Following the Fear :: Ron Blake on Male Sexual Assault, PTSD, and Dreams of 'The Late Show'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday April 9, 2018

With his telegenic good looks and bright, upbeat energy, Arizona resident Ron Blake could be a spokesman for any number of causes. The one he's promoting is a surprise - but it comes with an uplifting story of healing and a goal that can't help bring a smile to your face.

Blake was subjected to a terrifying sexual assault in 2011 by his partner of the time and two others. That assault threw him into an emotional vortex he wasn't sure he would survive. Worse, he encountered skepticism when he told others about the trauma, with those in whom he confided reluctant to believe a man as fit as Blake could have been subdued and raped. Others - people who know Blake and his partner as a couple - didn't want to believe that his partner could have hurt Blake in such a manner.

But Blake survived and, one night in 2015, unexpectedly found a way to thrive. He was watching "The Late Show" with Stephen Colbert when he suddenly found himself laughing. This was the light in his ongoing darkness that he'd been looking for; the next day, while visiting a Staples, Blake spotted a stack of posterboards and decided on the spot to use them not only to tell his story but to raise awareness about sexual assault that targets men, and to launch a crusade to get onto "The Late Show," the very program that had triggered his healing laughter.

It seems like a mad plan, but perhaps the destination is less important than the journey. To date, according to a recent Facebook post, Blake has gathered messages of support from almost 25,000 well-wishers and accumulated more than 3,000 square feet of poster boards with their hand-written hand-drawn contributions. His poster boards have been presented as an art show. Blake has taken part in a sexual assault awareness campaign, spoken at an "I Am More Than PTSD" event, and given a TEDx talk. He's done all of this on his own dime, and the cost of that - as his Facebook posting hesitantly reveals - means he's gone deeply into debt.

Blake's is a brave and laudable struggle. He's become a voice for those who are too often not heard, but as he's quick to point out, it's not about himself or his own story. He's bringing awareness to an issue that affects far too many in our community, and beyond. In a time of #MeToo and growing awareness of the sexual assaults that target women, it's also time to treat such assaults targeting men with equal seriousness.

Blake recently reached out to EDGE to share his story. Gay men who have been assaulted - especially when the assailant was a life partner - have all too often encountered the sort of skepticism and disbelief that Blake is working to dispel. It was obvious at once that what he had to say needed to be shared.

It was a blessing and a privilege to speak with Ron Blake recently about his experiences, his journey, and what it would mean for him if he ever makes it onto "The Late Show."

EDGE: In 2011 you were sexually assaulted by your partner at the time and two others. Would you mind talking a little about what you were thinking and feeling when that assault was taking place?

Ron Blake: I was sleeping, I was very sick that night, I was in bed, and... it's just the first thing that hits you, I mean - just surprise. You're trying to understand what's happening, and for me, these guys jumped into my bed, my clothes were taken off of me, and... you're trying to process it. It doesn't seem like it's happening, but it is happening... so, really, a lot of shock.

They were all drunk. I could tell. Two of them identified as though they might be on more than just alcohol. One the people who came in was my domestic partner of almost a decade. To have somebody that close to me in my life be involved in any capacity - that was hard. That was just - there's nothing left in you. You think you're not going to get help. Your best friend in the world, the person you're closest to in the world isn't going to help you. At that point, I was just... I didn't think I was going to make it.

EDGE: Did they think they were doing something you would find to be fun? Did they mean to hurt you? Or were they just out of their minds?

Ron Blake: Those three individuals - you'd have to ask them what their intent was. I just don't know. I was the only sober one there that night. Even when the police all arrived, I could hear what they were telling the police. They were saying it was all just a big misunderstanding. That's hard for me to process - I mean, even to this day. You think, "Wait a minute. These three guys are telling the police..." You start doubting yourself at that moment, thinking, "Did I just miss all this?," and in therapy, I had to work through that. That was really hard. I actually froze at that point. I've never understood what was going through their minds. I know over time my ex-partner said that he was drunk and he didn't know what he was doing that night. But I'm always going to remember that night. He might not remember at large part of that night or any part of that night. I'll always remember it.

EDGE: do you feel you have forgiven your former partner?

Ron Blake: I feel like I've forgiven him because I'm trying to move on with my life, and I don't want to focus anger on him because then that takes away a lot of my energy. If I ever had the chance, I would welcome the opportunity to sit down with the three of them, maybe even one by one, because I don't know if they're ever been able to hear, from my words, what I felt that night.

Yeah, on that balcony waiting for the police, one of the guys grabbed me, pushed me against the railing, and I almost went over. I thought I would go over. I mean, here are three guys who almost took my life because of their actions. But I feel that I've forgiven them so that I could process and move on. But I would still welcome the opportunity to sit down and talk with them because that's one of the most powerful things. There's nothing that I can do if they opt never to have me in the same room and talk with them, but I don't have contact with my ex hardly at all. We had a business for so many years together, but I've had to pull away from him because even though I can try to forgive him, to be around him, and he hasn't acknowledged what he's done completely - I can't be around somebody like that. Because if I'm around him and he's not acknowledging it, then it's as though the event never happened, that moment never happened, and I have to be able to say, "Yes. This moment did happen. It doesn't have to define me or you, but we have to acknowledge that it did happen."

EDGE: You had an unexpected moment of laughter and healing one night when you were watching "The Late Show" with Stephen Colbert. But before that moment, what did your recovery process look like?

Ron Blake: There was a group of people that followed me around to produce a documentary, these students, and I remember... I never said it out loud until that moment with those students, when they were filming one day, but it was along the lines of, I said my recovery was like "The Flight of the Bumblebee" by Rimsky-Korsakov. You're like a bumblebee, you're going all over the place, trying to find something that works. And, gosh, I couldn't find anything! I would feel like, "Okay, I'm going to counseling now, I'll talk about this," but after a couple of weeks of that I would have a nightmare and I felt like I was right back to square one. And I would try EMDR, float therapy, acupuncture, and after a period of time I felt like nothing was happening. I tried medications, and... I just felt like all these different doctors, therapists, treatments, and nothing was working. You just... you're running out of time. That's what it felt like up until that night when I laughed.

EDGE: Do you have any insight into what it was that allowed you to laugh again while watching that show? Was it a particular joke? Was it just that you reached a place in your recovery where you were ready to laugh again?

Ron Blake: It was more that I recognized that I laughed. I don't even remember the joke, It was November 2 of 2015, I remember, but I don't remember the joke. It was something during the monologue.

My TV would always be on, and most of the time during that phase of my life I couldn't tell you what I watched... the TV was just background noise, and I was just staring into the abyss. That night, for whatever reason, I laughed.

I knew I was running out of time, I knew that one day I would take enough pills and I'd be done. I just didn't want to keep doing it anymore. There was just no quality of life left for me. And that night, it's just I grabbed onto that moment and I thought, "There's something good coming out of me." It's really hard to describe; it was just, like, there was clarity. It was, "I can build off of this." It reminded me of being in this dark place, and all of a sudden you see this ray of light, and you go toward it. That's the best description I give. I said, "I'm going to hold onto this life."

For some reason, that night, I said, "I'll get on this show. I will start telling more people about what happened to me. I'm not going to hide anymore. I'm tired of this." And I felt this hope, like, I can talk about this. I pictured myself on that show, just telling my story in a happy way - like, hey, this is something I've overcome. It's the strangest thing ever, but the next morning I saw how I would do this in that Staples store, and then that whole journey began. It's crazy to think I'm still on this journey, but it seems it's not over yet.

EDGE: That experience launched you on a journey to get on the show that sparked that healing laughter for you. Why is that now your goal, rather than, say, going on the "Ellen" show, or some other show that might be a more obvious fit?

Ron Blake: Oh my gosh, so many PR people have talked to me and weighed in on this over the last two and a half years. A lot of them have told me that they're so excited I have this purpose, and they love what I'm doing, and hey watch the TED talk or the documentary, but they say, "You should have thought about this. You picked a show that people like you don't get on."

There's a massive PR company out here in Arizona, and they said, "Even if you were a client, we don't think we could get you on his show. Why don't you try 'Ellen?' Why don't you try 'Dr. Phil?' " And I said, "That's great. I will try all those shows," and I have. However, I was not watching those shows that night. The beauty of what I did was I just went with my emotions. I didn't say, "I want to get on this show or that show." You react to a moment. I regret nothing.

Some people are atheists or agnostics, or - I'm Catholic, and I do believe there's a God, and, yeah, I believe something happened that night and I grabbed onto it. To me, everybody's spiritual, and everybody's weighed in and said, "You know what? You did grab onto a moment." I'm building out from that. I'm definitely open to sharing this story on "Ellen" or somebody else, but I still want to get on "The Late Show."

It's like telling a mountain climber, "You know, if your goal is to climb Mt. Everest, you can climb Kilimanjaro or K2," and that's great, but you're always going to want to climb Everest because that's what you set out to do,. Somehow, some way, I'm going to figure out... I don't know. Sometimes I don't feel I'm any closer to figuring this out than I was on day one, but it's taken me in so many different directions. I've met so many amazing people, I've heard their stories, and now it's become this collective story of hope and support. I don't think anybody can take that away from any of us.

EDGE: Do you have a sense or an insight as to why your story rings such a bell for so many people, and why they connect so closely with it?

Ron Blake: Because it's just that. Because we connect on some of the most basic aspects of life. We have something to talk about. We've been through triumphs, we've been through traumas, and there was even a moment... there's an event out here called "Ignite Phoenix" and they had about 200 people that applied to speak at this event. They picked eighteen of us to speak, and we all got five minutes. Of those eighteen I was the only one that got a standing ovation. There were a thousand people in the audience; it was sold out, and it was like what you just asked me earlier. I had to think that night, "Why?" There were seventeen other amazing speakers that night. And people cheered. But even some of the speakers said, "Wow, we've never seen a reaction from a crowd like that."

And it wasn't about me; it was about the story. People connected to that story because people want to see triumph. These people who share their stories with me, it can get really emotional because I hear so many stories of people that they've gone through hell and back, but they want to get to their goal, and they want to triumph. It makes me happy, too, that these people have gotten to places that are a lot better. It's because we related to stories like that. We relate to trauma. We relate to triumph.

EDGE: How do you think of yourself as you continue with this project? Some people dislike words like "victim," or even "survivor." Is there a word you feel does you justice? "Advocate," maybe?

Ron Blake: That event where I gave the big speech was called "I Am More Than PTSD." I just hate labels! I told somebody the other day, "I don't know if I'd ever want to be called a "motivator" or a "speaker" or an "advocate." To a large degree, I just want to be called Blake! What's really powerful, too, is that on these boards, of these tens of thousands of people I met, some guy pointed out the other day, he said, "Hey Blake, you know, on these boards... it's not scientific, but I figured out what word people on that board more than any other." He said, "It's your name. They say, 'Blake,' and they put a message."

But the thing is, it's not so much about me but the feeling they're connecting to me. They're not calling me a label, they're not calling me a motivator. They're calling me by my name, and that's what I want to be called be for the rest of my life. I don't want to be identified as any of that other stuff!

EDGE: You mentioned your faith a moment ago. Do you have a sense that the things that have happened to you, and the journey you're on now, might be part of God's plan for your life? Or is it more a matter of being given lemons, but now, like the saying goes, God might be helping you make lemonade?

Ron Blake: I'm always respectful of what everybody else thinks; it's up them to decide what they think happened, But for me, yeah... the whole journey I've been on, I'm learning. I've had people ask me, "If you could go back and change anything, would you?" I said, "No, absolutely not." If you start changing things in your life, then you're not you anymore. No, there's a reason why all of life, all of the universe, it all happens for a reason - good, bad, it balances out, I would have never net all of these people. I would have never learned [the things I have].

There's some kind of Japanese pottery - somebody put this on my board - it begins with a K ["kintsukuroi"] and when the pottery breaks and you glue it back together it actually becomes stronger. Along those lines of thinking, when you go through these traumas you actually come out stronger. I just don't feel there's much more anybody can throw at me. I don't feel like I've been desensitized, but, gosh, after what I've been through I felt like I'm, a lot stronger to handle more challenges in my life. Whether it's God it the universe, I feel like all been put out there, and you've got to find a way to get to the end. You've got to find a way to keep going. If it was easy, I don't think there'd be any fun in it. And when I say "fun," when you reach a destination and you get through that, that's the whole premise of life. That's where the excitement in life is: Overcoming everything.

EDGE: Let's say that next week you get a call from Stephen Colbert and he says, "I heard about your project to get on my show and I think it's great! Let's have you on tonight." Let's say you go on his show and you've reached that goal. What is the next day going to be like, without that challenge still ahead?

Ron Blake: Gosh. I mean, I've had a lot of people ask me that, too... initially, all I wanted to do was get on that show, and I would be sitting in that chair and I would tell my story. I think the biggest thing was, I just wanted to talk. I was so sick of hiding, and I wanted to tell it to a large audience. For a long time, I wasn't believed by a large group of our friends out here, and that was really hurtful. They knew my partner, and they thought, "How could he be involved in something so heinous and so horrible?"

So I just wanted to get on the show to tell my story, and then just move on with my life. But as time has gone on, so many people have said, "I think you could do more." I have thousands of square feet with these messages, and there have been four art exhibits with these [boards] already. I would love to take these around the country, show them to people, let them add to it. Share the story.

It's not really my story anymore. I think people miss that. It's become this massive collective story, and it's a lot, lot bigger than me.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.