I once wrote my father a letter. There must have been more of them (and there were certainly emails in later days), but interestingly I only remember this one, due in large part to his response.
In it, I shared an anecdote about a dream I’d had. I only remembered the ending: A man came up behind me as I was going towards my front door in the dark, grabbed me from behind with his arm pressed across my throat, and menacingly whispered “carburetor” in my ear. It was petrifying. I woke up in a cold sweat. But it was also absurd.
Which is why I shared the story. I thought he would laugh (like I did) at the absurdity of it.
Instead, he wrote back with a lengthy essay about how I was young and in bloom, and discovering my sexuality and was bound to have a lot of mixed feelings and fears about it.
I was pretty sure I hadn’t written anything about sex, so that left me mostly confused and uncomfortable.
The reality of my sexual development was complicated. Things most happened at the initiation of others. I had played “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” with one of my sitter’s sons (at his suggestion), and we watched each other pee. In grade 5, a group of us at school would play kissing tag. I ran super-fast, clearly missing that the point was to be caught, not to evade. That progressed to other kissing games (without the running). My kissing technique consisted of letting the boy press his lips against mine until I ran out of air.
From the outside I seemed fairly naïve and inexperienced. And I was. And I also was not.
Around the same time, a female friend had begun teaching me oral sex. I had also found my mother’s Joy of Sex books, hidden away in a drawer of her desk.
But emotionally, I was barely comfortable speaking with boys.
At about 12, a friend decided I should begin dating her boyfriend’s best friend. I barely knew him. He got bored with me pretty quickly when he realized I wasn’t interested in much beyond a peck on the lips.
At our next visit, my father (thinking that pre-teens dating was just hilarious) smugly asked me how my boyfriend was. When I told him we’d broken up and he wanted to know why, I told him the truth: “He got my best friend pregnant and she had an abortion.” He was shocked. And it satisfied me to shock (and silence) him.
I didn’t have another boyfriend until I was 18. And in the heteronormative sense at least, I was still a virgin. He was 21 and in university. I was still on the fence about when (and if) I even wanted to have sex. But once again, my father assumed he knew all about my sexuality and took it upon himself to call my mother, to tell her it was time to “get her on birth control.”
And so it was decided. I would get on birth control.
And so I decided I should probably have sex.
I honestly don’t know to this day if I might have waited longer if they hadn’t unwittingly given me their tacit permission. Somehow by doing so, there didn’t seem to be any reason any longer not to do it.