What I’ve learned from keeping a little black book

LBB2_Gleason
Jessica Gleason/Staff

Technically, it’s a little pink book. Several weeks ago, I purchased it at Daiso. I’d had an irritatingly bad hook-up a few days before, and I like any writer, I felt the need to document it. They didn’t have the tiny black leather notebook I had envisioned, but they did have a sparkly pink one, and that seemed a more appropriate setting in which to journal my sexual exploits. I wanted this book to be a celebration.

Since then, I’ve filled its cramped pages with my sexual history. It’s full of details: my sexual partners and experiences, names, where I met them, what the sex was like, and any other interesting parts of the story I could remember. Anecdotes range from sweet — “Was crush from fifth grade onwards!!” to mundane — “Used condoms every time,” to ridiculous — “Claimed gypsies threatened him to excuse cheating.” (Yes, that really happened. No, I did not believe him.)

While I’m fond of many of these memories, some of these things have not been easy to write. There’s a whole chapter of my little book that chronicles nonconsensual sex that has been forced upon me, that I keep toward the back of the book and separate from the details of my other sexual encounters. It’s important to me that this chapter remains separate, because while it factors into my sexual history, I don’t think it “counts” in the same way. While nearly a third of women experience sexual assault as undergraduates, in a society that regularly tells victims that “they were asking for it,” I think that it is important to make that distinction.

I refuse to allow that a penis I didn’t want count as a “sexual partner.” There is no partnership in rape; rape is not sex. I wrote down everything I could remember, things too painful to say aloud, and I hid it toward the back of the book so I wouldn’t have to look at it. It’s present, it has to be, but banishing it to the back of the book is satisfying. This chapter is also separate because it pains me to see the names of people who have assaulted me on the same page as the names of people I have loved, despite the indelible marks that rape printed on my subsequent relationships.

Another result of this visual format is that it has shown me how much love I have given with my sex. The pages of this book are filled with frantic, crabbed writing after almost every name, and some partners get asterisks next to their names because they played such significant roles in my life. There are a lot more stars than not. This book has made me appreciate how lucky I am to have experienced so much love. It’s hard to feel like there’s shame in that.

Hidden somewhere in the middle, there is a list of sexual goals for the immediate future. These goals are an ambitious amalgamation of numbers, names, acts, places and groupings that represent things I want to do, barring shame and fear. “Don’t sleep with anyone twice who didn’t make you cum the first time!” is near the top, and so far that one has been going well.

Another result of this visual format is that it has shown me how much love I have given with my sex. The pages of this book are filled with frantic, crabbed writing after almost every name, and some partners get asterisks next to their names because they played such significant roles in my life.

At the bottom of my list of goals is a wishful aspiration, “Don’t get raped again.” It fills me with a pang of sadness everytime I look at it, because it shouldn’t be there, but it is the one I hold onto with the most vigor. On the page, at least it’s dramatically outnumbered. This book contains my fears and my history, but it also contains my hopes. Part of my own personal journey of recovering from sexual violence has been to rid myself of the shame, guilt and fear that sex often holds for me. Even writing these things down is a bit scary. Some of them I’ve already ticked off, and the collected check marks on that list feel amazing.

To be honest, each new entry feels amazing even if the experience itself was “meh.” Keeping a record is an act of defiance. When you’re told day after day that your worth as a human being inversely correlated to how many dicks you have had inside you, when you are told that no one would ever love you if they knew the things you’ve done, when people use the label “slut” as justification for the removal of the right to your own body, I think it is important to keep a record. That oppressive narrative contends that my sexual history is a shameful secret, a dangerous truth that could destroy me. Moving on from these fears, writing down the damning evidence feels like giving that logic the finger. My truth is laid out in these pages, and that gives me ownership of it rather than the other way around. It is tangible and unerasable; its very existence tells that voice, “I am not afraid of you.”

In my book, I can criticize the experiences that I haven’t had control over, I can decide which chapter they belong in, and through my analysis, I can take back some of this control. No one can call me a liar, I don’t have to protect anyone’s ego, I can count my partners on numbered pages and  in chapters — and in the pages of my little book, I can decide what matters, what doesn’t, and only I can judge it.

 

.