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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Silver Anniversary

PrideFest 1991

The earliest picture of Brian and me. At Milwaukee’s PrideFest, 1991. Photographer unknown.

In May of 1991 I had just moved back to Madison, Wisconsin after four years in Denver, Colorado. Denver was beautiful and I loved it and had made many friends there, but it was never home. I had also recently broken up with my boyfriend after a five-year long relationship and countless break-ups and make-ups. I was tired of the emotional yo-yo and had also decided that it was the last break-up and that I didn’t need anyone else in my life to be fulfilled and to be a complete human being.

Shortly after moving to Madison I was at the pinball machine at Rod’s bar, a basement bar in the old Hotel Washington building which burned down several years later. I looked up and saw my friend, Billy, coming down the stairs with someone I hadn’t seen before. I can’t remember if I thought it to myself or said it aloud to my friend, Dan, but I remember my first thought was, “Damn, that boy’s cute.” Billy introduced me to Brian, they wandered off, and I went back to my pinball game. We bumped into each other again a little bit later, but that was about it.

By that time in my  life I was sober. I had quit drinking after more than a decade of nearly constant drunkenness. Still, I went back to Rod’s for several nights in a row hoping to bump into Brian again. There was something about him. I wanted to talk to him some more. One night when I was there by myself with an empty bar stool next to me Brian walked in the door and asked if he could join me. He sat down and we ended up talking for hours–about gay politics, other politics, theater, movies, music, philosophy, religion, and on and on. There was a connection there, some indefinable understanding that while we were different we shared many interests and convictions.

After five years with my ex I was not looking for a relationship at that time, but at some point after that long conversation in the bar we had our first date, and then another, and another. On my birthday on May 27 we had another date and kissed for the first time as Brian was at the door ready to head home for the night. Happy Birthday to me! By June 1 we had determined that we were a couple. Within a short time I knew that it would be the longest relationship of my life. Within a short time after that I knew that we were meant for each other and that it would be a lifetime (and beyond) relationship.

We have been through a lot together. We have worked together to make Proud Theater, an LGBT youth theater group, a success. We have worked together in other theater work, primarily at Broom Street Theater. We work well together. We are each other’s biggest fans. We make each other laugh. After twenty-five years we still laugh a lot and I truly believe that is one of the important keys to a long-lasting relationship.

On the other hand, we have each watched the other lose a best friend–my friend to suicide, his to AIDS, as well as other friends and family. We have watched as his mother died of cancer and as my mother has slowly degenerated into dementia. We have supported each other through many difficult emotional issues. And with each tough day that we have experienced we have grown stronger together.

Twenty-five years later our love continues to grow. Now we don’t have to finish sentences. We support each other in all we do, but are honest when we don’t agree. We rarely disagree strongly and we have had only a few major disagreements or fights in our time together. We joke about growing old together. We appreciate each other more with each passing day. We still hold hands all the time. We still kiss each other upon leaving or arriving. We still say I love you every day, many times. And as we grow older we both fear losing the other, not being able to imagine life without each other.

Interestingly we are each our own men. We do not need the other to be complete, and yet we complete each other in some way. We complement each other (and compliment each other). We are whole beings by ourselves but we are made more whole together.

When I was younger I couldn’t imagine finding a life partner. I couldn’t imagine a day when I could marry a partner. When that became legal we decided to wait until our 25th anniversary because we wanted to make sure it would stay legal and that it would be legal in our home state of Wisconsin. We are now planning that for sometime in the fall. We don’t need that to know that we are committed to each other. We don’t need to pronounce it aloud so that others know. Our love will outlast the paper. I look forward to the next twenty-five years.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A poem for my mother

Mom

My mother in her bed. Photo by Callen Harty.

I always bring my camera

because I never know which visit

will be my last.

I greet you and casually mention

I am your son,

just so you know.

Words tumble from your tongue

trying to find a place to land

safely.

Words, words, single words

nonsensical rambling

tumble

into a chasm of silence

between

us.

You stare

blankly at the ceiling,

perhaps wondering how you got here

and where here is

and who you are

and why you are afraid of dying.

In the silence the clock counts every second

and I want to grab it

and throw it out the window

and smash it into bits

so that I can no longer hear it

passing.

Passing.

All is passing.

Instead it keeps ticking,

marking time,

mocking the silence

as you fall again into sleep.

 

I step away.

I’ll take your picture later.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Letter to the Mix, 105.1

Homophobia

Homophobia Hurts Everyone. Photo by Callen Harty.

To whom it may concern:

I just wanted to let your station know that in case you didn’t realize it this is 2016. The modern gay rights movement started with the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969. Almost 50 years later I find it unfathomable that men who are allowed to host a radio show indulge in lesbian bashing and homophobic and sexist banter on the air. Early this morning a caller and your two hosts, Slacker and apparently another Slacker, spent time lambasting lesbian mothers who raise male children, pretty much being both sexist and homophobic while apparently attempting to either be funny or controversial. If they were going for funny it didn’t work. If they were going for controversial they certainly raised my hackles as well as plenty of other people I know.

I have been a fighter for gay rights for nearly forty years and despite the progress we have made in that time we unfortunately still find ignorant people who are allowed a microphone to spew venom, insults, and opinions that work to set progress back. Imagine that you are a ten-year old boy with a pair of lesbian mothers and you had to hear these two men berate them when they are doing their best to raise you. How do you think that child might have felt? How do you think the bullies at school might interpret those words–perhaps as an okay to bully the kid even more? I have known many lesbian mothers and gay fathers and all of them have been incredibly conscientious about raising their children with good morals. And don’t even get me started on the sexist and gender stereotyping in which they engaged on the show. Good parenting has nothing to do with sexuality or gender. I was raised by a single mother and most who know me and my siblings would say she did a fine job.

These two hosts and your radio station need to consider the consequences of your words. I am a firm believer in free speech and I will defend your right even to say idiotic things, but as a business you have a responsibility to make sure the things your hosts say aren’t harmful to other human beings. I expect better, and I expect the vast majority of your listeners do as well. I’m sure your listeners would appreciate an apology for the tasteless banter as well.

Please note that a copy of this e-mail will be sent to the Federal Communications Commission and to your advertisers.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Driving Me Crazy

Ford Fairlane

Ford Fairlane. Photo by Callen Harty.

Every day I have to drive all the way across Madison, Wisconsin’s beltline and every day brings with it multiple moments of irritation. The design is bad, the constant construction makes it worse, and putting other drivers on it makes it hell. Here are some observations and thoughts on driving, many based on that daily drive:

Despite popular opinion, turn signals are not really illegal to use.

Your time is not more valuable than everyone else’s. Passing a stalled lineup of cars in the next lane and then forcefully cutting in a mile or two up the road makes you a jerk, not a good driver.

When you are behind vehicles at a stop light there is really no great need to maintain three to five car lengths. You will not be likely to have to suddenly hit the brakes when you’re already stopped.

Likewise on the highway, even with traffic flow at 60 or 70 miles an hour, ten to fifteen car lengths is a bit much.

If you are looking at your phone then you are not looking at the road in front of you.

If there is a bicycle in the bike lane you can drive past them without going across double yellow lines and halfway into the oncoming traffic lane.

I have my own car radio; no need to share your favorite music.

The bigger the truck, the smaller the dick.

Yes, you can hydroplane when it’s raining, but 25 or 30 miles an hour on the highway is probably actually more dangerous than that possibility.

If there are multiple cars lined up behind you then you are probably going slower than necessary–even when you’re in the slower lane.

Too much caution is as dangerous as too little.

If you are in the far left lane, drive like you belong there.

If you weren’t aware of it driving side by side next to another vehicle doesn’t allow anyone to go past either of you. If you’re doing that at less than the speed limit you’re an ass.

The slowest vehicles on the road tend to be the ones with Dale Earnhardt #3 stickers in the rear windows.

No, you don’t have a baby on board. Quit lying.

If you own a sports car, use it.

Revving your engine doesn’t make you more of a man.

The word “yield” does not actually mean the same as the word “stop”. Look it up.

On ramps are designed to allow you to get up to speed before you enter the highway—and they typically don’t have stop signs at the point where you are supposed to merge.

Even a 90 degree turn does not have to be maneuvered at five miles an hour or less.

There is no need to stop at a green light. Hint: Just remember that Green and Go both start with the letter “g”.

Likewise, when a light turns green you can start moving again. You don’t have to wait until the cars behind you start honking.

When a light turns yellow and you are a quarter mile away from it that is not a sign to floor it.

And . . . red stop lights mean stop. Period.

Flashing red lights don’t mean you are supposed to get in the way of the ambulance, police car, or fire truck that is coming up behind you.

Believe it or not roundabouts are designed to improve traffic flow and do just that in other countries. Not even sure what else to say about this one, but people need to learn how they are supposed to work.

The far left lane is called the passing lane. If you are not going fast enough to pass the vehicles in the lane to your right then you should be in that lane.

On the other hand, tailgating typically does not make the person in front of you go faster and if they suddenly stop because of a squirrel crossing the road, you’re likely to be the one charged for the accident for following too closely.

Tailgating should only be done at sports events.

Nobody else knows how to drive.🙂

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wrap Around the Capitol, 2016

Attendees gathering together at the annual Wrap  Around The Capitol event at the Wisconsin Capitol building. The event is sponsored by Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Photo by Callen Harty.

Attendees gathering together at the annual Wrap Around The Capitol event at the Wisconsin Capitol building. The event is sponsored by Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Photo by Callen Harty.

I was invited to speak at Wrap Around the Capitol, an annual event sponsored by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This is what I chose to say:

Thank you to WCASA for sponsoring this wonderful event and for inviting me to share a few words with you today.

We are here today and we are using denim as a symbol because several years ago a sexual assault conviction was overturned by a panel of judges in Italy. The judges believed that a rape victim must have consented to the encounter. They said her jeans were so tight that the man who assaulted her could not have gotten them off without her assistance. Let that sink in for a moment. The judges believed that a rape victim consented to and assisted in her own rape. This is the type of victim blaming that we see every day across this country and across this world. It is not acceptable.

The questions should not be why were you wearing that, why did you drink so much, why did you let him, but why do we live in a place in which those kinds of questions are even asked? Why do we live in a society in which the victim is all-too-often blamed and the perpetrator walks? Why do we live in a world in which there is tacit acceptance of the right to violate the bodies of others? Why do we question the person who was assaulted and never ask why anyone thinks it’s okay to do anything to someone else’s body without their consent?

This is my body; no one has a right to it without my okay. No one. Ever. Period.

I am here today as a survivor of nearly eight years of child sex abuse. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t want it. I didn’t enjoy it. And I am not to blame for the sickness of others. I am here today because I am working to ensure that what happened to me and to that woman in Italy doesn’t happen to anyone else. No one. Ever.

I am here to raise my voice so that those who work inside the Capitol will hear me roar, will hear you roar, and will do what they can to ensure that sexual violence ends. Recently they passed the victim accompaniment bill, which was a great step forward. But they failed to pass Erin’s Law. They failed again to pass the Child Victims’ Act. They failed to hear our voices in all their diversity and fullness. There is more work to be done and we need to let them know that we will not rest until they finally do hear our voices and act upon it. We will not rest until there are no more victims of sexual assault. No more. Ever.

Thank you again for coming. Wishing all of you the best, in peace and love.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wisconsin Justice

Kloppenburg sign. Photo by Callen Harty.

Kloppenburg sign. Photo by Callen Harty.

Inexperienced, unqualified, bigoted, highly partisan, and beholden to rich supporters. This is Wisconsin justice in 2016.

As a gay man, as a citizen of this once-great state, as a person whose family has lived here since 1827, I am so far beyond disheartened and disillusioned that it is immeasurable. The pain runs deeper than the valleys of my ancestral home in southwestern Wisconsin. This is not the Wisconsin I have always loved so much. I weep for what we have become.

This is the summation of Rebecca Bradley: She is a right-wing corporate shill with extremely conservative views who was fast-tracked in her career by an admiring Governor Scott Walker. And I’m guessing he expects the admiration to be mutual when there are important cases before the bench, as will all of those who poured huge amounts of money into the campaign on her behalf.

Bradley was appointed by Walker to the Wisconsin Supreme Court after Justice Patrick Crooks unexpectedly passed away in his chambers. She served on the Supreme Court for only half a year before winning election to the position in the just-concluded spring election. Her appointment to the highest court was just five months after Walker had appointed her to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and that appointment was a mere three years after he had first made her a judge by appointing her to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in 2012.  Their friendship goes back years. Her experience as a jurist does not. Four short years as a judge and now she is set to begin a 10-year elected term to the top court in the state.

Admittedly, there are only two qualifications to run for the Supreme Court in Wisconsin: one has to be licensed to practice law in Wisconsin for at least five years and must be less than 70 years old. That’s it. Usually the citizens of the state will want to know that those sitting on the highest court have a good understanding of the law and the Constitution and that their experience lends itself to that. They also generally want to make sure that the candidate is non-partisan and can remain objective and set aside their personal opinions to weigh the merits of a case against the Constitution and precedent. Bradley’s lack of experience is not what is most bothersome; it is her ability (or likely inability) to be non-partisan.

Forgive me if I didn’t swallow her supporters’ proclamations about how everyone can change and that the vitriolic, anti-Democrat, anti-women, victim blaming, and homophobic rants that she wrote in college were not representative of who she is now. Yes, people can change. Many do, but I’m betting that most of the people who would have called me a queer or a faggot twenty years ago would still call me that now–maybe just not as loudly. If Bradley had changed from those college views the likelihood is that Wisconsin Right to Life, Wisconsin Club for Growth, and the other right-wing, ultra-conservative organizations and individuals that supported her candidacy would not have done so. There was virtually nothing that she did or said in the last twenty years to indicate that she had changed.

Wisconsin was the first state in the union to pass a gay rights law, back in 1982. It guaranteed lesbian and gay citizens protection against discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. We now have a Supreme Court Justice who has called people like me queers and degenerates, who has said that those who suffered and died from AIDS more or less deserved it by committing suicide with their degenerate behavior, who compared abortion to slavery and the Holocaust, and who aligned herself with Camille Paglia and the idea that rape victims are responsible for their own rapes. She also believes pharmacists have the right to refuse to fill prescriptions for moral reasons and she believes in the concept of personhood, meaning that life begins at conception, which could effectively make abortion and even contraception illegal.

What’s shocking is not that there are people out there who hold these views, but that enough of my fellow Wisconsinites support such rhetoric and would vote for this kind of person. What’s shocking is that I know people who had heard or read about these things and still voted for Bradley. What’s amazing is that outside groups created misleading and dishonest advertising, commercials that pretty much proclaimed that Joanne Kloppenburg was a lover of pedophiles and cared more for them than the child victims of sexual abuse, and that people believed those ads. They were the most disgusting and dishonest political commercials I’ve ever seen. They were so vile that they made the old Willie Horton ads look like amateur hour, a little dusting of dirt in the mud of the political season. Of course, they worked and the candidate that they were meant to support never stepped up and disavowed them. As a candidate for the Supreme Court she should have made it clear that her campaign did not create, support, or condone those ads. That might have made me believe she had changed.

Again, this is not the Wisconsin I have always loved.

Today I am filled with sorrow that my fellow citizens would put this person in office to make important decisions on the constitutionality of abortion, LGBT rights, corporate rights, and more. I am also in fear that along with the other three conservative Justices in the majority that Bradley will continue to eliminate all the progress that we have made as a human race and continue to lead us back to the 1950s and beyond, when women were kept barefoot and pregnant, gays were kept in the closet, and everyone was beholden to their bosses and corporate overlords. This is not the Wisconsin I believe in or one in which I want to live.

Today I weep for my state. Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, I’ll get back up and be ready to fight again.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment