Raping Evelyn

Florence Evelyn Nesbit was a petite girl, with thin hips and a small frame. She was a bit androgynous, with a boyishness about her that photographers found irresistible. Her lush brown hair draped over her shoulders in some photographs, or was piled upon her head in the more adult style in others. When she started modelling as a young teen in the late 1890s, her popularity quickly mounted. She posed for paintings, for classic photographs, for stained glass windows, for magazine ads. Her likeness was placed on postcards and hanged in museums. Evelyn enjoyed the attention, and what teenage girl wouldn’t. She was carving a life for herself away from her controlling mother and sickly brother even while supporting them financially; her father was dead. Soon her work took her to New York, where she could model and pose, sing and dance. She was absolutely lovely.
When millionaire architect Stanford White, who had built famous parts of New York City, took notice, Evelyn was flattered. She was only 15 and he in his 40s. He was portly, with a thick moustache, and married, but he paid special attention to just her, spending months flattering her, entertaining her, and taking her to private dinners, where he would smile and coo at her across the table. He bought her gifts, gave her mother and brother money, and pushed Evelyn on a red velvet swing he kept in a room of his private quarters. He even had Evelyn’s teeth fixed at the dentist, taking away her only flaw in his eyes. And so Evelyn thought little of it the night he drugged her champagne and she woke up naked in his bed, her virginity stolen. He explained that no one could know, that her reputation would be ruined if she spoke a word and that no one would ever want her again, so she mustn’t even tell her mother. Evelyn was 16. Evelyn was far from his only victim.

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But Stanny wasn’t the only millionaire to take notice. Harry Thaw had a sizable monthly income of $8000, drawn from his family’s railroad and coal fortunes, so vast that he didn’t need to work. Harry’s mother kept the family history of insanity quiet from the public, and she overlooked Harry’s habit of luring young women and young men up to his room, where he would force them to get naked, beat them with a riding crop, and sexually assault them. If the victims complained, Harry and his mother could just pay them off to keep them quiet.
Thaw courted Evelyn from afar for several weeks, sending her notes and gifts before introducing himself. Also much older, he worked to convince her that she should be with him, and began sending money to her family so he could Evelyn alone more often. With her mother’s permission, Thaw took Evelyn for weeks to Europe, and he proposed to her multiple times before she finally told him of the loss of her virtue to Stanford White, a man Thaw hated beyond measure. After weeks of violently and obsessively questioning Evelyn about every aspect of the events with White, he finally locked her in a room in a Bavarian castle and beat and raped her over the next few weeks. Evelyn was 17. Thaw would later marry her, after he had her followed, trained her how to act, and made her aware of his consistent demands and the consequences if she did not meet them. He then required her to get her dental work undone.

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In 1906, at Madison Square Garden, Stanford White sat watching a play among a crowd of hundreds, including Evelyn and Harry. As the performers sang the song, “I Could Love a Million Girls”, Harry Thaw walked forward in his tuxedo, drew a gun, and shot White three times, killing him instantly for “ruining” his wife. Thaw was put on trial for murder a few times over the next few years and, declaring temporary insanity, was placed into a mental institution. Despite violent episodes and an escape requiring recapture, he was set free just a few years later, but was soon re-confined after committing more rapes and assaults.
Evelyn herself struggled the rest of her life with mental illness, alcohol and drug addiction, and suicide attempts. She had multiple careers, including, most famously, a touring show where she sang and danced about her husband killing her lover. She lived into her 80s after becoming a grandmother.

The Nesbit-Thaw-White story dominated the newspaper and gossip circuits for years, and reporters called it “The Crime of the Century.” Who could resist a story about a super-model and two millionaires, with all of the sordid details of murder and sex and rape and violence thrown in? The public couldn’t get enough.

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Although this story is well over 100 years old, it is easy to recognize the parallels of money, privilege, abuse, rape culture, misogyny, corrupt justice, exploitation of women and their bodies, internalized homophobia, insanity, and media sensationalism that are alive and well today. Reading this history, in conjunction with the results of the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016, has left me feeling how far we have come as a society at all. Many who abuse and exploit women use the same tactics of grooming, isolation, persistence, excuse-making, blaming, violence, shaming, and threats to get away with their crimes, and the media seems to only pick up on the stories about the millionaires.

America just elected a man who has been accused of sexual assault multiple times, and who has paid off people to drop lawsuits (and yes, I’m aware, Bill Clinton did the same thing). A man who has been heard on a public recording to brag about being rich and able to do what he wants with women, who excuses his actions and words as “locker room talk”, and who regularly rates women on their appearance. A man who buys women gifts hoping to lead them to the bedroom. A man who has publicly bragged about entering the locker rooms of teenage girls and seeing them change. A man who has cheated on his spouses.

I know a great number of people who are in shock right now. Among them are women who have been assaulted, groped, groomed, coerced, silenced, pressured, and abused, who now feel that their government is loudly saying that what has happened to them doesn’t matter and hasn’t mattered. Men have been using these tactics for far too long, and far too many have ended up hurt.

President Trump

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Yesterday, a client asked me if I was nervous about the election results. I replied confidently, with spirit and heart and mind all in a line, and with a smile on my face.

“I’m not nervous at all. I believe in my heart that Hillary Clinton will win the presidency. Because she is qualified and competent, because she stands for positive values, because it is long past time in our history when women had a turn, and because all the polls support her triumph. And I cannot conceive of a world where Donald Trump is the President of the United States.”

Then, hours later, I watched with shock as the poll numbers started to roll in. I couldn’t believe even a few states were going for Trump. Then a few more. And over the next few hours, a deep dread and shock settled into my system as I realized the gap was closing. I stayed awake until nearly 2 am, fighting to fall asleep while the television droned on in the background, waiting with all hope that Hillary would pull out a victory at the end. But she didn’t. The American people, as a majority, voted for Donald Trump as President.

In two months, Donald Trump will be President. President Trump.

I tossed and turned all night, trying to come up with an optimistic view of our future. I’m not sure I can, I thought. My stomach was upset and my head hurt and I kept getting tears in my eyes. I would drift off to sleep for 15 minutes, exhausted, and then wake up for 45 more, my brain spinning and spinning.

To me, this election felt like all our hard work had paid off. All of our years of screaming to be noticed. So many incredible things happened in the last 8 years to give me hope, to make me trust. It’s like I spent 8 years in college and just knew I was going to get into the medical school I applied for. But the letter came back and I was denied entry. And I didn’t have a back-up plan.

I sat down with my sons last night, ages 8 and 5, and we had a conversation about the election, about how girls make great leaders and about how it isn’t okay to be a bully or to do mean things to people. And I so looked forward to showing them that the principles I am teaching them are corrupt, that the bad guys don’t win in the end. And I laid in bed last night in abject fear, not knowing how to have this conversation with them today, about how the bully won.

As I try to take my brain to the big picture, first I go to history. This country was founded on freedom for white men from oppressive religions and taxes. It was also found on the owning of Black people as slaves, the slaughtering of Native Americans, the denial of rights for women, and the heteronormative idea that there is only one way to love. Our most historic moments in the last 200 plus years have all come out of protest and strength: women picketing for the right to vote, black people marching for Civil Rights. We have survived the Depression and the Civil War, Viet Nam and Iraq, Watergate and the AIDS crisis. And I think the disenfranchised have found a voice, a movement in all of that to latch on to, to demand equality and freedom and a place at the table. And none of that changes today. We must still fight and organize and stand tall and lead our lives and demand equality and respect.

I then take my brain to this election itself. And I realize that I’m not sure there is much I/we could have done differently. The votes were close in those key places that would have made history different, like Florida and Pennsylvania. But the public voted for Trump, ignoring the Access Hollywood tapes and the lack of political experience and the mocking and violent rhetoric and the Twitter account, and they seized on Hillary’s Emails and her untrustworthiness. They equated the competent and professional woman with the billionaire reality television star with the rape allegations. I don’t know if there is a single thing that could have turned out differently.

I’m feeling a lot of things as I type this. In the past 12 hours, I have ranged from outraged to devastated to anxious to horrified to exhausted to crushed to baffled to despondent to numb. I remember September 11, 2001, being a young college student and waking up to the news feed as a reporter stood in front of the Twin Towers. On the live news feed, the second plane struck, and I fell back on the couch with an empty pit in my stomach knowing that everything had changed in that split second. I walked around in a daze for hours afterwards. And that’s how I feel today.

I have a friend who once attended an American-themed party in France. The European guests there dressed in baggy flannel shirts and jeans and Duck Dynasty beards, they carried toy guns, they ate popcorn by the handful and drank cheap beer out of plastic cups. They laugh at Americans, the rural white men with Southern drawls who thump Bibles and shame anyone who doesn’t look like them. This morning, I feel like we are an international joke because this is exactly what we look like today. The new president incited violence at rallies, encouraged revolution, and was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. Hillary is going to be fine. America isn’t.

All this said, I always fall back on optimism. I expected to wake up this morning to a sunny beautiful day. Instead, it was a massive snowstorm. And I can spend time railing and screaming at the snow as it continues to blanket the earth. Or I can put on my coat and earmuffs and boots and grab my snow shovel and start putting the back work into clearing the sidewalk, knowing I’ll have to do that same work again in a few hours. I can get snow tires put on the car and I can drive more carefully to get to the places I need to go.

In another harsh reality comparison, imagine getting diagnosed with cancer. That is devastating. There will be grief, emotional and physical pain. But there must be a plan of action. A clear understanding with medical professionals about how to move forward with full knowledge about diet and stress levels and sleep patterns and medication routines and social support. If this is cancer, we need a clear path moving forward.

So today, I’m going to hug my sons, and take gulps of fresh air, and I’m going to put one foot in front of the other and walk forward as I grieve. Because the next four years are going to be the worst reality television show ever made, and I have a life to live.

Spoon seeking spoon

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I miss being married.

It took me a long time to get there. As a young Mormon man, I spent two years after high school knocking on doors as a missionary. After that, there was tremendous pressure to marry, constant and consistent from all sources. Marriage was defined as the ultimate destination in life, to marry young and to have children and to stay married until old, then die and still be married to each other in the Heavens. I don’t believe any of that now, but back then it was the only way to go for young Mormon men.

I was caught in a massive trap. I didn’t yet have the ability to have anything but shame about being gay, and thus couldn’t date men, and so I could only date women, who I felt no attraction toward. I coped by focusing on personality traits rather than physical appearance. I knew what type of wife I should want, but ultimately I just didn’t have any drive. I was scared to death to marry, and yet knew it was my only option. At the time, being gay or being single were both spiritually forbidden.

When I finally married my wife, I was 27 years old, and I had never held hands with or kissed anyone, male or female, up to that time. I found a girl with a tremendous personality and a huge heart, a beautiful woman who wanted to spend her life with me. We had a brief conversation about the fact that I was gay once during the six years (yes, six years) that we dated, and then we took the Mormon plunge and married in the temple.

And honestly, except for the whole gay/straight thing, marriage was awesome. (And yes, that played itself out in many ways, from me being the kind of husband who planned themed dinner parties to a very strained aspect to certain parts of the relationship). It was wonderful, for both of us, to have someone to come home to at the end of the day. We went to church together, we had friends over for dinner, we went to each other’s family holiday parties, we vacationed. We had silly rituals, like playing board games at night and the loser having to do the dishes. We painted bedrooms and planted gardens. We set and achieved financial goals together. Since I was already done with school, I helped her get through school financially, and then we both worked and supported each other. We bought a house and worked on the yard together. We talked, we laughed, we binge-watched television shows on DVD, we gave each other back massages. We were best friends.

And then we had our first son, and he was a miracle, and we both loved being parents. We worked hard together and we resolved conflicts well. Had it not been for the absolute demon of shame and pain dwelling inside me due to me hiding from who I really was, we could have lasted forever. In fact, when we got divorced, after the birth of our second son, a dear friend told us, “but you two were perfect! If you can’t make it, no one can!”

It’s coming up on six years now since I’ve been single. (She has moved on, by the way, and is very happily in love with a straight guy this time; I know readers are wondering that). And I remain single. Exhaustingly and determinedly single.

The first few years out of the closet were incredible and difficult. Being a newly out gay man navigating a divorce, a new job, a new city, and now free from a religion that harmed me, I had to figure out dating with a toddler and an infant who owned my heart, and all of the financial, emotional, and time responsibilities that come with that. Still, single has been good to me too. I’ve learned how to take care of myself. I’ve learned to travel, to set and achieve goals, to self-validate, to spend time alone and appreciate it. I’ve learned how to make friends and live authentically. I’ve learned how to be true to myself. I’ve learned how to be a single father (with shared custody) and how to embrace my time with my children and put them first while still putting me first.

Yet despite consistent efforts to the contrary, I remain single (which is something I’ve written about that an to an obnoxious degree over the years). Today it dawned on me that it took me six years to marry after I returned home from my Mormon mission, and now I’ve been out of the closet and single for nearly six years.

The major difference this time is (well, outside of being closer to 40 then 30, as well as all of the other obvious differences) that I’ve put effort into dating this time. That’s something I had to learn how to do: date. I missed all that as a teenager, so I had to learn to fall in love, to leave when it wasn’t right, to have my heart broken, to compromise while keeping clear boundaries, to be lonely, to know what I’m looking for.

Dating at this stage of my life, with two grade school age children, is relatively simple. You feel a connection with someone, you ask them out for coffee some time. If there is interest back, they’ll say yes. If the guy says yes, and if coffee goes well, and there is conversation and interest on both sides, I’ll invite them out on an actual date–a play or live music perhaps, and dinner. Here is where it tends to fall apart: if the date was fun, I’ll say something simple like ‘I would enjoy seeing you again’, and then… that’s it. There is the expectation that they will initiate the second date. Days will turn into weeks and the guy generally remains silent. And for me, if there isn’t reciprocity and clear communication, well, then I’m not interested.

And that, in short, is my dating life this past year, with a few exceptions. There are the guys who show way too much interest way too quickly, and the guys who don’t have their lives together (as in lacking a job or going through a major crisis of some kind). And then there are the guys who seem interested but are too passive to ever express direct interest. And there was one guy I fell for pretty hard for a few months, but that didn’t turn out well at all. And I’ve certainly broken a few hearts and have had my heart broken a few times. Who knows, maybe I’m picky. But I know what feels right, and I’m absolutely unwilling to sacrifice my authenticity for an unhealthy coupling.

And so, single remains incredible and lonely. I get to set and achieve goals, and travel on my terms. I spend incredible times with my sons, having all kinds of adventures. And yet, I do miss being married. It would be wonderful to have all of those things that you see happy couples having: someone to come home to at the end of the day, someone to host parties with, someone to cuddle up to on rainy days, someone to raise the kids with.

And until that day when/if that relationship happens, well, I have a big comfy pillow that fits right under my arm where the little spoon should go.

Judy/Frances

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This morning, I finished the biography of Judy Garland. Man oh man, was it sad.

Judy died at the age of 47, of a pill overdose. She had been using pills for three decades–pills to wake up, pills to fall asleep, pills to quiet pain, pills to numb depression. She developed a dependency on them in her teenage years when, in her mid-teens, she was signed by MGM and was told she was homely and overweight. The studio began restricting her food and feeding her pills to get her to slim down so that she could properly play the girl-next-door, the one with the pretty voice that the leading man could fall for instead of the beautiful girls, like Lana Turner. By the time she made her most iconic movie, the Wizard of Oz, at the age of 16, she was already extremely addicted.

But Judy Garland wasn’t her real name. Judy Garland was a guise she created for herself, both outwardly and inwardly, a person she could be that the public wanted to see. Judy Garland was the heartfelt, soulful girl-next-door with the voice that could make you feel everything, who could then stand up and smile and dance and make your heart skip with joy. Judy was a character, a mask she wore.

Deep down, she was Frances Ethel Gumm, the youngest daughter of Frank and Ethel. Frank had owned theaters where Vaudeville performers could show off for the public, and Ethel had been a domineering mother who had had her own aspirations to be a star. Frank liked young men, and had trysts with some, leading him to move from town to town when he was exposed. And Ethel dressed up her daughters and had them sing for money, performing for strange men in bars and small town theaters. Little Frances had been a performer, surely; she loved to sing and she loved to show off. But ultimately she was a child with deep insecurities and a desire to be loved by her mother and her father. But Frank died, and then Ethel depended on Frances to be the breadwinner of the family. So she became Judy, and then spent a lifetime searching for Frances.

And thus began the regimens of pills, 16 hour work days, consistently competing for roles against beautiful women while being told she wasn’t pretty enough and that she had to keep her weight between 96 and 98 pounds, and public appearances non-stop.

While Judy sang and worked, Frances looked for love. She married five times, each time believing in the beauty and purity of love and newness, and each time quickly having her heart broken. And Frances didn’t do well when left with her own demons. She spent more than two decades smiling for the public while falling deeper into debt, being ravaged by taxes, and screaming for the attention of her husbands (two of whom were gay). She had multiple psychiatric hospitalizations, public and private suicide attempts, collapses on stage, medical complications, and near overdoses. Judy, her appearance ranging from skeletal to obese, strutted and sang for the public as flowers were tossed at her, while Frances was torn apart in the newspapers. Judy put forth the image of the perfect family while Frances struggled to know what it meant to be a mother to her three beloved children: Liza, Lorna, and Joey.

Although it sounds a bit stereotypical, since I’m gay, I have always loved the Wizard of Oz. But it wasn’t the movie that enchanted me initially. In fact, there are many movies from my childhood that remain very near and dear to my heart (Labyrinth, Annie, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Clue, Pete’s Dragon, the Sound of Music, and many others). It was the Oz books that drew me in, the epic fairy tale stories from L. Frank Baum. I loved all of the books he wrote on Oz (more than a dozen) but it was the first three that captured my childhood and left me plotting sequels on notebook paper.

I didn’t resonate with Dorothy the character all that much, but I loved her as the heroine in the first Oz book. Not a super man or a private detective, but a simple little girl from Kansas whose most heroic traits were her determinedness and her ability to win over friends with logic and a good heart. After reading the books and then going back to watch the film, it is easy to see Judy Garland’s talent at acting and singing and dancing and stage presence… but the vulnerability, the raw quality that makes Dorothy seem both brave and sad and relatable all at once? That wasn’t Judy. That was Frances.

And so as I finish her story now, I’m left feeling a bit empty and sad, like I just finished an intensive therapy session. Her younger years, she was the product of a deadly system and an unsupportive family. And then she grew into a woman who was her own worst enemy and who just couldn’t break the habits, addictions, and depressions that took her life.

And so I close this with what I find to be the most iconic quote attributed to Judy/Frances. Ironic because perhaps if she could have been a little more Frances and a little less Judy, then maybe her story wouldn’t have been so sad.

“Always be a first rate version of yourself instead of a second rate version of somebody else.”

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when the kids aren’t there

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Even after 8 years of this parenting thing, I still have no idea what I’m doing.

Being a dad challenges me at my very core. It challenges the way I view my present and my future, and the way I interpret my past. It influences my dating, my travel, my freedom, the way I exercise, the way I spend money, the ways I choose to spend my time.

It honestly tears me into exhausted shreds sometimes. It is my fondest wish to create a nurturing and supportive home environment for my children. I have a nice home where they have their own bedroom filled with toys… a bedroom that is empty more than it is full due to a custody arrangement that places my children with me about six days a month.

I used to keep a cupboard full of snacks for the kids. But then I found myself eating the snacks when they were gone. So now I just buy fresh snacks when they come over.

Recently I purchased a small cat for my older son’s birthday. He’s been asking for a dog or a cat for, literally, years, and I figured now was the right time to provide that. I took myself over to the animal shelter and I sat in the corner of the cat adoption room, and a small little grey-and-white thing, a 5 year old cat, plopped itself into my lap, then climbed up on my shoulders. I adopted it minutes later. My son named the cat Lilly Potter.

A friend asked me if I enjoyed having the cat, and I said yes, that it was kind of nice to have the company. The friend then joked, wondering if I got the cat for me or for my kids. My response to him was a bit sad, a bit sober. It surprised him.

“The cat is for them, definitely. And the cat represents both of my worlds, strangely. It is my job to provide a safe and nurturing home for my sons when they are with me, and to also create a full and fulfilling life for myself for the nights they aren’t with me. So now, I have a cat. And the cat is for them, but in ways it is for me, cause now I have a bit of company around.”

This seemed to help the friend understand me a bit better. My situation isn’t always easy to describe. There are a lot of divorced moms and dads out there, and many of them don’t get to see their children nearly often enough, and many of them have difficulty finding their lease on life while they balance out the time and money commitments of parenting, the struggles in raising kids, and the heartbreak and loneliness that can set in during times when your kids aren’t around.

I’ve gotten a bit accustomed to sharing holidays now. My sons went on a trip for a week with their mother recently, and my phone contact with them was limited. I don’t always get to see them on their birthdays, and I’ve done Christmases alone, Thanksgivings alone, and, tonight, Halloween alone. They are out trick-or-treating. And when they are done, they will call to tell me good night, and then tomorrow I’ll pick them up and we will do our own little celebration.

I am told often by people who don’t have children, or by people who don’t see their children often, how lucky I am. And I agree completely. I am richly blessed and insanely fortunate to have these two beautiful boys to raise. Anyone who knows me knows how much they define me and how much I love them. That aside, though, it is a major area of struggle.

One of the hardest parts is interacting with people who don’t have kids. Most of my friends are gay men. They travel and hit the gym, they own homes, they date and have parties, they go out drinking and dancing. And, obviously, I date within this community as well. Having kids means I don’t have a tremendous amount of financial freedom. It means I can’t hit many of the parties, or pursue the relationships, or be available for dates. It also means my time is precious and valuable, and I try to make the most of it when I have it.

It also means profound loneliness sometimes, with sounds bouncing off of empty walls, and watching the phone to see if the person you are reaching out to is texting back, and trying not to be unreasonably sad when they don’t. It means inserting myself into social situations haphazardly, when I can, and seeking human connection while I remain a bit aloof from those around me.

The loneliness has been getting to me lately, and it feels a bit pathetic to recognize that, but I think other parents will understand when they read this. I’m lonely when my kids are home, because I want to be around other people and to connect, and I want someone to share the raising of them with. And I’m lonely when my kids are not home, because I want them there, and heading out into the big world of single men when I know I have to pick up my kids in the morning, it’s strange and isolating.

And so tonight, I sit with my fingers clacking on a keyboard, a decaf coffee and a glass of water at my side, in a coffee shop full of strangers because that feels less threatening to my own house, and I type out my thoughts on a blank screen for a handful of strangers and loved ones to read… while my sons, dressed as a Jedi and Harry Potter, knock doors and ask for candy. And in an hour, they will call me and tell me about their night, and there won’t be a hint of loneliness in my voice. I’ll be thrilled, and interested, and ask about every detail of their days like what they learned at school and what they ate for lunch and what they played at recess and if they had fun trick-or-treating. And then I’ll tell them how much I love them, and I’ll hang up. I’ll turn on music and crack open a beer and fold laundry and maybe watch an old Halloween movie by myself, and then I’ll head to bed and listen for the sounds of my sons’ breathing even though they aren’t there.