Stigma Fighters: Dennis Sharpe

I’ll Never Tell

*Trigger Warning* this post contains mature situations that may trigger some people/survivors of assault or abuse.

Shhh

I don’t make a regular habit of addressing issues, but lately the news and social media keep hammering me with things that hit me hard emotionally, and I really have something to say. I’ve never written about these things, so this is all a bit raw.

When I was a kid, set your way back machine for 1989, I was a little bit more than a handful. My Dad left my life when I was five, and my mom worked full time and went to school, and me? Well, I went a little wild – left to my own devices. I was an avid maker of mix-tapes and reader of comic books. I was a 7th grader with a bus pass, and we lived in Tucson at the time, and the city was my playground. It was an over-all miserable time in my life, but I can look back on the bright spots of it fondly. Candy and Baseball cards from the Circle-K and used comics from Bookman’s – where I spent way too many afternoons reading books and magazines that I’d never pay for – it was before the days of the internet, and I read whatever I could, wherever I could.

The meat of this little tale though, has to do with my education. I lived in a low rent apartment complex and attended a school that both served to teach me more than the lessons that generally come wrapped in school books. I had lived in Southern Illinois, and Western Kentucky, before moving to Arizona, and I had dealt with a different sort of public school education before relocating to the South West. I was thoroughly unprepared, sheltered a bit maybe, for the Spanish language barrier. I was also completely unprepared for being hated for the color of my skin.

I was chased from the bus stop at my school, and in my neighborhood, more than a few times by angry children my age or older in groups, sometimes being pelted with rocks, other times being hit with worse things.

10th Birthday

White was not a thing to be. Evidently neither was Asian-American or African-American. I had some Latino friends, but by and large, I found that most of the native Spanish speaking children had their own groups, cliques, and clubs, and the other races – the minorities – were seen as un-people.

I had never had a very racially diverse group of friends before in my life and suddenly my social circle was a melting pot. From African-America and Asian-American to Indian and Native American, we all shared a similar disdain from a majority populace that spoke a language we didn’t and that a majority of wanted to marginalize us at best or, in the worst cases, wanted to harm us for who we were.

I was hated in those situations, for nothing more than being present and being white.

That didn’t last, for me. It was an isolated incident in my life. It was a time and place that is filed away in my mind, that I can look back on and remember, but it isn’t my day to day experience anymore. Why? Because I learned different behaviors, to avoid those situations? Yes. Because I eventually moved away from there? Yes. Because kids grow up? Yes, that too.

But, I feel that living it was a positive experience for me. I had a time in my life when being white wasn’t a positive thing. Other people with other skin colors don’t get to have a limited exposure to this kind of treatment, and then get to “get away from it”. It’s their lives. It’s real. It’s every day. And it’s total bullsh*t.

I’ve seen far too many people talking about “white privilege” as a creation of minority groups. They talk about it like it’s some kind of fiction that people of other skin colors made up to somehow victimize white people. Guess what? That’s bullsh*t, too.

Fast forward a year, and there was another lesson for me. Something I never wanted to learn, but something life was going to teach me. I was a more rebellious and more difficult to deal with child. I was depressed in school, acting out at home, loud and obnoxious to those who cared about me, and lost in a world of books to hide from all others my age that I was too afraid to talk to. I was coming apart at the seams.

My mother, God love her, headed the advice of a pastor and had me sent to a Baptist boarding school. All of the students were going home for Christmas break. The only two left in the dorms were 8th grade me, and a popular, awesome, senior football player who told me of the wonders of the video game system in his room. He told me I should join him and play some games. We were going to be friends. My social stock was going to be on the rise, after break, and I got to play video games, too. Life was really looking up.

Once in his room he suggested, as I was playing, that we sit, and then lay on his bed. Then he said I should take off my shirt and he’d give me a back rub. I thought that was odd, but he was a big popular athlete guy, and I was a pudgy little 8th grader who was always alone with my books. Who was I to argue? Right?

Me 7th Grade

Some crying and screaming and attempts to kick him off later, all the while with him telling me “Just let it happen. You’ll enjoy it.” He finally got sick of my fighting and just punched me again and again until I was spent and simply laid still and took what he wanted to do to me. I was numb. It hurt, and I was crying, but my mind just turned off. I stared at the word Nintendo until that was all I knew in the world – all I could wrap my mind around.

I was black and blue and bloody when it was over and he shoved me out of the room, telling me I needed to get a shower, and that if I told anyone my “ass was grass”. He had nothing to worry about. I wasn’t going to tell anyone. I was too embarrassed, and hated myself too much for letting that happen – for not being strong enough or smart enough to stop it or prevent it. I wasn’t telling anyone. What he gave me in that room that day was a lifetime of anger, and self—loathing, and misery. I did eventually ‘let it happen’. I didn’t ever ‘enjoy it’.

(I’ve never written about this before and it never even occurred to me, until writing this down, that after this I completely stopped playing video games, and to this day still don’t have an interest in playing them.)

Where I live now, where I’m at in my life, as a thirty—something adult and father of three, is a completely different reality. I’m not afraid. I’m not a victim. I don’t have to deal with suspicion of my actions, or my motives, or my very presence, based solely on the fact that my skin in pale. I am a man, so I don’t have deal with the fear that women have to deal with every day, of becoming a victim of male-on-female violence simply for being born a gender that society has allowed (for far too long) to be mistreated. I am heterosexual, so I don’t have to worry about being the victim of a hate crime simply for expressing myself or my love for another person. These are privileges I enjoy, even if I didn’t ask for them, simply by being a straight white man. The thing is, these aren’t privileges. They are basic human rights – to live, and to love, and to exist without fear. That’s common sense, or at least I believe it should be. The hour has grown far too late, for us not to understand this, and not to eradicate the prejudices that promote racism, sexism, homophobia, and a scads of social injustices that people try to shelter, hide, obscure, and yet still promote through their daily life.

I’m not a fan of labels, personally. I never have been. I don’t see any other way to deal with this kind of bigotry though, other than to call it what it is, and by not being afraid to call it out when we see it – to not accept it. Call it what you will – racism, rape culture, gender inequality, homophobia, hate, lack of human compassion. It has to be called out, it has to shamed, and it has to be clearly and plainly shown that it is not acceptable. Not here. Not now. Not ever.

that guy

Born and raised in the middle of the American Midwest, Dennis Sharpe has been a writer as long as he can remember. His mother has told many people about the fantasy and science fiction stories he’d write on scraps of paper, and staple together as his ‘books’, before he’d attended his first day of formal education.

He has spent many late nights at diners and dives, drinking coffee with a tattered notebook to put a voice to his feelings of himself and the world around him, and other worlds that can exist only in fiction. The voices in his head don’t ever stop talking to him, and so sooner or later he has to get out onto a page all that they’ve filled him up with.

Inspired by Neil Gaiman, Kurt Vonnegut, Frank Miller, Chrissie Pappas, Charles Bukowski, Stephen King, Issac Asimov, and countless classic literary influences, Dennis continues with the ability to write what at a glance might seem absurd, but quickly begins to resonate with our own thoughts and emotions. He writes people we know, love we’ve known and lost (and found again), and places we’ve been in our lives and in our heads. Even his fictional characters and worlds carry enough of the grey areas we experience in day-to-day life, to let us find the truth in his words, no matter how fantastic.

These days he can be found still writing, drinking coffee with friends, or spending time with his children (the true joys of his life), in Western Kentucky.

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Witlesslackey

Books: http://www.amazon.com/Dennis-Sharpe/e/B003TC0TYI/

  • Helen White

    So very very important to speak out about this aspect of sexual abuse that has been, sadly, all too common in schools. I am in awe of your bravery Dennis, and I really hope you inspire your children and other people as much as this has both inspired and moved me.

    • http://dennis-sharpe.com Dennis Sharpe

      I cannot say thank you enough for your words, Helen.

  • http://thefeveredpen.wordpress.com/ jess.⚓

    Thank you so much for helping remove the stigma of male survivors; your voice is needed! Incredible post.

    • http://dennis-sharpe.com Dennis Sharpe

      I’m honored by your words. Thank you!

  • Nicole Lyons

    Thank you so much, Dennis. Your words will help others as I hope sharing your story has helped you. Your bravery is astounding. Beautifully written.

    • http://dennis-sharpe.com Dennis Sharpe

      I’m glad that my words can mean something to others. Thank you, Nicole, for the kindness… and the compliment.

  • Bri Wignall (naturalbri)

    you are amazing. It helps to know that other ‘privileged’ people have experienced some of the things I have. It helps me have more strength. I agree – no labels, just cut the shit entirely. No one deserves to be treated with out respect and decency. We are all human and all equal. Thank you for this.

    • http://dennis-sharpe.com Dennis Sharpe

      I don’t know how ‘privileged’ I am… but the human experience is often just that: human. It crosses the genders, races, sexual orientations, and everything else. We are all just people, for the good and the bad that that means, and we experience the good and the bad in similar, if not equal, measures.

      Kindness, respect, and decency are things I believe everyone deserves, and I will always be on the other side from those who don’t agree with that.

      Thanks for your kind words.

  • http://jameslandrith.com/ James Landrith

    Congratulations on speaking out. You will help not only yourself in your healing, but many others who read your story. Great job!

    • http://dennis-sharpe.com Dennis Sharpe

      Anything I can contribute to the world I will do. We’re all in this together… like it or not. Thank you for your response – it really does mean a lot to know that others are impacted by my words.