Male Survivors of (Child) Sexual Abuse/Violence and Feminism, A Beginning

I am going to repeat myself about this a little further down, but let me say up front that this post is in response to the comments in this open thread for male survivors of sexual abuse/violence started by Abyss2Hope. First, though, since this is my first post on Alas, and since my comments in various posts here will not necessarily provide adequate context to what I want to write about and why I take the approach to it that I do, let me offer a brief introduction: I am a poet and writer and a professor in the English Department at a large community college in New York City, where I have been teaching composition, creative writing and literature for the last seventeen years. I tend to structure the content of my classes such that, even if the topics themselves are not explicitly feminist—such as the course in Middle Eastern literature I am teaching this semester—I can make feminist analysis a part of how I teach them. Indeed, feminism has been central to the way I understand the world since my late teens-early twenties, when reading Adrienne Rich’s On Lies, Secrets and Silence was the only thing that convinced me I wasn’t crazy (a few years later it was Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse). I will have more to say about that further on in this post. For now, let me just say that I have been writing and publishing about issues of manhood and masculinity from a feminist perspective since 1988, when the first of two essays I wrote on women’s reproductive rights was published in Changing Men Magazine. Since then, I have published pieces in more than a few other journals, including this one in that might have turn out to have some relevance to this discussion. If you are interested in seeing more of my work, you can find excerpts on my website. You can also visit my own blog, where this will be cross-posted.

My point in providing these links is not primarily to hawk my own writing—though I will, of course, be very happy to have more readers ;)—but rather to give you the opportunity, should you be interested, (and I guess this is also the academic in me) to see what I write here in the context of a body of work and a perspective I have been developing for more than half my life. My experience here on Alas, especially in threads where the intent of the original post is to expose male privilege as fully as possible, particularly as that privilege is expressed through rape and other forms of violence against women, is that the substance of the ideas originally put forth too often gets lost, as commenters shoot from the hip in ways that either intentionally derail conversations or do so because people are more concerned with their own personal agendas than with actually reading what others have to say. (Anecdotally, and this is also a point I will return to later on, it seems to me that while men more than women are guilty of these derailments, it is not only MRA’s and other anti-feminists/critics of feminism who do this. I had my head quite rightly handed to me in a thread about women and rape that I completely derailed because I got defensive about something I shouldn’t have gotten defensive about.)

While I have no illusion that this post will be any different—though I certainly hope that it is—the issues that arise when male survivors of sexual violence confront feminism, either as an ideology put forth in books or in the bodies of feminist women and men, still need to be talked about. These issues are complex—which is why I have called this post “A Beginning”—and, indicative of this complexity, perhaps, is the fact that while I have already declared my bias in favor of a feminist analysis of things, I do not belive that feminist discourse is a place where male survivors ought to expect either to speak or to be heard in a way that places our experience at the center of whatever is being discussed. Indeed, the post you are reading has its origins in a comment I made to Daran in Abyss2Hope’s Anatomy Of A False Rape Accusation – Part 2. Daran, in a comment that he has since acknowledged was rooted in a misreading of a comment by Q Grrl, made the following statement:

The complaint isn’t just that feminists talk solely of male on female rape, but also that male rape survivors are excluded from services.

Later on, he restated this concern in this way:

I still find [Qgrrl’s] characterisation of those who advocate for the admission of male rape victims to the discourse as “wankers” who “whine” to be offensive. “Respect” is not a one-way street.

I am not interested here in resurrecting either Daran’s misreading of Qgrrl or the discussion that followed it. I have quoted these statements by Daran because I think they say quite succinctly what he and other men see a shortcoming of feminist discourse about sexual violence, i.e., that it does not, by defintion and even by design, make room within itself for a space that can adequately account for the experience of male survivors. I think this concern has validity, though I disagree with the ways in which Daran pursues it—at least as far as I have been able to tell in the short time I have been reading him—and so my response to him read, in part:

You know, Daran, as a man who was sexually abused when I was a child, I have quite a lot of sympathy for a position that is critical of the way in which men are often left out of the sexual-assault discourse, feminist or otherwise. When I was in my late teens and early 20s and just beginning to come to awareness of what had been done to me, no one, and I mean no one, was talking about the fact that boys were sexually abuse; people were just beginning to acknowledge publicly the degree to which it happened to girls […] I would love, therefore, the opportunity to be part of a conversation among men about what it means to be a male survivor of rape and other forms of sexual assault that takes as its starting point not the fact that feminism does not include men in its discourse, which is where you inevitably start these discussions, but rather our experience of men of being sexually violated (and, yes, also of having our experiences dismissed, etc. and so on).

In response to this comment, A2H started an Open Thread For Male Survivors of Sexual Violence, naming me as moderator and asserting that while the problem of “male survivors of sexual abuse/assault being left out of the sexual-assault discourse” is

a real problem that merits attention[, it] too often […] gets mentioned as a way to attack efforts to fight sexual violence directed at girls and women or as an excuse to attack feminism or feminists. That exploits male victims and they deserve better.

Toy Soldier found this a less than inviting introduction, asserting in another comment that A2H’s words were “antagonistic, accusatory and inaccurate.” Ultimately, despite the fact that I posted two or three comments trying to start a discussion of ideas around male survivors and feminism, and at least one or two others, including Jake Squid, tried to move the conversation away from what Amp rightly called “a lot of mutual suspicion and dislike here, on both sides,” the thread devolved onto the topic of what it would take for male survivors who have had negative experiences with feminists on Alas and elsewhere to feel safe posting here. Ultimately, it became clear that the roots of the open thread for male survivros in A2H’s thread on false rape accusations, coupled with the fact that Alas is an explicitly feminist blog, was a problem for at least some of the people who might otherwise want to join this discussion. Hence, this post, which will, I hope, give the discussion a fresh start.

I do not want to deny or trivialize what it feels like for male survivors who have had their experiences of abuse dismissed, denied or trivialized by women or men speaking in the name of feminism. I have had that experience as well, and, as anyone who has survived an assault of any kind must know, to have that experience denied is to be forced to relive the shame and isolation of the original assault. However, someone who speaks in the name of feminism does not represent all of feminism, even if what they are saying can legitimately be called feminist, and it is with feminism that I want to start, not feminists, because if this discussion were to start with a focus on what feminists have said and done or not said and not done when it comes to male survivors of sexual abuse, we would end up right where we ended up in the thread started by Abyss2Hope, with a whole lot of suspicion and mistrust, and we will have gone essentially nowhere.

I was around 19 when I first started to name as sexual abuse what I had experienced at the hands of two different men at two different times of my childhood, and one of the things that enabled me to name that experience was reading the essay “Caryatid: Two Columns,” in On Lies, Secrets and Silence. I remember distinctly being at summer camp, sitting on my bed during my day off and reading and rereading the following passage:

[T]aught to view our bodies as our totality, our genitals as our chief source of fascination and value, many women have become dissociated from their own bodies…viewing themselves as objects to be possessed by men rather than as the subjects of an existence.

I don’t know why, but those words pushed a button somewhere in me, and I began to ask—in fact, I actually heard a voice in my head asking—”But what about me? What about what happened to me?”

Yet even as successive readings of that essay, along with the other pieces in Rich’s book, offered me a way to begin to name my own experience, it also identified me as a man with the same power and privilege that the men who abused me had used to abuse me:

Rape is the ultimate outward physical act of coercion and depersonalization practiced on women by men. Most male readers…would perhaps deny having gone so far: the honest would admit to fantasies, urges of lust and hatred, or lust and fear, or to a “harmless” fascination with pornography and sadistic art.

I was fascinated by pornography; I had fantasies that combined lust and fear; and it was impossible to miss the cynical accusation in Rich’s use of the word “perhaps.” The message was clear. Whatever else might have been true about who I was, I was also, by definition, the enemy, and I did not know how to speak at one and the same time as both a survivor of male sexual violence and someone who participated in it. I don’t know why this paradox did not lead me to reject feminism outright, except to say that reading feminist writers like Rich convinced me that feminism, more than any other ideology I had encountered, pointed to a way of living my life that was antithetical to the way the men who abused me were obviously living theirs.

Nonetheless, the paradox was silencing, so silencing, in fact, that a few years later—and this was after I’d started telling people I’d been abused—in a training session at a different when day camp, when the male session leader told us he was going to use “she” as the generic pronoun referring to kids who might choose to tell us they’d been sexually abused, I found myself unable to confront him about the way that choice rendered me and my experience, not to mention the experiences of the other men and, perhaps more importantly, the boys at the camp who’d had the same experience, invisible. Yes, part of why I didn’t speak up had to do both with the very public nature of the forum I’d be speaking in and the adversarial nature of what I’d be saying, but I also couldn’t speak up because I didn’t have the words, the conceptual vocabulary not only to say “This isn’t fair,” but also to point out that boys’ experience of abuse, my experience of abuse, needed to be understood on its own terms and not as a perhaps anomolous subset of the experience of girls; and one reason I did not have that vocabulary was that it was not to be found in the feminism I’d been reading. (To be fair, no one else had that vocabulary either. At that time, and I am talking here about more than 20 years ago, barely anyone but feminists was willing to acknowledge that sexual abuse happened to girls; no one had even really considered—at least as far as I know—that it was happening to boys as well.)

It was not until a couple of years later, when I was in graduate school, that my perception of the lack of such a vocabulary became the need to develop one. It started when a female friend of mine persuaded me that I should think of what happened when I lost my virginity as an instance of date rape. I have written about that experience here, on my blog, and so I am not going to retell the whole story. What is most relevant here is that, as I came to understand that my friend was wrong, that the girl with whom I had sex for the first time had not raped me (and if you want to know more about that, you need to go read the post on my blog), I also began to articulate distinctions between the ways in which feminism was helpful to me as a survival of child sexual abuse and the ways in which it could not be and, more importantly, was unreasonable for me to expect it to be. Some of these, in no particular order, include:

1. Women, not men, are the subjects of feminist discourse; and men, when men are part of that discourse, are the objects of its analysis. This is not merely the logical result of the fact that most feminists are women; it is a deliberate political stance intended to subvert and ultimately eliminate patriarchy/male dominance. As such, whether you accept a feminist analysis or not, it is pointless to ask feminist discourse to admit men’s subjectivity on an equal footing with women’s—and equal footing is what would be required if one were to try to turn feminism into a forum for dealing with the experience of male survivors of sexual abuse/violence. Stephen Heath’s essay “Male Feminism,” in Men In Feminism, does a great job of articulating the problem of male subjectivity within feminism, but without a specific reference to sexual abuse. (I should also be clear that when I talk about people who do not accept a feminist analysis, I am not talking about people who believe that feminism is itself an oppressive ideology the purpose of which is to subjugate men, or any of the myriad variations on that theme that run through the various strands of conservative discourse out there. I am thinking of people who believe there are other forms of political analysis that adequately account for the kinds of gender imbalances that feminism addresses and that seek the change of those imbalances in the direction of greater equality.)

2. At the same time, however, feminism names the structures—political, socioeconomic, cultural and even psychological—that normalize the kind of power hierarchy that leads to the sexual abuse and exploitation of both boys/men and women/girls. Broadly speaking, feminism gathers these structures under the label patriarchy or male dominance. Curiousgyrl gets at this point in a comment where she points out that “men systematically rape male children and other men [because of the] way that male dominance works; there [are] not only benefits for exercising male dominance but consequences for refusing or being unable to do so.” I realize that her formulation very neatly elides the fact that there are also female abusers. What I will say about female abusers for now is this: the boys/men they abuse are also suffering the consequences “of refusing or being unable” to exercise male dominance. In other words, even if female abusers do not neatly fit the feminist paradigm of the dominant and abusive male, boys and men who have been abused by women still suffer their abuse within a male dominant context, and it is feminism that first named that context for what it is. Still, the phenomenon that curiousgyrl points out is a structural one; it does not get at male survivors’ interior experience, and it is that experience I am hoping this post will motivate people to discuss.

3. Feminism, more than any other socio-cultural/political form of analysis, articulates the different positions boys/men and girls/women occupy vis-a-vis sexual violence. When a girl or woman is raped, the rape enacts, confirms, affirms her status in a male dominant society as a sexual object; it makes explicit that part of the social script for what it means to be a woman that says a woman exists to be used sexually by men. On the other hand, when a boy or man is raped, the rape interrupts his status as a sexual subject; it turns him into something he is not supposed to be in a male dominant culture. Part of talking about men’s experience of sexual abuse on its own terms, it seems to me, has to include the taking apart of this aspect of the experience; and I do not see how we can talk about this without coming to the conclusion that male sexual subjectivity in a male dominant culture is built on the denial of precisely the vulnerability that abusers exploit. This conclusion, carried to its logical political and socio-cultural ends, is a quintessentially feminist insight.

Some things about the discussion and moderation:

1. This thread is open to anyone who has something substantive and constructive to add to a discussion of feminism and male survivors of sexual abuse/violence. My title includes the world “child” in parentheses because child sexual abuse is what I experienced, and so, for me, a central motivation in taking the time to write this post is something I said in this comment:

[G]iven the number of boys who are sexually abused–statistics I have seen range from 1 in 5 to 1 in 7–the problem of the sexual abuse of boys cannot be framed, simply, as the individual problems of those boys who have been assaulted. The problem needs to be politicized [….]

2. Daran argues that the result of the exclusion of male survivor experiences from feminist discourse has material consequences in that male survivors are sometimes refused services because they are men and that organizations which would serve men are either refused or have a hard time getting funding. This is a serious issue, but I do not think this thread is the place to have it What I want to talk about here are the ways in which we talk about male survivors’ experiences, the ways in which we conceptualize it, because those things will form the foundation of how we argue for services and funding.

Okay, I guess that’s it for now. Let’s see where this discussion takes us.

This entry posted in Anti-feminists and their pals, Feminism, sexism, etc, Rape, intimate violence, & related issues, Sexism hurts men. Bookmark the permalink. 

53 Responses to Male Survivors of (Child) Sexual Abuse/Violence and Feminism, A Beginning

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  7. 7
    name withheld to respect his privacy says:

    I’m a woman who dated a male survivor of sexual abuse. His stepfather made him have sex with his sister (as much as they were capable at their tender ages). He felt an enormous amount of guilt and never thought of identifying what happened as abuse until we talked about it. I was the first person he’d ever told. I pointed out to him that it never would have happened if the stepfather hadn’t been in the picture. This hadn’t even occurred to him, though it was blindingly obvious to him once I’d voiced it. I also got him the book “Victims No Longer”. We didn’t speak about it again.

    There is such silence around this topic that I just wanted to post this experience. He is not the only survivor I know. I’ve only had one conversation with the others, too. The female survivors I know, we talk about it much more often.

    Here’s a musing of mine about differences between the genders and abuse. If memory serves, both men and women suffer abuse more often at the hands of men than of women. Since most people are heterosexual, this means that most male survivors don’t have to seek mates among the class of people that abused them (adult men), while most female survivors do. That’s kind of what I’ve seen in the male survivors I’ve known – they can leave it behind more, because they won’t be relating sexually to men, but female survivors are forced to try to learn how not to let the experience affect their current relationships with men. However, it’s got to be weird to grow up into the class that abused you – if this is what adult men do and now I’m an adult man, what does that mean? I think that’s something my boyfriend was having difficulty with. I’d like to think it was healing for him to hear from me that I didn’t consider him to be like his abuser in any way, since I was in the same class as his sister (who he felt he’d abused until we talked about it).

    I look forward to hearing what everyone has to say.

  8. 8
    VK says:

    “when the male session leader told us he was going to use “she” as the generic pronoun referring to kids who might choose to tell us they’d been sexually abused”

    When will people remember that “they” is a perfectly acceptable pronoun when you are talking about a random person. It was good enough for Shakespeare!

  9. name withheld:

    Thank you for your comment and for your musing. Know that any time a survivor tells someone who is willing to listen to and believe him or her, it is a healing experience and makes it easier to tell the next person. I also want to provide a link to Victims No Longer. It is a crucial book for male survivors, I think. Reading it literally changed my life.

  10. Oops! Pressed “submit” too soon. I also wanted to say to VK that while you may be correct in terms of English usage, we should not lose sight of the fact that the session leader’s choice of “she” as the generic pronoun was, at the time, which was more than 20 years ago, a political statement that was important to make. It’s only in hindsight, though I think the way I wrote it does not make this entirely clear, that the exclusion of boys is so glaring.

  11. 11
    Abyss2hope says:

    Thank you. I’m not sure on point one if men are only the objects of analysis or if the issue is a rejection of putting men at the center because that mirrors the societal structures that allow women to be treated as secondary or as objects. What’s rejected is the idea that women and girls can have any right they want as long as it doesn’t make boys and men uncomfortable or feel left out.

  12. A2H:

    What’s rejected is the idea that women and girls can have any right they want as long as it doesn’t make boys and men uncomfortable or feel left out.

    If I read you correctly–though I am expanding on your use of the term “rights”–what you are saying is that feminism rejects the idea that the ways in which women and girls define their experiences ought not to be circumscribed by what makes men uncomfortable or feel left out. By implication, this means that it is not the job of feminism to help men come to terms with feeling left out, etc. This is essentially what I meant in point one, when I said that women, not men, are the subjects of feminist discourse and that men ought not, therefore, to expect to be put on an equal footing with women within feminist discourse–because a feminist analysis/focus on women’s experience will, by definition, leave men on the margins at one point or another, and will absolutely render men as the objects of analysis. More to the point, for a man/men to insist that the way to deal with that marginalization is for his/our experience to be made central, or co-central with women’s experience, within feminism is precisely for him/us to try to circumscribe what women can say because he has been made uncomfortable.

    When Daran and others ask for “inclusion,” I think he is insisting in precisely the way I have just described, and I think that is ultimately a self-defeating strategy. Far more fruitful, it seems to me, is to accept this aspect of feminism for what it is–a limitation that results from looking at the world through a particular perspective–take from feminism what is useful and then try to articulate male experience in a way that complements/informs/enhances/choose-your-word a feminist analysis.

  13. 13
    Abyss2hope says:

    what you are saying is that feminism rejects the idea that the ways in which women and girls define their experiences ought not to be circumscribed by what makes men uncomfortable or feel left out.

    Yes. And I think some people misinterpret this as a desire to turn the oppressed into the oppressors and to excuse or enable the victimization of men.

    Feminism generates many ideas, programs and processes that aren’t gender specific and this is where men can be included. Many of the early feminist-run rape lines were transformed into victim service agencies which serve both genders and a variety of crime victims and include men in the volunteers who answer the crisis line. Along the way some of these programs also developed strong alliances with traditionally male dominated institutions like law enforcement, prosecutors offices and department of corrections.

    Because of this focus of not letting others circumscribe our experiences, people who try to power their way in to feminism or programs that help women are going to be met with resistance. The message that gets received is that women don’t deserve anything just for them even if that thing counters harm that is mostly directed at girls and women.

  14. 14
    ms_xeno says:

    Abyss wrote:

    …is that women don’t deserve anything just for them…

    Also, that any help that comes to men should be taken directly from women. Somehow, looking at why the pie gets split up the way it does in terms of social funding never happens in these discussions. It all becomes about the male power to grab an already small slice of dollars (pounds, yen, marks) away from women. The rest of the pie, which is already male-owned, is not disturbed and the men in charge of it are not confronted about the way they treat other men. >:

  15. 15
    RonF says:

    I just did a search on “Changing Men Magazine”, and while I found a few authors who were being quoted as having had their work published in it, I couldn’t find a site for the magazine itself. Can you tell me what it is?

  16. ms._xeno:

    The rest of the pie, which is already male-owned, is not disturbed and the men in charge of it are not confronted about the way they treat other men

    While I asked in the original post that discussions of funding and such be kept for another time, I have put in boldface the part of your comment that I think goes right to the heart of things in this post. Male survivors do not, as a rule, as a group, a politicized group, confront the men in charge, and part of what I am hoping for, if people are willing to have the discussion I am trying to start, is that a way of talking about and as male survivors will begin to emerge that can lead to that confrontation.

    RonF: Changing Men is no longer published, but it was a pro-feminist (at least pro-feminist is the label I remember it using; my copies are in storage) men’s publication that was, if I remember correctly, affiliated with the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, which has a website, here.

  17. 17
    Blue says:

    Not wanting to divert this thread, I blogged at my own site about some tangential connections I’ve made to what Richard Jeffrey Newman writes here. I think it might be interesting to Alas readers, but probably should be discussed on my site or somewhere at Alas other than this thread.

  18. 18
    twf says:

    I find it interesting that you seem to be saying that male victims of sexual abuse often don’t find feminism hospitable to them. My husband was raped as an teenager (by a group of other teenagers). I think “name withheld” has something right there: it can be hard to be or become a member of the group that abused you. I think my husband has found a lot of comfort in feminism. It has taught him that he doesn’t have to become the abuser, that he can take a different path, and be a different kind of man. It’s as important to him as it is to us women feminists that biology not become destiny.

  19. 19
    Myca says:

    Well, there’s a not-particularly-large-but-extremely-vocal contingent of feminism that’s turned exclusion of men and scorn for male victims of abuse into a virtue. This, although it in no way represents 90% of feminism, neatly confirms every scare story about feminism, and when, as a victim of abuse, you encounter it, it can be extremely traumatic.

    This is why I think it’s important to make the distinction clear between that kind of shit and what Abyss2hope and RJN are talking about. It’s not that feminists ‘don’t care’ about male victims, it’s just that they’re busy enough dealing with their own issues to deal with ours.


  20. 20
    Abyss2hope says:

    Myca, it isn’t that feminists are too busy to deal with men, but that men’s issues related to sexual violence or domestic violence are not fully within the scope of feminism. To use what works for female victims on male victims isn’t effective and may cause male victims to feel disrespected.

    That’s why I talked about alliances. These can benefit from the areas of common ground while respecting areas that are different.

  21. 21
    Myca says:

    I think that this is part of why there are male activists who use terms like ‘genderist’ or something similar . . . to indicate that they’re not MRA’s (because MRA’s are usually pretty awful) and they’re not Feminists (because Feminism doesn’t offer a way of dealing with many of their concerns) but that they are concerned with fighting stereotypical gender roles and the ways that they hurt men and women.


  22. 22
    Abyss2hope says:

    One key issue when men ask feminists to support their needs and goals is whether there is a good faith effort on the part of the men to support what feminists are doing for women in a particular area. The feeling of being a commodity to be exploited for men’s benefit is a huge trigger for many women who have a history of being raped or abused by men.

    Many men accidentally set off these triggers when they demand inclusion and then react to the trigger behavior by escalating. Tit for tat may feel good in the moment, but it is ineffective. If a man verbally abuses me or calls me names or throws accusations my way, I’m going to treat him with suspicion.

    I don’t deserve verbal abuse and I won’t stick around for more. That doesn’t make me anti-male or disdainful of male victims. I’ll wish that man good luck, but from a safe distance.

  23. 23
    Deborah says:

    Many years ago, I used to facilitate a group for survivors of sexual abuse. I was the contact person for that group listed with a number of social service agencies. As such, I became the de facto hotline for sexual abuse survivors in a large portion of New Jersey.

    When we had our founding meeting, we discussed having it be a meeting for survivors, or for women survivors. I believe there were four of us (all women) at that meeting, with three voting for women-only, and mine being the only voice for an inclusive survivor’s group.

    My purpose was to make a safe space for survivors. If women don’t feel they can show up unless they are assured the space is woman-only, then only a women-only space is safe and fulfilling of our purpose. On the other hand, that meant there was no safe space for male survivors. Of course, men were free to start their own groups, but in the early stages of acknowledging oneself as a survivor, that is an unlikely move to make. “Newbie” survivors are somewhat dependent upon veterans who experience more stability while living with the knowledge of what they survived.

    It was painful to turn away survivors and tell them there was no meeting for them.

    It is my belief that it can be healing for women survivors to be in mixed groups and experience fellowship with male survivors; to break the idea that it is men who victimize, and instead see that it is perps who victimize. Personally, I always found the difference between male and female communication styles immensely refreshing in mixed survivor groups. It felt healing to hear male-style language applied to being a survivor. And in a moderated group, there need be no fear that male voices will dominate.

    But, most women survivors simply didn’t want to go there.

  24. 24
    Myca says:

    I tend to think that there are places for all of the above. In a perfect world, we ought to have female-only survivor groups, male-only survivor groups, and mixed groups, all three, because each serves a separate and valuable purpose.

    Of course, the problem is one of funding & etc . . .

    Further complicating the process, for me anyway, is that I don’t feel particularly safe in an all-male context. My experience with other men has been a fairly unpleasant one in general, so when I hear someone like Heart waxing rhapsodic about creating safe space by creating female-only space, I get a little . . . jealous? Not like I want to invade or usurp the space she’s created, just that I wish I had that too. I get a little voice in the back of my head saying “Man, I really don’t know how to find safe space for me.” I feel as though I need to be almost constantly on my guard.

  25. 25
    Abyss2hope says:


    I can relate to your concern and I do think mixed groups can be safe spaces. I know that a women-only space is not automatically a safe space. Some of the most appalling comments I’ve heard have come from both women and men.

    A local female police officer who works with sex crime investigations told a group of victims advocates at a training session that female rape victims want to deal with an officer who will treat them ethically, with respect and who will gather evidence in ways that can hold up if a case goes to trial. Being a female cop doesn’t automatically make someone fit this criteria. Neither does it automatically exclude male police officers.

  26. 26
    twf says:

    If there really were places for male victims, they wouldn’t need to come to the women’s spaces. But support for abused boys and men is so scarce, and they are likely to be rejected (even insulted, in some cases) if they, say, call a rape crisis line. Women need their spaces, especially if they’re so hurt they have trouble spending time with men. Men also need support. My husband is not one to look for groups or institutional support, and instead has looked to his own resources and mine. But I still think that abused men and boys should have something for them.

    And the jokes need to stop. The jokes about prison rape, for instance, are common and extremely hurtful. My husband and I both play online video games and the occasional “gang-rape” reference gets to be a bit much. Especially for those of us who have experienced that reality.

    This has been a very calm and respectful thread. I’m glad of that.

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  28. 27
    Abyss2hope says:

    Toy Soldier quotes my comments in this thread starting when I talked about men trying to power their way in (this refers to HOW men interact with feminists who work to reduce the amount of violence against women) to imply that I am in favor of excluding men from services for victims of sexual violence. This is incorrect.

    While some specific programs aren’t conducive to opening up to men, many can and should be inclusive. For the programs that can’t be inclusive, there’s no reason those who want similar programs for men can’t volunteer to make that a reality.

    An ex-city councilman in my town went on an extended rant against the sexism of our local women’s shelter and the director tried to explain why it would remain a women’s shelter, explained that men were placed in local motels when they qualified, and offered to help this councilman create a shelter for abused men. The councilman wasn’t interested. He prefered scorning feminist activists to working respectfully with them to get what he said he wanted.

    So often when conflict arises around the inclusion of men or boys there is a demand, but no evidence of willingness to do any of the work needed to expand what’s available.

    Toy Soldier is correct that many feminists once used the same powering in techniques. Often these techniques grabbed attention, but didn’t do much else. Rather than waiting for men to act, some of these women started their own rape crisis lines. A key to success was the subsequent building of alliances with those feminists believed were harming victims. They turned opponents into allies whenever they could.

    Rather than simply demanding that rape crisis lines change how they respond to male callers, those who see problems in this area can work to provide education to those who run rape crisis lines. Or a male sexual violence survivor can volunteer to be on-call to help male victims.

    When I went through training to answer my local rape crisis line one of my fellow volunteers was a man who is an invaluable addition. Partly because of volunteers like him, the idea that only women should answer rape crisis lines is changing.

  29. 28
    Myca says:

    Re: Triggering

    I think that part of the issue overall is *both* that that male victims do things that trigger female victims (The feeling of being a commodity to be exploited for men’s benefit is a huge trigger for many women who have a history of being raped or abused by men) and that female victims do things that trigger male victims (The feeling of having your experiences minimized and being excluded is a huge trigger for many male victims who already have an experience of intense alienation and exclusion).

    Now, I’m not saying this by way of ‘a pox on both your houses’ or that everyone is equally ‘bad’ or culpable or anything like that, I’m just saying that the process of escalation is easy to come to and hard as hell to prevent. Triggering abounds.

    You can be sure that on either side, the very first person to say “Your attitude is so typical of the ignorance of your gender. Well fuck you! I don’t care about what’s happened to you if you’re going to come at me with that attitude,” feels 100% justified in their vitriol, no matter their gender or the gender of their opposition.


  30. 29
    Abyss2hope says:

    Myca, you are right on about triggering on both sides. This is a huge barrier to inclusion that isn’t the fault of one group or another.

  31. 30
    Richard Jeffrey Newman says:

    I’d like to venture something here: One of the things that feminists will rightly insist on when men want to be part of what I will broadly call “the feminist conversation” (though of course it is quite a bit more than a conversation), perhaps especially when that conversation is about sexual violence, is that the men in question should acknowledge, take responsibility for, and be willing to be held accountable for, their own male privilege and the male privilege that men have as a class, even when the individual man in question might not share in some aspects of that privilege. (A gay man, for example, whose privilege will not include the privileges inhering in male heterosexuality.)

    One of the things that I think it is often difficult for male survivors of sexual abuse to see–and this is something I struggled with when I first started to think about my own experience in connection with feminism–because the effects of the abuse are so pervasive, so all-encompassing in terms of how it effects our lives, is that the fact of the abuse does not, in and of itself, change our status as men in the larger culture. In other words, and I will put this in terms of myself: It took me quite a while to see that even though it was not unreasonable for me to feel that the abuse I survived wiped me clean of male privilege, that feeling would and could not correspond to my position in the world even if I never consciously tried to exercise male privilege ever again.

    I am wondering two things: 1. To what degree is there a failure within feminist circles to acknowledge and accept the validity of this feeling, by which I do not mean that male survivors should get a free pass when it comes to male privilege, and 2. To what degree does this failure contribute to the alienation many male survivors feel from feminism–whether or not those men will ultimately accept a feminist view of the world.

  32. 31
    Abyss2hope says:

    Richard, this is a tricky problem that requires more than action on women’s part to solve so I’m not sure it can properly be labeled as a failure within feminist circles. Women can’t acknowledge and accept something they have never experienced themselves and have not received any training to deal with.

    Anyone who is trying to navigate a situation without experience or a map is going to have trouble. That’s why well-meaning men can hurt women who are survivors and why well-meaning women can hurt men who are survivors. It’s also why well meaning women who have never experienced any violence from men can hurt women who have experienced great violence from men. Ditto for well-meaning men toward men who have been victims.

    It takes more than good intentions. The biggest hurdle is to recognize what we don’t know and to respect other people’s experiences and perspective in areas we have assumed we understood fully.

  33. A2H:

    this is a tricky problem that requires more than action on women’s part to solve

    Of course. And I am not suggesting that there has been no failure on the part of men or that men don’t need to take some form of action in order to solve the problem. And I should add that in using the word “failure” I am not trying to lay blame; I mean the word descriptively.

    However, your response to my question doesn’t really address the question itself—which I may not have asked as clearly as I could have—because while you implicity suggest that the answer to the first part of my question is an at least qualified yes, because “women can’t acknowledge and accept something they have never experienced themselves and have not received any training to deal with” (an absolutely valid point that I do not dispute), instead of addressing the second part of my question, you universalize things to point out (again, reasonably and accurately) that the dynamic I was getting at is one that exists in multiple directions.

    I framed my question specifically in terms of male privilege and how feminists (male or female) and male survivors might view and experience the relationship of male survivors to male privilege differently for a couple of reasons:

    1. I want to ask whether the relationship of male survivors to male privilege is indeed more complex than that of men who have not been abused, even if those men might be part of some other out-group, i.e. people of color or gay men. This is something I want to write about in my next post, which will deal with the issue of female perpetrators, and I think it is an important question, theoretical and practical, that feminists (male and female) need to think about. (And just to be clear: I am not claiming that male abusers do not have male privilege.)

    2. When men like Toy Soldiers insist that all they are asking for “is that male survivors be included in the general discussion,” they do no see themselves as exercising what feminists would call male privilege because they do not see the “general discussion,” or even the notion of a general discussion, or of men trying to turn a discussion within feminism about sexual violence against women into a general discussion about sexual violence against women and men, as at all gendered, and I would venture that they don’t see it as at all gendered in part because of how they experience themselves as survivors of sexual assault.

    Feminists, on the other hand, often experience the insistence on that “general discussion,” especially when it is made in an attempt to broaden a discussion about sexual violence against women into a discussion that includes male survivors as well, as an exercise in male privilege of precisely the type that was and continues to be used to obfuscate the realities of male violence against women in the first place.

    I am typing quickly here because I need to go grade papers, but what I am trying get at is that I asked my question as a way of beginning to ask whether feminist thinking about the relationship of male survivors to male privilege is itself an obstacle to our talking to men like Toy Soldiers and Daran across our differences so that we can find common ground. Because I do think that they have something to offer, even if I disagree profoundly with their politics overall. The answer may be no, but I think the question is worth asking.

    (And given that Daran and Toy Soldiers each has a history here, I want to say that I am not talking about them as individual personalities, but rather as people who represent a paritcular position. I don’t want to get into a discussion of who has behaved more badly and how and why, etc. and so on.)

    As I said, though, these are issues I hope to develop more fully in my next post, which will probably not come until after the holidays are over.

  34. 33
    Jake Squid says:

    1. I want to ask whether the relationship of male survivors to male privilege is indeed more complex than that of men who have not been abused, even if those men might be part of some other out-group, i.e. people of color or gay men.

    Here is what I see. The relationship is not more complex, it is merely different. And it can be different in a number of ways, but I see two of them much more often. A male survivor may become more aware of male privilege as a result of his experience. Or he may come to believe that, due to his experience, male privilege doesn’t exist at all (or is negligible at best). I think that we have seen both of those on many threads at Alas.

    For me, my experiences have made me more aware of how the current dynamics of power are condoned by society. Male over female, white over not white, etc. As a result, a lot of feminist theory resonates with me.

  35. 34
    Not quite there yet says:

    The address for this blog was sent to me by a former girlfriend who, despite my having treated her very badly during our relationship, still thinks of me and tries to help me from time to time. It’s an interesting conversation and I’m glad she sent me the link.

    I’m a male survivor of abuse by a female and have yet to find any space at all in which I am comfortable talking about those experiences (it’s a bit difficult to write this, but I’m trying). I need to take a bit of time and sort out what I’m thinking about this, then I’ll try to post something with a bit more substance.

    But, for the record.. I have felt left out of the discussion and that my own experiences have been denied, but by society at large more than by feminism. I no longer believe that the subject has any place in feminist discourse except in those places where feminist thought and progress might inform and help those of us with the difficult task of trying to define and deal with the problem for ourselves. I certainly do not hold it against any feminist who does discuss experiences like mine.

    I just wanted to say that I appreciate that this discussion exists. That people are talking about it with any seriousness at all makes it a bit easier for me to talk about it. Thanks.

  36. not quite there:

    I just wanted to say that I am glad you are here. I do plan to write about the question of female perpetrators, but not until after the new year.

    And let me wish everyone a good holiday, whichever one you celebrate, and a happy New Year!

  37. 36
    Abyss2hope says:

    Not quite there yet, thank you for speaking up. Just as no man has the right to abuse, no woman or girl does either.

  38. 37
    BritGirlSF says:

    I’m not sure if this would be considered relevant to the discussion or not, since he was 23 when it happened, but my ex boyfriend was raped. He actually did get help from a feminist-run rape crisis center – at least they tried to help, though I think they were a bit at a loss as to HOW to help since they weren’t used to working with male victims. So was I, to be honest. I tried to help as much as I could, but at 17 I didn’t really have the experience to be of much use. He did seem to feel better after telling me, and that seemed to be what made it easier for him to approach the rape crisis center.
    What really horrified me about the whole thing was how unsupportive the men in his life were when he finally found the courage to talk to them. His brother was horrible to him. Several “friends” implied that he must secretely be gay and the men who attacked him somehow sensed that, as if that would be any justification. I can’t think of a single man he told who was helpful in any way. That was a sad thing to watch.
    It did make me wonder to what extent that’s an issue that all male survivors have to deal with, if it makes them question their sexual orientation, or if they commonly get that reaction from others. I wonder if even men who were children when they were abused ask themselves that question.
    Please note – I’m not homphobic. There’s no judgement implied. I just wonder how it effects survivors in general because I saw how it affected my ex, who was straight. Then again the men who attacked him used gay-bashing as part of the pretext and run-up to the attack, so that wasn’t helping.
    Apologies if this is considered off-topic since he was older when it happened. I guess I’ve just always wished I could have helped more, and would like to have some idea what the best way to help would be if I ever find myself in that position again. It also bothers me that feminists are so often accused of not caring about this issue, because I think most of us do, we’re just not sure what we can really do to help.

  39. 38
    BritGirlSF says:

    Or, to clarify that rather long and rambling comment – what can we as feminists actually do to help in a direct, person-to-person sense? It seems that many male survivors, when they do talk about what happened, talk to a girlfriend or close female friend first. Feminist-identified women may be more likely than most to be on the receiving end of those confessions, since we talk about rape and abuse more openly than most people.
    I think that many feminists are very much willing to engage in the discussion with male survivors, we just don’t really know where to begin.

  40. BritGirl:

    Your ex-boyfriend’s experience, unfortunately, is not unique, and your willingness to listen to him and believe him with what I will call a compassionate affirmation is the first and most important thing that anyone, male or female, feminist-identified or not, can do.

    If—and this is for Not Quite There Yet also—if you go to Toy Soldiers’ blog, there is in one of the sidebars a very good list of organizations that set up specifically to deal with male survivors. Each of their sites has wonderful online resources. I also want to mention again the book Victims No Longer, because it will give any individual who is intimately involved with a male survivor not only a clear and comprehensible picture of what a male survivor goes through, but also—if I remember correctly; it’s been many years since I read it and my copy is in storage—a good set of guidelines for what you can do to help the survivor on an interpersonal level.

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  42. 40
    Not quite there yet says:

    So I guess being nice and anonymous on here makes it a bit easier to talk about this stuff without getting all worked up, so I’ll try to explain my own experience with a bit more substance;

    BritGirlSF wrote; “It did make me wonder to what extent that’s an issue that all male survivors have to deal with, if it makes them question their sexual orientation,”

    For myself, this was exactly the case. The person who abused me was female and throughout the period that I was exposed to her she belittled me and made me feel that it was abnormal for me not to enjoy what she was doing. The entire thing was extremely confusing for me. My body would frequently operate in opposition to my emotions and my emotions would operate in opposition to what I perceived my role to be as a male (my understanding of masculinity was of course that I was supposed to be the one ‘pursuing’ sexual interaction with a female, not having it forced on me). I am still coming to terms with what sex means for me and, while I don’t think that it’s an excuse for any of the risky and deceptive behavior I’ve engaged in, I think it’s definitely played a role. In short, the experience for me did not make me question my sexual orientation (in any serious way.. I think every male does some questioning) so much as inflate the importance of sex in my life and make me generally confused and upset about what sex means to me.

    Phew.. Ok, taking a deep breath.

    BritGirlSF then asked; “what can we as feminists actually do to help in a direct, person-to-person sense? ”

    First of all.. Thanks for asking. I think that as men we have a very difficult time empathizing or relating to each other when it comes to things like this so it’s nearly impossible to talk to other men about these things (I have never made any attempt). In my own case, it was a above-mentioned feminist-leaning girlfriend that I first talked to about my own abuse. I think the most important thing that she did for me was to listen and be there without passing judgement on my feelings. I don’t really know what else can be done. For me these days, the most useful thing (in terms of developing a healthier outlook on sex and being ok with myself) is to try and expose those assumptions and things I’d been taught about being a man that had made the experience of abuse so impossible to deal with or seek any help about. This is work that I’m doing with other men (though they do not, so far as I’m aware, have a history of sexual abuse.. but then who knows, they’d say that about me..). Possibly one thing a woman could do if a man confides this sort of thing to them would be to gently encourage them to get involved with a men’s group that deals with some of the issues around masculinity? The big wall for me has always been an inability to seek any kind of help about this. I’d say anything that can be done to help with that is most important.

    Also.. As men we often come up with the worst, most harmful possible ways to express stress, anger, etc. I think it’s important that if a man confides a history of abuse to you, it’s important that you not accept that as an excuse for him to misbehave in his relationship with you. When my relationship with the woman I first told came to an end, it was only after a lot of cheating and angry, manipulative behavior on my part that I think she tolerated for far too long. In the years since then my treatment of her has become one of my greatest sources of shame. If we’re not being good people, don’t let us get away with it just because we’ve been hurt, I guess that’s all I’m saying.


  43. 41
    Abyss2hope says:

    Not quite there yet, thank you for having the courage to talk about your experience including the aftermath. What she did was wrong and her belittling of you reflects only on her character not yours.

  44. NQTY: Let me also say thank you for sharing your experience and that I respect and am grateful for the courage it took for you to say the things that you did. You wrote this:

    For me these days, the most useful thing (in terms of developing a healthier outlook on sex and being ok with myself) is to try and expose those assumptions and things I’d been taught about being a man that had made the experience of abuse so impossible to deal with or seek any help about.

    I just want to say that, while our experiences of abuse appear to have been vastly different in quite significant ways–both of my abusers were male and the abuse did not involve at all the kind of belittling you describe–the process of coming to terms with masculinity has also been central to my own healing, as far as it has progressed so far.

    Again, my thanks to you for sharing your experience.

  45. 43
    Jake Squid says:

    … the process of coming to terms with masculinity…

    I find this to be fascinating because that just hasn’t been a part of my development. I suppose it was to some extent before the age of 12 or so, but then I noticed that masculinity, as defined by the people I was around, entailed being an asshole. I can remember the specific moment at which I noticed and opted out. That doesn’t mean I never again behaved like an asshole, I just didn’t do so in stereotypically masculine ways.

    As a result, I think that I was already open to feminism given feminism’s views on gender roles. So as I learned more about feminism, it became easier to integrate into my worldview and my thoughts on abuse and its effect on me as well as giving me a vocabulary and theories with which to define power structures.

    A big part of my interest in this discussion is finding the similarities and differences between myself and others.

  46. 44
    Not quite there yet says:

    Abyss2hope and Richard, thanks for the words of encouragement. This is really the only venue (apart from talking with my former and current partners) in which I’ve ever discussed any of this and now that I’m getting started, it feels pretty good just to get it out there.. Not sure why. .

    Jake said;

    I suppose it was to some extent before the age of 12 or so, but then I noticed that masculinity, as defined by the people I was around, entailed being an asshole. I can remember the specific moment at which I noticed and opted out. That doesn’t mean I never again behaved like an asshole, I just didn’t do so in stereotypically masculine ways.

    Wow. I’d be interested to hear, if you’re willing to share, about the sort of environment you grew up in that made that kind of insight and decision possible. I can guess about the sort of male role models you had that allowed you to reject that model. But did you have any male in your life that modelled another way of being? Was it modelled by a woman? I was raised primarily by my mother, who always tried very hard to show us good role models (there was always a picture of cesar Chavez on the fridge). But while she said one thing she lived with a fairly angry alcoholic (there was no physical abuse) and the environment at school and in the community tended toward the physically hostile so as I grew up I wanted to learn to fight, drive fast, be sexually aggressive (this was tempered somewhat by my mother’s teaching, I think.. but not enough.), and just generally engage in typical male gender-role risk-taking behavior. It was only later (around college) when my interests and circle of friends made me start questioning any of this. About the time I started questioning my role as a male was, perhaps not coincidentally, the time that I really started to recall my experiences of abuse and recognize that they had really happened. Before that time I had convinced myself that they were just recurring nightmares I’d had about that woman.

    A question for the other survivors; did you always understand that you had been abused or did you also modify the story you told yourself about it?

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  49. 45
    Matthew Ford says:

    My name is Matthew Ford, from Victoria, BC.
    I was reading your article in regards to Isolation and trust me… It hit home with me.

    I have a mixture of Epilepsy, Depression, and Aspergers Syndrome.

    My childhood began in Manitoba (middle of Canada) and was fine until my first Epileptic Seizure in 1970 while standing in line by the teacher’s desk, waiting to have my spelling checked. The next thing I knew, I was being loaded onto a bed, and wheeled out to an ambulance.

    Based on Public Safety Standards (so I’m told) I was taken out of a Public School and placed in a Home for the Mentally Challenged, called “The Manitoba School” out in a small town called Portage La Prairie. Doctors figured that since a seizure burns out a few Brain Cells each time, I was on a slow road to Retardation. First thing they did to me, which was mandatory for all patients, was to be sexually “fixed”. Since I was under legal age, they didn’t need my consent, but required my parents to sign the papers if i’m to be admitted. There was no such thing as an Epilepsy Society in Canada back then.

    When the first Epilepsy Society was founded in Canada in 1974, it wasn’t shortly after that Epilepsy was declared NOT a mental illness, and I was free to leave and return to a normal public school. But the Public treated me like a Criminal Released from Jail, and didn’t want me near their kids.

    While my older brother stayed there with his friends, my parents took me out west to Victoria, BC, and had me registered in a Public School without telling anyone about my Epilepsy. But after the first seizure in class, the word was out.

    Since it was illegal to ban me, they had no choice to allow me to attend classes, but restrictions were soon placed on me… No participating in Field Trips, Dances, and Sports Events. In the classroom, Teachers complained that my seizures were disrupting the class, and I was always late on assignments due to lessons I failed to attend. Even though my marks were D’s and U’s, they passed me onto the next grade, until I finished Grade 12 but wasn’t allowed to attend the Grad Ceremonies or Dance afterwards.

    Next, my parents told me that since they have to work, they can’t just leave me at home. What if I have a seizure and get taken to the hospital, leaving their house open to burglars? I started looking at apartments, when my parents said they’d found the perfect place…a Home for the Handicapped.

    In there, I got raped by a Gay Male Caregiver who labled me as “fresh meat”. I had a seizure, then woke up being put in a wheelchair and taken to my room, and put to bed to sleep it off. When I woke up, I found I’d been stripped Naked and that caregiver was orally satisfying himself with me.

    When my room-mate got back from dinner, I told him and he took me to the Police to report it. The Police then came and talked to the Caregiver who denied it, then used my disability to convince the Police that I must have been having a bad dream after a seizure of that magnitude, and the fact that nobody else saw it, therefore it’s probably all in my head. The Police agreed and left. Then the Caregiver threatened me what he’ll do if I ever call the Police on him again.

    The abuse happened over and over, with the Caregiver using my seizures like that Date Rape Drug that’s out on the streets now, to knock women out. I had no knowledge it was taking place until I woke up. Each time I went to the Police, they asked if there was anyone there that actually saw it happen. If not, then “No Witness, No Case”. The abuse went on for 4 years and the Police eventually ignored any further reportings.

    I tried to get counselling from the Rape Crisis Center,but they only assist Female Victims, marking men as the abusers, and since my abuser was a male, there you go! Therefore no men are allowed in their facility.

    There’s a place called the BC Male Survivors of Sexual Assault, but they charge $80 a session for their help. Living on Disability, I couldn’t afford that. They suggested I take my abuser to court and if I win and get compensation for it, I could have the money sent to them and they’ll give me all the help I want. But once again, No Witness, No Case. Now, 11 years later, the guy is dead, so case closed.

    Then I met a woman who also has Epilepsy and we became great lovers. At first, I thought my life was going to be so much easier, but when it came to sex, the memories were hard to bear, but she helped me through it. When she told her friends about me, and what we were doing together, they told her Caregivers, and they in turn called the Police. In their eyes, I’m taking advantage of a vulnerable woman. I admitted to our cuddle times and kissing, and the Police call it Sexual Assault. The fact that she enjoyed being with me didn’t matter. They know what’s best for her.

    I got finger printed, then told I’m banned from seeing her ever again, then got released on probation with a date to appear in court. I have to sign in every two weeks, to prove I’m still in town. If I don’t, then a Canada-wide warrant for my arrest will be posted.

    Wait a minute!!!! How is it that they can press charges against me, when I wasn’t forcing her to date me? In fact, she’s the one who loved to undress me!!! And yet they’re calling it Sexual Assault? Where’s the “Innocent until Proven Guilty” thing?

    If that’s the way they handle cases like that, then why wasn’t My case dealt the same way? Why wasn’t the Caregiver who classed me as “fresh meat” banned from coming near me, and put on Probation, and given a day to appear in court?

    It’s like the Rape Crisis Center… They only help women.

    Friends have told me that they’ve seen my girlfriend in tears because I’m not allowed to take her out anymore, all because of what her caregivers and the Police think is best.

    My Dad got me a Lawyer who thinks this is stupid, and the judge should throw it out. But if it does go to court, be prepared for a different personality of my girlfriend. They’ll probably be coaching her what to say, and suggesting things to make her real mad at me.

    I can’t seem to get a girlfriend from the “Normal” society (without disabilities), as my epilepsy bans me from driving and working, which women expect in a man. But I can socialize well with people who have disabilities, treating each other as equals.

    To avoid me finding another girlfriend, the Police changed their restrictions. Not only am I to stay away from her, but ALL people with disabilities, accusing me as being a Pedophile…. Going after vulnerable people. Forget the fact that I have a disability too.

    This is Crazy!!! I just want someone in my life that I can spend times with, hoping that one day we may fall in love! We are people too! We have feelings! But according to society, we don’t know anything about life.

    Please call me and maybe we can talk?

    Matthew Ford
    Victoria, BC, Canada

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  51. 46
    winterkoninkje says:

    Something of a response, though it’s too long to post in full.

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