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Sexual Abuse

Tina Alexis Allen: Untangling Identity and Sexual Abuse

Author of new memoir reflects on childhood relationship with teacher.

Contributed by Tina Alexis Allen, author of Hiding Out, A Memoir of Drugs, Deception, and Double-lives

Michael Donovan
Source: Michael Donovan

I never knew what to label our three years together. An affair? A Relationship? An Infatuation? She, in fact, used that very label, musing in our early days, “Tina, maybe you’re just infatuated with me.” I had to look up the word “infatuated” in the dictionary, since I was only eleven. In my head, I was always wondering what we were. Lovers? Girlfriends? Sex Partners? And it’s not like I could process any of this with my friends or family. This thing, whatever it was, was top secret, I couldn’t tell anyone, she warned me. “No one would understand,” she explained.

As the youngest of 13 siblings, desperate for attention, and having already experienced inappropriate and ongoing sexual contact. I guess I wasn’t your average 11 year-old. But in hers was a different kind of attention. She seemed to really care about me. She bought me gifts. She hugged me, held me. She taught me things, first, as my tutor, then as my lover and finally as my teacher. The sex wasn’t forced although it is accurate to say that she absolutely seduced me. No one forced me to spend countless hours at her house—I would have moved in, if I could have. I craved her attention as I imagine a junkie craves a fix. How could I not? I lived in a house jammed packed with children—all hungry for warm arms, ruled by chaos and Dad’s alcoholic rages. I ran from the unsafe environment I was experiencing at home to what looked like a much safer place.

The first day in her homeroom class, it felt strange to hear her call me by my full name while taking attendance. It was weird to be having regular sex with my teacher; and then have to sit at my desk, her at the podium lecturing on the American Revolution. It was stranger still to refer to her as Miss Lange. I recall standing over her wide oak desk when it was my turn to recite Thomas Paine’s The Crisis and pretending I wasn’t longing for her. I was old enough for hours of unrestrained sex in her bed but too young and a report card away from being able to call her by her first name. But finally, one afternoon as I slipped on one of her turtlenecks to wear home—she had mistakenly given me a hickey— she said, “Why don’t you call me... ‘Missy.” I would have called her Bunker Hill or Miss Ticonderoga, if she had wanted.

But that confusion—the confusion over our identities, our relationship— lingered for decades. Over the years, when telling friends and new lovers the story of my three-year affair with Miss Lange, I have often felt as though I was condoning it, by using those very words—“lovers” and “affair.” Even now when calling it a relationship—I do so with air quotes.

Today, I have no doubt that what happened between the two of us was an abuse of power, it was sexual abuse, and it would have involved jail time if the authorities were informed that a 27 year-old teacher was having sex with her middle school student. That’s if I had told anyone. But were you to ask that young girl how she felt, she would have said that she loved being the apple of the cool teacher’s eye. She was soaking up Miss Lange’s attention the way Oliver Twist soaked up soup drippings with his heel of old bread. There was no way any child would give up on that feeling, that kind of exhilaration. Not when that young girl was just one of the maddening crowd in the rest of life.

But eventually, I did tell. Not in real time, but nearly twenty years after it began. I hadn’t intended to go to the police. The awakening that something was wrong with our illicit love came when I turned the age she was when it started: 26. We had stayed in each other’s lives after she moved on to more grown-up things and I went to high school. By my mid-twenties, I was deep into the healing process, therapies of all kinds, fixing many wounds including the mind-blowing confusion of such an adult experience at such a young age, plus all the family secrets.

I remember being 26 and looking around at 11 year-olds and thinking to myself, “Never in a million years would I do that, care to do that, or consider doing that. No. Never.” And then, everything became very clear. She hadn’t just “saved me from a teenage pregnancy” as she liked to say or “taught me how to study and get straight A’s” as I liked to say. She had done so much more. Most of it incredibly damaging.

So eventually, I wrote her a letter, confronted her over the phone and cut all ties. But the scars remained, she had hurt me deeply. Miss Lange could have chosen a hundred different ways to help the “wild child” as she used to call me. Perhaps, kept to tutoring might have been a start.

What I did with that pain, what I seem to have a pattern of doing since becoming an actor in my late 20’s was to create art out of it. Each creative project has helped me own my life, one stranger than fiction relationship at a time. And so with the Miss Lange story came my first attempt at writing a screenplay and my second attempt producing a film. The title was Love, Missy. I was going to produce the film and now in my early 30s, play Miss Lange on screen.

I decided to pack up my life in LA—my willing girlfriend by my side— drive across the country and go back to the scene of the crime to make a low-budget movie. I still needed to raise the money but those details have never deterred me. I arrived in my hometown of Chevy Chase, Maryland and began pre-production. I didn’t tell my grade school all the details of the plot because I figured they wouldn’t let me film there if I did. I held a fund-raiser, I started casting the girl to play my 11-year-old self, did some location scouting at my old haunts.

In hindsight, I can see I was doing a million things wrong when it came to making a movie, but one thing right when it came to my life. I was getting closer to the truth of why I was really there in Maryland. Nine months in I had an epiphany. I had not gone back to my hometown, her hometown, the streets, the smells, the school, the playground, our classroom, because I was there to make the first lesbian Lolita.

I was there to reclaim a piece of my childhood.

And so, with my incredibly loving and supportive girlfriend in the passenger seat, I drove to the Montgomery County Police Station to report the crime. I was interviewed by a detective. And I told him everything. He explained that the statue of limitations had long passed, something I already knew. But it was the action of telling that I was after. Opening my mouth and declaring that this had happened and— with help of that detective—finally realizing what to call it. Child abuse.

The detective then told me that there was still one way to file charges. He asked if I thought Miss Lange would admit the relationship. I assured him, she would. We had discussed it over the years, but in those conversations, I continued to hand her all the power, protecting her, and maybe myself from having to confront the fact that she had hurt me.

When the police officers arrived with their tape recording device and I called Miss Lange’s number from the phone book, I got her voice mail. We tried a few times with the police there without any luck. Eventually, the detective, got permission from a judge to allow me to tape record her on my own, since I was heading back to California soon. A few days before we were set to return to L.A., I received a message from her. Miss Lange said she was responding to my calls and was glad to hear from me. She made a point of saying how good I sounded. It was code for grown-up, healthy, put together. I knew what she was saying.

As I listened to her message, I heard a weakness, a sickness in her voice. Before she finished, Miss Lange said she’d been having some medical issues and had retired from teaching. A fear that she was still in a position of power to harm another child had been one of the reasons I went to the police. She ended the message by saying she looked forward to hearing from me, and that if I gave her a good time, she’d call me back, since she was living out of state part-time.

As I hung up the phone, I heard a quiet voice in my head declare, “She’s got her cross to bear. It’s over.” And so, I left it alone, knowing I was okay, that she was no longer near children every day, and that my future was mine.

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