Content Note: discussion of rape culture in TV shows, details about sexual assault in Glee and mention of related events in Barbie’s early years.
Glee used to be one of my favorite shows. Music? Love it. Dancing? Love it. Naya Rivera? Love her. Plus, Glee has tried really hard to support queer communities, so credit where credit is due. But sometimes they do things that feel like they’re punching me in the face.
For example, in “Movin’ Out” (Yes, that episode aired months ago. Yes, I’m still pissed), when Jake tries to pressure Marley into sex and touches her while she tries to get him to stop, and the show portrays this as a mismatch of sexual desire rather than an attempt at sexual coercion, I felt like the bottom fell out of my stomach. But the sad thing is, I’ve gotten used to Glee’s attempts to gloss over sexual assault (don’t even get me started on this year’s Christmas episode). What uniquely pissed me off about “Movin’ Out” came at the end of the episode. When Marley tells her mom, Millie, how glad she is that she didn’t have sex with Jake, Millie responds with the patriarchy’s usual advice: Your first time is special and you can never get it back. Props to MaryAnn Sleasman for calling out “The show’s weird obsession with virginity and just a hint of slut-shaming.”
But there’s something else about the “first time is special” trope that makes me want to throw things at the TV. It’s not just about the virginity obsession and slut-shaming. It’s this idea that the first time you have sex is a defining moment in your life – not as in, a new and really intense thing you do, but as in, something that will forever define your life as a sexual being. This idea that the specialness of your first time outweighs the specialness of any future sex you might have.
Where does that leave those of us whose first times don’t measure up to the impossible standard of perfection? My first time was when I was seven. It was not special. According to the messages I’m blasted with every time I dip my toe into mainstream media, I will never get “it” back, and “it” will forever define the rest of my sex life.
Here’s what I think about that line of reasoning.
Fuck. This. Shit.
Imagine (BUCKLE YOUR SEATBELTS, WE’RE GOING TO ANALOGY LAND) that every time I ever eat icecream is supposed to be measured by the first time I ever ate icecream. Does that even make sense? I personally don’t think so. Each icecream cone is its own thing, its own flavor, its own possibility to be delicious or disappointing or to give me brainfreeze.
Now imagine that the first time I ever had ice cream, a man shoved it in my face. Was my first experience with icecream a freezing miserable one? Yes. Does that mean that all possible future experiences with icecream are forever ruined? Not necessarily. Not with the right help and the passing of time. One day, when I am ready, I intend to eat lots and lots of icecream, with people who love me and will support me through whatever needs to happen for me to feel safe and happy eating my orange sherbert.
Now to be very clear here, I am definitely not (not, not, notnotnotnot NOT) saying that rape is the same as having icecream shoved in your face. Holy crap I am not saying that. And I am not saying that the effects of rape are easy to heal from. There is a reason why half the posts I write are about rape, and why the other half are about the importance of effective therapy. There have been times (read: yesterday) when even the thought of sex left me bent over the toilet crying and trying to keep my lunch down. So obviously rape has a big impact on people. Or at least, it has had a big impact on me.
What I am (AM! amamam!) saying is that the immense pain of healing does not mean that healing is out of reach. What I am saying is that Millie is wrong to pity me. I am not a ruined virgin whose sex life will be forever defined by my unspecial first time. I am a person. My humanity is unruinable and my future sex life will be defined by love, respect, and pleasure. The fact that I have to fight tooth and nail to get there does not change where I am going.
The bottom line is, I have limited time for television, and I’m going to reserve it for shows that empower me. Not just me as a bisexual woman, but also me as a survivor who has a lot of awesome sex to look forward to. So goodbye, Glee, at least for now. Don’t catch your virginity-shrine in the door on your way out.