Friday, December 6, 2013
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.