TRIGGER WARNING: Please be advised that the topics in this post are related to sexual abuse/assault and my experiences as a sexual abuse survivor.
After the past couple of days being triggered by the Weinstein situation I thought it might be helpful for others to be able to look outside in on someone who suffers from PTSD. Posttraumatic stress disorder is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault. An estimated 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women (10.4%) twice as likely as men (5%) to develop PTSD. About 3.6 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 to 54 (5.2 million people) have PTSD during the course of a given year.
Unless you’ve experienced PTSD it’s probably tough to imagine what it’s like living with PTSD. I describe it like living in a war zone. You know that you’re surrounded by danger and at any given time bombs could be dropped around you. There usually is no warning or signs it will occur. Once the bombs start to fall you frantically search out any way to take cover. This is very problematic when you have an episode out in public. Years ago when I was working for Xerox I was triggered during work. Thankfully I was working overtime and no one was around me. I felt so unsafe that I got underneath my desk for protection. That is what it’s like to suffer from PTSD.
Depending on the trigger and how extreme the fallout is from it will determine how quickly it will take to come out of that PTSD bubble. Often times I don’t even know that I have been triggered. Weeks later I find myself extremely depressed and feel like it’s the end of the world. It’s at my worst that I realize that I’m in a PTSD episode. I know that I have had a trigger but don’t always know what has triggered me… and I don’t ever find out. Occasionally if the trigger is profound enough I will know right away. Like for example, the whole me too phenomenon on Facebook. When the trigger is that profound it can push me over the edge.
Like I said most of the time I don’t know the trigger and it’s not always specific to a trauma, even though it’s probably somewhere there deep inside. Then there are times that the trigger corresponds to the traumatic event that caused me to have PTSD. When the trigger is related to the traumatic act it puts me into dangerous waters. This was true with me being triggered by the news of Weinstein and people sharing the phrase “not me” on social media. I have spent a great amount of time in PTSD bubbles that I have a better understanding of each episode of PTSD but it never makes it any easier.
My PTSD is centered around the sexual abuse that occurred when I was in my early teens. Most the time I’m not able to talk about it as it becomes too much. I’ve lived with it long enough to know that I need to be careful with who I share this information with, at least the details of the abuse. I can say that I’m a survivor but if I get asked questions about it I will put up the floodgates. Sometimes it’s just easier to not say anything, as most people will want more information out of curiosity. I control when and what I say when it comes to the sexual abuse. When you get triggered I don’t have that choice. It’s like opening pandora’s box. Once that lid has been lifted the flood water starts gushing out uncontrollably. It’s very much like in Alice in Wonderland when she starts to cry, it’s very easy to get washed away.
It’s easy to push away a few articles and not have to know the details. When you are on social media anytime something big like the Weinstein news hits everyone knows pretty quickly. I started to see a few “me too” posts in my feed which wasn’t trigger as I could easily scroll past them and they started off being just those two words. Once it caught on my whole feed was filled full of victims admitting to have had some sort of sexual abuse. That’s when it started to be overwhelming. I learned a long time ago that I’m a sponge when it comes to others pain. It’s easy for me to get taken under from it, as the person becomes a mirror and I see my own pain.
I couldn’t get away from it. Once you’re triggered you can’t flip that switch back off. It’s just not possible. For me, when I’m triggered by something relating to the actual sexual abuse I get transported back to that time and place. So by Monday evening I was in the cabin that I was sexually abused in. Every door I tried to open would lead me back into that cabin. I could close my eyes and see every aspect of that cabin from the wooden walls to the musty cabin smell. I have a photographic memory of that cabin in all senses. I can hear the band that was playing in the messhall. I can feel the fabric of the sheets. When I close my eyes I can even walk through that cabin.
Once I’m transported back to that cabin then I start to have flashbacks of the sexual abuse. This is what really pushes me over the edge. The images are persistent and extreme. I relive every moment of the abuse. My mind races like I’m in a race to the finish line. It’s unsettling and alters every aspect of your life when you are in the belly of the beast. You try with all your might to get the images out of your head. In the past when I get this triggered it’s ended with me being hospitalized as it takes me to dangerous levels. I either become suicidal or feel like I’m going crazy… that’s how intense the flashbacks are.
When you have a flashback you relive not only the physical assault but the feelings that arise because of the evil act done to you. Deep feelings of shame and guilt. A dirtiness that no soap will wash away. I didn’t just get triggered by the sexual act and the feelings that were attached from it but the rejection that occurred when I finally told my family seven years later.
At first I was triggered just on the size and scope of those affected by sexual abuse. People started to share personal stories. I couldn’t escape it. I was spiraling out of control already when I started to see some women question the validity of men also saying me too as well. One article I read said that male victims should just sit down and listen, that this movement wasn’t about them. These comments just stoked the fires of my PTSD. Each comment reminded me of a pain that occurred when my family didn’t believe me when I came forward about the sexual abuse. I was hearing my family tell me again and again that my pain and feelings weren’t valid… that I should just go back into the closet like a good little boy.
This is what it’s like to be triggered. You start to live these moments over again which I have done in the following paragraphs below. Once you start down this path you fall down the rabbit hole and can’t stop it until you come to the end. So if you don’t want to go through the gory details scroll to the end to finish this blog post.
It was then I went into the danger zone. I went seven years without telling my family. I didn’t tell anyone about the abuse because I didn’t think anyone would be believe me. Those seven years of my life were complete hell. Each day that passed chipped away any self esteem and self worth that I had. I remember crying myself to sleep at night because I didn’t think anyone loved me. My abuser was my cousin, who lived down the street from me with my grandmother. I couldn’t get away from him. All that time I knew this dark secret that I couldn’t share and I had to watch my parents love him. My grandmother didn’t drive so that meant my Mom had to drive him everywhere he wanted to go.
My cousin was the start of the family. Everyone loved him. He was the stereotypical jock. He was the captain of the Football and Basketball team. All the girls in school loved him and all the boys wanted to be him. I on the other hand was not. I was the boy who always wore sweat pants. I was the sensitive one. I didn’t fit my family’s mold of what a boy should be. Chad (I hate saying/seeing his name still to this day) was the son that my Father had always wanted. He hunted and fished. My father and him would go hunting all the time. Each time destroyed me. I so desperately wanted to tell someone but the fear was too much. He could do no wrong. This wouldn’t change when I came out about the abuse to my family. My worst fears came true.
While most of my family didn’t validate or believe me my Mom did… She never once doubted me and when she found out who abused me she wanted nothing to do with him. My father was different. He believed me but he didn’t care. The next day he went hunting with him. When my Father found out I was upset he told me that I needed to forgive and forget. The rest of the adults of the family chastised me. Being gay was worse than being a child molester. How dare he spread shame onto the family and say such horrible things about their beloved Chad. My Aunt told my mom that boys will be boys like we were just playing a game.
I wasn’t the only cousin in my family who was molested. I was just the only one who spoke about it. To make matters worse is that the adults of the family knew of the abuse and did nothing. When my cousin sexually abused me he stole my innocence and left behind the belief that I was unlovable and worthless. I became an object that he could own. I was bullied in school pretty frequently and whenever he saw someone bully me he would stop it… but then he’d turn around and bully me. I was his property.
When my family rejected me they confirmed that I was unlovable and worthless. I had seven years of practice and by the time they were done with me I was left broken. When I came out about the abuse I also came out of the closet. While my Mother believed the abuse happened the news of me being gay took precedence. I lived in Southern Baptist family which was all about fire and brimstone. Being gay meant burning in hell for eternity. So you can imagine how my parents reacted to the news that I was gay. My Mom cried for weeks. I was called abnormal. Told over and over that I was going to hell.
The brunt of the emotional abuse was by the hands of my Father. He used the bible as a weapon. God we the jury, judge and executioner. The words he repeated and over brainwashed me into believing that I was going to burn in flames in eternity. If I had any self esteem left my father extinguished them that day. I was told that I would die of AIDS, that I had always wanted to lose weight and I finally would get that chance. He painted this picture of me dying alone in the hospital from AIDS. His words and voice are forever in my ear…
The next year was pure hell for me. I was cut off from everything. It almost destroyed me. Before I came I out I bought a computer. Living the rural Midwest there weren’t anyone like me nearby. The internet was a great refuge. I not only was able to connect to other gay people but also sexual abuse survivors. Well when I came out they took away that connection. I’ve never felt so alone and scared in my life. My father was right. I was living in hell. I got the typical responses like how do you know you are gay? or why don’t you at least try… My parents proved that their love had conditions and just furthered my beliefs that I was unlovable.
Finally things went back to how they were before. It was like I was back in the closet. Everyone knew but no one talked about. It ate away at my soul. I was never kicked out or forced into a conversion camp but how my family treated me would forever alter me. I would spend the next twenty years getting myself in similar situations which would further damage me.
I’ve gone through periods where I would get triggered so deeply about the abuse that it would end with me being hospitalized. The first time was in 2000. It was the first time that the abuse sent me spiralling into a nervous breakdown. Pain is like putting air into a balloon. You can only put so much air into the balloon before it either explodes or goes flying around the room like a chicken with it’s head cut off. I couldn’t take the trauma anymore and went cray cray. I went from not being able to say his name to obsessively repeating his name over and over. I couldn’t stop saying his name. I was in the hospital for about a month and when I was released I went back to pretending like I was okay.
I went back to work and everyday life while deep inside I was dying. I wanted nothing to do with talking about the past so I dug a hole into my chest and buried the pain. Fast forward to 2004. I finally was free from my past. I had moved to Chicago, away from the rural nightmare. I was surrounded by bright lights and gay people. It felt like I was in heaven. I finally found my home but my past caught up to me. No matter how much success I achieved and the happiness I found would equal to the beliefs that I didn’t deserve anything good. I slowly started to self destruct because the good things I had finally achieved scared me senseless. I had the greatest job I had ever had with equally great health insurance. My manager at Xerox was also the best I had ever had. When you work in customer service often times you are seen as a number. You’re a robot to management. If you are great at what you do they run you into the ground because the rest of the employees don’t value the work quite like you do. I finally had a boss who saw my potential and appreciated my hard work. I was even on track to get a promotion to be a trainer. I had even gotten involved with the LGBT group at GE, as a leader.
I had the most friends I had ever had. I was happy… really happy… I had my own apartment. A beautiful garden apartment. Like I said the past started to creep up on me and I started to unravel. I had never lived in a city with such a large gay population. I felt like a kid in the candy store. When you’re violated sexually it’s easy to feel like an object. My dating life up prior had only confirmed those feelings. Most men wanted only one thing from me and that always was sex. So I gave them what they wanted because I was brainwashed into believing that was my purpose. The lines between sex and love were welded together. The harder I tried to pull them apart the more entangled I became.
When your life is filled full of heartache, disappointment and pain you learn to numb out the pain anyway you can. When I came out and struggled to find someone to love me I desperately took anything I could. Something was better than nothing. Prior to moving to Chicago I fell in love with a man who just didn’t have the capacity to love me back. Though he made it seem like he could until he got what he wanted. Once I served his purpose he was gone. He was just another man who used me and then rejected me. My cousin was my first rejection and each rejection after that instilled the idea that I was property deeper. It was the final rejection before I gave up on love. I thought he loved me. About a month later he had a secret to tell me. He had an STD and didn’t tell me because he was afraid I wouldn’t be interested in him. I foolishly believed he meant for love but instead he meant sex. When my feelings for him because too much he ended things with me. He just used me for sex. The last time I felt such devastation was when my cousin rejected me. You see once he found that women could give him what he wanted he threw me away like I was trash. I forced me to love him like a painful addiction. He got me high on his attention and then left me to detox. He was my first love and my first rejection.
This man who I loved put me in harms way because he wanted to have sex with me. I stayed with him even after he told me because I thought he loved me but he did not. Afterwards I gave men whatever they wanted. I couldn’t take one more rejection and trust being lied to, so I gave men what they wanted.
The internet was both a blessing and a curse for me. What giveth taketh away as they say. The abuse taught me that from pain comes pleasure. I was desperate for attention. Sex gave me that. If I could find guys who wanted to have sex with such a hideous beast like me then that must mean that I’m attractive. The pleasure from one night stands were intense but they didn’t last. I would leave through their door and into the cabin that I was abused in. I fell into this cycle many times. Sometimes I would spend hours even days looking for someone who would have sex with me. The longer it took to find a hookup the more desperate I would get.
Because I didn’t think I deserved anything good and had no value to my life I started to engage in risky behavior. My Father told me that I deserved AIDS so I did whatever I could to contract it through unprotected sex. It was a self-fulfilling prophesy. I was so worthless that I didn’t deserve to live. I was so miserable that even in my subconscious I wanted to die. Whenever I would hook up I would immediately feel dirty. I would always shower afterwards like I did when I was sexually abused. Each time I relived those moments over and over again. Then I would become suicidal which led me to be hospital again.
My time in Chicago was the first time I started to process the sexual abuse and everything that occurred because of it. I found an amazing therapist and started to open up slowly to her. I even joined a survivor group for me. I was making progress but it wasn’t enough to take over the bad. I couldn’t break the broken record of hooking up because deep down inside I believe that was all I was worth. I did what I always did and ran away. That was always my solution when life got to be too much. I went back into hiding. My time in Chicago included both the best and worst times of my life.
2006 was the last time I dealt with the sexual abuse. The abuse was a book that I put back on the shelf… I knew that it was there but I didn’t dare look at it let alone open it and read the pages. I went back to life and tried to survive like everyone else. I failed miserably. I moved to another city and got into a relationship with an abusive man. The abuse was always emotional but it was starting to lean towards the physical. I almost stayed because I didn’t think I could find anyone else… that was what I deserved. The last straw was when he tried to hit me in the head with a big stick. It was fight or flight. What could have been a wonderful life turned into turmoil because I invited the beast into my life once again. This time I didn’t wait for him to leave me, as it could have been my death.
Again I went back to faking it. I moved back home to Michigan. I struggled but I did what I always did and I survived. That came to a screeching halt when my Mom got Cancer in 2012. We found out the horrible news in April and by September she was gone. My worst fear had come true. While our relationship was flawed I knew she loved me. Through it all she was always there for me. She came to accept me being gay. She would even ask me about my dating life. One of the last memories I have of her is her standing up for me to a homophobic cousin of hers who did the typical he’s going to hell and needs to be saved. She let her have it. To have her stand up for me meant the world to me. I often wonder if she knew she was dying.
My Mom had a rare form of Cancer called Carcinoid because it was so rare not many doctors were able to treat it. We couldn’t find anyone in Michigan to help her and had to go to Nashville to get her help. She needed to have the tumor removed. We drove down to Nashville for her surgery. It never dawned on me that she wouldn’t return home alive. Sometime that first week after surgery she got an infection and had to have an emergency surgery. After the second surgery she had to be sedated and put on life support. The last 21 days of her life were in an ICU. During that time I didn’t leave her room. I couldn’t leave her side. I was a boy once again desperately holding onto the woman who gave me life. Up until the end I didn’t lose hope.
The last day of her life I was awoken in the early hours of Sunday morning to my Mom surrounded by Doctors, nurses and other staff. The only lung left had collapsed and her vitals had reached dangerous levels. They put her on dialysis and i was told if her numbers didn’t improve she would die. Hours had passed and her numbers continued to drop. She was dying and there was nothing I could do to stop. I stayed by her side until the end. I held her tight as I sobbed. The person who was always there for me to comfort in my hour of need was slipping away from my grasp. I had no one to turn to. I was alone in a big city, hours away from home. She was taken off life support. My tears drenched her hospital gown as I watched her flatline on the EKG machine. It was slow, one heartbeat escaping at a time… she was gone… I lost the one person who truly loved me.
Life as I knew it was over. I couldn’t imagine a world without my Mom. Once again my mental health spiraled out of control. I had struggled with depression most of my life but I was always able to snap out of it. This was the first time that didn’t happen. Suicidal thoughts were pretty common for me when I was at my worst but this was the first time I had a plan. I didn’t want to live anymore. I couldn’t take the grief. No matter how hard I tried to escape that hospital room I couldn’t get away from the grief. I was drowning in tears. I had the pills in my hand ready to take. That’s how close I came to killing myself. Thankfully I put a desperate plea for help on Facebook. That was the only way I knew how to ask for help. Losing my Mom was another traumatic experience that added another level to my PTSD.
Again I was hospitalized but because I didn’t have insurance I was sent to a halfway like house. While I didn’t quite get the help I needed it did start the process of me getting the help. I was put on medicine and when I was released I was setup with a therapist. The next four years I stayed on my medicine and continued therapy. The past four years haven’t been easy by any means. While the medicine helps with the helplessness I still cycle in and out of deep depression. I’ve tried really hard to live on my own and start a new life one where I treat my mental illness like the disease it is. I never stuck with anything for very long. Stability wasn’t a luxury that I was given. I gotten use to having to pick up everything and moving. In fifteen years I had to move twenty times.
I’ve been on medicine since 2013. I’ve also consistently been in therapy even when I had to find a new therapist which I had to do four times in four years. The person I use to be would have given up after the first time. Trust is huge when opening your wounds to a stranger but my life hadn’t gotten so bad that I knew I had to keep pushing forward. So I kept jumping hurdles. In the last year I’ve had to move three times, not by my choosing. The last move was to the town near my family. Finally I thought I could settle down but it was not meant to be.
I recently discovered that while I’ve made a lot of progress since 2013 I have not been living. I have just been surviving and miserable at that. I’m homeless and have nowhere to go but a homeless shelter. Whenever I start to think of going to live in a shelter my mind goes to dangerous places. Lately my depression has been very severe. I go weeks without showering. Everything is a chore. Even brushing my teeth is like climbing Mount Everest. No matter how horrible I’m feeling I make sure to go to therapy every week. No matter what I know that I have therapy. It’s the only consistent thing in my life.
This is where we go back to the present day. We are outside the PTSD bubble, at least in the blog post. Sadly in real life I’m still inside the bubble trying to find my way out.
So life was hunky-dory (well not really) until a few days ago… This is what it’s like to be triggered. You get transported back into time. It’s unstoppable. It hooks you like a fish and drags you under the current. I already had a lot on my plate already. Homelessness doesn’t suit me. It doesn’t suit anyone actually but it’s the situation I’m in.
Since the trigger has started I’m trying the best I can to not lose my mind… It’s not been easy. I come in and out of conscious constantly. Just when I think I have escaped the abuse is replayed in depths of my mind. You’re talking about the worst feelings you could imagine. At the heart of the pain is scared, little boy. Who is damaged and hurting. It’s like Voldemort when Harry Potter destroys the last horcrux. The forces trying to keep me down are just as scary and dangerous. The pit is the darkest of night. There is no light. There is only misery and suffering. These forces are always at my doorstep waiting for the first opportunity to drag me under.
I might be weak. I might not be able to run any longer. I might be slow but I’m still moving forward… crawling… I’m fighting harder than I ever have before. I’ve not come this far to have some trigger do me in. For now I’m okay. I’m outside the cabin but I know at any moment I will be back in the bedroom where this all began. That’s the bad thing about being in a PTSD episode it’s like being lost. You have no map to guide you home. Sometimes the only way out of an episode is through a hospitalization. That’s where I’m heading. It’s where I must go if I ever want to make this a go. If I really am going to live I must go to the place of unknown. It’s scary to have to venture home in a land unknown. It’s like walking in the darkness. You don’t know if your next step will be your last.
But you gotta keep trying. Sure deep down inside I still believe I’m worthless and unlovable. Yes, I’m in a PTSD bubble and it’s unknown when I will find my way out. I have all of this fighting against me. It’s held me behind for too long. I’m tired of giving into it. I can’t do that any longer. It’s slowly killing me. I might be at the end of my rope but I still have hold of it. So I will continue to fighting and speaking out. I might not have a lot left but I have my voice… My will to fight… and my family…
I matter. My mind knows this. I’m aware that there is a disconnect between my mind and my heart. The darkness has my heart trapped and the path destroyed. I feel it deep within. It’s what’s kept me alive. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but I know I want more out of life. I deserve so much more than the life I have lived. I somehow gotta learn a new. Start on a new path because I know the world needs me.
I might not have had the support and help I desperately needed so many years ago but I can ensure that others do. I will do this by continuing to speak out and share my story. My life has to have meaning and purpose. I know what it’s like to be rejected, cast out. To have others not believe you. To have your suffering go unvalidated.
Others might argue that the me too movement is not the time for male survivors to come forward. Some might think we should just sit back and listen. While the experience of male victims might look differently than a woman the pain is the same. The same thing is stolen from each gender. If you start comparing pain in terms of number and strength is when you start to slip down the slippery slide.
Predators don’t stop with women. Men can fall into the power trap too. I understand that women have had to take the brunt of the abuse and have been most visible but to disregard another genders experience because of that doesn’t help anyone. If the rules of society will ever change then we must look at all aspects of sexual abuse. There are gender norms and rules that we must overcome. Misogyny is the symptom of the disease that is toxic masculinity. The cycle of abuse repeats when the victims stay silent. To silence male victims won’t break the full cycle.
Whenever is the right time to talk about abuse. People are arguing that by including men in the conversation will take away from the experience of healing but if things will ever change doesn’t all parties have to be involved. Sexual abuse is only talked about when something big like Weinstein comes to the surface. It’s talked about for a while but then everyone goes back to normal and nothing ever changes. We need to have ongoing conversations about sexual abuse. Predators are expecting us to stay silence. That is where they get their strength from. There are more of us than there are of them. Power has controlled them and they feel like they own the world. It’s up to us to stand up to them using our voices to remind them where they belong.
If people don’t want to talk about men who abuse women then they certainly won’t when the victims are men. I learned this from my family. Homosexuality is the ultimate break of the gender norms. Why else would so many have a problem with it? If society won’t accept consensual same sex attraction then nonconsensual doesn’t stand a chance. That’s why I believe it’s important that all victims be included because if we waited for our time it will never come. You can honor both experiences without taking away from another.
These gender rules are ingrained into our social consciousness. I was watching the Big Bang Theory the other night. In the episode Howard is freaks out when he finds out he’s having a boy. He freaks out because he’s afraid that he won’t be able to teach him to do the things that men do. The character was comparing himself to the gender norms of being a man that all men are sportsmen. Howard doesn’t fit the gender norm. Sure it’s a fictional situation but it shows the pressure that men have to endure. When you fall short in comparing yourself to the typical male then it’s very easy to feel less than. To those who take advantage of power they believe in the rules and will do whatever they have to enforce them… to keep them alive. These men feel like they own the world and can do with it however they see fit. I’ve been around men like this all my life.
While many of the cases of serial predators like Weinstein victimize women there are enough cases where the victims are boys and men to take notice. One example are the countless priests who molested many boys. That’s the ultimate betrayal to be violated by a supposed man of God. Just like the Weinstein case the Catholic church knew about the abuses for years. Think about all the boys lives who were forever changed. Being violated as a child is something you just don’t get over. I was molested before I hit puberty. I didn’t know what sex was. I had my innocence was stolen. These boys were abused within the same power structure. Another example is the Sandusky case. Here was another man in power who sexually assaulted young boys. The abuse went on for years and many people were aware of the allegations. Like the Catholic Church those involved in the football program at Penn State didn’t do a thing and they knew about it for years.
Boys who don’t fit the masculine mold grow up feeling less, many of them are bullied. They’re called names like sissy and are seen as subservient. Many of these boys attempt suicide. Toxic masculinity sets up boys and men to fail especially if you are GBTQ. Many boys who are GBTQ are kicked out and end up on the streets. To survive these boys are forced into prostitution which leads to sexual abuse including rape.
Researchers have found that 1 in 6 men have experienced abusive sexual experiences before age 18. Prevent Child Abuse America states that sexual abuse of boys is common, underreported, underrecognized, and undertreated. Sexual abuse of girls has been widely studied, leading to awareness of the risk factors and prevalence. Unfortunately, there have been relatively fewer studies done on sexual abuse of boys, leading to inadequate knowledge about the facts related to this topic. Some of the studies that are available have a high degree of subjectivity, poor sampling techniques, and poor designs with few control elements. Underreporting is a result of many issues. Boys are less likely than girls to report sexual abuse because of fear, the social stigma against homosexual behavior, the desire to appear self-reliant (boys grow up believing that they should not allow themselves to be harmed or talk about painful experiences), and the concern for loss of independence. Furthermore, evidence suggests that one in every three incidents of child sexual abuse are not remembered by the adults who experienced them, and that the younger the child was at the time of the abuse, and the closer the relationship to the abuser, the more likely one is that the child will not be able to recall the event.”
Men are also not exempt from sexual assault. Male rape victims are less likely to come forward those who do are usually disregarded. Rainn states that 1 out of every 10 rape victims are male. They further state that 21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18% of non-TGQN females, and 4% of non-TGQN males.
Sexual assault in the military are also significant. In 2014, ten percent of the 18,900 victims who came forward were male. Male victims are also less likely to come forward due to the stigma attached to toxic masculinity and military culture. Men are supposed to be tough. They don’t talk about their problems. Jim Hopper, a psychologist and researcher, and Russell Strand, a retired Criminal Investigative Service special agent, spoke about an aspect of sexual violence not often discussed: sexual assaults on men. There is a reluctance in men reporting assaults. So 87 percent of men attacked are not reporting it and “these are real men in real pain,” Hopper said. The pain is compounded by shame. Being sexually assaulted brings additional feelings of shame to a man because it works against the ideal of what it means to be a man, he said. Men who have been sexually assaulted believe they are not worthy of respect, Strand said. “Most people who sexually assault adult men are heterosexuals,” Hopper said. “And those same heterosexual men who are assaulting men are often the same men assaulting women.”
Many males won’t get help, he said, because they feel they won’t be believed, understood or supported. “Part of that is they know most people don’t expect men to be assaulted, that this can’t really happen to ‘a real man,’” Hopper said. They are also afraid of their friends or teammates finding out what happened to them, he said. They believe they will be looked at as less than a man, that they will be ostracized and shunned. And, many victims see the assault as the death-knell to their careers. So while the numbers might not be as high as the victimization of women the numbers make no difference in the trauma and long-term damage to the victim. To silence male victims for that reason only furthers the narrative that men won’t be believed or validated.
The likelihood that a person suffers suicidal or depressive thoughts increases after sexual violence. People who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to use drugs than the general public. Sexual violence also affects victims’ relationships with their family, friends, and co-workers. Long term effects can include guilt, self-blame, low self-esteem, negative self-image, problems with intimacy, sexual problems, addiction, depression, anxiety and PTSD. Not all experiences are the same for all victims. Each survivor has a unique set of challenges to face afterwards. Toxic masculinity plays a big role in the male victims in coming forward and getting help. That was the my reasoning for not coming forward. I waited seven years to speak out and when I did I was faced with rejection from my family. I’m not alone. I’ve heard men get laughed out of police departments when they try to report a rape. Many men hold onto these secrets into their forties and beyond all due to stigma.
Sexual assault can hit men in all aspects of life including at home and in the workplace. According to a recent survey, about one-third of all working men reported at least one form of sexual harassment in the previous year. Of the 7,809 sexual harassment charges filed in 2011 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC), 16.1 percent were filed by men. By 2013, this had risen to 17.6 percent. Again many male victims don’t come forward due to the stigma attached to male sexual abuse victims. I personally was groped at one of my previous jobs and management didn’t do anything. I ended up quitting because of it.
I’m not able to see how including men in the conversation about sexual assault takes anything away from women who are victims. Unless your argument is that all men are to blame, that somehow all men are inherently sexual deviants. I get it. I really do. Personally I don’t trust men, especially straight men. When I go shopping I pick the lanes that the cashier are men. I avoid eye contact with men. I have always felt more comfortable with women. Growing up all my friends were female. The men in my life who were suppose to love and support me were the ones to treat me poorly. This left me with a negative view on men. This was no different with gay men. I’ve been used for sex more times than not. I understand why women have the attitudes they do about me. This is why it’s important that I speak out and give me experiences on sexual abuse. Stigma leads to further victimization. It prevents victims from coming forward and getting the desperate help they need. Sexual abuse forever alters the lives of the victims. It’s not something you ever get over. You will go the rest of your life having to deal with the ramifications of being sexually assaulted. You’re outlook on life is permanently changed.
Men like Weinstein abuse others out of power. Toxic masculinity gives them permission to treat anyone like their are goods. In order to break the cycle of abuse we must talk about sexual abuse in the open. Doing so helps to extinguish the shame and guilt that occur because of the sexual abuse. As complex as sexual abuse is, the solution is multi-dimensional. If you argue that it’s a woman issue to you silence all the boys and men who aren’t accepted in the all boys club. Doesn’t separating the victims further adds to the power structure. When was the last time you saw a public campaign for male sexual abuse like the me too movement. The answer is probably never.
What some probably don’t realize is that many of the men who had the courage to say me too were doing so for the first time. To speak out publically takes a lot of courage. It could have been the first step in them getting the help they need. Trust me male survivors are thrown a lot at them when they do come forward. If it could save one person isn’t it worth including all victims? Keeping male victims silent won’t stop these abuses from happening. The question that always comes up whenever a sexual assault scandal is publicized is how others can make a difference. I don’t have all the answers but I do believe that education and prevention early on will make a difference, at least in how quickly someone comes forward. The less stigma there is the more likely someone will come forward. Children need to learn about respect for their bodies and others. When I was sexually abused I didn’t even know what sex was and that was one reason I didn’t come forward earlier. If society only discusses sexual abuse during these scandals nothing will ever change.
Gender norms are harmful to those who don’t fall within the spectrum. Boys and girls grow up feeling less than. They hide who they are to fit in. Sexual abuse is just one symptom of toxic masculinity. Children who are judged unfairly by these rules often develop low self-esteem and self-worth. This only furthers the cycle of abuse. The longer it takes to get help the more damage it causes. The stigma attached to sexual abuse can lead to further abuse down the road when victims put themselves in dangerous situations because they believe they deserve it. Our society has the tendency to blame the victim. When you’re sexually assaulted you have a part of you stolen and it’s something that can’t ever be return. The abuser plants a seed in you that you’re worthless and unlovable. They manipulate and convince you that you’re an object. How society often treats the victims only confirms that the abuser was right. Often times there is no vindication for the harm caused. Many abusers get away with their crimes. This only adds the false beliefs inflicted upon the victim. The rejection from others, when you do come forward, only adds salt to the wound. It further damages you. I think how my family treated me did just as much damage, if not more. I went eight years digging my grave and building my coffin. By the time I came out about the abuse I was already laying down in it. My family put the nails in my coffin and buried me alive. When you have to dig your way out of the ground it forever changes who you are. I’ve spent twenty plus years trying to dig myself out of that grave. To this day that empty grave still remains ready for me to catch me when I fall.
That’s why it’s very important to speak out about all injustices. Those who are strong enough to take a stand are able to liberate others who aren’t able to. It takes a great amount of courage and bravery to come forward. Victims face a lot in their life and it can lead to a very isolating life. The sea of me too’s are a reminder of the strength in numbers. There are more survivors than there are abusers. We must stick together if we are ever to change anything. Pain is universal. Sexual abuse doesn’t save anyone. It inflicts poison into everyone the predator abuses. Someone’s gender doesn’t exclude them from damage. No one is spared from that damage.
Not everyone will understand all of this. My message is not for everyone. I learned that along time ago. When I told my secret I was liberated and got my voice back. While NO is a simple word in terms of vocabulary the strength behind it is more powerful than any other word in the dictionary. Speaking out is my way of saying no. Every day I’m alive I say no. To my abusers. To society. To family who didn’t believe me. To those who try to silence me.
To the stigma attached to sexual abuse. I hope to remind others that they’re not alone. No one should have to suffer alone or feel left behind. Others are consciously choosing to disallow male victims in order to control their emotions. While that might seem like a natural choice does it really make the pain go away and who does it help. It only makes people feel left out and forgotten. The more we speak out and stand up for these injustices the chances are better to prevent further lives being forever damaged. The ultimate goal should be to protect children, women and men. I can’t go back in time to stop the abuse from happening to me, nor can I reverse the damage entirely but I can use my voice in the hopes of saving someone from the pain and misery I have lived.
If you are looking for help here are a few resources: