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Talking to My Father About Surviving & Moving Past My Sexual Assault

Robert Tennant
Photography: Robert Tennant

Robert Tennent sits down with his dad to talk about the attack that inspired Come Back to Bed.

After surviving a sexual assault at the beginning of 2017, I chose a life of celibacy that lasted for five months. Then, I met a guy I was comfortable with and we spent the night together. As a way to remember the night, I took a photo of him and, with their permission, continued to do the same with others.

Related | Come Back to Bed Explores a Return to Intimacy After Sexual Assault

Come Back to Bed is not only a compilation of these experiences but has also served as a mirror of my journey back to normalcy -- to a sense of self, intimacy, and freedom.

Part of that journey involved opening the lines of communication with those I love, which is easier said than done. I'd kept all of this a secret from my parents and, even though my dad knew of its existence, he knew nothing of its content. My reason for holding back the details wasn't for fear of rejection, but rather a sense of awkwardness. Telling my parents about my sex life and the details of the assault itself already made me feel self-conscious. It was the same when I came out to my dad in 2015 -- especially as we didn't speak about it ever again. And like my coming out, we spoke about my assault only once.

So with this book, I knew I had to tell him before he found out about it online. It was a scary thought, and even scarier than coming out to him. Yet, I knew that if this was a conversation I planned to share with the world, he deserved a preview of it. So I sat him down and we talked about everything from accepting my sexuality to how to be a parent to a child who has gone through sexual assault.


Robert Tennent: If you had to describe your parenting skills in 5 words, what would it be?

Bob Tennent: Inept, but based on love.

What are your best memories of me?

I don't have any 'best' memories. There are so many great memories. Every memory of you is valuable, even the ones that are sharp or edgy, because they show me another side of my son.

How did you react when I told you about my assault?

I was horrified, angry, sad for you. I wanted revenge -- physical, legal, financial. I was highly emotional.

Do you wish you did anything differently when it came to speaking about my assault?

You were angry at me -- at everyone. I left it for you to talk, as I was frightened of saying something that would upset you.

Did you ever hear about sexual assault towards men when you were younger?

Yes, but only in the context of prison rape or father/uncle on child rape.

Do you think it is spoken about enough?

For those not involved, it's an ugly subject like child pornography. Life is sweeter if these subjects are avoided unless absolutely necessary, but it is hard to find the line between speaking too much and not enough.

Related | Come Back to Bed Documents Sexual Reawakening After Abuse

Were you surprised when you found out about the book?

Yes, very. You had told me you were writing a photography book, and I imagined a book of great photos of weird settings. I guess I was right in a way.

Were you apprehensive about how our family and your friends would react?

No. My brother has been in a loving relationship with a male partner for about 50 years, and I knew that my family would accept you for who you are. They would be horrified to learn of the assault. As for my friends, some of them are Neanderthals, and I like them for their good attributes and ignore any ignorance. I'm far from perfect, so I don't expect my friends to be.

If one of your friends confronted you about my book, what would you say to them?

I don't have friends who would confront me. If anyone did confront me I would tell them I wasn't interested in their opinion.

What do you think influenced your open-mindedness?

Learning my youngest brother was gay when I was 28, and later in life traveling to many different countries. Owning a bar in Cambodia really teaches you to not be surprised at anything.

Do you think having a gay brother helped you accept my sexuality?

Absolutely. I like to think I would have been supportive anyway, but I'll never know.


What would you tell parents that are having a hard time accepting their children's sexuality?

Your child is your child, to be loved for themselves.

What is your advice to parents when their children come forward about sexual assault?

Give them as much support as you can, but don't dominate their reaction. Stay supportive but don't own the issue. It is the child's issue.

What do you want people to take away from my book?

For people who have been assaulted, I want them to find comfort that there is a way forward. For those who know someone who has been assaulted, I want them to know how to support the assaultee. For all others, simply knowledge that they haven't had.

Do you have any worries or fears about how people will react to my book?

I am concerned that trolls might get after you, but I feel you can handle that.

What do you hope I gain from this whole experience?

Additional resilience, the knowledge that in life bad things happen but you can work through them.

I love you thank you for doing this.

I love you and am so happy that you are doing what you want.

You can buy Robert Tennent's Come Back to Bedhere.

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