assault girls and like in the story they are preforming these assaults in pairs or groups. I can see why turning to drugs and alcohol would be so appealing as a way to blot and numb away the pain of feeling forced into living a lie as well as the painful past. There really should be more support for those who have been raped and assaulted, just as there needs to be more of a focus on the prevention of these horrible acts. After reading this complete passage I am glad to hear that this woman is finally on the path to embracing who she really is and being true to herself.

  4. This is a very intriguing plot of events. It’s so intense how the actual trauma of being sexually assaulted can scare the trust out of women. Why hasn’t it barely been made any easier for women throughout all of time? I can’t help but pity females every time I hear a tragic story.
    I’m not sure if you guys have the seen the movie, “The Kids Are Alright” but it correlates two married lesbians whose two children want to find their sperm donor. The sperm donor eventually comes around for a visit and ends up having sex w/ one of the mothers. The whole moral of the story puts the test of family, love, friendship and finding out what you really want over what you’ve settled for.
    Now, I’ve met a couple of lesbian friends who became lesbian because they’ve had bad experiences w/ boys. I’ve had gay friends that can’t feel the connection if they tried to talk to a woman; but have felt that they were obliged to talk to women due to society’s implications of what’s normal.
    On the other hand, I’ve always wondered the thought-process of people who were bi-sexual. A friend of mine told me that as she was growing up, she not only found boys attractive, but women as well. She admired the rough-house-ness of boys, but enjoyed the soft presence of a girl. To this day, she’s had some blow-out relationships w/ a couple of dudes. But overall, can a person really walk into a public area and oogle on both men & women? Or does it mean that they’re confused in picking a gender over the other?

  5. This is a pathetic story, but I am glad it all ended well. The impacts of abuse, rape or assaults really have a negative impact on people that it may have a grip of them throughout their lives. Just like the lady involved in this story, who lived in pain and lived a lie as she ran away from the truth and sought for love. She changed her identity and tried hard to bury the truth, but still, she was not successful, for she still had the pains from her past. It is obvious that time helped heal her as it went by; although much later as read in the end, she still broke down when she thought about the two boys that assaulted her in the classroom. I totally understand when she hated men, and found comfort in women even though she still sought for happiness in alcohol and drugs. I Just wish people would stop abusing people especially children for it lives on with them and thwarts their lives in ways that may be undesired. I know someone who was abused as a child; she was raped by her uncle, eventually, she got married, but each time she had sex with her husband, it was as if she was being raped again. She also lived a lie, and had a secret life as she finally left her husband for another woman after they had two kids together. I don’t blame her at all, for she probably thinks men are cruel because of the rape experience. Maybe someday she may find true love and live beyond her past just like the girl in this story.

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