I know

Hand

I know what happened to you

even though you cannot say it,

because I hear it in the words you do not say,

and I see it in your eyes,

in the way your body hides its secrets.

I see me in your eyes

and the way your body hides it secrets.

And I know.

I know the truth that your eyes

want to hide from the world.

And I want you to know

that the man who touched you,

who hurt you, abused you,

doesn’t want you to know

that it was not your fault.

It was not your fault.

It is his burden, not yours.

But he wants you to believe

that no one will believe

you

if you say a word.

I believe you, even in your silence.

He wants you to believe that it was you

who invited his hands, his mouth, his . . .

other parts of his body

to join with yours.

Know that it was not you.

It was not your invitation.

It was not your fault.

It was not what you wanted.

He wants you to believe that because your body

reacted naturally

that you shared equally in the act.

Know that it was your body reacting naturally–

not your heart, your mind, your soul.

Not you.

I know it was not something you wanted.

You know it was not something you wanted.

Believe yourself.

I know also that you feel shame,

that you are afraid to speak,

that you are afraid,

and I understand the fear.

But know that I have heard you speak

despite your silence–because of your silence–

and I will hold it all with you.

When you are ready

I will be ready with you.

I will hold it all with you in brotherhood,

and when that time comes

his lies, your fear, the shame, guilt, horror,

all of it,

will start to slip through your fingers

and you will be able to touch

the truth that is now hidden behind your eyes.

Know that I will be there with you,

that I will hold it with you,

and that it will be the beginning of healing.

Your eyes will open, tears will fall,

and you will know then with certainty

it was not what you wanted.

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Full Circle

At Nohr Gallery

Speaking at the Nohr Gallery, UW-Platteville, 4/12/17. Photo by Darlene Masters.

Trigger Warning: This post is about child sex abuse and also suicide. Please take care of yourself first and foremost.

Since coming out publicly as a survivor of child sex abuse about seven years ago I have written articles, blog posts, a play, and a memoir, spoken at conferences and events around the state and even as far afield as MaleSurvivor’s 14th International Conference in New Jersey, and have been interviewed on radio and television. For me it is important to speak about my experience so that others know they are not alone and to educate the public. I believe that as a society we don’t talk enough about sexual assault and about how to end it. I also believe that without survivors sharing their personal stories it is too easy to see it as a distant problem. Regardless of the issue–sexual abuse or other–personal stories tend to lead to a better understanding through the connection with the human being sharing the story. Whenever I am asked to speak I do my best to accept the invitation and tell my story.

Recently I was invited by the Dean of Students Office, Family Advocates, University Counseling Services, and the Doyle Center to speak at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville this past week as part of their Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities. I was excited by the prospect and more nervous than I had ever been about a speaking engagement, primarily because I had lived in Platteville for several years and it was only twenty miles from my hometown where the bulk of the abuse took place. It was also the city where I came out as a gay man, where I toyed with suicide two different times, where I confronted the person who abused me as a child, where I turned to alcohol in a very heavy way to mask my pain and avoid confronting the truth of my life.

To be honest Platteville in 1979 was a horrible place to come out, but it was also the place where I accepted myself and first started speaking publicly. My gay friends and I belonged to the campus gay and lesbian group and we would go into classrooms and talk about what it meant to be gay and do question-and-answer sessions. Speaking at the university this week was like coming full circle, but it was also like a bullied kid going back to the junior high where all the bullying took place decades earlier. Time had passed, but place can hold memories. In fact the room in which I spoke was on a corner where almost forty years ago a carload of college students had stopped their car and yelled “faggot” and other obscenities as they threw empty beer bottles at me.

Not many blocks away was the house where I lived when I downed a bunch of pills, only to find out the next morning that it was a bottle of penicillin, a story I usually share with some humor in my presentations. It was in the same house that I held a rusty razor blade to my wrist and ended up passing out before doing anything with it. On Tuesday afternoon I walked by the bars where I used to get drunk night after night, all with different names now, but all recognizable as my old haunts. It was in one of those bars that I confronted the person who abused me and was told by him that I was the one who wanted it.

The night before my talk I had gone to my hometown and stayed overnight in the bedroom in which I grew up. It was there and in other rooms in that house, and especially in the dark basement, that most of the abuse took place from the time I was ten until I was almost eighteen. When I went downstairs to take a shower I was thrown back to those days. I didn’t know how I would handle the speech that night, whether I could shake off all the memories that came with that part of the state.

Still, I knew I wanted to speak at the university. I knew that I had to and that it was important for me and my growth and continued healing to do it. What I also realized was that when I speak or write about my story it is really not about the victimization–it is about the healing and the surviving. Yes, the memories were there. Yes, there is still lingering pain from my childhood. Yes, speaking in Platteville was like going back in time to some very hard things. But I am a survivor first and foremost. I wanted to let people know that despite the horror I suffered in my childhood I survived. I am a strong man with an important message, and so I would speak. I would share the pain of my childhood, the difficulty in overcoming it, and I would let others know that surviving sex abuse is possible and real.

I was nervous thinking about the presentation beforehand, but once I started speaking that nervousness went away and I simply shared my story. Those in attendance listened attentively and asked good questions at the end. Many of them thanked me for sharing my story. I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed, ready for the next invitation.

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The Failure of Donald Trump

The White House. Photo by Callen Harty.

Some of my friends and relatives voted for Donald Trump. Some of my co-workers watched the inauguration on television at work while I sat at my desk and fought back tears at what my country had become. They did what they did for their own reasons.

The election was devastating to me and millions of others. I have been numb since November, overwhelmed with a feeling of emptiness and dread. But it is not just about politics with Donald Trump. This is important. It is not just about politics. I am a political junkie and in the past I have watched my favorite candidates lose and I have survived that with graciousness. I have watched the inaugural addresses of men I did not vote for because I wanted to see what they would say about uniting the country and doing the best job they could for the most people. While I didn’t support them I wanted them to succeed in the White House and be the best President for the American people.

The election of Donald Trump was different. While most of his policy ideas are things I cannot abide there were certain ideas he expressed with which I didn’t necessarily disagree. If he were almost anyone other than Donald Trump I would want to give him a chance and at the very least hope that he would not destroy our country by implementing the horrible policies he espoused on the campaign trail. Even then, living in Wisconsin I have seen firsthand that citizens can survive the very worst of government policies and leaders after living for the last six years under our 45th governor, Scott Walker, and all of his cronies in the legislature.

It is not Trump’s politics that bother me most. We can survive that. We can resist the worst of it. The issue is that regardless of political affiliation I expect the leader of our country to be a decent human being and I do not see that in Donald Trump. I see an arrogant, childish narcissist whose concern is not for the poor and downtrodden but for himself, and perhaps others of his ilk. I see a man who acts like an immature child as he gets into flame wars on Twitter with anyone who disagrees with him or counters something he says. I see a misogynistic cretin who is okay with grabbing women without consent because he is rich and powerful and simply because he can. I see a person who, again like a child, calls people names and makes fun of them for their looks, their disabilities, their culture, and more. This is not acceptable in a country that has long been a shining beacon for others.

I also see supporters and sycophants contorting themselves in incredible ways to excuse his behavior. These are people who would not accept the same behavior if they saw it from a stranger at the grocery store. The hypocrisy of self-proclaimed Christians supporting Trump is astounding to me. And yes, I know, many Christians do not support or condone him–this is about the hypocrites who proclaim to be Christians who accept his very unchristian behavior. Imagine Jesus Christ mocking a disabled man instead of opening his arms to him. Imagine Jesus violating a woman by grabbing her genitals because he is a man and she is there only for his pleasure. Imagine Jesus calling someone fat or ugly instead of accepting them for what is beautiful about them. These things are not what Jesus would do, and yet they have been rationalized away by right-wing Christians for the sake of some greater goal–whatever that might be. Justifications have been made for every egregious act committed by Donald Trump.

“He speaks what’s on his mind.”

Well, yes he does, and sometimes we all know it’s best not to utter everything that crosses one’s mind. A mature man who cares about the feelings and welfare of others knows when it’s best not to speak what’s on his mind. If what’s on a man’s mind is that it’s okay to grab women by their private parts then he should probably just not talk. If in his paranoid mind he gravitates to conspiracy theories put out by others then maybe a little silence on the lips is the best thing.

This is one of the problems with Trump. There is no filter. There is no concern for protocol or what anyone else thinks. He reacts to the world around him like a child throwing a temper tantrum. He condescends to everyone and considers others enemies if they so much as disagree with him. He treats others like the buffoon that he is. Already he has enraged, frightened, or irritated many of our long-standing allies. Already he has lost several battles, most recently on health care, but that is not the issue.

No President has to be a perfect person. None of them can be as we are all human. But a President does need to be a decent and moral human being. This is the problem with Trump. He may be a successful businessman. He may be the winning candidate and now President of the United States. He may even define his politics by what he truly believes is best for country. But he is not a decent man. That is his failure–not as a politician, but as a human being.

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Letter to Donald Trump on Transgender Guidelines

born-this-way

Born This Way. Photo by Callen Harty.

2/21/17

Dear President Trump,

I have heard reports that the White House is considering rescinding Department of Education guidelines regarding transgender rights for school districts across the United States. I am pleading with you as an adult who works with LGBT students to please leave the guidelines in place for the protection of transgender students.

I presume you are aware that violence against transgender citizens is among the highest against any minority group in this country. If not, please note the following: According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), in 2013 72% of the victims of hate violence homicides were crimes against transgender women (particularly transgender women of color). Transgender people were also almost four times as likely to suffer from police violence and transgender women were almost twice as likely to suffer sexual violence. The report did not list the number of transgender suicides, but the numbers of that are also alarming, particularly among young transgender people who not only struggle with the common issues of adolescence but the much larger issues of identity and the discrimination that follows because of that identity.

In a report by the Human Rights Campaign 2016 saw the largest number of transgender homicides ever and, again, their statistics do not consider suicide. Our group lost one of our high schoolers to suicide last year and I never want to see that happen again. To anyone, and especially young people who should just be starting on a long journey through life. Taking away the guidelines will leave school district administrators confused about what protections they can offer their transgender students and it will send a loud message to transgender youth that their lives do not matter to the administration or the American people.

Transgender lives do matter. The young man we lost to suicide was an intelligent, articulate teen leader who had incredible gifts to offer the world. We will never know what he may have accomplished with his life. The Williams Institute in a 2014 analysis of the National Transgender Discrimination Study found that 78% of those who experienced physical or sexual violence at school reported at least one suicide attempt. 57% whose families had stopped talking to or having contact with their transgender family member after they came out as trans had attempted suicide. And yes, families do stop talking to LGBT youth or sometimes kick them out and make them homeless. I have seen this happen to teens who simply wanted to be themselves. These young people do not need further obstacles put in their way or protections taken from them.

If, as reported, you are considering rescinding the guidelines I strongly urge you to reconsider. Put yourself in the shoes of a young person who has to come to terms with their own identity and then face bullying, harassment, discrimination, and violence as a daily part of their lives simply for trying to live as their true selves.

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A Queer View of the Incoming Administration

love-trumps-hate

Love Trumps Hate. Photo by Callen Harty.

Likely most people have noticed the Orwellian nature of Donald Trump’s picks for his Cabinet and other roles in his upcoming White House, which is more appropriately named than ever with Stephen Bannon as one of his top advisors. There is a Labor Secretary who hates workers and does not support a raise in the minimum wage, Goldman Sachs executives heading Treasury and other top economic posts, an Education Secretary who has spent years undermining public education by donating money to expand vouchers and charter schools. There has been a never-ending litany of incomprehensible names put forward to run agencies, such as a climate denier heading the Environmental Protection Agency. Unfortunately none of it is fictional or just a bad dream.

What many straight people and self-delusional Log Cabin Republicans may have missed, though, is something that has been obvious to almost anyone who is lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT)—virtually every one of Trump’s horrible picks is not only eminently unqualified for their appointments, but also among the most homophobic men and women in the country. Some of them may be self-hating closet cases. The rest may just be hateful people who don’t want queer folks to have a place at the table, at least not alongside them.

It starts with the incoming Vice-President, Mike Pence, the Indiana Governor who signed a “religious freedom” law that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT people. Public pressure against the bill was so intense that he ended up having to sign an amendment to it that would protect gays and lesbians somewhat, but believing that one’s sexuality is a choice he has long been an opponent of gay rights. He is against marriage equality and, in fact, proudly supported a Constitutional amendment to specify marriage as only between a man and woman when he was a member of Congress. He even signed a bill that would jail gay couples who dared to apply for a marriage license in his state. He has opposed pretty much any attempt to make queer people equal in this country, including the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which was written to protect LGBT citizens from being fired at the whim of their employers simply for being themselves. In addition he opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and also President Obama’s directive to allow transgender students to use the restroom that matches their identity. Finally (well, probably not, but this list is enough to give an idea of where he stands), back at the turn of the century (believe it or not, the 21st century, not the 19th or 18th) Pence proposed a law to take funding away from AIDS research and to use those funds toward conversion therapy, the awful idea of coercively converting gay people to a heterosexual lifestyle. In addition to his own anti-LGBT agenda Pence has led the effort to name Cabinet members and other appointments, so it is not a huge surprise that so many of them are equally homophobic.

Reince Priebus, long-time chair of the Republican National Committee and now Trump’s Chief of Staff, is a long-time conservative strategist. He oversaw the Republican convention that nominated Donald Trump for the Presidency and which released the most repressive platform in history as far as queer rights are concerned. It called for overturning the Supreme Court decision that made marriage equality the law of the land and actually said that the party did “not accept the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage”. It promoted the same kind of “religious freedom” bill that Pence signed in Indiana. It said that every child “deserves a Mom and Dad”, even though 50% of marriages end in divorce and many children from straight families are in single-parent households without a “Mom and Dad”. It opposed the idea of allowing transgender persons being allowed to use the restrooms that match their identity. It also promoted the conversion therapy that Pence admires so much.

There is so much wrong with Steve Bannon that a book could be written about it. He is a racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic homophobe. And those are his good qualities. As the editor of Breitbart News, the right-wing online “news” source, he has overseen the publication of articles deriding the “tranny” lifestyle, made comments about “dykes”, and more. And that’s just a couple samples of his transphobia and homophobia, which is nothing compared to his comments about women and other minorities.

For Attorney General, Trump selected Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, more notorious for his past racist remarks than his homophobia. Still, he is considered one of the more anti-LGBT members of the Senate. He is a Senate co-sponsor of the First Amendment Protection Act, the “religious freedom” bill that would allow discrimination against LGBT citizens based on religious beliefs. He also co-sponsored a bill that would have made each state’s definition of marriage take precedence over the federal definition, which would effectively undermine the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. On the flip side he has been fiercely opposed to marriage equality, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, and hate crimes legislation throughout his career. In a strange story reported by Chris Sommerfeldt of the New York Daily News (12/2/16) Sessions went out of his way to try to prevent an LGBT conference from being held on the campus of the University of Alabama when he was the Alabama Attorney General. The purpose of the conference was to host workshops to open up dialogue on LGBT issues and AIDS. This was apparently so threatening to him that he threatened to get a court order and later an injunction to prevent the campus from holding the conference. It went on despite his protestations.

Tapped as National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn had previously been vetted as a possible Vice-Presidential pick. At that time he skirted around the issues of abortion and LGBT rights, more or less indicating that they weren’t the real big issues facing the country, emphasizing that he was more about national security. On the other hand, while he didn’t mention it at that time, he did previously oppose allowing openly gay people to serve in the military and opposed the lifting of a ban on transgender soldiers by saying, “War is not about bathrooms . . .”

The Deputy National Security Adviser selection, Fox “News” commentator K. T. McFarland, is reported to have outed her brother to their parents as he was dying of AIDS and also failed to visit him the last couple years of his life even though they lived fairly close. The initial report on this was an article in the New York Times Magazine in 2006. In the article a selection from a letter she wrote to her parents was included, which comes across as cold, uncaring, and lacking any compassion: “Have you ever wondered why I have never had anything to do with Mike and have never let my daughters see him although we live only fifteen minutes away from each other? He has been a lifelong homosexual, most of his relationships brief, fleeting one-night stands.” Speaking of no compassion, when the writer first asked about her brother her response was, “Ummmm. He was sick and then he died.” Perhaps cold-heartedness is a desired quality for national security.

Former Presidential candidate Ben Carson, who pretty much admitted he was not prepared to lead any large bureaucracy about a week before being named head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has been rabidly anti-gay as a candidate. This includes comparing same-sex marriage to bestiality. Everyone knows that those Midwestern farm boys who have sex with cows just want to buy Bessie a ring and live happily ever after. In a post on Carson by the Human Rights Campaign it was noted that he believes Congress should fire judges who rule in favor of marriage equality and he joked that those opposed to same-sex marriage might poison the wedding cakes of same-sex couples if bakeries were forced to do business with gay and lesbian couples. Ha-ha. Funny stuff there, Ben. In general his views are so archaic that he could open an antique shop of his brain. He was also famously quoted as saying that prison caused the “choice” of homosexuality and actually had to backtrack on that one a bit.

According to John Riley of MetroWeekly (12/8/16) Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services, believes that the “LGBT lifestyle” leads to more health concerns that could cost the government considerable amounts of money. This is in addition to his typically right-wing conservative stances on all the other hot-button LGBT issues already noted of the other appointees. As a Representative he voted against ENDA, including queer people in hate crimes legislation, and an LGBT-inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act. In an article in The Advocate ( 12/12/16) Price referred to Obama’s directive on allowing transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their identity as an “absurd federal bathroom policy.”

The nod for Secretary of Education went to Betsy DeVos, again one of the more Orwellian selections as she has worked tirelessly to dismantle public education by promoting vouchers and charter schools. In addition to her work on that she is just simply rich, which automatically makes her a perfect pick for Trump’s administration. She and her family have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, to fight marriage equality, much of it going to the virulently anti-gay Focus on the Family. She also opposes expanding discrimination protections to transgender people.

The new C.I.A. Director will be former Congressperson Mike Pompeo. Like Jeff Sessions he believes that marriage should solely be between a man and a woman because that is the “ideal” for raising children. Again like Sessions and most of the President-elect’s picks, Pompeo has consistently rated a zero from the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group that rates Representatives and Senators on how friendly they are to queer rights issues.

There have been other selections for whom not much is known as far as their record or positions on LGBT issues and there are likely many others missing from this list as it is not all-inclusive. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was chosen as Ambassador to the United Nations. Aside from vehemently opposing same-sex marriage she has been relatively quiet or moderate on LGBT issues. Incoming Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao may not be stridently anti-gay but they also do not appear to be definitively pro-gay either.

One other name to throw onto the list is that of Ken Blackwell. It is unclear how much of a role, if any, that he may play in the administration after the inauguration, but for now he is leading the team that is helping to name appointments for domestic issues. He may be the most anti-gay of the lot. He is Ohio’s former Secretary of State and is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, a group that fights anything gay and is so determined about it that they have been named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This quote from him as reported by Right Wing Watch indicates about where he stands:

“I think homosexuality is a lifestyle, it’s a choice, and that lifestyle can be changed,” Blackwell said in response to the question “Is homosexuality a sin, and can gays be cured?” according to published transcripts. “I think it is a transgression against God’s law, God’s will.”

He continued: “The reality is, again…that I think we make choices all the time. And I think you make good choices and bad choices in terms of lifestyle. Our expectation is that one’s genetic makeup might make one more inclined to be an arsonist or might make one more inclined to be a kleptomaniac. Do I think that they can be changed? Yes.”

He was also quoted as saying that homosexuality “defies barnyard logic,” apparently not knowing that same-sex sexual behavior has been observed by scientists in countless species.

All of these appointees may explain why queer people have unfriended and now distrust those who voted for Donald Trump. If you didn’t understand why your LGBT friends and family haven’t talked to you since the election or why they are scared to death right now you might want to take note of the people Trump has selected to serve with him. While he came across during the campaign as at the very least tolerant on queer issues, the birds of a feather he is nesting with now are a frightening menagerie of hawks, vultures, and other birds of prey when it comes to queer rights. LGBT citizens are rightfully frightened at the moment. If you truly love your queer children, friends, and neighbors you need to do what you can to reassure them that you will fight these homophobes as they start to dismantle queer lives, and then you need to follow through on that promise.

Note: Within hours of posting this blog it was learned that former Governor of Texas (and former “Dancing with the Stars” loser) Rick Perry was to be named Energy Secretary. He has a long history of homophobic statements. Follow this link for just a few delightful ones: http://www.dailydot.com/layer8/rick-perry-homophobic-quotes/

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Christmas Reflection

Christmas Tree. Photo by Callen Harty.

Christmas Tree. Photo by Callen Harty.

Last night as I was driving home under the stars on tops of evergreen trees and past lights behind frosty windows I thought of my mother and I cried. She is old now, bedridden and infirm, somehow staying alive when we thought she would be gone before Christmas several years in a row. She has been on my mind a lot lately. In a sad way she is already gone though still physically present. She doesn’t recognize people, she doesn’t know her own history most of the time, she is weak. And yet she hangs on to her tenuous life with a ferocity that amazes.

But I wasn’t crying for her inevitable decline and passing, which could be years from now with her Irish stubbornness and toughness. The tears were more for what has already been lost. What I have now is memories, but she has shown me that memories can be as fragile as life. I cried in part for the joyful memories. In more youthful Christmastimes she would load all of us kids into the car and drive around town to look at all the pretty lights hung from trees and houses. Many of my best memories are of Mom in the car: sudden surprise trips to the drive-in eight miles away in Benton or twelve miles away in Darlington where we would enjoy ice cream (still her favorite treat); treks to Dubuque or Madison for shopping; going along with her through early morning fog when she would drive my oldest brother to work at his job in Monroe; trips to visit relatives in Hanover, Illinois or just out to the country to farms of relatives and friends; even the short jaunts downtown or to the post office–all of which gave time just to be together and talk and marvel at the world around us.

In high school Yahtzee, Scrabble, and other games were used the same way. We would spend hours sitting at the table rolling dice and striving to win while discussing the state of the world. We loved each other’s company then–we talked, we shared deep things with each other, we laughed. Oh, did we laugh. We laughed a lot. Sometimes there would be laughing jags so long and so hard that we would both end up in tears from the laughter, with my mother snorting loudly as it continued, and that would make her and me both laugh even more. She loved her Yahtzee, but the game didn’t really matter. It was the thing that brought us together to sit for a while and be with each other. She was fiercely competitive, but I think we both won when spending that time together and I think she knew that.

These things can come to a person at the most unlikely of moments, but I understood fully last night why holidays can be so difficult for so many people. In many families, just like mine, the parents do their best to create happy experiences for their children. We didn’t have much when I was a child, but Mom always made sure we had some new clothes and some new toys or things that we would enjoy at Christmas. Many of my friends and neighbors would get all the newest toys or gadgets and I would sometimes be embarrassed by what I had received in comparison, but I also understood that my mother had done the best she could as a single mother raising a family of four. There was always food, light, and love in the house during the season. In every season, when I think about it.

Christmas memories are often the most happy of memories; maybe not for everyone, but for many. Part of it is that as children we don’t necessarily see as much loss as adults have seen, so there is an innocence there, and as we grow into adulthood and maturity we understand what has been lost from those memories. As the years go by there are more people missing from the holiday table and the empty places leave an emptiness in the soul. The young ones don’t understand that because it is their turn for the happy memories to be created for them. At some point in the future they, too, will  look at a Christmas tree or lights or something that reminds them of their childhood and instead of smiling because of the memory they will one year be sad because of the loss. They will cry as I did last night, wipe the tears, and hide all of that from the children at the table because, really, it is all about those young ones and creating memories for them.

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Heroes

Set for Are We Delicious? Musical Heroes at the Barrymore Theatre, Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Callen Harty.

 

On Friday I was invited to speak at a performance of Are We Delicious?/Musical Heroes. The company had invited audience members to nominate “local heroes” and then invited four to speak between pieces at the event. This is what I wrote for the event.

First of all I’m honored to be sharing the stage tonight with the other three speakers and with the talented writers, actors, and musicians in this production. Thank you for the invitation.

I was asked to speak a bit about my mission and about my heroes, and neither one is easy to summarize in just a few minutes, but I’ll do my best.

My mission is simple—for the world to be a better place when I leave it than it was when I got here; to bring more love into the world than there was before. I’ve strived to do that in my life by working as a queer activist, a peace activist, through my art, by co-founding several organizations, working with youth, and working to shine a light on child sex abuse so that we can end it forever.

But I don’t think of what I do as heroic or courageous in any way. Those labels don’t feel comfortable to me. I just live my life. It’s what I do.

As for my heroes I have had many in my life, people who inspire me and make me a better man. These include my life partner, Brian, who is here tonight and has brought much light and love to many, my bedridden mother who wakes every day to continue to teach us lessons, many friends, my mentor, Joel Gersmann, Harry Hay, Paul Wellstone, the people in Black Lives Matter, the water protectors at Standing Rock, and others. While I applaud all of them I also understand that they, and me, are problematic as heroes—because we are human and humans are frail and can fail as often as we succeed.

Once you understand, though, that heroes are just regular folks who have their own issues and occasionally rise above their humanity, then you can also understand that all of us have the potential to be heroes, whether it’s by doing something simple like helping a neighbor, donating money to a good cause, or quietly living your life with love and compassion. Not every hero is in the public eye, nor do they need to be. I think that everyone lives their lives to the best of their abilities. That is an amazing thing. You can all be heroes just by living. Just be loving and giving and you will be a hero to someone. Be kind. Stand up. Stand for something. We need all of you to act out on those impulses now more than ever.

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