Guest Columnists #78 - A Male Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault
A Male Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault
Note: The following article has could be triggering for some people.
This is dedicated to all survivors of assault and to those who's lives have been taken. When I was 15, I was sexually assaulted by another male. He was much older, most likely in his mid 30s, but it's hard to remember. I have foggy images of his face. He was a stranger to me. I was on a trip with my dad, sister, and step-mom in Mexico and went to a discoteca--a dance club serving drinks and all that. I was getting really drunk, having a great time dancing and hanging out with this kid I met from New Jersey. He seemed alright. My sister had decided to stay in our room that night cause she wasn't feeling well. So I was out on the town not really knowing anyone except this kid from New Jersey who I just met.At some point during the night, I went to take a piss in the men's bathroom and this older guy, who was pissing in the urinal next to me, began speaking to me. I can't remember if it was English or Spanish, but as we left the bathroom, we were talking in both languages and laughing and drinking. So, me, the kid from Jersey, and this older dude are all drinking together, I was totally having fun thinking, "This is great. I’m speaking Spanish...meeting cool people." Pretty soon we were all at the bar doing double shots of tequila. Whoever slammed their glass down, or put it upside down on their head, last, had to buy the next round. Well the dude kept losing and kept buying. By this point, I was totally fucked up and loving it--numb from all the intensities affecting my life back home--parental divorce two years ago, child abuse, my dad kicking me out of his house the year before (I had decided to take this trip with him in hopes of a relationship again and being pressured into it. One of many attempts, but that's another story). The music was cranking on the dance floor, and I was dancing at times (a lot of it's foggy to recall, yet I can actually visualize the bar in my mind as I write this). I remember the neon lights, hardwood floor, spinning disco balls hanging from the ceiling, the railings and upper deck area, the outside patio that was on the beach with the ocean waves rolling onto the sand. A beautiful place ruined by commercialism and consumption, which unbeknownst to me at the time, I was fully participating in. I can remember such a nice feeling smoking cigarettes on the beach there (which is funny cause I quit smoking 7 years ago and think they're disgusting). It's amazing our bliss when we are so unaware! I was aware of the land and love of the ocean; I just hadn't connected, or even heard of imperialism or first world privilege and those dynamics. Maybe I’m digressing here to procrastinate writing the details of the assault. But, also, recalling all this is healing for me. It's something I’ve blocked out for a long time, and known was there. Ok...I’m ready to go on. As I was dancing, or drinking, or talking, the dude starts caressing me around my shoulders and I’m feeling really uncomfortable, but didn't say anything. I’m kinda frozen. Then he started feeling and lightly pinching my nipples, which totally freaked me out and I felt really weird. I feel sick even thinking about...it just brings me back there. He was touching me in ways I didn't want to be touched. I didn't want him touching me at all. I was scared and confused why this is happening to me. He said, "I like your friend, but I prefer you." That was so intense and I went out onto the beach and the kid from New Jersey's there, very drunk as well. I clearly remember the following conversation. I add a major disclaimer that the words said then are NOT the way I speak now. I was distressed after the guy said that to me and I said, "Hey, that guy's a fag, man." And the kid's like, "No, man, people are just really friendly and into touching down here." So I’m thinking, "Well, shit. I’m really uncomfortable, but maybe it's me. Gee-paranoia. I’m drunk." Thoughts like that. I go back in the bar. I was dancing again to the song "Shakedown Street" by the grateful dead. I know, what a horrible song, but back then I was getting into all that trippy shit and had requested it, so when it came on. I was psyched. The dude may have come up to me during the song, but I think maybe I danced that one unscathed. I think maybe I was outside again, drinking more when the kid from Jersey ran up to me and said, "Hey! That guy is a fag and he's looking for you. You better get out of here." I ran. I ran all the way up this huge hill back to where my sister and I were staying without stopping, looking over my shoulder, fucking scared I was gonna get raped by this guy. I can remember the leaves blowing in the wind--an amazing evening surrounded by a fucked up situation. I got back to the room, went in and woke up my sister, or I went to the sink and puked, which woke her up. I’m pretty sure I told her what happened. I fully remember asking her to hold me as I cried and the room spun all around me, twisting my stomach and brain, thoughts spinning with what happened, tears streaming down my face. She held me for as long as it took. I’ll always be grateful for that. The next day I was totally ill from all the alcohol and events. At some point I remember telling my step-mom what had happened and asking her to promise not to tell my dad. All this shit was going thru my head. I was a 15 year old boy steeped in our patriarchal culture of homophobia, sexism, racism and many other oppressions. The homophobia is what most affected me in this case. Was I gay? Is that what this meant? I swear I thought the perpetrator must have known something about me that I didn't. What would anyone think if I told them? Like I wrote before, I used words like fag. I thought gay people were sick. That's what I was told. Interestingly enough, it wasn't from my dad though...I don't fully understand why I didn't tell him. Probably cause I didn't trust him with my emotions after his emotional and sometimes physical abuse. Also, I thought he'd be mad cause I was drinking. Maybe more, but I’m unaware of it as I write this. I remember seeing the dude a couple days later in the town--he was like a tour guide or something, leading people around. I pointed him out to some people. We didn't do anything to him, just looked from afar and said to ourselves, "That guy's fucked up." Ugh. What a fucker. How many times has he done this to others? Or worse. I got away. That kid from Jersey helped me out. I could maybe have fought that guy, but sometimes fighting back can lead to more violence. I am in no way saying don't fight back. I had no self-defense training. He could easily have overpowered me. This experience really affected me thru my teens and still does now at 25 years old. It's been 10 years. Wow. In my teens, I was totally scared of being gay. Terrified. If I ever felt attractions to other boys, I hid it and convinced myself otherwise. I did start questioning my sexuality pretty intensely only to convince myself I was straight. I liked girls. I was in a committed relationship. The assault did not help me with my homophobia; it only reinforced it. The most traumatic part of all this was not having people to talk with about it. If I did talk to a friend about questioning sexuality, they had come to the realization that they were straight. I didn't really tell anyone about being assaulted--no male friends that I can remember. What would they have thought?!? The few people I did talk with about sexuality were not gonna say being queer was ok. That having the thoughts I was having were ok. The culture wasn't saying it was ok. I lived in confusion and fear. I didn't want to be like that guy who assaulted me. It is a very harmful myth that most men who sexually abuse children are gay. What I’ve learned is that sexual abuse is about power and control, not about sexual attraction. Most sex offenders are men who identify as heterosexual and have consentual partners at the time they sexually offend a child. They choose to abuse children because they get gratification from sexual offense and children are accessible and vulnerable (adapted from SASS training packet). The above language uses the word child, but I think that teenagers fall into this category when talking about power dynamics between adults and children. There are differences in the dynamics when it's teenagers and adults, but the dynamic of who has credibility and power in society is largely the same. Adults have credibility and power. These myths, along with others our culture produces and feeds on, prevent so many of us, maybe all of us, from feeling free to explore who we really are. I know that I felt scared and shameful. For years my relationships with men were rarely emotionally close and it's been very hard for me to trust any older men. And then many older men I have met are sexist, homophobic, racist...the list goes on. But that distrust is linked to my experiences with being assaulted and the male parental figures in my life. It's like a scaring, and a defense mechanism. Over the last 10 years since the assault, I have begun to work thru much of my "isms". I am in no way saying I’ve got it all figured out or I’m super cool or pure or anything. I have put a lot of time into researching and listening and talking about the dynamics perpetuated by this patriarchal white-supremacist culture. I have looked into my privileges and my oppression; how I fit in with all this shit. After a lot of work in my head, and meeting supportive people, I am feeling freer to explore who I am. Some years ago I finally admitted to myself that I am attracted to some men. I realized I was uncomfortable with the label "straight". Flirting with boys became fun. I was like, "Damn, I wanna hook up with a boy." And I did. At age 24, I hooked up with a friend of mine. I had a good time, and it was so fucking intense. I was really scared, and kind of out of my body at times, like not present, thinking, "I like this, but do I cause something's weird?" My body definitely enjoyed it! During our hot and steamy night of passion, I kinda freaked out in my head and body and couldn't go on, all I could do was cuddle. He was totally cool with that which was awesome. What a sweetie! I didn't know why at the time, but after talking with a friend about it months later, I realized I was triggered. The assault is still in me. It's gonna take more to get thru it, to transform it. Like writing this helps so much. I’m learning to be ok with myself. I told my mom and sister I consider myself queer and have been open about it in certain circles where I feel safer than other circles. And I realize the privilege involved with being able to pass as straight while at the same time I feel stifled when people assume I’m heterosexual. It's like a trap: I can go along with the dominant program, not being honest about who I am, but being safer, or I can be honest by being vocal and risk their response. I think it's really important to not assume people are heterosexual so that people aren't placed in that trapped position. Furthermore, it's important to challenge our homophobia and heterosexism which underlie assumptions about someone's sexuality, and reactions to how they define their sexuality. I want to feel like however I define my sexuality will be ok in whatever circles I am a part of. I know for me, it's really helped to find people who are supportive of me just being me, exploring my desires in a responsible way. What happened to me happens every fucking day to all people. Wimmin are assaulted more often than men and often men are the perpetrators of abuse. A statistic based on what is reported is that one in three girls and one in five boys are assaulted by the age of eighteen. I could go on with statistics. One thing about statistics is that they don't show all the cases that go unreported, which are many. So I feel we can safely assume more adults and children are assaulted than the statistics show, which is a high number already. This is not ok. It tears lives apart and often leads to death. For me, much of what I went thru has been internalized and I minimize it, thinking, "Well, other people have it worse." But the reality is that this experience fucked me up. And now I’m transforming it into learning about myself and a desire to work to stop sexual assault from happening. It's harmful to ourselves to minimize our experiences, brush them off as no big deal or a normal occurrence. This is a typical unhealthy coping mechanism. The norm in this culture makes my stomach turn and sends my head reeling. The norm needs to go! I write this as I’m going thru a series of trainings to be a volunteer with SASS-sexual assault support services. They are an amazing group and the trainings have been really good for me and brought up a lot of thoughts and emotions. The work SASS does affects people everyday. It's helped me to look at some serious experiences in my life and begin to heal, and work toward healing others too. I want to be clear that everything in this article is my own experience (except the statistics). I am not speaking for others who have had similar experiences, although much of it may relate. This is my stuff. Being assaulted didn't "make" me queer. If anything, growing up in a homophobic heterosexist culture where I was assaulted only prevented me from being closer with other men sooner in life.This is the culture I am working to end by acting in ways to create a life where we support each other and we have the opportunities to realize our full potential. I encourage all people socialized as men reading this to start looking at what's shaped your world view and begin to educate each other on issues of sexual assault, domestic violence, racism, classism, ageism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, etc. Let's look and our privileges and challenge each other. And look at our struggles and be there for each other to heal. I could not have written this without knowing SASS and some trannies, wimmin, and men who are my friends. You know who you are. Thank you. I welcome correspondence on these topics or anything else really. Send it to Male Survivor's Story c/o Box 12122 Eugene OR 97440.
• Check out: the song "Refusing To Be A Man" by Propagandhi on the recording Less Talk, More Rock
• the book "Men's Work" by Paul Kivel
• books by feminist authors, especially wimmin of color
• www.teachingsexualethics.org--amazing site about rape and sexual assault prevention