Unpacking (more) personal baggage


Pardon me for the humourless dissecting of my neuroses

Have I mentioned before having used, for many years, the esteem-busting mantra “If anyone deserves AIDS, I do!”  (Looking at it now I feel like each word should be italicized for emphasis, rather than just one or two.)

What a message: If anyone deserves AIDS, I do!

I bring this up in the context of two recent posts: one on forgiveness, the other on the 30th anniversary of the notorious bath-house raids.

If the mantra was esteem-busting, its sentiments probably go back to my elementary school days and my adult bully in the form of my head teacher/principal – a fan of the Boston Bruins, then coached by one Don Cherry.

Just to make things worse I was flunked in his Grade 4 math class (or “held back” as my mother put it) which meant seven years, not six, under his tutelage. Oh well, at least I was with kids closer to my own age for those last three miserable years.

When I was twelve or thirteen, depending whether I was going into Grade 7 or 8, I was sexually abused by stranger(s) in what I would now recognize as a “cruising” area.

None of this – not the teacher/principal terror, not the sexual exploitation – did I talk about with anyone at the time.  It’s only been more recently that I’ve talked with family members about C.G. – the teacher/acting principal – in quite general, yet unfavourable, terms – the closeness of our families’ friendship much less than I had imagined when I didn’t feel that I could turn him in.

He’s now dead, and has been for a number of years.

The bit on forgiveness I had been reading a couple of weeks ago seemed to be worth exploring – even if only letting go of his neck, metaphorically, is all I can manage to accomplish.

If I, as I often say, connect the dots from the bullying school mentor to the pedophile(s) hanging out by the canal it is understandable how I might have been full of self-loathing.  While the only thing, but it’s huge, that I could have changed about the school situation was to have ratted the guy out to my parents the sexual abuse was a classic case of a kid with confusing, homosexual feelings giving in to his curiosity at the hands of a man probably four times his age.  (I just noticed how much easier it was to write about me in the third person.)  The fact remains that, whether I was curious or not, it was the adult’s job not to go through with it.

It seemed as if I had nothing to do, no place to go, with my inner turmoil.  For that I certainly don’t blame my parents.  These were the early seventies, well before “street-proofing” more than don’t-talk-to-strangers and, besides, any mention of my sexual curiosity would reveal more about my sexual orientation than I was yet prepared to share.

I managed to get through high school quite successfully, using my sense of humour and an ability to maintain good grades to disguise any signs of trouble.  It was in college, Niagara College some six hundred kilometers from home, that the inner twelve-year-old drank adult beverages to excess, and the unraveling began.

There was no LGBT peer support on campus, as there is in the area now thank goodness.  I didn’t know enough about drinking to worry about my experiencing blackouts from the get-go.  Then the trips to Toronto began, where the bars and baths seemed like Utopia.  I well remember looking across the lake from St.Catharines and thinking of Toronto as Oz.

Now I live in Toronto and, well, ‘pay no attention to that man behind the curtain’.

If anyone deserves AIDS, I do!

This little ditty has come up in therapy, and more than once, over the years.  It’s not that I believe it, not at its face value.  But knowing, as I sincerely do, that I have ever believed it inside, on some level, still hurts.  So, as someone in a peer group whispered last week, whatever forgiveness – or letting go – I may feel about past perpetrators I just might have a heap more forgiveness of myself to do yet.

I have never bought, in full, the idea that my casual sexual relationships were merely the exercising of the freedom implied in the “sexual revolution” of my early adulthood and well before.  It has seemed to me, with the benefit of hindsight, that my conduct was more of a reflexive response to the trauma I experienced, sexual and otherwise.

Between my drinking and the constant settling for ‘Mr. Right Away’ I was not ready for – indeed I was afraid of – a serious, intimate relationship.  HIV, and then AIDS, added to the complexities.

So I conclude with this attempt to unpack my old mantra.

‘If anyone deserves AIDS…’

It is an absurd notion, this, that anyone would deserve AIDS – that my sex conduct (or someone else’s intravenous drug use, for example), no matter how early in the epidemic, would – and even should - be rewarded with an incurable disease.  The simplicity of this cause-effect formula, simplicity being the preferred way of thinking among the theory’s proponents on the religious right, boggles the mind.  I had just enough experience with them, a couple of years before coming out, to do some psychic damage.

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7 (KJV)

How’s that for an effective club with which someone (such as me), lacking self-respect, might put in my suicidal arsenal!

(If anyone deserves AIDS)…I do!’

Messages I gave myself, to back up my feeling of deserving, mostly centered around the idea that my sex conduct – regardless of why it might have been the way it was – seemingly left me vulnerable, with eyes wide open one would almost think, to infection.

I blamed myself for everything: from not reporting Mr. G, to giving in to sexual curiosity even though – as I pointed out earlier – the onus for restraint is on the adult in these situations.  I blamed my drinking, at least in part, on these secrets which led to lack of good judgment in my sexual pursuits as a young adult.

How many ways do I need to cut myself some slack?

I recognize this ‘unpacking’ was mostly at the intellectual level.  There’s still some emotional work to do when, I believe, much more self-forgiveness will have the chance to emerge.