New Flash Essay: Hong Kong, My Twenties

2020:published in the journal Under the Gum Tree

Trotting downhill, toward the Star Ferry terminal, a pungent smell drew me to a nothing-special corner shrine made of concrete. It would never be listed in The Lonely Planet. It was hung with red lanterns and banners. Additionally, fifteen or twenty coils of incense the size of birdcages dangled from the ceiling. The bottom end of each was burning. The smoke could have choked an ox. I breathed in anyway, breathed in the burnt intimacy. I didn’t know much about intimacy. Sex, sure. Before leaving for Hong Kong, I undertook regular affirmations, “I am having a wonderful travel affair.” In the 80s, affirmations were to be chanted in the present tense, three times per affirmation, staring straight into the mirror.

Inside the temple, I watched everyday Chinese people shake bundles of incense in front of their foreheads and then place the slim grouping of sticks upright in sand-filled troughs before altars bedecked with red candles, idols, and strings of electric lights. Red. Made me wish I had their faith. Unsure of my welcome, I left for the sweaty street. Countless, crushing people demonstrated identifiable purpose, an after-office squash to catch a train or bus or ferry so like my routine this past year in Tokyo, no ferries, loving Japan but hating everything about teaching English except the salary that would afford me these next two months with nothing but my backpack and Asia. A friend planned to come with me. Then her boyfriend wanted her stateside.

On the sidewalk, the thronging Chinese bought plastic shoes, household goods, leafy green vegetables, whole fish. Some large animal’s organs. Cow? A goose minus its head, body split to display glistening innards. The long neck flopped.

“Gross,” I said to no one. It was one, big, lonely planet.

An escape from the street presented itself as a café painted a quiet green. Under the ceiling fans, older men in black pajamas sat in pairs at wooden tables, invariably in the same position: one leg tucked under the bottom, the other dangling not quite to the floor. Each pair concentrated on a game of Go, black and white boards, black and white stones. I took to a table, to be ignored for some time. Eventually, the waiter, unbidden, placed within reach a chilled schooner of tan-colored liquid. It tasted like sweet, milky rice. The men continued their game. The ceiling fans rotated.

A gush of rain drew me to the open window. The pavement was so hot that the water hissed, hitting it. Though I did not go on to have a wonderful affair, the affair I did have was the best I could do. When my two months ended, I returned to the orderly numbness of myself in Tokyo. For my next vacation, I visited my father in the States, He took an opportunity to explain why he always had to have a girlfriend outside his primary relationship. He said, “I need some place to flee.” More than fifty years old and still, the man could not handle intimacy. That was not going to be me.

 I returned to Japan. Three months later, three more months of a life that appeared antithetical to a Western concept of progress, I spent a week feeling as if my brain was un-bending. Finally, I woke from a dream, a thousand fractured images of sexual abuse. I told my acupuncturist, “I don’t want it to be my father.”

He said, “Whatever it is, it’s already been.”

A different day—there were a lot of seemingly random days, during that time—I sat on the grass in my favorite park, Ki-chi-jo-ji, sat in the weak sun that was stealing looks through the cherry blossoms. Had it been a more organized day, would I have found this new affirmation: “All I need is amply provided for, and I am safe.”

It was my father. 

I was safe.

People always want to know, how old were you? Did your mother know? From the time I woke from that dream, it would be seven years of dark nights and ultimate faith before incest became merely the data of my childhood, before the hiss of that downpour began to reveal the abundance of its possibility. I soared: a decent job that I actually liked; my first not-just-screwing relationship, one that lead to marriage. Two children, now teens. A house. Everything normal girls expected. When I stood at the window of the green-walled café, the rain bouncing off the street could only smell as fulsome as two months of freedom. I could have continued teaching English, spending two months of every year in a different Asian country, hoping for the best affair I was capable of. Could die alone. A third question people ask: how did you get through it? They mean the abuse. I hear: the years after surviving it.

There is an old story. A disciple goes to the Buddha, asking for the secret to happiness. The Buddha asks, “Did you eat today?”

“Yes.”

“Did you wash your bowl?”

“Yes.”

“Did you do a good job?”

Spank children harder.

Here at About Childhood, we blog about childhood. Subtitle: Answers for writers, parents, and former children. Big focus on writers, these days. (HAI-ku, HAI-ku.) Back to childhood for a moment, in a way that floors me beyond comment.

Finney
Finney

TOPEKA — A Kansas lawmaker is proposing a bill that would allow teachers, caregivers and parents to spank children hard enough to leave marks.

Rep. Gail Finney, a Democrat from Wichita, says she wants to allow up to 10 strikes of the hand and that {sic} could leave redness and bruising. The bill also would allow parents to give permission to others to spank their children.

Source: The Associated Press.

Madonna is dangerous for girls.


Material Girl

Continuing from my review of “Madonna & Me” in PLOP! Review:

The 2007 report by the American Psychological Association about the sexualization of young girls by the media (discussed in my review) states that the culture of pink and princess marketed directly to girls and its “emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness can increase girls’ susceptibility to depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, and risky sexual behavior.”

Know which other subsection of girls exhibit the same susceptibility? Survivors of child sex abuse.

When children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them.

The above is from the section of the APA report, yet reads like it was taken from a book I once gave the man I eventually married. That book was a manual for the parents and partners of sex abuse survivors.

As did the book I gave my now-husband, the APA report outlines the components of sexualization that distinguish it from healthy sexuality. With extraordinary similarity to the book, the APA report states:

Sexualization occurs when:

  • a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion  of other characteristics;
  • a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  • a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
  • sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

All four conditions need not be present; any one is an indication of sexualization.

WWMD pencils …

Deliberately marketed infatuations with Disney princesses lead girls to equally marketed infatuations with Disney Channel’s “tween” stars such as Britney Spears, Lyndsay Lohan, and Miley Cirus. Beyond teaching girls to pine for Prince Charming, beyond teen pregnancy, beyond convincing kids that fame and excess are their birthright, beyond just being a really bad look, fluffy pinks lead to a hardened sexuality projected by children who have yet to feel their own sexual impulses.

… and bracelet.

Lyndsay’s mom, Dinah Lohan; Miley’s dad, Billy Ray Cyrus; they exploit their daughters’ sexuality. The clinical term is emotional sexual abuse.

Does this mean that when regular ol’ non-famous parents establish environments where girls are encouraged to turn otherwise healthy sexual exploration into a public act, that they are committing emotional sexual abuse?

Madonna teaser!

On Monday, PLOP! Review will publish my review of a new anthology, Madonna & Me: Women Writers On The Queen of Pop. Behold, a teaser:

Jan, 2011: on “Toddlers & Tiaras”, a 2-year-old literally stripped out of a white robe, revealing the above, then danced to “Material Girl.” She won.


For more than a decade, psychologists, parents, and child advocacy organizations such as Common Sense Media have expressed alarm over the hyper-sexualization of young women in the media for the explicit purpose of making money. Writers such as Lyn Mikel Brown (Packaging Girlhood) and Diane E. Levin (Too Sexy Too Soon) have made it part of conventional parenting wisdom that advertisers target children.

In her 2001 book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein was the first to connect the dots between a little girl’s devotion to all things princess-like and the emotional jeopardy of a sexual attitude developed too soon. A 2007 report by the American Psychological Association went on to demonstrate the jeopardy posed to girls’ happiness, self-esteem, sexual health, and academic performance as they learn to project a hardened sexuality before experiencing any sexual feelings of their own.

You’ll never guess the rock star to whom Orenstein traces the trend.

Laura Barcella, the editor of Madonna & Me, counts herself a proud, Madonna-in-her-living-room fan since age six. It comes as no surprise that many of her contributors also write about imitating Madonna’s sexual acting out as six-year-olds. While no one can specify what is too soon to be sexy, I don’t need an APA report to know that six years old is too soon.

It floors me that Madonna & Me does not address the obvious question posed by Madonna’s popularity and power: is Madonna good for girls?

(Continued in my piece on PLOP! In the meanwhile: if you can stomach it, you can watch the 2-year-old’s Madonna routine here.)

Real-life quotes about Who’s That Girl, and for no particular reason, my interview with Leonard Nimoy.

Who is that girl?

From Makes Own Kombucha, Age 49:

“Madonna? You mean, the singer Madonna?”

From Just Married!, age 25:

“She just doesn’t seem all that relevant. I mean, it’s ok to do all that stuff (evocative twirling gesture with hands) when you are in your twenties.”

From Lemon Pasta, aged 38:

“I just got MDNA. It’s OK, but I will defend it to the death because it is Madonna.”

On May 7th, the literary magazine PLOP! Review will publish my review of the new anthology Madonna and Me: Women Writers on The Queen of Pop (Soft Skull Press, 2012).

Assigned readings:

Civil Rights for Pedophiles

There is little public sympathy for collectors of child pornography. Yet across the country, an increasing number of federal judges have come to their defense, criticizing changes to sentencing laws that have effectively quadrupled their average prison term over the last decade.

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a 20-year child pornography sentence by ruling that the sentencing guidelines for such cases, “unless applied with great care, can lead to unreasonable sentences.”

The New York Times, May 21, 2010

I am alone in struggling with the logic of the phrase “unreasonable sentences”? While I respect the commitment to civil rights on the part of the judges discussed in A. G. Sulzberger’s article, I wish these judges would first demonstrate the same commitment to understanding pedophillia and addiction.

My understanding of pedophillia comes from 21 years of gradually understanding why, among other abuses, my parents used me in child pornography. It is not that I don’t hold them accountable for their actions. I do. Running alongside, however, is the understanding that sex addicts are no different than alcoholics, drug addicts, or the eating disordered. Some addicts use chemicals, some use food or the denial of it, some use sex.

The problem, of course, is that sex addicts who orient toward children hurt children.

Like every other addiction, sex addiction exists on a continuum. Sex addiction doesn’t start or stop as much as it progresses. Therefore, sex addicts will always progress along the spectrum. Not all sex addicts will progress to pedophilia. However, as long as he or she remains untreated, the pedophile who “only” watches child pornography is increasingly likely to sexually abuse a child.

Collectors of child pornography are the end-users of a multi-million dollar industry that hurts children. They hurt children as much as do the profiteering pedophiles who provide their drug.

You can read A. G. Sulzberger’s full article here.

Mom-blogging goes corporate: This birthday brought to you by AT&T

    In response to this, reader Penny left a comment that dovetails remarkably with thoughts I have been struggling to align for over a year. Penny writes: “Hmmm, while I agree with your point about children being autonomous beings, I wonder if that really equates to you needing to get their permission to write about them or really equals some kind of exploitation.


    I am not inappropriately linking sexuality to money for my parents' financial benefit.

    Yes. It is, precisely, some kind of exploitation.

    Some parents sell their children into sexual slavery. (Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe; you know, other places.) Here, we have 150 “A-list” blogger moms selling ad space through media reps. Think I’m kidding?

    “But just as some cringe at Tupperware parties and the like for allowing a commercial enterprise to masquerade as a social one, some find the vast influx of corporate sponsors, freebies and promotions into the blogosphere a bit troubling. Last summer, one blogger organized a weeklong public relations blackout in which bloggers were urged to eschew contests, product reviews and giveaways and instead get “back to basics” by writing about their lives. Another blogger replied that she couldn’t do so because the blackout fell the week of her daughter’s first birthday party, which she was promoting on her blog. With sponsors and giveaways.”

    The article questions if these awkward moments in the capitalization of childhood  ” … might be, in part, because bloggers and corporations are still forging the proper boundaries of their relationship …. ”

    No. It is because of a diagnostic code these parents should be slapped with.

    If selling your kid into prostitution is at one end of the continuum, and the above perhaps two steps toward the middle, the far end is blogging about your child’s adorable yet immature insistence on being so young.