Atlantic City, May 31, 2021

Here, on a crowded beach, is where I met the man who kidnapped me in 1974. Decades later, I stand for a moment of reflection. On this quiet morning, an advertisement grabbed my attention. It’s a PSA for the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The bright message sparked a revelation. What would have once triggered anger and even shame, revealed a deep gratitude. On this ordinary day, I marvel at how much the world and I have changed. That boy, who was almost killed, has come so far. I have since lived a life of my own making. A life I am proud to be enjoying and sharing with you.

The moment inspired “so many skins, since”. I chose the exact anniversary, Memorial Day, to return and restage the shoot. This series of self portraits celebrates survival and growth. More information can be found on my website.

I was barely 15 when I learned Atlantic City was something of a gay resort. Excited to have a look, I hitchhiked there. At first glance it was all grown men, just as every other cruising spot I had found. But through the crowd I saw another boy. I was dumbfounded and relieved - I was no longer the only one. I paced back and forth, desperate to come up with a way to introduce myself. Suddenly a strange looking man blocked my path. Looking towards the boy, and without missing a beat, he said, “His name is Billy. Do you want to meet him?”

By that night, I was in the man’s Manhattan apartment. He kept me heavily sedated, offering me to other men to use. On the fourth night I found myself awake but suffering the effects of an unknown drug. Paralyzed and unable to defend myself, they sadistically raped me throughout the night.

I woke in the dark, dead silence of the early hours. Fearing I would be discovered, my heart pounded while I escaped. Dazed and disoriented, I was lost in the vastness of the city. I fumbled with false starts before my flight found direction. Terrified, I walked through a barren Times Square and beneath a maze of overpasses. Dwarfed by their towering pillars I clung to my determination. From the darkness I saw the final hurdle, the deep mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel. As the sun rose, I hitched a ride out of hell.

Today I stand here strong. Gratefully aging, rooted in my truth. 47 years after they thrilled at choking me, I freely inhale. I display what is real, sags and wrinkles, earned from a life defying their indifference. Coming to understand what I survived, I have peeled off so many skins, since.

-Brian David Dennis

National Human Trafficking Hotline

https://humantraffickinghotline.org, 1-888-373-7888 ( TTY: 711)|*Text 233733

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