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My Story of Lost Masculinity

Copyright © 2000 by John Trentalange, MA

 


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John Trentalage




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Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse
by Mic Hunter
Review
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Book cover
Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse
by Mike Lew
Review
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More books for male survivors

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I will define masculinity as the ability for a man to be vulnerable; to express his emotions, and to truly be the person God created him to be. This ability to be yourself is lost, buried, or taken away when you are abused as a child. This is true for both men and women. When a child is abused, the ability to express who he or she is is replaced by the ability to read others.

The ability to be vulnerable and open with others is robbed from that child through the abuse. Child abuse is traumatic for many reasons, however, what I will focus on in this article is the trauma of losing one's identity through the abuse. When a child is abused, his identity becomes the abuse. A child is no longer able to be spontaneous, open, honest, and trusting. If the abuser is the victim's parent, then major trust is broken. Spontaneity is lost and in its place is hypervigilence.

When a person is hypervigilent, not only is spontaneity lost, but the ability to be your true self is lost as well. Instead of learning who you are and exploring the world in a way that allows you to learn more about your talents and limitations, you expend all of your energy learning about others around you and calculating how safe or unsafe you are. A child at a very early age learns defense mechanisms that suit his personality and perceptions.

As young as five, my father expected me to be tough and mean. He would hit me repeatedly telling me "You're not tough enough!" He would throw me out of the house, telling me "Get the Hell out and when you leave here, you leave here naked because nothing belongs to you. Everything is mine!" This reinforced the belief that my father even owned me.

I did not talk until I was five years old. During the time that I was three to four years old, my father raped me and abused me at the showers at the beach. I remember one particular day when I attempted to run from my father. We had just left the shower area where he had me wash him in a public shower. I ran from my father when we were finished. I ran up to this man who had seen us in the shower. I couldn't talk but I had hoped that he would understand that I wanted his help, his protection, to be safe. I did not want to go back to my father. I wanted the abuse to stop. I can still remember looking up at this man and with my body language trying to get him to understand that my father was hurting me and was about to hurt me worse. This man didn't say much to my father and he also seemed scared of my father. My father was not a very big man and yet he seemed to not only overpower a lot of people but to actually instill fear in them. If adult men were afraid of my father, how much fear do you think I had as a little boy? After my father overpowered this man, he walked me over to the dressing room. When we got inside, he asked, "Why did you run from me? This never hurt you before!" But it did hurt before, that is why I ran this time. I didn't want to be hurt again. He also commanded me to stand on the bench, turn around and pull down my pants. As he inserted himself, he told me two things, "Just a little further. This is good for you, it will clear up all the crap inside of you." When he was done he commanded that I clean myself off. When we finally got in the car, my mother and sister were waiting. My mother was very angry and had asked my father what took so long. My father responded, "Jack ran from me". At that moment, my mother got pissed, took off her shoe and hit me in the mouth with it, "What's a matter with you, running from your father?" I can still remember sitting in the backseat looking forward to the rear view mirror where I saw a smile on my father's face. It felt as if Satan himself was laughing at me; that Evil had ruled my life and I was a prisoner. I had lost any sense of my masculinity. Afterall, doesn't masculinity have to do with having the ability to have power over your life? When you don't even have the power over your own body and have lost any sense of safety and boundaries, you also lose identity, the ability to be a separate person. When a boy loses his identity, he loses his masculinity.

When a child is abused, his identity becomes the abuse. This is because children are egocentric and think in black and white terms. A child believes his identity is what happens to him and what he is capable of. When fear is instilled, a tremendous sense of helplessness is instilled within the child. The child who feels helpless also feels he is incapable of doing anything. This can easily be carried within himself, especially if this is learned during the first five years of life, well into adulthood. An individual who feels helpless is going to have very low self-esteem and view the world as a dangerous place.

A child who is abused and believes he is his abuse will carry with him a tremendous sense of self-hatred and tremendous anger. This child begins to view himself as unlovable and acts according to these beliefs. A child who believes he is bad will act bad and a child who believes he is a victim will act like a victim.

The other strong ingredient that was a factor in losing my masculinity was my father constantly calling me a little girl. My best childhood friend was Susan, who lived two houses away from me. When I played with Susan, the world in which I grew up in went away. Susan and I created a world of just the two of us, a world of love, of caring, of safety. This somehow threatened my father. He became abusive yelling at me, "Boys don't play with girls! Boys don't play with dolls!" I would get beat for playing with Susan. This reinforced two beliefs within me, 1) love is painful and 2) there is something significantly wrong with me.



John Trentalage




Book cover
Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse
by Mic Hunter
Review
Order on-line




Book cover
Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse
by Mike Lew
Review
Order on-line



More books for male survivors

Click Here

When a boy is abused, his identity is changed from his essence to that of a victim. He can see himself as something wrong with himself, as an object, or a target of others' aggression. He will compare himself with others and begin to make assessments that he needs to be tougher, more macho, more of a man than the next guy in order to avoid being hurt.

Boys learn what it is to be a man from their fathers. A young boy looks up to his dad as a man who knows everything, a role model which does no wrong. Some boys believe their dads can walk on water. Other boys like myself wonder and wait for their "real" dad to show up. Some boys like myself wonder how come their dads have so much hatred towards their sons, maybe towards the world. We don't get the chance of viewing our parents as perfect because there is so much violence and destructiveness in the home that we know something is wrong.

At age three, I witnessed my father rape my mother and attempt to kill her and myself. He had been previously arrested for negligence homicide. My father had attempted to use his car to push my mother's car home. My mother's car had crashed into a third car where a man had died. Both my parents were charged with negligence homicide, which meant that my parents had lost their driving privileges. This created a tremendous amount of rage in my father. One particular night, he walked into the house with such rage that instilled terror in everyone. Both my sisters hid under their beds in their bedroom. My brother hid in our bedroom. I couldn't stay in my room knowing my mother was in grave danger. I thought my father was going to kill my mother and I was not willing to live with my father. I always felt the tremendous hatred my father had towards me. If my mother was going to die, then I would die with her. As my father beat my mother where she eventually fell onto the floor, she screamed. I thought she hit her head on the concrete step. As my father began to rip her clothes off, she told him not in front of the kid. "Let's go into the bedroom and we'll have a good time." I knew he was raping my mother because he had raped me and my mother had sexually abused me. I wanted to try to stop him. I knew I couldn't fight him because he was so much bigger than I. So I decided to get in his way to die in my mother's place. My father had picked me up and thrown me across the room. The third or fourth time, I hit my head on the cast iron base radiator and fell asleep. I was asleep for a long time, hours. When I woke up, the house was dark and everyone was gone. I went to my bedroom where I shared a bed with my brother. I felt his absence and went out to the kitchen where I found my brother calling the police with my mother standing next to him. I will never know whether my mother called the police to release him from jail or if she was calling because he disappeared and was looking for him.

With all the fear that was instilled in me as a child, I had grave difficulty expressing myself and feeling something other than fear. I carried this fear in my body everywhere I went. When I went to school kids made fun of me because of the way I moved my body. My body was extremely stiff and I was very hypervigilant. The main goal in life seemed to be to get through to the next day. Life was about survival.

My philosophy of life being about survival combined with growing up in severe abuse and violence created a lifestyle of self-destruction. My definition of masculinity became equated with self-destructiveness and fearlessness. Since my father had instilled such tremendous fear in me that it became extremely difficult to view myself as a man. I always associated as something being wrong with me, that I was not normal. I associated myself with never being accepted or respected. I had learned that the only difference between animals and people were that people were far more dangerous because they will attack for no reason at all while animals only attack because there is reason to do so.

The problem with these beliefs is that they were founded upon false information. My life became a lie. I learned to hide the soft, gentle, sensitive person that I truly am and hid it with an exterior of toughness, uncaring, and being cool. I was often scared of someone finding the gentle, sensitive part of myself. I learned to be tough on the outside, wear black leather jackets, dark glasses (so no one can see my eyes, the windows to my soul) boots, talk tough and cool and walk tough and cool. The more I acted tough and cool the more my belief changed of myself. However, this is when I became really lost. For I had acted tough and cool for so long including committing crimes and getting into fights, that the essence of who I truly am got buried under a lot of layers of muck. Most people wear a mask, presenting themselves as better than what they actually are. Than there are those like myself who wear an ugly mask in order to keep people away. Whether there is a societal definition of masculinity or not; the fact remains that the root of masculinity has to do with a man being comfortable being a man and being himself with nothing to prove and no one to perform for.

There is a lost sense of masculinity in society today. In the healthiest of relationships, men are confused of how to behave with women and with other men. The healthiest of men are struggling with their identity as a man. When there has been a history of abuse this struggle for identity becomes a far more difficult struggle. Men who were abused as boys need to understand that what was done to them is not their identity.

Men and women also need to understand that often times behavior is more about who a person is not rather than who a person actually is. Behavior is how one feels about him or herself at that given moment and his perception of the world. Men who struggle with their masculinity may act out in ways to prove their manhood (fights, work, sexual conquests).

Boys who grow up without a father figure may be attracted to gangs in order to feel like a man. In the streets, the traits that identify manhood are power, money, and sex. A man who was abused by his father lacks a positive father figure and although may not join a gang can still form the same equation that masculinity deals with power, money, and sex.

The way to identifying and accepting one's own masculinity is recognizing that masculinity is an internal characteristic trait not something external. Masculinity is an individual man being able to express his emotions, his dreams, passions, and his deepest darkest secrets.

When society can accept the fact that boys do get abused, that boys do have emotions and that there is not as much difference between men and women as some would like to believe and take advantage of; then men and women can learn to express who they truly are rather than wear a mask to make others more comfortable. When parents can treat their sons and daughters more equally and when teachers can treat boys and girls more equally, there will be healthier individuals and healthier relationships. When men and women can realize that masculinity and femininity are internal traits rather than external behaviors than there will be hope for masculinity and femininity rather than a loss of both.

John Trentalange, MA is with A Family Attachment & Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Related stories:

 

Elden's Story A male survivor's personal story.

Take Care of Your Mother - Or Else, by Scott Abraham.

Revenge: A Dish Best Served Cold, by Scott Abraham.

Be Gone!, by Scott Abraham.

Climbing Out From Hell, by Jeffrey Miller.

Wounded Boys, Courageous Men, a photo-essay about male survivors of institutional child abuse in a Canadian institution, by E. Jane Mundy.

Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse: Book Reviews, by Scott Abraham.

Yes, Women Do Abuse, by Scott Abraham

"False" Memories, Repressed Memories, by Scott Abraham.

John Lee on Anger, an interview with John Lee

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