If I stand in front of a full-length mirror, naked, and turn around twisting my head to see the reflection of my aching back I see nothing that makes me different. Turning back to face the mirror I see my legs and feet under the overhang of my belly that juts out from too much food and drink and not enough exercise, the same as so many men my age. I wish my dick was bigger, but all men think that. I’m not that different from other guys I see in the showers at work.
I inspect my hands, battered from too many years of engineering, made obvious by the oily black crescents at the end of each fingernail. Typical fitters hands, and no clues there.
My beard is a white scrub around my chin, which, along with the lines on my face and the grey invading my once dark brown hair, betrays more than anything my forty six years. I stare at my face and look deep within my eyes that those years have put behind bi-focals, maybe I’m looking for my soul if there is such a thing. If I’m looking for my deepest and most personal thoughts they’re deeper than I can see. But I know I’m looking for something, I just haven’t a clue what.
There must be something that marked me out as different all those years ago and I need to know if it’s still there. Why did I become a victim of a bunch of sex abusers? Maybe there is just one tiny detail that I have missed in my inspection, should it be that obvious? I don’t know- I haven’t a clue.
And then it comes to me, I realize that I’m actually seeking is what’s missing. I’m looking for something that was there before I went through therapy to escape the torment of the disturbing memories that was four years of my childhood and over thirty years of my life.
I’m looking for the labels I wore across my forehead for thirty five years. The ones I was forced to read every time I looked in the mirror and led me to despise the face that looked back. The labels I imagined were visible to others unless I hid behind my macho masks and elaborate charades. I had learned to lie to myself, and I nearly believed my lies.
Now I realise that I was the only person who could see my labels and who knew the secret of reading them, the labels were lies, but I believed them.
The list of labels is long, a litany of loathing and despair. I loathed my abusers and the man I had become as a result of their unwanted attentions, and I despaired at ever finding a release from the iron grip that they still held on me.
These were the labels my abusers, handed me and told me to keep. And I did, I kept them and changed them regularly to suit my moods. The worse I felt the more scathing the label.
And in their absence I made new labels for myself. I had to, I became bored with the old ones and they didn’t have the same influence as I got older. But I knew exactly the type of label they wanted me to make, same as the old ones only stronger and bigger. Beefed up with the knowledge of adulthood. I had to bring them up to date, and I did.
The first label I ever wore was probably the big bold label that said “lonely and vulnerable”.
I don’t know if I arrived at the crummy boarding school with it as an eleven year old from the country, but I soon acquired it as I tried to fit into my new life at school, the label was easy to accept.
The sexual predators soon recognised easy prey and I all too easily mistook their attentions as friendship, and as I cautiously joined them in “a bit of fun” I didn’t notice them slipping the label on me.
As things progressed they wanted more than a quick hand job and I became unsure if the trade of more serious sex for their friendship and a few cigarettes was a good deal, but they were persuasive and devious and resistance was useless.
Eventually they used a show of force and I spent an afternoon being violently raped and beaten by the two main abusers and some of their friends. The only chance I had of escaping their future attentions was denied me when the headmaster, upon having discovered what happened that afternoon punished me for lying, being out of bounds and having the ten cigarettes they gave me as a “hush payment”. The headmaster believed their version of the afternoons events and betrayed me to an extent that I hate him more than the rapists. He might as well have bent me over and fucked me himself instead of caning me.
The official line was that it was “youthful sex play that got out of hand”; and he either believed I was the ringleader and instigator ( I was 11, they were 13 or older ) or he just took the easy option and played it down to prevent further enquiries from higher authorities and avoid the embarrassment that would follow it.
The people who should have protected me failed miserably when my rape came to their attention and the abuse was allowed to continue, consequently, this episode did nothing to persuade me that what was happening was wrong.
If it was wrong, then surely they would have been caned, they weren’t so they must be right.
From then on it was easy for them to make me believe everything that was happening was because I wanted it to happen, and when things went wrong as they had when “I was caught” then that was my fault. They were in no way to blame, they told me that and I believed them.
That was the end of the lonely label for a while. After that they gave me the “willing friend” label. A label that’s endured, I still recognise this label in lonely moments.
For a long time I mistook loneliness for boredom, but there is a difference. I am not lonely because I have no friends or anything like that, I have many good close friends, and I have been married for twenty five years to a woman I love. I have always worked and enjoyed the company of those I work with. I have many close friends in the 4x4 club I am a member of. It’s all very normal.
As I progress through my recovery I think long and hard about such things and I think it comes down to the close distinction between ‘lonely’ and ‘alone’. I never feel alone if there are people around, even if I don’t know them and I’m not interacting with them. But I can feel lonely. I need a strong distraction to occupy me and to stop me calling up my ‘old friends’ in some sordid fantasy while I masturbate.
And it must be said that masturbation is a lonely pastime.
Now, on reflection I can see that if I have an hour or so to myself, then it was just too easy to call on “my old friends” to keep me company for a while. And as my job changed I often ended up working alone and with time on my hands, the result was inevitable. I would start on the fantasy during the day and wind myself up into a frenzy by anticipating the ultimate wank when I got home. If they were that good how come I can’t remember any great wanks ?
The link was seemingly tenuous at first, and to an outsider it might seem a bit simplistic or an easy cop out, but I explored these links during therapy and firmly believe there is a strong thread connecting any lonely moments I still have as an adult and the strong, painful, memories of the secret moments back then.
I was alone in a new and alien world and they offered me friendship in exchange for sex- or as part of sex. Sex in it’s natural form is a very friendly thing and it’s hard to separate the two when you’re eleven years old.
But no matter how painful those memories can be I found a way to alter the storyline and remove the pain while leaving the sex. And alongside that there was also the false promise of friendship.
So as the years went by I used this distorted memory as fantasy more and more, until I believed it.
Only now, as an adult, once again facing the facts of what happened to me as a boy, and ignoring the distortions and lies, have I recalled the true level of coercion, bribery, threats and force that made me seem a willing participant in their sordid lives.
Over thirty years I had succeeded in making myself believe that I was willing, I made myself forget how they had fed me lies and veiled threats, I ignored how firmly my head was held as I performed oral sex on them. I told myself that I hadn’t been held down and raped until I bled. I told myself I lied down and enjoyed it.
Perhaps I thought it was a sign of weakness to have been bullied into these acts, but weakness or not, I was bullied both mentally and physically in the early stages.
And as a result of that I began to act willing because it was easier, which moved their tactics onto a higher level. As I matured they would masturbate me and encourage me to join in by occasionally having sex with them, again it was coercion and trickery but it worked. By joining them I became one of them, my adolescent body was more than willing to perform even if my heart wasn’t in it.
It is possible to forget things, the mind does it naturally and seemingly randomly. If you want to forget it seems you can’t force yourself to, and believe me I’ve tried very hard, I will never forget the circumstances that surrounded the sex, and now I’m glad I can’t.
Remembering my abusers tactics and lies has been the main source of strength during my recovery.
The only problem I still have is the one of dealing with lonely moments and I am sure this is still due to the fact that I had refined the memories so well over the years to use as fantasy that they are taking nearly as much effort to dispel. For thirty years I picked over the memories and hung onto the sex and “supposed” friendship aspect, which I took and mutated into ever more lurid fantasies. I told myself that “alone= lonely= bored= fantasy= sex=friendship” I lied to myself as it turned out.
This led to a pattern of uncontrollable behaviour and masturbation. I had become trapped into believing that my time alone could be fulfilled by masturbating to the memory of ‘great sex with my buddies at school’. It didn’t work very well, and instead of giving up I raised the stakes by refining the fantasies. And with more time alone I had more time to let my imagination run riot until I came up with the fantasy of re-creating that type of sex as an adult. I created the fantasy of having quick, uncomplicated sex with another man.
And as that fantasy began to wane I ran out of ideas. I’d fantasize about other women sometimes, just like any other bloke and that doesn’t bother me one bit, it worked but somehow not as well as I hoped it would. I tried fantasizing about various kinky practices. But the fetishes with whips and chains or dressing up that internet porn delivers to my screen held no appeal to me. The fantasy remained the one I knew best.
So the die was cast, the only option was to make my fantasy come true.
The loneliness I experienced as a boy must have been obvious to other people. And as a lonely, quiet child in a new and confusing place the abusers had a massive hold over me by offering friendship in a special, secret sort of way. So I removed the “lonely and vulnerable” label and replaced it with a “willing friend” label, I thought I was in the company of friends, I thought I was an equal I was wrong, they lied and deceived me, they had sex and left, they were never my friends, but I didn’t recognise it.
And when they left school before me and the sex stopped I tried to forget it, and as a teenager I largely did because of the many normal distractions and experiences to be savoured or regretted at that age.
I never felt the need for that label for many years. But as I got older, married and more settled I began to reach for it once more in the few quiet times I had. And it felt oddly comforting at first, but not any more. Now it disturbs me because I can vividly remember it’s power, I know just where it can take me and I don’t like it.
When it occasionally appears an almighty battle begins to erase it, but as I get stronger the battle is easier to win. I understand what is happening now, I recognise the signs and slowly I am developing ways of dealing with the associated problems, I don’t try to kid myself that it’s easy; it isn’t, it’s a mechanism that developed over thirty years and became deeply ingrained.
To expect complete victory over the ghosts in less than twelve months is asking a bit much, but it’ll come.
The writing on the label is fading fast and the corners are lifting as the glue fails. It’s becoming easier for me and all my allies to get a grip on this “lonely and vulnerable” label now; and together we can peel it off.
A label that said “willing friend” – I don’t know if it was the label they gave me or one I adopted for myself. I hope it’s the former.
And that dilemma is a central one for me as a victim, just how willing was I, did I enjoy as much as I seem to remember?
I have more or less sorted the “friend” aspect, they were in no way friends, and any pretence was just enough to keep me hooked. And possibly the fact that they disappeared from my life as suddenly as they appeared when I was still young and vulnerable has made it easier over the years to realise that they were never any kind of friend. But my lonely moments sometimes conspire to tell me different.
The “willing” part has been harder to escape, it is deeper and inexorably linked with all sorts of strong feelings and emotions such as sex and trust. The sex aspect has been a source of massive confusion that’s increased over the years. They groomed me, and when that method faltered, terrorised me into thinking it was my choice and I was the one getting all the pleasure. And that’s a huge burden to overturn after thirty years of believing it, I’m trying, but it’s hard to forget that there was also some sort of sexual gratification for me as well as them. I went through my puberty having all kinds of sex with older boys, boys who were generally two years older than me and obviously physically more mature. They exhibited levels of pleasure that I didn’t understand but liked the look of, and as my body caught up I began to experience. One of my abusers was very talkative and would describe in detail his feelings and sensations, encouraging me to learn how to give him the greatest satisfaction.
Which I did, by the time I was twelve I had experienced the result of resistance and I didn’t like it, so compliance was easier. And if this process is followed to its logical conclusion then the better I got at pleasing him, the better I was treated. So I learned how to please my abusers, and in the process learned a whole pile of other confusing messages about my own sexual development. By the age of 12 I was suggesting different positions for sex, asking if they wanted me to suck them off before they fucked me.
As part of the web that trapped me they would sometimes reverse roles and give me the pleasure, which I accepted. My adolescent body was already raging with hormones and physically enjoying the sex was irresistible. This much I can remember clearly, but what isn’t so clear is level of enjoyment I felt in my mind, did I really enjoy it?
I don’t know, it’s too long ago and way too distorted by my various attempts to figure it all out. Over the years I have been selective with my memories for many reasons, I’ve tried to forget what happened but it didn’t go away, I’ve plundered some bits to fuel my fantasies, and now I am trying to pick my way through the wreckage looking for the detail I need to understand and close the whole episode down.
Most of the detail I have straight in my mind now, the people, places and what took place between us is once again back in order. I can recall the squalor of the places we used and the form of their bodies. I know who did what and how.
I can remember the tone of their voices and the style of their open ended questions when they asked me if “I’d like a fuck”. The exact words are long gone I know, but there are flashes of detail that make me certain of their techniques.
But the emotions are missing, other than the fear I felt at the hands of the gang in the early days I have no memory of what I felt about the sex, or what I felt about them.
The best guess is that I felt very little other than the frisson of excitement at being ‘a bad boy’. I believe I blocked out most of my emotions and went through the sex acts on a purely physical basis. I can’t remember ever liking these older boys and had sparse contact with them at any other time.
If the emotions weren’t there at the time I was lucky, but if they were and I have blocked them out then there’s a possibility I genuinely enjoyed what happened, which is a frightening prospect at this stage in my recovery.
But no, I can’t see how I could remember so much about what happened, and thirty years on recall it and return it to it’s proper order and condition, without remembering one scrap of the emotions that accompanied my abuse. If there had been feelings of wanting sex and enjoying their company then some aspect would have lived on in my fantasies; and there’s nothing. All I can remember is the where, what and how- the mechanics of quick sexual gratification. Any emotional side to all this was must have been stunted at the outset, I didn’t feel anything for them or their behaviour.
What I have carried through to adulthood is the memory of the physical sex. I believed I enjoyed it and eventually relied on the erotic content of the memories as a fantasy.
I now know, with absolute certainty, that I wasn’t a willing participant in their sex lives. There were times I was ‘given’ to other boys in the large, loose group of abusers. I was also ‘given’ to a teacher.
A dog is willing to chase sticks and retrieve them as long the dog enjoys it, he will run and fetch endlessly for his own pleasure. You could also beat and force the dog to do the same thing, but one day the dog will turn and bite back. I’m biting back, it’s taken time but it’s not too late.
To be willing to do the things I was forced to do takes a frame of mind I don’t possess now and I can’t see that I possessed it back then.
It’s a frame of mind I thought I had developed recently, if that makes sense, I thought my ‘pleasure’ back at the school could be re-created and enhanced. If I was willing then I should be willing now. But the fantasies had got out of control and created a desire for increasing the thrill, for upping the ante. It didn’t matter how, and my imagination worked overtime devising ever more lurid fantasies, eventually risk and adrenaline joined the methods at my disposal. I firmly believed I was doing what I wanted to do, I wasn’t; I was doing what the abusers and my history dictated I should do.
I believe that, for me, my recent repetitive and addictive behaviour would have the same root cause as any willingness I exhibited as a boy. The same mechanisms would have needed to have worked when I was 11 years old, just as they were when I was 45.
As a boy I would have experienced the thrill of fear, the swagger of the bad boy, a wealth of knowledge beyond my years in sexual practices, the lure of older boys as mates, and it was all wrapped up in one huge secret.
The thrills were mainly peripheral and, although the thrill of sex to an adolescent boy is huge, the thrill of rebellion is hard to resist.
My recent behaviour has been much the same, the sex wasn’t as important as I thought it was and my encounters were so anti-climactically awful in every respect that I know it will never happen again.
But the lead up to those encounters was a different story. I believed that this kind of encounter was what I wanted more than anything else, I believed that sex with another man in a toilet would be the ultimate sexual experience. And believing this I was able to create the frenzy of anticipation that I became hooked on. At first it was nothing more than a fantasy to masturbate to but it grew over a long period of time into the monster that took over.
Using this fantasy I could make my heart beat like a marathon runners, the taste of adrenaline would sear my mouth, I would shake and tremble as the cocktail of neurological transmitters would make me as high as a kite. This is a feeling a lot of people pay money for and here it was for free, all I had to do was wind myself up over a few hours and walk into a toilet. This was a level of excitement I didn’t even get driving a competition prepared off road jeep through some of the toughest terrain imaginable!
The crash back to reality was devastating when the inevitable happened and I eventually came across other men wanting sex. Almost as soon as it was apparent that sex was what we wanted the high I was on started to leave me. And there I was, confronted by my fantasy but with the feelings and high I experienced during my anticipation rapidly fading as the reality of the situation took hold. The sudden realisation that all that was left was a sordid grope was often enough to make me flee in panic and confusion before the finale.
The reality didn’t match the fantasy, it never could. It was the fantasy that was important to me, and not the enactment of it. It was a hard lesson and one I wish I never had to take.
I can’t recognise any willingness in me now to participate in sex with another man, I haven’t got that basic urge. And I didn’t have it then.
What I had recently was the legacy of their lies, the lies that fooled me as a boy and without any reason to question them fully, I couldn’t I believed them, I had no option but to continue believing them. So I did.
Any willingness requires a state of mind and behaviour I don’t recognise, what I do recognise is being out of control and driven by urges that became addictive. The pounding heart and huge adrenaline rush was enough to convince me that I was doing the right thing at the time. It’s a feeling I was deeply engrossed in for a few years as an adult, and one I am still struggling to escape from, but I believe it’s the result of acquiescing to their threats, lies and false promises.
In the relief of giving in I must have felt a sense of security and a thrill of excitement being in the company and having sex with older boys and a teacher. The rebel in me knew it was wrong but it gave me the chance to think “I do things you can’t imagine” it gave me a strange and misguided feeling of superiority over other boys. I knew what sex was all about, they didn’t. Of course I could only think this, I could never reveal this to anyone else, and the secret also gained another level of superiority.
This is an unbroken connection between then and now, my fantasies and behaviour provided a solid link with the past.
I wasn’t willing either then or now, I was trapped by the continuous cycle of me believing their lies. I didn’t feel any sort of attraction to sex with other men now or as a child so it must have been their threats and lies; I wasn’t a “willing friend”.
“Gay”, that was a confusing label that cropped up regularly. But I have never fancied another man or boy, never looked longingly at any male or craved sex with a particular man, so was this the right one to wear? It sometimes felt like it.
My memory told me I had enjoyed, indeed encouraged, the sex between the older boys and the teacher when I was a kid. So, was I or wasn’t I?
I had many moments of doubt but in the end I would always decide that no, I certainly wasn’t gay, that title belongs to those that are genuinely homosexual, those who are attracted to the same sex for reasons other than a purely mechanical sex act. My heart never raced for another man as it has for a woman.
So that was one label I never wore, but it was in the pack, and I did take it out now and then for a look but it never looked right, and no matter how often I thought it might be the right one, I always slid it back at the bottom of the pack. I’ve slipped the “gay” label into the bin now.
So how about “bent, pervy, queer”? Well yes, these were labels I had very little argument against from the day the physical element of the abuse stopped, the psychological element still continues. It’s why I’m sat here writing this.
As much as I dismissed the “gay” label, these labels I couldn’t. My fantasies were heading this direction from the moment the abuse stopped, and inevitably my behaviour followed.
The way these derogatory terms are used to describe some people’s sexual peccadilloes seemed to fit my image of myself at the time. These are the abusive, spiteful names hurled at those seeking sex that is different from the norm’ usually casual, fleeting sex between those for whom the norm’ is either unattainable or has become stale.
The sort of people who seek awkward and frantic fumbles in stinking toilets with broken locks and shit smeared over the graffiti covered walls are called “bent, pervy or queer”.
I would pick any of these labels and wear it, never with pride or any sort of ease, but with a feeling of weary concession. I just happened to pick the appropriate label before the ghost of one of my abusers chose one and handed it to me.
“Remember what you did back then and how you enjoyed it? Here, wear this ‘pervert’ label and maybe someone will re-enact those childhood memories with you”
I believed them all those years ago and nothing had come along to disprove their entreaties. As much as I hated what they told me, and in ‘saner’ moments I knew it was no more than evil lies, I had no defence on my own. And worse, their lies convinced me it was my secret, I was the bad boy and it was all my fault. How could I tell anyone I loved or trusted a hideous secret like this and not loose everything?
My memory of the abuse was governed by their manipulation and lies, what I thought was my active participation and enjoyment of the events wasn’t, it was just them telling me I was enjoying it. Somehow it seems incredible that I believed it for thirty years after it stopped, but I did.
I thought, deep in my sub-conscious, that if I re-enacted the sex as an adult maybe I could be in control, unlike the sex I had as a child. And if I was in control now perhaps I could gain control of my past. A bizarre chain of thought, but with hindsight I believe this was the force that drove me. And the extension of this twisted logic was the crazy theory that if I took the fantasy to it’s conclusion and had sex with strange men, maybe I would get caught and the secret would be out. The true outcome would obviously have been a disaster, but the legacy of their lies and my inadequate ways of dealing with them left my subconscious to do the best it could.
Things have changed, I can deal with the legacy now.
Trying to do it on my own didn’t work, I needed help and eventually took it from wherever I could. My old methods barely got me through thirty or so years and were failing rapidly, if I continued it was a rapid plunge into more guilt and grief.
I’m not a “pervert” like them, pass the label and let me tear it up.
How about “Thick, Stupid”? There’s a good pair of labels I often wore.
So many people told me I was thick and stupid over the years it must have been right. You only have to look at how I ended up being sexually abused by a group of older boys and a teacher? How stupid can you get?
And when the headmaster finally uncovered my rape by a gang of older boys I was the one who was caned and punished. That was a prime example of my stupidity, fancy believing I was right and they were wrong. I believed adults protected children but I was so wrong, I must have been really thick.
And this is how it went on; all the way into my adult life I believed in my own inadequacies as college tutors, bosses and many others told me I would never amount to anything. I believed them and didn’t try, it was a viscous circle. And even when I refuted their claims I ended up the loser. I was an angry young man who has only recently learned that reasoned argument is stronger than abusive ranting.
This is more frustrating and upsetting than the sex abuse, the abuse is gone, finished and physically over- mentally never. But the way it shaped my whole adult life is awful, there is no way I can ever quantify what I have lost and no way I can ever regain it all. What I do regain is precious and sweet.
Losing my pride and self- esteem by believing lying abusers and pitiful ‘role models’ such as the headmaster has robbed me of so much. I’m angrier at this loss than the sex. Forgiveness will never, ever come from me for what they did.
I was a very trusting sort of person back then who believed everyone was basically decent. Not any more I don’t, I’ve learned some very important lessons over the last year- there are liars out there and I’m not thick!
Give me the matches and I’ll burn that label.
“Victim” Once I had made the decision to get help I became a victim, not right away, I had to work at it and I had to make my own small label to stick over the others. Not very effective but it was a start and I wore it with pride whenever I could.
Before this I had taken labels from the selection given me by my abusers and wore them as my ‘mood’ took me. Those old labels were made by a group of people much more experienced than me, and I was on my own, I needed help.
And when I sought, and accepted help from my Wife, therapy and a friend, we made a bigger and better label with stronger glue, and as I progressed we made new ones, bigger, stickier ones and I felt prouder of every one.
This was a label that was new and exciting, one that at last gave me reasons and hope. Things I never had before.
Being a victim was different to being a pervert, as a victim I began to understand some of the intricacies of lies, control, deceit, treachery and, on the opposite side pride, recovery and self esteem. Wearing the pervert- thick labels I just accepted what I had been given, and that was crap.
Becoming a victim was a huge leap, being a victim was a roller coaster ride through uncharted emotions. The victim label was a hard one to wear, it slipped occasionally and needed constant repair as the vandals of my past did their best to rip it away and uncover their old favourites
But the people who told me it was going to be tough were there to help and for many months we kept it in position, I had to, I had everything to lose if it fell away forever.
That’s a label I would have nailed to my forehead if I had to!
The victim label is one I still wear, and will forever. I don’t mind it one bit, a victim is someone who has suffered or endured something not of their own making. As a victim I can state “it wasn’t my fault”. And as a victim I can apportion the blame where it is due, with my abusers.
I am also forced into working at being a victim, I have to think about what happened and how it affects my future which is a good thing. Lapsing into complacency allows the abusers time to replace their labels, which I cannot allow to happen again. And working at it isn’t the pain it might seem, I make the effort and the abusers legacy fades away making me feel better. A good deal in any ones book.
As a result the worst obsessive behaviours have gone and I can now go for longer periods without the memories and fantasies returning. They’re more controllable and no longer dominate my life in the way they did.
The effort is worth it and on my good days, which are now outnumbering the bad ones by a huge margin, I wear a brand new, huge, glow in the dark label-
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.
Henry David Thoreau