Turn The Car Around

A couple of years ago, I remember driving home from a camping trip.  There was something in the middle of the road.  As we came closer I could see that it was a deer.  It didn’t move an inch as our car came closer.  We circled around it and kept driving up the road.  As the road curved I took one last look in the rearview mirror at the body and right as the deer came out of view, it lifted it’s head up from the ground.  It sent chills down my spine.

We didn’t go back.  We had all kinds of reasons not to.  We had a long drive to get home.  The area was too remote.  Someone else will stop and help it.  We didn’t have a gun or a knife to put the deer to rest.

As the miles accumulated between our car and that poor dying deer I felt tremendous guilt well up in me.  It’s just an animal.  It’s probably already dead.  Right?

When I first heard about the allegations of abuse against Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky the first thing I thought about was the deer.  A graduate student saw him sodomizing a 10 year old child in the showers.  He told Joe Paterno, the winningest football coach in college football history.  The longest tenured and most influential figure on the campus and in the community.

Joe reported the story to a Penn State official.  Then he moved on.  Jerry Sandusky continued doing what he had been doing for years.  Grooming little boys and sexually abusing them.  Joe wouldn’t have known of course, because he did the bare minimum to keep himself out of trouble.  Maybe that was enough to assuage any guilt he would have had.

I understand Joe.  After driving 100 miles, I had my friend pull to the side of the road.  I got animal control on the phone.  Reported to them that I saw a deer on the road which seemed to be alive.  I told myself that I did my best.  It is now in their hands.  What more could I do right?  I did my part.

For some reason, I have never been able to forget that split second.  Seeing that scared and vulnerable creature lift it’s furry head off of the bloody concrete.  In that moment we made a choice.  Keep driving.

It was a choice.  Much like Joe.  If there was anybody on that campus who could have put a stop to Sandusky’s horrific exploitation it would have been Joe.  You don’t say no to the biggest man on campus.

He never followed up.  He never made sure the police knew what was going on.

He didn’t turn the car around.

Open Letter to Pete DeGraaf

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

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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 petedegraaf@att.net and pete.degraaf@house.ks.gov

Remembering The Montreal Massacre

Today marked the 21st anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a man named Marc Lepine walked onto the campus of École Polytechnique in Montreal. He wasn’t a student there, though not for a lack of trying. In fact, he was on a special mission that day. He was going to exact revenge on those who he felt were responsible for his rejection. So he walked into a classroom. He pulled out his loaded rifle. His formula was simple. Men were told to leave. Women were told to stay. Then he fired. This began his rampage on campus. At the end of the day he had murdered 15 feminists’, including one he stabbed to death in a classroom while other students watched in shock and horror.

When violent events spill out before our eyes the natural reaction is one of shock. When the shock wears off, we begin to ask questions. How could this happen? There’s always this sense that our community’ should be safe from this. So many assumptions come with our community’. The first assumption being that our community’ couldn’t be producing these individuals. The distancing we all generally do towards those who kill and rape.

The disservice we do to our community is in the search for who is to blame. In every tragedy the sequence of events plays out and in the end someone is fired or ruled negligent or incompetent. This process is highly political and inherently flawed because searching for individual blame is by nature deflective of the greater responsibility. Once the public is satisfied that something was done we move on and begin the process of putting the past behind us.

So let’s begin the discussion at the point where the media and most of society are entirely too content to end. The beginning of the responsibility, and blame, that includes us.

In my research of Lepine it was no surprise to learn that he had been subject to brutal physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father. Nor was it shocking that his view of women as servile and second-class citizens had all been assimilations from his father as well. Lepine’s mother had her own job and pursued higher education, but the influence of his father was so pervasive that not even her positive model could derail his contempt.

Lepine, the adult, railed about the accumulated missed opportunities in his life, denied him by women he labeled the feminists.’ These were women who he felt didn’t know their rightful place in society. He couldn’t hold a steady job. He couldn’t pay his rent. He couldn’t be the man he was expected to be. So someone was to blame.

The Montreal Massacre shares some basic similarities to other school shootings, such as Columbine, and most recently in Virginia Tech. These men come from an ever growing group of alienated young men who live in a world that judges them in relation to their ability to control the forces around them. When faced with a world that is completely out of their control, they resort to the most extreme measures to regain control, to find some sense of maleness’.

We are taught, as men, that control is the issue. We need to control our anger, our pride, and our emotions. It is as if we are ticking bombs, with the true successes being those that never go off, or that go off in the most socially acceptable of ways.

This is the game we have been taught to play. There are no other alternatives presented. I think of my life, and my ability to retain control. To be perfectly honest, I feel like a failure in this sense. I emote, I have lost control many times, and it has cost me dearly in the past. I have taken action in exaggerated, seemingly unrelated ways in an attempt to reestablish it.

So what are our options? Are we put here on Earth to play out the game of control? If this is what our lives come to then some can say that there is very little room in society for the abuse survivor. You see, control was taken from us. We struggle to take it back in this subconscious battle. It plays out in all the seemingly benign interactions throughout our day. It finds a home in the failed relationship here, in the arrest there, or the hostile act of road rage elsewhere.

The natural role of women in society gives them a perspective we, as men, can learn from. You see, it is still our unspoken role to retain control, but we can change that role. Women exist in this world often from a position of vulnerability. They are not groomed from childhood that being the master of their domain is a necessity. It is an option, and one that they can quite comfortably not take. Their ability to access vulnerability, through the availability of a much wider range of socially acceptable emotions, provides an inherent power to master setbacks.

Our growing boys are regressing by virtue of that narrow tunnel of emotional expression they are expected to use to deal with their setbacks. One way or another, the boy will struggle to be master of his domain. Too often, it can lead to violence, rape, murder, or suicide.

So, here’s what all this means to me. First, men need more resources; especially outreach resources because we know that men are less likely to seek help. Second, we men need role models, badly. Where are the male survivors trailblazing a path to follow? I see many women revealing their abuse, and even female celebrities mustering their courage to come out. The field of support is there for women because they have fought to put their resources in place.

I can only think of a few atrocities that were so blatantly differentiating as the Montreal Massacre. Our society has failed many men, and maybe it failed Marc Lepine. He made the choice to murder women, in such a direct and twisted way. The one thing I am absolutely certain of is that we failed the women who died and their families who had to live on.

I don’t think I can, in good conscience, call this game of control’ a game after all. Control is simply an illusion we feel we need to exist. It creates a false sense of desperation whose consequences are all too real in the hands of men like Lepine. Our success in life is contingent upon our ability to be vulnerable and recognize it as our strength, our strength as boys and men. Only then can we truly call an event like the Montreal Massacre an aberration, as opposed to an inevitability.

Lest We Forget: Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz.

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!

Chris

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.