Reclaiming my Voice
By Catherine Rosso
I was born to a pastor and his wife in 1985 in Central New York. My father stated his church was non-denominational but also had Pentecostal roots. My parents met in the Bible School they taught in together and were engaged their 2nd date, which they felt was planned and set up by the Holy Spirit. My perception of their beginnings as a couple, is that they were two lonely people with big ideas and plans on how God was going to use their lives to change “the nations”, as they called it. They believed they had a “calling” on their lives and being married was part of that calling. I don’t feel sexual attraction or chemistry had much to do with their decision to marry each other.
Being the child of this specific father and mother meant that church attendance on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings was not an option. I attended a baptist school from grades K-12. We had to do family devotions, church activities, and were only allowed to have christian friends. Other parents praise their children after they make a painting, win a game, or tie their shoes, we were affirmed any time we spoke in tongues, raised our hands in worship, or kneeled at the alter. My father was very emotional and an easily-tempered man. My father was the true idea of a traditional and insecure man who could only see things black and white. A real woman was submissive and meek and enslaved. If you were not this, than you were less of a woman and not appealing to a man, which I was told many times. I was told “no man will ever want you if don’t change”. Our dinner times were accompanied by my father lecturing and criticizing my mother, if I interrupted or responded to this he would speedily come over to my side of the table and slap me across my arms and body. We were given a list of interests we were allowed to be interested in and sex was not on the list. Everything was handled with aggression, verbal abuse, and hitting. My voice was taken away, and with it my right to be curious about things and feel new things.
My mom was very un-intune to herself and others emotionally. Her activities in the church and home defined her. If she wasn’t doing, she was nothing. Anything overly emotional or confrontational was corrected or disapproved of and the conversation was changed quickly by her. She taught me that my body was a secret to be kept from boys who want it but who can’t have it until they sign a legal document saying we are married, which to my mom meant that a man and I were bonded for life. Talking about sex casually, reading about sex, watching sex, thinking about sex, and feeling sexual was not permitted and would be punished. My mom’s big sex talk was mostly about my period. I was thirteen and we talked in my room. I was told that once a month I would menstruate and need to wear pads but the most important thing was I could never tell a boy if I started my period or when I was having a period. I was given a gold necklace with a key on it to remind me to wait for marriage. I had to watch, in youth group, these Christian videos on abstinence and all the consequences of having sex before marriage. If you were unmarried and had sex, you got STDs and got pregnant and no man would ever love you again because you weren’t a virgin, and if you waited for marriage everything would be about love, happiness, gummy bears and unicorns.
My school had a dress code. We were told the reason for the dress code was so that we wouldn't cause our brothers in the Lord to fall into sin. There was no Sex Ed, that was the parents’ job. The biggest thing I learned from my parents and my school about sex is that men feel and desire everything and women feel and desire nothing. I was taught that men have no ability to control themselves and have no hope without Jesus and that women must keep everything covered, closed, hidden, suppressed, and quiet and that if we were not the type of woman that could do these things then we would never be loved by a man.
After a long journey I am now at a place where I believe our sexuality is beyond complex, wild, and is gorgeous and is supposed to be. Just like a rugged mountain or a vibrant sunset, our sexuality should manifest itself in it’s most natural form. The root of what hides us and limits us is a fear of being truthful, mostly to ourselves. To be truthful to ourselves requires an ownership of all that we feel and perceive and not relying on our past or our environment to dictate who we are. I believe that education on protection and respecting others is very important, however I do not think that a system can create a “one size fits all” curriculum on sex and succeed in the long run. When it comes to education, I promote an educational structure that is set up for the student to critically think, reflect, and come up with conclusions on their own. When it comes to something like sexuality, the question “why” needs to be looked at as much as the “how”. Why do I feel this way? Why do I want to respect a woman’s refusal to have sex? Why do I want to do my best to prevent getting pregnant right now? I also feel that an introduction to the topic of sex should be presented in a way that teaches a student to celebrate, to explore, and makes them feel good about their journey, rather than making them feel like a science project or a time-bomb about to go off or a piece of machinery that needs to be handled properly, using the pamphlets and books given. Our sexuality is not a new toy or device that we need to be taught how to use properly. We are meant to be our natural selves, which means less steering and more reinforcing the positive that is already apparent, more student-centered. After all, nothing is more real to a person than what they discover on their own.
About the Author:
I wanted to write about sexual education and my background due to the fact I have a great interest in human sexuality and I want to encourage others to break away from their preconceived ideas of themselves or others that were given to them by their backgrounds, families, or religions. I want to encourage others to empower themselves with knowledge and not depend on what they grew up with to understand themselves and sex. I attend my local Unitarian Universalist Congregation, and I plan on homeschooling my daughter, so I am part of the homeschooling community in my area. Additionally, I have started a group for alternative and nontraditional families and I am a stay-at-home mom.