“I was molested.”
I was shocked to hear those words coming out of my own mouth. I was having some beers with my boss after work while images of the disgraced Jerry Sandusky played across the TV screen. I found myself talking about how this was a very personal news story that had put me in a very strange mood for a few weeks.
And then I just said it, without really even thinking. It’s not significant that I was bringing up my molestation -- I’m an open book when it comes to discussing the most intimate details about my personal life, and I’ve broached the topic of my deflowering at age 12 to countless people over the years.
In fact, when I was 26 I made a feature length autobiographical documentary that delved into my precocious sexual awakening.
And there it is: “My precocious sexual awakening.” I have always used that phrase, or some variation of it, to describe my molestation. In the 77 minutes of my film, I never once actually say that I was molested.
I refer to the events as an “inappropriate sexual relationship” and I acknowledge the “wrongness” of my molester’s actions, but I also admit feeling a certain fondness for him. Mike is his name.
In the movie, I tell him he was basically my first boyfriend.
I would like to be clear that I am gay, very gay, and I cannot remember a time when I was not gay. I was not molested into homosexuality. My sexual preference was clear to me long before my first time (I used to watch 90210 every week just praying that Jason Priestly or Luke Perry would appear in a beach scene).
At 12 years old, when the opportunity to see another man naked (a grown man with body hair and fully developed man-parts!) presented itself, I jumped at it. And it felt good. Really good.
Sex was a drug, and I was a very happy addict. At least I thought I was. For a time, I was young and naïve enough to believe that because it felt good, it was okay (and when I write “for a time” I realize that I may actually be referring to fairly long chunk of time -- like 18 years or so).
I had completely bifurcated my physical desires and psychological wellbeing, and through an elaborate system of the compartmentalizing I was able to feel overjoyed in those wonderful moments of intimacy. It did not take long for the attendant feelings of shame and guilt to come along.
I grew up Mormon. I used to have a picture of Jesus on the wall by my bed to stop myself from masturbating (which resulted in a cycle consisting of weeks of agonizing self control followed by nights of furious beating off).
So while I was able to blissfully engage in gay sex at night, I spent my days -- and especially my Sundays -- wracked with guilt and anguish at what I was doing with/to my body, my temple, and how it was offending God.
I mention this not to indict religion as a source of shame and guilt, but rather to paint an accurate picture of the complex concerns weighing on my young 12 year old mind.
My thorny relationship to religion was only one of the sources of my emotional turmoil. Mike, of course, was the other. Over the course of our “relationship,” he engaged in the worst of kind of emotional blackmail and warfare.
When I was so wracked with guilt about our sexual escapades that I confronted him and told him that god wanted me to stop, he contritely told me I was right. He said that we should just come clean about our relationship and tell my mom so that he could go to jail, where he belonged.
This is one of the confusing things for children going through this -- you are easily led to believe that YOU are doing something wrong, something shameful. I couldn’t face coming clean about what I viewed as my own personal sins and the overwhelming feeling that I would be letting my family down with my disgusting actions.
Once, when I told Mike I wanted to end our relationship he went so far as to tell me that he couldn’t live without me. I was 14 years old and faced with the prospect of causing someone to drive off of a cliff because he needed me so much. I didn’t want to kill anyone. So, I did what seemed to make the most sense to me at the time -- I took my clothes off and slept in his arms.
As I approached adulthood, I started taking more control of my relationship with Mike. He was letting me go, and I sought him out, instigating sex at every opportunity. I started to seek out sex not just with him. I was willing to engage in sex with any adult male who wanted me.
I was a cute, thin, blonde, 17 year old twink with a perpetual hard-on – they were not difficult to find. They were in the bathroom at the mall. Making UPS deliveries in the neighborhood. In the parks where “that kind of stuff” happens. At clubs I went to with my fake ID.
Eventually, I went off to college, and that was the end of my relationship with Mike. I moved on with relative ease. For 11 years, I was in a mostly caring relationship with a man (my freshman roommate…) who I loved very much. We had our issues, issues that eventually lead to our breakup, but Mike was not one of them.
At 30 years old, I was a successful producer for a creative ad agency, an independent filmmaker with a feature documentary under my belt, and your average gay guy living in Los Angeles, going out with friends, and dating (fairly successfully, I think).
And then there was Jerry Sandusky.
I was in the car when I first heard the news of the Penn State sex scandal. At first I was in a haze, incapable of acknowledging any similarity between my situation and the tragedy endured by those poor boys in State College, PA. Then I went through a phase of publicly denouncing Sandusky and proclaiming my disgust with the whole affair.
Except, I didn’t really feel disgusted. I felt sorry for Sandusky.
Anyone who has even thought of taking a Psych 101 course will attribute this to my internalized feelings of guilt and resulting empathy for my own victimizer.
I knew this was fucked up. I could not stop consuming media about Sandusky. As I thought about each new allegation of sexual abuse, I suddenly realized that 18 years ago I was one of those kids.
As I read each new article I saw myself reflected in the stories of the anonymous boys who came forward to reveal their awful experience. Expert psychologists wrote about their trauma, and by extension the trauma experienced by all children who are molested.
And as I read about those boys a thought crept in: Is this who people think I am? The victim who would be fucked up and psychologically scarred for life? The victim who will be statistically more likely to molest others when he grows up? The poor kid who endured a hell that no child should have to bear? And if people do think that about me, are they right?
I started to picture the slightly awkward contortions and ever-so-nervous eyes on the faces of the friends who I have told about my experiences as a 12 year old. I remembered back to when I was making my film and I recalled how a woman with a 12-year-old of her own shuddered when I told her my story.
As I continued to obsess over the Penn State scandal, Mike started appearing everywhere. I thought back to memories of childhood, memories that I should want to share with others, or at least own for myself: my first real kiss, learning how to drive, the first time I slept over at a boy’s house, summer trips. My older brother’s funeral. Mike is a part of all of those.
Some of these memories are not unpleasant. Some of them are quite wonderful. But they don’t feel like they’re mine, and mine alone. There will always be the interloper. The man I have to eventually tell each new potential boyfriend about. The man whom I had taught myself to call, simply, My First.
So there I was, on a typical weeknight like any other, discussing the day’s news. And I said it aloud and to another person for the first time: I was molested. Three words I never thought I would say, because for a long time I did not actually know that My First was also My Molester.
After I said it, “I was molested,” my stomach did not drop into my bowels. My heart did not skip a beat or jump up into my throat. I did not feel ashamed. I did not want to curl up in a ball and hide. Because I survived.
I will always be someone who was molested. I will see his face when I shouldn’t. I will accidentally (or not so accidentally) think about him when I masturbate, and not cringe, and not stop. I will remember him and feel anger and at times desire. I will think about him and blame him for taking something from me that I didn’t even know to protect.
As a 12-year-old boy who couldn’t possibly understand the implications of what was happening to his body and mind, the unexpected and delayed consequences of monumental events that would shape his life in ineffable ways.
But now I’m a happy, seemingly well-adjusted, 30 year old man with a past that I cannot change and a future that I can. I was molested. And I’m okay.