Friday, July 25, 2014

Who are the Next Generation of Prophets?

What follows is my own story. I include it to heighten awareness of what often goes unsaid and unspoken. The problem is as old as the human race itself, but like war, it continues. Everyone with an opinion must write with an audience in mind, and must form one's arguments accordingly. Every story like the one to follow takes the same relative trajectory, yet is unique and different.

The twin problems of rape culture and sexual assault may seem minimal, but with time I've realized how truly prevalent they are in our society. Forgive my boldness. This a harsh topic for many who do not daily confront it, but I bring it up one more time to serve my cause. Since many rapes and sexual assaults go unreported due to shame and intimidation, it's impossible to have definitive numerical understanding at our fingertips. But even if we had that hard data, would numbers and statistics alone serve anyone's greater purpose?

I've never shared this account before now. Until a particularly instructive therapy session in the recent past, I never knew it for what it was. As it commonplace with survivors, I had rationalized away what this act really was, minimizing and blunting its impact. It's a very common coping mechanism. Now I must keep myself focused on reality and linear time, which is to say that my brain lies to me, daily and constantly. It transforms what really happened to something less painful, softer, and maddeningly evasive.

I was a impressionable sophomore in college, newly out, and nowhere near full acceptance. Queer students had few resources at my college, with the exception of Gay/Straight Student Alliance. An LGBT center was being planned for construction, but was completed after I graduated and I could not benefit from it. I took the options available to me. The group was more social than instructional, a fundamental lacking that always bothered me. It could have been much more, but it often became a hook up point for gay men, another issue that stuck in my craw.

Now I know him for what he was. He was an opportunist, having heard about our group somehow, intending to benefit from his presence there. The organizers and sponsors had been too nice to turn him away, as he was not a student and had no reason to be there. He sat right next to me, stealthily but obviously to whomever might be watching closely. His legs touched mine frequently, deliberately. That was my first sign as to what he was up to, but I ignored it. Maybe he'd get the hint that I wasn't interested and leave me alone.

I remember his face well. He had a lazy eye and wore a baseball cap. That baseball cap would rather dramatically be burned two days later, as he had left it in the backseat of my car. The collective attitude of both of my parents was not sympathetic. To them, what I had done had served me right. So when I set the hat afire with lighter fluid in the driveway, my father asked me why I'd done such a stupid thing. I told him precisely why and he backed off, uncomfortable, and never raised the subject again.

The man in question broached my boundaries a little at a time. His hands moved further and further down my back, eventually moving other places. He built upon his gains, keeping the ultimate destination in mind at all times. The whole time he was chatting me up and feeling me up as we sat alongside a park. At his request, he suggested we move a couple blocks away, so that what we were doing was less conspicuous. I cranked the car and we pulled onto the curb of a remote stretch of roadway at the top of a mountain.

I did not want to do this. The thrill of doing something this risky and dangerous was perversely appealing, on one hand, but this was not what I wanted. Had sex been removed entirely from the equation, I would have been pleased, but this sequence of events was all about sex. This was not just about having a conversation. To this day, I do not know exactly why I didn't resist. I do not understand why feeling terrified was such a sexual high but just as repelling. I may never.

I saw him later at next year's Pride parade. He even bothered to introduce himself to me. Shocked that he would even dare contact me again, I nervously uttered a few incomprehensible words and then got as far away from him as possible. Male rape survivors are treated differently. Women are thought to have inferior physical strength to their male attackers and unable to prevent sexual assault. When I shared what had happened to me with male friends, they felt that I should have physically overpowered him. Few were understanding.

Over the years, I've learned that stories like my own are not uncommon. Because I am a man, I have a different set of variables at play than would be the case for a woman. Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse tend to respond to their sexuality in one of two ways. The first way is to be afraid of sex. The second, which is my own, is to become promiscuous and hyper-sexual. I recognize promiscuous is a loaded term, one used to blame and guilt, but in this context, I think the word choice is apt.

To see this as a moral failing on everyone's part doesn't ring true. That is not enough. We must develop true community and a communal spirit. We cannot criticize injustice when we do not know our neighbors and do not take an active part in their lives. This is a problem as ancient as Moses' who came down from the Mount with his Ten Commandments in hand. In the meantime, I see another generation's bumper crop of prophets descending from the bluffs, coming directly behind my own.

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