Is there room in the #MeToo movement for young black girls who suffered sexual abuse in the church?
“Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.”- Audre Lorde
When I recently discovered this quote, it shook my entire life, edges and all. It wasn’t just because the quote was another pearl of wisdom that I learned from the great Audre Lorde, but it’s how the quote deeply resonated with this current stage of my life. Prior to discovering this quote, I was always taught, being raised in church culture, that knowledge is closely associated to your familiarity with God. In other words, I was taught that knowledge manifested itself by being close with God. While I am not negating the previous notion, I know now that it’s problematic to think that God is the only way to gain knowledge because it directly invalidates our feelings and experiences. In fact, by comparing feelings to “being in your flesh” ( and not being “of God”), I was often taught not to embrace the way that I felt.
Enters my first semester of college from stage left with love, sex, discernment, joy, pain, happiness, unhappiness, fear, courage and other feelings that I was forced to confront. All of those emotions that I was once taught to avoid became precursors to this timely realization in which I learned that having the freedom to take ownership of my body without pentecostal dogma deserved top priority.
Sexual freedom has become a significant aspect of that realization. The extent to which I’ve approached that freedom is even more telling of this period of my life. Church culture not only delayed my personal development but repressed my perception of my own sexuality with the ways in which it policed a woman’s body. That constant oppression of my body was almost always for the preservation of a man’s righteousness. My curves consistently had to be hidden under the guise of “not tempting men” or “not leading them to sin”. I was taught that women were seductive and manipulative with teachings on how Eve persuaded Adam to sin. That particular story in the Bible laid the foundation for the narrative of women being responsible for the demise of men, one that would contribute to the patriarchal systems that are prevalent in church culture. However, if men could be so easily tempted, then why were women always the problem?
It took nearly ten years after being sexually assaulted for me to wrestle with that question. I was watching "Wild'n Out" with a boy from church at his house before he told me to follow him to the closet. I didn't think much of it; I just thought he wanted to play a game. It was to my surprise that he tried to push my body toward his and force himself on me. Although I struggled, I was able to push him away. The six-year-old DeAsia thought that particular behavior was normal for little boys, so I continued to be friends with him following that incident. Furthermore, church practices did nothing to invalidate that behavior. The lack of scorn that was directed at men for their appearance and sex lives taught me that maybe God was less concerned about their behavior, and therefore, I should be too. Additionally, I never heard the topic of sexual assault being preached in the pulpit as much as I heard lectures about abstinence. Women were always directed to not have sex, while conversations about involuntary sexual experiences were nonexistent. My head was always turned away from sex scenes in films and my ears were closed to music mentioning sex, but there was never any mention of traumatic effects of sexual assault when I was younger. Thus, I thought that my silence about the situation was the most preferred
During the years following that situation, I didn’t realize the magnitude of how much that situation literally fucked up my life. It fucked up my confidence and self-worth because I remember being this sociable little black girl who was fearless. I became less outspoken and increasingly introverted without knowing why, and subtle sexual advances from black men and lustful looks at my prepubescent body followed me into my teenage years. That behavior seems to be even more prevalent during this time as I approach my twenties, and I unfortunately perceived it as normal (I often still do).
I shared my story in church, seeking some sort of consolation besides the typical “God will see you through it”. While, I’m thankful that I was able to share my experience with the church, it was disheartening to know that the conversation wouldn’t go beyond God. Because the person who harassed me was a product of the church, I was seeking some sort of explanation from the church. Instead, I just received 10 minutes of trivial conversation based on God and his strength.
However, I didn’t know that the incident and what I was taught would have negative impacts on how I embraced my sexuality until now——when I actually decided to have sex and take ownership of my body. I’ve become rigid in my own body and can’t have a regular sexual experience with someone that I love because of years filled with sexual repression.
I later learned that the person who assaulted me was in jail, which encouraged me to remain silent. It wasn’t just due to sympathy for him; it was more of an unfortunate understanding of the societal systems put in place that most often take a toll on young black girls. Furthermore, the intersections of race, femininity, Christianity, and sex couldn’t be even more clear. In one direction, at six years old, I felt guilty for approaching that extremely forbidden sin, one that was constantly taught to be connected to my womanhood and my relationship with God. In the other direction, I felt that speaking up would do nothing but exacerbate the racist structures that inhibited black men. I chose silence.
However, referencing Audre Lorde’s quote, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t have muted those emotions. I stopped doing that last year, and learned, since then, that teaching young black girls not to have agency over their bodies is damn near a crime because it only warrants violence against their bodies and years worth of sexual shame and confusion that's nearly inescapable. I’m currently living that toxic reality.