I still remember the books in the hallway. Bookshelves everywhere. And the porn.
It shouldn’t have been there, but it was. Left lurking, and teasing. Forbidden fruits, in the grasp of my child’s hand.
I remember a vague sense of what was forbidden. But there it all was, and I was left alone at times. And I read, I read everything I could get my hands on.
There was the book about the sex slave, on a high shelf at the end of the hall. And there was the little cheap paperback about people having sex with electrodes clamped upon their nipples, on the low shelf in the middle.
Playboy Magazine was light fare, compared to the hallway. Those piled up, I collected them. I read the cartoons. Neighborhood children arrived regularly to examine them, I had no idea why.
These women in the photographs and cartoons were clearly not about me. I can’t recall ever thinking I was a girl. I knew I was a child, sort of. My powers and options were limited.
But a girl? No, no. Please not. Anything else, some other creature. Anything but a girl.
Perhaps a horse? I collected plastic horses, I drew horses relentlessly. Earlier on, I collected plastic dinosaurs. Also not girls, yay!
Sooner or later, the boys got me. The drunken assaults, the stoned entrapments. Oh well, I am a girl after all, I learned. No more horses and dinosaurs for you!
Sentenced back to the porn. Obey the orders, open the holes. Suck when asked. Go along with it, you knew this was coming, even when you didn’t.
Keep trying, you just haven’t found the right boy yet. The right boy is light years away but you have to keep trying.
It took a lot out of me, all this keeping trying. I learned to find the wrong boys, because at least then they wouldn’t rape me. That, too, also went on endlessly, because the wrong boys usually also knew the right boys, and then we were back in the locked room with the crowd and the condom again. Just say yes. Consent is sexy, and sexy is mandatory.
Finally, I got it. It hit me one day like a sledgehammer. “This is never going to stop, and also it’s going to keep getting worse. The noose will keep tightening. There will never be any end to this unless you say no.”
So I did. And my life fell apart. My friends took to cruelty, my life became a nightmare. I spent a lot of time crying and staring at the walls.
But after that, it slowly got better. I’d hit bottom, I had named the problem, even though I didn’t really have the words for it yet.
It all started with the bookshelves, the porn, the male violence countenanced in my childhood home. The male gaze, the sexist jokes. I grew up groomed, I knew no better.. You mean all families aren’t like this?
These days the Internet has taken over this task of grooming children into porn. But they go back a ways, these bookshelves. Free speech, yeah. I know. But it wasn’t good. It hurt me. It scared the hell out of me, and I didn’t even know it at the time. I was too young to know what I was feeling.
We have to name the problem. I could not, I was too young, and this damaged me.
The problem has a name. It’s male violence, and fetishizing male violence and misogyny. It’s grooming girls like me to believe that’s just how it is, that we cannot hope for anything better, that nothing better even exists, outside of improbable fantasies.
Grooming us to never even consider that anything better might even be an option. Teaching us to not-know, not-know anything more powerful than these dark bookshelves.