I must have been around 6 when the man renting a room in our house made me sit on his lap while my parents were away and felt all over my body. I remember that it was repeated multiple times over the next year. Touching, pressing, kissing, etc., the forms of “love” became more and more aggressive. There came a point when I started locking myself in my parents’ room if they were sleeping or away to avoid this man.
By the time I was in fourth grade, most of my classmates would talk about girls and bring pictures of female celebrities. I was clearly not interested. As time passed, people in my school started calling me “girl” as they claimed that I was feminine and hung out more with females than males. By the time I was in seventh grade, I had already been taken to multiple empty classrooms, made to show my genitals to prove that I was a “boy,” to touch other people’s genitals as a show of “male bonding” and on an occasion was almost forced to perform anal sex. I had to beg him to stop and force myself away.
Growing up in Kuwait where sex is considered a taboo topic, the presence of a feminine boy spread quickly in my neighborhood. Soon, I had multiple men of various ages making sexual proposals to me. After years of being bullied for being feminine and in many ways internalizing the shame of being attracted to men, I felt that I was finally being “chased” by men.
It started with rubbing of body parts. This was followed by my first unprotected anal encounter. As far as I remember, it was with a young man from my building in a secluded part of the staircase near the rooftop. After that incident, I started getting calls on our landline by random people who would mention this incident and that they would like to meet me. The first one or two calls were fine but then the fear of being discovered by my parents seeped in. I would secretly remove the phone cord so that no call could come. That was just a Band-Aid and within a short period of time, I would have men pick me up in their cars to perform oral or anal sex with them. At times, I was excited but mostly I was scared and whenever I said no, they would physically force me or threaten to tell my parents what I have done. These encounters continued for many years until I went to university and could protect myself better.
I grew up at a time when I had limited access to the Internet and people weren’t talking about LGBTQ issues. I was a young boy who couldn’t make sense of his sexual orientation. I wasn’t able to share my feelings with anyone, not even my parents. As time passed, my body and mind compartmentalized these memories and buried them somewhere to cope with the pain and the societal shame attached to it.
Only in the last one or two years after reading the heartfelt narratives of thousands of sexual assault survivors around the world, was I able to go back to these memories and take therapy to heal them. It is important for queer people such as myself — particularly those who come from countries where these issues are still not spoken about — to share their stories. The power of these narratives can help young queer people who are still struggling to come to terms with their identities to realize that they are not alone and they are wanted and heard.
If I had someone to guide me as a young person or a confidante, I might have been able to escape being abused or taken action against the abusers. It is a long path for me to heal but at least now I know it wasn’t my fault and there is no shame in acknowledging that I was abused growing up. As an adult now, I feel it is on us to see signs of sexual assault in young people and create a space where they would not be afraid or feel ashamed to report any such incidents.
Tausif Sanzum is a queer Bangladeshi freelance journalist.