This week, I am so excited to have a guest blogger on my blog- Kenneth Rogers. Kenneth Rogers is the author of:
Heroes, Villains, and Healing: A Guide for Male Survivors of Child Sexual
Abuse Using DC Comic Superheroes and Villains
From the 157th floor of the metropolitan high-rise skyscraper , glass shatters and a helpless woman falls to her death as a maniacal figure laughs from the window while twisting his greasy mustache. Pedestrians below run for cover to avoid deadly shards of falling debris while others look up in fear, confusion, and shock. All of them know it’s simply a matter of time before the damsel reaches her death on the pavement below. There is nothing they can do except watch and mourn a falling angel as her screams shake the air, shattering all their thoughts like the reflective pieces of window catching the sun, tumbling around, beneath, and below her. Moments before impact, just as all hope seemed lost, a caped figure speeds through the air, catching the woman, holding her tight and safe in his arms as they fly to safety. The air explodes in erupting cheers and claps as hundreds of held breaths shout with thanks and gratitude from below. As for the villain, he creeps back into the shadows, angry and bitter that his plans have been foiled once again, but vowing revenge.
As a kid, movies, cartoons, and stories like this would keep me glued to the screen or the page no matter the hour, month, day, or year. Scenes of Spiderman defeating Doctor Octopus, Superman stopping Lex Luthor, and Batman outsmarting the Joker would replay throughout my mind as I sat in class or played alone outside. Until recently, comics never held my interest the way they do now. However, when I wasn’t watching Justice League on Cartoon Network, or the New Adventures of Batman and Superman on the CW, my nose was irremovable from a book. Usually the book was fiction and involved some wrong that needed to be righted whether that be through a knight, an orphan, a hobbit, or a superhero. In 6th grade I averaged a book a day, visiting my school library every morning to exchange one book for another and eager to prove my intelligence and worth on the computer programed test generator Accelerated Reader. Back then, the page is where I lived. It’s where life was safe, predictable, and right always defeated might.
On the other side of the book cover and beyond the television screen, life was not as pleasant and predictable. My small white house in Peoria, IL was filled with screams from my parents as they argued late into the night, keeping me, my brother, and sister awake until early in the morning. Eventually, one of those arguments ended with my brother attempting to strangle my father, leaving the house to join the military. Another of those arguments would leave my mother with a scar on her chest in the shape of a crescent moon after attempting to throw scolding grease on my father. Finally, those arguments would end with my mother and I without our home as the bank foreclosed on our house and my father moved to Mississippi to stay with his mother. All of this was known by neighbors, family members, teachers, coaches, and friends. However, what wasn’t known, silently happening behind closed doors and darkened basements was my own sexual abuse in the form of rape by my older sister from eight to ten-years-old. For two years the abuse occurred when my parents were working or arguing until one day it stopped and I was told it never happened. I was told to forget about it and that’s what I did for eighteen years until I had no choice but to either kill myself as a victim of child sexual abuse or to become a survivor.
You may be wondering, what’s the difference between a survivor and a victim? Technically, wasn’t I already a survivor after I lived through the sexual abuse as an eight-year-old, or after graduating from high school, college, and establishing a career and a family without killing myself, becoming addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, or becoming an offender? The short answer is, no. For all of those years and accomplishment of each milestone I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse waiting for Superman to swoop down, save me, and carry me away to safety while hiding from a past I attempted to believe never occurred.
To be a survivor, whether that’s male or female, means to do more than not die from the initial trauma of the sexual abuse. This is because, although an individual “survives” the initial trauma of the abuse, if they do not get help to properly heal their wounds through therapy or counseling, time and the trauma of the incident will win in the end. The memory of the sexual abuse can return years later after a major life changing event, through unpredictable triggers that force the individual’s mind to relive the abuse, or seeing the abuser years later. Without help, these forms of revictimization can lead to a depression that infects all parts of an individual’s life who have been sexually abused, leading to something much worse than death; a life lived in constant fear. To be a survivor, male or female, means to heal from the sexual abuse to become a complete person. This does not mean suppressing or dissociating from the memories and knowledge of the horrific events of the past, but, instead, putting in the time and work to face the demons and become whole. This is difficult. It requires therapy, a willingness to change thoughts and actions that are wrong and harmful.
Although this may be true for all survivors of child sexual abuse, what does it mean to be a male survivor? How is the road to recovery different for males in comparison to females? Males who have been sexually abused as children will find the road to recovery much more difficult to accomplish with success than females who have been sexually abused as children for a number of reasons. First, let me make clear, in no way am I stating male sexual abuse is worse, or more detrimental than female sexual abuse. No matter the gender of the person, sexual abuse inflicts massive psychological damage that lasts years into the future and takes time to recover from. However, males who have been sexually abuse will find it more difficult to find the resources needed for recovery and healing because according to our society male survivors do not exist. It is unfortunate, but true. Although sexual abuse is a horrific act no matter if it is done to a male or female, women have more resources available to begin the journey toward healing. Males, on the other hand, are made to believe that they are the only men/boys this has ever and will ever happen to.
To no longer be a victim and become a survivor of child sexual abuse an individual must have access to resources that rid them of feelings of being a deviant, other, or abnormal. They must be allowed to feel normal, or human. For females this means feeling empowered as a woman, strong, and knowing there was nothing they did wrong to be sexually abused. For males, the same is true, but messages perpetrated by society make it difficult to feel like a man while seeking help to heal from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. The reason is because as young boys, men are taught through words, actions, and inactions of those visible in their lives and invisible behind media advertisements, incorrect stereotypes of what it means to be a “real man”. Boys are taught they should strive to grow up “strong and silent”. This means keeping their feelings to themselves, not asking for help, and never showing weakness. They are told, “real men don’t cry,” and “real men do it themselves”. These thoughts and beliefs contradict the actions of seeking help through counseling and getting in touch with the inner child to express a true range of all emotions not just a select few that have been deemed manly. The results are boys who have been sexual abused having a higher likelihood of committing suicide in comparison to girls. This also results in boys who grow up to become men severely depressed, anxious, angry, or addicted to drugs and alcohol to cope with their sexual abuse.
This means, the real question is not, what does it mean to be a male survivor, but how do we pursued our boys and men to no longer feel ashamed to get help? How do we create more survivors and less victims? There is no simple answer. Like all problems in need of being solved, the answer is complicated and requires a lot of creativity in order to meet males who have suffered sexual abuse more than halfway on the road to healing. It means finding new ways to bridge the gap for males seeking treatment, but afraid to enter traditional counseling or therapy settings because of the stigmas they carry. This is done through counseling sessions at barbershops, wilderness retreats, car shows, science fiction conventions, and comic cons. It means being creative in the way information is presented in order to create male survivors rather than victims of sexual abuse. For me, it means using superheroes and comic books to help other survivors understand the coping mechanisms they established in order to survive the trauma of their abuse through characters such as Batman, Superman, and the Flash. Doing this makes men like myself feel comfortable discussing their sexual abuse and opens the door toward the path of healing. It also makes the process and the work to move from being a victim to becoming a survivor fun and entertaining rather than daunting and frightening.
The work needed to move from being a victim to becoming a survivor is difficult, but not impossible. All it takes is an understanding that in reality there are no superheroes or villains. The world is not a simple flat base of black and white with hints of grey. It’s a beautiful image filled with every color imaginable when the mind is trained to look beyond the page of a comic. For a victim of child sexual abuse the world is frightening and dangerous, but for a survivor the sky has no limits. There are no villains or heroes. There is no right or wrong way to live or think. There is only being the you that fulfills the potential that’s always been waiting to be reached.
You can find Kenneth’s books at: https://lostimaginations.com/