We welcome Tom, our guest blogger today, who courageously writes about an issue common to many men sexually abused in childhood — the challenging journey healing from childhood sexual abuse in light of sexuality and intimate relationships. Tom has helped Big Voice Pictures in the past with transcribing many of our videos interviews. We’re grateful for him sharing on this most important topic, and for his courage in facing the complex feelings associated with the traumatic wounds of boyhood sexual abuse — and it’s impact on one’s sexuality. For those still struggling with this issue, visit here (bottom of page) for the many resources related to healing from sexual abuse. Some content may be triggering.
I am grateful to the other male survivors who have written about their sexual abuse on Big Voice Pictures’ blog, and their long, difficult road to heal from the damages caused by their abuse. I have been comforted and benefited a great deal from those stories. However, in my years of recovering from my own sexual abuse, I have not heard how a survivor’s sexuality was damaged due to their sexual abuse. Mine was, and writing about it here represents my own ongoing challenges from the damages caused in my dating and romantic relationships.
It has been emotionally crushing, psychologically, and emotionally painful — and filled with addictions. It has kept me from experiencing an essential part of what it means to be human: to bond and be part of a loving, healthy romantic partnership with someone. That ability was damaged when I was eight years old and one of my male cousins began molesting me over a 3-year period. He took away my right to come into my sexuality in a natural, loving, healthy way. I’ve spent 47 years (most of my life) in great emotional and psychological pain, because, among many other violations, my sexuality and my right to discover my sexuality were taken from me. Even after 20+ years of therapy, 12-Step work, and even confronting the cousin who abused me, while I have healed greatly in other areas of my life, it has taken me until recently, at 55 years of age, to fully realize and feel the degree to which the violation of my body was also a violation of my sexuality.
This violation has brought great emotional pain, a diminished, poor sense of self. Inherently, I feel unable to be attractive, and to attract the kind of partner I wish to have. While there might be quite a few readers of my article who might brand me as “whining” or “living in victim mentality”, I come to you as a man who has experienced great emotional healing and able to live a life of my dreams in many ways. But, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, my recovery continues and it’s in my sexuality, dating, and romantic life where I still feel challenged and hurt. With my therapists, my fellow survivors in group therapy, and with other fellow survivors I meet and listen to in my 12-Step meetings, I only found one other man who opened up about how the abuse he suffered as a child led him to problems in dating and sex. Because he admitted being so ashamed, confused, and frightened by new sexual fantasies about men while he felt emotionally drawn to women, he distanced himself from the rest of the group. He was the only one who admitted to going through a struggle similar to mine. My therapists, my friends, and other survivors posited that I might be gay. While that could certainly be a reason that someone might not confront his or her own gayness, for me, after much searching and challenges regarding this issue, it’s not my truth. Just saying that is freeing, as if I came out of a prison for over 40 years.
I have heard many survivors of childhood sexual abuse talk about how their parents allowed the perpetrators to molest them. The parents, when not the perpetrators themselves, created a family dynamic where it was easy, sometimes, encouraged, for the perpetrator to abuse the survivor. In my home, my parents, particularly, my mother, consciously or unconsciously, set up the situation where my cousin, David, could and did sexually abuse me for three years. When I told my truth, I was told repeatedly, from as far back as I can remember by my mother and father, that what I wanted to share with them was ridiculous, not worthy of their time, or I was told that what I said was an outright lie. I grew up needing to be heard, to be loved, to get love by not “bothering my parents”. I got love that way from my parents.
I also got the message from my parents that being naked and seeing other people naked was “dirty” and I should be ashamed of myself. According to them, boys should not see each other’s bodies naked or else the boys and girls were dirty. They made it sound as if being “dirty” were as bad as killing someone. They said good little boys didn’t play with girls by being dirty. I got the message that I was lovable if I didn’t bother my parents with things that mattered to me because I would be ignored or scolded. If I also wasn’t dirty, I would then have my parents’ unconditional love.
My mother’s nephew was my perpetrator. She displayed more maternal feelings for him and his siblings than she did to me. I was jealous, angry, and confused that my mother would act more motherly towards my cousins than she did with me. She would actively tell them to challenge their mother (her sister) whenever possible. I knew this was wrong for her to say but if I challenged her about it, she would cut off her love for me even more. To add further insult to injury, my cousin had lots of girls interested in him. Often, one or two girls his age in the neighborhood would ask for him or call him. Meanwhile, the popular boys in my class had girls openly like them and become their girlfriends. Of course, it was puppy love, but every girl I liked didn’t want to be my girlfriend. I was “shot down” each and every time I liked a girl, while other boys appeared to have relationships with girls with ease. I mention all this because part of what allowed my cousin to abuse me was my desire to find out what made him so attractive to girls, so that I could be like him and get girlfriends. Because I never had a girl tell me she liked me or pursued me the way that other boys were pursued, I came to see myself as unattractive and lacking that certain something that attracts a girl. This was the self-image I had at the time I was first molested.
Even the way in which I was molested was something that no other survivor ever mentioned. It only made me feel more isolated, more ashamed, freakish, as if I were marked for humiliation and violation unique to me. In order to let other survivors know they are not alone if they identify with what I’m going to say, then I’ve been of service to them. This cousin took me back to a shed behind his house. He was 13 years old at the time. He told me he had his brother’s Playboy magazines and if I wanted to see them. I knew enough about them to know they had pictures of nude women, which excited me. I was particularly excited by scenes of man/woman couples having sex. It was the first time I had ever seen anything like that. David asked me if I liked them. I said, “Yes!” He asked if I would like to do that. I said “yes” again. He said I could do that with him and play a game in which he would be the woman and I would be the man in the photos. He would put the magazine down with the photos by the side and we would reenact what was in those photos. Before reenacting a man and woman having sex, David said I had to stroke his penis. I didn’t want to. I felt embarrassed and ashamed to do that. There was nothing exciting as the pictures of the nude women had been. But, I wanted to feel what it would be like to have sex with a woman. Here was one way to find out. Thus, began the pattern for three years of sexual abuse: my cousin and I reenacting male/female sex scenes from magazines and me having to masturbate him in order for me to get what I wanted. The abuse finally stopped three years later when he tried three times to penetrate me and I wouldn’t let him. I told him that I would tell my parents what we were doing. He said, “Go ahead! They won’t believe you anyway.” Twenty years later, when I told my parents of my abuse, they actually called me a liar to my face but that is another story for another time. I had been abused and raped by someone who certainly had to be more masculine than I was, if he was lettering in football and having a girlfriend come to live with him. I hated and envied the boys who attracted girls. I never felt further away from being any kind of physically attractive being. That’s another pattern: women and men who are attracted to me but I’m not attracted to them, while women and men who I find attractive don’t find me attractive — not once in a while but 98% of the time. So much so, that I had to examine why was I attracting such results.
As I grew older, I got more frightened to experiment with girls. All throughout adolescence, only two girls approached me. I never thought about sex with a man until I was 20. As I kept having one disappointment after another with young women, I worked in a department store with other people my age. It was common for many of them to have boyfriends and girlfriends. It was common for the girls to talk about boys they found attractive. Many girls were hot after Mike, one of the guys who worked in my department. I wasn’t sexually attracted to him, at first, but I did want to be his friend because — like with David. By being around him, I hoped to pick up what made Mike so attractive and it could rub off on me. After three years of being friends and listening to our women co-workers openly talk about how hot Mike was in front of me, I couldn’t take it anymore. One day, when I visited Mike at his house, he came down the stairs shirtless. I felt sexually aroused and I was caught off guard by it. I felt it only with him, but I never felt feelings of love for him like I did with girls and women. After Mike got married, I continued dating women and enjoying them. There simply were no other men I fantasized about. Whenever a woman and I were getting passionate, I really enjoyed what I was doing until the moment the woman would want to take off my clothes. Just then, a shiver ran up and down my back and the feeling of being violated overwhelmed me. I freaked out and I didn’t know what was happening to me. Due to that fear, I didn’t want to go through other such humiliations. My relationships with women were sexless, though I did talk marriage and became engaged with my only real girlfriend ever, Sunny. After three years of dating, she broke off with me. In the 25 years since, I’ve not had another relationship with a woman, though I’ve dated many more women, sometimes, as long as six weeks. Beginning at 40 years of age, after much anguish and finally coming to accept I might be gay, I began dating men but I never felt the same degree of intimacy with a man as I did with women. I could have sex with men, up to a point, but not really get into it. I’ve never had a boyfriend yet. I only was attracted to men who were very sexy and desired by many other men and women. That has been a constant all these years.
I thought I had found my true sexual orientation at last by dating men exclusively and I did lose my virginity to a man (which I haven’t yet done with a woman) but my experiences with men have been disappointing and not what I expected them to be. I hadn’t fallen in love with any man when I reached 50. I despaired of finding a lasting, healthy romantic love with a man so, once again, I found myself drawn to two men who were from other countries. I found myself very attracted to them. I never met them and I was going through the constant feeling that I had to make a relationship happen because none was occurring on its own. They cut off contact with me abruptly and I never knew why. I was devastated emotionally.
In all the years I was in therapy and doing 12-Step inventories on my sex and love life, I always felt that my sexual abuse and my home life took my right of sexual discovery away from me, and wired me negatively for dysfunctional beliefs about myself and dysfunctional romantic relationships. I never fit in completely as a gay man nor as a straight man. Bisexuality is something I can embrace but, there, too, deep down, it doesn’t feel like the right label for me.
Lots of despair and anguish over getting older without love and seeing younger and younger men seemingly enter into relationships only consumes me more and more. While friends tell me about others who have never had relationships – and that one doesn’t need a relationship to be happy — they themselves are in relationships or have been those people for whom it appears easy for them to enter into long-term romantic relationships.
By being honest with myself about the connection between my childhood sexual abuse and my sexuality, I’m facing feelings that I’ve hidden for over 45 years. By facing those feelings and memories, I cry; I go through periods of great sadness and anger for what was done to me and not done for me; for the pain and anguish that my sexuality and romantic relationships have been; and mourning for the years of all of this dysfunction that I can’t get back, especially from my youth. By telling my story, I can now take back my right of sexual discovery. I don’t know whether my true orientation is straight, gay or bisexual but, now and for the rest of my life, I get to experience my sexuality because it is a true outgrowth of who I am, not a programmed, addictive reaction to my childhood sexual abuse. I get to be the man I was meant to become.