[TW for body and gender dysphoria, issues around fetishes, abuse, sexual assault]
I distinctly and vividly remember the first time I was captivated by an example of what would later become my fetish. I wasn’t able to recall this event at all until I was 22. I was eight years old, flipping though channels on TV, I caught a glimpse of it as I flipped through, then immediately flipped back. I remember sitting very still, hardly breathing, fascinated by what I was seeing. I’m sure I had seen similar images before, but they had never caught and held my attention like this. I was effectively alone, my dad not yet awake to go work the graveyard shift. An avalanche of emotions roared through me. They were too big for me to get a handle on them, too new for me to process it all, and so intense I buried the experience deeper than I had anything before and maybe anything since.
Toward the end of my second year in middle school, I was starting to get real worried about how I felt about boys. I had crushes on them, I had been in love with one, but my fantasies were very chaste. I dreamed of being held closely and soft, tender kisses, of someone who would do small kindnesses for me. I fantasized what it would be like to be with someone who could take away or make me forget the fear that was always with me. I had felt a kind of vague sexual arousal from time to time before, but nothing like the feelings my girlfriends had described only seldomly, in whispers simultaneously hesitant and eager in the quiet hours of the night, safely hidden in our dark rooms. I started to worry that I actually was a lesbian – a word so often used to hurt me, to remind me that I wasn’t fulfilling my gendered duties and that no boy (and so no one) would want me. Maybe they’re right, I thought. I mean, from what I knew about lesbians at the time, it seemed like I’d fit right in: I liked to wear my hair short, I didn’t wear very “girly” clothes, I owned a lot of flannel, I was tall and solidly-built, I preferred doing “boy” things. The evidence was looking pretty damning. I decided it was necessary to figure out whether I was or not. After several weeks, I concluded I wasn’t. I imagined what it would be like to kiss my friends and was very put off by the idea. Of course, I should note that I didn’t even ever hug my best friend until I was 17. Being touched by other people turned my ever-present anxiety up to 11. So I assumed most people were uncomfortable being touched by others. They just put up with it from those who seemed to never NOT touch other people to avoid hurting their feelings. I really believed I was being polite and thoughtful by not touching other people.
So anyway, I wasn’t a lesbian. But why didn’t I feel the things other girls felt about boys? The whole subject drifted into the background, like these kinds of things tend to do when they’re not immediately important.
One day, early in my last year in middle school, I saw a boy I didn’t like do something that made me feel like everything stopped for a few moments. I know that’s cliche, but I mean it – it felt like there was nothing, no thought, no movement, no time. Then it felt like there was everything. I finally understood what had been only spoken about in whispers in the dark. No more than 10 seconds had passed. He glanced toward me, then pointedly looked at me with a confused and annoyed expression. I realized I had been staring, with what I imagine was an odd look on my face. I blushed spectacularly, hating myself for letting him see. I was mortified and bewildered by the entire incident. I shoved it out of my mind and didn’t think about it again until I was home, by myself. Do I like him? How could I have a crush on him? I couldn’t STAND that kid. He had always been a jerk to me. I’d seen movies and TV where two people hated each other, but then somehow came to love each other. Does that actually happen? I’d never really thought about it before, but it suddenly felt like total bullshit to me. I didn’t understand how someone I didn’t like at all could make me feel like I had. I felt weird, upset, and somehow betrayed.
Later that same school year, I had my first boyfriend. I didn’t like him when we were younger, but he started being nice to me, in that way boys are nice to girls they want to date. Nobody had ever given me attention like that or made me feel special and pretty. I took it in like a desert takes rain. In reality, he wasn’t kind to me, but I didn’t know the difference then. I so desperately wanted his meager attention and affection that I let him touch me. I didn’t get angry when I let him take of my shirt and he said, “Geez, you barely have tits.” I only felt scared he would dump me because I wasn’t good enough. I let him take down my pants, roughly finger me, and was only embarrassed when he laughed at the sounds I made. After a few times, I started to like it some and would get aroused thinking about it, which meant I really did want it and it was okay. It didn’t feel wrong to me when he pushed me down to my knees in front of him and shoved his cock in my mouth and held my head there after I said I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that. I knew girls like me better be grateful if any boys noticed them at all. And besides, it wasn’t sex, so it was okay. Only when he did try to put his cock in me, did I say no. I want to, but we can’t. Something could happen. He told me he’d pull out. Fortunately, my mother had instilled me with such a fear of getting pregnant, that it beat out my need to please him. I can still see the look of disappointed annoyance he gave me as he got off me, stood, and pulled his pants back up. He looked away, sighed, and said it was fine. I was so relieved; he wasn’t going to dump me right there.
Seven years later, I finally knew and named that what it was. I also finally knew the ways I thought about and approached sex were hurting me badly. I chose partners who were self-centered and uncommunicative. Most of my pleasure came from pleasing my partner, from their praise and compliments, from their reassurance they found me attractive and wanted to be with me. I felt guilty asking them to do things only for my physical pleasure. I felt guilty asking for their reassurance and compliments. They wouldn’t want me if I showed them how needy I was. I had to earn those rare words, word that made me feel better than anything else I knew. As I painstakingly working through my fucked-up thinking (Thanks feminism! Thanks therapy!), I found I wasn’t able to orgasm nearly as often and then not at all for some time. I figured out that I don’t feel the kind of physical attraction other people generally do. I have to like someone as a person to want to be sexual with them. The idea of hate-fucking or having sex with someone you find physically attractive but don’t really like is way outside of my ability to really understand. When I like a person, I find things to admire about their body because it’s theirs. I still like pleasing my partner – I get excited when they do – but it’s much healthier now that I can and will ask for what I want and know that I can say no without consequences. I feel like I’ve finally gotten to a nice place where sex is fun and pleasure is good for you.
To be continued…