Jerry Sandusky guilty, now what?


In the hours following the conviction of their once-revered Jerry Sandusky, Penn State is most anxious to move on.

After my exclamation on Facebook of “Yes! Yes! Yes!”, attached to a media account of the guilty verdicts on Friday, I wondered how the victim-survivors were feeling. Having invested my emotions, and my own survival story, by proxy into the trial I can say I was elated.

One of the most galling things about Sandusky, as evidenced in his Bob Costas interview, was his supposed naiveté about the gravity of things he was being accused of. Whether a defense or a pathology, why is it that so many pedophiles believe they can justify their crimes? (Don’t try to Google for answers. You’ll be disgusted.)

It has been a long journey for me just beginning to talk about the anonymous sexual abuse I encountered as an adolescent following long-term bullying by an elementary school principal. Anything to do with sports reminds me of that teacher, the coach of half of the sports teams in school, who harangued those of us who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, participate more than we had to. So Jerry Sandusky, for me, embodies the characteristics of both my abusers.

I did not begin even the most minimum of therapy about this until I was about thirty, shortly after testing positive for HIV in 1989. At first it was difficult enough to connect the dots, as I still like to say, let alone getting in touch with the feelings of trauma – so it was an issue I set aside fairly often when I didn’t feel I could cope.

Yet the void never goes away and, untreated, nothing fills it.

Another occasion which pointed me towards more healing was after I was hit by a cab in 2003, fracturing my femur and wrist. In the course of post-traumatic stress counselling I was encouraged to peel back the veil of any previous traumas so, naturally, my childhood came up again. One of the tools my psychiatrist tried, himself the son of Holocaust survivors, was to recommend Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz. Like anything that might hurt before it feels better I put off reading the book for quite a long time. But read it I did and it unleashed a hunger in me for similar books of real-life terror and, in some cases, survival – think Elie Wiesel, Viktor Frankl and many others.

When the Penn State scandal first erupted I was triggered quite sharply and found myself engrossed in news coverage as if in a trance. I mentioned this to a fellow survivor and mentor when we met for a coffee last fall. Our chosen coffee shop was quite crowded and so, it being a colouful fall evening, we opted to take a walk with our beverages. He literally walked with me in my distress. Something he told me, and it is echoed by valuable resources such as MaleSurvivor.org, is that we are well advised to avoid anything more than cursory coverage of such news stories or, at least, be self-aware to know when enough is enough.

There’s not much more I want to hear about the main perpetrator of Penn State. His future doesn’t seem to included anyone he can harm. I wait to see how other officials at the university fare in this.

Above all, I hope the completely vindicated survivors can continue their healing journeys with whatever help or compensation is deemed fitting.

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Wherefore art thou, Cardinals? – Oh!


This was a landmark day in the lives of Ontario high school students who have been exercising their democratic rights, without the vote even, for the passage of Bill 13, the Ontario provincial government’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) initiative.

It passed in the Ontario Legislative Assembly with 65 votes in support, from the combined efforts of Liberal and New Democratic Party members, and 36 votes against from the Conservatives.

No thanks to the Cardinal!

Of course, besides the horrors of bullying, I empathize strongly with victims of sexual abuse, be they school children or the prey at Penn State, where the nightmare continues with today’s farcical early developments in the trial of accused coach Jerry Sandusky.

As I’ve written before, my greatest personal bully was in elementary school, a teacher (who would become principal), but my peers picked up where he left off, particularly on the 40-minute bus rides to and from high school.

So I have “issues”, many of them similar to those at the heart of the GSA debate. The work continues – which makes me so happy that GSAs are growing in popularity.

While their red-capped overlords protest, it is wonderful to know that Catholic teachers back GSAs!.

Order in the Court!

No sentence could undo the harms caused by Graham James


I join the outcry today over the sentencing of convicted serial pedophile Graham James to two years in prison for the sexual abuse of Theo Fleury and Todd Holt. Counter-intuitively (because I knew it would just get me stirred up) I watched the news coverage of the lawyers’ statements and victims’ reactions.

Graham arrived at court wearing his best perp ensemble:

Following sentencing, which The Globe I think rightly criticized for its lack of nuance, Todd Holt spoke on behalf of cousin and fellow victim Theo Fleury.

“I stand here today, on behalf of not only myself and my cousin Theoren Fleury, but as a voice for every man.

For all the young boys, the old men and the ones that got stuck somewhere in between because of the most devastating type of abuse; sexual abuse inflicted on us by someone in a position of trust and authority. Theo and I were two of those who got stuck in that middle place between boy and man; we made some terrible choices and watched the life we were meant to lead spiral down the drain.

No longer.”

It was, for me, a powerful and meaningful beginning to an expression of feelings – I even heard myself in his words – which later criticized the justice system.

This was where I switched to thinking, “Hmmm…”, and I’m sure it will take me some time to sort out why.

As my headline reads, and as legions of all types of crime victims can attest, the length of Graham James’ sentence, while still shocking (considering that two years probably won’t last two years), is secondary to the horrors, and their after-effects, that James inflicted on Theo Fleury, Todd Holt, Sheldon Kennedy and who-knows-how-many-other young hockey players I would otherwise not know, let alone relate to.

They are still recovering, having taken the familiar route of spiralling downward before they were fortunate enough to make it back without ending their lives.  Theirs, as mine, is a life-long journey.  Every time I/we think we have reached another air-pocket of resolution, something takes it away – or at least I let it be taken away.

There’s a tough-on-this-kind-of-crime demon whispering inside me thinking Graham James and his ilk should be chemically castrated, if not as a barbaric punishment then at least as a preventive measure.  Or is that just the wolf of murder by lethal injection in sheep’s clothing? And would that alone take away his predatory impulses?

My self-image, a work in progress, was moulded in part by a monster or two in my childhood.  I continue to try to make sense of so much, even the crap in my own past that makes no sense at all.  But I persist, with your help.

Pig Penn – warped perspectives in the Penn State scandal


Very puzzling, but markedly less infuriating than the sexual abuse and cover-up scandal shrouding Penn State University, is the thoughtless, pigskin-headed response last night by student mobs to the sackings of the university president and, much more of an issue, the football coach.

Now that’s an improvement!

Watching a news conference held by the university’s board of trustees vice-chair, John Surma Jr., there was an audible gasp of indignation from assembled media and students alike as the forced resignations were announced. In the questions that followed it was easy to distinguish between journalists who had a bit of perspective on the tragedy of the abuse scandal and its victims and those muscle-heads who were apparently thinking only of the fabled football program, its storied coach and the team’s next game on Saturday.

How and when was the coach advised of the board decision? Was it in person or over the phone?

Objection: relevance?

I wish I had a transcript of the whole press conference.

From the board’s perspective, while voicing concern for the victims and their families, it clearly had a larger agenda: salvaging or re-building Penn State’s reputation among prospective students, staff, alumni and funders.

And while there were a few compassionate questions at the presser concerning the board’s relationship to the victims I couldn’t help feeling that most of the concern among those assembled was for the octogenarian coach, Joe Paterno, who seems to be among those who either engaged in an exercise of plausible deniability or unconscionable cover-up which led to the victimization of even more boys.

My skin was crawling (and burning and peeling a la this week’s episode of  “Michael Tuesdays and Thursdays” ).

This scandal combines unforgettable parts of my past – the bullying by a teacher in elementary school, further bullying by high school students and sexual abuse by men unknown to me in my adolescence.

While I am able to think and feel my way through these triggers, the now fifty-two-year-old man doing so feels tearful empathy for these Pennsylvania victims.

UPDATE: It was a relief to talk about all of this with a group of peers this afternoon. Triggers like this do not surprise me. It is helpful to hear my feelings reflected back to me.

Hope as verb, noun and/or feeling


Everything I am feeling in this moment is in the context of having watched, via television and Twitter, the roller-coaster of events in Egypt these past 18 days, of having just listened to the Feb. 6 (2011) edition of Tapestry from CBC Radio with Mary Hines, and of having made the seemingly Herculean effort to order refills of my HIV, diabetes and “head” meds.

And already I have forgotten why I could only describe myself as despondent when I opened up this page.

Towards the end of the week, say about twelve hours before the start of Friday Prayers in Cairo, I was in discussion with some peers about the now-tired links I make between the distinct hells of elementary school and my adolescence, then of my instant activism after the 1981 bath house raids in Toronto (just add water, or steam, and stir!)  Oh, and then I added that leap fart of logic that permeated me for so long “…if anyone deserves AIDS I do.”  Even though I quickly pointed out that I have dismissed this asinine proposition, intellectually, I allowed that it may still hide in the nodes of my psyche as traces of seemingly “undetectable” HIV viral load might hide from the best available tests – though I did not use that analogy.  Frankly HIV could probably hide better, regardless of whether it is or not.

It stands to reason then, if reason is all I can stand on, that I might feel despair given Dr. Kenn’s self-diagnoses (AIDS-because-I-deserve-it and mental-illness-because-well-life-just-piled-up).

Listening to myself, as the conversation with my peers played over and over during the walk home, I understood – was aware of, made sense of – almost immediately how the 51-year old Kenn brutally judges (ever-present tense) the Kenneth of childhood, the Ken of adolescence and the Kenn of a promising adulthood.  Then, with a deep sigh, I recognized (again) how tiring this is – to me, sure, and I can only begin to imagine how much so to any audience (at least anyone not paid to listen!)

John’s question emerged, from among the group, asking me how I would respond to someone presenting my self-evaluation.  Not a new question, of course, I said I’d tell them it (circumstance=deserving) was absurd and to cut myself some slack.

That’s what I left with Thursday evening, not picking it all up again until listening today to the aforementioned edition of Tapestry (which, in all candour, is this loner-wannabe’s “church”-of-choice more than any other these days).   While the Thursday evening mood personified wanted to dislike what I was hearing, I could not.

The stream of consciousness of the past couple of weeks (and blog posts) went like this: forgiveness (others and myself) does NOT mean condoning anything, the letting go frees me up for other things – happier, productive, more self-fulfilling things.

Now what?  (Interestingly, this is one of the questions being asked repeatedly about Egypt this weekend).

Should I pack up for Haiti?  No, I don’t think so – not today at least.

Do I believe that wishing to do anything is a foolhardy distraction from what I’ve been carrying, and working on, for years?  Would a change of course, however big or small, negate everything?  No!

Having lived for so long like I could not imagine surviving another year, never mind quarter-life (and more than occasionally not wishing to!), what small steps can I take to change my attitude?

“Fake it ’til you make it”?

“Act as if…”?

Well, internalizing those phrases would be a pleasant change from the self-defeating mantras, so – if nothing else – let this be a beginning.

I understand, and have experienced, how ‘getting out of self’ can lighten the load a great deal.  Therefore I could do a lot worse with my time than thinking about ways to do this.

I would rather be cut down in the middle of something, only at the moment of my death, than continuously sharpening my focus on seeing it come from an undetermined distance.

“Now what?”

Better to live unto/into hope than fear (which I must always recognize is inherent in any comfortable certainty of hopelessness).

Unpacking (more) personal baggage


Pardon me for the humourless dissecting of my neuroses

Have I mentioned before having used, for many years, the esteem-busting mantra “If anyone deserves AIDS, I do!”  (Looking at it now I feel like each word should be italicized for emphasis, rather than just one or two.)

What a message: If anyone deserves AIDS, I do!

I bring this up in the context of two recent posts: one on forgiveness, the other on the 30th anniversary of the notorious bath-house raids.

If the mantra was esteem-busting, its sentiments probably go back to my elementary school days and my adult bully in the form of my head teacher/principal – a fan of the Boston Bruins, then coached by one Don Cherry.

Just to make things worse I was flunked in his Grade 4 math class (or “held back” as my mother put it) which meant seven years, not six, under his tutelage. Oh well, at least I was with kids closer to my own age for those last three miserable years.

When I was twelve or thirteen, depending whether I was going into Grade 7 or 8, I was sexually abused by stranger(s) in what I would now recognize as a “cruising” area.

None of this – not the teacher/principal terror, not the sexual exploitation – did I talk about with anyone at the time.  It’s only been more recently that I’ve talked with family members about C.G. – the teacher/acting principal – in quite general, yet unfavourable, terms – the closeness of our families’ friendship much less than I had imagined when I didn’t feel that I could turn him in.

He’s now dead, and has been for a number of years.

The bit on forgiveness I had been reading a couple of weeks ago seemed to be worth exploring – even if only letting go of his neck, metaphorically, is all I can manage to accomplish.

If I, as I often say, connect the dots from the bullying school mentor to the pedophile(s) hanging out by the canal it is understandable how I might have been full of self-loathing.  While the only thing, but it’s huge, that I could have changed about the school situation was to have ratted the guy out to my parents the sexual abuse was a classic case of a kid with confusing, homosexual feelings giving in to his curiosity at the hands of a man probably four times his age.  (I just noticed how much easier it was to write about me in the third person.)  The fact remains that, whether I was curious or not, it was the adult’s job not to go through with it.

It seemed as if I had nothing to do, no place to go, with my inner turmoil.  For that I certainly don’t blame my parents.  These were the early seventies, well before “street-proofing” more than don’t-talk-to-strangers and, besides, any mention of my sexual curiosity would reveal more about my sexual orientation than I was yet prepared to share.

I managed to get through high school quite successfully, using my sense of humour and an ability to maintain good grades to disguise any signs of trouble.  It was in college, Niagara College some six hundred kilometers from home, that the inner twelve-year-old drank adult beverages to excess, and the unraveling began.

There was no LGBT peer support on campus, as there is in the area now thank goodness.  I didn’t know enough about drinking to worry about my experiencing blackouts from the get-go.  Then the trips to Toronto began, where the bars and baths seemed like Utopia.  I well remember looking across the lake from St.Catharines and thinking of Toronto as Oz.

Now I live in Toronto and, well, ‘pay no attention to that man behind the curtain’.

If anyone deserves AIDS, I do!

This little ditty has come up in therapy, and more than once, over the years.  It’s not that I believe it, not at its face value.  But knowing, as I sincerely do, that I have ever believed it inside, on some level, still hurts.  So, as someone in a peer group whispered last week, whatever forgiveness – or letting go – I may feel about past perpetrators I just might have a heap more forgiveness of myself to do yet.

I have never bought, in full, the idea that my casual sexual relationships were merely the exercising of the freedom implied in the “sexual revolution” of my early adulthood and well before.  It has seemed to me, with the benefit of hindsight, that my conduct was more of a reflexive response to the trauma I experienced, sexual and otherwise.

Between my drinking and the constant settling for ‘Mr. Right Away’ I was not ready for – indeed I was afraid of – a serious, intimate relationship.  HIV, and then AIDS, added to the complexities.

So I conclude with this attempt to unpack my old mantra.

‘If anyone deserves AIDS…’

It is an absurd notion, this, that anyone would deserve AIDS – that my sex conduct (or someone else’s intravenous drug use, for example), no matter how early in the epidemic, would – and even should – be rewarded with an incurable disease.  The simplicity of this cause-effect formula, simplicity being the preferred way of thinking among the theory’s proponents on the religious right, boggles the mind.  I had just enough experience with them, a couple of years before coming out, to do some psychic damage.

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7 (KJV)

How’s that for an effective club with which someone (such as me), lacking self-respect, might put in my suicidal arsenal!

(If anyone deserves AIDS)…I do!’

Messages I gave myself, to back up my feeling of deserving, mostly centered around the idea that my sex conduct – regardless of why it might have been the way it was – seemingly left me vulnerable, with eyes wide open one would almost think, to infection.

I blamed myself for everything: from not reporting Mr. G, to giving in to sexual curiosity even though – as I pointed out earlier – the onus for restraint is on the adult in these situations.  I blamed my drinking, at least in part, on these secrets which led to lack of good judgment in my sexual pursuits as a young adult.

How many ways do I need to cut myself some slack?

I recognize this ‘unpacking’ was mostly at the intellectual level.  There’s still some emotional work to do when, I believe, much more self-forgiveness will have the chance to emerge.

“The Shack”: allegory, empathy and the question of forgiveness


“I brought a book I think you’ll find interesting,” my cousin said as we sat down for lunch recently, handing me a paperback copy of The Shack by Wm. Paul Young.

I believe, now having read it, that she might have been nudged to give me this book because she knows, perhaps as much as any confidant, “The Great Sadness” (as the novelist puts it) which has been stored, occasionally visited, and allowed to grow unchecked in my own run-down Shack.  I’m guessing she might believe some of the messages of the novel could be applicable to me.

It is not difficult for me to imagine how wrenching it would be, certainly a step out in faith, to face those men I have written about who wronged me in my childhood and youth.  At least one is dead and the others, well, I don’t even know their names let alone their current state-of-being.

That’s not the point.  Were they to appear in my dreams I would almost certainly be forced to confront them.  Would I, in such a dream, or do I now, in compartmentalized pain, feel willing – to say nothing of empowered – to symbolically release their throats from the anger of my tight grasp and hand them over to the power whose many names include God?

The message seems to be to trust that something beyond my judgment, my imagination – beyond belief often – is a better repository for my judgment (which I ultimately can’t inflict anyway) than am I.

Somehow, in releasing my grip, I imagine forgiveness looks more like letting go – leaving judgment to forces beyond me. The haunting “monsters” of my past, after all, are dead as far as I know so my preoccupation with holding on, even if it’s not uppermost in my consciousness, is clearly only hurting me. I get that. To let go completely, though, seems more than I can do – at least on my own. Another message of the book, then perhaps, is that I don’t have to do it by myself.

To the best of my ability I release my hold on these men, that in letting go of them their power over me will be lessened. I will not, however, shy away from using the experience – all of it – as best I can whenever I believe it might be of assistance to someone else.