Content note: this post contains non-descriptive references to sexual assault
All the first people to listen to me and believe me about the abuse I lived through were girls like me. We were part of a support group, all little girls between seven and nine who had survived sexual assault and told someone about it.
We met every Friday after school to talk about what we’d been through, to be kind to one another, and to celebrate on the rare occasion one of the men who hurt us went to jail. (We had pizza and ice cream after the trial.)
Flash-forward five years and I’m an ungrateful wretch. I want nothing to do with girls. I don’t even wanna be one myself anymore. I’ve cut my hair into a short boyish pixie, and changed my name to a boy’s name. I won’t answer to the name on my birth certificate anymore.
I rejected everything girly. I was wearing a dress the first time I was abused, so I refuse to wear them as a preteen. I do everything I can to separate myself from the girl I was. Somewhere along the way, I’ve internalized the idea that being a girl was what got me hurt, so I didn’t wanna be one.
Puberty hits and my body changes. I’m terrified of growing up and becoming even more sexualized. I starve myself to try to stunt my growth. At the same time, I’m envious of my older sister’s development. I don’t know what I want.
In 8th grade I started having boyfriends. We make out and I let them put their hand under my shirt. “I’m not like other girls, ” I tell them as they treat me as interchangeable. “I’m not into girly stuff.”
I somehow managed to have girl friends and a couple girlfriends during my years as a Chill Girl. I would reassure myself, “They’re not like other girls.” We were the cool exceptions, not girly or weak or prissy or prudes.
My guy friends were inconsistent. Some were cool and some tried to rape me. Dodging sexual assault became a normal part of friendship for me, when my friends were mostly boys.
At 22 I married an abusive loser because he knocked me up and I was ashamed to be an unwed mother of a bastard child. My best girl friend had moved out of the state. And I hadn’t made other friends. Maybe if I had, they could have reassured me that I didn’t need that alcoholic in my life.
Giving birth was the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done. The labor lasted 98 hours. My husband whined about his discomfort in the hospital chair by my bed while my mother saw to my care. When we finally got home from the hospital, my husband stole the Percocet my OB had prescribed me, and took them himself for a high.
As a new mother, I was terribly lonely. The things happening to my body and life couldn’t be fully understood by someone who’d never gone through the same. I needed women friends, mom friends, and I knew it. I started bonding with other women.
At 27, I fell pregnant again. This time I knew I didn’t have to marry the cruel and petty man involved. I had an abortion. Overnight my story circled the globe, and women by the hundreds wanted to be my friend. That sudden influx of female friends saved my life and helped me to quietly leave him. (Boy was he surprised when an old girl friend from high school and I loaded a rented minivan with all my stuff and he never saw me again.)
Two years ago, I made myself a support group of the women and non-binary friends I felt closest to. We’ve taken care of each other in a way I never knew possible. We’ve taken each other in, helped each other move, comforted each other through crises. We’ve helped people leave unhealthy homes and start new ones. Daily we acknowledge the invisible labor of other non-men and we give each other strength to do the hardest tasks.
In openly loving them as friends, in feeling the contrast between that nurturing love and the slow poisoning of my soul that was my final relationship with a man, I figured out at last that I’m gay.
I wish I hadn’t forgotten how empowering and healing relationships with other girls can be. I wish I’d stayed true to my first allies. If I could go back in time twenty years to scold my pre-pubescent self, this is what I’d say:
You are like other girls and that is amazing. Girls will be your best friends, your most trusted confidants, and your true love some day. Girls are awesome and you should feel proud to be one. I know I am now.
You are like other girls,