For me, the end of June is a time of contemplation and confusion. For one, the 25th of the month marks my birthday, and while there is always sufficient joy in the celebrations, every passing year also serves as a reminder of the fleeting nature of life. With the fortieth such party only a year away, it’s easy for my focus to narrow and for me to reflect on and what I’ve accomplished in my life. Or, perhaps, all the things I haven’t.
That’s hardly the only cause of introspection, though. June has another tag that assigns an even more convoluted bundle of emotions to the month of my birth. We call it Pride Month, and this designation causes me some consternation. Not just the confusion inherent in sorting how my Christianity intersects with those in the LGBTQ world, but indeed how I personally connect with them.
At the age of fourteen, I started to suspect that I wasn’t like the other guys at my Christian high school. I never went on a date in my teen years. I just couldn’t seem to find any incentive to get excited about dating. There were girls I liked, but none of them really interested me in a way that made me willing to step out of my comfort zone in order to pursue a relationship. I knew that was odd, but I’d been odd as long as I can remember. Being the nerdy outsider was simply status quo for me, so I took this as an expected turn within that playbook.
That all changed during my junior year. With a computer and internet in my room, I was able to explore my sexuality in a way that I never had before. I remember spending that evening digging around, both fascinated and horrified. The next day I agonized over what I’d learned. I’ll never forget that feeling of both excitement and revulsion. I’d worried for years that something was off about me, and that night finally cemented it in ways that has shown repercussion that echoed through the rest of my life.
I can probably guess what you’re thinking now. After all, my story’s not that different from a lot of teens who struggle with their sexuality in high school, particularly those from Christian families. When you really, finally understand that your sexual instincts are flawed, it can destroy you. There are plenty of young gay Christians for whom that is true.
There’s a problem with that narrative, though. Put simply, it doesn’t apply to me. I’m not gay. I’m not attracted to men at all; I’m attracted to children.
The new term for this that’s springing up in the anonymous halls of the internet is “Minor Attracted Person” or MAP. It is replacing pedophile because that term carries baggage that causes serious miscommunications. For one, it implies actions that simply aren’t true.
So, let’s start there. First (and foremost) I have never had any inappropriate contact or relationship with a child. Period. By the grace of God and the support of friends and family, I have survived to this point without acting on those urges. Second, and almost as important, I never intend to. I’m not going to start campaigning for normalization of my desires, and I’m not going to get into positions where I could be tempted to act on them. This is both a reflection of my morals and just good sense.
With that in mind, there is an obvious question: why announce this to the world?
The simple truth is that it’s time for us to stop ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away. We don’t know how to help people with desires like mine. We don’t know what makes us want the things we want. We don’t even know how many of us there are.
This became abundantly clear to me in my early twenties when I decided to see a therapist. She told me that every MAP will eventually act on his desires if he doesn’t receive professional help. I remember scoffing at that statement; I found it ridiculous that any desire could drive one hundred percent of those afflicted to criminal action. At the time, I was convinced she was outright lying to me in order to instill enough fear that I would keep coming back.
Now I know the truth. She believed that fact because it is largely what has been believed by experts in the field for years. Only with the rise of the internet have matters changed. There are forums now where MAPs can chat with one another anonymously. These are people like myself who have spent their lives fighting their nature and choosing not to offend.
This is a class of people that was almost entirely unknown until recently. Elizabeth Letourneau is a researcher at the Moore Center for Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse who has spent decades studying means of preventing sexual abuse of children. In a Time article in 2014, though, she admitted it was only in 2013—more than twenty years after starting her work—that she first spoke with a non-offending MAP.
This cannot continue. I survived my personal war with evil because I somehow found the courage to reach out to those around me. I had a couple of friends in high school who knew my secret. Upon heading to college at LCU, I recruited a handful more. I shared my struggle with my family. Most importantly, my wife knows. I told her before we were ever engaged. I couldn’t conceive of sharing my life with someone who couldn’t aid me in my most important struggle.
This is my support system. These caring individuals were the secret to my survival. I had friends whom I could talk to, cry with, scream at, and generally get whatever help I needed. They carried me through dark valleys, and I literally would not be here today without their help. This is how I have made it this far without succumbing to the darkness. It turns out that evil thrives in secret and dies in the light of exposure. By sharing that struggle, I helped neuter it. It didn’t go away completely, but I managed to fend it off.
My openness is, as you might expect, unusual for someone in my position. Most people with these desires don’t say a word, and they have good reasons for their silence. They fear losing their jobs. Losing their families. Perhaps even losing their lives. They want to stay strong because they recognize right from wrong, but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy. I think that’s especially true for teenage boys who are totally and completely confused. If they’re going to make it, they need to know they can approach a counselor without being hated instantly for something they can’t control and didn’t ask for.
That last part is key here. I know that I can’t point to any specific event in my past as a defining moment that made me what I am. Instead, I’m convinced I was born this way. I certainly didn’t want to develop these urges. I didn’t ask to be a monster the whole world would hate.
It’s why I consider my sexuality an orientation, much like homosexuality. Some inborn tweak of nature made me attracted to children. I can’t change that, and I can’t suddenly fix it. As I’ll explain this week, though, I have transcended it and found a far better life than those desires could ever have given me.
So, as we close out Pride Month, this is what I have pride in. Not in the sexual identity that I was born with, but instead in the way that I have handled myself in wrestling with it. I’m proud of the things that it has taught me: determination, patience, strength, and an understanding that just because I want something does not mean that it is good for me. Ultimately, I have pride in my actions, in my strength to resist offending, but not in my identity itself.
I have so much more to say, but I don’t want to overload with information up front. Over the coming week, I’ll be posting something every day about my journey. Some of it will be autobiographical; for example, I’ll share the moments that absolutely transformed my life. I’ll also discuss my goals going forward, why I took this incredibly difficult step. Finally, I’ll offer insight on Christianity and how my struggles have enhanced my faith and what we can learn from them.
I hope you’ll consider sharing my post. I know it’s a bombshell that will strike confusion and fear in many people. Sadly, that’s exactly why this needs to be talked about. We have to understand, as a country, that thoughts are not actions. I know that my desires are wrong; I know it one-hundred percent. It’s that understanding that has prevented those desires from morphing into action. Only when we can openly and honestly discuss that fact can we make progress toward a world where every MAP understands that.
Even if you don’t share, I hope you’ll follow my journey. If you read my essays, consider them honestly, and end up exactly where you started, then you have at least thought about something new. I don’t ask you to agree today, just to be open.
Finally, if you want to share anything with me (whether that manifests as questions, comments, or even angry rantings), my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.