Not All of the Monsters are Men
“The child I was is just one breath away from me.” — Sheniz Janmohamed
Trigger warning: Sexual trauma, hate speech, child molestation and abuse are discussed
Note for updated article: I wrote this article almost a year ago, and it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. I had significant personal fallout as a result of it, and subsequently took it offline for a while. I’m sharing it again, to be a voice for those that can’t say what I did here. If this article speaks to you, you are not alone. Many thousands of people read this article, and the positive support was overwhelming. This happened, and it continues to happen. Be strong, and know you are loved, and still a man.
I heard him say “I thought so,” and the words cut right through me like a knife. He knew, he had suspected, and of course he had done nothing about it. I always knew my father never loved me, but I believed he should know. I needed to tell someone. I was crying into the phone, my hand aching with how tightly I clenched the receiver in my hand. My world was crashing down on me with the weight of knowing, and I had needed to say the words, actually speak them out loud.
“My mother molested me.”
Families often have traditions and mine was no different. There was an insidious pattern of sexual abuse going back a long way in mine. My grandfather experienced it and my mother did as well. When my mother had a son, she continued that ugly tradition.
My father’s idea of love was making a paycheck and tolerating his two children. He believed that sparing the rod only spoiled the child, and I was in no way ever spoiled. Nearly anything could set him off, described by one therapist as a non-alcoholic alcoholic, but his savage beatings left little to no mark on me emotionally. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized I had been physically abused at all, completely deluded. Still, I don’t see him as anything other than a weak man devoid of love, who never wanted the children that trapped him with my mother.
My mother was a controlling, manipulative, narcissistic woman who doted on her daughter like a princess, but seemed conflicted about her son, a mere toad. As a child I strongly resembled her father, her own abuser, and that seemed to cause her distress. I was the other child, the quiet one, the annoyance. I existed to financially support her when I was to grow into an adult, and she actively did what she could to dissuade me from ever having a girlfriend, actually hoping I would be gay and never marry. She would always comment about how disgusting other women were, and was constantly belittling, insulting and emotionally abusing me. I could never do anything right, and she made sure I knew that. Every success I had, she would knock down — a habit she’d learned from her father.
I wasn’t a happy child growing up, but usually was very withdrawn. For much of my young life I showed little to no emotion at all. I was also very obese, with my first concept of body image born out of being called “fatso” by other school children, when I was only six years old. I was painfully awkward, and picked on a great deal, and when I started noticing girls at a much too young age, I didn’t know how to feel or talk to them. My first date didn’t occur until I was 16, and while it seemed nice at the time, it went nowhere. I simply didn’t know how to talk to girls, and they scared the hell of of me.
As a young adult, I would become smitten with girls I knew and would suffer it alone in silence, knowing that they didn’t like me in return. My family would actively sabotage, while seeming to be helpful, any interaction I had with the few girls that showed any interest in me at all. I remember going to dance clubs, dancing with friends, and all I wanted was to dance with someone on the last slow dance of the night. Many female friends would concede, but I was always alone. I had a couple first dates that never had seconds, and every last one of them made me feel more alone.
When I was 23, my father asked me if I’d lost my virginity yet. On a hunch I lied and said I had. His was response was disturbing as he retorted, “good, I was starting to think you were a faggot!” Out of a need to not bring down his religious ire and my regret for having lied to him, I promptly found a prostitute in a local sex paper and paid to no longer be a virgin. When I got home that night, I took a scalding hot shower trying to wash the disgust and shame away, sobbing uncontrollably on the shower floor. I was no longer a virgin, but I had still not ever kissed a woman.
Despite contemplating suicide much of my young life, I managed to find a woman was willing to marry me, my first ever girlfriend at 25 with whom I had a deeply unhealthy relationship with, and I still struggled in so many ways to relate to her. My mother’s attempt to scare her away by me pushing me to propose to her backfired and we married very quickly. My mother still had so much control over my life, and soon knowing my wife was pregnant with our child, I needed to sort myself out and attempt to be a good father. I went to a therapist, and after a short time, the memories of what had happened when I was a little boy starting to flood back. My own mother had sexually abused me in numerous ways, and I could barely hold myself together.
I broke off family ties, to protect my child, and I never saw my mother again. My first marriage deteriorated not long after.
Sexual trauma is not something you can just get over. As an adult, one instance can have significant impact on the rest of your life. When it happens as a young child, it’s imprinted into your very being. I remember some psychologist writing that being sexual molested as a young child creates a second gender identity — for me the healthy male was never an option, but the survivor male is who I became. All the times I held a blade to my wrist, a gun to my temple or stood atop a high railing looking down at my potential death, I stepped back. I’m still here and I’m still alive. But the shadow of what happened to me is felt in my every interaction with a woman, once I pass the friendship threshold. On a certain deep level, I will probably never completely extricate the fact that a woman was the monster that hurt me as a little defenseless boy, and to make it worse, it was the one person that was supposed to protect me from all the monsters out there.
What happened wasn’t pleasurable in any way. It was a violation, painful and ugly. Sex is still confusing to me, but with a lot of work, reading and mistakes, I’ve become good at being an attentive lover. It can take a while for me to actually enjoy sex, so my focus has led to interests beyond traditional coitus to allow for that time. I don’t feel a deep longing in my Southern regions often until I build a connection with a woman, one that is usually only found on the other side of trust being built. Some woman are unable or unwilling to reach that place with me. As a result I don’t rush to have sex, and when I do get there it means a lot to me. Yet still to this day, the thing that has more emotional impact on me, that makes me feel whole, is when a woman just holds me, loves me, and let’s me know that she won’t hurt me. Some men have elaborate fantasies, but that has always been mine.
But what further complicates matters is many don’t want to believe me when I’ve shared this part of me. I’ve had people in my life, partners included, who told me to suck it up and get over it, that it didn’t happen, and to just be a man about it. Some think it’s funny to say “nice” and that it’s something to joke about. Others have reacted with frightened revulsion, calling me sick and disgusting to ever think a mother can do something like that. I’ve even had a therapist respond “now why do you want to believe that happened to you?” as if it’s some delusion I make up to feel special? I didn’t want this. I don’t want to tremble when a woman I’m with touches me for the first few times. I don’t want to afraid of a woman I’m attracted to. I don’t want that deep down feeling that I’m sullied and not worth being loved by anyone. I’ve come to terms with this, and healed myself, but it doesn’t ever completely go away. Tears are falling now as I write this.
To be very clear, I am very much a committed feminist and ally — my mother was a victim too. I’ve had supposed feminists tell me that to talk about this is to somehow hurting women, and that I should not say anything that could make women look like the predators they have to deal with. One told me “now you know how we feel, good!” It’s as if my experiences could tarnish all the hard work they’ve done to protect woman and girls from sexual abuse. It’s as if I deserved it, to pay for the sins of other men. I don’t hate women, I’m the father of a woman now. I am writing this because I’m not the only man that lives with this. I’m not alone, and other men you know may have survived child molestation, some by female caretakers and family. It happens to us too.
I broke the chain of abuse, and I didn’t pass this horrid family tradition on to my children. I am here, living my life and trying my best to be a good and loving man and father. I carried this secret within me, and I’m here to say it happened and to be seen. I was hurt, but I healed. I was violated, but I’m standing proud. I wasn’t loved, but I will love openly, fiercely and freely!