My Mom’s Abortion

The people who raise us spend the entirety of our lives getting to know us. From the time that we’re infants, they learn our favorite foods, our fears both rational and irrational, our hopes, our dreams, our allergies… They pepper us with questions like “How was school?” or “What movie do you want to watch?” They see us at our dance recital best and our snot-soaked worst. My mom remembers events in my life that have long escaped my memory, but I didn’t start really learning about her until a couple of years ago when I first interviewed her for Killer and a Sweet Thang. 

I can’t recall exactly what prompted me to ask my mom if she’d ever had an abortion, and to be honest, I thought I already knew the answer. She seemed a little taken aback by the question, but she answered honestly.

My mom had an abortion when she was 22. Over a decade later, she went on to have one beautiful daughter and one human fruit basket (me). We had a discussion about abortion a few months ago (you can read it here if you’re interested). At that point I already knew about hers, but she asked to keep it private. A few months later when legislation was passed in Alabama that effectively banned abortion procedures, she decided to share her story.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.

 

When I first asked you to do this interview, you said no — 

Mom: Well, I said I would talk about abortion in general, but I didn’t want to share my own experience.

 

Right. How did you come to that decision? 

I think it was because it is such a personal experience, and I hadn’t talked about it [before]. Almost nobody knew and that’s the way I [had] wanted it. 

 

And what made you change your mind and want to share your story?

What changed my mind was the speed with which that right has become endangered. I want to do what I can to speak out against the very distinct possibility that you and your sister and anyone who needs to access abortions may not be able to.

 

How old were you when you found out you were pregnant?

22 — same age as you.

 

Wow, that’s crazy to think about. What were the thoughts going through your head?

I was very, very scared and panicky. I thought “This can’t be happening,” and I knew right away [I was going to get an abortion]. It was never a question. I did not want to be pregnant.

 

Can you talk about what fueled those emotions? Like [was it], “Can I afford to take care of a child?” “Am I ready?” “What will my family think?” 

I didn’t even get that far. My specific thoughts were, “I’m twenty-two, I’ve just started my professional life, this is not something I want, my parents would freak, for sure.” We’ve talked about how Catholic they were.

It wasn’t something I could ever go to them about. I couldn’t say, “I’m pregnant and I don’t want this, I don’t want a baby.” They would not have been supportive.

 

Even just the fact that you were pregnant would that have upset them?

Yeah, they would’ve still loved and supported me, but it would’ve been very upsetting for them because Catholics don’t have premarital sex.

 

No they don’t. Ever. None of them.

*we both laugh* Nope.

 

So who did you tell first?

I only told one person. I told a very good friend of mine who lived a three-hour drive away at the time. I felt I could only confide in one person, and I did and she came down when I needed her.

 

And how did she react when you told her?

She was nothing but supportive. Gentle and caring and supportive. She took care of me. And looking back on it, I realized that it may have been a hard thing for her to do, because she was a born-again Christian. She was very religious — not when we were in college but later on. But she never ever judged me. She never made me feel like I was doing something bad or anything like that.

 

She was a great friend.

Yeah, she was.

 

Were you living in Maine at the time?

Yes, I was living right in Portland. It was 1981, I think. Or 1982. It wasn’t very long after Roe v. Wade was decided. What was that, ‘72? ‘73?

 

It was ‘73 I think. [Editor’s note: It was 1973.]

So less than 10 years, but abortion was available. It was not hard to access.

 

Where did you go?

Well, this was back before you could take an at-home pregnancy test, so I went to Family Planning — which was like a Planned Parenthood — to have the test. They told me it was positive and that’s when I freaked out. I made the arrangement right then and there. This was like a Tuesday or a Wednesday and they said, “There’ll be a clinic on Saturday and you can make an appointment now and have an abortion in a few days.”

And I said, “I’ll do it. Sign me up.”

 

Did they tell you how far along you were?

I think they said six weeks, so just barely [pregnant]. I called my friend and we went that morning to the clinic. There were maybe ten or twelve other people all there for the same thing.

It didn’t take long. My friend drove me home and she stayed with me and I went to sleep. Then a couple of hours after that, I woke up and we went out for pizza. And that was it.

 

How did you feel physically afterwards?

I don’t remember any discomfort. Maybe there was a little bit of cramping, but it wasn’t enough that it stayed with me as something that was painful or hard to get through physically.

 

And how did you feel emotionally?

Relieved. Just relieved. I never looked at it with any kind of regret. I never felt, Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have done that. Never, never.

And as time went on it just got farther and farther from my consciousness. I didn’t think about it at all. I mean, I didn’t have to think about it. It was done and it was my choice to do it, and then I moved on.

 

You were with Dad at the time, right?

Yes.

 

Did you tell him before you had the procedure?

No. Like I said, I panicked. We were in a long distance relationship. I felt like it was my decision to make and it had to be done right away, so I took care of it. And then after the fact I told him.

 

How did he react?

Oh, he was very supportive, very kind and thoughtful. I guess I’m afraid that it’s going to sound like he didn’t want to be there, or to be involved or to have a voice in the decision. I didn’t really give him that.

I still have a little bit of guilt about not telling him before I made the decision, but it doesn’t change anything about the fact that I needed an abortion. I was able to access it, I could afford it… it was in a safe, professional environment, and it was my choice about what was happening in my body.

 

Are there other people you’ve talked with about your abortion since?

No. Like I said it happened and it was done and I put it behind me and moved on. I mean, I’m not saying I never thought about it but I never dwelled on it.

 

I know you feel secure in your decision to terminate your pregnancy, but can I ask was there ever a time where you weren’t so sure?

No. Never. Your sister asked me that, too. She said, “Was it something you thought about when you were trying to get pregnant and couldn’t?” And I said no. I never thought about it as, “Dang, I hope that wasn’t my only shot,” or anything like that. I’ve always been glad that I did it. It was the right thing to do for me at the time.

 

I think that’s really admirable. It makes you a really good role model.

Really, how so?

 

Well, I think your story shows that A) you don’t need to be in dire straits to get an abortion, B) you can have an abortion and go on to have children later, and C) that it’s not something that you have to feel guilty about.

I think I want the message about my experience to be that it wasn’t unusual. It was just an ordinary unplanned pregnancy that I didn’t want. I was able to end it rather than not having access [to an abortion], not having that freedom, that control.

 

I think there’s so much shame around abortion because the current government of this country and anti-abortion activists do so much work to bring shame upon people who do decide to have [them]. I think the fact that you’ve gone through it and never once doubted your decision and never once felt shame is really inspiring.

Well thanks, honey. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but I like thinking of it like that.

 

Did you always wanna have children?

Um… you know, I think in some sort of abstract way, yes. But I didn’t want to have children before I was ready. That’s for sure. I mean… who does?

 

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Willow Gray, Lucia Rosenast, and Nikki Burnett

 

When Literotica Gets Political

DoubleTap is an interview series highlighting creatives whose work explores sex, body and identity.

 

There’s an app for everything these days — including erotica.

Enter Slide Stories. A new app “for the culture, by the culture” offering users a variety of sensual fiction, covering everything from love to ghosting. Despite only launching this past Spring, several stories have already amassed thousands of views. Although Literotica (erotic literature) has been around since the internet was born, any horny fan will tell you — the key is quality control. It can take hours to cypher through the hundreds of poorly-written, not to mention offensive erotic fiction on sites like Nifty.org before you land on a story that will finally get your rocks off.

However, Slide Stories is not interested in maintaining the status quo.

Turning the format on its head, every tale you peruse on the app is told via text thread. Reading a steamy text exchange on your phone is not only delightfully meta — it lends the fiction authenticity.

Geared towards POC consumers, readers of all backgrounds can enjoy stories like “Weekend Zaddy” and “Love and K Pop.” More than targeted marketing, Slide Stories centering of Black and Brown identities feels empowering. Most erotic fiction is written by white people under pen names, and much of the un-policed literotica currently on the web is laden with racial fetishization and stereotypes. By creating a safe space for all readers to enjoy the more imaginative alternative to porn, Slide Stories has tapped into not only something essential, but political, too.

We spoke with 25-year-old founder Keryce Chelsi Henry about her company’s inventive approach to pleasure.

 

What inspired your team to make an erotic app marketed towards POC consumers? 

Keryce: Our team loved the text message format as a new way and opportunity to create interesting stories — and we thought there was a big opportunity for us to create a storytelling platform focused on voices that would resonate more with millennial POC. The focus on romance and erotica was inspired by urban romance novels, like those written by Zane

 

A lot of erotica features highly fetishized and racist depictions of non-white characters. Slide ensures the authenticity of its content by sourcing it directly from the community it seeks to represent, correct? 

Yes. We crowdsource our material through our team’s personal networks and via social media, and specify that we’re looking for millennial WOC and/or LGBTQ writers. Contributors are encouraged to develop storylines that are authentic to their own experiences and relationships. I tell writers to write the dialogue the way they’d text their friends.

 

Did you always know you wanted the erotica to live on an app? 

Yes, the goal has always been to create an app where these stories could live.

 

Your interface is super creative — it really makes you feel privy to someone’s sexts. Can you speak to the thought process behind the text-thread approach? 

We knew the visual of a text thread would be immediately familiar to our target audience, especially considering the kind of content Slide Stories is publishing — so many of millennials’ conversations surrounding sex and relationships occur via text, like first getting to know a potential romantic parter or getting advice about a partner via group chat. That familiarity helps to engage users, giving them the experience of sending and receiving these texts themselves.  

 

It’s particularly effective for stories depicting ghosting. How important was it that Slide include narratives that weren’t solely centered on sex? 

Slide Stories is geared toward love, sex, and dating, so it definitely opens the floodgates to storylines that aren’t just centered on sex. But even more than that, it’s important to us to depict specific situations that our demographic can relate to, like ghosting or dealing with exes who still like your social media posts, for example.

 

I’m thinking specifically of the “More Than Bros?” series, which tackles homophobia, both societal and internalized. It was like social commentary meets erotica — the potential is endless. However, when Ty reveals he’s HIV positive and knowingly had unprotected sex with another man while drunk — did it occur to the writer this may be perpetuating harmful stereotypes about HIV positive individuals?

I can’t speak to the writer’s thought process, but I did work with the writer to soften the potentially harmful nature of how that narrative played out. 

Generally speaking, writers are encouraged to draw from real-life experiences to maintain the authenticity of the stories while I advise on voice and tone, but we do our best to be cognizant of how stories will be received by our audience and let the writers have the freedom to express what they want to say.

 

On the flip side, it can normalize sexual exploration. I’m imagining curious guys downloading the app for the straight stories, then stumbling upon this and feeling, maybe in some way, seen. How important was it for your staff to include queer narratives? 

Including queer narratives is extremely important for us. Our goal is to represent POC, and you simply can’t do so without including LGBTQ+ perspectives because they’re a part of the community. 

We’ve also recently launched Prism Stories, another chat fiction app that features solely LGBTQ+ characters. 

 

Overall, it doesn’t seem like Slide shies away from taboo topics. For example, “Locked-Up Lust” is a text exchange between an inmate and his partner. In the KAAST office, we often talk about how we struggle not to over-police our own sexual fantasies. Are there any topics your team would consider off-limits to explore? 

We’re definitely open-minded about the topics covered on Slide Stories, in an effort to allow users to both relate to the content and also explore their fantasies. We do avoid storylines that include non-consensual acts, however, so as not to trigger users.

 

Have you ever considered incorporating educational elements into your stories? Maybe something like ‘Slutty Nurse Teaches Patient About STI Prevention’? 

We haven’t gotten pitches for Slide Stories with educational elements, but that’s definitely a great idea! I’d love if users could get helpful takeaways from our stories. 

 

Ideally, how do you want users to feel after they’ve used [the app]?

We want Slide Stories users to feel entertained and seen. Stories can only be so compelling to the readers if they don’t relate to the characters — that’s why our stories include slang, cultural references, and images with a diversity of skin tones and hair textures, to represent a variety of identities.

As for users who are writers themselves, we want them to view Slide Stories as a trustworthy outlet where POC/LGBTQ creatives can write for an emerging format and be compensated for doing so.

 

 

You can download the Slide Stories app on your smartphone here. 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Alyse MazyckNikki Burnett, and Tamara Chapman.

I Keep a List of Everyone I’ve Ever Fucked

Like many people on the cusp of being a millennial and Gen Z, I love documenting things. In my journal, on my Instagram story, pasted into a real live photo album — if it happened, I like to have a record of it. I keep a budget, a to-do list, and a detailed Outlook calendar for both work and personal commitments.

I also keep a list of everyone I’ve had sex with.

This isn’t a shitty little entry in the Notes section of my phone, either. It’s a gen-u-ine piece of paper dating back to my freshman year of high school. You can track my handwriting down the page as it shifts through the years, growing narrower, less loopy.

To be precise, the list actually includes everyone I’ve ever hooked up with. We all define that differently; my threshold, for our purposes, is at least a kiss on the lips. My list kicks off with my very first kiss, circa age 13. First name and last name wherever possible, though some entries are just first names, and some are a little more nebulous (“Sahara East guy”). There are names crossed out and adjusted for people who’ve changed theirs, or whose I initially misspelled; there are arrows clarifying timelines.

Those I’ve slept with have a star next to their names. As I write this, the stars number 42. I don’t think I’ve missed anyone. 

Occasionally I mention this list casually, in passing. Who among us, perhaps during a game of Truth or Dare or 20 Questions, hasn’t been asked about, say, our best or worst or wackiest encounter, and responded, after a few moments of sincere thought, “Honestly, I’d have to look at my list”?

In this way, I’ve come to realize that not many others keep such a list. (“You have a fucking LIST?”) But I’d like to make a brief argument in favor of The List. It’s never too late to start one!

If you’ve ever looked back at digital documentation of any period of time in your life — whether via TimeHop or Facebook memories, re-watching your archived stories, or scrolling through your own tweets — it’s probably struck you just how much we forget. Moments that might have seemed so special and singular at the time — even just a year or two ago — would’ve been lost to memory if you hadn’t taken that Boomerang. And how many similar moments were lost, just because you didn’t take that Boomerang?

The List documents little pieces of my history that are often among the most intimate, or at least the most interesting. It lets me see, all in one place, everything that’s happened sexually for me between Seth (last name redacted), at age 13, and Royal (last name unknown), at age 21. After all, we’re human! We forget things! Some nights are a blur! Some sex isn’t very memorable!

Sometimes the argument is made that we can’t forget anything these days, even things we’d like to or things we should, because of social media. I’m all for muting the one-night stand who now posts frequent boyfriend photos (though I haven’t muted her yet) and blocking the high school ex who keeps popping up (though I haven’t blocked him yet). I’m all for forgetting when it’s an act of self-preservation. But I’m also a firm believer in facing reality: You can unfollow me, but you can’t un-fuck me.

Of course, there are also less whimsical reasons to keep records. We’ve all seen a sitcom (or a real-life situation) where a character is trying to figure out who’s the baby daddy or notify past partners that they’ve tested positive for an STI. Or maybe it’s just that someone pops up in our LinkedIn requests and we can’t quite place if it’s that someone. In such scenarios, The List might serve some of us well — just to refer back to, to double-check. 

But that’s not why The List was conceived — not really.

Why do we make any list, after all? We do it for our future selves. A grocery list for our future self as she wanders purposelessly through the frozen food aisle. A list of New Year’s resolutions so our future self can pull it out in July and realize she still hasn’t gone zero-waste. An Amazon wish-list so that if our future self ever reactivates their Seeking Arrangements account, they’re ready.

We need our brain space to store more important, day-to-day things — our work assignments and our doctor appointments and our next bikini wax. Details of past trysts tend to get cobwebby up there. The List keeps it all in one place, for us to pull out every now and then and reflect upon, like an old yearbook or letter. If you like, say, poring over your own social media accounts until you’re deep in 2008, you’ll love The List.

Go ahead — give it a try. Fill up a page. Or two.

 

 

Photos/art (in order of appearance) by Emily Millar, Dariana Portes, and Dakota Varney.

Why Doesn’t Everyone Have Access to PrEP?

The killer’s name is Gilead. I hadn’t heard of it before and I thought the name sounded oddly, almost eerily familiar. 

With some light googling I managed to find out that Gilead is an American biopharmaceutical company that makes antiviral drugs. It’s also the name of that heinous country from Margaret Atwood’s book-turned-TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale — which seemed like an odd coincidence, until I kept researching

Truvada is one of the drugs made by Gilead Sciences. On the commercial market, it’s sold and advertised as PrEP. It’s an FDA approved medication which, when taken continually and properly, reduces the risk of contracting HIV by 92 percent. Super effective, cheap to make — less than $60 a year according to the New York Times — and super easy to administer. So why isn’t everyone taking PrEP? 

Namely, because it’s absurdly expensive. 

The price of PrEP has risen over the years, with Gilead turning a profit of $14,000 per patient. No one else has previously been able to manufacture the drug because Gilead wouldn’t release Truvada from its patent. Since they’re the sole proprietor, they get to name their price, so they inflated it by 25,000 percent. Finally, after significant public outcry and protest, the pharmaceutical giant agreed to allow a generic version of PrEP to be made — but only by one company and in 2020

While it’s estimated that there are over a million people in the U.S. who would potentially benefit from the medication, only about 225,000 are currently on PrEP. Guess who most of those people aren’t: the Black (38%) and Latino (29%) men who have sex with men and made up 67% of HIV diagnoses in 2016  the majority of whom live in the South.

Meanwhile, Gilead Sciences is sitting comfortably at #199 on this year’s “Forbes Global 2000” list, with a market capital of $80.3 billion

Gilead actively depriving high-risk communities of access to PrEP is also avoidable, seeing as the trial research which established PrEP was substantially funded by the Federal Government. We live in America, so the government has “March-In” rights, which means they can come in and take stuff back if companies don’t comply with government and public interests. If they really wanted to, the government could take the Truvada patent from Gilead and give it to a generic pharmaceutical company to make at affordable prices. That clearly isn’t happening. 

Despite Gilead recently reaching a deal with the Trump Administration to donate enough drugs to treat 200,000 patients for 11 years — one of the largest pharmaceutical donations in our nation’s history — it’s not nearly enough to cover the million-plus people who need treatment. It’s a fake move, and people are dying for it. 

HIV is still classified as a global epidemic, and the U.S. Government consistently fails to treat the disease as the lethal threat it can be. The continuation of unnecessary deaths is disproportionate along lines of class and race, which I argue isn’t by coincidence. It’s important to recognize where we are protected and where we are not. 

Sex and sexual health rights within communities of color have long been used as a weapon by the government and private corporations alike. As a journalist and, more importantly, a woman of color, I do my best to spread the word when I hear about how the powers that be choose to handle our bodies. Hopefully, we can use what we know to gain more autonomy over our own bodies, drawing power from education. 

Use rubbers. Get tested. Ask your doctor about PrEP. Be open with your partners. We can learn a lot from what is being stolen from us and channel that into advocacy, awareness, and action. 

 

 

For more information on what PrEP is and how it works, click here

To join the activism surrounding access to the life-saving drug, check out the #BreakThePatent campaign

For New York Times Daily podcast episode on the subject, click here

 

Photos (in order of appearance) via breakthepatent.org and by Dariana Portes. Art by Brigid Stafford.  

 

 

The First Time I Was Groped

The following content may be triggering.

 

We all have first times. The first time we had sex, the first time we fell in love, our first kiss, our first concert. I remember one of my firsts very clearly.

I was 15 years old at a Chance the Rapper concert in Denver, Colorado. It was Chance’s 21st birthday, so my friends and I were expecting to have fun. We danced, laughed, and recited every lyric to Acid Rap and Paranoia. Eventually, we decided to leave early, mobbing from the front of the theater to the back. But before we could make it all the way out, I was stopped by a man, not looked in the face, and groped. Bulky, heedless hands covering and feeling up on my vagina. I kept walking.

That was my first time — my first time being sexually assaulted. One of many.

At the time, I was so young, so full of joy, so full of love that I didn’t think anything of it… but now when I think back on 15-year-old Shyanne, I want to scream. I want to throw up and I want to fucking punch that guy in the face. But by the age of 15, nonconsensual touching was already so normalized that I didn’t really think much of it. What’s worse, I didn’t even know I could. 

Over the next few years, I would develop into a woman. Before even reaching that chapter of my life, I would have men near the age of 45 come up to me at the mall telling me to “smile” and “grow up faster” as they stared at my pre-adolescent body. The body of a child.

As I continued growing up, I realized that this is just the way things were. Guys were meant to grab you, grope you, and yell at you in the streets. As a Black woman, I was constantly fetishized, instead of being validated for my beauty, femininity, or personhood. I was referred to as foods and animals, because I guess the traits I embodied didn’t quite add up to “human being.”

I’m writing this on May 15th, 2019. The day after Alabama and Georgia decided to essentially ban abortions for those with uteruses. As much as I have felt the trials of being a woman of color in America, I have to acknowledge my privileges where they do exist. For one, I have never been raped, and I also come from a liberal, middle class area with access to education and broad acceptance… but what about those who aren’t as lucky?

Alabama and Georgia are home to three cities that have some of the highest percentages of Black Americans — specifically Black women. This new law will not only greatly affect women in general, but will disproportionately target poor minorities who never had adequate access to healthcare in the first place. 

Black women are 2.5 times more likely to experience physical or sexual violence from a partner or spouse — this is a problem, and it is a dire one.

We need to be educating the masses about this discrepancy and increasing protections and healthcare for these already vulnerable communities — not further restricting their access to reproductive services. As much as I have been followed around on the street, cat called, pulled toward unwanted advances, kissed without permission, slapped on the ass, referred to as foods because of my skin color, and threatened with death because I didn’t give a grown man my number, there is a bigger picture here that all these “little” clues are begging us to focus our attention towards: how our culture bolsters one gender and, in the process, endangers another. 

My first time changed my life, because I realized that it was going to be a long fight until it was over. Even then, “over” is a luxury afforded to very few, because ultimately, nothing will ever be over until those other than the survivors take a fervent and unwavering stand against these injustices.

I see little difference between the boys in high school who commented on my friends’ and my asses when we were fourteen– children — and the men in political office today who believe that they can control our bodies.

What is certain is that the allies that we need are not these men. We need men who can look at that type of behavior, and before even batting an eye, call it out as the deeply harmful and scarring violence that it is. We need men who are willing to listen, to educate themselves, and to unabashedly educate other men.

To the women reading this, I am so sorry… but the fight for us is nowhere near over. I’m dubious the that the violence that we face at the hands of men will not end anytime soon. But, still we fight. And I will fight alongside you for the rest of my life, as will my kids, who I will choose to give birth to WHEN and HOW I decide. We’ll all be there.

As for men, the good ones and the bad ones, I used to think you guys were all just driven by testosterone. But now, I’ve figured it out. When you choose to be sit silently real-life nightmares playing out for more than half the population right in front of your eyes — you’re not power hungry, you’re not egotistical, you’re not consumed by toxic masculinity. Not obsessed with sex, you’re not “guys just being guys.”

You’re cowards. 

Because, how is it that every single woman I know has been sexually assaulted or raped, and yet none of you seem to know any rapists?

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Willow GraySweet Suezy, and Tamara Chapman

 

I’m a 22-Year-Old Virgin

I have a weird relationship with sex, in the sense that I don’t really have one at all.

A few traumatizing years of private catholic school, cheating parents, and  premature exposure to some pretty terrifying porn gave me an aversion to sex that lasted well, until now.

When I was 16 years old I made a promise to myself and, I guess, the universe that I would lose my virginity to the hook of the Disclosure and Sam Smith song “Latch.” I’d had the whole thing planned out; the stuff of fanfiction dreams. The person would be taller than me, have a nice car, dress nicely, and the most important requirement of all: they’d be in love with me.

Six years go by and the song at the top of the charts isn’t “Latch” anymore. In fact, Disclosure announced their hiatus after I graduated high school and now here I am on a college campus… still a virgin.

Obviously people don’t know this until I tell them, but when I do, I’m naturally asked, “Why?”

When I was a teen I would answer with, “I don’t want to go to hell for premartial sex,” — but that wasn’t me speaking. It was the scary nuns that taught a bunch of kids nothing about sex ed and everything about the immaculate conception. The real answer was uncovered after a few intense therapy sessions coaxed it out of me. 

After wondering why I squirmed and grew quiet when my friends spoke of their hookups, I was discovered that among issues of body image and self confidence struggles, I held a deep-seeded fear of intimacy. I couldn’t fathom the thought that sex wasn’t always the stuff of fairytales and One Direction fanfics. It required physical and emotional connection. I feared the thought of sharing my body with another person. I’d seen, of course, historically and firsthand the power that sex had over people and the power that it did not

How you could ‘give’ away part of yourself to someone and not have it matter at all — or have it matter too much — I still can’t seem to grasp. I’m not afraid of the act, I’d gotten to the “do you want to…?” portion a handful of times, but I’ll always answer coyly or with a kiss to distract them. 

I become paralyzed when I think of the influence they might gain over me after we have sex. I’d been the background character in enough people’s love stories to know about the term “dickmatized”, and I believed it truly existed. I’d waited this long, would finally losing my virginity to someone put me in a more vulnerable position? 

“That is your anxiety talking,” my therapist would tell me. Was it? Or was it my brain picking apart my true personality?

Only recently have I grown curious about having a sexual relationship. How could I not? It was all around me. The media, group messages, private messages, finsta posts all raging about one thing: sex. Sometimes my curiosity is so severe that I think I might combust. Other times I write it off with a shrug and think to myself, What’s another 22 years?

I don’t mean it, of course, as I’m actively on dating apps and a little too quick to text back someone I’m interested in. However, I’m decidedly not in a rush to have sex for the first time, not anymore.

I’ll keep on telling my therapist about the person who kissed me three months ago and how I wish I’d thrown caution to the wind and just went for it. She’ll keep listening to and telling me why she thinks I didn’t go all the way. I’ll heed her advice as I always do, but stay content with the fact that I’m learning how to be ready. And soon, I’ll know when I am.

In the meantime, “Latch” is still an excellent song to loop. 

 

Art and photos by Lucia Rosenast

 

Is the Finsta Toxic?

The appeal of a finsta is clear: the ability to be “yourself” as well as to post all the ugly selfies and embarrassing group photos that you would never, ever allow on your rinstaor “real Instagram.”

We use this “fake Instagram” to shit-talk our professors and that man sitting too close to us on the train; we whine about someone from high school or detail uncomfortable situations — it’s supposed to be fun… right?

I had a finsta from my first year of college until my last. I was eager to show a small group of people, who I considered my closest friends, my “funny” and “authentic” side via social media. It took deep trust for me to let you into my sacred sphere. I had to know you for months or years, already have entrusted you with my deepest secrets, and even then, if I had my doubts, you weren’t going to have access to my account.

I went years without ever questioning this need for alternative online space, and in the beginning, I really didn’t have to. But my finsta, which once served as a locale for fun selfies, evolved into a platform that revealed my own deep insecurities. 

A conversation during a therapy session sparked my doubts about the account.

My therapist and I were discussing my hesitation to reach out to friends for help. I was unsure as to how I should go about it as I had no one to model my behavior after, no one I felt I could turn to or necessarily count on to communicate pain. Unfortunately, I was used to toxic friends who would unload everything on me and reciprocate normal, friendly gestures very rarely.

So, out of the deep fear I that I would turn into that kind of person if I brought up my issues, I taught myself that I was a burden and not worthy of support. If I was going through something and texted my friends about it, intense guilt would build up within me. I felt like I had ruined their day, that they already had school, work, and relationships to worry about and didn’t need my problematic additions to those issues. As a result, I would keep my feelings bottled up, write out a text to my best friend and delete it out of fear that she already had enough on her plate and didn’t need my “stuff” on top of that.

For me, there was no middle ground. I either shamed myself for sharing or wouldn’t say anything at all. So I turned to my finsta.

There, I could explain the whole situation and how I was feeling about it — without having to reach out, without having to burden a specific individual, without having to imagine that they resented me for it. It became an outlet that I would utilize whenever I was in need of love and support but couldn’t bring myself to “formally” ask for it. It was a roundabout way of venting and ignoring my desire for human interaction — which is understandable and normal — but not necessarily healthy. 

Soon, I realized that my finsta was falling into the same category as my self-harm habits, which I have struggled with since I was eighteen.

I don’t mean this in the sense that it physically harmed me, but it definitely was an unhealthy way of displaying my pain rather than expressing it. Since we sometimes believe that we are not worthy of seeking help or attention, we rely on these alternative ways of showing it. Displaying my pain online seemed much easier and safer than verbally communicating it IRL; a finsta lets us hide behind a screen, a mode of telling our friends that we are hurting without having to fully confront the conversation. And, again, if we display and don’t express, we don’t have to worry about being a burden. 

I then started to question my actions, and though they were not intentionally malicious, they may have been manipulative. By posting on this account, I was subconsciously telling people that they were not supporting me, even though they couldn’t have had any way of knowing that I needed support in the first place.

I would post a long rant on my finsta about feeling academically inadequate, or an embarrassing run-in with an ex, or someone toxic I needed to ditch. I was indirectly telling friends I needed their help without actually seeking out any real assistance. This was my own unintentional method of guilting them into paying attention to me by making them feel shame for not checking in earlier. Upon seeing my finsta posts, they would text me to see if I was okay or comment encouraging advice. I was then seemingly satisfied but uncomfortable with the way I asked for this help. Instead of letting them know I was hurting, I lured them in by using this odd tactic. I imagine this made them feel strangely about me, maybe even creating some resentment towards me. Maybe they asked themselves if I wanted them to text me about it, or if I wanted a compassionate response.

After this rise in my own self-awareness, I saw that the first step I needed to take in order to remind myself that I was worthy of expressing my feelings was deleting my finsta. And though I’m still learning effective ways of communicating my challenges, this relationship with my finsta revealed so much about myself that I had to work on.

Now, per my therapist’s advice, try to first text my friends something like: “Hey, do you mind if I vent about something to you? If you’re not feeling up to it right now, I totally understand.” It is then their responsibility to let me know if they are in a place where they feel prepared to talk me through a situation. With this preface, I allow myself to avoid feeling the guilt of adding to their problems or wanting to apologize because they had to listen to me for too long. 

This is not to say that finstas don’t play a positive role in our young lives; many of my friends still feel joy from these secondary accounts. But, like any social media platform, it is not the platform itself that is inherently harmful or toxic, but the way we interact with it.

If we are able to reshape the interactions we have with social media and the interactions we have with ourselves, we can teach ourselves that we are never burdens. We can learn that we are worthy of expressing

 

 

Photos by Kama Snow

 

Emotional Roleplay

I did not seek him out specifically to fill the gap left by the man I have feelings for, and I’m confident he would say the same about his wife and me.

We were friends for years before we ever became intimate. I knew him before he was married, which was ironically around the time I had the craziest crush on his co-worker. Although sexual tension always seemed to linger between the two of us, the lack of communication and moral guilt kept us at an uncomfortable distance.

Still, four months ago we mutually decided to introduce sex into our friendship.

He was in town for work and had asked me out to dinner. I vividly remember being excited to meet up with him as it had been so long since I had last seen him. But, I was also nervous. He had just gotten married, and his co-worker and I were not on speaking terms. I trusted my self control, but I did not want to face any temptations whatsoever. As the night went on, I caught myself flirting a bit, and I noticed that he reciprocated. Sure, I was flattered, but I’d also grow angry every time I caught a glimpse of his wedding ring.

Eventually, I gave in.

Opening up about sleeping with a married man has gifted me an array of feedback. While many perceive it as an intriguing and somewhat erotic scenario, I still have not discovered, let alone understood, the “thrill” behind it. However, my situation is a bit unique.

The married man I occasionally sleep with — who we will call “X” — is in an open marriage. Consensual non-monogamy is encouraged within their relationship under an agreement they constructed. X and his wife are not from the United States, but his work requires him to stay within the country for extensive periods of time. This means that they are not together for the majority of the year.

This coupling system has proven to be successful for them, and from what he has told me, it has kept them sane and happy.

According to their agreement, their marriage is open but not polyamorous. Even though they are allowed to take in new partners, the connections they have with them should not be romantic under any circumstances. At the end of the day, they are each other’s “home base” — and their secondary relationships are only there for temporary companionship and sexual relations.

I truly enjoy spending time with X. Some might say that the nature of whatever we have is not authentic, but I have learned to label it as “untraditional.” Like I mentioned earlier, we were friends before we ever decided to move past that. So, hanging out with him is never awkward. In fact, I feel like it has allowed us to be more comfortable as we open up about our concerns and our relationships outside of the one we share. Currently, I am not in any type of committed relationship.

However, I do have feelings for someone who, unfortunately, lives in a different state. This guy and I have discussed the idea of embarking on a long-distance relationship, but we have both agreed that it would not work due to our tender and emotional natures. This is why we see other people. In my case, I see X here and there.

One of the bittersweet things that I have experienced throughout my relationship with X is the phenomenon that occurs after we are finished having sex. We tend to get overly affectionate — sometimes to the point where it is almost peevish. I won’t lie and say I am irritated by this because, to be completely honest, I look forward to it.

However, sometimes our post-coital dynamic would leave me feeling off. I could tell what he really wants is to be giving and receiving affection from the person he loves, but she is not here. I am only a medium… although, I suppose he is as well.

Though I have an incredible amount of platonic love and respect for X, he provides both physical and emotional support when I cannot get it from the person I truly want it from. X and I have not really ever talked about this, but sometimes body language is enough.

We don’t live in the same city, and when he is in the United States, he is always a plane ride away. As sappy as it may sound, not seeing each other regularly is what keeps our relationship free of any romantic feelings. Either way, I always tend to see him more than I see the guy I truly like. What I’m trying to say is that, ultimately, this arrangement works out for us. Even though X has been a friend of mine for a couple of years now, he has served as a bit of a therapist for the past couple of months. Despite having access to all kinds of therapy, formal and alternative, I have found his sessions to be the most comforting.

Believe it or not, when I am with X, I don’t pretend that he is the man I like. I also don’t picture someone else when I am being intimate with him because I genuinely enjoy his presence. What I have received from this relationship is something I call “emotional roleplay.” We give each other what we wish we were getting from someone else because that person is not with us.

No matter how intimate or cuddly X and I get in bed, I know I will never replace his wife, and I know he will never have any sort of romantic feelings for me. Reversely, I am aware that he will never take the spot of the guy who has my heart, and I am content with that.

When my friends have asked me if I’m happy with X, I always say “yes.” Am I happy with my romantic life? Not really. I wish I could come home to the man I have feelings for every day. I wish I had the ability to drive to my partner whenever I felt like it. I wish I did not have to rely on my phone for intimacy and half-assed romance. Lastly, I genuinely wish he was the only person I was currently involved with. But, it’s simply not realistic… and I’m sure X feels the same way about his marriage.

In the meantime, we help each other.

 

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Lucia Rosenast, Kate Phillips, and Adyana Covelli