New York City sex therapist Stephen Snyder is hot for NYT columnist Charles Blow‘s new memoir, Fire Shut Up In My Bones. In the book, Blow opens up about sexual abuse at the hands of an older relative and the complicated feelings that arose from it. He also talks about his bisexuality, something that has plagued him for much of his life.
Synder reviewed Blow’s book for Psychology Today. He also spoke to The Mirror about some of the assertions in Blow’s book. And all in all, it’s safe to say Snyder was blown away (pun intended) by the memoir.
What intrigued Snyder so much about Blow’s book is that it raises issues he deals with in his practice everyday. His mind was also blown by the depth of feeling with which he says the book was written. He says you can really feel what Blow was feeling.
Asked if a man can be bisexual as the result of sexual abuse, he says, “That’s the million dollar question. Men in my office struggle with that question all the time.” Snyder explains,“The question is usually ‘Did the abuse make me bisexual?’” And the good doctor’s response: “It’s almost impossible to tell. Blow was abused when he was 7 years old. There are some gay and bisexual men who at that age recognize feelings of same-sex arousal. He was not one of them.”
What’s more, Snyder says, “One of the insidious things about childhood sexual abuse is that often the child feels he must have been responsible. Blow’s sexual abuse came out of the blue. It was clearly unwanted. He worried that he must have wanted it somehow, but it’s clear that he didn’t.”
The doctor dismisses the idea that Blow is a true bisexual. He says the bisexuality Blow describes in the book is something one might call “bisexual lite.” Synder systematically blows through the journalist’s experiences. “He describes his first experience going into a gay bar, liking the attention, and having a guy take him home,” he said. “But then he sees the guy has a great body, and it does nothing for him. For some subsequent encounters, he has to get drunk first. I couldn’t find much in the book to indicate that he was strongly sexually attracted to men. ”
General takeaways from the memoir? “What I took away from the book was an obsession with the idea of being bisexual, and a tremendous hunger for male affection and attention that sometimes had an erotic aspect,” he said. “But it was unclear how strong his same-sex attraction was, really. What was clear was that he had a tremendous unmet need for male attention, affection, and support.”
He dives even deeper into Blow’s story. “He’d been a lonely kid. His older cousin essentially ‘groomed’ him for the abuse. The older boy took an interest in him, made him feel special, gave him attention and affection, then tried to close the deal one night. The next day the older boy wanted to do it again, and Blow refused. That was the end of the relationship. From that point on, the older boy bullied and tormented him. Blow describes in vivid detail the many losses this entailed, including loss of the relationship with someone he thought valued him. Like most kids who are victims of this kind of betrayal, he was completely alone. He was seven years old and had no support at all.”
How would Snyder treat someone who came to his office with Blow’s story?
“A person needs to tell their story to someone who knows how to listen and who can confront some of the distortions—for instance, ‘I was responsible, because I didn’t scream,’ he said. “Identifying and correcting distorted views they may have about themselves, such as ‘this means I’m really gay.’ Dealing with post traumatic stress reactions. Having consistent support from a therapist who knows that healing may take a long time.”
Asked whether writing such a memoir is beneficial or not therapeutically, Snyder is mostly for it, although he said most people he treats wouldn’t be in Blow’s position to attract readers to it.
“I can imagine writing the book was therapeutic,” he said. “Blow grew up with two secrets. One, that he was sexually abused, which is a deeply shameful thing for most people to admit. And two, that he didn’t feel 100 percent heterosexual. When someone is holding two secrets, it’s likely that they’ll conspire together to torment him. I don’t know what Blow’s reasons were for writing the book, but many men out there are as isolated as he was and struggle with secrets like his. I imagine he wanted to see if he could help others feel less alone.”
To that end, the doctor gives Blow’s book a major two thumbs up.
“The book will help people understand the many kinds of injury and loss that happen as a result of childhood sexual abuse, including having a deep secret anxiety about one’s sexual orientation,” he said. “I think the author’s relentless honesty in confronting his past will inspire other men to do the same, and will help those who love them to understand them more deeply.”