Breastfeeding In Public

It may sound funny but I never realized how controversial this topic is.  I understand that many decades ago breastfeeding was what every mother did.  At some point, doctors began advising mothers to bottle feed their children.  My mother, and her mother, grew up in that generation.  They fed me and all of my siblings by the bottle.  Because of that, they have some definite opinions about mothers today, specifically the one’s who want to breastfeed their children.  Especially those who feed their children past the ‘appropriate age’.

I never felt this controversy as a man growing up.  Only when I had my daughter,  and my wife decided to breastfeed, have I felt the heat. 

As a man, here’s what I grew up knowing about breasts.  Anytime I saw a naked breast I felt a sexual response.  How could I not?  I grew up knowing that a woman’s body, and any naked part of it, was for sexual purposes.  From the pornography that was available to me as a teenager to every magazine and every show I watched on TV and the movies. 

women + naked bodypart = sex

It didn’t take long for the equation to change profoundly.

women = sex

But I never bought into that equation entirely.  In the back of my mind I always knew I was being manipulated, as a man.  There was no clear culprit to blame because it’s hard to point a finger at society. 

So here we are.  We’ve all had a good swig of the Kool-Aid.  The physicality of woman is sex and should never be presented otherwise. 

When my wife began breastfeeding I faced my hard reality.  The boob was not for my sexual pleasure.  It was to feed our hungry daughter.  Over and over my wife would ‘whip it out’ for the purposes of motherhood.  At times I caught myself resenting this scourging of the sexuality of this thing.  This milk-producing breast.  This non-sexual breast.  The sexual breast was all I ever knew.

My evolution as a man was healthy.  I learned respect for mothers.  For all the other roles of women.  My own internal dissonance helped me understand the difficulty women have being accepted as anything else than a funnel for sex. 

Men don’t want to see breastfeeding in public because they don’t want to have to grow up and learn to see women as something else, outside of a tool for their devices.  Even women don’t want to see it because they fear their own bodies.  They worry how their husbands and teenage sons may react to a naked breast.  They may actually have to have a constructive conversation with their children about this public presentation.

The unhealthy part of this debate is that the breast should be presented as anything other than sexual.  That would be telling a lie.  Maybe men would start to look at breasts as serving other functions.  Maybe we would all respect our mothers a little more.  If it’s a question of you and that hungry baby, suck it up.  Be an adult and understand a feeding child wins out over your insecurities. Every time.  That is healthy.  That is part of the maturing process which leads to common sense.

Ladies, give your husbands and teenage sons a little credit.  The male reaction to a breastfeeding mother in public goes from sexual response to healthy respect in about half a second.  Seeing breastfeeding helps us evolve.  You don’t need to protect us from our own unhealthy delusions.

For all those who have conflict with public breastfeeding, you really do need to understand this conflict is within you.  Introspect a while.  Figure it out.  Don’t be manipulative and feed us this falsity that the ‘problem’ somehow lies with women feeding their children where you can see it. 

It all boils down to simple respect for mothering.  Breastfeeding IS mothering.  So shouldn’t we stop defending our own oversexualized social conditioning and start defending motherhood in all it’s beautiful aspects?

You may be wondering how this relates to abuse.  It couldn’t be more related.


Your Local Library And Porn


The Seattle Public Library System is great.  My local library in the Ballard neighborhood is one of the first truly green buildings in the city.  It is equipped with solar panels to conserve energy.  It’s ‘green roof’ has an overlay of vegetation to keep the building well insulated and reduce storm runoff.  The branch runs a full calendar of reading-oriented events for children.  Our daughter’s personal favorite is Pajama Story Time where the kids come to the branch in sleep clothes and get to enjoy some bedtime stories and songs.  In every way, you can say our Ballard branch, and the SPL system represents the values of it’s community.  Almost.

If you walk into the Ballard branch there is the centrally located hub of internet-use computers.  From which, adults can be found viewing pornography.  Yes pornography.  To deprive it’s public of pornography would amount to censorship according to the SPL.  As children walk back and forth in the periphery, graphic images and videos are on display and accessible to their eyes.  The library’s solution to this lack of good sense is that they DO fit privacy screens on each computer.  You know, the privacy screens that don’t block out graphic pornography to anyone standing behind or 30 degrees off to the side of any monitor.  Yes, those ‘privacy screens.’

I never thought I would encounter such horrendously bad judgment on the part of an organization that hosts Pajama Story Time for my daughter.  You see a library is where one goes to stimulate the mind and learn new things about the world.  Which is why libraries place such an emphasis on events for children.  Yet any organization that purports to educate the minds of children must show that they can be suitably trusted with the delicate nature of a young mind.  There can be porn on every computer screen, at any time.

One wonders that, while my local branch is keeping the storm runoff on the outside of the building to a minimum, if it can find a way to keep the storm at bay on the inside.  You see it’s the place that attracts the type of individual that would watch pornography in public for free, with children walking around.  Apparently it’s a staunch defender of censorship too.  Unfortunately the SPL won’t be able to account for the personal choice of parents who’d rather not mix children story time with graphic sex acts just a few feet away.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Rape

“there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” 

– Mark Twain

Statistics matter to us.  We draw so much from them.  We often shape our truth around them.  Take rape for instance.  The FBI has drawn up statistics each year for this horrible crime.  The one problem is that they were absolutely inaccurate statistics based on an antiquatedly narrow definition.

Rape = “Carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”

This is the absolute breadth that guides what to include and what not to.  This doesn’t include men.  This doesn’t include non-forcible coercion, which is so often the case with rape by family or close friends.

Decades ago, police departments across the nation had implemented accurate terms and definitions.  They had to in order to address crime properly.  But it took the FBI 82 years.  That’s how serious our government is about dealing with this all-too-common and atrocious violation.

As much as I want to give the FBI a pat on the back, I really just want to understand why it took so long.  It’s just unfortunate that we sometimes let the law and their definitions define our reality.  That’s why this really matters at all.  This will put the FBI statistics on rape just a tiny bit closer to  the reality of what is actually happening in our communities today.

However, we can never really put too much stock in rape statistics because we know only a tiny percentage of victims ever report it.  A tiny percentage of those reported get prosecuted and, thus, become a statistic.  That’s why Mark Twain may always have the last word on statistics.  82 years is a good argument for why we should never let the FBI have the last word on sex crimes.

My last word is it doesn’t matter what our government agencies report.  No one knows our communities better than you and I.  Rape and abuse will always be running way ahead of any poor attempt to calculate it.

It’s just like when we utter that so familiar quote of 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been violated by the age of 16.  Do we really believe the percentages are this small?  Considering the legal definition of rape and abuse are so narrowly chosen.  How can all those men and women self-identify as victims when our government has been so confused for so long themselves?

Never has something as vile as rape, domestic violence, and child abuse been so responsible for so many of the ills in society.  Yet it has been so neglected, disregarded, and still remains chronically unuttered from the lips of almost all government officials, past or present.

So what does the ‘expanded definition’ really offer in the way of safety for our communities?  Don’t expect much.  It’s the same as it ever was.  The lesson here may be that we need to take ownership over our own definitions and put statistics back into the hierarchy where good old Mark put it so long ago.

Open Letter to Pete DeGraaf

An open letter sent today to Kansas State Representative Pete DeGraaf.  Why are we sending it?


Representative DeGraaf,

It’s disappointing to hear of an official representative of the people, which includes a large constituency of women, likening rape to the spare tire you carry in your car. It’s your contention that women should ‘plan ahead’ for rape. Did you know that 1 in 4 women have been at least sexually assaulted by the age of 16? So I wonder how teenage girls ‘plan ahead’ for rape. You represent the people of Kansas. To initiate an argument on a horrific issue which you clearly know so little about is a slap in the face of every victim and every citizen in your district. Even your fellow Republicans took exception to your ridiculous comparison, as do the millions who now know your true feelings on this issue.

Rape is not inevitable. Rape is an involuntary violation. You could be a champion to protect women. Yet you marginalize and dismiss the circumstances of the victims and indirectly all of the women in your district. As a husband of a survivor of rape I have to say I am disgusted to know a U.S. Representative carries such disregard in his heart for the precious women in our country.

Our organization exists to protect the victims. Our supporters in Kansas won’t easily forget what you said. You’ve given them a reason to fight for your opponent in your next election cycle. The right thing to do is to apologize and abandon this utterly abominable attack on pregnant survivors of rape.

You owe us an apology. Judging from the viral nature of your comments we suggest you act now. Remember your greater responsibility to the people. Remember that betrayal is never forgotten. In this age of representatives who speak first and educate themselves later I implore you to speak about issues in which you are knowledgeable. The harm you’ve done is now broadcast across the United States of America for a reason. It is disgusting and unacceptable for the common citizen, much less someone in your priviledged position. There are teenage girls in Kansas who are pregnant with the baby of their perpetrator hearing that they should have ‘planned ahead.’ By default what you are saying is it’s their fault. They didn’t cover their bases. This is your statement on the issue.

Our statement to you is simply that we have an overriding aversion to every day you now stay in office. You have marginalized the vulnerable and you should be ashamed of your actions. I urge you to ‘plan ahead’ for the next election term. It just may be your last.

Chris de Serres

(Wo)Men Speak Out

*Kansas Representative Pete DeGraaf can be reached at and

Holidays and Suicide

I just wanted to mention something because I know if I think of it during the holidays then many other survivors probably do.  When Thanksgiving would come around, for too many years, I would think of suicide.  This stretch of time, from Thanksgiving all the way up to New Years, has always seemed so hard for me to get through. 

My life has changed quite a bit now.  I have more reasons to be living than at any time in my life.  My beautiful wife and daughter.  My friends, including all of you here who know personally why we think of suicide.  Even with all of that, my heart still pulls toward that feeling.

About ten years ago, I used to scramble alone to the top of mountains and, if there was a cliff, I would stand on the edge and think how little I had to live for.  I wondered who would really care if I fell here.  Sometimes I would climb down cliff faces to ledges.  I told myself that if I fell then I was just meant to.

So I scrambled to the top of Mt. Higgins.  It was known for having a high precipice at the summit.  When I got to the top, I was alone.  So I stood at the edge of the precipice and did the thing I always do.  Wonder if I mattered.  I think that was the closest I ever came to just choosing to fall.  I heard some low yelping behind me.  It was a dog.  My dog Scout.  It may sound weird but I think he sensed what was going on.  I had forgotten he was even there.  But I didn’t have the heart to leave him alone.  So we hiked back down together. 

Before we left, I took a picture of old Scout, at the edge of the precipice.  Ironically it’s one of my mothers favorite pictures.  She blew it up and put it prominently on the mantle of her fireplace.  Scout has long since passed away.  But every holiday, when I come home I look right at it.  It reminds me that no matter what there is always someone who loves me and will miss me if I leave.  It’s something all of us should remember.

Happy Thanksgiving!


I Came Forward…On Oprah.


She turned to the teleprompter, looked out into the sea of men in the audience.  Each of us held a large childhood picture in our arms.  “It’s hard to see all of your pictures,” she told us as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

Then taping began…

For the next three hours I grieved amongst a group of 200 men who were all survivors of child abuse.  Some at the hands of strangers, most by adults we knew and trusted.  Most of the men here today, and Oprah, were abused by more than one adult.  Some were abused by other children, and some went on to be abused into adulthood.

Many of our abusers lived complete lives, free from incarceration.  Free from having to answer for their horrific acts.   They live in your communities.

When I wasn’t crying I was trying to stay present, in this moment.  But I often did what I do whenever my trauma approaches.  I disassociate.  I felt myself watching the studio of men from a safe distance even as I was sitting in the middle of it.

Oprah began the discussion with Tyler Perry, a film producer who recently disclosed his personal history of abuse.  I could see this audience of 200 men collectively unhinge itself.  I saw men all around me crying and exhibiting incredibly pained expressions of grief.  I felt like I was at a funeral for a close friend.  I saw old men crying inconsolably, just like the little boys who died in their hearts.

There was a man sitting across from me.  His face was bunched up so tightly and he hunched over again and again sobbing.  All I wanted to do was walk across this studio and give this boy some reassurance.

I looked down at the picture sitting on my lap, then turned it face down.  It was too painful to see that boy’s false smile.  Like a pulse, the words of Tyler Perry kept slicing through my heart.  “I felt like I died as a child.”

If Oprah would have allowed us to hold up a picture of any child I wouldn’t have held up my own.  I’m still alive.  I can look into the eyes of my baby daughter.  I have a beautiful and supportive wife waiting for me at home.  No, I would have held up a picture of my best friend Eddie.  When he died, the police report indicated that he hung himself with a bed sheet.  They said he “suffered from depression” or that “drug use contributed” to his death.  The newspaper never says “he died from child abuse.”

Eddie had a beautiful daughter of his own.  She was just a child when he passed.  Now we are both the caretakers of his memory.  I will never have the priviledge of having his quick wit and infectious laughter fill up my soul with life.  We were once just two abused kids, just trying to make it through.  Now he is gone and I am here.

The studio was filled with lights and cameras.  The film crews shuffled around, doing many things all at the same time.  Oprah was the calming presence in the middle of it.  She looked us in the eye and in her eyes I could see an underlying message to all of us men.  Just stay with me a little longer.

I struggled to keep my eyes open.  The exhaustion was so great my body was shutting down.

Twin brothers, about my age, got up from the front row and joined Oprah in the center.  They began to disclose the story of their abuse.  Molested by priests for 13 years.  I felt this anger and rage fill my body, every hair rising up.  I looked around at the other men in the audience and saw a reflection of outrage.  These boys told their mother, but they weren’t believed.  So the abuse continued.

I looked up, from time to time, at the cameras around me.  One camera stood directly at me for the entire taping.  I wondered if my face would be broadcast.  I wondered about all the people in my life who didn’t know.  Imagine the shock if you just turned the channel on the Oprah Show one day and saw your son, brother, nephew, friend, or uncle sitting in that audience.  Would you mourn for him?  Would you wonder who his abuser was?  Would you believe him?  Would you reach out to him and offer support?  What if you were his abuser?

Towards the end Oprah opened it up to questions.  My body became a tangle of pins and needles.  I had something to say.  We all had something to say.  I saw a man in his 50’s stand up to speak and wondered how many decades he had waited to finally say something here.  There would never be a moment like this again for any of us.

We filmed two shows that day and were only barely scratching the surface of all that went on.  I think Oprah saw this so she let us speak.  The Q&A session was never aired.  I’m not sure that it mattered.

Before I knew it I was in a bus heading to the airport.  There were so many guys I wanted to say goodbye to but never got the chance.  But I had nothing left to muster.  So I buried my head into a pillow on the flight back.

From flying to Chicago, filming two episodes of The Oprah Show, and flying back to Seattle, it had all happened in less than 48 hours.  Even now, i’m still recovering from that short and great impact on my life.

One thing I realized is that when we hold secrets we hold back a piece of ourselves.  We deprive our friends, family, and spouses from the true joy in our hearts.  They can never know our stories unless we tell it.  So many men and women went to their graves having never told anyone.

So I think of all the people in the past who weren’t given the opportunity to grieve.  I think of my abuser.

I am not sure what happened to him.  I don’t think he will ever tell us.  I know what he took away from me.  There were men his age in that audience.  These men were born from a generation even further entrenched in the silence.  Their presence brought me hope.

I do believe that men who tell are the exception, not the rule.  That is what made this Oprah special a very unique experience.  We have always been told that boys don’t cry.  Yet they always do.

These men stood together, in front of millions, despite our society.

These men stood with a powerful female advocate.

I am not sure of the long term impact of these shows, but what I do know is the extraordinary effect the show had on the lives of the men.  We are telling our family and friends for the first time.  We are confronting our abusers.  We have started campaigns to combat abuse.  We are going into therapy.  We are telling our stories.

200 of Oprah’s Men.  I am proud to call myself one of them.  They say that one motivated soul can affect change on an entire society.  Imagine what 200 can do.  Imagine if we all finally woke up and began to really talk for the first time.