Autostraddle

How My Dad’s Dirty Magazines Shaped My Queer Sexuality

As a young girl, I’d walk home after school and sneak down to my dad’s weight room, past all the exercise equipment and into the drawers. There they were: the motorcycle magazines. I’d paw through them looking for one I hadn’t drooled over already. I’d hungrily tear through the pages looking for the first pair of tits I could find. This discovery would leave me with a forbidden rush, an excitement that I’d never felt before. The naked women sprawled out over the Choppers, Hot rods and V rods became an obsession.

More powerful than guilt, shame or feeling just plain ugly was the sense of empowerment I got from those magazines. I believe that sexual images of women are a positive thing. Porn and dirty magazines were a huge part of finding myself, taking ownership of my sexuality and seeing other women empowered by theirs. Looking through my dad’s dirty magazines was an integral part of my self-discovery as a queer woman.

I was a chronic masturbator as a child. My mom told me that I masturbated in the crib and she had to call the doctor to make sure it was normal. It apparently was, but I didn’t stop once I got older. Once I got to elementary school, in class, I’d rock back and forth in my chair until I came, then do it again and again. Teachers would call my parents and I’d be told to “do that in private.” I had no idea what it was, just that it felt good, so I didn’t understand the need for privacy. I masturbated basically anywhere and everywhere. Soon, masturbating became a remedy for my anxiety. I didn’t need to think of anything sexual to masturbate; I didn’t even connect it to sex. Once I masturbated to Slime Time Live. I was sent to a child psychologist to help maintain my anxiety and to stop touching myself in public. Therapy worked — I was less anxious and had moved my masturbating to private, but I still did it frequently.

When I was about 11, I started to realize how sexuality played into masturbating. My dad left his motorcycle magazines around the house. He read them in bed, on the toilet, at the kitchen table — they were omnipresent. They were not inherently pornographic; they were mostly actually about motorcycles. But beautiful, scantily clad women were pictured posing on them. My reaction to even peaking at pictures of these women was completely visceral. Looking at a woman and seeing her staring back at me — curled hair, hard nipples, red lips — was hypnotizing. I had never seen women in real life so done-up, so hyper-sexed, so unapologetic about being sexualized. I couldn’t get them out of my head.

My dad and I mostly bonded when I was doing something that I imagined he wished he could do with a son. We listened to Black Sabbath together and he’d tell me about all the different engines in a Harley. We had a game where he’d quiz me on the engines and give me $5 if I guessed them correct. He’d show me pictures of bikes in his magazines, point to the engines and I’d call out “hammer head, pan head, shovel head.” When he flipped to a page with one of the models I knew so well, he’d uncomfortably quickly turn the page. He had no idea that skin was already in my mind, already a part of me. He could never know how I lived with the roundness of their breasts, the depths of their navels, the brightness in their smiles.

I knew, on some level, that my fascination with these women had to be wrong. I knew enough to wait until no one was home to look at them. Soon enough, after some snooping, I discovered that my dad had even more magazines hidden in the basement. And in those, the women were naked. I relished the private moment of getting off the bus, eagerly walking home, anticipating my ritual. I’d close the basement door, walk down the stairs, pass the washer and drier, and go into the weight room. There was an inconspicuous white dresser against the wall. I’d open a drawer and feel like a kid in a candy store — or a queer kid surrounded by boobs. My hand would shake as I selected a magazine. I could look at the biker chicks and get turned on without worry, unselfconsciously, because it didn’t bother me yet that I didn’t look like them. I had a concept of my sexuality before I had a concept of my appearance. I still remember their strappy leather outfits, their legs spread wide, their utter confidence.

The magazines were a starting place, but then I craved a moving image. I remember accidentally flipping to an adult channel one night in my room when I couldn’t sleep. From then on, whenever I was alone, I’d watch the scrolling TV guide and my eyes would light up whenever I saw something like “Step Mom Gang Bang.” Channel 99 came in all scrambled. An ass would appear in the upper right hand corner of the screen, a boob in the bottom left: a surrealist painting of pornography. The channel hardly ever focused but every once in a while you could get a clear vision of a beautiful woman being penetrated and, for that one moment, I’d be mesmerized. I’d make sure the remote was next to me and the previous channel was Nickelodeon so I could quickly switch back if needed. If there were videos on TV, I figured there must be more on the internet. One night, I quietly slid out of bed, snuck on to the family computer and shakily searched “girls kissing.” These videos became almost sacred. Then, I discovered full-blown porn.

By this age, about 13, I had begun to give thought to my weight, my hair, my clothes. I desperately wanted to be conventionally beautiful. My relationship with women in porn was complicated. Some days, I wanted to be with them. Some days, I compared myself to them. Other days, I felt completely un-turned on by them because I assumed they were straight. There was no specific incident that made me start feeling this way. I all-of-a-sudden became more aware of myself and of other people’s orientations—I acknowledged that I was different. I’ve never had a crush or felt attraction to a straight woman in real life before. I don’t know if that’s a protection from rejection, a blessing to make my friendships easier, or something I carried from the early experience of worrying about the sexuality of the women in porn.

The more multilayered my reactions to images of women became, the more I longed for someone to talk about them with. I would log on to AOL and send an a/s/l message to anyone and everyone in the gay chat rooms. I’d message with anyone who was willing to message me. Talking to other queer people from all over made me feel less alone. I lied about my age and sent fake pictures. Yes, I was totally a young dyke catfish. Once, in one of the gay chat rooms, I noticed the screenname of one of my classmates. (It was dirtbikebabe93. So, so gay.) We’d barely talk in school but we’d instant message for hours. When she came out to me as bisexual, I had no idea what the word meant. I had to look it up in the dictionary. I had no language for my sexuality, I had no idea there was an actual word for what I was feeling. For some reason, learning there was one made me scared.

In a time where queerness wasn’t as accepted, I’m thankful that I had an outlet (however pervy it was) to explore my identity. Dirty magazines and porn were a large part of my self-discovery and have positively influenced my sexuality as it is today. Even though identifying myself as queer when I was young seemed terrifying, seeing women unabashedly owning their sexuality taught me to be unashamed of sexuality. I missed a lot of shame and guilt surrounding sex, because I introduced myself to it so young. Being in tune with my sexuality, or even being in tune with my confusion — just simply letting myself feel and experience has led to me being a sexually empowered adult. I thank and honor the perverted 11-year-old I was; she created the proud queer woman and writer I am today.