It’s a truly great day for The Virginity Project because in under one month, ‘Losing It: How we popped our cherry over the last 80 years’ will be published in the USA. Needless to say, that also makes it a great day for me, Kate Monro.
Full disclosure: I never had plans to write a book. I never had plans for anything much beyond having a good time and going to a lot of parties for most of my teens and twenties. It wasn’t until I hit my thirties that it occurred to me that 1. I might be good at something else and 2. I better find out what this elusive ‘something’ was because time wasn’t standing still.
Without wanting to pen a CV of my entire working life, I’d done a lot of ‘interesting’ jobs up to that point (mixed with a bunch of pointless ones it must be said). I’d worked in the music business way back when, assisting maligned Blur manager Mike Collins as his handsome young tykes recorded their first album (caveat: a tear trickled down my face as I watched them at Hyde Park, almost 20 years later in 2009. Who knew this ‘indie’ band would play to 50,000 people in the heart of London one day? I always loved Blur but I admit I hadn’t foreseen that). Later, I worked with some of the most talented photographers, stylists, writers and artists during my tenure at Dazed & Confused Magazine. I was always drawn to creative spirits but only ever in the capacity of assistant or marketer. It was too much to dare think that I might create something of my own. Instead, I aligned myself with bright clever people, got the kind of jobs that people said were ‘amazing’ and hoped that something might rub off.
To anyone who has ever considered doing something vaguely creative, I have one piece of advice for you: start doing it. It doesn’t matter how shit it is. Every mediocre, good or even great piece of art began with one tentative stroke of a brush, a clumsy collection of words and someone who had absolutely no idea what they were doing. There is no short cut so let me save you the time because for the longest stretch, I genuinely believed, albeit in a subconscious manner (the worst kind!) that any worthwhile creative endeavour appeared on the page as a fully formed idea and if you couldn’t think of something show-stopping and spew it up as a perfectly conceived piece of art immediately then you weren’t that creative. I couldn’t be more wrong. Creativity is a process. It is also the net result of graft.
Those fabulous fashion stylists I used to work with at Dazed? Their work took weeks of preparation mixed with large doses of spontaneity and creative risk on the day of a shoot. For the longest time, I preferred to believe that they possessed something that I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong. We all have an aptitude for something. I wouldn’t make a great fashion stylist but it turns out that I’m pretty good at collecting people’s stories and curating them into intriguing social documents. Again, who knew?
Along the way, I had to learn to string a sentence together. It wasn’t always comfortable. Pressing the ‘send’ button on my blog for the first time was a bit like the literary equivalent of passing your driving test and not knowing whether you’re about to take out ten pedestrians on your inaugural drive. I’m being dramatic but it was unchartered territory and this is what I’m getting at. You have to keep trying, even if your output isn’t that impressive. Creativity is a small act of personal bravery, nothing more. Setting out and not knowing what direction you’re going to travel in is perplexing. What drove me forward was the belief that I had something to say. I still don’t write on a regular enough basis to be great. But I’m ok with that. I’m half way through my life - god (with a small g) willing - and optimistic enough to feel that the best is ahead of me. But in the meantime, I can be cock-a-hoop about the fact that a book that I never anticipated writing about a subject that has resonance with most people will be published in America. This is way beyond the expectations I had for myself.
Another small but not insignificant detail, along the way, one gets ‘the signs’. The seemingly random quips or comments from friends or even virtual strangers that spur you on…the friend that emailed me apropos of nothing one day with ‘one day Kate, you are going to find something that you like doing and you are going to be really good at it’. That surprised me. That he saw something that I only mildly suspected. The intern who included me in a round robin creative challenge and mailed me back a few days later with ‘your contribution was by far the most imaginative’ - total shock on my part - to the boyfriend who constantly chided me for ‘being creative but not doing anything about it’. Take note of this shit and use it to push yourself forward. It isn’t just ‘the universe’. It is people who recognise something tangible. From someone who flunked school, blew out university but got an A+ in wasting time, read the signs and make a promise to expect more of yourself.
I may well be preaching to the converted. The teenagers I encounter these days are far more self possessed and expectant than I was at that age. Possibly because they didn’t grow up with parents who remember rationing and The Second World War (‘when we were young we ate whatever we could get so EAT IT’ was the soundtrack for anyone who grew up in the last part of the 20th century). Today’s storyteller grew up with a different soundtrack. For the younger amongst you, picture ‘Mouse’ from ‘The Carrie Diaries’. Bright, of Chinese American heritage and holding the expectations of parents who have given up everything in their lives to make hers better and draped those expectations across their daughter’s slender shoulders. I would not have lasted 2 minutes in this household. On the other hand, I might have written my first book a bit quicker (but with much less entertainment along the way).
'I'm Mei. I was born in 1991, in China. I am Chinese American. That means I grew up with strict parents, perfect grades, and not surprisingly, a very conservative view on sex, alcohol, drugs, and the like. When I was in 4th grade, a friend wrote me a note explaining the health processes related to puberty and sex. Apparently, her mother had given her ‘the talk,’ and you know little girls…they're eager to share. When I approached my mother about it, she told me that it was all a lie. It wasn't till middle school that I really found out about the whole she-bang: kissing, French kissing, groping, SEX.
I went through most of my high school years without having even a kissed a boy, which wasn't for lack of wanting. I just wasn't allowed to have boyfriends. You wonder why I didn't go behind my parents' backs, but this wasn't just a rule...this was The Rule. For Chinese parents, a boyfriend means distractions which mean bad grades (like B's). There is no influence more evil than Boyfriends.
But at the end of junior year, an Asian boy from Canada transferred into my school. We met, and in a few months, I was in love. After weeks of coercing, begging, nagging, and making absurd promises about studying hard, my mother miraculously allowed us to date. Maybe she saw how desperate I was for this boy.
We dated for two and a half years. For the first year, we were in total, loving bliss. Senior year was one of the best years of my life (so far, at least). I got my first kiss, my first make-out session, my first grope…the only thing we never did was make love.
I had always been taught to save my virginity for marriage, but honestly, I didn't care too much about the whole save-yourself bullshit. I was 18, and I had grown pretty tired of my parents constantly roping me down with stupid Chinese rules. If Wai had wanted it, I would have made love to him. And that's the thing; it would really have been making love because at the time, we were completely right for each other.
But he was much more Chinese (and Christian) than I was. He was a virgin and planned to stay that way until marriage. In fact, he wanted to marry a virgin. He said he couldn't possibly marry a girl who had already had sex with someone else. I was pretty disappointed inside when I found this out, but I loved him and respected him, so I let it go.
After senior year, I left for college across the country in California. We somehow stayed together for another year and a half, long distance. Wai was very straight-edged, and out of fear that he would leave me, I stayed away from those freshmen beers, weed, and parties. We chatted every night, and saw each other during breaks. I would wonder sometimes if I were missing out on other people and new experiences but I really believed that I couldn't get anything better.
Things changed my sophomore year. I started rock climbing and I met the most incredible group of people. They are my closest friends now. In that group was a boy, Jamie. We were incredibly comfortable with each other from the moment we met, and our group of friends was amazing. I began to question my lifestyle. Yes, I had been brought up to stay away from drugs and alcohol and sex, and yes, my boyfriend would flip a shit/break up with me if I did any of it, but I really wanted to experience all of it. More than anything, I wanted to experience it with my rock climbing friends. I knew I could trust them. And...I wanted to keep seeing Jamie.
I started going out regularly with my friends, to drink and smoke and hang out, to just be a college student. I talked to Wai less and to Jamie more and predictably, Wai and I started to have problems. After being asked why I wasn't ashamed of the way I was living, I broke up with Wai.
I immediately started to date Jamie. Maybe that was callous, but we gravitated toward each other. He was everything that my old life was not. He smoked and drank, and didn't think any of it was a big deal. He was the most hilarious person I'd ever met, and was completely solid in who he was. He was happy, thought that other people should be happy, and didn't believe in controlling what other people did. He was everything that I wanted to leave behind….all the suffocating rules and guidelines that would keep me ‘pure.’ All that my parents and Wai stood for.
After we had dated for two weeks, I decided to have sex with Jamie. Thinking back on it now, I wanted something to erase all the stiffness and Chinese-ness that had defined my life for 19 years. It wasn't because I genuinely wanted sex, or because I was in love with Jamie (although, we liked each other quite a lot); I thought losing my virginity would be some kind of fresh start, symbolic of all the ways I had started to change.
Surprisingly, Jamie was also a virgin. We didn't really know what we were doing, I was tense and nervous, and it hurt like hell. We didn't get much of him into me, and I didn't really know if that counted as losing my virginity. After a few failed attempts, we gave up. That night, I lay in his bed, sore and frustrated, wondering what I was doing. If I was this tense, I probably wasn't ready to be having sex. Maybe my parents and Wai were right. Luckily, Jamie was incredibly sweet and understanding about it. He knew I had just gotten out of a serious relationship, and to him, the sex wasn't that big of a deal. It was about what I wanted, about being happy.
We stayed together, and spent many days and nights just enjoying each other’s company. Then one night, when we were fooling around, I realized that I really did want Jamie. All of him. The thought caught me off guard, but I knew then that this was how it should be. I was going to lose my virginity unplanned, without any rules or guidelines to restrict me, and that was completely right. I was much less tense, we went slowly, and this time, we succeeded. I remember looking into Jamie's eyes as he came in me, and thinking I had never been more happy about a decision. I had never felt so good. Before, I had been afraid that my parents and Wai might turn out to be right, that I would regret losing my virginity so...casually, but I knew then they were wrong. It's not about the rules, about using sex to seal some marriage contract. It's about what feels right, and being with Jamie felt right.
Jamie and I are still together. We have a lot of sex and we love it. I am so happy about my decision to sleep with him that it's like I have negative regret - it's made me feel better about other decisions I've made in my life to bring me here. There's something physically and emotionally free about being with him. Losing my virginity (and I guess he lost his to me) has come to represent my liberation from the fear and timid-ness that my parents and Wai had instilled in me. I'm not that much more wild than before (although I do drink and take a few hits now and then), but I am happier. And I have no regrets about my first time. I can't ask for more.'