It began with a kiss, in a hotel-suite living-room that was my makeshift bedroom, a thin sliding door separating me from the bedroom where my parents slept. A door with no lock.
I was sixteen. My older brother was starting at Calvin College, and we had gone to America to see him off. We stayed in the college’s conference center. Two things impressed me: I could push buttons to open doors and the computers had broadband internet.
There was a massive TV, and I watched Family Guy and Adult Swim for the first time in my life. Things I would never have dared to watch back home, where we had one subscription to Malaysia’s satellite provider and two TVs. When my mother was in the house, she could turn on the other TV at any time and see what I was watching.
There was a no-locked-doors policy in the house, except when we changed and showered, and my mother liked snooping. We were strictly forbidden from dating.
Here’s a list of my sins:
- Skipping my homeschooling work in favor of reading novels.
- Playing PlayStation when my parents were attending a Pentecostal seminary in the mornings.
I confessed these things to God regularly. But I didn’t stop.
Until Wikipedia, my sex education was a book my parents tossed me called So You’re 12, which was really more about puberty than sex. I had never kissed, an act waiting for love. I never even considered masturbation or porn. I floated in the sanctified river of purity, scrubbing myself of any fantasies. Sex was dangerous. Sex was evil.
Then the kiss. But first, a story.
An attractive, petite blonde woman in a black one-shoulder dress that clings to her body in ways I didn’t know were possible arrives with her boyfriend at a party. This boyfriend has recently informed her of his bisexuality. This party is being hosted by his male ex-lover. The boyfriend tells the woman casually about all the people he has slept with in this room, male and female, and it seems to be half the party. The woman observes the couples, in every combination of men and women, and feels a distinct sense of surrealism, as if she were Alice fallen into a gay Wonderland. Up is down and left is right. She reminds herself that she is older than most of the people in this room, but tells herself not to be an old fart.
Someone grabs an empty bottle and waves it in front of the party. Her boyfriend grabs her hand and leads her to a quickly forming circle, where she sits down, uncomfortable. Spin the bottle begins. A few turns in, a pretty brunette takes the bottle and spins it. The blonde woman is lighting a cigarette and doesn’t notice it pointing at her, until her boyfriend says her name. She looks down and then shrugs.
“Whoops.” She laughs nervously. “It’s a girl. Try again.”
“I don’t mind,” the other woman says.
I got up from the edge of the bed, my heart hammering. The brunette, played by Alanis Morissette, crawled towards Carrie Bradshaw, lead of Sex and the City, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. My mouth went dry.
I was sure my parents would walk in right then. Or it would be censored, like they did in Malaysian cinemas. Or the characters would back out at the last moment. Or God would strike me down with a plague. I was sure of these things, and yet I was willing to believe otherwise.
When Morissette leans in and places her lips on Parker’s, I whoop.
The kiss lasts ten seconds. Parker barely kisses back. There is no tongue. Parker’s character makes an excuse and leaves without taking her turn at spinning the bottle, retreating back to her life of adamant heterosexuality.
But for me there was no going back. The river of purity had suddenly opened up into the sea of eroticism. Possibility—raw, earthy, and filthy—clung to me like pollution.
I fantasized about Carrie Bradshaw. I fantasized about the female tennis stars who were playing in the US Open. When we got back to Malaysia and installed broadband, I started watching every clip of soft core lesbian porn on YouTube I could find. I found a program that allowed me to hide the browser I was using on the family computer. Sometimes I had so many videos streaming the computer slowed to a crawl. I discovered erotic fan-fiction and kinky pictures from Deviant Art. I started masturbating at the age of nineteen. I started watching porn at the age of twenty. When I was twenty-four, I had sex for the first time in the backseat of my car. I only knew the girl’s first name.
None of that crossed my mind as I sat back on my bed, but I knew something had changed. It was scary. It was beautiful. By the time my parents came back, I was in bed, reading. They didn’t notice anything different. They didn’t know that sixteen-years worth of sheltering had been undone in a ten-second TV kiss.
That night I spun out a dozen fantasies, and I felt no shame.