Monday, November 11, 2013

Defiled

Though I've mentioned it briefly before, this was a really hard post to write. Warning: it contains language and subject matter that may be triggering for people who've experienced traumas. To make myself feel better, and probably alienate my readers in the process, I will be interspersing inappropriately amusing photographs.


It's my defense mechanism.

For forty minutes I've been sitting here, and I've written two sentences. Wow. Okay. There is just no good angle from which to tackle this, is there. This is kind of disjointed.

When I was an adolescent, I was raped four times.

Talking about it doesn't make you feel better, but not talking about it is like living in hell.

The thing about rape is that it shatters your psyche. It isn't just a physical violation, it's a violation of every level of your personhood at once. Emotional, sexual, relational, spiritual.

The first time, I was a thirteen year old boy. He was eighteen or nineteen, I think. It was on a church trip. Nobody knew, for years.

The church didn't do much when they found out, years later, three more rapes later; asked him to leave the congregation. I don't think they did anything else. I'm not sure why: afraid the scandal would hurt the congregation, maybe, or hurt me. Perhaps they wanted him to have a chance to repent. It's a damn shame that forgiveness and indulgence get confused so often. There's no inconsistency in forgiving a man and still demanding that he be disciplined.

For a year after that, I believed there was no such thing as free will. At the time, I thought it was just the logical outworking of my Calvinism, and it was. But it was also a reaction. I didn't want there to be a me that that had happened to; but if it happened to a thing, a puppet, that wasn't so bad. Looking back, I'm stunned at my own callousness.


On the credit side, that is a beard for the ages.

I started thinking about killing myself when I was fourteen. I was too scared to do it, but I fantasized about it for hours at a time. The thought recurred every few months at least, until my conversion to the Catholic faith. I've never seriously entertained the idea since.

The second, third, and fourth times were when I was sixteen. They stopped because we were caught. I got yelled at, twice, the second time by my therapist (not the therapist I have now). I felt I was to blame; no one told me any different.

I started cutting after that. It lasted for maybe a year. I think I only told two people; I gave my pocketknife to one of them. I pretty much quit after that, barring an episode when I was twenty, shortly before converting, where I beat myself against a brick wall, after hearing a talk about chastity at a campus ministry I was involved in.

I still have a very complicated relationship to touch. It's my primary love language; I crave it like I crave water when I'm thirsty. And yet, if I'm touched unexpectedly, I jump as if I've been shocked. I think this, far more than being gay, is also a root of my ambivalence about sex.


I don't know why it's from Star Trek, just go with it.

The thoughts I had about myself -- self-hatred is weirdly addictive -- would be unreadable if they weren't indescribable. Even recollecting some of the words makes me almost dizzy: filthy, ugly, piece of shit, worthless, disgusting, slut. I remember once thinking vindictively of myself, after a cutting session, There, the outside matches the inside.

All this is part of why Victor literally saved my life. Without trying to, and without knowing he was doing it. He actually believed that God loved people, and he showed me love -- and this is important -- without thinking about it. It was just the natural thing to do, as far as he was concerned. The idea that I could be -- was -- an object of love ... I can't describe the change.

The same thing, curiously, has happened again over the past couple of weeks. I'm not sure why, but I've awakened recently to the fact that there are people in my life who, for whatever reason, give a shit about whether I live or die, and are not always secretly waiting for me to get the hell out so that they can have a relieving break from my presence. The thing is -- and this will probably sound strange to my sane readers, if there are any -- that concept blows my mind. The idea that somebody would want me around, me the person, is so alien to my mind that, most of the time, I literally can't believe it.


Please note that, as grateful as I am both for love and the power to accept it, this still applies. Sorry for any mixed signals.

Being raped turns you into a thing in the most degrading sense: sex, which is supposed to be (among other things) perhaps the most intimately personal act of embrace, is made into a vehicle for predation, for using someone like a thing and throwing them away like a thing, treating their very personhood as if it didn't exist. You're wanted exclusively for your physical mechanics.

In a way, this confirms my rejection of ex-gay theory twice over. My homoerotic desires and impulses predate the rapes, for one thing; for another, if this were really the formative influence, then frankly, ex-gay stuff should have worked for me, and it absolutely didn't.

Why talk about it? In my experience, and in that of the handful of other victims I've known, being able to talk about it is a prerequisite for survival. That which is not acknowledged cannot be healed. And seeing someone else talk about proves two things: first, that survival is possible; and second, that it can be talked about -- there are safe people in the world, people who get it.

In addition to that, the responses I've sometimes heard (secondhand -- I've been spared most of these, thank God) leave me flabbergasted by their heartless stupidity. Blaming the victim for being manipulative or provocative? Yeah, because kids are sexually alluring all the time, and they certainly understand the gravity of the situation, which is why it's their responsibility and not that of the adult.


Neil Patrick Harris, on the other hand, I make no apology for.

Saying to just forgive it and move on? Forgive, absolutely, but there is no such thing as just forgiving: Christ didn't just forgive His executioners; He forgave them. That is an act of heroic compassion, powered by Divine grace -- that is, by the life of God, manifest in us. And as for moving on, what the fuck kind of advice is that to give somebody who has to grieve their own innocence? If I can trust my own experience, you don't move on, you pick up the shattered pieces of your psyche and build a new one. And that takes years. And the task defeats some of us.

Talking about it can help restrain some of the idiotic, cruel replies some people make. I tend to think a lot of those replies are fueled more by the fact that the subject makes people uncomfortable than by anything to do with wisdom or charity. If there's one thing everybody seems to hate, it's not knowing what to say; and when it comes to this, a lot of people don't know what to say. Which would be fine, if it were admitted.

Not least because a lot of times what we need is not advice, but just someone there with us, showing that they don't think we're a thing and they don't think we're ugly. That we're wanted, and worth wanting.


And if touch as a love language doesn't come naturally, just pretend that we're in an adaptation of a Stephen King novel that inexplicably doesn't seem to take place in New England, and you need to reassure yourself that reality is still there. But try not to think about the leech thing.

22 comments:

  1. Extraordinarily kind of you to share so helpfully! Don't have the words to express my gratitude for you opening your heart and letting us all have a look at some of what you've experienced...and the amazing outcome of the man you are today! :-) I'm better for what you shared...so thanks for sharing!

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  2. Man, your story wrung tears from my eyes. I'm incredibly grieved to hear that someone did that you. And it broke me to read the church's reaction. I don't really know what to say, I just wanted to virtually be present for you if that means anything.

    I'm familiar with the doubt of people desiring to be around you. Maybe not to your extent, but I know it to a degree. I earnestly hope that one day you'll be able to see what others see (I hate leaving off messages like that because this could take years; it did for me).

    Thank you for your honesty, and thank you for your vulnerability. I'll be reading as long as your posting!

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  3. I feel a bit of a jerk now, did not mean to give advice, just chat. And I don't know why you think people my just want to hang around, you come across as thoroughly lovely. x

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    1. Aww, I didn't want to inspire feelings of jerkdom! I hope you will accept my assurance that your chatting is appreciated.

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  4. I love your definition of forgiveness: "an act of heroic compassion, powered by Divine grace -- that is, by the life of God, manifest in us." Wow.

    I love you.

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  5. I'm sorry to hear that such a violent thing was imposed on you.

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  6. Dude, I've been waiting years for you to be able to talk about this with those of us who care about you. I didn't know what exactly it was that was hurting you, but I knew it was big and I knew it was wrapped up in religious crud in a way that made me very sad. I'm so glad God is working His salvation out in you! If its not too creepy, imagine a great big Amy hug, ok? (Virtual hugs shouldn't set off any alarm bells I hope.) ^_^

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  7. Gabriel,
    This is such a brave and heart-breaking piece. Thanks for your courage in sharing your story.

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  8. A very insightful piece. I'm going to share it on Twitter.

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  9. I'm a bisexual Methodist who found your blog over the summer while looking for someone, somewhere, that I could relate to. In August, I was in a sketchy circumstance where, while nothing was truly forced on me, I was so out of my mind that I was barely conscious at all, much less conscious enough to understand what I was agreeing to do. I know I wouldn't have done those actions sober, I just wouldn't have. Since then, I've really struggled to reconcile the fact that my parents (with whom I am very close) think I'm the perfect, straight, wholesome, church organist daughter when I feel like a whore, the type of girl that other parents wouldn't want their sons to marry. I also had a counselor who, perhaps in a well-intentioned effort to lessen my hurt, would just tell me that it wasn't a big deal, which made me hate myself even more for caring about it so much. Needless to say, I thank you for sharing your story. I feel the same way about physical contact with people, and I feel the same way about doubting whether people want to be around me. It aches to read about your hurt, but there are some times that I feel totally alone in my experiences, and thank you for letting me know I am not alone.

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    1. I'm deeply glad, and grateful, to have been something positive for you. For whatever it's worth -- and I know that may not be a lot, or not right now -- nobody should think any less of you because someone else took advantage of you, and I sure don't. Nor do I think it's "not a big deal," because it absolutely is; resilience is good, but you can't force a person to recover by pretending that something important was actually unimportant. If it's cool, virtual hugs, and prayers (non-virtual).

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  10. I kept a sexual assault as a secret for 38 years. One year after I made it public, I collapsed. I hated my body and I built up tension in my body.
    It took me 3 years of psychotherapy to regain my self-esteem.

    So, when I start reading your story, I felt I was collapsing. But I didn't.
    Thank you for helping me to add another step to my healing process. Thank you again for your courage to share. Wish you all the best in the world.

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  11. Thank you.

    I am struck by the accuracy of the title of your post

    When the same thing happened to me at 7 I remember hiding in my closet afterwards. It was after sunset, that time when the sun has gone down but it's not quite dark and there is still some brownish orange on the western horizon. I felt an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, something even deeper than sadness or grief or despair. I felt like I was all the evil in the world, distilled, purified and packed into one seven year old little boy. It felt like death.

    I, too, remember the cutting. For me it started in my teens when I read a magazine about a psychologist who treated gays with behavior modification techniques. If you felt an attraction to a male you were supposed to mildly punish yourself with a rubber band snap on your wrist. If you felt an attraction to a female you were supposed to reward yourself (not that I ever felt such a thing.) It didn't work but I found that pain made me feel more alive, more energetic. So I graduated from mild forms of pain to burning and cutting by they time I was in my mid twenties. Boy, did I feel evil then! The only time I felt good was when I was hurting myself. I did not realize until years later that I had been in a state of severe depression for 2 decades and the pain was releasing endorphins that would temporarily kick me out of the depression.

    I think for me the most healing moment happened when I read an article in the newspaper about a man who had molested several boys and would spend the rest of his life in prison. While in prison he had been turning his life around. The paper quoted him saying that he wished he could tell his victims how sorry he was and that it had not been their fault. I called the prison and asked if I could visit.

    When I met him I told him what had happened to me and said, “I don’t know who the boy was that hurt me so I will never be able to ask if he is sorry or to offer him forgiveness. May I tell you that you are forgiven in his place?” And he, in turn, told me what he would never be able to tell those he had hurt, that he was sorry and offered no excuses for what he did.

    In 1 Cor. 6, the words used for “homosexual offender” literally translate as “soft ones” and “men who lie with males.” Whatever interpretation one may put on that verse for today, there is no denying that the primary same sex relationship of Paul’s day was between adult men and boys, often slave boys who were forced to work in male brothels.

    I would only be able to visit that man in prison a couple of more times. But in those few times together, he and I were 1 Cor 6:9-11. And the statement that neither the “soft ones” nor the “men who lie with males” will inherit the kingdom of God became not just Law but also a promise. We sat there talking, two broken sinners who each despised ourselves, who knew what constant shame and fear feel like. Malakos and arsenokoitai, just as there must have been former child prostitutes and their former customers in the church at Corinth, bound together by the hope that one day the part of me that was victim and the part of him that was rapist would neither inherit the kingdom of God. In repentance and forgiveness we knew that one day, in the resurrection, we would finally be whole again and be exactly as God already saw us, washed and sanctified.

    It would not change our lives. I’m still depressed and ashamed almost every day. I struggle with thoughts of suicide and self hate every bit as much as I did when I was 13. I lost track of him but the best he could hope for was that his life sentence would be served in a treatment center rather than a penitentiary. All we had to give each other was the knowledge that Christ has taken on our sin and become more broken than we ourselves, that in dying on the cross and rising from the dead, He had given us the promise that, as He was broken, in our own resurrection we would be made whole.

    Anyway, thanks for posting, it is odd how knowing others understand can help so much.

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    1. Damn. Your visits with the prisoner was a heartbreaking and beautiful story. I can only hope I would be capable of that kind of forgiveness if I ever had to face what you have. I pray you're able to find peace.

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    2. Matt, you got healing visiting that man in prison....Good for you......and for him, too.

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    3. I understand what you are saying, but I don't think "healing" is the right word any more than a person learning to live with the loss of a limb is "healed." I still struggle to comprehend Christ's forgiveness for me and I still face frequent and deep depression. I still can not go outside the house at that particular time of night without feeling overwhelmed by hopelessness and death.

      I think, instead, I found "hope" not a feeling but a sense that goes beyond how I feel in a specific moment. And I think I learned that God's promise in Romans 8 is true. He can use even very bad things to bring about good.

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  12. What a heartbreaking story--thanks for sharing it, and I'll be saying some prayers for your this evening.

    One aspect of your story made me think of something that Dawn Eden said to me once. We were in a restaurant and someone kept dropping pans which made me jump every time. She noticed this and asked me if this happened often. I told her I think I'm very attuned to noises because I'm a professional musician, but I was intrigued by what motivated her comment. She was a victim of sexual abuse herself, and it took a long time for her to realize that she was suffering from PTSD, which apparently is quite common in sex abuse victims. My "abuse" has always been hard for me to consider as abuse, since in my mind, I remember enjoying what I and a neighbor boy engaged in when I was 4 or 5--very unlike the violence you tragically suffered. But that conversation with her has got me thinking more about the consequences in my life of those moments when I was a kid.

    That reaction to unexpected touch makes me think of her comments, and it makes me wonder if her book, My Peace I Give You, about healing sexual wounds with the help of the saints could be a great help to you. She suffered quite a bit of abuse as a child, and writes about longing to find saints who could connect with her experience. I think it's a beautiful book.

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    1. I heard her speak once, about that very book as it happens. I liked her; perhaps I should take a look at it. Thank you for the reminder.

      You have touched on an important dimension of the problem in bringing up enjoyment. I don't believe that makes the smallest difference, myself. Of course, a given interaction of this type may be ignorant to the point of innocence on both sides; but when one party has *power* over the other, I consider it an act of predation no matter what the victim's response is. I consider it the more appropriate to emphasize this, not because I take you to be lessening the reality of abuse (far from it), but because telling victims that they "wanted it" is such a common tactic of abusers.

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  13. This is very difficult for me to read - I immediately want to freeze up and say 'man up' - not to you, but to myself. I suppose it's 'defensive detachment' at work.

    Amazingly, my experience is similar to yours - it didn't take place at a church camp however. It involved a neighbor just a bit older than your predator - it happened repeatedly. I hate thinking of it. I had a crazy family as well - very abusive. It made me an easy target for a predator. I pretended it was an 'affair' - like in the movies. I pretended I was sophisticated and adult. I hated doing it. For years I blamed myself - completely - not believing that I was really only a child.

    It was a long time ago... but it never goes away completely. The wounds reopen from time to time - but they no longer become infected - to a deadly degree, that is. At least I hope not. It's like the wound in St. Rita's forehead - it can become foul and festering, repellant to others, but it closes sometimes, and you almost don't notice it.

    God bless you for being so honest.

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  14. "barring an episode when I was twenty, shortly before converting, where I beat myself against a brick wall, after hearing a talk about chastity at a campus ministry I was involved in."

    Well, I can now understand your dislike of Christians.

    "Saying to just forgive it and move on?"

    You don't have to forgive someone's crime. Our God is a just God and he metes out vengeance on evil-doers and rewards the kind and simple-hearted, especially in the life to come. We are only obliged to forgive someone if they repent and ask for mercy, but even then our goodness can be abused. It is more Christian to hate the crime rather than feel like we are forced to "forgive" people just like that. I know that's shocking, but better that a millstone be tied around their neck and they be dropped into the sea...

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    1. No. We may take our time, and we may be gentle with ourselves -- our desire to condemn or our inability to forgive; but we do not get to just opt out of forgiveness. To do so is to opt out of the forgiveness we are offered. Christ says it in so many words, in teaching us how to pray. He does not instruct us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us but then apologize and ask us to." He does say, "If you do not forgive your brother, your heavenly Father will not forgive you." He makes no mention of hinging it upon the other person.

      True, that does not for one moment mean condoning the crime. Nor does it mean that we may never seek restitution or the punishment of the criminal. But as Christians, we must forgive: that is, we must lay aside our desire for revenge, our ill-will, our desire to see them suffer simply for our satisfaction. We can't do that all at once -- the impulse of woundedness is too strong for that, especially in a case like this -- but we can (by Christ's mysterious mercy) decide that we wish to forgive, and work, however haltingly, towards it, by asking God for the grace to do so.

      It's true, too, that forgiveness is incomplete until the other person accepts it. But that is, in a very dreadful sense, their problem, not ours. We don't get to cherish hatred or bitterness because somebody hasn't apologized to us.

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