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Our culture has come to believe teenage sexuality is the norm. We assume teens are essentially adults capable of the same reasoning and decision making we, as mature adults, take for granted. Liberal child psychology has long insisted upon sexual autonomy for teenagers, often insisting anything less is harmful to the healthy development of a young person’s sense of self. We are simply expected to accept that teenagers will have sex regardless of their parent’s intervention or wishes .
But there is a consequence the liberal world has never recognized. This consequence is especially tangible in gay males. I could go into statistics, studies, issues with drugs use, homelessness, sex work etc. But for this discussion I feel the most relevant perspective is my own experience. I have discussed my experience in early sexuality on many occasions, but this in particular is for the parents who may not fully realize what their child is going through.
As you may know, I began engaging in sex with adults when I was 14. An unexpected encounter at a college library where I, alone, found myself being molested by a much older man initiated me into this world. I would return to that same library basement several times a week, driven by my father and often dropped off on my own, seeking something more than just the thrill of the encounter. Every man I engaged with told me how handsome, beautiful, sexy and special I was. Each touched me in a way that, for a moment, made me feel validated and even cared for. And each man left me alone once the encounter was over without a thought to the impact they had.
My craving for this validation pushed me into situations I cannot even imagine risking today as an adult. Riding my bike at midnight across a river, down to a dark and secluded riverfront area to get into a car with a stranger I had spoken to online just an hour before. Spending hours in a dark, dingy stall waiting and holding my breath every time the door opened. Walking down a highway at 2 a.m. to fulfill the fantasy of a man who wanted to pick up a hitchhiker. All in a futile attempt to find that sense of meaning and to believe I was worth something.
I had never felt the way I did in the first moments of a kiss or a touch and in my obsession with my own identity and my difference from my peers, that validation meant everything. But it was always fleeting; always just pretend. It is a curiosity in the gay world how two men who have never met before can become instantly and passionately intimate in body and soul and then walk away without thinking of the other again. But as a teenager I interpreted it as love.
My father had his suspicions when I was 15, after he discovered I looked up gay porn on his work computer. But he could never really talk to me about it. In my mind, I was an adult in a world that rejected me and I was trapped in my teenage years just waiting for an opportunity to escape. I held a several month-long relationship with a man in California with whom I fully intended to run away with the second I turned 18. He turned out to be an older man who lied about everything he told me he was. I nearly convinced my father to let me travel 3 hours away to Columbus, Ohio for my 16th birthday to visit a 45 year old man I had been chatting with for only a few days.
But it was the time in-between that tells the real story. When I was with these men I felt desired, important, confident and mature. When I got up to go to school the next day I felt ashamed, afraid and paranoid that everyone would somehow know. Sitting in class with my peers I felt out of place, not just because I was gay but also because I felt my experience was so drastically different from theirs. Overhearing the other boys brag about making out with their girlfriends seemed incredibly odd when I had, just the night before, been sitting in a parking lot with a complete stranger having sex.
I was deeply depressed and anxious. As a freshmen I had been a top performer. I barely graduated 87 out of 89 in my class. I could never develop friendships because I felt I had to hide myself and my secret life so completely. When I tried to go to church I would sit alone in a pew and nearly shake with the anxiety and paranoia of judgement all around me. I could tell absolutely no one. And yet every few nights I would find myself craving the attention and the validation of a man again and each time I believed I was on the brink of discovering my one true love. I truly believed if I were just good enough at sex, one of them would eventually love me back.
The constant ebb and flow of extremely intense contact, thrill, danger and euphoria and then loneliness, depression and isolation was emotionally exhausting. At age 15 and again at age 17 I attempted suicide. On more than one occasion I spontaneously burst into sobbing fits I could not control in the middle of class. I was deeply obsessed with the darkness of the goth trend for a year and then reverted to a childlike state the following year with a Rugrats bookbag and a pop-music persona. I dyed my hair a different color every week, sometime multiple times in a night. I was desperate to perfect the right persona.
My erratic behavior and genuinely bipolar emotional extremes made me the school freak and when I finally came out at 16, my entire Junior year became nothing but that singular experience. Ironically at the same time I was taking care of my grandfather, whom I lived with, and maintaining a house, dinner, cleaning and managing the bills. I was an adult trapped in the emotional and irrational mind of a teenager, but living with the responsibilities of someone much older.
After high school, I found myself reverting to an adolescent, unable and uninterested in holding a job, living with my father and doing absolutely everything impulsively. I am genuinely grateful my friends were not into the bar or drug scene because I would have been absolutely lost to it had I been exposed. My obsession with finding that secret combination of passion, validation and love escalated during that time and ages 18 to 21 were essentially lost to me. All I did during those years was indulge every desire I found myself wishing.
I started college at 21, older than most and only with extreme prompting from my grandmother. I struggled through it as I was essentially living my teenage years by that point emotionally. And emotional is the best way to describe the person I was then. From 21 to about 25 I existed in a near constant state of emotional crisis with legitimate things like the loss of my father to suicide and the growing sense of emptiness I found in sex with strangers. But I also found I seemed incapable of building relationships.
I never learned how to date or hold a relationship. I only knew how to have sex. To this day I deeply struggle with the ability to emotionally connect to other people.
We seem to live in a binary world of the Right lecturing on the dangers of moral decay and the Left mocking the backward thinking of it all and celebrating revolution after revolution of social identity. But the truth is somewhere in-between. In my case it is the realization that I lost vital years of social development and the sheer weight and stress of adult decision-making nearly pushed me over the edge. But this isn’t a morality tale. This is not a lecture on gay culture or oversexualized media. This is simply a look at one man’s experience being a teenager unable to handle the responsibilities of an adult.
Unfortunately, the LGBT world would rationalize this by arguing if I had only been accepted and affirmed I wouldn’t have needed to sneak around. They would say that my sense of shame and anxiety was due to homophobia and intolerance. They would demand my experience is due to the lack of LGBT resources and accommodation. But the truth is, I mentally broke down. I was delayed in development and nearly lost my life because I realized I was an object of temporary desire to older men with whom I expected love, validation and acceptance from.
I am not one to wallow in self-pity or allow life situations to excuse choices or behaviors. I grew up, built a life, overcame my emotional and intellectual insecurities and fears and learned to validate myself over time. I am not a victim. But I am an example.
A teenager is incapable of understanding or appreciating meaningless sex. I don’t care how mature or confident they believe themselves to be, they cannot handle this level of adult consequence. Looking into the eyes of someone you put your absolute trust in and seeing passion and excitement followed by disinterest and avoidance is devastating. Repeating that experience over and over crushes the soul. It can be argued that teenagers engaging in sex with each other in relationships can be positive, but I cannot overstate the dangers of adult-teen sex.
My message to parents? If you have a gay son, he is most likely engaged in sexual talk or activity with men online and he has absolutely no idea how dangerous this is. Young gay men do have the ability to find each other much easier now and, unlike my time in 1998, can date other gay guys their own age. But if they are ‘hooking up’ online it is likely with an adult. I can remember trying to get my dad’s attention without really understanding why. I remember thinking ‘how can he not know what I am doing? Doesn’t he care?’ And in truth I believed he didn’t. It is your job to intervene.
The LGBT world is doing everything in its power to separate young gays from their families and integrate them into the LGBT ‘family.’ While well-meaning from a stand point of outdated ideas of family rejection and social stigma, today it only fosters resentment and risky behaviors. Teenagers should not be deeply depressed. They should not be hiding their online life from you. They should not have mysterious friends you don’t know about. In a better world, they would be told ‘No’ by the men they are attempting to hook up with.
If just one of those men had told me ‘No’, imagine what that might have changed. Imagine if one of those men had told me ‘You are 15, don’t you see how dangerous this is? You don’t need to throw yourself to men like this to be valued. You don’t have to risk your entire future for a 15 minute encounter that means nothing to either of you. You need to be a kid right now.’ Sadly, this never happened to me.
You cannot assume your teenager is making good decisions or knows how handle the decisions they have made. I was lost and felt overwhelmed and buried daily. I needed someone to stop me. I needed someone to guide me. I needed faith and community. But most importantly, I needed an adult to tell me ‘No.’ Don’t be afraid to tell your son ‘No.’