Path to the Future

Me announcing the afternoon breakout sessions at the Paths to Healing conference at the Sheraton Hotel, Madison.

Me announcing the afternoon breakout sessions at the Paths to Healing conference at the Sheraton Hotel, Madison. Photo by Brian Wild.

On Thursday a conference was held in Madison called Paths to Healing: Conference on Child Sex Abuse Survival. It focused on male survivors of childhood sex abuse as an underserved population. It came about after I received an e-mail from MaleSurvivor that included a notice about a program they offer called “Dare to Dream”, the film Boys and Men Healing, followed by a panel discussion led by the organization. My thought was that it should be brought to Madison, so I wrote an e-mail to the organization and asked what I needed to do to make that happen. They suggested I work with local organizations to help fund it and put together the showing, so I contacted dozens of them and got responses from several who agreed to help sponsor or support the project. Kelly Anderson of the Rape Crisis Center suggested that if we were going to spend the money to bring the film here from New York that we might as well have an all-day conference and so I undertook the task of organizing such a conference. With a lot of help from many organizations we ended up with a full day with diverse presentations, about 75 in attendance, and a lot of positive feedback about the day and about the offerings.

I conducted one of the presentations, called “Healing through Creative Expression” and doing that presentation made me much more nervous than anything else about the day. In it I led the attendees through my own path to healing through the use of my writing, starting with snippets of poetry, then stanzas of it, then complete poems, followed by parts of a novel in progress, and leading up to the writing and production of my autobiographical play Invisible Boy based on my own experiences growing up in a small town in southwestern Wisconsin. I talked a little bit about photography, painting, and other art forms, sharing a few examples that others had given me permission to share, but like my writing most of the presentation was based on my own life experiences. For me healing is about sharing one’s story, whether it’s with a friend or family member, a therapist, or in a more public way such as art. For me my writing has always been my friend and my healer, and I wanted to share how important it is. I have always believed that sharing my own healing can lead to the healing of others. My catharsis can help others find catharsis, as long as my story is universal in its telling.

Art as healing may not work for others. Sharing stories publicly may not work for others either. Everyone has to come to their own healing in their own way and for most people the majority of that will be through intensive therapy. But for me, writing has always been the way I process emotions. Due to my childhood abuse I have always had trust issues, but processing my emotions through the written word I can explore at my own pace and share when I feel I have the words right. But I can also hide behind the words, even when a full-length play about my abuse is produced. In a theatrical production it is not me speaking, even though it is my words; it is actors who take those words and give them their own interpretation and life.

In Thursday’s presentation, though, it wasn’t an actor. It wasn’t a piece of paper that others were reading. It was me standing up in front of the room reading from my work, talking from the heart about my abuse, my life choices and pain, and about my healing. It was me laying my soul bare and having to trust those there with my words and with my soul. Thankfully they were gentle with me. I don’t know if everyone got some good out of it, but when it was over several people came up and talked with me or hugged me and thanked me for being there. I don’t know if it was meaningful to everyone, but I know it was meaningful to at least some, and it was definitely meaningful for me. It helped me take a few more steps along my own path to healing and for that I am thankful.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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