To be held

According to her

Let’s call him Jack. We matched on Tinder in early 2019, when I had just turned 20. He was nine years older than me. This was a time in my life when I frequented the bars on Osborne Street and the nightclubs in the Exchange, my feet tottering on platform heels.

Between the dark, sweaty bouts of dancing, I would step outside for what I had really come out for: the chance to talk to strangers over bummed cigarettes. I was looking for connection. I spent my days alone, often hunched over a book at the Millennium Library. At night, I chased human touch and the thrill of being seen. I wanted a friend.

Jack and I would meet once or twice a week at his apartment. In the days between, he sent one-word replies to my texts. I went to the library, went dancing and went on dates with other men. But I was holding my breath, waiting for a slow-blooming love.

One night, he took off the condom.

“I want to feel you,” he said.

Some time later, I turned to him in bed. The room was filled with early morning sunlight. The sheets were like a cloud beneath me.

“I love you,” I said.

He looked away, embarrassed for me.

I was embarrassed for myself when he phoned to say: “I might have herpes.”

Three years after the herpes scare and the breaking of my young, foolish heart, I have learnt – I am still learning – to follow the tug of my desires.

To an outside eye, my desires seemed to dictate the events of that period of my life. In my heart, I knew what I sought. But since genuine connection was elusive, I made do with nicotine and multiple orgasms. I traded what I really wanted for what was convenient to want.

On a trendy TV show, or an Instagram post, or in a real-life conversation over drinks, I will occasionally come across a statement masquerading as feminist: a declaration of the liberation, the empowerment of transcending emotion and separating sex from feelings.

How good it felt, back then, to declare to the world that I was above wanting a relationship, that being with Jack was fun. And it was – sometimes. And you, my dear, sex-having reader, may find genuine pleasure in a casual arrangement. I did not.

Perhaps you might read this and recognize a part of yourself. Perhaps you are, at this very moment, waiting for a text without admitting to yourself that you are waiting.

Feminism is not about embodying some predetermined figurine of liberation, a no-nonsense Samantha Jones, ready to kick a man out of her bed the moment she cums.

Instead of a facade of cool indifference, I aspire to genuine control and agency in my sexual interactions. This requires honesty about what I want, both to myself and to my partners.

With Jack, I was lying to myself. I thought that my need for vulnerability was too shameful to say out loud. And so I stayed silent.

Overcoming the shame of vulnerability is a difficult task, but it is necessary. To this day, I am cultivating the ability to be honest about what I want and to walk away from situations where I am not getting it.

Ciku Gitonga is a third-year political-science student at the University of Ottawa. She moved from Nairobi, Kenya to Winnipeg with her family in 2016. Although her first love is fiction writing, she also dabbles in nonfiction.

Published in Volume 76, Number 19 of The Uniter (March 2, 2022)

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