I went out to eat yesterday with some friends. As conversations tend to go we jumped from subject to subject. These two friends are probably two of the most open minded and accepting people I know. We know a good bit about one another. I am the oldest. We can assume I am the wisest. Oh I’m just kidding (but not really).
At one point in the conversation we started to talk about personal boundaries. Having boundaries, knowing them and how that has been an issue in our collective, yet separate, pasts.
I started to tell a story and prefaced it with “I was molested as a child”. A fact I don’t keep a secret any more. I don’t bash tin pans and blow whistles about it. But it’s there, it’s a factor in my development as a human being, a mom, a wife, and a near paranoid child watcher. It won’t happen to a child on my watch kind of paranoia.
As I said this one friend said “me too”. I barely caught it, it was stated matter of factly and with no hesitation. It was stated in one of those “hmmm hmmm” manners where people “hmmm hmmm” while you’re talking to encourage you to go on.
I wasn’t surprised.
Later when I rethought our conversation I was shocked that I wasn’t surprised. I would bet that I’m not surprised because so many people tell me this when the subject is broached.
I would rather be surprised.
We went on with my story. I have always believed that due to being molested, and basically being shy anyway, I have very defined boundaries. It wasn’t until I got older that I could define them. And be comfortable with them. I am not a hugger. Not with strangers. Not with people I am not comfortable with. But if I’m married to you, gave birth to you, or someone I gave birth to gave birth to you, yeah I hug. And I’m extremely comfortable with it. If I get to know you well the touching and being physically close gets more comfortable. I’ll sit closer, I’ll lean in and whisper. I’ll even hug.
This all led to a pivotal point in my life. A moment when I recognized, knew it, and believed it: there is nothing wrong with me.
There was a time when I worked in a different place, with a different group of people. It was not a large place. But it had a decent sized staff. There were those I became close with. Yet none of us were “touchy feely”. And none of us had issues with that. We were very comfortable with one another. But we didn’t do hugging and back patting and reaching out to touch or grasp someone else while talking. But you couldn’t have made us any closer, it’s almost like the comfort we had with not touching, was equally binding.
Then a new counselor joined the group.
She was a hugger. A toucher. Many, many, discussions were held with her regarding this. She did not understand us. Though she did try. But one day she, a male coworker I’ll call Frank but who’s name is not Frank and does not resemble Frank in any way, had a pretty intense conversation. I can still see us standing in the hallway outside of my office door.
We were again on the conversation of “touch”. Frank and I were trying to explain to her our reasons for being the way we were. There were two things she said that day that made me think and offended me. The first was “are you homophobic”.
But what did I say? “I don’t know maybe.” I’m not good at quick come backs. Obviously. Because, one, we weren’t talking about “gay” anything. We were talking about boundaries and touching. I was confused by her comment because we weren’t even talking about girl to girl or guy to guy touching. I had never had an “issue” with homosexuality. In all honesty, I hadn’t had to “deal with it” much in my life. When I did have to think about it, it didn’t occur to me that it should bother me.
The second thing she said was “it’s my job to fix you”.
The best come back of my life and the moment that I feel changed a lot of my development and growth as a human being, I said to her:
“I’m not broken”.
This conversation did not resolve anything or get her to understand us any better. And quite frankly left me confused. Where did some of that come from? Her job involved children, I was a coworker, and that was a huge jump to bring in gay issues.
It wasn’t too long afterwards that we had to take a road trip for work. She drove. We broached the subject again. By that time in my life I had started to realize what had happened to me as a child did not define me. I had begun to talk about it. I felt a sense of relief talking about it. It lightened the load I had carried for years. But I was still working these things out in my life and how it affected me and who I am. How I see the world. How I react to my world.
I told her how I felt.
I don’t have an issue with man or woman, per se, touching me. I have an issue with someone assuming they have the right to touch me. If someone assumes this, and is telling me it is wrong that I don’t want to be touched, as she is doing, you are damn right I have an issue with it. I have an enormous, no, ginormous issue with that. I explained I felt it had to do with being molested. But it was not a problem for me. At all. I am physically affectionate, appropriately, with those I am comfortable with. I can hug people who need hugged when I feel I can do it, even if I don’t know them. I explained to her that no one has the right to tell me I have to be comfortable with them. Or that I have to let them touch me. That is a very wrong message to ever try to convince me is correct, for me, or for a child. Or for anyone. I made it very clear more to myself than her, I was not broken. Not at all.
Somehow the conversation moved on to the comment of her asking me if I was homophobic. I often wondered why I answered “I don’t know, maybe”. She asked me, that day in the car, if anyone had ever come out to me. I told her yes. A female friend I met in college did. She asked me how I took it. I told her I thought “fine”. The friend and I got along well enough, apparently, that she felt comfortable and safe in telling me. We had no issues. She told me, and if I remember correctly I believe she had not told people in general. Her family, yes, but not the world at large. She pressed me for what I said or how I reacted. I told her that this friend being gay didn’t affect my life. It didn’t bother me. I didn’t have a problem with my friend being gay. I didn’t think about it too much at all.
I’m so naive.
Years later I found out this lady was gay.
That didn’t bother me either.
The only thing that bothered me was her thinking I was “broken” and needed “fixed” and her thinking I was homophobic because I didn’t want people touching me.
So that’s how our lunch conversation went.
But I can’t get my friends comment of “me too” out of my head.
Even though I’m “okay” with what happened to me itt’s not okay that it happened to me. It’s not okay that it happened to her. I’m sad for that little girl in her, and me. I wish I had stopped our conversation and said to her “I’m sorry that happened to you. You didn’t deserve that. But look at your beautiful self now. You amaze me.”
I wish I had been surprised.