Note from Editor Rachel Halder: I am honored to feature Marty Troyer’s story of male childhood sexual abuse on Our Stories Untold, the first story of its kind. Male sexual abuse, especially child abuse, is a problem that is live and well in our churches, yet isn’t addressed often enough. In fact, according to RAINN, in the U.S., about 10% of all victims of sexual abuse are male. I’m grateful for Marty in being open about his abuse in hopes that others may come forward with their stories.
My experience of childhood sexual abuse left me wounded and my sexuality twisted. But in and through the pain and shame I have found personal healing and strength in ministry. God’s grace has marked me, covered me, and strengthened me. But it has not taken away the story.
And it’s a story with many consequences. Walk with me from today to my earliest feelings and watch the consequences ripple in my life.
Nearly from the moment I was abused I’ve struggled with my weight. Being overweight has functioned for me as a kind of Make-Yourself-Less-Desirable defense mechanism. Protection in the form of repulsion. Still to this day, being controlled or treated like an object triggers unhealthy food choices.
When I watch my elementary age children disappear into spaces without parental supervision I’m always in conversation with myself: Will they or won’t they emerge untouched? What safeguards are in place? Are these people trustworthy? Will they be strong enough to tell me if something does happen?
One of the most profound ways this shows up in my behavior today is strong fear and reticence in being a public ally for the GLBTQ community. My shame voice tells me that advocates for the gay community may be perceived as something other than heterosexual or cisgendered. And though my mind tells me this is not so, and my faith calls me to defend the marginalized, habitual disobedience proves the safer path.
As an early married man sex was more complex than I expected. Not the logistics of it. But the emotions, the memories triggered, the feelings involved with touch. How many times has my chronic anxiety made it feel like the hands and face involved were his and not my wife? I’ll say it like this: being pursued or approached was nearly always a re-traumatizing event. As if I were again being controlled for another’s gain. Initiating was equally painful, as I so deeply feared being experienced as aggressive, abuser, controller or in stealing dignity from my wife in any way. It twisted my soul, sexuality and self. And patient, loving, gentle, understanding commitment was all needed to untangle them and bring hope.
Dating the girl of my dreams, I found myself emotionally incapable of commitment or trust. I was forced to break our relationship, not by choice as much as necessity. And so I entered counseling, the single healthiest choice I’d ever made in my life. In the safety of this space, I named and renamed myself and story in such a dramatic way it was as if my memory had finally returned. In truth my memory was fine; it was the naming of it that gave me such power–“I am the survivor of childhood sexual abuse.” It took nearly two years to meet that dreamy girl at the altar finally.
At this same time I was on staff in a Mennonite church. As many Mennonite churches do, this church had an open mic sharing time. While most shared standard medical or other-person-based requests, I’d grown to love these people and feel safe with them. And so I shared my new story and understanding. I told them, not the details of my abuse, but its impact on my life, the pain and brokenness it was still causing me and my testimony of hope of God giving me “healing and hope” (our denomination’s vision statement included this lingo, which I purposely used). And oh yea, I cried. A lot. That was one of my most authentic and unmasked moments in my life, and it felt marvelous and freeing.
Until I was told how inappropriate it was. Pastors, apparently, don’t do that kind of thing. We must be strong ‘no-storm-can-shake-my-inmost-calm’ kind of people. And we never, ever, share stories we’re currently living, only stories we’ve (past tense) conquered. I got this not only from the leadership of my congregation but news spread to the conference as well. I was forced to pull my healing journey out of the context of church and spiritual friendship, and compartmentalize my pain into my private self and counseling. There was nothing healing or hopeful about that compartmentalization.
When I was abused, the meaning I gave to my story was that it happened because I was expendable and perceived to be gay. In my undeveloped mind the way you solve such a misperception is prove beyond a shadow of a doubt your heterosexuality. I did this by taking on the persona of a Casanova kind of masculinity. My sexual life and expression became dysfunctional and unhealthy. Girls and young women became a tool in building a new perception of me in the world. I pursued this twisted and delusional goal with a strange twist of piety (limiting for the most part the kind of women I pursued) and guilt (limiting the kind of sexual act). Such defense mechanisms will only protect you so far. I felt alone and disconnected, unable to share or be open about this story…. for years. Alone in the shame and pain of being abused, and alone in the guilt and moral injury of my sins.
What I felt was deep shame. I felt dirty, dominated, exposed, and controlled. And unable to trust ever again. Core memories from childhood center on my inability to feel love, even though I was part of a healthy, safe, expressive and loving Christian family. I may have screamed over and again, “No one loves me!” But what I felt was, “I’m not lovable.” The issues were all mine.
One of the most painful consequences of my journey is that my shame made my journey so intensely private I could not and did not report my abuser. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pleaded with God to keep him from harming anyone else.
Grace has abounded in the midst of all these consequences. Moving religion out of a sin-forgiveness story and into a shame-grace story has completely transformed my life and faith. And healing and hope – no matter how much our systems and structures try to deny it – is indeed flowing through us to the world.
This is my story.
This is my faith.