Male survivors and the empathy apartheid: The root of the “Speak to Me” radio play

Never in all my years as a writer and performance artist have ambitions lofty as this possessed me.

Think of it: A radio play, in seven parts no less, on Internet radio, about a male survivor of sexual abuse from male and female perpetrators, with justice turning a blind eye toward the latter and the ensuing growing pains plaguing the survivor and his supposed support circle, called “Speak to Me.” Then turning that play into “Speak to Me Rundown,” a distillation of the main plot now complete with the epilogue, aired on Naturally Autistic ANCA Radio, Saturday, August 9, 2014, 3 p.m. Pacific Time.

Going from autistic people to male victims of sexual abuse seemed an unexpected leap for me.

But circumstances have a weird way of pushing you in alternative directions.

The real, raw genesis of this enterprise began when I was 32 years old. The moment when life tilted on its axis, taking me with it.

One session with my psychiatrist, along with a glimpse into my high school days: tumultuous, chaotic, a sliding scale going up and down. In my case, it seemed to frequently occupy the lower rungs more so than the limitless skies.

When I recounted, and biologically sensed, those negative experiences with girls and women who hurt me as a team with those boys and men, I was never the same again. My guess is that part of me brushed aside the former in favor of unrequited rage toward the latter.

Added to this the reality that hit me, close-fisted, in the jaw with a mean left hook: No information, support, or acknowledgement in the arena of girls and women dealing equal amounts of physical and psychological damage to boys and men. All of it centered keenly on genders either harming their own or males harming females. (Save for one study on the subject, titled “Boys Don’t Tell on Sugar and Spice and Not-So-Nice Girls.” However, the citations and research were so outdated that it did nothing to assuage me.)

Hope fleeting, I went through various stages of anger directed toward those horrible girls and women along with society for its failure to consider this visible aspect of untoward harm. I had already come to terms with what the boys and men did by this point, since it was all too easy for people to decry this form of trauma like a force of habit.

Along the way, I fell into the bosom of a human spectrum who had endured horrific forms of abuse from women (sexual, physical, and mental) and girls in their lives: male victims and survivors. At first, I had misgivings about fitting in properly, since their stories clearly superseded mine in terms of serious harm.

What changed all that was the discovery of the core issue slumbering underneath that was driving them: abused men at the hands of a gender that society falls on its knees to protect from the consequences of their crimes. I had finally found a safety net.

But I was still fuming at the sizable gap of information and support for my situation. Ultimately, I decided to write an article on my experiences and confront it: “Bullied by Girls and Women: One Man’s Account.

That article details every incident that affected me the most and further specifies what I faced when telling the story to others.

It received a generous endorsement from varied walks of life but not much else compared with others. Nonetheless, I felt accomplished.

The celebration died down when reality hit me again with a mean right hook: my article was the ONLY one of its kind, floating aimlessly in a sea of narrative befitting the status quo.

Then another idea crawled inside me. Based on the confessions I had read over the years from male victims and survivors online and elements of my own past recognized via self-reflection, I desired to give back by conceiving a project to express their struggles louder.

Thus, “Speak to Me” was born.

The story of male sexual abuse survivor Kevin Holtz, a tattoo artist’s apprentice and artist himself, started as a long, detailed synopsis originally titled “Silent Minority.” Billed as a “Narratory Performance Piece,” the early incarnation mapped out the characters, their interactions, plot points, metaphors, themes, and underlying morality beneath the epic scope I had envisioned, with Kevin narrating the entire thing and physically acting out key events through interactions with invisible people before a live audience (I would play the part of Kevin).

This was before the advent of “radio drama” on Blogtalkradio.com. One of the people who bankrolled the station Naturally Autistic ANCA Radio (who was also my employer) thought up an idea to bring back the days when people would derive entertainment listening to old radio plays read by professionals. Hosting this program fell into my lap and I accepted the position, the difference being full creative control with the ability to produce my own material along with adapting works of others in the community.

In 2013, having polished up my skills, I set to work adapting “Silent Minority” to script format with a specific goal in mind: every myth propagated, every misconception pushed, every stereotype paraded by society and ignorant special interest groups would get the lashings they deserved. I cared naught for length since no form of media, to my knowledge, had ever attempted a story of this magnitude.

The adaptation process was slow and steady: one script per section of the synopsis that expanded on the ideas in it. What proved tough was writing out the ending as, at the time I started hosting Radio Drama, finishing the synopsis fell through. Luckily, my mental storage units housed just enough material for the general idea. It also helped that I could feel the ending repeatedly, even in my sleep.

After the script was complete, I and my cohorts, Phoebe Murer and Maria Iliou, performed it. Until finally, the length had reached seven parts by the last episode’s broadcast.

The response was slow but built steadily through archive listens and downloads.

“Speak to Me”  did its job, granting male survivors a chance to be heard in a world that offered little to no solace they could count on. As was my intention, since I’m no stranger to advocacy myself with two live performance pieces in my portfolio, “Speak for Myself” and “Speaking for Ourselves,” about being autistic.

This, however, went beyond autism into the realm of human nature in general—my first attempt at advocating for a segment of the human population whose majority wasn’t autistic.

Now here we are with the “Speak to Me Rundown” series that turned into three parts due to time constraints, where we’d ended up stopping abruptly after our emergency third hour expired on the show. It’s a distillation of the main plot with none of the thematic and subplot fat present in the seven episode mini-serial form. I did this in protest of how the media and special interest groups took the Elliot Rodger killings that affected both genders and turned them into something specific only to women. And in protest, primarily, of this empathy apartheid toward people like myself who were harmed by women and girls, behavior that continues to reign freely in this world.

I have my periods where this scourge triggers me when people lend credence to the harms of women and girls on boys and men, indirectly or bluntly. “Speak to Me” fights this part uncensored and without remorse for politically correct sensibilities. And I have no regrets.

Only a promise: a story that, in the end, is universal if you’re willing to dig deep. You’ll find this in all my work, even tales that fight the tides and times, stomping over venerable populations with steel-toed boots.

I assure you this will never change.

Enjoy the ride.

Editorial note: The entire audio play can be heard here: Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3.

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