30 September 2018

#MeToo





I haven't been able to work much this past week. I've awakened three different nights in a sweat, heart racing and palpably afraid until I figured out where, and when, I was. I haven't been able to return phone calls, or even, on two separate days, to check voice mails. I've been ashamed of my lack of productivity, ashamed of my weakness, ashamed of my inability to get my shit together and get my work done. I've broken promises and missed deadlines and left obligations unfilled. I've started silently crying a few times, shoulders shaking as I lie in bed after my partner has drifted off; and sometimes I've cried audibly and visibly, on his shoulder when I just had to let it go.

I don't remember how old I was. It must have been 1981 or '82, though, for we'd moved into town, so I must have been 12 or 13. I don't remember the season - summer, on at least one occasion, as the air conditioner was on and it wasn't often used. I don't remember how many times it happened.

I do remember someone who I trusted and to whom I was related grooming me and stalking me - literally stalking me, following me, chasing me at times - and sexually abusing me. I remember the tile floor of the bathroom - the only room in the house that locked - leaving a pattern on my skinny teenage arm after hours lying motionless on it. I remember moving the fuzzy bathroom shower mat away from the tub trying to get comfortable enough to sleep. I remember how long those nights lasted as I laid there, on the floor, tracing with my eyes over and over the patterns of the bathroom linoleum. I don't know that they've ended, even now. I remember once my mother turning on the lights in our living room just as my sexual stalker had gotten off the couch and laid down next to me, in a sleeping bag on the floor under the window AC, and how he had scurried back onto the couch, like a cockroach, trying not to be seen. I remember that we all pretended it didn't happen, that no one talked about why my mother was standing in the living room with her hand on the light switch in the middle of the night, watching. I remember not telling anyone for years and years and years. I remember. It happened.

Who was I going to tell? My mother knew, and it didn't stop. Who was going to believe me?

And you know what else? On cross examination, I abetted it, too. I'd accept his gifts. In later years I'd take the keys to his new car and go joy riding with my friends. I'd even go camping with him and others, but still, hoping that this time it wouldn't happen. I could have said no - even though he asked in front of the rest of my family to make it difficult to say no, I could have said no. I could have told our family's priest (who was a decent man to his core and never once made me feel uncomfortable in any way). I could have told a teacher at school, maybe.

But I didn't. Not when it happened. Not for years later. If someone was telling me this story I would say, strenuously and with complete conviction that they were not cowards. But when I tell myself that I'm not a coward, I don't believe it. Sex was shameful, in any form, how was I to talk about this? And relive it all, when the wound was still being reopened?

I turn 50 this fall. I've been carrying this shit for over three and half decades. And you know what? He hasn't. He's gotten away with it. He has faced no consequences for his abuse of me. Don't talk to me about karma, or what comes around goes around - it's simply not true. Don't talk to me about justice - it is unevenly meted, and very, very difficult to wrest, and in this case there has been none.

At times I'll be lulled into thinking I've healed - the money spent on therapy and the love of those close to me and the hard work I've done facing it have enabled many good days, months, years, when I don't think of it. I get complacent. I mentally maybe even declare victory and go home. At other times, when I saw some self-destructive behavior or some self-sabotage on the horizon, I could catch myself and say, "Don't. Just don't. You know what's driving this impulse - don't give him and what he did to you any more power." And sometimes I know I do things because I'm an abuse survivor - I read transcripts of debates because watching a debate live is too confrontational and too painful for me. I'm unhinged by unfairness, and the ape part of my brain reacts viscerally to it.

And I hate to face it, again, and to have to face it, again, for it gives him power all over again. It makes me feel like I felt when I was 13, all over again. I'm right back in that space, that moment when I had to sneak down the hall to the bathroom at bedtime, and lock the door, and try to find a way to get comfortable on that fuzzy rug while the interminable night hours pass, all over again.

And watching Dr. Blasey Ford's testimony brought it all up again. That's not fair or precise: watching the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin live tweet about the hearings brought it all up again. And seeing pictures of that Irish Catholic "good boy's" face contorted with rage when called on his shit, and knowing that he's very, very likely to get away with it, with all of it, brought it all up again.  It just floored me.

To be clear, I'm proud of Dr. Blasey Ford - I think she's an American hero and one to whom we are indebted, and her bravery and poise made me emotional just getting it third hand via Twitter. But this week has put me on the mat.

I have done all the things survivors learn to do - I've tried to be kind to myself, to acknowledge that there is no way to expect that my adolescent self had the tools to protect himself from the attack nor to name his abuser after it happened. That subsequent interactions with that abuser through the decades make perfect sense given the context. That like (and undoubtedly related to) the depression from which I occasionally suffer I will never fully recover from this - not fully - that it's a chronic condition the relapse of which was triggered this past week by these external conditions, and I just need to keep moving forward. But this past week, these strategies and self-care hasn't helped.

So I'm hoping that by writing about it in this candid way, for the first time, I'll expiate some shame, decant some guilt; that I'll not be as floored the next time, maybe. That I'll heal a little more quickly. And honestly, I'm hoping too that by writing this I can clear some mental space to get through this coming week meeting my obligations and doing my damn job without needing to call in sick from sleepless nights and an inability to concentrate and a debilitating depression. And, who knows, maybe it will be provide someone else some succor.

I'm tired. I don't want to give him any more power. I don't want to be defined or controlled by what was done to me and taken from me when I just learning who I was. I don't want this to be the first line of my obituary, or the subtext behind any lines of my obituary. I don't want it to control me, but some times - like this past week - that's damn hard.

I'm done looking at the Supreme Court nominee. I'm done reading Twitter for a while. I have work to do. And as long as people like my abuser and the like the Supreme Court nominee move through their lives carelessly destroying others and lying to themselves and the world with no consequences of their actions, I guess we all have work to do.

Let's all try to do it.

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

10 April 2018

Going Deep - Reflections of a Gay Football Fan


I’ve always loved sports.  I grew up in a rural town in Indiana, and sports were one of the things that boys talked about.  I sucked at talking about some of the others – most obviously girls – but I could talk sports.  While technically I played sports in middle school - football (cornerback, where I watched a lot of guys run by me), baseball (where I spent a lot of time in deep center and right), and tennis (where I’d swing for the fences every time the ball came at me far more effectively than I ever had in baseball) - my love of sports was from watching them, almost any of them.

I loved watching high school sports – and nine older siblings gave me lots of opportunities to do that – and then college and pros as I got older.  In high school in the 80s I had a job selling soda in Purdue’s Ross Ade Stadium (capacity, 69,000; average attendance, 17,000) and I loved it, even when I’d get heckled by disappointed, wet, cold fans who would tell me to go find the hot chocolate guy as the home team lost, yet again, in the 35°F-grey-and-sleet of late November. 

When we moved to a town closer to Indianapolis and I could catch Colts games on the radio, that’s when I really fell in love.  I would listen to every down of every game if my parents let me, sometimes in the car parked in the driveway because that’s the only radio that could get reception.  Despite the 3-13 seasons and the freezing temps of three hours sitting in the car, I knew the roster, I knew the schedule, I knew the verbal tics of the announcers.  

And I really loved it.  I would read everything about the team I could get my hands on.  I couldn’t sleep on Saturday nights before big games, I’d be too excited.  I consumed so much football knowledge that years later, sitting in my regular sports bar with other transplanted Colts fans, I’d be the one they’d ask about a decade-old game score or the players involved in that three way trade with Minnesota and Cincy that went bad.  I really loved it, and still do. 

Some of my friends, my gay friends, don’t get it - certainly some boyfriends haven’t - and sometimes they’ve been super judge-y about it.  I didn’t get that, at all. Not at first.  If it’s not your thing, fair enough, but why is it a problem that it’s a thing for me?  Why, for some queer folk, is it okay to know every Academy Award nominee, but knowing the tie-breaker rules for how teams get into the NFL playoffs is off-putting? 

In 2013, I watched the Super Bowl at a (straight) couple’s house; they have a lot of gay friends and there were a lot of people over. During halftime BeyoncĂ© performed - and I cleaned, restocked beer, and freshened drinks.  I wasn’t that interested in (2013) BeyoncĂ© - though I did learn that she had been in Destiny’s Child, whom I’d heard of, and that she was married to Jay-Z, whom I'd also heard of  - I was far more interested in the game. After the power outage got resolved in the second half (the lights went out in the Louisiana Superdome for 35 minutes, leading to a suspension of play) I was excited when the teams finally re-took the field so we could unmute the TV and, you know, watch the game. One of my gay friends, who is usually lovely, said: “Like there isn’t enough football. They’ll be hours of it to go, we don’t need to hear this part.”  I looked around the room – a room full of guests at a Super Bowl party – and realized that at this moment most of the people in the room were gay, and in assent.  Thankfully there was another TV in the house. 

If this were the only time I’d heard something like this I would have chalked it up to circumstance or a lapse in manners. But queer friends have told me “you’re not really busy” when I say I can’t go to a movie at the same time my team is playing – in the playoffs.  That I’m wasting my time on a Sunday “sitting in a dark bar, watching football” when I've begged off going to brunch.  And, most annoyingly, some - including some who I have just met, have given that look and said that acid, arch, reductionist, tired “Oh, that’s so butch,” when I’m off to the bar to watch sports. As if it were an affectation. 

Why the disapproval? 

As I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that in at least some cases the dismissal and disapproval that I’ve felt from gay friends weren’t from bafflement as much as from discomfort or even intimidation.  I’ve come to learn that some gay men would feel very uncomfortable walking into a sports bar on a Sunday filled with football fans; it’s not that they’d be bored – though there’s that, too – it’s that they’d feel they didn’t belong. 

A few years ago if you’d asked me to walk into a crowded gay Oscar party I’d’ve had a few drinks before I got there for sure – I’d’ve felt very out of place.  I’d’ve been keenly aware that I lacked a shared experience and thus things to talk about; that opening my mouth would reveal my ignorance; that I wouldn’t know the cultural markers – sartorial, conversational, behavioral – to fit in.  I get it. 

For some queers, though, athletic contexts hold even deeper challenges: they are fraught.  They bring back a moment in junior high when a conversation came up about sports that they didn’t follow, or when a dad or an older brother told them to try out for a team with an implication that this was a chance to show they were a man, and they were terrified.  I get that, too.  I was not and am not a graceful athlete, and athletic prowess is one key way in which males are evaluated in adolescence (and later). Some of that – feelings of evaluation and judgment – can linger, and can affect how we see ourselves as men.  And my love of sports perhaps puts me on the other side of the divide from other gay men.

Not all, of course.  I’ve dated ex-college athletes (hoops and soccer), I’ve had gay football-watching buds, particularly in the Midwest, I had an ex once look at me across the table in a sports bar in New York City during a playoff game surrounded by other fans of my (and now his) team and say, “Thanks for giving me this.  I had no idea it could be so fun.”

So how did unathletic me develop this love of sports – all sports, but especially football, that most macho of American sports? I can't help but wonder if I love football so much, a love that really took root in early adolescence, as a reaction - using the internalized stereotype to counter my inability to deal with my own queerness. I had inklings that I was gay; in my narrow, rural world view most gay guys don’t like football; I love football; therefore I must not be gay. I don't think that's the case, but it's certainly possible. I've read enough queer biography and hooked up with enough Marines to know that there is a type of gay male who on some level tries not to be gay by doing the most stereotypically un-gay thing he can think of.

Was that what I was doing?  Did my eleven-year-old self let heteronormative stereotypes define him, even in a counter-typical way? We all have normed expectations that we marinate in from birth, so what do we do as burgeoning queer children when we begin to understand that we don't fit – fundamentally can't fit – our mandated roles?  Is that why I love sports, and in particular why I freakin’ love football?  Is that why this particular entertainment interest of mine is discomfiting to some queer folk?

I don’t know.  Maybe?  But there really isn’t and can’t be an answer.  I’ve learned to be a little patient with gay people who are inadvertently ignorant or rude about my particular way of being entertained by baseball on summer afternoons at Chavez Ravine and McCovey Cove or any of the 26 MLB parks I’ve been too; by basketball as I tweet incessantly about the Pacers and my college team; and by football on Sundays in the fall.  

It’s a big part of who I am, and I love what my love of sports has given me.  Like talking to group of four ladies of a certain age from Cleveland in big hats, sharing their brandy with me on the Amtrak bound for Milwaukee where they were going to watch their team play the Brewers.  Or going to the same sports bar with the same gear for 16 Sundays in a row and becoming part of a community.  Or walking into a bar in a Pacers hat when I’m in whatever city and immediately getting included in a conversation.  Or sitting bleary eyed in Guam, watching a playoff game at the one open bar on the island at some ungodly hour. It’s comfortable for me in a way that an Oscar party will never be, and it’s easy, and fun.  It’s my church, and despite what my team might be preachin’, I’m faithful.  

And if you have a gay friend who’s sports-addled, well, first, it’s just what he’s into.  He’s not judging you for not being into it or drawing any conclusions about you, but it’s a hobby, however ridiculous (and he may well admit that it’s ridiculous), and we like what we like.  Second, he’s got superstitions to maintain and a schedule to plan around upcoming games, and that shit ain’t easy.  If his team wins on a week when we doesn’t have his cell phone, then he’ll never again bring his cellphone to the bar to watch a game.  That’s just the way it works.  And finally, maybe ask to watch a game with him.  Not a big game, maybe, not a playoff game his team is in, but a game.  Maybe you can tell him about Destiny’s Child during timeouts while he tells you a little about what’s going on during the game.  Maybe you’ll both be a little more comfortable.