Seventeen years later, I finally have the courage to say, “I am a sexual abuse survivor,” and I need to heal myself.
Trigger warning: This piece contains details about rape, sexual assault, and violence.
The National Crime Victimization Survey recently revealed that 38% of victims of rape and sexual violence were men. Since men are often silent in reporting sexual abuse and assault, researchers immediately questioned this relatively high statistic.
For me, however, this statistic wasn’t shocking because I, too, was a victim.
Audre Lorde once said “if I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” As a black queer man, one of my biggest fears is someone else narrating my story, so despite the difficulty, this essay is terrifying but long overdue.
There is no guidebook on speaking your personal truth about sexual assault. And though divulging my truth may cause some disarray, it is my hope that this experience will resonate with at least one person.
“Just close your eyes and relax,” he said. “All men do this with their children.” However, I soon realized these were not the typical actions of men.
His distinguishing features continue to disturb my thoughts. His beady eyes still create an unsettling feeling in my stomach. The slightest sound of his baritone makes my skin tremble.
The repeated acts of unwanted touching occurred for close to two years, and since I was a child, I felt powerless, vulnerable, voiceless.
Seventeen years later, I finally have the courage to say, “I am a sexual abuse survivor.” And the truth is: I need to heal myself.
First it was imperative that I mentioned these acts of violence by name, because without recognizing what happened to me, I risked suffering a lifetime of mental, emotional, and physical turmoil. And what’s worse, I jeopardized hurting someone else from pretending that my pain could magically be healed overnight.
Like many children in my neighborhood, my mom had two names, the other being “dad.” Despite shaming from society and the stigma that flowed, the unspoken beauty of a single-parent home is that you realize the diligence and love of your parent. While I did not want to feel that I needed a father-figure, I secretly desired one. Most of my life, I grew up around women and other than my late-brother who lived in a different city, I never knew what “brotherly love” felt like. So when my mom met the person who would be her second husband, I was elated.
Finally, I would bond with a man, a black man at that. But instead of teaching me about how to navigate the police or how to tie a Windsor knot, the main message I received was rooted in inferiority and self-denigration. And in my world, boyhood meant rarely speaking, losing myself, and forgetting my autonomy.
One of the first things my stepdad wanted to teach me about was sex. To him, “it was a man’s job” to give his son advice on sexual intercourse. It started when I was 10. When my mom would leave, he would call me into the bedroom and ask me to sit on the bed. The smirk on his face still reverberates in my mind.
“Sit down,” he said, as he patted on the queen-sized bed. Noticing the awkwardness of this introduction, I hesitantly obliged. The conversation continued.
Him: “What do you know about sex?”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Him: “You know, sex? Tell me what you know about it.”
Me: *rambles a terrible definition as I am trying to determine the purpose of the question*
Him: “Do you and your friends look at each others’ penises in the bathroom?”
Him: “Are you sure? It is perfectly fine if you do.”
Me: “I’m sure I don’t do that.”
This first conversation lasted approximately 15 minutes before he confidently asked me to remove my clothes. Children are impressionable and I was no different. And surely my mind told me something about this interaction was not particularly father-and-son worthy.
He then leaned over to turn on the VCR. Pornography appeared. He reached underneath the bed and took a jar of Vaseline and proceeded to rub it on my penis. With every stroke, I could feel the intent stare into my eyes. So much that I asked for a pillow to cover my face.
He finished me. He finished himself.
“How was it?” he asked.
I refused to answer, though I’m sure he could see the juxtaposition of my pleasure and pain. Week after week, I found it increasingly difficult to reconcile the slight moment of enjoyment I received, while realizing agony was the vehicle. Certainly I wanted this. It wouldn’t feel good if it were bad, right? After all, I was just learning about manhood from someone who was already a man. And I wanted to be a man.
This was one of many encounters. The last time was one I’ll never forget.
Upon entering the bedroom, I took off my clothes—like clockwork. I was then asked to lay on the floor. On the left side of me, I noticed a light gray and blue tube sock, which was eventually wrapped around my eyes. I didn’t know what started to occur until I heard the unwrapping of what sounded like paper. I then realized it was a condom wrapper.
“Take a deep breath,” he told me. I inhaled deeply.
Inch-by-inch, I felt a man 25 years my senior inside of my 11-year-old body.
One stroke. Two strokes. Three strokes.
The pain was excruciating and I let out a loud scream. It all stopped. And although he immediately stood up, I laid still on the ground, fixated on the ceiling and wondering what I did to deserve this.
I had many thoughts:
Tell my mom. Talk to my grandmother. Call the police. Am I now queer because of this? Is this what happens as punishment for boys who play with dolls and Easy Bake Ovens?
These contemplations all had potential consequences, particularly because I was afraid no one would believe me. And after those moments of denial, lack of self-care, and internal hurting topped with external smiling, the last thing I needed was isolation. So I waited until I was 18 to tell my mom.
My mom reacted how most parents would have: She checked for my safety, which turned into ensuring I was healed, which turned into anger for him causing me pain, which eventually led to her blaming herself.
This is not your fault. It never was. It never will be.
The truth is, up until this time, I didn’t know that boys could be sexually assaulted. The problematic discussion of rape and rape culture is the dismissal of boys as victims.
I can’t say I am forever healed from these repeated acts of sexual abuse from someone I thought was a father-figure. And I hate to admit that there isn’t a good moral to this story. I still question why my adolescent body was used for sexual gratification.
Years later, I am still on the road to recovery. It is not easy. And although I do not believe that time heals all wounds, I do know that our skin is thick enough to be protective tissue for future scars.
Preston Mitchum is a regular contributor to Role Reboot. He is a civil rights advocate and legal writing professor in Washington, DC. Preston has written for The Atlantic, theGrio, Huffington Post, Ebony.com, and Think Progress. Follow him on Twitter @PrestonMitchum.