Honored to be a part of this project: “Just Tell is thrilled to debut our new Be Your Own Hero video project with the first video made by our dear friend Chris Gavagan of Coached into Silence! Videos made by friends and supporters of JustTell will empower youth to tell someone if they are being sexually abused.”
The latest: What we’re up to...and why.
You won’t read this entry on the subway, but you may well have read the Daily News article by Michael O’Keeffe while moving through a tunnel beneath New York City.
Your ride this morning, was in a roughly 60x10 stainless steel box, which at rush hour may hold as many as two-hundred and fifty human beings. Many of you read a story of a man who had experienced sexual abuse, and if you made it all the way through, may have thought: “Not me”.
I wish that for you.
I have had people tell me that they “didn’t know anyone that had happened to”. The statistics will say that approximately 63 people in your rush hour subway car had a very different reaction, from direct personal experience alone.
Some percentages, for perspective:
The percentage of boys who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences before age 16 in America is comparable to the percentage of Americans who have blue eyes. The percentage of girls who have experienced these abuses is comparable to the percentage of Americans who have a college degree.
Have you met anyone with blue eyes? Have you met anyone with a college degree? Tens of millions Americans have lived with, have lived through childhood sexual abuse. Not all of them lived long enough to earn the label of ‘survivor’. None of us, whether we have dodged this all-too-common bullet or not, have the luxury of hearing these stories as stories about ‘Them’. They are always stories about ‘Us’.
We sit or stand in our subway cars, and we create the illusion of separation from those who are surrounding us, as if this were the last line of defense against something that threatened our own way of life. We look at the stockbroker in the suit we could never afford, the woman in the shoes we wouldn’t be caught dead in. We hear a loud expletive-laced argument between teenagers, or the hypnotic, murmured davening of Hasidim. We smell the push cart gyro someone is shoveling in, in between stops, or we breathe in the over-perfumed (or under-groomed) aroma of the person shoe-horned in next to us and think “Not me…”
This is New York City. Often we experience all of these things in a single moment of near sensory-overload. But our senses do not overload. We leave that to John Rocker on the 7. We are New Yorkers. We can handle it. We are made for it. We are made of it.
And speaking of ingredients…
The mapping of the human genome tells us that 98.77% of DNA base pairs of humans and chimpanzees are the same. The person scrolling down this page on their iPad & Ronald Reagan’s late co-star Bonzo. 98.77% the same. The Human Genome Project has also told us that, genetically, we are 60% the same as a delicious, potassium-packed banana. Yet somehow, we will look across the subway car, and see a human being that we so quickly define and dismiss as ‘Other’. The homeless man, the CEO, the migrant worker, the child in the stroller that just rolled across the tops of your feet, the owner of the elbow lodged in your ribs. Name a nationality, name a religion, name a shade, name an age, name an occupation…and try to find a way that is of any substance that goes beyond the surface to distinguish Us from Them.
Can. Not. Be. Done.
We all want to be happy, but struggle to find what the truly means. We all want to avoid suffering, and often mistakenly or ignorantly bring worse upon ourselves. We throw monkey wrenches into our own gears. We slip on the banana peels of ourselves. Ten-thousand joys and ten-thousand sorrows…the Eight Worldly Winds: praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, fame and disrepute…find us all in mildly varying measures.
Like it or not, embrace it or reject it, scientifically and spiritually speaking:
We are made of the same stuff.
No ‘Not me’…no ’Me’…there is only ever Us.
I’m reminded of a line from Fight Club “We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep.” When it comes to male survivors of sexual abuse…we are you, and we are everywhere. We are your fathers and your sons. We are your uncles and your cousins. We are your husbands and your boyfriends. We are your co-workers, your teammates, your friends.
We don’t get to be ‘different’…We’ve got too much company.
I am a writer, first and foremost. Mine is not an an instinct for exhibitionism. I can be intensely private. These days, that seems to render one an anachronism. I do not tweet what I had for breakfast. I do not ‘check in’ online to let an imagined audience know that I just bought a half gallon of milk at the local bodega. I do not vent my grievances as status updates. I try to avoid airing dirty laundry, and even the clean linens are kept in their place, folded; not flaunted. I am not judging a single person who has embraced these ways.
Yet through my creative writing, every hope, fear, strength and weakness has always—will always—be laid bare. Scattered across a dozen screenplays, one would find the unvarnished truth of an emotional life lived. Nearly none of those stories are strictly autobiographical, yet they are all me. And if I am writing these with an eventual audience to receive them in mind…then I have already tweeted my breakfast, so to speak. And my ‘modest’ ego deems that worthy of 120 pages at a time, rather than 140 characters. So again, I am not judging those who partake in the technological party. Only the chosen medium distinguishes the forms of sharing ourselves. One of many ways that I am old fashioned.
My training and experience in the independent film world, fifteen years of honing my craft as a writer, a dozen years as a meditator facing ‘what is’…and my entire biography have all merged within Coached into Silence. If you sought out this page today, you’ll know the line is blurred beyond recognition.
Beyond just including my personal story among the others in Coached into Silence, never was this me/movie muddiness more obvious than September 25th. It sank in as I was being wired by our sound mixer Bret, preparing to step in front of the camera for the first time since we were all required to do so in film school a dozen or so years prior. The mere moments from having a microphone taped to my skin, to the beginning of the interview left little time for mental luxuries such as self-consciousness. If I had thought about a ‘Big Screen Debut’ prior to that, myriad considerations; my clothes, my hair, my crooked teeth, my voice, my poor posture…all would have had their moment to annoy and undermine. Without a second’s thought given to these considerations, I had once choice, which was hardly a choice at all. Just be me. This was not a role to be played, this was not a character that I had written to safely hide behind and speak through. For better or worse, my entire directive was; Be Me. That was my intention on that day and with this documentary: Serve the truth as I know it.
If the golden rule of writing is to ‘write what you know’, it is trumped only by it’s prerequisite; the commandment to be that which you truly are. And so here I am, having just been asked to speak at as press conference at the New York State Capitol in Albany on Tuesday about Coached into Silence and the experiences that inspired it. This is uncharted territory for me. Also speaking will be two of the heroes of this movement for justice, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey & Professor Marci Hamilton. They are among the giants upon whose shoulders we stand every day. It has been an honor to have them associated with Coached into Silence, to have them speak in our film. Now Assemblywoman Markey will be introducing me to the world, and it is my turn to speak. Be careful what you wish for…this genie will not go back in the bottle. That rounded glass refuge has shattered to shards.
What happens next?
I have been warned that I may lose the respect of many who are close to me, and possibly gain the respect of a stranger. I will quite certainly cause pain for those who love me. I’d rather those wounds scab instead of scar, so new healthier skin can grow. I want those who love me to know exactly who it is they are loving, with masks torn away and walls torn down. What I gain by taking this public step is not theoretical or down the road. In taking this step, I give myself the gift of integration and of wholeness. I am taking down the lone barrier in my life which has separated the world into ‘those who know’ & ’ those who do not know.’ I might also, as is my hope, provide some small measure of comfort for a number of people whom I will never meet. Those who are living in shadow may learn a simple single fact that makes this worthwhile: You are not and have never been alone.
More optimistically still, I daydream that someone—years down the line—may never need to take my film down off some dusty shelf in order to have benefitted from it. I retain the human right to dream, and so I dream that this project will have an impact. It has already had an impact on me, one thousand times daily. So if I lose the eye contact of those whom I call neighbor, perhaps I may gain the handshake of one who I would have labeled ‘stranger’, prior to this public step forward. Both definitions are relative, reductive, ephemeral and diminishing, as all labels are.
I am laying all that I have and all that I am on the line, personally & professionally. In our society, labels stick, merely for convenience; ease of reference. In my business, ‘typecasting’ is so prevalent because it allows a judgement, once passed, to replace any further complex consideration in the future. We put each other—and ourselves—in boxes, in closets, in drawers. These roles rarely fit, yet we play our parts. No wall can ever hold what a human being truly is, or more importantly what they can become. Evolution laughs at every fence that has ever been built. A natural world that created something called wings scoffs at all efforts at sequestration. Evolutionary means of overcoming may be a wee bit long-term, still, I understand the possibilities…and the risks.
My name is Chris Gavagan and the label that likely brought you here today reads thusly: I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of my hockey coach. My story was the genesis for Coached into Silence, and forms it’s spine…but better men than I provide it’s limbs, it’s lungs, it’s eyes, it’s brain and it’s heart. I hope to have the honor of introducing you to those courageous men in the coming months.
Every voice raised fights the silent injustices of this most silent of epidemics. If I began by self-applying the label of writer, I must now earn it. It is time for me to give voice to the many thousands of words typed.
It’s time to write the speech of my life.