Tim Barrus is the Creative Director of Real Stories Gallery. He founded Show Me Your Life, Cinematheque Films and Smash Street Safe House.
it's a weird sensation that people hate you/ beyond the reach of arrows and of fire/
We are all outsiders. Dancing to tunes only we can hear. Making the mistake in thinking, we are alone. We are alone. But everyone has these moments where we have to jump like a madman. Or we will go insane and be one. We see ourselves as separate. We are separate. But lightning strikes us one at a time, and lights our fuses for the fireworks.
I've written under a plethora of names. I've been a Lesbian, a veterinarian, an Australian cowboy, a Navajo, a truck driver, an Apache, a Russian, an airplane pilot (I took lessons, I can fly), a gravedigger, the list goes on. It paid the rent. Something had to. My life is still a whirlwind. I do not LIKE remembering. I LIKE being in the here and now. Period.
I have worked as an advocate in children's issues for over forty years. My work is controversial. I live out of ONE bag. I work HARD in opposition to children being forced into sex work. I use pseudonyms to protect identities and localities. I CHALLENGE communities to vigorously fight human trafficking. I believe that children all around the world live lives of extraordinary desperation, and I produce guerrilla art about it. You never know where you might see my work next. I have a thousand names. I pull no punches. I call it the way I see it. My work and my art, whether it's mashed-up, dramatized on a stage, filmed, pulled from a Cinematheque video, or painted on a canvas, speaks to this and this and this. My life reflects an activism you can never know. You do not know me. You can't know me. So stop judging me. I am here to explore the unarticulated wilderness inside all our lives.
Today I am working with Real Stories Gallery in Male Survivor and HIV/AIDS advocacy. I am the Director of Cinematheque Films, and the Creative Director of Show Me Your Life, an International VideoArt program peer mentored by survivors. Children embedded in International contexts are given video cameras so they might show us their lives.
Tim has worked tirelessly for years raising awareness and advocating, protecting and alleviating the trauma experienced by children (under 18 year olds). He uses his gift as a writer, poet, photographer and video artist to speak about the unspeakable in a frequently hostile environment. He uses the money from the sale of his work to support his courageous Safe House initiatives for highly stigmatized & socially neglected boys surviving with HIV/AIDS. Tim's work, widely published and found throughout the internet, is frequently produced under Noms de Guerra to protect identities, histories and geographies.
Reverend Mary Scriver, BS, MA, MDiv.
We know historical people only through writing and film. This is the way I also know Tim Barrus. I have never shaken his hand or eaten a sandwich he made. But I have corresponded with him daily since April, 2007, and collected an archive that fills twenty-five 2 inch 3-ring binders. I have searched the web carefully and know a great deal about his accusers and maligners and their motives. One is a reviewer who fancied himself an expert on oppressed people and demanded intimate particulars, one was a minor porn writer who fancied himself a peer, and one was a pop Native American writer who had once had the same editor as Tim. If every blog about Tim written by a person who had not read any of the Nasdijj books were removed, very few would remain. Wikipedia would also have to remove itself, since the editor of the Native American writer section was not even American, much less Native.
One of the uses of stigma is to prevent any objective investigation or analysis. It justifies hysterical attacks that include anything from grade school bullying to lynch mobs. The cry of "hoax" became an excuse for a lot of yellow journalism and mock indignation over the use of pseudonyms, a convention among genre writers and those protecting other people. No one dared investigate the persecutors.
In this way Tim's pre-AIDS participation in the Great Experiment that was San Francisco in the Sixties and Seventies has been twisted into something fancied by people who know nothing about it but media hype. They demand the surrender of privacy even as they condemn the subject matter.
Now Tim sees that it is time to push hard for a cure for AIDS. The routes to success are marked -- only money is necessary to get there. Now stigmatizing Tim continues to be for personal turf protection. Their competition for money and prestige depends upon discrediting others.
It is time to stop being shocked, SHOCKED, by Tim Barrus and to join in the work at hand: curing AIDS. It is almost too late to prevent failed nations and certainly too late to prevent the destruction of families.
The effect of stigma is often to lump a lot of phenomena into a big category that no one dares to inquire into it or admit they even think about it. Using the model of contagious disease, people react with fear and avoidance so they won't "catch" whatever it is. (It used to be cancer.) To defend themselves from their fears, they convince themselves that people who have diseases or are poor or are nonconformists are inherently EVIL, which justifies the idea that they are being rightfully punished. They deserve it.
The isolation of being excluded like this, combined with the deprivation of basic shelter, food and medical care, will eliminate many people quickly. But luckily for human beings, there are always a few individuals -- sometimes religious leaders, sometimes artists, sometimes mothers -- who will resist and deplore this kind of thinking. They see the essential potential goodness and "soul" of every human being and seek to defend it. I've always been impressed by the stories of American frontier wars in which Indians had left many wounded enemy warriors on the field outside their camp. Late at night, covered by darkness, there were often compassionate women, sometimes quite old, who would creep out to give water to the dying men.
AIDS does not just afflict one class of people. All human beings except the lucky 1% born with genetic immunity can be debilitated and then killed by this viral code in the blood. If there is no access to the present state-of-the-art meds, people will die for sure. Prosperous corporations and countries have discovered the elegant blackmail of not funding meds for uncooperative nations. Those who die are not gay men from the Seventies. Those people have learned how to protect themselves. Rather they are wives and children struggling to stay alive on pittance incomes. Yes, they often but not always have dark skins. And they may be IV drug users.
Why do legislators fear them so? Why does the media turn away from them? Why do churches not speak for them? Because of the stigma.
Rachel Chapple, PhD
(Founder, Real Stories Gallery Foundation; Social Anthropologist)
I have known Tim Barrus, Creative Director of Real Stories Gallery Foundation, a non-profit 501c3 charity in the USA, since 2010. I am the co-founder & president of RSGF and we have worked together on the Show Me Your Life and Smash Street Boys initiatives; as well as the Tristan’s Moon art and advocacy exhibition in New York (2012) which raised awareness of Sexual Violence Directed At Young Males.
Real Stories works in collaboration with survivors of human rights violations living with HIV/AIDS. They facilitate contemporary storytelling and collective witness through the arts for the purpose of raising awareness and evoking social change.
Working with survivors of the international sex trade in boys, Tim has created a remarkable online and peer-mentored art program called Show Me Your Life. This initiative reaches acutely-at-risk boys from 18 countries.
The body of witness art and storytelling created by the students, peer mentors and guides is showcased at www.real-stories-gallery.org and http://smashstreetboys.com and http://smashstreetboys.org. Their video art, photography and poetry formed the foundation for the Tristan’s Moon advocacy exhibition in New York City (2011-2012) and The Smash Street Boys Festival, a grassroots event organized by local musicians, artists and poets. The RSGF Show Me Your Life/Smash Street Boys online sites have 10,000 visitors from over 50 countries each week.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Prize Winner) and Olivier McTernan (Founder of Forward Thinking), two leading Human Rights activists, have endorsed Real Stories’ initiatives along with leaders from multidisciplinary fields such as Professor Philip Goulder (HIV Researcher & Pediatrician), Professor Paul Webley (Director of SOAS) and Daniel Ben-Horin (Founder & co-CEO Techsoup Global).
Having spent my entire career in the art & design, museum & academic, and nonprofit arenas, I am aware that there are distinctions in what might be called 'palatability' or accessibility of nonprofit causes. Some issues are 'easy' in the sense that everyone with a heart or conscience is drawn to them. Other issues are much trickier to put in front of the public. Anything to do with sex trafficking and hard-to-reach at-risk kids, HIV/AIDS & poverty, is fraught with discomfort for many. And the issues dealt with by Tim are the most fraught of all. Tim is a professional skilled in the ways of organizing support.
Tim is simply an amazingly committed and extremely gifted individual, who has ventured where others don't dare and has persevered with little support to give voice and visibility to the invisible.
I urge you to support his leadership and humanitarian work.
I am denounced on websites as without hope. As usual, they’re wrong. I am not without hope. But sometimes, you have to make your own hope. Sometimes you have to make it now. In fact, I hope to instill hope in some very small people far, far away; that there is hope. There is hope.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec. 10, 1948)
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
The Electronic Freedom Foundation says the UN's support for anonymous expression and the protection it affords should inform how governments regulate security and surveillance. The vast potential and benefits of the Internet are rooted in its unique characteristics, such as its speed, worldwide reach and relative anonymity. Forms of online surveillance often take place for political, rather than security reasons in an arbitrary and covert manner, UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue argues, calling on governments to decriminalize defamation, do away with real-name registration systems--including the parameters in Facebook's terms and conditions that allows governments to collect users' names and passwords--and restrict rights only in the face of an imminent threat. Broad surveillance powers or the erosion of privacy online endanger anonymity's ability to protect dissenters and journalists and those using pseudonyms when they speak out. The Special Rapporteur remains concerned that legitimate online expression is being criminalized in contravention of States' international human rights obligations, whether it is through the application of existing criminal laws to online expression, or through the creation of new laws specifically designed to criminalize expression on the Internet (UN 2011 Report).
I have decided to post this video we recently made at Cinematheque. There are lots of art students who participate, and everyone wants to put it out there that this is where Show Me Your Life started. This is where it comes from. Real Stories Gallery and Tristan's Moon has made that possible. Students who have Cinematheque Mentors work through Show Me Your Life to acquire art and video skills. In doing so, they are also examining the dynamics of their lives and how art becomes a sharing, too. A bearing witness. At-risk does not mean we will remain invisible. We were here. http://www.le-too.tumblr.com
Who is Tim Barrus (Creative Director).
Real Stories feels this is best answered through the voices of his peers: contemporary artists & poets, AIDS-activists & child rights advocates. Perhaps, and more significantly, it is the voices of the adolescent males with whom he works to raise the quality of their lives after being subjected to sexualized violence that is most telling.
On November 13, 2010 Tim's account was abruptly closed down by Facebook. A very significant body of visual poetry and male survivor & HIV/AIDS advocacy was lost. Outreach to chronically at risk adolescent male survivors was abruptly severed. Despite many letters to the anonymous Facebook administrators by contemporary artists and poets, none of the material was returned.
Tim Barrus: When Facebook delete you. BANG. That's it.
I did have some criticisms of Facebook, but those were sent as private messages. I was critical of how they handle privacy. They make it very complex to obtain any privacy because they want your information available to advertisers. And anyone who thinks they don’t read the private messages has to have their head examined.
According to Rachel Chapple at Real Stories Gallery (I am no longer allowed to access Facebook; all the video links to RSG have disappeared). Raymond Fils (one of the older boys at The Studio) posted an objection on Facebook (Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 10:43am). Raymond tells me they deleted him, too, a few hours after he posted this:
Raymond Fils (Cinematheque Resident Supervisor)
The worst part of Tim Barrus being kicked off Facebook is the literally hundreds (actually, it’s thousands, and being the person who managed this for a few weeks I know this better than anyone) of adolescents who through that grapevine felt safe enough to explore HIV/AIDS issues with Tim. The two biggest issues were suicide and telling your parents you have HIV. All of this is wiped out with a delete button at Facebook. There is no coming back to Facebook, and actually, it would not be safe for the many kids who live in Asia to do so.
There is the issue of losing many of the videos, but we do not even care anymore. The kids we care about. So many of them were from Asia where HIV is a burning issue. We have no doubt that someone complained and with the kind of work Tim has done this is usually a parent who cannot handle the reality of facing their child’s condition. If you ignore it, it will go away is a really bad idea, but it is one we found prevalent all over Asia.
Although most of us are from Europe, the idea of The Studio being a safe place for adolescent boys with HIV/AIDS to live, make their art, and receive medical care would have been quite radical in Asia. There are many places such as monasteries that take adolescents in. But they are not always safe from traffickers and there is no medical attention. The fact that Tim could get antiretrovirals to us was more radical than you can ever know.
The loss of Tim’s voice as a poet is something that can be replaced because we will simply regroup. But the loss of those four thousand kids who were listening, most of them from Asia, cannot be replaced. Even as Tim was being shut down, there were friend requests coming in. They poured in every day. Even getting HIV information these kids would trust is easier said than done. But Tim had access to a grapevine way outside the system. You cannot blame these kids because the system in many oppressive countries will kill you. I sat there and fielded these messages for several weeks. I read those suicide notes and pleas for help. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be lives lost in this.
Tim rarely dealt with the issue of HOW TO TELL YOUR PARENTS YOU HAVE HIV on Facebook because he was painfully aware of how touchy a subject it is with the idea of parenting in Asia. People do not want their family toes stepped on, it is about power, and the reality is that they are sometimes willing to sacrifice a child’s life for the sake of secrecy. The other reality is that there really is no safe way to tell your parents. In many places, you risk your life doing so, and kids know it. They just do not trust the confidentiality of any support system that exists outside of what Tim called street creds. And in some places, just the knowledge that a minor has HIV requires Tim to report it to parents and authorities. The fact that Tim blatantly ignored these draconian laws was never lost on kids. Tim was hounded constantly to do for girls what he had done for boys. There is only so much one person can do. Tim flaunted the law in many places not the least of which was Russia. Shutting him down at Facebook would have been easy for many people in places of authority. All they would have to do is complain. Tim stood up to organized crime. Most people cannot believe it. But most people on Facebook have never lived a life on the street.
It was amazing to read the poetry of these kids as their agony and suicide notes poured in. Many people cannot believe the reality of any of this. But they were never Tim’s focus. The kids were always his focus. When he said he wrote for the boys, he did not mean just us. We were astounded at the response of kids from Asia who are reaching out for help. The issues are life and death. Tim always said it was just a matter of time before Facebook would shut it down and they did just that. Facebook does not care. The boys at the Studio consider Facebook toxic in the extreme. The will be the last you hear from me. I have to get off this roach motel to save my own sense of self-worth. That is just my personal thing. Eventually, this kind of thing will come back to haunt Facebook. Tim has always called it institutional indifference. I am not comfortable even sending this. We do not want Facebook to have our emails or location. They cannot be trusted. It is not safe. We want off of this thing asap.
Our numbers include boys with HIV/AIDS who now live outside family and authority. Being safe means more than sex. Sex is not the issue. The issue has always been staying alive. I will tag some people on Facebook, mainly a few poets. Why I am not allowed to communicate with many people is a mystery but my messages just disappear. The boys already know all of this. Tim’s public email is http://firstname.lastname@example.org, and it is not a secret that anything that goes there is forwarded many times around the world to secure email accounts in different countries. We are now going encrypted because of this. Anything you send him gets encrypted immediately. There is nothing a sender even has to do. We have done it before when the haters were out of control. We will do it again. Being safe means our survival. We will be fine and Tim will find a way to get his art and message that you can go outside of the system to survive with HIV/AIDS because the system in many places just means death. Many people in this day and age cannot believe that boys like us are hated but we are. Tim wanted his life to be a testament to that. He will always be one of us and on our side. I do not have all of Tim’s friends names. There are only a few people I am allowed to tag. I have no doubt I will be next to be kicked off. But I am leaving on my own right now. Tim regrets being kicked off Facebook. It is public knowledge. There are other pages on Facebook that we always just ignored with Tim’s name on them that we have no idea who even set them up. I cannot reach all the thousands of people I would really like this to go to. I can reach less than a dozen of you.
I feel strongly that Tim’s life has meant something. It was an adventure knowing all of you. Be safe!
I Walk in Soft Shoes Between the Stars by Jonah (for my teacher, he does not want me to say that but I say it anyway). May, 2013.
If you could only see the beast you’ve made of me
I held it in but now it seems you’ve set it running free
Screaming in the dark, I howl when we’re apart
Drag my teeth across your chest to taste your beating heart
And I become this child again. Walking our bikes up another rocky road. I have another crush one more time. I try not to. I fight it, and then I give it up when they disappoint me.
He tells me to stop copying, to stop copying him, and he says he is no role model. But I have an ear for it. For whatever the rhythm of a heartbeat sings. But how do you do that, how do you stop copying someone when you do not know you are copying him, and he keeps you at arm’s length, and he knows I am probably dangerous, and all you know is you can touch the rhythm, and he can do that, too. He makes you push it and push it and push it until you are using words you never heard before or maybe you heard them in another life.
He is teaching me to write poetry. How do you teach poetry. You take me to a quiet place where I can write with paper and a pencil. And then you leave me there like Tim does.
If I say something like, “The stars are beautiful and I walk between them in soft shoes,” Tim will roll his eyes.
“Avoid cliches,” he says. If it is a cliche, Timothy will piss on it. He is part dog. That is not a metaphor.
There are animal symbols among us. And you wonder where we live. Among the mountain whelps and mist that hangs above the ground. In the Blue Ridge where the bike trails will tear your skin and bones apart.
Tim is a junkyard dog. I am a Sparrow Hawk. Keveon is a gazelle. Trigger is the patience of a tiger. You never know when it will go off but you know it will kinda like an earthquake you cannot predict, but you know in time the threadbare earth will move.
When a pack of whelps sleeps together, they are always moving together, too, even in their sleep. My bike is double-twisting mid-air, and it’s the frame that has to take the punishment. If I fall, and I always fall, I will get back up again crushing me or no crushing me. Why do I fall only for kind men who can never love me back?
My fingers claw your skin, try to tear my way in
You are the moon that breaks the night for which I have to howl
My fingers claw your skin, try to tear my way in
You are the moon that breaks the night for which I have to
Tim loves this song and I know why. We all walk between all of this and all our deaths in soft shoes star to star. Beneath most plain men are prisoners with no hope and their cruel windows. I was a prisoner in a Youth Authority Detention Center. The whole world gets reduced to fluorescent flickering. The light goes on and off again. And we are just a group of boys together who have by accident escaped destiny’s harsh laments like rolling papers that get flushed away and down the toilet because the cops are at the door.
Darker and darker and house to house. Love to love. Crushing and it’s all crushing me. We aren’t all that good for much. But we can escape any afternoon of dust lost from everything but desire. We know all her wet secrets and all her boundary stones, and at night we listen to the silhouettes of howling as it steadfastly refuses to give up something we will never know. You can’t know everything, and Tim walks away from the why, why, why lashes of that whip.
And I become this child again. Walking our bikes up another rocky road. He makes you push it and push it and push it until the words you heard in that other life have become alive in this one.
I walk in soft shoes between the torment and the sorrow. Like a Bedouin who has touched the treacherous sand with his constant eyes of rushing blindly through the whispers like a parasite tearing open each boys’ becalmed throat and each boys’ belly until we have looked at all our bloodied hands and then the screaming starts.
Now there’s no holding back, I’m making to attack
My blood is singing with your voice, I want to pour it out
The saints can’t help me now, the ropes have been unbound
I hunt for you with bloody feet across the hallow’d ground
like some child possessed, the beast howls in my veins
I want to find you tear out all your tenderness
And howl, howl
Tim Barrus/ the past with its faint dry sounds does not exist/ what you remember of it is another drowning in another sky/ your eyes are only closed to the ancestral salute to all their empty rooms/ you, wading out into it/ darkens the hills with an aroused infinity that cannot grow old/ that you could float beside me mindful of the wind through another ruins/ what they won’t tell you in school is/ that ruins and all that scratching at the windows and apocalypse are a dime a dozen/
Sometimes There Is A Key By Jonah
I sit in this group with guys just like me and he sits
There in his chair turning the keys in everyones’
Gut and mine and sometimes I hate him for that for
Making me look at who I really am beyond the identity
of what I once did for a living to survive because it
Was the only way I knew how and if I keep telling
Myself that lie maybe someday I will believe it
because the key is just another dagger plunged
through my eye so that I might unlock all the
coffins I have hidden in
My husband wears only black by Carolyn Srygley-Moore (USA)
(for Tim & his supporters)
My husband wears black, only an occasional splash of blue or red
if I choose the T // griffins, amongst crosses
over which the moon also rises. Stalin still lives
in the color black, whorling over the dunes, Stalin still lives.
The fingers are transformed by each thing they touch
as the mind is transformed by visual impact,
the iris fluttering like the camera shutter.
There are things you made I could not look upon.
No boys were harmed in the making of this video. Should be the legend.
This poem, skateboarding into the fire.
Trundles of fire. My husband wears only black.
He is a sweet man. He believes in the God some disparage.
Yet the moon rises orange over flesh
once broken open like a corn cob doll
by a woman's hands. Stalin extant in all things
human, divine. The choir sings
of things Graeco-Roman, the choir sings.
We protect ourselves from the visual impact, from what singes
our hair so we are women weeping for the dead,
our hair shorn, then burned at the foot of the bed
where the small dog dreams, his foot twitching
& the white owl clamors outside the window: who, who
is watching, who.
The Demons That Hound Me by Lois Michal Unger (Israel)
the demons that hound me surround the bend
guilt guilt guilt they cry
image of a hedge comes to mind
green green green I say
what is it what is it?
I feel blank
what is it what is it?
allow myself to be talked into things
a small voice says
It Could Always Be Worse by Paul A. Toth (USA)
Squash by Elazar Larry Freifeld (Israel)
(dedicated to Tim)
i have painted myself the color blue
i have painted a garden, there among the delicate carrots
and the pretty flowers
tentacles of squash reach out to kill the corn
why should i then weep for the death of gods
they have been killing me for ages
call it harvesting of war against nature that preaches war
the birds scream when the hunter arrives with his son
in the spare light of dawn
the blast of his gun
the man that planted now comes to reap
and to teach
i have painted myself red now color of blood
the beets are blossoming
crows caw cowardly but not afraid, they have known death
sure as winter and lean as a cunning fox
why are we then morally bound to forgive evil and not destroy
watch children die
and boys march off to war
we are tentacles no less intolerant in a cornfield
earth the color of all the young corn
The Truth Is Forbidden by Anthony Cochrane (USA)
When a soul
And the story is told
And in between read
After all is said
Not a word gets
Not a sound anymore
All the sugar coating
The BOOK has been
In his FACE
Leaving not a trace
Deleted but not defeated
The truth is hidden
So reality is forbidden
Drifted far from humanity
When blessed with insanity
(Politics) A fool for a king
Is such a common thing
And doing so well
Under the written spell
But when the spell is broken
Not a word is spoken
Except by the king in disguise
Pleading that he is so wise
And all the suckers sympathize
When a soul unfolds
And the story is told
Be brave, be bold and LISTEN to him
To Tim, To a great artist... may he NOT rest in peace...