This was one of my original essays published on the Good Men Project; I'll be adding to it here, and excising out the information unnecessary here:
I identify as a bisexual male, and I am in a polyamorous relationship with a gay semi-closeted man and a woman who has never bothered to decide if she is straight or bisexual (a choice I admire). We live together and are raising our four children together. My partners are not sexually intimate with each other, but they have become close friends. We share parenting duties with my “adopted parents” (a gay couple), and comprise a family I created to help me heal from the family I was born to.
My partners accept me as I am, including my need to have other outside experiences at times, with both men and women. We have rules and agreements that help everything run smoothly, more or less. We have an unusual relationship and challenging issues to deal with due to my being a survivor of years of incest and child sexual abuse, in what they call a “child sex ring,” run by my father. I have many hurdles to face and I have only begun to really tackle some of the larger problems in my effort to heal and recover. Because of these issues, I am fortunate to have partners who accept me and my needs and boundaries. Needless to say, our children know that dad has a relationship with the man they call their uncle, and they know they are loved. Since the first question tends to be “What about the children?” Don’t worry, they’re fine, unharmed, and being taught good values and everything.
I am “out and proud” as they say, in the sense that I’ve never hidden my attraction to both genders and I will tell people that I identify as bisexual if they ask. As a label, it doesn’t bother me to say or hear “bisexual.” Labels can be a cumbersome nuisance, but they can assist to make sense of discussions.
Society tries to insist that we all pick a “team”, choose a “side”, and then stay on our respective sides. “Pick a label and wear it, so we can pigeonhole, categorize, and demonize accordingly,” seems to be the way society works. Happily, not everybody complies; in my opinion it makes the world more interesting when they don’t.
Now that I’ve shared a bit about what my bi life is like, and my views on bisexuality and society’s labels and stigmas, I want to share the bigger issue involved with my identifying as bisexual, and why I prefer to say that I “identify as” rather than saying “I am.”
When a child is raped, by a male or female rapist, they are not allowed to discover what their orientation is before sex is pushed on them. Child sexual abuse warps so many things that these children will never be able to do or discover naturally at the times that others do.
The first time I was raped, by my father, I was four years old. I face the confusion and even fear of knowing that there will never be a way to know if I was born gay, bisexual, or straight. I was abused by both men and women, and I was used sexually by both parents. I know I am more comfortable in sexual situations with men, and yet I also crave sex with women. On the flip side, I am more afraid of men I don’t know than I am of women, finding women more comfortable to spend time with “hanging out.” Was I born gay and abuse rewired me to feel a desire for women? The most common myth is that “abuse will turn a straight victim gay,” and trust me, that is hogwash. By that token, I can assume abuse can’t “make me” bisexual either, so maybe I really was born bisexual. What nags at the back of my mind is the absolute fact that I will never know. It is a piece of myself that was torn out and can never be replaced or “fixed.” Hand in hand with the “abstinence debate,” these are conversations I can never really participate in. My choice to decide to “wait until you’re old enough for sex” was taken away from me, as was the discovery of what my orientation was at birth.
When society demands that I pick a team and wear a label (or risk them branding me with one, and that hurts a lot more) for the sake of simplicity I say I identify as bisexual. Yet what I believe is this: Orientation is not a choice, fluidity of sexuality does exist for some people, and all people, including children, have the right to figure out their own answers to these issues, and to decide to wear labels or not. I also believe nobody has the right to answer these issues for anybody else, and what a person’s label may or may not be is far less important than the kind of person they are.
I hear from so few survivors who are GBTQ and have no conflicts about it. There is very little information out there to help GBTQ survivors to recover. I have requested of 1in6.org to have a page dedicated to GBTQ survivors who don’t question their orientation but who need a “just for us” resource. So many male survivor resources only seem to address straight survivors who may be confused about orientation. Obviously, that is needed, but resources for LGBTQ and male GBTQ survivors are also needed. I just recently found the GBTQ forum on MaleSurvivor.org.
As I said above, child sexual abuse does not and cannot change somebody’s sexual orientation. Yet when the abuse happens to the very young and that child is LGBTQ at birth, or straight at birth, most of those children won’t know their orientation already. We are born with it, but we are not born consciously knowing what it is. Orientation we are born with is discovered by each of us as we grow up. What child sexual abuse does is it derails that natural discovery; especially in very young children. Derails it, and then throws a heaping mess of debris on the tracks (abuse damage). We must clear the tracks (heal and learn coping mechanisms) before the train can be righted and only then can we discover where it is headed.
For those who try to be supportive of male survivors of CSA, how does the confusion of orientation usually start?
The more cunning pedophiles try to make abuse feel good while saying "It's no big deal, it's normal" or "I'm going to teach you what men do" but also say "Don't tell" and threaten the victim in many ways. Any pleasure felt (usually just biological reactions we can't help) can bring more shame and guilt. Later on, we can even feel shame for honest adult legit pleasure, because it all gets mixed up in our heads. The abusers try to make us feel pleasure in order to make us feel complicit. They often tell claim the child seduced them, too, which is ridiculous and a lie. A toddler does not know how to seduce. It's all intended to make us feel it was our fault, because then it is easier to control us.
The child doesn't know better because they never had a "growing up and discovery time" to learn for themselves. That's where the confusion gets ugly.
For a grown man raped as an adult who never had a CSA past, it's a different kind of confusion; but most of them, being adults, already knew their orientation. They had the opportunity as boys to have that discovery. Even if a boy fought the growing discovery that he was gay (because being gay isn't easy) he still had that chance of discovery. If abuse happened prior to that discovery, after abuse has happened, sex and orientation are too fouled by abuse damage to ever have that discovery like other boys do. It's just gone, along with choices like innocence, virginity, and "waiting until you're ready for sex".
I was first raped at age four, as I said above. I was then rented to men at five and up, and eventually rented to women in my teens. Yet my parents were grooming me for that existence far earlier than four. In an organized child sex ring, “training” for children of both sexes often begins at three. No three-year-old automatically knows their orientation. By the time the child grows and if they escape abuse and can question orientation, abuse often has confused that person a lot. Those able to heal enough to explore orientation and sex, then often have to sort out what “feels right” to them, and then they know what their orientation is.
Again, I believe that the orientation we are born with can’t be changed, and more studies (backed by most psychiatric organizations) have concluded that “reparative therapy” does not and cannot work; in addition it causes harm and the fight to ban it from being used on minors is currently raging in California. In my opinion, it needs to be banned entirely.
Yes, we all should focus on acceptance over “how we got this way”. However, I am attempting to explain how victims/survivors of child sexual abuse, especially males (though female survivors can feel similar confusion) often feel confused about sexual orientation. There is a lot of bad information out there.
I’m not sure how this topic so often ends up confused with a debate on the “are we born that way” issues. We are, in my opinion (with science to back me up) born that way. What survivors need to understand is that even though they may not have discovered what their born orientation is before their abuse happened, and that abuse may have twisted and warped thoughts, feelings, desires, and sexual attraction, to make it appear as though the abuse changed or determined or made them something else, that “born with it” orientation is still there.
What challenges each survivor is to discover what that born orientation is. My personal best guess in my discovery is that I am bisexual. My sexuality (what turns us on, if you will) appears to be attracted to males and females. As I said above, I seem more afraid of men I don’t know well, but more likely to be attracted to males. However, I consistently find myself attracted to females, yet I seem to have more problems with sexual dysfunction with women. Bad memories can intrude on my intimate moments with either gender, and a badly timed flashback can really make a mess of things. So was I born gay and abuse made my body used to reacting to heterosexual intimacy? I have too many abuse issues to wade through to easily sort that out. All I know is this: I get attracted to men of my type. I get attracted to women of my type. Both feel “right” at times when abuse isn’t clouding the moment.
Therefore, rather than beat myself up for years over “What was my born orientation?” I have decided to identify as a bisexual. It feels right. The rest is a terrible and daily fallout mess that is the result of child sexual abuse.
Survivors often agonize over orientation. We get way too much wrong information disguised as “facts”. This post is to put a spotlight on the awful questions survivors fight through. We need space, respect, and often a compassionate ear to listen to our struggle to find answers.
The debate of those who fight over sexual orientation being changeable or not is for others. Survivors have enough to struggle with just trying to heal and sort out where on the Kinsey scale our born orientation always was, and how we will handle the thoughts and physical, psychological, and emotional impulses that rise out of our abuse. We also have to figure out which is which. Maybe when we discover who we were originally, we can join in on society’s debates. Doing those things out of order only tends to be even more confusing and makes the work of discovery harder and makes it take longer.
Those who were never abused as children start this journey of discovery with a blank page; survivors have to find space to write around the jumbled scribbles of our abusers and the scratched out lines of our abuse damage. We need to have patience with ourselves, try to be kind to ourselves; as we find that space and write what we discover, at last, for ourselves.
Edited by WRR (01/14/13 10:15 PM)