Op-ed: I Was a 17-Year-Old Cougar

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com August 27 2013 4:00 AM ET

By my third summer as a day camp counselor, I had somehow been branded the camp slut. Well, I shouldn't say "somehow." A fellow senior propositioned me to perform a certain sexual act while watching our campers on a field trip. I refused, thus starting a summer-long Michelle Sucks campaign. In reality, it was a Michelle Doesn't Suck campaign. That was after he blamed me for ruining his relationship with his girlfriend of three years because he felt guilty for being attracted to me — I swear, those were his words, not mine. I was always kind of a weirdo, so this just further isolated me more from my peers.

But for some reason, Rob didn't care.

Rob was a junior counselor and a little bit of a weirdo too, but his dry yet juvenile sense of humor kept me smiling as everyone else whispered about me. He would walk me home from camp every day, going a mile and a half out of his way just to make sure I made it home to my completely nonthreatening neighborhood (where, coincidentally, he was mugged after dropping me off one afternoon).

Throughout 12th grade, I had convinced myself to remain single to avoid those pathetic long-distance relationships that often plague college freshmen. I had dreams of arriving on campus and embarking on a glorious male-female expert-level hookup spree to make up for my mostly actionless high school years. Yet just weeks before packing up the car and heading upstate, Rob handed me a folded-up little note (which I still have) asking me if I wanted to be his girlfriend; circle yes or no. I figured I'd have at least one ally for my last two weeks at camp, so I circled yes.

The problem here was that he was an 11th-grader. Rob was under 17, the age of consent in New York. When our relationship was clearly getting serious, my mom told me I needed to be careful, since there are laws against that sort of thing. His mom expressed her concern to my mom over how intimate Rob and I had become. But I didn't care. I had a significant other for the first time in my life! Age of consent laws?! Pfft — whatevs, someone was finally paying attention to my lady business. We kept it up for months between marathon phone calls, instant message sessions in lieu of study sessions, and at least one scandalous visit home. I became known in my dorm as That Girl With the Boyfriend in High School. I was a voting-age adult, dating someone who could not legally drive alone after 9 p.m.

Fortunately, Rob's parents did not press charges against me for corrupting their youngest boy, and we eventually broke up. But the news now about Kaitlyn Hunt, the now-19-year-old who was dating her 14-year-old cheerleading teammate is still jarring, since Kaitlyn reminds me of 18-year-old me.

It's a given that male high school seniors date younger girls, and those girls often wear the fact as a badge of honor. In my experience, the same could be said of younger boys and older girls. In Hunt's case we're talking about two young women in a sexual relationship. That concept alone already bothers a pretty sizable chunk of the population, but Hunt's girlfriend's parents are taking legal action, and they aren't alone. There are many gay people sitting in jails right now thanks to age of consent laws that would often not be as heavily enforced for opposite-sex couples.

Even as this lawsuit unfolds with international media watching, Hunt has continued to keep in contact with her girlfriend, reportedly sending her 20,000 text messages, including a few illicit messages. That revelation cost her a plea deal, and has landed her back in jail, a consequence she acknowledged in her nonsanctioned communication to her girlfriend.

Something tells me I probably would have acted just as Hunt did, though I hope not. Yet I know that I would not have ever needed to even glance at a courthouse because I'm a woman and Rob was a boy, and most high school boys would be heralded for bagging a college girlfriend. It seems Hunt's parents believe their daughter is being targeted because she is a lesbian. I definitely agree with them.

The sheriff's department claims that Hunt is not being charged because she is gay, but because of the age difference. From a legal standpoint, that may be the case. Kevin Hunt, 19, may be prosecuted in the same manner and intensity as Kaitlyn Hunt, 19. The question, however, is whether the girlfriend's parents would have pressed charges against Hunt had she been a boy.

To have a 14-year-old daughter carrying on a sexual relationship is enough, but for her to be a lesbian takes this revelation to a higher plane for most people. I sadly imagine that pressing charges may have felt like a more satisfying way of dealing with their daughter's sexual orientation than talking it through. Perhaps it's a guess, but I do believe that they are carrying on with this case because of some level of homophobia.

For her own sake, I hope Hunt stops communicating with her girlfriend. Believe me, I know it feels so right, but is it really worth it? Let's be honest, this lawsuit is taking place in Florida — because of that, I'm just going assume that this isn't exactly going to lean in her favor, no matter how many online petitions are shared on Facebook.

Hunt says she is scared of losing her life after all of this. With a possible 15-year sentence in prison, she very well could at least lose her formative years and be legally branded a sexual predator for years to come. That is far worse than being branded the camp slut.


MICHELLE GARCIA is The Advocate's commentary editor. Follow her @MzMichGarcia.