Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Decades later, the pain of our label never goes away

I am not a fan of Mike Tyson or of boxing in general. The only boxing matches I've ever seen were from "Rocky." Mike Tyson isn't the most beloved celebrity athlete, either. He's the butt of a lot of jokes, whether it is about his looks, his manner of "thpeaking," or biting off part of Evander Holyfield's ear during a boxing match. But one thing you rarely, if ever, hear is people labeling Mike Tyson as a "sex offender" or a "rapist." 

That is, until a few weeks ago. 

Mike Tyson was asked to appear on CP24, a Canadian cable news channel based in Toronto, to discuss his visit to the city and his visit with Toronto mayor Rob Ford. During the interview, Nathan Downer asked the following question:

"Some of your critics would say, you know, that this is a race for mayor, we know you are a convicted rapist, this can hurt his campaign. How would you respond to that?" Mike Tyson then proceeded to chew Nathan's ear ear off... no, not literally. Tyson remained in his chair, but began speaking his mind. First, he told Downer he was being "negative" and he wasn't going to answer the question. Downer tried to change the topic but by then Tyson was upset. Tyson told Downer that he comes off as a "nice guy" but he's "really a piece of shit" and added a "fuck you" for good measure. Downer tried getting Tyson to cool his language but Tyson responded, "what are going to do about it?" The interview continues but Tyson is still upset and by this point has disengaged in the conversation, referring to Downer as a "rat piece of shit." 

Quite frankly, I don't blame Mike Tyson for caling Nathan Downer a "rat piece of shit." Out of all the controversies Tyson has been embroiled in over the years, Tyson is rarely discussed in discussions about sex offenders, despite the fact he still forced to register as a sex offender for his 1992 conviction (22 years ago as of this writing). After 22 years, calling Mike Tyson by the label of "convicted rapist" still angers him. 

Mike Tyson still has it better than most Registered Citizens. Oprah interviewed Tyson and promoted a documentary about the former boxing champion. Most sex offender law reformers/ abolitionists can only dream of getting the kind of exposure that Oprah could offer. Oprah did not condemn Tyson, instead  she humanizes Tyson, another thing most registrant reformers can only dream of receiving. 

Here is the link to the Oprah interview.

However, the "sex offender" label I share with Mike Tyson carries the same pain decades later. If anything, my own anger at the effects of the label grows with each passing year. 

We hear a certain statement all the time from random commenters on online discussions, from celebrity victim industry advocates like John Walsh, and even from politicians. The statement is "sex offenders" should be punished for life because victims have been given a life sentence. Sex crime victims are "shattered and broken," will "never recover," and are "scarred for life," labels that also cause lasting harm to people given the label of "sex crime victim." Despite the myriad of celebrity victim advocates like Walsh, groups like RAINN and SNAP, and the bombardment of victim-centered talk shows like Oprah or even Nancy Grace, we believe victims are "silent." For a silent group, there is an awful lot of talking! Samantha Geimer (the woman who would rather NOT be know as "that girl raped by Roman Polanski) rebelled against what she calls the "rape-victim girl" label and criticizes what she calls a "victim industry":

“We have what I think of as a victim industry in this country, and industry populated by Nancy Grace and Dr. Phil and Gloria Allred and all those who make money by manufacturing outrage. I've been part of it. If you spent years reading about yourself in the papers with the moniker ‘Sex Victim Girl,’ you'd have a lot to say about this issue, too. But for now I'll leave it at this: It is wrong to ask people to feel like victims, because once they do, they feel like victims in every area of their lives. I made a decision: I wasn't going to be a victim of anyone or for anyone. Not Roman, not the state of California, not the media. I wasn't going to be defined by what is said about me or expected from me.” -- Samantha Geimer, excerpt from her book, "The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski." (pgs. 9-10)

Despite all this, we continue to mark people who committed offenses decades ago. It is a mark of infamy that causes harm in many ways people have not thought possible. I've written in the past about the many ways this mark has changed every registered person into a degraded class of American citizens. And even though I have not suffered as much as some of those who call me asking for resources, I have not lived without experiencing discrimination. 

I have a rather humorous story to offer as an example of the discrimination I have faced due to my status and how I chose to handle it (and no, I didn't bit anyone's ear off, either). A few years ago, I visited one of the local museums alone to view the exhibits. After a few minutes, I had that rather cliched moment of feeling like I was being watched. Out of the corner of my eye, a chubby middle-aged security guard kept eyeing me from a distance. It quickly became obvious I was the object of his attention. I proceeded to walk faster, Hollywood-style, until I found a set of double doors propped open. I hid behind one of the doors and waited for the rent-a-cop to enter. Sure enough, he entered the door, passing me by 10 feet, and his back was towards me, so I exited my hiding spot and walked up behind the guard. I stood behind him, again, Hollywood-style, and blurted out in a booming voice, "Is there a problem, officer?!" The guy almost leaped out of his shoes. I think I embarrassed the poor guy. He really didn't want to say why he was following me; he simply stated, "You know why." I replied loudly, "No, I DON'T KNOW why. How about you tell me why?" As we conversed, he tried excusing his behavior as just doing his job and someone told him I'm a sex offender. He said I didn't have to leave but he'd follow me around. I ended up leaving in disgust. In retrospect, I should have stayed and made this fat slob work for his pay. 

I've had other instances like this over the years, but this story was the most entertaining. Whether I'm on "Raising America with Kyra Phillips" or filling out paperwork to donate plasma, the same stupid questions and comments pop up. People have been hard-wired to believe they have a "right to know" everything about my past, even though they want their own lives to remain private. And yet, we're expected by people to understand this is all part of our punishment and we should just deal with it. 

I refuse to accept any more of this kind of treatment. Mike Tyson didn't stand for it, and neither should any of us. I wish all those registrants also facing this ill treatment by society would develop a similar attitude and start taking up for themselves. We can't sit around waiting for Oprah to give us air time. We can't wait for the ACLU to finally come around and start slamming the feds with lawsuits. It is beyond time we start fighting back for real and stop playing nice. If you think the namby-pamby weaksauce approach espoused by so many of our current "activist" groups is going to spark this cause, then you are sadly mistaken.

Mike Tyson may not be well liked by a lot of people for many reasons, but people rarely refer to him as a sex offender. And it seems unlikely anyone will do that any time soon. If you choose to stand up for yourself, perhaps you can achieve the same results.