(scroll down to the end for footnotes)
My understanding of sexuality has come a long way since the day in kindergarten when I stood flabbergasted in my aunt’s driveway, trying to figure out whether what I had just heard was an outright lie or the door to a parallel dimension of existence. Just a second before, the neighbour’s daughter had ridden by on her pink bicycle, called out quickly and daringly that “girls have three holes down there!”, then sped off into an adjacent alleyway before I could confront her. The news seemed interesting, sensational even, but the source was unconfirmed and soon I had pushed my newfound anatomical expertise to the back of my mind and run off in favour of finding the gardener’s son, so we could hide high up in the hay in the old shed, eat American army rations, and read comics. Besides, I decided since I had never heard of this ‘hole’ before in my life, let alone used it for anything, it couldn’t possibly be of much importance.
Apart from this incident, however, I had a rather sexually uninformative childhood, and the topic never came up again until about halfway through elementary school. I was fast, good at sports and first in my class in all subjects that mattered to me (I never could sing) but I was certainly not pretty. My hair was a greyish shade of blonde and always in disarray, my teeth protruded in a massive overbite and my glasses were large-rimmed and pink- the colour probably being a result of some kind of last-ditch attempt of my mother’s to feminize me. I usually ran and played with the boys but didn’t mind the girls either, so long as they behaved like boys. Even though my friend Marco, who was forever competing with me for the top marks in all subjects, constantly told me dirty jokes
that went completely over my head, I just nodded and laughed like I’d never heard anything as funny as this before in my life.
In the afternoons, I played outside with the similarly-aged kids on my street, the Laerchenstrasse
. Most of them were boys, except for one- her name was Katrin. When we played outside, Katrin often turned out to be somewhat of a nuisance, being generally easily scared, more careful, and much too concerned about the cleanliness and intactness of her clothes. One day- and I still remember where we were sitting, it was a yet to be developed housing lot large enough for three or four single family homes, but it looked like a large meadow and featured copious amounts of Dandelions- we decided to play Miss and Mister Germany elections, just that we would elect Miss and Mister Lärchenstrasse. I was certain to come out the winner- wasn’t I much more fun, and wasn’t my friend the one who always started crying when somebody shoved her a bit too hard playing soccer, thereby spoiling all the fun? Yet, somehow I was defeated in my very first attempt to get myself elected, with a very decisive margin- 100% of the votes went to Katrin. The candidates for the Mister Lärchenstrasse
position were two brothers, Robert and Jürgen. Through an unfair conspiracy of nature and nurture, Robert was both better-looking and more fun, and Jürgen was the whiny and spoiled equivalent to my friend Katrin. When Robert won his landslide election, his brother threw a tantrum fit and stomped away, and the wisdom of me losing instead of my friend became apparent to me. The moral superiority I felt when realizing that I was a really gracious loser considerably lessened the sting of jealousy and injustice I felt deep inside.
When I was about to turn eleven, and entered the Gymnasium
, I still hadn’t made any advances in appearance. Worse even, some of my girlfriends had grown over the summer and slowly started to develop tiny little mounds where their breasts would be one day. I still was as straight as a stick and largely unaware of the concept of sexuality. During that year, however, I started to read the infamous German Youth magazine “BRAVO
”, which had a sexuality advice column geared towards teenagers written by accredited therapists and doctors, and a little section where teenagers could send in stories about their first sexual experiences. In fact, BRAVO’s pseudonym of Dr. Sommer, first used in October 1969, has long since become synonymous for people asking stupid questions. We read the questions and answers out loud in groups, whereupon the unknown inquirer- say, Sandy, 13, or Paul, 15- was laughed at and ridiculed extensively, and if you didn’t want to give the impression that you might have been wondering about that topic yourself, you had to make sure that you laughed as loudly and as hard as everybody else. Soon I knew that it is in fact possible to get pregnant during one’s first time, that there is a large acceptable range for ages to experience your first menstrual bleeding, and that a small percentage of women had inward-pointing nipples that only became visible when erect. After a little less than a year, and brim-full with technical knowledge, I started to find the columns repetitive and stopped reading the magazine. Luckily for BRAVO, a new generation of grade 5 students was just around the corner, and we, the Grade Sixers, started to mercilessly ridicule them for reading it.
Around that time, boys’ teasing seemed to increase dramatically. Their favourite game was to run after the squeaking girls to try and touch their breasts. I wasn’t quite sure what this was all about, and why I wasn’t very sought-after in this game, until one stray guy ran after me one day and I overheard another one comment: “Oh, don’t bother with her- flat as a board.” Oh, how I wished I would grow breasts soon so that I could get sexually harassed by twelve year-olds along with everybody else! Little by little, the importance of breasts for one’s social status became even more apparent to me. Suddenly, average-looking and dim-witted Carola, for two reasons which barely fit into a B-cup bra, turned wildly popular and held hands with all the boys I had crushes on. It is not without Schadenfreude
that I mention that she became so popular that on January 30th 1998, while I took photographs of somebody passed out in his own vomit at my 17th birthday party, she was giving birth to a son, Fabian.
Eventually, though, even my stubbornly non-descript body had to bow to the course of biology. In the summer between grade 7 and grade 8, I took a quantum leap in height, maturity, and apparently sex appeal. One time at the lake, a young man I didn’t know initiated conversation with me. After some small talk, he realized that he had just tried to pick up his good friend’s 13 year-old sister. He was twenty, and never comfortable around me again. However, it wasn’t only strangers- even boys that had taunted me all through grades 5 and 6 by calling me Hässlichkotz
now treated me with newfound care. It was then that I realized that, contrary to the empty rhetoric that I heard at home and at school, looks actually do matter in life. I suddenly understood that many of the things adults said were not meant to be taken at face value or even as a reasonably close approximation of reality, but rather as a distant ideal that should be strived towards but that is very unlikely to ever be realized.
What I hadn’t yet figured out, however, was how male attraction worked. I, along with absolutely every other girl I have ever known, assumed that what was seen on TV and in the movies- many of which were American- was exactly what men wanted, and that these requirements for their attention were cast in stone. As a heterosexual girl, I couldn’t rely on any gut feelings when it came to other women’s attractiveness, and so it came that the heights, weights, proportions, hair colours, hair styles and clothes of the famous were seen as the key to pleasing a boy and therefore relentlessly memorized and imitated. I “knew” that fat girls would never be happy, just like I “knew” that Claudia Schiffer was every man’s dream, and that I wanted to be a fashion designer. It took me another decade from then to slowly realize that attraction wasn’t as simple as that- not even sexual attraction.
But before I ever started to think about the concept and the societal implications of sexual attraction, I experienced it myself. His name was Matthias, and he wore brown old men’s shoes, striped sweaters and geeky glasses. The only things I noticed, however, were his quick sense of humour, his black messy hair and his honest and open grin with a chipped front tooth. The tooth, together with his always somewhat sarcastically raised eyebrows and startlingly turquoise eyes, reminded me of the pirates in the historical romance novels which I had started to read by the pound. These books provided me with an excuse to read about “sweaty chests”, “erect manhoods” and “greedy tongues” while picturing the object of my infatuation, and I stopped concentrating whenever I saw him- not very conducive to my academic endeavours, given that I had every single class with him. We started going out when we were both fourteen. He seemed to think I was perfect, and life was an endless string of afternoons spent lying on the couch watching movies together. All was great – as long as nobody asked us about the movies’ plots. In fact, to this day, I still don’t know anything that happened past the first 10 minutes of Batman and Robin, and I intend to keep it that way: some memories are sacred. Besides, it’s also rumoured to be a really bad movie.
Still, I operated on the assumption that our relationship was based on me having successfully fooled Matthias into liking me- after all, there were so many things about my body which weren’t the way they were supposed to be. I had it all figured out: obviously, the trick was not to let him see any more of me than necessary, and of course never in broad daylight. That way, he could imagine me to be perfect, and wouldn't have to deal with the harsh reality of breasts that are definitely not the required c-cup size; the discovery of my small b-cup would surely send him running to one of the Carolas of the world. Slowly but surely, I relaxed a bit; unfortunately, that was largely due to not caring so much any more to impress him, as opposed to realizing that I could impress him the way I was. We became the annoying yet mandatory joined-at-the hip high school couple, and when it ended, it ended badly. He didn’t take well to the difference in our GPAs and the ease with which I aced all my classes, while he was on the verge of dropping out year after year. According to him, everything I did was nerdy, and so were my friends. My puns weren’t funny, my music way too mainstream and my interests in board games and Star Trek just plain embarassing. After a tiring amount of crying and feeling bad about myself, I found myself in class one day without him. It was religious education class, and since Matthias was nominally catholic and I was nominally protestant, we weren’t in one together. Across from me, there was Andreas- he made me laugh every class with his completely inappropriate jokes about abortion, or whatever else he thought he could get a rise out of our teacher with. One day, I caught him sneaking looks at me when he thought I couldn’t see. I felt struck like I had been run over by a bus of truth: someone considered me attractive. In fact, I now remembered that Andreas had also laughed at all the jokes I made, and was hugely impressed by my paper airplane skills. I knew that he was in a long term relationship, but I didn’t mind at all; all I wanted from him, I already had.
A few days later, I told Matthias I wanted to break up with him. He pleaded with me for weeks and even cried, but my resolve was iron, and I didn’t shed a single tear- actually, thinking back about the tears I had shed while with him made my decision all the easier. A few months later, our graduation yearbook came out. The introductory paragraph on Matthias’ double page read:After those three dark years in your past you finally woke up to reality, and now you’re free from the pseudo-beauty that ruined your life so far. Even though now you’ll have to put on your beer goggles for your girlfriends, we’re happy that you finally came to your senses and good rid of that blonde poison!
I was somewhat taken aback by the open hostility against me demonstrated by Matthias’ all male friends, and for the maliciousness of the yearbook team for allowing this to be printed. Mature as I was, however, I never got upset, and only pitied Matthias for now having to read about me for the rest of his life whenever he looks at his yearbook entry. I quietly moved on, but not without making sure that Matthias’ honour was preserved, and telling everybody I knew that our break-up was mutual.
One of my first activities as a single teenager was to go to a house party, which I had never done before. Liquor was abound, I was dressed up, and felt as free and as pretty as a teenager at a party. When I was standing next to the bar, a rather homely-looking slightly overweight and reasonably tipsy guy approached me, and started to flatter me with rather unimaginative compliment about my eyes. I nodded politely, but my attention remained with the busy bustling of the room. He then turned to me angrily and said really loudly, “Why are your breasts so small?”
At first, I felt like all blood had left my face within a fraction of a second of the last word leaving his slightly drooping, moist lips. The room started to disappear, and I heard a grumbling sound in my ears. I, who had prided herself on being rational and constrained, had the strangest inkling that something significant was about to happen, but couldn’t figure out what it was. I was still unable to move; my whole body seemed incapacitated with anticipation of the force of emotion that would unleash itself onto me in a second. And sure enough, there it was, cleansing and promising and glorious in its strength, enabling me for once and all and evermore to say what needed to be said and to do what needed to be done:
Anger. I was angry. Little Jimmy doesn’t come home after school one afternoon, so his father goes and looks for him. He finally finds him in the school’s basement, lying naked on top of a similarly naked girl. Infuriated, he slaps Jimmy hard on his bare behind. Jimmy turns his head around and says, “Thanks Dad, now it’s in.”
 German equivalent of High School, encompassing grades 5 through 12/13 (depending on the region
 BRAVO sold over 2 million copies weekly during the early 1990s)
 A self-made compound swear consisting of the German word for “ugly” and the German word for “vomit”; it roughly rhymes with my last name.