Years ago I read a book called The Survivor's Guide to Sex: How To Have An Empowered Sex Life After Child Sexual Abuse by Staci Haines. It was the only book I ever read on the subject of healing from childhood abuse that suggested that not only is it okay to say NO to sex, it is also okay to say YES to sex. For me, where I was at, this was a helpful message, and I devoured the book cover to cover. Making a reference to an essay by Marilyn Frye, Haines writes,
...the word virgin in its root definition means "she who is not owned by another." Being virginal in its authentic definition has nothing to do with having had sex or not. A virgin is a woman who is self-possessed. May we all develop virginal sex lives. (Haines, 31)Being queer has nothing to do with child sexual abuse--plenty of queer folks have had no such experience. But one thing is true, processing the experience of sexual abuse requires that one think critically about sexuality and desire. When I read this paragraph, I began to consider what it would look like if I did not allow others to own my sexuality--who would I be?
Years later I went to seminary, and this quote had stuck in my head. with access to Princeton's bountiful Firestone Library (I miss you, baby), I was able to track down the book of essays by Marilyn Frye entitled, Willful Virgin: Essays in Feminism. (A quick side note: That is the best 40 cents plus shipping you will ever spend.) I read this book, fascinated. I was fascinated at the possibility that the world isn't and doesn't have to be the way it appears--that other possibilities for life and love exist. So for those of you who asked, this is a piece of my thinking along the way. Ponder these words and see if you come away unaffected. I know I didn't.
From "A Lesbian's Perspective on Women's Studies" (Frye, 54-55)
I want to ask heterosexual academic feminists to do some hard analytical and reflective work. To begin, I want to say to them:
I wish you would notice that you are heterosexual. I wish you would grow to the understanding that you choose heterosexuality...
...Some heterosexual women have said in response to these sorts of sayings, "I see the connection between Lesbianism and feminism, but I cannot just decide to be a Lesbian...I'm not sexually attracted to women: women just don't turn me on." And I want to ask, "Why not? Why don't women turn you on? Why aren't you attracted to women?" I do not mean these questions rhetorically. I am completely serious.That's a lot to think about. Years worth, really. I've been thinking about this stuff a long time. Hiding? Well you can see it that way. Or you can join me in admitting that sexuality is very personal, very complex, and not always easily shared with even the ones we love, much less strangers.
The suppression of Lesbian feeling, sensibility and response has been so thorough and so brutal for such a long time, that if there were not a strong and widespread inclination to Lesbianism, it would have been erased from human life. There is so much pressure on women to be heterosexual, and this pressure is both so pervasive and so completely denied, that I think heterosexuality cannot come naturally to many women: I think that widespread heterosexuality among women is a highly artificial product of the patriarchy. I suspect that it is not true at all that we must assume that most women are and most women will forever be heterosexual. I think that most women have to be coerced into heterosexuality. I would like heterosexual women to consider this proposition, seriously. I want heterosexual women to do intense and serious consciousness-raising and exploration of their own personal histories and to find out how and when in their own development the separation of women from the erotic came about for them. I would like heterosexual women to be as actively curious about how and why and when they became heterosexual as I have been about how and why and when I became a Lesbian.
Love to you all.