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.

#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.