A Phone Sex Operator's Letter To Her 17-Year-Old Sister

Photo: Courtesy of the author
gender-based crimes
Family, Self

Be patient with yourself as you find your voice — it will become louder.

Dear Devon,

I was working my nightly calls as a phone sex operator, feigning amusement and interest as I have done every night for three months since I began this job. I was talking to a regular client of mine; he was drunk off vodka and pleasure which made him considerably more tactless.

Just business as usual...until his words curdled and left me with a fetid taste in my mouth. His current work contract placed him in a high school, and I tried to barely listen to his predatory monologue about the senior girls and their "flaunted sexuality."

I was stung by his words and hurt knowing you, my sister, are 17. YOU are one of the senior girls he spoke about with angry entitlement and violent lust. YOU are the teenage girl that he blamed for sexual assault because you have the body of a woman and you dare to wear clothes that make you feel confident.

I felt moved to write you as you prepare for college.

You will be 18 soon and given the seal of freedom I know you've desperately craved. Opportunities and experiences will be at your fingertips, waiting to be seized. Your soul will intertwine with people and places you never imagined. You will also be affected by the pervasive rape culture we live in more than ever before as you transform into a young adult.

I believe you're already more painfully aware than most kids your age. You are a survivor. You were taught by our father at a young age you are an object, and your worth is determined in the mirror of a man's opinions. Yet somehow, at 17, you rejected his beliefs about your worth and you found enough grace to speak out on behalf of other victims of domestic violence.

You already understand there will be those who don't believe you or quickly jump to the defense of abusive men. These voices will get louder as you grow into a woman, while you pursue your career in journalism and activism. Do NOT allow this small fraction of apologists discourage you. I promise you will discover endless support from other survivors in whatever big city or university you decide to call home.

Remember: what you wear and how you act will be morphed into an ugly excuse used for cat-calling, rape, and harassment. Though we know this is wrong, fighting back against your perpetrators will be more difficult than you think.

We were conditioned to accept the hunt as compliments and innocent coercing. Curtsy and "thank you" while a gun is at your temple, while you walk on your school campus and ask yourself: “Will I be the one out of five today?” I hope this justified fear never controls you, but instead empowers you to create change. Be patient with yourself as you find your voice  it will become louder, bolder, and more defiant in time.

If you internalize one thing from my letter, let it be the belief you are inherently whole. Do not let ANYONE in this world convince you that you are a zoo animal trapped in a glass enclosure. You are not a spectacle, a means of amusement, or meant to be fed out of the palm of someone else's hand.

I know you are hungry, Devon  hungry with dreams, ambition, faint visions of your successful future. You will have partners who try to convince you that you will starve without them, who react with fear when standing in the shadow of your Latina strength. Seek distance from those who refuse to appreciate you, because you are a talented, smart, capable young woman.

I'm not perfect; I'm still struggling with internalized sexism yet trying to set an example for you as a writer, unapologetic feminist sister. I wanted to scream on the phone tonight but instead I'm filled with a quiet resilience.

Guided by a stable flame, it is continually burning because of the lessons learned from strong women who kindled this fire before me. I'm passing the torch to you, my sister, all the blessings and hardships that come with being a woman.


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