My Father’s Grave

There it was. My name etched in stone. On the back of my father’s grave. My father’s grave. My father is still alive, yet he has a grave.

His headstone is in a family plot east of Idaho Falls, Idaho. It’s a remote pretty cemetery, the kind of Rocky Mountain Cemetery I’m accustomed to, with simple headstones in long rows with plenty of space, lush green grass everywhere.

As I walked through the rows, I realized that times and customs are changing, even when it comes to how people die. Headstones like this, family plots, are a thing of the last generation. Now everyone, for the most part, seems to be getting cremated. People are being sprinkled into lakes and on hillsides, or kept in vases, or put into pots for plants to grow out of. (Just this morning, I saw a headline about the state of Washington legalizing the compositing of human remains as another alternative. I mean, there are 8 billion of us now…)

My relationship with my father is difficult to talk about. It’s hard for me to even make sense of internally, and I do therapy for a living. It’s a big void, a question mark in my center. And this cemetery brings that to life more acutely than even being around him.

My last name is Anderson. It is the last name of both of my sons. It was my father’s name. He had five brothers and one sister; I’ve only met half of my aunt and uncles, and then only once. It was my grandfather’s name. Justin Anderson was a sheep farmer in southern Idaho, and I met him a few times when I was a child before he died. And Justin’s father was… I don’ know. My knowledge pretty much ends there. But there is my grandfather’s grave, just down he row from my father’s. My grandmother Alice is there. A few of my father’s brothers. And then cousins, children, infants, names I’ve never heard or seen before.

In some ways, I respect my father’s choice to purchase a headstone. It shows foresight. He chose the stone himself and paid for it. He had it etched with his name and birth date and the names of his children. It mentions both of his wives by name as well, acknowledging that those marriages took place, although he is divorced from my mother and not living with his second wife. He paid for the plot of land as well. When he goes, he will be buried near his parents, his family, the ones I never knew.

I look like my father. I have the same build, the same coloring, the same grey on the temples, the same baby face. Once when I was 22 (I’m 40 now), I was living in the mountains of a rural area of Idaho and performing as an actor in a dinner theater for the summer. A man and his wife attended the play, and afterwards they approached me. I’d never met them, at least so far as I remembered. The man asked me if I was K. Anderson’s son, and I told him yes. Then he introduced himself as my uncle. He said I looked just like my father. I had the same walk, the same laugh, the same way of carrying my hands, he said. I asked a few questions, bid farewell, and then went home and cried that evening, because that void at my center made no sense.

It still feels that way now. Yet my name is still on the back of his grave.

In the early 1970s, as I understand it, my father had the mad urge to leave his home, his parents, and all that was familiar, and buy a cattle ranch in the rural Missouri Ozarks. Idaho sheep farmer to military man to school teacher to Missouri cattle rancher. A strange symmetry, I supposed. My mother reluctantly consented. They sold their home, packed everything they owned, loaded up the five children, and left the potato fields of Idaho for the green, lush, Mormon-hating country of small-town Missouri. He never bought that ranch, but they did start life over. He took a job in a cheese factory, and stayed for years. I was born in Missouri in 1978. My little sister followed in 1982. We were the sixth and seventh children in the family line. (Years later, both of us would come out as gay. Maybe we can blame Missouri.)

As I understand it from my older siblings, my father was a pretty happy man. He smiled and laughed, played hard, spent time with his kids. But by the time I came into the picture, something had changed. He grew sad and serious. Sometimes angry, but never happy. He seemed haunted. He was hot water, forever waiting to boil, and stuck at that temperature. He worked, he cried, he grew angry with my mother. Mostly he sat silently. No board games. No tickle fights. No camping trips or tossing the ball in the backyard. A serious, sad, haunted man who was doubled over in half due to the stress of raising and providing for seven children. A man who bit off far more than he could chew, who followed all of the rules of Mormonism yet somehow couldn’t experience any of the happy things. A stranger in my home.

I adapted. I wrote stories and played games, collected toys and made treasure hunts for my mom and siblings. I excelled in school. Dad was around but never seemed to notice or care much, and so I just got on with the process of growing up.

And then, in 1990, when I was 11, my mom made the boldest decision of her life, and she left. She went back to Idaho, after nearly two decades away. My dad stayed behind. And I remember being relieved. The world made more sense without him around.

Life got complicated for all of us after the divorce. My mom remarried, but he was mean. My dad ended up in Las Vegas. Months would go by without a phone call, and there were no visits. There was always a birthday card, and another at Christmas. Kitschy greeting cards from the grocery store with a check for one hundred dollars inside, and a short sentence. Surprise, Dad  or Happy Birthday, Dad. That was it. Those small gestures of love meant very little, though, without the relationship to accompany it. He remained closer to my five older siblings, yet put no effort into me or my little sister. When my stepfather grew violent, my dad had nothing to say. When I starred in community and school plays, he wasn’t there (except perhaps once, when he was in town). He didn’t know my friends, my interests, my struggles. And then there was the time I heard my mother tell him over the phone that his children wanted to see him. And my dad responded that he had no children.

When I grew up, I made a few passing attempts to get to know my father, and I sensed some gestures in return. He wrote a few letters when I was a missionary, and I wrote back. He took Sheri and I on a bizarre trip to Europe; he and I shared a room for two weeks, and never really spoke. He showed up at my wedding. My older sisters always encouraged me to put more effort in, to try harder, to seek understanding. He’s different than you think, they said. He tries and shows love just not how you can see it, they said. Maybe he can’t express anything to you, they said.

Maybe, I would think back. But the man whose name I bear can’t tell me the names of my own children, and that tells me everything I need to know. Four decades in and not much has changed.

My father just turned 80. I’m 40. I drove down with my partner to celebrate dad’s life, meeting the rest of my siblings there in Las Vegas. Conversations were superficial. He seemed genuinely happy, in his way, to see his children there to honor him. He told a few terrible jokes. He thanked everyone for being there. I left silently, overwhelmed by the experience.

A week later, I got a card in the mail. It was more than a sentence this time. “Thank you for coming to surprise me,” he said. “I’m glad we can seek common ground, despite our differences. Love, Dad.”

Our differences, I thought. What common ground, I thought. I set the card down. And again, I cried.

But at his grave, I didn’t cry. My name is on the back of his headstone. Etched there, permanently. I’m sixth in a list of his children. And one day, a death date will be carved into the front, and my father laid beneath. But my name will already be there, unchanged, like it has been all along, even before I knew about it.

Once, a therapist asked me how my father had impacted me the most. And I surprised her by answering that he made me an incredible father to my sons. I show interest in them, I said. I listen. I tickle and sing, dance and play, travel and teach, set boundaries and enforce routines. I’m there. Every day. There are no question marks in their center spaces. When I tell them I love them, they roll their eyes and say,  “Dad, we know! We love you too!” I’m there, and he wasn’t. He taught me to be an incredible father, I said, by never teaching me anything at all.

grave

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Sex Education Part 6: Brotherly Love

Elder

I only had the one brother, and he was much older than me. I had lots of friends in the high school, but I kept my guard up around them almost constantly, so scared of being found out for being gay. I had one friend that shared a bed with me sometimes on sleepovers throughout high school and, well, that was tempting, but I still kept myself so carefully contained.

And then I went on a Mormon mission for two years. First there were three weeks at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. I was 19, and at the height of my sexual exploration phase, just like all of the other thousands of missionaries. I was 19, and surrounded by other 19 year olds. I had no personal space, no free time. I shared a room with good-looking young men. We studied scriptures together, read together, walked together. The only time I had to myself, literally, was when I closed the stall door in the bathroom. And, strangest of all, we showered together. No shower curtains. Big group showers with multiple shower heads coming out of each pole in the room.

I’m positive there were other gay kids in the MTC, but I didn’t know that then. The elders were relentless. The wore the name of Jesus Christ on their shirt lapels, but they were very young and very horny. Some walked around naked. They talked about girlfriends, and fantasies, and wet dreams. They openly discussed the size of their penises and sometimes showed them off. They bragged about past sexual encounters, the sizes of girls’ breasts, what they did on dates to stop from getting erect. I’d never been around other guys like this, and I wasn’t coping well. I had to cope by being pious, by being the most dedicated missionary possible. But when I did that, I didn’t fit in, and when I didn’t do that, I didn’t feel worthy. God was never going to cure me being gay at this rate.

And thus set up the following two years. A constant war with me trying to fit in and follow the rules at the same time, and both of those were impossible, because I didn’t fit. And I had nowhere to hide, no rooms to retreat to. The bathroom was my only solace, my only break. That and sleep. Depression set in deep, and the anxiety continued whenever I felt attracted to someone.

I found myself adapting swiftly to whoever my companion was. When I was attracted to my companion, I had a clumsiness and a defensiveness about me. When I was with a jock or a bully, I became the misfit, the awkward nerd who didn’t conform. When I was with someone with strange social manners, I had an air of impatience and superiority about me.

I wouldn’t realize it until much later, but at least two out of my fifteen companions were also gay and later came out. I haven’t ever asked if their internal struggles were like mine, but I found myself wondering after my mission, what if something had happened. What if there had been a mutual attraction, and someone had made a move, and the other had responded. What if we had found pleasure, found lust realized, found love back then, a fling during a time we should have been in college. The consequences at the time would have been devastating, humiliating. There would likely have been confessed sins, an early release home, a heartbreaking coming out to the family, some therapy. But maybe, maybe that would have propelled me out of the closet much sooner. Maybe it would have changed the entire course of my life.

Instead, the duration of my missionary experience was me staying tightly locked up inside of myself while I knocked on doors, faced the tedium of the day-to-day monotony of missionary work, read the scriptures, called in numbers to the mission president, hoped for success. I taught a few openly gay men on my mission, and I saw them as weak, morally inferior, as less than for submitting to being gay. I had grown to hate what I was, and hate it even more when I recognized it in others.

I certainly wouldn’t call myself free of sin during this time. I worked hard and studied hard. I prayed often, journaled, wrote home, asked for guidance and blessings, and tried hard to keep the spirit. But the depression got bad sometimes, and I frequently felt worthless, hopeless, and without any kind of drive. I lusted after some of my companions, and others that I met. I wanted so badly to be noticed by them, to have them desire me back. I had errant thoughts, sexual fantasies, and sometimes struggled with masturbation. And I knew that if I told anyone about this, they would respond that if I had even one sexual sin, how could God possibly cure me, how could I be considered worthy. God had given me so much, how could I make Jesus suffer like that with my sin? I was so locked up.

All in all, during that two years, I did nothing egregious. I baptized a few people. And in those two years, there was only one companion I fell for. He was straight, but he was handsome, and kind, and attentive. He asked how I was and he listened. He offered back massages. He made me laugh. He thought I was cool. And we spent every waking moment together for three months, how could I not fall for him? One night, I told him in a quiet voice that I was attracted to boys. He responded that he wasn’t that surprised, and it didn’t bother him at all, but he wanted to make sure I knew he was straight. I assured him I was as well, and we never spoke of it again.

And thus passed my time from ages 19-21. The height of my sexual development. I spent it hiding, scared, ashamed, depressed, and feeling broken. I would later contemplate what it would be like for straight young men to be sent to live with beautiful women, to shower with them, to sleep in a bed feet away from them, to never be alone. What if we told these men that lusting was wrong, that they couldn’t masturbate, or deviate, that they couldn’t have sexual thoughts, and that if they did they were wrong, broken, and should be ashamed. Realizing this helped me realize what a torturous and cruel time this was. It was spiritual abuse in a concentrated form.

In December of 1999, I went home, my head and heart full of shame, my spirit dark. And I started college two weeks later.

Sex Education Part 4: Scout Camp

My first day at Scout Camp, I rolled out my sleeping bag in the small tent, anxious about sharing my space with other boys in my ward.

There was Josh, my tall, gangly friend with his thick glasses. Stephen, the handsome nerdy guy with the perfect smile. Charles, too handsome for his own good, constantly bragging about girls. Sam, with thick blonde hair, who looked perfect with his shirt off. And scrappy little Daryl, who had a constant sneer on, always trying to pick a fight. These boys and ten others in our little troop, along with the Scoutmasters one tent over.

Sam was the nicest to look at, but it was Stephen that I had the biggest crush on. I often found myself watching him across the camp, wondering if he ever noticed. He was handsome and adorable all at once. I was only 14, but I wondered what a future with him would be like, if that was something that was allowed. But then I mentally flogged myself for feeling that way in the first place, knowing that even those thoughts made me a sinner.

The first few days of Scout Camp were a blur of skits and singing, flag raises, swimming, building fires, cooking eggs and bacon over an electric grill, and working on a number of merit badges. The leaders encouraged us to get as many badges as possible during the days we would be there. Every morning and meal started with a prayer, and we sang hymns and Scout songs throughout the day. It was meant to be the ultimate getaway.

I mostly stayed quiet as the other boys interacted. When the leaders were away, the conversation automatically steered to girls.

“Dude, have you guys seen Becky? She has the biggest boobs in the whole class and I heard she made out with Joe Adams once.”

“I totally made out with her.”

“No you didn’t!”

“I so did. She’s dumb as rocks though.”

“Whatever, I made out with your sister!”

The boys talked about their crushes, their conquests, their future wives. And I didn’t participate. I tried to blend in to the background, wanting to fit in but not wanting to engage either.

“What about you, Chad, who do you like?” Sam asked me over the fire one day.

My eyes immediately shifted to Stephen across the camp, then I lowered them to the ground. “Oh, I don’t really talk about that stuff. I’m trying to just stay focused on school and church stuff until my mission.”

Sam nodded, laughing. “I respect that. I’m into this girl named Amber. She’s really cute and want to know my favorite part about her?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Her butt. She has the perfect butt. Want to know how I know that?”

I looked over at him as he stared in the fire. “How do you know?”

“Cause my hands have told me so.” I looked over in surprise. “Yup, that’s write. She let me grab it once. I think I love this girl. I told her I would carve her name into my arm with a knife, but she didn’t want me to do that.”

“That’s… intense,” I thought, and my eyes flashed back to Stephen.

Daryl was the toughest one to be around. He’s the only one what wouldn’t let me blend in. He pushed and pushed. It was like he had something to prove.

One idle morning, the guys lined up and wanted to see who could throw logs the farthest. They chucked them across a field, trying to hit a far away tree. I stood timid, in the background. When asked if I wanted to throw a log, I simply said ‘no thanks’.

And then Daryl turned to me. “What the hell, Chad, you can’t do anything! What kind of man are you! I’m shorter than you, and I bet I can throw one farther than you! Hell, I bet my dick is bigger than yours, too!”

I didn’t engage. I simply walked away.

Every day, I was becoming more and more aware of how different I was from the other guys. I had no words for it, but it consumed me, those differences. I was unworthy, aberrant, an other. I felt unseen constantly, but also like everyone was constantly staring, noticing every glance and every movement. I wanted to hide, but more than anything, I just wanted to be like them. No one understood. I was an island on my own, sharing space with everyone else who belonged.

I avoided showering for days. There was a big group shower up the hill, an open room like those at community swimming pools. 15 shower heads lined the walls, all pouring hot water from the tank outside. Should I wear a swimsuit in there and claim modesty? Should I wake up extra early and shower before anyone else? I wanted to see the other guys, be part of them, but that was the last thing I wanted as well. What if I got aroused? My body had a mind of its own sometimes.

But on day three, I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I shut down my brain and marched with the troop up the hill to the shower. In the locker room, they all undressed and I kept my eyes fixed tightly on the floor. My heart was pounding. Stephen was right there, and Sam, and the others. And then everyone was naked except me. I wore a bright orange swimming suit as we all walked into the shower together, me doing my best to keep my eyes on the floor.

There were six other boys in the shower, all older kids from another troop. Tall, strong, good-looking guys, all of them naked as well.

One of them noticed me and shouted across the echoing room. “Hey! There are no swimsuits in here!” I looked up at him in surprise. He grabbed his dick and balls in his hand and shook them back and forth. “Welcome to the Ball Show! This is where we see who has the biggest wang and who has the biggest balls! How can you play with a swimsuit on?”

I finished my shower quickly, keeping my head down, never saying anything. Some of the guys in my troop compared penises. A few lobbied teasing remarks to me.

On the hike back down the hill, I mentally flogged myself for not fitting in again. I thought about the other guys, talking about their crushes on Lindsay Lohan and Hillary Duff, about their talks about Becky’s boobs, and Amber’s butt. But I couldn’t say anything. If I talked and was honest, they’d know my crush was on Zach from Saved by the Bell and Wheeler from Captain Planet. They’d know I didn’t like boobs or girls, and instead that I had crushes on Sam, and Stephen, and my algebra teacher, and the neighbor who mowed the lawn with his shirt off, and the wrestler kid in my PE class. I was different and there was no changing that. I would never not be different.

Years later, looking back on this time as an adult, I realized that I wasn’t all that different. I was a typical boy, pumped full of hormones, obsessed with sex jokes and fitting in; I just liked boys instead of girls. But while the other kids were learning how to have crushes, fall in love and lust, be rejected, and fit in with other guys, I was merely learning how to hide everything about myself. The repercussions of this would last a lifetime. For me, and for every other gay kid like me.

BoyScout

Sex Education Part 3: the Law of Chastity

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When I turned 12, I was set to receive the Aaronic Priesthood, the lesser authority given to worthy young men to perform ordinances in God’s name. 12-year olds with the Priesthood were given small responsibilities, like passing the sacrament during the main congregational meeting, a group of young men standing at attention as they passed trays of bread and water down the rows. At 12, young men moved from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, and they left Primary at church, the organization for children, and instead became Deacons. It was a powerful rite of passage.

We left Missouri when I was 11, when my parents finally split up. The divorce would take a few years. I had no idea how wounded mom was at the time. The older kids who were still at home stayed behind to finish high school with my Dad, and the youngest three went with my mom. She went back to work as a teacher. We lived with my grandparents for a few weeks, then rented a home and enrolled in school. I was in fifth grade, and I made friends quickly.

I was a very innocent and naïve 11, despite my upbringing. I enjoyed playing Nintendo, reading books, writing stories, and drawing. I played with kids much younger than me and organized them in neighborhood games. I couldn’t ride bike yet, or sink a basketball into a hoop, or throw or catch a ball, all bizarre tests of masculinity. And I was teased occasionally by other kids for being a ‘fag’, ‘sissy’, or ‘fairy’, all of which sucked. I desperately wanted to fit in, to be just a standard member of the student body, a part of the kids who happily co-existed. Somehow, whether because I was Mormon, or gay, or feminine, I was on the bottom of the pecking order, and I knew that as early as third grade.

In fourth grade, when I was 10, kids started talking about sex more. There were veiled references. “How far have you gone?” “How many people have you done it with?” “Are you still a virgin?” Every boy knew just to brag and boast when truthfully no one really knew what they were talking about. Strangely, I don’t think I remembered the abuse I suffered as a young child during this time. I didn’t know how to process it. I was just caught up in adolescence, in moving to a new state, and in the tragedies happening in my family.

And so, before I turned 12, in preparation for the Priesthood, I was called in by our new bishop. We’d known him a few months, but he was really a stranger to our family. He was a pleasant retired man, a grandfather in his seventies, with thinning white hair. We started the meeting with a prayer and then he asked me the standard questions. Do I pay my tithing, do I obey my mother and father, do I believe in the Mormon Church as the one true church, do I have a testimony of the Savior. And then…

“Chad, do you obey the Law of Chastity?”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“That is when a man and woman are sexually involved only with the person they are married to.”

“Um, I guess so.”

“Do you avoid pornography?”

“What’s that?”

“Images or videos of a sexual nature.”

“Yes, I avoid that. I’ve never even seen any.”

“And do you masturbate?”

“What’s that?”

And so he told me what it was. “Masturbation is when a man plays with and strokes his penis because he thinks it feels good. But it is against the commandments of God.”

“No, I’ve never done that.”

I passed the worthiness interview. And the next Sunday, I got the Priesthood.

Reflecting back on this interview as an adult, I see an innocent kid who had already been sexually exploited, who was then sent into a room with an unfamiliar man. Behind closed doors, this man asked questions about sex, pornography, and masturbation, and he used descriptive terms to teach me what they were. While I believe this man had good intentions, the very idea of this enforcement, of strangers questioning children, of perceived virtue being the sounding board for worthiness, these messages taught me all about sex. And these were things I should be learning from parents or teachers, not a stranger.

But I remembered his words. And I was curious. Within a few weeks, I tried out masturbation. It felt great to play with my penis. Like really, really great. It got hard and had so many nerve endings. I found myself closing the door to my room and playing with it. I’d even do my chores and reward myself with time to play with my penis later. (Processing as an adult, I realize that I was reenacting my abuse: masturbation as a reward for chores. But I didn’t know this then). I wasn’t thinking about sex or sexual intercourse or sexual partners, I just liked touching myself. I found myself doing it at the dinner table, in the shower, in the bathroom, when I thought no one could see. I knew it was wrong, knew it was forbidden, but it felt so good!

And then one day, early in the morning, I was playing with myself in my bed, and it felt more intense than usual, and I went faster, and then… I ejaculated for the first time. It scared me! What was that! Oh my god, what was that! It went everywhere and was sticky and messy and I felt like something was wrong with me. The pleasure passed quickly and I panicked, remembering how the bishop had said this was wrong. And so I cleaned up and then dropped to my knees, immediately begging God for forgiveness.

And that day began a cycle that would stick with me for the next 20 years. I would stave off masturbation, for days, weeks, sometimes even months at a time, and then I would give in. And after I gave in, I would feel ashamed and beg for forgiveness. Sometimes I got nauseous. Sometimes I got really nauseous. Sometimes even the idea of sexual pleasure would make me nauseous. And the older I got and the more intense the sexual feelings got, the worse the nausea got.

But for now, I was chaste. And I knew masturbation represented sin. But I wondered why, if God didn’t want me to do that, then why did he make it feel so damn good? Why was it a constant temptation? I guess so that I could show God that I was dedicated to him. That was my job, to keep that relationship strong, to be a good Priesthood holder, to be worthy.

And then puberty started, and the hormones hit, and the struggle intensified.

Sex Education Part 2: And None Will Molest Them…

I loved the hymns. I loved all of the rituals of Mormonism, in fact. Prayers before bed, church every Sunday, fasting and tithing. But the hymns, sitting in the chapel and singing with the Saints on Sundays, they made my heart soar. My family was very musical, all of us, and we would sing loudly in the congregation, harmonizing and singing in all four parts. I loved watching the conductor at the front of the chapel. I loved the piano refrains. I loved tracing the black notes in the hymnals with my eyes.
Now let us rejoice in the day of salvation.
No longer as strangers on earth need we roam.
Good tidings are sounding to us and each nation,
And shortly the hour of redemption will come,
When all that was promised the Saints will be given,
And none will molest them from morn until ev’n,
And earth will appear as the Garden of Eden,
And Jesus will say to all Israel, “Come home.”
I knew very early on of my divine purpose. I was a child of God, with a divine destiny in store. Where much was given, much was required. Because I knew of my godly heritage, I was expected to be obedient and follow all of the rules because I loved God and he loved me. Everything happened for a reason. God saw and heard everything and there was nothing he didn’t know. And if anything bad happened, it was because God had something to teach his children. It all made sense. Perfect sense.
There were a lot of women in my home, and I was often hungry for male attention. I had five sisters and my mom was responsible for most of the parenting. Dad was gone a lot, and always quiet and sad when he was home. That left my brother, Kenny. He was 8 years older, and a bully, constantly teasing me and my little sister, Sheri. We shared a bedroom, and he made it widely known that I was not the kind of brother he wanted around. I was too much of a sissy and I liked girly things.
So far as I can put it all together, I was 5 when the abuse started, and I think I was around 8 when it ended. My memories of this time remain fractured. As with all survivors of trauma, my memories are sharp and clear on certain things, and completely blank on others. I write this at the age of 40, and it still brings back dark shameful painful yucky feelings to consider what happened. My family also remains extremely uncomfortable with me talking about it. So I won’t be overly specific, I’ll simply talk about the experience itself.
Kenny, who was in some ways a child himself (though the older he got, the harder it is to use the excuse, and, again, I was only 5), he used the typical tactics of all abusers. There was grooming. He made the abuse feel like a reward for good behavior and deeds. If I helped with his chores, we could go up to our room and spend quality time together. I was warned not to tell anyone. I was given instructions while at school to think up new games we could play together. At times, when I tried to initiate encounters between us, he would shove me aside and embarrass me if he wasn’t in the mood. It was sometimes frequent, sometimes infrequent, and I kept it silent for a very very long time.
As I look back, I think that I thought of it almost like a game. As I process memories not related to the abuse, they are otherwise very normal. Family dinners, spelling bees, swimming lessons, Christmas mornings. My brain hones in on very specific instances and the things that happened, and then there are big gaps. There may have been weeks or months when the abuse didn’t happen at all, and there were times when it was frequent. I don’t know exactly how it started, and I don’t know exactly how it stopped.
I do now that by the time I was baptized at the age of 8, I knew far too much about the male body and how it worked. I still had a lot of innocence, but I knew about masturbation, and intercourse, and orgasm. I knew about sexual shame and secret keeping. And so, that day when my dad dipped me beneath the water and declared I was without sin, that day when I was wearing white, I didn’t realize how deep the darkness within me was. I had no idea how far the roots of pain and confusion had spread.
First there was the awareness that I was different, something I ultimately learned to mean I was gay. And then there was the abuse. And those two things in conjunction with the messages I received about God and divine destiny created deep wells of confusion within me. I developed an understanding that I was designed wrong, that there was something inherently flawed within me. And that deep pain, it was with me during all of those normal moments of childhood. Through the chores, the stories I wrote in notebooks, the playing with friends at recess. It was there on summer vacations, and in Cub Scout activities. It was there when I made friends with boys and girls, when my oldest siblings moved out of the house, and when one of our dogs was hit by a car.
I learned to put on a happy face. It was genuine. I was a happy kid. I was kind and compassionate, I cared about others, I loved learning about animals. All those parts of me were real. But they also became the parts that I learned to show the world while I kept the rest secret. It’s what was expected. It’s what Kenny taught me to do, but I’d learned to hide my differences even before that.
Years later, as an adult, I would look back at these early photos of me, and see an innocent kid. I was the perfect target. I was eager to please, accommodating, happy, easy to manipulate. I kept confidences. I was hungry for attention. And I was in a busy household where it was hard to notice if one kid was going through hard times, especially if he was quiet about it. And above all else, he had easy access to me. I was right there, one bed away, right behind closed doors.
I turned 8, and Kenny turned 16. He started drinking more, and he got a job, and he cycled through girlfriends. And I had no idea how unhappy mom and dad were, they were good at keeping their own secrets. But by the time I was 11, they would split up and we would move across the country, away from Kenny and dad and my childhood home.
And then adolescence began. And suddenly being different from everyone wasn’t okay anymore. I would only become more aware of it with every passing day.
Jesus

Raising a Gay Son

butterfly

My mother was hurt when I first came out of the closet. I was 32, and I was a father, and when I called to tell her, she reacted with shock and pain, as if her life was falling apart. She’d reacted much the same way when my younger sister, Sheri, had come out years before. She somehow, at the time, saw our exits from the closet as a personal failing, as if she had done something wrong, and being told her son was gay was a personal trauma for her.

This was a delicate time for me, one where I felt my own life was falling apart, and it took me a long time to be able to recognize her trauma. The night after my call, she called several others to confide in them, telling them I was gay and that she wasn’t sure what to do. And when word of this got back to me, I called her back, furious and screaming that she had no right to tell my secrets to others. It was perhaps the only time in my life when I had yelled at my mother. She understood, of course, but she was hurt too. Everything she had ever known about me was a lie, she said.

And then, our emotions spent, my mother’s voice softened, and she confided in me. “That’s not true. I knew. I always knew. I was just so afraid of it. But I knew.”

“How did you know?” I asked, confused and hurting.

“You were just different. More compassionate. Different from the other babies, the other kids. I’ve always suspected, always been afraid that you were gay.”

I’ve now been out for seven years, and I’ve seen that narrative play out in coming out stories over and over again. Mothers and fathers who knew their kids were gay, right from the beginning, but were afraid to say it, afraid to talk about it. And sometimes I can’t help but wonder why.

How different my upbringing would have been if my mom, if anyone really, had told me that being gay was a normal, healthy, happy thing. What if it had been a viable option? What were people so afraid of? I asked a few different parents of gay kids this, and I took notes on their responses.

“I was worried that if I told her she might be gay, that it would actually cause her to be gay. Like it would set up expectations for her future.”

“I thought that if I told him he was gay then he would get teased by other kids more, and I didn’t want to make his adolescence harder.”

“Even though I knew he was gay, I didn’t want it to be true. I thought that he could change it if he tried, so I was harder on him than my other sons.”

“I wanted grandchildren. If he was gay, I’d never have grandchildren.”

“If any of my children were gay, I didn’t know how to reconcile that with my religion. If gay people can’t be in heaven, what would that mean for our family bonds there? What would happen to them? It was easier to keep quiet.”

These are difficult questions to address, but what all of them leave out is this: by not making homosexuality an option for children, by not letting kids be who they really are, kids end up raised in the closet. If straight kids are taught that gay is inferior, they treat gay as inferior. If gay kids are taught that gay is inferior, they grow up hiding, feeling inferior, and seeing themselves as broken; they grow up silent, silenced, closed off, and divided. They feel different and can’t talk about it. Sometimes they are abused, forced into therapy, told they are not good enough or that they must change. And then these kids grow up into adults who have attachment, anxiety, depression, and self-esteem problems. Unhealthy relationships, suicide attempts, and therapy rates go up-up-up because there is more pain from childhood, more trauma, represented across the gay population. (And the statistics for transgender individuals, as always, are much higher).

My sons, J and A, are 9. They have a dad who is gay and a mom who is straight. They have gay friends, straight friends, and transgender friends. They know that there are differences in skin color, languages, religions, and social statuses. They know that both of their parents date men. They ask hard questions. There is no disturbance for them with this, because their parents are happy and balanced people. And while we have ideas about them and their futures, we don’t give them a script. We teach them to be kind, to have manners, to apologize when needed, to express their feelings, to listen, to be responsible. And we encourage them to be exactly who they are.

In discussions about the future, both of my sons have, more than once, said that they are gay, and that they are straight. “I have a crush on a boy. I’m gay” or “I like a girl, I’m straight” or “I don’t think I want to get married ever, but maybe I’ll adopt some kids.” And I hear these statements in exactly the same way that I hear their changing ideas that they might want to be a dancer, a hunter, a millionaire, a farmer, a rancher, a zookeeper, or a doctor. I tell them that they have plenty of time to decide who they are, and that I will love and support them no matter what. I tell them that they are beautiful to me, and that I love them “a million times.” (My 6-year old recently responded that he loved me “a million infinity thousand googleplex times back”, followed by a “ha-ha, Daddy, I win.”)

The key point is here that I will not project my own biases on to my children. I want them to be the best versions of themselves. I want them to be, well, them. Gay or straight or transgender, Mormon or atheist, just them, and happy, and good.

And for every parent out there, those who worry that their kids might turn out gay, well, don’t. Honestly, I think every parent deserves at least one gay kid. Research shows that many gay people have greater amounts of compassion, creativity, and talent per capita than straight people do, so who wouldn’t want that for their family?

And as for me and my mom? We talk every day. She grew up in a different era, so having gay kids is still unfamiliar to her, but she loves her children, and she supports us. She asks Sheri about her wife, she asks me about my boyfriend. We talk about the things that I write about (blogs like this one), and she offers opinions and understandings. Our relationship is much deeper than it was before I came out, and we are close friends. She has four straight daughters, one straight son, one gay son, and one gay daughter. And she loves us all just the same.

And that’s how it should be.

 

 

#MeToo

Metoo

I recently completed a memoir of my life. After years of writing and telling my story, the book came together in a period of months, and I’m pleased with the outcome. However, there were many parts I was hesitant to write about, out of a desire to not hurt others in any capacity. I did discuss a lot of people, but I’ve learned as a writer that it is easier to write about someone if they have either given consent or, sadly, if they are deceased. I have many loved ones who read what I write, and they became concerned over where my memories differed from theirs, and many of them only wanted to be painted in a positive and understanding light. So I found myself censoring parts of my story, out of a desire to not hurt the people around me. And this is surely not unfamiliar to other writers who have had similar struggles.

One major area of my life that I chose to leave out of my book: surviving sexual abuse. A few months after I came out of the closet, I wrote a tell-all blog about these experiences, and a few members of my family had largely angry and emotional reactions. They worried that the person who abused me would be hurt by this, and worried about the potential that his children could be hurt as well. The irony of leaping to the defense of the abuser is not lost on me. He is not a person who is a part of my life. But I took down the blog at the time so as not to damage my family relationships. And I kept that part of my story out of my book for the same reasons.

But it is readily apparent to me that my abuser, and my surviving abuse, remain a large part of my narrative, my history, my psychological development. I own those parts of my story, as a therapist, as a writer, and as a father. Being a victim of abuse impacted my relationship with my own masculinity and influenced my development as a young man and, later, as a father. It certainly impacted my development as a gay adolescent who was learning to hide from others, and it caused me to have one more thing to hide, and even to wonder if the abuse had caused my homosexuality. It impacted my sexual development, and the way I experience attractions. It impacted my self-esteem, my relationship with myself, and my capabilities as a professional. It grew roots and seeds into every part of my life.

To give voice to a little bit of this, I’m just going to share a list of facts about my abuse and adolescence, things that stir me when I think about them and that impact me. The trauma from my abuse is separate but related to the trauma of growing up gay and closeted, my father’s abandonment, my step-father’s sexual abuse, and other things I went through as a child.

I was a compassionate, curious, and creative child who grew up in a busy and religious family. I was one of the younger kids and there was always a lot going on in my home. Despite having a very loving and attentive mother, my father was frequently depressed and absent, and I spent a lot of time playing solo and at church activities. I was abused at a young age, sporadically and systemically several times between the ages of 5 and 8, by an older male with influence over me, and one who had frequent access to me.

My abuser made me feel as though the abuse was quality time, things that boys just do together. It involved the removal of clothing, stimulating genitals, back massages, oral sex, and masturbation. He would send me away with reminders not to tell anyone, tell me he looked forward to our special time together, and invite me to come up with ideas of things we could do together the next time.

At the time, I believe, I was not overly disturbed by the abuse. I was so starved for male attention, I think it was something I looked forward to. I have a vivid memory of sitting down in school, and later on the bus, writing down ideas in a notebook about things my abuser and I could do together.

It wasn’t until I was 12 years old, when my own sexual development began, that I began to realize how disturbing those memories were. I had blocked a lot of it out. As I began to realize I was attracted to other boys, I knew something was wrong with me, and I began to think that my abuser had caused these parts of me to be broken. I began avidly searching Mormon books for addresses on how to heal from abuse, and I began to believe that if I could heal from the abuse, then I could also cure the homosexuality. This was a major problem that lasted throughout my mission.

Throughout the ages of 12-22, when I really began my healing after my Mormon mission, I had periods of time when I would block the abuse out completely. I would also have times where I actively journaled, capturing every single memory in as much detail as I could. In addition, I began having irregular flashbacks to the abuse itself, memories that would take over my entire body, sometimes in sleep and sometimes during the day, when I would come aware afterwards with quickened breath and sick stomach. I dreaded these moments the most.

I first told my family about the abuse when I was 15. I confronted my abuser in front of my mother and my stepfather, and they asked me detailed questions, making sure I was aware of how serious the allegations were. They listened to me, gave me hugs, and then I went to bed. I was never sent in for therapy after that, never questioned about it further. It became the enormous family secret, the thing people knew about but never wanted to discuss. When my abuser became a father, I was rightfully concerned, but no one seemed to want to talk about my worries. When I cut the abuser out of my life later, some family members made me feel guilty, telling me that perhaps I should forgive, reach out to him and try to build a relationship. And in my late 20s, I went through a period of time when I tried, but quickly realized how unhealthy that relationship was, and so I cut him out again.

During my own sexual development, I would often retreat into my imagination for sexual fulfillment, and I didn’t realize until years later that many of my early fantasy scenarios resembled my abuse. Even now, in my late 30s, this impact on my own development infuriates me.

I could talk endlessly about the abuse and my path toward survival, but I will simply conclude with this. It changed everything. I’m a survivor. I will never ever be at peace with what happened to me, and I will never forgive the person who hurt me. At the same time, he has no control over me  now. I survived. I live life on my terms, and he or the abuse don’t get to determine my fate. The abuse hurt me, primally. But my survival skills are, in many ways, what have allowed me to be a better therapist, a better writer, and a better father. Someone once asked me if I was grateful for the abuse because of these outcomes in my life. Of course not. I would never wish that hurt on anyone. I am a better person because of me, and the work that I have put into myself and surviving, not because of him and how he chose to hurt me.

the Locker Room

 

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“My back hurts. I can’t go to gym today. Here’s my doctor’s note.”

The gym teacher looked at me with unfeigned frustration as he considered the note. He was a large man, one who also taught the history class in ninth grade, and he generally seemed bored at his job. I also took history from him, and he seemed bored there, too. (In fact, we had counted during the semester the times he had simply shown a movie to the class instead of actually teaching, and he had shown us the same Michael Jordan special seven times during the year).

The other gym teacher in the school was a very attractive man, and I was relieved he wasn’t the head of my class. I was already distracted by handsome teachers in Algebra and Band, and I hardly needed more distractions.

“So you are saying you can’t participate in class activities?”

I shrugged awkwardly. “Depends on the activity. I can probably do, like, volleyball. But maybe not, like, running and stuff.”

“Well I guess you get to spend an hour doing homework or fitzing around while everyone else exercises. Have fun with that.” He tucked the note into the back of his teacher’s folder, breathing out hard from his nose with frustration. “But for today, we are working on stretches and a bit of lecture. Think you can handle that? Go ahead and dress down.”

I swallowed, embarrassed and a little ashamed. I wondered if the teacher was calling my bluff. My diagnosis of scoliosis was legitimate, as was my back pain, but I had been participating in P.E. class for months prior to this doctor’s note. Now I was looking for a way out of P.E., claiming, with a doctor’s support, that I wasn’t able to do physical activities. I had never been one to push my physical limits in class, but I had always been willing. And now I wasn’t.

But I wasn’t sure how to talk to him about it, how to talk to anyone about it. I was 16 now and things at home were rough, with my step-father’s constant anger and occasional violence, and things felt even worse on the inside. I had thought that once I started dating, maybe my attractions to men would diminish, but they hadn’t. In fact, they had maybe grown worse. I was attracted to my guy friends, to guys who walked by, to guys on television, and I was exhausted by pretending I was attracted to girls, and sick of mentally beating myself up for being distracted by guys.

And now here was the locker room. I hated the locker room. I didn’t fit in with other guys, who talked about sports and girls. And I was attracted to many of them and here they were getting undressed and I was afraid of getting aroused or of getting noticed stealing a glance. And I wasn’t comfortable in my own body, being less athletic than the other guys around me. The locker room tended to expose every insecurity I had, and left me beating myself up for hours afterward. I hated that it was part of school. I could avoid the group shower, but I couldn’t avoid changing.

I stepped in to the locker room and walked directly over to my assigned space. Tuning out distraction around me, I opened the locker and began to change, unbuttoning my shirt and sliding on my gym shirt. Immediately to my right, I saw David pull his jeans and underwear off, and I turned to avoid looking. On the other side, Eddie looked perfect and toned shirtless, and I turned to look back at the locker, containing my frustration. It was impossible not to be distracted in here.

I quickly slid off my jeans, then felt Scott, another guy in my class, flick his towel against my leg, seemingly aiming for my butt.

“Nice tighty whities, Chad!”

I turned to roll my eyes at him, then noticed that David was now completely naked, and was in very good shape. My eyes lingered a bit too long, then I forced them down on the floor. I then forced myself to look back up at Scott, swearing at myself internally. They’re gonna notice that you looked at David. They are gonna notice that you looked at the floor. They are gonna notice that you aren’t joking around with Scott back. Damn it, David is right there. Don’t look or you’ll get aroused and they will for sure notice that.

“Yeah, like yours are any better,” I quipped lamely, and Scott laughed, turning back at his locker.

I turned back to mine again, purposefully avoiding looking at David, who was still naked (damn it! get dressed!), then I swiftly pulled up my shorts, then sat down to put on my shoes. Eddie was dropping his shorts to change them, and across the room an obese kid was putting his arms behind his back and making his stomach shake to make a few people laugh. As someone called him a name, two other guys were talking about the girls they were planning on getting with that weekend while they changed.

I tied my shoes and saw that David was finally putting on his shorts, and I snuck one last glance before grabbing my stuff, closing my locker, and rushing out of the room.

Tomorrow, no matter what the activity in class was, I planned to have a bad back pain day. I needed to not be in that locker room again so soon. If that didn’t work, maybe I could find another place to change, but then everyone would notice. Maybe I should ask a girl out for this weekend so that I would have something to talk about in the locker room on Monday, that would make it easier.

The coach lined us up for stretches, and I got placed between David and Eddie, and as class begin, I did my best not to picture them naked and began singing religious hymns in my head instead. My thoughts were straying and later I would have some repenting to do.

 

the rated R movie

rated-r

“Mom, do you realize we are paying for poison to come into our home each night?”

My mom looked over, confused, her hands deep in dishwater. It was only 7 am. “What do you mean by poison, Chad?”

I stood nervous, almost shaking, feeling abjectly ashamed of myself. I was just out of the shower and dressed for school, in jeans and a striped t-shirt, and my hair was still wet. I’d been mentally flogging myself in the shower, telling myself I was horrible and evil, and I’d come rushing up the stairs to talk to my mom about it as best I could.

“We–we are paying for a monthly subscription to HBO,” I explained. “It is constantly streaming evil content. Bad things. Sexual situations. Mom, it shows moves that are rated R!”

She pulled her hands from the water, drying them on a towel. “Well, yes, but only late at night.”

I nodded, shutting my eyes tight and feeling fresh tears on my cheeks. “Yes, but I have a TV right there in my room. I wake up at night and I’m tempted. I have pictures of the Savior on my bedroom wall, but there is a TV right there, and I just know that if I turn it on, it will have sexual content on it. It’s far too tempting, Mom! I’m being a good Priesthood holder, at least I’m trying, but I’m constantly tempted! And we are paying for that filth to come into our home!”

Mom placed a hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eyes. “That’s a good point. I hadn’t really thought of it that way.”

“We are paying for it!” I repeated again, with more emphasis.

“Okay, okay.” She gave me a hug. “You’re a good son, Chad. Let me talk to your step-father about this. He’s the one who uses HBO the most.”

I pulled away, still panicking. “If we can’t get rid of it, can we put some sort of password on it? Or–or maybe I just need to get rid of my television so I won’t be tempted.”

Mom assured me again that she would talk to Kent about it, and then told me she appreciated me for talking to her about it. Then it was time to catch the bus.

I was 15 years old. I was a teacher of the Aaronic Priesthood in my local Mormon ward in Idaho. I was paying my tithing, going to church, and reading my scriptures, plus I was saving up money for my mission, but from time to time I just gave into temptation. My friends would joke about watching shows like Baywatch or Strip Poker on MTV, where they could see hot girls in bikinis, and I chided them for it, saying they were inviting spirits of temptation into their homes. But I was much worse. I was a hypocrite. I would stay up late to watch girls who weren’t in bikinis, and, even more, watch the guys who would get naked with them.

I didn’t dare tell anyone about the rated R movies, and I definitely didn’t dare tell anyone about how I liked to watch the guys. Guys my age couldn’t stop talking about boobs, but I couldn’t get my mind of good-looking shirtless men. When I got distracted from being religious, these handsome men would consume my thoughts. I had a secret video tape in my bedroom where I had used the VCR to record guys on various shows who had their shirts off, like Billy from Melrose Place and Eric from the Grind. Watching this tape felt naughty and sinful, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the HBO shows, where the men would be shown in sexual situations, and it would usually show their butts too, and that filled my thoughts in a different way. It was arousing and heady, and would almost always lead to masturbation. But then I would be overcome with a sense of deep and abiding shame. I hated myself for giving in to temptation. I knew it was normal for teenagers, but I wasn’t supposed to be a normal teen. I was supposed to be better.

The first naked butt I could ever remember seeing was on the movie Dances With Wolves. For just a few seconds, Kevin Costner’s character had his butt exposed, and I couldn’t stop staring. I’d asked for the movie for Christmas that year, and sometimes when my parents were gone, I would just fast-forward it to that scene and push pause. Later, I’d fantasize about him, and then immediately feel terrible afterward again.

I’d learned about masturbation from a Mormon bishop when I was 12. In an interview about worthiness, he’d asked me if I obeyed the law of chastity, and I’d had to ask what it was. He then told me about masturbation. And so I’d gone home and tried it. Now, at 15, I felt horny almost all of the time, but couldn’t tell anyone about it, so I just pretended it wasn’t happening and focused on the church and its teachings.

I was lonely a lot. I was too young to date girls then, but it was guys I couldn’t stop thinking about. I wanted friends to have sleepovers constantly just so I could be close to other guys. It was exciting, even though we never did anything, and sometimes I would make suggestions that we play truth-or-dare or strip poker, but the other guys never seemed interested in it. And a few times, when friend slept over, we would turn on HBO together, watching briefly, and there would be a moment when I could tell we were both aroused, but we never did anything about it. I was alway so scared of them noticing, yet also scared that the wouldn’t notice. If any of my friends had been interested in cuddling, kissing, strip poker, or fooling around, I wasn’t sure I would be able to resist. I wanted that more than anything, and there was nothing I was more scared of.

We didn’t really talk about HBO again. Kent refused to get rid of it. I tried hard to avoid temptation, but I’d give in from time to time. And after one night of seeing a rated R movie, I scheduled an appointment with the bishop, and in that appointment, I told him I was attracted to men and that I struggled with masturbation. In response, he gave me a book called the Miracle of Forgiveness, one that would teach me to repent, and one that taught how to cure homosexuality. More than anything, the book taught me to lock up all the parts of me that were gay and never show them to anyone ever again.

After that, I didn’t struggle much with rated R movies. I didn’t need them anymore. The family had just purchased monthly access to the internet through America Online. 

the Ball Show

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“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the ball show!”

I stepped into the shower tentatively, nervous. There were about 15 guys there, all of them naked except for me. I was wearing my swim trunks, and even that made me nervous.

The shower was in a big wooden building at the edge of the camp. There was a small room with benches to change on, then a larger room with a set of showers in a large rectangle, where each scout could take a short shower during their break from camp activities.

I’d been nervous about the shower for days. The other kids in my scout troop had been talking about it, asking when we should shower as a group, asking each other who would go in naked or who would wear shorts. I’d been avoiding the question, not sure what I should do.

One friend, a kid from my scout troop named Jake, had talked about it almost obsessively. “Who do you think will wear shorts in the shower? Do you think the scout leaders will go in? Will they be naked?”

I was 13 and up at Boy Scout Camp for a full week in the summer time. We were there to earn merit badges. Our troop, number 39, kept a clean camp, and we had assigned jobs. Gathering fire wood, helping with the cooking, preparing the water, inspecting the tents and camp for cleanliness. We worked well together and behaved well in front of the leaders.

But when the leaders were away, the conversation topics strayed. The boys talked about masturbation. They talked about erections. They talked about girls that they liked and what they wanted to do to them. They cracked jokes around camp about camp life, like having fire ‘wood’, and ‘pitching tents’. And that kind of talk made me nervous and angry. Nervous because I knew that I liked guys, and I was worried that if I talked about it, then I’d be exposed, or worse, I might get aroused. Angry, because we were supposed to be nice Mormon boys who were virtuous and worthy, not talking about sinful and unchaste things.

On the second day of camp, a kid named Derrick had been talking about masturbation down by the lake, where we were getting ready to work on a swimming merit badge. In moments, we would be jumping in the water fully clothed, and we had to remove our pants in the water and turn them into a floatation device as part of the requirements for the badge. But Derrick was busy chatting about how big his dick could get and how he liked to play with it.

I’d looked over at him, nervous and speaking up. “Hey, could you not talk about stuff like that?”

And Derrick had looked shocked, and then angry, making fun of me in response. “What’s the matter, Chad? You’re just jealous cause you don’t even have a dick!”

“I do too!”

“Well, it’s not my fault you can’t get it hard!” Derrick had raised his voice.

“I–I can too!” I’d retorted, lamely, nervous.

“Oh, yeah? Prove it!”

I’d simply walked away, baffled at how often guys this age talked about their penises.

And now here we were in the shower, and some kid from another troop was announcing contestants in the ‘ball show’.

“First up, we have Scott!” he yelled. “Scott, show us your balls!”

The kid named Scott was 13, skinny enough that I could see his ribs, and he walked into the center of the wooden shower, strutting a bit.

“Scott has tiny balls and a big dick!” The kid doing the announcement was treating this like some kind of game show.

“Next up is Andy! Look at his big balls!”

My cheeks flushed and I couldn’t help but watch, but then I worried that others would see me watching, or worried that I would get aroused, so I quickly turned my back, washing myself quickly.

And that’s when the announcer guy noticed me.

“And hey, look over there at the guy who is too shy too show his balls! What’s the matter, are you too shy for the ball show?”

I turned around, quiet and nervous. He yelled louder.

“Is your dick too small to show off?” he yelled.

“No!” I shouted, a bit too defensively, and the other guys laughed but stayed silent, some of them clearly uncomfortable. I’d only been in this room, but some of these guys had probably been in here for 20 or 30 minutes.

“So show it off! You’re next on the show!”

I turned the shower off, held my head high, and walked right out of the shower, as some of the guys cat-called and laughed, making fun of me for being a ‘prude’. Then I cried from frustration as I walked back down to the camp, closing myself in the tent in anger and embarrassment.

Later that evening, my friend Josh leaned over at the campfire and told me he thought it was cool that I had walked away from Derrick and the group shower, and I said thanks, feeling somehow like I had done the right thing but not feeling like I had at all.

My troop practiced a few songs and a skit that we planned for the upcoming jamboree. We gave reports about our day’s activities with merit badges. We retired the flag and said an evening prayer, put out the fire and cleaned up the camp. I soon retired to my tent, where I put on a pair of sweats and a baggy T-shirt, kneeled to say my prayers, and climbed into my sleeping back.

I watched the top of the tent, thinking about boys, and why they were so mean to each other, and why they were obsessed with talking about penises (and showing them off, apparently), and why I didn’t fit in. Then, before I fell asleep, I wondered if I really wanted to. Because in this case, the reason I didn’t fit in, is because I was the one who kept my shorts on, and the only one who had been afraid to look.