Did molestation make me gay?

I used to think what happened to me when I was a child was what made me attracted to males. I blamed my uncle for my sexual orientation for many years, and while I definitely believe what happened shaped my sexual interests, I am not so convinced of the connection anymore.

Those encounters are my first memories of sex, and they greatly altered my views of affection and intimacy. As a counselor once told me, the guilt the victim shoulders is because the attention and sexual activity feels good even though it shouldn’t.

Because I was too young to understand what was happening completely and enjoyed the attention, I didn’t want it to stop. When my parents found out what was going on, I was upset because I knew it wouldn’t happen again. It didn’t.

From that point, I acted out sexually with boys whenever I had the chance. There were only two that I did anything with, but it went on for several years. It was always just fooling around to me. I never felt emotionally attached or like I had a crush on either of them. Even though I know it is normal for kids to mess around while they are learning about sex, I have had a lot of guilt over the years about those encounters.

There were guys that I did have crushes on who I fantasized about incessantly, but I never acted on those impulses. I was too scared and also too ignorant to really understand my sexual inclinations. These guys were like idols to me. I watched the way they walked and talked, admired and imagined their bodies, and rarely ever said a word to them. I had them placed so high on a pedestal that they were unattainable.

As I grew older and began to figure out what it meant to be gay, the crushes continued. I fell really hard for a couple of different guys my age, but, again, I was too scared to act on it out of fear of rejection. We would have sleepovers and spend as much time together as possible, but nothing physical ever happened. In my juvenile mind, the guy would be my boyfriend. Both times, the parents of the guy stopped the friendship because they grew uncomfortable with all the time we were spending together. Both times, I about lost my mind from the grief.

When I finally grew up a little, I met a much older man who took advantage of me in many ways. I was ignorant and inexperienced, so I poured everything into a clearly dysfunctional relationship. When that relationship ended, I began another with a man several years my senior. It was also dysfunctional for many reasons.

Looking back, I realize I was substituting sex for affection. If a guy liked me, I felt like I was supposed to sleep with him. Friendship needed to progress to sex in order to mean anything. This was obviously a direct result of what happened with my uncle. Sex equals friendship equals affection equals love. It wasn’t enough to just hang out and have a good time; I needed them to prove they liked me enough, and the ultimate expression of that was sex.

Over the years, I have changed that line of thinking. I met someone 9 years ago who cherished me from day one. He didn’t expect me to show my appreciation for his company through sex (even though I wanted to). He has been patient and kind and anything but a user. I am one of the lucky ones.

My uncle never faced the consequences for his actions 35 years ago, but I know, one way or another, he will. He denies it happened now, even though he admitted it when it was first revealed. I am a forgiving person, but I refuse to consider forgiving him until he admits it and accepts responsibility for his actions.

I said all of that to say this: It would be easy to assume what happened when I was a kid made me gay, but that is oversimplifying it. I know plenty of gay people who weren’t molested, and I know plenty of straight people who were.

Regardless, I am what I am. Whether I was born this way or made this way, I didn’t have a say in the matter. I know being molested shaped my views of sex and intimacy, but those are things I have struggled with and continue to work on. It makes more sense that I was born with this orientation, and the sexual abuse was just a terrible thing that happened to me along the way.

HBO’s ‘The Leftovers’ and childhood trauma

HBO’s new series, The Leftovers, looks very intriguing. And a little scary. After roughly 2% of the world’s population disappears in a rapture-like event, the show follows what happens to those who remain behind. This reminds me a bit too much of the movies I was forced to watch as a child while attending a Southern Baptist school.

I grew up without television, so when our teachers decided to show us a movie it was usually a treat. Not only did we get to feast our hungry eyes upon delicious cartoons like Bambi, we got to skip the monotony of classroom activities. Unfortunately, the movie selection wasn’t always so innocuous.

While still in elementary school, we were shown A Thief In The Night and A Distant Thunder – films that detailed the Rapture and the horrifying events that followed. These movies not only showed people being forced to receive the Mark of the Beast, but what would happen to those who refused. The first movie in the series had a particularly haunting song that is stuck in my head to this very day.

There’s no time to change your mind; the Son has come and you’ve been left behind. I wish we’d all been ready.
Children died, the days grew cold. A piece of bread would buy a bag of gold. I wish we’d all been ready.

Because the Holiness church had taught me nothing about the Rapture but everything about what would happen in the End Times, I knew I would be one of those who was left behind to either take the Mark or be put to death. I wept hysterically throughout both films, so much so that my teacher mistook my tears for a desire to be born again. She led me in prayer a couple of times, but soon realized she was getting nowhere and told me to talk it over with my parents when I got home.

Needless to say, it was a traumatizing experience. Almost as bad as the time my aunt and uncle (also Baptists) showed my family a video of people dying in car accidents and going to hell. Good times.

So, it is with trepidation that I am actually looking forward to watching The Leftovers. Hopefully I have watched enough horror movies and reality television over the past 20 years to desensitize myself.

Innocence lost

I was molested around the age of five by a close family member. Not an immediate family member, but close. I’ll refer to him as Chester. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say I wasn’t his only victim.

brian-kid

When my parents found out what was going on, Chester placed the blame on me and the other child he had preyed upon. According to him, we started it all, even though that would have been impossible given our age and ignorance about all things sexual. Even so, in my earliest memory of sexual contact with him, I was the one who initiated it.

I used to beat myself up and wonder if I really did start it, but the most logical explanation is that my first memory wasn’t actually the first encounter. How would I have even known how to initiate sexual activity at the tender age of five?

Despite the fact that there were two victims with the same story and a confession from the perpetrator, no one contacted the authorities, no charges were filed, and Chester never paid for his crimes.

Although any unsupervised contact with Chester was stopped after his misconduct came to light, I was still occasionally in his presence. Even today, because of our familial connection, I still have to be around him at times. Our small talk is always forced and awkward, and I keep a close eye on him when he is around children.

I recently attended the funeral of a distant relative. After walking past the casket and waiting in the adjoining room for the rest of the family to enter, I felt something tickling my ear. I whipped around to see Chester grinning while holding a twisted up chewing gum wrapper. Although the gesture was harmless enough, I felt like it was highly inappropriate given past circumstances.

I used to blame Chester for making me gay. I figured those early encounters must have formed my sexual preferences. I honestly still don’t know if homosexuality is completely biological, but I don’t see the point in trying to find a definitive reason or explanation for my sexuality. I simply am what I am. Whether I was born this way or became this way because of what happened to me as a child, I had absolutely no choice in the matter.

Chester had a choice though. He chose to steal the innocence of my childhood, and the consequences of his actions still reverberate through my life today.

Speaking in tongues: My thoughts on glossolalia

I’ll start this off with a confession of sorts. Despite growing up in a devoutly Pentecostal home, I had never heard the term “glossolalia” until a few years ago when my pastor mentioned it. I have always heard the phenomenon described simply as “speaking in tongues.”

This is a subject that makes me very apprehensive, mainly because the one sin that the Bible mentions as unforgivable is blasphemy of the Holy Ghost. Since speaking in tongues is considered evidence of the Holy Ghost residing within a person, I find it difficult to discuss without treading carefully. While I’m not even sure what the definition of blasphemy would be in this instance, I want to be certain that I never do it.

The churches that I grew up in and around were full of people who spoke in tongues. Because I was related to or knew most of these people in settings outside the church, I didn’t question the authenticity of what they were doing. I knew in my heart that my own mother would never have dreamed of doing something for attention or show. She hated crowded places so much that she would have anxiety attacks and leave shopping centers before selecting any items to purchase, yet there she would be, in front of the entire congregation, dancing, weeping, and speaking in tongues.

I remember a preacher who used to visit our church regularly. He would often get anointed (that’s what we called it when a preacher was really getting into his sermon) and seamlessly alternate between English and an unknown language. I found it utterly fascinating.

The most personal experience that I ever had with speaking in tongues occurred several years ago at my grandparent’s church, where I was visiting for their annual Thanksgiving meeting. As the congregation filled the sanctuary with music and song during a morning service, one lady at the front of the building began speaking in tongues. When the song ended, she continued speaking aloud. Because the practice was so highly respected, the church members became very quiet and only uttered an occasional exclamation of praise. This went on for several minutes before she walked off of the stage and straight towards me. She stood before me, looked me in the eyes, hugged me, and returned to her seat – speaking in tongues all the while. I felt like I had received some kind of special blessing and was moved to tears.

Other denominations are quick to write off the whole concept as meaningless, often quoting verses that seem to imply that speaking in tongues has no value if there is no one to interpret the words. The Baptist school that I attended was quick to point that out on several occasions, and we even had a teacher get up and disparage the practice while giving her testimony during one of our weekly chapel services. I can understand the viewpoint about interpretation, but speaking in tongues is described in the Bible as having conversation directly with God.

For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. – I Corinthians 14:2 (NIV)

I never once heard anything interpreted, even though I have heard that some churches have interpreters. Regardless, there were times when I felt something indescribable while hearing an unknown language. My father has surmised that there is a heavenly language embedded deep within our minds that only some of us are able to access.

I told Dad the other day that I will always be Pentecostal in my heart. Although I don’t attend a Pentecostal church or believe in some of the things that I was taught as a child, I will always feel connected to the worship style of the congregations that I grew up in. Their level of enthusiasm for praising God physically, emotionally, and linguistically is something that I will always crave and never forget.

I’ve come a long way, baby!

One of my friends from school recently moved back to the area, so Honey, Liz, and I got together with her last weekend for dinner and a movie. Since all but one of us had attended the same Christian school, we spent pretty much the entire night reminiscing and laughing our butts off.

Our Baptist school was small and often dysfunctional. Along with standard subjects like math and English, we were taught that the earth is only 6,000-8,000 years old, rock music is of the devil, and the Easter Bunny is the pagan god of fertility. Seriously.

While the history books in most schools might cover such topics as World War II or the writing of the Declaration of Independence, our history books devoted chapters to the oppression of Protestants by the Roman Catholic Church. Graphic descriptions of torture were included to cement our distrust of the world’s largest denomination.

One of the teachers seemed to dislike the fact that my Pentecostal religion differed from hers, so during class one day she informed us that John the Baptist was the first Christian and therefore the first Christian was Baptist. “And, Brian, that’s the truth whether you believe it or not!” she exclaimed, even though I hadn’t uttered a word of dissent. Even then I knew that he had acquired the moniker simply because he baptized people.

Instead of being taught the core elements of Christianity, like loving and helping others, we were trained to fear those who were different. One of my friends was even denied a letter of recommendation by our principal because the college she was applying to was of a different denomination.

Over the years, as I’ve experienced life, read books, or simply talked to people, I have discovered that things aren’t nearly as black and white as I was made to believe during my school days. It’s hard to fathom how much I’ve changed or how far I’ve come since then, and I know that everything I’ve went through in my life was for a reason – if for nothing more than to give me perspective.

Still, I resent the fact that my parents sacrificed so much financially in order to send my sister and I to a school that provided a so-called Christian eduction. False advertising if you ask me.

Unquenchable fire

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. Mark 9:47-48

I live in complete and total fear of death. Not so much the act of dying, but what does or doesn’t come afterwards.

My childhood was filled with propaganda about the afterlife. Sermons yelled from the pulpit of my Pentecostal church and soft words spoken from the teacher’s podium at the Baptist school that I attended worked in unison to terrify me with mental images of flames and people screaming in unending torment. The excesses of heaven weren’t nearly as appealing as the idea of getting there meaning that I didn’t end up in that other place.

I remember my mom, dad, sister and I visiting another family when I was quite young and watching a religious film that showed people dying or being killed in accidents before being thrown into the flames of hell. Lack of television at home meant that my sister and I hadn’t been properly desensitized to such horrors, so we simply sat and sobbed uncontrollably until our parents took us home.

I could say that my religious beliefs have evolved dramatically over the years, but in all honesty, I haven’t been able to completely shake much of what I believed as a child, even though many of those beliefs now seem too convenient, too perfectly packaged, too elementary.

No matter how I try, I am unable to get beyond the fear of not meeting God’s expectations. While many would consider my lifestyle as the ultimate rejection of God’s will, I haven’t adopted a “consequences be damned” approach to my life at all. I’ve simply decided that I have to be myself and be happy in this life and trust that God will be merciful to me in the next.

But what if He isn’t? That question always gnaws at me.

There is rarely a day that goes by without something reminding me of those hellfire and brimstone sermons of my childhood. I can’t burn leaves without a quickening of my heartbeat as I consider how those flames might feel for eternity. I think of the young lady that I knew who burned up in an automobile accident and wonder if the pain stopped when she died or if it simply continued.

It isn’t uncommon to hear expressions of similar sentiments at the memorial services of friends and family members. After my cousin was killed in collision with a snow plow a few years ago, many of my family members and acquaintances made no apologies for their belief that she went straight to hell. Her own father requested that “Lost, Lost” (a song about dying without any hope of salvation) be performed during the ceremony. Thankfully, the singers refused.

I never could wrap my mind around the possibility that this vibrant young woman, this person that I loved, could somehow be punished forever just because she didn’t meet the expectations of those with a specific religious affiliation. In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder if God truly loved her more than anyone on earth possibly could, would He really send her to hell if mere mortals wouldn’t even consider doing such a thing? Surely not. But, then, how do we know?

In fact, in spite of all of our studying, praying, and believing, none of us can really be sure about anything that happens after we die. We might think we do, but until we draw our last breath and our eyes dim completely, we won’t know a single thing for sure.

And that, my friends, is enough to keep my fear of death alive. It’s my own personal version of hell. An unquenchable fire that burns constantly… inside of me.