Repression, 90s Style

First, some housekeeping: There’s a really good chance I will be changing my posting schedule to Thursdays and Tuesdays.  Mondays have become overwhelming, because I work both jobs and don’t have much time in between to get into the headspace for a blog post. I am off Tuesday mornings, however, so I think that might be a better time to get the words out.  We shall see.

Anyhoo, you know who lives in my head rent-free?  Pam Stenzel.  If you are a Patreon subscriber, you probably read the monologue I wrote for a show that was sidelined due to Covid, about Pam Stenzel.  If not, and you don’t know who she is, I guess I will tell you, although life was surely better for me before she was introduced into my atmosphere.

In our 8th grade sex ed class, we watched a video of an abstinence-only speaker named Pam Stenzel.  It was funny, kind of, and she seemed to really relate to the youth, and since we were all good little Catholic school kids, we mostly just giggled and blushed and agreed with her stance.  Her main takeaways were that love didn’t mean sex, and sex didn’t mean love, both concepts which I already understood, and were a decent lesson to teach.  However, she also taught that any kind of sex would land you in hell, or at the very least, sully you in the eyes of God, as well as your future husband/wife.

Now, I read a lot, because I was a shy kid who would never have asked an adult any of my burning questions.  And I was also blessed with a mother who was an HIV counselor.  So, I knew a few extra things that my peers didn’t.  I knew all about AIDS and STDs via Mom, and I knew everything about sex from afternoons in the library.  And I also knew, through reasoning, logic, and common sense, that abstinence, while an option, was absolutely NOT the best one.  I kept this to myself however, as I watched my classmates vibe with her message. 

Fast forward a few years to me being a Junior in high school, when Pam Stenzel actually came to speak to us in person.  We watched her videos, the teachers hyped her arrival, and the whole school assembled in the auditorium one Friday afternoon to hear her speak.  We spent an hour or so being told our normal pubescent feelings were sinful, and that God would be ashamed of us if we didn’t choose abstinence.  Also, that love was no excuse for sex.  Now, I NEVER planned on waiting until marriage, as was the message they were pushing at me my entire life.  I watched enough episodes of Friends by that point to know that people slept with other people and God never smote them down for it.  Deciding to do what was right for me, specifically, as I often always do, I made the moral decision that I would not have sex until I found someone I truly cared about.  I would not be pressured, I would not give in to temptations, but I would also not marry someone and then later discover we were not sexually compatible.  That seemed so stupid to me, I still can’t wrap my head around it.  It’s like folks who don’t live together before they get married…how do you know which way they will hang the toilet paper??

Anyway, here I am now, almost 40 years old with a fairly healthy view on sex that I absolutely did NOT develop through my church, schooling, or conversations with trusted adults.  This was 100% all of my own doing, and I have never felt ashamed.  That was the biggest issue with me growing up Catholic…the shame we were forced to feel surrounding sex and puberty.  The logic simply didn’t hold for me; if God made us in his image, then why were we denying parts of ourselves?

I’m thinking of all this because I went to Planned Parenthood not long ago for a birth control check, and it reminds me of the times when I was a kid and wanted to go there to ask questions but couldn’t get up the nerve.  I bet Pam Stenzel is the sort that would picket the clinic instead of using it, likely over abortion issues, or maybe just even over birth control, another thing she made us feel ashamed about…my 16 year old self who had just started the pill felt really special then.  And still, when I say I have to go to PP, people think sinister things…mostly unaware they are the leading birth control provider in the game.  Unaware that most women who go there go for cancer screenings and pap smears.  Not even all of them do abortions, just fyi.  I’m just out here spreading knowledge, is all.  Don’t shoot the messenger.

The point of my blog is that sexual health is important and something we should be teaching kids about from the onset of puberty, not trying to suppress so that we raise up another generation of unhealthy, suppressed, shamed, and confused kids.  For instance, all my kiddos know where to get a condom.  I have four teenagers…I keep them in my house just like I keep tampons and Tylenol.  I don’t want a sick kid, and I don’t want a grandkid, and they are aware and do not want these things either.  I don’t know if anyone is active or not, but I do know that if they are, they have the tools they need.  I have been promoting body positivity and sexual health for as long as they can remember…because no one did it for me.

And I blame Pam Stenzel.

Oppression Comes in All Sizes

A while back, I saw a call for submissions from a local theater company called Green Buffalo Productions.  They were working in association with Madwoman in the Attic, a mental health advocacy organization that I follow and for which I have down some writing.  The project at the time was called The Big O, but has since been renamed to What it Means to be Human.  What it comes down to is oppression, in all its various forms.

Now, I know I am privileged.  I’m white, I live in America, and I was raised in a middle-class environment that sent me to private school, plus a year of college.  I’ve got privilege upon privilege.  So, when I sat down to think about how I have faced oppression, originally, I had nothing.  I talked my way out of every slight against me with the knowledge that it could be worse.  However, the more I thought about it, we all face some form of oppression in our lives, even if it’s just a small thing.  I looked for small things, things I disregarded as oppression because of the bigger, badder sorts of it out there.

The first piece I wrote was for myself.  It’s a monologue about Pam Stenzel.  If you know who she is, you probably just groaned or laughed, or some combination of the two.  If you don’t know who she is, you’re fortunate.  (Sahar, who had no knowledge of her, read the piece to give me notes, and the only one she provided was “fuck Pam Stenzel.”)

Pam Stenzel is an abstinence-only speaker who travels to Christian high schools and tells you about how you’re going to die from HPV.

In grade school, we watched her video.  In high school, she actually came to speak to us.  But that’s beside the point.  The point is that sex was verboten in my high school for religious purposes, and she was the symbol of that.  I thought of her and I realized…wait!  Is that…sexual oppression wrapped in religious oppression?  And so, I started to type.  I sent the piece off and received word back that they would be doing the show sometime in the spring, and if I wanted to send anything else I could.  I think this was in December.

Then, COVID. 

So, everything got pushed back a little, and when I saw their second call for submissions last week, I thought, hey, why not.  The only other project I was working on really was my chapbook, and I just approved the final proof yesterday, so nothing to do on that front for a few days.  But what other opression could I write about?

In October, Hubs sister came to town and took him to a Post Malone concert for his birthday.  Without going into too much detail, it was a traumatic experience for him-he was stopped by police and security, and they ran his ID.  Now, here’s something I don’t often tell people, for no other reason than I rarely think about it: my husband has a felony from when he was seventeen.  He was homeless and desperate and broke into a house and got caught.  He spent three years in prison, and we met right when he moved to Buffalo, and lived in a halfway house downtown.

Mark never hides this fact.  I don’t think about it much, as I said, but it does affect our lives, twenty years after the fact.  He can’t get the job he wants, so he can’t make enough money to get it expunged.  Which means he will never get the job he wants, or a million other things.  And, sometimes, (more often than he would care to admit, really) cops give him a hard time. 

I don’t know why.  He usually isn’t doing anything.  He’s been stopped by a cop for walking near where a car was stolen the night before.  Once an officer stopped him for walking and eating a sandwich at the same time…I swear to God.  And then the concert, where they called him a drunk and slammed him on the hood of the police car and threatened to arrest him.  And each time they run his number and see that felony and he becomes suspect number one, even if there’s not a crime to be found.

So…I wrote a little play about that.  About how a hardworking, law-abiding citizen can still be discriminated against long after he supposedly paid his debt to society.  And I sent that off.  So now I may have two pieces in this production.

So…that’s it, right?

No.  Nonono.  There’s a little part of me that wants to ask, you know…a little part that wants to know if they have a stage manager.  A little part that wants to know when auditions are.  A little part that wonders who is directing…

 Oh, but that’s another blog for another day, isn’t it?