Why We Shouldn’t Believe Rape Victims

I’ve been struggling against myself. With the rise of countless victims, we have seen newly invigorated advocates pushing for justice. The Public has demanded that the perpetrators be locked up, fired, castrated. Isn’t this good? Isn’t this what we’ve wanted, what I’ve fought for?

It says nothing of the Black victims, of the boys or of the men, of those who are freely placed and trapped outside binaries and labels, yes – but it’s something deeper, too – more complex.

I am unsatisfied because my assault, because rape, because sexual injustice is not supposed to be special. It should not be an exemption or an easy call. Not unless murder is. Not unless theft is. Not unless drug possession is.

It would be ludicrous to believe a person stole without an investigation. It would be ludicrous to question the outfit of a murder victim. Yet, when we encounter the victim of a sexually-based offense, we trap ourselves in the black and white. We can either support them fully – without question, without doubt, with our anger, with our firings, or we can damn them – question their outfit, question their sobriety, question their every being. But we cannot give them the respect of a due process. We cannot ask questions, challenge the defendant, take ownership of the truth. We victimize the victims of assaults and rape a second time by not allowing them the authority over their own truth.

I’m not saying the legal system is a mode of equal access to truth. I’m not saying it’s an access to truth at all. But blindly believing victims because we pity them, or blindly discrediting their story because we’re uncomfortable, is not the same thing as supporting them. You do not support me when you believe me. You sure as hell don’t support me when you don’t believe me. But my giving me the authority and support necessary to claim my own truth, by weighing what I say objectively, by questioning the existing order of things with my new accusation, you do support me by allowing me access to the truth.

When I say we should not believe rape victims I mean part of what I say. We should not believe rape victims because it’s easy. We should not believe those who are assaulted because it’s uncomfortable. We should not believe the people who have been harassed because they might be telling the truth. We should believe them only because it is the right thing to do.

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My Journey Through the Fun Home: A Review

Hi Friends,

I’m convinced that every theater kid has a show that is irrevocably linked to them. It may not be their favorite, but there’s something about it that seeps into their skin like a heroin needle to the vein. Destructive and compelling and dangerous.

My Fun Home journey began 85 years before my birth. If you’re a Denver native, you might know where I’m headed with this. In 1912, the Titanic sank. One woman, a Denver socialite, boarded the legendary ship as it was the fastest route to her dying grandson. When the Titanic struck an iceberg in the early morning hours, Miss Molly Brown jumped into action, assisting passenger after passenger into lifeboats. When she was finally forced into Lifeboat #6, she persuaded her lifeboat passengers to turn around and look for survivors. Years later, a musical would be made about her life, and, years after that, the show would return revitalized on one of the smaller stages in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts complex. Beth Malone, an old friend of my theater director, starred as Molly Brown.

My high school theater company went and met up with her after the show. Weeks later, during a performance of Lord of the Flies, our company recognized a familiar face in the private box across from ours. We met Mrs. Malone for a second time. We knew Unsinkable Molly Brown was closing and asked her what she would do after. She mentioned working on a show about a funeral home and a weird father/daughter relationship. Um… no thanks! Not for me!

A year later, some of our company, loosely guided by our director, ventured to New York to see 6 shows in four days. Our theater director made some calls and got us tickets to Beth’s show Fun Home. None of us were excited to see it, but accepted due to a talk back with Beth after the show. We barely made the showtime but scooted in as the house lights faded. The musical, played in the round, irrevocably changed my life.

It made me a better artist and storyteller, stimulating design ideas and plot construction. But it reached beyond that and forced me to face my own unconventional family, my own humiliation and family difficulties. My house was broken since the day I came out, words unspoken and lines crossed. Two years later, the tour came to Denver, and, being season ticket holders, my family had two tickets. I was still at school but I encouraged my mother and sister to go. They did and were devastated by the story line. I’d like to think that night softened their perspective.

It was because of my intimacy with Fun Home, the way it seemed to stare down into my naked soul, that I avoided reading Bechdel’s graphic memoir the musical was based on. Yesterday, as I was picking up a book I ordered from Barnes & Nobel, I found myself inexplicitly drawn to the history and biography section over and over again. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was supposed to pick something else up. And then, on my fifth time around the shelves, I spotted the shiny green spine. It was time.

I curled up on the couch and dug in. I love graphic novels. I love memoirs. Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir seemed like a perfect fit. But as I turned each page, I felt a gnawing surprise. Fun Home has a depth and intelligence I’m unused to in the genre. This isn’t to say I think graphic novels are shallow or dumb. Tan’s The Arrival, Tomine’s Killing and Dying: Stories, even Collins’ The Gigantic Beard that Was Evil all exhibit great depth and knowledge. But Fun Home has such literary depth. It’s an elongated metaphor; it builds from literature’s greats; it’s artistic and beautiful and illuminating. It is wholly original, not just for the story, but for the storyteller’s wit, charm, and class in delivering her story.

On a product level, Bechdel’s book is almost perfect. The jacket design (unlisted) seems like it should be unsuccessful. The sheen green is an ugly color, and yet, for some reason, it’s wildly successful. The title font evokes a type writer, a common theme for the novel. The cartoon caption font is carried throughout the novel – from the copyright page to the acknowledgements – and makes the story seem well rounded and hyperrealistic – as though it exists outside the covers (which it obviously does).

Overall Fun Home is a life changing story in whatever form it takes. I’m glad I finally heard it in the original voice.


What art piece has linked itself to you? What did you think of Fun Home? Let me know in the comments!

You can follow Ben on TwitterTumblr, and read along with him on Goodreads.

 

Storytellers In The Digital Age

As I was scrolling through Facebook tonight, I came across one of those text videos that featured a very beautiful story of a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam war who saved some 30 odd people when no one else was wiling. Right as I was on the verge of tears and appreciation, the video continued with “Bet you never heard this on the news. Funny how the media focuses on Lebron James, sham marriages, and media superstars when it could never mention this captain.” My mood soured and the tears I looked forward to never fell.

These kinds of stories always make me disappointed. Just yesterday, me and two other coworkers ran through torrential rain. We had taken a dinner break and were coming back for our evening show when the rain hit. One of my coworkers was behind me, one was ahead. The one in front opened the door and waited for me and the girl behind me to get in before he followed in. It would have taken us only a few extra seconds to open the door, but he sacrificed getting monumentally more wet to save us the hassle. He didn’t get a story on the news.

Three weeks ago I got a call that brought me to my knees. Our producer, and a dear friend, passed away. He was 32. He was one of the kindest, funniest, and most full of life people I’ve ever met. It sounds cliche – like the right words for someone who passes away, but it was true. There was no challenge he couldn’t face, and no thing he wouldn’t do for the people in his life. The night he died he covered for a sound technician whose dog ran away, despite not knowing the board. He stayed late to help a reporter finish a story. Up until his last moments, he was selfless and considerate. Yet I’ve yet to hear his name on the evening news.

When was it we decided the only merit to a person was their marketability on the news? It seems odd for that video to have chastised the “media” for catering to celebrities, and not recognizing hard-working, ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Through my eyes, the only difference between the two gentlemen I mentioned, and the ones the video critiqued was press coverage. If everyone were covered by the news, no one would have earned it. They would be unremarkable and ordinary, and feats of bravery, big and small, would become bland and uninteresting.

It seemed especially odd to encounter such a thought on Facebook. Never before has the ordinary person been given such a voice. With Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, WordPress, Goodreads, Snapchat, etc. I have access to hundreds of people at any one time. Every thought or musing I have, every book or zoo I encounter, I can share with hundreds of people at once. And all I need is an email address, a password, some sort of computer and some wi-fi.

Every person and page with a social media account has an opportunity to tell a story. The creator of the video I saw amassed almost 19 million views. 19 million! It was shared by three different friends on my timeline alone. In creating a simple text story, a person (or, perhaps, groups of people) was able to share the story of an incredible man. And yet, even after that accomplishment, felt the need to undermine it with a critique on the media. If you have a voice, use it. Don’t wait for someone else to. Imagine how much richer our view of history could be if everyone in Ancient Greece tweeted out their daily thoughts.

I‘m not advocating for total social media addiction. I’m not saying you should live tweet your stream of consciousness. But if you have tools in your arsenal, use them. If you see something beautiful, meet someone kind, know a hero, use your own voice and tell their story. You’ve been equipped with a platform, and you have a responsibility and privilege to use it to your advantage.

Being a storyteller in the digital age doesn’t have to mean buying expensive cameras and going live on NBC Tonight. Being a storyteller in the digital age can mean updating your status or creating a text post. Don’t sell yourselves short. A happy story on my timeline can warm me the same way a happy story on the news can. When you tell a story, trust yourself enough to get it right – don’t come after the media for not doing it better.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! How are you a storyteller? Drop a comment below and let me know!

You can follow Ben on TwitterTumblr, and read along with him on Goodreads.

Reconciling Skeletons

Hi Friends,

When I walked into my 12:50 abnormal psychology class, I didn’t expect to see a ghost. That’s the thing about being haunted: you never see it coming. On November 9th, 2009, my maternal grandfather finally died. He had been comatose for a while, after my mother found him unresponsive at his home. By the time we got his brain scans back, he had already been long gone – his lungs just preventing the flesh from decaying. But even in death, he was still finding ways to leave a tornado-like path of destruction through our lives.

He was, to be frank, a pathetic drunk. More correctly, though, he was a suffering alcoholic.

It wasn’t a secret growing up, though I never fully understood what it meant until after he had gone. I doubt there are many kids that don’t directly see the drinking who do understand it. I knew that Grandpa frequently went away to places called rehab; I knew he was rarely around, and when he was, he wasn’t around for long. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned about the affair, the absenteeism as a father, and the drunk driving.

He wasn’t alone in the alcohol problems department. Several cousins, my father, uncles, and a host of others in my family all wrestled (or wrestle) with alcoholism. Cognitively, I know it’s possible to drink for fun – my sister and mom do, but every time I consider taking a sip, I remember feeling like a stranger at my grandfather’s funeral (a funeral which, by the way, my mother and aunt were both banned from due to my grandfather’s mistress-turned-wives deep-seeded hatred. My cousin and myself were the only representatives from our side that were there.), and, worse, hearing people on the pulpit bemoan his loss. Two boys from Seattle (1,500 miles away), grand-nephews or something, were devastated. He was such an important figure in their lives. The mom could not stop crying. I was thirty minutes away, yet had only a handful of memories. In that pew the seeds for the decision to never drink were planted.

In my psychology class today, we were asked to share our experiences with drugs and alcohol. Each time I’m asked, there’s a moment of hesitation. How do I represent myself as not being on a high horse, not being a prude, but also not detailing my long history, the things I’ve shared with you, and the things I haven’t? It’s a question I get often, and will get even more often after I’m 21. And I still don’t have an answer.

Each time I think of grandpa, holed up in heaven somewhere, asking for a beer. How do you reconcile with someone who isn’t here to say sorry, to someone who maybe never even wanted to? How do you answer these questions?

I don’t share this to shame alcoholics. I share it for the kids stuck at a high school party who can’t take a drink. I share it for the college students in classes on addiction, who could almost teach the course with their first hand experiences. I share it for the middle aged woman at her daughter’s wedding who turns down the glass of champagne.

For the people who still don’t know how to answer the question (and the few who do): I’m sorry you’re walking this road. I know it’s a long one. But it is not one you walk alone. When your table mates stare you down after detailing their drunken adventures, and hearing that you’ve never drank, know that I’m with you in spirit. I’m with you to stare back.


Note: Also, I owe you all an apology. Remember when I said I’d post on Tuesday, like four weeks ago? Well… whoops.   

I was in and out of doctor’s offices, ER’s, and Urgent Care facilities for most of April, and trying to catch up on school and work when I wasn’t in waiting rooms. Regardless, I’m sorry for my absence (and I’m also cognizant of the fact that I owe you all lots of book reviews). Hopefully I’ll be able to get caught up on this blog now that I’m feeling better! 

Book Requests – Norway/Scandinavian

Hi friends!

I’m sorry I haven’t updated in a couple weeks! I was on spring break and then trying to reenter into a new quarter (and am somehow already drowning). Regardless, new reviews will be coming at you Tuesday!

That said, I am desperately seeking books that are either:

a) Non-fiction books about Norway/Sweeden/Finland/Iceland/etc.

b) Fiction books written by Norwegian authors in ENGLISH

c) Fiction books written by Norwegian authors in NORWEGIAN

d) Middle-grade/beginning chapter books in NORWEGIAN

If you know of any, please comment below, message me, tweet me, or recommend to me on Goodreads!

I will seriously love you forever.

 

Thanks!! Like I said, I will have regular content every Tuesday again starting April 4th!

Love to you all,

Ben

Jeg Er Norsk

Hei! 

Let me briefly explain my friend group. There’s the native Alaskan, whose mom is from Mexico and whose paternal grandfather was a tribal chief. There’s the Hawaiians, one of which attended a cultural charter school and was recently featured in a documentary on the effects relearning native Hawaiian culture has on students. And there’s the friend who speaks fluent Spanish to her mother when she’s on the phone.

Then there’s me, not lacking in cultural heritage, but lacking any link to it. My great grandmother was full Norwegian, and raised by her grandparents who had traveled through Ellis Island in search of a better life in America. She spoke fluentely, and learned English, as many immigrant children do, as a means of survival. It is partially in honor of her, who tried desperately to get her children to learn norsk, and partially to have more respect for my own roots and life, that I decided, on the eve of my twentieth birthday, to learn Norwegian and more about my  Nordic heritage. I want to explore Norwegian culture, but not forget about the Danes and the Swedes (even though we’re supposed to hate them).

Who am I? Where do I come from? What is my purpose? All of these questions have haunted me, and now that I’m finally sitting down to pursue them, I’ve felt a joy and a passion I’ve never felt before.

Over the next few years, I’ll be blogging occasionally about my experience hunting down my Norwegian heritage. You can expect to see more Nordic books in my book reviews, hear about my struggles trying to pin down indefinite and definite nouns (which is somehow harder than I thought it would be), and (hopefully in a couple years) see some pictures from my Nordic vacation.

I’m excited to be going down this path, and I hope you’re looking forward to walking with me.

 

A Mother’s Reckoning: Book Review & Reaction

Friends,

This month has been challenging for me. Three funerals, ending the quarter, and a shocking and appalling election season, have left me feeling burdened, scared, and alone. I had solace though, a woman I have never met, though I have always been connected to kept me company as I grieved and writhed in anger. Her name is Sue Klebold. She is a teacher, an administrator, a mental health advocate, and the mother of “Monster Next Door” Dylan Klebold, who committed one of the worst atrocities of the century.

A few months ago, my parents sat in on a lecture called “Leaving the nest,” to help them as I left community college and entered university, 1300 miles away from home. In it, a psychologist, tasked with consoling our parents, gave a brief summary on life through our eyes. He said that Newtown was our Columbine, and while I understand his point in a macro-generational sense, it simply does not describe me. For nineteen years I lived five and a half miles from Columbine High School, nestled into a Littleton Neighborhood. Our high school had a club dedicated to Rachel Scott, the first victim of the massacre. Every April 20th, beginning about the 18th, the air becomes heavy and Littletonites will tell you the tangible feeling of doom and dread the date brings with it.

I grew up with Columbine, and while our community upheld (and continues to uphold) our promise to never forget, my mother taught me another lesson too. She taught me to pray for the Harris’ and the Klebold’s, and more the hundreds of parents just like them. My mother always made it clear in our household how disgusted she was with our town’s reaction to Eric and Dylan’s parents, and I, too, always mourn the lives of Eric and Dylan, and send a prayer up for their parents, each April 20th, as I mourn and pray for the victims. So you can imagine my discomfort with reading reactions damning Sue Klebold for writing her story and trying to educate other parents on the nature of “brain illness.”

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of the Columbine Tragedy is a hard but important look at the life of Dylan Klebold, and the legacy he left for parents Sue and Tom, and brother Byron. Klebold is honest and heartbreaking. She seeks to, not pardon Dylan, but to humanize him, to wake up the people who think something like Columbine would never happen to them. She wrestles with the question: how do you mourn someone the world has come to hate? How do you acknowledge your own grief, and also mourn the lives your son stole?

Sue Klebold’s knack for writing is apparent but her editorial team let her down. While beautiful, her research-infused memoir is chaotic and disorganized, perhaps representing her own psyche as she grapples with guilt and suffering.

Klebold had a front row seat to the unraveling of a nation, and she and her family suffered the eye of the rage and silence of the hurricane. Her memoir is never self-serving or naive, and her heart is spilled out on every page. While it took me a while to muster up the courage to dive into this, I’m so glad I took the time, and took it when I did. If you need a friend, or someone who understands, turn to Sue. She has few answers, but her tolerance for questions is inspiring, and her anger, confusion, and grief is present of every page. I urge every person to pick this up, and to approach it with an open heart and mind.

Thanks for reading! Hope you all are able to check these out!!! Please feel free to connect with me on Twitter and Tumblr, and read along with me on Goodreads. This November I’m reading: A Manual for Cleaning Women, The Social Life of DNA, and The Goldfinch.