My name is Ryan Black, and I was sexually abused as a child. It's been 20 years since I first admitted that to myself out loud and first to my mother. For me it was the first step down the slippery slope of healing. Even to this day it is still difficult for me to deal with it at times. I find my heart palpitate at the mere mention of his name or sight of his face in a picture. My molester is my uncle.
April is National Sexual Abuse Awareness month here in America. For years I've wanted to speak out about my experience with it and for years couldn't find the courage. I don't even know if I've found the courage today, but if you're reading this now it means I'm finally setting it free today to the world. And if you're reading this today it also means I hit submit to the editors here at The Huffington Post, and by doing so I've committed myself to healing even further and hopefully helping someone do the same. Which brings me to a challenge I would like to ask of you. Before I tell you about this challenge I want to give you a little history behind my story.
I was born in November of 1975 in Downey, California. My parents were practically babies themselves when they had me. My mom, a beautiful 17-year-old blonde and my dad an athletic 21-year-old were surprisingly responsible young adults already. My dad was well on his way as a successful graphic artist with a full-time job. Around the time of my third birthday we moved in with my grandparents on my dad's side. It was just for a couple months. I shared a bunk bed with my uncle who was five years older than me and across the hall was my uncle who was 15 years older than me. At some point I was left alone with the older uncle. He came into my room where I sat on the bottom bunk; handsome and towering above me he took out his penis and made me suck it. I can distinctly remember the taste of soap. That was it. That was all it took. I don't remember before and I don't remember after, but I've remembered that moment for the rest of my life. I didn't block it out. It stayed with me all of my life. When I was about seven he was hit by a drunk driver that killed his girlfriend and paralyzed him from the waist down. After that there was so much focus on him in my family that he became the star of our family. I began to idolize him and look up to him. I was attracted to him.
I suppose my first attraction to boys was when I was about eight. There was a boy who was about four years older than me that lived next door. He started a boys club where we all had to take off our clothes to be initiated. I refused. I believe "HELL no!" might've been my response. So he said he would do a private initiation with me. That "private initiation" led to several promiscuous encounters with him until we moved away. Although I wanted to, I never had any real sexual experiences with anyone until I was 18. I messed around with a few girls in high school, but nothing that went very far and certainly never got to intercourse. I was struggling immensely with my sexuality. I knew I was gay.
The closer I got to coming out (as gay), the more I contemplated being molested. By the time I got to college in New York it started to consume me. Not only was I grappling with my sexuality, but I was also now conflicted with anger over being molested. My admiration and false attraction to him was becoming a fully realized disgust of something I had no control over. Sure, I had watched enough episodes of Oprah to know I had been molested, but for years I tricked my mind into thinking I wasn't affected by it because of my admiration and attraction to my predator. Does this sound insane yet?! Still I kept it inside convincing myself that it "wasn't that bad" and "it only happened once." My rational brain was fighting with my survivor brain. On top of it all I had empathy for my predator because of his handicap. I didn't want to destroy his life any more than he'd already suffered. Then an undeniable trigger was set off.
Home from college on a winter break, my mom and I were in the car when she started to tell (as she described it) a "bizarre" story about my uncle. Without going too in depth, the story my mother told ended with me having a mental breakdown, sobbing uncontrollably. She knew right then. With a mother's intuition, she asked me "Did he touch you?"
Years went by after that where I would think about it daily. My parents showed unrelenting support for me, but it tore apart the rest of the family. Self-blame, self doubt, depression, self-abuse all came with the territory. Probably the best thing I ever did was spending years with a therapist. It took many years to get to that point. I tried to imagine what my life would be like had it not happened. I don't get that chance. So what do you do? You move on. You're never going to know. I'm not gay because I was molested. I'm gay because that's who I am.
So about that challenge! A few years ago there was an episode on Oprah called "200 Adult Men Who Were Molested Come Forward."
Oddly, after that episode aired my aunt sent me some old photographs of me as a kid. There was one I was particularly stunned by. It is a picture of me while I lived at my grandmother's house at the time that I was molested. I must've stared into the eyes of that little boy version of me for hours. He seemed like a stranger to me. His eyes looked a little sad. In that moment I took that picture and scanned it into my computer and typed the word "abused" in red capital letters. It jarred me. Then I erased that and wrote in white capital letters "FREED" and it was liberating. In honor of National Sexual Abuse Awareness month as well as National Child Abuse Awareness month I'd like to increase the awareness by having you post a picture of you with the word #FREED on it. You can do it in 10 seconds on a site I found on google called Picfont.com . Even if you've never been abused, to show your support by posting this picture on any social media site will help not only increase exposure, but help those who need your support. Set it free today! Whether you're a survivor or supporter change your Facebook picture, post it on Instagram, tweet it, Pinterest it, whatever it is, change your life and the lives of others by setting it free. My hope is that on April 18th social media will be swarming with your pictures with the word #FREED.
Over the weekend I was probably one of the last people in the world to see Disney's Frozen. After hearing it more than a dozen times it finally occurred to me why so many people have connected to the song "Let It Go." While watching I began to tear up seeing this character be liberated by the simple freedom of being herself. It's something we all might take a little for granted. Life is so much easier when you can just be you. It's so much easier when you're freed and you just let it go.