If I were in your ward, if I were your friend, I’d stand beside you and witness that you are quite certainly the most selfless person that I’ve ever known. I marched with you this spring, my first time ever in Utah, and I listened to you and others defend me in a way I never imagined anyone would, in the way I wish that my parents could think to. I didn’t get a chance to speak with you (you were a busy guy that day!), but I felt your warmth and love in a way that was foreign to me. I suppose if anyone has what I was told a “countenance” was, it’s you. Thank you. Thank you for standing with me. I stand with you. I stand taller today than I did last year, thank you. I stand with more strength and I feel we can make a difference, thank you.
You do not have to read this one. It is not the worst story, but it is mine. You have been through a lot, and you have stood up for me, traveled for me, cried for me already. You have endured much and will endure more and what’s being done to you is unjust. You do not have to read one more sad story, but I send it to stand with you, to be honest, to show THEM how wrong they are, to show the world that there’s an ever growing number of people coming forward for truth and SAFETY FOR CHILDREN.
When I was young, someone close to me sexually abused me. I was home schooled and did not have anyone other than church and family members in my life until I entered the work force at fifteen. I was not allowed to enter Girl Scouts; my mother told me that they would hand out condoms and that my leader could be a predatory homosexual. I was not allowed in 4-H; my mother told me everyone could be predatory. I was not allowed to go study on a boat for a summer; my mother told me I could get raped, or worse, just decide to have sex. I think I was thirteen.
I’ve been described as used up gum, had my kisses compared to chocolate kisses of specified quantities with time limits attached, and made temple books at age eight listing what type of man I would marry (without being told what sorts of ceremonies I’d have to go through to do so). I’ve danced with every boy who asked, in the stake center gym, because those were the rules, and we danced at least a book of mormon lengths apart and never talked about anything interesting, because those were the rules too. I was told I could do anything, but the only anything that was ever mentioned was being a mother. We watched a lot of TV, and I remember cop shows in abundance, detailing where semen was found and whether the rape kits were positive, how many stab wounds the girl had. It was background noise. I was told bad things happen after dark, the devil comes out after midnight, boys can’t help themselves if they see too much skin (hide my skin!), always have girl friends, not just guy friends, because you don’t want someone to think you’re one of “those girls”. I wanted to take the missionary discussions before I was baptized, even though I’d been born in the church. I wanted to understand EVERYTHING, and took it all very seriously, because I already, at 8 years old, felt in dire need of special repentance or I’d surely be doomed. My parents thought I wanted to flirt with the missionaries, and offered to teach me instead. I knew, already, at 8 years old, I couldn’t ask them questions, couldn’t talk to them, couldn’t disappoint them. I didn’t know that it was incredibly strange to even entertain the idea of an 8 year old flirting with a 19 year old man. Disgusting. All of these things were harmful to me. Because, remember, when I was young, I was sexually abused by someone close to me.
It went on for about 8 years, off and on. I was never physically injured; it was sexual and psychological and very messed up. I didn’t know at first that I was in trouble, that I needed help, but by the time my baptism came around I had a feeling I was in trouble. No one would answer my questions about what my covenants would be, what it all meant, what I was expected to do. The bishop asked me a lot of questions, none I’d been able to prepare for. He asked me if I lived the law of chastity. I wasn’t sure, but didn’t think so. I smiled and said yes. No further questions. I was baptized. I was terrified. The abuse continued. I thought about killing myself. I thought my body’s natural responses were a sign that something was physically wrong with me. I thought I wouldn’t be able to have kids because of this (which I now know didn’t even make any biological sense, but that’s where my education level was at), and then everyone would somehow know why. I had panic attacks. I referred to my masturbation as my addiction. I thought that when a really bad storm happened, it was god trying to scare me, ready to smite me. When I was 12 and knew I’d have to go to the temple, I tried to put it off. I soon learned though that it would be the only way for me to ever see any of the girls from girls camp, to meet any boys before dances started two years later. I resolved to lie and continue trying to repent alone.
I did not know what masturbation was until my first temple worthiness interview, though I’d been “struggling” with it for years. He said the word and somehow I knew what it must be. My worst sickness, my secret, had a name. I pretended I knew all about it and definitely didn’t do it. I was not asked more probing questions, but I’m sure I could have been had I been honest. I’m sure if I had brought up my abuser, it would have caused everyone involved more pain and more harm than done anyone any good.
I am 25 now. I am out of the church, which for me has only been a good thing, a healthy thing. I marched with you in Utah this spring and I stand with you now because you are the only one who stood up for me having basic safety concerns met. I was not allowed to go to school, in case I’d have a gay teacher or sex ed class or learn about evolution, but when I was eight and then about six times a year from the ages of 12-16 I was alone in a closed room with one varying man, none of whom had any training whatsoever in domestic, psychological, social matters. He was my one contact for help of all kinds. I had no one else. I knew, at 12, from watching my cop shows, that trauma was real, that psychologists were real. I didn’t see anything in my bishop that could help me with my trauma, that could dig me out of what I convinced myself was a hole I dug, so I lied. I lied and struggled and felt bad about myself and felt guilty and used up and dishonest and unwanted.
Once I started working I began to see how much of the world lived a more open life, and I started to ask even more questions. No one at church liked that so eventually I stopped going. I was in a sexually abusive relationship with my first boyfriend because my sense of worth was now non existent. We broke up when I was scared to actually have sex with him. I moved in with my new boyfriend, and was kicked out of the church after they held a court of love for me I couldn’t attend. Thank goodness! I can only imagine how much that would have hurt, how much confusion and pain it would have brought back. Eventually I broke up with that boyfriend because we weren’t happy. I fell in love with a married man and we had a relationship that was real and beautiful and also wasn’t any of that at all. I had a friends with benefits relationship and fell for him too, but only now am beginning to fall for myself.
I do not blame all of my choices on the church, but I do blame my lack of choices. I didn’t have somewhere to go to learn about saying no for any reason other than god. If you think you’re already lost to God, why would you go there? So you have nowhere. I had nowhere because the only only place I did have was a bishops office.
I’ve gotten over most of that. I’m happily married for two years now, to a lovely man who cares for me in more ways than I thought there were. But I still don’t get aroused as often as someone my age “should”. I don’t feel feelings as much because I tried for years not to. I have a hard time focusing on and enjoying sex and a much harder time orgasming. I feel disconnected from my own body because I was never taught about it, but I learned to hate it. I don’t look at myself in the mirror because I was taught that can lead to impure thoughts, so I guess I made it a habit not to. I need therapy still; it’s on the to do list.
Worthiness interviews are bad for kids. Masturbation isn’t and shouldn’t be. Kids need a safe place to go if they’re in need of real help. The bishop’s office is not that place. It is filled with randomly rotating laymen who possess no discernment or training to deal with most issues. They don’t have discernment. I lied to them for years and none of them knew. It isn’t real and shouldn’t be the single safety net between your kids and a man’s ability to take advantage of them. As a kid growing up in a small town with an even smaller branch, my mom always remarked how weird it was that we had so many pedophiles (as far as I know, people who were legitimately on a list and that’s how she knew) attracted to the church. I know now it’s not because of the miraculous repentance that is possible, but because of the super creepy grooming behavior that happens all throughout the church and especially with bishops interviews. We’re making easy pickings for predators, victims who won’t speak up for themselves, victims scared of authority, victims scared of themselves, victims scared of hell. I was easy pickings. I was hurt, and I’m still hurting, but it could have been so much worse.
Thank you, Sam. This might not count for much, coming from someone already excommunicated and all used up like nasty road gum, but I bear testimony that you are a good person, that you stand for goodness, that you deserve to worship how you choose, and that you washing those stranger’s feet was more beautiful than anything I’ve ever seen in church. I love you. Good luck.
(I’m hiding my name for my parents. You have my full support. They have some of it too.)