Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Out of Orange Juice

Possibly the most unnerving moment in a homosexual’s life, the coming out party, has the potential to uplift you, to raise a harrowing burden off your shoulders, to unmask the lies you’ve lived and send them fluttering away like torn pieces of paper on the wind. Or it has the power to level you, dissemble you bit by bit and leave you broken and dying in the gutter. My party took form in the latter.

At 15, I had done little to hide my sexuality as for the most part I hardly understood it myself. But my mother saw it, and had seen it for years: the moment she caught me kissing my female next door neighbor as a young child, my lack of boyfriends, the promiscuous photos of women I had printed off the internet, and the not so subtle confrontation from my high school teacher during conference night when she informed my mother the photos of women in bikinis were unsuitable decor for the inside of my binder. Driving to the store one afternoon, my mother finally asked that definitive question, and for a moment the world froze. Unsure how to respond, all the while knowing she had asked a question she already knew the answer to, my hesitation came from the fear of what this confirmation would bring. I took a breath and nodded in the affirmative, but added the qualifier that I was not gay, but bisexual, as if the 50% of Normal that lingered somewhere in my gut might’ve softened the blow and made me seem more human somehow. This did not sway my mother, and a lecture ensued, littered with religious proclamations and damnations as I was beaten down by God’s hatred for gays and my ultimate destination of a fiery afterlife.

I wanted to die. I grappled with my own self-hatred. Raised a Christian and incredibly devout through my childhood and preteens, I had turned away from the church for several reasons, but my sexuality played a larger role. My peers at school were beginning to catch on as well, and the bullying that ensued pushed me to the edge. I watched movies and read books about other homosexuals, hoping to identify with their stories. Instead I felt anger and jealousy whenever I read of a situation where someone else’s family supported them and loved them through their coming out (above). Why couldn’t I have that? Why don’t I deserve that? A failed suicide attempt left me with one dark realization: without the love and support of my mother, I wouldn’t make it through this world alive.

I always sensed that my mother clung to the hope that the 50% of Normal in me would prevail and I would end up with a nice man, get married, have a family. Even I hoped it, knowing the perilous road that I would walk if the evil lesbian in me won. But as I progressed through my adolescence, the dream of normalcy faded along with my deluded attraction to the opposite sex. A date with a male companion finally made me realize that I was fully gay and the hopes of a peaceful heterosexual life died. I would have to do what many homosexuals have never faced: coming out a second time.

When I was 21, following the date with the male friend, my epiphany, and an eager inquiry about a second date from my mom, I sat down to tell her that the Normal was gone. Shaken and traumatized from the first coming out response, I immediately began sobbing and blubbering out that I didn’t like men and never would. Noting my devastation and the utter fear in my eyes, my mother took a softer stance than before, insisting that she still loved me and she always would, I was her daughter, after all, but adding the point that no matter what, she could never support my lifestyle or what I was doing. It was against her religion and she couldn’t be made to see differently. Begging for her acceptance, I was denied. It was unconditional love with an asterisk and a footnote: “I love the You, I love my daughter. I can never love the Lesbian, I will never accept the abnormal.” Leveled again, I retreated to my room in solemn resignation. Accepting the loss, I began to tentatively live my new life alone.

Dates came slowly and were enveloped in my mother’s disapproval. Knowing I was going out, she would ask where. Once I revealed that I was going on a date, her lips pursed shut and she spun on her heels, hastily vacating the room. I often returned from my date to icy silence and tried to keep future dates under wraps, lying that I was going out with friends or going shopping. But gradually, very gradually, things began to change. A few years later, dates began with my mother asking directly if I was going out with a girl. Then they were capped in the end by the simple question: “Did you have a good time?” One quick “yes” and the conversation was over as my mother retreated to the kitchen, having done her duty by asking at all. It was understood that details were not requested or required, but my mother was trying.

But it was not a steady ascent to acceptance and harmony. Our progress was pock-marked with regressions and fallbacks. Like me explaining to my mother why she couldn’t use the word “faggot,” or my mother absent-mindedly lamenting her disgust for two women walking down the street hand in hand, forgetting I was seated in the car beside her. I think, however, that the biggest step back came in 2008, when my mother informed me she had voted yes on Prop 8. Furious and confused, a ticker tape of memories ran through my mind of all the progress we had made, all the changes we had gone through, only to stop at such a critical crossroads. My mother explained that she didn’t mind gays dating and living together, but felt it frivolous and inappropriate to grant them marriages. Arguing still that marriage was a religious institution and homosexuality had no place in marriage, she couldn’t grasp the significance of her vote or the obstacle it created in helping me feel that sense of Normal again.

Older now, a bit wiser, slightly more patient, I was angry, but understanding. My mother had been fighting her deeply rooted religious beliefs for 10 years, trying to balance her faith with her biological attachment and affection of her own child. She tried to make heads or tails of which path to take: follow the 3,000 year old theology her life had been based on, or erase the asterisk from her unconditional love and support her daughter, embracing her completely. The decision could not have been easy, and separating the two was a challenge my mother had tasked herself with for the past decade. But bringing that lifestyle into the church? Merging the two by granting marriages before the eyes of God in his very house? My mother could not handle those worlds colliding and she voted the only way a God-fearing woman of tradition could.

The following years, as I went on sporadic dates, my mother’s interest increased and the events were sandwiched with questions and comments like “where are you guys going? You look nice, have a good time!” and “What was she like? What’s her name? Will you see her again?” And the Normal began to grow. We survived my brother’s wedding, an event which at the time I looked upon with somewhat blighted eyes. I struggled through the pain of thinking I would never be afforded the same opportunity as a legal marriage, and I watched as my mother buzzed around preparing what she must have thought would be the only wedding of her children, even commenting it would be “the only bridal shower [she] would give” and “the only daughter-in-law [she] would have.” I did not take this to be a malicious comment, just more so a statement of fact as the fate of Proposition 8 sat on a desk somewhere outside the US Supreme Court, awaiting someone’s consideration.

Lately I have been flittering through internet dating sites and personal ads, struggling with my own perpetual social anxiety and my dislike for the club and bar scenes to find love. On top of that, I have the worst case of baby fever as my hormones have kicked into full gear. Though I am not even 30, my own unfulfilled expectations of where I should be in my personal life leave me melancholy. While family members and friends are getting engaged, marrying, having babies, I have yet to secure even a long term relationship in my hapless decade on the gay dating scene. Overjoyed by the announcement that my brother and sister-in-law are expecting a child, a twinge of pain struck my heart knowing that a baby for me is so far away. I always knew I wanted children. I of course dreamt of sharing the precious milestones of raising a child with a partner, but even if I never found a partner to have one with, I had made up my mind I would be a mother through my own pregnancy or adoption. But being gay makes the task that much harder in that you must pay for either artificial insemination or adoption, in addition to all the other costs that come with having a baby. Knowing I cannot afford this on my own, I am left feeling alone.

I burst into tears one night. My mom held me as I cried for my loneliness, I cried for my uncertain future in love and motherhood. And with one comment from my mother in one moment, I realized how far we had come in the last 15 years: “I will pray for you. I know someone is out there for you, and I know you will find her. I will go home and pray for you, I just want you to be happy. That’s all I ever wanted for you.”

I love you, Mama.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

From Ribbons and Dolls to Fish Nets and Johns

Hookers. Whores. Harlots. Wenches. Women of ill-repute. Prostitutes. There are many names and titles for women who sell their bodies for sex. Did you ever think "child" would be one of them? Most people don't. Even when we think of children being used for sex, we think sexual abuse and pedophiles, not solicitation and pimps. What about the phrase "human trafficking"? For most, the term brings to mind thoughts and images of foreigners, refuges, unfortunates being shipped in from around the world, gliding through the US borders under the cloak of the black market for sexual favors. It doesn't foster mental pictures of American teenage girls on the street corners of LA, New York, Nevada, and many more states working their territory as a villainous pimp lurks in the shadows nearby. But that is exactly what is going on in the US today, and has been for quite some time.

Many girls and boys in the US are being scooped up in the despicable world of solicitation by pimps and gang bangers just looking to make some quick money. And when I say girls and boys, I mean exactly that. At this time, the average age for entry into solicitation is 12, though children as young as 7 have been documented to have been sold for sex in the states. Girls are more prominent in the population than boys, but there are young boys being utilized on the streets as well. This blog, however, will address the females since most studies have focused on them and more information is readily available. How do these girls get picked up? Pimps practically soar above the dankest neighbors and cities like hawks, searching for prey, and have an eye for the "type".

Most girls who are easily manipulated and drawn into "the life" (as they call solicitation) are girls coming from broken or disturbed homes. Many struggle with self-esteem; they lack the attention and involvement they should be getting from their parents, lack a sense of safety and belonging. Many are runaways, and most have been sexually abused in the past, which automatically raises the risk for re-victimization. Being well-educated on their needs and short-comings, pimps ride in on their soiled horses, a knight in aluminum armor, ready to sweep these tragic children off their feet and persuade them with a fairy tale ending, which is of course nothing more than a fairy tale. Typically, a pimp finesses the child, sweet talks her, and makes her feel important, wanted. He might compliment her on her beauty, tell her she's special, make superficial promises. An introductory dialog might go like this: "Hey baby, you are looking so beautiful tonight, I can't believe you don't have a man looking out for you! You are gorgeous, you got it going on! Why don't you let me take care of you, baby? Let me take you out, I'll take you to nice places to eat, I'll buy you this dress, I'll get you some diamonds,you'll live in this great house, come on girl, get in the car!" While most of us know a pathetic game when we hear it, a 12 or 13 year old girl who has been emotionally neglected for the majority of her life and still suffers from the poor judgment all tweens have is overwhelmed by the positive attention, gushes and blushes and jumps in the car to start her new life. A life, a fantasy, which lasts a few weeks at best.

There is, at times, wining and dining and some flirting and "love". After a week or two, though, once the trust has been earned, the fairy tale shatters, and the dark nightmare begins. The pimp, who is done with the flowers and the threads, suddenly turns on the girl, tells her in short "girl, I'm a pimp, you're now my bitch, and you're gonna make me some money." Threats of harm follow to cement the reality of the situation. Of course, in that brief period of ecstasy that preceded this revelation, information has also been gathered on the girl's family and their addresses. So to secure the business deal, viable threats toward her family are made. The girl is coerced into sexual exploitation and she begins her fairy tale life of rape, violence, johns, pimps, and degradation.

A pimp usually has multiple girls in his pocket and one "head girl" ironically named the "bottom bitch." This girl is typically favored by the pimp, receives the most benefits, and is in charge of managing the other girls, as well as recruiting potential workers. They teach the new girls the ropes, show them how to draw in the customers, coach them on discerning between undercover police and legitimate johns, and most importantly, teach them about the life under their new "daddy." There are quotas to meet, rules to follow, expectations for behaviors, and severe consequences for any breach in guidelines or protocol. Missing a quota usually results in a beat down, refusal of food, shaving one's head, and walking home barefoot as the pimp drives behind them. Many girls have reported being run down and hit by the pimp's car, not hard enough to kill them, just enough to make a point. Sometimes it means compensating for the loss of money (a gang rape), or in one girl's case, being tied down naked to the bed and, like a revolving door, having one john after another come in and rape her, leaving the money with the pimp before each encounter. The girl was 13. If, on the other hand, the girl meets her quota, her rewards depend on the pimp. Some will give them a small percentage of the money earned. Some girls have reported earning a $1 cheeseburger at McDonald's if they meet their quota (most quotas are set to $700 and above every night). Some just avoid physical abuse and live to work another day.

The most effective weapon these pimps have to reign these girls in is psychological warfare. As previously mentioned, these street princes bait the girls with charming hollow promises and whispers of sweet nothings, then like a pumpkin carriage on the stroke of midnight, they transform into the menacing antagonist they are at heart. Threats of harm towards the girls and their families keep them in his pocket, too terrified to run and pursue freedom. It was once reported that a girl had attempted to run away from her pimp, but was caught. To set an example, the pimp gathered his other girls, took them all out to a field, and lined them up. He told the others "this is what happens when you try to leave me!" and shot the runaway in the head, leaving the others far too frightened to try a similar escape. But, at times, even when the looking glass has shattered and they see the reality before them, some girls cannot accept the truth. Suffering from trauma bonding, formally known as Stockholm Syndrome, these girls develop a sense of love and affection for their exploiters, who, in their eyes, can do no wrong. Many have deluded themselves into their own fabricated fairy tale, lamenting "he really does love me! He buys me clothes, and we sleep in the same apartment, he gives me some of the money I earn, he takes me out to nice dinners and he's a good daddy to our son!" They ignore the beatings, the fact that he has four other girlfriends, and that at the end of the day, if money is low, he will send them out to have sex with other men for more money.

The justice department is of course, not much help. Though many girls picked up by the police are underage, they are charged for solicitation and detained or placed on probation. Ironically, in the state of California, an individual under the age of 18 cannot consent to sex with someone over the age of 18. Under normal circumstances, if a 17 year old child is found having intercourse with an adult, the adult can be charged which sexual assault or statutory rape. If a 13 year old child prostitute is found having intercourse with an adult, the child is arrested, and the adult is giving a warning or a ticket. The child can spend up to a year in juvenile hall. The adult? An 8 hour course on illegal solicitation (this is the same consequence for receiving a traffic ticket). Other times, the police actually become johns, being educated on where these children work, they have no difficulty taking advantage of what they find to be favorable circumstances. A recent proposition was passed in California in the 2012 elections which would criminalize pimps and johns for seeking intercourse from minors, which passed overwhelmingly, however the prop was placed on hold after a judge deemed the language of the bill "too ambiguous to protect the rights of the accused." And these girls are once again victimized by people who were expected to protect them.

It is has become a dark world when a child cannot walk home from school alone because pimps are recruiting on the street corners. I have begun working with many of these clients; it is tragic when 20% of my clients have been approached by pimps, and another 20% have worked for one at some point and time, if they aren't still. Child Sex Trafficking is made up of a population with many titles which are constantly changing to provide the most accurate perception, from Sexually Exploited Minors (SEM), to Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC), and now Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) to reiterate that we are not talking about foreign refuges and unfortunates. Many cases are hard to swallow, many break my heart, and some have traumatized me. But this is a problem that has flown under the radar for so long it can never begin to be resolved if it continues. If awareness cannot be bred, these children cannot be saved.

For more information on domestic child trafficking, visit these sites:

And you can watch the informative documentation, Very Young Girls on YouTube Here:
Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three: