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.

Advertisements

Hit The Bitch?

Chris’ opinion:

I appreciate and understand the value of shocking an audience.  Our society thrives on keeping us ignorant, passive, and docile.  It doesn’t like change, and a lot of that attitude has rubbed off on many of us.  So every so often we need to be outraged into action.  But not all shock is beneficial, even if intentions are good.

Take for example this Danish campaign’s, Children Exposed To Violence At Home,  latest offering that seeks to educate us on the issue of gender violence.  They created a video game called Hit The Bitch. It depicts a young woman making several comments to the computer screen.  Your task is to use a floating hand to smack her in the face.  On the top of the screen are two meters.  One is for Pussy, which sits at 100%.  The other is Gangsta, which sits at 0%.  The more you smack the woman, the more your Pussy meter decreases and your Gangsta meter increases.  It works to men’s perceived insecurities because we all want to be gangsta’s right?

As the woman’s face becomes more visibly bloodied and bruised, and your Gangsta meter reaches 100%, it is then replaced by 100% Idiot.  Then we hear a short public service announcement of the dangers of violence.  This is the message of this game.

I don’t question the intent of the game.  I just wonder how helpful something like this really is.  As a man, I can’t help but be offended by the depiction of men.  You are only given the option to smack the woman.  There are no options to avoid confrontation, only to hit.

The only benefit to this game is for those who finish it.

If for some reason I begin the game and find it too offensive to continue, I am left with no public service message.  Just the idea that men can only deal with conflict by committing violence.  Or that refusing to hit a woman equates to being a complete pussy.  It’s an incredibly misguided and false depiction of men and how we behave when confronted.

So the men who need to learn a lesson finish the game presumably and are treated with the designation of 100% idiot (which is questionably constructive in it’s own right) and are treated to the violence awareness message.  The men who don’t finish the game come away feeling marginalized and alienated.  This is a great shame because it’s the men who would refuse to finish a game like this that would be most likely to want to help in a cause like this.

The end result simply leaves our greatest potential allies disempowered by reinforcing false stereotypes.  Shock value can be useful given care.  When applied haphazardly it can be potentially devastating.  The message itself being entirely lost in the process of shock.  Make no mistake.  It is lost, or at the least overshadowed and easily misinterpreted.  Just for the sake of delivery.

Hit The Bitch?

Sorry.   That’s just no game to me.


Ophelia’s opinion:

As a survivor of intimate partner violence, I am extremely sensitive to this particular issue. As an advocate, I come into contact every day with victims who are still in abusive relationships. I have seen many different campaigns to end domestic violence. There are different schools of thought in the trauma community surrounding campaigns that should and should not be used to promote awareness. A virtual line of sorts, that must be tread carefully to ensure that public awareness will not in contrast affect victims and survivors of violence more negatively. Oftentimes, people who have no personal experience with the issue are the same people creating these campaigns.

After learning of the game, Hit The Bitch, I became interested in seeing what kind of reception it received amongst the public. I’ve spent some time searching on the internet for blogs discussing the game and comments left by people familiar with it. The vast majority of comments endorsed abuse and violence against women. Obviously, the message meant to deter violence has potentially encouraged it.

As a female survivor, I can tell you that I felt the impact of those face-slaps. It is a very raw and triggering reminder that abuse is a very serious issue and one that, to this day, isn’t be adequately addressed. The woman in this video is not a pixilated computer character but rather video footage of an actual woman. Her bruises, facial expressions and responses are very real. Watching her being abused was a flashback into a very personal and demoralizing act of violence. It brought back the feelings of helplessness, isolation and fear that accompany domestic violence.

It sets a dangerous precedent when you put those experiences in a gaming format, which is designed for fun and enjoyment. The often subliminal, unspoken conflict here is that if something is put in a game then it must be okay and acceptable. It could equally be fine to laugh and make light of this virtual woman because it’s just a game right? So one wonders if this game educates our communities or simply reinforces negative stereotypes.

The lesson of this game is presented as almost an afterthought. An acceptable “in” for gamers to act out abusive behaviors some may already believe are acceptable. Violence in the gaming world can translate to the real world. It grooms young adults to what is an acceptable standard in our society. Lacking a strong and convincing conclusion makes it easy to disregard what can be learned from engaging in violent activity, whether real or on a computer.

If Hit the Bitch is viewed by the majority as acceptable, I wonder what is next in the gaming world. A virtual rape scene or child abuse scenario where the player actively molests the victims?

Those “advocating” against violence must be very cautious to pursue campaigns that eliminate confusing messages and pay careful attention to unintended consequences. Undoubtedly, supporters of this campaign may unknowingly cause more harm than good.