The other day, I found myself at a party where the topic of conversation was whether or not one experience with someone of the opposite sex makes a person gay. I tried to listen patiently as everyone spouted their opinion.
“Of course you are gay! If you let another man touch you then you are totally gay.”
“I can understand a woman experimenting in college but if it is a guy then he is definitely gay!”
“Even if you kiss a person of the same sex, then you are gay.”
What was missing from the discussion was the gray area. I wondered what people at this party say to a teenager who was molested or perhaps raped by his male cousin? What exactly is the rule when someone of your same gender touches you in a spot that is supposed to be off limits and you are seven years-old...and it happens over and over and over.
For the past sixteen years I have come in contact with countless men and women whose lives have been forever changed, not by strangers, but by family members or friends of the family who have touched them, kissed them, and violated them in every way possible. Most of the cases involved same sex touching. Can you imagine the thoughts that have plagued them throughout the years when it comes to their own sexuality?
In my work, I expect that no matter where I am, at least half of the people in the room have most likely been molested. Some have revealed it to me in private, others are open to sharing with the group, and some have told only one or two people. So when I hear people placing a label on hypothetical individuals who they have never met, it pains me because I always think about the kids and adults who are still processing events that they had no control over. Their lives are complicated enough without having to be subjected to situations like the one at that party. And the truth is that we don't ever know what events or demons people are dealing with, even at a party.
There is no black and white rule when a child’s trust and body are violated. The emotional effects can range from shame, to guilt, to anger, to self-hatred, to sadness. In school, kids are warned about strangers, but they rarely are taught about what happens when the stranger is a grandparent, their mom’s boyfriend, or their favorite uncle or cousin. And it becomes even more complex when that person is of the same gender.
So the next time this conversation pops up in your presence, I implore you to think about the kids and adults who may still suffering through their childhood experiences. They don't deserve to victimized again by having to be subjected to the opinions and judgments of the people around them. They deserve the right to create their own labels without the world doing it for them.