I first noticed that look--They're looking to you even when they can't look into your eyes, and they won't look into you--in a woman I dated a long time ago. I was about 24; it was not long after I returned from France and my grandmother had died, and not long before an uncle would die and a friend would commit suicide. She was a dozen years older than I was, and had divorced a few years earlier. For me, that was an eon: I was still in high school when her alcoholic husband was beating her.
We got into an argument about something I've long since forgotten. Having almost no coping skills for such situations, I suggested that it might be better if I left. "No," she insisted. "At least you didn't beat me."
"Well, that just makes me a human being."
"That's not true. Besides, you don't use sex on or over me. You don't use sex, period."
I didn't quite understand what she meant. I take that back: I knew full well what she meant, but I was sure that I couldn't have learned it in the same way she did.
Or did I?
Over the years, before and since I became sober, before and since my transition, females have come to me with that same look. One was eight years old; another was seventy-nine and others were ages in between. Of the in-betweens, I dated a few and had long-term relationships with two. In the words of one, "My brothers used me for sex." A student who talked me today said the same thing about her father. Somehow, I knew, before she opened her mouth. Another student, who did a tour of duty in Iraq before taking a class with me last semester, had that same look and confided a similarly appalling and terrifying story. She and the student with whom I talked today spent time in foster care as a result of their sexual abuse and, in their new homes, were subject to more and new kinds of sexual violation.
I was spared the foster-care experience; my family was actually stable, though it had its tough times. And I was not abused by any family member. However, I was molested by a close family friend. Even when I wasn't consciously thinking of it--which was most of the time, for many years--the echoes of it still muttered like thunder through my sleep. I can think of no other reason why other females wanted to talk about their experiences with me long before I was conscious of my own, and my own experience. It seemed that wherever I looked, I saw their look.