Did my sexual abuse make me gay?
I remember it like it was yesterday, the day I realized I had been sexually abused. I was 6 years old and riding bikes with my best friend Abby making what must have been our millionth time around the block. We had just passed my house when I told her what had happened between myself and a man in our neighborhood. I knew I had knots in my stomach over what had happened, but I didn’t know why I felt upset. I hadn’t understood what had happened, nor did I have language for it and I wonder how my friend seemed to know about sexual abuse and I didn’t. When I told her what had transpired, in all of her 6-year-old wisdom she instructed me that this was really serious and that I neededto tell my parents. I trusted her and her advice and so did just that. I told my mom and dad.
All these years later, I’m amazed and grateful for Abby’s wisdom and my courage. I can’t imagine how my life would have turned out if I had not spoken those words all those years ago. Not because of what happened after I did, but because having not spoken about the trauma I think would have broken my spirit somehow. If I had not told someone, the trauma would still be ruling my life and coming out in harmful ways through things like addiction and low self esteem just to name a couple possibilities. Honestly, outside of the anger I felt when I would see the house of the man who harmed me (I stayed away from that part of the neighborhood as much as possible), I never thought much about my abuse at all. That is until I wondered about its impact on my sexual identity many years later while in college.
It was then, while attending Bible college, that I told my pastor that I was struggling with same sex attraction (that’s the only language I had at the time) and one of his first questions had to do with whether or not I had been a victim of sexual abuse. I remember a knot in the back of my throat forming when he asked me about my past. I felt as if he saw right through me. It was a feeling of being exposed and I didn’t want to answer, but when someone in power asks you something like that, you shut up those parts that say, This isn’t your freakin business and you hold back the fear and tears to say, “Yes I was.” That was my answer and his face quickly flashed a knowing look that said, Yup, I already knew that. In that moment I felt more wounded and broken than I had in… maybe forever. I was exposed as an abuse victim and a homosexual. I felt so much shame during that conversation that it took what felt like years to shake off.
Many times, when people in positions of power within a faith context are told about someone being LGBTQ, they see a waving flag that says, This is an easy answer! It’s because you were abused! To them, it makes complete sense that the only thing that could cause in their eyes such a horrible thing as homosexual feelings would be a situation where abuse had occurred. An experience of sexual abuse is the obvious reason for the how and why of same-sex attraction. They believe that if you can find healing, you will be free of the sin of homosexuality. Even though I felt uncomfortable with my pastor’s question because of the invasiveness of it, I began to wonder if this was at the heart of my attraction towards other women. At the time I reasoned and deducted sexual abuse harms a person’s sexuality, it mars the sexual parts within us. Being LGBTQ is a result of such a wound. Put two and two together and BAM! It’s an obvious connection. Surely the abuse messed up my sexuality so badly that I was now experiencing a same sex attraction!
The connection might be lost on you, but I promise you, there are thousands of people out there who are being convinced of this by their church leaders, family members and their own doubts and fears.
At this point, it feels important to put on our thinking caps and dive into the numbers and explore the implications of the statistics. There are differing statistics, but most studies agree that between 1 and 4, or 1 and 6 people in the United States have experienced sexual abuse. I tend to lean towards the 1 and 4 because I’ve seen this as an accurate number in my work and we’ll use it for our purposes as well. Breaking that down, there are roughly 316,000,000 people in the United States currently. If 1 in 4 people have been sexually abused that means that approximately 79,000,000 people who have experienced that kind of abuse.
Statistics also show that depending on the state, the range of Americans that identify as LGBTQ range from 2.7% to 5%. If we decided that we wanted to apply the largest percentage of people at 5% then that means there are 15,800,000 people in the US who identify as LGBTQ. That’s a difference of 63,200,000 people who have experienced sexual abuse but who are not LGBTQ. Numbers are always important to examine but many times they are easy for us reason them away. That said, just looking at the numbers here, even if we missed a million people in our calculations, these figures just don’t match up. There is no way there’s a connection between sexual abuse and homosexuality by purely looking at the numbers. If they are so clear and the lack of connection is so easy to make, why are there still Christians trying to make a connection between abuse and a gay orientation? I think it comes from a belief that being LGBTQ is a broken way of being human. They see it as a sad, unhealthy and lost way to live out one’s love and sexual orientation in the world.
But here’s the thing, it just isn’t. It just… isn’t.
This is going to sound kinda crazy, but I’m glad I’m a lesbian.
I freakin’ love being gay and would not want it any other way.
I’ve seen in my own life, in the life of my friends and those I work with in my therapy practice who are all LGBTQ that the spirit of God is reflected in such real, beautiful ways that it can’t be denied. Whether we are born this way or not, it’s clear that God has made us special in such a way that reflects Christ in the most unique and profound ways. Being LGBTQ is not bad or sad or unhealthy. It’s beautiful. On the other hand, sexual abuse is deeply tragic, horrific and evil. While there is redemption and healing for those who have suffered and survived sexual abuse, it cannot “change” or “create” an orientation.
While having been sexually abused cannot change or create an orientation – straight or LGBTQ – it can surely affect and impact the way you live that orientation out. I’m not saying sexual abuse doesn’taffect you, because it very much does. It can affect our style of relating to others, our feelings of happiness and safety in the world and even our ability to enjoy physical and emotional intimacy. But these things can be healed and mended. I know for me and for many people I know, meeting with a therapist and walking through the wounds of sexual abuse has been one of the most life-changing and freeing experiences. When I think about what I went through, I no longer wonder if there’s a connection between the pain I experienced and the fact that I happen to be attracted to women more then men. I also don’t feel the heaviness, or burden I used to carry around that was connected to my abuse. When I think about it I feel strong, grounded and at peace. I am not broken but I am beautiful.