“¿Te gusto sexo?” the young man driving the tuk-tuk said to me, staring intently at me in the oversized rear-view mirror. This was not what I had imagined when I had set out to learn to advocate in Español. The words were so completely and utterly out of the blue that I was not sure for a minute that I had heard right. Nonetheless, “No,” I replied firmly.
After much effort, the young driver had finally convinced me to take a ride up the hill in his tuk-tuk as I walked home from kayaking in Lake Atitlan. My legs were still in so much pain after hiking the 10,000 foot Volcano San Pedro; and a friend had recently informed me that I had to stop using those muscles so much if they were going to heal. I had told myself that for once I had to stop doing everything the hard way and give myself a break. So, I climbed into the tuk-tuk reluctantly, in my blue Chacos, green Merrell shirt, and navy Duke Divinity School hat.
After we had exchanged pleasantries, and he had asked where I wanted him to drop me off – “Cerca de la Iglesia” – he started in with “Te gusto sexo” – and my brain struggled to translate and comprehend. As I said “No” and he veered to the left, in the opposite direction from the church I knew something was wrong. There was a million things I wanted to say, but I did not know the words.
“Aqui es bien,” I said.
“No, no. ¿Como te no gusto sexo? Tu eres muy bonita,” he continued as he picked up speed going down the hills of San Pedro. I saw the street where the Buddha Bar was speed by, and the small shop where I buy my paper and pencils, and I knew we were getting further from home.
“No, Aqui es bien,” I said.
“No, no. ¿Como te no gusto sexo, linda?” he said, driving with one hand while opening his pants with the other. He watched my anxiety rise as the oversized rear view mirror communicated every move we made to each other.
“Por favor, estoy una pastora. Aqui es bien,” I said, struggling with my limited Spanish to reason with him.
“No, no. ¿Como te no gusto sexo, bonita?” he could tell he was not getting anywhere with me, but getting off on my fear, he was determined to get something out of it for himself anyway. My sole goal became getting out of the vehicle before he could go any further.
We passed a small crowd in the street, “¡Aqui!” I said.
“No, esta bien, esta bien. Un poco mas,” he protested.
“NO!” I said firmly and loudly so that the people could hear, “¡Aqui!”
With that, he paused, I jumped out, and he sped off while I walked back towards home in the opposite direction, much much further away than where I had started.
I’ve had his question asked of me quite a few times this year, in more or less aggressive ways.
I get the sense that people on the asking end are not able to understand, or willing to accept, that it is upsetting for me and sometimes frightening.
People have different opinions about the place of “sexo” in life, and I believe in the right of every person to decide where it belongs in their life – including myself. Because you don’t know what life experiences someone has had, or what their choices are regarding that question – you don’t know what emotions you raise when you pose it.
I am not trying to shut down healthy conversation, but there is a big difference between saying “I sense something between us”, and persisting in pressuring when one can tell it is not what is desired. That is the typical, historical, patriarchal longing to overcome resistance, to colonize and conquer. Our culture has taught us that it is exciting to overcome resistance – the courtship “game” – but games have a winner and a loser. To get someone to give in and go against their better judgement and best wishes is the greatest thrill and the sexual imagery of most of our mainstream films and shows.
We teach people to play with some of the elements of force and victimization, while telling them they are still technically within the realm of the consensual. Thus, we leave young men and women, like my tuk-tuk driver, with the lesson that every such encounter is nothing more than a game. If I had said “yes,” he would have won, and perhaps has in the past; because I said “no” – and also shut down his side-game – he did not win. If I had said “yes”, it would have been seen by some as a grand adventure; because I said “no”, it is seen as a terrible thing. For him, it was all in the roll of the dice, because we have made sexuality a game.
I have struggled to know how to explain to people how it feels on this end of things, why it makes me so sad when these things happen. I struggle to know how to explain why it makes me feel upset and frightened and objectified, and forced to enter into another headspace. I have struggled to explain why it has nothing to do with how I dress or look, and that innocence can be, for some people, not a thing to respect but a thing to conquer. As if innocence in and of itself does not have a right to exist permanently, but must be eliminated the way an apple blossom is eliminated to make way for the fruit. Innocence becomes portrayed as ignorance, inexperience, weakness, and temporary in nature.
The best I can do to explain how it feels is to say that it makes me feel like I do in a Guatemalan market place. It makes me feel the way I do when I walk past hundreds of vendors in the marketplaces, desperate to make a sale. I know that if I get too close, or enter a shop, they are going to try to convince me that I need what they are selling – and it will be hard to leave without buying. My anxiety level rises because I know that they are going to try to convince me that it is for my own good and that I should want it and do need it, when I know I don’t. They are going to make my acceptance or rejection of their offer the basis of our relationship, and their behavior towards me will change from warm and inviting to chilly or awkward if I do not buy what they want. They will try to convince me that their desire/need is what I desire/need. It is going to feel awkward and stressful, because I know that I neither need what they are selling, nor can I afford it. I also can’t go around picking up every pretty thing I pass by, because – for the rest of my journey – I will have to carry it all around on my back. So, no, I am not going to be willing to pick up just any trinket that I can find in any vendor’s stall in the country. To even tempt me, its got to be pretty darn special and unique. Its got to capture my heart, and make me feel like I can’t continue on my journey without it.
So don’t put me through that. Once you pose the question, you have changed our relationship. Unless you can somehow be sure you are not making someone really uncomfortable, it is probably not worth trying to pressure and convince them that your wants are their needs.
When I was in my late teens, I decided that the fundamentalist reasons for abstaining from sex were bullshit – because they were about me giving myself as a gift to a man and saving myself for him – which is incredibly dishonoring to women and should have stopped hundreds of years ago, along with our belief in women as the property of men.
I do, however, have the right to choose what to do with my own body, and I have the right to abstain if it makes me feel closer to God. And I am tired of people outside and inside of the church making me feeling shitty about it. Some of you may not like that; some people have not liked that. Some people think that I am somehow judging them if they choose differently. To them I say – stop making everything about you. I love you and I don’t have time to waste on judging you, nor is there any part of me that wants to do anything but honor you and the choices you make. I’m too busy loving you and living my own life. I respect your choices, respect mine.
I know some people I love have been hurt by the church, and feel judged, but I’m not trying to continue that trend. I am not cold, I am warm. I am not weak, I am strong. And I am not trying to hurt anyone, I am saying we need to fight to make this a world that is safe for everyone.
I don’t “gusto sexo” outside of the bounds of some kind of committed, covenant relationship. That is my choice, and I have every right to make it. If you are not in a committed relationship with me, then whatever you may want or may think or may feel – don’t even ask. Ask me for dinner; ask me for coffee; ask me to go dancing – but never ask me for “sexo.” It is my right and my choice and one I have maintained for the past 31 years, not because I am weak, but because I am strong.
And for that matter, those that do “gusto sexo,” please don’t treat me like an unfinished project, left on the easel without the finishing touches put on. I am complete. I am whole. I am proud. I am happy. I am strong.
You may think your “sexo” is a gift to me, that no matter how much I protest that I am going to be grateful that you showed me a whole new world. You may think that all’s well that ends well, and I may be upset at the beginning, but I’ll be grateful in the end. Really? Let’s be honest. Don’t you just want what you want, and you don’t care how it makes me feel?
I don’t care if you love me, or lust me, or just saw me – walking up the calle in my absolutely irresistibly sexy outfit, consisting of dirty, sweaty Chacos, Merrell and Duke Divinity gear – you better respect me. I can’t expect as much from strangers, but I hope I can expect that from my friends.
If you care about me, you won’t want to conquer me or possess me – you’ll want to protect me and honor me.
Innocence is not ignorance. Respect the path I have chosen; because it’s my body, my choice.
Yes, I’m angry.
Thank God, it is about darn time.
(Oh, and to my dear tuk-tuk driver… the police are looking for you.)