Today I’m speaking with Ron York, fellow survivor and gay author of Kept In The Dark and Songs From An Imperfect Life. If you’d like to enter the giveaway for one of his books, leave a comment below (and mention which book you’d like).
Ron York’s book Songs From An Imperfect Life is brave: Ron York has no memory of his third birthday party, or the fact that his father was not present. Family photos reveal a smiling child, while letters and newspaper clippings explain his father’s absence – he was in jail after being arrested for molesting Ron’s 13-year-old cousin.
The following year, the York family had relocated from Miami to Nashville. They joined First Baptist Church and tried to start over. His parents, busy keeping the secrets of their own past, were unaware that their 7-year-old son had begun keeping secrets, too. Over the next several years, Ron was molested by three men within their church. And by the age of 10, the sexual activity had expanded into downtown movie theaters, department store restrooms and beyond.
Songs From An Imperfect Life is a raw, honest of a broken child’s need for attention, and his journey to heal.
Cheryl: Do you get people asking you if you’re gay/queer because of your child sexual abuse? I’ve had people ask that – or assume that – of me because of my child sexual abuse experience. And what do you say to them? (I have my own answers, but I’d love to hear yours.)
Ron York: No one has asked that of me but then again, no one knew about my abuse until last year. I do believe we are born that way and in reading my mother’s letters from when I was three, I clearly see the tendencies beginning. I was fortunate that the sexual abuse shown me was never violent. I was made to feel special, needed, wanted. The extra attention became a drug as puberty set in and as gay feelings developed. I have wondered if I had been molested by a woman if I might have felt differently. I would think that would have been uncomfortable and the abuse more traumatic.
I also think we’re born as we are. (smiling at you)
Did it feel healing to write your books – or to hear people’s responses to your books?
Ron York: I had always tried to block those memories and therefore did not think of myself as needing healing. However, when I wrote Kept in the Dark and revealed my dad’s arrest for abusing a minor, I felt that I needed to be honest and admit that I had also been abused (not by my father) as a child. It was then that people reached out to me to tell me their own stories. Abuse became an everyday subject in my life and memories began to reappear. It was then that I realized that keeping something buried is not the same as coming to terms with it. I needed to examine my life and create a timeline that began with the seven-year-old me being abused and what happened next, then next and my behavior, acting out and risk-taking. It became healing because for the first time in my life I could see the whole picture and not just a vignette or two. And the response has been overwhelming. I am blown away by how many people have encountered some form of abuse in their life or with someone they know. The feedback has been positive for my honesty. And as wonderful as that might be, it’s the fact that many have told me how my coming forward has helped them. It has confirmed for me that I’m on the right path.
Cheryl: I’m glad you faced the abuse you went through and spoke out about it through your books. It takes courage to do that. And it definitely helps to face what we’ve been through.
What do you wish people knew about you?
Ron York: I’m not sure there is much more that hasn’t already been said or that I’ve written about myself. I’ve had a train wreck of a life often hidden behind a smile, a facade. But I’ve also had a wonderful life filled with incredible experiences and I’m blessed with amazing friends. We do not have to let our past define us.
Cheryl:I’m glad you’ve had much good mixed in with the hard.
What do you wish people knew about child sexual abuse?
Ron York: I am not an expert or a professional in this field but I am a survivor of abuse. I can only speak from my own experiences. My childhood was filled with secrets and sexual activity long before I ever knew it was wrong. And like many, I took the path that led me into risky situations which I’m amazed that I’m still standing. As a child in the late 1950s-60s I never felt there was anyone that I could talk to about what was going on or the confusion I was feeling. I thought I’d be in trouble telling my parents. I couldn’t tell anyone at church as that is where the sexual activity began. And being a child that was often bullied, I wouldn’t want any of my friends to know what was happening. I think one of the most important things that we can do to help the abused, is to listen. We often are busy trying to figure out how to respond when someone is talking that we don’t fully listen to what they are saying. Letting someone tell you their story without judging them is one of the first steps in helping them, in my opinion.
Cheryl: I agree with you – listening to survivors helps.
Why was it important to you to write your books?
Ron York: For me, I had kept secrets and a hidden life for so long that once I cracked the door open, I felt I needed to swing it open wide. It’s very freeing to spill your secrets but you also have to be ready to not care what anyone thinks. I will admit that I worried what the response might be but there was no need. If there have been any negative feelings, at this point they have not reached me. And the sheer volume of positive feedback, love and support would offset any if there were.
Cheryl: I’m glad to hear that! What do you hope people will get from your book?
Ron York: My biggest hope is that people will realize that we all have secrets and if they deal with abuse then we need to speak up. We are not alone and we can overcome and use our powers for good.
Cheryl: I agree. We are not alone, and it helps to know that and to speak out. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Ron.
About Kept In The Dark
The jail was located on the top 9 floors of the Dade County Courthouse in downtown Miami. The young father could look down from the 21st floor, to the street below. His wife and child would come each night, stand on the sidewalk and wave to him. They would flash the car lights to signal they were there and he, in return, would strike a match from his window to let them know he was watching. Although separated by just a few miles, they were only able to see each other each Sunday, for 2 hours, through glass and wire. Writing letters became their way of communicating and 100 letters were exchanged during an 8-week period.
This was a secret my parents, family and a few close friends took to their graves. No one ever told me and I was too young to remember. And yet, a box containing the letters, yellowed newspaper clippings, faded photographs and cards of encouragement from friends was left for me after everyone was gone.
About Ron York
Author. Artist. Musician.
J. Ronald M. York graduated from Belmont University with studies in voice and piano. He spent the next two decades in the field of interior design before opening his first art gallery. When not in the gallery, York can be found in his studio painting, at his piano composing, or assisting numerous nonprofit agencies with fundraising. He currently resides in Nashville with his cat, Miss Trixie Delight.