If it looks like a slut…

*Note: profanity and ‘I AM WOMAN HEAR ME ROOOAAAAAR’ ahead. 

I’m going to admit some things in this post that I haven’t said directly in the past, things I’ve hinted at but never officially ‘confirmed.’ But the things need to be admitted so that the rest of this story makes sense – and this story has been weighing on me for a little while now, so I’d rather admit things that maybe I would have wanted to keep quiet, in lieu of saying nothing at all.

Here goes: Last week I was slut-shamed by my therapist.

Quick background: I’ve been seeing this person for about three-and-a-half years, and he’s absolutely wonderful. He was the perfect person to get me through the end of one relationship into the beginning and end of another; he’s given me a new outlook on life that I never would have found on my own. I don’t see him that often anymore, save for a check-in every four-to-six months, but I usually cherish his advice and love the hour I get to chat with him about everything and nothing.

I realized just before the Savannah trip in November that I hadn’t seen him for nearly five months, and figured the end of the year would be a good chance to check-in again; my word, the last time I saw him no one was married and yoga teacher training was a distant dream. Originally, I assumed it would be a normal check-in, hi, how are you, how is your eating; but as life likes to do sometimes, there was a bit of a curveball instigated by the wedding last weekend, and it was extremely reassuring to know I’d be talking out some of my confusion with an old friend. I’m not going to go into too many details and I’m not going to give a play-by-play of the session, but here’s what happened: after discussing recent events in comparison to what’s happened to me in the past two years, my therapist turned to me and said this: “I think you’ve got the right attitude! Keep reminding yourself there is no reason to bring the past into the present. But LB, remember you shouldn’t jump into bed with guys so quickly. Make this one work for it a little bit, at least!”

On the surface, it doesn’t sound like much. Standard advice that’s beaten into all of us, right? Girls, don’t sleep with a guy right away, and don’t sleep with a lot of guys or you’ll be a slut and no one will want you. Self-respecting men don’t date sluts. Pretty simple, right?  Except it’s not simple at all. It’s actually a really fucking complicated scenario, and those scolding words are minimizing that.

I mean, let’s break it down now. I am a grown woman. I make the decisions about MY body, and it is MY choice who I do or do not sleep with, and when. It’s not anyone’s place, in particular my therapist’s place, to tell me what I choose to do and who I choose to do it with is wrong, or shameful. I’m so SICK of the notion that women need to use sex as a tool to keep men interested, like it’s currency, something we DEIGN to do, unless there’s something in it for us, like a piece of jewelry or the want of a man. Sex is a healthy and normal part of life and relationships, and I will not be told that the best way to make sure a guy stays interested is to hold out and leave us both with blue balls. Because GUESS WHAT: women enjoy having sex too. Mind-blowing. I know.

Slut-shaming runs so much deeper than merely calling someone a slut. I don’t care if someone wants to call me a slut. Don’t believe me? THEN GO FOR IT. You think your words hurt me? You think it’s anything I haven’t heard before? I’ve called myself worse things than you could ever call me. What’s weighing on me is not that my therapist actually called me a slut (because he didn’t), but the idea that he was encouraging me to use sex as a tool to get something (attention or desire), while simultaneously chastising me for having a healthy sex life as a single woman. News flash: I make no apologies for the decisions that I’ve made with regards to my body and I don’t regret a damn thing in my life, sexually or otherwise. And frankly, at the end of the day, if there is a guy that decides he’s no longer interested in me because we’ve had sex once, I don’t feel bad for me. I feel bad for him – how boring that you think sex is at its peak when you’re having it with someone new for the first time.

I’m going to step off my soapbox now and take a deep breath. I so rarely see my therapist anymore that it’s not worth it to make a huge stink with him – and honestly, I think he meant well; I know he wants the best for me, having watched me go through a lot of heartbreak in a short period of time. I know people see and hear and experience slut shaming to levels that are so far and away beyond mine. But I’m just sick of hearing these comments. I’m sick of it, especially as a 27-year-old single woman in New York City. I will not be shamed for the choices I’ve made because I stand by every single one of them. And always remember: neither should you.

Snow White in the Heights

“Heeey, white girl.”

Tuesday morning while walking to the subway for work, I was fumbling with my phone trying to find a good song on Spotify, when a man walked past and said that to me. I knew immediately that this was one of two things: one, he wanted to let me know I dropped something and/or my dress was tucked in my underwear (… which has NEVER happened before); or two: he was trying to hit on me. I checked my dress (totally fine), kept my eyes ahead and continued walking, and when he didn’t catch up to give me something I’d dropped, I knew it was a catcall.

Truth time: sometimes I don’t mind the catcall. Saying that out loud makes me sound anti-feminist and old-fashioned, I know, but there are instances where catcalls don’t bother me. It’s like men hitting on you in a bar. It’s not always welcome, and it’s not always well-done, but sometimes it’s enough to make you crack a smile and politely walk away, no harm, no foul. The best example is my relationship with the boys that hang out on my block. My ‘hood boys have been fascinated by me since day one, the only white girl on the entire block, and despite knowing my name, they frequently insist on calling me Snow White, like a nickname initiation to their circle.  My boys look out for me, always making sure that I’m okay and I’m safe, and they always, always hit on me. Always. Literally, every time they see me. “Yo Snow White, you wearin’ that dress I like today!” “Hey girl, you get prettier every time I see you.” “Ay rubia, como estas mami.”

The boys know me well enough now to know that I’m never going to accept a date, and I know them well enough to know they’ll never stop asking. Yet I also know that they respect me, they respect my distance, and they have and will do anything to help me if I need it. They’ve stayed with me in the rain outside while I wait for the super to show up and fix my still-broken door, and they’ve helped me get in the building when it’s 3 a.m. and I can’t find my keys. So when one of them calls out “Girl I’d watch you run in them leggings all day,” as I leave for a run, or “Let me carry that for you, angel,” while I juggle groceries and my laptop bag in heels, I generally give them a smile and keep on my way, amused but not offended.

It felt strange that the comment earlier this week irked me in a way most of the Heights calls don’t. I get that I’m the minority in my neighborhood, surrounded by a well-entrenched Dominican community that doesn’t necessarily invite the gentrification rapidly making its way around the Heights. I get that I’m not terrible to look at, and that, to an extent, harmless catcalls are a part of Latin culture. I mean, in just the past week, I’ve been called blanca, snowflake, rubia, sweetie, sexi, mami, and of course, Snow White. Somehow, though, the white girl comment got under my skin: it wasn’t the slightly-stunned reaction of boys who aren’t used to seeing a white girl walking down the street like she lives here (because she does). It wasn’t the mostly-harmless comment of someone who sees me all the time and knows they can joke around with me like that. It was a possessive catcall, the kind you read about in all the articles trying to explain why it’s not a compliment for strangers to shout “que cuerpa, linda!” while you clutch your purse to your side and keep your head down, walking just a little faster home.

I’ve been catcalled every which way, across multiple countries and in every New York neighborhood, and I have no allusions to it ever stopping. That’s not bragging about my appearance, or the way I carry myself, but just a fact because I’m a woman. It happens to all of us, despite your skin color, hair color, what you’re wearing or where you live. It can seem like a sucky and a sexist part of life, and many times it is. It colors the rest of your day, the way you view a neighborhood or a particular location; it’s scary when men follow you and wolf-whistle repeatedly until they have your attention. I acknowledge that, and I’ve experienced that. So though I may get backlash for this next thought, here it is anyway: As scary as it can be, and as much as it shouldn’t happen, in my personal experience, it’s not always intended to be that way, and knowing when to laugh it off versus when to heighten awareness of your surroundings is just another lucky lesson that I’ve had to learn in my adult life.

I walked home Tuesday night, guard up a little higher after the strange morning encounter, and passed my boys outside the building. “Snow White!,” one called out. “You look tired girl! Bad day?”

“Just a long day, glad to be home!” I called back, fishing my keys out of my purse.

They all chimed in, “We’re glad to have you home too, beautiful.” I found my keys, made it to the door and said I’d see them later, feeling secure that if a creep came around they’d look out for me. Despite one of the boys shouting as the door closed behind me “Wanna come home with me later?,” I felt safe in their presence. The words may be scary to some, but sometimes in my neighborhood, the scary words are the ones that let you know you belong, if even just a little.