There’s something wrong with you. Like the apple at the bottom of the barrel, the shame inside you is a worm, twisting and writhing. This is what it feels like. This is what it feels like when you’ve turned 29 and you’ve never had sex. (Not once, not ever, not prior to coming out and certainly not after. And isn’t this just another thing you can blame yourself for? Isn’t this just another way that you’re twisted and wrong? There is something wrong with you, everyone knows it, everyone can see.)
You get invited to one of those marketing schemes where your friend is selling vibrators and lotions and toys, and she has to know, right, she has to know, all this time spent single, never once updating your Facebook status to “it’s complicated” – she has to know, when she invites you, that this is foreign territory.
The “online party page” is full of the kind of euphemism you’d expect to see from your mother after a few too many glasses of wine, only these are your friends (maybe not your closest friends, but your friends), trading lewd jokes about the best way to ask their husbands for oral sex.
That’s what it says, “husbands,” and you feel like you’ve trespassed into some secret society where everyone is having sex but you – only the secret society isn’t so secret; it’s just the way things are. Everyone is having sex except you. Whether they got married at 20 to their high school sweetheart or they’re stringing along a bevy of beaus who don’t know each other’s names, everyone is having sex except you, and, oh, they’re all straight, too.
You guard your virginity like a secret. You keep it behind a locked door that you’re not supposed to open. You stop following the event page, and when she asks why, you don’t answer.
It feels like the first day of middle school gym, when I was supposed to change in the locker room in front of the other girls, and instead I hid in the bathroom stall and did it there. A vague sense of nausea built in the pit of my stomach, the feeling that all eyes are on me. The dim scent of sweat and deodorant and bathroom soap as I hid in the stall, afraid to see, afraid to be seen.
It feels like walking past a Victoria’s Secret store in the mall as a teenager, that same sense of nausea, that same sense of shame. There is a gorgeous woman half-naked in the store window I wrench my gaze away from this soft core pornography, my steps shaking, my heart fluttering as I try to look anywhere else. I can see but I’m not supposed to feel. Air freshener and trying not to vomit. Hiding. Is this arousal?
I want to show my face. But I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not supposed to feel sexual desire; it’s bad, I’m wrong, I’m twisted.
When I have sex for the first time, I want it to be devoid of shame. Shame is the shadow I’ve been trying to crawl out from under all this time; shame, low and echoing like a bell ringing; shame, everywhere, my body drenched in it. I can wear rainbow shoes and I can wave a rainbow banner and I can go to Pride, the very name of which is the opposite of shame, but I can’t seem to stop hating myself.
You’re 26, sitting in your best friend’s apartment, and she’s really not your best friend, and she’s invited a boy along for the weekend. “He seems interested,” she says. No one has ever been interested before. The prospect boggles you and you spend a whole minute just staring at her trying to make sense of what she’s said.
At the time, you’re passing yourself off as bisexual, clinging to that last bit of need for heteronormativity.
“Is he?” you play it cool; it is important, in moments like these, to seem cool. You will learn that being cool is overrated, that you vastly prefer to be loud and excited about the people you’re attracted to, but for now, anxiety manifests itself as aloofness.
“You didn’t notice?” You shrug. You didn’t notice. She knows you’ve never. She has to know you’ve never. Back in high school, you hung out in her attic bedroom and decorated it with candles for her date night with her boyfriend. You listened to the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack, the one with covers by Marilyn Manson, as you scattered tea lights around the room and lit them one by one with matches from a book.
You don’t talk about how you never had a night like that. Your only boyfriend in high school was a lawyer’s son, and when you went to Homecoming you circled around the courtyard adjoined to the cafeteria and spoke to each other in Simpsons quotes. You broke up over the phone because you didn’t want to go see the Transformers movie with him. He kissed you, just once, as a dare.
“That’s what flirting is?” You just thought it was being nice. You feel sort of scummy inside. She must know you’re hopeless at this. “It’s not what I’m into,” you say finally, and she shrugs, letting it go, always capable of accepting the worst of you even when you meant to show her the best.
So nothing comes of it. Nothing ever comes of it.
I could hire a sex worker.
People do it. I don’t talk about sex with my friends. They don’t bring it up with me. Maybe there’s just something about me, they can tell just by looking.
It’s a solution to my problem, but only in the most superficial of senses. I could check it off my bucket list. Go to my grave assured that at least one time in my life, I did the deed. They couldn’t call me “virgin” anymore – but it would feel like a technicality, an entry into the baseball hall of fame with an asterisk next to my name.
It isn’t just the sex that I want. If all I want is an orgasm, I could do that myself. I want to be wanted, to be cherished, to be felt. I want someone to reach for me because she has seen me and decided she wants me.
It’s hard to forgive myself for things I think are unforgivable. To be untouched is to be unwanted, and to be unwanted, it seems to me, is the worst kind of sin. One I can never be absolved for, because it isn’t my fault in the first place. “It’ll happen when it’s meant to happen,” my friends say.
There are dreams I haven’t given up on yet. I tell myself that when I move to NYC, I will be drenched in the queerness of nightlife. I will go wild; I will be an untamed thing. I’m just not there yet. There has to be something in me worth uncovering, something someone else will see.
You’re in college— the aftermath of your best friend’s bachelorette party; you’re drunk off hard cider and lying on the couch in your first apartment and your friends are telling you how lucky you are not to have a man in your life. “Think of the pain you’re missing,” one says.
You don’t know how to tell them that you want that pain, you want the agony and the ecstasy and the highs and lows. You don’t know how to tell them that your worth as a human being comes from what other people think of you, and what must other people think of you? Sad lonely virgin; they’ve made movies about it. You’ve never been interested in men but you’re interested in what they represent, and that’s being seen, and being loved, and being held–
How are you supposed to tell them that you’ve never been held?