Dear Bartender and Priestess,
I was raised Catholic, and my parents and I go to church semi-regularly. I am 19 years old and in college, and still live with my parents. Recently, I learned something that’s kind of freaking me out and I don’t know what to do.
Our house was broken into several years ago, and after that my parents installed perimeter cameras. I didn’t know they had installed any cameras inside the house. Surprise, surprise. Suffice to say, when I’ve been alone in the house I have occasionally done things to relieve certain urges, and I sometimes walk around nude in my room after a shower.
On the one hand, I want to confront my parents about this, but I don’t want them to have a reason to go into their video archive and watch anything for themselves. I suspect that since they haven’t said anything they haven’t watched anything, but that’s the problem. I don’t know what they know. On the other hand, I feel like I should just let it drop. I mean, they’re my parents, right? It’s not like anything bad has come of this.
I’ve been hearing all about the sins of self-love for my entire life. I don’t totally agree with the way the church talks about it but I still don’t know how I would feel about confronting my parents about it. What should I do?
–Not As Alone As I Thought
P: Pssst… Set ‘em up, Terri, we need to steady our nerves if we’re going to talk about parents who spy on their kids when they’re grown ups. Yikes.
B: Imma answer this as soon as I’m done beating my head against the bar.
Dear Not Alone,
It seems like paranoia runs in your family. Your parents are paranoid that someone might be manhandling their little girl, and you’re paranoid that your parents might know that all the manhandling in your room is being done by you.
What’s a Catholic girl with burgeoning sexuality to do?
There are a few things happening here. One: you’re going through an enormous growing pang. Two: you’re an adult now and need to set down some new parameters. Three: your parents are, unfortunately, a little bit creepy, and need to stop.
The first thing I want you to do, regarding growing pangs, is to start calling things by their real names. Whether you’re “doing things to relieve certain urges”, or tickling your taco, or flicking the bean, what you’re actually doing is masturbating. Say it at least once before returning to the more adorable-sounding bean-flicking. Masturbate. See? It’s just a word, and an adult one, at that.
I also want to take a moment to redirect your focus. This isn’t a letter about whether or not you should masturbate (because oh, honey, you should get to know yourself in every way possible, and this is simply an avenue of your blossoming sex life) or what your parents might think if they know you do it. It’s a question of adulthood and privacy, and where boundary lines need to be drawn. It’s also…not really…a question of what they have or have not seen, because you’ve done nothing to be ashamed of (walked around naked in your own room? Played the flesh fiddle?) and besides, what’s been done is done, what’s been seen is seen. Do you need to know exactly what they saw and when? Because…why? Your issue ought to be more that they respect the privacy you deserve.
P: Not that I think it’s particularly relevant to your parents’ spying, but since I’m the priestess, let me address the whole masturbation thing from a religious standpoint. There’s only one mention of what we think of as masturbation in the Hebrew Scriptures. You can look it up (Gen. 38.9). When Onan’s elder brother died, O was forced to give the brother’s widow a child so she had a way to claim a livelihood. He did not, and his babyjuice hit the dirt, which then became a sin. It had to do with wasting “seed” which at that point was considered to “belong” to the patriarch, who decided where wombs were impregnated and seed was spent. So it was a flouting of responsibility that had nothing to do with his having a great time on his own.
But worries about masturbation are ways to control people, and in particular women. Although in my youth, there were plenty of “worried” jokes about boys growing hairy palms — which come to think of it, might have added some welcome friction… but I digress.
If you read the literature, the worries are more about your knowing what you want, and anticipating a good sexual relationship with your future partner. Can’t have that.
It also conflates masturbation with obsession rather than natural urges. Sigh. Glad you’re taking care of yourself. Hope your fantasies are lovely and not demeaning. If because of your training they’re not great, you might want to work on redoing your fantasy life. Because as the Bartender says, and she hears as much of this as I do, exploring yourself and your sexuality is a wonderful, important step in your life.
P: If in fact there’s a camera in your bedroom that is active. this is creepy. It’s also weird. Be very sure it’s an active camera before you talk to them. But …
The fact that the first thing you think about when you say your parents are looking at you is masturbation probably means you’re not doing hard drugs, so it’s not as if there were any reason for them to be suspicious, even if it weren’t still furtive and icky. And yes, I’d be completely weirded out if I thought my parents were watching me walk around naked in my room or watching me “take care of urges.” Because this? Is spying. Or even creepier, voyerism.
B: You don’t specifically state in which room you’ve discovered this unwanted gaze, but since we’re talking about masturbating then I will assume it’s in your bedroom, since a camera in the bathroom is far too disturbing for me to contemplate.
If the camera IS in a public space, like the living room, then all bets are off. Stop wanking off in trafficked areas! And rewrite this letter so we can discuss your secret desire to get caught.
So you have a camera in your bedroom. Ick. One that your parents never told you they installed, double-ick. And it needs to be un-installed, or at the very least, blocked.
You can do one of a few things. You can cover the camera with a T-shirt and wait until your parents say something to you. This is passive, but you can at least feel comfortable knowing you aren’t being filmed in your down time. Or your get-down time. And if your parents do mention something, then you can tell them you don’t appreciate being filmed without your knowledge or consent, and you consider it a violation of the general principles of privacy that a parent ought to bestow upon their child.
You might want to practice saying that part until you get used to it.
You can address the issue straight on, and tell your mother and father that you discovered there is a camera in your bedroom. You can tell them you don’t think it’s right, that it violates your privacy, and that you expect them to remove the camera tout de suite, or you’ll pull it out of the wall yourself.
Can you disconnect it yourself? Because if you can, that’s a possibility. Leave it on the kitchen table with a note: Hey, you must have left this in my room, because I know it’s not mine.
Or you can leave the camera where it is, and walk around resenting them for being intrusive.
Because a camera in your bedroom IS intrusive, and it robs you of your autonomy and your sense of well-being. Have you felt “normal” since you discovered the camera? Or have you felt freaked out and vaguely guilty, even though you’ve done nothing wrong? My guess is “freaked out and vaguely guilty”, because otherwise, you wouldn’t be writing to us. And you need to understand: NOBODY ought to be permitted to make you feel like that. Especially not if it’s you granting the permission. And if you don’t take any course of action and leave the camera as-is, then you’re giving tacit permission for them to continue to make you feel bad. Inaction is an action. Bonus! The negative feelings will stay, too. This is a major test of your status as an adult. The problem with being an adult is, often (and for me as well), figuring out how to act like one.
Now, it’s possible your parents will push back and offer up the “If you’re living in my house then you’re living by my rules”, which once again invalidates your status as an adult. If that happens, then you’re at another crossroad (and believe me, the crossroads never stop appearing in front of you, no matter how slick you think you are at organizing your life). It will be up to you to decide if you want to move on campus, or move out, or continue as you are in their house—camera and all—until you graduate from college. Because of your age they can absolutely withhold your ability to get financial aid (and can do so until you’re 24) so if you intend to stay in college you probably don’t want to alienate them entirely.
I wish I had an easier answer for you, because the question really isn’t about whether or not you—like pretty much every other human being in the world—masturbates, and whether or not your parents know. It’s about whether or not you deserve the privacy a closed door ought to signify. I say, of course you do. The trick is getting your parents to see it that way too.
P: Privacy. Yes. They don’t believe in it. And sadly, what comes up is that whatever your parents have taught you about honesty… they don’t believe. They have chosen lying over honesty so that they can spy on you. And how did you find out? Have you been sneaking around? This is not a family trait you want to take on…
I understand that it’s nice to live at home and inexpensive. And you may be going to school and pursuing dreams. And I want you to have dreams and pursue them.
It is not good for a 19 year old to be under secret surveillance. They’re saying, whatever they think they’re saying, that they think you’re going to run off the rails. We internalize what people think of us. So we start thinking about running off the rails rather than pursuing our dreams.
If you think they’re open, and I have my suspicions, you can talk with them about stopping it. You can say you’re aghast, you feel invaded, that you’ve never given them cause to be suspicious and this is a terrible way to relate to you. Do you have siblings? Because if you do this is information they need and they may want to join you in this intervention.
But siblings aside, I think you’d better be prepared to move out. Which means you need to prepare. Do you have a job? Get one. Doing anything. Until you can afford to move out, you might start paying rent. Get a contract with them that precludes their spying on you. If you think they can be trusted. And so far, they haven’t shown you that they can.
I know it’s easy to have them pay for things. But they’re stealing your independence. Even for love, that’s too big a price to pay.
Bottom line: it’s time to start standing up for how you want to be treated.
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