This is America…

If you haven’t noticed, Donald Glover has broken the internet with his video “This is America”. Like others, I have scoured the internet for hidden meanings and messages behind the the graphic, but powerful song and musical video. In the process, my wife brought to my attention a series of posters released from 1943-1945 entitled “This is America”. As a well educated black male, the images and their accompanying messages struck me with the way in which they depict America as not belonging to me, any other person of color, or opposing gender of males. To help illustrate this point, I have attached the images of the posters accompanied by modern images of today to help juxtapose the opposing views of the America in which we live. I will keep my comments brief, allowing you to form your own opinion.

 

What happens when it becomes more than a game? Is there room at the top for everyone? This is (y)our America…

Are all families sacred? If not, which ones? This is (y)our America…

What happens to a dream deferred? This is (y)our America…

Who’s allowed to call themselves an American? This is (y)our America…

Who’s smiling? This is (y)our America…

Times up? This is (y)our America…

Will it ever be enough? This is (y)our America…

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Spider-Man Goes Crazy

I’ve been working on the new Marvel edition of Heroes, Villains, and Healing and thought I would share one of the new writing exercises I came with. Feel free to comment with whether or not it is effective.

WRITING EXERCISE #1: ANALYZING A MOMENT OF ANXIETY

It is not a matter of if you will have an anxiety or panic attack during the Emergency Stage, but a matter of when. This means being prepared when an attack occurs, how to interpret the attack after it has occurred, and how to prevent the possibility of future attacks. To help you along the healing process and moments of high stress during the Emergency Stage, I have added a graphic organizer that can help you before, during, and after a panic attack. (A larger version is available in the Writing Exercises chapter if copies would like to be made.)

 

Understanding Your Panic Attack Graphic Organizers

Understanding Your Panic Attack (Before / During)
Trigger(s): Hero of Villain Emotions
Identify the trigger which led to the panic attack, the location where it occurred, and what occurred during the attack. Does this attack identify more with a hero or villain? If you can, identify a comic or scene in comic or movie which seems to relate. Which emotions seem to be the strongest during the attack? This may require using the attached emotion chart.
     

 

 

Understanding Your Panic Attack (After)
Becoming Safe Beliefs About Self and Sexual Abuse Strategy for Future
What did you do to relieve the anxiety and become safe? Was it effective? What could you have done differently? What new memories or beliefs about yourself and your abuse do you now have after the panic attack? What can you do in the future to help prevent this attack from occurring, or lessen its affects.
     

 

To assist you in understanding how to use these graphic organizers properly, I will use them to analyze Peter Parker’s moments of high anxiety and stress in Spider-Man #24 (1963) “Spider-Man Goes Mad”.

 

Spider-Man Goes Mad

In this issue of Spider-Man, Peter believes that his superpowers have driven him crazy. The comic begins with Dr. Ludwig Rinehart visiting J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle. He tells J.J.J.:

“I am here on vacation from Europe! As a psychiatrist I am very interested in reading about this Spider-Man of yours! I have handled cases similar to his! From my experience, I can say he is a very sick man! You see, he is in a fantasy world now! He wants to be a spider…but, of course, he is a human being! It is only a matter of time before his Id and his Ego get so confused the he forgets who he really is…and then he will suffer a severe breakdown.”

Hearing this, Jameson becomes ecstatic and calls for an immediate extra edition of the Daily Bugle to be printed. The next day, Peter reads the article and becomes concerned about his mental health. After calling the Daily Bugle to verify the article is true (because Jameson prints whatever he wants as long as it has the possibility of bringing down Spider-Man) Peter races to go find Dr. Rinehart afraid that he may go crazy at any moment. He changes into Spider-Man and quickly swings to the Daily Bugle to find out where he can find the doctor. However, on the way, Spider-Man begins to hallucinate. He sees Doctor Octopus appear and disappear from a solid brick wall, Sandman attack and dissolve beneath his feet, and Vulture attack from the air only to vanish like the other two villains.img_1810.png

Spider-Man lands on a nearby rooftop and begins to panic uncontrollably. The superhero holds his head, cowers in a corner, and thinks to himself:

img_18121.png“I can’t go to Jameson now…can’t afford to be near anyone! Can’t let others see what’s happening to me! And what if it gets worse? What if I lose control completely? What is I can’t tell what’s real from what’s imaginary? What if I should start attacking innocent people thinking they’re dangerous criminal? I’d have to be locked up. Put away!”

Peter races home, hoping all he needs is a good nights sleep, but freaks out when he sees how white his is in the mirror. Fearing the worse, he grabs a copy of the newspaper and races out the door to find Dr. Rinehart.

As Spider-Man, Peter arrives at the doctor’s house. He rings the bell and enters only to see the room upside down. Dr. Rinehart is sitting at his desk on the ceiling, welcoming Spider-Man, and says he will help the hero deal with his hallucinations as best he can. Afraid of hurting the doctor, Spider-Man runs away, believing he is beyond help. However, seeing the other rooms in the house upside down as well, Spider-Man decides to stay out of fear of hurting innocent people on the street.

img_1813.png Dr. Rinehart convinces Spider-Man to stay and be analyzed. He holds the superhero as he covers his face and tells him everything will be fine, and when he uncovers his face everything is right-side up. While sitting on the couch, Spider-Man believes he sees Doctor Octopus, Sandman, and Vulture before vanishing with Dr. Rinehart’s assurance that he is in need of psychotherapy. Spider-Man agrees and lies back on the couch.

Dr. Rinehart tells Spider-Man the root of his problem is his dual identity. He tells the superhero he has to stop being Spider-Man in order to be cured. The superhero believes him, and moments before revealing his secret identity, J. Jonah Jameson bursts through the door and reveals Dr. Rinehart to be a fraud. The entire plan had been schemed by the villain, Mysterio, using projections and mechanized rooms and the comic ends with Peter walking off into the sunset with a pretty blond (it was the 60s, what do you expect?)

To help you understand the graphic organizer, I will complete the graphic organizer as if it had been written by Peter during his moments of anxiety and panic.

Understanding Your Panic Attack (Before / During)
Trigger(s): Hero of Villain Emotions
Identify the trigger which led to the panic attack, the location where it occurred, and what occurred during the attack. Does this attack identify more with a hero or villain? If you can, identify a comic or scene in comic or movie which seems to relate. Which emotions seem to be the strongest during the attack? This may require using an emotion chart.
– Reading an issue of the Daily Bugle in which Dr. Rinehart stated that Spider-Man would eventually go crazy.

 

– I was at Aunt May’s house when I first read the article. Next, I called the Daily Bugle to make sure it was true. Afterward, I changed into Spider-Man and went to find Dr. Rinehart. On the way I imagined seeing Doctor Octopus, Sandman, and Vulture, but they vanished in thin air.

 

– This caused me to really panic. On top of a roof I cowered in a corner and questioned whether or not I was going crazy.

– Well, obviously I’m a hero, but the fact that I was willing to give up being Spider-Man to ensure no one got hurt shows my willingness to do what needs to be done for the greater good. – Anxiety

– Fear

– Loneliness

– Confusion

 

Understanding Your Panic Attack (After)
Becoming Safe Beliefs About Self and Sexual Abuse Strategy for Future
What did you do to relieve the anxiety and become safe? Was it effective? What could you have done differently? What new memories or beliefs about yourself and your abuse do you now have after the panic attack? What can you do in the future to help prevent this attack from occurring, or lessen its affects.
– To relive the anxiety I caught the bad guy with the help of Flash Thompson and J. Jonah (I never thought I would say that).

 

– I did not have to jump to such quick decisions. I’m a scientist. I need to develop a hypothesis and explore all the correct answers before jumping to conclusions.

– I feel more assured now that I was meant to be Spider-Man and that I have to do everything I can to make Uncle Ben proud. – In the future I need to keep an eye out for signs that Mysterio is messing with my mind.

These organizers will help you understand the triggers which lead to attacks, and items to review with your trained counselor or therapist while in session. The only difference between your writing and that of Peter’s (other than the fact that he has superpowers) is that you should develop a safe place where you can manage your moments of anxiety while feeling the most comfortable. Read the section below to understand how to create your own safe place.

Netflix and Chill is Not Intimacy

Okay, fellas. I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve had the same thought. “What does she/he mean I don’t talk about my feelings? We have sex all the time.” You may also have thought, “I talk about how I’m feeling all the time. My boys and I play football, basketball, and hang out all the time. They know me. They know how I feel.” It may be hard for you to wrap your head around, but sex is NOT intimacy. Hanging with your bros is NOT talking about your feelings. Netflix and chill is not letting the person you care for know how you’re feeling. Sex is easy. Chillin in front of the T.V., drinking a beer, and watching the game with your boys is easy. They are easy because neither cause any sort of discomfort, or awkwardness while they occur. This means there is no growth when they happen. No connection. For true intimacy to occur there has to be risk, trust, and respect to reveal who you are behind the mask you wear.

 

Even from behind my laptop, I can hear the fire alarms going off in your brain.

 

“Talk about my feelings! My emotions! Does he mean how I feel? On the inside?!! Oh, no, no, no, no!!! Feelings are a girl thing, not a guy thing! Right?”

Gotham 1
Gotham goes rogue and decides, “Lets kill everyone!”

Wrong! Unfortunately, this is a myth perpetuated that “real men” should be stoic, quiet, and brooding in order to be attractive. The myth that the silence creates mystery, leaving women wondering, “Who is he on the inside, really?” or your boys saying, “Why can’t I be more like (insert name here)? He’s so calm, and sure. He has everything figured out. I bet he doesn’t have a problem in the world.” A good example is the final scene of The Amazing Spider-Man where Doc Connors believes that just because Spider-Man is a superhero, he doesn’t have a problem in the world. The truth is just the opposite, but the how is he to know there’s a boy with a world of problems behind the mask Peter wears.

Gotham 8
Gotham takes down the Justice League single handedly. However, the longer he uses his powers the closer he gets to death.

These are just that, myths. True intimacy takes a lot more than a few romps under the cover, or a few beers. True intimacy means revealing that you are a human beneath the mask you wear. The perfect example of true intimacy can be seen in the Batman rebirth, Batman #4-6.

Gotham 6
Gotham decides he only needs to destroy Batman, not all of Gotham. This is interesting because if Gotham destroys Batman won’t Gotham City fall as well?

Now, Batman is a man’s man, right? I mean, he never talks about his feelings. When he starts to feel the urge to “communicate” and “express himself” he takes down a group of bad guys, letting his fists do the talking. Come on, when he lost his parents he didn’t cry about it. Instead, he traveled the world and became the most bad ass normal human superhero the world has ever known. He proves that real men don’t talk about their feelings, they get things done, right? Well, not exactly. Sometimes saving lives, including his own, takes more than “going it alone”. It means taking off the mask and trusting others with the secrets you feel you have to keep to remain a “real man”. These issues reveal this truth with ease.

Gotham 7

The first issues of Batman’s rebirth introduced two new superheroes, Gotham and Gotham Girl. Think of Superman and Supergirl, but in Gotham. They have super strength, x-ray vision, ability to fly, heat vision, the whole works. The two are on the job for less than a year and they end up killing innocent soldiers after being brainwashed by Psycho-Pirate (proving Batman is the best at what he does).

Gotham 5
Gotham Girl takes down her brother.

Unfortunately, the two can’t even kill innocent people without somehow messing it up (if that makes sense). After the massacre of twenty-seven soldiers, one soldier plays possum, and lies still, faking death and hoping for life. While lying among his dead comrades, the soldier watches as Gotham takes off his mask. Seeing the hero’s face, the soldier gets a positive ID on Gotham’s secret identity, goes to the home of Gotham and Gotham Girl, and kills their parents. Gotham shows up too late, but captures the soldier, snapping neck, and decides the only way to save the Gotham City is to destroy it.

Gotham 3
Sometimes you have to take off your mask for true intimacy.

The images attached depict how Gotham and Gotham Girl bought their powers, why Gotham is able to defeat the entire Justice League single handedly, and how Gotham Girl decides to put her brother down. Batman #7 reveals that being filled with fear by Psycho-Pirate, killing twenty-seven innocent soldiers, losing her parents, and killing her brother was a little too much for Gotham Girl to handle, go figure. However, with each use of her powers Gotham Girl gets closer to death. And with each passing moment she talks to her dead brother. Batman attempts to get through to her, but she’s too lost. That is, until Batman takes off his mask, and reveals to Claire that he is just a man in a mask who is also hurting. This is what breaks the spell. This moment of true intimacy, trust, and fear brought Claire back from the brink of losing her mind.

Gotham 4

Men, what I am trying to say (with Batman’s help) is that wearing a mask around the people you truly care for is not being a superhero. It’s being alone, isolated, and unable to feel human around the people who make you feel the most alive. Yes, sex is a part of intimacy, and so is just hanging out and having a beer to relax, but there is more. Being a “real man” does not mean limiting your emotions. Being a “real man” means showing true intimacy with you partner, your family, and your friends by letting them know you are human. Let them know you are afraid, happy, sad, whatever the emotion as long as you let them in. Easier said than done, right? Absolutely! This is especially true for survivors of sexual abuse. However, the more you work at it, the easier it becomes. It’s the only way to breakdown barriers. It’s the only way to not feel so alone.

Gotham 2

 

Wolverine’s A Bad A&%…

Wolverine is one bad ass mama jamma! This is a fact I believe everyone can agree with. However, he was not always Weapon X, Wolverine, or even Logan. A long time ago, he was James Howlet. His origin is complicated and ever changing, but this image from Origins #2 (2001) says a lot about the Emergency Stage of healing and the Decision to Heal for survivors.

img_1805.png

In the image, James gets his powers for the first time. You can see the bone claws begin to descend from his hands as he screams from the external pain of his skin being split open, and the internal pain of standing over the dead body of his father. In the corner is a boy, Dog, who looks as if he is crying, but actually it’s blood dripping from open wounds on his face caused by James. I love this image because it is one of the better representations of what it feels like to enter the Emergency Stage of healing from sexual abuse. (And if you want to know more about Wolverine’s back story I highly suggest reading the Origin series, and Weapon X.)

 

It is my opinion the Emergency Stage is the first stage of the healing process for survivors. Others believe it begins with the Decision to Heal, but it all depends on who you are. During the Emergency Stage it feels as if you have lost all control of your life. Panic attacks and anxiety seem to occur without reason, causing flashbacks of the sexual abuse and feelings of illogical fear. You feel lost and unable to make sense of why this has happened. This stage of the healing process can happen immediately after the sexual abuse, but like James, and many other mutants in the X-Men pocket of the Marvel universe, it can happen years after the sexual abuse. Like James, his mutant abilities surface at the onset of a trigger, or high levels of stress. For James it was witnessing his father being shot and murdered before his eyes. For you, as a male survivor, it could be coming in contact with your abuser years following the sexual abuse, having a child of your own, watching a movie which involves sexual abuse, or simply hearing news of sexual abuse. It happens without reason, and even when it seems the trauma of the past has been long forgotten.

 

After, or during the Emergency Stage is when a choice must be made. Are you going to move through the healing process, or continue to suppress the memory of the sexual abuse and hope its negative affects go away on their own. If you choose the latter it may mean using alcohol or drugs to suppress the memories. It may mean having multiple sexual partners, working out to the point of exhaustion, self-harm, or attempting of suicide. This can create gaps in memory in the same way Wolverine has trouble remembering who he was before acquiring his mutant powers. As one of the best Marvel characters, Wolverine has some serious issues! The character drinks to excess, attempts to remain isolated from the society, battles with viewing himself as a man rather than an animal, but is always unsuccessful at remaining a villain.  Like Wolverine, you may try to run from you past, but eventually it will catch up to you. In essence, it means choosing to either move toward the path of becoming a hero or becoming a villain. Choosing to heal may seem too difficult in the moment of the Emergency Stage, but in the long run it is the best choice to not become a hero, or a villain, but the person you want to become. Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. You can’t do this alone. Become a survivor.

Secrets

Amazing Spider-Man #30IMG_1727

There are two images attached to this post. Both are from the Amazing Spider-Man. Both images include Betty Brant, receptionist for the Daily Bugle, and the first woman Peter believed he loved. Unfortunately, the two were never able to work out their relationship, and Betty eventually married Daily Bugle reporter, Ned Leeds. One of the main reasons they were never able to get their relationship off the ground was partly because, Peter always felt as though he needed to keep his identify as Spider-Man a secret for the betterment of Betty’s health and safety. Both images are from Amazing Spider-Man # 30. In the first image, Betty Brant is knocking on a door with Peter Parker on the other side. Earlier in the comic, Betty says how Ned proposed to her. Immediately, realizing he may lose the woman he loves, Peter decides to reveal the secret that he is Spider-Man. Before he can admit his secret, Betty confesses that she does not like the excitement that Spider-Man attracts. Rather than reveal his secret identity out of fear for Betty’s health, he decided against it and stormed out of the room. Betty calls for him to come back and that she loves him, but he refuses. You can tell by her tears and her words that she wants to be a part of Peter Parker’s life, but Peter’s secret stands between them. The second image visually depicts the divide Peter’s secret as Spider-Man causes in his life as he stands between Peter and Betty.

IMG_1726

As a male survivor of sexual abuse, you may sometimes feel like a superhero. You may feel as though you can accomplish anything on your own. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Be a man. You may feel as though you carry the world on your shoulders and that no one can truly know who you are. You may feel guarded at all times, and afraid of hurting the people closes to you with the truth if they ever found out the secret you carry about your sexual abuse. However, like Peter, this fear can keep you from being happy. It can lead to you feeling as though you can never be yourself, and show your true emotions out of fear of how they may hurt the people you care about the most. This fear can lead to the suppression of other emotions that can manifest in ways that end up hurting you and those closes to you, in the same way it affected me one night last summer.

 

It was a few days after the release of the Philando Castille dashcam video. The video in which an unarmed black male in Minnesota was shot eight times after informing the officer that he was licensed to carry and had a gun in the car. I had watched the video on average about ten times, analyzing the language used, and what could have led to his death. I believe it affected much more than I knew.

 

After putting our daughters to bed, my wife and I sat on the back deck of our house. I told my wife that there were certain things she would never understand as a white woman that me and our daughters would. I said some hurtful things about race, how I can only depend on myself, and very directed hurtful comments. My voice had gotten so loud the neighbor poked her head out to make sure everything was okay. It was the first time I had ever really yelled, or had an argument of this nature with my wife after eight years of marriage. I have not had an argument of this nature since. I have not had one since. For a majority of the conversation she said nothing. She let me yell and be angry. Afterward, she calmly said, “If you ever wonder whether or not I love you, know that I just let you yell, and embarrass me for over thirty minutes.”

 

Looking back, I realize how angry I was at the Philando Castille video. During the session, my therapist made the point that it was probably not the shooting that bothered me, but the fact that his daughter is seen leaving the car afterward, confused and unsure where to go. I identified more with the traumatized child as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. The reason for my anger transferred to the person I loved and felt safe sharing that intimacy. And although I was angry, and yelling, my wife confessed that she was happy to see a part of me that she had never seen. My anger and frustration at a situation usually remains bottled inside, hidden away and festering until I can go for a run, lift weights, meditate, or write. She felt pleased that I was able to show a true part of myself, even if some of what was said was hurtful.

 

As a male survivor of childhood sexual abuse, you may be afraid to show all parts of who you are to the people who are closes to you. You wear facades, or masks, that hide the pain and anger you feel on the inside. Instead of feeling depressed, lost, and isolated, you may use humor to keep people at a distance, or work to the point of exhaustion to keep your feelings in check. You may be afraid to let people in because they may see you as the monster you feel you may be. You may also be afraid that the emotions you feel will consume you, leaving behind the person you were with the version of the person you hate and despise due to the abuse you suffered. Unfortunately, as a male, you may feel like Peter, afraid to let the people you love see behind the mask you wear. Do not be afraid to let people know who are. Lean on them for support when it’s needed. Remaining distant will only lead to further isolation, anger, shame, and depression. Keeping this secret, and the emotions you feel from those you love will only tear you apart. Don’t let it. Be a superhero and know you are not alone.

#malestoo

#MalesToo

#MalesToo

This past weekend I was on a panel discussion entitled “Finding A Way” at the Baltimore City Lit Book Festival. The panel was for survivors of sexual abuse to discuss with the audience the sexual abuse they had endured and how to find a way following the #MeToo movement.

There were six individuals on the panel.

Five of them were woman.

I was the only male.

During that panel discussion a CNN article entitled “What Decent Men Can Do In Response to the #MeToo Movement” was mentioned as a starting place for males to understand the #MeToo movement. Hearing the title of this article, and the fact that I was the only male survivor of sexual abuse who came forward to be on this panel, made me angry because of its implication that males cannot be victims of sexual assault and rape. I know this is not true, I have gone to therapy for over four years to believe this to be true, but in that moment I felt alone in my abuse. Unfortunately, this is not the only moment in which I felt alone as a male survivor. Each week when I attend therapy and use a book written for female survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I feel alone. When I look on the cover of TIME magazine and see no male survivors of sexual abuse, I feel alone. When society implies in its commercials, language, and actions that males (especially black males) only want and think about sex, I feel alone. When my former principal says I am not allowed to say I’m a survivor of sexual abuse in the school, I feel alone.  It’s for this reason I still struggle with the fact that the sexual abuse I endured from eight to ten years old, by a young woman five years my senior, for over two years, was not my fault.

 

The truth is that 1 in 8 males will be sexually abused in their lifetime. However, feeling as if you are the only male to have suffered sexual abuse, and not feel as though you can discuss these issues due to the stigmas of being a male leads to thoughts and attempts of suicide, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and feelings of depression and suicide. To help other male survivors know they are not alone is the purpose of the #MalesToo blog. Here I will discuss what it means to be a male survivor and how to move toward healing sexual abuse. I will also discuss what it may or may not mean to be a “real” man, and the use of comic book superheroes, villains, and how they can be used to understand male sexual abuse. I have published the book Heroes, Villains, and Healing: A Male Guide for Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, and Raped Black Male: A Memoir to help move along the discussion of male sexual abuse and help other male survivors using a medium, such as comics and superheroes, they feel comfortable in identifying their abuse.

 

After Junot Diaz’s article, “The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma”, in the New Yorker it is evident that male survivors need to know they are not alone. If you have not read it, I recommend taking the time to sit down and read its pages. The article can be found here. In it, Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz discusses the rape he endured as a child and how it shaped relationships with himself and others due to the stigma and belief that “real men can’t be raped”. His honesty in discussing his thoughts and attempt of suicide, shame of being abused, feeling as though he were not a man, and his fear of intimacy took my breathe away. Junot Diaz’s article helps to prove this is a problem that can no longer be ignored. Male survivors need to know they can discuss their abuse, men and boys can be raped, that they are “real” men, and that healing is possible.

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to comment and spread the word.