I was a freshman attending BYU at the time, and still coming to terms with my gay identity, when I met my assailant in a downtown Salt Lake City adult theater. Being young and healthy, standing 6’3” and weighing 185 pounds, I thought I could take care of myself in any situation. Having been raised as an innocent Mormon boy, I was exceedingly naïve, unsure and unaccepting of my sexual identity, with very little sexual experience, so when this man—who was handsome and charming and polite—invited me back to his hotel room around the corner, I went with him.
Once we were inside his hotel room and he locked the door behind him, he turned on me, changing from a Dr. Jekyll to a Mr. Hyde. At 6’8”, 250 pounds of pure muscle, he was far taller and stronger than I, and he immediately overpowered me, pulling out his switchblade knife and holding it to my throat throughout the rest of the violent ordeal.
First, I need to say thank you to all of the courageous women and men of the #MeToo movement, and in particular to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, for the courage and grace that each of you showed in coming forward to tell the truth of what happened to you. Whether the sexual assault you experienced happened last week or like me, happened to you decades ago, all of you set an example for me and helped me find the courage to finally tell the full truth about my rape. Without the courage that each of you showed me, I could not and would not be taking this step now. Nor could I have taken the step of including all of the details of my rape in my soon-to-be-published memoir without your example.
My memoir, SAINT UNSHAMED: A GAY MORMON’S LIFE—Healing From the Shame of Religion, Rape, Conversion Therapy & Cancer To Find My True Self, is scheduled to go on sale on March 27, 2019 (though advance copies can be ordered now on my author’s website at www.KerryAshton.com. As it is, the first paragraph of my book explains a lot:
“I told this story once as fiction in the 1980s, but this time I tell the truth. I even tell the truth, in #MeToo fashion, about being violently raped by another man when I was 18, with a knife held to my throat—a secret I kept from everyone, including myself, for over 40 years. The rape, like other experiences I endured while a student at Brigham Young University, where I came out in the early 1970s, had a profound impact on my later life. But this story is not so much about my rape or my coming of age at BYU, as it is about the lifelong effects of shame itself, not only about how I internalized and inherited a wounding shame from my Mormon upbringing, but also how I eventually unshamed myself. It is about the journey of a lifetime, finding spiritual growth, self-discovery and healing along the way, while encountering many miraculous events that pushed me forward through darkness toward the light.”
In writing and rewriting my memoir over the last three years, I never envisioned beginning my story in that way. Instead, I hemmed and hawed about whether or not I could—or even should—include the details of my rape. I had known for years that I wanted to tell the true story of the four years I spent as a student at BYU—falling in love for the first time, enduring police surveillance, harassment and arrest, while being subjected to three years of conversion therapy, including two years of electroshock treatments—and of my childhood years growing up Mormon in Pocatello, Idaho, and of my later years after I came to terms with my gay identity. But I was not always sure that I could bring myself to say anything about my rape. For one thing, I wasn’t sure that anyone would believe me, particularly since I had managed to repress any conscious memory of my rape for a full 40 years. In my book, I explain and describe the process of denial and forgetting that I went through after the brutal sexual assault that I endured:
“When I returned home, I found that my roommate Mickey was out. Feeling grateful for that, I made my way slowly to the bathroom where I cleaned off the dried blood, tending to my bruised and swollen face, to the torn and swollen lips of my mouth and anus, to the bloodied cuts on my scrotum and neck, even as I repeated over and over again, ‘It never happened.’ "
"As difficult as it may be to believe, I quickly rid myself of any evidence and any conscious memory of my rape. Although my rectum bled for days afterward, I no longer had any conscious memory of why it should."
"Although I succeeded in burying any conscious memory of the entire ordeal, I was victimized by it for decades afterward as it lay like a burning ember in the depths of my subconscious mind. I started overeating and gradually gained weight, unconsciously soothing my wounded soul while finding a way to protect myself at the same time. If I made myself unattractive enough, no one would ever want to hurt me in that way ever again. Gaining weight was a scream for help. But no one, least of all myself, was listening. As far as the rape was concerned, I would not listen to myself again for the next 40 years.”
It was not until the spring of 2012, at the age of 58, a full 40 years after my rape at 18, that the memories of that violent and brutal experience finally began to emerge from my subconscious mind. The memories came back in tiny pieces, at first as a trickle in the beginning, then as a stream, and finally as a torrential flood. One by one, I fit each piece of memory into a larger picture, like retrieving pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, until I could finally see and remember the whole ordeal of my rape as it had actually happened. Only then could I look back on the journey I had taken throughout my life, particularly my sexual journey, and see that much if not most of it was driven subconsciously by the brutal rape I had survived as a young man. Only then could I fully comprehend what had driven me to the sexual experiences at BYU that had led me to such public humiliation. Only then I could I fully understand why I was drawn over and over again to a compulsive need for sexual BDSM, in a need to reenact and replay the trauma that had once played itself out in a seedy hotel room in downtown Salt Lake City in March 1972. Only then could I fully appreciate why the thought of being anally penetrated had terrified me for most of my life, and why I had avoided it at all cost.
Even during some of the final rewrites of my memoir, I still debated about whether to tell about the rape. It was, after all, such a violent and brutal experience that I had suppressed it from my conscious mind for 40 years. Perhaps, I thought, it was best to leave it out. But then the Kavanaugh hearing happened. When I watched the courage and dignity that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford displayed while giving her testimony and enduring the public shaming of the Republican Senators on that committee and later in the president’s disgraceful behavior—who in the end only shamed themselves—I decided that if Dr. Ford could tell her truth, then so could I.
In writing one’s memoir, and choosing to go public with the most sexually intimate details of one’s life—as I do within the pages of my book—it’s scary. It’s like opening up one’s private diary to everyone on the planet. Was I absolutely certain that I wanted to share my most hidden and well-kept secrets with the world? How would the members of my Mormon family react once my book was published? Would the conservative members of my family shun me once they read the graphic details of my sexual experiences, particularly the most vile and violent details of my rape? Would sharing these true experiences from my life with the world, even matter? Like so many in the #MeToo movement who have had the courage to come forward, to tell the truth of their sexual assault and to speak their truth to power—the most recent and powerful example being Dr. Christine Blasey Ford—would I even be believed? I believe that nearly all rape and sexual assault victims struggle with similar questions when they contemplate coming forward and telling the ugly truth of what happened to them. Like them, I had to contend with the same inner conflicts and questions.
I can only imagine what shame women feel over being raped or sexually assaulted. Inn my case, being a tall and well-built gay man, the shame that I held inside for so much of my life—that I couldn’t stop my rape by another man—has been unbearable. It proved so much so, that I found a way for 40 years to utterly repress the truth. But the truth found a way of coming to the surface in the end, whether I wanted it to or not.
In the end, I decided that not only did I have the right to speak out, but that I had a sacred obligation to do so, and let the chips fall where they may. First and foremost, I owed it to my inner child to tell how he was betrayed and abandoned throughout much of my life. And I owed it to all rape victims and to all those in the #MeToo movement, especially the male victims of sexual assault, who might take comfort and find healing from my true story of overcoming shame, such that they might in turn find the courage to heal their own shame, and come out of hiding. So when I made the decision to tell all, it was solemnly made. And I have all of you to thank for it.