Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Josh Duggar sex abuse scandal, my brother, and me

***trigger warning: child sexual abuse***

The Josh Duggar case is all fucked up. And I'm all mixed up about it. I feel both sympathy for and disgust with pretty much everyone involved. Except for the Duggar girls. For them, I feel just sadness and sympathy. My disgust is mostly directed at the parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who did too little too late, and at TLC, the television network that chose to broadcast a marathon of episodes of the family's reality TV show, "19 Kids and Counting" after news broke that the eldest son in the Duggar clan, Josh, had been accused of sexually abusing his sisters when he was a teenager.

Oooh, a nice, juicy sex abuse scandal: what a lucky break! Great for ratings! I wonder how much money TLC made off of advertisements featured during that Dugger marathon?

I didn't have time to catch any of the episodes even if I had wanted to. I've been busy making myself sick reading the news articles and straining my eyes, averting them to the bombardment of advertisements on the sides of the news websites. It's not my usual empathy-fatigue from reading news headlines. This one is triggering. This one hits too close to home. And yet, I can't stop reading the story. It's not schadenfreude. I would not wish this sad story on anyone's family, even people I consider to be intolerant nutjobs.

In case you've somehow missed it, here's a timeline of the Duggar story. Feel free to familiarize yourself with the creepy details at your own risk.

I don't know why I'm following it. It's like maybe if I keep reading about these people whose sick story is so eerily similar to mine, I'll see some warning sign, some clue to understanding my own story, something that can help me make sense out of the sadness, the secrets, the sexual abuse.

Who am I kidding? Who can make sense out of any of that?

And still, I try.

Let's just get it over with. My story. Rip the Band-aid from the wound.

When I was a young girl my brother, Pat, molested me. It started when I was about three and Pat was about twelve and ended when I was about five and Pat was about fourteen. The last time he brought along his friend and they forced me to touch his friend is disgusting ways and they touched me and I hated it. I had enough. Pat had told me not to tell our mom because it was our secret, and if I did tell her, she would be so upset that she would have to go to the hospital and stay for a long time. But I did. I told her. And she didn't have to go away to the hospital. In fact, it opened Mom and me up to a long-lasting conversation that has helped me learn to heal.

It was brave of me to tell my mom. The threat of her hospitalization was real and always in the back of my mind. But I had to protect myself. I had to tell.

Before I was born, Mom was hospitalized against her will, after she had a "nervous breakdown". What really happened is that she spoke up against an abuse of power and she was punished for it. Mom showed up at a bar one night, surprising her (first) husband, Jim--who is Pat's dad but not mine--and his girlfriend. After confronting them, Mom left the bar. Jim ran after her and threatened to kill her if she ever embarrassed him like that again in front of his friends. Mom didn't know what to do. She had given up a scholarship to attend college so she could marry this man when she was 18. So she could cook for him. Clean for him. Have his children and take care of them. She didn't have a job. She didn't know how she could support herself and their young kids. She didn't want to die, but she didn't want to live like this.

She broke down. Her husband and her mother had her hospitalized where she received electroshock therapy and sat in the clean, white hospital bed, making potholders. It was the Sixties. Mad Men era, for you TV junkies. Women had few options. Husband cheats on you and threatens to kill you? You're gonna get locked up if you complain about it.

When my brother Pat and I were both adults and we could speak on equal terms, Pat told me that his first memory was of Mom being taken away to the hospital. Pat was four, clutching Mom's legs, begging for them not to take her away.

Four is extremely young to experience trauma. I know. He knew. Too many of us know.

Pat's dad finally split and Mom filed for divorce. She remarried, my dad, and had me. Pat was nine when I was born. At first, Pat was glad Mom had remarried and had gotten them out of our grandparent's house where they spent their days. Mom marrying my dad meant she could quit her job as a dental assistant and be a stay-at-home mom again. Our grandmother who babysat him after school and during summer break was psychologically unstable, and whenever she'd abuse Pat, she'd tell him not to tell our mom or it would give her a nervous breakdown and send her back to the hospital.

Pat was glad to get away from our grandmother. But soon, my dad turned out to be too rigid and controlling, authoritarian and violent. Pat moved in with our grandfather, who had by then divorced our grandmother, and soon after that he moved out of town, hitchhiking around the country by the time he was 18.

I'm not trying to excuse Pat's behavior. He should not have abused me. I didn't deserve it, for sure. But I also understand that sometimes people do disgusting things because it's all they know. Not because they're full of sin. Not because they're monsters. Just because it's all they know.

I want to figure out a way to help people know better.

One of the things that's helped me survive this crazy battle is the open dialogue between my mom and me. The conversations we have shared since my first day of bravery, when I was five, when I told her about my abuse, have helped me enormously. For a long time I didn't like to talk about my struggles with Mom because I was genuinely afraid that she might get taken away by men in white lab coats. But as I matured, and as I watched Mom grow stronger herself, I realized I could tell her anything. Having access to that kind of openness, that kind of unconditional love, has helped me heal.

Mom was always open about sex. I could ask her anything about it and she would answer to her best ability. Sometimes if she didn't know the answer, she'd recommend a book or a TV show. During my early teenage years Mom and I were avid viewers of the Dr. Ruth Show on TV. Mom never made me think that sex was dirty or that my thoughts were impure.

The most difficult thing was watching my mom be controlled by the men in her life. The stories she told me about her first marriage to Jim. How my dad would throw a temper tantrum if he didn't get his way and how mom too often caved to his every whim. It took a long time, but she finally got up the guts to leave him. She was single for ten years, and it was good for me to see her take care of herself.

I was once a victim of sexual abuse, but I've grown into a strong woman by watching and learning from my mom. And the biggest support she gave me was an open mind and an open ear.

What worries me the most about the Duggar situation is that people will just read the headlines and think they know what's right and what's wrong. They won't delve deeper and think for themselves. They won't stop and reflect and wish peace upon all the people involved, from the obtuse parents to the inept "authorities" who covered up the mess to the girls who are the victims and, yes, even the boy perpetrator who grew to be a man of power in conservative political circles. Peace be with them all.

The only path to peace I know is with eyes wide open. Covering up disgusting secrets makes them fester and eat away at our souls.

It's more than just covering up disgusting secrets, though. It's relegating sex and sexuality to a place of darkness and shame. Our society is so warped. Most of us think it's "normal" to see women in bikinis selling sports cars in ads. And yet we get uncomfortable talking with our kids about sex. Some parents still want to teach abstinence only sex ed when it's grossly ineffective at preventing teen pregnancies and STIs.

It is perfectly natural for teenagers to experience sexual feelings. I found this fact on the U.S. National Library of Medicine's website:

"Having regular nocturnal emissions (wet dreams) marks the beginning of puberty in boys. Wet dreams typically start between ages 13 and 17, with the average at about 14.5 years."

Instead of telling teens to ignore their natural urges and pray for help, we need to help them find healthy outlets for sexual expression. How about encouraging masturbation like they do across the pond? Why not teach children that sex is natural between two consenting people, and that it's wrong to fondle people in their sleep, or when they're drunk, or when they are too young to understand what's going on?

Keeping kids in the dark about sex and sexuality does not lead to healthy sexual experiences.

I'm mostly worried about the Dugger girls, the victims of their brother Josh's abuse. They have been raised in the Quiverfull movement, which subjugates women and girls, as this excellent post on Patheos points out:
Even the parts of conservative Christianity that allow women to participate in church leadership still unofficially condone treating women as less than men. The Duggars are part of the fundamentalist Protestant movement called “Quiverfull” which is known for seeing children as an unmitigated blessing from God and therefore it promotes procreation and, for the most part, equates contraception with abortion. 
Not surprisingly, even former members of the movement says it is also known for the subjugation of women. 
It should come of little surprise then that when the Duggars learned about what Josh had done to his sisters, they stuck with their conservative Christian convictions and protected the boy and not his victims.
So what are the Duggars teaching their daughters about sex?

For one thing, your body is not your own. Your body belongs to God the Father and your father before marriage. Your body belongs to God and your husband after marriage. Look at the sex advice Mother Duggar gives:
Michelle says a friend gave her advice to live by before she and Jim Bob married in 1984: "She said, 'In your marriage there will be times you're going to be very exhausted. Your hubby comes home after a hard day's work, you get the baby to bed, and he is going to be looking forward to that time with you.'" — she's talking about sex, just so everyone's clear — "'Be available. Anyone can fix him lunch, but only one person can meet that physical need of love that he has, and you always need to be available when he calls.'" 
So, never hide your body from your husband after marriage, but never reveal it to the community before marriage. Evidently, the female body is too tempting even to be seen in a swim suit at the beach, according to this saucy spread about how the Duggars do romance:
Duggars believe bodies are "special gifts" to be shared only with husbands. Dancing encourages "sensual" feelings, warns Michelle. Swim dresses with built-in shorts (bought at, are conservative enough for her brood, says Michelle. Other beachgoers' suits are the problem: "It's just too hard for the guys to try and keep their eyes averted."
God forbid you try talking to kids about bodies and sex and encouraging them to discuss their natural feelings instead of teaching them to avert their eyes and avoid the beach.

On pages 114-115 of the book Growing Up Duggar, co-written by the four oldest daughters of the huge Duggar clan--Jana, Jill, Jessa, and Jinger--there is a section entitled "Defining the Purity Ring" which lends insight into their family's ideas about sex, specifically when sex is pure and when sex is impure:

This doesn't mean we're to ignore the fact that God has created us to have a natural physical desire toward men. When these feelings arise, we thank God for making us "normal." Within a godly marriage, this kind of desire can be a wonderful blessing that bonds the husband and wife together in the way God intended. But during our single years, this physical attraction, if not carefully controlled, can also be one of the biggest sources of temptation and struggles.  
One way our parents have helped us understand the principles designed to keep us pure is by giving all of us older girls purity rings. The rings were special gifts we received when the four of us were in our early teenage years (because our family didn't become aware of this relatively new practice until then)...  
...To each of us, the ring has a fourfold purpose. First, it's a symbol of our commitment to keep ourselves physically pure as we wait for the one God intends for us to marry. Second, it symbolizes our desire to involve our parents in our decision of a life partner. Third, our ring reminds us to pray for the man God would have us marry and to guard our own heart so that one day we can share it fully with him. Fourth (and most important), it's a reminder that God is the true fulfiller of all our desires and also a reminder to cherish our relationship with Him and live purposefully between now and the time He sees fit to bring that man into our lives...  
Dad has asked us girls, "What kind of girl do you think a godly guy will be attracted to?"  
The answer is, a godly girl. That's what he and Mom are continually encouraging each of us girls to become. We know that a godly girl is not someone who has lived a "perfect" life but is someone who has received God's forgiveness and is seeking to put the past behind her and choosing to live every day for Him. Some of the greatest people in the Bible were those who had made a lot of bad decisions earlier in their life, but then God got a hold of them, and they completely turned over the rest of their life to following and serving Him.
Yuck. These poor girls.

It's especially sickening to read this line now that we know their older brother got a powerful job with an anti-LGBT lobbying group, The Family Research Council, after he sexually abused them:

This doesn't mean we're to ignore the fact that God has created us to have a natural physical desire toward men. When these feelings arise, we thank God for making us "normal." 

I assume they mean as opposed to gay? Because God knows that gay people are perverts who you can't trust around children. Just ask their mom, Michelle Duggar, who lent her voice to this anti-LGBT robocall asking residents to protest an anti-discrimination ordinance going before the  Fayetteville City Council last fall:

Hello, this is Michelle Duggar. I’m calling to inform you of some shocking news that would affect the safety of Northwest Arkansas women and children. The Fayetteville City Council is voting on an ordinance this Tuesday night that would allow men — yes I said men — to use womens and girls restrooms, locker rooms, showers, sleeping areas and other areas that are designated for females only. I don’t believe the citizens of Fayetteville would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls. I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space. We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child. Parents, who do you want undressing next to your daughter at the public swimming pool’s private changing area? I still believe that we are a society that puts women and children first. Women, young ladies, and little girls deserve to use the restroom and any other women's facility in peace and safety...
When the ordinance failed to pass, Josh Duggar, by then the Director of FRC Action, celebrated by chatting with conservative leader Dr. Richard Land about the successful repeal of a Fayetteville, Arkansas bathroom bill. Here's what Josh Duggar said:

We have to continue to extend laws and respect and dignity to all people, even those, you know, with whom we disagree. But we have to make sure that we're standing up for the rights of privacy and protecting the well being of women and children in our cities. 
Thank you, Josh Duggar, you sanctimonious prick.

I understand that people make mistakes, especially when they are teenagers. Some might even call those mistakes "sins". I don't, but that doesn't matter here. What matters is that many people believe in sin, and in forgiveness of sin, which it appears the Duggars do. And although I'd like to believe Josh Duggar when he apologized on Facebook this week for his past actions, it makes me sick to think that all these years after having used his male status to abuse his young sisters and get away with it, only to go on to a powerful political job speaking out against gay people, spreading hate and fear and lies, scaring people into thinking that LBGT people are harmful to is just too much pot and kettle and blackness.

My brother Pat did not become a powerful anti-gay lobbyist, or even a scandalized former one. Pat lived his life, fucking some things up, making some things right, just as we all do. He learned lessons and he told stories. He did the best he could, and the one thing I can say about Pat is that he was one of the most loving, accepting, open-minded men I've ever met. Pat knew no strangers. You couldn't walk by his front porch without him inviting you on to it for a beer. No matter who you were, or what you looked like. When the love of his life, Sharon, died of liver failure, Pat succumbed a few months later, himself. The person he ended up hurting the most was himself. An hour before he died, I got to say goodbye to him and tell him that I love him. He said he loves me, too. We're good. I can't forget, but I do forgive him.

It's difficult to explain to people who have not been sexually abused how much it fucks with you for life. It's not something you ever get over. I can't give my husband a loving blow job without some small part of me remembering the gagging feeling I felt far too young, against my will. That fucking sucks. Sexual abuse is icky and gross and no one wants to talk about it, but if we want to find a way to stop it, we have to open ourselves up to having the conversation.

As a parent myself now, from the first time my young daughter started asking me about sexual issues, I've been honest with her. I've pounded into her brain these things:

1) You are the boss of your body. You can say "no" to anyone you don't want to touch you.

2) You never have to have sex if you don't want to. Even when you're grown up and married. Your body is yours and you get to decide who to share it with and when.

3) Your body is beautiful and fun and amazing. Explore it. Feel good about yourself in the privacy of your bedroom or in the bathroom. Don't feel ashamed to get to know your own body and share it with yourself and who you decide is worthy of it.

When she's old enough, I'm going to get my daughter the book I read as a young woman, Sex for One: The Joy of Self Loving by Betty Dodson. I'll show her old Dr. Ruth videos on YouTube. I'll answer her questions to the best of my ability and encourage her to not just keep her heart open, but to keep her mind open too. Yes, it's good to be loving and forgiving. It's even better to be loving and educated and strong, to figure out ways to lessen the need to forgive.

My brother sexually abused me when I was a young girl. The main reason I’ve been able to heal is because I’ve been encouraged to talk and write about it openly, and unlike the Duggar girls, I was taught that sex is not shameful, but abuse of power is.