Art by Dominic Bradley
Content Note: childhood sexual assault, abuse in church
I was molested by three separate men between the ages of 4 and approximately 10/11. In hindsight, I suspect it stopped because I was beginning to go through puberty. The men were well-liked and respected figures in the church my family attended. They were at various levels of power and influence not only within the church but within the local community as well. I remember not feeling uncomfortable by their actions, their words, their touches – but understood that it was to be kept a secret due to the manners in which they initiated it. In a closet in the church, a dark basement, the bathroom of someone hosting a cookout. Even at that age, I realized that these things only took place when we were alone, and their behavior and demeanor towards me was entirely different in front of other people.
I’ve blocked a lot of it out: I only remember the faces of 2 out of 3, and only remember one of their names. TJ, handsome, funny, charismatic. He was the youngest of them, in his late teens or early 20s. All the girls in Sunday School would giggle and whisper to each other when he would walk by. I remember thinking he was so cute and loved the attention he would give to me – wanting to go on walks with me alone, sitting next to me whenever he could, showing me something that could only be seen in the shadows of his basement. Shortly after they started molesting me, I began having epileptic seizures. As I wasn’t born with epilepsy, the doctors inquired if I had been under stress of any sort. They asked me if I’d hit my head particularly hard, or if anything had happened that scared me. My answer to both was no. I only had seizures in the middle of the night as I slept; I would wake up with no control of my limbs as they shook violently. I was unable to talk or breathe as my throat would close, trying to gasp for air only for saliva to pool in my mouth and choke on it. I couldn’t sleep alone and had to be turned onto my side so the saliva would fall out of my mouth as the seizure ran its course. They would last no more than a minute, but they were utterly unable to predict. I had to spend nights countless under observation, little patches stuck to my body and my head to monitor my brain activity. Countless CAT scans, anything to explain the seizures. They eventually stopped as abruptly as they started. By the time I got my first period around the age of 12, I was no longer having seizures. The doctors were as thrilled as they were perplexed and officially diagnosed me with benign epilepsy. I didn’t consider the correlation until I was well into my 20s, and now at the age of 27, I haven’t had another seizure thus far.
I became consensually sexually active around the age of 16, and to no one’s surprise, I almost exclusively had sex with older men. For a while anyway. The first man I had sex was 10 years older than me, I barely knew him and did not see him again after. The next man was 40 years older. My following sexual encounters with men usually consisted of me barely enjoying the act of sex itself, if at all. I enjoyed the elements that it consisted of; the attraction, the chase, the power. I began to question if I was asexual. I didn’t know if I was having bad sex (I was), or if I just didn’t like sex at all (I do. I think I do.). Throughout my late teens and early 20s, I began to use my sexuality as a weapon; unattached, deceitful, shallow, vulgar, painful, sometimes even shameful and embarrassing sex. I loved how weak and vulnerable men were (and are) during sex, the power my body wielded, although it became almost mechanical – predictable. As empowered as I occasionally felt, I still navigated sex based on the notion that I must be compliant and appeasing of men. Even in my moments of dominance and sexual assertion, I was still focused on the importance of the pleasure of the men over my own. I think I justified this by telling myself that I received enjoyment and satisfaction from theirs. Which wasn’t entirely untrue, just misguided and warped.
I eventually began authentically enjoying sex when I had it with other queer people.
The intimacy and attentiveness were entirely different from what I’d experienced with straight men. Logistically, it was easier to turn my brain off (disassociate?) with men, get fucked, and move on. With queer people, especially women, I have to (and want) to be present. But, I’ve come to recognize that this is harder. This realization allowed me to start the (long) journey of truthfully processing my relationship with sex.
How much of my actions and thoughts are my own – independent of my trauma? Am I inextricably and permanently linked to my abuser's hands fumbling into my tiny floral underwear? Do I use sex as a coping mechanism because my own sense of self-worth is often defined by peoples attraction to me? Do I use it to self-harm because I’m too afraid to inflict physical wounds on my body, so I opt for emotional ones instead? Why do I have to be inebriated to actually let my guard down and have fun sex? Do I even fucking like sex then? Genuinely? These are questions I’ve asked myself over and over again and they always lead to more questions, never actual answers.
However, I’ve finally allowed myself to be honest... with myself. And as a result, I’m able to be honest with my partner. I don’t have to want sex on demand, and can go months without even thinking about it. And I’m okay with that, this is natural and normal – I am not broken. I’m still figuring it out, I don’t have a neat finale or a pretty bow to tie it all together. I am still navigating and shaping my sense of self, but at the very least, I know that I am not broken.
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Black queer agender writer. Academically, a student of philosophy (with a focus on metaphysics and environmental ethics), sociology, and political science. The writer intends to complete their Masters at Humboldt University in Berlin before earning their J.D. and Ph.D. Their personal and social focuses include actively working against binaries, capitalism, oppressive forms of government, and shitty whiskey. They hope to one day open an environmentally sustainable commune for queer people of color.
About Dominic Bradley:
Dom Bradley is a multimedia artist based in Brooklyn, NY. They are a facilitator and editor with Rest for Resistance.
An illustration of a Black queer person with green hair, green nail polish, and a green pull over stares into the direction of a drawing symbol that has a snail crawling out. The character is wearing a gold 100 emoji keychain, gold cogs adorn their green hair, and they are pointing two fingers to their head.