Our National Obsession Does Not Help Abuse Victims
Many groups to which I am supposed to belong should command my allegiance. Yet I avoid some like the plague. For instance, I find it tiring to be around veterans who get self-righteous about the fact that I spent very little time in the Reserves. The little time I was in the military completely upended my life. Still, I do not want to explain that to fellows who see their own experiences as fundamentally more authentic than mine. I like Latino groups generally as long as they are not partisan.
"Survivor" Status: The Nadir of Identity Politics
I cannot join one group though it is relevant to me: the "survivors."
I was exposed to pornography and sexual gestures at very young ages. My first sexual encounter occurred in 1984 at the age of 13, when two older teens got me drunk. When one combines the activity I engaged in as a boy with the many times that I was coerced, drugged, or roughhoused as an adult male, one drifts into a numb zone of horror. I used to have many ways to describe what happened to me in gentle terms. Now I have the vocabulary of an educated man. I was repeatedly abused and survived it. You would think I am the prime candidate to join a support group for abuse survivors.
Think again. Such support groups strike me as toxic. Here's why.
A community of abuse victims has high stress and alarm. Everybody constantly misreads, picks apart, mischaracterizes, and overreacts to everyone else. In the early 1990s, I attended a group for boys who had overcome sexual abuse. I knew I could not stay. Too much tension arose over the confidentiality policy and rules about how we were supposed to communicate. I decided I would rather go hang out with guy friends who'd never been abused. The latter group enjoyed the benefit of not projecting their distortions onto mine.
There are many of us. According to the Department of Justice, 25% of girls and 17% of boys are sexually abused before the age of eighteen (using a fairly broad definition). The overwhelming majority involves male aggressors. This creates a schism. For millions of females, rape is an issue tied to patriarchy. For millions of males, rape is an issue tied to the gay subculture that arose against patriarchy. There is no way to reconcile this schism. I've tried.
Male-dominated traditions and feminist-informed countercultural movements both feature too much rape. This is rather because sex is connected to the larger web of social interactions that involve conflicting expectations, goals, values, and interests.
Human beings clash over work, family relationships, friendships, business ventures, politics, religion, and virtually anything that impassions us. Sex plays out in this battleground. For much of history, sex was set apart because of its unique power over our emotions. Chastity protected people from miscalculation. (I am a fan of chastity.) In the twentieth century, bourgeois society developed a schizophrenia about the exceptionalism of sex. On the one hand, they wanted sex to be subject to modernization and liberalism like every other part of human activity. On the other hand, they elevated feminism and gay politics to higher sensitivity and urgency.
How to help?
Decide first whether to treat sexual abuse as other kinds of abuse or as something different. If it's like other kinds of abuse, then address the plight of workers or the corruption in schools instead of only talking about "sexual harassment" and "campus assault." Many alleging harassment in Hollywood and Washington were not harmed primarily by moments of being sexually pursued. They were harmed because of how Hollywood and Capitol Hill treated entry-level staff and kept them scared and powerless. Even without sexual harassment, there is still an abusive work system. (Why do we downplay people who get fired for political reasons or nepotism but not people who get fired due to sexual intrigues?)
If sexual abuse exists in a unique category, then define what sexual abuse is and is not. For instance, a man who flirts with girls is not guilty of sexual abuse; a man who ravishes a woman who does not want to have sex with him is guilty. A man who asks a woman out after she says she is not interested is not guilty; a man who refuses to stop an act of sexual intercourse when a woman says, "Please, stop, I don't want to go farther" is guilty.
Society's schizophrenia sexualizes political issues that are political, not sexual. The same society defines sexual wrongdoing so generally that we must live in a perpetual police state. In a state of normalcy and safety, people can flirt, make passes at one another, and test possible interest. All that is healthy and safeguarded by boundaries. Survivors share an agony over boundaries, so responding to sexual abuse by suppressing or confusing boundaries is a non-starter.
I Did It My Way
Like many other survivors, I embarked on a long career of self-destructive behavior. I did not enjoy sodomy. It actually triggered nausea and uneasiness. In a cycle of reinforced dysfunction, I had to prove to myself that I did enjoy it, because in the world where I was living, my past doomed me to being gay forever and I could not get out. The use of drugs made sodomy and intoxication mutually escalating. I needed more drugs to get through the act. I needed more sodomy to justify doing more drugs, especially as my tolerance grew.
I wrote a lot of fiction that I withdrew or never published.
While all this scarred me, I reject the current fixation with "consent." The "consent" standard equates the survivor's struggle with punishing a perpetrator. We have age of consent laws based on the notion that below a threshold, some will want and even initiate sex that it would be wrong to indulge. Taken farther, one can extrapolate that "consent" does not solve the problem of sexual pain or even abuse. Sometimes we feed the problem by consenting to it and inviting the problem into our lives.
We need chastity, not a culture of consent. Chastity is not virginity. Chastity is recoverable, but it means we take responsibility for our own unchaste decisions. Consenting to something does not make it any better for you than a sexual evil that you were tricked into. Once you decenter the discussion away from "consent," you can look at these painful experiences as symptoms of cultural failure that everyone must take part in correcting – even someone like me who was victimized.
One odious lesbian challenged me online to publish the names of men who abused me. I will not do that. We were in a cultural setting where their behavior was normal. I was never too young to be ignorant of the implications of what I did and where I went. The past is the past. I have decided instead to fight a culture war so other boys get nowhere near the dangers that ensnared me. I hold conferences and fight the LGBT lobby. Let the hundreds of men who hurt me go and deal with their hurt, for they were also wounded.
While I experienced all this sexual trauma, I also have a political mind. I know that from a societal standpoint, litigating the voluminous cases of past abuse would drain our nation emotionally, not satisfy victims, and turn our democracy into a police state. I opt out of that approach.
The road more often traveled
Does camaraderie always help? Is the best remedy to pain always knowing that other people are also feeling pain like yours?
According to the narrative circulating in the press, Alyssa Milano started the #MeToo campaign. Variety explains it like this:
With her #MeToo campaign, actor Alyssa Milano launched a movement, encouraging survivors of sexual assault and abuse to come forward. "If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem," she tweeted.
Alyssa Milano co-starred with actress Rose McGowan in Charmed. Mere days before Milano's launching of #MeToo, Rose McGowan was gaining traction on social media. She led the way in exposing abuses by Harvey Weinstein. She focused particularly on Weinstein's alleged rape of McGowan in the 1990s. As Bizpac Review notes, Milano was blasted for her "deafening silence" about Rose McGowan's suffering for so many years.
Alyssa Milano's #MeToo campaign must be understood in context as abusive. It furthered the alienation of McGowan and the trivialization of her story after years of Milano's silence. Did it really help Rose McGowan for an overwhelming flood of unsubstantiated, vague tweets alleging sundry forms of aggression ranging from violent rape to "unwanted advances"? McGowan was allegedly raped and then pressured into taking a large payment from Weinstein on the condition that she never expose him. If her story is true, she walked around with a great deal of pain for twenty years, fearing she would never be believed and seeing her perpetrator hold the admiration of all her friends in entertainment. Because of #MeToo, the specifics and magnitude of McGowan's pain lost their exceptionality and their hard-earned moment in national attention.
On the heels of #MeToo came countless accusations against public figures, the vast majority of which I ceased taking seriously weeks ago. Here I will undoubtedly offend many, but I think it must be said. No, George Takei's alleged pass at a man in 1981 is not relevant. No, Kevin Spacey's overtures to a fourteen-year-old in the mid-1980s is not relevant. Accusations about who sodomized Corey Haim in the 1980s, Roy Moore's dating habits in the 1970s, or various reporters' "sexual harassment" against women speaking to the press "under condition of anonymity" area not actionable or even appropriate to talk about. All these accusations fall into three major categories: (1) too old to be reliably remembered, (2) not serious enough to class with "rape" such as Rose McGowan endured, and (3) probably not true. By flooding the discussion with a bunch of stuff that's just not as important as a serious, substantiated case like Rose McGowan's, people foster a crippling, overwhelming confusion. That helps nobody.
#MeToo was dizzying enough before people weaponized the discussion of sexual assault in a nuclear arms race of hyperbole and defamation. I have recorded a serious of videos explaining why the why, when, how much, where, who, and what questions involving Roy Moore all point to the overwhelming likelihood that the allegations against him are a hoax. If I had more time, I would do the same for many of the other people targeted in this wave of sexual hysteria. I do not, for instance, think anything is accomplished by revisiting Bill Clinton's problems or ousting Al Franken.
The survivor's reality is a strange one. But it is not so strange that we need to throw out all scale and perspective. The moment when you lost your innocence and someone violated your self-governance is like an emotional black hole. You can never rewrite that moment. It is insulting to yourself to place a price tag on it or to submit it to an angry mob for agreement or refutation. If you want to help survivors, work hard on every aspect of politics and culture, so there are no more survivors in the future. That, and only that, would make my pain worth it.
Robert Oscar Lopez can be followed on Twitter.