Monday, August 27, 2012

How Legitimate Must the Rape Be?

I know of a fourteen-year-old young man who was finally given permission. He convinced his parents to let him ride the train into the city to take a summer musical theater class. Every Tuesday and Thursday for six weeks he rode his gold Schwinn to the nearby suburban train station. After responsibly locking up the bike, the young man purchased a round trip ticket and boarded a San Francisco-bound train. Once in The City, he connected to a bus that would take him up Third Avenue and make a left onto Geary. This young man would then disembark at Union Square Park and walk two blocks west to the American Conservatory Theatre where the class took place.

One day, as he was taking the train from the hustle and bustle back home he entered into what he considered a grown-up conversation with a well turned out older man of twenty-five or twenty-six, who wore a light wool sports jacket of charcoal grey with brown pinstripes. The young man, now feeling confident with his life path, poured out his heart and soul, shared his dreams, and perhaps even a few of his fears, for the older man was so very attentive, just the kind of professional the young man imagined he might one day become if his acting career didn't materialize

Coincidentally, they got off at the same stop, and as the train pulled away from the station the older man queried, "Have you ever thought about modeling?"

The young man couldn't believe his ears. Finally someone recognized his potential. The older man continued, "I represent a line of swim suits, and I think you'd be the perfect model."

The young man thought this older man of twenty-five or twenty-six uncannily perceptive, for the young man was quite the accomplished swimmer and had been on swim teams since he was seven. And it was there, by the train tracks, that the young man felt he was finally teetering upon the precipice of adulthood, a dazzling yet perhaps scary place where starry-eyed dreams can intertwine with reality.

The older man said, "I can't continue this out here. Let's go inside." The young man nodded and the two entered the sad little train station, where the older man gestured to the men's room. The young man, with a degree of caution, followed the older man into the lavatory, which smelled of industrial detergent and feet. Much to the younger man's surprise, the older man of twenty-five or twenty-six took off his charcoal grey with brown pinstripes sports jacket and hung it on the corner of one of the bathroom stalls. Then he undid his belt and unzipped his pants to reveal to the young man a rather skimpy, multicolored, Speedo-like swimsuit.

The young man thought it odd the older man had swimwear underneath his clothing, but with everything he'd seen and heard on his many recent solo jaunts to San Francisco (working on a scene from Mame no less) the young man was learning to accept what his suburban sensibilities deemed as outlandish. He didn't want to appear a rube so he acted as if strangers wearing Lycra beneath wool was an everyday occurrence. Besides, it made sense to the young man that people who regularly frequented The City would have a certain cosmopolitan flair and embrace capricious eccentricities. And the fact he was wearing a bathing suit surly must legitimize his claim that he was some sort of scout for swimwear models, doesn't it?

Then the older man looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was coming into the john, which didn't seem to have any foot traffic at all, and jutted his chin towards an open stall. Without a second thought, the young man acquiesced. It wasn't a choice the young man found difficult to justify, after all the young man knew to get the job he would have to show the older man his body.

Once in the stall, the older man unzipped and pulled down the young man's pants, and then lifted his shirt to get the lay of the land, the young man supposed. One glance at his tighty whities and the young man immediately wished his mother bought him more sophisticated underwear. Their eyes briefly met, but the older man broke away to once again gaze intently at the young man's almost hairless body. Biology took over and that thing happened, which happens to pubescent boys when over scrutinized.

Mortified, the young man tried to cover himself immediately, but the older man with a voice the young man misinterpreted as compassion said, "Don't worry. I'll take care of that for you."

And with deft precision, the older man pulled down the young man's Jockey shorts and began to stroke.


All this talk in the news lately of forcible and legitimate rape has made me think of this incident quite a lot actually, for the young man in the story was a fourteen-year-old me.

I'll be honest, I was unsure if the word rape, statutory or otherwise, even pertained to the violation I experienced. (I always thought of it as molestation.) In skimming through various websites I found that the umbrella phase sexual assault most likely pertains, but I'm still unclear if I was technically raped. In my case, penetration, which seems to be a defining rape act, did not occur.

Before you allow those speculative doubts that we all have to surface, let me assure you that I wasn't an old fourteen; carnality wasn't oozing from my pores and I certainly wasn't looking for it. The medication I took to abate my epilepsy slowed down my puberty considerably, thus I looked closer to twelve than the age of consent; thus my musical theater teacher saw fit to have me work on a scene playing Mame Dennis' ten-year-old nephew, Patrick; and finally thus at fourteen (late for most boys) I hadn't previously ejaculated until that moment in a smelly train station bathroom stall, with the hands of another man upon me, into a toilet.

Following the abuse (and with distance and perspective I find this incredible), the older man and I made plans to meet the following week on the doorstep of the American Conservatory Theatre!

What came next was a deluge emotions. Shame, fear, anger, and yes, fervor (which spiraled back into shame because I felt I must be mentally imbalanced for feeling sexual arousal of any kind) tsunamied up inside me, each demanding to be validated. They have ebbed and flowed throughout my life, morphing into varying degrees of confusion, doubt, prudishness and abandon, clouding my all-consuming need to be desired with sexual desire itself (I would basically fall for those who coveted me). That this one act can create such a hairball of conflicting emotions, that I am probably still in some way navigating, bargaining with or against, manipulating, or trying like hell to disregard what may bubble to the surface these thirty-six years later shows just how corrosive a sexual assault can be.

On the day I was to meet the older man again, my panoply of emotion had crystallized into razor sharp dread. As I exited ACT, instinct took over and I quickly ducked out of the building into busy Geary Street not looking for him at all. I have no idea if he was waiting for me, nor have I ever heard from nor seen him again.

Up till now, I haven't made this part of my life public; I believe I've only told four people. I certainly didn't tell anyone at the time. Not that I could have articulated this when I was fourteen, but I didn't trust there was a support system in place to actually help me. On top of which, and this is truly unfortunate, I was afraid that I would be made to feel culpable of the molestation.

And this is where society fails horribly. We are a skeptical bunch and have the tendency to blithely spread seeds of doubt with phrases like, "Well, he was asking for it," or "She always wears those low-cut dresses." As long as we allow ourselves to place blame on anyone but the attacker we are enabling a system we all know is broken. And somehow my fourteen-year-old self knew this.

Rep. Todd Akin said he misspoke. But his apology, if that's what you want to call it, cannot stop the damage. By speaking the phrase "legitimate rape" he has conjured into America's already vivid imagination that there must be such a thing as it's antithesis, or "illegitimate rape". Which implies what? That some of us really wanted it, or perhaps the molestation although unfortunate wasn't that all that bad, or maybe we deserved to be assaulted because we were not man or woman enough and needed to be sexually shown the way.

Whether any of these thoughts actually went through the congressman's head is less to the point than the fact that he presented glaring misinformation as truth, all the while holding up a figurative Bible to authenticate his claim, and that sort of Christian vigilantism scares the fuck out of me. I worry what the ripple effects of his statements will do to today's fourteen-year-olds who are sexually assaulted. I'm afraid they, like me, will keep mum because they can't help but question the legitimacy of their attacks.

As I should not be judged, neither in any way, shape, or form should we judge the decision any woman or girl has to make after being impregnated by a rapist. It's their body, their business. Unlike Mr. Akin and his brethren, I believe our primary concern should not be for unborn fetuses (which oddly stops becoming a concern to Republican budget cutters once these children are born), but rather we should move heaven and earth to give aid to those who are violated. Help the women, the girls, and yes, the men and boys who've been abused, offer them services and never belittle anyone's pain by misusing qualifying words.

It's true that I wasn't tied up and beaten to a pulp, but my experience, although less forcible, was no less legitimate.

For anyone who has experienced a sexual assault and would like help call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800) 656-HOPE. Also you can visit the following website: RAINN, I found it incredibly helpful.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Bad Mommy: Palin Parenting

Scenario: You've traveled all day with your three and a half year old boy. When you get to your destination you see that your son's energy is at a all time high and the kid is bouncing off the linoleum. Do you...

A. Help him get rid of that excess energy by running him around or taking him swimming which he really, really, really wants to do. Or...
B. Turn on the cameras, tell him to settle down and desperately hope that he will.

Bristol Palin, reality show personality and failed abstinence poster child, chose B. Instead of tuckering out the little bugger, she chose to lounge on the sectional with younger sister Willow and unsuccessfully attempted to talk Tripp into a state of calm

Take a peek from Palin's what's-the-point reality show, Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp.

I have a fondness for the name Tripp. I myself am a Junior, and assumed at some point I'd have a boy who would be the third. I looked at all the nicknames: Trey, Tirch, Trace, Rerun, Ditto. But after many sleepless nights I knew my first son would be Trip Foster (only one P) . Somewhat peculiarly, my brother, Todd, stole the name Richard Hutchins Foster III out from under me and gave it to his son, my nephew, who he then nicknamed Deke. And he did so WITHOUT ASKING ME! Trip being out of the question, Michael and I named our only son Sebastian, who we call Bash. (Trip...Bash...I guess I have a thing for monosyllabic semi-destructive sounding verbs as boy names.)

But enough of Foster genealogy and back to bad parenting 101...

Kids hear words. Kids repeat words. The use of faggot doesn't necessarily bother me. (Although, it strikes me that the context in which he used the epithet was entirely correct, thus he must hear it with some frequency...hmmmm.) What gets my goat is that three times during this exchange both Bristol and Aunt Willow try to reprimand the boy and then don't follow through. Big mistake. If you warn a child there's going to be a time out, or his mouth will be washed out with soap if the bad behavior continues, by all means be ready to follow through.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating shoving soap into a kid's mouth and swishing it around. If you can be imprisoned by punishing a child with Tabasco on his tongue, then it strikes me that there should be legal repercussions when forcing your kid eat a bar of Zest. My suggestion...drop the soapy, empty threats, and opt for another consequence that, when needed, can be acted upon. "God's watching you..." Really!

Bristol says, "I know he's going to continue to push the boundaries and push the limit," to which I query, What boundaries? Tripp was totally in charge of two grown women, whose body language was that of older sisters, not of Mom and Aunt. Bristol is too worried about being anything but good cop and Aunt Willow's threats are baseless. On top of which, both young women are giggling through the entire exchange. No wonder Tripp feels perfectly safe saying, I hate you and go away, you faggot. The grownups won't do anything to stop him.

I know Bristol is relatively young, but she chose this life. She's got to turn off the cameras, stop focusing on herself and not worry what others may think. Tripp is already starting life at a deficit: his father has posed for Playgirl, and his granny has written unbelievably knuckleheaded things such as, “I didn’t believe the theory that human beings – thinking, loving beings – originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea." It's up to Bristol to save him from home spun mediocrity. She has got to get a backbone and not shy away from being the bad cop. For the sake of her and her boy she needs to stand up and be a parent. NOW.

"I'm doing a terrible job disciplining Tripp" is simply not acceptable.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Letter to Dan Cathy

Dear Dan Cathy,

Boy, have you taken your hits in the news lately. And to be honest, I don't think the bad press over your statements shooting down gay marriage is entirely justified. On the Ken Coleman radio show you pronounced our generation has "the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about." I, however, believe you, as CEO of the overly-hyphenated Chik-fil-A, not only have every right to say whatever ding-dong thing you please, but you also have the right to donate your personal millions towards any conservative, bigoted, homophobic cause of your choosing. Unlike many, I don't consider your words to be full of hate (a word my mother taught me never to use), you simply were expressing your limited interpretation of the Bible, ignoring basic tenants like benevolence, tolerance and love. It might surprise you--me being a married gay man with two kids--that on this, Chik-fil-A Appreciation Day, I write to share my support.

I am not a marketing professional, by any means, however I have some thoughts that might help you out of this morass. (Face it, sales have plummeted since you made those hurtful statements.) Yes, you do live in a free country. And yes, you have the right to say any small-minded thing that pops into your head. But...and this is where I want you to pay attention...don't play the victim when those you've offended (along with their supporters and families) refuse to empty their wallets to buy your chicken samitch. Why would I want to give you my money, which then you in turn would place in the coffers of extreme Christian groups that are trying to eviscerate my family?

What I'm trying to say is next time you might want to keep that yap of yours shut. You've angered so many... Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for example, is trying to keep your chicken from infiltrating Chicago saying, "Chik-fil-A's values are not Chicago values." Likewise, Mayor Thomas M. Menino from Boston does not want the chain to enter his neck of the woods either. He even took time to compose a letter which highlights, "When Massachusetts became the first state in the country to recognize equal marriage rights, I personally stood on City Hall Plaza to greet same sex couples coming here to be married. It would be an insult to have a Chick-fil-A across the street from that spot." Snap! And even the Jim Henson Company vowed never to work with you again. They pulled their merch and released the following statement, "Lisa Henson, our CEO is personally a strong supporter of gay marriage and has directed us to donate the payment we received from Chick-Fil-A to GLAAD." Dude, you pissed off the Muppets!

There is, however, an upside to this fracas. This surge of liberal love has given you some stalwart conservative supporters. Like cockroaches after a nuclear blast, they've come guns-a-blazin' to your defense.

Mike Huckabee, a staunch supporter of fucking with the gays, created a Facebook page called Chik-Fil-A Appreciation Day, which is encouraging Americans to support your freedom of speech and intolerant, Christian stance by stuffing their faces at a Chik-fil-A restaurant today.

In support of Huckabee's idea, peach shake-besotted Rick Santorum tweeted:

Not to be outdone, Sarah Palin grabbed hubby Todd and rushed to a nearby restaurant (hopefully with a view of Russia) to get this photo op...

This is crazy. When have you ever heard of politicians promoting fast food? Michelle Obama has it all wrong. She has gone on ad nauseum about the benefits of eating healthily, but this last week has shown that's not what the American people want to hear. No, they want to flock to your chain and gorge on bleached flour, MSG, saturated fats and TBHQ (a preservative made from butane). This truly is a feather in your balding cap...although unlike you, Michelle Obama will probably be invited back to Sesame Street.

Perhaps your biggest win might be that of author, religious speaker, sometimes television interviewee, and all around Christian good guy, Jonathan Merritt. He's speaks very highly of Chik-fil-A, promoting both your philanthropy and your sandwiches opining, "boycotts are such a waste of time." He followed up this wisdom by plugging your philosophy,"anti-gay marriage is not the same as being anti-gay." 

Why do I bring up Jonathan Merritt, a name you might not recognize? Because this man who has been voraciously vocal against gay marriage, who, it seems, eats regularly at your food chain...wait for it...was recently outed. That's right, he was caught kanoodling with one of his blog fans. The self-deceiving, closet case is a tricky niche market but, by gumbo, you successfully tapped that biotch. Kudos to you.

I would imagine you're desperately trying to figure out how win back the proud, self-respecting gays and lesbians. Let's just face facts, you're never going to do this with Chik-fil-A. Firstly, there's those stupid hyphens, forced misspellings and that bizarre capital A...sooooo 1980's. For the Castro, the Village, Palm Beach, West Hollywood, etc. you'll need to open an entirely different chain that's seemingly separate. Something classy and erudite without peculiar punctuation.

I took the liberty to rearrange the letters of your name and your company's name and created what I think would be a perfect compliment to Chik-fil-A. I present to you...

Lady Chichi Kaftan

Okay, it might not necessarily sound classy, and I don't know what kind of food you'd serve, but the gays would flock to it!

Hutchins Foster
Writer, Actor, Mommy with a Penis 

PS. Unlike with Chik-fil-A, you might want to keep Lady Chichi Kaftan open on Sundays. I know you have a thing about working on the Sabbath, but it might help you to know that going to brunch is considered gay church.