The Journey: Shame, Sex, & Sexuality

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Welcome guest blogger and one of The HEAL Project’s Advisory Board Members, Walter Castaneda.

Walter Castaneda, age 28 is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse that lasted over a decade. He’s an El Salvadoran-American, Latino, student, bisexual, and community organizer living in San Diego, California. As an advisory board member for the Heal Project, Walter brings his personal experiences to the table to offer better solutions for all survivors, especially men because of a lack of resources he’s faced. He believes that everyone plays a role to protect the lives of innocent children, encourage male survivors to thrive in their healing journey, and shift society’s narrative of sexual violence against men, especially those within our LGBTQ community. He is currently working on organizing a support group for gay, bisexual, and transgender male sexual violence survivors with folks and support from the San Diego LGBT Center, Centers for Community Solutions, and San Diego Pride.

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The abuse lasted for a little over a decade, from the time I was 6 years old. The experience, in many ways, has hindered who I’ve always been. It’s stopped me from seeing and embracing my full identity. Before I began to take care and love myself, there was confusion, blame, guilt, shame. The shame I felt and continue to feel makes me want to hide or disappear. It was so severe that I attempted suicide twice when I was younger.

 

I felt responsible for his sexual advances because I got hard, and I orgasmed every time he touched me inappropriately. My body was just responding physically…emotionally I was in a different place. The years of abuse stunted my emotional growth and created confusion for me on many levels.

 

At the same time that the abuse was happening, I was growing up following the example of and advice of my father — a very traditional man. His idea of what it means to be man was steeped in machismo. As a young Latino boy I received messages like I wasn’t allowed to show emotion or express myself. I was to be the “man” of the house. That I had a role to play as provider and protector and decision-maker. I was taught in the form of verbal and sometimes physical abuse. All for “good” reason, to teach me how to be tough and survive in the real world. Instead, it provoked chaos. Deep inside, I was learning how to compartmentalize the pain from the sexual abuse and cope with it – on my own as a 6, 10, 14, and 17-year old boy. Overtime, I began to internalize and develop a persistent negative perception of myself. It created confusion and feelings of disappointment for letting my family down.

 

When I started having sex with other men that were not my abuser, I was forced to come to terms with my sexual orientation. I’m bisexual. However, I didn’t know right away. Some time went by where I believed that I was gay. I came out as a gay man. I believed that if a person had sex with the same-sex that they were gay. Not long after, I acknowledged that my attraction and feelings for women hadn’t left and was equally as important to me as those for men. After doing some research on my own, I came to a conclusion that I was bisexual. But it wasn’t always easy, I felt shameful anytime I had a sexual experience with another man. The feeling hasn’t completely gone away.

 

I have mixed feelings about sexual experiences. There’s the feeling of happiness. There’s also the feeling of shame. A painful feeling of humiliation. It’s caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. I’d experience this every time I orgasmed while being abused. Actually, I’d mix these two feelings up. It felt great, but it felt wrong. It felt wrong for one reason: because it was a sexual experience imposed on me, forced on me. It also didn’t help that my sixth grade sexual education class was taught from a heteronormative perspective. It caused so much confusion. I began to have a negative association with my sexual experiences – especially gay experiences outside from the abuse.

 

For a long period of time, I thought my sexual orientation was highly influenced by my experience of sexual abuse. While there is research that links childhood sexual abuse and internalized shame, there is no evidence to support the misconception that I am bisexual because I was abused. A model of comprehensive sex education that includes sexual orientation in grade school would have been beneficial — a resource to turn to. It would have helped me understand that my same-sex exploration wasn’t because of the abuse. It may have helped me understand sex without feeling a sense of shame.

 

Up until a few years ago, it was tough for me to understand my sexual orientation. Undergoing sexual abuse made me feel like I wasn’t man enough because I enjoy same-sex sexual experiences. I’ve overcome that thought. I’ve learned that sexuality is fluid. I didn’t know the abuse was a bad thing because I was too young to understand that part. I enjoyed the experience because it was a form of exploration and curiosity as a child. Now, I understand the long-term effects that I experienced because of the abuse and why I enjoyed it. Understanding why I enjoyed the feeling of an orgasm, when my body was responding physically, has helped me understand why I’m not responsible for the abuse. It’s allowed me to talk about my experience in a very open way. I’ve let go of most of the shame. Each day, is an opportunity for me to emotionally evolve and grow.

 

Every morning, I look in the mirror and see myself. My whole self. Over the course of four years, I’ve learned to take better care of myself in ways that benefit my mental health and overall happiness. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve continuously asked myself hard questions. As a result, it’s been rewarding in the fact that I learn a little more about the person I am today. I share my story with others to inspire and encourage, not just survivors, but everyone to practice self-care. I’m learning how to love my whole self and disassemble the negative perception I developed as a young boy.

 

We all face struggles with our identities. Through some raw, honest, and difficult conversations with amazing people, it’s inspired me to take leaps of faith and work through these struggles. Healing is a journey. It’s not a race to see who gets to the finish line fastest. It takes time and patience. It takes going back to those dark places, somewhere in the very back of my brain – to face them with courage, strength, faith, and hope.  

 

Sex is positive. I understand that, but I struggle learning how to embrace it.

 

Societal norms have also reinforced these feelings of shame. Stopped me from embracing sex. I ask myself, “Why am I afraid of sex, although I enjoy it?”, “Why must I be drunk to let loose?” and “Would I be bisexual today if I wasn’t sexually abused?”.  

 

I’m in a different place in my life than I was six years ago. I look back and smile proudly with gratitude because I’ve traveled on this journey with my therapist, friends, and family. Nonetheless, I still have healing to do. April shines a light on sexual violence. I see so many organizations, activists, and survivors use their voices to create awareness. It gives me the motivation to continue to use a negative experience and turn it into something positive. It gives me the strength to continue to advocate for survivors and to heal. Finally, it gives me the faith that gives me the ability to believe that it gets better. Will you join me today by subscribing to The Heal Project, like us on Facebook, and help create awareness, not just during April, but year-around? Your support is important to me and survivors across the world.

 

Thanks so much Walter for your honesty, vulnerability and advocacy.

 

If you are interested in being a guest blogger, check out our guidelines here

 

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