When I was 17 I lived through three hellish months, which involved excessive nightly itching the cause of which I finally realized (via the internet) was crabs. This diagnosis meant that I could no longer ignore my problem but when I approached my parents for help, they didn’t see it that way. My mother immediately waved away any notion of my seeing a doctor, and said that you just get something from the pharmacy, which my father soon went out to pick up. That’s fine. But before I had even treated myself, my mother told me insistently, “Do not tell your sister! She’d say ‘I don’t want Luke to get crabs!’ and cancel the whole trip!” It’s true that my sister was visiting for thanksgiving in a few days, along with her two year old son and husband, and in the preparations for that my parents saw me as little more then a nuisance, if they saw me at all. But what she said makes no sense. First of all, the fact that I had crabs for months and my parents never got them from sharing a bathroom with me means the risk was incredibly low, especially after the first treatment, so with education and a little planning, there is no reason why they shouldn’t come.
But my mother in saying this made my STD about my sister, about what she thought and felt, and not about me at all. After repeating several times the fact that “It’s been five months since you’ve seen your ex!” (a number that wasn’t even accurate, but I didn’t need her judgments about how I got the crabs, so I didn’t correct her,) the issue fell into silence and denial, and I was supposed to pretend it had never happened. Yet I see today that putting this shame and secret onto me actually didn’t help anyone. My parents chose to put my nephew into the master bedroom to sleep, which meant that the second bathroom in the house was inaccessible most or all of the time. So with five other people trying to use the main bathroom, when it came time to apply the second dose of my anti-crab medicine, I was blocked from doing it. More relatives came to visit, and I had no way of getting into the shower and spending the necessary time, especially since I was also supposed to hide that I had crabs. One night I almost went ahead and did the treatment but decided not to, and later on I overheard my sister and father bitterly complaining about how I had spent “so long” in the bathroom when my father was waiting to brush his teeth.
Actually that visit was truly a marathon of emotional abuse from my family. Not only was I not supported in what I was going through, I was disregarded and screamed at all the time, treated with utter contempt. At 17, I was still a minor, and though I had elected to do independent study at home in order to graduate on time, I was still a student and wasn’t deserving of hatred, resentment and demands of “why are you here? you need to get a job!” This visit is one of the primary reasons why my sister and I don’t and never will have a relationship, because the way she treated me is unacceptable, and cannot be made up for. So I was left to itching and paranoia for three days until they finally left. That morning I had to spend hours in the bathroom making sure I completely cleared up the problem; I had no medicine for a third dose, and didn’t want to drag this out longer. Yet what I found is that later on in the day, my father was stomping around the house ranting about me. He claimed that he was trying to take a nap but my constantly turning the water on and off (to clear the comb) kept him up.
Of course, my bedroom during childhood had been right next to the bathroom, and everyone showered without caring whether I was asleep or not, and if things were louder in the present, it was due to his renovations, not me. When I went out the kitchen my mother came in and confronted me, while my father did backup, demanding to know what I was doing and complaining about “all the water in the septic tank!” When I tried to tell my mother in a confidential tone, she raced up to me and shouted “WHATT???” As if now I had to loudly announce that I had been treating myself for crabs in front of her, my father and brother, violating their demand for it to be secret and humiliating me at the same time. The fact is that my parents had so activated their denial and cared so little about my wellbeing that they had forgotten. Their secret-making and lack of regard for my health led to this situation, where yet again I was left invalidated, alone, and shamed.
While I didn’t feel a need to tell everyone everywhere about my crabs, my parents demand that I keep it as a guarded secret for them was not healthy or reflective of my needs, boundaries, and interests. It was a reflection of other secrets kept in our incest-family, and now I see, other stds too. I know that once when I was 8 years old, my brother and I were forced to perform in a child porn scene that featured several other boys brought over to our house. One of them was younger then me, and the adults forced me to penetrate him. I can remember the way he looked at me, with hatred and a loathing I then internalized. The memory is filled with a sick feeling, not only for how ill I felt in the face of the sexual abuse, but for what happened to me afterwards. The way the skin on my penis became infected, itchy, peeling… I’m sure my parents handled that with a hush-hush home remedy as well.
Their pervasive medical neglect was sourced in a need to hide the abuse they were inflicting on me from outside eyes. But moreover it taught me to ignore myself, my medical conditions and just live/cope with whatever illness I developed without the notion that it could be fixed or that I was worth the attention. This message is difficult to shake free from, but I realize today that I am worth it, I do deserve to feel good and so did I back then. At 17, I was not less then my sister or my nephew, and in fact because I was their own child, my parents should have seen taking care of me as a priority (during that holiday and in general, since this was not an isolated incident) and not the undoubtedly perverse attention they were slathering onto their grandson.
I was harmed by the demand to keep this secret, and I see that my parents weren’t protecting anyone else either. If there was in fact a possible risk of getting crabs from the shower or toilet seat, then my parents certainly would have been putting others at risk by their secrecy. While I did visit my ex at the end of that summer, I don’t believe that is how I got crabs anymore. Shortly afterwards while my parents were away my brother and his girlfriend dirtied up the bathroom, leaving likely infested body hair and scissors all over the place (something I never did), not caring about the fact that I might accidentally come into contact with it. On that note, it is possible that my mother knew my brother had crabs months before, (whether she learned by trying to assault him or not) and was afraid the sexually abusive history of our family might be revealed if people learned I got crabs from my brother. The incest in our family was her secret because she began it all herself when she had children and chose to sexually abuse us from infancy.
I know that regardless of how I got crabs, there was really nothing for me to be ashamed about, and I’m not. But every time I shared something about myself, my mother would drift back into this mode of secrets and denials and nervously wondering about what other people will think. My coming out, as gay, as having an eating disorder, as a survivor was despite my mother’s behavior not something I wanted contained and buried under more secrets and facades; that was not and is not how I’m willing to live my life. Likewise I didn’t create these sick patterns in my family, where I was scapegoated for what my older siblings brought into the house and made responsible for their good time. I didn’t create them, and I’m very happy to no longer perpetuate them either. What I do or don’t disclose today is based on my evolving personhood, its not about protecting or keeping the secrets of my abusers, or co-creating an unhealthy living environment in which I have no voice or identity.