Courage

Me in grade school Photographer unknown.

Me in grade school Photographer unknown.

I’d like to thank WCASA and all of the wonderful employees there for presenting me with this award. I am deeply honored to be named your Courage Award recipient for 2016. I would also like to thank Angie Rehling of OutReach who nominated me for the award, as well as some special people who have walked this path with me for many years.

First on that list is my life partner, Brian, who has supported me in countless ways for more than 25 years now. My gratitude and love continues to grow deeper each day. I would not be standing here if not for him. There are also family members who have  listened and stood with me throughout the years, so I would like to thank my sister, Coleen, and my niece, Lauri, for their undying support. A couple dear friends, Sunshine and Jackie, have also helped me immensely as I have slowly peeled back the layers of my life to become a survivor, so thank you for everything you have given me and everything you have allowed me to share. Thank you for your willingness to hold all of that with me. Finally, two of my co-workers have also been with me every step of the way, so special thanks to Joann and Dottie for your support and friendship. There are many others who have helped me in this process in myriad ways and I thank all of them for their love and support.

I am proud of the work that I have done in the last several years and I am honored to receive this award, but I also understand that it is just one marker along the highway. I am still walking my path and we are also still on a long journey to that day when there will be no more sexual violence. On the day that I received notice of this award I saw on the local news that in separate cases two area men had been arrested for creating child pornography. A middle school teacher had been arrested for having sexual relations with a student. Another story was about a man burning down the future home of a registered sex offender. It turned out that the arsonist had himself been sexually abused at the age of five. I believe there are messages in the universe if we look for them. The message I received that day was that this award was not given to serve as a memorial to past accomplishments but as a reminder of the work that still needs to be done. I will do my best to continue in that work.

I would also like to take a moment to talk about courage. There have been times as I have presented my writings or spoken my truth about my story and survival when friends or strangers have commented about my courage in doing so, and that has always made me a little uncomfortable. For some reason I have always been at ease with my life as an open book, whether it is talking about my queer life, my alcoholism, or my status as a male survivor of childhood sex abuse. I understand that not everyone can be out there with things like this, but because I feel it is important to be open with my life in order to help others I have always done it. It just is. I have never seen it as an act of courage.

For me courage is not me speaking to you now. It is the little boy inside of me who fought valiantly the first time the abuse was perpetrated, who managed as a child to survive nearly eight years of sexual abuse, who kept me as an adult from ending it all, and who stayed with me through years of alcohol and drug abuse and years of uncertainty and doubt. It is also the countless little boys and girls who are living that same nightmare every day right now and who are somehow managing to survive. It is for the little child inside each person here who has shown the will to survive and thrive.

This award is for all of those little children inside each of us. Please take a moment to connect with them, hug them, hear them, be with them, and thank them for the courage they had all those years ago that allows you to be here today, whatever your story might be. Love them. Hold on to that child and love them. Love yourself. They are you and you are them and you deserve to be loved. My little boy is hugging and loving each of you right now.

Thank you again for honoring that little boy’s courage. We accept it on behalf of all survivors.

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. 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. Both are available on Amazon.com, 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 has been an actor, writer, and director since 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.
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