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.


  1. Thank you for this post. I support #teamfasttail because I was fast. I use to talk to older men and began having sex at 14. I feel "fastness" is healthy to an extent because its kind of like wanting to show off a new pair of shows. I learned that a developed body was a right of passage, especially for Black girls since "being thick ass hell" is celebrated. A developed body got you attention from men and boys, which I have observed to be what some of heterosexual girls want because it serves as a form of validation. What I don't approve about ideas of fastness is that it racializes natural desires of exploring sexuality and being desired.

  2. ***being thick is celebrated in the Black community

  3. Thanks, Sesali. While I was in college, I volunteered in my hometown with a bunch of elementary school-aged kids (4-10), and the older girls had men in their 20's who would chase after them at night. One of the adult coordinators simply told the girls that it was illegal for adults to hang out with them at night, and although I knew that wasn't quite right, I didn't know how else to protect them. Reading this, it makes me think about the sex education and permission for their bodies to be their own that could have been really useful. Reading this article made me think about the support and encouragement that the "fast girls" need, and the accountability we need to hold to the predatory adult men who are taking advantage of young girls. I also just appreciated you sharing these stories with us; thank you for challenging me, Sesali!

  4. Sesali, you are such a powerful writer. You remind me of all of the reasons I advocate women's freedom of autonomy of their bodies. I love you.

  5. Sesali, your writing is so powerful and honest. I'm learning a lot from reading you (and our conversations while you were here!).

  6. I didn't really know what to say to this piece, so I thought I'd post a quote from one of my favorite films:

    ...[w]hat you have just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

  7. Hi Sesali, Thank you for speaking out about this. It's one thing to read about statistics in a book etc, but another to hear directly from a person who has had those experiences.

  8. I love this piece! I have known so many women who started having sex early that are incredible, healthy, educated, successful, married, parent and nonparent women. I have also known many people who didn't have sex until later (late teens, early twenties) that are unsuccessful, unmarried, single-parents, promiscuous, etc (all the other things people seem to think only happen to people who start having sex early). WHEN you have sex has nothing to do with the amount of accurate information you have or how "good" your decision-making capabilities are/will be. In society we praise children's advanced development (i.e. walking soon, talking soon, reading soon, writing soon, etc.) but we condemn them for having sex "too soon" or we invalidate their advanced cognitive development if they make an informed decision to have sex before a socially approved standard. It's very strange considering we have arbitrarily set this standard in direct conflict to natural developmental stages. By the age of 13 many young women can physically reproduce---a bodily function that naturally has it's own timeline. I think our society inappropriately rebukes women and men for being sexual creatures. We even admonish children who touch themselves when genital exploration is completely natural---but because we have these arbitrary timelines, we believe people should not "explore" their sexuality or own bodies until a certain age. Newsflash, if your body is feeling it, you will do what you need to do and it is our responsibility to give young people INFORMATION about what is happening and why so they can make the choices they need to make with accurate and meaningful information. I made an informed decision at the age of 14 to have sex myself with an 17 year old who did not coerce me in any way. I was prepared physically (with birth control and condoms) and cognitively (I knew the risks and possibilities). I knew what I wanted to do and I was fortunate enough to have participated in a reproductive health care class that gave me information that helped me protect myself. I am a 27 year old woman, who is disease-free, never had any children or the need to abort (I am pro-choice but due to my complete knowledge, I was on birth control), I am educated (2 degrees) and I live a healthy life---like MANY of my peers who consented at young ages. Not a day goes by that I regret having sex at that age. Not a day goes by that I wish I would have done anything differently. Thank you for speaking out on this issue. We need more people to think critically and less people who have bought into arbitrary social norms (like Ms. Maxine Shaw above) that remove our agency as sexual creatures put on the planet primarily to reproduce.


  9. I am so sorry that the adults in your life FAILED at protecting you, but you are speaking from Stockholm Syndrome if you think any girl who's 13 can consent to sex with a grown man. Nor does it matter because the law is very clear on this. And here's a perspective from a woman who was 16 and thought she had it all covered the way you claim to.

    1. You have no right to overwrite the author's first person perspective with your own narrative, especially to pathologize her. People have diverse experiences and I can tell you without even reading the article you linked that Paul Walker's girlfriend did not have an identical life to the author's. You don't have to agree with her conclusions but you do have to grant her the agency to control the narrative of her own life. This is not a court trial, so the laws are not the final word here. Show some respect, this is not your story.

  10. Loved it and thank you for this! Some of ya'll are STILL missing the point of autonomy, agency and informed decision making. Had it been a 13 year old boy instead of an adult, would you still repudiate her truth?!

  11. Sesali I've always admired your writing. Reading this post reminded me of the fearful 13 year old girl I was, awkwardly developing, pathologically social, but there was a lack of education on sex or how to protect my body. I wasn't having sex in my teens, but I was preyed on by many older boys and older men ranging from 20yrs - 40yrs. All of them telling me what they would do to me or "red flag" touching me by hugging too long. I was so frightened and upset with my body for being what it was at that age. I was called "fast tailed" or "hot ass" and I was always afraid of the prejudgment of other adult women before I could even express myself. Now that I am 27, I celebrate my sexual liberty but I am concern for girls that face the same pressures as I did. I fear that they may not be able to say "No" or "Leave me alone" or "Get off of me." I can remember in high school I filed several restraining orders for peeping toms and sexual harassment. At times I felt like a baby gazelle in a jungle full of starved lions. I didn't have much to show hell - large boobs, hips and ass didn't come until right before I left for college. Even now, at times I find myself cringing when men stare too long or an unwanted "compliment" is giving. But now I'm older and I understand myself and my femininity. Being a young underprivileged black girl is rough. I'm sure other women of color go through similar situations depending on their community/environment.

  12. Wow, great article. You don't hear this side of the story often and I'm glad to see it! What particularly struck a chord with me is your personal experience. I have a similar story in that I was 16 when I started dating a 32 year old (cue the gasps) and yeah, he was a little creepy and definitely immature. But I was already in college and had a job, and it was more than just informed consent. I actively went after it. We ended up in a serious relationship for 3 years. I don't regret any of it and I don't feel like I was ever taken advantage of. It's weird and gross to think about the numbers, but ultimately they're just numbers, and it was fine. So thank you and keep writing!