Sunday, June 23, 2013

I don't like men or sex = FALSE

I'm rather vocal about my opinions on appropriate sexual behavior, especially regarding behavior between adults and children (I wonder where that came from). I'm also pretty vocal on issues of gender stereotypes and rape culture, which I believe are all closely related and deeply rooted flaws of our society concerning sexuality.

I feel like people who don't know me very well and who hear my opinions on sexual/gender matters tend to make two faulty assumptions about me:

 #1  I don't like men.

I mentioned in my last post that I don't easily trust men. That could confuse people into thinking that I don't like men. I actually think that men and women are not very different. I think we are made of the same stuff and have very similar potential for character. I also think that from an early age we are bombarded with messages that we are different. I think most of us get brainwashed before we hit puberty by all of the gender stereotypes and sexual messages. I like men, but I don't like what media and society tells them to be. And I really hate when men believe those messages, which most do.

I wish boys growing up could receive more positive messages about their emotions and ability to nurture. The good men out there are often described as being "in touch with their feminine sides", but instead, I believe, they are just awake to their own natural abilities to be a decent human despite the lies they were told growing up. This is why I protest gender stereotypes and balk every time someone says, "You think that way because you're a woman!" Or "Only a man could understand." My eyes roll every time I hear this crap - and they roll A LOT. 

#2 I don't like sex

This past week, a man in the writing group I've been attending (I will be quitting after this) concocted a story in which a 42-year-old man developed a romantic relationship with a 17-year-old girl. His story line was full of deception and twisted logic. It disturbed me greatly, but when I spoke up about my issues with it he declared me puritanical and implied that I'm lacking in sexuality. I just nodded. I've heard that before said by different people in different ways. Inside my head, I was thinking that I've probably had a more interesting and healthy sex life than him - sadly including my long relationship with a sex addict and sex offender, which definitely has marred my sexuality, but I still think I'm healthier than this guy!

My real problem with sex right now is that I'm not getting any because it is really hard to date as a single mom. My options kinda suck at the moment, but don't let me digress . . . I have one more story on this topic.

A male friend of mine recently went into a rant about how he can't get laid. I laughed because it was awkward, but I was totally sympathetic! I'm lonely! I'm sexually frustrated! But I don't say it out loud. Just because I don't talk to everyone about how much I like sex doesn't mean that I don't like it.

I've thought a lot about that conversation since then. I think society taught my friend as a male that it was okay to talk about his sexuality. It's okay for him to be overtly sexual. But as a woman, I was taught to hide it. I completely sympathized with him, but I couldn't tell him that. This is sad for both of us. It makes both genders lonely and divided. I can see why men say that women are confusing. He internalized it as a problem with himself, but so many men might as easily turn it around as a problem with women. Men find women confusing and women find men brutish. Maybe if we stopped promoting the differences between the sexes, maybe if we paid more attention to our similarities and tried to use a little sympathy, (maybe if men weren't brainwashed into thinking they need to take sex from others) maybe then we wouldn't have so many problems. 

Another thing, I keep the details of my previous marriage pretty quiet because I don't want to be judged by it. I don't like when people say, "You feel strongly about this because of what you went through." That's a load of BS. I've been awakened to the issues of society because of what I went through. Everyone should care about protecting children from sexual exploitation.

You shouldn't have to be a certain gender to appreciate healthy sexual activity or to recognize unhealthy sexual behavior. There are real reasons for why there are more male sex offenders than female, but I think only a small part of that is due to natural differences of the genders. I think society has produced most of the monsters I fear. I think the best way to fight it is to talk about it . . . although there are days when I'm sure that I'd get more dates if I'd shut up. But I don't really want a man who is scared away by a woman who is willing to stand up for what is right. Right?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Trust - what's that? (ideas on child safety and romance)

Could there be a more complicated thing than trust? I find love much easier. I can love many more people than I can trust. I can love people without fully trusting them. I can forgive many trespassers in my life, but it is likely I will never trust them again. To me, that's just logical.

But you have to give some trust to some people, especially when you have kids. The hardest person to trust is the one you don't know. But then, the most dangerous person is likely the one you think you really know - the one who you already trust. Anyone who has a close connection to a sex offender has experienced this phenomenon.

It is natural for us to have trust issues. All my trust issues are centered around my children. I can get very paranoid about the people I leave them with or allow them to have contact with. I'm not just worried about sexual abuse, I'm worried about any caregiver in any way not cultivating a healthy environment for my kids, whether it may be physically, emotionally, or socially. I have spent many hours in the middle of the night fretting and crying over these things. Here's the thing, though, I don't think I'm wrong in worrying about these things. I don't think I'm crazy, even though I feel crazy sometimes. What I do think is that we live in a society of people wearing rose-colored glasses, giving trust away undeserved, because, well, it's easier that way. I think I know better than most people that I SHOULD worry about how our flawed society is affecting our children, especially in sexual ways.

Let me back up, though, to shortly after Jake was first arrested. My emotions were torn apart and my sensibilities about the world were confused. Everything I had known seemed false and my whole self felt like a raw wound. Everyone I looked at, from family to social worker, I considered as a possible sexual predator. How could I know? Momentarily, I even had doubts about my own family. I reassured myself many times that if my parents and my brother didn't sexually abuse me as a child - and they didn't - then I didn't need to worry. But the sad truth is that sex offenders might pick one child and not another, one generation and not another. You never know. Not knowing had me paralyzed as a parent for a long time. I didn't feel like there was anyone other than myself that I could trust with my kids. I was a prisoner of distrust.

A strange thing started me on the road out of that funk. I was asked by my social worker, Umbridge, to go to her office and watch an educational video. Grooooaan. She tried to make if more comfortable for me by inviting a bunch of her coworkers to watch it as a training exercise. That actually made it worse because they all treated me like the leper of the group. The video, however, was very helpful. It was called Darkness to Light and discussed steps to prevent sexual abuse. It was good to learn the statistics on child sexual abuse and it was good to be given some guidelines for prevention. There was something more though, something about it that gave me a sense of empowerment. It planted ideas that worked on me slowly. How it changed me was so subtle, that it's hard to describe. I started putting a context and structure to my fears, which was important because then I could decide what was within the realm of my control. Guess what? A lot of things are in my control as a parent. Those are my kids, damn it. Mine. I get to say who takes care of them. I get to pick the conditions. If I don't like it, then I get to point that out and ask for a change. If that caregiver can't change, then I get to pick another caregiver. That video helped me realize that I had been giving so much of my parenting control away because I thought that was how things worked - you know, like saying okay to a dentist that won't let parents into the exam room because the parents' anxiety might upset the kid - but I woke up to the knowledge that I can keep my parenting control. It's mine, after all. And I can be vocal about it without being rude or obnoxious. I won't lie, it has led me into a few uncomfortable moments I wished I could have avoided, but better my discomfort than my kids being led into abuse, right? Mostly though, I am respected for being an advocate of my children's safety. I get positive responses when I make my expectations clear. A good childcare provider who has had the right training will be happy to show that they know how to create a safe environment and cultivate healthy attitudes.

Of course, a sexual predator will hide behind the same things that we trust and give us false reassurance. I believe in choosing environments that have open layouts and multiple adults to minimize the chances of anything being hidden. I also believe in surprise visits. You should always be able to drop-in on the place where your child is being kept - I don't care if it is grandma's house, your best friend's house, or the babysitter's. But really, the most powerful thing is communication with your child. You have to wait until your child is three-years-old or more before you can ask them about their day, but it is such a great tool once you get there.

Even then, talking to your child can be tricky. Establishing the conversation early helps. My 4-year-old, Elise, and I talk every couple weeks about body parts, privacy versus secrets, respect, and anything else I can think of that will introduce safe ways to navigate life. It's valuable. Today Elise told me that some boys at preschool were talking about "private things". My stomach turned, but at least I knew she would be able to answer my next questions: What private things? Were they talking about private body parts? Were they keeping secrets? Her answers were clear: Pee and poop, no body parts, and no secrets. Whew. It sounds simple, but if I hadn't given her the knowledge of body parts or privacy how could she answer? If I hadn't explained that some secrets can be dangerous then she might not tell me if someone asks her to keep one. I don't know if this works with every kid, but I feel pretty confidant that it works with her. Hopefully the conversations can grow with her so she'll always feel safe to come to me. Trust between myself and my kids is probably the trust I care about most.

My anonymous commenter who turned me onto the subject of trust was probably thinking more about men - the ones we might be romantically interested in. Alas, I have no words of wisdom, only empathy. I find it extraordinarily more difficult to trust  men than women. I feel this is unfair and discriminatory of me, and yet, it is how I am now. I could not leave my kids at a daddy daycare or let a man babysit, other than my father or brother. When we were still dating, my ex-boyfriend asked me why I acted weird whenever he volunteered to babysit. I explained to him that after each time I leave my kids with someone I ask my kids questions to make sure nothing inappropriate happened and I didn't want to have to do that with him. It really upset him. He thought I was doubting his character without reason. I wouldn't say I was doubting it, but I was playing it safe for the sake of my kids. And isn't that my job? I can trust a man again with my heart, but I'm not sure I can trust one with my kids. Maybe in the future we should all discuss methods of dating for single parents because right now I feel like the safest method is to wait until both kids are 18!

By the way, anonymous, I would love to read more about your story and thoughts. I would love to read anyone's stories about their relationships and dealings with sex offenders, even if they feel and act differently from myself. I think we need a community. I think we need to learn from each other and have each others' support. The more vocal we are, the better recovery will be. And if someone outside of our situation reads it, the better they will sympathize. We also have an opportunity to make our society a safer place for kids through our unique perspective. But first we have to start talking out loud. I hope to hear more from you. 

P.S. I was working on this while my girls were in the tub. I was just about to hit publish when Elise dropped the bar of soap and it slipped between Sabrina's legs. Elise reached to get it and it made Sabrina giggle. Elise didn't find the soap, but she reached between Sabrina's legs again to make her giggle again. I had to pull her out of the tub and have a talk - again - about private body parts and respecting other people's bodies (even when they giggle). Obviously, it is an ongoing conversation. Sigh!