The town where I grew up was indeed a strange anomaly for Los Angeles County and with all of its quirks and unending anachronisms give it a Stephen King that was palpable to me even as a kid. The town had a weird mix; originally founded as a Victorian getaway for the Tuberculosis crowd, it used to have train access to Los Angeles and the Mt. Wilson peak was a popular getaway spot.
In many ways, some form of exhibitionism for being a bit peculiar was drilled into my brain. The eccentricity of Sierra Madre, 3 square miles with no electric spot lights in city limits has been documented in many “Bizarre Los Angeles” guides. If you consume American media, you have seen the streets where I live and undoubtedly the property where I went to high school. The classrooms were off to the side of the “Villa Del Sol Oro” which was a scaled model of a favored Italian villa that the original owner, a Tuberculosis doctor, had commissioned to be his office and his home. The basement was constructed to house medical equipment and state of the art refrigerators for medicines. It has one of the first electric elevators in the county. It went on forever in darkness; I got to go through it often as a child during Halloween when the whole villa was turned into a haunted mansion as a fundraiser and it was a doozy.
My freshmen year I got to be the source of the theatrics. The school had all of the classes, freshmen through senior, each take one of the main hallways on the 4 floors of the estate. The seniors got the basement. Clubs were offered the side rooms to transform into their own niche theme. I went with SADD because they got the medical grade kitchen and I was able to sway the vote to recreate a Bedlam clinic as a way to unnerve the patrons. We had teenage girls in hallow makeup, frizzed out hair, wandering in gowns. A sheet was hung up to show a silhouette of someone performing hydrotherapy the way the Victorians did best. We had straight jackets. We had other girls welcoming people in with a clipboard as doctors to welcome them for a tour of the facilities.
And people wonder why I’m kinky.
The 1956 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers was filmed in my hometown. The best shot of it is when the protagonists are looking out of a window into the town square where [spoiler alert] pods are being dispersed to the townsfolk for propagation and inevitable vegetable total takeover. The red scare was green when it was black and white. They used to screen the film in the summer at Canon park and the punchline was that everything looked the same. All of the buildings were the same and so were most of the businesses during my childhood. The gas station was the same and even carrying on in the same brand name. Back To The Future was a movie I watched to feel normal.
After the Victorians, the train tracks came to pieces as public transportation was lobbied against by car companies (“Sorry, wrong meeting.” -W. Hicks) and the town was mostly forgotten. Then in the 40s, 50s, and especially the 60s its canyons at the foot of a spectacular mountain were inhabited by the “Bohemian” crowd. Bikers, modern architects, poets, artists, and other free thinking and pot smoking hippies settled in and turned the canyon area of the city into something of a maze. The idea of fire is a real threat and a puzzle for firefighters to navigate every single time a call comes in because there have been horrific fires. I have seen my friends’ homes singed.
The 80s brought the republican yuppies who occupy the main area of the city. They kind of wrecked everything but brought in their own weirdness. The nuns at my Catholic school told me about a notorious cocaine dealer who was involved in the city council who used to sell to elementary school kids at the pepper tree (seen as a spry young tree in Body Snatchers) and caused something of a quiet scandal. In between the filming of Body Snatchers the tree had grown enormously but had also been struck by lightning creating a wide divide in the tree. Like I said, I watched Back To The Future to feel normal.
My house was right by two fantastic trail heads. My love of hiking was well-groomed by constant access to long and amazing trails. Oh, they went on and on and I explored them with camps and my dogs and friends frequently. There was always the ominous background of it all. One trail head is right near a monastery famous for its larger than life depictions of the Passion Of The Christ and a fire that touched down on my town and caused an evacuation of my school when we saw the flames from our 3rd grade windows touching down on the hills behind our homes and the helicopters dropping water, seemingly, to no avail. There were a lot of natural disasters. There was the Sierra Madre quake and the Northridge quake. I remember them in transformers exploding off into the horizon making green fireworks into a sky just before dawn and in my father’s hand holding a plate of fresh french toast that begin to quiver just before the boom of the quake hit the ground and rattled the glasses and the dishes in the cabinets around us up into their shelves and out into the room in a spray of glass.
Sometimes nature just flipped the fuck out.
I remember the rains after the fires in our hills because no more than maybe 300 yards from where I slept every night, a young boy my age and his father were caught in a flash flood and sudden debris flow through the canyon. There hasn’t been rain where we were that day and the other hikers who survived and shared their witness of the events and all spoke of the sudden horrible rumbling in the distance and the 5 seconds they had to immediately jump to the canyon walls and begin climbing for their lives and watching people sweep by and being unable to do anything about it. Their bodies were recovered under nearly 20 feet of mud where it all collected in a basin. We followed the news. Buried at 7 feet, a shoe from the boy who was exactly my age and went to a karate studio with one of my friends in the neighboring city.
By the age of 9, I had a very well-developed sense of respect for the fact that everything could be turned on your head in an instant. The earth could, and would, move and shake somewhere out of the blue. The hills could catch fire. You could be hiking peacefully and be hit by a moving train of mud, rocks, branches, and water. I had such humility, love, and respect for that mountain and the canyon. As I started to change from a child to a woman, I started to see the other natural disasters in the world of men. I could be walking peacefully down the street and someone with malicious intentions would have impeccable access to my body. All at once, like an earthquake or a flash flood, it could happen in a snap.
My school uniform was a hazard as far as my walk was concerned. It isn’t pornographic images of adult women wearing micro-school girl skirts and having sex in a roleplay that makes the uniform dangerous to the students who wear them authentically. What makes them dangerous are what they are in and of themselves: a clear marker for your age and how much control you have over your own life. People don’t attack children in school uniforms because they saw porn featuring adults or even adult women in pigtails. Between the ages of 9-15 I didn’t look at all like a grown women and there wasn’t anyone with a reasonable mind making and understandable mental switch.
I loved my walks and the serenity and space they gave me in between the world at home and school but there were the constant interruptions. There were the shouts from men saying things I didn’t understand cognitively but always gave me a stomach ache. There was my peer who was called over by a man sitting in a parked car and as soon as she saw him openly masturbating in the driver’s seat. He was an aggressive flasher. She said that it was so far from what she expected that she instantly vomited and most of it landed on her flasher through the window. Even years later, this memory is shrouded for her with embarrassment that she “couldn’t hold her stomach down.” I cannot described the sadness I feel at her palpable sense of having handled it wrong and the sense she had that it was her duty to hold her head high and keep walking unaffected by what had occurred.
There was the older man who always asked me to come play with his puppy in the garage, everyday, until I finally started going out of my way on my route just to avoid him. The times when joggers or dog walkers would impose themselves onto my walks as if they were entitled to stroll with me until I arrived at school. At first I was worried that they were doing this to figure out where I went to school until I realized that it didn’t matter if they followed me there or not: every school has their own set of colors clearly identifying “their” students. Everyone already knew where I was going at 6:30AM and they knew exactly what time the bell was going to ring. In order to be a young girl walking to school in a uniform, you have to start thinking like James Bond. You have to vary your routes, fuck with your schedule, avoid routine, and constantly scan the terrain and look for exits.
No one really talks to you clearly about this because no one wants to talk about why you really need to know any of it. When I got into early feminist reading, I did consider the notion that we “sexualize” the school girl uniform through porn but the truth is so much uglier than that. It isn’t porn that makes the uniform dangerous: it’s the fact that a child is a perfect victim in our society. It isn’t the adult sexual use of a uniform that puts these ideas into someone’s head, it’s the advertisement that you are so very young and have been well-trained to be polite and to comply with what adults say.
I remember my freshmen year of high school. It was fall and I was half-way into my return walk home. I was climbing a steep hill and had been lost in my thoughts until a white truck drove past me and the driver stared intently as I walked. I was used to the drive-by gazers, I was used to the things people would holler, but something about the way he watched me sent shivers down my spine and ripped me out of my day dreams. I was at the halfway point between school and home. It was no-man’s land and I felt like a ground rodent in an open field in a nature documentary as a hawk swooped overhead in predatory circles. I hoped that he wouldn’t come back but I hadn’t ever felt abject fear of an adult like that ever in my life.
5 minutes went by and I could see the canyon opening closer in my vision as I got closer to my house with the family German Shepherd and the locking doors and some sense of safety without the total exposure I felt on the road. I heard the sound of his engine before I saw him. It was as if my brain instantly memorized the unique buzz and hum of his truck as entirely distinct from all others. Every engine is unique but it takes something special for us to pay attention to the micro-differences. He drove by me a second time with the same fixed gaze on me as I walked. Every hair on my neck stood on end. I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t have weapons, I didn’t know what to do.
So I crossed to the other side of the street to ride up against traffic. The idea of a car coming up from behind me seemed like too much of a risk. I would be safer if someone came at my from the front rather than swooping up from behind. I came to the top of the hill where a left turn put you just a hop, skip, and a jump from the trail head into the open wilderness of the mountain canyon. A right turn and just 7 more minutes of walking would have me safe behind my doors. That’s when the truck came back, crossing onto the wrong side of the street with the car pointed right at me. The door was already ajar, his hand was out the window. I could hear him accelerate and not only was he aiming at me, his car was pointed right in the direction of the trail ahead.
My backpack! I felt instantly aware of not just its weight on my back but the fact that in order to distribute its weight I had supportive buckles across my chest and waist. Suddenly, it felt like a massive liability. It would have been easy to reach out and grab any of its loose straps or handles on the back and drag me the short distance into the mouth of the wilderness. I knew that canyon so well and I loved all of the life that flourished inside of it but I knew that it also had the smell of death it in it. Most canyon spaces near urban areas serve as body dumps. When a large search starts for one special missing victim with a team of people dedicated to their recovery, police will usually uncover human remains that do not match the person they are seeking. I knew that I had to lose the backpack and my fingers raced to the clasps as I literally jumped and rolled into the front yard of a stranger and ran to their door for help.
When he missed me, the driver, whose face I still remember like a photograph, corrected his path and sped off quickly away from me and the area with a sense of finality that made me breathe with relief especially when I discovered that no one was answering the front door where I was shouting for help. I walked to my backpack with a sense that I would sooner burn it and everything inside than wear it again but I knew the books were expensive and I knew that everyone would just yell at me. I picked it up and I walked home picking up anything in my path that resembled an effective weapon. I called my parents and I called the police.
Everyone, including myself, said that he was probably just trying to scare me. I still did my sketch and described him in vague ways even though his face seemed so familiar in my brain. It was hard to actually articulate how he looked and the most helpful thing about the software is the ability to change the combinations until it looks right. I did my best but my sketch didn’t look like him. He was white, wore thin glasses, and had blue eyes. I described him as being “just older than college” because he looked to be late 20s, early 30s. Today, that’s my dating range. To my 13-year-old perspective, he was a grownup but a youngish grownup. Definitely not a peer. We all spoke about it as if it were just a really mean prank but there was an edginess around all of the adults including the police and the idea that they weren’t telling me something that I felt entitled to know.
I wasn’t allowed to talk to or from school for awhile and this pissed me off because it was more of a punishment for me than him. There were always hazards in the road, always things to be aware of, and always a hint of danger when I was on my own but the benefit of having my space and independence outweighed those risks every time. I felt claustrophobic at home and school. Danger was something deeply intense and brought mind-blowing fear with it but it was fleeting. It happened once and awhile. I knew the difference between someone sexualizing me from a distance and someone who wanted to make contact. There is a gaze that a pest possesses that is distinct from the gaze of a hungry predator. There is the smile and the nod from someone who thinks you’re attractive that puts a happy kick in your step and there is the smile and the nod that makes you feel violated. Consciously, it’s hard to articulate but the gut feeling comes from a brain making constant micro-assessments of every environment we walk into.
Kind of like the police sketch, I cannot articulate the difference between the driver who makes me want to throw my finger out and yell right back and the one who feels like a punch to the gut telling me to run. This is largely credited to whether or not my brain has conducted a threat assessment. Most of the time, it isn’t someone who is going to rape and murder you but all threats must be assessed because if this is the case you have maybe a split second to make the decision that will save your life whether they come from humans, animals, or the inanimate but living world. When we hear a loud noise, even without consciously thinking through the steps our brains are scouring the database looking for the closest match. Sometimes you can do everything right and still doesn’t matter because there isn’t enough time to react.
When I hike in canyons, every distant rumble gives me pause. I know that there is a sound that has been described to me as wholly unearthly. Given that a flash flood is entirely natural, the unique quality of sound must come from the eerie music that the brain plays when you are now face-to-face with the edge. What makes that sound so different, it evokes a sense of urgent action?
My strange little town is mostly quiet, mostly safe, mostly carefree but when things get weird they get weird fast. What made me hate my school girl skirt was how different the world looked when I was wearing it. From the moment when I would wake up in the morning and fall into the routine of wearing this, wearing that, going through the list and playing each choice up against the rules. You’re not creative in your space, you can only be creative within theirs and ours was exceptionally cramped. I got demerits for non-white shoelaces and once for wearing knee-high stockings that sat higher than my knee by an inch. Every detail was a reminder: you are not in charge of yourself. People interacted with me differently than on weekends when I wore jeans, boots, and ball caps. I felt comfortable, free to move, and I didn’t stick out like the picture of a little girl who does what she is told.
I wanted to dress in a way that was logical for my needs, context, and motivations. A knee jerk adolescent compulsion to wear rebellious punk-rock duds does not totally account for the entire situation. I lived at the foothills of a mountain. Black bears once tried to break into my home. I saw coyotes on my way to school in the morning. Mountain lions were being tranquilized and sent to higher grounds and I was already proud of the number of times that I was the first one to spot the rattle snake. In this setting, penny loafers and a grey pleated wool skirt are kind of fucking stupid.
The pope knows for a fact that the streets are not equally safe for everyone to walk around. He gets carted around in a cart with bulletproof glass, so I think he’s a fucking asshole for sending me off to my education wearing pleats in the streets. The dangers of being a girl on the streets don’t come from porn. You could evaporate every single last image of someone getting fucked in a school girl skirt and it won’t change one damn thing about the fact that I was still a girl and girls aren’t afforded voices or autonomy in our culture.
Most people watching adults getting fucked in school girl skirts are doing so because they enjoy watching and knowing that the people involved are adults getting fucked in school girl skirts. What made my skirt different at 13 than 27 is decision making power. At 13 I had no choice regarding any detail of the skirt. Not the shape, model, size, or accessorizing. It advertised where I was going or coming from and the school would actually punish you for things you were spotted or reported to be doing in your uniform outside of school hours which was a known tool for all of the adults in the city. If you wanted to jack any of us up, you could have said that you saw us smoking cigarettes by the canyon in our skirts and be pretty confident we would be stuck after school in detention for it. Denying it wouldn’t get you anywhere unless you had a parent who would advocate for you in the office.
The uniform was a reminder that I had no control over my context. If there was any protection shining down on me that day with the car it was the fact that I couldn’t get enough time to myself walking and wandering and I loved climbing those canyon and mountain trails with my dog and was so entirely aware of the fact that you could disappear into those woods and make it so no one found you for a long fucking time. I am one of those people who gets my personal energy from long periods of time alone. I am a performer but I am very much an introvert. Not all those who wander are lost and without my time to wander I will become quite mentally lost.
For the longest time, I was drawn to the BDSM moniker of “female dominant” because I’ve always had a strong preference for being the one to instigate a sexual encounter. I experience more gratification and pleasure when I pick someone up. I’ve had fun when someone has successfully seduced me but being chosen for someone always puts me on the kind of guard that makes it hard for me to fully relax and put down my hair. I do not feel specialer, prettier, or smarter when I am approached by a man for flirting or for sex. I feel more safe when I go to the individual that I find myself attracted to and get to determine the context. I am left with fewer questions as to whether the man behind the smile is with me because he is attracted to me or if he is targeting me.
I feel less and less connected to a strong identification with any particular sexual role beyond the fact that I have a creative and constantly reeling mind full of images, ideas, and fantasies. I am, during sex, what I need to be in order to get off and the position is less crucial to the proceedings. In the constant quest for new, I am less aroused by ritual and more by spontaneity. In many ways I seek vocabulary for kinkiness that represents the ways I identify with queerness. What I do know is that I like having sex with people I approach who are keen and positively responsive to the notion of happy fun sexy times with me at a time and place of my choosing when our interactions commence.
I speak about my interactions with men because my queerer interactions play out a bit differently than sitting in a straight bar and being approached by presumably straight cisgender strange men. As a whole, I have more fun with male partners who do give me plenty of room and the space to be the actor in regards to sex rather than the reactor. I don’t think that this is an inherently “dominant” feature because I don’t really know what I’ll be into in the immediate context of the sexual hyperspace will be in that moment. Maybe I’ll fuck their ass, maybe they’ll fuck mine. Until we start talking I don’t wholly know where the strongest overlap between interests and proclivities will fall. What I want to do during sex depends a whole lot on how my day went and how my body is feeling. Whatever is I wind up doing, I will experience more gratification if I have decision making power on the context.
I’ve been drawn to urbanity with close proximity to wilderness through the course of my life. I choose the campus of UC Santa Cruz pretty much based on geography alone. I knew that I wanted to attend a University of California campus and so far as an undergrad academic experience in literature, the discipline I knew I would study from pretty much the age of 12, would be pretty comparable down the line. Lucky me, Santa Cruz was still the weirdo campus of the system with some deep progressive holdouts still clinging to life. I studied with amazing people who changed my paradigms and I did so in a redwood forest by the beach.
Maybe it won’t work for everyone, but if you’re encountering dense philosophical texts for the first time I highly recommend scaling a 60 foot redwood tree to the top and reading it in the sunlight and just thinking about what you read as you watch the sun set into the ocean. It really helped tie things together for me and I’m pretty woo-woo averse. I crave urbanity and concrete by day and total wild isolation at night. I need the museums, the noises, the crowded buses, conversations happening in languages I don’t understand, the most insane thing you ever saw followed by the smartest thing you ever heard followed by someone so sexy it takes your breath away. Sign me up. Sign me up for street food, it’s better than restaurant food, stop worrying about your Purell and eat something grilled on a street corner. At least you can see the kitchen and how many fucked up videos from Applebees kitchen to see that suburbia is evil and trying to kill us.
I’m also pretty happy in the middle of nowhere in the wilderness. Both of these spaces have their dangers. There are bears, mountain lions, and the kind of fucked up serial killers that inspire movies potentially lurking off in the distance. These things happen. However, virtually every single study shows that rape, abuse and assault to children happens predominantly by people they know. It is more dangerous to a predator to take an unknown child off the street than it is to abuse one that they see everyday. When shit happens, statistically speaking, it’s somewhere and with someone who you know. It’s not to say that I’m safe in hiking out in the mountains but statistically speaking I’m way safer there than I am as a teenager going to high school. Going to high school is probably one of the most hazardous occupations we’ve ever invented.
Wearing a school girl uniform made me feel more vulnerable because of how clearly it marked me as an easy target from far away. Jeans, boots, and a sweatshirt compelled someone to get close enough to me that I could see them but the ill-fashioned skirt, pink blouse, and sweater set me off as vulnerable from an easy distance. I wasn’t dressed to respond to the repeated threats in my context. The forced feminization of the uniform felt like enforced vulnerability.
Porn isn’t in the wrong for using the school girl uniform, schools are already forcing and establishing the dominance pecking order by establishing a school girl uniform. That’s some non-consensual D/s shit and it’s much more appropriate to do between two consenting adults. Consensual outlets for self-aware control freaks, that is my sexual harm reduction method. Your brain is the best sex toy you will ever own and part of fighting oppression is looking into yourself and how it holds you back and how to participate in it. When you eroticize something, you pull it from that context and begin to engage with it in a way that moves towards more awareness. Just playacting doesn’t create the conscious awareness, thinking about why and the context with which you have those feelings is a separate and long process. At the very least, the images jump to the forefront of your brain in a place where you cannot and will not ignore them completely.
So what’s the word for that sexual identity?