A few weeks ago, I had the painful experience of rehashing traumatic sexual abuse from my childhood I had formerly forgotten.
Through a flashback, I remembered the details of my aunt’s ex-girlfriend sexually abusing me at the age of 8 during the two weeks she babysat me. As someone living with PTSD from multiple traumatic life events, experiencing flashbacks has been a somewhat regular occurrence for me. But this felt like the first time I had a flashback about something I had previously forgotten, as it was buried deep in the crevices of my brain as a protective measure. Now that the truth is out, many unusual things about my childhood began to make sense.
After I had the flashback, I looked up “symptoms of sexual abuse in children.” I was shocked to have so much about my childhood laid before me in a list on my laptop screen.
As a child, at the age of 8 and even afterwards, I masturbated in public. At the time, I didn’t know what I was doing entirely, and would even do it in front of my grandpa. Looking back, I’m so embarrassed, but I’m also angry that my parents didn’t think this behavior was unusual enough to explore and be concerned over. According to U.S. Department of Justice, masturbation at an early age falls under one of their biggest red flags of sexual abuse — “exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language, and knowledge.”
I’ve also read these behaviors happen due to a misunderstanding about boundaries, as children who were sexually abused were taught new rules about ways in which their bodies could be touched and seen.
My lack of boundaries translated to my actions towards others as well. After the abuse, I began touching my own elementary school friends inappropriately, and engaged in hours of intimacy with one of my friends who demonstrated the same behavior in return. I had sexual and predatory thoughts about members of my own family, and sometimes still feel this way. My feelings and abnormal sexual behavior was such a source of shame for me that I never thought to bring it up to a therapist later in life. Especially after being sexually assaulted at age 19 (an event I recall), I felt so guilty about my own behavior towards others when I was a child. But having knowledge of the abuse from childhood helped me validate these behaviors in myself as trauma responses, and not something that I as an 8-year-old at the time should feel guilty over or responsible for.
Lastly, being sexually abused severely affected my relationship with my sexual orientation. From a young age, I knew I was attracted to girls first and foremost. But the fact that my attacker was a woman changed my perception of queerness. I became ashamed of my sexuality, feeling as though it had to be as shameful and sneaky as the interactions I had with my abuser. It wasn’t until my junior year at a very queer college that I was able to come out as pansexual and start to leave the shame attached to my sexual attractions behind. So often, I saw my attraction to women as creepy, and I continue to struggle with initiating sexual relationships with women out of fear that it would be rape no matter how kind, gentle and respectful I was.
For some time, I was afraid of every lesbian woman I came in contact with. This included my aunt, a woman I once trusted and loved. After the two weeks of abuse, I couldn’t be around my aunt without obsessing over the fact that she has sex with women. The whole notion made me feel so nauseated and uncomfortable around her, and I’ve been pulling back from her ever since. I believe that, since at the time I identified as a girl and was also seen as one, imagining my aunt with women was like imagining her sexually abusing me, something that wasn’t so difficult to do since my abuser was her girlfriend.
I’ve always felt so stunted in my growth as a person who is primarily attracted to women. The fact that I’ve only managed to have sex with a woman once has made me so insecure in the past, while also making me wonder why it was so difficult for me to just do something I wanted to do so badly. But since my flashback, I’ve relaxed the silly expectations I was putting myself regarding being “queer enough.”
I now realize that something traumatic that I experienced as a kid has shaped the fear and hesitation I hold towards my attraction to women. One day, I hope to see myself as less of a predator and stop seeing a scared and confused 8-year-old version of myself in every girl I want to sleep with. But for now, I’ll validate myself knowing that I’m not a “pervert,” that I’m no longer in danger, and that being queer can and will feel safe to me one day.