How I Became an Emotionally Closed-Off Man
I forgot that I had my own “me, too” story.
And that’s quite telling.
I was in junior high school. I was young for my age, and short and scrawny.
Not an auspicious beginning to an otherwise already difficult period for most young people.
I was in “P.E.” class–which was coed. We were all in the gym doing whatever. I was day-dreaming when I felt my gym shorts suddenly drop–more accurately, forcibly pulled down to my ankles–and a cool breeze where I should never have felt one.
While it wasn’t completely uncommon for Sean to pull down kids’ gym shorts from time to time, the gods had decided to be extra cruel to me that day. Because instead of just pulling down those horridly-colored lime-green shorts, he pulled down my underwear along with it.
It was all a blur. I looked down to see that I was stark naked from my belly button down, and I looked up to see a crowd full of my classmates, boys and girls, pointing at me and laughing.
It’s hard to describe in words how I felt in that moment, as well as for some time thereafter. I remember being in a class later that day, my head on a desk, when a close friend who had been there empathized with me. “I want to die,” I remember telling him.
Had it been just boys who had witnessed it (and by it I mean me, my genitals–exposed), I would probably have survived relatively intact. But it wasn’t.
Interestingly, I never saw it as a violation–until now.
And this makes me wonder: Had I been a girl, what would have happened? Would Sean have been reported? Suspended? Expelled? Is it crazy for me to even suggest such a thing? (Nothing, of course, was done to him.)
What happens to boys who go through this kind of public violation when it’s never really seen as a violation in the first place? I just repressed it and moved on with my life.
Or, so I thought.
I’ve never been raped, but I can only imagine how horrible that experience, undoubtedly, must be. But rapes usually occur in private. In this moment, however, sitting on my couch… I feel like I was raped that day–publicly.
Raped in that something was taken from me. I’m not quite sure what. (My dignity?) And perhaps me reliving that experience, and writing about it, is a part of my process of figuring that piece out, and finally moving on.
There’s a part of me, even sharing this now, which is like a voice in my head saying, “you’re being overdramatic, Alex.”
Boys will be boys.
But there is a cost to the normalization of this kind of behavior. After this experience, I think I shut down on an emotional level. I became much more cautious, much more anxious and less trustworthy of people, in general.
In fact, until this moment, I never really put 2 + 2 together: why I am the way I am.
I can now see that much of my closed-offness in my relationships, all of my relationships, and my inability to be fully open and myself with other people, all stem from this one event.
And that brings tears to my eyes. I’ve lost out on so much: So much connection with people in my life. So much hiding of who I am. So many people have missed out on getting to know me, to be with me, truly, because of what happened that day, too.
And for how many other people reading this–and not–is this also true? What is the larger impact when we factor in the “ripple effect” that follows like waves through our lifetime, infiltrating all of our future relationships?
I tell this story, first and foremost, for myself. To reclaim lost pieces, as it were, and to put “humpty dumpty back together again.”
There was a time when it was ok for boys
to be sensitive after all.
I also tell this story because violence–and for the first time I know this was a violation–has devastating ramifications that go beyond what even those of us who have been victimized are aware of.
I tell this story to highlight the collateral damage on boys who become men who have a difficult time ever truly opening up to anyone again.
And for all the people–family, girlfriends, wives, husbands, children–who are forced to suffer the excruciating pain of our distance… this story is for you, as well.
The ripples. How far and wide they run.
I dedicate this piece to my family, especially to my parents,
and to my past girlfriends and lovers.
Image by nogitsune