My Burden of Shame
As a woman, virginity and purity had been something often preached to me, maybe preached is the wrong word; taught, discussed, imbued. I learned at an early age that my virginity is something sacred, something to be guarded at all costs. Truthfully, I never understood why this was the case. I’ve always been a skeptic, someone who questions everything, even when people are begging me to stop. As an adult, this isn’t too much of an issue since the internet is a thing, but I couldn’t stop myself from trying to figure things out as a kid. I knew that my parents believed in God, but we didn’t even go to church. I never subscribed to the belief myself. God just didn’t make sense to me and still doesn’t to this day. I have nothing against those that believe; I just personally don’t.
I mention God because I believe the concept of virginity and purity derives from those teachings. Another reason would be that my mother was a lesbian at the time (it’s complicated but not my story to tell), and I thought that made us progressive. Not to say that Queer individuals can’t be Christian, I am saying that I figured the concept of virginity would be different. In my young mind, I felt I had escaped the confines of the Patriarchy, but goodness was I wrong. So, I did what my parents told me. I protected my virginity and tried to stay pure but not because I believed in these things. I simply wanted to avoid trouble and shame. But, of course, that didn’t stop me from learning about sex, from wondering about it, and from a desire I had for it once puberty hit. Unfortunately, that desire didn’t last long. Not because I lost my virginity if that’s something one can do, but because my parents found a way to up the shame.
As a teenager, I started to rebel in ways that I could. With strict, abusive parents, that’s a difficult thing to do. I couldn’t get away with much, but I certainly tried. This story was one of those times where I got caught, but the punishment was not what I had come to expect. My parents were often at work. When getting home after school, there was occasionally a period where we could do whatever because it was just us kids at home. So, we all decided to hang out with a couple of friends. One’s we had known for a couple of years and had no issues with so far. I made a decision that would set so many things in motion. I often wish I had a time machine to go back and tell my silly young self just to stay home. Too little, too late, I suppose.
Now, I want to preface by saying I had never done drugs before. Besides pain medications I had been given for previous surgeries, I had never experimented with anything else. One said friend happened to get his hands on a small amount of weed. Now, this was the early 2000’s, so I can promise you it was not the good stuff. Nevertheless, I decided I wanted to try it. I knew one of my parents used it as I often smelled it in the house, and I wanted to see the hype. I remember my brother and his PCA at the time begging me not to go off with these two guys, but I blew them off. These were my friends, and I had no intentions of anything crazy happening. Now don’t be afraid for me; nothing quite like that happened. All we did was try to smoke the weed and walk back to my house. I’m guessing I didn’t do it right or didn’t work because I didn’t feel any different. As far as I believed, that was the end of the situation. Again, I was wrong.
It turns out my brother broke the sibling code and told my parents. His PCA backed him up, so there was no way to talk my way out of the situation. Thanks to them, this ended up being one of the worst weeks of my life, the beginning of my shame around sex. Although I lied to my parents initially, and they did not believe my accounts. I prepared for the incoming beating or grounding; I preferred that to what happened. Unbeknownst to me, my parents made me a doctor’s appointment with a gynecologist, a type of doctor I had never seen before. My stepmom brought me to the appointment, lecturing me the whole way there, even though I had no clue what was going on. I was in for a traumatic experience that I’m sure I will never forget.
My mom explained the situation to the doctor over the phone and again when we arrived for the appointment. I held my head down, embarrassed and upset. Not one person cared about what I had to say. No one cared how I felt about this surprise exam. I sat on that crinkly paper on the exam table, wearing a gown that gaped open in the back. My mom sat in the room with me and refused to leave to give me some semblance of privacy. I had already peed in a cup for my drug and pregnancy tests. I had insisted that I could not be pregnant because I had never had sex. My parents did not believe this, and I’m assuming the gyno didn’t either. That or she just wanted to appease my parents. Now, I don’t know if most of you know, but there is no sure way to check for virginity. Some people would say the hymen but most of us, especially women, know that is a myth.
The gyno explained that to my mom lightly but checked anyway at my mom’s insistence. No one asked me if I consented to the exam. No one asked me if I was comfortable with doing this. There I was, legs in stirrups, my mother in the room watching, and a stranger’s fingers probing my insides. I wanted to cry, I should have cried, but I held it in. I just wanted the whole thing to be over. No one had ever been near me in this way, let alone probing me. As I had been told, I protected my virginity and my person. I didn’t break any rules, and now I was being violated even though I told the truth. Finally, the gyno told my mom, “There’s no way to know for sure, but I see no signs of sexual activity.” I guess her words were more solid than mine.
We rode home in silence while I still held in my tears. I was grounded but luckily escaped a slap or a spanking. However, I didn’t escape the shame. This experience taught me that I could not trust anyone and keep my secrets close to my chest. I learned that my parents would find out if I had sex with anyone one way or another. That they would be willing to violate my autonomy and the truth of science to prove they were right. I had no autonomy in my home; my body did not belong to me, which was how they wanted it. I carry that shame still. The day I lost my virginity is a different story, but I no longer lived at home then. I stayed away from gynecologists for far too long because of this, and it hindered my ability to accept intimacy. I’m not so afraid these days; however, the thoughts of that moment often linger when I find myself filled with desire. I’m married now and very safe with my husband, yet I still am afraid to initiate or be too eager. Although I know my so-called purity is gone, I didn’t want it in the first place. I only want to feel free because it is okay to be a sexual being and that I don’t have to live in shame that I did not create for myself.
True Rest Divine
“Then I defy you stars!”
Cried Romeo with news of his love’s death
I often cry the same
When I realize I’m still alive
I cannot defy the stars, or fate
I grow jealous of Juliet
A death-like sleep
True rest divine
Still part of this world
Yet not subjected to the pain
Only to wake and realize
Nothing can always be what we hoped
What we thought fate designed
That in defying the stars, disaster awaits
“Be not so long to speak. I long to die”
Juliet exclaimed, begging to be released from her fate
Life is so long to speak
Its words offer no remedy
For it is in league with the stars