I Am I: the Struggle for Identity

As a child, trying to exist and stay alive in the midst of my parents’ sexual abuse, I had no sense of self to speak of. I wasn’t cared for, loved, treated, or even spoken to like a normal little boy. My mother and I developed our relationship in an unhealthy trench bonding setting. We would say “I love you” to each other like two lost tourists who were fishing catch-phrases out of a book, but she rarely acted like a mother. Her main job was picking up the pieces when my father was done with his toy son.

My father liked to invent new ways to hurt and humiliate me; it amused him. With all of his “amusements”, it was a fight to frame the idea in my own mind that I was a human at all. As it was, I had no rights. I was whatever he told me to be. I wasn’t called by my name, either. “Boy” was a favorite. When speaking to my mother, he would say “that thing” a lot. Early on, he’d call me a faggot, a word I didn’t even understand until I was a teen and my peers started yelling it in the hallways.

Poetry came into my life in the form of rare presents from my paternal grandmother, a woman my father seemed to actually fear. She only visited a few times, but she always brought me books and jigsaw puzzles. Once she brought me a huge Shakespeare collection in one book, and then others like Frost, Tennyson, Cooleridge, Thoreau, Auden, etc. The poems fascinated me, and like another child might start to draw because of coloring books, I began to try to write my own poetry. I learned to hide it, after it got taken away and torn up a few times. After that, it became one of my few proofs that I was a person, no matter how I was treated. It was also the only place I allowed myself to admit my feelings, even to myself; or to admit that my life wasn’t right, even if I wasn’t sure what it should have been instead.

A poem that shows how it felt to be me in the midst of my abusive childhood, written when I was twelve:

“I Am I”

I am nothing
I am no one
I am broken
I am I
blank page
torn and stained
dirty
I am what I am told
I am beast
I am torn
I am I
shattered
tattered
filth stained red
there is only
the mask
given, taken
taken away
take it away
and I am gone
I am nothing
I am thing
I am I
~~~
© W.R.R. 11/15/1992

Since I escaped at age nineteen and became homeless for a few years rather than allow the abuse to continue, I ended up getting money to survive any way I could. Between that and my abuse, whatever path my orientation might have taken, I ended up identifying as bisexual. Many boys raped by men end up questioning their orientation. It’s horribly confusing and it’s easy to fall into self-blame and even self-hatred, gathering vices and making bad choices as you slowly and painfully grow up. I used to cut myself as a kid, and I ended up smoking at nine (up to three packs a day before I quit some years back). I acquired and quit a handful of drug habits as well. I still have issues with alcohol and pills.

Another area many people never want to discuss with a survivor of abuse is sex. The fact is, I and others like me still grow into adults with a variety of reactions to the subject of sex. A terrible viewpoint some cruel people have pointed out to me in my life is similar to what many women survivors are told: “If you like sex, why should we believe you were raped?” Well, I’ve never seen a study that proved that rape or abuse utterly destroys the human sex drive in a person, and plenty of survivors, men and women, are able to find a partner they love and trust enough to share intimacy.

My abuse altered me from experiencing a “typical response” to intimacy, several repeated events having taught me to confuse pain with pleasure. As a result, I grew up to be a masochist and I have to relearn, through talking with my therapist, that intimacy can be enjoyed without pain or harm being involved.

I also have many conflicting and very confusing viewpoints on subjects such as monogamy, orientation, and my own rights and worth as a human being. This is more common than people who have never been abused may think. Oprah even did a groundbreaking show about her childhood abuse and how abused children sometimes grow up to be promiscuous in unhealthy ways, rather than shunning sex as some believe they would.

One of the biggest lessons I have to unlearn is that I am not required to give sex in order to receive love. All of this has led me to be (by choice) a polygamist in the sense that I have a male and a female partner; and monogamy is a challenge even then. Add the mental illness of rapid cycle bipolar to that soup and I have a lot to process and learn to cope with.

In addition, and working at odds with that, I am also largely afraid of people, and men in particular. Yet I have only a fledgling sense of my own rights to engage in intimacy with others or to choose not to. In the past, taught by abuse that I was required to submit, I have been victimized by others who held little regard for my choice in the matter. In a few cases like this, though my therapist insists I am describing rape, the perpetrator would say it was consensual because I allowed it to happen. These offenders have no idea of the pathology I have been subjected to, but does that make their actions acceptable? Everybody who cares about me agrees the answer is no. Mostly, I live like a recluse and if I do have the courage to go out (usually during my manic cycle) I try to bring a friend or my boyfriend with me so that I have somebody along to stop this ugly situation from being repeated.

My pervading objection is, I should not have to feel like I should be expected to apologize for having any sexual identity at all. That “if you were raped, you now have to hate and shun all sex” mentality; it is ridiculous for anybody to presume they have a say in my sexuality at all. As I heal, cope, and just try to live from day to day, I think being able to trust, and to have a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship with my partners is a good thing, my choice, and nobody else’s business. I refuse to live, speak, or act like some sort of celibate monk just because some people think that’s how a boy abused by his parents ought to be in order to “deserve” their sympathy. The abuse was my parents’ fault, not mine; so why should I be punished for it? Why should any survivor?

Sometimes I joke with my friends, online and offline; the people I trust and feel safe with. We have fun conversations about writing fiction stories, or about the actors and singers we have crushes on. It’s normal friendship stuff, and survivors have a right to it. I want to spend time with my friends without feeling worried about what people who know about my abuse might think of me on Twitter when I’m kidding around with friends. To me, this is a normal, healthy, and hard-won aspect of my healing journey.

One of the most horrible aspects of all of this happens when an abused child speaks out and eventually goes to testify in court, entering the “court of public opinion” before that. If anybody sees that child smile, or enjoy a game with friends, some ignorant people say “Look, see? That’s proof he’s lying about the abuse.” As if, having been abused, the child should only appear as a broken victim incapable of hope or healing in order to be believed. That child is often bullied by peers, too, because he was abused. This phenomenon is being observed by the silent victims of rape and abuse too – and what’s at stake is them learning that maybe it’s better not to speak up and tell somebody. This is a result that can end innocent lives.

If you are a survivor of any orientation, or still trying to work through the confusion of what that orientation might be, don’t let anybody make you feel like you have to be one or another. You also don’t have to lock yourself in an ivory tower or cloister, denied the chance to find love. Please don’t suffer in silence. Speak out, tell somebody you need help. Later, when you grow up, learning to want healthy intimacy of any sort with somebody who loves you is your right as a human being. It can help you to heal if you feel it’s right for you, and it does not alter the tragic truth, in court or out, that you were abused or raped. On the contrary, it is proof that your abuse does not define who you are.

We as survivors have the right to heal and become who we want to be. Nobody else has the right to tell you that what you choose is wrong. This goes for children and teens who are being bullied to the point of suicidal thoughts, too. We all have a right to be safe and happy. You have a right to be you.

Carving out an identity that gives you the best chance at learning to be happy is key. It is a struggle; yet not only discovering who you are, but deciding for yourself who you will be, is the most empowering form of healing. Take the phrase “I am I” and make it mean something special to you. Once you do, nobody can take it away from you.

~ ~ ~

© W.R.R. 12/5/2011
For my fellow survivors and those they choose to be strong enough to love; and for all who don’t feel safe in a world that shuns them. Don’t give up. Speak out.

About W.R.R.

Bipolar & survivor of incest/child sex abuse; bisexual, poet/writer/advocate & father of four. View all posts by W.R.R.

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