We were lining up outside the old gym in second grade. The former high school had been “renovated” to make it an elementary school, but the steps were still way too high for most six-year-olds. They certainly were for me! I held onto the handrail for dear life and tried to make my palsied body go straight (no pun intended).
A lot of the other boys looked at me and laughed. I looked back at them and, even while being angry, wondered what was so “different” about me. I already knew I had cerebral palsy. I had been told that as long as I can remember, and I’m grateful for that.
However, it still didn’t change the anger and honest curiosity I had already started to experience. On this particular day, for some reason, my classmates had begun a barrage of questions ranging from “Are you retarded?” to “Can I catch it?”
Although the teasing continued for the rest of the school year, I honestly learned to ignore it. I became a recluse at a very young age.
This reclusiveness made the other kids — especially the other boys — a bit of a mystery to me. Particularly physically. Looking back, I realize I was in a bit of a paradox: I didn’t want the other boys to see any of my body, but I also had somewhat of an interest in theirs.
For example, in second grade I sat next to a boy who took off his shoes in class and exposed his bare feet. I looked and looked at them until, of course, one day he asked what I was doing. While I don’t remember what I said back to him, I do remember avoiding looking at him (and his feet) from then on.
I really don’t know if I was lusting at such a young age. I think I was just amazed at a normal male body; mine was anything but normal.
Like most issues in adolescence, it was probably a combination of lust and innocence.
Fast-forward to fifth grade. It was early into the fall semester, and we all looked forward to that first cool front in the Houston area (don’t laugh, it’s a big deal). As was the norm for preteen kids, it was time for our scoliosis physicals. Due to my cerebral palsy, I guess, I already had a mild form of scoliosis, which thankfully never got worse. I was examined nonetheless.
As we gathered in the gym (a lot of childhood trauma stories take place in gyms), we were called behind a screen in groups of five and instructed to take off our shirts. The other boys did so hurriedly, showing off the muscles they were already building.
Remember what I said earlier about not wanting anyone to see any part of my body without clothing? But also my excitement to see other dudes removing their clothes? This was a classic example of my cold feelings of inferiority and heated lust combining in the most uncomfortable way.
One boy grabbed my chest. “We aren’t supposed to have these like the girls do,” he said as the other boys laughed.
I felt angry, but I also enjoyed the physical touch.
Both my struggle with body image and my desire for another male body (yes, I mean that in a couple of ways) were underlying currents throughout junior high and high school. I never really thought much about sexuality, however.
It’s not because I was trying to please the Lord or even be what we now call a “Side B Christian,” but because I was rather preoccupied with learning what it meant to be disabled. I really wrote off my same-sex desires as just another part of my odd life and anatomy. The rise of the AIDS epidemic combined with my being a bit of a germaphobe probably had a lot to do with my lack of sexual interest.
Even then, I spent too much time in my head. In one class at the end of the day, for example, a guy getting ready for athletics changed his shirt right there in class! While I was certainly interested in him, I mostly couldn’t help wondering what made him tick.
I’m not trying to defend my lust here, but most of my sexual desire as an adolescent was really just an effort to understand able-bodied guys. They were simply foreign to me.
Of course, this effort to understand turned sexual over time. But it certainly didn’t start out that way.
Did I want another male’s body, or did I simply not want my own? I have wondered that many times.
I could include a lot more in this blog, but that will have to wait for another post. More than anything else, I would like to see this blog start a conversation in which perhaps someone else will say the words that C.S. Lewis called the greatest in the English language:
How much of your same-sex desires feel sexual, and how much feel emotional? Do you resonate with this mix of lust and innocence in desiring to understand those of your same sex?
Thank you so much for sharing this Sam. I appreciate your vulnerability and definitely can relate to what you say here in many ways! I also have wounds from the gym and experiences from my childhood and body shame. What I have learned about SSA is that it is a “wanting to connect” (dopamine) combined with a fear/wounds (epinephrine). You wanted to be like the other boys and connect with them and be accepted, but the teasing and insecurities also created a lot of pain for you. This is a very powerful cocktail of emotions and is based off of normal healthy desires and physiological responses and the resulting sexual fantasy and attractions are a normal response to what you have felt. I see this same pattern in myself and many others with wanting to connect with other guys (a true need) but also the fear from wounds. Healing comes from getting those needs met (real connection with healthy guys) and also healing the wounds (realizing you are loved and perfect the way God created you and healing the trauma). I hope you have safe people you can connect with and share your story with as wounding comes from relationships as does healing (1 John 4:18). Much love and thank you again for sharing your experiences!
Without being too cheesy: me too! I have long felt a certain level of social and physical deformity which causes me to observe other guys in wonder. I have also traced its origins to different insecurities, bullying, and happenstance. My greatest lust was (is?) to see and to be seen in full, vulnerable nakedness and then accepted.
The greatest healing has come from coming to know the charitable love of Jesus. This grants the space to learn to be emotionally and socially vulnerable. It’s my true desire, it doesn’t pervert the bond of brotherhood with lust, and it has helped me realize how similar we really are. I can make others more comfortable because I already know my insecurities, and I don’t hide from them. This gives them the space to let down their masks and be themselves. I now channel my desire into being whatever my brother needs so that he can grow.
You really hit the nail on the head, Sam, talking about this innocent curiosity with how the other boys “work.” I like that word you used – tick. I was so fascinated with this ticking all through adolescence. And the ticking only grew more and more sexual the older I got.
You described this well as someone with a disability, no doubt amplifying that feeling of different-ness with the other boys. I felt it a little on the outside, but also a lot on the inside. It always felt like I was on a totally different wavelength from everyone else in my classes and youth groups and, later, work environments. I’d like to think I’ve figured out men a lot more today than when I was 12. But I know there’s a lot I still don’t get.
It’s a hard tension to hold: knowing I need to connect but can also turn this curiosity into lust.