I wasn't a boy when I experienced the seduction and betrayal of a trusted father figure, like the 10 young men who have accused former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky of sexually abusing them.
But I have deeply felt the grief and pain of those men because I, too, was a young man with a troubled relationship with my father. Even at age 20, I was naive, trusting and susceptible to the fatherly attentions of a man twice my age.
My seducer was a charmer, alright. Students repeatedly named him their favorite faculty member. Maybe it was the pseudo-British style of his bow ties and tweed jackets, or the knickers (yes, knickers) and knee socks, or the fur coat he wore on campus. Maybe it was his national reputation as an author and speaker, or his large vocabulary and animated speaking style. These things certainly set him apart at our conservative evangelical college.
For all his eccentricities, though, no one really questioned the man's heterosexual bona fides. He was, after all, married and had two children, presumably conceived in the traditional way.
But I came to see a very different side of this man after the first "A+" he gave me on a paper I wrote for his 17th Century English Lit class. "Come see me after the break," he'd written on it. In that first one-on-one conversation, I shared that the reason I'd chosen to analyze John Donne's love poem "The Canonization" was that I understood the poet's emotion, as I'd experienced something like it myself. In the soft, confidential tone of voice I came to know in the months ahead, he asked whether my own feelings were for a male or female. They were for a male, I said, and he knew him.
That conversation was the beginning of what I now recognize as "grooming," the focused interest on me, the invitations to join him for this or that off-campus activity. I still remember the look he gave me when the rector of a Boston church we visited mentioned at an after-service gathering how much "mileage" the choir got out of a certain lovely young male chorister.
Soon afterward, my professor invited me to join him for an overnight ski trip to New Hampshire -- just the two of us. We'd stay in his family's cottage near Cannon Mountain.
Sitting by the fire, sipping a gin and tonic -- mind you, alcohol was forbidden on campus at the conservative college (students simply went off campus to drink) -- he suggested we slip into more comfortable robes. Next came the suggestion of a "backrub." The kisses and erection poking against my butt weren't part of what I was expecting.
Nor did I expect him later to slip into my twin bed -- after he'd offered, and I'd declined, to share a bed. He touched me with what I would describe as a kind of hunger or desperation. We didn't have "sex," however, and he returned to his own bed.
The chilly temperature of the winter day was balmy compared with the coldness directed at me beginning the next morning. He told me he was sorry, that he'd overstepped his bounds. In the weeks and months ahead, I was no longer the "teacher's pet," as some friends had chided me. I was still in two of his classes, and I got A's in both of them. But the attention ceased, the invitations ended.
We resumed a friendship after I graduated a year later. I was living in New York, and had become friends with another older man, actually a friend of my professor's with whom he'd put me in touch. That man, the son of an Episcopal priest, was the first to show me it's possible to be open and honest about being gay without shame and religious guilt.
When I moved back to Boston, in the summer of 1981, and was once again within his orbit, my prof and I got together a couple of times for drinks. He was very interested in my sex life -- now that I had one after finally choosing to accept my sexual orientation.
Imagine my surprise when, the following year, my professor was a guest speaker at the Episcopal church I attended in Boston -- and he proceeded to denounce me from the pulpit during his Sunday morning sermon! He spoke of a recent conversation with a "young friend" who seemed to believe his newfangled notions of sexual morality were acceptable.
Two friends who knew of my relationship with the man got up and walked out of the church. The (non-gay) rector, who later became the Anglican Primus of Scotland and a strong advocate for gay people, apologized to me on behalf of his rude guest preacher.
I nevertheless continued the friendship for another couple of years -- until my professor converted to a highly conservative brand of Catholicism that is most often associated with the Middle Ages and the burning at the stake of heretics.
The last straw for me was his telling me I had no moral standing to criticize the 1986 "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," penned by the man known today as Pope Benedict XVI. The letter speaks of homosexuals as "disordered" and inclined "toward an intrinsic moral evil."
Although I wasn't one of the legions of children violated by Catholic priests, I did experience my seducer's attempts to lay religious guilt on me in his efforts to shut down my then-new sense of self-affirmation. I still have his letters telling me the only acceptable options for a homosexual Christian were celibacy or marrying a woman, as he had done.
Fortunately for me, where this man found enslavement in his religion I found liberation in mine. When I chose to accept my sexual orientation, I chose to reject the hypocrisy and judgments of people like my professor. I also chose to open my heart to the pain of my fellow human beings who, like Jerry Sandusky's "alleged" victims, want nothing more in this life than to be loved.
For me, understanding that desire, feeling that compassion, is what being a Christian is about. It's most certainly not about the twisted moralizing of men who exploit the trust of vulnerable young people for their own immoral purposes.
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