When i was in high school, I had a hernia, although I had no idea anything was wrong. It didn’t hurt, didn’t bother me, but it was definitely there, dropping down into my scrotum like a third testicle, only larger. I’d had it for years without realizing this was abnormal. It needed to be fixed–and it eventually was–but this isn’t a story about medical procedures, and it’s not about youthful ignorance, and I’m not trying to gross you out or get a cheap laugh. No, I want to explain something I’ve not managed to talk much about–the most shameful moment of my life.
You know how I learned something was wrong with my body? One of my high school teachers told me. He was the sponsor for the school’s annual one-act play production, and I had been in the plays from freshman year on. (I entertained dreams, in those days, of becoming a major Hollywood player, and this seemed like a good start.) He stopped me while I was in the process of a costume change and began to question me about this strange bulge I had. Does it hurt? How long has it been there? Does it go away when you get hard?
I was very uncomfortable. He began talking about cancer, which worried me. This was, after all, an adult. Someone who’d been to college. I was probably very ill–why else would he be concerned?
Then he asked me if he could touch this abnormality.
I can’t remember if I balked at first, if he had to coax me. Maybe I did. But it’s more likely that I, now scared and wanting reassurance, did not protest.
I have tried, from that moment forward, to view this in the most charitable light. It is possible–perhaps even likely–that he was genuinely concerned about my health. I am sure he would be glad to know it was just a hernia. But concern need not involve touching. He was not a doctor, and it is obvious in retrospect that he had no idea what he was talking about. Add to this a more pressing question: Why did he notice in the first place?
Privacy is not always possible in the theater. People share dressing rooms. An actress might have to change clothes backstage. It’s like being in a locker room to a certain extent. You learn to keep your eyes down, do what you need to do, and ignore everything else. In addition to common courtesy, this man was a teacher, in a situation of power over and responsibility for minors. Probing a 17 year-old’s genitals with your fingers is not considered “part of the job” by any standard I know.
After this incident, I began to reconsider previous conversations we’d has, dating back to my freshman year:
Shortly after I arrived at tryouts for One Acts, I found myself eating dinner with this teacher and a group of guys who were in the plays. (No girls were present.)
“Andrew,” he asked me in front of everyone, “when you masturbate, do you use Vaseline or Udder Cream for lube?”
Everyone laughed. I was shocked. I was 14 years old. My church had taught me that pleasuring yourself was a sin. Of course I still did it, but I was ashamed. I thought I was sick for doing so. Now a man in his late forties was asking me about it.
I decided to avoid admitting that I jerked off. “What do you use?,” I asked, turning the tables.
“Oh, I prefer Udder Cream. It makes my skin soft…”
The conversation shifted. The issue dropped. But it felt odd to me. Maybe, I decided, I’m cool now. I’m part of a club where I’m treated like an adult…
The club, as everyone in my high school learned, was all guys. When I had this teacher for class, he made us move our desks during tests. These were our assigned Testing Positions. The boys that he liked best sat closer to his desk. I sat right next to him. Sometimes, during class, he would show me pictures of ancient statues with erections or joke about Carnac, the Egyptian god of self-gratification.
On another occasion, this man–a married father of two–began to discuss gay sex. “It feels exactly the same. If you closed your eyes or if you were in the dark, you would never be able to tell if you were with a man or a woman…”
In light of these incidents– which, I admit are cherry-picked from dozens of hours of conversations–having this man play doctor seems less than innocent. It’s hard for me not to wonder if he played the incident over in his mind later, eyes closed, making Carnac an offering. I felt (and still feel) used.
I don’t think of myself as a victim or a survivor. There are plenty of people I know who’ve suffered brutal violations of one kind or another. They are survivors; I am not. But at the very least, I suffered a breech of good faith. A person in power took advantage of me, and I’ve been thinking about it regularly for 15 years. I’ve wondered if there were others this kind of thing happened to. I’ve wondered if my inability to tell anyone about this has allowed someone else to experience what I have (or worse).
So why now? I don’t know. Maybe this is just a processing thing, a way to get my head around it. Maybe I’m trying to understand what relation, if any, this has to my adult life. Or maybe this story just needed to get out and breathe a bit and then die on this blog so I can move on.