Was it Abuse? I Think So. Because it Left a Scar.

By Guest Blogger | Best of Messy Grace

Apr 28


After Monday’s blog, I begged Morgan to tell his story. He obliged and the results are chilling. Morgan Guyton is my friend, a pastor, Patheos blogger, and author of the brand-new (and really freakin’ good) book, “How Jesus Saves the World from Us”. It’s an honor to feature Morgan’s story here.

He didn’t physically touch me. So maybe it doesn’t count. He just made me take a shower while he watched me and pointed at me when I was done. “That’s a fine piece of equipment you’ve got there. Make sure you protect that with a cup.” And the next time I looked down when I was peeing, it was smaller.

He had one ghastly long fingernail on his left index finger that was the finger he used to point at me. It wasn’t every time I peed or showered, but at least a few times every year, I remembered that fingernail and I wondered if I had really shrunk since that night or if it was just my imagination.

I tried to tell my parents about it. I can’t remember what I said exactly. I’m not sure they were as dismissive as I remembered because I’m not sure what I said. You can’t call it sexual abuse unless they touch you, right? If he had touched me, I would have been able to name it and deal with it. Maybe. Because he didn’t touch me, there was no need to deal with anything since nothing had happened. But I kept on shrinking.

It happened at a church basketball team lock-in. Coach Mills had made us shower one at a time while he sat and watched us. It didn’t feel strange because there was only one shower in the gym for us to use. What was strange was the way he looked at us. Another kid Joey was on the basketball team too. Before we went to bed, Joey said to me, “That was weird.”

[clickToTweet tweet=”My basketball coach wasn’t transgender, but… #graceismessy” quote=”My basketball coach wasn’t transgender, but…” theme=”style3″]

My grandpa was a big fan of Coach Mills. He was a no-nonsense strict conservative man who would teach me discipline and character. Coach didn’t believe we needed Nike Air Jordans to play basketball. He told me to get some $15 Converse Allstars. I was wearing them years before they became the shoes of the grunge generation.

Coach Mills was also my seventh grade Sunday school teacher. He was one of the most intimidating mentors I’ve ever had. His military background came out in his strict classroom management. I had a lot of respect for him. Even after it happened. People are complicated. I suppose pedophiles can also be mentors who help boys grow into men. If you had asked me to name my top five role models in seventh grade, I might have named Coach Mills.

I don’t know how these things happen for other people, but I’ve read that all but very few cases of child sexual abuse involve people the child knows. One thing I do know is that Coach Mills wasn’t transgender. He was a man’s man. There wasn’t an effeminate bone in his body. He crushed your hand when he shook it. The shower incident seemed like a complete fluke in conjunction with the rest of his personality.

I’ve often questioned whether he was really watching me in an inappropriate way or simply doing what a completely normal church basketball coach is supposed to do at a lock-in where there happens to be one shower, but then I remember the long fingernail pointing at my private parts and Joey saying, “That was weird.” Nope, it wasn’t okay. Does it count as abuse? I think so, because it left a scar.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Does it count as abuse? I think so, because it left a scar. #graceismessy” quote=”Does it count as abuse? I think so, because it left a scar.” theme=”style3″]

I wonder what percentage of churches in our country have a Coach Mills working with their children. I wonder how many of those same churches are boycotting Target for standing up for transgender people. To what degree do we create sexual bogeymen in order to avoid facing the real problems in our community? It’s so much easier to make abuse uncomplicated by finding a category of outsiders to scapegoat.

Coach Mills died in 2011. I hope that God didn’t send him to hell for all of eternity on my account. What he did to me does not negate the rest of his humanity. I really hope that the worst he did was to watch boys take showers, but I can’t help but wonder how much more he would have done to boys who spent a lot more time with him. He was also the scoutmaster of our church’s Boy Scout troop.

I don’t have the statistics regarding how many times children have been molested in public bathrooms. But my hunch is that a Target restroom is a lot safer than a church gymnasium shower. It makes sense to be proactive about protecting your children, but don’t let yourself get sucked into hysteria against social outsiders that is more about demonization than actual safety.

[clickToTweet tweet=”A @Target restroom is a lot safer than a church gymnasium shower. @maguyton #graceismessy” quote=”A @Target restroom is a lot safer than a church gymnasium shower.” theme=”style3″]

The people you need to watch are your kids’ coaches, Scout leaders, and Sunday school teachers. This is why church policies like Safe Sanctuaries are so important for protecting kids and protecting adults from false accusation. We’ve come a long way in the last thirty years. But as long as we project the real problems in our community onto scapegoats like transgender people, we will not be able to make the world safe for our children.

*Morgan Guyton has just released his first book How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity with Westminster John Knox. His blog “Mercy Not Sacrifice” is hosted at Patheos. He and his wife Cheryl are co-directors of the NOLA Wesley United Methodist Campus Center at Tulane and Loyola in New Orleans, LA.

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  • sashamjohns says:

    Every year my mom sewed my sister and I a brand new Easter Dress. The year I was 12, the pattern I chose had 2 key hole openinings on the back. They weren’t suggestive, my mom would have never gone for that, but they did expose a little skin.There was a man at our church, A father of four red haired daughters, and husband of what I would call an extremely shy and quiet wife, who completely unnerved me even at that age. The Sunday I wore that dress, I remember talking to a friend about the same age when I felt someone behind me, sticking their finger down the keyhole of my dress. The man was standing right behind me and touching me in a way that made my skin crawl, right in the middle of the church sanctuary in front of everyone, but standing in a way that he could hide it.
    He always hugged too long and made me extremely uncomfortable any time I was around him, but my mom always thought I was over reacting because he was such a “godly” man and would never be suggestive like that. He had 4 daughters of his own after all. ……
    I never was alone with him thank goodness, but my whole life, I’ve wondered about his wife and daughters. He was only at our church for about two years. I can’t even remember his name now.

  • Sandy Perry says:

    Stories like this break my heart. Watching is wrong too. If you feel intimidated or uncomfortable, it’s wrong. Period. End of story.

    • Steve Austin says:

      Agreed. I could hardly read it the first time. The second time wasn’t much easier. So thankful for the grace and strength Morgan has found through all of this.

  • vlmrhm says:

    You know bashing a Christian woman who doesn’t want to go to the bathroom with a guy who thinks he is a girl… She has a right right to feel comfortable and safe using a public restroom. Also, target has opened dressing to everyone. I am not sharing a dressing room with the opposite sex who thinks they are the same sex…. Does this make me a hater? No, not at all. I am a person who feels uncomfortable in this type of environment. I am also a counselor who has meet with folks who have had tragic events happen to them in their life. People need Christ. His love, His healing, His deliverance. I strive to love all people. Did you ever think this really isn’t a bathroom issue? What is the agenda? What are the consequences? Stores already have private bathrooms… Let us use them!!!! And yes children are exposed to abuse in restrooms and they are not relatives….

    • Anna Hall says:

      There were many people who didn’t feel comfortable going to the bathroom with or using water fountains with black people. On trips, black people had no place to use a public restroom or sleep in a hotel. Having to go on the side of the road or sleep in the car or in homes when on trips. People said it wouldn’t be comfortable to have those places integrated. Does comfort trump a human right, like finding a safe place to relieve yourself when needed? Now relieving yourself outdoors in public places is against the law, so what exactly do you suggest people do in cases where there is no single family restroom? And I have a feeling that people would also be “uncomfortable” if they perceived a person who didn’t look traditionally gendered coming out of there as well. I mean, that’s a /family/ restroom, what about the children and all that.

      • vlmrhm says:

        You are so off base…. Sexual issues lead to abuse, no matter how you try to cover it. When there is no accountable. Do you realize how many children are abused while going to a mall restroom. Talk to police, counselors…. Get the numbers… I feel sorry for you ….

      • Leo says:

        My question is, how do you define transgender? Are you suggesting anyone who dress in women’s clothes have right to enter lady’s room? Or anyone who dress in men’s clothes have right to enter men’s room?

  • vlmrhm says:

    Parents need to keep their children safe yet society needs to keep boundaries in place to help keep children safe.

  • I never really got the whole ‘trigger’ thing until yesterday when Dennis Hastert was sentenced. But it sure brought it all back.My abuser was a church leader named Billy. Everybody loved Billy. He was so nice and so generous. Especially to the boys he took out to the movies and back home.
    I was one of those boys. After dinner & a movie, he & I would go back to his bachelor pad: the basement of his mother’s house. He was in his 40s.
    His expectation was that I would share his king-size bed. I did, many times. There were no “sex acts,” but he would put his arm around me. I’m unclear on whether he touched my genitals.
    This went on periodically for a few years – it probably started when I was 12. My parents never asked questions.
    I know he took other boys out and back to his house. Who knows what he did with them?
    As far as I know, nobody ever questioned why this 40-something bachelor spent so much time with boys.
    The senior pastor was a weakling who let Billy run this Southern Baptist church. I think he probably closed his eyes to the whole thing.
    Billy died several years ago. I admit I was happy when I heard he was dead.
    Is it any wonder I’m deeply skeptical of right-wing Christian “outrage” over transgender people in bathrooms? They don’t give a shit if their leaders molest kids.

  • Morgan is brave on two counts: One, for sharing his own story. I got chills when I read it, and yes it is abuse. Two, for suggesting in love we need to stop demonizing “others” and be courageous enough to have conversations with our children and look inside our own churches to ensure the safety of our children.

  • Bec Cranford says:

    Thank you for sharing your wounds.

  • alainakailyn says:

    Thank you. I am a Transgender woman and the focus of these laws. I am also a mother, a minister, and a human being.I was abused as a child, not by some apocryphal Trans person but by my own grandfather. That said, I realize how hard it is to talk about such things and wanted to say thank you for having the strength to stand up for both Trans People, and the children in our homes and churches that so desperately need it. I have three children, a son and two daughters, and while I worry about them constantly, as most moms do, I also try and make sure they are in safe places, which is why I want to thank you for highlighting the Safe Sanctuaries project. It’s a wonderful thing and something we need more of!

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