Onward to Happily Ever After

For months and months and months, I’ve liked this boy. You’ve probably read about it before on Serving Tea To Friends. You may be tired of hearing about it. In fact, I realized that I was getting tired of hearing about it. What was I still thinking about him for? Why was I going over and over what might be if I’d just do something? I promised myself that I’d say something, knowing full well that I’d kept my fingers crossed behind my own back. I was a champion of finding an excuse not to say or do something when we two star-crossed lovers were together. And I say ‘star-crossed’ because we do both love the stars; and surely, I thought, that love could transfer to me, made up as I am, at the most basic level, of stars.

So I never did anything but hope that it would just happen; I could work out the math later. But space science isn’t like that. And neither is love. And I probably wouldn’t have ever said anything, except Lyzi posted about what we would do if we weren’t afraid to do it. She challenged those of us in the Serving Tea To Friends community to live better, fuller lives for just one month, then report back on facing our fears.

I don’t think I would have said I was afraid to tell the someone that I liked that I liked him. I find no shame in the way I feel. But I was concerned that I’d make him uncomfortable. Or that, in an effort to prevent awkwardness, be awkward or even mean. And there was that dark unknown I had to face: what if he doesn’t like me? It was not only a possibility, but after such a long time of not dating, a real probability. If I was afraid of anything, it was how I would react to that.

But Lyzi said, seemingly directly to me, “Is it telling a romantic interest how you feel? Write him a letter. Think of all the things you could do if you weren’t afraid.” So that very night, I wrote him a letter.

Well, I wrote him an email, it being the 21st century and all.

“I really like that you like all the same things I like. And I really like how easy it is for me to talk to you, I don’t know how to explain it really, but with everyone else I am never quite sure how much they know about history/science/whatever, but we seem to be on the same level. I think. I like your friendship. [My brother] says that liking that you like all the same things I like is the same as flat out liking you. I do care very much about you and thought it was time that I said something.”

And now it is time for the updates: Sorry, dear readers, to let you down, but he doesn’t feel the same way. I know it isn’t the romantic comedy ending we were all hoping for, me more than anyone else, but it is the ending we got. He doesn’t, in so many words, like me.

The fears that I had have not reared their ugly heads. I am not devastated by the news. In fact, I am relieved. Maybe I knew all along, but hope wouldn’t let me acknowledge that truth. I finally have permission to like other people without cheating on my Tucson-based crush. And I think the friendship I still share with my ex-crush is stronger. At least, I feel better about it. All in all, I am happier for having said something.

Not everything is rainbows and kittens. Yes, I am happy. Yes, it was the right thing to do. But also, yes, I miss the imaginary life I built on morning commutes and day-dreamt afternoons. I still, for all the respect I have for his feelings and all the faith I have that I will find someone more perfect, think of him as the most compatible person for me that I have met to date (Pun?). I find myself ramming, full steam, into the immortal words of Sugar: “You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.” And bouncing off them.

There. You are updated. The boy who loves the stars back in Tucson isn’t the boy for me. I am okay with that. I am beyond glad that I faced my fears at long last. But I am in mourning nonetheless for the relationship that could have been. And scared all over again about the uncertainty of not knowing who the one is. But rather than fight that fear or bemoan the loss of perceived love, I will follow some other advice, “There are times, at least for now,when we must be content to love the questions.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson.

And that is a challenge I encourage everyone to accept.

On First Love and First Loss

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series about losing your virginity. This series was inspired by this Rookie Mag post. We hope it offers a glimpse at the experience of losing your virginity and all the complexities that come along with that. These pieces have hints of the explicit and are not for the easily offended.

I could write a post for you all about what it was like to lose my virginity, at 16, to the then-boy (though I thought man) I was sure I’d spend the rest of my life with.

I could tell you the details I remember. They are few, but stark: The green underwear I was wearing, which had an embroidered goldfish on the front. The bedroom, its captain’s bed, its navy sheets, its elaborate videogame setup and custom-built computer – trappings of a smart and spoiled boy.

But I don’t think I can write that post for you. I think that first, I have to tell you it’s hard when the person you want to eviscerate on the glowing screen in front of you has grown into a person you love and respect, a person you once wanted to hurt more than you had ever wanted anything in your short life, and whom you now want to protect and show charity and, hardest of all, forgiveness. It’s also hard when you know he’s reading this (hello, friend) and will wince with recognition at the above description of the fish underpants, which he once loved. You remember.

I have to also tell you that it’s complicated when that person you now, bafflingly and almost magically, want to protect, broke your heart into so many pieces you’re still finding them, in the wash, ground into the pulp you sweep from your floor, several homes removed, in the essays you try to write about love and sex and forgiveness. He shattered you, and most of the reason you don’t remember that momentous (or, in your hazy recollection, decidedly lackluster) occasion is that you’ve blocked huge swaths of your life with him out.

I want to tell you that I remember our first kiss better than I remember typing the above paragraph. We were in seventh grade, and our blossoming love had thus far been played out over AOL Instant Messenger, where we sent each other frantic and hot-handed messages of desire, punctuated with emoticons (so many emoticons) and the bad spelling that tries but fails to mask good, true, gut-wrenching feeling: “Luv ya.” He rode his red BMX bike to my house. I met him around the corner, wearing a navy tank top spangled with rhinestones and bell-bottomed blue jeans. He had on a yellow baseball cap which, my God, I can picture so clearly it aches. We talked, shyly. He gave me some gum. He said he had to go home. Someone leaned forward – was it me? – and we kissed, like people who knew what they were doing, from a place of great want and great maturity and great feeling. It was possibly the best first kiss in the history of great, doomed love. It was epic. He rode his bike home without touching the handlebars, arms held above his head in triumph, whooping. I know because he told me. This, you guys, was young love, but it was big love.

I want to tell you that, considering how young I was when I “Lost It,” as the kids (used to) say, we talked about it a lot, and we moved slow. Remember, we began our hot and heavy journey in the seventh grade, and this was not a slow burn. The wait was excruciating, but in the meantime, we did, as the kids also say, “other stuff.” We were good at other stuff. We lived for other stuff. I know I’ll regret writing this the second I’m a parent and have to imagine the hormones coursing through my own 13-year-old progeny, but really, 13 is the best age for other stuff. Remember how BIG everything felt at 13? Remember how raw all your nerves were, how sensitive every receptor, how the world began and ended several times a day, how great and big and wide and gaping and real you felt all the time? Now, imagine that as a physical sensation, as new and unbelievable pleasure. Yeah, it ruled.

I want to say that considering all the incredibly vivid memories I have of that kiss, of that other stuff, it’s weird how little I recall of that first time. I remember feeling brave, and weird, and vulnerable, and opened up, and safe, and beloved, and weird again. I remember not telling anyone for months because slut shaming has been alive and well at least since I was 16 and it was not something my friends were participating in yet, and then I remember the first person I told was my Orthodox, Hasidic Jewish best friend who was not even allowed to touch people of the opposite sex, but she was so ridiculously cool about it, for which I thank her and love her to this day. I remember other times, and I remember feeling more and more physically rejected as our relationship deteriorated. I remember being called fat. I remember going to sleep alone on a trip to Paris, and crying and crying at the vast distance between us in the tiny bed in the tiny hostel with a view to the glittering Eiffel Tower. I remember when I knew it was someone else, and I remember vividly, sickeningly, the first time I pictured them together, the little sigh he always let out as he vanished into a kiss, the sparkle of his very very green eyes.

What I want to tell you about today, here, now, you and also You, is not about first sex but about first love. I want to tell you how it brands you, how it scorches, how it, the good kind and the bad kind, which are one and the same, stays with you for the rest of your life. I want to tell you love is vast and important and impossible, and I want to tell you I have felt that, I have been eaten alive by that, and I have survived it. I want to tell you to kiss deeply and fuck passionately and say I love you through your tears and roar and roll your eyes and gnash your teeth with love, whether first or tenth or last, because it is powerful and necessary and dangerous and fucking PURE. I want to tell you that losing my virginity to the man who would break my heart is something that hurts every day, but something I will never regret.

It is Valuable Because it is Yours: On Firsts

New Year’s Eve, age 13

Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in a series about losing one’s virginity, inspired by this project from Rookie magazine. Earlier authors include Jess, Kate, and Gina. It’s not explicit, but probably not for the easily scandalized.

What is the perfect way to lose your virginity? Every idea about it is soaked in a long history of men deciding womens’ lives for them. It’s perfectly respectable to make a personal choice to wait until one is in a serious romantic relationship to first have sex, but often the sanctity of that choice goes unexamined. What’s the right way to do it? And when?

I have felt like I was behind in my romantic life since I was about 11. One New Year’s Eve, when I was not much older than that, my friends and I tucked resolutions into boxes we’d decorated with puffy paint and sequins. Among other vows I made for myself at that kitchen table splayed with sparkles and craft glue, I wrote this: “This year, I will be kissed.”

It didn’t happen for me that year, or any of the next eight, and I wasn’t happy about it.  I was 21 when I finally fulfilled that wish, with a man who pressed me against an adobe wall and took my face in his hands. Whiskey was involved, but laughter was too.

Unlike all the times I’d tried to plan to kiss someone, all the parties I’d scanned eagerly, the spin-the-bottle games I avoided,  or the friends of friends I’d tried to coquettishly impress, it wasn’t difficult or fraught. After all the agonized journal entries about how awful and stunted I felt because I finished three and a half years of college before sharing a kiss, it felt like the easiest thing. Though we never dated or were even really friends, I am proud that man was the first one I kissed.

Though some might think having this story out there could hurt my job prospects or be more than a little too much information, here is why I’m writing this: Because my twelve-year-old self needs to hear this. My sixteen- and eighteen- and twenty-year-old selves need to hear this. Maybe there are some girls out there like me who need to hear this. And here it is:

There is no perfect or correct way to first experience physical intimacy. There are a lot of painful and dangerous ways, but as long as you know and can protect your own body, have no shame. If you’re sixteen or twenty-one or sixty-one when you first open your mouth against someone else’s, that experience is true and real and legitimate, because it is yours.

It doesn’t matter that the average age to first kiss or fuck is years younger than you are – you are not an average. Seventeen magazine doesn’t hold the compass to your realest life. Those girls at summer camp who make you feel inadequate, to whom you lie about how many boys you’ve kissed? They don’t hold your map. The raspy-voiced girls when you are in college, the ones who casually mention their genital piercings, they have nothing to do with your timeline. They can’t say what is right. Only you can.

I first had sex less than a month after I first kissed a person on the mouth. He wore flannel and played guitar, and we met because the man I’d kissed introduced us. On the patio of that college bar, we clinked glasses and talked about the books we both loved. I was a literature major and he taught ninth-grade English, and we both loved David Foster Wallace and Catcher in the Rye. He was visiting from New Jersey for the weekend. When he left that patio I got a text: “Not every day you meet a girl who drinks whiskey and has read Infinite Jest, so I got your number from my friend. Come out with us tomorrow?” He didn’t seem like a phony.

It wasn’t a romance, and it wasn’t a transaction. It was, for me, a decision made sober and without apology. There was mutual attraction, he was smart and took me seriously. He was leaving in two days and I never had to see him again. The next night, when I took his hand at the Sonoran hot dog stand and asked him to walk me home, it was without hesitation. The day of texting we’d done about music and literature and cosmic dissonance was all the relationship I wanted or needed from him.

He didn’t know it was my first sexual experience, and I wasn’t going to tell him. Years before I had decided a penis wasn’t the ideal instrument for breaking flesh, so he didn’t have to know. He was a weird, stiff-tongued kisser, and not as good with his hands as I expected of a guitar player. Perhaps it wasn’t what I would have called the ideal, at fifteen or seventeen. But here is what I have to tell those younger desperate selves:

One day when you are twenty-one and tremendously unkissed, it will not be the end of you. Do not lament the days you thought you were the last virgin alive. One day a man who loves books like you do will unbutton his flannel against you and you will be proud to have him between your legs. Never feel like a failure, never feel like less than a woman, because of your sexual experience.

To that fifteen-year-old self, you are not better than your friends because you think you are above sexual urges. To that seventeen-year-old self, you will still have a superlative college experience though you are a tight ball of anxiety about your experience with men. It isn’t a penis you’re searching for, in those hours when it feels like no one will ever take an interest in your lips.

When it was over, it wasn’t really pleasure I felt. It wasn’t love or ecstasy, and it wasn’t pain or regret.  What it felt like was relief, a great unspooling of so many expectations I had of myself, all wound so tightly around a knot of nervousness and shame. It felt like release.

Inviting that man to walk me home and into sexual experience was perhaps not the perfect way to lose my virginity. But it was this: Authentic. Free. Mine.

Planning for Success: A Virgin Story

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series about losing your virginity. This series was inspired by this Rookie Mag post. We hope it offers a glimpse at the experience of losing your virginity and all the complexities that come along with that. These pieces have hints of the explicit and are not for the easily offended.

This post, in particular, is not safe for work.

If there is one thing that Myers-Briggs got right about me it’s that I am a judger. I organize; I structure; I plan. At any point in my life I can tell you what my schedule is for the next five minutes or the next five years. I value knowing what’s coming and being in control of my circumstances. Having a solid plan under your belt—not to mention several contingencies— is my recipe for success.

Planning takes brainpower. You gotta consider the costs and benefits of any particular action. When I was younger, the risks of sex far outweighed any potential benefits. Growing up, I watched more than one of my friends get pregnant and drop out of school, perform a “home made” abortion, or contract an STI. Who knows what my parents would have done if I’d gotten pregnant? To top it all off, everything I heard about having sex, from my mother and my friends, made it sound pretty awful, particularly if you had to sneak around.No. At 15, sex wasn’t even on my agenda. No marriage. No sex. Ever.

But even the best made plans need to be flexible. By the time I hit 18, my priorities changed. Risks went down and benefits went up. Not only was I ready for sex, I was impatient for it. I even tossed around the idea of having my high school ex-boyfriend fly across the country to help me out. Oh, yeah. I wanted it bad.

Ultimately, though, there were still risk factors to mitigate. I needed someone who I could trust, was able to stick around, and invested enough to help me through whatever psychological issues I was expecting to have. Planning requires patience. I quelled my impulses, slid sex into the schedule, and waited.

Har. See what I did there?

So I walked my virgin self to a fraternity at Georgia Tech. There, a shy nerdy man with shoulder-length dreadlocks, a lean build, and the most beautiful brown skin I had ever laid eyes on expressed his interest in me. He was quiet, observant, and jaded—my opposite, on the surface. He spent the night on our second date, but before any “funny business” happened, I laid down the facts: Not only was I a virgin, but I had never had my breasts fondled, never given a blowjob, never received oral, or, pretty much, ever been naked in a room with another man. I wasn’t just a virgin; I was Supervirgin, and I had no intention of significantly changing my state that evening. He and I crossed the first experience off of my list before cuddling up to watch a movie and falling asleep.

After agreeing that we wanted to pursue a relationship, we made a plan: No intercourse for three months. He needed to build trust as much as I did.

For three months, he and I explored corners of our sexualities with the full understanding that we didn’t have to have intercourse to be intimate. I cried the first time I gave him a blowjob because I got frustrated and my mouth was sore.  Cunnilingus was a lot messier than I had expected. In the meantime, we made all the preparations: He went and got tested for STIs; I schluffed over to an OBGYN and got a diaphragm. Together, we crossed off all the items on my “to-do” list, and even found a few more things that I hadn’t even considered doing before, all without inserting a penis into a vagina.

I am, however, also a stickler for deadlines.

Don’t get me wrong. I was having fun, but by the time our three-month marker came up, “impatient” would have been a mild word to describe me. I was ready to get ‘er done, even if I was so nervous that he felt the need to give me a full body massage before the foreplay even started. My impatience might have been the cause of our less-than-adequate plan. We didn’t really think out what position beforehand, and that’s where the trouble began.

Missionary hurt. It burned. Like someone was stretching my skin past where it was supposed to go. I tensed, he backed off. Rinse and repeat until I was so aroused and frustrated and confused that I started to cry. He lay down next to me and pulled me into his arms, telling me that we could stop for now and try later.

Um, fuck no. I hadn’t put up with three months of perpetual foreplay with the hottest guy I had ever dated to give up because I had forgotten to work out a few steps. Sometimes, a little improvisation goes a long way. I flipped myself on top of him and positioned my partner’s half-slackened penis where it felt right, determined. This time, I had control. This time, it felt better. Before I knew it, the burning sensation was just one more feeling flooding my body, giving an edge to the satisfaction as we inched closer and closer to full insertion. Eventually our hips touched, and we smiled.

My mother once advised me that my first time would be awful. She said it would be awkward, painful, and traumatizing. I shouldn’t  expect to enjoy it. Out of all the things I have proven my mother wrong about in my life, I think this is my favorite. My partner panted in time with me as I moved, tentatively at first, then boldly. I moaned. Loudly. His housemates teased me for it afterwards, but it was worth it. To this day, the sound of my partner murmuring “Oh, I think she likes it” in my ear that night is the most erotic thing I have ever heard.

I announced my lack of virginity to the world the next day by leaving a group on Facebook called “The Sexy Virgins,” and I updated my status to say “Gina Luttrell is a little sore.” I wasn’t ashamed to announce it. Having sex was never a shameful thing to me. I planned; I followed through; I got an amazing return. Who wouldn’t be proud of that? I didn’t lose my virginity. I put it aside, proudly, unabashedly, and without regret, because the next section of the agenda was beginning.

What would you do?

No fear.

Last night, I went to a talk downtown for the Portland Data Visualization group. The event was held at one of the many tech startups in town, and on one of the walls was this motivational slogan:

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

And it got me thinking. I’m a fear-motivated person; only recently did I realize this about myself. And because I talk to Anna every day, I know this about her, too. This text message conversation ensued:

Me: What would we do if we weren’t afraid?
Anna: Love harder. Jump higher. Lie less. Create more.
Me: Build. Stretch. Grow. Learn. Guess. Fail. Flourish. Conquer.
Anna: Maybe we should try this.
Me: A social experiment. A living experiment.

So we presented to each other some options for conquering our fears. I don’t wish to speak for Anna, so I won’t reveal her plan, but I am going to get rid of 50% of the things that I own. I am going to start working on a new coding project, even though it feels impossible. I’m going to ask my boss when we are going to do a progress review. I’m going to talk to my roommates about some of my concerns about our co-habitation situation.

I’m going to start living my life in a way that is best for me, regardless of how afraid I am to do so. And I would like to present this challenge to you, dear STTF readers, as well.

What are you afraid of? Is it snakes? Go to the zoo and hold one. Is it asking for a raise? Set up a meeting with your boss. Is it telling a romantic interest how you feel? Write him a letter. Think of all the things you could do if you weren’t afraid.

Then go do them.

We want to motivate you. Leave a comment here listing something, anything, you’re going to do in the next month to conquer your fears. Come back and give us updates, I’ll do the same, and we’ll start conquering our fears together. We are strong, incredible young people. We have the whole world ahead of us, but only if we take it. So let’s take it.

Does it Really Matter if Chick-Fil-A had a Change of Heart?

So, apparently this happened:

(Links to Huffington Post article)

I raised my eyebrow when I saw this. My hometown Baptist caterer of Jesus Chicken isn’t exactly known for its flexible attitude. See, I had known about CFA’s questionable political donations long before the huge kerfuffle earlier this year. CFA is a private entity, so all I could do was proclaim that I wouldn’t be giving my money to them for them to pass on to people who chose to lobby to deny people of their rights. I know how stubborn Baptists can be, so I fully expected the Cathy family to stand by their principles until the company folded as the world moved forward. So, yeah. I was surprised.

You know, I just might.

More surprising, though, was the lack of fervor this seemed to generate among my friends; I thought they’d be happy to see their boycotting efforts had prevailed. But, alas. It’s easy, in light of a company’s blatant disregard for a group of people, to get your righteous anger on and spew all over the internet. It’s harder to manage that anger and consider forgiving.

Because I am an optimist, though, let’s consider the best case scenario: Chick-Fil-A decides to clean up its internal hostile practices against gay people and cease funding “traditional” marriage and family groups. Woot. Say they do this only because they want more money and not because they genuinely care about LGBT equality—should we go back to sucking down lemonade out of giant styrofoam cups?

Absolutely. In fact, we should be encouraged that Chick-Fil-A is so responsive to its customers. It tells us several positive things:

  1. There are enough people in America who care about LGBT equality to put a significant dent in the CFA profit margin.
  2. We have the ability to affect institutions in our society that we don’t have a vote in.
  3. CFA employees, managers, and operators get the opportunity to interact with people of the LGBT community directly, and, thus, the opportunity to change their hearts as well as their actions.
  4. Most importantly, that money isn’t going to be going to the aforementioned groups. Wasn’t that the point?

It doesn’t particularly matter whether the bully who has been beating me up stops because the teacher forced the issue or if it’s because the bully suddenly likes me. Action makes a bully, not thought. As long as bad actions have stopped, we should be satisfied.

So, Chick-Fil-A, take some preliminary congratulations. You’ve taken your first step to a whole other level of profit margin, and, hopefully, acceptance. But know this: We’ve got our eyes on you.

Why I’ve Never Felt Like A Real Redhead

There’s a mistake on my driver’s license. I’m listed as a blond, but I got my license when I was 16 years old and a full-fledged ginger. My natural hair color is strawberry blond, and this fell through the cracks somewhere between me doing my driver’s test victory dance and filling out DMV paperwork, but I don’t think it happened on accident. I’m not a redhead at heart and have never liked the clownish, perpetually greasy locks cascading down my back.

Of course, my look had to come from somewhere, and I wasn’t dumb enough to choose it for myself. A Catholic from New Jersey, my dad was 100 percent Irish. My mother, a lifelong Californian and former beauty pageant finalist, comes from a long line of Romanian Jews. I hit the jackpot by getting my mom’s towering height and willowy, sylphlike body type, but was unfortunate to inherit my dad’s pasty skin tone, freckles, and red hair. I was the only one out of my Irish grandmother’s thirteen grandkids to sprout red hair, and while a lot of adults told me that the difference made me “special and pretty,” it actually made me a pariah in my own family, and as a social outcast at school, I didn’t need to feel like a weirdo among relatives, too.

My seventh grade year book photo. Livin’ the dream!

At the end of the third grade, my teacher bought each student a book that reminded her of that particular child. I eagerly awaited the novel distribution for weeks, certain I’d receive something thrilling such as “Matilda,” a story about a precocious, magical avid reader, or hilarious like “The BFG.” When she finally arrived at my table though, she dropped Judy Blume’s “Freckle Juice” onto my notebook, sending my classmates into hysterics and me into full-mortification mode.

I’d been raised to say “thank you” and demonstrate graciousness, but my educator of a year had just reduced me to my appearance and provided more ammo for bullies. Weren’t adults supposed to know better than that? Not her, apparently. So I expressed disgust — at my teacher for being clueless and highlighting the very attribute of mine that my classmates loved to laugh about, at my parents for refusing to let me wear a blond wig to school (I was only allowed to do this on outings to the mall, where I of course raised many eyebrows), and at my peers for being intolerant and cruel. Most of all, I despised Ms. Hamilton, but she wasn’t alone in pushing me to embrace my physical differences. Grown-ups were the only ones who treated me with kindness, but it enraged me when they’d argue that I was lucky to have red hair.

See? I was the only ginger in the entire class! You can guess which third grader is me.

Even as a baby, I disliked being a redhead!)

“Do you know how much money people pay to look like you?” my blond, ex-model mother would say.

“They can have my hair for free,” I’d respond. ” I hate it.”

But because I was just “so blessed” to look like a freak among my blond and brunette classmates, my parents forbade me from getting highlights. I’d spend hours outside every day, praying that the sun would lighten my stringy hair. It never happened, so one day I dumped hydrogen peroxide on my head, waiting for the fiery tint to disappear. It worked instantaneously, but faded within days. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only ginger who wanted different DNA. Two years ago, I met and high-fived “Stuff White People Like” writer Christian Lander, who agreed life as a redhead is anything but smooth sailing.

“We’re actually mutants, you know,” he said, adding that us redheads are going extinct. I’m okay with that, as I don’t want my future children to be prime candidates for skin cancer, called “soul-less,” or fall victim to “Kick a Ginger Day” attacks. It wasn’t until I became the victim of constant bullying that my mother agreed let me do it the right way and get blond highlights, and soon after I adjusted to the look, I felt at home.

As a child, I wanted nothing more than to spend my days at the pool and running around with my friends. I did this a lot in Los Angeles, where I spent the first nine years of my life, but with limitations. During camp trips to the waterpark, I was required to wear a shirt over my swimsuit. If you’ve ever tried to swim with a shirt on, you know it hinders the whole experience and prevents you from playing any type of water sport. For a little kid, that’s the end of the world. Let’s not forget that I also had to lather on SPF 50 sunblock every hour, a task that can be tough for a hyper elementary-schooler to remember. The more I hung out in the sun, the more I became sunburned, or worse, freckled. At the insistence of my parents, the daycare center assigned a supervisor to watch me at all times, making it impossible for me to be a free-spirited youngster. My peers tore through the pool and engaged in all sorts of water games while I dipped my feet in the shallow end, doing all I could to dodge the buzzing bees zooming through the air. Unlike the other campers, I couldn’t escape the potentially deadly bugs by throwing my whole body into the water. It was too uncomfortable with clothes on.

The problems didn’t stop at communal swimming areas, either. Hats weren’t allowed at my southern California private school, but I had to wear one to protect my scalp. Teachers often scolded me for it until I yanked off the itchy fabric and revealed my hair color.

“Redhead,” they’d say, turning on their heels. “Got it.”

But I haven’t always eschewed my half-Irish roots. Like most people, I experienced a grungy, haggard phase in college, when I went on a four-year hiatus from highlights, gained twenty pounds, and ate 800-calorie scones five times a week. It was both liberating and disgusting to care so little about my appearance, but after graduation, I knew I needed a semblance of professionalism to land a job, so I grew out my bangs, broke up with blueberry scones and late-night snacks, and got full blond highlights again. I visit the salon every two months or so now, and little satisfies me more than being referred to as “the blond girl” by strangers or new people.

On a bus in Italy.

Ideally, a person with my delicate features would live his or her life in Seattle, where vampires hide out and the sun doesn’t shine, but nothing about that fits my personality. Having gone to college in blazing hot Arizona and spent the first eighteen years of my life in the Golden State, I need extreme heat to be happy, and sadly the sun is more destructive than beneficial to pale faces like me.

A California girl in all senses of the term, I should have been born a blond who bronzes easily, and while I can pass for a yellow-haired girl at certain angles, there’s no denying my vulnerable complexion, quite possibly the worst part of the ginger package (aside from hearing gross genitalia jokes every once in a while). I can continue purchasing highlights a couple times a year, but nothing is worse than literally feeling uncomfortable in your own skin.

Of Condoms, Gravity, and Love

Editor’s note: This post is from a series about losing your virginity. This series was inspired by this Rookie Mag post. We hope it offers a glimpse at the experience of losing your virginity and all the complexities that come along with that. These pieces have hints of the explicit and are not for the easily offended.

Losing my virginity was an incredibly normal event. My Mom taking me to church to tell me that Santa Clause wasn’t real was a more traumatic affair (“WHAT ABOUT THE TOOTH FAIRY?!” was my overly-loud response from the back of the pews). Getting Beanie Babies as gifts after I scored goals in my childhood soccer games was more fulfilling than my first bedpost notch—Scottie the Scottish Terrier was my first (Beanie Baby, that is). In fact, I anticipated writing the follow-up romantic email to my boyfriend MORE than the sex that necessitated the email.

Losing my virginity was, in a word, boring. I was at my boyfriend’s house and it was summer time. At that point, we’d been together maybe about eight months and were, of course, in love. I didn’t know anything about anything when it came to sex except that there should be a condom, the girl goes on top (because gravity “helps keep those suckers down”), and that you have to be in love. We didn’t know to check the expiration date of the condom (a moot issue in the end, as even if wasn’t expired, the latex was probably warped from sitting in the glove box of his car during Phoenix summers). I was 15 and had seen enough in my Cosmo magazines about the wiley ways of the “cowgirl.” And we were, of course, eversomuch in love.

Anyway, it was summer, we had a condom, we were in love, and I got on top. I knew it would hurt because I had done my research. It always hurt the girl and it was always ecstatic for the boy (thank you, Cosmo). I didn’t expect it to hurt the way it did, though. I felt nauseated: no sharp pain, no hemorrhaging, no ripping. In fact, I became very nervous that I might throw up on him and my palms got very, very clammy. So clammy that I slipped and nearly cracked his chest open with my skull. Risking physics, we switched positions and he got on top. That’s when I learned that methodical, rocking movements also nauseate me.

Suffice it to say, it was a very short affair and I am now the victim of motion sickness and varying degrees of vertigo. I don’t know if having sex during high school, having sex when I was young, or having sex when I wasn’t mature enough messed around with my relationships. I have always wondered how my boyfriend remembers it—how any of the boyfriends whose V-cards I swiped remembered their first times with me. I wonder if it hurt for them, if they wanted to throw up.

I am proud to say that the sexy times has turned into a much more pleasant experience, and continues to be so as I learn more facts about keeping my body healthy. I delight in having “the talk” with my partners about what our game plan would be if the shit hits the fan (embryo-formation wise). I like learning about new contraceptives (someday, male BCP, someday), ways to detect STD’s (did you know that trichomoniasis looks like the foam from your Starbucks lattes?), and being so completely comfortable with someone that we can talk about preventative measures, testing dates, and sexual health.

You will never look at this the same way

I wish I had known – REALLY known – what sex appeal meant when I was 15, but I guess I needed the adventures to experience the follow-up.

Why are People Such Jerks about Food?

I should print this out and give it out to haters

I read Kate’s post last week about being a “chicken vegetarian,” and I found myself nodding in agreement. However, I loves me some meat. I eat paleo, which means I consume only meat, fruits, veggies, and nuts (I also tack on dairy). But even though I scarf down steak like a red-blooded American, I still get condescending remarks and “concerns” about my health. I’m pretty much ready for it to stop. Like, yesterday.

Obese and overweight people encounter this phenomenon all the time, and I’m sad to say it’s not just them. For thin people it’s the “eat a sandwich” movement. I’m neither of those things, and I still get it. It’s like everyone has a degree in nutrition they didn’t tell me about. So what’s the deal?

It’s not because these people care so much about the health of everyone around them. If it were, they’d kindly sit down the girl who chokes down six Red Bulls during the day. They wouldn’t be tolerant of the people who regularly come to work hungover. In fact, it’s more common to see contests with regards to these habits, to see who can abuse their bodies better than their friends.

When it comes right down to it, I think that, unlike our consumption of religion, politics, music, or sex, where most people recognize that there’s not one right way to do things, people tend to think that there is only a narrow set of foods to eat. The government Society has been selling us one diet since we were children, and we think that, since that information is based on government agricultural subsidies science, much like two plus two, there can only be one answer. This brings us to:

SOMEONE’S a little judgmental

News Flash #1

Scientists (and their work) don’t always agree. In fact, they more frequently disagree than agree. For just about every scientific study that comes out there are five others that produce different results. This puts your diet in just the same amount of flux as any other aspect of your life. You are not so right.

News Flash #2

Human bodies are different! If I proclaimed that no one ought to drink milk, you’d look at me funny—and for good reason. Not everyone is lactose intolerant. What constitutes an effective diet is going to differ based on genetics, psychology, and environment. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

We are lucky enough to live in a society that supports all manner of diets. We have a wealth of food available to us. Every person gets to choose what works best for them, just like our religions, philosophies, politics, and sex.

So, please, stop telling me that I’m going to die at 32 because bacon constitutes 30% of my lunch that day. You’re not a nutritionist, and even if you were I’d tell you that I feel great and that you can kindly fuck off. Henceforth, I will just assume you’re jealous of my food. Sucker.

This One Time, When I Was a Virgin …

Editor’s note: This post serves as, hopefully, the first in a series about losing your virginity. This series was inspired by this Rookie Mag post. We hope it offers a glimpse at the experience of losing your virginity and all the complexities that come along with that. These pieces have hints of the explicit and are not for the easily offended.

When I was in high school, I hung out with a pretty sheltered group of kids. We were the theatre and band kids, and not the sexually active kind. I was a lot more promiscuous than I ever told any of them. When asked the question “Will you wait until you are married to have sex?” I, like the realist I’ve always been, said, “Gosh, that sounds like a lovely and romantic thing to do, but I don’t think it’s a realistic expectation to put on myself.” This was appalling to most of the people I hung out with because abstinence-only education taught my friends and me that sex before marriage would lead to an inevitable STD upon first penetration.

The other thing that separated me from my friends and their sexual journeys was this huge secret I was keeping. I was feeling the feels for my best friend, and, oh yeah, she was a lady. It was one more complication on top of all the talk of boyfriends and losing your virginity. The desire I felt strongest, and still feel today, was this yearning for a connection with someone. I wanted so badly to fit in with that image of being in high school with a boyfriend and exploring bodies in an innocent high school way, but that wasn’t meant to be my story.

In my pursuit of this partner, I took to the only social media outlet available to me as a senior in high school: MySpace. The ultimate resource for everything from booty calls to all those STDs I mentioned earlier. I went out with about a dozen guys, trying to explore my sexuality and understand why I always felt so different from my female peers. I had some pretty terrible dates and admittedly put myself in some dangerous situations because meeting people on the internet in 2005 was not ideal. This is where I met the guy who would take my virginity.

His name was Oliver, which was so charming to me, and he was a red-headed scrawny college guy. We had chatted for a few weeks until he was in town from his fabulous college life to visit with his parents, so we seized the opportunity to meet in person for the first time.

I don’t recall going into this date with the intention of losing my virginity, but that’s how it went. We met in the Safeway parking lot because I like to keep things classy. He went in to buy us alcohol while I waited in the car, which was so cool to my 18-year-old self. He came out with the only thing I could suggest he grab: Smirnoff Ice, the high schoolers’ go-to adult beverage. Then we drove out to the middle of the desert for some privacy, lively banter, and booze.

Now, I know what you are thinking: “Jess. Are you telling me that you drove out to the desert in the middle of the night with a stranger and a six pack of Smirnoff Ice on purpose? Did that not strike you as a potentially bad thing to do?” Frankly, no. It sounded like a dangerous thing to do, but I was looking for that experience.

What began in that Safeway parking lot was hardly the safest way to go about losing my virginity, but Oliver was really a nice guy. He didn’t come with expectations. Up until that point, I’d never had more than a glass of wine at my cousin’s wedding, so three Smirnoff Ices put me well over my limit. We talked in the front seat of my car, and he suggested we move to the back. I knew what that meant, and recall feeling ready for it. There wasn’t much to talk about once we positioned ourselves in the backseat of my car. I don’t think there was a discussion of the status of my virginity, but by the end of the night, it was unquestionably out the window of the claustrophobic backseat of my Honda Civic.

Looking back on this experience, I can honestly say I have no regrets. The loss of that virginity felt inconsequential compared to the first time I slept with a woman. It was a test, an answer to some questions. So, why wouldn’t I just consider the first time I slept with a woman to be my actual “first time?”

First times are a hard thing to decipher when you are challenging the norms of sexuallity. I may technically have two sets of first times, but the actual first time was the first time I took my clothes off in front of someone else. It was the first time someone attempted to please me. It was the first time I made myself vulnerable sexually to another person. Regardless of his gender, this was my “first time,” and I’ll always remember it as such.