Longing to Tell: Black Women Talk About Sexuality and Intimacy [NOOK Book]

Overview



The Sexual Lives of Black Women, In Their Own Words

In a culture driven by sexual and racial imagery, very few honest conversations about race, gender, and sexuality actually take place. In their absence, commonly held perceptions of black women as teenage mothers, welfare recipients, mammies, or exotic sexual playthings remain unchanged. For fear that telling their stories will fulfill society’s implicit expectations about their sexuality, ...
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Longing to Tell: Black Women Talk About Sexuality and Intimacy

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Overview



The Sexual Lives of Black Women, In Their Own Words

In a culture driven by sexual and racial imagery, very few honest conversations about race, gender, and sexuality actually take place. In their absence, commonly held perceptions of black women as teenage mothers, welfare recipients, mammies, or exotic sexual playthings remain unchanged. For fear that telling their stories will fulfill society’s implicit expectations about their sexuality, most black women have retreated into silence. Tricia Rose seeks to break this silence and jump-start a dialogue by presenting, for the first time, the sexual testimonies of black women. Spanning a broad range of ages, levels of education, and socioeconomic backgrounds, twenty women, in their own words, talk with startling honesty about sex, love, family, relationships, and intimacy. Their stories dispel prevailing myths and provide revealing insights into how black women navigate the complex terrain of sexuality. Nuanced, rich, and powerful, Longing to Tell will be required reading for anyone interested in issues of race and gender.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429923453
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/1/2004
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 740,413
  • File size: 376 KB

Meet the Author



Tricia Rose is a professor of American studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She is the author of Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. She lives in California.
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Read an Excerpt


oneTHROUGH THE FIRE
 
 AT FIRST GLANCE, it could be difficult to see what Sarita, a twenty-two-year-old ex-Muslim biracial woman, has in common with Linda Rae, a forty-eight-year-old woman with AIDS whose life has been significantly shaped by sexual abuse, drug addiction, and prostitution. But if we look closely at the emotional currents that drive them, a theme emerges: while vastly different, these women share a sense that victory lies in how they grow from the pain involved in coming into one’s own. They carry their desires and hopes through and beyond difficult, sometimes traumatic, experiences, sexual self-doubt, trauma, and confusion. Inspiration emerges from how they struggle through the fires, not from imagining a world in which there is no flame.Sarita tries to negotiate her intense love of black men and her profound disappointment over how many black men treat black women: “Why should I love you?” she says. “Men have hurt me as a black woman for so long, so why should I put down my anger? Why do I always have to sacrifice for you? So you can feel loved?” Later she says, “Black men are so full of love and life. They really are amazing people and they go through so much and it’s hard to cut them out.” Rita painfully questions her desire for white men over black and their seeming lack of interest in her: “I used to think, Why am I so ugly, why don’t they like me, what is wrong with me that I always seem to like white guys, or those were the guys that I seemed to pursue?”Linda Rae has struggled through a lifetime of catastrophic violence, sexual abuse, drug addition, and prostitution that resulted in her contracting HIV/AIDS. Reflecting on the notions of sex and womanhood that shaped her life she says, “You know, sex was a thing for me to do to make you love me. And nothing else in life was important to me but to have somebody to love me … . I didn’t even have a clue of what it was to be a woman. And having no idea how, no sexuality of my own, I always took on ‘the man’s the leader of my life’ to show me how I was supposed to act.” Now a fierce activist, Linda Rae deals with that history by sharing it with others, educating young women about sexual agency, and encouraging the black community to fight AIDS.Comic moments, sometimes even more than the sorrowful ones, illuminate and affirm the truth of life’s bittersweetness. After years of unfulfilling sex, thirty-eight-year-old Luciana finally has a handle on her desires but can’t yet find a partner: “I’m peaking, and”—bam, she smacks the table—“somebody needs to do something here! This should be illegal sometimes, the way I’m walking around here.”There are no hollow reassurances, no unblemished success stories here. There is no “Ah ha” moment after which all conflicts are resolved, all lessons are fully learned, and pain is finally conquered. Instead, these reflections offer a more complex sense of how some women navigate life while remaining committed to the possibility of deep connections with others.Sarita
 
 EVER SINCE I was born, my life has been one big drama. I feel lucky in a way just because I’ve dealt with so much in the short span of time that I have lived on this earth; and when I think that I have twenty more years to go, I think, what could possibly come? Do you know what I’m saying? Okay, I am twenty-two years old. When I was growing up, we were living in a really good neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island. Everybody played together. People on the outside would have called it a ghetto, but I never felt poor. We were on food stamps and all that, but I never felt any different than anyone else, because everyone else was poor, too. My father was a black man. He died when I was three. He was a heroin and cocaine addict. My mother is a white woman. She came from a rich family in New England. My grandmother did our family tree and we are related to two presidents, John Adams and John Quincy Adams. My mother’s family lives in a rich white suburb and she grew up there. She never even met a black person until she was thirteen. All of her maids were Irish Catholic. Her maids weren’t even black. So, she met my father and it was like jungle fever at first. He was a jazz musician. He played the piano. And back then, for a black man to have a white woman—a lot of them thought that was a big deal. So they met and then they really fell in love.My father was Muslim and he already had one wife. And in the Muslim religion you can have as many wives as you want as long as you can support them all. So-called support! So my mother married my father, converted to Islam, and moved to the, quote, ghetto. Her family disowned her, and that’s where I come in. He already had a few kids with his other wife. Then my mom had me and my older sister with him, and then he took on another wife, a third wife, Khadijah. So there was Fatima, and my mother, who changed her name to Nadia, and Khadijah. Then he had kids with Khadijah. We all lived in this big old rundown Victorian house … . Khadijah lived on the first floor, my mother lived on the second floor, and Fatima lived on the third floor, and my father would spend time on each floor. And meanwhile, he was supporting his habit of cocaine and heroin by selling marijuana and doing whatever illegal things he could get into. My father convinced the three wives to go and rob a bank for him. He didn’t even go. It was just crazy!They robbed the bank and got caught. My mother was driving the getaway car, so she took off. Khadijah got caught, and she went to prison. So my mother ended up taking care of her kids. Then my father died; the doctor had told him, “If you don’t stop doing drugs, your heart is going to give in.” He couldn’t stop. He died in his sleep. The third wife was still there, but she had a drug problem also. My mother didn’t have a drug problem. She smoked marijuana all the time, but in relation to the others, it wasn’t as bad. So she had to take care of all of these kids. And we were on welfare, but still we were really poor. She didn’t know what to do. So she married this guy, Hamid. Evil man. Evil, evil man. He was part of the Muslim community too. He was also a jazz musician, but see, my dad was like the leader of a group of Muslims, and they all looked up to him. They thought he was the spiritual leader. He was really tall, golden brown, and he had a big beard and thin and long, long fingers for playing the piano. That’s all that I remember. He was one of those people that, when he walked into a room, had some magic quality to him. Even though he was doing all this messed-up shit, he was just such a lovely person that you couldn’t help but love him. That’s what everyone says. But this other guy that my mother married wasn’t like that. He was a jealous type of person. But she married him because he offered to marry her and in her mind she had no other choice.That was the next phase in my life: living with him, under his rules, in his house. With my father it was a free-for-all. We could do whatever we wanted. It was like one big playground. We just all had the best time. At that point there were ten kids with only three adults. They were high most of the time. So we did whatever we wanted. And then with Hamid, he had a drug problem too, but he dealt with it in a different way. He was more controlling, and dominating. And there were very strict little rules for every little thing, like when we were eating you had to clean your plate; you had to lick all the food off your plate, and if you didn’t eat it all, he would spank you. And you know, when you’re a kid, if you don’t like asparagus, you do not like asparagus! You’re not going to eat it! So I would take my food and ball it up in a napkin and put it behind my chair and hide it under the radiator. One time my mother found all this food under the radiator; and he saw it, and he knew it was me, and he gave me the whupping of my life for it. Peeled my ass.My mother left him and the religion when I was eight. She just couldn’t take it anymore. By that time, Khadijah had gotten out of jail, and Khadijah married Hamid also because she’s always had a jealous thing with my mother, where she’s had to have everything my mother had. So she married my mom’s husband, twice. And my mother’s like, “I’m out of here! You take your kids. I can’t do this anymore.” So she took me, my little sister Latifah, and my mother also had a white baby from a previous relationship, and her new baby, Ahmad, from her second husband, and we left. And we moved to my grandmother’s house.Now this house was huge. To me, it seemed like a mansion. My grandmother had all this land surrounding it in a place called Something Estates—this rich, rich place—and there was a pond and swings. It seemed like heaven to me. But we had been ripped out of the old neighborhood—I can’t even explain what it was like—it was like a little womb. In the new place, we didn’t know anyone, since we hadn’t had any friends that weren’t Muslim. There was a Puerto Rican family we used to play with but they never came in our house. In the old neighborhood we went to Muslim schools. So we were ripped from that and from all my sisters and brothers. There was no differentiation, like “You’re her mother, and you’re his mother and he’s your son.” We were all of the same thing. If my mother was busy, there were two other mothers that I could go to. That’s just the way I grew up, so to be ripped away from that and put in this white world was really traumatic for me. There were no black people whatsoever. And my grandmother was a completely different type of person, and that was really, really hard for us. Also, we went through a lot of trauma because all the people in the Muslim community shunned us after we left. I remember one time, my mother and I went downtown to go take care of some business, and we saw a part of my family on the street; and their mothers said, “Don’t look at them.” They had to keep walking, they wouldn’t look at us, and they wouldn’t even say hello.The religion completely shaped me as a child. First of all, your gender role: when we were little, come free time, especially when we were living with the second husband, Hamid, the boys could go out and play. But the girls weren’t allowed to go outside and play; we would have to stay and have classes on sewing and cooking. Then we could finally go out for a little while. And even then, we had to cover all of our hair, and we had to cover down—the only thing that can be showing is your hands and your feet and your face, when you’re a little girl. So that made me feel like I had to be always covered up—and it really affects the way you feel. You don’t feel very free, and you feel very dominated, or colonized, by these men who decide everything for you. And to be a good woman is to be really submissive and do everything they say, and to do things even before they ask. For instance, you notice that his cup is getting down and you refill it, just like a waitress or servant.I looked up to the women. They were what a good woman was. The women wore a burkah, which is the thing that covers all of your face, except your eyes. Those women were considered the most feminine and beautiful and the thing to look up to the most. Not all women wore a burkah; they didn’t have the discipline. Imagine in the summertime? You’re not going to put that on. You have all this clothing, plus something covering your face? You can’t even breathe? You’re going to be like, “Fuck it. I’m not doing it.” So the women who had the discipline were considered so high up. If you could wear a burkah and exist that way, you were considered the end-all be-all. I remember we looked up to those women so much.My mother would make our clothes for us, and we would go to the store and pick out the fabric; we enjoyed it. It’s ironic that we enjoyed our own prison in a way. We would pick out pretty fabrics for our headpieces and make sure they matched our pants. I never thought anything was wrong with it until I moved out of there. We would see the television, and a naked woman in a bikini would come on in a beer commercial, and my father would say, “That’s the devil; you see that? That’s what the devil puts out for you to see.” That’s how I was raised. The woman’s body is associated with bad things. You’re supposed to cover it. They’re telling you that in order to respect yourself, you have to be fully covered, and if you’re not fully covered, then you’re bad and you’re going the way of the devil. And the opposite culture seemed to be saying, “You’re only beautiful if you take your clothes off.” There’s no good choice! I’m fully covered now, pretty much, and I feel fine about myself, but I also feel fine about myself when I go to the beach and wear a bikini!I met a lot of people, especially women, who really helped me out. When I moved to my grandmother’s area, some parts were really, really white, but the part we lived in was closer to the city. Her town is really in the middle of the city, but it’s a town to itself that the white people took and said, “We’re going to make a town and create our own school system apart from the city.” But it’s surrounded by the city. So there’s a lot of different types of people around that area, and one person I met was my best friend, Jardah. She was from Brazil, and she moved to this town in seventh grade. Her mother was a black woman who grew up in the South in the sixties. When everybody was going through all that stuff, she went down to Brazil. She didn’t speak a word of Portuguese, and she fell in love with Jardah’s father and he fell in love with her. He didn’t speak a word of English. They fell in love and had Jardah. Then her mom learned how to speak Portuguese and they realized they weren’t meant to be together. [Laughs.] They lived there all that time, and then they came back up here. In Brazil, you’re supposed to show off a woman’s body. You go on the beach and you’re supposed to wear a topless G-string bikini. People love to look at a woman’s body. So she was raised in the exact opposite way from me, and she became my best friend.I was a freshman in high school when we met. By that time, I’d lived long enough outside of the Muslim community to fully assimilate the way people dressed and the way people acted about their bodies. But still, inside I didn’t feel pretty, I didn’t feel attractive at all. I felt that I was just passing, just okay because of the way I dressed. But when I met her—she’s an amazing person—she showed me that it’s okay to love your body. She is really skinny on top, and she has this huge ass, and we used to always tease her, and she used to tease me because my ass was flat. We grew up and learned about puberty together, learned about boys. I knew her the first time I had sex, and she knew me her first time, so we explained the world to each other. She explained to me that the woman’s body is whatever you want it to be. It can be like a playground, you can have fun with it, or you can disguise it.She told me that she feels that I’m a very sensual person. I never really saw myself that way, but I think now she was right. What she meant was that I’m very open to men—’cause she’s very closed up to men. That has to do with how her and her father acted toward each other. Her boyfriends would say, “You know, I’ve gotten to this point, but then there’s this wall I can’t get past.” And she would say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t know how to let them in.” I was the opposite, because I craved attention and love from men, so I would be wide open. I had this ability to love that is special and that I think I was born with. So I think that I taught her that it’s okay to love, in terms of men. It’s okay to open yourself, because giving love is not something that can ever hurt you. It’s only something that can help you. It’s like a well; it’s never-ending.Once we hooked up, this became the most special relationship I have ever had in my life, and she is still right here with me now. We just became like two sisters. She is one of the only people in the world that I’ve completely, fully trusted. I looked at her, and she has no ill will for me whatsoever or me for her. Anything she tells me for my own good, I listen to her ‘cause I know that she has only my best interests in mind and vice versa. We formed this bond when I met her in high school, and we were just so confident with each other that boys were our playthings. We had no need for them, really, because we had each other, and she gave me everything I needed; I gave her everything she needed ’cause we weren’t really into sex yet. I didn’t even know what it was about.I had first kisses, and I had little sexual escapades with boys, but it was never because I really felt the urge. It was just to say, for example, “I went to second base.” She was the same way. Plus we were beautiful. She’s unbelievably beautiful, and she’s cunning and brilliant. But then when you get to know her inside, her outside is almost ugly compared to what she’s like on the inside. We just hung so tight, and the boys followed us around ‘cause they wanted to be near us. But we had no need for them, so we would play with them, like little toys. We would go to parties outside of our high school where older people were and people that didn’t know us, because we loved adventure and mischief. We would be walking down a street in the city and would see a party up in someone’s apartment, and we would just go in and pretend that we knew everybody, and make jokes and laugh around, like, “Oh, you know so-and-so?” And then steal a bottle of their wine and run out and just be crazy. So we would go to these parties and we would think up plans to manipulate people. She would be like, “Okay, see that guy in the corner? I’m going to go over to him and tell him that I think he’s really cute, and then you go over and say the same thing, and we’ll play off of him.” We would play mind games on people! We were cruel to some people, but it was just a way to entertain ourselves.Our relationship was sisterly. I’ve had friends since then, where it went over into the sexual realm; but with her, it’s always been just sisterly. She filled a place for me that needed filling. And she is an only child, but I grew up with all these sisters and brothers. She’s never really had that camaraderie with another person her own age so I filled that place for her.But for the sexual thing, when I got a serious boyfriend, and she got a serious boyfriend, we started spending more time with them. We would still tell each other everything about the sexual things we did with them, but we spent more time apart. And then when it came up about having sex for the first time, it was because my boyfriend asked me, “Do you want to have sex?” We had been dating, I think four or five months, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I went to her and said, “What should I do?” because I was confused. In high school that’s such a big topic: Have you or haven’t you? It was such an issue that all the girls in high school were defined by that standard. I must have been seventeen. Jardah and I were walking home from school, and I was saying, “I don’t know what I should do because if I give it up to him, then he’ll have had it, and he might not want to be with me anymore.” And she practically yelled at me. “Listen to what you’re saying! Give it up to him? Give what up to him? You’re you—you’re a person. Just because you have sex, you’re not giving him anything. You’re sharing an experience with him, and if he disses you afterward, that’s his fault, but that has nothing to do with you as a person. That’s because he couldn’t hang.” I had never thought of that before. She was very confident. I didn’t really have that self-esteem; I think it had a lot to do with the religion I was raised in, to feel that I needed men. And she never felt that need.At this point I had never had an orgasm, whether through oral sex or anything like that. I’d gone down on him, he’d gone down on me, you know. So to me, there was no desire in it until I had an orgasm—and then I was like, wow! This is really pleasureful. And then I had the desire to do it again. Before I thought, This is interesting, but, you know, it doesn’t really feel that good. So I wasn’t about to go have sex when I knew I could get pregnant. There was no reward in my mind because I never had an orgasm. I thought I had one with him, until I had a real one with someone else! [Laughs.] So anyway, I did have sex with him, and he was really in love with me. That took out the whole fear that he was going to leave. I wasn’t all excited and into it; I was like, “Let’s just go ahead and do it.” And my mother came and knocked on the door, and she called me, “Sarita?” I was like, “Shit, shit.” We had to hide under the bed. Which we did because he was afraid, because I guess that’s a real fear for men, to be caught by the parents of the girl. I yelled out, “Mom, don’t come in,” and she took the hint. My mother is not one to pry. She really just lets us do our own thing. When I was little I used to take it that she didn’t care about me. I really thought she didn’t care about me because I never had a curfew. I never had to call her and tell her where I was going or who I was going to be with. The first time I smoked pot, it was with my mother. A lot of bad things that you supposedly hide from your parents, I did with my mother. So, for her to catch me having sex wasn’t even really a big deal.She didn’t tell me anything about sex. We used a condom, and that’s because he said, “Let’s use a condom,” ’cause he’d had sex plenty of times before. Afterward, I called Jardah and said, “Guess what? I did it!” She said, “You bitch! You did it before me!” And then she told all of our other friends; and they called me, and they were singing songs to me on the phone. I didn’t feel bad at all, and I didn’t feel that different, either. It didn’t hurt. It was a little uncomfortable because it was this new thing I never felt before, but it didn’t hurt. The only thing I wished was that it had been with someone else. The summer before, I had fallen in love with someone for the first time, and he wanted to be my first, but I told him no. And then I was with this other guy that I didn’t even really love. He loved me. And I told him yes, but I regretted that.I went through a really promiscuous period. During my first few years of college, something was coming to a head in me, and I just acted it out in sexual terms. I was having a lot of family problems. I moved out of the house when I was still in high school, and I think I was craving love and affection. And I was getting it through sex. It wasn’t that I was being taken advantage of; I was a full participant. But in the sense that I had a deeper need than they did, I was being taken advantage of. But I didn’t feel that way at the time. And I wasn’t classified as a slut or anything because I only did it with select people, and the “sluts” did it with anyone. For me, it wasn’t always tied to relationships. They would want a relationship afterward. But I didn’t really have a need for them. Everyday interaction can be quite annoying when you have to deal with problems with someone and the compromises … . I wasn’t into that. I just wanted to be affirmed by the process. I wanted to have the initial fun part, like they’re chasing me, and they’re paying all this really nice attention to me, telling me I’m pretty, and all of that, until the sexual act, and then I would just lose interest. I would move along to the next person. That’s why I know it was about something else.I never got pregnant. I really thank my lucky stars because looking back on it, I didn’t have unsafe sex a lot, but still, it doesn’t really matter, you know? I heard about so many people who were pregnant, and so many people who had already gotten an abortion. In my family and in my friends at school. That to me seemed so scary. And there were two students in my high school that had AIDS. My high school was a very, very sexually liberated type of place. People were having sex a lot.I stayed with the guy I first slept with for eight months, but I hated five of the months. He would say, “Oh, please, stay with me.” I didn’t want to be with him, but he was totally enthralled. I got a lot of attention, plus he bought me things. [Laughs.] It was on that level. Now I’m so different with the way I view men and relationships. But, at that time, I was like, “Well, shoot, what is he doing for me? He’s buying me new clothes, he takes me out, he has a car, so I guess I can put up with him.” So I stayed with him until I thought, This isn’t worth it. I’m just sick of you.I recently tried to count how many guys I had sex with, but I got so depressed that I stopped counting. But it was around twenty different people in my whole sexual time from then until my current boyfriend, which is five years. That was really a lot of people. I’m so lucky. I’ve been tested for AIDS three times, and I don’t have AIDS and I’ve never been pregnant. There were shallow relationships, where I knew it wouldn’t go past a certain point and it was because of who they were as a person, or who I was. I didn’t really want to be with anybody.The point that marked the end of that period was when I had an experience—I wouldn’t call it date rape, but I would call it rape by mental force. I was completely manipulated and made to have sex through my own mental shortcomings—by a person that I trusted. When that happened, the promiscuous period stopped. He was fifty years old. I was a dancer all my life, and at the end of high school and the beginning of college, I started doing African dance. I was really loving it because I loved ballet all my life, but I had always felt somewhat out of place. In African dance I felt so at home, and I loved it. It was a place I could go and get all of my tension out and just really be myself—and also be proud of my body, ’cause ballet teaches you, again, to be ashamed of your body. In African dance, many women had big hips, big breasts, and they would dance with their babies on their hips, and it was just a woman’s thing. And the guy who did this to me was one of the drummers. The drummers in African dance, you look up to them; and you dance for them and they play for you, and it’s a symbiotic relationship. I was going to take drumming lessons with him. I think this is how he got to me. He’d always watched me, and then he offered to teach me drumming so I could learn the patterns of the drums and I could do it with my feet too. So he took me to learn how to do it, and that’s the night that it happened.That was the first time I’d been played like that. Never before. I was always the player. I wanted to kill myself. The next few days, I would be at the subway, looking at the train and having to hold myself from jumping in front of the train because I felt so disgusting and dirty. That’s how I know it was sort of a rape experience, because I’d never felt that way after sex before. You know what I’m saying? When I got home that night, I went in the shower and scrubbed my body, because he put this oil on me that smelled. It was fragrant oil, and the smell was all over me, and I could not take it. I tried to go to sleep but couldn’t. I got up and I scrubbed my whole body to get the smell off me. I felt disgusting. He called the next day and said, “I hope you’re okay, because nothing happened last night, right? Nothing happened.” He was trying to make me believe nothing happened? He was really trying to mess with my mind. So that made me realize, he knows he did something wrong, or else he wouldn’t be calling up saying this.He took me to his house, and he was feeding me wine, and—he just—it was like, I mean, I still have a lot of shame about it because deep down I feel like I played along with it. But now I realize I was so needy for love and affection because I wasn’t getting it at home. My home situation was hell. It was the first year of college, when I came back that summer. I hadn’t lived at home for two years of high school, and this was the first time I was going to try to live at home again. There was a situation going on at my house that was awful, and I was escaping into dance. I would go every day, spend hours at the dance studio, and then come home and go in my room and read and stay away from everybody. Now, in retrospect, I know I was really depressed; I wasn’t eating and I was getting really skinny. He took major advantage of me. He didn’t use a condom and he’d been a drug user before. I just took my mind away into another place. I thought, Fine, I’m not going to get out of this situation. I’ve had sex plenty of times before, let me just let him have sex with me. It’s just so ironic ’cause on the one hand, I spent all that time manipulating men, but on a deeper level, I never felt, when it really came down to it, that I could stand up to a man, and really force my own strength over his. I think because as a child I was undermined by my stepfather so much, and he was really physically abusive to me. And so I think that really gave me a fear of men.I never went back to that dance studio. Never went back. And I haven’t danced since then. I want to dance, but, I just cut it out of myself and threw it out. I found a new way to express myself. Afterward, I had a really rough time, and I had to go into the hospital because I was suicidal, and then everything came crashing down with my family. When I came back from college, my sister from Khadijah was staying with us. She had a baby when she was fifteen. And she hadn’t a place to stay, so she came to stay with my mother. My older sister was staying there with her boyfriend, who was a complete fuckup and asshole person. He raped my younger sister and told my older sister that she seduced him and everyone in my family believed him. They didn’t even ask my younger sister. My mother believed him. I came back from college before the thing with the older guy happened, so that was the situation at home. And I was the only person saying, “Wait a minute. This is crazy.”I sat down with her one day and said, “Okay. What happened?” And she told me the whole story, and I said, “He raped you.” And she was just a mess. She was just crying. His story was that he was drunk, that she snuck into his bed, which is unbelievable. I mean, just not true. And I went to my mother and I said, “Look, this is the situation. She didn’t seduce him. That’s ridiculous.” My mother was in complete denial. My older sister was insane. Every time she went into the room where the younger sister was, she was like, “You bitch, you filthy slut.” They couldn’t even be in the same room together. And then that other thing happened to me. I was spending as much time away from my house as possible.I just broke down. I broke down. And I went into the hospital, stayed there for a while. I got back on my feet. But I wasn’t eating. I didn’t eat or drink anything for ten days. I lost so much weight, I was like a skeleton. I had no will to live. I was so depressed. And Jardah was in Brazil, and all my other friends—when you feel that low, you don’t think that anyone understands you, you know? So then I went back to college and did a lot of thinking and lot of growing and I came back because I realized I wanted to do film.I lived at this lady’s house and worked and saved money and left town. I’ve been back a few weekends here and there, but I’m a really alone person. When I went to the hospital, things with my mother and me got so much better—I came to understand why she put us through all of that as a child. She grew up with a father who was an alcoholic, and he was terribly abusive to them. It made her feel just awful about herself, so she had to get out of that situation. And then she went to a similar situation. That’s just what people do. Because they were rich and white, his abuse was different from the way I experienced it, but it created the same sort of effects.
 There were two women who I had sexual relationships with. And one is a really funny story. [Laughs.] I had a friend named Anna in high school. She was white and she was the sweetest girl. She was one of those kids who grew up in a white liberal household, and her parents were the most wellmeaning people you could ever meet. They were so ashamed of what their race does to people and they have spent so much time in their life trying to do the opposite. And I really appreciate that; one thing I’m glad about being biracial is that I’ve gotten to know white people who really are cool. A lot of black people never meet white people, and they just see white as evil. But there are a lot of white people who are just human beings.She was one of those people. We became really close friends. Plus, she was into hip-hop and the whole black scene, so we could hang. And one time we sort of … I don’t even know how to explain it. We didn’t really even kiss, but we were hugging each other and holding each other and caressing each other in a sexual way. It was definitely sexual, but we never kissed. The next day she was like, “That was weird.” And I said, “Yeah, that was kind of weird. I think I was kind of experimenting.” And she said, “Yeah, me too.” That was basically all we said about it. Then later on she ended up having a lesbian relationship with someone. So we talked about it again, and she was saying, “I think what we had was a little different” because she was comparing it with her relationship and saying, “You know, this person really wants a relationship with me.” But she was torn; she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know if she wanted to be in a relationship, or if she was really just experimenting with this person.Then last summer—this really did torment me a little bit, but now looking back I can laugh at the situation. I have this friend named Lucy, and Lucy is Miss Ghetto. She’s very street and rough and tough. She’s very smoothed-out looking, but she’s rough in the way she deals with life. She’s a singer, and this summer we became friends. We would go to clubs together with our group of girlfriends and have a really good time. She had a boyfriend named Sam. This past summer me and her and Sam went to a club. This was the first time I’d met Sam, and he comes and picks me up with her. First thing he says to me is, “Oooh, she’s beautiful.” Lucy was sitting in the front seat of the car, and he said it to her, not to me. And I was like, whatever. “Thanks.” It was kind of strange. Anyway, we’re in the club and we’re dancing, and he’s dancing with me, and he’s starting to grind, and I’m feeling weird because that’s her man. She was dancing with someone else, and I was looking at her and I was starting to get kind of stiff; and she came over to me and whispered in my ear, “You can be loose with him. I don’t care, girl.” She was saying, “Do your thing, do your thing.” But I was thinking, “He’s your boyfriend!” You know what I’m saying? To me, that’s just not appropriate. Me and her went to the bathroom, and I said, “What is up with you and Sam?” She’s like, “Well, we see other people, you know. We do what we want to do. He does what he has to do, I do what I got to do.” They lived together at this point. So I just said, “All right, whatever.” Then she says, “You know, he really likes you.” And I said, “Oh, I really like him too. He’s nice.” ’Cause I took it on that level. But in retrospect, she was saying, he really likes you.So then we all go back to my house. And we’re drinking, and smoking cigarettes, and smoking joints, and just chillin’. Where I was living then, my apartment faced out into another apartment building. We’re on the roof, and we’re looking down into windows, and I say, “One time I saw some guy masturbating in the window,” and Sam said, “Oh, really?!” We went downstairs, and he brought it up again. He asked, “What would you do if I started masturbating in front of you?” and I was like, “What?” And he kept on, “I’m serious, what would you do?” I said, “I don’t know.” He was like, “What would you do if I took off my clothes right now?” And I said, “Tell you to leave.” And he was like, “Ha, ha.” So he stood up, started unbuttoning his pants, took off his shirt, pulled down his pants, pulled down his shorts—in front of me and Lucy. I’m looking at him, and I look at Lucy, and she’s sitting there smiling—I’m still incredulous about it even today. I mean, just … just … this does not happen to me. I was saying, “What are you doing?” And he takes off his underwear and starts feeling on his penis!I looked at Lucy, and she looked at me, and all she did was smile! And then I started to feel weird, and I was asking, “What are you two up to? What’s going on here?” So he was like, “You don’t want me?” Then he came over to me and kneeled down on the ground and put his hands on my legs and started rubbing them. And I was like, “What are you doing? Put your clothes back on.” And he was like, “You don’t want me to do this?” Like all sexy and soft. And I’m like, “No!” And Lucy said, “What’s wrong? Are you scared?” I said “No.” I felt like I was in kindergarten or something! And they’re like, “You chicken.”Then Lucy was asking, “Well, what’s wrong with you? I thought you wanted to.” I was like, “What are you talking about?” This was completely beyond me. And she said, “Well, is it that Sam’s here? Do you want to just do it with me and you?” And I was like, “No.” I was like, “Lucy, I just met Sam. I would never sleep with anyone I just met.” By this time I had changed, I felt good about myself, and I wouldn’t just sleep with anyone. And she came back, “Well, I feel like you’re being a tease, you’re being a flirt because you led us on.” I was like, “I didn’t lead you on. What are you talking about?” I started to feel really scared and nervous because I trusted her. I mean, I didn’t trust her trust her, but to me, it was a double shock, because she was just so “ghetto.” And most girls I know like that, if you even mention the word “lesbian,” they’ll be like, “Eehh, that’s nasty!”Anyway, they stayed until about five in the morning. I could not get them to leave because they kept trying. He finally put his clothes back on, and then we were just talking. I really wanted to find a conclusion to this because I knew if they left with it all weird like that, I wouldn’t be able to deal with them the next day, and I really, really liked Lucy. I wanted to keep her as a friend. In hindsight, I don’t know if it was the best idea, but I wanted to resolve things. I was saying, “Can we be friends after this? I don’t feel any ill will toward you, you know. I don’t feel that it’s disgusting or whatever to be with a girl or to be with two people or whatever, but I’m just saying it’s not right for me.” They were like, “Yeah, I guess we can still be friends, but I just feel really embarrassed.” So finally, we worked it out, and they went home. I’m still friends with Lucy. She’s made jokes about it, like, “I’m not coming to your house.” [Laughs.] She’s just like that; she’s a freak. She likes to do freaky stuff with people.
 I would say there’s three people in my life who I really have that intimacy with. Everybody else, our friendship only goes so far. They are my hanging partners; they’re my girl at school, the girl I sit with at class, but I don’t get intimate with people like that because that taught me a lesson last summer. Especially in the city, you can’t just trust people like that; you can’t just bring someone back to your house in the middle of the night and hang out if your roommates aren’t there because you’ve only known her for two months. You don’t know shit about her. And even though she’s a black girl, she’s a sister, she seems cool, you don’t know shit about her. I have had to learn that for myself; and it’s hard for me because I’m a very open person and I constantly have to hold myself back from telling people how much I like them, and opening up what I have to give to them. Intimacy is just a look; it’s just a knowing thing. To me intimacy is when that person has your back no matter what. When you’ve reached that point where they know what you’re about; they know the essence of you. Like with me and Jardah, she knows what’s up with me. All she needs is one look in the face. And I’m getting to that place with Malcolm, but I don’t think you can really be intimate with someone until they meet your family ’cause they don’t know you fully until they know your family. That’s how I feel about it. I haven’t yet taken him to meet my family. I’ve wanted to, but I’m really sensitive about my family and it’s really hard for me to bring someone to them. I guess I just haven’t wanted to scare him away. He’ll meet them soon enough.I thought I had an intimate bond with my mother, but deep down inside I knew we didn’t have it because I was going through all this turmoil and she would look at me and she wouldn’t see it. She would look at me every day and wouldn’t see shit. She would say, “Have a good day,” and smoke her little weed. I told myself that she’s my mother and on some deep level she feels what’s in me. But then when that thing happened with my sister’s boyfriend, and I begged her to get him out of the house and I begged her and begged her; and I said, “Look, you’re going to lose me if you don’t get him out of this house because I don’t feel safe here. I don’t feel safe in my own house because I am living with a rapist.” I’m very dramatic, you know, but still that’s what it was. Plus I’m my mother’s daughter and I felt like it was my responsibility and not my half sister’s. My mother said, “I can’t choose over you two. I can’t choose between you and him. I love him just as much as I love you.” She said that to me. She loves my sister’s boyfriend as much as she loves me? And that’s when the intimacy broke. She chose him over me, basically. And I was like, I’m out! I just couldn’t take it anymore.Now I know that she was just in such bad denial that for her to confront him, she would have had to confront all the other men in her past who had hurt and abused her and abused people she loved and who she hadn’t been able to stand up to. He was just another version of that. We went from her father to my father, to my stepfather to David. David was with my sister for eight years and he lived in our house for a long time, you know what I’m saying? He was a presence in our house. So, in hindsight I can see the whole cycle, but at that point I was just done with it.
 I don’t remember the first orgasm that well, to tell you the truth. I just know that it happened. I think I just realized I had as much power in the sexual situation as they did to achieve my goal, to fill my needs. Before I felt as though men loved and adored my body and they could get close to my body and touch it and do things to it that they wanted to do; and they could achieve something for themselves that they needed. I wasn’t myself an active participant in getting something for me. I enjoyed being the source of desire for them; it was a turn-on for me. But not until the first time I had an orgasm did I really understand that now I could be on an equal level with men. It really changed my perception about sex. And I think that’s why I started becoming so promiscuous. I hate that word “promiscuous,” because it makes you sound like you’re a bunny or something. I really like having sex and if I was a boy, no one would have said anything—they would have patted me on the back and said I was great. I am not ashamed of it; it’s just that there’s all the social norms that say you should be ashamed of it.I am one of those women who can have orgasms in intercourse very easily. I’ve never had a problem with having an orgasm. I have a lot of friends who are not like that, who can’t have orgasms during intercourse. But I’ve never had one during oral sex. That’s not where I have it. So I’m very motivated to take the situation into my own hands and being the one to move the way I need to move and to set the pace that I need to set rather than having them do it. I’m just now coming to my own sense of sexuality. I’m reaching a place where I really define it for myself. It has a lot to do with my body image, loving my body for what it is. It really starts for me with my body, ’cause my body has been such a big deal in my life as a dancer—staring in the mirror for hours every day and making your body do these movements and trying to be in the space a certain way. And so things have always presented themselves in terms of my physicality. When I was upset and sad, I got really skinny and didn’t eat and changed my body that way to make my mind feel better. Now I’ve gained all the weight back that I lost, plus a little bit, and I have a round belly, down where my womb is. And I used to never have a butt, and that’s because I have a white mother. They used to call me Poster in high school because my butt was so flat you could hang a poster on it. But I’m starting to get a little butt, and I have thighs now. Sometimes I think I’m getting fat and then sometimes I think I like how my body feels. I like this roundness down here; it’s really just comforting. I enjoy being able to eat with my boyfriend and stuffing ourselves and cooking with each other. I’m feeling more comfortable with myself naturally. I haven’t worked out at all—I haven’t danced at all—and this is just the way I am at rest, at peace, without forcing myself to do anything else.I think it’s translated into the sexual realm of feeling that whatever I need or is normal to me, is good. My boyfriend hasn’t truly reached that. I find myself teaching him a lot and freeing him up a lot sexually. He’s spent a lot of his time doing the same things to women that I did to men—just running away from the relationship and being on a shallow level of sex. So he’s learning about his own sexuality at the same time as I’m learning about mine. For instance, right now we haven’t had sex for two weeks. And it’s fine ’cause I feel like when I’m ready to have sex again, I will. I just haven’t wanted to have sex—I’ve been in a real mind space and real critical space about us. Sex really clouds things sometimes and you use sex to wash over problems, and I don’t want to do that right now. And I feel okay about that. A lot of times I feel like, Oh, God, we haven’t had sex for two weeks. Something must be wrong. But maybe that means something is afoot that we have to deal with. Just in terms of that, I feel like I’m more in control of my sexuality.
 I have had sex mostly with black men, and a few white men. I have never slept with an Asian person. I’ve slept with Hispanic men. When I was younger the issue of color was more out in the open. I think it’s masked now that I’m older. I’m very light-skinned and so I’m sought after a lot for that very reason. That never made me feel good; I always knew it was something fake. I think people try to mask the whole light skin/dark skin thing, but I see it more. I’ve always liked people to like me for me. I think I am beautiful, but I think it’s a “me beauty”—it’s not a light-skinned beauty. I’ve always been really sensitive about that. I always made sure the people I was with were really with me for me. I’ve never slept with someone who was with me just for looks. And I think I am really proud that I’ve always had a connection with the people that I’ve slept with, whether we were really good friends, or just had fun together, and we decided to take it to that level. But it’s never been just a looks or lust type of thing.I think more about race now because I am starting to realize that I’m going to be having children and settling down at some point and I don’t want to have children with a white man. I don’t want to settle down with a white man. When I was younger and I was just playing around it didn’t matter. It’s that I don’t feel comfortable with a white man and I don’t feel like I can be my true black woman self with a white man. I feel like I have to do so much explaining about myself. Me and Malcolm are so much more familiar. With someone who’s black, it’s just a level that you begin at that you don’t begin at with a white person. You have to do some explaining about the race issues—where you’re coming from—but most of the time it’s really just there. I think they see me as a black woman but they also see me as a prize. It’s like they have the best of both worlds. They have the black body and attitude that only black women have, which white women can never compare with. I’m not trying to say it in a negative way, but we are our own selves and there’s no one on earth that is like a black woman.But if you are dark, people don’t want to look at you, they avert their eyes from you. When you’re light people want to look at you because that means you have an extra something good about you. God has given you a gift that hasn’t been given to the rest of our race. So I think, especially among white men, they get the best of both worlds, and I’m very aware of that. I don’t blame them for wanting to be with black women because why wouldn’t you want to be with us?I like black men’s bodies more because they are stronger and thicker and more reliable. A black man’s body is more durable and the color is like security to me. Darkness to me is something that envelops you and wraps you up and keeps you safe and warm, and the lightness makes me cringe and makes me want to go away from it. My mother has really blue, blue eyes and they have seemed cold to me all my life. Brown eyes seem so much warmer to me. Malcolm is my complexion, so when I say “black men,” it doesn’t necessarily have to be about skin tone; it’s more about the body shape and the way he carries himself.A black man is under so much pressure. To be with a black man is almost like living life with a spy because he’s constantly ducking things and he’s aware of this whole level of people that are out to get him that I’m not aware of as a black woman. A lot of them think being a black man is more oppressive than being a black woman. But it’s not; I’m really strong against that idea. A few days ago, I had this argument with my boyfriend. He was saying black men are more oppressed than black women. And I was like, “How can you say that?” And he said, “Well, we die more than you do, don’t we? We’re the ones dying out on the streets.” And I came back, “But we’re the ones suffering as a result of your death. So is your life more important than mine? You’re dead, but I’m suffering a lot. So what does that mean? That your life is more important than my life?” He says there is a way he walks through life: when he sees police officers and different people, there’s little bells ringing, little signals. I don’t live that way; maybe other black women live that way but I don’t live that way. I don’t have fear of people. I really feel like it’s just life. But we are constantly battling something and running to something with each other, and we have so many goals to fulfill. Life with a black man is just so adventurous, I feel like a kid all the time. We also just try to chill, trying to be together; and sometimes we just can’t get there. But when we do get there, our down time is so good. I think I am also bringing him a lot of peace and security in his life that he doesn’t have on his own. I don’t know what the future will bring.
 It’s kind of weird, but there is definitely the essence of both of my parents in me. If someone asks me my race, I always say, “I’m black.” My mother said, “Now look, I’m white but you’re black.” I know some kids that grow up biracial, their white mothers are like, “Oh, honey … you’re mixed. You’re this and you’re that.” My mother was like, “Make no mistake, because you’re black!” So I never thought I was white. You look at me and I’m black so I haven’t really received the same benefits or bad things that come with being white. In fact, my mother never felt that white people had a real culture. She felt like white society was just all fake. I think that’s partly why she went to the black culture.I feel that being biracial has given me a chance to experience so much more than anyone who is of only one race. I can get access to places because my mother’s white or because my father is black. I want to be a filmmaker so I’m very curious and I love watching people. It’s just been a great way to watch people, to see all these different nooks and crannies in the world that I never would have gotten to see. Sometimes it makes me feel a little bit like I’m not really anywhere. I feel like more of an outsider among whites than I do among blacks because black people are more forgiving and encompassing. We have so many trips going on with us, it’s like, “So what if your mother’s white anyway?” I always felt more accepted among blacks. When you’re black and you have some white look in you, you’re still black; you haven’t escaped us. But when you’re white and you’ve got some black blood in you, you’re black, so you’re out of the game now.Racial images are such powerful things. I realize that every image you see is created for a specific purpose. Every single image, down to the shadow on someone’s face, is constructed by people who have motives; and that is mind-blowing to me. Seeing black women treated so disrespectfully in black film and music videos in particular really bothers me. It really affects the way girls see themselves and carry themselves in the world; and it dictates what femininity is for black women and to a lot of young girls. I see them acting out these patterns, especially among the hip-hop community, and it really makes me sick.In this music video by the rapper Redman, he is on his rooftop, and down on the street there are scenes of prostitutes. They are black with blond wigs on, short shorts and halter tops and really slimy outfits. The camera is showing their asses and their breasts. They are propositioning men in cars and talking to police in very sexual ways; and the video really bothers me because usually in hip-hop videos, you represent who you hang out with. All their boys are up on the rooftop with them and they are representing each other the way they are; but then when it comes to representing us, they represent us like hookers. But they don’t hang out with women who look like that; the women they hang out with look just like them. They wear baggy jeans, big sweatshirts and whatever. They have their hair and nails done, but they are just average everyday girls. The groupies that hang around Redman may be sexual but they don’t dress like that. That’s not what we look like; and when I go into any black neighborhood I don’t see prostitutes. I don’t see women dressed like that in any black neighborhood I’ve been in, in my entire life.I don’t understand that. Why is it that you can represent me like that? Why are you representing me like that to the world? It really pisses me off, because I feel like, “Damn, I birth you, I raise you, and I break my back to feed you all your life”—which I am sure every single one of these rappers’ mothers did—“and then this is the thanks I get?” I have a lot of anger about it; it directly affects the way black men treat black women because we’re seen as objects, commodities. Like when I’m hanging around Malcolm’s house, guys drop by all the time from around the way and just shoot the shit and then leave. So they’ll come in, completely ignore me, shake Malcolm’s hand, and sit down. If Malcolm doesn’t introduce me, they can’t come to me as an individual and say hello. They have to do it through a man because in their eyes, I’m his bitch—I’m his property. For instance, it was hot in his apartment and one of them was like, “Malcolm, is it okay if I take off my sweatshirt?” To him that’s respecting Malcolm, but he could have easily said, “Do you mind?” to me. But he can’t communicate with me as an individual, he has to communicate through another man.It was the same thing when I was walking down the street and this guy was disrespecting me. He was crawling on the ground in front of me pretending to lick my vagina—licking the air and being disgusting in front of me. Malcolm was across the street and he came over and said, “Yo, man, what are you doing?” And the other guy said, “She’s with you, man, I’m sorry, no disrespect,” and gave Malcolm a pound and started to go on his way. I was like, “What the fuck was that?” I said to Malcolm that I was not pleased at the way he handled that. And he was like, “What did you want me to do—get in a fight? He had six guys,” because the only recourse in his mind is to fight someone. I said, “No, but you could have said, ‘Hey you shouldn’t be apologizing to me. You should be apologizing to her,’” ’cause I’m the one he offended. I told him that I can’t make that guy apologize to me because there are six guys there. I’ve seen girls get their asses kicked by guys who to tried to proposition them. The girls go, “Please, I don’t have time for you,” and the guy chases her down the block and kicks her ass. I’ve seen that happen and everybody knows it happens. I need my man to ask for me to get my respect. Do you know what I’m saying? It’s not great, but at least it’s better than him apologizing to Malcolm as if I was Malcolm’s property. As if he spit on Malcolm’s car and was like, “Oh, I’m sorry.” That type of shit happens all the time and it affects the way black women deal with each other.Another time we were sitting around in Malcolm’s apartment and one of the guys came in with his girlfriend. Malcolm was out of the room, but his roommates were there; his roommates are very rude, and they don’t care about anyone. So the guy came in, and he didn’t get introduced to me. Nobody said anything. So I said, “Hi, I’m Sarita. Nice to meet you.” But the girls, they couldn’t say anything to me and I couldn’t say anything to them because of the way things were. We were property of these men in this social setting, so we couldn’t say hello to each other. We had to be introduced through our male owners. But my male owner wasn’t there, so I did a breach of etiquette by even saying hello to this man; and then when my male owner came in the room, everything was okay again, but I still didn’t get to meet the girls. So I’m sitting here trying to braid Malcolm’s hair, and I’m making a mess of his braids, and I look over to a girl, and I see a way to try and talk to her. So I said, “You see what I’m doing, girls? I’m making a mess on his head, huh?” And she looked at the braid, and she started laughing. She said, “I don’t know what you’re trying to do,” because I don’t know how to cornrow, and I was experimenting. I was like, “Come and show me how to cornrow.” She said, “I know how to cornrow,” because her man has three kids, and she’s tellin’ me, “I have to do their hair every morning.” So, she came over and started to show me how. That’s how I made a little connection with her. And then we started talking. It’s like we’re not even respected enough to get introduced to each other. It’s like, “You all don’t even matter. Just sit by us and let us have a conversation. Stand on the wayside.” We’re not individuals on the same level as you to get introduced to everybody the way you get introduced to everybody.All these images of black women as objects of black men directly affect the way our social etiquette works. And it really fucking pisses me off. It makes me sick because then I have to take it upon myself to breach the social etiquette all the time if I want to be an individual in a situation. And if I want to join a conversation? I’m as smart as anybody else in that room, most times smarter. Why should I sit by the side when they’re talking some bullshit they don’t even know about when I could sit there and school all of them on stuff? Malcolm is fighting with this, and it’s so hard because this is all he knows.
 I think that whole being skinny image problem might be more true for white women—the whole body thing and self-esteem. But the black body aesthetic is more natural. It’s more the way women are really meant to be, with big hips and big breasts and thighs. A lot of black women I know—even my friends that are big, that are size fourteen, size sixteen—still have no problem. They really don’t torment themselves about it. They get just as many dates as I would get from black men. I wouldn’t say that it really affects us that much. I think skin color does much more in that same regard, in terms of self-esteem. A lot of dark sisters that I know had problems with self-esteem growing up because the images of beauty for black women were all of light skinned-women with straighter hair. I think that’s much more of an issue than body type.
 I read Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan last year, before I even knew the movie was coming out. I didn’t really like the book that much. It was like a beach book; you read it, and it’s cool. If I could ever make a movie out of any novel, it would be Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. I really would love to get the rights to that screenplay because that is just the bomb. That book is my favorite novel of all time. Anyway, I just felt like the story in Exhale is kind of shallow; at the same time that it addresses the issues of how black women need to be self-sufficient and not have to depend on men, it almost perpetuates the idea that our lives revolve around black men. I had a real problem with that fundamental motive of the film. The message was really unclear, because it was saying, “Don’t do this,” but it was also affirming the idea that you should be looking for a man—like, that’s the goal in life. You don’t have anything until you have a man. Whitney Houston’s character was a career woman, and she had a beautiful house, a beautiful car, and she owned things. That’s the goal in this capitalist society, right? If that was a man, he would have been a success. He would have had everything in the world. He’s a bachelor; he doesn’t have any ball and chain on his ass. But for a woman, that’s the worst thing in the world, not having a man to share that with. Also, I felt like a lot of the moments between the women were cut off and premature or music was played underneath their dialogue. It made it trivial. It’s like, “We are talking here. Hello? Can you cut the music off?”I had an argument with my boyfriend the other day. He was saying, “Black women are so angry at us. They are so angry. Why can’t you just put down the anger and love us?” So I said, “Why should I love you? You’ve hurt me. Men have hurt me as a black woman for so long, so why should I put down my anger? Why do I always have to sacrifice for you? For your good. So you can feel loved. Why do I have to do that?” All these things were mind-blowing to him—he never thought of those things before. But I am really about liberating myself as a black woman.We need black men, and at the same time we don’t need black men. We need them and they need us to further our race, but we are always the ones ending up making the sacrifices and I’m starting to have a real problem with that. That’s why I see black women as so complex because we fight racism just as strongly as black men do, but then we have to come home and fight black men and still hold on, you know. We take so much and we let so much slide because of what black men face in terms of racism. We hold down our own pain to hold on to all that we have. I think this is born out of fear that we don’t have anything unless we have a black man. It’s so much a part of me and when I look into a black woman’s face, I see that in her. No matter where she is. Because if she doesn’t act that way in her life, chances are her sister acts that way or her mother acts that way. Or she has gotten over it and moved on from it. But that is at the core of us. And yes, it’s unhealthy, but for a lot of us, that’s the only thing we know. We just have to pray that the man is going to treat us good.Listen to how we are talked about in our music. Even if that man treats black women so bad, we will still love him so much; and that’s messed up because he, a lot of times, is not loving you back. That’s the thing, though … I just love them so much. It’s like I can’t help but love them. Every black man I see, I see so much love in him even if he is doing wrong; I still feel so connected to him. Black men are so full of love and life. They really are amazing people and they go through so much and it’s hard to just cut them out. I try, but they have this look on their face that makes you remember all the joy that they have brought you to. So it’s just hard to say, “I am not going to do this anymore” and move on, because you are afraid of what’s in the future, and sometimes the love feels so good that you think, Well, nothing in the future can compare to what this feels like, so I’m not going to move on. I have struggled with this so many times. But that’s the catch because unless you move on, you’re never going to find someone who will really love you all the time.luciana
 
 SEX IS INTIMATE, and I think it’s secret with a lot of people. It’s something that no one talks about. If women have a problem with it, they don’t have anyone to talk about it with. Unless they have a real good partner—which most of us unfortunately have not been so lucky to find. So you walk around with your problems, you sleep with your fears, your hopes, all by yourself. And sometimes they’re just not pleasant to walk around with; I figured, well, to talk about it a little bit with anyone other than my conscience, I might find something out about myself. I think it’s a good way to just step back from myself, to actually give myself voice, and then see what I think about it later.I’m thirty-eight, I work for an arts festival. I moved to Dallas from Mississippi, and I was doing modeling there. My permanent job was utilities collection. Just before moving here, I went to a modeling convention in New York. There were a lot of agencies there, but they didn’t care for my look. They thought that Dallas or Atlanta was the better place for me to find work. So I came to Dallas. I’ve got a girlfriend here, and she helped me get started. I’ve been here since ’87. I was doing a lot of modeling and acting on my own after I got here. Then the agency found me a job at the arts festival, and they said they’d be willing to work with my schedule—I could come in and out and it would be okay. And that’s what I’ve done. I’m in front of the camera, and then work at the festival.I was raised in a very small town in Mississippi—if you blink, you’d miss it when you drive on the highway. It took me about five years to leave, preparing my psyche, letting my kids grow a little, until I felt sure that I could make that move by myself because none of my family is here. I was raised just with my mom. She and my dad split up shortly after I was born, but he was still in the same town. I lived with my mom, my grandmom, and her two sisters. They had a family café where they sold food and lunches to the local community. So I was just raised in there. Learned my ABCs on the jukebox. Most of my upbringing was there with my mother’s sister’s kids and I growing up together; and then eventually she got her own place, and it was just Mom and I. I got to see my dad every now and then, but mostly it was his mother who kept me a part of their family. My Aunt Janice would come and get me just so we could keep a connection. But he didn’t do it. His mom kept me in church when I didn’t want to be in church.We were Catholic, so we did the Communion, the Confirmation, and all those good things. I went with my grandmother, or I went alone or with other friends. Had my grandmother always trying to teach me to be a little lady, while on the other side, my mom let me just be the tomboy. She just let me be me. As long as I did my chores or my schooling, she was okay if I wanted to go outside and climb a tree or wrestle with the boys. Whereas my grandmother always wanted me to sit down and be pretty, and make sure I didn’t get dirty, and keep my hair neat. So I had a little double life. I had to be a good girl with her and then be me with my mom. It is such a very small community: everybody knows everybody, and you can walk from one end of town to the other in an hour. We still had roads we hadn’t paved; it was real country.The café is still the family business. When my mom got tired of doing that, then she started working in a clothing factory. She did that up until I was eighteen. It was the only steady work in the town, unless you were in an office, and then not many blacks had the opportunity to do that. There was still sort of racial segregation. When I got my first job at city hall, I was the first black there. It was quite an experience. I got this job when I was sixteen. It had just come about where they allowed black students to take the civil service test. I got in through the city councilman who used to be my band teacher in high school. I passed the test, got in, got the job. And the white people just went berserk. They picketed the place and everything. Didn’t want a little black girl in there.
 My mother had a daughter when I was twenty-five. I was already gone. My half sister and I know each other mostly by telephone; every now and again we see one another. And my dad has a family on his own. He married shortly after he and my mother split, and we have a whole bunch of family on the other side. I have extended family on both sides. I have two boys, a seventeen-year-old and a twenty-two-year-old. The twenty-two-year-old will be graduating next month. And I have a grandbaby.
 Intimacy to me is when you share things that you just don’t tell everybody; when you talk about your hopes and your dreams and when you really want to know each other beyond the surface. When you talk about things that make you afraid, your failures, your dreams of success—I consider that to be intimate; everybody doesn’t talk about that because you’re afraid someone may put you down or criticize you or just tell you, “Don’t do that. You’re wrong.” When you can actually sit and talk with someone and don’t have that fear, I consider that to be intimate.I don’t have nobody that I would consider myself to be close to. Well, kind of with my mom, but she’s not here and we don’t communicate often. Most of the time when I call her and it’s an odd time, if it’s not a holiday or special occasion, she goes, “What’s wrong?” “Nothing’s wrong. I just called to say, ‘Hey, what’s up?’” But when we do talk, we’re closer now than we were when I lived with her because I have the freedom to say what I want to say without the fear of her reprimanding me. I used to have a best friend, and she betrayed me a long time ago; and I’ve never had a best friend since. I just no longer trust anybody.We were best friends all the way up to ninth grade. Then I got pregnant and I told her everything. And while I was pregnant, she had an affair with my boyfriend. I never got over that. I never, never got over that. She was still talking to me; we were hanging out and everything. And she was being with my boyfriend. From that point on, I just dismissed best friends. There’s nobody now who I tell my secrets to. I don’t trust anyone. No more best friends. To this day I still don’t like her. I’m still bitter. And I’ve gone on. I’m friends with my ex-husband. He’s gone on now, remarried, and has another family. But this one particular girl—I am through with her forever and a day.I’ve had friends or acquaintances since then, and each time I’ve let my guard down, they’ve done the wrong thing. So no more. No. I’ve had friends betray me on all different kinds of levels. Most of the time the betrayal has been in reference to a relationship. Either I was just starting one or they were part of the beginning, and they tried to get into it themselves—which really I always find out because I’m so nosy. I consider that a betrayal because if you’re in at the beginning and you know I like this person, and I think that this person likes me, and you seem to be okay, why in the world do you want to disrupt it? What do you gain from this? I can never come up with a satisfactory answer. A couple times where I have actually approached people to find out why, they always lie. And it just pisses me off that you lie to me, straight in my face, when you know you’re lying.It happens mainly with women. I get along pretty good with men. I don’t have that good of a relationship with females, outside of my professional world. I think they just look at me and can’t stand me right off the bat! I’ve had a bunch of guys where it’s not an intimate thing, but we clicked. We can sit down and talk trash and hang out, and tomorrow I don’t have to worry about who’s coming back to rehash what we talked about or where we went, or anything. Whereas with women, there always seems to be an issue, over and over, for nothing. I kind of avoid them whenever possible.I feel comfortable with my sexuality to an extent. There’s just problems of unfulfillment in relationships. The men in my life have been a little bit more selfish than I when it comes to the loving. It’s like, get mine, get yours if you can. It never seems to be about a give and take. I’ve only had one man in my entire life where I actually felt it was balanced, and unfortunately that just didn’t work out. Most of my relationships ended on a funny note. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who’s actually angry with me. When we disagree, it’s usually, You state your case, I’ll state mine, and we’ll agree on that, or we will go our separate ways. I can’t stand yelling or cursing and not really addressing the issue. I like to talk, and I like to get the details, so I’m not content with just saying, “I’m mad at you; you need to get away from here.” We need to find out why we are mad, and why we are feeling we have to split up.I learned about sex too young, I guess. Reading, TV, movies, conversations. I’d say mostly reading because I read everything, and I’m very interested in how people think, and why they think what they think, especially sexually. I was really curious, so anytime I saw an article or heard about something, then I’d definitely read that. But early on, I learned mostly from my friends. I was always a little old for my age, so all my friends were older than me. They were doing things way before I was able to think about it. And they would talk about it in my company. I was able to ask, “And what else? What d’you do? Why’d you do that?” And then watching my mom and her sisters and my grandma, watching how their relationships went. In my family, I think, we don’t do too well with the guys. My grandmother’s husband died when her children were young. My mom got married and the marriage didn’t last. Each of her sisters got married and both marriages didn’t last, and it was always them leaving, not the man leaving. They just seem to end, and maybe that’s why I do mine the way I do mine. Because I usually leave first.But it leads one to wonder, Is there something wrong with us? None of us have a relationship that lasts for a long time. We all are rather headstrong, and we have our ideas about the way things are, and we all like to talk. If you can’t explain it, then as far as I’m concerned, my explanation is the one we’re going to work with. I’ve got to be straight. If you’re not going to be straight, then there’s no point in doing this. And I can walk away first. Like my guy that I loved so dearly, I walked away from him. I’m great at that.My mom talked a bit about sex with me, but not as much as she should have. More or less just the friendly parental reminder. “Don’t let those boys get under your dress. Don’t bring no babies here. If you get a baby, it’s going to be hard; you’re going to have to mind that baby”—that kind of stuff. But never sitting down to talk about how you’re going to have a relationship, or what you want to look for in a boyfriend. My grandmother was fifteen when she had my mom; that was back in the day when that’s what folks did. And then my mom was fifteen when she had me. Then I came up being fifteen when I got pregnant with mine. So it was like, Let’s break this cycle somewhere. Don’t continue it. I guess my mom had a fear of having this cycle repeated. I’ve never really asked her. It’s broken now because my boys didn’t do it. And my grandmother on the other side, she always did talk about it, but it was like a secret subject about that quiet stuff that’s just for grown-ups. I was never grown up in my grandmother’s eyes until I brought my own baby. Then I was a grown-up.So the most information I received would be from my fifth-grade teacher. We had this little booklet called Very Personally Yours. It talked about the menstrual cycle, and what happens before you start, and what happens to your body during it, how you start getting these feelings, and how to deal with it. The teacher would actually allow us to ask questions. And at that time I was kind of a teacher’s pet, so I used to go to her house sometimes after school and read, and she tried to teach me to play the piano, which I never caught on to. But she was the first person, and the only person, that allowed me to ask questions about those kinds of things.The first time I got my period, I went to the store and got my things, came home, fixed myself up, and when my mom came home, I told her. My mom just went on saying that I was a little old lady, and she didn’t worry about me too much because I was pretty responsible. She told me, don’t do this or don’t go there, and I didn’t do it. She noticed early on that she didn’t have a discipline problem with me, so she didn’t worry about me too much. Then when my period came along, she goes, “Wow, now you’re a big girl.” Because that was the term, “You’re a big girl now.” She would say, “You know now when I go to the store, you can’t be having Mama bring you something back. You’re not my little girl anymore, you’re a big girl.” And she told me, “Now that you are a big girl, you can have a baby if you want. Go ahead (and let those boys look under your clothes).” Then she asked me if I had already let anybody do that, and at that time I hadn’t. She reminded me that if I wanted to talk about it before I did it, to come and tell her, that she wanted to know, and for me not to be scared to come and tell her about it. She gave me an open door to talk with her, but she wasn’t always as forthcoming with information as one would have expected her to be.I guess my mom had me before she really wanted to. Her sister was my confidante, she almost was like my surrogate mom. She was the one who’d take me and comb my hair and dress me pretty, and talk with me and show me how to cook and all that stuff. Mom was working and partying and going on with life. She just always tried to tell me, be responsible, don’t do anything I didn’t want to do, stand my ground. If a boy asked me to do anything and I said no, to not let him talk me into things. She gave me all the good points that I really should have taken into account, and we chatted and I understood her.Everybody I talked to said you should try to stay a virgin until you get married. But I saw so many relationships around me that were not marriages. A lot of them were good, some of them were not good. But I didn’t see any shining examples of this virginity thing that everybody held so highly. I didn’t see any examples of any benefit to anyone. Everything just seemed to be running rampant. You got married, you got babies, you didn’t have a husband. You’re with this man, you’re not married, you’re not even talking about marriage. You already had a boyfriend and you’re with him. So what I learned in my textbook, in my classes, in my catechism, virginity had its place there. But where I lived, it wasn’t there. I learned about virginity from church, religion, and through my school. My books and my teachers. I looked upon that as my choice, if I wanted to save it, not because of what I was actually seeing. And at one point I did want to save it, but curiosity got the better of me. I just had to find out what all the madness was about.I remember one time I asked my mom for birth control, and she brought me to the doctor and the doctor wouldn’t give it to me. That was when I was actually becoming curious. He told me no, and the next year I decided to satisfy my curiosity. He said I was too young for birth control pills. I was fourteen. At the time, the clinics weren’t giving them to you on your own, like they do now. And the very next year, of course, I was pregnant. At the time I was of the mind-set that the first time I did it I wouldn’t get pregnant. I did. I guess it was just a very immature way of thinking.He was seventeen. We didn’t talk about birth control. He was a shy guy, and I’d been a tomboy since I was a little girl. We’d had this little play relationship for the longest time. We played around a couple years, stealing a kiss here and there, hugging and all that, but we would never go that far. And we didn’t even talk about it because it wasn’t even an issue. We weren’t thinking about that. At least it didn’t seem we were thinking about it. And then we went to this party one night, and we just had so much fun. I don’t know if he drank or what, but it just seemed as though that night, things were a little more heated than usual. And he was like, “Let’s try it, let’s try it.” And I was like, “No, no, no, no.” And he was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” So the baby factor, you know, it just wasn’t in our minds. But of course, he continued to play around. “Okay, just a little bit, just a little while.” And a little bit, little while was too much. Too long! And lo and behold, baby came forth.I was attracted to him, I wanted to marry, I wanted to be with him forever. And I actually ended up marrying him later on, and I really did want to keep that marriage; it just turned out that I was a little bit more ready than he was. He’s married and he’s started a family now, but with me, he really wasn’t ready to be a husband, a father. We got married right after my sixteenth birthday. I had my baby in December when I was fifteen, and I turned sixteen in January, and I got married a week after that. We stayed married for one year to the day. We had things going on. He was still catering to his mom, putting his mom before us every time. She used to borrow from us, and we didn’t really have money to loan. He had a little job, he had a check, and he kept giving money to his mom and she wouldn’t pay us back. I would get upset, and he didn’t understand why. I kept trying to explaih, “You have a wife now. We’re supposed to be first. And if she’s going to borrow money from us, she should give it back.” We never came to an agreement on that.But on our anniversary night we were at a party. He thought someone was flirting with me across the room, and he threatened to hit me, and that was enough. That was one decision I had in my head a long time, that I would never, never allow a man to hit me. And he threatened to hit me; that was all I needed. I did not go home. He began to put his hand on me to try to shake me, to begin this exchange of whatever it was going to be. I got away. I ran. At that time we did not have a car, so he ran down the street, all the way home. We lived on this street, and the next block over was where my mom lived. I just went right to my mom’s. And I didn’t go back.We played around, and the next summer I took him back because everybody influenced me, saying that we should try, I shouldn’t have left like that, I got a baby, and we’re married and all that stuff. I took him back against my better judgment, and he wasn’t with me but a few months when just looking at him made me mad. He would come home after work, and my whole demeanor, everything would change. It was like, You just need to go away. One particular day I just told him, “This is not working. You need to go ahead and move. I don’t want you to be here anymore.”He wouldn’t take care of us, and I guess finance has always been a big issue with me because I just never had enough. I’ve never had enough to satisfy my basics let alone going beyond. And I was tired of having trouble with basics. If I am going to do all this struggling and you’re not going to help me, then you can just go. And I made him leave. He still kept in touch with my son, and his family did. But it just didn’t work between us anymore.I was thirty-one or thirty-two and I had already had my kids when I had my first orgasm. It was with this guy that I met up with. The one that got away. It was around the same time I slept with the woman who worked with me. It was absolutely wild. For the longest time, I fought myself, not wanting to satisfy that curiosity.When he and I broke up, I was a mental case. Even though I left him, I just felt that I wasn’t worthy, and I really felt bad about myself. I went into this real bad depression for three months, stayed home, just ate, slept, and gained fifty pounds. I have not shaken that whole fifty since. But the woman from work was good for me at that time because she helped reaffirm that I was okay just being me; I didn’t need him to affirm who I was. That took a long time because I really felt that I needed him, and I had messed up bad by just walking away from him. But up to that point, I just had sex. It was no tenderness involved, no real passion. All the stuff that I want it to be, that when you think about it, you go, “Oooh!”—it just wasn’t that. In my head, that’s what I wanted it to be, and I kept searching and searching. And I said, “I must be the oddball because obviously nobody else is thinking like me. What’s up?” But when I met this guy, it was such a fairy tale. I guess that’s why it didn’t work—because it was really a fantasy. I went out to this club by myself, and he was sitting at the bar, and I walked in the club, and I just stopped to look around, and I thought, Oh, he is just so fine! Whoo! How can I get over there?! And we got together, and it was like we knew one another. It was so comfortable right off the bat. We waited a very long time—for me it was a very long time because I would have had him right there on the spot, he was just so fine. Yes, but we were very good. He has a son, too. Just the sight of him would just excite me. He would send love letters every day, and I love that! A guy who’s romantic—Oh! He would come to see me and it was like Christmas. When we finally did decide to make love, I was beside myself. Sparks were going off everywhere. Oooh! When we made love, he paid attention to me and my responses, so it was more of an exchange instead of just him trying to get off or me trying to get off. It was more touching and talking and caressing and all the elements that I had stored in my head that I wanted when I would make love. It was perfect. And when I had my orgasm, I almost went into shock. I was embarrassed to confess that that was my first time feeling that. And what made it even better was that he picked up that I felt a little embarrassed. I didn’t really have to come out and explain. Then he just held me and talked softly in my ear. He didn’t go anywhere, he didn’t jump up, and he just made it so sexual.I was like, Damn, all this time I’ve been missing this. Then I had this rewind of the tape in my head, Why haven’t I been having this before? Why did it not work out like that with anyone else? It was a vaginal orgasm from just straight-out, plain old sex! And it was amazing. Absolutely amazing. The oral sex came afterward and I was in heaven, thinking, This is getting better and better. Before this, I had given but never received oral sex. I never even asked for it. At the time, being the little kooky person that I am, I wanted to be good at it, so I wanted to practice. And giving it to me, well, I was just kind of weird about it. Then when I finally did get it, that’s when it all came out. This is a requirement now.When I first had the experience of giving it, it was with a friend of mine, and he was just so fine. I called him my mentor, told him I wanted to learn how to do that. Of course, he was all for it. “You want to learn how to do that? Yeah!” We just were real tight. Real tight. And we had not crossed that bridge. We would talk about past experiences with other people, but we had not talked about it with us. I just threw it out, so I more or less initiated that part of the relationship. And he was pretty gung ho for it. “Anytime you want to, let me know.” We did that for a long time. He asked about giving me oral sex—he actually asked—and I said no, I wasn’t ready for that yet.I just discovered masturbation with myself in the last couple years. Before that, I wouldn’t even try and no one talked about it. I guess my sexuality came into being after I moved here to Dallas. Because in Mississippi I couldn’t be me; I was kind of odd. I just know I was always different, and my way of thinking, acting, didn’t fit. But moving here was a real help for me because I was able to get away from all the influences that made me want to hide or hold back. As a matter of fact, when I started working for the arts festival, I learned so many things. [Laughs.] They were quite an eclectic bunch, to say the least. There was a girl who was a lesbian, a guy that was gay; and although I had homosexual friends in Mississippi, we never really talked sexually. But coming here I met these people on my job. They were so free and so open with themselves, I was like, “Damn! This is cool. People are okay with themselves. It’s all right to be like that.” They reeducated me. I had lots of questions. And they didn’t mind answering. The girl and I became very good friends. We went out together; my kids baby-sat her kids. She introduced me to a whole new world.I did actually have a lesbian thing. It was scary and it was nice at the same time. I was kind of confused for a while. I didn’t know if I was going the other way, or what I was doing. Oh! Matter of fact, she was the first person to talk to me about masturbating. She asked me, “You don’t do that?” I said, “No! You do that?!” And she said, “Yeah. All the time.” I asked her, “Really? How do you do that?” And she told me all kinds of things. I was like, “Really, and that’s enough?”Well, mentally it was a big hurdle to be with a woman; but when it actually came, it didn’t seem that big of a deal. Because it felt so natural, so comfortable to when the time actually came and we did it I didn’t have all the hang-ups that I thought I had. Which struck me as odd because usually I’m kind of rigid in my thinking. Anyway, the first one wasn’t with the girl at work. I was hanging out with her, and feeling how people do it. It actually occurred with a girl from home that came visiting.She was kind of out there, too, in her thinking. Her husband, myself, and her used to watch porno movies together. They were the oddest little couple, and I think that’s why I liked it—because they seemed so damn odd. She used to tell me about how she more or less perfected her technique of oral sex by watching the movies. When she came to visit, she told me that her and her husband had broke up and the whole sob story. She began to talk about some sexual things they had went through, and about when they were splitting up; and I was just like, Yeah, interesting. She asked me, “Have you ever thought about a woman?” And she kind of put her hand on mine as she was talking. You know, hand on my leg, and then she put her hand on my hand and continued talking very softly. I started talking about, “Well, I never thought about it.” And she said, “Well, it’s really natural,” and she was giving me her little textbook talk—now that I look at it, it’s funny. As she talked she continued to touch. I consider myself to be highly sensitive. I can’t have people touching me or I get hot, so don’t touch me like that. She was talking to me, and touching, and caressing, and one thing led to another and another and another, and it happened. We had oral sex, touching of the breasts, and the kissing and the hugging. The whole nine yards, I think. I didn’t have an orgasm with her, and I’m not sure why I didn’t. I’m not sure if I was just satisfying curiosity and still holding something back, or exactly what I was doing.It was okay. I enjoyed it, as a matter of fact. I was quite excited; I couldn’t wait to tell my girlfriend at work. “I did it! I did it!” And of course, she’s like, “You did?” I said, “Yes, girl, I have to tell you all about it.” So I’m telling her all about it, and she goes, “Good. Do you think you’re going to do it again?” I said, “Probably. I’m not really sure. I don’t think I could actually go and initiate it because I don’t think I’m that comfortable with it.” So she and I began to go out; she began taking me to lesbian clubs, which I thought was real cool: “Oh, wow, I like this.”It was just a bunch of women, and everybody was okay with themselves. I guess I’m a closet les—a closet freak. I’m not sure which. But it really felt good to me to be able to see people being comfortable with who they were. They were hugging and kissing each other and dancing real closely. That wouldn’t be acceptable in my town. It was good seeing that people felt like that, and thought like that. They weren’t hiding, they didn’t seem to be ashamed. So that was good for me. I’ve never had it in my family to say that this one’s a lesbian, or they’re bad people, or people I shouldn’t associate with. I never had that type of upbringing. So these people were always okay with me in my mind, but I never saw them and seeing them here was really good.And that was another thing I’d never had, a black and white relationship. The woman from my office was white. I had one relationship with a white man; it was a really nice relationship that gave me a different opinion of white men. It was someone on the job, and we had a secret affair for the longest time. He was a very nice man, and he treated me very kind. He was like pillar-of-the-community kind of thing. Married, kids, the wife was a schoolteacher. He was a city councilman, school-bus driver, worked in the sheriff’s department. Very, very considerate of my feelings, remembered little things, you know, birthdays. Very nice. Good love. Didn’t do the orgasms, but we made good love. I still call him every now and then when I’m passing through my hometown. But we haven’t been together in quite some time.The woman from work and I started going out a lot, and she has MPD (multiple personality disorder). I’m still struggling with accepting that because it doesn’t add up to me. She’s been clinically diagnosed as that. I personally think when she’s had enough with life, she just goes, “I don’t want to deal with stuff.” As far as that goes, I got MPD, too. ’Cause when I get enough, I can turn off. We used to go out all the time and have big fun. I mean, she’s a totally different person; she’s like Mother Nature at work. Cool but reserved. When we would go out, she would let loose, she would dance, and you could see her letting herself go in the music, just getting free. And she would drink—the whole nine yards. We went out one night to a party. I think perhaps she had a little too much to drink, and I had to take her out of there for a second because she was getting a little bit wild. We went outside to sit in the car and started talking, and she was so tipsy. I guess she was hot at the same time and didn’t know what to do with herself. And she just came at me. Just grabbed me with a hug and a kiss, and it kind of surprised me. I went with it, but it wasn’t a planned evening, so to speak. We didn’t really, really go all the way because of the restrictions of the car; but had it not been for the car in that particular circumstance, it would have been all the way there. But it was more or less just the touching, feeling, kisses, hugging kind of thing. We didn’t actually have oral sex together. And I think after she did it, she was embarrassed that she did it because I don’t think she had actually planned it with me.I think her conscience began to bother her because we worked together—not being really, really sure if this would ever come back to haunt her. But of course, her fears were unfounded because it was a fifty-fifty thing. I couldn’t bring it to work without it catching me too. So it was like, “No, this is staying right here. When we step out of here, it’s right here where we left it.” And I wasn’t worried about my friend from home saying anything ’cause it’d come back to bite her if she did. My coworker no longer works with me. She’s moved up north in the mountains. We still keep in touch. She’s my sexual buddy for talking about anything way out there because she’s kind of out there. So now, sexual things that I just thought about or read about, that I’m curious enough about, I’m more comfortable now to address on my own.I was always curious about three people, and I satisfied that. Actually, the guy’s a good friend of mine; we’ve been friends for quite some time. He travels a lot on his job, and we used to always talk about his relationship. He was married when I first met him. They were having problems, and we used to talk about the problems, and I used to be his Dr. Ruth. Go back home and try this, say that, and see what happens. But they eventually broke up, and he got another lady, and he was telling me about her. We were friends, and he said, “Luciana, she’s hot.” I was like, “That’s why you like her then, ’cause your ass hot.” He goes, “No, but she’s really hot.” And I said, “What you mean she’s really hot?” He said, “You know, I think she might like to be in a threesome.” And I asked him, “How do you know that?” He said, “Because we’ve been talking about different things, and we’ve done it a few times.” So finally he asked me if I would. And I was like, “I don’t know. Let me meet her first.” Because if she ain’t nice, to hell, I won’t do that. So he brought her to town. And she was really nice, and she appeared to be conservative [Laughs.] and we had a good time out. Then he asked if I would come on and spend the night over at his place. I said okay. So we went. He can push people, he can just go ahead and lead everybody on; if you’re scared, he’ll push you on in there, sink or swim.We went over to his place and we all went to the bedroom and had a drink. And we got to talking, and he had told me before that he was going to get her started first. [Laughs.] So he started kissing on her, and hugging her, and getting her all worked up. While he was doing all his thing, I was sitting to the side, and he was still kissing her and he kind of reached for my hand and pulled me over, and put my hand on her. And just the touch of my hand was her signal—she wasn’t shy anymore. She took my hand, and before you know it she turned away from him, and turned to me, and things just took off from that point. And it was fun. It was fun.Being with her was like almost being with me in a weird sense. You know, the soft sense. She kissed like I kissed. Which surprised me. You always think your own stuff is special. But she kissed like I kissed and put her hands on me, which was different from his hands being on me. How she moved along my body was different—it was more tender. More loving. As if we had already had a relationship. It’s a weird way to describe it, but it just felt really …okay.With my girlfriend from home, it was totally different. She was just my bud. And she was out of sorts because she had broke up. It wasn’t the same as this. I didn’t think of it as being as much of a sexual experience as I did this other thing with my friend and his lady. Maybe it was my mind that really was different. I just felt it was more or less like my girlfriend; I thought she needed comforting. And I know so much about my friend, my male friend, because we had talked about so many things, his relationship, his sexual problems, his financial problems, what he liked and didn’t like. Long before I met her, he told me different things about her, what they did sexually, what excited her. And I did find her attractive when I met her.He let us go at it for a while. I think he wanted to see her let herself go. He felt that from the information that she had given him, she fifty-fifty wanted to and didn’t want to. So he let us go at it for what seemed like a long time before he joined in. He just came into the middle of it during an embrace and he began to perform oral sex on her, and kind of like just … very gently separated us. And while he performed oral sex on her, she and I were kissing and touching and caressing. Later on she performed oral sex on me.I didn’t feel left out the first time. There was a time afterward that I felt left out. And I told him. I didn’t tell him during, but I said, “Of course, you know this is not going to become a habit, ‘cause if I don’t get mine, y’all ain’t gettin’ y’alls.’” I guess we’ve gotten together about three, four, five times total. She’s called me a couple times when he was out of town. We had one experience just she and I. That was when he wasn’t home. She’s such a little firecracker. [Laughs.] She’s such a little closet lady; she’s much more closet than me. But she called one time to go to a fashion show together. Of course we played around before we left. We got involved and we performed oral sex, and we were hugging and kissing and holding; and when it was over, she jumped on the phone and called him to tell him. [Laughs.] I was sitting there; I couldn’t do anything. I just sat there in nonbelief. She actually got on the phone to call him and tell him how much fun she had just had. “And then Luciana came over, and you’ll never guess what we were doing.” So that kind of shook me. Being with her didn’t bother me because I liked her, and I spoke of this with my girlfriend from work: “I’m like, am I bi? What am I?” I’m having a problem right now. I don’t know what I am.I’m not sure if it matters. I really don’t know. At times there are women that I feel attracted to, but I won’t act on it. I’m not quite sure I’m comfortable with being bi—if I am bi. I don’t know if I’m really bi, or if I’m just curious, or if maybe it’s the time of the month when I’m really hot or what. My girlfriend tells me, “Just don’t worry about it. Just do what you want to do.” I have not defined myself, but the interest is here. Part of me wants to act upon it because it would be a confirmation that maybe I am. I’m not sure that I want it to be because in my head I actually do want to get married again and hopefully find the kind of fulfillment that I thought I had discovered with the guy I broke up with. And unfortunately, I’m not having very much luck with that.I need the passion, I need the extra hugging and kissing, I need that. And I’m finding the men that I meet don’t necessarily want to give me as much as I want. It’s like, touch, touch, kiss, kiss, touch, touch, whew! And that’s just not enough. Maybe that’s what feels good to be with a woman. No matter how brief the exchange or the encounter is, it is what I want to feel, that tenderness, that real passion. But I want the man to give that to me. And I’m not finding that. I’m in a very difficult place right now because I’m thirty-eight, and, as they say, I’m peaking, and [bam!she smacks the table] somebody needs to do something here! This should be illegal sometimes, the way I’m walking around here. So I’m really hoping that at some point very soon, I will meet someone that stirs that feeling that I so desperately want to find and keep. I don’t want to keep having fly-by-night things that I just stumble upon and hit and miss.
 Race doesn’t really matter to me, but it’s been mostly black partners. As far as white goes, I had two, one real relationship and one very brief affair. With the ladies they’ve been black, except for my experience with my coworker. But race really doesn’t matter to me. I judge people just on how they present themselves with me. I actually try not to associate too much with people who have a problem with race because I think we’re all alike; we just all look different. Basically we all have the same needs and desires and just all go about fulfilling them differently. But I don’t have a problem with black or Hispanic or white, blue, green, whatever. The white man that I had my relationship with, he just made me feel special as a woman. I don’t think he treated me different because I was black, because we had the hiding type of relationship. I don’t think that was because I was black; he would have had to do that with anyone because he had a marriage. But he didn’t treat me different; he looked out for my kids and looked out for me on my job. He was very good to me. Up to that point, he had been better to me than most black men had been.Since I’ve come to Dallas I’ve met so many different types of men, which has made me glad I left home. It let me see how little of the world I had actually seen while I was there. I’ve never traveled much; I’ve gone from Mississippi to live in Dallas, period. I’ve had a couple trips to New York, a couple to Atlanta, places like that. I’ve never really vacationed or lived anywhere else.It was getting raped that really made my decision to move here. I was raped on the New Year’s before I moved here. I had gone out to meet one of my friends who was coming from Dallas for the holidays. They were late, and there was this other guy that I knew. At the time I was smoking marijuana, and we left to go outside. And—it’s really silly—I let him take me back to his place to pick up something. Now, hindsight is twentytwenty: that was a dumb move. But I knew him and I didn’t even think in that direction, that he might cause me harm. That just didn’t register beforehand. Of course, I’m suspicious of everybody now. He ended up taking me to what was a hotel instead of his place and asked me to go inside with him; and when I did, he was searching around as if he was actually looking for something. My original decision was, “I’ll wait for you right here.” He said that he would just be a minute, I shouldn’t just sit out in the car. And like a dummy, I went in with him, and he more or less went from looking into the desk, digging around, to just being all over me. And that hurt—it makes me more mad than anything else. Not even so much that he raped me, but for the fact that I was dumb enough to have let him put me in that position. I have blamed myself because looking back on it now, it was just so textbook. I should have known all of that. I should not have fallen for that. I just should not have done that. We fought, we struggled—the whole nine yards. Then he left me there. And I didn’t even have a way to get back. Luckily the hotel manager was kind enough to give me taxi fare. I didn’t call the police because I was too ashamed to admit that I had allowed myself to get in that situation. And I knew if I went to court, and I would have to say this, the whole town would know.My friend’s brother had already been to prison for killing a man. And I didn’t know how far he would take it. I just didn’t want to put them in that spot on my behalf. It was just a little bit too much. So I just kept it to myself. I only have two girlfriends who know about it. My family never knew about it; I never told. It was just before my twenty-seventh birthday. So that really made my decision to move final. I couldn’t see myself staying in that town and having to run into him again. I didn’t want to have to see him on a regular basis. A couple weeks later my friends found out he had done this to several other women in the community. And they wouldn’t press charges either because they were afraid. One girl had reported him, and he went back and—you know—real bad. So the police did not pick him up. I didn’t want that kind of madness either.Most of my decision was based on the fact that I had my kids, and I was by myself, and it was too easy to catch me. Too easy to get my kids. So a lot of things I kind of swallowed because I didn’t want it to come back where I couldn’t handle it. He ended up being one of those things that I couldn’t tell, I couldn’t act on because it was bigger than me. So I let that go. Of course, now I don’t ride in anybody’s car, I have very few dates. It still lingers. Now I’m kind of weird with all my friends who do know me, because I still won’t go anywhere in their car. I’m trying not to repeat that again. I felt that I was through with some things, but I find that they really are playing a role in things that I’m doing now, to where I’m really not as over them as I thought I was. The friendship thing, the rape thing, the relationship thing. They all have their lasting effects with me. And sometimes that’s not very pleasant, because I really do want to shake some of the things that are following me.A few years before, when I was on a visit to my mom in San Antonio, I was out with a cousin of mine, and he introduced me to people out at a club, and as it turned out, one of the guys wanted to talk to me but didn’t believe that my cousin was my cousin. So they lured my cousin away from me, beat him up outside, and wouldn’t let him come back in the club to get me. I was thinking he was outside talking to a lady he’d met. But I stayed in the club because we came together, we’re leaving together. The whole night passes, and he never comes back. So the one guy he’d introduced me to—was supposed to be a distant cousin—offers to give me a ride back to my mom’s, and he takes me to I don’t know where. He attempted to rape me and couldn’t, thank God, because he was drunk. And I had a little more stamina than he did and we fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and we fought. Until he just passed out. He had had that much alcohol. And I wasn’t drinking; I was having Coca-Cola at the time. Thank God for that. I think I just wore him out. But he had me in the middle of San Antonio, and I didn’t know where I was. He had no phone, and I had no money because I had my purse locked in the car with my cousin. I didn’t even have a quarter to make a phone call. After he passed out, I looked outside and I just had absolutely no idea where I was. So I just sat there on a chair and cried. I was in some apartment place where he had taken me. I just sat there crying and rocking. And there were no people when I stepped outside the door.Luckily he had an uncle that came to his place in the morning because he picks up another gentleman in the area and they go to work together. He saw me, took me from there, and brought me back home to my mom’s. My mom had been getting ready to call the police because my cousin hadn’t showed up. He showed up shortly before I did, and they had beaten him to a pulp. His eyes were closed, and his face was all swollen. I don’t know if my cousin pressed charges or not, but I didn’t because I was just visiting. So of course, I was ready to go. And to this day I don’t visit my mom for any length of time. I’ll visit her just a couple of days, and I don’t go anywhere while I’m there. I tell her, “I don’t like San Antonio. I’m not coming there, I don’t want to stay there.” No, no, I’m through with them.This makes me more cautious. It takes me longer now to allow myself to open up again—a few weeks, a few months. I may want to but I won’t because of that. And I feel like I’m missing out. I’m still single, but I don’t really date in the traditional sense of the word “date” because I have this underlying distrust, or I feel I’m being shortchanged with men; and perhaps that’s part of the reason I haven’t met anyone that suits me. I haven’t really given anybody the opportunity. I won’t let them take me out; I won’t invite them home for dinner. “You can come so far, and you can stay right there.” I haven’t been able to go beyond that. I’ll meet with them elsewhere, or we’ll just talk wherever we are. But it’s always on my terms. ’Cause I have had men indicate their interest in going further at a particular time, and I will just say, “I’ll let you know; not right now.” That’s really not the way I feel it ought to be, but I have not come up with a solution for myself as to how to get beyond that point.I don’t think it affects how I feel sexually at this time. When it first happened, I felt that I should keep more to myself, not have people be sexually interested in me. Did I dress a little too provocative? For a while I wanted to dress a little more conservatively and not be me. The “me” is really not all that conservative. But I like wearing short dresses. When I was heavy, my boobs were big, and I liked wearing stuff that showed off my boobs. I like that, and it wasn’t for them, it was for me. I like when I look in my mirror and I feel, “You look good.” I don’t like to feel that I need to cover up because of what somebody else is going to think.I think in these last couple of years, I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with me, all the weight that I had gained. I’ve just begun to decide that I want to get rid of it, and I want to get back to me, so that I can feel happy and perky and confident. Because I was really, really feeling low, and no matter how many times someone said, “You still look good,” or “You’re all right,” “You still do your job well,” all of that’s not enough. I still wouldn’t feel good with me. I don’t think my kids changed my sexuality. I think they helped to put me in check, more or less. This curiosity that I always had sexually, having my kids has made me not pursue it. Now that they’re almost out of the house—one is gone—I’m feeling that if I want to pursue any sexual curiosity, I can more freely. You don’t want your kids to think of you in any weird manner. My younger son follows me around when we go out. He can’t stand other guys watching me. He’ll say, “They ain’t lookin’ at you, Mom.” And he’ll stand and block the person’s view. He’ll say, “Look at them, Mommy, runnin’ off the road lookin’ at you.” And being so close to their age is hard; my older son, his friends used to come home and say, “Your mom looks like your sister.” So they had to make me keep in the mother look, more or less, whatever that was supposed to be. I’ve always had to tinker with that.Things I wish I hadn’t done: trusting in those two experiences. Had done: I wish I had stayed with my guy that I really, really liked. I regret that. He was the closest thing to what I imagine I want. Although sometimes I feel perhaps that what I want is a little too close to perfect. I’ll probably never find that, but my relationship with him was the closest thing. I feel we had the possibility of making it last because it meant so much beyond just the bedroom. We did things close. We did window-shopping. I never had a guy go window-shopping. I used to be in pageants, and he would run around with me choosing my clothes and come and cheer me on. And we’d exercise together, work in the yard together. I like to sing those old songs, and he did too, and we used to do that. Just fun things that were not pretentious. I didn’t have to always be dressed up to be with him; he was just as happy to see me in tennis shoes and cut-offs as he was to see me in the suit I wear to work. I didn’t always have to have my hair permed; it could be in a pony tail or just all over my head. Those were intimate personal things that I loved and that made me feel good about myself.James was taking too long to make his decision about marrying me. He proposed real early in our relationship because things seemed to be going so well. And we were living together about a year, and he still couldn’t come up with a wedding date. It wasn’t like I wanted him to marry me tomorrow, but at least give me a time frame you’re considering. But he could never give me that. My grandmother always told me that I should never move in with anybody because the old saying was, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” He always told me that this was not the case with us. I said, “Well, I want to believe it’s not the case, but the fact is you can’t come up with a time, and I’m here. It seems that is the case.” And he had nothing to say. We talked and we talked and we talked, and he never came through with anything. And I felt that it wasn’t right for me to have to make him marry me. It didn’t feel right to me, and December 25 I just packed up and left. On Christmas Day I was so filled with emotion, opening presents, that the tears were right here. I loved him, I loved being with him, but he just wasn’t giving that last piece.He let me leave. We continued to see one another a little bit for about six months after that. But you can’t fight someone. And just this February, Valentine’s Day, is when I was finally able to get closure to where I could really think about him and not want him. I left him in ’92. And for the longest time he was in my mind. I was still hung up with him. He would still write me letters every now and again. They were wonderful letters.Well, he’s married now. He married someone else, named Luciana, and she actually kind of favors me. When he first got married, I thought, You couldn’t have the real thing, married a copy, huh? And he tried to profess that he still loved me, but he apologized that he couldn’t meet my time line. I said, “I didn’t have no time line. I just wanted you to give me one that I could work with.” So the last few times, I wouldn’t even let him see me. He wanted to come to the festival, and I said, “You all can come to the festival, but I advise you strongly, don’t even bring your little lady near me. It wouldn’t be a very pretty scene for either of you. So don’t come. Don’t come.” He said, “I just want you to meet her.” I said, “I don’t want to meet her. You’ve made your choice, that’s the person you want, so you keep her. I don’t want her, don’t bring her by me. Just pissed me off, you took her and had the wedding with her that you described you’d have with me. And you want me to be happy to meet her? She’s sleeping in the bed that I helped you decorate. And you want me to meet her?” I just went off. He knew I meant what I said, but he didn’t take it in the context where he felt that it meant we were angry and we could not continue to associate.But we would still talk on the phone. I guess I set myself up to continue to hurt that way. He calls on the radio a lot, and most of the time I hear him on the radio and I call him and talk about his comment. We kept this exchange up for a long time on the phone and through letters, and I would not let him see me. He used to write and say, “We need to get together and talk.” And I said no. I’d gotten fat, and I didn’t want him to see me fat—he met me during my modeling time when I was just so. But this February, I wrote him a really heartfelt letter to tell him how many problems I was having with him still in my consciousness. I was blocking my other relationships because I was comparing other guys to him, and I needed to get over him. It was like, “If you really love me like you say you love me, you’ll help me reach my closure. Because you’ve gone on, you’ve married, you have someone. And you’re happy, and you’re going on with your life and I’m still stuck in time. Because I still love you and I still want to be with you. And I can’t cut you off.”On Valentine’s Day, I don’t know why, I just called him. I said, “Would you meet me?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Okay, meet me at the mall.” He came and met me and it was so strange when I saw him, I was over him. When I saw him, I knew right there. And that was really cool. I didn’t have any animosity toward him or anything. Just when I saw him again, I just knew he wasn’t my James anymore. When he was mine—I could look at him and see in him and on him, however you want to describe it. But when I saw him on Valentine’s, he wasn’t my James. He was her James, I guess. And I was able to just talk to him like a bud. “What you gonna get her for Valentine’s?” “Well, I’m getting her some lingerie.” “Well, let’s go shopping for it—can I go with you?” That was a big step for me. I think now the door’s about to open for me. I’ll be better able to move on and find the love and the experience that I think I really want. I miss that kind of love; I miss that because whatever it is that I think of sexually, I want to be able to do with that person. I want someone where I don’t care how far out it is or how dull, I want to be able to do it with that person. And closing the door on him will allow me to at least consider that possibility with someone else. Hopefully I can continue to work on getting over the other hurdles that are keeping people away from me. I want to just be. There was this article in Essence that said “Dare to Be.” I kept it for a very long time because I felt that I needed to dare to be me, especially sexually. I wanted to have sex a lot and that just didn’t seem right because people are telling you not to. There’s a lot of times when I want to have sex, and it just seems like a little bit too much, where I say, “Luciana, you got to put yourself in check, girl. You’re just a little too hot for yourself. You better calm yourself down.” I need to have me somebody so when I feel that I’m just going beyond beyond, I got somebody who can calm me down instead of having me just running rampant, wanting to find a release. And with this masturbating stuff, I’m still a novice. It’s just every now and then I can have an orgasm by myself. I haven’t gotten to the point where I really know my spot and my peaks and all of that. I’m not there yet. But I feel I’m thirty-eight years old, what is the problem here? I should know this. You know?I keep telling myself that after my kids are grown, then I’ll have a chance to be just a woman. Because I’ve never had that opportunity. I went from being a child to a mother, to a wife, and to being a parent. And nowhere in there did I just get to be a woman. To where I worry about my concerns, my sanity, my well-being, my happiness. I have always been second, third, fourth, fifth on the list. I’ve never been the number one priority in my life. There’s always been something else that has taken my focus, my attention, my extra energy. I’ve never given all of those things to me. I’ve never had anybody for me.Rita
 
 I’M TWENTY-SIX YEARS OLD—I’ll be twenty-seven in a few weeks. My parents are originally from Detroit. I was born there, but we moved to a small mostly white town when I was two years old. So we moved from a predominantly black city to a predominantly white city. I was two so I really didn’t feel the culture shock. I’m an only child, which I think explains a lot of my quirks. But I love it. My mother started off working for the phone company; she worked there for about twenty years, and then she was laid off. My father worked for the auto industry for twenty-five years. Me and my mother started going to church when I was nine. Dad had a nervous breakdown. And that was part of a kind of mental instability that went on for most of my life. I grew up pretty much afraid of my father. He had the breakdown and my parents got divorced, but they got back together within a few months. That was a whole bag about relationships that I have yet to figure out. When they got divorced, I was happier because it had been a miserable situation. And then when they got back together, I remember being very disappointed.After college, I took a year off and moved to Seattle, Washington, and worked at a women’s bookstore. I had a friend out there, and I just wanted to be somewhere where I was still riding along on my college political high, a let’s-go-to-rallies-and-vigils thing.
 I feel intimate with someone when I feel I can say the bad things that I’m thinking and they don’t judge me for it, or think, “God, you’re such a bitch.” Instead, they might agree, they might disagree, but at the same time they just accept what I say as part of my opinion or who I am. And I’ve come to look at intimacy as something that I have with my friends more so than with my family just because I feel like my friends are my family, and a lot of that has to do with my feeling displaced a lot. To tell the truth, I’ve only had one lover, my current one. I feel like I can say the bad things that I’m thinking with him; with lovers and boyfriends, saying the bad things is an aspect of intimacy.To lose intimacy happens when the other person isn’t reciprocating, isn’t carrying their weight in a friendship. I tend to be one of those people, like my mother, who sends cards, remembers birthdays, and if they have something important going on, gives them a call. But sometimes I feel like I’m not getting that same kind of attention in return. That usually takes me awhile, but then something clicks in my head that says, I’m doing all the work here, and that needs to stop. So if so-and-so doesn’t call me within the next two weeks, I’ll just consider that friendship done. But it’s not really something that I’ve ever been able to do easily, let go of friendships. I’d say there’s two friends from college that I feel closest to. And maybe one friend from high school. None of them live near me, but we talk three or four times a month; I make trips to see them. But I think it’s just because they’ve known me for so long, and we have history in common, so we know what each other’s been through. When these new episodes come up like new boyfriends, they have context for it, and there’s not a lot of having to go back and explain.I feel sexuality is very important, but it’s not a part of my life that gets the same amount of attention as other parts of my life. I feel like part of my upbringing has made me abnormal. The other day I thought, Maybe I’m just a hybrid because I was African American in this very, very white town, and I went to predominantly white schools. In my high school, there were only forty-five students—it was a magnet school—and five of us were African American; all of us in that group had mostly white friends and our closest friends were white. But now that we’re out of high school, we seem to have gravitated toward each other. So that meant that I didn’t date in high school, and then in college there might have been a couple of one-night stands. It is not that I wouldn’t date white guys; I would, and I liked them, but they just never were attracted to me. And then the one African American male in my class that I had a crush on for the longest time was dating a Latina woman. There were two other guys, and I was very close friends with one of them; he was like a brother to me. And then the other one I never really interacted with. Now that I reflect on it, there were two boys that I kissed, and turns out they were both gay, and they were both seeing each other. Then there was another one who was younger than me who liked me, and he was very odd; and now that I think about it, maybe he was gay too. There were older men outside of my high school that I had crushes on who I later found out were gay. I’ve never quite figured out what that was about, because now from college, a lot of my white male friends are gay also. But the men who I had one-night stands with weren’t gay. I don’t know what it is in me that attracts gay men, or what in me is attracted to them. I went to some event and ended up meeting this boy, who, now that I think about him, was nasty. He was seventeen and I was thirteen and stumbled across him somehow, and we ended up going in the woods to make out. And I wouldn’t go much further, like I didn’t want him going up my shirt or down my pants or anything. That was my first kiss. And after that it seemed like the boy who lived next door was constantly hounding me about making out with him; and he was gross, so that wasn’t going to happen.Even now, I am at a mostly white university in graduate school. I have more black friends here than I’ve ever had, but we’re still all in the same boat where we’ve been raised in these predominantly white environments; and then a lot of the black men that I know here are gay, too.
 Not to make excuses for why I am still attracted to white men, but I think a large part of it is that the black men I am attracted to are dating white women. And if I go to a club—which I don’t do very much anymore—it seemed like the white men are afraid to date black women, and black men are all dating white women. So I always felt like I was in this gap between everything else that was going on. I never encountered men of other races in my hometown or in college; that’s why I think it boiled down to being black or white. It’s really lonely, and I think it’s had a big impact on my self-esteem. But at the same time, it’s hard to separate out everything that I feel is “wrong” with me. Because I’m very tall—according to my family, big-boned—and I wasn’t immune to media influences that were putting mousse in my hair in the eighties when really, mousse was not a good thing to be putting in my hair. You know, trying to look like the white girls who were new wave—very petite women. And being tall and overweight—I’ve lost some weight—and having to go to places like The Avenue or the Big & Tall Girl shop to get clothes, and then trying to feel better about it by saying, Well, I wear the smallest size in this store; at least I don’t wear a thirty-two. But still having all these self-esteem things going on with my personal appearance, and race is part of that, and gender. It’s always been this mixed bag that I tried to sort through pretty unsuccessfully.In advertising I think it’s sort of moved away from women being seen as animalistic and exotic, but I really only have the seventies as a reference point for that, when the blaxploitation thing was happening—I’m thinking about black television shows where women are wearing this skintight clothing, and their appearance is very sexualized. But what they do or the things they say, they’re not supposed to be sexy, they’re just supposed to be sort of rough and, you know, sassy—I’m thinking of Martin, really. Like the woman in that show, Pam, I think she’s beautiful, and yet Martin is always putting her down. And when she is sexy, it’s with this sort of forcefulness which I don’t think is necessarily bad—you know, to show women being assertive—but when you add race to it, it’s as if black women don’t need tenderness or don’t need anyone to be gentle.
 I used to read a lot, I was the cat burglar in my mother’s book shelf. There was one book I remember in particular that was very 1970s; that’s my reference point for childhood. It looked like one of those Time-Life books, and it was about women’s bodies. I remember one picture very clearly; it was a lithograph of these people in various states of undress. It looked like an Italian Renaissance picture. The women in the pictures were being very coy, and the men were lifting up their little towel things they had draped over them and reaching between their legs, and then other people would be doing other things. I remember sneaking to look at this book a lot and trying to figure out what was happening and who was doing what to whom and why they were doing it.I remember this at seven, or eight maybe. And then once I could read, I don’t think I ever went into the adult section to look at dirty books or books that had anything about sexuality, because that’s what I considered them then; anything to do with sex was a dirty book, or a dirty movie. But I think a lot of it was just through culture, really, through popular culture. We had HBO, when cable first came out, and the movie Body Heat was on. I don’t know what year that was, but I remember sneaking and watching that, and every time my parents came down to the basement, turning the channel really quickly and then turning back when they were gone. But as far as getting details about it, there was one girl on my block who was older than myself and my best friend. I was ten or eleven, and she was in junior high; and she spilled the beans about everything and told us who she liked and who she had kissed and who had done what to whom, and about fingering and French kissing. I remember we just sat there with our mouths open. My parents thought she was fast. She was known as the fast girl on the block.My parents never talked about sex. I don’t think they ever sat me down and had any sort of birds-and-bees talk. Maybe they just relied on school to do it, where we had our little sex ed movie, in grade eight, and they talked about chickens hatching. I learned about getting my period through reading Judy Blume books, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. That was the book. But it didn’t help, because when I did get my period, I remember just crying. I remember going to the bathroom, and there’s blood and I just start crying, and my mother comes and says, “Why are you crying?” and I said, “I got my period and I don’t want it.” And she’s like, “Oh, stop crying, it’s fine,” and she just left, went to the store and got some maxipads and came back and showed me how to use the tape; and we talked about how it’s lucky because when she had it, they had to use these belts. Dad said, “Oh, I hear you’re a woman now.” And that just was mortifying because my mother told him that I had my period. So I was just embarrassed and that was the end of that.People will think it’s really perverted, but I was an early masturbator. I don’t know how I figured it out, but I remember we moved when I was four or five into a different house. And I remember that room was brown and yellow. Hideous. I remember being in bed and I might wind up a towel or a blanket and put it between my legs and then do something until … I don’t know, it wasn’t an orgasm, I know that now, but I felt some sort of relief. And I remember seeing the walls, and my mother coming into the room and me pretending like I was asleep. And it continued probably through high school but not being very sophisticated about it. Then in college it was my feminist phase, you know, talking about vibrators and stuff with people. I would have had no idea where to buy a vibrator in my hometown, so I just talked about it in college; and then when I moved to Seattle, there was a store that has all the sex toys and all this really great information so you can read about what’s happening and what’s stimulating and what’s not.I felt ambivalent about virginity, if that’s the right word. It was something that on the one hand I really wanted to get rid of, like it was this burden to be a virgin. But on the other hand I really didn’t want to. I knew there were things that I wanted to do with my life, so I didn’t want to get pregnant as a teenager. I had this big thing about Rick Springfield, so I would say that I was saving myself for Rick Springfield as this excuse for why I didn’t have a boyfriend and why I wasn’t having sex; really, why nobody wanted to have sex with me. It was this overarching narrative that I constructed. I let that go after a while, and then virginity was something I wanted to lose by my first year of college, just really feeling burdened by being a virgin because it seemed like nobody else was a virgin at all. I don’t know if that was true or not, but you just felt that way. And it was before this whole Victorian virginity ring thing that was going on. I don’t think I lost my virginity until I was twenty-two.My junior year I hooked up with this guy and we were going to have intercourse but he couldn’t get in; the door was locked. Not the door to my dorm, the door to my body. Then he asked me if I was a virgin, and he didn’t want to have sex with me since I was a virgin. I guess he didn’t want to be the one to do that. I don’t know what was going on in his head, but knowing him—(he’s still someone I keep in contact with, and there was this periodic hookup thing after that)—I don’t think it was an aversion to virgins, but more just him feeling like he didn’t want that responsibility, like I would have these romantic notions of him for the rest of my life as the first, or maybe hate him because he was the first. The first time we got together sexually, I remember him observing that he’d never slept with a black girl before. I remember thinking, What the hell does that mean? Is it somehow different, or what you expected? I didn’t ask any questions about it. But I remember being bothered by it for a while afterward.It seemed like after I wasn’t a virgin anymore, it was okay to have sex with me. Because he came to visit me here. Two or three years ago we ended up having sex anyway. And it was good; it’s just not something I would do now. It wasn’t something I regretted after he left, but I was like, it’s time to grow up; that was from the past.It’s funny but I can’t clearly remember when I lost my virginity. I can’t remember for sure, not because I’ve slept with so many, but I can’t remember a sequence of events. For some reason my senior year, I was suddenly hot property. I think it was this guy who was a friend of my roommate’s. He was a nice guy, and he really liked me, but there was something that didn’t click for me. But we ended up having intercourse, and, well, we started to once and I felt like I had to confess that I was a virgin, so I told him and he said that he knew. And I was like, “Well, how did you know?” And he said, “Well, you tense up, your thighs are really tight.” He had this whole schema worked out, not that I think he was very arrogant, but there was something. I feel like it was something that was weighing on my mind so much that I should be able to remember. Like it’s such an important event that I should be able to be really sure about it. But for some reason I just can’t be positive if he was the one.We had gone out. I had met him before, and then I think weeks later my roommate said, “So-and-so thinks you’re foxy.” And I remember saying, “Foxy, what kind of word is foxy? Where’d you get foxy from?” So I said, “Well, hook me up with him.” He was nice, you know—nothing else was going on. So we ended up going out to see some fake reggae band and dancing and having a good time, and we ended up getting really drunk and going back to my house. And we did our deliberating whether or not he was going to sleep over. Yeah, tedious. Got naked and I don’t even know if a condom was involved here, actually. I could walk, I don’t think I was at the point of passing out drunk. My speech was probably slurred, just laughing a lot, but definitely drunk. We fooled around and kissed and felt each other up. And yeah, I remember we started to have sex, he got on top and then I felt like I had to confess, so I told him that I was a virgin, and he said he knew. It’s all messed up, the sequence, because I ended up seeing him again like two or three times after that. But I know that I had sex with him; I just don’t know if it was this time or later on. I don’t remember any sort of blood or hymen being broken or anything like that.I remember thinking, Now this is weird. There is another person inside of me somewhere. I still think that now. It’s bizarre. But once he explained the whole “Your thighs are tense,” I remember trying to relax and chill out. He said things like “I think you’re really beautiful.” Which nobody had ever said to me before. But even though he was pretty much a stranger to me, I for some reason trusted him; but I don’t know if that had anything to do with whether or not we used a condom. I think that was just stupidity.I decided that I didn’t want to see him anymore because he was acting like we were in this relationship, and I hardly ever saw him. He wanted something I just didn’t want to give him, and now the tables are turning on me. We slept together three or four times and I went to a party with him, came back drunk, and then said we needed to break it off. But then called him again when I was drunk, very late at night. That’s not something I’m proud of. And it’s just not worth it, to do that. If you have to be drunk to sleep with somebody, you’re pretty much not attracted to them, so there’s really no point doing it. But I felt like I had not had a boyfriend, and was wrapped up in all these ideals of having a boyfriend, and not feeling attractive, and feeling like when I was with this person, at least somebody liked me. But then I decided that I really didn’t need my self-esteem to sink any lower, and also compounding it by using this person. So I felt like there had to be something that I was missing. I don’t remember anything about contraception. I didn’t even really worry about it. Stupid, just dumb.I remember, actually, that my period was late one of the times. I got really stressed out and worried that I was pregnant, and I wasn’t. I just considered myself very lucky. I don’t think I had an HIV test until I moved to Seattle, which was a few months after that. I decided I’d been having unprotected sex, and I needed to check it out. Anyway, this guy, he wanted a relationship but I didn’t feel like we had a lot in common. I think there was a class issue there. He was a friend of my roommate’s and he lived in the next town over. I can’t even remember what he did for a living, but I guess he was working class. I just didn’t feel like I could talk to him about much of anything. He would come over and we would chat about this person we had in common, maybe go out, and I remember being very uncomfortable until we started drinking because we didn’t have anything to talk about and it was very awkward. Then I remember another time he made a really homophobic comment in front of a friend of mine. He said something about somebody being a fruit. I wound up responding, “A papaya? What do you mean, a fruit? What does that mean?” I felt, This isn’t something I want to deal with. I don’t feel like challenging him on this. I think at that point some of our differences were starting to come out. I remember him wondering what I was getting so revved up about. At the same time I can’t figure out if I was looking for excuses not to go out with him, just because I wasn’t attracted to him.Then came the dry season. Feast or famine. I moved to Seattle. I did try to go out and I ended up doing a lot of stuff by myself, like going to clubs. And I met this really nice guy, but nothing ever happened with it. Knew someone who worked at a store near where I worked, and we went to a movie once, or a concert, and he was a world music deejay. I don’t know what his ethnic background was. He might have been half black or half something else. He was this beautiful brown-skinned man. But nothing really came of it. It just didn’t seem like he wanted to be pursued. In the past I’ve sort of pushed and pushed and pushed, until they had to be like, “Look, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I want to be just friends.” And I didn’t want to have to relive that experience over and over again.The one black guy I liked in high school, I tried to talk to him a lot and to sit next to him on the bus when we went on field trips. I remember one field trip in particular, I was sitting next to him and basically just came out and asked him, “Is it possible that we could go out?” or “Do you like me?” And he was like, “No. I like you as a friend,” but nothing was going to happen. Then it turned out he had just started dating this other woman. Not that it had anything to do with it. I would go hang out with boys and get to a point where I would see if they were interested in me. I always felt like I was being the pursuer. Part of it was that most of them were white, so I felt like it’s not something that would have occurred to them if I didn’t bring it up or pursue them.It just made me more and more depressed about myself. I used to think, Why am I so ugly, why don’t they like me, what is wrong with me that I always seem to like white guys? Because I would see black men on campus, and I’d think, He’s fine, he’s cute, but never really do anything about it because we weren’t in the same circles. It’s a big campus. I tried to deny that I liked white men for a while, and went to the black student union meetings, and on a study abroad to Haiti. We were all black except for one person who was my roommate. But I just never felt black men found me attractive. Toward the end of college, and even to now, I don’t feel black men find me attractive; or the ones that do, or the ones that say something, it’s more like harassment, or they’re old enough to be my father. And that doesn’t appeal to me.
 I’ve been seeing someone for a year now. This guy, he goes to school with me and he’s a working-class white guy from Kentucky. It was one of those things where I was pursuing again, but not in my old patterns. I don’t feel like I hounded people, but was just very persistent. This time I just thought he was cute, and if he wanted to go out and do something, fine, and if he didn’t, whatever. It didn’t matter much to me. Months before we started going out, I had a friend in town and was talking about taking her to this other city and I just mentioned it to him in passing; and he was like, “Oh, if you want to go, give me a call.” And I just went and didn’t call him. Hadn’t even thought about it, and afterwards I found out that he was really hurt that I didn’t call.Finally I just had to ask. I said, “Is there something going on between us?” and I was incredibly shocked when he said, “I was wondering the same thing.” That just floored me because I knew that he meant he was interested too, but I’d never gotten past that point before, so I didn’t have any script. I was just like—okay. So he kissed me, and we talked a little bit more. Ended up making out, ended up in bed. Didn’t have sex. We didn’t have sex, like intercourse, for three or four months. We did lots of other things, things I didn’t do before. Like with that working-class guy I mentioned before, he gave me oral sex, but I wouldn’t go down on him. I just was not going to go there. It just did not seem like anything I ever wanted to do. Ever. It seemed at the time like nothing I would ever want to do, with him or in life. But that changed, and my current boyfriend and I have oral sex. It’s something that I like, which I hadn’t expected, ever. And also me giving him a hand job, or him fingering me. Trying out different positions if we can figure them out. So that was predominantly what was going on the first three or four months.But, he’s not a person who’s into commitment. I don’t know what the big deal is. I just know that this is not a relationship that’s going to last after one of us leaves the city. This will probably be pretty soon because I’m applying for grants to get out of here. Part of it is that I’m in this relationship where he’s not forthcoming. It’s very important to me for him to tell me that he loves me, and he hasn’t done that. I don’t know why it’s so important for me. I think the first time I said it to him, he had this reaction that was just like, Oh, God. And me being very sort of hurt by that. He’s just a very closed-off person. I think since we’ve been going out, he’s opened up a lot, but really only with me and not with other people. So my friends are like, “Why are you going out with him? He doesn’t give you the attention you deserve. He’s boring.” But I don’t find that. I find him really funny, and intelligent, and we get along well, and we have pretty good sex.Race doesn’t come up because we don’t hold hands in public or kiss in public. I was trying to figure it out. Is it because he doesn’t want this pressure of being in an interracial relationship and letting people out there know? Or is it just that he doesn’t like those sorts of displays of affection? He told me he just doesn’t like those sorts of displays of affection. But I think that race might to some degree be an issue, because I asked these really obtuse questions. I said something like, “So do your parents know you’re seeing me?” I didn’t say, “Do your parents know you’re seeing a black woman?” or “What would it be like if I went to Kentucky with you?” He never came out and told them, but he assumes they know since I’ve met his sister. She came to visit and I met her, and he always talks about, Rita and I did this, or Rita and I went here. We went for a little vacation, and so he talked about that with them. I know I am the first black woman he’s been involved with because he’s only dated one other person seriously, who was white. This is part of the problem: it’s a relationship that I know is not healthy for me, and if I feel uncomfortable asking him these questions, then it’s not a relationship I should be in. But I’ve been alone for so long that I just have a really hard time letting it go. And right now I’ll be thinking but can’t make my mouth do the talking. I’m meeting him for lunch, boy is he in trouble … . It’s a question I’ve wanted to ask but just haven’t felt comfortable asking, and I think it goes along with this whole other list of questions that I’ve wanted to ask.When I see him, it’s great, and we have sex like once a week. I see him on Saturday nights and occasionally on other times during the week. Just last week I broached the idea of, maybe we could get together two nights a week—sort of ease him into it. And he said stuff that made me think he was giving me a line.I feel like I’ve been lucky so far, just in that the men that I’ve been with, there hasn’t been a problem with them being satisfied and being like, Okay, it’s over, who cares about you. If that happened, I would be pretty disturbed about it. That would be someone I wouldn’t want to see again, if he was only concerned about his orgasm. Like rolling over and going to sleep. But with the boyfriend I have now, we both have an orgasm and then roll over and go to sleep. They’ve been very attentive. There are things I could learn to do better, like I could learn how to give a better hand job, or learn how to give a better blow job, but that goes back to my whole learning from books thing.
 I’m very lucky, I’ve never been raped or anything like that. It’s a constant fear I walk around with as a woman, but it’s not something that I’ve encountered. And in a way that played into my sexual relationship now. Because I have all these intellectualizations about rape and that kind of violence; but in my own sexual relations, I like to bite and to scratch him and sort of get rough sometimes. At first I was having guilt about that—just feeling like this is not how sex should be; it should be gentle, and not rough. But it’s something that I enjoy, and it’s consensual. We tried handcuffs. Whips don’t appeal to me, or golden showers or any of that stuff. We haven’t tried anal sex; I don’t think I want to. It’s just painful. I’m sure it doesn’t have to be. I guess it’s pretty much what people call vanilla sex. But in my mind, my fantasies, the whole restraint thing, like the handcuffs, I think of that as different from the Velcro restraints and things, where you have bedposts and you can’t move, and the person is teasing you. There’s something that I find really exciting about being teased, and for me to hold off, like, How long can I not touch this person when they’re doing this?Sometimes we’ll play—actually, it’s stupid, but we started playing strip Uno. It was this teasing thing, like we’re sitting in front of each other in partial states of undress. It was a game of how long can we keep playing this game before we have sex.
 I go back and forth on kids. Lately it’s been that I don’t want to have children. On one level, I really do feel like the world is a bad place, and there are things I don’t want to have to explain to a child. If someone calls my child a nigger, I don’t want to have to comfort them, or combat that negative influence. But on the other hand I feel it’s a challenge that I would like to take up. If I have to make a decision it takes me forever because I don’t want to make the wrong decision. So I wouldn’t want to have a child and feel I was constantly monitoring what they watch on TV and trying to help them along. I don’t know, I can’t decide if it’s selfish, or if I just don’t want to bring a child into this world and have them be hurt. Because I don’t think that’s something I would be able to stand. I have a friend who has a four-year-old son who I’m very close to, and if his feelings get hurt, I just get completely devastated; and I don’t want to have to go through that. I keep wishing there was a computer program where I could code in my stuff and code in whoever my partner’s stuff is, and see what our child would look like, and then have this picture to put on the refrigerator. That’s my child.On the other hand, I feel this obligation to adopt. I feel there’s already a child here who needs help. I could do that and not feel I brought another child into this world who would have to deal with all of this. I would adopt a black girl. My father just doesn’t get it. Because I’m the only child, my father asks what would happen to the family name. But if I adopt, the child will have the family name.I don’t know if my dad ever really counted on me dating white guys. He saw that most of my friends were white; my best friend from the tenth grade on was a white guy, and I think after that he asked me, “How’s your boyfriend?” “He’s not my boyfriend. What are you talking about?” With my current boyfriend, he asked me what nationality he was. And I said, “He’s American.” Just being smart. But I finally sent them a picture of him, and my mom said, “Yes, he looks like he’s a nice-looking young man,” which is the standard reply. But race doesn’t come up. Because I really think that my mother would be happy if I never got married. She’s always saying, “Get your education,” and, “If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have gotten married so young.”
 It’s hard to know what people see first. Is someone treating me a certain way because I’m black or because I’m a woman? Usually I feel it’s because I’m black. I’ve gotten very militant about daily interactions with people, not putting up with certain behaviors. Like being in a store, and the store clerk ignores me, then telling them, “Did you not see me standing here? Did you ignore me because I’m black?” and, “I won’t be shopping here again.” Like that. I think they need to know. I had one encounter in New York where I was in an office-supply store with some friends, and we’d come over from work on our lunch break, so I was wearing a skirt and was sort of dressed up. All the other employees in the store are wearing red smocks that say “Office Depot.” And this woman comes up and asks me if I know where something is. I just looked at her and said, “Just because I’m black doesn’t mean I work here.” She got completely flustered and said, “I didn’t mean …” And then she just walked away. I was like, Yeah, you did mean that. And I’m going to tell you about yourself. At the same time I’m very proud to be a black woman. If I had any control over it, I wouldn’t come back as a white man. But I don’t know if I would want to come back as a white woman or not. That’s a hard one, just ’cause I feel like there might be an advantage in dating situations. But if I came back as a white woman, it would be just my karma to be only attracted to black men.I think I’ve gotten a lot more careful in picking white men. There are progressive white men—and by “progressive” I mean ones who are working on their racism, and working on all of their different -isms and things. And not going out with someone who I felt was dating me because it looked good, or it made him look good in certain circles or whatever. But it’s this really hard thing to balance, and sort of hypocritical because I remove my current boyfriend from that pack of white men, and all the time say things to him like, “White men are so stupid,” or “What’s wrong with y’all?” But also feeling like I’m doing this sort of abstraction, like if there was an overhead projector, there’d be this white man title, and it stands for a certain power and certain oppressive element in society, whereas I have straight white men who are friends and recognize they have some of those things going on too. I think it’s been a shift; it’s very different from college where I was very, “If you say anything homophobic, I will never talk to you again.” Or racist. You know, being very rigid. And I think I’m becoming, I don’t know if it’s less vigilant, or just more relaxed and accepting of people.I have to be specific because I have black gay male friends who have accepted me for being a feminist and holding certain ideals, which is very important to me. I don’t feel I’ve encountered a straight black man who would date me and accept that. It’s like with the whole club scene thing: I think that there are progressive black men, but they have their own issues and they’re dating white women, or they’re dating women who are Latina, or they’re dating Asian women. They’re dating everybody but black women.
 I have internalized some sexism, always thinking about losing weight, and I’ve been on this lipstick train all of a sudden, where in the last couple years I’ve been amassing huge quantities of lipstick. You know, appearance things; at the same time having this attitude about white women—I call white women “trixies” a lot, but it’s usually very specific. White women in sororities, and my own stereotypes of who white women are. One time somebody asked me who trixies were, and I said, “Well, they’re little white girls.” And it being this jealousy thing, but on the other hand being repulsed. I would never want to be in a sorority or acting like I see some white girls do.
 I go back and forth when I think about the future, if it’s a white man or a black man, not really caring which but feeling like it has to be someone who isn’t afraid to tell me they love me, who is attentive, who isn’t afraid to share when he’s having some sort of problems, or feeling pain. It would be good to find somebody who wanted a family because I feel like my family was defective in so many ways, and I’ve really come to distrust the whole institution of families; but on the other hand, it’s really something I secretly want. And I go back and forth on marriage—it’s patriarchal; gay men and lesbians can’t get married; it’s only for the tax break. But on the other hand, it would be really nice to feel secure and to know that there’s somebody there. At the same time, having been single so long, I’ve gotten to be really independent; so that’s something I want to hold on to, even within a relationship. I guess it would be some sort of long-term relationship. Being with someone who I was still having fun with, not going to a restaurant and both of us sitting there reading newspapers and ignoring each other. I guess just feeling that in the future we would be helping each other along and not feeling that the other person was holding back from anything, and really just not regretting being in the relationship, which is what I feel like now. I wish I’d never started it so that we wouldn’t have to break up.Linda Rae
 
 WHEN A GIRL CHILD, a female child, is born, she’s born either into a family where there is a mother and a father, or it’s the mother. I’m speaking from the African American point of view. The mother and most likely the grandparent is there. I just think about my own childhood and being raised. My father was in the service so he would travel a lot, and my mother was a nurse and she worked a lot. My grandfather died, so my grandmother came to live with us. So there was five children; I was the middle child, the oldest girl. Therefore I took all the chores that my mother would ordinarily be doing while she was working trying to make the money. My father was away, and he was pretty promiscuous because I have a sister my same age who looks just like me; the only difference is that she’s a darker complexion than me, but we look like twins and we have different mothers. So I think about how it was for me—we were sort of like a middle-class black family in a small town in Georgia in the 1950s. Little town—blink and you’re through it. Our values were: you go to church, family comes first, you keep yourself clean, you don’t wear wrinkled clothes, your clothes are ironed—because I did the ironing so I know they was ironed.We never talked about sex. That was one of the things that never was talked about, even though my mother was a nurse. If it was talked about, it was talked about in a negative view, like if you had sex, if you kissed, you would get pregnant. Babies came from the cabbage patch, and your “thing” was nasty. You was taught these negative things, I never even was told about my period. I fell down on my bike one day, and I thought I had broke my “thing,” and I was embarrassed and ashamed to go and tell my mother that I broke my “thing.” Like I did something bad. And blood was coming out, and my grandmother, oh, she went and got a big sheet and tore the sheet in these little squares and folded them up and told me to put them between my legs, and that would happen once every month, and I would have pains, and that was it. I never knew what it was that I was having. It actually influenced me not wanting to ride a bike. It totally went out of my head; I don’t know how to ride a bike anymore.My mother never really got a chance to tell me anything. My grandmother was the dominant one in my family. I was the oldest child. I was always told I was never going to be anything, that I was different because my skin was lighter than the rest of my brothers and sisters. I didn’t know that I had a separate father from them. I didn’t know this; none of this stuff was told. So therefore, they were hiding their own sexuality. My mother was promiscuous and had this child out of wedlock, and I didn’t know this. All I knew was that my father was away at the service, and he would come home and bring me things, and then he would leave again. But I never knew that my mother was not married to this man.My grandmother was an abuser; she abused my mother as well as me. I didn’t know that she was abusing my mother until I got grown, but she abused me. I mean she used to beat me like an animal. With a whip, and boards, and those hickory sticks. Down South it’s like, spare the rod, spoil the child. And she used to take all those hickory sticks and whup ’em together and beat me. I mean she beat me to the point of submission. I used to have whips all over my body, and I was real, real light-skinned, so she used to take me and dunk me in the creek so that the scars wouldn’t stay, so that my mother wouldn’t see it because I was so light there was no way you couldn’t see it. And the thing about it in the neighborhood, people knew about it.I kept having this recurring dream about this blood coming out of me. There was this woman living down the street, who was sort of like the hooker type of woman in the neighborhood, for lack of a better way to say it. She used to let me come in her house while she was putting her makeup on; and she would take a bath, and she would put those water bottles that you take the douche with, she would put it up inside of her. She had me so brainwashed that when she said, “When you put this up in here, it washes all the trash out of your body,” I was visualizing all the cans and bottles and papers and stuff; and she would say, “Look, you see it coming out?” when she did it, and I believed. I was around eight years old, a couple of years in school.I used to sneak out the back because at the end of the evening, the old folks used to sit on the front porch, and the kids would be in the back playing. So I’d just sneak down and go across the way to this lady’s house. I can remember the first sexual experience because it was the year before I went to school, around five years old. I started the first grade, and my brothers started making me have oral sex with them. At first I thought it was a funny type of thing, and then whenever I’d see the white sticky stuff come out, that was like, uuuuh. It was terrible, and I would cry and cry and cry and they threatened me not to tell. Adults would ask me why. They thought I was mentally disturbed because I would cry and cry and cry and they didn’t know why I was crying, and I was scared to tell. My brothers would threaten to kill me. My youngest brother, he was two years older than me, and the other was two years older than him. It went on until I was about eleven or twelve. It all happened the same time, because my grandmother was beating me so profusely; it was just too much. And I decided to fight back. One day she hit me, and just the rage came into my body. I had an apple in my hand, and I threw that apple as hard as I could up against the wall, and it looked like applesauce—that’s how much force I put into it. And I beat her until I couldn’t—they had to pull me off of her. I was a scrawny little thing, too, but it really took a lot to pull me off of her.My brothers, they’d be sitting on the porch, and they wanted money. They used to take me next door to this little dirty old man over there, and he would jerk off on the wall, and he would give them money. I would just stand there and he would fondle my, whatever little titties I had, or play with my vagina, or I would sit on his lap. And to me at that time, his dick was this big, like fifty inches long because I was so little. I remember the smell of alcohol, that strange urine smell … So you have to understand that everything that was pertaining to sex to me was dirty, and wrong, and sneaky. And after I beat my grandmother up, I still never really told them about my brothers making me have sex with them.I finally just got a chance to tell my mom about some of these things since I’ve been in recovery. Those are the things that kept me sick, those are the things that kept me using drugs. By the time I was fourteen, I was in a reform school. And when I went to a reform school, I’d still never talk about it because the trauma was so much there, I just stopped talking. I didn’t utter a word. I would just sit and look and stare and draw pictures. I used to draw and paint and all that.This was a reform school for what they called “bad girls,” yeah. It was a farm, initially a farm, and everybody had chores; but they put me in isolation because I wouldn’t talk. So they kept having these different doctors coming to see me, and counselors, and there was one counselor that I really did trust. I knew that people drank spirits, but I didn’t really know what alcoholism was. And this one counselor used to come and get me every night, ’cause she said I was special. She’d let me watch TV, she would give me candy, and she would always put on these little outfits. She’d be drinking and she would act weird, but I really didn’t relate it to alcoholism because I didn’t have a point of reference. I guess after I started talking to her, I trusted her; and then she got drunk one night and she raped me. So my first encounter of having a sexual orgasm was doing it with a woman, repeatedly. At first it was frightening, but then eventually it became pleasurable because I just submitted to her; so that was my whole, my whole outlook on that. I knew it was wrong, but it didn’t feel bad. I was again threatened not to talk about it, so I didn’t.They found out about it because she was an alcoholic. She had me tied to a bed and fell asleep drunk. They heard me screaming, and then they came and all the shit hit the fan. Of course, suddenly I was well, now I could leave, and I could go home because I was cured. It was a big cover-up. Big bureaucratic bullshit where people can’t deal with sexual issues. They couldn’t deal with this issue because they didn’t have the capacity to understand how this could happen, how the bad girl made her do this. I’m tied to the thing, I’m still a scrawny little thing, you know. I think during all of this stuff, all I could really hear was my grandmother telling me I was never going to be anything, I was never going to amount to anything, that I was bad, and that bad things happened to me because I was bad. The only thing that I could never understand was what I did that was so bad. My uncles used to try to—they molested me—used to try to have sex with me. I went to stay with my aunt when I got out of reform school because I was not going back to stay with my grandmother because I’m sure I was going to kill her the next time. I was plotting how I was going to dig a hole and bury her alive. That’s how much I hated her. So I went to stay with my aunt, and her husband would chase me around the house all the time, and my cousins would molest me.And everybody in the whole damn town was related to me, so it wasn’t like I was going to find a boyfriend. But after watching enough TV I figured I could get me a husband, and get me a little house with the picket fence, and a couple little babies and a dog, and a car in the garage. And everything would be fine. I found a man. He was much older than me. About eight years older than me. I was about fifteen years old, I think; I was fifteen and he was twenty-two or twenty-three years old. He was in the service. And I got pregnant. First time I had sexual penetration, I got pregnant. I hated it; it was terrible. The blood and all of that, it was terrible. It was nothing like what the counselor had done to me; it was entirely different. So it was like, Something’s wrong with this picture. What am I missing here? I didn’t even know I was pregnant. I was like three months pregnant before I even knew it. I was having morning sickness, and my auntie figured it out; and then they found out that I was pregnant, and they sent me to another reform school for pregnant girls. So there was a time that he didn’t know that I was pregnant. He was in the service, and by the time that he found out, he thought that they had just shipped me away. Found out that I was pregnant, he had got married. I had just had the baby, and he found out about it and he called to the place where I was, and they wouldn’t let me talk to him. I found out that my family perpetrated the whole thing. He wanted to adopt my child. You know, that was his kid and he wanted to adopt the child. I talked to his wife, and she said that I was too young and I wouldn’t know what to do, that she could take care of everything. And I said, “I’m not giving my baby away.” My family tried to get me to give my baby away because that was an embarrassment to this supposedly upper-middle-class black family. They were all sick as hell, every single one of them. Motherhood was an out for me; I felt like I was somebody’s—this baby was so beautiful, and so wonderful, and so I couldn’t give my baby away. Got pregnant when I was fifteen and had the baby at sixteen; we moved to Connecticut when I was sixteen going on seventeen, and I went to high school. His father died in 1970; my son was killed in 1970, and his father died two weeks after that.The man that I was living with beat my son to death. It was the hardest thing I ever went through in my whole entire life. By the time I got out of high school and started going to college, up here in Bridgeport, I got involved in drugs and the street life. I had another son, and the guy that beat my first son to death was my second son’s father’s best friend. I started going out with his friend just because I wanted to make him angry, because he was fucking around with somebody. And I got pregnant by this guy. So I had my son, then my other little son, and then I was pregnant with a daughter. I got involved in the street life and started using drugs; and when I was out there in the street, he was beating them all along, but nobody ever told me that it was happening. None of my baby-sitters or anything—I came home one night, and my second son was really sick. His stomach was swollen, and I took him to the hospital and made it look like he had been taking some pills. And they pumped his stomach. But in essence what happened was that he had been beating him, and he kicked him in his stomach, and his bowels was perforated and they burst. And so when they pumped his stomach, they just pumped him—they forced it out of his system. He was three, almost four months old. And I was pregnant.They locked me up, they locked him up; they said I had something to do with it. My whole life was just destroyed. I drank and drugged so much after my son’s funeral, and DSS [Department of Social Services] took my other son away from me. In my head, I could hear my grandmother saying again, “You’re never going to be anything, you’re never going to amount to anything, you’re bad,” and that’s the way I felt about myself. I drank and drugged from the time I woke up in the morning to the time I passed out at night. And I was carrying a child. I was six months pregnant.
 You know, sex was a thing for me to do to make you love me. And all the men in my life, I used that. And nothing else in life was important to me but to have somebody to love me. And sex was the way to do that. I learned how to have the best sex; I knew all the ways that you could have sex, and I prided myself with doing it so well that how could a man cheat on me ’cause I’m giving him everything he wants. And sex—it’s nothing, no end-all, cure-all of everything. And I spent a lot of my life doing that. Even in prostitution I would do that. I mean, here I was, an educated person. But I was always able to get over my trauma because I had secretly in my head this goal that I was going to have that little white house and the picket fence, and nothing was going to stand in the way of that. When I met drugs, drugs was like the way of blocking out the misery and my way of continuing to stay on my route to my goal to have this man that’s gonna make me happy forever and ever and ever.I had my daughter; I had her premature. And I’ll let you know how little I knew about mourning, about the bond between a mother and the child. She died two weeks after she was born, but she was so full of drugs and alcohol that if she’d lived, she would have been a vegetable. I buried her, and I never cried. My way of transferring my emotions was that she was dead because her father killed my eldest son. So she should be dead. It’s sick, I know it’s sick, and believe me I’ve gone through therapy and worked through some of this stuff. But at that time it was real, it was just as real as the nose on my face. After that my whole life became a revenge thing about men. I was going to destroy marriages; I was going to destroy relationships; I would make a man believe that I loved him and then drop him like a hot potato, walk away from him and destroy him. That’s what I set out to do, and I did it so easily.The man who killed my son went to jail, but he only spent eighteen months in jail because they said they couldn’t prove that the blow that the baby-sitter saw him hit my son with was the one that killed him. You know, just bullshit. The system. He was a man. In Connecticut, a man is God. Whether he’s black or white, you understand, a man has the upper hand over women no matter what. And all his friends lied for him; they all knew what was going on. I didn’t even know he was an IV drug user. I didn’t know—I was so stupid and young and naive because I was so sheltered from the outside world, to drugs, in Georgia; but I was exposed to all this other stuff, just being a woman. I didn’t even have a clue of what it was to be a woman. It was what I saw on TV or I saw at the neighbor’s, the Beaver Cleaver’s crap. That’s what I saw, and that’s what I thought it was. And having no idea how, no sexuality of my own, I always took on “the man’s the leader of my life” to show me how I was supposed to act. I had no role models. I just did whatever I thought I could do, whatever made me feel good. So it was really quite natural for me to do drugs. Because when I did drugs, I wasn’t that quiet person anymore; I can tell you I was arrogant, and I could do things, and it worked for a while.The man I was living with, the man who killed my son, got me hooked on drugs; so prostitution was the way to get the drugs. I continued it, the prostitution. I’ve worked all my life. I’ve never missed a link in a job—there’s no gap in my history of working. I was always a highly functioning addict. I could turn it on and turn it off. When you talk about how they think we should be prim and proper, and use the proper etiquette and proper manners—I knew how to do that real well. I knew how to hold on to a job real well. It was easy for me to mask my addiction, it was easy for me to mask my pain. It was easy for me to mask my sexuality until I realized in some later stages in prostitution there was time where we got paid to be with other women, or we would be getting high and we would be with the other women, but we didn’t consider ourselves lesbians. We just considered ourselves having fun. It felt good—who wants somebody to stick a dick in ‘em and come in ’em? I hate that to this day; I hate for a man to come in me. I don’t like the feeling, and it just stinks, and it just wasn’t my thing. It wasn’t natural to me for somebody to be shooting all that stuff up in me. Why should I let ’em? So I learned how to have sex with men where—ride around, come on my chest, come on my back, come between my titties, come under my armpits, or shoot it against the wall, all kinds of stuff just to keep them from coming inside of me. And they loved it. They loved it. That was unbelievable.I did finish nursing school in Bridgeport—I barely made it out of school, really barely. Right now, if somebody asked me to go do hands-on nursing, I would not be able to do it. Anyway, soon after my son was killed, I moved from Bridgeport because it was impossible for me to live there even after they found out that I didn’t have anything to do with my son’s death. My family turned their backs on me. It was like, I can’t live like this. So I moved to New York, got me a job at a hospital. I worked on the nut unit in triage, where I ended up a couple years later. That was my first job, but I was always able to get a job. I could talk more shit than the radio.I was just snorting cocaine and popping pills most of the time. Returning to alcohol because I got a hole in my nose from snorting so much cocaine. When I hit New York, I had hit the big leagues. Right away I was right on top—I had no idea. The first pimp that I met, I married. I didn’t realize that he was the caliber of pimp that he was; he owned property, he was a businessman, he had everything. I had minks and diamonds. The fairy tale, the white house with the picket fence. I knew that he was a pimp, but it didn’t matter to me. I had my little white house with the picket fence. And that was the beginning of me really learning about what it felt like to be loved, because I knew he loved me. But he was a sick person. He had four or five other women, all the time, and he was an addict. But he was a different kind of addict than I was used to. There was nothing conservative about this person. He used and used, and he was controlling. He controlled me, and he beat me all the time.Out of all the sexual relationships I’d had with men, I felt loved and caressed when I made love to him. It wasn’t like I was fucking him. He took time to find out what made me feel good, and I didn’t have to fake the oohs and the aahs. My oohs and aahs were real. And he married me, and I thought this was the greatest thing under the sun. He gave me everything that I could possibly want. I had a child for him, and he helped me get my other son from DSS in Bridgeport. We had a home, we had a life. But again, you know that belief that if he didn’t beat me, he didn’t love me. I was raised with those ideas, so how could it be any different for me? Besides, I was really, really pretty. He wasn’t that good-looking, and he was really, really jealous of everywhere I went. If I went to the meat market and came home with two nice T-bones, he would say that I fucked the guy in the meat market to get ’em, not believing I had to pay him for ’em. He was just that jealous. He used to have people follow me around.Eventually, the same thing happened with him that happened with my grandmother. He beat me and beat me until I started taking karate lessons. That’s another place I learned a lot about my own sexuality. Karate taught me that I had to have self-control, that I had power, the power to think through things, the power to make changes in my life, the power of decision making. I never thought I had that kind of power. And violence was the last resort; I didn’t have to react to the person that was causing violence to me by another means of violence. Because I would be verbally abusive. “Kill me, if you’re gonna beat me, kill me, kill me. I don’t care! You’re wrong, you’re wrong.” And that was wrong. Virtually it came down to that because he was an alcoholic also, and he used to come home, wake me up in my sleep, and beat me. I never got a good night’s sleep. I look better now than I did when I was twenty-five. I was with that man for nine years and kept getting beaten and beaten. But I started fighting him back, and he started leaving me the fuck alone after a while. Because I learned how to fight good. Then he found out that I was taking these karate lessons and went down to the place and beat the guy up in the dojo at gunpoint. And I couldn’t go back there anymore. But I kept in touch with my friends; I met a lot of friends. I had already been going there six months, so they knew.Everything in my life has been a learning experience. Even my husband was the biggest challenge of my life, and I left him even though I didn’t think I could be by myself. I always had a man; I’d never lived by myself I took my kids. I planned it, plotted, saved the money, and got me an apartment in Manhattan, and moved to Manhattan, took my kids, and that blew him away because he thought I was so codependent on him that I couldn’t do it. That was the beginning of the end because I didn’t realize that I could do this on my own. I’m the one that worked; even when I was out there prostituting, I got the money first. So what do I need him for? It was like living this double life. But then I began to bond with my children and know what motherhood was, and how important it was, and that’s when I began to mourn my two other children. Because I could see their faces in my two children. And I realized that the drugging and all this other stuff that I was doing was hurting them.So when I got the apartment in Manhattan, he came back—he called me one night from the bar where I used to hang out and said he wanted to talk to me. Said, “I want to see the kids. I haven’t seen the kids.” So I got the kids, he got to see the kids, took them back to the baby-sitter. He said, “We’re going to go out and have a few drinks.” And so he got me high and said, “Bitch, did you think you was going to get away with getting away with my kids? I got the best years of your life.” And he put me in the back seat—I was in the back seat already, actually—and the brother was driving, and he jumped in the back seat and he beat me from Manhattan to Brooklyn. I can remember coming over the Brooklyn Bridge: I could see the lights, and I was just praying to God that he would take my life because that’s how badly he was beating me. And he beat me. I had on shorts, my body was—it was the summertime and I didn’t really have a whole lot on, and he beat me, and he thought I was dead. I just passed out, blanked out. He threw me on the Brooklyn Bridge and left me for dead. His brother called the police, called 911 and told them where I was. This was three or four hours later. By the time they came to get me, I had over a hundred rat bites on my body. I mean, just imagine it. I had this recurring dream up until about three years ago. I was unconscious but my subconscious was awake, ’cause they said if I had been awake when that was happening, I would have had a heart attack. When the authorities came to find me, I ended up in Bellevue. I didn’t know who I was. I had amnesia. His brother came to see me in the hospital—that’s how I remembered.That’s when he told me that he’d already got the best years of my life. Fuck you. I don’t need you. Don’t nobody want you. So by that time, by ’78, I still had my kids. I was working a little half-ass job; but I was doing so much cocaine, I was just barely functional. My kids were just from baby-sitter to baby-sitter. And I know I was hurting them, I knew I was. So I got enough money to have a penthouse apartment with everything you could imagine. I put everything in the car that I could possibly put in the car, and I left New York. I went back to Georgia. We have a home down there, so I went back there to stay with my brother in the house. And I couldn’t stay there, shit. Nurses only got paid about seven dollars an hour. No way—I would bring home about two hundred dollars a week. That was nothing! After I’m used to having thousands of dollars. When I went back down south, I imagined that I was going to go back to my roots, where I came from, and everything was going to be fine. My kids were so happy, and I was okay for a while. Instead, I think I fucked everybody from the east side, west side, north side, up side, you know, trying to fill up that black hole. It just didn’t work; I was just running from myself. And I left my kids there. I had to go, I had to leave; I couldn’t stay there.Yes, this was the brother that had molested me. But my brother was married and had responsibilities by then. There was nothing inside of me to make me think that he would do that to them. Then there was nothing inside of me that would help me confront him with what he did to me. It took me, like I’m saying, just in the last six years since I’ve been in recovery, to work through some of that stuff.My kids were there for a year, just a year. I came back to Connecticut and stayed with my mother. And got a job. I was doing good for a while. I got a job, a good job, sent for my kids, and then I met my second husband. Got married to him. He had money, he was older than me, and he would provide for me and my kids. I married him so I could have another white house with the picket fence. And my husband loved me so dearly. But I wasn’t ready; I was an addict. I was an addict, and we moved to California, and that’s when all hell broke loose. I learned about freebasing cocaine. Just like they say, you see the TV go down the drain, and the car and the house, everything. It was fast. It was fast. I was very depressed in California. I was married to an older man that I didn’t love. And I was fooling around on him. I didn’t feel good about that; I do have some morals and values somewhere stuck down inside of me. My kids were in gangs, and eventually my husband and I split up. I started back to prostitution. I ended up going to jail, and my husband had to take my kids.You name it, I did it. Between prostitution and grand larceny, and larceny by trickery, and selling drugs, and boosting—you name it, I did it all. I just kept changing names because I was a master of disguise. I could put on a wig and look different every time you’d see me. When they finally caught up with me—I think it was God; I felt like in this whole process, God had to pick me up and walk me through some of this stuff because any normal human being would have lost their mind or committed suicide by now. But freebase cocaine brought me to my knees. After I got out of prison and my husband sent my kids back east, I came back to Boston, to Connecticut, to Bridgeport again, and started out and I was doing good for a while. But you can’t just stop freebasing cocaine. I could slow down, but I could never stop. And then I started drinking much more.Then I got me a little apartment, got me a nice job, the whole nine. I was always with some guy, and that’s how I met my fiancé, the last guy that I was with. Before I came into treatment. He was an electronic engineer. He was cool. He helped me stay together. We got high, like drinking or snorting cocaine, but I didn’t know that he was shooting drugs. This man gave me the best sex that I ever had in life; and on top of having the best sex, he was so considerate and so loving and so doting and so wonderful—him and my kids just blended. It was unbelievable—like those were his kids. The most perfect situation that I could see in my life, this was; I was asking God to help me be good so I could be with this man, so we could be happy forever. We were engaged to be married. A couple months before the wedding, he left town. I was devastated. I could not understand what happened. What did I do wrong? I was, again, internalizing it, and just went crazy. My kids were all getting grown; they were teenagers by now. My daughter got pregnant, had a kid. My son was going to jail, back and forth. It was just really, really bad and I was just using more and more and more drugs. Until I started selling it. I was selling large, large quantities of drugs, and the way I sold my drugs, you wouldn’t believe. Most of my customers were men, and I used to keep the cocaine in my drawers—basically, so nobody would steal it from me. But I used to tell them, “The cocaine that I’m giving you is so good. The reason why it’s so good is because it has the aroma of my pussy and that’s why it’s so good.” And they just believed that. I used to have them lined up coming to buy my stuff. This was the bottom of my drugging days. What I didn’t know was that my partner had AIDS. He never told me. And I’ve since found out that he was going to the shooting gallery, shooting drugs in places that I didn’t know, I couldn’t detect. Because he knew that I was a nurse, and I would know a needle puncture. I used to think that dope fiends were the worst kind of people on the earth—not realizing that I was a dope fiend. So I didn’t go find out about being HIV-positive until I got in recovery. I got busted with a big lump sum of drugs.They gave me the options: I could go to treatment or I could go to jail. Seven to fifteen years in jail? Yeah, I’ll go to treatment. And all the time that I was in treatment, I just had no idea that I was ever not going to use again. I had it all planned. I was thirty days committed. I was gonna get high, had my people on the phone—come and get me when them thirty days were up. And the twenty-ninth day that I was in this treatment center, I got the message of desperation. This woman came in—what they call commitments coming in from Narcotics Anonymous. And this woman started telling my story. It wasn’t my story, but it was her story and it sounded like mine. That was the message of desperation for me. It was the message to tell me I didn’t have to live like that anymore, that I was somebody; and this was the first time that somebody told me that they loved me and I believed it. You know what I’m saying—the message that comes from another individual, comes from their heart, soul, and spirit. It just felt like it traveled across the room, and it hit me that I’m a sick individual. I am an addict, and I need some help. You’re not using because you feel good; you’re using because you don’t feel good. There’s a way for you to feel better about yourself. And I have not—from that day in 1991, January 15 of 1991—I have not used a mood- or mind-altering chemical. I haven’t thought about using, even when I tested positive for HIV. I was fourteen months clean when I tested positive. And it was like, the message came to my head, “You’re never going to be anything. This is a punishment from God.” It came there, but it was a fleeting moment. I started to work here at AIDS Center, and I had only been working here two months before I found out I was HIV-positive.See how God takes care of you? God took care of me; he put me in a place where I could get taken care of. Yes, because these people took care of me. I really learned about my own sexuality and sex and began to talk about it by working this field. They talk about the gay and lesbian community—I get my information from them. Because I know the struggle, I know what it is like trying to be yourself, and trying to love and lust at the same time, and knowing the difference between love and lust. I’m able to talk about me, my sexuality, my life, and with an open book because I don’t want to hurt anymore.
 I’m going back a lot of years. We’ve been talking about 1970 to 1990; 1994 was the first time I ever went back to my kids’ grave. It was the first time I was able to cry, to get rid of that pain. It’s still there; it’s not like it’s gone. But I look back on my whole life, and I say to myself, How did I become HIV-positive and go through all the things that I did? What was God thinking about, and how am I going to survive? The way that I survived was because I learned who I was. I learned that I don’t have to let somebody use my body to love me, and I don’t have to use my body to make somebody love me. That I have a message to give, and that message all starts from within. It’s not about how good you can screw, or how good you can suck; it’s about how well you can use your point of reference to make you a better person. I’m sorry that my point of reference had to be so strong and so harsh and so abusive, but I was able to get past that. And now I can feel my pain, and I don’t feel like I need to go and have a bottle of Jack Daniel’s or a snort of cocaine to make it go away. It’s about having a good support system and knowing about my body.I know what my body is feeling. And because I’m HIV-positive doesn’t mean that I should be so grateful to have a man that I’m gonna let him screw me when I don’t want to. If I don’t want to have sex, I’m not having sex. “Well, I’m taking a chance having sex with you,” they say sometimes. Motherfucker, that’s your problem. I told you I was HIV-positive. Now if you took a chance, it’s ’cause you want some pussy. Bottom line. Don’t try to lay no guilt trip on me, ’cause I have none. I’m taking care of me. You’re not having sex with me without a condom. If the condom breaks, it’s on you. You know? Simple as that. I’ll feel bad for a while, but I’ll have to get over it because it’s just like we signed a contract that we’re going to have sex with each other. I’ll let you know what your risk is; I’ll tell you what you need to do to protect yourself; I know what I need to do to protect myself. However, you haven’t even been tested yourself, so why are you going to tell me that I’m putting you at risk?My daughter’s in the navy. She’d had enough—I mean, after she had the baby, and she got married, and her husband was in the army. They had this big formal wedding, and I knew where she was coming from: the white house with the picket fence. I know, it was my dream; I could see it in her. It was something that kind of transferred, or something going on. But I could see it in her, and the first time her husband did something wrong, she was ready to split up. He did something wrong, she couldn’t forgive him. My daughter, she will not forgive or forget. She’s just like that; she’s one-sided. Because she was raised with me, she knows the difference between right and wrong. I never neglected to tell my kids about sex. I sit them down when they was little, showed them movies, talked about sex, gave them condoms, talked about STDs. I gave them sexuality, I told them what love was, I told them what to expect when you do certain things to someone, and how to have relationships. So they had a point of reference; it’s not like they weren’t prepared. Any mistakes they made, they knew that they wished they had of listened to me. But she’s okay; she’s in the service now. She has a son, my first grandbaby, my doll baby, sweetheart, punkinpoo. He’s eight years old; he’s the joy of my life. I have two other grandchildren, but he’s my favorite. Though I’ll never tell them that. She stays in Maryland. She’s getting out in June, then filing for divorce. He’s an addict, and she can’t deal with it. She says, “I was raised with an addict, and I’m not going to live with one.”I understand where she’s coming from. I tell her though, “You’re being judgmental,” because people that are addicts, it’s not their fault. My son, he lives here. And he’s married, just got married. Has two kids. I have a grandbaby—a little granddaughter and a grandson. So he’s totally well. Let’s see, I’m in my seventh year of recovery, he’s in his fifth year. He and I never talked about that part, but I’m sure he was doing everything under the sun. He was just like me. I knew that he drank too much; even in high school, he was just a little drunk.
 I have finally told my mother about some of what I have been through. My mother’s seventy-eight years old; she doesn’t need this trauma. She’s not a healthy woman, but I did talk to her about it and she cried. She never had a clue about any of this. And it hurt her so bad that I didn’t tell her. But she had to understand. I think the reason she cried was because she went through the same thing. And she wasn’t able to tell anybody. Her kids were the number one thing in her life. It wasn’t about a man, it was about her kids. To this day she’s like that. She would run over people with a bulldozer for her kids. That was her dedication; she loved her children. So I talked about it a couple times, and I let it go. She knew that I had a hard time, but she wanted me of all the kids to have everything. When I got into recovery, that was the best thing that could ever happen. I started going on TV and doing newspaper articles, traveling all over the world, and she just didn’t know that it was because I was HIV-positive. So when I told her it was, it disheartened her. She didn’t show it, but I know it. She wants to die before I do. She doesn’t want to see me die. I told her, “Well, I’m not planning on dying anytime soon. I’m too busy. I don’t have time to die. God’s got things for me to do.”And you know, you have different views when you become a Christian. I think that when you start getting closer to God, the trauma starts to move away from you. When I say trauma, I mean things that used to make you so upset and bent out of shape. They move away. People move away from you because they can feel your spirit. Negative stuff—it just moves away from me. I can’t tell you, there’s been a lot of things that happened to me. In recovery, I’ve been able to just-it just runs off my back. I don’t even get stressed out. That’s why I think I’ve been living with this virus this long and never been sick because HIV ain’t got shit on what I’ve already been through. I have a lot of wonderful people in my life, too. I really have some wonderful, wonderful people.Since I’ve been in recovery I have a strong group of really great women friends around me, and that’s probably what’s been missing all my life, is women. I didn’t have women in my life; it was always men, men, men, men. This is the first time in my life that I’ve ever been without somebody living with me. I’ve got a big, beautiful apartment and it’s laid from the front door to the back door, got a brand-new car, got two fur coats; those are material things, but I bought them. And I don’t go and sleep in nobody else’s bed. My support system is full of spirituality. Not so much religious spirituality, but just individuals who have worked through issues and have something to offer, that don’t open up their mouth to always be putting out negative stuff.My twelve-steps sponsor, she told me, she said, “Linda Rae, when you look in the mirror, I don’t want you to look at the skin, your hair, your body, I want you to look into your own eyes, and look into the pit of your soul, and you find the little girl that never got a chance to come out and play, and then you’ll find your sexuality.” I thought about it, and it took me for the longest time to figure out what she was talking about to me; and what she was telling me was, “Let the little girl that never got a chance to grow up come out and play.” It was innocence. That’s what it was, innocence. Before anything ever happened, there was an innocence, there was a peace, there was something that was untouched by anything. And I can be that woman today, I can start where I never finished, never got a chance to start. I can be that person, and I can be coy and I can be shy, and I can laugh nervously, and I can play little-girl games, and I can play hard to get. Things that people take for granted today. You can do that and still be who you are, and it keeps your spirit young. It keeps you ready, the woman side of you, ready for the trauma. But the little girl is always protected from that because she’s the part that you use to make you feel good.I’m forty-six now. I realize that sex is not that big of a celebration for me. I think now the intimacy around us is being able to have conversations. I love to be kissed, and I love to be touched, and I love to be held, and I love being helped out of the pity pot. Let me be on the pity pot for two and a half minutes, and then pull me out. I like to be able to tell somebody about what I feel when I’m feeling sad and miserable, and if I want to cry, I can cry and he won’t say to me, “You’re just being a punk.” It’s just my emotions; it’s the way I feel. Because I cry a lot alone. Or I cry to my girlfriends.I know that there’s this part of me that is attracted to women, but not enough for me to want to live a lesbian lifestyle. It would only be a sexual thing, and I don’t think that’s fair to a person. Because I’m a very lovable person, and if they fell in love with me, then I would hurt them. I know that every now and then I would have to have—I’d get the fever for the flavor of a Pringle. It wouldn’t be fair to them; so I won’t do that. But I don’t deny that part of my sexuality. I nourish that part of me, I celebrate that part of me, that I know how to be with a woman and feel sexually, mentally, and emotionally fulfilled. But I get my best fulfillment from a man. Most times you have to teach a man how to make love to you.You know, penetration is not really important. I remember, especially while tricking, being with men who fondle you and grab you and touch you hard, and rub your clit real hard, and I don’t like that. Since I’ve been in recovery, I realize I don’t like that, and I will say, “Don’t do that. This is the way I want you to treat me, and if you continue to do that, you get kicked to the curb.” I know how to set limits now with relationships. If it’s not good when it comes to my physical body—this is the only one I’m gonna get. I feel now that this is my castle and it deserves to be treated with tender loving care. If you can’t do that, then [signals “You’re out”] and I don’t have a problem telling somebody that, either. I think I would be doing the next woman an injustice if I don’t tell him that he’s too rough and I don’t like that. I think a woman has to have enough courage to tell a man how she wants to be treated. And I do that. I also know how to make a man feel good. What I don’t do and won’t do is let a man make that be a prerequisite to us having sex each time. You get a little bit of something and that’s it. It’s not like I’m gonna have oral sex with you until you come. You can’t unlearn how to give oral sex; it’s just impossible. Once you know how, and you get into it, you know how to do it good, you do it good. But I still don’t like come in my mouth or in my pussy or anywhere else. That’s still there. I think being HIV-positive scares me because I know there’s a potential for transmission of some other STD. I don’t have sex without condoms anyway. I can’t do that to anybody, even though the chance of me giving the virus to someone is very slim. My immune system is very healthy. I don’t know why, but it is. It’s Jesus—I do know why.
 I didn’t know the difference between being African American and being white until I got older. So I don’t think that my family influence, whether I was African American or not, had anything to do with it, because I came from a fucked-up family, period. My grandmother was a Blackfoot Indian; my grandfather must have been African American—at least he looked that way—but he might have been Indian. My mother was half, and my father was black, so it sort of was a mixture of stuff. God knows what’s in my other brothers and sisters. I just know that I was always lighter than everyone else in my family. And I was treated differently because of that. So it made me have a complex that I wasn’t white, I wasn’t black, but I was something else. That’s what we do; us as African Americans do that to each other all the time. You light-skinned, you’re half white, you’re yellow; you’re given all kinds of different names. And naturally, if you’re feeling like that, you make different decisions—the first guy that I actually literally went out with when I came down south was a white man. His mother and father had a fit. Since I’ve been HIV-positive, I have turned a couple shades darker. I don’t know why; something happens with HIV and pigmentation.Having sex with a white man was an entirely different thing. Well, let me tell you something. All of the tricks and white men that I’ve been with, some are perverted son-of-a-guns, I’m telling you. There’s a guy walking around right now, a schoolteacher with my name carved on his chest. I carved my name on his chest with a hat pin, week after week after week, with the scabs on it-—peel the scabs off and make it deeper and deeper and deeper. And I know that there’s no way that was ever going to grow back into anything. After I carved my name, I put liquid heat on it. I’ve had white men that had me defecate in their mouth and urinate in their face, tie ’em up and whip ’em and call ’em dirty names and things like that. Now, I don’t know any black people that do that. Ain’t never met one.And the thing about black women—a black woman is naturally sensuous and sexy. It’s just our skin, you know, the way we love. That love translates itself into our bodies. And it all depends on how you feel about yourself. If you look at yourself and you don’t feel sexy, if you think you’re not appealing, then you won’t be. I weigh two hundred pounds, but I find ways and means to make me not look like two hundred pounds. And I ain’t trying to lose no weight. I don’t have to; I’m HIV-positive, I’m forty-five years old, and I got twenty-eight-year-old boys running behind me. Honestly. I don’t think there’s anybody on this planet that don’t know I’m HIV-POSITIVE. I’ve been on every major news station in this country. I’ve traveled to six other different countries. I’ve done everything; there’s no way they don’t know.This disease is not going to stop me from living. And if I didn’t get into recovery, if I didn’t get with the women I got with, that showed me how to be a woman and showed me what my sexuality was and that I had one, I wouldn’t know what sexuality meant.I tell you what I think about today’s black people. I think black women spend too much time talking about what happened to us instead of what to do about it. There’s nothing wrong with you getting up off your ass and doing something about it. I make a difference in people’s lives every day. I have HIV; I live with this disease. I’ve lived with addiction, I’ve lived through abuse, I’ve lived with sexual abuse. I’ve lived through things that they could never even imagine. That’s a wealth of information. I need to get that information out. We have power in ways—our experiences are rich. If you was born to an upper-class black family, flaunt it, yes, you have the right to do that. Don’t be ashamed—well, it depends on why you do that. Not if you’re trying to make somebody else look bad, but because, yes, I have gone this far and there is no reason why Linda Rae from the other side of town cannot live the same way and have different experiences from me; but we all end up at the same road because we reach back and pull the other person forward. You don’t just sit there and say, “Well, I got mine and you got yours to get.” ’Cause you know that was the old saying. And historically that’s true. We don’t go back and help each other, we’re so busy in the mix. We don’t even need all that shit. I’ve lived in penthouses in New York, on Central Park; the people were that big, with a fur coat for every day of the week. My kids, little mink coats going to school in a limousine. That’s one of the reasons I had the hardest time when we was living in poverty, because they were not accustomed to that. But they didn’t realize what Mommy had to do to get them there. Now they know the difference, and it was a rich lesson for them. I have never been afraid to tell my kids about my shortcomings.
 We are afraid of our children. The kids out there, they aren’t doing nothing more or less than we did. It’s just a different year, different substance, and different attitude. My mother would have beat the dog shit out of me if I was standing on the corner, finger popping, talking with my pants hanging off my behind. She’da beat the dog out of me. I would have beat my kids down if I caught them out there. I would say ninety percent of the parents that got kids out there who are either using drugs, have used drugs, or doing something illegal, or they’re so caught up in their career that they can’t see what their kids are doing because they have to go and go to work and do what they have to do to take care of those kids. So therefore there’s a lack of supervision. And by the time the parents find out about it, the kid is already an addict.The drugs that they have out there today is set to make you an addict the first time you use them. The euphoria is so great. It took me awhile to become an addict off the drugs that I was using. I do a group at this detoxification program with newly admitted addicts, and these kids only been using like two or three months. They look like they been beat up. Living in the streets, with STDs that smell like Lord knows what. How, in three months? It took me twenty-three years to get that bad.
 Rap music? I think rap music is a bunch of bullshit. I hate it, I don’t like it, I never did like it. I think it’s a way of separation from one generation to the other. Somehow I like some of the little sayings that come out, you know, “dope” and all that stuff. I like that because my kids and I, we grew up together, so what they picked up, I picked up. But rap music has just gotten so bad, and so nasty and so way out there; you can hear the messages but it’s the way they act when they doin’ it, the bodily expressions, like I’m all cool, and I’m all that. Why can’t you put on a three-piece suit and go up and rap? What’s the difference? What are you trying to project? That you got to wear your pants hanging down off your butt to say that you’re different? You look retarded to me.I go to the high schools, and I look at these girls and they look like they’re twenty-five, thirty years old, not teenage girls. And the kids live in my building; I’ve watched them grow up. The kids next door, the young girls they all come here; I’m one of those people scrape up everybody in the neighborhood, make them come to an AIDS training. And every time they got a problem, they come to me, which I love because that way I get a chance to connect with them. Their belief in sexuality is that the guy wants them to have sex because “If you love me …”—the message hasn’t changed, the story hasn’t changed. If you love me, you’ll have sex with me. Then they talk about the condoms. I’m telling them about condoms, I’m saying, “Bring your boyfriend here.” “Oh, no, I can’t tell him.” So you know what I do? I just go right to them when I see them together, and I say, “Look, I got a whole box full of condoms in the house if you need ’em.” Because the girls won’t talk to them about the condom. They feel like it’s the boy’s idea to use the condom, but you the one gotta protect yourself. So they’re already thinking, contemplating sex at nine and ten years old. My God, it’s everywhere for them to see it. I think that a child should begin to learn about sex as early as elementary school. Because they already know. You talk to one of them, they’ll know. Instead of telling them that babies come from the cabbage patch.When I’m talking to people/girls about sex, I take it back to the validation. How do you feel in the situation when somebody’s touching your breasts, or touching your face? Or touching parts of your body where you don’t necessarily like that touch? Most girls are told about sex, and they have that fear, if they’re allowing that boy to do it. Think about what you are feeling. Do you feel hot, do you feel like you want to take your drawers off? No. Most likely not. The ones that do it are already having sex. But I’m talking about before sex. How do you feel? Does it feel like you are ready to take on this woman challenge? Or are you still feeling like a little girl? If you feel like a little girl, then you need to protect the little girl. And you should be able to say no. You should be able to not succumb to peer pressure. This girl lived in my building—she’s in college now—I remember her coming to me and talking to me about thinking about having sex. She told me how she felt about having the sex: she didn’t want to have the sex, but she liked this boy so much that she wanted him so bad. And I said, “You’re fifteen years old, and you probably won’t even like this boy when you’re eighteen. Because he’s going to grow up, he’s going to look different, he might get ugly. You might see somebody else you like better. And if he loves you, he’ll wait for you.” She went on and had sex with him anyway, and it was horrible and terrible—gave her a yeast infection. She didn’t use a condom, and then he gave her an STD. She was so embarrassed. To this day, her mother doesn’t even know about it. Her mother thinks she’s still a virgin. And I had to go against my better judgment and take her without telling her mother to a clinic at the hospital so she could get treated.I wanted to tell her mother, but I didn’t want to break her confidence because she was just beginning to be empowered. I was bringing her to AIDS Action to be a peer educator, and I was taking her around with me and showing her a lot of stuff. I’ll never forget her telling me how she felt about having sex with that guy. She said she could feel God looking at her, and she knew it was wrong, and she didn’t enjoy it. And I told her, “The first time you have sex, you don’t enjoy it anyway; you’re gonna bleed, it’s gonna hurt.” Penetration. We teach teens if they’re going to have sex for the first time how to make penetration happen before the penis goes in so it won’t be so painful. All that stuff, and lubrication, so they’ll be ready for that. Then we talk about the importance of getting married and consummating your marriage, and the chances are that you’ll be with that person forever and ever and ever—which could be a myth, but you tell them, try to give them options.
 I have a program with this ministry, and I’m dealing with how the church plays a role in all of this. I think the church has been judgmental for so long that the Christian population is going to be the hardest and probably the highest at risk for HIV than anybody. From their point of view, all of the people that have HIV are people who have sinned and they’re going to hell anyway, so they might as well have AIDS. I’m working with this. I’ve been doing it for two and a half years, and it’s been the hardest thing I ever do. But I’m not giving up. I’m getting into some churches and teaching them about the disease and talking to them about support. If they have to have sin, I just throw the Bible right back at them, saying that Jesus forgave people for their sins. Give ’em sin, but then say, “But these people have been forgiven. Let ye who have no fault cast the first stone.” You got to give it back to them like that so they can understand it. This disease is real.What makes them think that God’s not watching all of them? This is a part of the master major plan. But God doesn’t want this to continue. That’s why I’m here trying to tell you that you have to help. You have to talk to your children; you can’t turn them away. You can’t preach abstinence to them all the time and not let them know that they have options. I’m not saying preach to them that they should use condoms, but let them know that they have options. You give somebody a condom, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to have sex. And, if you don’t give them the condom and they have sex anyway and get AIDS, then what are you going to feel? We need to put some responsibility on the parents, put some responsibilities on these ministers because they don’t even want to talk about it in the pulpit.I have gospel concerts and trick’em. I had a boat ride, put five hundred people from all different churches all over Philly, put ’em on the boat for a gospel boat cruise, food and everything, get them out in the middle of the water, stop the boat, and bam! HIV education. I had six HIV-positive speakers speak. What was they going to do? Jump off the boat? There were tears. I’ve never seen people crying so much. Because they never knew. They never understood; they’d never been around anybody who had the virus. And they began to have some knowledge. Then I had a gospel concert; then we had a black and white ball. They thought it was going to be dancing, everybody dressed up in either black or white, long gowns and everything, and then they came and we had a program. I had six HIV-POSITIVE people speak and then the pastor came up and gave a sermon. Had people in tears. It was like a healing service. People were turning their lives over to God, they was on the floor praying—it was amazing. I’ve done four events so far. I’ve been into eight churches now doing HIV education, and I’ve done some TV shows. I have people that call me to come and speak. The only problem is that they want me to come and speak, and I just can’t do it. It’s too much for me; I have a lot of responsibility and I just can’t do everything. I used to try to, and I was making myself sick and I had no life. I was one stressed-out, mixed-up, overworked person. Now I work nine to five. I don’t work weekends and holidays. Don’t bother me. That’s my way of taking care of me. I can never keep a boyfriend because they can’t keep up with me. I’m either in Africa, or Paris, or Germany, or Florida—I’m everywhere. It’s too much for men.I’m so proud to be an African American woman; I know what that is because my title is the African American education programs manager. I was the African American education specialist. So it gave me more desire to learn about me and learn about my people, and me as a woman. I am the woman, the black woman, that went to the White House and spoke to the President. I am the black woman that told the most influential people in America to get up off their ass and do some work. Get some passion for HIV. I’m the woman who’s been in a predominantly white male agency doing good things in my community. I’m the African American woman who has a son and a daughter that no matter what their mother has been through, they look at me and they love me and they empower me and they respect me. And I respect them right back. They know that I’m available for them. And I know that from my African American heritage is where I got my strength and my pride. It was transferred to me; I didn’t just get this. It was transferred to me from my ancestors—somewhere along the line, that spirit came and jumped in me and I’m carrying that spirit on. So I’m really happy to be the vessel. I’m doing the best that I can.Joclyn
 
 MY NAME is Joclyn. I’m thirty-seven years old. I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. I am the youngest sister of four, so I have three older sisters. No brothers—I’ve always wished I had an older brother. My parents separated when I was in sixth grade. They just recently got divorced. My mother is eighty-one years old, and my father is eighty-six years old. They’d been separated since I was in sixth grade, so they were separated for twenty-five years, which just blows me away. I was born in Salt Lake City, and we moved from there to Boston, Massachusetts, and then from Boston to New Jersey and then from New Jersey to Philadelphia. It was at the point when we moved from New Jersey to Philly when my parents went their own way. I’m married. Been married for seven years.My father was a minister, but in addition to being a minister (he didn’t ever have his own church), he had an executive position with the church. That’s why we moved so much—because he kept getting transferred. My mother says he kept getting fired. I don’t know the real story to that; I just know we kept moving. And my mother, before she retired, was vice president of a college. They’re both retired now. My father’s looking for a new wife. That’s why he divorced my mother. He put an ad in the classifieds in a national newspaper and is looking for a woman. Yes he is.The sister next to me, there’s six years between me and the next sister, and then there’s only a few years between her and the oldest. So, of course, I was supposedly an accident child. The sister next to me, she went off—I think maybe it was seventh grade—she got married when she was eighteen. I would have been about twelve. So after the sixth grade, I was really raised by myself, pretty much me and my mother because the other two sisters were older and out of the house.
 Well, I’ve been trying to figure out what intimacy is myself. But I know what I would like for it to be. And that is to be in a relationship with a male or female, that you can talk to about anything and everything, and know that you’re safe in saying that with that person. Know that the information that you pass on to that person—you won’t be judged by whatever you say, you won’t be ridiculed, you know you’ll be accepted, and that person will hear what you’re saying. And they’ll share their feelings with you, they’ll feel comfortable sharing whatever they are feeling with you, good, bad, or ugly. And just loving that person for who that person is, and loving that person totally. When I don’t have that, that’s when intimacy’s being broken. Maybe that’s a fantasy to have a relationship like that. It’s not to say that you can’t get mad at the person or that the person can’t disagree with you or anything. It’s not a perfect relationship. But I don’t know that I can say that I’ve ever really experienced intimacy with a man or a woman, unfortunately. I think that in every relationship I’ve ever been in it’s been conditional. Intimacy is that unconditional love, that unconditional acceptance, and I don’t know anybody that’s ever accepted me unconditionally or just wanted me in their life just because I’m a nice, warm, loving person. There’s been some motive there. Some agenda, some expectations of me, something that I had to give in order to receive what it was that I needed. I like to think that my standards aren’t unrealistic or asking too much. But I think that we all just have a lot of baggage, whether we know it or not. And when you have this baggage, it’s just hard for some people to give and hard for some people to receive. It just makes it very difficult to have that ideal relationship.The person I’ve felt closest to was my aunt—she died. I feel as though I had that type of relationship with her. I said earlier I hadn’t, but I really do feel as though I could tell her anything, I could talk to her about anything, and that she loved me unconditionally. And I guess maybe I’ve been searching for that relationship with someone else. Ever since she died, I have not been able to find that in any other relationship. But the one person I did experience that with would have been my aunt. She passed when I was a senior in college.Before my recent group of friends, I probably had two, maybe three women that I considered close friends. As close as I can be. They accuse me of not being intimate or close with them, from changing clothes to you name it, you never call me, we don’t ever get together. So I consider them as close as I can be, but most of my friends, two I’ll say, have wanted more than I was able to really communicate.I’m comfortable with my sexuality. I feel more comfortable around men than I do women. Like I won’t disrobe in front of a woman, but I will without thinking in front of a man I’m intimate with. I feel very uncomfortable undressing around women, particularly because my mother shielded her body. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mother’s body. She would not undress in front of me, so it made me feel like, Okay, we’re supposed to hide our bodies and not undress around each other. My girlfriends always tease me about it because I’ll always be in the closet or taking my bra off under my shirt, or something like that. They’re like, “We have the same things.” And I’m like, “But you can’t see mine, sorry.” I just don’t want them to see my body. But my girlfriends make a big deal out of it, and they tease me because I’m like that.I learned about sexuality from my sisters, my older sisters. I watched them get in all this trouble. I watched them get caught. I watched them get pregnant. I watched them have abortions. I watched them date boys, kiss boys, talk about boys; I listened to my older sisters talking about boys sometimes when they didn’t know I was listening to them talking about boys. They were very sexually active, my sisters were. Probably because we were brought up in such a very strict household, my father being a minister and all. And he was just very anal, and very—just ridiculous. Just very rigid and distant. The only thing he was concerned about was us impressing the white people. It was very important. And I think it ended up giving us a poor self-image. Me, I’ll talk for myself Because white people were all that and a bag of chips. And black people were whatever; we weren’t important. My sister still to this day tells this story—she’s fortysomething years old now: My father used to have these little meetings at the house, and he made these hoagie sandwiches, and my sister wanted a sandwich. And my father said, “No, these are for the white people.” “You’re not good enough to have one of these” is the message that she heard. He said, “These sandwiches are for my church members” or whoever he was having over. And she has always internalized that as being, “I wasn’t good enough for the hoagie sandwich, but Joe White Boy over here was.” He was just very distant, the disciplinarian. And grouchy as I don’t know what. He counseled married couples and they were like, “Oh, Reverend Wilson, you’re the best thing and we just love you and we just think you’re great,” and everything. And we were like, How is he able to do this to these people and come home and be the biggest bear in the world? After the sixth grade, I didn’t have as much contact with him, thank God, no. But I had enough, though, to know that I did not want to be there, and I had seen what had happened to them. I had been punished and beaten by him for doing—being on the phone or just whatever. He’s just grumpy. Angry, very angry.I never have known my parents to sleep in the same bed. I thought that was significant to tell you. I never saw them hug or kiss or hold hands. I never saw them show affection. My father would give gifts, and my father would tell jokes. Very repulsive jokes that would gross my mother out about boogers and stuff like that, just nasty stuff. She just really hated that kind of talk. But I would never not sleep with my husband. I want to sleep with him, and I’m very touchy with him because of that; I want to be the opposite. And he snores real bad too. But I’m going to sleep with you anyway! I just get him to turn over.
 My mom gave me a book about my period. She wouldn’t even talk to me about that. The book tells you what it means to menstruate, why it happens, just a very—very easy to read pamphlet. It looked very worn, like she’d passed it on to all of us. And she gave me another book. She gave me a book about something else. She never talked to any of us about sex. She would never say anything. She would always have these rules, “No boys at home when I’m not here.” And of course, that’s when they would come over and I would have sex. If it were too quiet down in the basement where me and my boyfriend were, she’d come and rattle the door like she was coming down. But she would never say, “I don’t know what’s going on down there but I hope you know that having sex is not a good idea at your age.” She never made one mention either way or the other about sex. It was just an understood kind of thing.It was ninth-grade summer—I was going into the tenth grade when I started having sex. I had been dating him since, or known him since, seventh grade. So we had been doing really everything but, you know; we had really been doing some heavy petting. And I kept him off for three years; I thought I was doing pretty good. There was kissing and petting and stuff. I don’t think we were doing oral sex. He was using his finger a lot. Yeah, I think I was ready, I mean, he was probably having me climax with his hands. I don’t recall—I knew it felt very good, but I don’t recall actually knowing at fourteen what an orgasm was. I knew it felt great and I couldn’t wait to get together with him so we could do this some more, which was probably why I wanted to have sex—like if this is good, I wonder what that other thing is like.It did not hurt; I did not experience pain to talk about. I remember it feeling very good and I was feeling very euphoric afterward. He probably came too fast, but I just remember thinking, Oh, this is great, I could do this again. This is cool. Safe, comfortable. I got a call the next day. We had been dating forever, since seventh grade, and this was tenth grade. We stayed together all through high school. And he was shorter than I was, and that really bothered me a lot. He was muscular, but he was small, he was real petite, and I felt so big with him. And I wanted a big man; that’s all I ever craved when I was with him. I always felt so big, and I guess I was probably the size I am now. Almost five foot eleven, tall and big. I’m not skinny. I’m a big woman. Even now I would not feel good with a man who was shorter than me, I feel big now, I do. I never felt real feminine; and with him, it wasn’t never gonna be one of these, “I’m a pick you up, woman, and take you to bed.” This man would just break his arms off trying to carry me. After that I dated big men, tall men.I wasn’t concerned about virginity, not even a little bit. And I knew that this guy really cared about me. I didn’t protect myself. He was withdrawing before he ejaculated, so I was confident that I would be safe. My sisters told me about contraception after I told them we had sex. My oldest sister, who’s ten years older than me, she took me to the family-planning clinic after I told her. I just thought I was being safe. I don’t know that I even knew about condoms. Maybe he did. I think he knew about them, and I think he started using them before I was actually on the birth control pills. But I remember he would bust the condoms—he was very nicely endowed. I know the first time we were not protected. But I think after that we were like, “Hey, aren’t we supposed to be doing something? Aren’t we supposed to be using something?”I think that boyfriend was really more like a father figure than a boyfriend. He wasn’t terribly older than I was; he was maybe three or four years older than I was. And still the same grade, so that tells you something. But I don’t know what happened to him, if he stayed back or what. But he was very, very mature. And very overprotective. Very protective. And really caring and loving. I mean, he was more like a father. He was so square, kind of. He wouldn’t do bad things; it was like, “Maybe you shouldn’t curse.” Just like a father or something, I don’t know. I think I was not as influenced by my father as my sisters because I wasn’t dating—I didn’t start dating until after I left, he left, or whoever left. So I just think I was wanting somebody to love me, and this guy loved me. And he cherished me. He would kiss the ground I walked on. And I was eating it up. As my Catholic high school teacher said, “Girls give sex to get love. Boys give love to get sex.” I was giving sex to get love; and he was giving it to me. So it was fine. The sex wasn’t bad. I never had to have it. I don’t know that I’ve ever been—yeah, I’ve been horny, but I don’t masturbate. I don’t do anything about it. I was separated from my husband for nine months, and I didn’t masturbate. I just don’t care.You know what? I really think that my first orgasms were really when I—I guess I allowed myself. Well, this guy was just so wonderful; he was seven feet tall. It was a one-night stand? Two-night stand. He had to come back for some more of that. But he lifted me up, made me feel like I was this little person, and laid me down; and I had an orgasm with him. He just, he massaged my whole body and … he caressed my whole body, not massage, was caressing my body and just holding me and touching me in places I did not know had the potential to be stimulated. I don’t do many self-exploring things. I don’t masturbate, don’t know how to masturbate. Masturbation to me is like tickling yourself. I can’t tickle myself You can’t tickle yourself. This won’t make me feel good. It’s just never had any appeal to me. But this guy. It was probably the best sex I ever had, but he had no personality. I can’t remember two words he spoke. He could be a mad killer for all I know. Just didn’t know anything about him.I think it was just the way he was touching me and caressing me, and it just made your whole body melt. We just had that rhythm. Some guys are clumsy, and they’re like—they’re lying down and they’ve got their hand on your hair, and they’re pulling your hair out or something. And you feel like, Oh, God. They’re saying, “Just tell me what to do.” I don’t want to tell you what to do. Just do it. You know, I don’t have to give you a book. What do you want, a road map? But since then, I have not felt that way. And if I know what an orgasm is, that has to have been one. Probably multiple orgasms at one time. But that never happened again, not at least in the last seven years. I was just kind of being with a lot of people before I got married. I guess overall I’ve had sex with, I’d say, about twenty. And he was just one of those people.I like foreplay if it’s good foreplay. If it’s not good foreplay, I’m like, “Let’s get this over with.” The kissing, the talking, I don’t want somebody to just come in and jump my bones. I like to cuddle. I love back massages, and foot massages. I don’t know whether my husband’s just not good at giving me oral sex, or if I just don’t like oral sex, but that does not turn me on at all. I don’t know if it’s ’cause I haven’t had the right guy to give me oral sex. White men, I hear (I don’t know this), are more attentive in foreplay and oral sex. But black men are more just wanting to, Let’s do it. Let me get off. I haven’t really had many sexual partners that were just interested in getting themselves off and not being concerned about me. Even though they may come before I’m even halfway there, they’re still either apologetic or something. They’re showing that, I’m sorry, I really care, we’ll do this again soon.I’ve thought about being in bed with two people with both of them making love to me. It would be nice being the center of attention. Just various things maybe, if not at the same time. Obviously that would be quite difficult. But working a different area. I know it would never be a reality. I don’t think. Unless something happens. Why torture yourself, if it’s something that’s not going to be a reality? I think I’m a little prudish, just a little. I’m a little shy; I’m not going to pull out any whips and chains. I wouldn’t feel comfortable if my spouse wanted to pull out whips and chains. I’m not into anal sex either. If my spouse were into anal sex, I would not feel comfortable with that. So I think I’m pretty boring when it comes to sex.I’m regretting the relationship I’m in now. I’m getting all old now and dried up. I kind of wish I didn’t marry him, hadn’t married my husband. I got married because I was twenty-nine. I know that sounds stupid; it sounds stupid to me. I didn’t want to be thirty and not married. Why did I get married? I had been through a long string. After that first relationship that I had, way back in seventh grade. I had gone through a string of really bad relationships. When I met my husband, he was the first that was dependable, had a job, had a car, had some ambition. And I was like, I’m not letting this little fish go. I just kind of jumped on it. Because I’d just had—either guys were cheating on you, they were not working, they were not sincere, they were—there was just something major wrong with all of them. And when I met my husband, he seemed to have every attribute that I ever wanted and he seemed to be everything that I admired and was looking for in a man. Of course, those things come back to haunt you.Well, the ambitiousness turned out to be just this drive that you would not believe. And a person that was not going to be satisfied with anything that he achieved or obtained, and projected all of his lack of self-worth onto me when I was having self-esteem issues myself and was not really strong enough to handle that projection. We’ve worked through all this supposedly, but there’s still a lot of scars, wounds from the earlier part of our marriage. A lot of things were said that you kind of can’t forget and that I guess we’re both hanging on to. Just recently, the latest issue is that he wants a baby. And I’m not really feeling comfortable in the relationship to provide him with that.I don’t know about motherhood. If you ask my sister, she’s like, “No, she wants to be alone, she wants to watch her soap operas, she wants to just go fly off to St. Thomas when she feels like it and hang out on the beach. And she has her little perfect house with her white carpet, and she is not mommy material.” That’s my sister’s opinion of me. But if you ask me, I think part of me is scared of missing out on that experience. I’m thirty-seven; it’s not like I have a real long time to decide. Then another part of me says, Well, maybe I want a child, but I don’t want it with this jerk husband that I have. And then you say, Well, get divorced. You’re thirty-seven; two years later you finally meet this man, and God, you’re forty years old. By the time you guys get married, then your chance to have kids is gone. So, do I want to be a mother? I don’t know. I don’t know. I have a lot of issues about parenthood from my mother, in terms of her always telling us she didn’t want us, she didn’t want any kids. “I didn’t want you, I didn’t want any of you.” She said, “You were all diaphragm babies.” And I said, “Why didn’t you just have an abortion?” She said, “They didn’t have those back then.” My mother was forty-four when she had me.She was very emotionally abusive growing up. So I—she would kill me for saying this—but I feel she really messed us up. Messed me up, anyway; I won’t speak for anybody else. You know, with the self-esteem: She called me stupid all the time, and, “God, I can’t believe you passed the sixth grade. How in the world?” And, “You’ll never get in any of those schools”—colleges. Just constantly … I don’t know, but I just don’t want to have a child and not be able to love her, or him, because I don’t think that my mother has ever been able to love us. She has this much in her glass to give, you know, from where she came from. And she was very distant. She never wanted me to come in her bed; I’d be scared at night and I’d want to come in her bed because I thought the boogie man would come in my room. It was the first room when you came up the stairs, the very first room on the right. And one of my sisters was very hateful; she used to always tell me, “You’re the first room, you’re the first one he’s gonna come get.” So I used to be so scared at night, and she used to reward me if I did not come in her bed. You know, “You’re a good girl. You did not come in my bed.” And if I would come, she would just be mad at me the whole next day. Wouldn’t speak to me. I know I wouldn’t do those things to my kids, but I’m afraid that—what if I had kids, and I did not want them, like she didn’t want us? And didn’t have the capacity to love a child the way a child needs to be loved. And just love them manually. Like, You’re crying, so I guess I’m supposed to hug you. Come here. You know, don’t do me any favors. Children are so perceptive; they would pick up on it if I were that way. And I’m so scared of being my mother in every sense, from her marriage, to being separated for thirty years and divorcing when she’s eightyfive, to being this emotionally distant, unloving mother.Because of what I experienced, and because I’ve never wanted kids, I’ve never said, “I’m going to get married and have ten kids. I love kids.” I’ve never felt that pull. Anything I say I feel, she says, “I felt the same way.” And I hate it when she does that because I’m like, Oh, no! I don’t want to be you. God, please help me! And every time something would happen in my marriage, she would say, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but your father said the same thing.” So I feel like I’m her clone, almost, in that if I feel the same way my mother felt when she was my age and about kids, that’s the way I’m going to react. I love my little five-year-old nephew. I took him to the circus last night, and it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I love him to death, but I have never baby-sat for him. I’m scared to death to do that. I’m really scared of kids. I’m scared they’re going to cry, I’m scared they’re going to hate me. I’m scared they’re going to hurt themselves in my care. I’m scared of kids, I really am. And then when they cry, it gets on my nerves. I feel like—you know, those commercials where the mother’s slapping the kid around or something. I’m scared I would just lose it.If I don’t have them, I’m afraid that I will be sorry and feel that I’ve lost out on a really wonderful, beautiful experience. And if I do have them, I will be insane, crazy, ready to shoot myself, and they won’t love me. I’m going to end up on Ricki Lake with this child, and she’s trying to kill me. I don’t know. I wonder what I would do with my life. What would my life be like later? The person I’ve told you about, that I was most intimate with in my entire life, my aunt that died, never had kids. She never got married. I really wish she were alive to talk to me because she seems to have lived a very fulfilled life. She traveled, she had us, she had me, I mean, I was like her kid. She was more like my mother than my mother was. She definitely loved me like a daughter. And I could do that with my nieces and nephews. But I don’t feel that connection to them. I feel bad that I’m not this kind of aunt that my aunt was, to my nieces and nephews, but feeling harassed. And thinking, God, was I like this when I was this age? No way! I had to have been more considerate. It’s scary. I survived the circus. I did my one little auntly deed for the year, for the whole century. It’s terrible.Every woman with children that I’ve ever talked to in my life has told me, “Don’t have kids unless you want kids and are willing to do it by yourself, because your husband is just not going to be the kind of support that you want, or you think, or you need him to be.” That’s black women; I don’t know how white women feel, but the sisters I talked to have pretty much said they deal with the brunt of the responsibility. And I’ve told my husband, “If I do ever have children, I’m going to need more than fifty-fifty—more like sixty-forty. Exactly, that’s right.” And he said, “Well, I will have a nanny, I’ll go get a nanny.” And this last week, it was so pitiful: “I promise you, if you have a baby, you can come home and you’ll be like, ‘What baby?’ He wants one so bad. Isn’t that terrible? It kind of just cuts [strikes] a chord with this dude, don’t you think? It’s pitiful.
 Racism and sexism have impacted me as an individual, yes. In terms of sexuality, yeah, I think it has. The white-girl image is not obtainable for a black woman. Blondes you see every day. You know, Barbie doll, hello, we aren’t. I work with Barbie every day. And blue eyes, blond hair, makeup just perfect. White, yeah. It’s very hard not to live up to that image. But trying to duplicate the image—a lot of black women do, including myself, unfortunately, not being able necessarily to duplicate it. But my hair is straight. I wear makeup. I guess that’s not a white thing necessarily, but … One of my sisters was a black power radical in the sixties, so that’s another story. She’s slightly sold out; she finally permed her hair. But gosh, yes, it has an impact on my life every day, all the time. When I walk into the briefing at my job, I’m the only black person at the briefing. As it is there’s this expectation. I’m in charge. So they suck up to me. I don’t know, there’s that electricity, there’s that—you know what I’m saying. You can feel that, Oh, you’re black. I’ve got to fly with you for three days, a black girl. And I gotta listen to what you’re going to tell me for three days. Yes, it has an impact on me because I feel that I have to be professional, I feel as though I have to be better than they are all the time, I feel like I have to prove that I’m not this bitch, black people or women are constantly proving themselves. Black men are constantly proving themselves. I have to be nicer to the customers than my white counterparts because if I were to say some of the things that the white girls say to the customers, I would be written up. I can’t get away with things that they can get away with. But yes, it plays a big role.I think white people now have put us into two categories. You got good niggers and bad niggers now. There are the articulate ones—you speak so well—and they’re surprised. And we have the ones that are intimidating, that are loud and boisterous and aggressive and street. So I think we have two images, they don’t know which one we are until we open our mouths. Or maybe a well-dressed, ignorant black women will walk in there, and they think you’re an articulate one, and you say, “Gimme dat,” and they’re like, “Ooh.” And they’re like clutching their pearls. I think we’re perceived two different ways.In other words, black, white, ignorant, articulate—do I think that they think we all like to have sex and good sex? I think they think that we’re the best thing. I think white men probably desire black women because they’ve heard that black women are animals in bed. I still think white men want us. I think they want it. Not all white men, but I think—what’s that guy, Hugh Grant? He’s got a supermodel at home, and she is what every black and white woman really has aspired to be. To have this image, this supermodel image. And he’s got it and doesn’t want it. Wants that black booty.All of this makes me always want to prove them wrong. It makes me always want to set an example for my race, that we aren’t like that—which I don’t think is necessarily healthy. But that’s what I think a lot of us do, what a lot of black women do—that’s what I do. Every time I have an opportunity, I—and this is going to sound very strange—but I try to not act like what the white people perceive black people as. Which I guess means acting white. They think we’re going to be street, they think we’re going to be, “Yo, yo, yo” all the time. I’m not going to give them that, even though I’ll be that way with my sisters. I’ll be down with my sisters, but I’m not going to be down with you; and you’re going to try to be down with me, but I’m going to say, “Excuse me?” “Oh, it’s cool like that, Joclyn.” “What are you talking about?” I don’t like that; I don’t even like to play that with them. It’s my personal thing: don’t go there with me. That’s my home life. I’m here and I’m acting professional at work, and I don’t want to educate you. I’m not going to educate you on my life. It pisses me off.
 There’s a lot of double standards. You ain’t supposed to be seeing nobody else, but he can go out and be with two women and everybody, but you’re supposed to just stay home and wait for him. I don’t have that problem, but I know that many black women do. That I know of, anyway. And we’re racist among ourselves even. You know, light skin, dark skin, that kind of thing. That has had an impact, that in itself. I get more flack about it from women, about being light versus dark, than I do from men.I don’t have any sexual attraction whatsoever to white men. I don’t. Black men are hard enough. I can’t imagine being in a relationship with a white man with all the other barriers that come up, and the issues just being in a black relationship are hard enough. Anyway, I prefer black men. I’ve seen some attractive olive-skinned, or whatever you want to call them, and I’ve been like, Oooh, he looks good. I’ve been attracted that way. Like, not bad for a white boy kind of thing. But maybe because my father worshiped them so much, I wouldn’t be caught dead with one.How am I going to achieve happiness and peace of mind? Oh, God, I think start being really honest with myself and stop lying to myself. Stop being afraid and move on and do the things I know I need to do. Stop doing things I know I don’t need to do. It’s like a diet: you know what to eat, and you know what not to eat; you know what’s good for you; you know what’s not good for you; you know what’s going to put weight on you; you know if you don’t exercise. I feel like I know all those things, but it’s just, doing those things is what’s hard for me right now. Getting off my lazy butt and doing those things. Taking that chance. Going to that gym and lifting those weights and feeling that pain that’s associated with making all those decisions.I would like to be divorced from my current husband and be with a guy that is just carefree, fun, loving, and just into me, and us have a very intimate relationship, maybe a little kid, and just be living, just being happy. That’s all I really want. I want to be able to pay my bills, of course; that would make me happy. That’s what I want right now. I think I’m very responsible, but I love to have fun. I do. I go to work, I do everything I’m supposed to do. I don’t call in sick so I can have a free day, and whoopee let’s have fun today. I don’t do that. Just when I have the time off, I want to spend it as enjoyably as I can, and I just want somebody who’s not so serious and stiff all the time at forty-five that they can’t chill out. I don’t know, it’s probably not possible. It’s probably not a realistic expectation. I don’t know, I guess I want to believe that you can find that special person, that special mate, and that person that is just wonderful to you. I don’t know many people that have that. I met one girl today, and she sounded like she had that, but you know how you find out stuff after you know people. They’ll say, “Oh, he beats me.” So I don’t know anybody who has what they want.Amparo
 
 I WAS BORN in New Jersey, but I was raised in Baltimore. I have my mother and my father, my brother and my sister. I’m the oldest child. How old am I? I’m twenty-four; that means my brother’s probably going to be nineteen in December, and my sister’s going to be seventeen in September. I’m twenty-four. I can’t believe it. I just graduated from college in ’93 with a dual major in sociology and philosophy. I’m very into the arts—my mom’s an artist—and that’s what I do right now. I have a part-time job so that I can work on my art. And I plan to go to grad school for sociology. I have to always say this: both my parents are black, even though one is Hispanic. People don’t know that Hispanic can be black, too. My mom is Haitian and Cuban, but she was born and raised in Baltimore. My dad is African American. His mother’s from St. Croix as well, so a lot of Caribbean influence. He was a lawyer—he was trained in law. He had his private practice, and now he works with the government. I guess I would say we’re middle class and Catholic.Church was a big deal. But it was a big deal in a hypocritical kind of way, in my opinion, because at one point it was very liberal in my house as far as what we thought about other religions. And we never read the Bible. My mom’s an artist; I guess whatever comes along with that kind of mentality or is supposed to, it was pretty much prevalent—very open-minded. But at the same time, on Sundays, we had to go to church. And things like Good Friday and Easter—I guess the average things. It was a big deal, but it wasn’t. We went to Catholic schools, and that was important to them.
 I don’t know if there are any defining characteristics for .when something seems intimate to me, but I guess I look for just little clues; I look for how well a person knows me, or if we’re speaking the same language. I go more by how I feel than how I think, even though both of them are involved. We’re going deep with this; that’s a hard question. I guess I feel closest to my boyfriend now. We spend every breathing moment together. I don’t really like that, but that’s what ends up happening.It’s been a mind-opening kind of relationship because I had set ideas on how things should be. But this is completely different. I guess I’m going through that right now—trying to define what it is that I want from something because I remember my mom saying, “Okay, you can’t get into anything too quick. You always have to think it out.” So I end up being the kind of person who took that to the next level, and I think everything out. Just judging on that, from the beginning we got into this too fast just because we clicked. And I believe we had sex too fast even though it was a month afterward. Everything was too fast, and deep inside I’m uncomfortable with all those facts; yet, we have trouble being apart. So I don’t really know what to make of it. I know we’re close. Why are we close? Gosh, I have no idea. I guess it’s intrigue. He’s a very peaceful person and I really like that because I tend to be a little bit more fiery. He’s just really calm. What draws me to him? This is exactly the kind of stuff that I’m thinking about and need to know if I’m going to continue. I had to challenge my definition with him because when I judge things like passion, love, intelligence, all those definitions have turned around to become something else. Three times over.I didn’t want to repeat what I did before. I had a four-year relationship with somebody and I pretty much lied to myself about it, and I ended up lying to him about how much I cared for him. But it lasted four years, and I was basically in that relationship for security; I think both of us were. I wasn’t attracted to him. I had a weird sense of commitment. I didn’t date at all in high school. I had one thing that maybe I could call a boyfriend. So I’m thinking, Well, I have a boyfriend, I have this commitment. And even when I wasn’t happy, I was afraid to let him down. I knew he was that kind of person who would probably put me through a guilt trip, which he did, really bad. So I knew I didn’t want that. I knew I didn’t want a situation where I was lying to myself or the other person. I think what I try to do with my relationship now is keep talking and asking questions and always trying to get the truth straight and trying to be real. I think that was the quest because I didn’t want what I had. Both of us try to do that. And it helps because I really believe that he has a good sense of me, even from the beginning. He knows when I’m not being straight up with him, and I know when he’s not being straight up with me. So basically we try to communicate.
 I am a heterosexual. I’ve had other experiences. I haven’t slept with women. I had a threesome experience, and that was a male and a female. I would say I feel comfortable with my sexuality. I don’t think it’s just something that happens. I work at it; it’s very important to me to be comfortable with my sexuality. How do I work at it? By asking myself questions all the time, and just trying to be honest with what I feel, like, “Okay, why do I feel this, or why do I feel that?” I just try to work through that. I wouldn’t say I feel a hundred percent comfortable, but I don’t know who does, really.For my mom, being Haitian and Cuban, sex is just something you don’t talk about. You only even half talk about the period; you don’t talk about necessary stuff. But she’s very liberal-minded, and it’s weird because I knew she wanted to tell me stuff, I felt her wanting to tell me stuff, but she couldn’t. She wanted me to have something different than what she had, so she tells the story that she sent me over to my aunt’s house to learn about menstruation. My aunt has four kids, and she had no problem discussing it. I don’t remember that. I don’t think it ever happened.Books, I guess. Definitely school. Catholic schools always have some little program where you talk about that; but of course you talk about it in the way that’s prescribed. Also, neighborhood kids. They all said they did “it” but nobody knew what “it” was really, but you knew it was something. And you knew you were close. You knew you were doing something. It was vague, but everyone acted like they knew. This was an all-black neighborhood, but I didn’t speak English yet. I went to kindergarten not knowing English. My father wasn’t around in the beginning. I was with my mom and my grandmother … well, I’m not too sure if he’s my father. I haven’t found out yet. I found my baby book, and it didn’t have his name in it.When I was little, I found some pads from Kotex in a bathroom sink cabinet—my mom says I’m lying about this, but I’m not. I don’t remember how old I was—I must have been five or six—and I said, “Mommy, what are these?” She looked at them and she said, “Oh, those are for fat ladies.” My mom, she’s overweight. So she said, “They’re for fat ladies,” and I didn’t ask any more questions after that. She said it so matter-of-factly, like it was true, and I kind of felt stupid for not knowing why a fat lady would need them. So I’d look at the pad, I’d take it out, and I was like, Wow, why would a fat lady need that? And I remember thinking that it looks like something you would put in your underwear. Then I remember knowing about a period and menstruation for a long time, but I didn’t know what happened during that time. So when I was around eight or so, I went to books to try to find out. I remember also talking to my friend across the street about it. because we were the same age, but she got hers earlier. I think I had gotten to the point where I knew it was blood that came out, but I didn’t know how or how often, or if it was constant, so I remember asking her specific questions like, “Well, does it come out all the time?” And she was telling me, “Sometimes you see little eggs.” And I was like, “Whoa.”I had an interesting situation. I was participating in an “extreme choice” study in which they had a control group that got a placebo, and then they had another group that got the medicine, which was taken by injection. I didn’t want to do this study, but apparently it was something that people were in line for because they had the medication on the market for precocious kids. What the medication actually did was to make you taller. They delayed your puberty so that you would have more time to grow, because once you hit puberty, you have a growth spurt and then you stop growing. The idea was to have more time to grow and then get off the medication; and then you just start your puberty. So that’s what I was involved in. At first it was okay because I think I got some time off of school, and I got to stay in the hospital and it was really cool. But when it came down to them telling me it’s an injection every day, like an insulin syringe that I took every day, I didn’t want to do it. So they just pretty much made me do it. It was okay. They claim that I got a couple of inches taller out of it. But my puberty was delayed, and I was waiting for it when I was fourteen, thirteen when everybody else got it. I remember crying one time because I didn’t have it and the girls at school were getting it, and they were bonding over that. So I was like, I’ve got nothing to talk about. I guess you feel like, Well, you got it and you’re a woman now. I was upset over that.By the time I was twelve or thirteen, I knew everything about menstruation. My mom and I talked some; she read my clues, I think. One time she initiated a whole conversation. But I could tell it was hard for her. I got my period when I went to college, at eighteen. I started the study when I was twelve, and they claim that I probably would have gotten it when I was thirteen. But I didn’t get it until I was eighteen, because it’s a four-year study, and it takes your body some time to readjust. So I actually got it my first week of school. It was just weird.By that time I had gone through so many things with it that I guess I was happy. Happy or surprised, I don’t know. I had almost gotten to the point where it was kind of cool that I didn’t have it. And then it came. I knew I had been on this medication and it took my body some time to readjust. So I guess there was a little bit of worry. I wanted to be normal, you know. I grew about three to four inches taller than I was supposed to. They say I would have been between four-eight and four-ten. And I am five feet tall, now.Around six or seven, I was experimenting with myself and I was like, Hey, what’s that? It didn’t feel good like good, but it just felt sensitive. You know how you just touch a sensitive spot? It was just like, Why does that feel like that? Then I did it again. It was just sensitive. I kept playing around with it; after a while, it felt good. I also experimented with a female when I was young. A girl from my neighborhood. I was maybe between seven and eight. We were touching each other, kissing each other in my house. Basically, curiosity. I was like, I don’t want to touch it. But then when she went to touch mine, I was like, No, I don’t want you to touch mine. I just really remember her being the only one who would want to do that. And I guess at that point I was just not close to other little boys. So it was just more comfortable, I guess. And she wanted to, so … It didn’t continue. She might have moved away or something like that. I’d say I was about nine or ten when I started masturbating. It’s always been regular. Maybe once every two weeks. Or once every month. I don’t think I knew when I was nine that it was an orgasm. Hmm. I guess I just intuited it. At first I didn’t even know what I was doing. I was like, Hey, what’s this? It wasn’t until sophomore year in college, when I first connected the fact that, Oh, well, I’ve come before, by myself. I just thought I hadn’t come, ever. It was something separate.My first vaginal orgasm was in intercourse. I think it was with my current boyfriend. Yeah, well, no. The first time was with someone I was seeing before him. And that was oral. But the first vaginal one was with this one. Now I know myself better, I know exactly what it is that I need. But the vaginal one, um, I don’t know, it just felt good. I want to say more comfortable or—it just felt different, a different kind of come, I guess. I can’t even say which one I would prefer. I don’t know, I prefer the intimacy associated with coming vaginally. It feels different, too. It is softer. I want to say it’s not as intense.I had sex for the first time in my sophomore year in college. I think I would have done it in high school had this other guy wanted to. He wanted to, but I guess we just really plain didn’t find the opportunity to. But I would have with him even though I was a virgin. It’s not like I was saving myself for anybody. No, I was in a sense. I just wasn’t very social, so I never put myself in a situation where somebody was around; I didn’t date. So nobody was around that I could do it with, basically. And the other thing is that, I went to an all-girls Catholic high school, and it was white. So when they had dances, the white guys from the brother school would come. I wasn’t attracted to any of them. And they probably weren’t attracted to me at that point. They never asked me out.I was with my boyfriend the whole year before we did it. It’s so funny because I was all open in my mentality, but it was just that I wasn’t attracted to him, and I didn’t want to be with him, really. It was just security. So all of a sudden my mentality changed, and I would tell him, “Oh, I want to wait.” I remember even saying that I have a lot of messed-up stuff in my head about sex, and I just want it to be right. I guess it was half true. What part of it was true? I didn’t think about any specific thing, I just thought about it being dirty. I had very mixed ideas; like I said, it comes back to the religion for me, the religion and the culture. So sex is something that’s dirty. Not something you shouldn’t do, but I guess something you should do when you’re married. But even then, I can remember thinking, it would still seem dirty if I was married.I finally decided to have sex because enough time went by. I just decided that I wanted to do it, and I guess I was comfortable with it. I wanted it to be a whole day; I wanted him to plan something for me. So we went out to dinner, etc., and then that night we tried it, but I was like, “That thing’s too big.” I had seen it before, but it hadn’t been inside of me. I was like, “No way. That thing is not going inside of me.” We ended up doing it the next day. The next day we were successful. It was good because even though I didn’t care about him like I wanted to believe, we were good friends; so it was just a friendly thing. He was laughing at me the whole time, like, “Look at your face, ha, ha.” In a way I’m glad that was my first experience because it didn’t feel great, but it was emotionally comfortable. Physically it was just, What are people raving about? I mean, What is the big deal? It’s not anything. It must take time or something, I was thinking. We did, and eventually it got better. But I never came.The sex got bad later, emotionally bad because I really just wanted to be out of it, and I didn’t care about him anymore. I wasn’t attracted to him. So it just got to be dirty. Not dirty, but just something I didn’t want to do. A lot of times I remember not wanting to do it and just doing it anyway, not necessarily because he expected it, even though that was one of the reasons, but because I just didn’t want to talk about it. I knew if I were to say something like, “Well, I don’t want to do it,” it would open up all kinds of things. We were friends, but we always talked about stuff outside. We didn’t talk about our relationship. So I knew if I said, “I don’t want to have sex now,” it would be something just completely out of the ordinary, and I would have to talk about it, and I didn’t want to have to do that.I went away. I was in a study abroad in Brazil for a while, and whoo, I started exploring my sexuality, boy. That was a crazy year. I had sex with my second person; I had sex with a male and a female. Well, I didn’t really have sex; we just fooled around. And I messed around with this guy that looks like my boyfriend from high school—that was the only reason why. I think I had a little orgasm with one of those people. But it wasn’t dynamic, it was just short. I can’t remember how.I told my boyfriend before I left that I was going over there to get away. Deep inside I knew I didn’t want to be with him. I always wanted to go to Brazil, but I knew part of it was getting away from him, which is weird. I don’t know why I was playing these games with myself. At that point I’d just rather not confront the situation. I told him before I left, “I want to date other people. I’m going to be over there for a year.” And he was like, “Well, it’s not to have sex, is it? Or to do it with anybody else?” And I said, “No, no, I just want to go out with different people.” He asked me like that, and he knew how I answered. So he knew. And then it was strange because he put a real deep guilt trip on me over that, or I was putting it on myself, or both. But I remember he told all his friends so they had the impression, Poor him, she went over there and had sex with other people. So all of a sudden when I came back, it was like, Oh, poor him and not poor me. These were real close friends, so it didn’t affect my relationship with my friends, but it definitely affected my head. I felt mad guilty. Even though we did have an understanding before.I broke up with him right when I got back. Over the phone. It was terrible. It was during the summer, so when we got back down to school, it was my first senior year. I had two senior years. I remember writing something about how I missed him. I don’t know if I meant it; it was weird. I guess I did miss him to a certain extent. I guess I missed the security, just him being upset with me and not speaking to me. But he was never one to really show his feelings that much, so he would never be mean to me or anything like that. But I could tell he was just upset. When I broke up with him, I felt liberated. Just real liberated. Then when I got back to school, I just got back together with him. I don’t know why, but it lasted another year. And then he graduated first; we came in together and he graduated first.He had a teaching scholarship, and he was going to San Francisco. I just stopped it right there because he was making all these plans. San Francisco is far away; he was going to be there for two years. And I didn’t feel about him like I was supposed to. It was a couple days before he left—and we were both very much in denial—but I came to him and said, “This is not working out.” He knew my feelings had changed; he knew I didn’t do anything while we were having sex. It’s like deep inside he knew, too. He had to have. So when I came to him and said, “All this is weird and it’s not working out,” he wanted to say, “What are you talking about?” I said, “You know what I’m talking about.” So that was it. San Francisco wasn’t far enough for me. It was a lot of guilt. I just didn’t want to see him again, really. We always talked, even while he was in San Francisco. But they were weird conversations. It was never completely discussed. I still want to discuss it; it lasted too long and too big a portion of both of our lives not to discuss it.
 The guy and the girl thing in Brazil, I want to say it was just being drunk, but I think it would have happened even if we weren’t. First of all, a lot of people who were in Brazil and who do exchanges to Brazil are like, No one knows me here. I can do whatever I want and go home. So everyone was on that mentality, and everyone had this really trendy “I’m bisexual” thing. Everyone was doing their thing, experimenting, whatever thing you were on. So that, number one, made it possible. And I guess the guy and I had been attracted to each other. I think he’s the first white guy I was ever like, Wow. But we never did anything about it. He liked this other girl, the girl. She was a virgin before, and then they were basically together. She was Brazilian, but she was raised in Mexico.Let me tell you, it’s hard to say how race matters only because of all that comes into play. At one point I thought about the fact that I was the only black one in the group. In the threesome. At another time I thought, Okay, these are two exotic women with a white man. But his mother’s French; that doesn’t make him less white, but it just adds another kind of cultural thing on it. And he’s Jewish. All these things came into play, but the other dynamic to it was the fact that we were all American. We were all foreigners in another country, so the things that unite you are language, culture—you find out what really unites people, and race is not the strongest thing. Not necessarily.But that wasn’t the first white man. The first one was, I think, the third person I’d had sex with. I don’t like to say never again because I’ve done a lot of stuff I said I’d never do, but I really don’t feel comfortable with a white man. And aside from that situation, there have been two white men, and it just didn’t feel good. It felt like we were using each other: I was using him for sex, and I knew he had a thing for exotic women and black women. So it felt like I was being used. It was weird because, when you think of it on a logical level, we were both doing the same thing. I mean I’m sure there’s probably a certain amount of exoticism in my head for him because I’d just never done it with a white man.With the other one, I knew it was just stuff that was in my own head that I didn’t feel comfortable with. Just the fact that he was white. But it’s too much stuff to think about. When I have sex, I don’t want to have to think about this extraneous stuff. I just want to have it be somebody I’m comfortable with so we can move on. And this is the same thing with an interracial relationship. It’s cool, if you want to deal with that. I don’t want to deal with that. I really don’t because I have enough to. deal with. It’s just the thing of simplicity. But I don’t regret it. I don’t regret it at all because I got a chance to find out what that was, and I got a chance to really find out that you can have sex with your friends. I had sex with people that I would never have a relationship with and it was cool because we were friends. I didn’t think that really could happen. I always thought that you would have some little inkling of something where you want to be together. But sometimes we were basically bored and just wanting to have sex.I don’t think I see race like everybody else. It’s interesting when you try to cross those lines, because how you’re raised makes a difference on what you experience. I went to Haiti two summers ago, and I had an experience with a lighter Haitian, not black. I went to his house late at night just to do that, and I left. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. I guess he had the same exoticism kind of vibe to him, even though he wasn’t white in the same way as American white. I think the exoticism factor exists with black men too. I think my dad has that for my mom. We talk about that openly. It’s just obvious. She’s like, “You just married me ’cause I’m just a little Hispanic and I had long hair,” and he’s like, “Yep, that’s true.” I think my boyfriend has that for me, too. But it just doesn’t matter with him because everything else is in place. I don’t know. Like I told you, I can’t define anything with my boyfriend now; it’s hard for me to place anything. So it’s sort of thrown all my ideas and feelings out of whack. But it gives me an opportunity to really think about what I’m doing. Because nothing makes sense.
 I just don’t like walking down the street in my neighborhood sometimes. Sometimes it’s okay what they say; you know, I’m flattered by it. But just men and catcalls, I don’t want to always have to live with that. I mean, leave me alone. And then it affects me in terms of my clothes, because I would like to wear stuff that’s more sexy, for me; I like looking at myself in the mirror, looking like that. But I don’t want to do that because I don’t want the attention. I don’t know anyone like those stereotypes of Hispanic women—like Chiquita Banana and all that. Maybe I look like that to somebody else, but I don’t feel like that. And I think black women, from what I’ve observed, try to step away from sexuality because we are viewed as too sexual. I play tricks with myself. The initial feeling is to step away from it, but I always try to combat that feeling. So then maybe I’m more overt with my sexuality. Like I said, I work on it. I don’t know if it’s good even to be too overt with it, but for me that’s better than stepping away from it.
 I wish I hadn’t had sex in Brazil with the person that looked like my high school boyfriend. He was another white Jewish man. The boyfriend from high school, he was black, but he was very light-skinned; and so this guy looked just like him. And it was terrible, it was very terrible. At least with the other white man, we were friends, like I said. I felt objectified and used and dirty and all that stuff, but we were friends. He respected me as a person. I know that. This guy, I don’t think he even respected me as a person. You know, I deal with that: I didn’t really respect him as a person. It was terrible. Not only was the sex bad—even if the sex had been good it would have been better—but I didn’t get anything out of it, nothing at all. He didn’t know what he was doing; he was having sex for the second time in his life, and he was just hyperexcited. And I know for a fact what was in his head because when I left Brazil, they were telling me that he was talking about me, saying, “Oh yeah, I did her and she’s easy.” And I hate that. I don’t even want to have to think like that. Because it was me, too; I was using him, too. I don’t respect him as a person, especially not now.
 I would like to be as open as possible in life and sex. I’d like to be open with the right person. Because there’s just been something beyond that I haven’t felt, or that I’ve felt glimpses of. I’d like to be able to feel that it’s something completely good that I’m doing. Because I don’t always feel that way. But I’d like to be able to feel that it’s good: sex, the energy, the power, the drive, everything associated with it. For me it’s just life—that’s where it starts. There are always going to be problems; I’m learning that from my relationship now. I had an image of a perfect relationship, at least at some point. But now I’m learning, No, you’ve got to keep working at it, and there’s always new problems. And I get frustrated. My boyfriend, I’m jealous of him in a way because for him life is just okay, cool. I mean, he has problems, but I’m the crazy one.I wish everyone was like that. I wish I was like that, just open to it. But, at the same time, there’s got to be caution because it is something that is very powerful. And I think that was probably the message behind that whole Catholic thing before people started messing it up. It’s just something to be careful with. It can be good; you just have to be careful, that’s all. But it’s not bad.Cocoa
 
 I NEVER REALLY have focused on saying out what I really believe; I’ve kept it kind of inside. Sometimes I find myself as a person struggling to stand up for my identity, without letting someone else find out who I am and what I believe in. Someone may be very strong about being feminist. I may not be or feel like I’m that type of person, but I feel they have the right to be who they are. Sometimes it feels like they’re trying to force me to be who they want me to be, and it’s not always good. Because I have a totally different viewpoint for myself, but I don’t always feel comfortable speaking out for myself.I’m thirty-seven years old. I’m divorced; I was married for thirteen years. I have no kids. Both my parents live together—they’re still living. I have three brothers, two sisters, so six of us. Everyone’s still alive. Right now I’m a Christian, and I’m into the Baptist denomination. I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but I’ve always liked it from a different aspect. It’s not just a set of rules, but building a close relationship with God, and building a close relationship with God is different than following a religion. A lot of people don’t seem to understand that. Let’s see, like I said, I was married for thirteen years. I got married when I was twenty-one. I don’t think I really was ready to get married at that time, but because I felt I was being pressured into it, I just went ahead and did it.My parents were both from Chicago—not from Chicago, they were raised in the South. My mom is from Mississippi, my father from Tennessee and they met up in Chicago. Then we moved because my father got a job at Ford, so it’s like a middle-class family in the city. We were born in the city, but no real bad things happened, just normal things. My dad drank sometimes; he’s an alcoholic. But he wasn’t an alcoholic all the time, so I can’t say he was just drunk every weekend. Holidays mostly, and then he would go on this binge for two weeks. I think that had a lot to do with my perception of things.My mom actually worked as a nurse’s aid. She didn’t always go to church, but she was always there for us, and she tried to make it as best as possible with what she knew. I think my mom didn’t really deal with a lot of communicating about anything, because I think she was afraid. She didn’t really talk to us; she didn’t let us know if any problems were going on. I think she sheltered us from a lot of things. So that kind of sheltered our viewpoint of the world. She was afraid of a lot of things, and I remember one statement: I was thirteen; I said I wanted to be a stewardess, and her comment at that time was, “Why would you want to be a prostitute?” And I thought that was weird; why would she think a stewardess would be a prostitute? But then stuff would fall apart and when I wanted to go to school for the arts, to travel, she didn’t want me to go that route. She wanted me to just go with everyone else. And, like I said, in that wanting to please other people, I went ahead and did that, even though that’s not what I wanted to do. I really wanted to go away to school for travel and then eventually move out to California and be in the arts.
 Intimacy to me is actually being able to share feelings and comments with someone and not worry about them running away from you. If someone had to come to you and tell you something that would be very, very important, or their fears, or what they wanted, they would be able to share with you and know that even though you may not understand it at that time, that you won’t run away—and that’s what I call intimacy. You can open up and you can say whatever it is that’s on your heart, without really worrying about that person judging you or thinking bad things about you because this is how you’re feeling. I don’t think I’ve received that, not even with my parents. I couldn’t tell anything to my family about anything, even to this day. When I remember boys, my mother never asked me any questions about it. She just said, Do you want to come home? But she didn’t discuss what was wrong. And I just thought that was weird.I think I’ve been taught, if you ask a question and someone doesn’t answer it, then you’re not supposed to be asking that question—something’s wrong with your question. But sometimes you’re just trying to get to know a person a little bit better, and things that people call very personal, or things you really want to know about that person—you’re not taught to ask those questions. Just keep it on the surface. And I don’t live my life like that. I have a roommate, and her name is Lisa. I really care a lot about Lisa; I can just share anything with her and she’s not judgmental about any of it. She listens, and that’s good; she hears you and she’s a very good friend. So she’s taught me a lot: that you can share, that people will understand how you feel, and they’ll be there.I didn’t learn anything about sexuality from my family. I learned it from looking around and trying to say, This can’t possibly be what sex is or what sexuality is. I think I did understand what it was. If you’re a sexy person, you can be a sexy person without having sex. There’s a charisma about people that people may be drawn to, and that doesn’t mean that you’re trying to be sexy. I think in my family, my mom was afraid of that. My mom didn’t even feel comfortable enough talking about the natural flow of menstruation; she didn’t explain it to us. She had a young lady next door talk to us. She began to tell us about the menstruation process, and I thought, Oh, okay. I really thought, This is weird. Why are you talking to us about the menstruation process? Maybe my mom should be the one talking to us about it. But she never said anything about it. And I realized at that point in time, that’s why that young lady was talking to us. I think maybe my mother felt she couldn’t talk to us. Like I said, she was really afraid of us getting pregnant. I don’t know.I can’t remember if me and my sisters talked among ourselves about it. We may have. My sister Serene, we were pretty close, and we talked and giggled about everything; and we just thought it was funny, I think. Because we weren’t at that point. But when it did come, we knew about it. My sister started, then my other sister started, and then I started.When I thought it was on, I mentioned it to my one sister. But actually what happened was I just hit myself on the bike and I was bleeding. When it actually came, I didn’t know what to do. I told my mother finally when it did come, and she told me—back then they had the little belts and you had to go in and put the belt on. And I said, “Well, should I get a belt?” She said okay, and so I went and got it. The sanitary belt. I was trying to put this thing on; I kept trying to hook it together. How can this stop me from bleeding? I don’t know how this could possibly stop me from bleeding. So I went and got her, and I said, “I can’t do this.” And she said, “What do you mean, you can’t do it?” “I can’t do it.” So I went back into the bathroom, and she said, “Well, where’s the pad?” And I said, “Pad?” She said, “You didn’t get the pad?” I said, “No, I didn’t know I was supposed to.” So she didn’t actually tell me that I needed to go get the sanitary napkins and put the sanitary napkins on with the belt. I didn’t know any of those details. It had never happened to me before.She’s just very uncomfortable with talking about it. Even now, she’s very, very supportive with me being on my own, but she never talks about the intimate details that you sometimes want to be able to share with your mom and say, “These are the problems I’m going through.” As she’s been getting older, I think that she’s shared with an older lady, but she never told us about the problems. Which is good I guess, and bad, because we never got an opportunity to see her at her weak moments, and what she was struggling through. And that she actually survived it. Which might be a bit different.I think I tried to talk about her life one time, and she shut it down. So I realized I’d better not say anything about that; I don’t think she’s ready to discuss that. I was with my ex-husband one time, I don’t remember the question that I asked, but he noticed also. And I said, “Did you notice how quickly she cut me off?” And he said, “Yeah.” And I said, “I won’t approach that subject.” I can’t even remember what it was. I think it was about learning a little bit more about our family. I think it’s about separating from people, because my mom didn’t feel comfortable with her family, with the drinking, her sisters—which is good. Sometimes you have to pull people out of an environment. But we were pulled out so much that we really didn’t know anything about the other part of the family. She didn’t talk about the family, connect with anyone; these were my aunts and I never talked to them as a child. They came over sometimes. But I don’t talk to them now; I don’t feel close to them. I just know that they’re my aunts. And I don’t think it should be that way.For some reason I think my parents thought I was faster than the other two, and maybe I was. I was more eager to get out, I wanted adventure, I wanted to do something with my life. And I enjoyed boys, I enjoyed boys as friends, I enjoyed talking to them. I remember one time I was sitting on a man’s lap, as a little girl would sit down on someone’s friend, not sexual or anything like that. My dad came in and yelled, “Get off his lap!” I was like, Oh, okay. I’m not sure how old he was; I think it was just an older man. But it wasn’t like I was sitting on his lap and he was fondling me or anything. I was just a young kid, affectionate, giving someone, a friend, a hug. Maybe he was twenty or something like that. I was probably six or seven. So I said okay, and I got up. I didn’t understand what he was trying to say.My mom was just so frightened, and she would actually tell my dad. I remember—I think I was eight or seven—and I was kissing a little boy in the hallway, and the neighbor across the street saw us. And she told my mom, and my mom was so upset—she was just highly upset with me for kissing a boy. It was fun at that age, and he was like my little boyfriend at seven. It was just a little kiss kiss—I thought, well, maybe I’ll just kiss this little boy. But she was highly upset, and not saying, “Cocoa, don’t kiss little boys.” She just said, “I’m going to tell your dad,” and I think that’s wrong.My dad surprised me because my dad actually was laughing. But when he called me, I was really afraid. He said, “You know, your mother said you were kissing a little boy.” I wasn’t even in the house; I was in the yard, and he was on the balcony. I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Don’t kiss any other boys.” I said, “Okay.” And that was it. So he was not as paranoid, I think, as she was. And I remember another time when I was thirteen, just getting into a high school, and I wasn’t able to receive company until I was fifteen. But no one ever told me that, so I was just looking at friends as friends. A friend across the street invited someone to come over to talk to me, to meet me. And I was sitting on the steps talking to this young guy, just like my friend, and I had my sister and everyone else up on the porch. All of a sudden, my dad came rushing out the door and yelling and saying that I couldn’t see company—“Cocoa, you’re not allowed to receive company. You have to tell that young man to go home”—totally embarrassing me. That just showed me he didn’t trust me, and I didn’t understand why.I didn’t have a rule until he said, “Oh, well, you can’t.” I had to pin them down: “Well, when can I receive company?” And he said, “When you’re fifteen.” I said, “Okay.” And I remember with Coleman, when I did turn fifteen and I asked him to go on a date, my father said, “You could not wait.” And I said, “You said at fifteen I could go out.” “You couldn’t wait. You couldn’t wait. You’re fifteen. Now you want to ask me if you can go out on a date.” “Yeah, that’s what you said, ‘When you’re fifteen, you can go out on a date.’” And his remark was, “You didn’t waste any time.”I felt that they did not trust me. And they didn’t know who I was, because even though I was their daughter, it’s like they didn’t know me as Cocoa, the person. Yeah, I’m just a normal teenager who explores certain things, but you should know that you taught me enough values, that I wouldn’t always give in to peer pressure. You didn’t know where my head was because you didn’t take the time to sit down and really talk to me about how I was feeling or what I was thinking. In my mind, I was not going to get pregnant in high school because at the time, number one, I wanted to finish my education. And number two, it was just too much of a hassle, it was too much pressure, just too much going on to get pregnant. But even at that point then I did not want to just have sex, just to be having it, because it was more important to me than just casual sex. I’ve talked with a lot of boys because I’ve had a lot of boys, men, who were friends. And I would listen to them and what they would say about girls once they, you know, had sex with them, and how they felt about that whole situation. And there was no way guys were going to talk about me like that. But they felt free enough to talk around me because I was a friend. They were not dating me. So I actually saw and felt the double standard there.And, with my parents, we had separate rules from our brothers. I don’t think my brothers—my one brother, he’s one young man—a lot of pressure was not put on him even as far as achieving in school, like the girls. We knew we had to bring home good grades. It was a girl’s thing; I don’t know why. It’s sad on both parts because I didn’t think it was causing him to try harder or to do anything. He just took out the trash, while we were responsible for cleaning the house. We would do his dishes, we had to do all the housework, and we had to be in at a certain time. It was different treatment. I don’t know if he had any sexual rules about receiving company or anything. I don’t think my dad paid any attention to him, because he left the home a lot of times. He would go out and play sports. But I don’t think they ever asked him what he was doing.I don’t know how I learned about sex. How did I really learn about sex? You learn about it from your friends. One time they did have a sexual education class at school; I think we were in the sixth grade, and we had to get permission from our parents. They talked about where babies came from, and I think that was it. But as far as really exploring sexuality and understanding what it was about, no. My sisters and I didn’t talk about sex. No, it was a funny relationship with my sisters. We had kind of a hierarchy. My oldest sister, who’s just two years older, we really didn’t talk about it; our lives were just so separate. We looked at her as the special one because she was treated different than we were. She never really got a whipping—she only got one whipping in her whole life, and that was like a tap-tap on the leg. But with us, it was an all-out beating. I don’t know why. She was the first female baby, but we had an older brother that had died. But no one told us anything about him. My mother has never said anything about this dead baby, to this day. My dad was drunk one time and he told us. But he told us never to tell our mother that we knew. And we never said anything. And my other sister had no interest whatsoever in sex or boys; she was just more interested in her books. Me, it was like, I want to have fun, I want to go out and talk with my friends.For me virginity was something I wanted to keep. And then for high school, I knew when I wanted to have sex, which was when I was eighteen. I wanted to experiment after I got out of high school, when I felt that I would really want to make my own decisions. So I knew that at that time, I was going to do it. I chose to keep my virginity on my own. And I remember that I was talking to a young man, and we made a bet—and it sounds kind of crazy—but he said, “I bet you’ll get pregnant in high school,” and I looked at him and said, “I bet you I won’t.” And I didn’t. Even to this day we laugh about it, that he made a bet with me: “You didn’t think I could keep it, but I could.” I had physical contact, but I was not going to have sex. I didn’t believe in boyfriends. I saw boyfriends as controlling at that point in time, telling me how to live my life. And I didn’t want that, I didn’t want it. I guess I saw so much of the double standard going on, and I just didn’t want to get involved with someone because it seemed once you got involved, you kind of changed. I talked with my friends, and saw the changes they were going through with the boyfriends they had, and I thought, No way. So I just hung out with them.It was a lot of fun. There was this one guy I fooled around with. Not to the point of taking all your clothes off, but rubbing up against each other, rolling on each other, actually fonding his penis. With his hands in your panties, but never taking your panties all the way off. Pretty much just that. Never took my clothes all the way off. Even one point in time where you got close to having sex, but it was, “No way, take it out. No, no, I told you I didn’t want to have sex, so don’t try to jerk your penis inside of me. Get up.” And I didn’t appreciate a lot of that. I had this feeling, right? I had orgasms, manually. I did have that; I didn’t know what it was. It was through manual sex, and it was fine because I was still stimulated, and I just didn’t want to go on. And I was like, Hey, maybe that was an orgasm. I felt that, yes. You reached a peak, and the peak felt good to you; but since I wasn’t having intercourse, I didn’t really know what that was. Then I actually had intercourse, and the orgasm came or the sexual peak came. I didn’t really know what that was because it was really a difference for me than the other one. It came and then I was relaxed and I didn’t want to have sex anymore at that point in time. So when it happened again, I didn’t want to get to that point because I felt like once I got to that point, I didn’t want to have sex anymore. I didn’t know how to ask somebody, What is that? We’d get together almost every day for a while, but we didn’t have sex; we’d just hang out. Because I enjoyed him as a friend. We got along, we talked a lot. But then it started cutting back to maybe once a week, to the point where I was just not interested in him anymore.I felt that he was not loyal because I knew he had another—well, he had a girlfriend, and then he had a child. I asked him about it and he told me. And that meant, hmm, you had a child, you’re not telling me the truth. And then this other girl I knew became very angry with me. So I was asking him, “Why does she not like me? Why is she angry with me if you’re not still talking to her, if you’re not involved with her in some other way?” And it was true. He was still involved with her, but then also, she was pregnant. I said, “No, I’m not going to get involved with you, with this young lady here and she’s pregnant. You need to think about how you’re going to react with her son.” So we didn’t talk at that point. But after we got older, maybe juniors or seniors, I would talk with him or go out with him because he was not involved with her at that time. But I didn’t find him honest because he wouldn’t tell me the truth. I was looking for honesty. If you are not ready to have a one-on-one relationship, then tell me, but don’t pretend one thing and then do something else.I think he told other people about what we did. And that angered me because he actually told one person that we had had sex, when we had not had intercourse. And he told his friends on the football team, and they started coming up to me like they wanted to talk to me, like they wanted to go out with me. That really made me angry. Because I felt, Don’t be coming up to me all of a sudden. Why do they want to talk with me? My friend then told me that he had said he had intercourse with me. And I said, “Well, he’s lying. He has not had intercourse with me.” And I explained and told her what had happened, and she said, “Well, you know him.” I said, “I know him now.” That made me angry.For a while I went to a community college, for three years. But my dream was to go away, to move to California. And I met another young man that I knew in high school, I knew him already, but we started dating after. His name was Benson—he’s actually my ex-husband. He was fine. He had dreams and he wanted to do certain things. He seemed to be an okay guy, wanting some things out of life. Seemed to be all right, treated me nice. So we went out a long time, for two years, and he kept asking me if I wanted to get married, but I really did not want to get married at that point in time; I didn’t know the reason why. I could tell him why I shouldn’t get married, I just—I didn’t know what else to do, I guess.I wanted to become my own person. I wanted to start standing up for what Cocoa believed in. I wanted to achieve some things in my life. I wanted to work, number one. I wanted to find out who I was and what I really believed in. And I felt that the only way I could do that finally was to move away or get away from my environment and all of what people would say. Because I realized I was different. I tried to explain certain things to my family, and they would look at me like, I don’t understand what you’re talking about. And that’s okay, but I still believed, life has something else to offer, and you can know a lot more than what I’m finding out here, and the only way I can do that is to get out. But once I started dating Benson, I think I put that on the back burner. I was having fun, or a social life. And I thought even at that point in time I did care for Benson, did love him, that perhaps we could do it together. Even though you’re married, if a person believes in you and you believe in them, you should get to chase the dreams. That’s how I looked at it.He was supportive, he was very, very, very supportive of my dreams. He did not want what I wanted, and I didn’t find out until later, but that was okay. He was afraid of losing me. But in the end, he really lost me because when you’re afraid of things, you lose what you’re really afraid of instead of learning to grow with that person. It’s like you’re trying to hold on. And that’s what happened. It would have been better for him to say, “I’m not sure about that. I don’t think I want to do that.”I went after Benson; I wanted him—I wanted him with sex lust. I wanted to experiment with sex, so I did. I didn’t go with him immediately; I waited awhile, maybe six … three months. And then I finally decided. But it was in my mind already that I was going to have sex. I was eighteen, and I decided that I’d go and get on the pill so I would not get pregnant. I heard people talking about a pill. I didn’t do any active reading, I just happened to know there was a family clinic in our neighborhood. I just decided at that point in time, I don’t want to get pregnant; I know there’s some things out there. So I went to the clinic, by myself, didn’t tell anyone. I was just going to go to the clinic and get checked out.I remember going to this family clinic in a lower-class neighborhood. I made my appointment, I came in, I sat there till it was like three o‘clock on a Friday. The appointment was at one. And at three they had not seen me yet, so I went in there and I talked to them, “Well, I’ve been here since one o’clock. No one has seen me, and it’s getting near four,” and they would get mad because it was closing time. So the doctor came in—I’m not sure what she was but she was not black or white, and she was mad because I was near the end of her time. She said, “I don’t know why you are always running late. You should learn to be on time.” And I told her, “I was on time. I was here; I was just out there waiting.” So she said, “Just lay back.” So she gave me the tests. She was giving me the Pap smear, and she just took the thing and just stuck it up inside of me, just pushed it in, and I went, “Oh!” And she looked at me and said, “You’ve never had sex, you’ve never had a Pap smear before.” And I said no. I was practically in tears. And she said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” I already made an appointment at one o’clock, I came here to get some pills, I was paying for it, but she treated me like I was not paying for it, and that really—it just made me angry. And I thought, I’m never going to a clinic again because of how they treat you. Here she is, she had no compassion, nothing. She didn’t know anything about me. She just made a judgment call—that I’m sexually active already—so all she’s doing is just coming in and taking a normal Pap smear test without taking out the time to talk to me and tell me about what is going on.I got the pills, but they weren’t the right kind. But I never told my mom about any of it. They started hurting my legs, so they’d been saying if you have problems, come back immediately. And I did. I went back to them, but then I found my own private doctor, even at eighteen. I had a job, and I decided, No, I’m not going to go through this. So I would get regular checkups; and then I would begin to start reading and talking with some of the doctors about how it feels, how it’s too dry, and they would tell me, “You’re not being stimulated enough.” And I thought, Okay, I didn’t know about those kinds of things.
 The first time, we made a decision we were going to do it one night, go to a hotel; we had no other place to go. He was living at home, I was living at home. And we went to this little beat-down hotel where the bed was nasty and dirty, and he could not enter me the first time. He could not do it; I was too tense, and I don’t know why I was so tense, but intercourse didn’t happen the first time. We had to try at least three times before it actually slipped in. I think it was because I was so tense at the final moment that I could not relax. After it happened, it was like, Is this all it is? Is this what people are making a fuss about? Gosh, I waited all this time for this? That’s how I felt. Oh, well, then I would talk to my friend, this person who was my friend, and she told me when she did it and I told her when I did it. And we both thought it wasn’t anything. It hurt, but it’ll get better; and after we kept it up, it got better. It felt good. But then it’s like, you go through your whole life, and this is what you’re waiting on. This is how it feels.I don’t think we really talked about orgasm. All we’d talk about was whether or not it was exciting. A lot of times it was like, “Yeah, it felt good,” or “No, it didn’t feel good.” I don’t know if she knew that much herself. And I don’t know what I was looking for. I think I was looking for fireworks to go off, and to feel wonderful, and to smoke a cigarette afterward—and I don’t even smoke. But the whole myth—this wasn’t it at all. So I was still searching.I thought, I’m not being satisfied here; we need to figure out another way. He would listen because I would say I don’t feel good about just jumping in bed, I want it to be romantic, I want us to make love, too, not just have sex—and that’s how it felt. He was willing to try what I would suggest or I’d ask him, “How do you feel about this? Let’s try it this way, or let’s try a romantic dinner, or try music, or try this,” and he was good at that. So I would start reading, trying to figure out, How can you put spice into your love life? And I would try those things, and those things—they were not working. I began to think there was something else wrong, besides the physical part. I started to think there was something wrong on the inside of me, why I wasn’t I truly enjoying it, and I began to search. This was after I got married. I began to really look inside myself and say, Well, now, this man is trying very, very hard to please me, and even though he does it, I’m still not satisfied. Something is wrong with me, not him. And I began to search then, actually go on a soul search to find out, what is it that I’m missing and what is it that I’m looking for? Because it’s not here.I did have an affair when I got here. I was having so many problems late in the marriage—this was like the tenth or the eleventh year. And that affair was a mistake. I thought it was something and it wasn’t. I thought I was falling in love, and it was not like that. We were having problems in our marriage at that time, and we weren’t talking. And when we would talk, we would have an argument. So for some reason we weren’t being friends, and I couldn’t understand it. My husband had an affair, and he didn’t tell me, and I didn’t know about it even though I would ask him. Then I slept with someone. But when he found out about my affair, he was very, very angry with me. But he never told me he’d had one. I suspected he had one. Finally we did separate and we talked about some things, and I met the young lady—she told me. He worked with her, and I didn’t meet her before then, but after I separated, I met her—well, I saw her come to the house. After awhile I just said, “You know”—because I was ready to get out of the marriage—“I want you to have a good life. And don’t think I’m coming back.” The woman, I met her, and she seemed to be an okay young lady, but he was not dealing with a lot of issues still. It finally got to a point where she just wanted to leave him, and so he asked me to talk to her, and I did. I sat down and I said, “I believe Benson really does love you, and I think you’d be good for him.” And they connected that I was saying that, I think, because I wanted to get away, and I didn’t want him to feel so hurt by me. So she began to talk to me about a lot of things, that they did have an affair while we were married. And I asked him, and he still did not answer. He said, “No, no, not while we were married.” If he would only tell me the truth. All I want is for people to tell me the truth.I don’t know why they lie. I think it’s about ownership or possessiveness. I don’t know. I guess that they feel that you’re their queen and you belong to them, and no one else has the right to touch you. I think that’s why they get so angry. But they don’t see it the same way. They don’t see their sleeping with someone else as actually hurting you at the same time. But if they get caught, I think they’ve been taught never to say that they’ve done it. Just keep saying no, no, because you can’t prove it as long as they deny it. But that only hurts more. If you’d finally tell the truth, maybe we could work through it, but if you don’t tell the truth, that person can’t trust you.After some soul searching, I found out that I had really low self-esteem. Number one, I was very afraid of making mistakes. Because I thought that when you made a mistake, people didn’t understand. So you try to put yourself on this pedestal and be this perfect little person that has no bad thoughts. And that’s not true. Perfect little person—little girl—to me was, you didn’t think about sex, you didn’t curse, you didn’t do things like that. That’s what a little perfect girl was. I think I was trying to be a little perfect girl for a long time, even though I had all those desires and ambitions, things I wanted to do. But yet, what I wanted to do, other people didn’t want me to do, so how could I be two people?I think it had a lot to do with my dad’s drinking. I found out about codependency. You’d say, “Well, will you drink again?” and he’d say, “No, I won’t drink again.” But then he turns around and drinks again, and no one talks about it. They just act as if it did not happen. And everyone’s very bitter, and very upset, and disturbed. You don’t know if he’s going to come home or not—you just have uncertainties. So it begins to build on you. You don’t feel you’re worthy because of the cheapness, and you’re just ashamed of how your dad is—you don’t want people to see that your dad drinks. He’s just a human being, but he was going through a lot at that point in time. And he couldn’t talk to anyone. He couldn’t talk to his family. He couldn’t share that. And I think if we were allowed to talk about how we felt, it might have made a big difference.I’m working through it a lot, and a lot of times, actually, it makes me work on my relationship through Jesus Christ and with God. I always believed in God, and it’s like He’s never been the one to say, “You’ve got to do this in order for me to like you.” It’s like, “Just come to me the way that you are. You know, I love you exactly the way that you are. Let’s just find out what it is that you’re really feeling, how you feel, and why you feel the way that you’re feeling.” And so you just start to trace back why you feel the way that you feel. And I think my whole issue was trying to be something that I’m not. I enjoy sex, I enjoy being near men, I enjoy men. But I enjoy relationships at the same time, and I want people to enjoy me. Sometimes sex may be good, sometimes it may be bad, but at least let’s sit down and understand what it’s all about, what’s going on with me, and how I can share me with you, because I want to share myself with you, I want to give you love. But if you’re not honest, I’m not honest, I can’t give you love.I’m actually in the process of writing a play about women and their relationship with God to finally admit what’s going on with them, because I went through a lot. I even got to the point where I wanted to kill myself. I wanted to die because I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be the way people wanted me to be. Even though I smiled, I was ready to die. I was searching the Bible for suicide, and I thought, What is the matter with me because I cannot pull this thing together? I wondered, How did I end up like this? I wanted to talk to someone, I wanted to be able to explain things and be open about a lot of things. But I really began to search. Why do I think this way? Is it because people constantly tell me this, or is it that I really believe this? That’s the soul searching. You just have to be who you are. When something’s self-destructing, eventually you’ll see it once you begin to notice your pattern. Why are you going back into that pattern of behavior? Finally I got to a point, in my thirties: I don’t want to live my whole life like this. That’s why I decided to stand up for what I believe. You have to give a person the chance to go through growing up, and I wasn’t given that chance.
 I don’t remember masturbating when I was growing up. I tried it once or twice after I got divorced. It was fine. I thought, If I can bring myself to orgasm, why can’t men do that? I don’t do it now. I bought this book about the sexual woman. I wanted to begin to experiment with sex again, figure out how I can please myself. How could I be pleased by a man if I really didn’t know what I wanted, what turned me on? And how would I know what felt good to me unless I really tried some of the things to see what felt good to me? So that was my process of beginning to understand more about sex. Because if you don’t know who you are, before people want to touch you, then how can you really enjoy the sexual experience or the lovemaking experience? What is oral sex to you, why don’t you like it, what is it? I like giving oral sex. I don’t necessarily like getting it. I guess I like the feel of it. I like the way it makes the man feel, and there’s more control. Compared to receiving it—I guess maybe I just don’t like the taste afterwards when you’re kissing. I want to brush my teeth and everything afterwards. I don’t think I want to kiss after that; I just don’t like the taste. But I still want to feel close to that person, so that’s why I don’t actually let him give me oral sex. I guess it’s a mind thing. Like I said, I’m beginning to learn to accept a lot more, my own body. I’m more receptive, and I think I’m getting to that point that it’s okay.So I have had orgasms from manual stimulation, not vaginal ones. I began to become really concerned about that. Why can’t I really reach an orgasm in the vagina, during sex? I’ve actually had a couple of men since I was divorced. And one was very, very good, very great, and when we went to do it, I asked him, “You seem to know how to stimulate a woman. How did you learn to do this?” I wanted to know. He said that he learned to listen to women and give them what they wanted, and to give to them and not take.Altogether, I’ve had three partners, Benson and two other guys; all of them are black. I’m not interested in sleeping with a white man, I don’t know why. I just haven’t been attracted to white men. Maybe it’s just a mental block. When I was in high school, one of my teachers was interested in me, and I didn’t know he was pursuing me. He had taken me out to dinner for a graduation present. I just thought it was a graduation present, but it really wasn’t. It was a date. And I didn’t know that. He treated me very nice. Then we were laying on the lawn looking at the stars, and I was thinking, Why are we doing this? And then when we were going home, he tried to kiss me and I realized. He was very nice to me, but I didn’t look at him that way. I just looked at him as my teacher. After the date, when he tried to kiss me, I thought, Wait a minute, this is not what I went out with you for. I really thought it was a graduation present, not that you had any interest in me whatsoever. So I never saw him again and really didn’t talk about it after that. That was the extent of white men, not just coming up to me, but noticing some of them. I worked in this store one time, and this one guy picked me up and kissed me when he was leaving. We were just walking into the back room, and he was leaving, so he just grabbed me and kissed me. I didn’t even think about harassment or anything at that time. He worked with me. He was just a young white guy. To myself I was like, I don’t know you; I don’t even think about you in that sense.I wouldn’t say anything when men would cross the line. I’d just look at them and try to move and think of it as another thing that I deal with. Just listening to them say, “Oh, you’re cute, you’re pretty,” then it’s like, Yeah, okay. I remember, I was taking driving lessons one time, and the driving teacher told me he thought I was pretty. He was showing me how to parallel park or to park, and he was on the passenger side, and he bent over and kissed me. And I looked at him, and he said, “See, you did a great job.” And I just looked at him really weird. I don’t know why it didn’t make me angry. I remember in high school, this one young man was going to try and rape me in the hall in school. But the teacher came at that point in time, and I never said anything. I never told my mother, I never told anyone. I didn’t know him at all. He was just in the school—I’m not even sure if he was a student. But I guess maybe because you’re taught silence your whole life, not to talk about things, that you don’t think about your life as actually in danger. That’s how I thought. I didn’t tell a teacher. I didn’t say anything and I should have said something. But I didn’t say anything.I don’t think I’ve had any fantasies since I’ve been young. I think I’ve always had these dreams, how I visualize my life: we’re boyfriend and girlfriend, we make love, we have all this wonderful fun time, we decide to get married, and that’s the end of my life. I could never go past a happy time once you get married. We could have a wonderful time, do all kinds of things, make love, all times of the day … Or you go through and you don’t have any underwear, and you make it in an elevator, you make it in the basement, you make it on the table … you know.I actually did it in a building once, an office. I was stripped totally nude. Late at night. It was a shock to him—it was the one guy who listened. I’m actually open to having a good time sexually, and it doesn’t bother me. But if you act as though something’s wrong, then it shuts me down. It shut me down one time because I was having oral sex with Benson, and he said, “Oh, don’t do that.” That was really our first getting together, and he told me not to do that. I thought I was doing something wrong. So I never had it with him again, even though he was trying to get me to do it, because of his disapproval of it the very first time. I would try, but I couldn’t do it because of that.I don’t have sexual fantasies. I’ve had someone eat jelly or ice cream [off of me], but I actually did it; I didn’t fantasize about it. I would read something and say, Hmm. I would go to a bookstore and I would pull out books from the sexual section or psychology and start to read, and I would get positions, and I would ask people questions. I would say, “Well, let’s try this, because I don’t know.”When I’m experimenting, I do actually like the guy. I mean, it’s not like it’s some stranger. I would tell them that I’m not bored but that I want to learn more about sex. They say all right. I just wanted to try something different, I wanted to learn to have an orgasm, and more than one orgasm at one time. I wanted to learn to come more than once, come twice, three times. And I learned. And for some reason I would like to look at men, open my eyes to find out what is it that I’m doing to you, and I’d want to watch. At one point someone wanted to videotape me, and I said, “No, we can’t tape this.” Nothing on record, you know. You just have to keep it up in your head. Not that you wouldn’t want to watch it one time, but no, videotaping is too dangerous to me these days.
 I’ve never been pregnant. At one point in my marriage, I wanted to get pregnant. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I found out I have a little polyp blocking my uterus right now—which they can remove, but I didn’t know that at that time. They told us just keep trying. I thought it was something mental. We didn’t go to the point of taking the tests because they were so expensive.Right now I think I would not want to get pregnant. I don’t think I could take care of a baby right now. It’s not like it’s the end of the world for me. Because of where I’m at in my life, I’m okay. I’m not even sexually active to the point where I’m having vaginal intercourse. I’m trying to really review what I want out of life, and talk with the person more, and get to know him one-on-one. What do you want from life and what do I want from life? More of a relationship where I can talk with this person, so that if something happened, and that person could eventually not have sex, how would I feel about this person? I’m trying to review it.I’ve always wanted to adopt if I did not have children. And so it doesn’t bother me. I still want to have kids and I still want to adopt. Whether I have them physically or whether I adopt a child, I’m passionate about children and I want to have one. I’ve never really thought of myself being pregnant my whole life, but I’ve always thought about raising a child. But not the actual pregnancy.
 Sexually, I guess I have regrets. Actually, having another man while being married. That’s the only regret that I have. If I had experimented with not just my husband and other men, I would be fine. But that’s the only act I really do regret, simply because of how it came about. It came about because of being unhappy in the marriage situation and not because of really loving that person.I think the sexual double standard is a big part of sexism. What a good girl is, what she should be doing, what she shouldn’t be doing, instead of exploring anything, learning about the person. Sex does not make you a bad person. So I think that plays a big part. And being a woman, what you always get: being smart but not expecting you to use your brains. When you do things, you’re not expected to think through processes. You’re expected to do whatever the man tells you to do. And I don’t agree with that. It makes you feel like you’re not a person, that you’re not important, and you don’t have any worth.I understand there is racism in America, but I think I’ve experienced it in my own culture more so than outside my culture because of the dark skin/light skin thing. It’s so crazy; I never understood it. It has affected my self-esteem a lot of times. My being dark-skinned has made me think I’m not pretty or that I have to do things for guys to like me, or for people to like me. I think that’s just so stupid. I’ve actually had people think, She’s ugly because she’s too dark. I’ve heard it. Or, they’ll say, “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned lady.” It was mostly from men and the desire thing.I’ve lived with that my whole life, and it’s just frustrating, aggravating, to the point I did try to change my look. I got my skin lightened, and everyone had a perm to make their hair longer and red, and I thought light skin with brownish-red hair would be very pretty. And that’s what I tried to do to myself. At fifteen. It messed up this part of my skin, and I didn’t realize what was going on because I thought it was working. My mom looked at me and said, “What have you done to yourself?” I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then I realized what I was trying to do, but I never talked to her about it. Finally I just got the cocoa butter for my skin and just started accepting me the way that I was. I have short hair, dark skin, that’s all I can do. I can’t make boys accept me or like me. And I think I was living in a bubble for a long time, till I finally realized, I can’t do this anymore. Everything started coming down on me at one time. Because I had pressure from so many areas and from so many people that I just couldn’t deal with who I was. And now I’m finally getting to the point where, this is me.
 I think I was getting to the point where I was getting frustrated with men because you feel a need to perform: you need to be a certain way in order for me to like you. That has a lot to do with sexism, I think, because if I’m not acting a certain way, maybe you won’t go out with me, or maybe you won’t like me. When I talk to men, I ask them, Why is it that when you do something that I don’t approve of, you think that I’m bitching or nagging, or that you can’t get anything right, when I’m expressing my viewpoints to you? I’m telling you things that bother me. Why do you feel that I’m not being a good woman or something at that point in time? When you do something, you don’t want me to come to you or confront you with that. Or if I do something, you won’t confront me or tell me. I feel that I need to speak what I believe, and you may not agree with it, and that’s fine, but I still should be allowed to say it.I think racism and sexism affected my sexuality in a sense because they did not allow me to really become the person I was supposed to be. Because I was trying to be something else. Even with racism, I’m supposed to have long hair, light skin, and be gorgeous; and with sexism, if you’re a nice girl, you don’t dress a certain way, you don’t go to certain places, you don’t do certain things. And now it’s like, I’m Cocoa, and there’s certain things I like and certain things that are nice-looking to me, certain things that are not. I dress many ways. I’m thin. If I want to look very, very pretty, I like a dress that’s really pretty, that’s nicely shaped, that’s cut in the back. But that doesn’t mean a person’s trying to be a whore or to get a man. She just happens to like that dress. I think we tend to look at different kinds of dresses, really short or low-cut, and assume that that person’s being whorish and she’s trying to get a man. Sometimes certain things look really nice on a person. If it fits their body and they’re not trying to flaunt it, it’s not a given that that’s what they’re trying to do.I don’t think that society understands black women’s sexuality or that they represent it well because, again, when I look at it and society, when they think that black women are very pretty, they hardly ever go to the dark-skinned woman as being pretty and sexy. They go to a light-skinned woman with long hair and say this is pretty, and when they see the dark-skinned lady, they say this is the nurturing type. And that’s not representing all women. Or if they show a dark-skinned woman in a sexual light, she’s poor, she’s loud talking, she’s not intelligent, she’s not smart. They show the light-skinned one as very intelligent. I see that a lot and it makes me angry. I know it has an impact on my little niece, and I see her do certain things. She watches BET and MTV, and certain things that she thinks are sexy, she plays those same roles. It has had an impact on me, but it doesn’t impact me anymore because now I can see it and stop it for myself. I think you just have to constantly work through it. It’s not like all of a sudden you just unpack it all and you recognize it and say, “I recognize this is what’s happening.” You just keep working through it.LONGING TO TELL. Copyright © 2003 by Tricia Rose. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address Picador, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2005

    Telling it like it is....

    Tricia Rose turns academic research into a literary masterpiece. She interviewed 20 African American females with various ethnic backgrounds, broad range of age, and socioeconomic upbringing. Rose organized the real life commentaries on sex, intimacy, relationships, and race into a narrative that will carry you through a broad range of emotions. The women speak truth to situations that happen in every day life but are considered taboo in the African American community.  Rose starts the book with a discussion about the negative stereotypes in regards to sex and intimacy that are portrayed about the African American female in the media. The purpose of the book was developed as an attempt to answer the question, ¿how has the history of race, class, and gender inequality in this country affected the way that black women talk about their sexual lives?¿ Rose answered this question and much more. Longing to Tell is a mirror image of African American female sexuality in contemporary society as well as an oral history that serves as a vibrant presentation for everyday readers and scholars alike.  The stories are captured and categorized into three different areas: Through the Fire; Guarded Heart; and Always Something Left to Love. The women, whose names and locations have been changed to protect their anonymity, openly discuss their sexual history; how they learned about sex, masturbation, orgasms, and experience of first menstruation, virginity, pregnancy, and motherhood; sexual abuse, rape, sexism, sexual fantasy and sexual orientation. Some of the tales in the book are horrendous such as incest, rape, domestic abuse and sexual harassment but while knocked down these women were not knocked out. Many tell about the love from friends, family and at times even the smiles of strangers brought them back from the depths of despair. The stories are all different and engaging as their experiences were dynamic while thought provoking. Does your definition of sexuality characterize how you live life?  Longing To Tell is an extraordinary account on how African American women survive despite the incredible odds against them. As an adjunct professor of African American Studies, I highly recommend this book as a study into the mind of black women. As an avid reader, I strongly encourage you to read this book as a motivational guide on finding your way out of the struggle. African American women are the cornerstones of modern society and this book proves that! Reviewed by M. Bruner for Loose Leaves Book review

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    Posted April 19, 2014

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