I was never sexually abused by a bishop. I was however sexually abused by various people including family members from the age of 5 until 13. After the abuse stopped at 13, when I would get scared at night, when my anxiety was so bad, I sometimes couldn’t sleep for days, I found myself masturbating to relieve the anxiety and fear, the tension I felt all over my body even though I was in reality physically safe… I already felt confused by all of this. Did masturbating mean I wanted the earlier sexual abuse? Was it my fault? I replayed… and sadly sometimes still do… abuse memories during masturbation. Why? I have felt like being a sexual being is not just that… it’s like if I were blue play-dough and the abusers were black play-dough and they mixed themselves up in me and who I was and am. Sexually (and sometimes spiritually) I feel like I can’t separate myself from all of these abusers (have you TRIED separating mixed in play-dough!?)
Okay, so what does my story above have anything to do with Bishop interviews?
Well, I am a convert. It was the church members’ love and my hope and strong belief (and trust me, critics, sharing my story does not mean I no longer believe, or I’ve gone anti) that helped me get away from my abuse and because of that I am grateful to experience many opportunities I would not have otherwise had.
Starting when I was 16, I fully learned that masturbation was condemned. I felt so guilty and ashamed, my masturbation “problem” got worse, not better! Why? Well maybe because I was masturbating because I felt ashamed and guilty already! I was doing it to relieve intense shame! And yes, that means for me it was a “problem,” but the bishop added more guilt and more shame in his language. The way he said it was “ruining my soul.” … if me masturbating was “ruining my soul,” then why did I already feel ruined by the sexual abuse? “You have your agency and this time you are choosing something meant to be shared between two people.” …well guess what? After being abused by at least seven men from 5-13, maybe you’d think I wouldn’t want to “share,” or am frightened to even think about one day “sharing.” I felt unsafe. I still do around men, all of the time.
I left that first interview in tears. I was angry at being told I needed to date and socialize more (you think I didn’t WANT to!? I wanted to, I was afraid to date and now I felt a huge pressure, a spiritual pressure to do so. I felt guilty and ashamed that I couldn’t just easily date like my peers). Like dating itself would end masturbation… I also walked out of that interview with a deep hatred for my sexual identity, for having sexual feelings at all. I already wanted to chop off my chest and genitals. I already hid behind clothing that was too big for me. I already did not want to be a “sexual being.” I felt like my mortal body was a curse.
After this interview, I returned to another behavior I hadn’t engaged in for a couple of years; self-harming, or cutting. I cut myself because I felt guilty and ashamed for having sexual feelings at all. I actually believed my LDS peers did not experience sexual feelings, or they could just pray or sing the feelings away. I felt like the main reason why I had sexual feelings at all was because of the intense sexual abuse, and that it was my fault for somehow “choosing” to have those feelings. Plus, I now felt like my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ were angry at and ashamed of me. … My God who I had believed helped strengthen me beyond my own to disclose the abuse in the first place would surely never open His arms up to me and embrace me had I died in my horrible horrible state…
Part of masturbation for me was exploring my choice to those things. The first time I ever experienced an orgasm, it was forced onto me by an uncle, and I literally thought I was going to die. I welcomed it. I welcomed what I thought was death… and I later realized that the soothing separation I thought was death was actually dissociation due to intense fear and confusion. I remember thinking “I want a family of my own one day”… I always have believed that having a family would be healing… which meant I needed to get over my fear of my sexuality… which I had associated with death…
But no way, no the heck way would I have ever explained my fear of my own sexuality. First off, I didn’t even understand fully all of my fears to even explain it to someone. Secondly, with the Mormon cultural pressure to date and get married right away, I felt like and have felt like some freak of nature among my YSA peers… “I don’t fit in.””There is something wrong with me.” “I am broken,” and in turn, “I will never be able to have a family.”
… And if I was so bad, if no one would love me because of my behavior, if I couldn’t ever make sense of my own sexuality… and if I believed that the main reason why I survived abuse and have decided to not kill myself was because there was hope of one day having my own family and loving my future innocent children… if that was what made my miserable abused life worth it… and if it is true that I am bad for not being able to figure my confusing vandalized sexuality out, and because of that, feel isolated and alone… then maybe it’s true that I can never have a family or feel free to be okay with wanting intimacy… consensual respectful intimacy… and if I feel so bad and dirty to the point where I feel like no one would love me for being this messed up… then how do I create a family? And if I can’t do that… then why did I fight so hard to survive the abuse? What is keeping me from wanting to kill myself?
I haven’t gone to the temple in months because of my “problem.” I wonder if I should have ever been allowed to be endowed or serve a mission, like I am a fraud, because of my “problem.” I sit in sacrament meetings wondering if I am worthy to take the sacrament because of my “problem.” And I keep having this thought of getting up from my pew, stepping out into the foyer, pulling a gun out of my bag, and shooting myself at church. AT CHURCH! Even though I have no access to guns. Even though, I don’t even know how to load a gun… the imagery and the gun shot rattles in my mind as the speakers ramble on about temple covenants and trusting in the Lord.
I want to trust, but in this, I feel like the Lord has abandoned me. What I needed was a bishop who once he discovers the member in front of him was sexually abused, has a hands off policy, has a protective policy where he asks the member to not feel obligated to tell him anymore and asks them about counseling. We need more bishops that are willing to admit that they are computer science people, engineers, accountants… not therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists.
For me, this is not a matter of not being faithful to a committed relationship… this is about feeling completely ruined already by childhood abuse and having a bishop, or rather 4 bishops, pour salt into my gaping wounds. And they started pouring at age 16… asking me how many times I masturbate, how frequent it was, if I used porn with it, if I was spending money on “sexually deviant items.” If anything, it was re-traumatizing…
These bishops had no clue I sat through multiple sessions with therapists in complete silence because I couldn’t say “I was raped,” or “I feel ashamed because I had an orgasm at age 12, and that must mean I am messed up.” To even hear those bishops say, “masturbation,” made me want to dig my fingernails into my arm (and I often times did). They didn’t know that their middle aged male appearances reminded me of how my abusers looked, and that alone made me uncomfortable. They didn’t know. And they don’t know. One out of every three girls will experience sexual abuse as well as one out of every six boys… These statistics are not based on the ones that never disclose, so the numbers in all reality may be higher. If you are a bishop, look out at your congregation. These girls and boys become women and men. We are your members. Please be humble enough to admit that you are inexperienced. Please don’t try to pretend you know what to say. Just love us as Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ would and guide us to professionals.
One day, I want to foster children. If they choose to attend church with me, I never want those children to feel worse about their traumas and themselves because of something someone said. Please protect our children.