Slut-shaming is a new term, but it’s an old premise. Being a woman who has rarely let the roaring crowds define my life choices, I’m relatively accustomed to being called a slut, and I’ve certainly matured immune to people making me feel ashamed for behavior they see as sluttish.
It’s my belief that I’m free to kiss, canoodle, make out, grope, hump, frottage, finger, fuck, suck and otherwise fornicate with as many humans of whatever gender as I wish, as often as I wish, to the extent I wish, and with the frequency I wish. It also is my belief that I’m free not to. I’ve got the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, in short, and in no small part the way I’ve chosen to express those rights is sexually. I am, therefore, fairly impervious to sexual shame.
And yet people try.
To be honest, while I always operated under the sneaking suspicion that I had the right to have sex as much or as little as I wanted, I only fully came to inhabit that credo as an adult. As a teen, I still bought a bit into the good-girls-don’t dominant male-monkey-motherfucker culture. As a teen, I felt shame; people would try to make me feel it, and they succeeded, or they succeeded and failed in equal ratio. It was a war within myself, but that battle has long since ended. I don’t feel shame for sex. I feel shame over the actions I’ve knowingly taken that have hurt someone. Only one or two of those actions are sexual in nature. Real shame comes from treating others badly, not fucking great big swaths of humanity.
So it was, then, an odd experience to have that age-old shame waved in front of my eyes like a pair of dirty cotton panties.
Last Thursday, I had a visit from the last dude I dated. We saw each other from just after the first of this year to a couple of weeks into March, when it became abundantly clear that I found him annoying. Our parts didn’t fit in that ineffable emotional geometry. And despite the fact that he gave, hands down—a phrase I use fairly literally here—the best head I’ve ever gotten, I dumped him.
It was a dumping that he required me to do again and again. I didn’t want to dump and redump. I wanted to dump once and be done. I did it as gently as I could because this man was clearly walking wounded. His narratives didn’t make sense, and not in that lying, prevaricating way; they didn’t make sense in that way that his head was muddled with lingering hurt. He was nice enough; thus, though our relationship had been spiked a bit too prickly with Moonlighting-screwball-comedy skewering, I wanted to let him go gently into that good night.
He wouldn’t let me. I had to break up with him about four times, but then it finally seemed to stick, finally.
This dude came over to drop off my copy of Deadwood Season 3. I lend out my books and my dvds. It’s just a thing. I’d lent him this final chapter of the Deadwood, and though I would’ve chalked that one up to the loss column, I was happy to get it back. This last week, the dude came over to my apartment, DVD in hand. We kissed hello on the cheek, we made uncomfortable small talk.
He asked what was new.
Nothing, I said. Really, nothing.
My mind was kind of a blank. I could dredge up stuff, but I knew everything would make this dude feel down. It didn’t seem to make sense to tell him about the t-shirt with the Molly Crabapple illustration of me in my skivvies being on sale, for example. My mind white as a clean sheet of paper, I seized on something I could tell him.
Oh, I said, I’m going to my thirtieth high school reunion.
“Yeah?” He said and grinned lop-sided, “Are you going to fuck everyone there for old time’s sake?”
Yeah, I said. I’ll text you. I’ll send you pictures.
I looked him in the eye and smiled broad and scary.
On the inside, I was calling him a limber-dicked cocksucker. Because dude was trying to make me feel shame about my past, a past I made peace with a very long time ago, and a peace toward which he clearly felt anger, resentment and even a soupcon of bitterness. This dude was one pissed-off dude and, thank all things perverse and profane, that anger was not my problem.
I ushered the dude out the door. He had in that one question shown himself not to be worthy of an iota of my attention and caring. I knew that I could have taken the opportunity to call the dude on his full ration of crazy and bitter, but to do so would be to engage with him. Fuck him and the shame he rode in on. That wasn’t my pony, and I wasn’t going to hop on it.
See, the thing is this: when people try to make you feel bad about something that you didn’t do to them, when people try to make you feel bad about behavior that has nothing to do with them, when people try to make you feel bad about behavior that never hurt anyone else, those people are showing you who they are. And who they are is small, petty, frightened, angry and threatened.
It’s a strange gig when a full-fledged adult tries to raise the specter of adolescent sex shame from the dead. It’s a weird vertiginous sensation to see your fears waved again in front of your eyes—for I’ll admit that part of my trepidation over going to my reunion is revisiting the people who heaped such abuse on me for…what? Making out at keggers? Giving blow jobs? Having fully protected, fully consensual sex? I have avoided seeing these people for three decades, though now I feel quite proud about attending my reunion. I look good for my age, and I have stories to tell. It’s nonetheless canny of the dude to recognize my trepidation.
But it was mean and a low-down dirty dog move to try to make me feel like crap. For that, he should feel shame… and I can feel consoled with the knowledge that one thing he will never, ever feel again is me.
Shameless, proud, spectacular and irreplaceable me.