“Nerds” and “Sluts”

Nerds engaging in slut shaming:

Nerds engaging in slut shaming: Is such a thing even possible? Yes it is.

TLDR: As a sex-positive adult, I look back on my adolescence and realize that I engaged in slut shaming. Perhaps my story will resonate with you, and you’ll join me in supporting Slut: A Documentary.

If your childhood was anything like mine, you grew up with the label “Nerd.” I loved school up until kids started making fun of me for answering questions in class and getting high scores on tests. I’d come home, cry to my mom, and then double-down on my studying, vowing to become high school valedictorian as my revenge. If they were going to tease me and hurt me for doing something that I loved, I might as well be the very best at it. (I won’t say this plan was logical, but emotionally, it was very satisfying.)

My life as a nerd was often frustrating. My teachers loved me, and I generally loved them, although this pushed me even further away from my peers. Kids would be nice to me when they needed help on homework or group projects, but I had very few friends who would do anything with me that didn’t involve school. My dating life was virtually nonexistent, and I was afraid that I would never find a romantic partner.

While my teenage years sucked for me in a lot of ways, I recognize that many, many more kids have had a much tougher time than I did. For example, I can almost remember thinking:

“At least I’m not a slut.”

I still remember the first “slut” I ever heard about. In elementary school, around fifth or sixth grade, there was a girl named Lane in my class. (“Lane” is not her real name.) If I remember correctly, her family wasn’t very well-off, and her mom may have been a single parent.

Lane had always kind of rubbed me the wrong way: she struck me as loud and annoying. She was also a fan of country music, which I hated.

I wasn’t particularly fond of Lane to begin with, and then the other girls started gossiping about Lane being a slut. They said she “did things” with boys. I don’t remember any specifics; I’m not sure the other girls knew any (and the rumors were probably false to begin with). Now I hated being around Lane even more.

When my Girl Scout troop went out for our last outing at the end of sixth grade, we got to go to an amusement park and stay overnight at a nice hotel nearby. I didn’t have any other good friends in the troop, which meant that when it came to picking who stayed in which hotel rooms, I ended up as the outcast Nerd in the same room with Lane. I was sad and frustrated, but at least I had someone I could look down on, just like the other girls who looked down on me.

“At least I’m not a slut.”

Fast forward twenty years: I’ve now come to embrace my sexuality, my gender identity, and my identity as a sex-positive geek. When I first heard about The UnSlut Project, I was enthusiastic about the concept although I didn’t follow the project very closely.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, I watched the teaser video for Slut: A Documentary, and tears started to well up in my eyes. I suddenly remembered Lane, who I hadn’t thought about since sixth grade. I realized that Lane was probably very lonely and sad. My classmates treated her horribly. I’d never called her “slut” myself, but I had looked down on her as much as they had.

There isn’t anything I can do to apologize to Lane after twenty years — the little blonde girl who should have heard that apology is long gone. I was wrong, my classmates were wrong, and the hurt that we inflicted on Lane is an unchangeable part of our shared history. We defined Lane by the negative “slut” label that we gave her, and I used that label to console my sad, Nerd self.

I have no idea what happened to Lane. I think she went to a different junior high than I did, so I never saw her after sixth grade. I hope that she has grown into a fabulous person with a life that she loves.

I don’t know what your past was like, but maybe you made some of the same mistakes that I did. We can’t change the past, but I hope you will join me in supporting Slut: A Documentary as an important step towards reducing sexual bullying and slut-shaming.

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