Friday, December 6, 2013

Age & Consent: From a real life "fast ass girl"


Trigger warning. I'm about to talk about an underaged girl having consensual sex. It also includes some themes of sexual assault. I'm about to talk about some very real shit based on my own personal experiences so while I encourage feedback and dialogue, I ask that you take my feelings into account and remain respectful in your responses. To my mama, just in case she comes across this: I love you, I'm not mad, and I'm down to talk. 

With R. Kelly making another comeback and #FastTailedGirls trending on twitter (the hashtag was started by the creators of @HoodFeminism, who don't play about their hashtags), people are talking about the age of consent. There isn't enough Lady Gaga in the world to make people forget about the fact that R. Kelly married Aaliyah when she was 15 (he was 28); overlook him sleeping with a 14 year old girl and recording it; or, for me, dismissing the fact that in 2000, when I was in 7th grade, Kels was still cruising around his former high school (where I attended 7th grade) to pick up girls. And plenty of adult women on twitter critiqued what it means to be young, black, and female; labeled as one of those #FastTailedGirls for being too developed, too loud, or sexually assaulted.

But for me, something was missing from all of these conversations. There was dead silence from and on behalf of actual "fast assed" girls. That would have been me. When I was 13, I was sleeping with a man that was 23 years old. I consented. If you're reading this and saying: "No you didn't consent. You were too young. That guy is a creep who preyed on you and broke the law." You're only half right. He was a creep who preyed on me and broke the law. But I consented to the sex. I wanted it. Looking back, I don't regret the decision. I recognize that 13 year old girls fucking grown men--or fucking at all-- is a hard pill to swallow for a lot of people. But I think a big reason for that is because we keep the stories and voices of those girls invisible. I'm willing to do some unpacking based on my own experience.

Before I dig into this I want to make it very clear that I think that statutory rape laws are absolutely necessary to protect children and minors when they are assaulted at the hands of adults. I think that anyone who uses coercion, bribery, tricks, "game", force, manipulation, and/or deceit in order to engage in sexual acts with someone (of any age) is a predator. I also believe that anyone who initiates sex with someone who is not aware of what is happening (because they are incapacitated, lacking the necessary skills, or simply not old enough) is a predator.

But when people make statements like "13 year olds aren't old enough/able to give consent" it raises some flags for me. Which 13 year olds? How are we gauging this preparedness? I was among many 13 year olds I knew who, because of the circumstances of their household, had responsibilities that equipped them with the ability to weigh decisions and outcomes, evaluate preparedness, and execute plans in their best interest. I was juggling school, a dysfunctional household, making sure I could feed myself if my mother was at work or not not around. I was rejecting the advances of my mother's partner to pimp me. Furthermore, I was educated about sex and my body. I sought out books and other resources to have as much information as possible to be able to make healthy decisions. I knew more about sex at 13 than some of the women my age do now. Obviously, not all 13 year old girls were, or are in the same space. I was, and I know other girls who were as well. And had I not been sexually active, I would have been praised for taking on so much responsibility; but only because it was not sexual in nature.

While I don't think that underaged girls having sex necessarily represents some pathology, I would be remiss not to mention some of the other dynamics of just being a black girl that put sex on my radar. We talk about the hyper-sexualization of black girls at a young age and the pressures of living in such a sex saturated climate. But it's equally burdensome to have to maintain and "perform" innocence. In the years before and after I became sexually active, my sexuality was under a microscope and up for discussion by anyone who had the thought to ask "are you a virgin?" Boys my age, older men, distant relatives and family, and other girls I knew would evaluate my answer, attempting to align it with how my body looked and how I performed. My language, my dress, my association with boys, and even the way I walked were all used as indicators of my innocence, or lack thereof.

Being developed, being fat, being loud, and obviously, being black were projected onto my perceived sexual activity. Looking back, I recognize a collective need to categorize me. It was important for folks to have some kind of label in order to understand me as 13 year old Sesali. If I was still a virgin, why? Was I actively working to preserve my virginity? Did I have a boyfriend? What was the risk that my status could change? And I participated in this identification process with other girls I knew as well. The black girls I knew were blanketed in sex no matter what side of the fence they were on.

And constantly ruffling that blanket was a rape culture. It was hard to identify a 23 year old man as a predator when attention from men and boys of all ages was steeped in the same ideologies that our bodies were up for grabs with just a little manipulation. I firmly believe that we have to invest in teaching boys and men about consent while also allowing girls the space to define their own boundaries and give that consent when they're ready. While I can't prescribe this as a remedy for all middle school girls, I know that for some girls who are already on the brink of these decisions it can be the difference between being "fast" and being prey.

We absolutely need to fight against the hyper-sexual stereotypes about black girls, but not at the expense or erasure of girls who are giving informed consent. Respectability politics are hidden deep down within all of these layers, coddling the fact that we don't want to think about underaged girls having sex because it's not "ethical" and presents an opportunity for teen pregnancy. If we believe that black girls should have agency, autonomy, and freedom from sexual stigma, we cannot accept this. We have to work to make sure that girls have access to education and resources to make informed decisions. When I think of the daughter I may have some day, I don't want her to have to choose between being "fast" and being prey. I want her to be able to make informed decisions and identify healthy relationships. Above all, I want her to know--as soon as she's able to understand--that her body belongs to her, whether she's 13 or 25.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Dear radical feminist bitch who "tried it",

Audre Lorde said:
"Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can be become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. And when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile and feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration of those assumptions underlying our lives."

With that being said, let us hope that this post is useful in checking the assumptions of this bitch about me and my feminism. This anger has been with me for 8 months now. The back story is simple. I wrote this. And said radical feminist was so appalled that she responded with this. It took me a while but I finally found the words.

Unlike you, I know exactly where to start. At the beginning. You wrote:
"We’ve all been 25-year-old revolutionary badasses on our personal journey of self-discovery. So exciting! I too was a rapscallion, renegade erotic vagrant, and I’m thankful the Internet was too rickety back then to record my 'Self-definition is a feminist priority!' rants for time and eternity."
First thing's first, I'm not mischievous. I'm a grown ass woman who pays bills and goes to work. And while I do fuck who I want, when I want, I'm no kind of vagrant so that weak attempt at establishing I-was-just-like-you-way-back-when authority was a fail. And I only wish the internet was currently "too rickety" to record your "I get feminism and you don't" rant for time and eternity.

You said...
"Listen. Self-definition isn’t a feminist priority, it’s a personal priority. The well-being and fate of women, as a class, all over the world, is a feminist priority. Feminism is not a fun, personal tool. It is not a vibrator, it is a political movement. And any woman who can dismiss the entire second wave for its “sheer irrelevancy…to any of my life,” has skipped the required fucking reading."
... and it was spoken like a true white woman who hasn't thought enough about her own racial privilege to recognize her own ignorance. You infuriate me. Self-definition is absolutely a feminist priority for female-identified, queer, fat, black girls like me who are consistently denied representation as women in the first place. I'll bet if someone told you that "dyke" wasn't an appropriate way to self identify you'd jump on the self-definition real quick. Self-definition is the reason you call yourself a "radical feminist" - which, for me, is becoming synonymous with "white feminism with no critical race analysis." And yes, I realize that as a white dyke, it might be hard for you to gauge why MOST (not "all", as you have misquoted) of second wave feminism was irrelevant to my life as a black, hip hop feminist. But the reason is clear as day. Most of that shit was written by other white dykes and do not reflect the lived experiences of young women of color.

You ask...
"Is legal contraception and abortion irrelevant to any woman’s life? Domestic violence and sexual harassment laws; are these quaint artifacts from a bygone era? How about protection from workplace discrimination and the death of job ads reading “Help Wanted: Male”? None of the above has anything to do with second wave feminism? None of it involves the “autonomy and liberation” you’re so into? No hat tip to the foremothers? No “Hey, thanks for your hard work” before you shimmy away with jazz hands? Just arrogant, ignorant smuggery, with a reassurance that you “can’t police other feminists”? Because everything is everything and we all choose our choices?"
To these questions I must ask more questions: Does organizing against crisis pregnancy centers in my state count as feminist work? Does organizing to ensure that all state universities have allow their students birth control count? Does creating black girl collectives and literacy programs in Chicago war zones count? Does working with and maintaing a relationship with the leading reproductive justice organization for young people mean anything to you? Does creating a pamphlet about feminism in accessible language for young women of color count? Because I've done all of that shit, and then some.

But I shouldn't have to read my resume off to you for you to respect me and my relation to feminism.  In fact, bitches like you are the reason "self-definition" IS a feminist priority. You talk about abortion and contraceptive access like women of color are not still targeted the most with racist anti-abortion propaganda (which I've also worked against). Those "male wanted" ads were published in papers while women of color were working for next to nothing, and had been since way before white women decided to "come out". And they didn't particularly give a fuck what the gender of their new boss was (although I respect that white women were hurt they were denied access to those positions). I have enough lived experience with sexual assault and domestic violence to last us both a lifetime, and it always intersects with the complicated relationship people of color have with law enforcement and non-nuclear family structures. So please spare me with the finger wagging bullshit as if I don't live at the intersections every fucking day.

You don't have to understand my feminism, but you will not police and disrespect me. And you will not tell me how to be a feminist (especially when your shitty blog has made it glaringly clear that you don't know). So perhaps you should pick up some books published after 1995 and do some more "required reading" but until then, FUCK YOU!

Not here for it,
Sesali

I've been caught lacking

Hey boos,

I know it's been a long time. I actually feel really shitty about neglecting the blog that has been so instrumental in helping me develop an identity and a voice as writer. But I won't apologize for living outside the parameters of a laptop for a change; and pursuing opportunities that are going to help me on this life journey jump off. You'd be surprised at how many times I've sat down to write this post but didn't because life was like: "we aint on that right now."

Nevertheless, here it is now.

So what have I been doing? You might remember this post where I shared a link to a piece I wrote for Feministing.com. That piece was an entry into their "So You Think You Can Blog Contest." Well as it turns out, I CAN blog because I won and am a new contributor to the site! I can't be more honored to be bringing the voice of hoochies and hoodrats to the online mainstream feminist crowd. It's been an amazing opportunity and I love my Feministing crew. (We had our retreat in New York this past weekend and it was great.)

But some of you might already know that I can't say all the shit I want to say to the online mainstream feminist crowd. And that is why I have to start coming back home. Here to the Bad Bitch Society. I am looking forward to sharing my writing from Feministing and other sources, but also returning to the practice of talking real shit about the shit that matters to me and the other bad bitches I know.

Thanks for your patience. I'm back like cooked crack.*

Sesali B.

*Ok. I never actually understood this phrase because I'm not sure if I ever experienced cooked crack leaving in the first place. But whatever, the shit rhymes.