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How Undiagnosed PTSD Made Me React to Sexuality in High School

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During my junior year, I was called a “dyke” and it was the absolute worst day of high school.

• What is PTSD?

I had crushes on a lot of older guys, situations that had zero chance of happening and therefore felt safe. I would entertain flirtations and relationships in my peer group but then turn to stone when fooling around entered the picture.

Years later, I uncovered memories and realized that I had been exposed to sexual content and subjected to inappropriate behavior by a peer at a rather young age which ultimately led to confusion and induced shame that took years of therapy to work through.

Toward the end of that particularly chaotic junior year, I kissed a boy or rather he kissed me. It was actually my second real kiss — the first awkward experience occurred two years prior.

Throughout that year we flirted, hung out together and even went to junior prom as a couple. I played it cool at prom, partly because I found out he fooled around with some girl a grade below us and because there were unwritten sexual expectations surrounding the prom experience that terrified me. Several weeks after that miserable night, I drove him home from a party one night and we chatted for a few minutes in his driveway. He quickly leaned in and kissed me before I could employ my usual avoidance system. I didn’t respond well — I pulled away and said something to the effect of, “OK, I have to get home now.” I drove away shaky, sweaty and in tears, wondering what the hell was wrong with me.

Later that week, we were wrapping up in AP Economics and he dropped the “D” word: “dyke.”

I ran out of the classroom. There it was, confirmation that I was some kind of “freak,” and now everyone knew about it. Where I came from, being gay was not “acceptable” — not for a teenage girl.

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I couldn’t be with a guy, but I didn’t particularly want to be with a girl. What did that make me?

That year, when my supposed beau used that homophobic slur, it was most likely because I hurt his ego and not because there was anything wrong with me. I blame the school system, my community and even my parents for sending the fear of G-d through me that I might be gay and for skipping important discussions about sexuality during my childhood and teen years.

Nearly 20 years later, I’ve figured some things out. As it turns out, I’m not a freak. I experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). No, it wasn’t some big traumatic event, but it was enough little traumas that inhibited me from exploring my sexuality and triggered panic in situations where sexual behavior might take place.

Today, I’m at peace with who I am as a sexual being. As it turns out, I do prefer men. And when I experience desire, it doesn’t translate into panic and I don’t burn with shame because I link it to repressed memories of being abused. I feel sorry for that awkward teenager, shaking and sweating before, during and after a date. I feel sorry for that teenager who believed sexuality was something that should be repressed. I’m glad she worked up the courage to talk about it, to work through it, and to allow herself to heal so that she could experience the multiple levels of romantic relationships. It was worth it.

Photo by Kev Costello on Unsplash

Originally published: August 4, 2020
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