As hard as the picture is to look at, and as much as I struggled in deciding to share it, I think it’s important to remove as much shame as possible from every piece of this experience, and to paint a picture that is often forgotten.
I was barely 19 in this picture, yet I think most people would agree that I look closer to 16. I think it's important to state this to consider what was going through the man's mind, who stood behind the camera.
Yes, I was a virgin, whether or not you believe me says more about your own preconceived notions and projections. The way I look, and when I lost my virginity are not directly correlated, especially because I wasn't comfortable in my own skin until well into my 20's. Furthermore, whether or not I was a virgin, this was a sexual experience that was stolen, and that is the larger problem at hand.
Looking at this image now, I see so much fear and anger in my own eyes. It's sad, it's embarrassing, and it's more emotions than I can fully express. I can't help it, but when looking at the images from my first encounters with Day, I'm instantly thrown back to one of my darkest experiences. It's painful, but as an adult I'm learning to find my power and move from victim, to survivor, to change maker. It is important to face our demons head on, and that is partially what this experience is about.
Over the past few days I've received an incredible amount of support, kindness, and love. I'm forever grateful for this. As I have already mentioned, this has quieted so much fear that I've carried since this experience happened when I was 19. All of you who have sent your support will never know how much this means to me, and to those watching from afar, who have been through similar experiences.
Sadly, the more I've learned to remove the shame from this experience and share my story, the more friends and strangers have shared their own stories of sexual abuse, and this is what breaks my heart more than anything.
While I've received more support than I could've ever imagined, I've also been criticized for being half-naked in many of my images, for being “strapping” and not “taking control” of the situation, and for being “stronger than” my predator. Many of these comments have come from people, who call themselves "friends" of Day, and who wave a big flag of hypocrisy.
As I refuse to promote negativity, I will not name names, but I have not deleted comments from my posts, and one of these comments was made by someone defending Day in The Advocate's expose, which can be read here: "Exclusive: Top Male Models Accuse Photographer Rick Day of Sexual Assault."
I will say these comments are hurtful, damaging, and would be extremely dangerous if I had not already dealt with many of these type of interactions already. Furthermore, coming from gay men, who claim to be public figures in our community, I feel that this exemplifies a huge problem within the gay community as a whole. We are quick to cut each other down, especially when we feel personally attached to something, rather than take a moment to think about what could be and offer constructive conversations, ask educational questions, and build each other up.
I’m ok being criticized. I actually think it's important as it makes us think harder and smarter about life. Hell, I’m ok being sexualized to a certain extent, but what I am not ok with, is being sexually violated.
I’m sharing this picture and response, so that every time you see another picture from this predator you think twice about what went on before, during, and after the shoot took place. We often see one quick moment in time, and forget that life is never one second. This is something I think social media and our culture as a whole often forgets.
I hope in starting this conversation, we all start to listen longer before jumping to conclusions and attacking other people, especially when it is done behind a screen and directed towards the survivors of these horrible acts.
I'm not here to defend myself. I'm not here to further shame anyone. However, I do want to propose some things to think about.
You want to call this boy strapping? You want to call him stronger than his predator? You want to say you would’ve done something differently? You want to say you've "known someone for yearsssss?"
I hear you. I understand you.
But until you are put into this situation, you have no idea how you will respond, especially as a 19 year old, struggling college student, who is working his ass off to pay for his university, and give money to his struggling family. Just because you are friends with someone doesn't mean they aren't capable of acting in this way.
I gained nothing from this experience. I was not paid for this shoot. I was not paid to come forward. I have nothing to promote, so this is not a PR stunt. This is not even about me. This is about the millions of people, who have had to deal with sexual abuse and/or violence. I’m standing up for every single person who doesn’t have the platform I do, to get the message heard, and who is still afraid to come forward because of the ramifications, fear, shame, and possible messages like the ones I've received.
In America you are innocent until proven guilty because that is how our system works, but as more come forward, I ask you to think, who do you believe, and what is their to gain from this at all?