August 21

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My Very First Cat-Call

I remember the very first time I was cat-called like it was yesterday.

 

My friend opened up her swimming pool for the season, and I went along with some other friends to swim. I didn’t really like swimming—I hated my body, and I hated the feeling of being surrounded by water. I didn’t even own a swimsuit. But my friends were in the pool, so I got in with my awkward khaki shorts and black t-shirt.

 

Inside the house, a friend pulled my sopping wet mess of a body into the bathroom and asked why I never wore makeup. I didn’t know I needed to wear makeup.

 

“You’d look soooo pretty with a little mascara!”

 

She asked if she could give me a makeover, and I obliged. On my way home from the party, stopped at a red light, a pickup truck full of guys pulled up beside my car and began whistling, nodding, and making all kinds of gestures. I’d never seen this kind of behavior before. I was 13 years old.

 

“What are they doing?” I asked my mother, who was driving.

 

“They’re looking at you. You look so much older with makeup.”

 

“Are you sure they aren’t hollering at you, Mom?” I could only hope.

 

“No, they’re definitely looking at you, Apryl. You look beautiful!” my mother replied.

 

The way my mother responded made this seem like some kind of rite of passage—like I was now finally a woman. Was I supposed to enjoy this attention? If I scowled at them or just kept staring straight ahead, would that make me a bitch? Why couldn’t I just accept a compliment? Where I should have felt safe next to my mother, I was scared, and I didn’t know why. It didn’t help that I was wrestling with self-loathing for my own sexual identity and feelings of attraction toward women.

 

This was before I was raped in high school. Before I was raped again in college. And before I could even acknowledge to myself that I was sexually abused as a toddler. Sometimes I wonder if it would’ve helped if somebody told my 13-year-old self that I didn’t deserve that unwanted attention from men, that I didn’t have to enjoy it, that the way I choose to present myself isn’t for men’s pleasure, that I had every right to feel scared and angry and scowl at them. Maybe then I wouldn’t have thought all those other times were just a normal part of life, just something I had coming to me for being a woman.

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