Saturday, October 15, 2016

Your Duty to Change Your Opinions

The set-up: A man shares a link (which I will not reproduce here) to an article by a woman voting for Trump. She executes the most impressive mental gymnastics in order to allow her support for Trump to coexist with her experiences as a sexually abused woman in America. The natural response to this was a combination of shock and pity by the sharer's female friends. One of his other friends came to his defense, and I couldn't help but respond.

I am so often amazed at how irrational and intolerant people can be when they don't agree with your personal opinion. Guess what? We ALL get a chance to vote, whether you agree, disagree or choose to mock and belittle others.
I'm amazed at how people can't seem to see the difference between people having divergent political views and people calling others out for deplorable, despicable behavior and attitudes, and an utter lack of human dignity.
It's your opinion that another's opinion is divergent, can't you see that? And whether we agree or not, we're entitled to our own.
If you're really arguing that all opinions are equally worthy of respect and that there isn't any way to objectively measure the outcome of those opinions then you've already lost the plot. Please expose yourself to some philosophy and critical thinking instead of echo chambers and kool-aid drinking

Some opinions are harmful in that simply believing them and sharing them with others, let alone acting on them, will cause suffering for you and those around you. If you find yourself in possession of such beliefs, then what you're experiencing right now is called cognitive dissonance. You think of yourself as a good person, you have these beliefs, therefore those beliefs can't be bad. I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but people are flawed. It's possible to believe something sincerely and without malice, but still have that belief cause harm.

It's our duty as members of civilized society to question ourselves and challenge our most cherished, deeply held beliefs with intense scrutiny. The greatest enemy of progress is certainty, and "all opinions are valid" is the most insidious justification of false certainty there is.

"Boys will be boys, if she didn't want to get raped she shouldn't have gone to the party drunk" --- perfectly valid opinion yeah?

"That black man should be hanged for hitting on my white daughter" -- perfectly valid opinion yeah?

"My baby is possessed and needs to be held under water for 10 minutes to exorcise the demon" -- just someone's opinion, right? Totally fine for them to feel that way?

Please wake up. Society needs you to take off your blinders. There are real issues and real problems in the world. you can't just stick your fingers in your ears and tell people to vote for whatever opinion makes them feel good at the moment.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

On Emotional Support

Thank you to everyone who has offered kindness and support over my recent revelations. My wife and I have been on a journey of learning to support each other emotionally over the past few years and I want to share a couple of the resources that have helped. I don't know if I would've made it to this point without them.

The watershed moment for us was exposure to Brené Brown's work on vulnerability. Every one of her books has been an enormous help both in our private and public lives. The Daring Way is working to help people and organizations find strength in vulnerability.

In our discussions we've often lamented how little education we receive in how to deal with emotions. There are no classes on "how to be in the room with people you don't like" or "when should you apologize?" Instead, you lash out, face punishment, and never really learn what to do with those feelings the next time they come up. Thankfully, that's changing. The School of Life offers precisely these kinds of lessons in an easily digestible and amusing format.

Besides our own discoveries, I'd also like to pass along some of the resources that have been brought to my attention since revealing my story:

A Voice for the Innocent whose "purpose is to allow people to share their stories of sexual abuse and rape to a listening ear who won't judge them and will still allow them to be as anonymous as they choose to be."

MaleSurvivor has been conducting 3-Day Weekends of Recovery (WOR’s) throughout the US & Canada since 2001. Facilitated by a team of trained therapists and educators who adhere to the highest ethical standards of their clinical professions. These healing weekends provide adjunctive support for any male – 18 or older – who has been sexually victimized as a child and/or as an adult.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

On Frederick Hodges

CONTENT WARNING: Explicit descriptions of sexual assault and other victimization

Nothing about him was threatening, except maybe his height. But I was no shorty for an 11 year old, so it didn't mean much to me. We'd met before so that my mother could get a feel for him, once at a park for sure, and perhaps another time. The offer was generous enough: my grandmother was holding a conference on the other side of the country and one of the folks she worked with offered to bring me along and take me on a tour of Washington, DC. Growing up poor and frequently on the move didn't afford many opportunities like this, so we were all very excited.

As well as those interactions went, we still proceeded cautiously. My mother and grandmother talked to me about their worries. They talked to me about what it means to be homosexual, reinforced that my body is mine and mine alone, made sure I was willing and able to say "no," etc. Let me be doubly clear: all due diligence was done. No one else in this story shares culpability besides him. I know that will do little to assuage the guilt and shame but it needs to be said nonetheless. I harbor no resentment. If they had not prepared me in this way, I'm sure the story would've played out differently.

The picture of the Aryan race (tall, blond, light eyes, chiseled features), his tastes were ... apropos. His kitchen was filled with racist artwork, mostly early 20th century depictions of black people (fat women with exaggerated lips eating watermelon, and the like). The massive Duo-Art grand player piano took up the bulk of his living space and his collection of player rolls was impressive. I had never seen a laser disc collection so impressive, and ... OMG STAR TREK!!! We hit it off immediately, playing music, watching star trek and old movies from the '20s, singing, it was awesome. It was like hanging out with the rich kid but it was his own money not his parents'.

Oh and the poster sized pictures of naked pre-teen boys hanging on his bedroom walls. Did I mention those?

He occasionally brought up masturbation as a conversation topic. Having never tried it myself, I was thoroughly unconvinced that it was a widespread phenomenon despite his insistence. As far as I knew, no one else did it, and you would have been cast out if anyone found out you did. He asked if he could show me how, and I told him it was too embarrassing. I won't say he left it at that, but he was very good at knowing when to let off the pressure, and it felt like he was respecting my wishes.

Now, I was exposed to a lot of things as a kid that I'm not sure anyone would've approved of. Between "accidentally" seeing the most graphic parts of The Accused while waiting for Crocodile Dundee to start, and catching What's Love Got to Do with It on late night HBO, let's just say I had at the same time an advanced and stunted impression of rape for an 11-year-old.

What we were talking about that I would've mentioned this, I have no idea. But somehow we made a game out of Ike & Tina's relationship. By the time we had reached Maryland the game had evolved into running around the room trying to grab each other's foreskin, screaming "NO IKE!" when you got caught. It was all in good fun, right?

Again, he always made sure to keep me feeling in control. If I said I didn't want something or said I was done, he would "respect" that. So with this confidence in the safety of our relationship, I continued to report "all's well" whenever my mom and grandmother would ask how things went.

After the trip to Maryland, I continued to spend the occasional weekend with him, partly for piano lessons, partly for day care (single, working mother on welfare needed all the help she could get). We went to a Star Trek event at the California Academy of Sciences (which apparently was one of the topics in the suit against him; someone on the plaintiff's side witnessed us there). The poster he bought me is one of my most prized Star Trek possessions. He took me to the Ritz Carlton where he played piano in the cocktail lounge. We saw classic movies at classic theaters in Oakland & Berkeley. Oh the laser discs! And he even had a computer that I'd use to draw Star Trek control panels and the like.

During this period I learned that "Mulatto" was the word you use to describe a mixed-race person, that Driving While Chinese was a thing (which I later tried to confirm with one of his Chinese, I'm assuming now ex-, friends), and that the jokes about a jew, a black, and a connecticut yankee were good clean fun. Black face was an amusing act by Eddie Cantor. A mother should be ridiculed because she thinks her daughter's name, Pajama (PA-juh-muh) is pretty.

The first time I ever felt any true discomfort was quite literal. We were sitting on the couch watching Star Trek. I was laying in his lap and felt something poking me in the back. I got a little weirded out and asked if that was what I thought it was. He said no it wasn't and pulled me back down onto him. The ... problem subsided, so I didn't really think anything more of it.

Still, he would occasionally bring up the masturbation thing. I mean, part of me gets it... If I were talking to a 12 year old and they insisted none of their peers masturbates, I would be laughing inside while trying to change the subject. A part of me would feel bad that he hasn't yet figured it out for himself, but it certainly wouldn't be my place to say anything. But this man was trying to convince me that I *should* be masturbating, and that he wanted to be the one to show me how.

Well there I was, an increasingly horny, nearly teenage boy, watching the girls around me change both physically and in my own perception. As I was exposed to more examples besides him, I began to accept that masturbation is a perfectly normal part of being a human, and started to open up to the idea of his "offer."

As soon as he picked up on this, he was straddling me on his futon, tip poking out of his pants, showing me the pre-cum/lube leaking out and asking me to touch him. To feel what a full adult erection was like in my hands. I did. He asked me to pull his foreskin down. I did. He pulled out the futon, laid down, and proceeded to masturbate. I was very curious; I'm always interested in learning new things and having new experiences, so in spite of his insistence that I never tell anyone about what we did together, I didn't feel like anything was wrong. He came, and we talked about how interesting it was that semen cycles between clear and cloudy over the course of a few minutes.

I continued to visit him pretty regularly for the next year or so. We would masturbate, watch old (racist) movies, etc. Eventually I didn't see him quite as often, but my grandmother's conferences are every two years. The next one would be in Lausanne, Switzerland, and he was again ready to share his financial privilege with me for a month long tour of Europe.

As it relates to the current topic, most of the second trip was uneventful. We didn't play Ike & Tina in the hotel, he actually let me eat cheese while we were in Italy (he was a hard core vegan at the time, and my protein craving guts were a wreck every time I visited), and for the first couple weeks he didn't do or say anything sexual.

In fact, it may even have been me who brought up masturbation when we were in Paris. Now 13, I had a strong desire for pornography, and I heard France was a great source for such a thing (the internet was still young). When I asked him to buy me a dirty magazine, he asked me to give him a blow job in exchange. I told him no, but this was the first time he started being insistant. He started to use the same trick with masturbation; trying to convince me that it was perfectly normal for boys to give each other blowjobs. Eventually the conversation escalated to him asking "well why not, then?!" to which I responded "because I'm not gay like you!" I don't remember if he dropped it right away, but I did get the impression he either denied being gay, or denied that homosexuality was necessary for wanting to give boys blowjobs.

Again, he continued to prove that he'll take "no" for an answer, so from my point of view, nothing was wrong with that interaction. Eventually he relented on the porn. He bought me one magazine in Paris and another in England. We masturbated together once more, I think for the last time.

Once my voice started changing and I started approaching his eye level, our interactions became fewer and farther between. He moved to England to go to attend Oxford University. When my grandmother's next conference was held at a nearby college in Oxford, he let me stay in his flat.

This time things were very different. He was much more distant. I imagine a part of that was his intense PhD studies, but I'm pretty certain that I had moved out of his preferred age bracket. I think I've only seen him once since then at a gathering. We hugged or shook hands or something, and then went on with our lives.

Years later he was on trial for his similar treatment of another boy. Somehow he thought it would be a good idea to ask me to testify in his defense and put in that request through my grandmother. I hate him for the pain he put her through by making me answer "I can't". I hate him for the guilt and shame she and my mother will inevitably feel after reading this.

I can try to convince myself none of this left me damaged, but I would be lying. I can reassure my family that none of this was their fault, but it would feel like a lie to them no matter how true it is.

But I can also tell the truth. And if we all share our truths, then maybe we can see we're all in the same boat together and work towards a common good.