Many of us investigate issues in hopes of discovering ourselves and I am no exception. I’ve been very interested in “adrenarche” (horrible word) the years roughly 6 to 8 which are normally written off as years when nothing happens. One’s body is tubular, one’s mind is open, and one’s mood is cheerful. Except that mine wasn’t. I had terrible nightmares, my legs ached, I couldn’t see, and I wept a lot. They finally took my tonsils out, thinking that would cure it all, but it didn’t.
In fact, those are the years when identity forms, when one develops one’s sense of competence that Becker believes is our chief defense against the despair of knowing we’re going to die -- probably unexpectedly. Also, one’s sense of a dependable community as one becomes aware of family and neighbors. In those years I was a special star “on the stage,” because the teachers thought my curly red hair was cute and because I could memorize poems. It was only school assemblies, but they seemed pretty major to me. I was worth saving, I thought.
When the newspapers talk about "pedophiles" abusing children, this is usually the age group they mean. Only moronic hating monsters fuck babies. The media is totally ambivalent about adolescents, technically children even up to the last day before their seventeenth birthday -- old enough to enlist in the army the next morning and probably militantly of the opinion that his or her sex life is his or her own. The average customer of Vogue magazine has become younger and younger -- maybe fifteen or younger. How old was Juliet? Lolita? When I was a kid, Vogue was for grownups and Seventeen was considered a child’s magazine. Now sex is promoted for teens.
Loving and appreciating children in adrenarche is surely acceptable. Those are the grade levels that are a joy to teach. The kids, full of personality, are capable of having relationships that are quite intimate, but having sex with them will really -- to coin a phrase -- “screw them up.” Why is that? I’m going technical and medical now, which is not usually done. This is beyond emotions.
I think sexwork (and other overwhelming and traumatizing experiences) at adrenarche -- embeds terror in sex forever afterwards, maybe addictively. The link may be cortisol. If you are in a terrible car accident, your cortisol level will be elevated afterwards, maybe for months. It is the natural molecular equivalent of manufactured cortisone, a powerful two-edged hormone. It’s got to involve adrenaline and testosterone, which can badly skew sexuality and identity.
This is from that accomplished anonymous cloud at Wikipedia: "Adrenarche is an early sexual maturation stage in some higher primates that in humans typically occurs at around 6 to 8 years of age. During adrenarche the adrenal cortex secretes increased levels of androgens such as DHEA and DHEAS, but without increased cortisol levels. Adrenarche is the result of the development of a new zone of the adrenal cortex, the zona reticularis. Adrenarche is a process related to puberty, but distinct from hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal maturation and function.
"The zona reticularis is the innermost layer of the adrenal cortex, lying deep to the zona fasciculata and superficial to the adrenal medulla. The cells are arranged cords that project in different directions giving a net-like appearance (L. reticulum - net).
"Cells in the zona reticularis produce precursor androgens including dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and androstenedione from cholesterol. DHEA is further converted to DHEA-sulfate via a sulfotransferase, SULT2A1. These precursors are not further converted in the adrenal cortex if the cells lack 17Beta Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase. Instead, they are released into the blood stream and taken up in the testis and ovaries to produce testosterone and the estrogens respectively.
In humans the reticularis layer does contain 17 alpha-hydroxylase; this hydroxylates pregnenolone, which is then converted to cortisol by a mixed function oxidase."
Terrifying, traumatic, forced, and uncontrollable sex messes up the development of the brain and the autonomous nervous systems in ways that perturb the normal electrochemical loops of the body, the means of self-regulating and maintaining identity. I’m reading about the necessity of a child learning to self-sooth, self-manage -- not by being isolated but by appealing to a trustworthy caregiver for help: talk, rocking, listening, singing, holding. For kids in adrenarche, that might be enough to keep their identity from shattering, from emptying what Dr. Dan Siegel calls “the inner sea.” Kids on the street don’t have access to it. Maybe from other kids. Maybe from a dog.
For older kids in adolescence, there is another set of ideas: Dynamic System Theory: the idea that challenges can be met with change. But change is a form of loss, of death -- this was my own particular phobia at the adrenarche age, that I would be forced to change. They called it “growing up.” I wanted to stay myself, I had to fight to stay myself, though there was no particular trauma I endured. I think it was just my temperament. No one asked me. No one explained anything.
I decided to resist growing up, which turned out to work so long as I let parts of myself grow up while keeping other parts child-like. But that separated my outside from my inside, always a risky thing to do. A person can slip into dissociation. I didn’t because I read so much that I went into that book world instead of the blank drifting “zoning out” that I’ve seen so many kids do that in a classroom.
I’ve been cruising YouTube and discovered something I already knew: kids of all ages who can’t trust adults turn to each other for support and explanations. That’s the second part of preventing despair in the face of the certainty of your own death and the death of everyone you know. It’s what I’ve called a “holding community.” In the best of all possible worlds, it tells you who you are. It is the Round Table where the knights meet. So on YouTube there are all these earnest and eloquent young people telling you about their dissociations, both the ones that come from abuse and -- remember soldiers can be as young as seventeen -- from combat trauma. They’re strippers, but not physically, just kids trying to help each other and themselves. They’re pretty sharp, but not glib, not commercial, not even grownup which is, of course, the point.
Even the little ones do it, the ones six to eight. Even the insane ones will offer advice. It makes them very very vulnerable. And fierce as tigers. Saber-toothed cave kids.