Monday, September 22, 2014

Your Bogeyman: Whether You Stalk Him or Face Him...Defeat Him

I recently saw a production of Stalking the Bogeyman at New World Stages in NYC. The play tells the true story of David Holthouse: the rape he endured in 1978 as a 7-year old, and his plan, as an adult, to murder his rapist.

I can’t even begin to comprehend the pain, fear, and shame attached to the horrific event that is the catalyst for this play. David’s rapist told him if he told his parents what had happened they would be angry because he (David) had done a bad thing. He convinced David that his parents would spank him. Then true to bullying form, the rapist said that if David told anyone he’d come to his house in the middle of the night and gut him like a salmon. As I listened to these words spoken from the mouth of the adult actor playing the 7-year old David my heart broke for the loss of innocence and the life altering event that David kept secret for 25 years after. 

I wanted desperately for David to run to his mother and tell her what had happened. I wanted desperately for David’s father to confront the father of this most nasty of bullies. I wanted desperately for someone to beat the shit out of the cocky 17-year old high school athlete that thought he was untouchable enough to torment, traumatize, and change the course of a child’s life. 

I, in no way, intend this piece to make light of or trivialize what happened to David. There is nothing light or trivial about it. But in watching him as an adult continue to protect his parents from his experience, his secret, his shame, I found myself remembering my own parental protection quandary although it is trivial compared to David’s. It is nothing like his, but shows how we, the children, will do things to protect our parents even when they don’t need protecting. When do children start protecting their parents? 

The words David’s rapist used to scare him perpetuates the idea that victims think it’s their fault, that they’re to blame, that they will be punished. The play exposed to me the fear we possess at revealing the things that happen to us. Even if revealing them might gain us the most needed help.

I have never experienced what David went through and my heart hurts for him now that I know his story — for his 7-year old self and for his present day self. But I do know a thing about keeping secrets. I never spoke to my parents about being bullied in junior high or high school. I was ashamed of myself because I was afraid of my emerging homosexual feelings, and to be quite honest, I was afraid that my parents would side with the bullies. Not that they would bully me too, but that they wouldn't be sympathetic to my plight. I was a child. I was afraid — of the bullies and of my parents. I’ll never know how that scenario might have played out as I never shared my adolescent pain or teenage fears with them. I didn’t trust that they would protect me. When do shame and fear replace trust?

After I moved to New York City in 1997 a new set of fears entered my life. I was in the land of Broadway and my main desire at that time was to be a musical theatre star. Yes, I say star because I had them in my eyes and I wanted to be one. I used to joke about how I wanted to become so popular, so dependable as a performer that Stephen Sondheim would write a musical role for me. I was joking, but I was serious. I had big dreams. But there was always something lurking in the shadows of those dreams. I was gay and not out to my parents. 

I had a recurring waking nightmare that I would actually make it as big as I’d dreamed, and my mother would be in the check-out line at Smith’s Supermarket in Mayfield, KY and look over at the National Enquirer or Star and see me, her son, outed on the front page. I realize I would’ve had to’ve been playing in the big time big leagues for a tabloid in the late 90s early aughts to out me, but my dreams were to be playing in those leagues so it wasn't such a stretch for my theatrical mind to create that dramatic scenario.

I couldn’t handle that nightmare. I couldn’t handle the idea of the ridicule my mother might face from other residents in my small KY town of approximately 600 people. I wanted to protect her from any of the harsh words that I was convinced would be hurled at her or spoken about her behind her back because she had a gay son. I wanted to protect her. I also wanted to achieve my dreams, but I didn’t know how to accomplish both. Being gay was nobody’s fault. There was no blame. The truth as I now see it is that if someone chooses to hurl nasty remarks that is their shit and is no reflection on me or my mom. Of course the simple answer in 1997 would have been to come out to her, but I wasn’t brave enough to do that yet.

David Holthouse was convinced that he couldn't share his terrifying, life changing experience with his parents, even as he got older, because he had to protect them. I understand that yet at the same time I don’t. If his attacker hadn’t made him believe the rape was his fault might he have run to his mother and confessed to her the horrible incident? If not immediately, sooner rather than 25 years later? Without the weight of that secret, what might his life (and that of his rapist — hopefully behind bars) have been like if he had shared his fear and pain?

David carried the weight of his secret until he was in his 30s only to be confronted by his parents after they read about it in 10-year old David's diary. He was caught off guard and with no warning to prepare a lie told the truth. Heartbreak. His mother’s heartbreak washed over me with complete sadness. I became aware that I was holding myself, my arms wrapped tightly around my midsection, as I sat in the back row of the darkened theatre.

In Stalking the Bogeyman the bogeyman is the rapist. An actual living, breathing person. But under cloak of fear and secrets we all have a bogeyman that shadows us. I think that part of the reason I write so honestly when I’m telling my life’s story, leaving out no detail no matter how honest or ugly, is because I don’t want to go back to a time when my life seemed like one big secret. I won’t do it. Some people may say I reveal too much information, but for too long I hid too much information. 

David finally faced his Bogeyman. I don’t even know how he found the courage. Then again, I came out to my parents who at the time were the people I dreaded — feared — telling the most. I continue to fight my inner demons to be my true, authentic self. I realize that these experiences are no where near the same, but each of us must face down our demons in order to let them go and move forward. Some demons live and breath. Some are in our heads. All of them can be paralyzing.

David originally shared his story in the Denver Westword News in May 2004. Later he told his story "When I Grow Up" on NPRs “This American Life.” 

The Statement Piece

Shopping can be downright disheartening. I say can be because sometimes shopping can be exhilarating. However, when you're not finding what you want, the experience can be as unpleasant as say, taking a plunge in a recycling vat filled with the soggy pulp of discolored images from last month's issue of Vogue
One starts with the simple task of finding the perfect article of clothing. A piece that makes you feel good. A piece that makes a statement. I'm a fashionable guy. My sense of style is typically trendy with a bent toward classic. But on this day I was on the hunt for something dramatic to wear to an anniversary gala. I tasked myself with finding a pair of gray and black plaid pants. I live in NYC for God's sake. How hard could it be? Surely, I thought to myself, somebody will have that perfect pair of gray and black plaid pants that I see so clearly in my head: slim fit, hugging me in all the right places. 
I spent an afternoon searching for those pants, to the color of disappointment, in store after store. My vision was not there. At least not anywhere I was searching. Okay, full disclosure. There was one pair of black wool, slim fit pants whose black squares were formed by silver-gray lines. Almost what I wanted, but not quite. The problem was...they didn't fit. Even the size that should have been too big in the waist didn't fit. Couldn't get them past my thighs. I normally wear a 30" waist. This was dispiriting. I was not deterred. I was determined. And I wasn't about to give up or settle. 
This particular afternoon involved me crisscrossing between Madison and 5th Avenues more than once. If I'd been wearing either pair of the heels I most recently described in my HuffPo Gay Voices piece "High on Heels," my feet would have been killing me. I spent hours searching the racks. Looking. Longing. Alexander McQueen and Dolce & Gabbana called out to me, but to drop a card on the counter for a piece from either of those fall collections would take more than a months salary for me to pay off, and I just wouldn't allow myself that kind of stress. My eyes get all unfocused right now as I daydream of the gorgeous Dolce & Gabbana velvet jacket that looked so beautiful on. But alas, it's velvety softness and form-fitting cut would have been little consolation when that bill came due. I moved on. I continued my store to store search until finally I found something that, while not exactly what I'd set out to find, I could see myself wearing. 
Sometimes I'd rather clean my toilet than try on pair after pair of pants. Hoping each one will appease my vanity, accentuate the positive (my butt), and be just the right amount of tight. You get the picture. Basically I wanted pants that looked as if they were made for me (couture pants) but more affordable (rack prices). I had my helpful sales associate running back and forth with different cuts and waist sizes until finally...
They were silvery gray, slim fit, and fulfilled my needs if not exactly my desired pattern. (You may be thinking I settled, but the pants were gorgeous so it didn't feel that way. I'll find the gray and black plaid. Just you wait.) Everything else after that fell into place. The fitted shirt in striking magenta would be unmissable in a crowd. The turquoise, silver, and gray plaid tie would contrast with the shirt, but blend with the ensemble. The collection of pieces (all found at Express) was nothing short of vibrant. It was smart and vivid. No soggy, discolored mess here. I finished the look with a pair of blue, turquoise, and gray socks and a gorgeous pair of gray shoes from Cole Haan. I must admit that as far as statements go I was fairly certain the magenta shirt or the gray shoes would be the statement piece of this outfit. Turns out I was wrong. 
I have a gecko broach. I've owned it for years. It's a found piece. Somebody's loss became my gain. It's charming and interesting; dark, gray-black metal covered with sparkling marcasite. I pinned the gecko broach near the top of my tie, it's head slightly over the edge as if it might be crawling away in search of somewhere less plaid. 
That was my statement piece. It had been in my closet the entire time, waiting patiently on the lapel of a vintage pin-striped blazer for me to take it once again into the light. 
The colors and patterns of the clothes I had assembled were beautiful and attention-getting, but that gecko broach was the piece that caught everyone's eye. 
To me, fashion is about expression, personality, experimentation. One just needs to be brave enough to make bold choices and possess the confidence to own the room. 
I was brave and confident, boldly expressing my personality, but it was my gecko who owned the room.