Some years ago, a friend who had spent many years being sexually molested by a family member, carefully and haltingly confided in me that part of the shame in being treated like that was that sometimes she liked it. That may be putting it too strongly. She sometimes experienced pleasure. Maybe that's as far as it went. I already feel like I'm putting words in her mouth.
But I carefully and as gently as possible said that made sense to me. Sex is pleasurable, genital stimulation feels good, and even if---maybe especially if---you're being treated like a sex toy, it made sense that you might try to lose yourself in whatever positive thing you could.
I surely don't know. I've been remarkably lucky to not have had that in my childhood.
My friend came to mind, however, as I read Faraway by R.K. Kline and Daniel D. Maurer. Faraway is the story of a summer in the mid-seventies when Kline, a teenager in suburban Missouri, found himself seduced into a life as a gay prostitute, a hustler in public parks and private homes. It starts out as what seems like a sexual adventure, even a burgeoning romance. A gay teenager eager to explore his sexuality would of course find the attentions of an attractive older man exciting and pleasurable. Indeed, part of what made this story compelling was how the authors draw the fine line of expressing the sensuality of the initial experiences while communicating the quick descent into something dangerous and abusive.
Sex feels good and even if it doesn't lead us into prostitution (or keep us in an abusive relationship), I think many adults have had the experience of the promise of pleasure leading to regretful, if less dire, situations.
But this book isn't really about the sex. It's just present, bluntly present, like a baseball bat to your ribs. Terrible things happen in this book, and they happen to minors, and they're heartbreaking, to say the least.
These terrible things happen, however, within the context of friendship and first love---things that most teenagers experience without the terror.
I hesitate to say too much about the story itself. It's something to experience as it unfolds without too much warning about what happens within it.
I will say that it's simply told, without much flash, without much literary pyrotechnics. It's frank. It's clear about what's going on without any attempt to soften the details or turn it into poetry. In current internet jargon, there maybe should be a "trigger warning" on the cover.
I will also say that I read this book in a day. I never do that. I was drawn into this story with the knowledge that the narrator made it out alive and eventually became a Lutheran pastor. I have to say that what kept me engrossed was the wondering how he escaped this circumstance.
Kline was human trafficked without ever leaving home and the circumstances around that had as much to do with how society treats LGBT people, the overt, negative messages we LGBT people receive on a daily basis. As much as he didn't like being a prostitute, the other boy hustlers were people who knew him and treated him like family. There was love among these boys, an unconditional love that Kevin couldn't be certain he would find from his own family.
I would like to think that a book like this would lead people to compassion for teens who find themselves in these dire situations, but I took a look at the reviews on Amazon and found that two reviewers found it self-serving and disgusting, seeing the 14 year old boy in the story as having enough agency to have known better or done differently. So there are heartless jerks in the world. I suppose this isn't news.
But I would highly recommend this book to someone who has a heart, is open to seeing what some people endure, how a search for friendship and love and acceptance can lead to really horrific places. Set aside your judgments and read what is, essentially, a message of hope and restoration. Don't expect to find easy comfort, but do enter into this story with a heart willing to be broken and with a mind willing to see how easily manipulated simple desire can be.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the
author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review
network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I
have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the
Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.