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I feel like I’ve been punked

Growing up in a Muslim Bangladeshi immigrant household in the United States, I had happily believed that I would finally get to be happily married in my twenties, and experience all of the bliss, romance and pleasure that would come with it. I am reminded of that one SpongeBob meme where Patrick and SpongeBob are running happily outside while SquidWard watches them from one of the tiny windows in his house, depicting longing and FOMO on his part.

I feel like SquidWard in this case, when I think about my middle school and high school where I felt a twinge of longing and sadness, seeing my peers dating, going to prom, having boyfriends, being desired in the first place by boys as I was restricted from dating. The thing is, I didn’t even entertain dating behind my parents’ back. It was out of my own duty and religious conviction to God first and foremost to save dating only for when I was seriously considering getting married. However, if I did date behind my parents’ back, I know that back then, I would be riddled with immense guilt. Perhaps a lot of the religious guilt was heavily influenced by family-based guilt, where I felt like I was doing something extremely bad for dating and even just flirting with a guy. I felt like I was betraying my family– particularly my mom.

I can pinpoint to one traumatic event in seventh grade that is a significant source of these heavy, debilitating feelings:

In middle school I had a huge crush on a boy. In sixth grade, I had multiple classes with him, and barely ever spoke a word to him. I was already incredibly shy and reserved and had a very low self esteem, and barely had any friends in middle school to begin with. I also had a diary where I wrote about him often. I thought that I hid this diary and its contents very well, hiding underneath my cotton granny panties in my underwear drawer.

Unfortunately, this diary was comprised of loose leaf paper held together by a spiral, and I found out that one of the pages had fallen out the hard way.

An aunty dropped me off home after a cross country practice, and everything seemed normal. The house was clean and peaceful, perhaps there was a candle lit somewhere, but perhaps my memory is conjuring this up. I also remember that my mom was wearing a red top that day.

I came to the kitchen counter, and my mom asked me how everything was just as normal. And then, almost out of nowhere, my mom said that she knew about Riley (name has been changed to protect privacy).

This day would set course for an incredibly emotionally painful period of time for me. There was this heaviness in my stomach, that I now know to be shame, that would take residence for a really long time. There would be times that I would forget about it, but it would keep coming back up.

I felt exposed. Violated, like really private depths of me were brought to the surface. Private, deep, deep parts of me that I never intended for my parents to see.

Sexuality, feelings of attraction to the opposite gender were a huge taboo in our household. I had talked about Riley with some of my Bengali friends outside of school and even a few popular girls at school that I had an interesting love-hate relationship with. But it felt incredibly intimate and incredibly strange to have my parents in the know about my sexuality, even it was just a simple crush on a boy, let alone talking about it with them.

A few weeks prior to this incident, I remember my mom exploring religion-based websites on the large computer we kept in the kitchen. She looked at me and then said, unprompted, “you can’t have any crushes” to which I grumbled “I know.” As an adult, I know how ridiculous this statement was. And now my mom would agree with me. Again, the topic of sexuality was already such an uncomfortable, unspoken one, yet my mom was bringing it up as she told me that I wasn’t “allowed” to have crushes. My annoyed response had less to do with her restricting me and telling me that I wasn’t allowed to do something, and it had more to do with her bringing attention to this part of me, my sexuality– attraction to the opposite gender– that was so incredibly intimate and personal, something that was supposed to have been kept private. Though of course, I know now what a ridiculous expectation it was to tell someone that they’re not allowed to have crushes, which would require them to not have a sexuality, as if that’s something they could control. I can only wonder how much worse things would have been if my attraction was not towards the opposite gender.

In both the computer scenario and the diary incident, the thing that made me feel so bad, so shameful, was not just the fact that she knew I had a crush. It was the fact that she knew I had a sexuality at all– let alone explicitly, acknowledging it and discussing it from what she read from a single page in my diary that had apparently fallen loose.

The discussion that followed in the kitchen didn’t involve yelling or screaming. My mom in a matter of fact tone in combination with disappointment lectured me for a while, telling me about how this stuff wasn’t allowed. The page from my diary was filled with my excitement over how Riley “really, really” liked me back, because of X, Y and Z thing and just me gushing like a middle school girl (because, you know, I was). And in reality, this was all that this was– gushing. I don’t know if Riley liked me back or not, especially given that I hadn’t actually talked to him a whole lot. He wasn’t even my friend– he was a peer at most.

I remember my mom telling me how upset my dad would be if he finds out, which I really, really did not want to happen. It was less about him being angry, and more about the fear of feeling exposed in the acknowledgment of my sexuality. I don’t know if my mom ever told him, but it was never brought up from his end.

After this incredibly uncomfortable conversation ended, I went up to my room– seeing that lone page from my diary on top of my dresser. Soon after, I ended up ripping up the rest of the pages from my diary that discussed Riley, desperate to scatter them into unreadable pieces as I threw them away in my bathroom trash.

That conversation only lasted about an hour, but that rock of shame in my stomach lasted months. It manifested as guilt for “accidentally flirting” with guys or for unconsciously seeking their attention throughout middle school and the beginning of high school.

I felt a deep sense of loyalty to my parents that required me rejecting my sexuality; however, thankfully in high school I started to reclaim bits of it and even moreso in college.

I don’t wish that kind of pain I experience in seventh grade from that diary incident on anyone. Not only was that incredibly hard for me to deal with on its own, but I was also battling loneliness at school from not fitting which no doubt came from my low self esteem at the time. It also didn’t help that I was really struggling to keep up at school, blaming myself for being lazy and not trying enough for not being able to meet the exceptional academic performance standards that my parents sort of just expected me to meet and figure out on my own. I was also becoming distant from my Bengali best friends, who I did not get to see very often and I was also being compared to some of them, too. I was experiencing a lot of emotional neglect, lacking emotional support and belonging that I so desperately needed at the time.

This loneliness became a basis of a norm for me throughout middle school and high school. I started to challenge it in college and beyond when my environment changed and I was able to build up my confidence and self esteem both internally and through the external resources that I previously did not have access to.

Post college, it’s still something I’m working on navigating as I figure out how to create and sustain meaningful relationships as an adult in her mid/late twenties. I want to write more about what specifically I am navigating and how in order to make room for things like genuine love and human connection in another blog post, so that this one doesn’t become too long.

I feel like I’ve been punked when it comes to what I was taught about romantic relationships and marriage. I was taught that if I was a good girl, if I made sure not to be promiscuous or even just date and have a boyfriend, if I just stayed single and saved sex and kissing and romance before marriage, then I would be happily married to another good guy who did the same.

But I know how flawed and dangerous this thinking is now.

I also want to acknowledge the good parts that I got from intending to save sex and romance for marriage. I saved myself from a lot of heartbreak and empowered myself to have high standards when it comes to romantic relationships and romantic love. It is really important to me that I am loved for who I am and that the man I have sex with is in a committed relationship with me. At 26, I’ve still never had sex and I haven’t been in a real relationship, even though I’ve been on several dates. I’m glad that I’ve kept high standards that feel right to me in which I honor my emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual needs and respect my body, mind and soul in ways that are authentic to me and aligned with what is important to me.

However, it is detrimental and outright dangerous even to believe that me “saving myself” will nearly guarantee that God will give me a good man. It is also detrimental in the context of purity culture, where I fear that I will be tainted and give up ownership of myself if I do have sex with someone I do not end up with. There is so much unconscious pressure to make sure I don’t make a mistake in choosing the right partner and entertaining the right kinds of men to date. Although I am no longer religious and shift between whether or not I believe in God, I still honor the sexual boundaries that I created from previous religous influence. Although I’m not sure if I’ll wait until marriage per say, I definitely value sex as a celebration of intended long term commitment.

I thought that by my early twenties, I would finally be rewarded for waiting so long. Finding the right person is so much harder than I thought– especially now with how rampant hookup culture is and with alpha male incel culture plaguing so many men. And that’s not even considering finding someone that is actually compatible with you, considering that this person is a good person with whom you have romantic and sexual chemistry.

I’ve been punked because of how simple and easy I thought it would be. How I would finally have been experiencing the pleasure I’ve been craving and seeing other people freely enjoying from my teen years, with them not having the same external cultural restrictions and internal guilt-based restrictions that I had.

But back to that positive note, I am proud of myself and grateful for having been influenced to take ownership of my own body. To take ownership of my pleasure in alignment with my high standards, not compromising the kind of connection I crave, need and deserve to safety enjoy sex– even if I haven’t been able to experience it a man yet. I’m proud of my journey to take ownership of my sensuality and sexuality through my self expression, through dancing for my eyes only, reading romance/smut novels and stories that help me immerse myself in connection to myself and my primal and soul desires. I’m proud of myself for rejecting that anybody but myself owns my access to my pleasure. It’s a journey that I’m still on, and that I know many other brown adult women are on, too.

Taking back ownership of my pleasure isn’t only tied to sex– it’s tied to the very core of my being. Sex is just one element of it. But as I take back ownership of my creativity removing guilt and shame that were implanted in me for existing openly, authentically, I remove barriers from my sexual and sensual pleasure. And as I empower myself sexually and sensually, I get better and better at creating and expressing myself intellectually, emotionally, humanly.

The more I see and hear myself in all facets of my authenticity, the better I get at loving myself and deepening my self worth. And the more I deepen my self worth, removing shame and guilt that were taught to me and kept me gatekept from myself, the better I get at expressing myself unapologetically.

The more my soul glows, and the more I am able to be led my it.

Because of the inherent shame that was tied to my sexuality, where my sexuality was something owned my men, by my parents, someone else, I saw it as something bad that disconnected me from my full personhood. But now taking back ownership of my sexuality, I understand that my sexuality on my terms is a deep, beautiful part of who I am in its sensual nature. My sexuality and sensuality are integral parts of my very being, of my soul, of my genuineness– not at odds against it.

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