And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.Galatians 6:9
There forever appears to be missing pieces in our lives. Holes, irregular shapes, and lost images permeate our family. And each time we think we found the piece, it turns out to be something different – usually, the beginning of a bridge into another part of the puzzle we often didn’t know existed. That’s one of the challenges with piecing your life back together after trauma. The picture you think you are working towards – the one on the front of the box – doesn’t match the picture created by the pieces.
Some pieces fall into your lap and others require vigilant and near-constant searching. Every piece feels like a small victory and you begin to feel silly thinking each one is important – but they are each important. Denying the effort it takes to even move one step closer to the goal will quickly sap you of strength. We need the encouragement each piece brings.
But some pieces are so misshapen that it’s nearly impossible to accept their necessity in the final picture.
Asher’s ongoing battle to define his sexuality is this piece.
I wrote extensively about sexual reactivity here, and here. And I wrote about Asher’s identification as a homosexual here, and here. In the midst of this past year, we also experienced multiple episodes where Asher broke our clear guidelines and kissed at least six girls. Plus, he announced to a group of friends that he is gay with a boyfriend. The boyfriend, we later learned, was a figment of his imagination made up due to the peer pressure associated with everyone sharing their “crush.” He amended his identity to bisexual after he realized that he consistently pursues girls and that doesn’t really work if you’re gay.
Joseph and I are exasperated with the whole thing.
A recurring conversation in our home goes something like this: Asher, we have boundaries around sexual activity for a reason. One of them is that you are too young and too emotionally unhealthy to engage in defining your sexuality without bringing a host of issues to the table. Your hormones alone take you out of the running for sane. But when you add sexual trauma and predation to the mix, you’re practically guaranteed perverse results. [Asher will often glumly acknowledge this point. We’ll continue…] If your life trajectory is on a certain course and after a significant event it suddenly shifts radically away from its previous path, wouldn’t you assume the change in direction is related to the event? You were not experiencing same-sex attraction before this whole hornet’s nest hit you and our family. And while I wasn’t able to protect you from your perpetrators, I will do everything in my power to protect you against yourself in order to give you the space you need to process that cataclysmic event without allowing it to define you first. [At this point, Asher will shrug his shoulders in acknowledgement of what we are saying but state that he just doesn’t know whether he’s homosexual or heterosexual.]
By the end, Asher usually says he understands our heart for him and his emotional health. And we reiterate that his sexuality does not define his position in our family. And then we think we made headway and perhaps we finally dealt with that misshapen piece and we can at last fit it into the puzzle for good.
But then we uncover more ugly.
A long-time friend of Ginny’s, Michael, comes from a dysfunctional home and is the only active Christian in his family. Michael shared with Ginny years ago that he is homosexual but when he tried to share that with his dad, he was told it would be better for him to be dead. Michael quickly adapted his behavior to fit the mold of his father’s expectations and buried his feelings.
Asher turned 17 last month and on his birthday, we surprised him with a get-together of a bunch of friends. Michael was part of the mix and, unbeknownst to us at the time, approached Asher to share with him that he was gay… and that he liked our son.
In the aftermath of this past month, I now know most of the story. However, in the moment, it went something like this:
Michael and Asher strike up a friendship at Asher’s birthday and an acquaintanceship appears to develop into a full-fledged bromance. We are suddenly inundated with Michael and his request for more time with Asher. We quickly become uncomfortable with their friendship and begin to put the brakes on Asher’s availability. We share with Asher our concerns regarding Michael’s obsessive behaviors but don’t go so far as to pointedly ask about the nature of their relationship. Michael continues to text us almost daily asking for opportunities to spend time alone with Asher (“I’d like to invite Asher to a guys’ bible study I’m starting at my house. I know it may be difficult with transportation [Michale lives over 20 minutes away] so I’d be willing to come get him and bring him home. It’d give us more time to fellowship.”). We get more serious about sharing our concerns with Asher who admits that Michael has told him he likes him and confesses he is confused about his own feelings. Asher takes our concerns and discusses them with Michael who, in turn, texts Joseph several times asking to meet with us. The following Sunday, Michael pulls us aside after church and forthrightly states that his intentions towards Asher are entirely pure. We ask him several direct questions, and he assures us that there is a misunderstanding. He goes so far as to strongly deny any feelings for Asher and then asks if he can come over to the house to hang out with us. [We often have youth from church come to our home on Sunday afternoons.] Feeling better that, regardless of where Michael’s intentions were in the beginning, he has now assured us that he is above reproach towards Asher, we allow it.
That evening, Michael asks if he can pick Asher up from his split shift the day before July 4th to hang out together before returning him to work. He also asks if Asher can come to his house the day after to celebrate the 4th. “He can come hang out with me and my family, spend the night, and then I’ll bring him to church on Sunday morning. After church, I can come over here and hang out for the afternoon.” Joseph and I are stunned at the rapidity of Michael’s requests. I glance at Asher, who is strangely silent through this entire dialogue. I stammer some excuse about needing to check our schedule for the 4th of July but give permission for Michael to get Asher after his first shift ends on Friday.
Joseph and I pull Asher into our room that Thursday before heading to bed and check in with him. I mention the awkwardness of Michael always asking permission from us directly and wonder aloud why Asher doesn’t seem more excited to request the hang-out time. We also share with Asher our conversation with Michael after church the previous Sunday afternoon. Asher stuns us by saying, “Yeah, Michael told me about it. He told me that he still likes me.” What? We press Asher for clarification and grasp at any possibility of a misunderstanding where Michael was simply reiterating his friendship with Asher. But our son holds his ground that the feelings expressed were not platonic. We share with Asher our discomfort at the prospect of allowing him to sleep over at Michael’s house considering the confusion of feelings and tell Asher that he can simply bow out by saying that the 4th is traditionally a family day (it is). But as Asher heads to bed he asks about Michael getting him the following day from his split shift and voices apprehension about disappointing Michael with a cancellation. We are nervous but unable to pinpoint our discomfort. Asher is so adept at manipulation and deceit that we can barely trust anything he says. Is Michael, someone who appears to love Jesus and actively pursues spiritual discipleship from the pastors and student mentors of our church, lying directly to our face? Or is Asher confused about his own feelings and lying about Michael in order to feel wanted and sexually desired by someone? The whole thing felt off. We give our grudging approval for Michael to get Asher and our son appears relieved.
The next morning, I make the decision to call Michael and address our concerns about his intentions towards Asher, as well as set a strong boundary that the two boys needed a significant amount of space while their hormones and emotions settled down. I call Michael and am surprised to hear him quickly cut me off to share that he already decided to forego the afternoon together and was thinking it would be best for them to distance themselves. Michael sounded eager to please us and equally eager to be finished with the conversation. “Michael, Asher said you told him you liked him Sunday afternoon at our house – the same afternoon where you told us you had only pure intentions towards our son. To our face. Multiple times.” Michael prevaricated until I finally said, “Either you are lying or my son is lying. If it is my son, then we will address it because lying is unacceptable in our home.” In a shaky voice, Michael immediately answered, “It’s me. I’m lying.”
For the next 30 minutes, I grappled with the truth that: Michael lied to our face; denied multiple times the reality of his intentions towards Asher; and openly confessed to manipulation in order to secure a relationship with our son. He begged me not to involve his family – especially his dad – and promised he would not make any trouble for us. I spoke strongly with him of my disappointment and the ungodly deception he used against us. I also shared with him that I was not judging his same-sex attraction as his father did, but I made no apologies for the biblical mandate that romantic relationships occur between men and women. Michael listened respectively but was a little too sacharine in his responses and even asked if he could continue to sit with us at churdh and come over to the house to hangout now that he promised to steer clear of Asher. I needed to reiterate several times the absolute boundary of distance between the two boys for the forseeable future. After exhorting him to seek counsel and guidance from our youth pastor, as well as Calvin (with whom he also has a mentor/discpleship relationship), I hung up feeling exhausted but somewhat vindicated. That off feeling was for a reason!
To his surprise, I was the one grabbing Asher from work. I simply told him we weren’t comfortable with him spending more time with Michael and that Michael agreed when I called him. Asher couldn’t hide his confusion but didn’t ask any further questions. Later that evening, after getting Asher from his second shift, Joseph and I sat down with our son to share the distubring conversation I had that morning with Michael.
Asher opened up and this is what we learn about the other side of our life for the previous 6 weeks.
Michael tells Asher he likes him. Asher, not thinking anything of Michael until that very moment, is besotted with the idea of being liked and shares with Michael that he likes him back. Michael is encouraged by this and quickly shifts from pursuer to practical stalker. Michael is now introducing Asher to his friend group as his boyfriend and asking Asher to spend more and more time together. The two take a drive and Michael kisses Asher. But instead of enjoying the kiss, Asher is strangely disgusted by it and begins thinking about his homosexuality – as in, “does it exist.” Michael appears to pick up on Asher’s cooling and goes into overdrive with his attemtps to woo Asher. A near constant battering of, “Are we good?” causes Asher to feel like he can’t say anything other than, “Yes” for fear of upsetting Michael. And as Asher steps back to try and produce more space between them, Michael steps forward and begins barraging us with texts and requests for the two to spend time together. Asher claims he intended to share with Michael that afternoon that he wanted the romantic aspect of their relationship to end.
During the conversation, Asher repeatedly takes full responsibility but is quick to also assert that he has fault where none clearly exists. He believes he led Michael on, he knew what Michael was planning when they drove up the hill for the kiss, he liked the attention in the beginning and therefore deserved anything that ultimately came from the attention – including inappropriate advances and unwelcomed invitations, etc.
Joseph and I were overwhelmed. It saddens us to continue to recognize ways that Asher has no real understanding for personal boundaries. He tried to extricate himself from Michael for at least two weeks before we stepped in and didn’t feel he had the right to simply say, “No.” And it’s discouraging to see ways that emotionally manipulative or exploitive people still make a bee-line for him. We’re somewhat gladdened that this experience has brought his flirtation with homosexuality to a head – if indeed that is what happened. You never really know with our son because his chronic deception is second only to his lack of self-awareness. And it’s somehow vindicating to find out that our misgivings were founded and our intuition was correct.
We end the conversation by telling Asher, again, how much we love him and want to protect him – even from himself at times. He appears relieved to be finally given an honest out with Michael but is still upset that Michael might be hurt in the situation. I reiterated to Asher that Michael is not our priority but also noted that I didn’t speak harshly with him or shame him for his sexuality. We once again fall back on our No Dating rule and state that Michael’s behavior is hurtful towards us because of the deception and blatant disrespect for our family expectations.
As we go to bed that night, I feel like we’ve finally turned a corner.
But in all things Asher, any corner you turn appears to be a step into a fresh hell.