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SUMMARY: Unresolved Sexuality Trauma & the Quest for A Mate

On a recent Friday in July The Gatekeeper’s Collective convened with sexual trauma therapist and interfaith minister, DeShannon Bowens to consider Unresolved Sexuality Trauma & the Quest for A Mate.  We set about looking at the extent to which emotional or other injuries we may have suffered in response to our sexuality(ies) might be impairing our capacity to partner romantically. 
The group started by defining sexuality trauma as an event or interaction respecting one’s sexuality which is experienced psychologically as so intensely violent or jarring as to change us.  That is, we are not the same following the event or interaction.  These can include being rejected or negatively judged, experiencing shame or guilt for expressing who you are naturally, etc.

When you were young, what messages did you learn about manhood?  And how, if at all, did they differ from such messages as you learned about male homosexuality?

“[For me] Manhood was learned from the streets of Coney Island…My homosexuality wasn’t talked about…[it] wasn’t affirmed or not affirmed…In a one-parent household [we did learn] ‘Never be this’ (he gestures) – have a limp wrist…”

“Walking down the playground, [I would hear] ‘He’s switching’…I learned how to walk…never [display] a limp wrist…[be] effeminate…I have a deep voice, but I [was] always talking in a higher register, and on the phone [oftentimes, I was called] ‘Mam’…”

“Have we gotten to a place where heterosexuality has gained so much territory that…When normal hetero-male behavior doesn’t happen [people are chastised]…There’s no place where heterosexuals are told what to be, but there are certainly places where people are told what not to be…”

Facilitator says, {There are heterosexual men who are told what to be…Is it the teaching of being a man, or [standards of behavior males are expected to conform to?…”}

Co-facilitator says, {From earliest childhood, little boys are told what kinds of expression are appropriate to them…and then, come pubescence, in societies the world over, there are rites of passage for males and females proscribing behaviors and setting expectations with which they will be expected to comport themselves…It is where these expectations are founded on heterosexual experience as the default, and enforced to the exclusion of other possibilities, that heterosexism becomes the norm, and people whose sexual wiring is different experience oppression…”}

“When I was a boy in the South Bronx I had a friend… We were 6 or 7…We used to [engage in sex]play with each other…and our parents [caught us and] stopped us from playing with each other…That was traumatic…My whole world was shattered…I ran away… I hopped the Third Avenue El train and went to the Bronx Zoo by myself late at night…”

Facilitator says, {Dr. Ron Hopson says, there are Three Pedestals of Shame: 1) To cover or hide something…Shame is introduced [in accordance] with what the cultural script says about what being a man is, to force people to go back into the box of being what we’re told that is…As African American people there is a level at which, because of the sexual trauma we have experienced historically…in terms of our bodies…there’s a lot of healing that needs to happen…[Under the 3 Pedestals of Shame rubric, what plays out is:] 1) Giving our authority over to someone else, 2) [We are made to feel] Shame or guilt, and 3) We go into hiding…”}

Co-Facilitator says, {I grew up in a context where there were a lot of mixed messages [around homosexuality]…On the one hand, my parents were very progressive…With friends like Broadway star, Joe Attles, who owned the candy store across the street from us, Langston Hughes, the brilliant sculptor, Richmond Barthe and Bayard Rustin, who were among their friends…they spoke glowingly of these people…I actually remember driving home from A. Philip Randolph’s office on 125th Street one time when they took umbrage about the way someone had treated Mister Rustin disrespectfully because of his homosexuality…But then, about Mister Nicks, a man who lived next door, they told my brothers and me, “If Mister Nicks asks you to help him carry his groceries upstairs, don’t ever do it, because middle-aged homosexuals have been known to molest young boys”… conflating homosexuality with pedophilia…”}

“I couldn’t join the marching band, and there were people in the choir I wasn’t allowed to hang around…”

“I kissed a boy and he punched me in the mouth, knocking out my front tooth…and when my parents asked what happened, I knew to say, ‘I fell’…I was six or seven…Playing with dolls…hiding them…expressing my femininity…becoming masterful at cloaking them [my natural inclinations]…”

Facilitator asks, “Where was the weed planted that began choking the life out of this beautiful tree I’m supposed to be?...Other people’s expectations are the weeds…Even where we had families that were loving, the culture is not accepting of same gender loving people…”}

Would you agree that there are many stereotypes about what manhood is in hip hop?

Group answers, “Yes…”

How does that affect the way you can walk in the world?

Facilitators screen a clip from Byron Hurt’s, “Hip Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes,” titled “Bitch Ass,” in which the film-maker interviews rap stars about their perspectives on homosexuality, and three young men in drag who he identifies as ‘hip hop heads’ regarding their perspectives on homophobia in hip hop.

 Following the clip…

“For me, I wasn’t so concerned about the guys in hip hop who were homophobic, but for the SGL guys who are disdainful of the feminine boys…”

“The energy behind those words… Bitch ass…the energy pulls you down…”

Facilitator asks, {“Would you say it’s the same energy as when a white person calls a black a nigger?...”}

“Yes…When Busta talks about his culture, I don’t believe [him]…He had to leave the room…”

“We pretty much tried to pull down Buju Banton from performing at Madison Square Garden [because of his anti-homosexual rants]…There’s a cultural cache about [smacking homophobic in hip hop]…”

“When Busta says that the state is [com]plicit in invisiblizing you…[he’s referencing] Jamaica and other Caribbean countries…[where there is rampant homophobia]…”

Facilitator says, {That’s where the covering is a necessary act for survival…What missionaries and colonizers brought was homophobia…[Before their incursions] There was no shame [around homosexual experience and expression], there was no covering…Part of what we’re called to do is re-educate [our people]…”}

“I’ve been in therapy…As a child, not hugging and kissing [was the norm]…People say I sexualize [experience which isn’t]…Being in this community as young same gender loving men, we tend to call each other out when we have insecurities…People call me out [of] my name because I have on these [tight] jeans and this tank top…Because I’m comfortable in my skin…When I was a teen, you wouldn’t catch me dead in a tank top…Now, at twenty-five, I feel comfortable…”

“I was very natural in the military in Greenland [on frozen tundra]… 60-below…They said there was a woman behind every tree…[But] There were no trees…What do you think we did to keep warm?...Once we realize who we are, we release our brains…But heteros are in pain…There’s nothing wrong with us [being] natural as we can be…”

Co-Facilitator asks, {“How many of us are present in our sexuality in all facets of our lives…i.e., personal, professional, among our families, etc.?...”}

A tiny fraction of the group of brothers raise their hands…

“The release of that information sets the tone for how you are received in my business…[My sexuality] is my problem…If you go there with me, it’s going to be a very dangerous place to go…As comfortable as I am with people, and cordial, they can tell that I am guarded…[My presentation] is calculated and well-crafted…”

Co-facilitator says, {“Where we are in relationship to our sexuality shows up in our relationship with others…That you characterize your sexuality as ‘your problem’ is telling…If there is covering up, how does that show up?...If you want an intimate relationship, it’s important to understand that intimacy and covering up are antithetical to each other…I suspect the extent to which we feel ill at ease being present in our sexuality may be an index of trauma…[of on-going trauma]…Where we feel as if we have to hide an essential part of ourselves, it is an indication that we don’t feel safe…The extent to which we feel free to be fully who we are might be said to be the extent which we are prepared to be intimate…to be vulnerable with others…with another…Something to consider…”}

“Your entire life is amputated [where you don’t feel free to express your sexuality]…”

“Where does one start [to find freedom?]…There was a voice before you first heard, ‘This is wrong’[referring t your sexuality]…How do we reconnect with that voice?...When I am in a family that is only heteros [who have never affirmed my sexuality], how can I forgive them, and then reconnect [with that voice]?...”

“For me it was natural to be homophobic, [growing up in a homophobic family]…I don’t remember that voice [which said what was natural to me] before I heard the voices of my family…[It’s like] a parent not giving a baby proper nutrients it needs to grow…Our parents gave us bad food…”

Co-Facilitator says, {“Before forgiving our families, it may be necessary to forgive ourselves for having believed the lie [that our sexuality was bad or wrong]…”}

Facilitator says, {“Awareness [is a start]…Words are verbal programming…You said you were homophobic because of what you were told…You’ve seen brothers go in on effeminate brothers…identify the words [that are counter to your feeling affirmed as the man you are]…This conversation is part of the process [by which we deprogram and reprogram ourselves]…The more free all of us get, we are laying the ground work for generations behind us…Seek a therapist…[That is] very important…”}

Co-Facilitator says, {Therapy is an extraordinarily important tool in resolving trauma and becoming free…It can also be costly, and requires research to find the kind of therapeutic process best suited to one’s particular personality and pocketbook…In the meantime, we will be continuing this exploration…”}


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