Last night I watched the Law & Order SVU episode Facing Demons. It was chilling, especially because I went through the same thing Brian Cassidy suffered as a child – sexual abuse.
I’m not going to get graphic about what happened, but what I’m going to write will disturb a lot of people, and if you think you are one of them stop reading now.
In the Law and Order SVU episode Facing Demons Lieutenant Olivia Benson discovers that her ex-lover, Brian Cassidy, was sexually abused as a child, by the man suspect in the sexual abuse of a young man who committed suicide. Further complicating the situation is that they need Cassidy’s testimony to gain a conviction.
What does this have to do with me?
I was sexually abused by an older male relative. I was six or seven when it started. It stopped by the time I was nine or ten. I didn’t tell anyone what was happening at the time.
First, I’d been told to do what John said I should do (he was supposed to be older and wiser, and keep me safe).
Second, I didn’t have the words to explain what happened.
Third, when I did have the words, I was terribly ashamed — I had to have been partly to blame.
Fourth, again, when I did have the words, I was afraid I was gay because my body had responded. Yes, it is possible for a boy of seven to get an erection. It was years later when I understood what an erection was. The Sixties was a period of rampant homophobia. There was no way I could admit to what happened or everyone would think I was a faggot (the common pejorative back then in Canada for a gay man). At least that’s how my mind interpreted things at the time.
So I never talked about it. None of my girlfriends knew. My wife has known since not long after we were married when I had to explain why things that are supposed to get men excited turned me off. My kids know. A few friends know.
But this is my official public coming out as an abuse survivor. I’ve planned on coming out for a couple of years now, but just could never quite summon up the courage.
Rather then give the gory details of what happened, I’m going to compare what happened to me, as a person, with what happened to Brian Cassidy, as a person. If you haven’t seen the episode, you really should.
Brian Cassidy was abused by his coach in his youth baseball league when he was ten. I was abused playing Monopoly starting when I was six or seven. John would cheat, so I’d end up in debt to him in the game, and to get out of debt I had to let him do things to me.
Like Cassidy I reacted. I used to love visiting John’s parent’s house. I suspect Mom and Dad were confused when I started not wanting to go, and since I wasn’t able to tell them why, and I wasn’t old enough to stay at home alone, I had to go. They never had a clue what happened. They both would have been furious if they had. And yes, I’m pretty certain they would have believed me.
Like Cassidy, I suffered from low self esteem. To buck up my self esteem, I later became an excellent example of toxic masculinity. Cassidy didn’t do the same thing, but he is younger than I am (he is portrayed as in his forties, and I’m in my early sixties). When I was growing up, toxic masculinity was regarded as fairly normal. Take for example the 1963 movie McClintock! where the name character and his future son-in-law end up spanking their ‘girls’ because they weren’t willing to be obedient… Loved that movie as a kid. When I realized later what it really was showing, I was horrified.
Like Cassidy I also abused alcohol. I have three impaired driving charges on my record from when I was in my twenties. Again, it was to buck up my self esteem. Everyone knew that ‘faggots’ didn’t drink whiskey. They weren’t man enough, or so I was told (though oddly most the adult women in my family drank whiskey or rum, and they weren’t regarded as man enough for a lot of things either, but no one thought they couldn’t drink the hard stuff).
I also started lifting weights, boxing, and playing hockey. ‘Faggots’ didn’t do those things either! I was one of the most brutal defensemen on the ice. I hit hard, and often. Putting opposing players into the penalty box head first was good ‘clean’ fun as far as I was concerned. At the same age, Cassidy became a cop.
My lack of self esteem messed me up with one serious girlfriend. I’m really sorry Darlene.
It also messed up a bunch of less serious relationships. Cassidy also had relationship problems, though his were way worse than mine. Heather and I have been married since 1985, and we are still going strong.
In fact Heather helped me significantly. Her mother was a district midwife in England, and Heather had two years of nursing school. Heather’s knowledge helped a lot.
The point where Cassidy almost assaults the man who abused him? I seriously started planning to murder John at one point in my twenties. I was a fit hockey player. He was nonathletic. It would have been walkover. Another plan was to beat the living daylights out of him. It wouldn’t have been hard. Why didn’t I go ahead with either plan? Low self esteem, plus my parents had instilled in me a strong sense of morality.
Cassidy faced his abuser in court. I never managed to do so. The family connection added extra complications that I didn’t want to deal with while John was alive. So whenever someone questions why an accuser didn’t come forward at the time, I feel like using them for a punching bag.
It’s hard to talk about this, even though it’s been over fifty years since it stopped. In fact that’s one reason I haven’t spoken before this. I know I would have gotten the ‘why didn’t you say something earlier’ from a bunch of relatives while the older generation was alive, and I do not know if I could have refrained from beating them senseless.
Let’s face it. I’m damaged. I probably always will be. I have spoken to a therapist about this. She understood my anger, and told me it was normal. Even though no one could have known what was going on, I was mad at all the adults. I’m still mad at the adults.
If you’ve ever wondered why:
- I distrust and attack authority figures.
- I have issues with my temper.
- I displayed overtly sexualized behavior when I was younger.
- I still tend to play an Alpha-Alpha male really well.
That’s why. I think I’m in a far better place now. John’s death helped — I no longer had to put up with him at family gatherings. I’ve seen a therapist. I’ve been working on deconstructing the damage as best I can. But that’s only been in the last ten years. I wish I’d been able to start on this earlier. I really do.
Monday February 25, 2019