By Dr. Herukhuti
When I tell people that I started having sex when I was in first grade, people usually in one of two ways. They either are in disbelief or concern for me. Among the former, they ask “what kind of sex could you have at six or seven years old?” Among the latter, “where you sexually abused?” Both forms of response emerge out of a belief system that does not have space for the sexual agency of children, belief systems that deny children’s capacity for and right of sexual desire, interest or pleasure. There is little room to discuss healthy human sexual development from birth without risking the label of sexual deviant. Yet, if those advocated of the born-this-way approach to sexual identity development are right, then sexual development must begin at least as early as birth.
When I explain that my sexual experiences at six or seven years old were with my best friend, a boy who lived in the building adjacent to mine–our bedroom windows facing each other in the alley, and the daughter of my mother’s friend/co-worker who came home with me after school to wait for her mother to pick her up, I see their eyes wide in curiosity added to their disbelief or concern. What kind of sex did I have with each of them? A mix of oral sex and frottage. While I don’t remember being able to conceive of the idea of loving either of them in a romantic way, I did value and enjoy their presences in my life and I deeply enjoyed the sex we shared.
Many bi* people (i.e., bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, non-monosexual, and fluid identified people) and to a lesser extent gay, lesbian and heterosexual people have experienced rape or sexual assault as involuntary early sexual debuts or incidents that happen later in life. In his recent memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, NYT columnist and Black bisexual man Charles M. Blow describes the pain of his experience of childhood rape:
“I was engulfed in an irrepressible rage. Everything in me was churning and pumping and boiling. All reason and restraint were lost to it…. The scene from the night when I was 7 years old kept replaying in my mind: waking up to him pushed up behind me, his arms locked around me, my underwear down around my thighs. The weight of the guilt and grieving that followed. The years of the bullying designed to keep me from telling — and the years of questioning my role in his betrayal…. Bawling and with the heat of my anguish being released into the winter air, I reviewed my simple plan: walk into the house, find Chester, and shoot him in the head as many times as possible. No arguing. No explanation. Done….
That night, I forced myself to come to terms with some things. Chester had done damage, but he didn’t deserve to die for what he had done, and I deserved to live in spite of it.
I had to stop hating Chester to start loving myself. Forgiveness was freedom. I simply had to let go of my past so that I could step into my future.
Yes, the mark that Chester’s betrayal had left on my life was likely to be permanent, but blaming him for the whole of the difference in my emerging sense of sexual identity, while convenient, was most likely not completely accurate. Abusers don’t necessarily make children different, but rather, they are diabolically gifted at detecting difference, often before the child can see it in him or herself.”
There is a certain level of privilege in experiencing sexual pleasure from my earliest moments of sexuality from a place of consent and agency–at least as much consent and agency that I had as a Black bisexual boy from a working class family could have. I knew our sex was forbidden because we were children. It didn’t matter that one of them was male or the other female. I knew that as children our sex lives were impermissible by adult mandate. It would be later in my youth that I confronted the added taboo placed upon male-male sexual experience.
I would hide my desires for males from family and friends until I was in college. Then disclosing it to my fraternal brothers one-by-one like some devastating secret shared to seal our bond–for if they held this secret of mine with me, our brotherhood would be solidified. I can look back at that time, with the clarity, maturity and experience that I have in the present moment, and see the mix of pathos, eros, and agape.
It would be when I began my first adult relationship with a woman shortly before leaving college that I began to embrace my sexual desires for men. With her encouraging challenge, I started to own all of my desires. Through owning my desires, I learned so much about sexual energy, the Erotic as power, and sensuality. I became the embodiment of sexual energy and learned how to use it as a healing practice. My ability to share sexual pleasure, sensuality and the Erotic with people across various genders allowed me to appreciate the need for sensuality and connection that many but not all of us have. Shout out to my asexual peeps.
I became a sacred whore what is disparagingly referred to in certain misogynist and sex-negative Hip Hop contexts as THOT (that ho over there). In a society the exploits and commodifies sex, it is politically charged to claim the role of THOT or whore, even a sacred whore. Due to the hypersexualized representations of bi* people, particularly women, in the media, as a bi* person it is quite difficult to do so. Bi* activists and others want to resist actions by other bi* people that play to the stereotype. But self-determination requires us to own our desires and place in this world regardless of how it is reflected in the misrepresentations created and used to marginalize us. Liberation can not be at the expense of personhood.
So for Bisexual Awareness Week and today’s theme, “My #bisexuality looks like,” I offer this (re)presentation of what my bisexuality looks like. It may not look like yours nor what you would like bisexuality to look like but it is mine. I own it and live it. And now I’m off to speak at the bisexual awareness training at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and tonight’s Human Rights Campaign panel discussion, Supporting and Caring for Our Bisexual Youth.