A Sun-Filled Garden

A couple of young men hold hands near St. Stephen's Green, Dublin. Photo by Callen Harty.

A couple of young men hold hands near St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Photo by Callen Harty.

“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.”–Oscar Wilde

Today the island nation of my ancestors made history by becoming the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by a popular vote of the people. Few would have thought that the typically Catholic and conservative country of Ireland would become the first country to do this. Not only did the “yes” vote win, but it was overwhelming–62% to 37%–and it was nationwide.  While the largest margins of victory were in the larger metropolitan areas the “yes” votes finished on top in all areas of the country, large cities to small towns, coastal to inland. There were only a few places where the “no” votes finished ahead, and even in those places it finished barely ahead.

I have always had that pride that those in America with Irish ancestry tend to have. We feel a connection to the ancestral homeland and proclaim ourselves as Irishmen even though we are generations removed. My great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother came here during the potato famine years in the 1840s. Still, we feel a connection to the land and a yearning for it as if it were the home where we grew up. Many of us feel called to visit the old sod. I did so and celebrated my 50th birthday there. We wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, sing Irish songs, and boast with pride that we are Irish. Today, maybe more than ever, I am incredibly proud to have that Irish blood coursing through my veins.

Here in the United States the polls show more and more people believing that lesbian and gay Americans should be allowed to marry. We can do so now in a large majority of the states in this country, but it has been through judicial decisions and legislative action, not by votes of the entire population. Despite the polls showing approval of same-sex marriage at all-time highs I am not sure that I would trust my fellow Americans to vote on the issue.

From all accounts the debate in Ireland was much more civil than we might expect here. There were a few nasty signs and billboards and in the waning weeks the opponents tried to steer the discussion to a plebiscite on the safety of children, as if allowing a loving couple to marry would somehow be dangerous to Ireland’s children. But the people of the Emerald Isle were not fooled by the rhetoric of the right. They were not coerced by their Catholic bishops as they have been in the past. Instead they heard the words of their lesbian and gay compatriots and decided that their fellow citizens should be treated as equals under the eyes of the law. They decided that love is greater than hate and they voted to enshrine that in the country’s Constitution.

Gra anois agus go deo. Erin go bragh.

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On Finding an Agent

Cover of my first book, My Queer Life.  Design and photo by Callen Harty.

Cover of my first book, My Queer Life. Design and photo by Callen Harty.

Writing a book may prove to be much easier than getting one published. Part of the reason for this is that with a book a man might create a deep philosophical treatise or aim to create a great piece of art, yet still remain unpublished. It could even be a great book, but that may not matter, because publishers are not interested in art as much as money. Publishing is a business and whether a book can sell is of far more import than what it has to say.

I don’t know that what I’ve written is a great book or a great work of art. I do know I’ve written a book that is important to me and I believe important to get out into the world. I know that I’ve written it with all the honesty and ability I have. I also know that it could languish for a long time before ever finding a publisher. Or, it might find the right place tomorrow.

To get noticed by publishers these days one pretty much has to have a literary agent to even get a foot in the door. Some of the smaller publishing houses still deal directly with authors but most of the larger ones do not have the time to wade through thousands of submissions and they count on agents to winnow the field for them. Twenty or thirty years ago authors would query publishers and get rejected. Now authors must query agents who then query publishers and the authors face rejections on both fronts. One has to be a bit tough to handle the rejection.

I’ve received six rejections from agents so far and have quite a few more queries out there just waiting to hear one way or the other. Some agents do not bother even writing a form letter to say no if they are not interested. They just leave the author hanging and wondering if they are ever going to hear back. I’ve been doing a lot of research on agents and querying and am okay with the process because I’ve learned enough to know that it is just the way it is. They may get dozens or hundreds of queries in a single week and simply cannot respond to all of them.

I understand that a book about surviving childhood sex abuse is not going to appeal to everyone and that there may be a limited market for it. I knew that even as I was writing it, but I knew I had to tell my story and I knew I had to try to find a traditional publisher for it once it was done. I understand that publishers and agents who want to make money also want to pursue books that have a built-in market. While one in four girls and one in six boys are survivors of sex abuse that doesn’t mean that one out of every four, five, or six people would buy a book about it. In fact many of them may want to read anything but someone else’s experience of their own worst nightmares.

Still, I believe there is an audience for it. I believe that many other survivors would appreciate hearing from a fellow survivor. I think there is also a potential market for professionals in the field, family and friends of survivors, and others. I also know there are scant few books out there from men who have survived that kind of abuse. All I need is an agent who is passionate about the subject and the importance of getting it out there. They also have to love the book. I am confident I will find the right person. The early rejections are simply eliminating the wrong people to represent my work.

Most rejections from agents or publishers are a variation of “This isn’t right for us.” I have seen writers on message boards and websites complain about that “excuse”. I don’t see it as an excuse or a bad thing. If it is not right for them, for whatever reason, then they are not going to do their best to represent you. It doesn’t matter whether it’s because they don’t think it will make money, they don’t deal with the subject, they don’t like your writing, or something else. If it is not right for them they will not be able to convince a publisher it needs to be published.

The last rejection I got came with a nice personal note from the agent who said she applauded me for my “human resilience and the urge to help others.” She then told me that she deals primarily with larger commercial publishers and she believes they are less inclined to do such a book because they don’t believe there is a market for it. She added that she felt that publishers of religious or inspirational books might be the route to go, but that she was not familiar with that part of the book market and would have to pass. To me it was a great rejection. It was personal and gave me encouragement when she didn’t need to do so, it offered suggestions, and it ended with a regret about declining. It wasn’t right for her. Why would I want to sign with her if she didn’t have the tools or connections to approach the publishers who would be best for the book? Why would I want an agent who wasn’t 100% behind the book? She made a decision that was best for both her and me.

I want an agent who is as passionate as me about the project. I want one whose enthusiasm for my work will make a publisher listen and make them want to take a chance on a book that may not sell millions but that is important enough that they want to be a part of it. I know that the publishing universe is unfolding as it should and that things are moving in the right direction. I am passionate, determined, and confident. I know that things will fall into place when and as they should and I know that at some point in the near future my book will be in the hands of those who need it.

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Paths to Healing 2015 press release

Paths to Healing.  Poster design by Steven Montagna.

Paths to Healing. Poster design by Steven Montagna.

For the third consecutive year several Wisconsin organizations have partnered to put together Paths to Healing, a one-day conference on surviving childhood sex abuse that will be held this year from 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. at the Goodman Community Center in Madison on Thursday, June 11.

Sponsored by Solidarity with Child Sex Abuse Victims/Survivors, Rape Crisis Center, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA), OutReach Inc., Canopy Center, Proud Theater, and UNIDOS the day-long conference will focus on healing and survival, particularly among male survivors, an often underserved population in the sexual assault advocacy community.

Conference organizers are very pleased to present Matt Sandusky as the keynote speaker this year. Sandusky is a motivational speaker, child sex abuse survivor, co-founder of Peaceful Hearts Foundation, and an advocate and activist for the issue of child sex abuse. He is the son of convicted child sex offender Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach at Penn State University.

The Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal was one of the most highly publicized sex abuse cases in history. During the trial Matthew Sandusky disclosed that his adopted father, Jerry Sandusky, had sexually abused him between the ages of ten and 16. His disclosure interview to police was leaked by the media and he and his family were placed in the center of the media firestorm. After that traumatic experience he decided to take on the role of advocate for sex abuse survivors.

Matthew Sandusky works to give survivors a voice to raise awareness of an epidemic that is still mostly silent. He also shows survivors there is hope and that healing does happen. By speaking publicly he hopes to bring more awareness to the fact that males are sexually abused and that help is needed. As the co-founder of Peaceful Hearts Foundation, along with his wife, Kim, he works to promote stronger statute of limitation laws, education for children and adults, stronger mandated reporting laws and other legislation, and has created a survivor fund to help alleviate the costs of treatment for child sex abuse survivors.

The conference will open with socializing and networking from 8:00-8:45 a.m. That will be followed by an introduction to the day’s events by Dane County Supervisor Kyle Richmond at 8:45 a. m. Matt Sandusky’s keynote speech will follow and officially kick off the day’s presentations. Throughout the day there will be breakout sessions geared to both professionals and survivors, with a lunch midway through the day. The afternoon will close with a community panel discussion, which Sandusky will also join, on engaging and empowering survivors.

Breakout sessions are split into a community track and a survivor track. Attendees are welcome to choose between tracks.

COMMUNITY TRACK:

Latino Survivors, by Veronica Lazos/UNIDOS Against Domestic Violence

Transgender Survivors, by Michael Munson/Forge

Human Trafficking, by Tyler Schueffner/Briarpatch

SURVIVOR TRACK:

Coping Skills, by Lucy McLellan and Owen Karcher/Canopy Center

Mindfulness Meditation, by Amanda Hellenbrand/Red Tail Hypnosis

Healthy Boundaries, by Shelby Mitchell/Safe Haven

The conference started in 2013 when survivor Callen Harty decided he wanted to bring the film, Boys and Men Healing, to Madison. He approached Kelly Anderson at the Rape Crisis Center and together they decided to expand that idea into a one-day conference on survival. He then contacted other organizations for sponsorship and support and several decided to partner to put on this important event. Harty, Anderson, Angie Rehling of OutReach, and Peter Fiala and Naomi Takahashi of WCASA comprised the planning group this year.

The sponsoring organizations are non-profit so funding is always needed to ensure expenses are covered. Donations may be mailed to OutReach, Inc., 600 Williamson Street, Suite P-1, Madison, WI 53703. Checks should be made out to OutReach but must be marked for Paths to Healing to ensure the funds go to the right account.

The cost of the conference is $40 in advance or $50 at the door and covers the entire day, including lunch. For more information on the conference please visit the WCASA website (www.wcasa.org) and click on the events link or visit the Facebook event page, Paths to Healing. Advance registration is through the website or contact WCASA directly. Some scholarships are available.

For additional information or questions contact Peter Fiala at WCASA at (608) 257-1516 or Callen Harty at (608) 469-6686.

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On Mother’s Day, 2015

Mom at 87. Photo by Callen Harty.

Mom at 87. Photo by Callen Harty.

You dressed me in yellow

and it became my favorite

color

because

it was

the color of your love

for me.

 

I sat on your lap

and you held me,

and in those moments

I could believe in God

and Heaven

and eternal happiness

and the simple comfort of love.

 

I need holding

today—

if you can remember

who I am,

if you can remember

that I am your son,

if you can remember . . .

 

When I call

you

seem happy to hear from me.

I tell you that I’m thinking of

you

and that I love

you

and you

say that you

love me, too.

I hope that you know

who you are talking to.

 

I hang up the phone,

tears at the corners of my eyes,

and seek comfort

in the memory

(the fleeting, fading memory)

of the color of your love.

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Forgive the Shooter

The Peace Treaty. Summer of Peace, Milwaukee. Photo by Callen Harty.

The Peace Treaty. Summer of Peace, Milwaukee. Photo by Callen Harty.

On Sunday evening in the small Wisconsin town of Menasha a man apparently distraught over a recent breakup and argument with his former fiancée took two guns with him on his bike and went for a ride. On the middle of the Trestle Trail Bridge over Little Lake Butte Des Morts, which literally translates as “hill of death,” he pulled out two guns and started shooting. By the time it was over four people were dead, including Jonathan Stoffel and his eleven year old daughter Olivia, 31-year old Adam Bentdahl, and the shooter, Sergio Daniel Valencia del Toro, who shot himself in the head. Erin Stoffel, Jonathan’s wife and Olivia’s mother, was shot three times and managed to get two of her other children to safety off of the bridge. She is recovering in the hospital.

When senseless violence like this occurs we often react with deep sorrow at the innocent lives that are shattered for no apparent reason. We also tend to focus on the acts of heroism and selflessness that often accompany such events because we want and need to take something positive out of such a negative moment. Many of the newspapers are calling Erin Stoffel a hero because of the way she saved her two small children, and they are calling her seven-year old son a hero for running to get help, and it appears they are right to do so.

What strikes me about this horrific event is the immediate reaction of those most closely affected by it. Here are three quotes that stand out:

“I don’t know why it happened. I don’t know the motive. I feel sorry for the shooter’s family.”–Jim Campbell, Erin Stoffel’s brother

“Our prayers go out to the other family who lost their father and daughter, and mother who is struggling for life along with the man who took his own life.”–statement from the Adam Bentdahl family

“Forgive the shooter.”–Jonathan Stoffel’s last words

There were other quotes from members of the Stoffels’ church in which it was noted that people were praying for all of the victims, including the shooter and his family.

In a world where many of us, if not most, have a hard time forgiving little slights that we might receive even from those closest to us the magnanimity of the victims’ families is all the more surprising and refreshing. All of the quotes I am reading from the families and friends most affected by this crime are about compassion, love, and forgiveness. For Jonathan Stoffel’s last words to be “Forgive the shooter” is breathtaking.

All too often the first reaction is the Old Testament “eye for an eye.” Too often we think first of retribution, how much we hate the person who could commit such an act. In this case the Stoffels, who are Christian, are living their faith. The Bentdahl family, too–whatever religion they are–speaks of praying for the shooter.

This kind of empathy is not limited to those who are Christian, but I admire those who can be that confident in their faith–whatever it might be–or their belief in our shared human experience, or whatever else it might be that allows them to see the humanity in a person whom others might perceive as evil for his actions. It is an example for all of us.

If these families can try to understand the motivations of the man who killed their loved ones, if they can find forgiveness for such a horrible act, if they can see that he, too, was a living and breathing man with his own life story filled with love and loss, joy and sorrow, then who are we to hold grudges for words that wounded us or actions that hurt us? Might we not look also at the motivations or the life circumstances of those who have hurt us in some way? Might we not look for that shared humanity and leave the petty hostility and negative energy behind us?

It is not an easy path, but the path that bridges one side with the other, even when fraught with fear or danger, is a path worth taking.

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A Brief Look at the Pending Marriage Equality Decision

With This Ring . . . Photo by Callen Harty.

With This Ring . . . Photo by Callen Harty.

After months (actually years) of waiting it is finally here. Next week the United States Supreme Court will directly take on the issue of marriage equality in a way that should make same-sex marriage legal throughout the entire country (it is already legal in 37 states, the District of Columbia, and the territory of Guam, which legalized it last week). A new Washington Post/ABC poll released today showed a record high 61% of the population supporting marriage equality. Those still against it are aging fast for the most part, and the impending decision seems to be aging them even faster. It seems inevitable that after hearing arguments next week the Supreme Court will likely hand down a decision in June that will make same-sex marriage legal everywhere in the United States. Opponents are beside themselves with fear and hysteria over the possibility.

At this point the only surprise would be if the court ruled against it, as every other decision they have handed down leading up to this has indicated a movement toward marriage equality. In Lawrence vs. Texas they decided states couldn’t ban gay sex. Yay for gay sex. They decided the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. Duh. They ruled against California’s Proposition 8. The Prop 8 case seemed like it might be the one that would decide the question once and for all, but it didn’t quite do that. While the Supreme Court’s decision overturned Prop 8 and made same-sex marriage legal in California, the court punted in the narrow way in which they ruled, which left the decision strictly about that one state.

Now, though, there is no way they can realistically limit the scope of their decision that way again. The decision this time is clearly about whether any state has the right to ban same-sex marriages. It will either be marriage equality everywhere or they will decide against it and then each state will have to decide on its own. However, the latter does not seem very likely given all the cases and events leading up to this moment. Either way we’re likely to see more pizza parlor owners and auto mechanics freaking out about having to provide services for queer weddings. Because, you know, all gays want extra sausage and cheese at the wedding and all lesbians want the Subaru tuned up before heading out on the honeymoon. And blessed be the cake makers, for they shall inherit a moral dilemma.

The only real surprises now may be which ridiculous arguments are forwarded against marriage equality. It is interesting how arguments that were accepted as rational years ago are now looked at as laughable today. Marriage is solely for procreation? Really? Then how are women allowed to marry after child-bearing age? Or those who can’t have children for whatever reason? Sanctity of marriage? That one is generally argued by the thrice-divorced Christian. Traditional marriage? Okay. What culture? What historical era? Like everything else in society marriage has continuously evolved since its inception. Every child deserves a mother and father? Then we should force a widow with children to remarry immediately? Or give up her children to a happy couple that has none of their own or wants more? If gay marriage is allowed then we’ll have to allow people to marry their . . . dogs, sisters, clocks, etc. Really!?! Just give it a break. Just . . . stop it. Seriously, there are no rational, logical arguments that can be made. They’ve all been tried and they’ve all failed. Unless the attorneys come up with a bombshell argument that not one person has thought of or brought to the forefront before now there simply are no valid arguments against same-sex marriage left. Every one of them has been refuted.

If that’s the case then new arguments need to be tried. Right? As a result what we are seeing now are even wilder stretches of the imagination, such as the recent brief that claims that if same-sex marriage becomes legal it will lead to 900,000 new abortions over the next thirty years. There is some convoluted logic (okay, maybe a lot) and a bit of unscientific statistical sampling (okay, maybe a lot here, too) to get to that conclusion, but it sure sounds horrifying, doesn’t it? Of course, the court has to decide on the constitutionality of banning a class of citizens from marrying, not on what dire results might occur if they are allowed to wed. Still, it doesn’t stop the fear mongers and haters from advancing their cases.

Here are just a few of the ones that have drawn attention so far:

Several ministers filed an amicus brief with the court stating that legalization of same-sex marriage will bring God’s wrath upon the nation. They said judgment, but wrath sounds so much better. God’s wrath destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone. So apparently sometime in June, which is the month the decision is expected and coincidentally also pride month, we can expect the entire country to catch fire and burn to ruins. If they’re right at least we won’t ever have to listen to more inane arguments like the rest of the briefs that have been filed.

One of the other groups who filed briefs claims that allowing same-sex marriage will lead to less heterosexual couples getting married. Just like those behind the 900,000 abortion argument the causes and effects get a little extra twist from the group, but who cares about math and science when you’re arguing religion? Even if they are right, one has to ask if that is such a bad thing in a nation where close to 50% of marriages end in divorce. Maybe less bad marriages wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Perhaps if people didn’t have such unrealistic expectations of marriage or feel that they aren’t complete without it we’d be better off. Really, less videos on America’s Funniest Videos that show women going gaga over marriage proposals and getting a ring might be okay. Maybe if we didn’t have such a ridiculous fairy tale idea of romance and happily ever after in the first place there would be less marriages that end in divorce in the long run.

Yet another band of like-minded individuals, Same-sex Attracted Men and Their Wives (yes, there is such a group), filed a brief arguing against gay marriage because they feel it would make gay marriage seem like the only viable option for same-sex attracted men like themselves. Um, okay, Orwellian citizens, thank you. It’s not as if society hasn’t presented heterosexual marriage as the only option for, like, say, forever, right? And despite that, gay people somehow still want to marry each other. Imagine that. Someone please tell these “same-sex attracted men” they can still deny their true nature and marry whomever they want even if other guys can marry guys. It’s totally up to them.

And finally–well, not finally, but this could go on for days–there is a group arguing that LGBT people are now such a political powerhouse that the LGBT community should no longer be considered a minority worthy of protection or special consideration. Never mind that these same folks claim that gays and lesbians are a small percentage of the population. Never mind that in more than half of the states LGBT folks can still be fired simply for being LGBT folks. Never mind that . . . oh, just never mind. It’s impossible to argue logic with irrational people.

There are quite a few other briefs filed that are just as ridiculous as these. The point is that the opponents of marriage equality are having to reach deep into already dry wells to try to come up with some kind of argument that hasn’t already been tried. They are doing their best to bend logic, statistics, reality, truth–they are truly bent–but are having a heck of a time coming up with anything that works. Let them keep trying. It’s getting pretty entertaining.

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Letter to Senator Mark Miller on the 48-Hour Waiting Period

Going Hunting. Photo by Callen Harty.

Going Hunting. Photo by Callen Harty.

Dear Senator Miller,

In a 12-hour period in Madison this week there were four shootings. In Milwaukee 44 homicides have been committed this year compared to 21 at the same time last year. 34 of those Milwaukee victims were shot. (Source: City of Milwaukee homicides database). Why are we even discussing the elimination of the 48 hour waiting period for purchasing a gun in Wisconsin?

Proponents of the measure state that the original law’s intent was to allow time to do background checks that can now be done much quicker due to computers, so there is no need for the law anymore. This is not true. According to the 1993-1994 edition of the Wisconsin Blue Book, Act 11 (AB-179) broadened the restrictions on handgun sales by licensed dealers, adding the background checks through the Department of Justice. The 48-hour waiting period became law in the 1970s. That means the law was in place for twenty years before the background check requirement was added. According to the Blue Book, “Formerly, the law merely required a 48-hour waiting period before a dealer could sell such a handgun.”  This means that the law enacted back in the 1970s was not to allow time for background checks as proponents of the change have said, but simply as a waiting, or cooling off, period.

There is no reason that an average citizen cannot wait two days to purchase a handgun. Women have to wait 24 hours to obtain an abortion in this state and that is a private medical decision. Drivers have to get a permit and pass a probationary period before being licensed. A waiting period allows time for a person to think about why they are purchasing the handgun and whether they really need it. It allows for a cooling off period if someone wants a handgun for the wrong reasons. If a person really feels they need a handgun a 48-hour waiting period should not be a burden. If they want to purchase it out of a moment of anger because they’re ready to kill someone then the waiting period could save lives. If they want to purchase it due to severe depression or other mental health issues then the waiting period could prevent suicides. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control firearms suicides in 2013 consisted of more than half of all suicides in this country (21,175 of 41,149). (Source: Deaths: Final data for 2013, table 18. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm).

The reality is that the National Rifle Association (NRA) supports any laws that make it easier for anyone to own guns and they do not want any limitations put on that in any way. They don’t understand that all freedoms come with responsibility—and sometimes with restrictions. In America we have freedom of speech but there are limitations on that, such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. We have freedom of the press but one can be sued for libel. We have freedom of religion, but there are instances when other laws supersede certain aspects of that freedom. We have the right to own weapons, but there can and should be laws that ensure responsibility. As a society we have to constantly balance our rights against the rights of others. We have to balance rights with responsibilities. We have to take an overarching view of what works best for the most people.

There is no rational reason to eliminate the current waiting period. It has served us well for decades. The reality of this proposed unnecessary change in the law is that those who support it are likely to get a large influx of campaign money from the NRA. These lawmakers are not looking out for their constituents, but for their own political futures. The governor, in particular, who is clearly going to make a run for the presidency, stands to gain a huge infusion of needed cash by showing himself to be a friend of the NRA. I beg you and others in the Senate to stand against this cynical ploy and help maintain a semblance of sanity in this state by rejecting the elimination of the current waiting period for handgun purchases.

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