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On Keeping Secrets and the Power of Stories: a guest post by Michele Bacon

woman covers her face with her hands

At 17, I was madly in love with a clever, playful, adorable boy. I loved him fiercely. And—to my utter surprise—he loved me. Together, Michael and I did theater, marching band, and speech team. Over three (mostly) blissful years, we shared everything: our most cherished dreams, our ugliest failures, our triumphs, and our personal insecurities.

I say this not to induce envy (or eye rolling), but to emphasize how serious our relationship was.

About six months after we broke up—when I was 21—I confided in him: I had grown up in an abusive household. Michael was stunned that I’d never told him.

I had never told anyone.

During my parents’ messy divorce, I spoke with the judge, lawyers, and a therapist I adored. My father didn’t like that therapist’s analysis, so we saw another therapist. We were dug into our church at the time, so I spoke with my minister, too.

Those adults were keen to help me, but I never divulged what my father had done to me and to my family. The horrors I experienced, heard, and saw were too embarrassing and shameful. I was broken, and I thought sharing my abuse would taint people’s opinion of me. And, in a way that is now difficult to understand, I was terrified that telling would get me in trouble.

Until a few weeks ago, I had told only three or four friends. But now I’m saying it (to the Internet, no less): I grew up in an abusive household.

Being hurt—physically, psychologically, or emotionally—changes a person.

It made me feel that I was less something than everyone else. I started believing emotionally or physically abusive relationships were okay. That heavy, awful feeling, defined how I viewed my place in the world.

It still does.

Now, let’s be honest, we all have at least one ugly secret that devours us from the inside as we try desperately to conceal it. Perhaps you pretend to not be dyslexic. You don’t talk about your twin who died at birth. You conceal your gender or sexuality. You are poor. You are passing. You’re losing your hearing. You’ve left your religion.

book cover: Life Before. Dirty red sneakers sit in front of a backpackIt doesn’t matter what it is; everyone has something. And we all have the right to keep parts of ourselves private. And I have, for a long time.

Last month, I admitted to a room full of people that I had grown up in abuse, and that my greatest childhood fear was that my father would murder my mother. After I spoke, several women told me, privately, that they had the same secret. Or the same childhood. Or the same fear. Me too echoed around me, and several people said they’d never told a soul.

That is the power of stories: Me too.

Imagine how my life would be different if I’d had that moment at 13. Or 17. Or 19. During my teen years—that amazing intersection of opportunity, energy, and idealism—Me too could have changed my life.

In the last month, I’ve shed the fear that everyone would reject me if I revealed my ugly secret, and I’ve realized that hiding what I perceive as shameful parts of myself doesn’t make them any less a part of me. In the last few weeks, stories have poured from the hearts of readers. They’ve said me too. This shouldn’t have happened to any of us, but it did. For the first time in my life, I am not ashamed. I am done keeping secrets. And I am sharing my story, and the ugly parts of me.

Stories are powerful, and sharing stories makes us stronger. These days, I walk into author talks at schools and libraries knowing someone might ask personal questions. I feel vulnerable, but I’m doing it, and I am encouraging other people to tell the stories they can bear to share. Your story might come at just the right time. Someone who is hiding in the dark shadows of shame may hear “Me too” and step into the light.

 

author photoAbout Michele Bacon 

Michele writes fiction for adults and young adults. She lives in Seattle with her family. Her first novel, Life Before, publishes June 7th, 2016. She loves hearing from readers, fellow writers, and anyone who would like to say #metoo.
You can find her:
Via email at writer(at)michelebacon(dot)com
On Twitter @michelebacon,
On Instagram as WriterMicheleBacon
On Tumblr as michelebacon

 

About Life Before

book cover: Life Before. Dirty red sneakers sit in front of a backpackFor seventeen years, Xander Fife has been keeping secrets. (Almost) no one knows about his abusive father. If he can get through this summer, he’s off to college, where real life finally begins.

What’s more, the summer before college will be amazing: lots of pick-up soccer, long days hanging out with friends, and an epic road trip. Xander also is banking on some long overdue nights with his ideal girlfriend, the amazing Gretchen Taylor.

Instead of kicking off what had promised to be an amazing summer, however, graduation day brings terror. When Xander’s mother is murdered, his family’s secrets are thrust out into the open, and Xander must confront his greatest fear.

Armed with a fake ID, cash, and a knife, Xander skips town and assumes a new identity. Hundreds of miles from home and in danger, one thing is clear: Xander’s real life is already in progress and just getting through it isn’t enough.

 

Things I Never Learned In Library School: Let’s Talk About SEX, Baby….


I blame it on Parker Posey. I LOVE her as an actress and adore her films, but I swear I think everyone has secretly seen her in Party Girl and now thinks that the library is THE ultimate place to have sex. There is no other explanation. 

In Party Girl, Mary (played by Parker Posey), gets arrested and has to call her godmother (a librarian) for bail money. The Godmother makes it a condition that Mary work in the library as a clerk to pay off the loan (and in the end, Mary decided that she wants to join the most awesome of professions, and become a librarian). In the middle of all this, Mary falls in love with Mustafa (played by Omar Townsend) and at one point they have wild sex in the Romance section of the library.

Why else would people think that libraries are the perfect place to get their freak on…?

CHAIRS ON THE PUBLIC FLOOR
WHO: college students
WHERE: comfy fabric covered chair facing a picturesque view outside, but still on the public floor in plain view of all
WHAT: girl sitting on guy’s lap, skirt up, no underwear; guy with pants down, underwear down
DISCOVERED BY: me
ACTION: after they got dressed, taken to conference room separately for determination of ages to figure out if other laws were broken (statutory rape, etc), then sworn out criminal trespassing warnings

 
CAR PARKED IN THE STAFF PARKING LOT
WHO: adults
WHERE: in a parked car in the staff parking area, with the seats laid back but in plain view of the security cameras
WHAT: definitely intimate relations going on right before the library was to open, which causes an issue because the public book drop was right by the staff parking lot
DISCOVERED BY: me
ACTION: called police to ask them kindly to move their action away from the library and neighboring community center

 
WOMEN’S PUBLIC RESTROOMS
WHO: adults
WHERE: stall of women’s public restroom
WHAT: pretty sure intimate relations because the toilet came off the wall and crashed, the gentleman ran out of the room to wait for his companion and the lady waited a good while to compose herself in the second stall
DISCOVERED BY: other staff members
ACTION: building services called to address property damage, nothing said to patrons

SELF GRATIFICATION DURING AN INTERNET SESSION
WHO: adult
WHERE: public computer terminal
WHAT: patron was looking at personal ads that would not violate terms of computer internet usage while self gratifying underneath the table
DISCOVERED BY: other staff members
ACTION: session terminated, called into manager’s office, criminal trespass issued

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
I hear that a lot- we’re in a public place- WHAT CAN WE DO?
First, know the laws of your state: what is considered public indecency, what is considered porn, whether you’re considered a mandatory reporter, what is considered statutory rape, etc. 
Second, know your library’s policies: what are the steps for dealing with someone looking at porn, for having sex in the corner, for kissing or having a higher level of PDA? Does your system issue criminal trespasses for those who violate library procedures on this level?
Third, know what your management will back you up on. It may seem like splitting hairs between knowing the policy and what your management will tolerate, but in some systems there can be a vast difference. Some managers (and they are the bad ones) will not want to be bothered with the “headache” or the “issue.”
Fourth, know what you’re comfortable handling and know what your boundaries are. If you’re not comfortable addressing someone doing things, KNOW THAT and then figure out a plan for when that might occur.  Remember, it’s not only you but also your staff and coworkers who are ensuring that the library is a safe place. That means making sure that there is someone walking the floors- not just making sure that everyone is finding what they need, but also scouting those weird corners that you can’t see but everyone knows about. It means making sure to get training for everyone on how to increase awareness of what goes on around them- not just zoning in on the reference or information desk. It means making sure that your staff talks- with the shift towards more part-time staff, not everyone may know that a certain patron was removed on Monday, and when they try to come back on Thursday, they may not know to call the police and enforce the criminal trespass order.
So what did we do?
For the college kids, it was just a matter of approaching them, then getting them separated, then calling the cops, because they violated the decency laws. For the adults in the car, we didn’t know what was in the car with them, so the best option was calling the police. For the bathroom, no one caught them doing anything- all we heard was the toilet crashing down. For the self-gratifier, someone came to us reporting it, so we had a “computer glitch” that killed the sessions, and as we brought the system back up, a male staff member took him into the manager’s office to await the police we had already called.

Have you had people getting too sexy for the library? Share your experience in the comments….

Sunday Reflections: In our mailbox – How do you talk to teens about issues of consent in light of the Steubenville case?

A reader of TLT e-mailed an and asked:

I am a newly started YA librarian in Houston TX.
Issues of consent have always been important to me, but in the wake of Steubenville it seems like consent is a vital thing I should be talking about with the teens I work with. So I have been looking for resources about YA library programming about consent, and haven’t turned up anything. Since Teen Librarian Toolkit is the first blog I go to (seriously, I love y’all!) I was wondering if you knew of anything along those lines, or if consent in YA librarianship would ever be something TLT would take on?
File this under Things They Didn’t Teach Me in Library School, but how do you incorporate sensitive, informational programming into your library?  I actually have some thoughts on the topic.  (Also, thanks for the awesome compliment.  You made our day!!)
Consent is a huge topic right now in the public discourse, in part because of as you mentioned the Stuebenville case.  It is important that adults talk with teens – both male and female – about what consent is.  In short, consent is giving someone permission.  In this case, it is consent to have sexual relations.When talking about consent it is important for teens to understand a few facts:
1) The law recognizes that certain age groups are unable to give consent at all, typically teens under the age of 16 (though verify this with your local legal counsel)
2) The law recognizes that certain members of society (such as adults) or people in positions of power (like teachers and coaches) can abuse their position of authority to manipulate consent and this is not real or meaningful consent.
3)  People who are passed out, intoxicated, or that have cognitive difficulties also can not give consent.The main thing we need to teach all of our teens about sexual activity is this: YOU AND YOU ALONE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR ACTIONS.  Someone can not compel you to rape them.  Not with the way they dress, the places they hang out, etc.  The victim is never at fault.

A couple of years ago, I did a program on relationship safety at my library in conjunction with local SANE (Sexual Assualt Examiner Nurser) organization in our hospital.  They have a special education task force that partnered with organizations to talk about domestic violence, rape, etc.  We hosted a series of informational programs that, while important and well done, were not very well attended.  I have always found that teens will come for fun, less so for informational programming, no matter how relevant it is to their lives.  If I were to do it again, I would partner with the schools if possible to get more of a captive audience, making sure that I provided plenty of booklists and booktalks on relevant books and support materials.  Keep in mind that it is a sensitive subject that might make the schools uncomfortable.
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