Wednesday, August 12, 2020

An Elusive Silver Lining

My rape, its aftermath, and my poor choices

I can find no silver lining in the story of my abusive relationship with Bob Hoffman, but even if there is one, the relationship was so muddy that I don’t know where to begin to look. It is a lot like trying to write about it. I feel that I cannot write because I would be obligated to disclose too much about what I consider personal failures. I cannot write from the position of a life that didn’t turn out even though opportunities and possibilities were most probably closed off to me by the events I’m going to describe. The only thing I can say with any certainty is that my life is not what my parents nor I envisioned for myself, but it has been my own life, and I am responsible for my choices. 

Any light at the end of the tunnel would shine. It would mean that the residue of the abuse was over, and I would be able to forget Hoffman and our relationship. But that does not happen. It’s just not enough for me to declare “This happened,” and move past it as I’ve been counseled from many quarters, new age therapists, love and light gurus. All that I can say for certain is that Hoffman’s selfish actions had an effect on me. Of course they cut off some avenues and added unnecessary suffering. As I recently told a friend, every gay person I know would love to be guided by the loving, wise and resourceful example of a older queer man or woman. But by the luck of the draw, I got a narcissistic predator. I’ve told the story of how Hoffman came into my life in some detail in my blog #GayMeToo.

A friend recently told me that she had accomplished what the Hoffman Process promises, “putting the past in the past and obliterating the traces of your parents’ negative influence" in a 20 minute process of stamping out any memories of them in a ritual practice. Only time can judge its effectiveness. Only future actions which do not bear the imprint of past missteps can be trusted as indicators that the past is truly in the past. 

I have watched the #metoo movement unfold and, at least in the press, it seems that the emphasis is on the wrongdoing of the bad actors. Whether famous men Epstein or Weissman or Trump or Cardinal Pell or ordinary men like Hoffman, we cannot allow any one of them to escape the consequences of their actions. But it occurs to me that there’s still something missing in reporting the #MeTooMovement—stories of the victims. 

And so I have decided to write about my abuse. The only possible path I see to freeing myself is a thorough investigation of what occurred, including my own missteps. If writing really leads to my liberation, my only real obligation in the words of Toni Morrison, “the function of freedom is to free someone else;” so I will write as candidly as I can. I had hoped to avoid a painful and lewd description of the sexual encounter as I describe some of the repercussions, but find I have to talk about some of it. 

Bob Hoffman, my therapist and mentor, invited me to dinner less than 5 months after I completed the first 13 week Fischer-Hoffman Process of Psychic Therapy. After some very awkward conversation and a few glasses of wine, I found myself on the living room floor of my shared apartment naked, on my stomach, being brutally raped. After Hoffman had his orgasm, my anus was bleeding. Then the situation became surreal—I listened to apologies which were actually blame shifting—he told me that pain was normal when a man first had anal sex and that in time I’d learn to enjoy it—that anal sex was an important part of spiritual development because it mirrored the reality of the mother-father god, being both active and passive. I remember this statement after all these years because of the horror and lunacy of justifying rape in the name of some intrasex godhead. I didn’t throw him out as I should have had I been capable of it, but when he asked if we could have another date, I did say no. However, in true co-dependent fashion, I left the door open to further contact as friends, and in fact we maintained a strained acquaintance until the day he died. I realize now that I had to—I was still in transference with him.

I did come out as a gay man in the Hoffman Process, but ithe process wasn’t coming to terms with a part of myself that I’d kept hidden, festering under layers of parental and societal disapproval. It wasn’t part of a program of careful analysis and self discovery. I wasn’t led by a professional to see layers of self-deception. Rather I stood uncomfortably in the doorway to Hoffman’s office, while he, red in the face, screamed that I was gay, told me that I was playing games and couldn’t love myself. This only reinforced my own learned, negative views of being gay. I sensed the same angry, defensive stance in the way he dealt with his own homosexualty and he certainly displayed its brutality when he forced anal intercourse.

Hoffman was both a narcissist and a predator, but I was in such denial that I allowed myself to be manipulated. Over the course of intermittent conversations which spanned more than 25 years, I discovered that he lied about many things; he exaggerated; he made empty promises, and he entertained grandiose ideas about himself. Dr. Fisher, the being whom he called his spirit-guide, had not been, as he proclaimed publicly, a family friend but rather his therapist; he felt he was destined to have a young lover because the immense contribution he was making; he had singled me out when he first saw me in Naranjo’s SAT; he started frequenting the only gay bar in Berkeley to stalk me, and not because, as he told me then, he usually stopped in to relax on his way home. The truth is that initiating a sexual relationship with me was a criminal violation of his professional responsibility as a therapist, mentor and spiritual guide, but his psychosis did not allow him to understand this.

In true predator fashion he groomed me. He told me that I was destined to become a leader in the gay community—if I played my cards right, and listened to him; that I had extraordinary powers, like his spiritualist mentor—I think he named her, Florence Becker, though he was vague—singled him out as a person of great psychic abilities. He also insisted that I was attracted to him, and he knew it because he was a powerful psychic as well as the fact that I had an erection during our encounter. Recalling this fills me with disgust. I recall that most of the people around Claudio viewed Hoffman as a buffon, an eccentric, a conman, or at best a crazy wisdom seer. I thought he was crude, unintelligent plus being sexually repulsive, yet something compelled me to continue to place my trust in him.

Within a year of our encounter, I’d left the Jesuits, moved to San Francisco with my SAT friend Hal Slate and began experiencing the burgeoning Castro gay scene of the ‘70’s. I became promiscuous, but, at the same time, I was very unhappy and frustrated with sex itself. I could not achieve orgasm. I cannot claim that Hoffman’s brutal abuse was the direct cause of my sexual dysfunction but I am certain that it played some part. But my solution to the problem became more of a problem. As in my college days and life as a Jesuit, alcohol became an antiseptic for the wounds. But now pot, and eventually cocaine and methamphetamines, became a way to lubricate sexual activity. 

There is a very high rate of alcoholism and substance abuse among victims of rape victims, and that is certainly part of my story. Drugs opened up a whole new world for me though they took an immense toll. Eventually the number of days of work I missed because I was still too high to work safely began to outnumber the days I was late because I was hung over and unable to get out of bed. This December I will be 10 years free of drugs and alcohol. The 12 Step Program does not encourage any playing victim and always redirects a person to recognize his or her own part in the matter. However facts and situations do matter. Hoffman’s sexual abuse, the threads of our relationship, and my part in the matter are all part of the equation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

What would Bapuji be doing?

April 23, 2020

Yesterday I fasted. It was the thirty-second day of the Coronavirus Virus lockdown in India. It was also the first day of Ramadan. I am not Muslim, or even particularly religious, but I’d been asking myself what would Bapuji be doing during this pandemic, and my answer was very clear: he would be fasting. 

Since the founding of the Republic, Indians have faced many challenges. Being true to the principles that created the largest democracy on the face of the earth, each generation has to reformulate an answer in the language and the circumstances of the present moment to this question: what would Bapuji do? This question is more than lip-service to the man whose compassion and courage inspire us. It is more than just a sound bite on the TV news to gain some political advantage. When facing the silent enemy of the Coronavirus, a life and death situation, our answer might determine whether we live or die. 

The threat of death and the economic destruction brought on by the virus is very different from the occupation of the British Raj. There is no enemy we can point to, no foreign army, no terrorist, no General Dyer. Its victims are not defined by the language they speak, nor the clothes they wear, the clubs where they hang out, nor the religion they practice. The virus does not obey human laws or ordinary conventions. It is a force of nature.

And the threat is very grave. People are dying. Crops are not harvested. Shops are closed. Temples, mosques, shrines, churches, and gurudwaras, all are empty. The hospitals are not turning sick people away because all the beds are taken. Doctors and nurses are not yet being overworked, getting sick themselves and dying because they are caring for huge numbers of patients, but that is only because Indians, some more willing than others, are following the advice of our leaders and health professionals and staying home, reducing the rate of infection.

But this comes with a cost. Nerves are frayed. Families confined at home are seeing both the love that brought them together as well as the negative traits that they would normally tolerate. And yet, we have to do what we can because our survival depends on it. 

Of course it is far too early to begin to draw any lessons from this experience. But certain things are clear, and I think we should keep them in mind because we cannot really know how long this situation will last.

First we are all in this together. The virus does not discriminate between Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, or secularist. Our only defense is a united front. We will only succeed if we work together. We number about 135 crores and share a relatively small section of the earth’s surface. This is a difficult situation even under the best of circumstances.

Second, we have faced other crises in the past, and we have prevailed. One of the reasons why India has such a low infection rate per capita is because people know how to work together facing impossible situations. We've realized that any struggle is hard work, but there is no way to avoid the pain that our human life presents us.

Third, Coronavirus is stealthy. It hides. In war, soldiers wear uniforms so that they know who they are fighting with and who are the enemies. The virus has robbed us of that luxury. It has no memory of past injustices. It does not hold grudges. It does not discriminate. To those who might say that the virus itself is God’s punishment for evil, I would just beg for humility in the face of calamity. Which one of us really knows the mind of God? It is perfectly understandable to try to blame someone else when facing an overwhelming fear. It is an instinctive reaction to lash out, and we think it helps. But the virus does not share our prejudices.

And fourth, there will be pain, and suffering, and loss. These are the facts of our lives now. There is no way to avoid it. 

When I first learned about Bapuji’s fasting, I was puzzled. It seems obvious that the way to fight an enemy is to use all the strength and power at our command. I thought he inflicted pain on himself to motivate others, perhaps even through guilt, to come to his way of thinking or unite against the British.

But perhaps it was the only thing he could do. There was no other defense. There was no power that he had to defeat the oppressor other than his inner strength. He nourished his soul by depriving his body. It was also his way of standing up to the suffering of life, accepting it willingly. 

I feel helpless in the face of the epidemic. I remain confident that the situation will improve, but I cannot predict when or how. In the meantime, I will do my best, and I will try to overcome my prejudice and work with everyone to defeat our faceless enemy. And I will fast.

Ken Ireland with Ankit Deshwal

Sunday, June 14, 2020

My Path to Islam

by John Lounibos, Ph.D.

"Before I drag the reader, screaming and wailing, to Baghdad and the 11th century world of Ghazali and medieval Persia, let me explain a few things about medieval and classical readings, which create a context for the encounter with Ghazali. Let me also share something about the way in which I read ancient, classical literature.

"I am no therapist, but I read and ask my students to read every text as therapy. Why read the classics for therapy? Because most of them were written with some intent to heal the soul. So I read the Bible for therapy. I read Julian of Norwich (1342-1420?), Augustine (354-430), Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), Maimonides (1135-1204), Dante (1265-1321), and Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) as therapy; then I read them for history, for social, political values, for critical thinking, for poetry, for creative thinking. Then I read them for windows on the catastrophes of their time and apply lessons for our own contemporary times. I also read them for meditation."

Please go to the post on the Intimate Meanderings page and read away.