An iron will, “Irish stubbornness,” and the written word have carried Callen from a childhood of abuse to an adulthood as a successful playwright and activist on behalf of male survivors.
Callen was in his 20’s, he was suicidal, it was the middle of the night, and he was about to act on it. But there was a light shining from beneath a roommate’s door, and something moved him to knock on it. She welcomed him into her room, where Callen sat and grieved, and when he was done, she said, “would you like to go for a walk?”
Severely sexually abused by his older brother, Callen had once tried to disclose but had been rebuffed. And so for decades, he wrestled with demons, and with alcoholism. He spent a decade numbing himself, drinking daily. But within Callen was an “Irish stubbornness” that he could call forth. One night a man lewdly propositioned him in the bathroom of a gay bar, and something clicked. “What am I doing here?” He never touched a drink again.
If the angel in the lit room saved him from suicide, it was the written word that carried Callen out of the long darkness. A published poet, memoirist, and playwright, Callen wrote his way out of the dark silence that had engulfed him. He began to introduce elements of his traumatic childhood into his plays.
Finally, he knew he was ready to tell his story, which he did, in the play “Invisible Boy,” and in the book, “Empty Playground: A Survivor’s Story.” The success of the play helped propel Callen into the role of activist and organizer. He has become a voice for male survivors in Madison, Wisconsin, where he has organized an annual conference since 2013 to raise awareness about male sexual victimization.