My 6th-grade camping trip started off like any other school trip. I didn’t want to go at all and I begged my mother to write me a note to excuse me.
My mom was notorious for writing notes for us to skip gym class or when we wanted to stay home from school, so it wasn’t asking too much of her.
However, a week-long sleepover with the rest of my class was non-negotiable in her eyes, and she helped a reluctant 6th-grader pack her bags.
I wanted to be excited, but the idea of showering away from home terrified me more than anything else.
Puberty calls for some weird times.
I was just a kid, nervous about experiencing something new on my own.
But as any parent could have predicted, camp turned out to be a lot of fun.
We put on plays, went on hikes, and sat around a campfire telling scary stories every night, just like in the movies.
During our nightly bonfires, I made sure to sit next to my friend T.
We were the only two girls out of our regular friend’s group who were placed into Cabin Number 9 and because of this, T and I bonded instantly. We stayed up late talking about kissing boys every single night and shared embarrassing stories of our siblings every morning at breakfast.
Even though we never talked much at school, it seemed we were each other’s reminder of home. So we stuck to each other for the entire week.
On the morning of the last day of camp, T and I were walking towards the cafeteria with the rest of our cabin mates when we walked right into a tall bush. It was filled with bees and we were both stung on our arms. I don’t remember if she cried, but I know I definitely did.
The camp counselor did her best at calming me down, she wrote us a note, and sent us to the nurse.
As we walked to the nurse’s office, I grabbed T’s hand.
Or she grabbed mine? I wish I knew, but it makes no difference now. We held hands as we walked closer to the nurse’s office and then we kissed. Just like that. A quick peck on the lips. After that, both of us let go of our hands, giggled at our secret, and walked into the nurse’s office. We never mentioned what had happened between us again.
But when she didn’t sit next to me on the bus ride home, the confusion of the kiss began to set in.
I tried to think about anything else but all I could think about was how I had done something wrong. I had kissed another girl. I wondered if I was gay now.
All of these gospels and teachings were pouring into my head as I realized what I had done. I knew I would have to confess with the priest at church the following Sunday.
I was absolutely terrified at the idea of the priest breaking his oath to the church and telling my parents of my mortal sin.
“Girls don’t kiss girls, they kiss boys,” I repeated in my head for the rest of the bus ride home. The famous Catholic guilt was making sure I felt like a sinner. And I definitely did.
But the guilt did not go away.
I got home and immediately wrote about the kiss in my diary. I didn’t know what else to do.
I carried so many confusing feelings inside of me. At 11-years-old, I promised God I would become a nun when I got older, in exchange for forgiveness.
I was living with so much shame, and I wish I could tell that little girl, “Good girls might kiss girls, they might kiss boys, they might kiss no one, and that’s okay. Who you kiss does not decide whether you are good or bad.”
I began having regular nightmares about being sent to hell accidentally, and that’s something I plan on writing more about in the future. But at that moment, I truly believed this innocent kiss was a sinful homosexual activity and it had ruined my life.
The next day after confiding in my diary, the shame ate me up.
I didn’t want to be reminded of what I had done. I ran to grab Wite-Out from my dad’s desk and I tried to erase the entire diary entry. I did an awful job because I can still make out most of the words I wrote that day, 16 years later.
When I go back and read the diary entry from that camping trip, I see the frantic thoughts of a young girl who was brainwashed by religion and taught harmful messages about her body.
I also see a girl whose parents never talked to her about sexual health in a positive way, and I know now how important it is to have those conversations with our kids.
I see the importance of teaching your children not to feel shame and guilt for asking questions and exploring their natural curiosity about their sexuality.
As I grew up, years after the kiss, my parents taught us that sex was not something good girls did.
It would be different if they taught their sons the same message, but they didn’t. They told their daughters the only time for any form of sexual expression was between a man and a woman, and only once they were married in the Catholic church.
My parents would change the channel on the tv anytime two people of the same sex showed affection to one another. Even two men holding hands in a movie brought a wave of discomfort into our living room.
But the most damaging messages we heard about sex in our home were,
- “Boys only want you for that one thing, and once you give it to them, you will never get it back.”
- T “chewed-up piece of gum” analogy, where they compared girls to an old piece of gum that no one else will want if they lose their virginity before marriage.
- And my favorite, “Why would the farmer buy the cow when he can get the milk for free?”
Every time I heard the stupid cow idiom, I became angry with my parents.
Honestly, what did it mean? Was I the cow in the scenario? Was I supposed to feel offended the man in question didn’t want to purchase me anymore! And why didn’t the farmer get any shame for going around taking milk for free?
In those moments, I wish I had the mental capacity to express to my parents, “I’m a person, a young lady with feelings and ambitions, and I have much more to offer than my body.”
I can see the psychological damage that was done from hearing nothing but negative messages about my body.
I believed my body was a host for sin, and nothing more. I know how important it is to teach children to love themselves and their bodies. I know how harmful it is to teach our daughters they are only good for their bodies.
Our sons and daughters deserve to hear healthy messages about sex from their parents. (A wonderful article that speaks more on that, from Dr. Habib Sadeghi, “How and When to Discuss Sex With Your Children”.)
I also know how harmful it is to leave our sons completely out of the conversation.
Our boys need to hear educational messages about sex, just like our girls do, or they will grow up to be the men who do not understand consent. They will grow up to be the men who catcall women and think women like it.
© Jessica Lovejoy 2019. All Rights Reserved.