I labored over whether to write this for a couple of months. I wasn’t quite sure exactly what I wanted to say, or in the final edit, that I have said everything that I needed to say. Some of the things I have said reveal more of me than even some of my closest personal friends have known. I struggled over whether to write this at all. I struggled over how much I might reveal, and how I have felt about revealing these things, at this point, to everyone. However, like many, I am given courage by the Me-Too movement, and I am of the opinion that at the very least, the Me-Too movement has brought a discussion about sex to the forefront of our society that has long been overdue.
When I started thinking about my own episodes of sexual mistreatment, the memories began piling up. It occurs to me, as I think about all those memories, that there is a reason why the Me-Too movement built up steam. There is a lot of collective anger out there. There is a lot of underlying anger, as well as fear, that has festered under the surface, and has never been discussed. For instance, some statistics indicate that one in every three girls is molested during childhood and one in every five boys is molested. So, at least 33% of all women and 20% of all men have experienced sexual abuse during childhood. That does not account for the covert abuse that tends to get overlooked, and never gets reported, or other sexual abuse in general that doesn’t get reported. Nor does it account for the phenomenon of sexual shaming. A huge number of both girls, and boys deal with sexual teasing and bullying in school that they never tell an adult about. So, at least a third of all women have been sexually molested by the time they are adults, and probably most women have had to put up with unwanted sexual advances as adults, even if they were not sexually abused as children. Many men also have to deal with sexual misconduct from both males and females who don’t respect their boundaries. I would venture to say that practically everyone has had to deal with sexual misconduct at least once in their lifetime.
Some of my own memories carry more hurt feelings than others. Some of them, although they were sexual mistreatment, were taken in stride. The first one occurred when I was about four years old. It was a simple thing, child’s play. My older cousin, who was about eight or nine at the time, had the idea of putting balloons under our shirts to imitate breasts. So, my three cousins and I had balloons under our shirts, and were prancing around the living room pretending to be women. My aunt walked into the room and went into a rage. She spanked every one of us, and I recall that I really had no idea why she was so upset. As I think about it now, it was her rage that I couldn’t understand. Why did she get so upset over something that really only required a scolding, if that? It was just innocent child’s play. I think that is the first time I ever recall anyone spanking me, and it was certainly the first time I had seen someone in a rage. Shortly after that, my mother, who had been living with my aunt and uncle at the time and working in the same town, took me to stay with my grandparents through the week instead of leaving me with my aunt and uncle. There was something she knew, that I did not.
I learned, years later, that my uncle, the raging aunt’s husband, was a pedophile. None of what he did was ever brought to any public awareness, and he died without ever being prosecuted. Perhaps my aunt’s rage was about her own confusion and feelings of powerlessness in that situation. I was introduced to sexual play by that uncle’s oldest son, along with several other cousins both male and female, when I was maybe six years old. We called it “playing nasty” and continued it for most of my childhood, I suppose, because it was pleasurable. However, I was raised as an only child and visits with my cousins were not that frequent. I don’t recall my uncle ever being directly involved, but discussions with his daughter after I became an adult, indicated that there was a lot he did behind the scenes when we were growing up. My cousins and I stopped playing nasty when a younger cousin told on us at about the time I was a pre-teen. He told only because we wouldn’t allow him to go with us. We would go out into the woods together, strip and begin touching each other, and he knew about this. He was about six years old at the time, and I was about twelve. My grandmother, and a different aunt, confronted all of us, admonished us that it was wrong, and told us that they wanted it to stop. We were not punished, and it did stop. If either of them had ever known what my uncle had been doing, that never came to light.
I moved back to the Ozarks when I was in my forties. When I was in my fifties, that pedophile uncle actually made an excuse to come to my house without my aunt present, and solicited sex from me. He made sexual comments about my grandmother which led me to believe that he had also done things to her after she had developed dementia. He had access to my grandmother because my aunt had tried to keep my grandmother at their house before we ended up having to place her in a nursing home. He admitted to me that his older sister had introduced him to sex when he was about five years old, and he had become obsessed with it. I told him to get out, and not to come back. Then, when I discussed this with my cousin, she told me things that he had done during her childhood and into her adult life that my aunt had denied, and refused to accept. I didn’t realize, as a child, when sexual play was introduced to me by his son, that it likely had originated with him. I reflected to my cousin that he should have been prosecuted for what he did, and had probably continued to do throughout his life. Her comment was, “The problem is the burden of proof.” This is always the problem. We live with the rightful law that someone is to be considered innocent until proven guilty. However, with this law, we also know there many who are guilty when it will never be proven. This is one of the reasons why men like Harvey Weinstein and others get away with sexual intimidation for far too long.
Had there never been a pedophile in my family, I still would have experienced sexual mistreatment. I recall a boy on the school bus, when I was about eight years old who suddenly grabbed, and began repeatedly pinching my penis until I was able to fight him off. There were times that I witnessed things being done to girls on the bus or at school. When I was in the eighth grade, a girl in my class, whom I had been friends with, got pregnant at the age of thirteen. The rumor went around school that I had gotten her pregnant, but she disappeared from school, and then rumor went around that it had been her father who had gotten her pregnant. I never saw her again.
There were multiple episodes of sexual misconduct when I was a child, including another uncle, my mother’s brother, who would do things like go into my room, and masturbate in my bed. I was in my early teens when he started doing this. Since he abused me in other ways, and was extremely jealous of me, that was nothing more than a show of dominance. It was one of his ways of showing that he could do anything he wanted, and I could not stop him. In fact, it is important never to underestimate the link between sex, and the need to dominate or control. There is an aphrodisiac of power. When men are raped in prison, it has nothing to do with either the rapists or the victims being homosexual. Rape is not really about sex. Sex is just the tool that is used. Most of those rapists, when out of prison, would not gravitate toward sexual activity with other men. They were with women, and if you were to ask them if they were gay, straight or bi, most of them would be likely tell you they are straight. Prison rape is about dominance and humiliation, about showing another man that he can be completely dominated. It is about doing to a man what he thinks should only happen to a woman. However, all rape is about either control, humiliation or both, and sexual misconduct, or sexual advances without permission are essentially lesser forms of rape, but there are all kinds of ways in which we can be mentally or emotionally raped.
Having grown up in a very fundamentalist Christian home and community, I can tell you that I grew up with incredible shame about sex, especially since I am gay. In fact, when I was about sixteen years old, the minister who baptized me did a sermon in which he stated, “The sin of homosexuality is worse than the sin of murder.” Is it any wonder that suicide among gay teens is around three times the national average, and same sex orientation is cited as a risk factor for suicide among adults? Gay, bi, and transgender people have long suffered the experience of sexual harassment, and remain in many states, the only minority without legal protections for workplace discrimination. I hated the fact that I was gay, and when I went to college, one of the first things I did was go to the campus counselor and begin therapy sessions, partly to try to convert myself into a heterosexual. I made that concerted effort for several years. It didn’t work. I didn’t tell anyone, other than the campus counselor, that I was gay. I didn’t want anyone to know, and it would be many years before I would accept that fact about myself. However, in the dormitory one evening, the president of my fraternity made a comment about me being gay, and shamed me about it in front of others. When I confronted him, he said, “Well that’s what you told (insert campus counselor name here).” I confronted him that I was going to beat his ass if he didn’t back down, and he did back down. When I confronted the campus counselor about it, he said he would sometimes discuss cases with campus leaders, and that he told my fraternity president I was gay because he thought it might “help” me. The lawsuit against that counselor and the college that could have ensued was never filed. Had I not been ashamed of the fact that I was gay, and intent on keeping it secret, that suit might have been filed, and should have been filed.
In college as everywhere, sex and sexual misconduct were prevalent. A great deal of the discussion about sex was not bothersome to me, but during my freshman year, the dorm mother of our building got pregnant by one of the students. There had been a girl on campus who was sexually naive, and a couple of students, who were dating, decided that it would be a good idea to tie her into a chair and force her to watch them have sex so she could learn the truth about sex. It was my understanding that when this got reported, the college president gave the couple the option of enlisting in the military or being prosecuted. They chose the military, and disappeared from campus. There was another girl who was supposed to have “pulled a train” with the basketball team. It is more likely that she was gang raped by the basketball team when she was drunk. I recall seeing the girl walk across campus getting taunted and shamed by males and females alike. Some people would imitate train whistles when they saw her. Some called her “peanut butter” because she “spread so easy”. What I don’t recall is a single one of the boys on the basketball team either being taunted, shamed or reprimanded for their behavior. No one seemed to consider that this girl had actually been gang raped. Even if she had initially solicited sex with the basketball team, which I doubt, she was most assuredly not the only one who should have suffered the fall out from it.
In graduate school, thanks to the fact that social work is a very loving and accepting profession, I finally began to come to grips with being gay. I finally began to accept myself, and stop feeling shame about who I was/who I am. I had friends who began taking me to gay bars, and I remember being astounded that men would actually voluntarily sleep with me. I began dating the bartender at a local gay club, and began to discover that my new sexual freedom was not all fun and games. Even though we considered ourselves a couple, he was never faithful to me, and would do things like cruise the parks or go to the quarter movies before he would come home after work. I guess I was supposed to be at his convenience if he couldn’t find sex somewhere else. It didn’t take long for me to determine that it is just as bad to be sexually mistreated in a relationship as out of one, and I broke up with him.
When I got my first job after graduate school, there was an older psychiatrist there who literally used one of the most derogatory, and demeaning names for a woman during my first meeting with him. I don’t know how he treated women to their faces, but I know he said demeaning things about women when not in their company. Before I left that job, there was a psychiatric resident who took me out to lunch, invited me to join his private practice when he finished his residency, and came on to me at the same time. He was a married man. I turned him down for both propositions.
After I moved to Nashville, I worked in an admissions screening office for an acute psychiatric hospital. On one occasion, I had a secretary come into my office, plop herself down in my lap, begin curling her finger around in my hair, and start whining for me to take her out to dinner. I told her to get up, and get out of my office, but I never reported it. Another time, I walked into a female social worker’s office to see the other secretary, a nineteen-year-old young woman, sitting across from her desk. The secretary had on a pearl, snap-button western blouse that was unbuttoned well below the cleavage line. I told her she was showing a little too much cleavage for work in the admissions office of an acute psychiatric hospital. She said, “Oh you like this?”, and ripped the blouse completely open down to her waist. The female social worker’s mouth dropped open in complete astonishment, but she said nothing. I told the secretary to button up her blouse above her cleavage line, and keep it buttoned up or I would be filing a complaint. The director of that acute treatment program had been having an affair with an employee in the admissions office, and after she was fired, came into my office and solicited me sexually. I also told him to get out of my office. Then, I went to the president of the hospital to report what was going on, and was told not to worry about it. Shortly after that, I turned in my resignation, the only time in my life I have quit a job without having another job already lined up.
After that, I dropped out of social work for three years, managed a health club, and did massage therapy. One day, one of my massage clients told me that he liked the way I handled my job, and the way I dealt with customers. He suggested that I could go to work for him managing barber styling schools, and that he was creating a styling school franchise with a business partner with plans to go national. He suggested I could make a considerable amount of money in a few years by coming in on the front end. I considered it, and went to one of the out of town schools with him for an overnight stay. While there, we stayed in a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor above the styling school. When we went out to dinner, he proceeded to solicit sex from me. He was a married man, and his wife was a gospel singer who I had met, and had spent time with. I, of course, turned down the sexual encounter. Then, when we got back to the apartment after dinner, he changed his shirt, put on some cologne, and told me that if his wife called to tell her he had gone out for dinner. I said, “But we just got back from dinner.” He said, “Just tell her I went out to dinner.”, and left. When his wife called, I told her, “He told me to tell you that he went out to dinner.” When he came back, I told him, that whatever he was up to was his business, but not to ever ask me to lie for him again. I learned later that this man, in his late fifties, had additionally been having an affair with an eighteen-year-old styling student. Needless to say, I did not take that job and went back into social work.
Add to everything else, that I was date raped once. I didn’t realize, at the time, what was what was going on. I had gone out with this guy because I was attracted to him. He was quite a bit taller and heavier than me, and athletic. He kept pushing for what he wanted while I was telling him, “No, let’s wait. I’m not ready for that.” He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and would not relent. It was not until the next morning that I realized I had been raped, and it was because of a dream I had that night about the uncle who used to masturbate in my bed. In the dream, my uncle wanted to drive my car, but I kept telling him he couldn’t drive my car. Then he grabbed my hips, slammed his pelvis into mine, and took my car. When I woke up, I realized that I had been forced into something the night before that I wanted, but was not ready for. It took me a while to define in my head that I had been date raped, but because there was an unrecognized fear of this bigger man, that was exactly what had happened. There were no more dates with that man.
Whether it is wanted or unwanted, let’s face it. Sex is a powerful human urge falling only behind food and survival as the strongest human need. Those people who do not have sexual urges are the minority. Sex permeates film, television, commercials, magazines and the internet. The pornography industry is extremely profitable, and has been practically since the beginning of photography. At least since the legal battles of Hugh Hefner in the 1950’s and 1960’s, explicit sexual content has been more accepted by our society, and perhaps it should be. Sexual repression actually increases, rather than decreases, the likelihood of sexual misconduct. It is the difference between squeezing a tomato until it bursts or neatly slicing it, the difference between whether it will be a big mess, or something that we deal with directly and constructively. It is also the difference between not talking about it, and pretending it doesn’t happen versus having an open discussion that allows clear boundaries to be clarified. It is when we don’t have the discussions that there is a problem. At least the Me-Too movement has brought the discussion to the forefront. It has made the world look at what is going on instead of denying it. When we hide sex, sexuality, and sexual expression, it becomes a festering problem beneath the surface of our society. Granted the lines are blurred, and there have been situations in which the opposite takes place, and someone is accused of sexual impropriety that they did not commit. However, maybe we need to have more discussions about sex and sexuality to create a clearer distinction of those lines, and better define what is, and is not appropriate and acceptable regarding sexual conduct. Certainly, if someone does something, and the other person says they don’t like that, no matter what it is, the behavior should not be repeated.
I admit I have mixed feelings about it all, and I think possibly we all do. I certainly have mixed feelings and fears about what I have revealed about myself in this article. On one hand, I believe in sexual freedom, and the expression and discussion of even explicit sex. My novels, even though they are not about sex, contain a great deal of sexual content. Sex is not the story, but sex is part of the story. Sex is a part of almost everyone’s story. It has to be. In my books, I am not afraid of discussing sex, and I am not afraid of describing explicit sexual scenes. Sex, after all, is a significant and legitimate factor in humanity. It is not going to go away. Sex is part of life, and we have to deal with it. I believe in every person’s right to participate in whatever they are comfortable participating in, so long as someone else is not being hurt or forced into it. I don’t think it is our right, as a society, to dictate the behavior of others, and laws should be more about things that do actual physical, or financial harm than about morals. Whether anyone asks for any kind of sexual contact is irrelevant so long as the other person maintains the right to refuse. The simple question, “Are you comfortable discussing sex?”, could eliminate a great many misunderstandings so long as the person who asks the question is willing to respect the boundaries of the person who is asked. I have never had a problem when my refusal of a sexual advance was accepted, even though I may not have respected the morals, and behavior of the person making the solicitation. The only problem I have ever had has been those times that someone has tried to force me into something I didn’t want, even if that was not overtly sexual. That includes a couple of times in my life that I have also been stalked.
It all comes down to, respect, choice and boundaries. Every human being deserves respect, and every human being deserves to maintain control over their own body. God gave your body to you, it belongs solely to you, and you have the right to determine what you do with it. You have the right to determine who is allowed to touch you, where, when, how and how much. You have the right to stop any sexual activity at any time, even if it began as consensual contact. You have the right to allow another person to touch you in any way that you wish to be touched, and you have the right to refuse any touch from any one if you don’t want it. You also have the right to expect respectable sexual behavior in your presence. You have the right to engage in any type of sexual encounter that you and another person, who also chooses it, wish to engage in. No one has the right to take that choice from you. No one has the right to pressure you into making a choice with your body that you don’t want to make. The flip side of this is people who try to tell you what sexual activities you are or are not allowed to have with another consenting adult. Just as no one has the right to engage in sexual behavior in your presence that you do not want, no one has the right to tell you what your sexual behavior is allowed to be so long as it does not directly involve them, and is not causing overt harm. If we simply accept that another person has the right to do whatever they want to do with their own body, and that no one has the right to pressure another person into something they don’t want, that should be sufficient.
With all that said, I can further say that I don’t recall anyone ever expressing any concern about my sexual behavior that I did not respect. I can’t say that my own sexual behavior has always been appropriate, or that I have never touched anyone in a way that they did not want. If anyone ever told me that they are not comfortable with something I was doing, I stopped doing it. If anyone ever felt uncomfortable with my sexual behavior, and did not tell me, you have my most sincere apologies. However, I enjoy my sexual attractions, and as long as they don’t step on the toes of someone else, I reserve the right to be attracted. Also, I am a cut up. I joke around, and that includes sexual comments and jokes. I am open to discussing practically any sexual topic with practically anyone in the appropriate place, and at the appropriate time. I have friends who are quite comfortable with sexual teasing, and others who are not. I don’t engage in sexual teasing with someone who is not comfortable with it. They have the right to have their boundaries respected. However, my boundaries can be quite fluid with others who also have fluid boundaries, and who also know where the lines are drawn. You see, it is possible for someone who is sexually open, sexually interested, and sexually expressive to also be sexually respectful of another person’s boundaries.
It all comes down to respect, choice and boundaries, and it is our responsibility to define our boundaries for other people, whether that is in the work place or not. I have worked with people who would tease and joke sexually with whom I have been quite comfortable, and I’ve worked with people with whom I was not comfortable at all. At one work site, I recall one of our nurses once quipping that when she gave education about Viagra, she was tempted to say, “If you have an erection lasting longer than four hours—call me.” I was sitting with another nurse one day when my personal physician happened to walk down the hall. I said, “You see that guy right there?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “He’s had his finger in my butt.” She laughed and commented, “You are so crazy.” I have been known to say to my personal physician just as he is about to do a prostate exam, “You know doc, I don’t get naked for just anyone.” When it is in jest, and we know where the real boundaries are, what is the problem with it? In all these situations there was no problem because we knew each other, and were comfortable with each other. We also knew it was a joke, and there was no solicitation or any form of intimidation involved.
I am not afraid to deal with sex, not anymore. My books have jokes about sex and explicit content about sex, and my books have characters who deal with sex. However, the stories are not about sex itself. My characters deal with their sexual issues, and with sexual boundaries. They deal with their guilt, grief, fascination, and issues about sex. My characters deal with sexual abuse, rape, sexual compulsion, sexual identity/orientation, and gender identity/orientation. They deal with relationship issues, the rules around marriage, love, family, and sexual boundaries. This is part of what makes the character, because it is part of what makes humanity. My novels are about people who overcome, who develop awareness, and become better for the battles that they have fought in life. I want to teach people through these stories, not just entertain. I want people to see themselves in these characters, though none of the characters in my books is about anyone I have ever met or worked with. None of the characters in my stories match anyone I have ever known. They come strictly from my imagination and my awareness of human behavior and the human spirit. More than anything, I draw from my own experience and awareness. Any wisdom I might share has been achieved though my own hard-fought battles of life experience. I want people to realize that there are multiple layers to the human experience, and we all fight battles that we have to overcome. Also, sex is a very significant and important layer of the human experience. We all deal with experiences in life that are unfair, inappropriate, demeaning, degrading, and hurtful. It is not the fact that we experience those things that it important. It is how we deal with those experiences that is important. Every one of us has, or has had a wound we must face, and often those wounds involve sex and sexuality. The wound may vary from person to person, but we all have them.
It is my hope that the characters in my novels, as they fight their way through their own life battles, may teach people some of the ways that they might overcome their own wounds. Maybe, they might also teach people how to loosen up, and not be so sexually restricted that they cannot accept themselves and others. Yes, the subject of sex and sexual boundaries is a discussion in our society that is long overdue. That discussion continues through the characters in my novels, screenplays and short stories. It is way past time for society to have this discussion, and we all need to be a part of that discussion from teaching our children how to protect themselves, and how to honor and protect their own boundaries as well as the boundaries of others, to teaching adults the very same thing because many of us, especially from my generation, never really had this discussion. On one hand, everyone needs to loosen up and stop making sex into a bigger deal than it actually is. We need to accept that it is an integral part of society, and the human experience. On the other hand, we all need to get real with each other, be willing to define our own personal sexual boundaries, and be willing to expect that those boundaries will be honored and respected.