August 30th, 2019
No More Names
If you would follow, after dark, him and
his friends into the park — a boy who likes
to call you names, then make lewd demands,
midnight games. Mother said, “He’s so polite,”
his slick blonde hair, and Dad’s old spice, shirt tucked
in, letter jacket when it’s too hot, a
football player, lest you forgot. Tree trunk
thighs you are trapped between, in pre-algebra,
him and his teammates who berate your gait,
your breasts and ass, all overheard by an
entire class, the parts of you they would make
use of some midnight, red clay park — a plan
he will whisper to you, this all could end
if you would just follow him and his friends.
Euphoria, Kink & Consequences
This essay does contain at least a couple of plot point of the show Euphoria that could be seen as spoilers, so please be aware and do not read, before watching the show if you plan to, if that is a concern to you.
No More Names is a sonnet that I rewrote from a free verse poem about a dark experience of mine in high school. It involved my budding sexuality, submissiveness that was exposed to some teenage boys in a terrible way, and they took advantage of that knowledge to try to bully me, coerce me into sex. I was not consensually sexual with partners at this period of my life for reasons this essay will explain. I thought of this period a lot watching the TV show Euphoria.
I don’t watch a lot of television since I started writing diligently most every day and publishing a few years ago. Before that time, my undisciplined, uncreative nights were filled with some cool programs (Twin Peaks, True Detective) and some guilty pleasures (Gossip Girl, Vanderpump Rules). MY TV viewing profile was prolific and ran the gamut of high and low entertainment to fill the hours that I now spend creating “entertainment” more than I watch it.
These days, it’s common that I’m not even watching a TV show at all. When I do it’s certainly just one – and it takes me a long time to get through a series. TV watching is a low priority after work, maybe chatting with friends. It only happens very late at night, and often I’m so tired I can’t get through an hour show in one sitting. Many shows I begin but don’t follow through. A show that grabs hold of me really needs to feel necessary and relevant or be complete utter escapism.
Euphoria on HBO is certainly the former, necessary, relevant, essential to finish. I saw a preview for the show while I was watching a documentary and decided to give it a go based on its gorgeous cinematography and obvious theme of addiction, of which I am well acquainted. It quickly became an obsession, echoing so many longings of my heart in a way that I had never seen handled quite as well.
Euphoria is, indeed, a show about addiction but so many more kinds of addiction than I realized when I climbed into bed and indulged in the first episode on my phone. It is about drug addiction, sex addiction, romantic addiction, addiction to destructive relationships. It’s about kink, secrets and all the ways that what we crave in life can control us, can shape us, can damage us even and those we love.
Per usual, I tweeted about my love of this show right away, within the first couple of weeks. I’m an exuberant tweeter, and when I love something I can’t help but express that. The first tweets I saw about the show were critical of the depiction of underage sexuality. Some tweeters on this subject admitted to having never seen the actual show. It was clear from the tweets, and understandably so, that this issue seemed an impediment to them even exploring it. It’s certainly a valid concern to always consider how young characters are being portrayed on a show especially if one believes they are objects of exploitation. As the show progressed, I saw less of this commentary and more people who felt touched by this show in ways like I was.
But I thought a lot about this concern, as I always do with issues concerning underage sexuality. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse raised in a puritanical culture, I had no consensual sexual activity (besides kissing) until I was 18 years old. Finally, the summer after I turned 18, I had sex with my high school boyfriend not long before I was sent away to a Mormon college to be married off to someone more religious and suitable.
My life at the age of the characters in Euphoria was physically saintly in comparison to theirs. My brain, however, was having orgies and sex parties and checking into hotel rooms with dangerous suitors by this point, too. I had a very vivid kinky imaginary sex life that is well documented in my diaries.
As a survivor of child abuse, one of my greatest motivators in life is to never harm a child. I feel so strongly about this, and so I always do listen with great care to any concerns on this issue. I also, though, believe that people have the right to tell complicated stories, and that depiction of problematic behaviors is not endorsement of such behaviors in and of itself.
What spoke to me immediately about the sexuality in Euphoria was that it echoed so many of the pent-up feelings in my own teenage heart that was very much imprisoned in abuse and repression. These characters are more physically experienced than I was at that age, but in my heart I was coming to a lot of the same conclusions.
My own abstinence from sexual activity at this point in my life was not based on any kind of puritanism but rooted in fear. I was already the whipping girl of my household in a very literal definition of that term. My body suffered for its passive participation in imaginary crimes like enticement without ever having engaged in any consensual sexual activity, besides some playground kisses. I truly was terrified to find out what might happen if there was evidence that I was sexual with another human being,
I lived in a small town where the biggest city close to me had one abortion clinic, nationally famous because an abortion doctor had been shot there. It was surrounded constantly by demonstrators. My abuser regularly said that he was ashamed of himself for not going down to join them in their demonstrations against “crimes against the unborn.” Every image in my head of actually having sex with another human while I was a teenager ended with the paranoid thought of going to that clinic and being seen and attacked by my father. Ironically, I thought it would be my life, his own very much born child, that would be in danger.
I abstained for these reasons and for one other. Like many of the characters in the show, Cassie and Jules, I was coming to terms with my kinkiness, a sexuality that set me apart from my friends at that age — a sexuality I felt unable to explain adequately. For me, that was submission. I didn’t have a name for it then. I knew three things about it though: 1.) I was turned on by power. 2.) People saw that in me. 3.) That was very dangerous.
I knew that people saw it in me young. I wrote a story last year for Cheap Pop called !4 & Kneeling (http://www.cheappoplit.com/home/2018/8/7/14-kneeling-kristin-garth). It’s a short CNF about a math teacher who I had who insisted I get on my knees and beg him to change my grade. I had come to him after class in the presence of some of his football players, my age, to ask for extra credit because I knew I would be beaten for the grade on my progress report. He took the opportunity to show these young men who I was – that I would comply, and I did. It was a miracle that it didn’t go further – mostly I think because this all happened on a whim and not planned out well. The scene, thankfully, was interrupted by a female student walking in and was never again continued — by the teacher.
The teenage boys who watched this demonstration, though, hounded me for sex for the next three years, one in particular. He was a defensive football player, enormous, and I’m a very small person, so I was physically terrified of him. He used his physicality against me in public to make me feel terrified, and he knew what he was doing. He would corner me at my locker, pinning me against the locker telling me what he was going to do to me. His teammates in history class would turn their desks when the teacher was out of the room, or I had to walk past to turn in a paper and walk by them. They wouldn’t let me pass while in front of them while they debased me with crude commentary about my body. The ringleader would tell me what they were all going to do to me when they got me alone in loud words that other kids definitely heard. I lived in constant fear of them.
The ringleader used to call my home, and tell me that if I would just have sex with him, all of this public harassment would stop. He had been taught, by our math teacher, that I could be pushed into submission, and so he was pushing. While I gave into my teacher, I could not let myself give into this boy – and as I knew it would be also his friends. I knew that it would destroy me.
But even after this, I continued to fantasize about my submission. In my heart, I was experimenting. When I finally did have sex with my boyfriend, the summer after I graduated before being sent to college, I had so much pent-up sexual energy I was the initiator very quickly in the relationship. I called him Daddy the first time we had sex – which I think very much surprised him, a boy of 18, and was not at all his kink.
I felt free with him though because unlike my abuser at home, these at school, he was gentle. He didn’t demand my submission, but I gave it as a gift, and that was a new and exhilarating experience to me. As a person who had been abused, it felt so important that I was able to do this, that I had it in me to give something that had been taken from me. It felt like the ultimate empowerment.
In Euphoria, the characters of Jules and Cassie deal with their kinkiness in different ways. Jules is engaging with men online, older men, meeting in hotel rooms, keeping secrets. A lot of these secrets are not good secrets, and there is a palpable pain you feel with her character as she is coming to the epiphany that peaks in the episode ’03 Bonnie and Clyde. In this episode, Jules finally speaks to her almost maybe, girlfriend Rue about her sexual proclivities. The viewer can see that while Jules knows that she doesn’t have the same type of sexuality as Rue, she is seeking intimacy by trying to be candid about her desire for those hotel rooms, for the illicit sexual behavior with strangers.
It’s a moment for her character in which by speaking of the Daddy character, the hotel rooms, even obliquely, by claiming this behavior, she is also showing that she isn’t like Eric Dane’s character. She’s attempting to tell a person she obviously cares for who she really is – something this darker sexual partner of hers is unable to do. It is how they are different. It’s something I have tried to embrace in my life, a very important lesson of this show – to speak about these cravings is to step a little away from the darkness that secrets can represent.
Likewise, the character Cassie, in Euphoria, is very sexual and struggling with the conflict with her urge for experience and her need for a stable relationship with a man. Cassie, like me, has incredible Daddy issues, too, hers from a different abuse, abandonment.
Cassie’s character very much goes through the arc that I feared myself had I been sexual in high school. I was already bullied, despite my inactivity, as Cassie is bullied for her experiences. Cassie becomes pregnant, my biggest fear that kept me from engaging in the way that she does. I look at Cassie on this show as the reflection of my life had I given into my desires, had I allowed myself to be bullied into submission. And what I see in this show is that in some ways, the outcome may not have been very different.
Kinkiness and sexuality are complicated. Many people in society are very open with their kinks as the world grows less puritanical, more so in some places than others. One thing is for certain though, while teenage sexuality should never be exploited by adults – or exploited at all, it is very real. It is the time when we are figuring out exactly who we are in all ways. We have a right to do this and a need. I wrote my first sonnet in high school, and I’m still writing them. I fantasized about being spanked constantly in high school, and I write about it because it’s an important to me because everything I am now comes from those fantasizes then.
The adult man who put me on my knees in high school was an abuser, and he was not the first one. I remained submissive in spite of these people, and that is something I celebrate. The show Euphoria speaks to me, a person who came into knowledge of my cravings at this age. I have struggled a long time to express them in a safe and as honest and ethical way as possible. The show is a very real depiction of both young people attempting to do that and older people who have failed to do that and the destruction and damage that results. I have cried watching it, written poems after watching it. It’s a show about kink and consequences – not just the consequences of acting out upon one’s cravings for euphoria but also the consequences of hiding them.