I don’t think my story is anywhere near as hurtful and disturbing as others who have come forward. I offer my respect, love, and support to each of the brave people who have shared their horrific realities with the world through this forum, and I add my voice to the collective voice crying for these injustices and violations to stop. To you I say: you are not alone. You are loved. Your life is infinitely valuable.
For certain personality types which are naturally more prone to self-blaming, self-shaming, and self-loathing, adult males interrogating children only worsens that condition. The condescension and normalization of disturbing concepts fostered even in non-sexual interviews by adults to children is appalling on its own. Adding the sexualization and negative sex conditioning to the process makes this the deadly practice it is.
When I was just a kid when I had a solo interview with a bishop, which I’ll never forget. The room was like something out of a castle – dark, painted brick walls, frosted windows covered in dusty drapes, a desk and shelves covered in books with pictures of old men on them. A guy who I knew from the neighborhood sat alone at a desk, looking through his aviator glasses and past his mustache at me. His son was my age, and my friend, and I had been in their house before. His dad always gave me the creeps. When he wasn’t silent as the grave, he liked to talk about his body hair, and how amazing it was that it grew in certain ways and in certain places.
He winced and grimaced as he spoke to me in a voice almost too quiet to hear. After some initial questions, he said “The next question involves touching yourself in ways that you shouldn’t. Do you know what that’s called?” I thought for a split second, and asked back “Abuse?” I didn’t know where he was going with this. I thought ‘maybe he means like when you goof up and do a facepalm?’. He was visibly frustrated, and winced again, and said “No, it’s called masturbation, and it’s when you touch your penis. It’s a form of self-abuse.”
I was creeped out. Why was this creepster talking about my penis? I had never heard anything like this in the church. I had read scriptures; always gone to church…what did this have to do with anything? I couldn’t wait until the exchange was over. I left feeling disgusted.
By the time I had subsequent interviews with the guy…priesthood advancement, whatever…I was more familiar with masturbation, having discovered it by myself. My parents had never addressed it with me, and my only discussion on it, aside from things I overheard at school, was with the bishop. I wondered if it was normal. Did everyone do this? Is it really abuse, like he said? Is it bad? Am I bad? But it was a great way to relieve stress – I lived with some abuse from parents, so on I went with it in secret as a simple pleasure that helped me get through the stress of all the pressure I put on myself to be the best at everything. I loved to make people around me laugh, but I was aware that I myself wasn’t laughing anymore.
I never set much store by church leaders anyway, and I didn’t care what they thought of me, so I lied to the guy in future interviews. “What about masturbation – do you (wince) practice that at all?” he asked me once. “No.”, I said, thinking ‘none of your business, creep.’
At times I wished my parents – my dad – would just confirm that I was normal and this was normal. They never did. I was a pretty fun-loving, funny kid in grade school, but by the time I reached Jr. High and High School, the self-loathing and suicidal ideation really kicked in. My dad was detached and never home, my mom only cared about my sisters. I told a girl I dated that I was depressed and maybe suicidal. She was supportive. She wasn’t Mormon, and was from a different state, and said she was sometimes, too, and that it was normal. But by the time I finished high school, the happy kid in me was almost completely gone.
I never connected the dots on all of these things at the time, but looking back, the shame mongering, combined with my home situation, and my tendency to push myself to be successful and blame myself when I wasn’t – it was a bad, perfect storm that no kid should be made to endure – especially by a religion that claims to represent a figure who preached ‘love’.
In later years I was interrogated about masturbation by other Bishops – also Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents…I’ve sat through lectures on how evil it is by Bishops visiting Elders Quorum and Sunday School. The list goes on and on.
One person – one child’s suicide should have been enough for the church to perk up and change. They’re too little / too late now with so many. I could have been one.
But I’m not. After letting go of the church’s shame and learning that this is all religion-based power abuse, I’ve learned to love myself exactly how I am. My wife loves me. My children love me. And I love them immensely. My wife and I speak openly with our kids about these things, especially our bodies, and how they are normal, touching them is normal, sex is normal, and it’s important to love yourself and know you’re loved by others.
You had better believe that if anyone – any church leader – anyone – ever tries to get at our kids with this kind of abuse, my wife and I will be there with lion’s claws and fangs showing, defending them from harm. I once read something somewhere about if someone “offend(s) one of these little ones”. Let’s see if the church agrees with that statement by the one whose name they so proudly bear