Imagining the Worst

SEX+STL Parenting Discussion – Sunday, May 20th, 3-4:30 at the LGBT Center (map)

This post is on a parent’s concern about sexual abuse, but the discussion is about raising sex-positive kids in general.

I remember playing at the Kings’ apartment. We were romping around – I, my friend Aaron and his older brother Kimani – in one of the boys’ bedrooms. In those days we liked to play WWF, and use the bed as a ring. Our mothers were in the living room, talking about whatever mothers talk about. At one point, I hear my mother call and I scramble up, wound up from the roughhousing and ready to go home. Mommy looks me over and wrinkles her brow “Zip up your pants, girl.” I look down, embarrassed, and zip up. This was my first pair of jeans and they were a lot harder to zip and button than my other clothes, especially the homemade corduroy pants with the elastic waists that I usually wore. We head down the hall, and take the elevator down to our apartment. As soon as we get get in, I hear the door shut more loudly than usual and my mother turns: “Why were your pants unzipped?” she says quietly but harshly. I wasn’t sure how to answer the question or what meaning it held and answered

“I don’t know” -“What do you mean you don’t know?” – “They just came undone” – “Why would they do that?” – “Maybe I forgot to zip them, when I went to the bathroom?” – “You’re too big for that!

She grabs me tightly by the upper arm and pulls me close to her face, as if the closeness would keep me from mistaking her meaning. “If I ever, ever hear that you’ve lied to me tonight, and that Kimani touched your vagina, then I will whip you good!”

That night, as I lay in bed, waiting to fall asleep, I was scared and confused. My parents had told me that I should let them know right away if anyone other than them or a doctor touched my private parts. Why would Kimani touch my privates, why would anybody? Did he, and I didn’t realize it? How would she find out about something like that?

This little storm passed over and I didn’t think about the incident for years. While in college, I worked at a preschool and did a training on responding to suspicions of child abuse. At the end of the day, I thought of this moment for the first time since childhood and immediately thought : WORST PARENTING MOVE EVER, MOM! What a way to ensure that your kid would never, ever tell you when something was happening to them!

I wrote this post to encourage you to go to the SEX+STL talk on parenting and raising sex-positive kids. It’s a ‘what-not-to-do’ story, and maybe a lesson in imagining ahead. Mom didn’t intend to do anything that dumb or damaging. But even the suspicion that her daughter had been molested triggered her out of her rationality. The only person that she had to take out her anger on was me.

My mom probably never seriously entertained the idea that either of her daughters might be sexually abused or planned what she would do, how she would respond if that were to happen. But had she scoped out her feelings about that ahead of time, perhaps she could have acted more conciously.

As horrible as it is to contemplate, what would it mean to think about getting that news from a young person you care about? What would come up for you? Are there things that you will have to put aside in order to respond effectively? Which feelings would help you to support the child who needs you?