To start this series exploring my encounters and thoughts on sexuality and religion, I must begin at the age when both issues began to matter to me.From the fall of 1990 to the summer of 1991, three events took place, two of which would alter the course of my life. In November 1990, my mother relocated my sisters and I to the Pacific Northwest, putting me closer to her family than I’d ever been. In December 1990, I was baptized at my Grandma’s instruction. And in May 1991, I would begin menstruating and officially begin puberty, two months shy of my eleventh birthday.
Looking back, I laugh at my childish naiveté. I can recall a conversation with two classmates on the playground about puberty. We wanted to begin menstruating because we wanted to be considered teenagers and “grown up”. We wondered which one of us would be the first to “get it”. I don’t remember which one of us won the competition, but I do remember feeling underwhelmed once “it” started. This nuisance was what I’d been looking forward to? I must have been out of my mind. I wanted to go back to the time “before”. I can remember visiting my Grandma that week. As I got up to leave, she asked me if I had any news to share with her. I told her what had happened. With a glint in her eyes she hugged me. “So now you know what it is to deal with the curse”, she said,”you’re becoming a woman!” I hugged her back, smiled shyly and left.
Over the next few months I would adapt and get used to life with ‘the curse’. What I would struggle with over the coming months and years, however, was getting comfortable in this strange new world I was inhabiting. My body, which had been nothing but sharp and gangly angles, began to soften and fill out. This softening and filling out, this contrast of narrowness in certain places and curves in others, seemed to pique the interest of boys and grown men alike. However males were not the only ones intrigued by my new body. I would soon learn that the changes in my body would attract the attention of women also, but for very different reasons.
Look at them hot-tailed girls!. Hmph, that lil heffa is fast! These lil young girls is just TROUBLE! Just you wait and see, THAT ONE is gon end up pregnant! I don’t know what’s wrong with these gals, they just ‘boy-crazy’! Mmm hmm, look at that one, actin like she’s innocent, I know she’s up to somethin! You can’t trust these young gals as far as you can throw ’em! The comments listed above are all statements that I heard drop from the lips of grown women quite often in reference to girls aged 12-17 years old. Sometimes the comments were directed at me, sometimes they were directed at my cousins and other times they were a blanket condemnation of those in our age group.
Twenty years have passed. I’m now a grown woman with a daughter of my own. Yet I struggle to understand this mentality. I struggle to understand how the same eyes that looked at you with wonder and joy when you were a little girl now rove your body full of scorn and resentment once you start wearing a bra. I wonder how the hands that used to tickle you and throw you in the air as a toddler now spitefully pinch your blooming breasts. I wonder how the mouths that used to overflow with words like sweety, baby and honey now drip with condescension and call you ‘fast’ for the crime of looking in a boy’s direction. I wonder how certain adult women, who should know better, who should be loving, who should be understanding, who should take the hand of young girls and guide them, instead choose to distance themselves and judge. I wonder why I saw grown women treat young girls not as allies, but as enemies.
For young girls, the transition from the world of childhood to womanhood is a fragile time. They don’t need to be endlessly criticized and condemned as ‘fast’. They need nurturing, guidance and education. However young girls don’t always receive the information and advice that will help them avoid certain pitfalls . Without grown women they can trust and confide in, they are ill-equipped to navigate the unfamiliar territory of adolescence and sexuality. But life and hormones refuse to wait for you to catch up.Ready or not, class is in session and the miseducation begins.