While in my personal life I’ve talked about this a lot, I’ve never talked about it here.
I recently read about the 5 Browns, an extremely talented musical family who are also Mormon. The father is now doing time in prison for molesting his 3 daughters. As I read the article I was powerfully moved by the courage of this family. I’m going to limit talking about the Mormon aspect of their story because I think that what they ultimately did took great courage and they have my full respect.
I will say this, however, that for whatever reason, sexual abuse is common among Mormon culture. It certainly isn’t absent or any less than the greater population. One secular therapist I once saw made the off-hand comment that it seemed more prevalent to her in Mormonism than in other religious cultures. True or not, I know that the more I’ve spoken about it the more I’ve run into other Mormons and ex-Mormons who have shared their stories with me.
I was sexually molested by an older brother. It started when I was around 11 and ended when I was probably 13 or 14. He moved out.
The main reason I don’t like to talk about it in the context of this blog is because my blog is about being a gay ex-Mormon father. Sexual abuse has nothing to do with that. Conventional religious wisdom (Hehe… that’s an oxymoron) would say that sexual abuse by an older male in my childhood is the main catalyst that turned me gay and my “choice” to be gay caused me to leave the church. And for some reason that kind of dismissive arrogance of my own experience chafes my behind. It labels me as broken. I actually believed the logic myself until I was in my 30’s. That’s what I was told by the Mormon and Christian therapists I saw up until that time.
But as traumatic as it was, the sexual abuse did not break me. I’ve talked it over and rehashed it enough that I rarely think about it anymore. I’m certain that it did not make me gay.
I now see that the evidence, and my own experience tell a different story. It’s amazing what actual research and actually thinking can do. As professionals will tell you (not the ones with a pre-existing religious bias), correlation does not mean causation. There may very well be a great deal of gay men who were sexually abused as children. That doesn’t necessarily mean the abuse triggered homosexuality. It could be that homosexual boys are predisposed to be prime targets of abuse by virtue of their interest in male attention. In other words, it could very well be the opposite… gay boys are more likely to be abused.
There’s that trail of thinking followed by religious “people who know” that I hate feeding into…
- Sexual abuse causes homosexuality
- Being gay, you left the church to justify your sins
The truth is that I was sexually abused. I am gay. I did leave the LDS faith. Three separate truths that are at once entirely unrelated and yet intertwined. It’s also true that the sexual abuse is the only negative of the three.
Coming out and leaving the LDS faith were the 2 hardest things I’ve ever done in my life and for which I am most proud. Having confronted the sexual abuse and the abuser head on honestly and aggressively is probably my 3rd proudest achievement. So I’m going to tell a bit of that experience.
I hope it will help someone. I apologize for the length but some details can’t be cut.
By the time I was preparing to go on a mission at age 19 I felt enormous amounts of shame and guilt for the abuse that had happened years before. I also feel that guilt and shame over my homosexual feelings. Like many victims, by the end I had become a willing participant and so in my mind it was my sin. I vaguely confessed to my bishop during the premission worthiness interview and he seemed satisfied. Therefore, I didn’t go into detail of what really happened. Part of going on a mission was to recompense for the “sin” and to wash away all the lingering effects through my personal righteousness.
By the time I had returned from my mission and finished my degree at BYU, I had invested great amounts of emotional energy on denying and “Turning off” my homosexual feelings and trying to forget the sexual abuse. I became hyper-religious in order to become forgiven of the great sin of lusting constantly in my heart for men. Books and LDS leaders told me that that homosexual lust was a symptom of the abuse, that it was just my cross to bear in life and that acting on it was a sinful choice. The worst thing would be to give into it. Yet, what “giving in” to it actually means isn’t so clear.
Mormon leaders teach that even masturbation leads to homosexuality… so was that “giving in”? Was merely noticing a handsome classmate “giving in”? ‘Cause I did that constantly and it seemed instinctual, not something I “chose” to do. Needless to say there’s a lot of inner turmoil even without “acting on those feelings.”
Soon after graduating from college this inner turmoil reached a boiling point and I felt increasingly depressed that my faithful mission and hyper religiosity had done nothing to lessen or temper my shame, my guilt nor my homosexuality. I went in to my LDS Bishop and asked him for a referral to LDS social services. He didn’t ask for details and I didn’t give him any. That was smart on both our parts.
I spent about 4 months with a therapist who actually accomplished some very effective things in a short period of time with me before I left the country to work in Japan. I first told him I was there because I had homosexual feelings and I was troubled by them. I told him about my homosexual feelings and experiences. I described the experiences with my brother. That was the first time I had told anyone the full story. His comment to me was the first realization that I’d been abused rather than just participated in normal, young boys playing gone wrong.
“You were molested.”
“But I ….”
“No, that was not voluntary on your part. You were molested.”
I think I bawled for days… happy tears actually that I’d finally told someone; and happy tears that I had finally gotten a mature perspective for the 11 old boy still holding onto all the shame inside.
That was the good part.
What followed, however, was the focus on correcting the supposed symptom of that traumatic event – my homosexual feelings.
That was the bad part because it only prolonged the shame and it was a fools errand. I’m an avid reader and I already knew the theory: An overbearing mother, an unavailable father caused a lack of male bonding. Mix that in with the sexual abuse and you have a homosexual my friends! I bought into the theory because it all rang true in my case.
The remedy was non-sexual male bonding over traditional masculine activities such as sports and cars and dating women. So, I had all that in my head as I flew to the other side of the world to teach English. Looking back I also think I was doing a bit of my own “geographic therapy” – the kind where you move away to resolve personal problems. I still hadn’t told anyone else.
After several months in Japan I got a letter from my mother telling me of problems my younger brother was having on his mission. Apparently, his problems, whatever they were, had him seeing an LDS therapist and that person had contacted my parents asking if there had been any sexual abuse in the family. My parents had said that they didn’t think so.
That was the first time it ever occurred to me that I might not have been the only victim in the family. I decided I’d have to tell my parents about me. I was still very afraid of my older brother so my being so far away was actually a blessing at this point. I wrote my parents a letter and laid everything out on the table. I spilled my guts and told them that it was indeed possible that my younger brother had been molested as I was. I hoped the information would help him with whatever he was going through.
A long time went by and I heard nothing from my parents so I finally called. They said they’d received my letter and that they didn’t know what to say. “So you decided to say nothing?!” I was furious at how my parents had reacted, but that’s a subject for another post entirely. The point here is that I was beginning to lessen the heavy weight of shame by sharing the experience.
I decided I wasn’t going to stop there and that I’d trump my parent’s shameful reaction by confronting my older brother myself. So, I wrote him a letter… and mailed it. It was both terrifying and empowering. Any abuse victim will tell you that confronting the perpetrator is a huge step forward. I’m proud of myself for having done it. Surprisingly, he wrote back and both acknowledged my letter and apologized… sort of. Whatever his sincerity or lack of it, it was still better than my parents’ reaction. He’s now essentially out of my life. I will occasionally seem him at rare family events and we are cordial but that’s the extent of that relationship.
Fast forward some time and I learned that there were 3 other siblings who had also been molested by this oldest brother. My having said something gave room for them to talk about it or at least seek help themselves. When I returned from Japan I resumed my own therapy and sought a more effective counselor but landed in the lap of a Christian therapist who wasn’t much better than the LDS one in retrospect.
The positive takeaways are learning that I was not alone and that what happened wasn’t my fault. The more I talked about it the more the shame of it melted away. In turn, I began taking on character traits that were less passive and more courageous. I also instinctively became more protective of those who might be harmed by the perpetrator, or any perpetrator. I told my ex-wife before we married and assumed that I had dealt with it.
The next step for me, however, was 10 years later admitting that the trauma had disappeared but the homosexuality hadn’t. This time I visited a secular therapist who dispelled the notion that my homosexuality was caused by the sexual abuse. He showed me the clinical evidence, the studies. I finally began dealing with my homosexuality in and of itself as a separate phenomenon in my life and I began to experience significant peace.
But the fact that helped me the most was my exit from Mormonism. I’m not saying that to be vindictive or melodramatic or even to diagnose for someone else, but it is merely a personal fact that I want to share. There are too many toxic teachings and behaviors in the doctrine and culture for sexual abuse victims and for homosexuals. Leaving lightened a lifelong burden like nothing else could.
But stay or go, deal with it. Talk about it and don’t be ashamed. Secrecy is poison.
Quoting Deondra Brown, “There is a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that I got through the most destructive time in my life. I was OK.”
You will be OK too.
Leaving the Saints, by Martha Beck