**Content Warning: Abuse**
“I’ve recently realized that I’m gay. The thing is, I was sexually abused when I was a kid. What does this mean? Am I gay because I was abused? I know I didn’t chose this, but I can’t help but wonder if these two things are related.”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Rachel Halder Says:
First of all, congratulations on realizing an important and beautiful aspect of yourself—that you are gay! It sometimes takes a lifetime for someone to admit this to themselves, and you’ve overcome the first and arguably hardest hurdle. That must be celebrated!
Secondly, I am impressed with your vulnerability in stating that you were abused, and in allowing yourself to voice your concern in these two things being related. Abuse of all kinds is traumatic, and it takes deep, personal reflection to even acknowledge its influence in our lives.
I, too, am queer and an abuse survivor. I knew I was queer since I was 15. Or at least, that’s the first time I can remember admitting that I fantasized about women. But I didn’t allow myself to act on that until nearly 10 years later. Why?
I first encountered sexual abuse at three-years-old. I didn’t consciously allow myself to realize this though until I was 22. Even though I shoved that traumatic memory deep into my subconscious, it still affected me in many ways, including that I was seemingly unable to act upon my attraction to women.
There’s this really pervasive thing that exists in our society called shame. Unfortunately, we are all plagued by it, without even realizing that’s what it is.
Shame is the thing that keeps us in the closet. And shame is the thing that keeps us from talking about our traumatic experiences with sexual abuse.
We cannot talk about sexualized violence without talking about shame.
We cannot talk about gender and sexual identity without talking about shame.
Shame plays these tapes in our head telling us that we did something bad, we’re gross, maybe even disgusting. Shame makes us feel like we have no reason to live, that we’re somehow worthless and wrong. The thing about interlinking homosexuality with abuse is that it doubly shames a person.
Once a man asked me, “So how much of your being gay has to do with your history with sexual abuse?” His inquiry completely shattered me. I walked away in dumbfounded tears, unable to fully grasp why this question made me so hysterical. Thankfully a friend helped me see how the comment had been humiliating because it not only insinuated that I should be ashamed of the abuse I’ve experienced, but that I’m also guilty for having that abuse “cause” me to “turn gay.” I felt doubly shamed. In one question that took two seconds to utter, my entire self-worth felt shat upon. I heard, “You are not worthy. You are not good. You are broken goods. And because of your brokenness you now do disgusting things. Oh yeah, but none of it is your fault.”
Experiences of sexual violation are prevalent in the human population in general. According to reports that I believe are drastically underestimated, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been sexually violated. Yet, I’ve personally only met and spoken to one queer survivor open about her history with abuse. There are many who identify as straight who are survivors of sexual abuse. I’ve met and spoken to hundreds of them. My website Our Stories Untold documents their stories. They email me on a monthly basis. So I wonder, if sexual abuse is causing people to turn gay, where are all the gay stories on my website?
Would it be fair to ask someone, “So how much of your identifying as a heterosexual man have to do with your history of abusing children and women?”
Five years ago when I was in therapy for my sexual abuse trauma, I finally began talking about my attraction to women. I had a major crush on an openly gay girl at work—in fact I was totally in love with her—yet I felt paralyzed in doing anything about the crush, let alone admit to people around me that I was interested in a woman. Through therapy I realized the reason I felt terrified to “come out” publicly was because I had been abused—the idea that my abuse somehow “made me gay” was nearly too much to bare, and my biggest fear was someone making that assumption about me. It took my therapist repeatedly saying for months, “Your sexual abuse has NOTHING to do with the gender of the people you fall in love with” that I finally gave up trying to pretend that I wasn’t attracted to women. I freed myself from the cage I locked myself into. I allowed myself to become vulnerable with my multiple identities of both queer and abuse survivor. And I finally decided that what others thought about my life could not continue to dictate the way I lived, the people I loved, or the experiences I wanted to have. From that point on, I took my life back.
Let me do for you what my therapist did for me: Abuse you experienced in the past has nothing to do with the gender of the people you fall in love with. You can free yourself from your own cage. It’s tough, but you can learn to embrace the multiple identities you hold of both survivor and gay, and not let society’s false perceptions of how those two are connected to control how you feel about yourself.
I really don’t think my abuse “caused” me to be attracted to anyone. If anything, it gave me an opportunity to look deep inside my being and find true devotion and self-love for the human that I am. It offered me the opportunity to explore vulnerability and overcome shame in the most liberating ways. And it gave me a strength I never knew was possible. I’ve been in love with women, men, and a trans identified person. I love to love—as hard and scary as love can be—and I strive to open myself to love in any healthy forms it comes to me in. The most important love of my life though is myself. And loving myself means accepting both my sexuality and my abuse stories, and creating a life in which I can live fully and vibrantly as my unique, badass self.
You are worthy. You are good. You are not broken goods. And because of your unique and profound beauty created by your experiences and your heart, you can live the life you wish to live in the ways only you see fit. You can evolve, change your mind, and become someone new each and every day.
Rachel Halder is currently an MA in Religion candidate at Claremont School of Theology, studying holistic spiritual trauma healing for those who have been marginalized by the Christian Church because of sexual abuse and/or LGBTQIA sexual identification. She is passionate about interspirituality, believing that mystical spirituality is the origin of all world religions, and that at their mystical core all spiritual paths lead to Love. She blogs about sexualized violence at Our Stories Untold, about spirituality at Heart of Thought, and when she’s not writing or speaking you can find her hiking mountains or walking through the forest, communing with pachamama’s beautiful earth creation. Follow her on Twitter @raegitsreal
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