I love my innocence. I protect it. I still cherish it. And even as an adult, I still try to keep it and develop it. Why does it matter to me? Because it was taken from me. When we talk about abuse, it can take many forms. Abuse of the innocent is the worst kind—not that there are degrees. I have written about aspects of this before:
Every year on Christmas Eve I read to my children. We still do it even though they are almost adults. One of the two books we always read (the other being The Night Before Christmas) is the Polar Express. I didn’t have this story growing up, but there is a passage in it at the end where the boy who narrates the story talks of a bell that Santa gave him that he could ring and listen to…and in this passage, he rings it with his sister every year. And one year his sister can’t hear it anymore, and his parents comment, “why are you trying to ring that bell, it’s broken,” but he can still hear it. That passage never fails to choke me up.
When my children were little they would paw my face to brush away my tears, and say “don’t cry papa,” and I would apologise. More recently, they laugh at the thought of me crying, but if I try to laugh my way or tough my way through that passage, the outcome is the same–tears…and my children have come to rely on those tears as part of the rituals of Christmas, just like decorating the tree. They used to ask me about it, indeed, my SO still does, but they have figured out for themselves now. They understand that I cry for the loss of innocence.
The loss of innocence in our society is deemed a rite of passage, part of growing up. As such, the taker of innocence might feel it is their duty to do so. The older sibling who tells the younger one that Santa Claus doesn’t exist; the mean girl in school who tells you that so-and-so doesn’t really like you; and of an infinite number of ways to dash hope. Some people call it the shattering of illusions. And illusions are seen in a negative light, so losing our illusions is a good thing, right?
But what about when I look in the mirror and I don’t see me as my body shows me, but instead as a happy girl filled with illusions, eager, innocent, filled with love and hope?
As we grow up, either with positive intent, or possibly a cruel heart, or some mix of both, the people in our lives chip away at our innocence. That is the “benign” version. Too often in our world, abuse goes well beyond the accidental to the intentional. Sexual abuse is horrific, and the statistics are numbing—fully 33% of girls and 20% of boys are sexually abused by the time they reach the age of consent. The vast majority of this abuse is perpetrated by men.
That does not mean that women do not abuse. Apparently, close to 90% of non-sexual child abuse is perpetrated by women. Although the word “motive” is suspect in this context, certainly given women’s primary caregiving role, they will have both access and exposure, which gives the opportunity for abuse. More importantly, this role, the pressure that society places on women, the discrimination, the pigeon-holing into the “thankless” role of childrearing and mothering can make women resentful. There we have a perfect breeding ground for abuse.
Stealing Innocence as Abuse
Setting out to make someone “grow up”, even as a parent, carries the hallmark of abuse. There isn’t a child out there, who given a healthy, loving, non-judgemental environment, who won’t grow up just fine on their own…and better still, on their own terms.
The relentless abuse I experienced as a child from my older siblings, the total absence of parental protection, my impotent rage at being unable to retaliate (physically, emotionally), the constant teasing, mocked at for being a cry-baby, the pressure to grow up, but the constant denial of rights or privileges accorded to older siblings, because I was still too young…it is no wonder that school was a refuge (whereas for most children who experience relentless bullying, it is usually the other way around). And my mother would tell me that she would call my teachers and ask if I was as unhappy at school as I was at home—thanks for breaching more boundaries mom. And this combined with a mother who sexualised and infantilised me, who dressed me as a girl, told me she wanted a girl, but later told me she didn’t want a “fag” as a son…and who relentlessly tried to put men in my life who would be male role models, because I wasn’t male enough, manly enough…and a father who pushed me physically and mentally to “toughen me up” and “make a man out of me”. It sucked.
But it also turned me into a fighter. I don’t know if I was born a fighter, but I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t become one. And when my mother would say to me, “you have so much anger, why do you fight all the time, why do you fight me?” and telling me that it was only hurting me…but in truth, without it, I couldn’t have functioned.
My community was my friendships. Mostly school friends. Very deep bonds. Loyalty. Trust. Honesty. But so few people to let in. The very few were the ones who didn’t judge . When I think of the people I have been closest to in life, it has all been people I can just not hide from. And I don’t mean transgender stuff, though that matters too. It was simply that we could just be together, quietly, and without a word, understand each other. And that has been true of both male and female friendships.
And what was I fighting for all that time? I was fighting for the freedom to feel the way I felt. That’s it. To be able to feel and experience life the way this individual did, and to not be told that there was something wrong with that, or that I had to feel something differently. And that for me is expressed in this concept of innocence.
The Eroticisation of Innocence
I have also eroticised my own innocence. There is a particular body-feeling as well as mental state that comes with innocence. An absence of agenda. A quieted mind. The triumph of feeling over the rational. But also a safe space to feel raw emotion. Perhaps the whip is a symbol in the abstract of abuse (I was never physically abused in this particular sense)…because what I feel when I am whipped is that I just want to be able to show love, to feel love, and to do so without judgement. I say “perhaps” because I don’t know. I am not “into” pain, and yet, one of the reasons I approached a Dominatrix in the first place was that I wanted to be whipped. I still want that, even though I am “not very good at it.” [I fully expect to get in trouble for saying that.]
There was a conversation once between Mistress and slave that ran more or less along these lines:
“But we don’t have to do the whipping part. Can’t we just go straight to the cuddling and crying part?” I’m big on aftercare.
“No. The whipping part is a means to an end. It opens a door. When the door is open you can decide whether to go through it or not.”
The other thing a whipping does is that it brings you into your body. I have a tendency for my mind to wander. [Pretty standard for an ADD person]. Sometimes getting whipped or hit or spanked or anything else helps this process along…and being present is a goal of itself. Being present is also when this love of innocence comes flooding to the surface. And with this feeling, life in all its beauty and poignancy is there to be felt…Is it any wonder I might shed a tear?
In a recent interaction I came closer to this feeling than ever before—when rational thought was no longer crowding out everything else, and I felt like an animal. The erotic is a language that allows us to speak with our deepest needs. In my case, this deepest need is to park the rational maelstrom and to just feel, and to do this within the context of innocence: innocent desire, wonder, feeling—to be without agenda, to just become lost in sensation, physical touch, and the magic of another person and all that she represents.
An alternative meaning for the Age of Consent
The age of consent exists as a marker for when we have lost our innocence. That this loss of innocence has contributed to our judgement and allows us to make sensible decisions. To think like adults. What a horrible thought that being an adult means no longer being innocent. That we must all be stained by brutality and “reality” in order to be deemed functioning members of society.
What is the difference between innocence and faith? Before we are disabused of our innocent notions, we may believe that the world, its people, are a certain way. Losing this innocence means we see things how they “really are”. Or does it?
And what is faith? Active believe in spite of the loss of innocence? Why not? Faith is easiest to talk about in relation to the concept of God. Absent empirical proof, many simply deny God’s existence. But others have faith. They hold their faith despite a weight of argument against their beliefs. Innocence in this sense is a an active choice.
Why does growing up have to mean losing our innocence?
I wrote previously about how Western society increasingly infantilises its citizenry. But this is not a healthy process. It is not about innocence; it is about the denial of agency. For women in particular. There has been much recent writing about how the traits we admire in women are really traits often associated with children. This is problematic on so many levels. It contributes to the sexualisation of girls, it contributes to the domination of the female spirit and the degradation of women in the social sphere.
“Older men hate boys because boys still have the smell of women on them,” Andrea Dworkin.
This quote resonates on so many levels. I loved having “the smell of woman on me”. I remember this vividly and consciously from childhood. It was being inside a woman’s protective veil. That could have been the mother figure, but it could also be a GF, a female friend, a friend’s mother. I will never forget when I was 13 and “hanging out” with a bunch of friends at the beach and our respective parents. I had a massive crush on one of the girls, and her mother approved of me. She told me to “come here,” and pulled me to sit on one of her legs while her daughter watched. She picked up a spoon from the table and fed me pudding. “You see my girl, this is how to treat a boy,” and she fussed and clucked over me as she fed me. My father looked on laughing. He later said to me, “you liked that didn’t you?” and I could feel judgement and quiet rage.
[This was in South America, in a country where boys are kept with the trappings of infancy (pacifiers, strollers, diapers) until way past the age when girls are…and to an age that would seem strange in the US or Europe. And that is before they are then assimilated into a macho culture and patriarchy, but one which reveres the mother and the femme fatale. And this is certainly not an advertisement.]
We do not as a society expect of girls on the path to womanhood a formal loss of innocence, because we seem to have sexualised keeping women in a childlike state. But this is not what we do with boys. We seem to have an almost codified process of stripping away the innocence of boys. Rites of passage designed to toughen up boys, to make men of them, are often just institutional forms of abuse. They are no less abusive for being institutionalised.
Even our language is littered with the supposed necessity of going from boy to man: “man up” and “grow a pair” as just two examples. To be boyish, to have not made that right of passage, is to somehow be “too female”. This follows when we equate childlike with the feminine. But is innocence really female, as this would imply? And is the loss of innocence really so desirable? Do we really have to lose our innocence to be men?
To cry is being a baby
How many of us have been told as children to stop acting like a baby when we cry or express emotion? Probably all of us. Though I suspect that it is far more common that an adult tells a boy to stop acting like a baby than to do the same with a girl, because, well, girls and women are children. Right?
And please don’t think for a moment that there is something wrong with crying. How on earth can emotional expression be babyish? How on earth can being emotionally expressive be a bad thing?
Whether you have a lot to cry about or not, whether you did when you were growing up, being told that you were acting like a baby was certainly not helpful. It fostered in my own life a desire to fight. It triggered an immediate resistance to the person delivering the message, an immediate protective bubble around whatever I was feeling, because I felt it, needed to feel it, and wanted to feel it to process it…and someone telling me I was “being a baby” because of it, just meant that they couldn’t be trusted. And now I think I might be filled with lots of these little bubbles. I talked about popping one of them in Cranio-Sacral therapy…and I think there is truth to that.
I love being gullible
I started to fight for my innocence at a young age. I didn’t want to be told that Santa didn’t exist. I didn’t want to stop believing in make-believe, in magic, or in supernatural things. I began to protect and hide those beliefs inside of me, away from prying eyes, not because I didn’t want to be laughed at, but because I loved magic. I still love magic. And I love the infinite ways magic shows itself.
Childlike wonder is a beautiful feeling. It means we remain open. It means we have the ability to be surprised and to take joy in that. That we can shut down our inner scepticism. Although the parallel is not perfect, being gullible is a form of this. When your default mode is trust, gullible is its bed companion. It is a kind of vestigial innocence. And there is a very special someone in my life who takes joy in playing with my gullibility, and teasing me about it, making me blush…and I love it, because it reminds me that I still have the capacity to feel, to believe, to trust, to love, and to feel and experience life with innocent wonder.
I still believe in Santa Claus. What does that mean? Santa Claus represents a desire to give. It represents a desire to give with abundance. It represents giving with forgiveness, insight, selflessness, and passion. It is about being generous of spirit. Above all, Santa Claus is about the magic that is sparked in the heart of any person who receives this kind of generosity. And there is no guarantee that any one of us on the receiving end of this kind of giving will see it, hear it, feel it, recognise it for what it is. But having innocent wonder helps.
Santa Claus doesn’t have to be a chubby man in a red suit. Santa Claus instead can be an ideal. Santa Claus is a symbol of innocence, both as giver and receiver. The cultivation of innocent wonder. It is an ideal. It is one I will always fight for.