I’m Ben. I’m from Seattle, Washington.
I knew I was gay from about the age of 12 or so and by the time I was 17, I was getting ready to come out. So, there was an AIDS service organization in Seattle and I went there to do volunteer work and a guy I’m gonna call Kurt, who at the time was about 40 years old, recruited me to work in the public policy department. So I was very excited about that. You know, went in for my first day, was sort of my first foray into the real world, that kind of thing.
I sat down at this desk and within a few minutes of sitting there, Kurt walks by and then does this double take rather theatrically and he says, “Oh, you know, I was just walking by and thinking, ‘Who’s that new cute employee?’ Then I realized it was Ben!”
It was perhaps that day or the next week that Kurt and I were walking outside in this general kind of area of different shops and stuff where the office was and we were standing in front of, of all places, a Jack in the Box. He asked me if I was gay. And people asked me that a few times in my life and I had lied up at that point and I just didn’t want to lie anymore. Even though I didn’t want this guy to be my first person I came out to because I didn’t really know him, I said that I was. And boom, I was out of the closet in front of the Jack in the Box. Kurt essentially befriended me and, you know, asked me to do things as part of working for the foundation, but also we hung out outside of the nonprofit on several occasions.
Kurt was always joking, you know, to me, like, oh when did I turn 18? And so there was this real kind of flirty sexual current was going between us. I remember finding him attractive and he had a really fit body and I thought that was very sexy. It was a Sunday, it was in early March of 1996, and Kurt and I had gone to this, like, gay gym downtown. We sat in my car, we finished going to the gym, and he looked at me. He said, “Do you want to go hottubbing?” And I didn’t know what he meant.
I essentially said okay and then he had me drive to this place and we pull up and it was this, like, corny rent-by-the-hour hot tub joint. We go in. And I didn’t have a swimsuit, all I had – and he says, “Well, just wear your gym shorts without any underwear,” which I did.
And then sort of the next step that happened, he says “Do you want a backrub, massage?”
I was like, “Okay.” And I remember lying there and having a hard-on and being really terrified that he would turn me over. And he did. One thing led to another and next thing you know, my shorts are off. We proceeded to have a sexual encounter. We didn’t have intercourse or anything, but we were in there for quite some time. Because I was not yet 18, this was statutory rape. The law in Washington state is that the age of consent is 16. However, it’s 18 in the event that the older partner is a teacher or someone else is in a position of authority like a boss or something like that. So this definitely qualified.
I talked to him, I think, the next day and he said something to the effect that we really couldn’t be friends anymore and he was cutting me off. I was just devastated because, you know, that was what I really wanted out of this experience. And then that Wednesday, I went in to do volunteer work and I got taken into the head office at the foundation.
They said, “Did you have sex with Kurt over the weekend?”
I said, “Yes.” They said he’s been terminated. They did not ultimately decide to make me leave the organization – I stayed on. The organization, I think trying to protect their liability, sent me to a counselor. And I went to this counselor, filled out some sort of form and signed it, and went in and told her what happened. She promptly called Child Protective Services on me and she could not look more horrified, more judgmental about what had happened between Kurt and me. And then ultimately says to me, “CPS says because you’re over 16, they wouldn’t deal with it so I have to call the police.”
The police had to decide if they wanted to pursue the case and she had asked me, this counselor, “Would you testify in court?” and I immediately said, “No.” Ultimately, the police called me back and they say, “We’re not going to pursue the case because you won’t testify.”
As I would come to learn what Kurt had done, as soon as he and I had had the sexual encounter, he hit the ground running and told as many people as he possibly could to ensure that he would get fired immediately, which is what happened. Kurt had planned the entire enterprise from the start. He had recruited me to use as a pawn so that he would have a sexual encounter with me, which would get him fired for the organization so that he could go and get unemployment. And then he also had planned if they challenged his unemployment, that he would say he was wrongfully terminated because it was not in his job description to handle volunteers.
I also found out that he had AIDS – and he didn’t do anything with me that would have put me at the risk of transmission of HIV – but, putting that aside, what I would understand from other people was that he believed that he would probably die within the next year or so. And the reason he wanted unemployment was he wanted to go to Paris before he died. So essentially he had used me as a scheme to defraud the government to give him the money to go on this swan song vacation. Surprise, surprise, that was when the combination antiretroviral cocktails came on the market that year and he would proceed to go on living for many years. He ultimately died, I believe, in early 2009 of rectal cancer. Ultimately, he did get unemployment. They did not challenge and so all of that kind of settled out.
The guilt that I had that I essentially saw myself as this ticking time bomb that walked in the organization and set up this huge explosion for everyone to deal with – that kind of guilt in this sort of feeling of being a harlot and having a scarlet “A” and walking around Seattle, having people know the story and worrying that they were going to tell my parents, that anxiety was so damaging to me.
Years later, I was with a therapist around the time I turned 30. He was listening to me for a long while and after being with him for some months, he kind of dropped the bomb on me. He said, “You know, you were abused as a teenager and I think this is been affecting your life in the following ways…” I hadn’t, to that point, really been able to knowledge the word “abuse” because I still felt that I had so much stake in what had happened and that my free will had led me into the sexual counter with Kurt. Of course it wasn’t my fault, as I would come to learn.
For me, you know, coming out of this experience of having been molested as a child, as a teenager, it’s hard for me to ever know how my life might have been different without it. I do take great comfort in telling people this story, frankly as often as I can, to keep making it more casual for myself because it’s just a long endless process of undoing the law of silence that was erected around me after what went on between Kurt and me.
I think for me, and what I might say as a source of wisdom for other people, is working with yourself to be able to define what happened in your own terms, and to try to own that narrative for yourself. It doesn’t mean you have to tell anyone, and you can work through it by writing in your journal or working with a therapist or whatever it is. It’s important to be able to define for yourself, in your own terms, what happened to you.