Pictures of a Lost Youth

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Me at 14. Photographer unknown.

Trigger warning: This post talks about child sex abuse. Please take care of yourself.

My sister has been looking through old photos that my mother had and posting some online for those who are pictured in them. Recently she posted a picture of me in the front yard of our house. Based on the year and the season it appears to be shortly after I turned 14. I shared it also because I don’t have a lot of photos of me in my teen years, but looking at that image has proved to be a bit unsettling. At 14, I was still short and thin, my hair was still red, and I was smiling. As a young person I was always told I had a great smile. It’s impossible to tell if it was a smile for the camera or if I was really happy in that moment. While I have many happy memories from my childhood, I also have some horrible memories that are sometimes brought up by pictures like this.

The photo would have been taken when I was approaching the middle of over seven years of ongoing sexual abuse. I look at that smile and I know that behind it there was lost innocence, sadness, fear, guilt, shame, and probably dozens more emotions that I couldn’t even begin to define. I look at pictures of me when I was around ten years old and I can’t help but think how innocent I was, and how small and vulnerable, and it makes me want to cry. That’s how old I was when it started. I look at my high school graduation picture, which would have been taken when I was still 17, and I think of how much pain was hidden behind that smile. The abuse ended at some point in that seventeenth year, but the aftereffects of it lingered for years, and clearly linger still even though I have gotten so much stronger.

One time as an adult I came across a man from my hometown who tried to seduce me. He told me that years ago, when he looked out the window at me playing in shorts (like the ones I wore in the picture my sister posted), he always wanted to rape me right then and there. He was not the person who abused me. He had never touched me, or even tried, but years later, finding out that he had those thoughts was unnerving. The picture of me at 14 reminds me again of that disgusting revelation, and it’s left me a bit triggered.

Looking at childhood photos and thinking of childhood memories should be a happy pastime and for some it is, but for untold thousands of survivors it can be difficult to revisit their past. For some, the memories are so painful they can’t even be recalled. Unlike those survivors, I remember well. I remember details that it might be best to block out and forget. But I also remember that despite it all the child in those pictures, from ten to seventeen, was a positive, hopeful, idealistic person. He was a boy who lived through those awful moments of abuse, but still appreciated life for the wonder it had to offer, who believed, like Anne Frank, in the essential goodness of people. Somehow, I still do.

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On the Jussie Smollett Case

Love Your Neighbor. Photo by Callen Harty.

One of the things about our society in this era of instant electronic communications is that all of us tend to jump to conclusions about stories in the news. We hear that an actor like Jussie Smollett has been attacked by MAGA hat-wearing homophobic racists and that immediately fits with a narrative of Trump and his followers. So those on the left jump all over it and start tweeting and writing blog posts and creating memes about it. Then, when the story shifts a bit and newspapers start to report that police sources say that Smollett may have paid men he knew to stage the attack, that fits a narrative of those on the right, that liberals have knee-jerk reactions to everything and that attacks on African-Americans and those in the queer community are all over-stated and over-reported by the left, and that they really don’t happen much, if at all.

At this point, there is no way to know what is true in this story. So perhaps the wisest thing would be to wait for the police to finish their investigation and see if they charge the two brothers who were suspected of attacking Smollett or charge Smollett for filing a false report. As a people, we don’t have a lot of patience to wait for things to play out like that. We’re in a 24-hour news cycle and we want answers now and if answers aren’t available the best answers cobbled together from what little is known will do. We want to be the first to post about the latest developments in the latest stories. We accept incomplete information rather than no information at all.

The problem with that is that people can get hurt by the suppositions and incorrect reporting, whether it is the two brothers who were accused of accosting him or whether it is Smollett himself. I don’t want to suppose that Smollett planned an attack on himself, but if it proves to be true it is devastating, in large part due to his fame and the continuous reporting on it. Right now, it’s a big part of that 24-hour news cycle and right now it seems the majority of the country thinks Smollett lied.

The thing is, there are a lot of wolves out there and just because one boy cries wolf when there is no wolf there, it doesn’t mean we should ignore everyone who tells us they have been attacked by a wolf. Already, I have seen that there are those who want to use the possibility that Smollett lied as proof that there is no danger for my community.

As a gay man who has been threatened and who has known queer people who were beaten or killed, it pains me to think that Smollett may have fabricated this whole thing, and I hope that it is not true. It will make it that much harder for those who have suffered from hate crimes to be believed.

False reports of crimes are fairly rare, but they do happen. Sometimes it’s to get attention. Other times it’s to get someone in trouble, a way to get even with someone who hurt you in some way. Sometimes there’s no explanation. But when these reports happen they undercut the many true stories of homophobia and racism that are so prevalent in our society. I sincerely hope that Jussie Smollett did not orchestrate his own attack. But if he did, that doesn’t mean black men are not really dying at the hands of police and others. It doesn’t mean that gay men aren’t getting fired from jobs or getting beaten and killed for being gay. It doesn’t mean that there are no hate-filled neo-Nazis attacking Jews, or Muslim-hating Americans attacking those with different beliefs, or Trump supporters attacking those who look different or speak a different language. These things do happen. There are wolves among us.

 

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#SurvivorLoveLetter

Grade School

Me in grade school Photographer unknown.

Self-portrait

Self-portrait.

To the boy that is me,

You and me, we are not so different, even with so many intervening years separating us. We are fighters, stubborn, curious, seekers of justice, too trusting sometimes, lovers of nature, smart, naïve, innocent. We are hurt and we are healing.

I want you to know that you could not have done anything differently. You fought as hard as a ten-year old body could fight. I still fight with my aging sixty-plus body, with my mind, with words, and with a stubborn fervor. Because I never want to see another boy or girl hurt the way that you were hurt at such a young age.

When the fight was gone, it was still not your fault. Know that it was not your fault. It took me years, but I know it now. It is never a child’s fault. It wasn’t your fault at ten years old. It wasn’t your fault at seventeen. Or anywhere in between. It was never your fault.

I am sorry for the times you were unhappy because I couldn’t figure out what was hurting so badly. I am sorry that I turned to alcohol and drugs to hide the pain and dull my senses. I was doing it for you, but didn’t know there were better ways to deal with it all.

It took years, but I am so glad we reconnected. I love you. I love me. That took a while, too, but we’re here together now. I promise I will protect you now and that I will love you always. I wrap you in love and feel the warmth around me. I am content. I am happy. I am healing, and I am filled with gratitude for your strength.

 

 

 

 

 

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Elegy for Terri

Terri. Photo by Callen Harty.

The Irish poets sing for you now,
songs of passing and sorrow,
lilting tunes that reach the ears of angels
and honor the truth of your living.
A ghost peers through the window
wondering when you might walk past,
while church leaders
shift
their focus to sheep still in the flock.
Looking upwards
one can see your words written on the clouds,
gently caressing the sky.
And the wind blows through the evergreens
like a whisper from the hills outside of town,
like God speaking in tongues.
The Irish poets lift voices to the wind,
praising God for the gift of your heart.

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Fear

Gun guy

Gun rights activist at a rally at the Wisconsin Capitol.

Over the weekend, a group of right-wingers held a rally at the Wisconsin Capitol to stand up and speak out for Second Amendment rights. At least a couple gun rights groups organized the event. Not that anyone is trying to take away the right to bear arms, but with the recent elections of Democrats Tony Evers to the governorship and Josh Kaul to the Attorney General’s office, the ralliers were afraid of reports that both men want to pass red flag gun laws and universal background checks. Red flag gun laws allow a court to temporarily take away firearms from someone who a judge decides is a possible threat to themselves or others. Currently all gun sales from licensed dealers require background checks, but private purchases, such as those at gun shows or between individuals, do not. Universal background checks would require background checks on all gun sales. These are two things they are afraid of right now.

Because of the involvement of Three Percent United Patriots in particular, left-leaning groups in Madison decided to hold a United Against Fascism counter protest across the street from the permitted rally. The Three Percenters have been defined as an anti-government militia group and have said they will defend their right to bear arms with armed resistance against any attempts to take away that right. Some of their members nationwide have been arrested for various plots. They were noticed by the general population when they provided security for the alt-right Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, in which a woman, Heather Heyer, was killed by one of the right-wingers when he drove a car into her.

When I got there I saw a handful of the gun rights advocates gathered on the Capitol steps and a large group of counter-protesters gathered across the street, as well as a fairly large police presence. There were somewhere between three dozen gun rights activists and about 250 on the other side. Many, if not most, of the gun rights activists were displaying handguns and other weaponry, which can be intimidating, but the strange thing was I did not feel intimidated at all. When I was taking pictures of one of them, it struck me when he looked at me that he was just a scared boy, that while they display guns to intimidate and scare others, they are the ones who are afraid.

It is because of fear that they were there. They fear their government, they fear their beloved weapons being taken away, they fear their fellow citizens who are tired of mass shootings and constant gun violence, they fear the left, they fear that someone is going to hurt them, so they carry these weapons not just to intimidate others, but to protect themselves from all of the horrible threats against them and their lifestyle. To me, it seems sad to live one’s life in that much fear. Wearing camouflage clothing and military gear while carrying guns may make them feel personally safer, but it can’t take away the underlying fear.

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Forward

Scott Walker. Photo by Callen Harty.

And so it comes down to this.

The Wisconsin Legislature, in an all-night lame duck special session, voted early this morning to weaken the power of the incoming governor and attorney general. While a bill to change an election date in order to favor the more conservative Supreme Court candidate failed to pass, the ones that were really the crux of protests and concern over the last week were passed by both houses. In the Senate one Republican, Senator Cowles, voted against. One more Republican would have been needed to vote against in order to prevent passage of the bills.

Now they go to the desk of Governor Scott Walker to sign or veto. Though he hasn’t specifically stated his intentions, he has indicated in the last several days that he would likely sign whatever the Republican-controlled legislature might send him. Never mind that over 1,400 people showed up at the Capitol to register against the bills and a handful registered in support, or that at the committee hearing hundreds testified against the bills and only one lone person spoke in favor. Never mind that virtually every media outlet in Wisconsin editorialized against the lame duck session and any bills that would take power away from the incoming governor. Tony Evers was elected in part on certain promises that these bills make it impossible to fulfill. The will of the people will be thwarted if Walker signs them into law, and it is more than likely that he will.

Let’s face it. Neither Scott Walker nor the Republicans in the statehouse have given any indication over the last eight years that they ever listen to Wisconsin citizens or care what anyone else wants or thinks. Their only concern has been pushing through their ultra-conservative agenda and staying in power or increasing their hold on it.

Let’s also face the fact that Scott Fitzgerald and Robin Vos are not fooling anyone when they say they are just trying to make sure that the three branches of government are co-equal. And they forgot the fourth branch–the moneyed interests that prop them up and support them, and give marching orders. If they were truly concerned about co-equal branches of government, they would not have allowed the governor to have the power he had over the last eight years. They would not have waited until he lost his re-election bid to suddenly realize the importance of making everything co-equal. This is dairy country, but it’s not only the farmers who can smell bullshit a mile away.

I called and wrote a letter to Scott Walker imploring him to veto these bills, because I have to take whatever action I can. As a citizen who cares about my state I cannot just concede. I have to do something, anything, in an attempt to stop this power grab. I have to do what I can to return Wisconsin to the open, honest government I grew up with in my beloved Badger state. But I am also no fool. I expect Scott Walker to veto these bills about as much as I expect Robin Vos to send me a gift of popcorn for Christmas. I expect Walker to send a caring response to my e-mail as much as I would expect Santa Claus to return a letter and tell me I’m getting a new car this holiday season.

Still, I try, because I fervently believe that justice will ultimately prevail. Though not likely, I can dream that Scott Walker will surprise all of us and remember his roots as a minister’s son and do the right thing. Perhaps Tony Evers and Josh Kaul will sue and win, or get an injunction that will stay in place long enough that Walker can’t sign the bills and Evers will have a chance to veto them in January. Or maybe, and this is far more likely, it’s about the long haul. Maybe people will remember the last eight years and this most recent disregard for Wisconsin voters in the next election. Maybe Republicans will lose enough seats that the laws can be reversed by a more sensible legislature at some point in the future. In the meantime, I will protest, write letters to those who are supposed to represent me, vote, write blog posts, talk with others, and do whatever I can to move our state in the direction of its motto-Forward. Together we will, at some point, march forward again.

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Letter to Senators on Lame Duck Session

Respect Our Vote

Respect Our Vote. The Overpass Light Brigade with a message at Wisconsin’s Capitol, December 3, 2018.

Right now in Wisconsin, Republican leadership has proposed a slew of legislation that would effectively undermine the duly elected Governor and Attorney General, among other things. There are five Republican Senators who have not committed to vote for these bills and if even two of them defect from their party leadership the bills cannot pass. Today I sent the following letter to each of them:

Dear Senator,

When you are elected to a Senate seat you are elected to represent the people in your district, but in a larger sense you are elected to do what is right for all of Wisconsin’s citizens. The people of Wisconsin elected Tony Evers as Governor and Josh Kaul as Attorney General, among other statewide offices won by Democrats. Currently, the Republican leadership is trying to push through multiple bills that take away power from both of those offices, among other last-minute attempts to consolidate power and sneakily slip through other things like a tax break for households that make over $200,000 a year. That is not a break for most Wisconsinites. Likewise, the power grab behind most of this legislation is not what’s right for Wisconsin.

I am sure that you understand that Wisconsin’s citizens are considerably smarter than the Republican leadership believes. Everyone sees through the flimsy reasoning that they are giving for the necessity of these bills and for pushing them through in a special lame duck session with little to no time for citizen input or even for Assembly and Senate representatives to fully read through them. Nobody is being fooled by any of it and voters will remember this come election time.

Wisconsinites have a history of supporting open, clean, honest government. When Victor Berger was elected to Congress as a Socialist in the early 1900s and Congress refused to seat him and called another election, the people of this state elected him again with more votes. There were many citizens who acknowledged that they didn’t like him but voted for him the second time because–whether they liked it or not–the citizens of the state had elected him. The same thing happened with Scott Walker’s recall election. Many voters were quoted as saying they hadn’t voted for Scott Walker in the first place, but voted for him in the recall election because they didn’t believe it was right to recall him just because some people didn’t like his policies. We are an independent and stubborn people and we will remember who did the right thing and who caved in to party leadership.

Please note that along with many Wisconsin residents I am not a Republican or Democrat. I am an independent voter who will vote for the candidate, not the party. In one election several years ago I voted for four different parties. I will happily do what I can to help unseat any legislator who votes for these lame duck bills and will also do what I can to support those who vote with the majority of Wisconsin’s citizens rather than the majority party. I believe that you know that these proposals are not good for Wisconsin and I fervently hope you will consider your conscience and do the right thing. Please do not let us down.

Addendum: For those Wisconsinites who wish to contact one of the Senators who may be convinced to do the right thing, they are: Senators Cowles, Fayen, Olsen, Petrowski, and Testin.

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