The In-between: #Slut

10/5/2018

Everything changed when I returned to school after the summer in 1994. That spring, I had left the seventh grade in relative anonymity, but when I returned with all-natural 34D boobs at the start of the new school year, suddenly everyone seemed to notice me. The boys in particular, who had all appeared relatively oblivious to my existence just three months before, I now caught regularly giving me long looks in the hallway as we passed each other between classes.

I’m not going to lie; this new influx of male energy was pretty exciting. As I noted in an earlier piece, I had always yearned for male affection, which I am sure was due at least in part, to the lack of positive attention I was receiving from my father at home. However, until that fall, my dreams of love and romance with a boy had felt like nothing more than a distant fantasy, meaning that I was completely unprepared for what lay ahead as I walked down the halls of Cherokee Middle School that August.

It didn’t take me long to realize that these looks were driven by more than just a simple desire to appreciate my new silhouette from afar. The tight clothing and low-cut tops I subsequently started wearing certainly helped accentuate my figure and capture the attention of those who passed by me, but I quickly found that such attention was short-lived if it was not accompanied by an opportunity for something more.

In response, I swiftly went from being one of the more innocent girls at school to one of the most sexually adventurous, allowing my boyfriends to explore my body, while I, in turn, learned to explore theirs.

Initially, these explorations were an extension of the sexual experimentation that I had already been engaging in with a handful of my female friends going back several years prior. However, whereas these earlier interactions were driven only by my sexual curiosity and a desire to know more about pleasure and my own body, these new exchanges were quickly overshadowed by a deep yearning for male love and acceptance. Thus, even as I engaged in an ever-widening variety of sex-related activities, I continued to grow increasingly disconnected from my body, as well as from both my physical and emotional needs.

This disconnection was exacerbated by an incident that took place during my sophomore year of high school, in which a group of the most popular boys coerced me into taking my clothes off in front of a hidden camera. By the next day, the video they had secretly made of me had begun to make its way around the school, after which point, for the next three years, it continued to haunt my every move. Although, by then, I had already begun to feel increasingly detached from my body, in the aftermath of this event, what little connection I had left quickly dissipated.

Not surprisingly, it was around this same time that I first began to hear the word “slut” used in reference to me. From a very young age, it had been made clear to me that this word was not a good thing to be, and so I had always done my very best to avoid it, ironically in hopes of maintaining desirability. However, with the release of the video these hopes felt permanently dashed, and so I began to accept increasingly poor treatment and behavior from everyone around me (and especially from men), in an effort to offset this devaluation.

On the one hand, this process resulted in my embracing of this new image as slut. My body seemed to be the only thing that had any value to anyone, and so I began to engage it as my primary tool with which to get what I wanted. In the remaining years of high school this meant that I became an expert at giving hand jobs and blowjobs and having all kinds of sex, and later, when I found myself broke and boyfriendless in Arizona, it made the idea of stripping seem like a no-brainer. Of course, deep down, love was still at the very heart of all my most sacred desires, but these were soon buried so completely that they were easily masked and hidden, even from myself.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, fueled by these desires, I continued to do everything I could to separate myself from the idea of being a slut. Not only did I make up rules for myself like having to know the last names of all the boys that I was intimate with, but as I progressed into my twenties, this translated into always being in a committed monogamous relationship with a man. Not surprisingly, I also became hypersensitive (and vehemently opposed) to any kind of photograph or video recording, and even before hanging up my stripper shoes I made a habit of refusing to show any part of my naked body outside the club or bedroom.

The result of these two conflicting tendencies was that I remained almost completely shut off from my own consciousness as a sexual being. Denying the existence of any sexuality at all was the best way I could see to rectify these two incongruous identities, and so abandoning my body during sexual encounters became one of the many automated practices I unconsciously enacted to satisfy the waring demands of the slut and the non-slut within.

Thus, while on the outside, I appeared to be a carefree, hyper-sexual woman, beneath the surface I remained woefully ignorant of my own pleasure and desires. I faked orgasms, rarely masturbated, and focused all of my energy on making sure that my guy of the moment got what he wanted. Occasionally, this even involved me kissing a random girl or two, but just as with men, the complete separation I experienced from my body at that time meant that with them too, I continued to feel nothing.

Starting about five or six years ago, however, this feeling of separation finally began to give way. After breaking up with my boyfriend of nearly five years, at thirty-one I decided it was finally time for me to get to know myself. At first, this exercise felt so foreign that the simple act of setting preferences on my new dating profile was an immense challenge, but as time moved on, I slowly began to get better and better at it.

As I gradually began to enter back into my body, I discovered all kinds of things about myself that I had either forgotten many years ago or never knew at all. Not only did I find that sex was actually supposed to feel good to everyone involved (including me), but also that many of the things I had steered clear of before for fear of being further stigmatized as a slut, were actually quite enjoyable. Nipple clamps, sexting, multiple partners and going on dates with women were just a few of the many different sexual experiences that I have since found myself excited to have.

Even amidst all of this renewed sexual energy and exploration, however, the most exciting part about this new leg of my journey has been that I have finally stopped being ashamed of myself. Whether the world chooses to think of me as a slut or not really doesn’t matter, and so now I no longer allow it or them to dictate what I should or should not feel. Of course, this euphoric state of freedom from social norms and expectations is, as yet, only temporary, and it continues to ebb and flow with my mood, circumstances and strength within. Most of the time, instead, I find myself in an uncharted territory, somewhere betwixt expectations and freedom, where I continue to strive toward my true self in the gray areas of the in-between.

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Lorien Hunter
Lorien Hunter is a writer, researcher and aspiring world traveler who currently lives in San Jose, California. In 2017, she earned her Ph.D. in media studies from the University of Southern California, where she examined digital media, popular culture and marginalized communities. Today, she is a regular contributing writer at Bi.org, where her weekly column, The In-between, centers on her experiences as a biracial bi woman finding comfort and belonging in the spaces between worlds.