This is hard, but I’ve been thinking about sexual abuse and my role in the issue over the years. While you can take solace in the fact that I’m not a rapist, nor have I ever actively discriminated against a woman, or leveraged a position of authority over women who worked for me when I was a manager, I can’t honestly say that my hands are clean of sexual misconduct.
It’s not fair for me to choose to define when and where I might have been guilty of abuse. You see, that is subject to the interpretation of the abused.
Most of my offenses were early on. I recall one regrettable event when I was 16 or 17. I was with this girl and we were making out. She needed to leave, and I attempted to detain her while escalating the sexual nature of the encounter by shoving her car keys into my front pocket and daring her to retrieve them. She shrugged, and laughed as she extracted them, and drove off. I’m gathering no harm was done, but that was unacceptable behavior, and if she experienced more instances of abuse, it’s just another drop in a bucket of misery.
There was another encounter with another girl, that went much further. Everything was consensual, but I feel like I might have been somewhat coercive, in that “Baby it’s cold outside” way, as I talked her into risking being late for work. If you ask me where that registers on the sexual abuse meter, I’d say it was fairly low, but that’s not for me to judge. All I can say, is that moment stands out as one, of many, that I’d like to take back.
There was also groping. Not just the kind that happens at a school dance where your hand slowly slides down to cup a buttock, but also sliding a hand under someone’s butt as she was sitting down, or copping that surreptitious feel while walking through the crowded hallway. It didn’t occur to me how wrong it was at the time, but that’s no excuse. It contributes to the systemic pattern of abuse that so many women have to deal with today. Again, I wish I could take all these, and others, back. I can’t. These are all things I did when I was younger and more selfish. I didn’t think about others and how they’d feel. At some point, I outgrew it, but the fact remains that at some point I was a serial sexual abuser.
I’d also like to take back my behavior after a number of consensual sexual encounters. I immediately withdrew from that person, acting as though we’d participated in some horrible crime. Sometimes I could be downright cruel in rejecting future contact, and that’s something I very much regret. I was fairly active, sexually speaking, but most of the girls I sought out were from other schools. I don’t like to say I “dated” anybody because I got really weird when it came to developing relationships. As such, I mostly sought one night stands.
Even to this day, sex is not an intimate act. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it, but it’s compartmentalized. Like 50 Cent says, “I’m into sex, I ain’t into making love.” That’s not meant to be funny. It’s just a statement I can relate to. I don’t think it’s admirable at all. I’m not a sex addict. I spent many years in a monogamous relationship and didn’t cheat. That said, I’m quite certain that our sex life was lacking in the intimacy department.
From what I understand, this is not exactly unique. A lot of men are wired this way. Why?
From as early as I can remember my dad seemed very concerned with my libido. I later realized that he was homophobic. That’s not to say that he hated gays. His homophobia was limited to one of his sons being gay. He once told me, when I was about 9 or 10, that if I ever came home and said I was gay, I would be “disinherited”. My dad threw that word around a lot. You’d think we were rich or something for him to be lording an estate over me like that, but, alas, my dad’s wealth begins and ends with 12.3 acres of land in Ashtabula County. What’s funny, is that insecure son of a bitch always said it was 14 acres. He was insecure, and it affected his parenting.
In his mind, the best way my dad could ensure I wouldn’t turn out gay was to reinforce heterosexuality, and he started early.
I think I was just starting first grade when he introduced me to the term “split tails”. That’s how he referred to my female classmates.. Growing up in the rural part of Ashtabula County, my classmates all lived miles away from me. My neighbors were girls who were a grade or two below me, so we’d play. There was nobody else nearby. There was no playground or community center that kids could migrate to for social interactions. So we played in our yards.
I think we were playing a game of tag one day, and after everybody went inside my dad made the comment, “I see you sniffing, boy.” This expression actually came up almost anytime he saw me talking to a girl. Sniffing those split tails, yeah buddy.
I still don’t even know what that means, but even at the age of 9 or 10, when he laid that shit on me, I felt creeped out. I mean, I was a old enough where natural sexual curiosity was creeping in, but I didn’t need a fucking coach, right?
When he was shuttling me to one sports practice or the other he’d point out women. I’m talking about grown women. “Check that out. Look at that ass.” Then he’d add, “You wouldn’t even know how to handle that.”
Again I had no idea what it meant, but it creeped me out. I protested once. I just yelled out, “Shut up.” He backhanded me in the mouth and told me not to talk to my father than way. Then he asked me if I didn’t like girls, or something. Homophobia.
I was sexually assaulted by a creepy old guy at the post office. I rode my bike a mile up the road to check the mail, and this guy cornered me near the lock boxes and felt me up. I screamed, and squeezed past him, then hopped on my bike and rode away as fast as I could. I never saw that man again, and I never told anybody, because I was afraid that my dad would think that it meant I was gay. That was literally my logic. I thought my dad would whip my ass with the belt because some guy grabbed my genitals and asked if I wanted a ride.
I had another brush with sexual assault, too. A teenaged boy who lived nearby tried to make me perform a sex act with him. He cornered me in an old garage and took his pants off. He stood between me and the door. I picked up an old oil filter and threw it at him. I missed, but it distracted him and I managed to run out the door. Again, I never told anybody. That boy was actually the object of my dad’s homophobia.
I think I was 12, and my dad let me stay up late to watch TV with him and my grandmother. Magnum PI came on, and in the opening credits there’s this clip of Tom Selleck teaching some bikini model how to snorkel. He’s just staring down at her ass, then he looks up with this smirk. My dad points that out, and reiterates that I wouldn’t know what to do with an ass like that. In front of my grandmother.
So, I respond with the ever intelligent objection of “Shut up.” Which forced him to jump out of his chair and draw back his hand. Then he said I was lucky my grandmother was there, and sent me off to bed, yelling that I was grounded to my room for a month. Oh yeah, in addition to physical beatings, I’d get sentenced to extended periods of solitary confinement. I think I got paroled after two weeks on that one.
So, I just bit my tongue after that and played along. I had to listen to my dad talk about what he’d give to be 15 again and have a shot at a girl like one of my classmates. He also gave me helpful hints like immediately urinating after having sex. Oh, and the best was how he could spot sluts, and future fatties. I still remember him dropping me off for a 7th grade dance, noticing this girl standing outside, and he immediately pegged her as a slut.
“Stay away from girls like that,” he said. “She’s probably got gonorrhea already.” The girl might have been 14.
Another classic hit from him was pointing out another girl in my class, and telling me she was going to get fat after she got married, just like my mother. He actually said that. He was her baseball coach just a few years earlier.
So, by the time I got to high school I felt way behind the curve when it came to sex. I mean, every guy I knew was bragging about fictitious sexual conquests (yes, that’s the right term) throughout middle school. Thanks to the pressure from my dad, I suspect I was the only person to believe them. So I sought out sex with my female peers wherever I could. Sadly, it was never really enjoyable. It was duty bound act. I had to have sex to validate my masculinity. I know a lot of guys felt the same way, but I’m not sure if their fathers were quite as preoccupied as mine.
In a lot of ways, it was great because I didn’t have a real curfew. I could roll in the house at 4 am, while my dad was getting ready for work and just tell him I was with some girl from Jefferson, or Geneva. As long as I said I wore a rubber, he was cool with it. Of course most of the time I was just drinking beer on some dirt road with the guys.
But every time I did have sex, I’d never talk to her again, which is probably just as well given how lousy that sex must have been.
That’s the thing. As much as my dad wanted me to get out there and have sex, he didn’t want me to get hooked into a relationship. Especially if it was by way of a pregnancy, but any relationship had the potential of holding me back from whatever I was supposed to do.
Looking back, I realize that I was raised to value sex, but not women.
I don’t feel that way. There are women in my life that I care very deeply about. I resent my father for saddling me with this baggage, and I resent myself for the harm I caused along the way. I struggle to make sense of this, and while I realize that part of me is always going to be broken, I hope that being candid here can help start a conversation about the other side of sexual abuse.
This isn’t about feeling sorry for men, or making excuses for these creeps who continue to abuse women well into their adulthood. When I was a kid, I didn’t know any better. I learned, and I stopped.
Some of you might be inclined to try and unpack the instances I mentioned and put me on trial, but I’ve already done that, with these others. Over and over again.
Like most people, I’m a work in progress. I’m sharing these details to provide a look into what makes one man tick. It’s not pretty and I’m not proud. If we’re going to fix this, we need to change the culture. We need to stop teaching little boys to validate their manhood through sex, while we stop teaching girls to treasure their virtue by denying their natural biological impulses. Tell the truth about sex: that it can be one of the most amazing experiences life has to offer if you do it right, and make sure that both you and your partner are ready to fully explore its potential together. Don’t conjure up horror stories to try to scare teenagers into denying their impulses. Don’t lie and say sex is better when you’re married. Tell the truth. Tell kids that having one great sexual experience is probably better than a dozen hurried pre-curfew moment in the back of a minivan.
Don’t see it as encouraging them to have sex, see it as encouraging them to respect sex, and value the intimacy we should attach to it. If you want to deal with rape culture, you have to change the way everybody deals with sex.
Dads need to stop raising their sons to see sex as some kind of rite of passage, while simultaneously acting like their daughters’ vaginas are a family treasure that can only be shared with a worthy suitor. Denying your daughter empowerment over her sexuality sets her up to be a victim. Encouraging your son to value sexual conquests over sexual relationships sets him up to be a serial abuser.