My mother, like all other mothers, thought that her children were the most beautiful children in the world. Adding to that, people loved telling her how beautiful I was. My mother would dress me and my brothers up in ridiculous clothing and we always looked put together. I was a “pretty girl”.
When I was in third grade my mother decided that we should all be models. So she schlepped us to a sterile talent agency in a dingy building and we were forced to dress up for dozens of photographs we got in the mail a few weeks later.
They picked their favorites and nearly three times a week for an entire school year, my tutor/babysitter would have to drive us to casting calls in New York City. Most of these casting calls would be a couple dozen sets of parents with their children in the waiting room, they would call you in by your ticket number. Once you were in the room they would look at you, you would read a few lines or take a photograph and walk out.
The thing I remember about the experience is how the creative director and the casting director would audibly whisper comments to one another.
“She’s too short.”
“Her front teeth are kind of crooked.”
“She’s a little pudgy for this part.”
“Her face is too round.”
Eventually we stopped auditioning and cancelled our “contracts” to the agency and we all moved on with our lives. That’s when I learned how easy it is for a person to look at you and not see a person, but see their own self interests in you.
When I was in fifth grade I started to grow at a rapid rate and quickly became a “woman”. I stood at a tall five feet and two inches [157 cm]. I grew so quickly my knees couldn’t keep up and they clicked whenever I walked. I would be doubled over with pain every time I ate dairy or gluten. None of that mattered though, because as the pads in my lime green backpack crinkled proudly with every step I walked would tell you: I was a woman.
I was flirtatious and loud. Aggressive, even. I knew what I wanted from life and I was determined to get it. I had the naive confidence of a child and was expressing my sexuality more than I intended. Mostly because my parents never had the “the talk” with me and by the time my school got to it I was well on my way down the house of horrors highway that is puberty. I have had a deep academic interest in the reproductive system, sex and sexuality since then.
The boys in my classes were weirdly fascinated by this tall, kind of chubby girl who didn’t find sex jokes to be gross and would ask boys if they had a crush on anyone, namely, her. Those were my choices.
Men were scary to me. They would cat-call me while I was walking outside alone and would stare at me in ways that made me hide behind my father when he was with me. I would walk faster, I learned to walk while keeping my head down. My parents warned me about men. What they do.
Very quickly my confidence, which stemmed from my confidence in my sexuality, would be shattered by many things; but I never stopped giving off the impression of being an aggressive woman. People stand out of my way when I walk down the street, even though I don’t say excuse me. By the time I was sixteen people called me “ma’am”. When I speak, I actively try not to speak at my normal sonorous decibel but a quiet, “feminine” voice. I fail. When I speak, people think I’m yelling at them or being critical. Many of my sentences end with “sorry”. I have no chill. Many people have suggested I try weed or meditation for this supposed problem. I’m always on fire. These are my choices. This is who I am.
Men are scary to me. I have been followed home, forcefully touched and cornered, and cat-called, even with my commanding presence. One time I was on the last express A train (NYC Subway) going downtown and a man sat next to me in a two seater and stared at me while pleasuring himself with his hands down his pants. There was no one else in the car and I was too scared to move. I closed my eyes and prayed he would leave me alone. He did.
Once, a subway performer yelled at me and my friends on the train because we were talking while he was performing. We did not pay nor ask for his performance. He called us bitches and threatened us, taunting us in front of an entire car of people. They all laughed. My parents warned me about men. What they do.
I make choices every day as a 22 year old student that are thought of as “self-protecting and wise”. I have decided that my sexuality is best reserved for privacy, but that doesn’t stop many men from seeing me as little more than a conquest. I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men, but my demeanor and my interests make them think that I am. Usually because that’s what they want to see in me- their own self interests. People are shocked when I tell them how I was sexually assaulted because they cannot imagine me not fighting back.
Sexual assailants are scary to me. They see the most beautiful parts of a person and try to destroy those parts using violence, fear, and intimidation. My parents warned me about the world. What happens in it. But never how to change it.
We live in a world where all people are free to act as they please. Nothing about our world is perfect. There is no excuse for sexual violence. We cannot let ourselves be so naive as to resign to our culture and tip-toe around it, instead of tearing it down.
And if you’re like me- strong, aggressive, obstinate, know that there are people out there who will find you inspirational, worthy of attention, respect, and love. The best part is, you’ll make them think, which hopefully means that things will change.