Chronicle of a Voice: What It's Like to Go on the Record and Say #MeToo
A Long Post about My Experience Coming Forward about a "Me Too" SituationI won't lie. It is not easy. Not even now, now that we have undertaken this movement dubbed Me Too. It is very difficult to use one's voice and declare publicly, "me too." As the movement goes on, and the shock of its proliferation - and the reverberations of its existence - begins to seep in, it may even be harder to come forward at this very moment, than before it began. The backlash grows as the public has to do the hard work of holding those perpetrators, and themselves, accountable for what to do, now that we all are beginning to learn the ugly truths of more and more people.
I have seen so many lament over the loss of an affinity they aren't sure they can keep for a person, or a person's work. I see them equivocate and make excuses, seeking a moral way to continue to venerate the art, the product, of a perpetrator or even still the perpetrator themselves. They struggle to come to terms with the notion that what they once held in high esteem without question, must, indeed, be questioned. They try to reason a way to continue to appreciate someone, or someone's work, despite knowing the various degrees of wrong that person has perpetrated.
Let me tell you how it began, my journey as a voice--telling the truth, coming forward publicly about someone. But before I do, I want to note that I am centering this piece of writing around those who come forward about a "Me Too" situation. For that reason, I will not be using the name of the perpetrator in this post. I do not wish to be connected to his name more than I have to. This is about me, and you, and all the voices of the injured, that need to be heard. That is is the focus here.
What started it was that there was an open anonymous letter published. Usually, on social media, people will often write a warning, "content warning" or "trigger warning," about these senstive topics. It was funny because I had gone on to my Facebook account during a little break from work, and this link to the open letter was posted by many of my friends, and none really had a TW or CW, and I clicked on it, and then, in fact, I was totally triggered--something I really had only sympathized with as a concept up until then and hadn't experienced myself yet. When I read the open letter, I was overcome with memories filled anger, embarrassment, indignation, violation, humiliation, vulnerability, naivete, and ignorance (more on that in a moment). For the rest of the day, I was unable to focus, unable to think, unable to do more than the bare minimum, because the distraction by this enormous, intense reality had flooded into my day.
I shared the link to the anonymous letter, like many others had. And I added my own experience with the perpetrator named in it. In the anonymous open letter, a social media post of the the perpetrator was excerpted. In the excerpt, he asserted he had never sexually assaulted anyone. He had sexually assaulted me. He had even sent an apology email--in 2017, weeks after the news stories by Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey and Ronan Farrow were published--about the incident in which he sexually assaulted me. So, even though he had admitted his guilt to the sexual assault to me in private, he was lying publicly on his social media and claiming he had never perpetrated behavior that he had already admitted to all within the same recent timeframe.
That blatant lie of his, in defense of himself, to cast himself in a better seeming light when trying to equivocate and defend a long, fraught history of misconduct, that angered me so much. However, that was not what prompted me to come forward with my public testimony.
I know that the behavior of such a person is not anything I am culpable for. I do not believe I am due any blame for what he has done to others after what he had done to me. I say that first, because what I say next has to do with the complications of being the sufferer of an assault: saying nothing means risking more people will be vulnerable to the perpetrator of the misconduct. Saying something means incurring the risks and vulnerabilites and judgment of those who either don't believe you, or believe you but do not feel that your perpetrator deserves any adverse consequences for what he has done.
I cannot describe how awful it feels to encounter such reactions. The betrayal I have felt when I have, the anguish of witnessing a person who you held in esteem showing themselves to be unworthy of your friendship by devaluing you and your experience, it is no wonder that people still continue to remain quiet even as this movement continues to build. The energy that such occurences take away from a person when they unfold can be debilitating.
When I came forward in a friends-only post about the sexual assault, I know that someone on my Facebook friends list shared my status with the perpetrator, because he then also began admitting to it--and putting a spin on the scenario, filled with lies and embellishments that would cast him in the best light possible. The immorality of such a betrayal is beyond words.
I have had many low days these past months as I have endured the fallout from deciding to be a public voice. I have wondered who I could still consider a friend. I have avoided gatherings in my community, unsure what sort of attitudes I would encounter, and unsure that I could endure more than even a few hostile ones.
I am, though, fortified in many other ways. When the perpetrator got in touch with me to apologize shortly after the Hollywood stories had come out, I felt that the apology was not a genuine one, but more a measure taken to preemptively take cover for himself and his past action. My instinct told me that I was probably one of many, and he was doing this in hopes that it would prevent me from coming forward about what he had done to me. At the time he sent the apology, I had seen a link to a Google spreadsheet going around, in response to articles about predatory men in literary academia. I checked if his name were there, but did not really feel assurances when I didn't find his name, since he wasn't an academic. I kept in my mind to be wary of him and his approaches. I blocked him from being able to message me again and though we were not social media friends, I took the extra measure of blocking him so he couldn't attempt to contact me further.
Shortly after that, the anonymous open letter was posted. I cursed myself for ignoring my instinct those few months' previous and hoped that in the ensuing time, no additional people were made to suffer by him, while I did nothing. Once the letter was published, though, I was determined that I would finally take action, and alert as many people as possible, so no further people had to be vulnerable to his misconduct.
That is what this has always been about, you know. A wish for the safety of everyone in a given community, to not be susceptible to those who would take advantage of any leverage and power they may have and abuse it by harming others. A wish for just peace, where people can thrive in a harmonious environment, and not fear a violent risk by entering into friendships, relationships, collegial connections, mentorships, etc.
Though in this case, I have heard many naysayers, and the perpertrator himself, assert that those of us who have come forward, and have shared our stories and the important information we have learned, are doing or have done so for ignoble reasons.
-- Here I want divert for a moment to say I don't mean this in any aesthetic sense. I think debate, challenges, boundary-pushing art, constructive criticism, all of that, is an important part of any artistic community. I mean this in the sense of bodily harm and personal safety.
And the more I spoke to others about what I had learned of this person who'd harmed me, the more I had heard in response, of further misconduct he'd done to others. The more I heard of this, the more I resolved to do whatever was in my power to stop the failing whisper network, and instead broadcast the news as far and wide as I was capable of doing.
That meant, for me, going on the record, publicly. I have since changed my initial Facebook post to a public post, instead of friends-only. Further, I chose to go on record for a piece that freelance reporter Rebekah Kirkman had taken up, to do on this story.
I did the initial interview by phone while on vacation at my mother's house in New Orleans. I did it on the morning after I'd arrived for my short trip. I thought I would do the interview first thing and then have the rest of the day to do vacation things. I was wrong about that plan.
I want you to know, if you are a person who decides to come forward as a source for a "Me Too" story, it is like running an emotional marathon. You have to relive the trauma you experienced. You have to review your actions and your reactions. My incident occurred nine years ago. I didn't talk to the perpetrator for months after it happened, but then when he did reach out after a few months, I resumed talking to him, albeit sporadically and only for a short period of time the following year, until I stopped altogether.
Why did I even do that much, though? I wondered about myself. Reviewing the correspondence, because it was all online and reviewable, I saw myself say things like, "I have to just move on," to the perpetrator himself. No I didn't! But at the time, I felt--like so many others in my position, for at the time I was still relatively new to the poetry community--that I had to just go along to get along. Life was easier, so it seemed at the time, not holding the person accountable for his actions.
The further I got from the situation though, and the more little things I heard here and there in the whisper network, the more I fully I felt the due feelings of danger, resentment, anger, and violation.
The violation of my body still makes my breath short. This body that I have worked so very hard to love and appreciate and venerate in its natural form. I have been a plus size pin up blogger for a few years now, a passionate hobby of mine that has the magical power to transform the so-called frivolous frilly feminine, and, by way of celebrating, honoring and showcasing my curvy plus size body in the ultra-feminine fashion aesthetic that I feel so empowered by, becomes a fiercely subversive act against a culture that wants to denigrate size, age, the feminine, and the openly sexual. Back then, when the sexual assault occurred, I was ignorant of the power I held in this sense. I hadn't yet come into my own as a curvy, hourglass shaped, Jessica-Rabbit-esque woman. I call it, specifically, acknowledging my ruling archetype as Venus. I was afraid of that power. I wasn't keen to the body and sex positive movements, yet. I hadn't owned, and honed, and loved that about myself, yet. So to have that assault happen to me as it did...I think, at the time, I might have felt like I had it coming. I have large breasts. I wore a scoop neck top and sturdy bra. A drunk man, after admiring pictures of me on social media, upon meeting me face-to-face for the very first time in person, lunged at me and grabbed my breasts in front of several people at a public event. What did I expect?
That is a question, isn't it? A Mad Men Era question, that certainly persists today. When we ask a person what she was wearing, what she had said, what her actions were leading up to the assault, that is the question we are hoping to quell any of her complaint with. What did you expect?
I know so much better now. I know that we all need to expect our bodies as our own space, at all times, until enthusiastically consented to otherwise. No matter if she looks like a St Pauli Girl Label in her profile picture. -- No matter if: she didn't say no, has consented previously, was consenting but barely conscious, seems she knew the quid pro quo to expect, was wearing a tight top, was wearing no top, is a porn star, is a girlfirend, is a wife, etc etc etc
This goes for physical acts of sexual misconduct, but there is more than one way to be abusive, sexually. An offender can emotionally manipulate a person, can say verbally abusive things, can threaten harm. An offender often works on multiple levels. As in the case with the person I came forward about.
This leads to another reason why it is difficult to be a public voice. The perpetual transgressor is often charismatic, and good at working people over, and spinning the facts in their favor. That's how they get away with so many trangressions for so long and so often. In my case, the person apologized to me once online a few months after, as I noted, and a second time, after years of not speaking, out of the blue. On both occasions, he claimed he no longer exhibited the behavior of that night. On both occasions, I have come to learn, he was lying. And on the third occasion he apologized, this time in the wake of the Me Too Movement beginning, I was finally as suspicious as I should have been.
After I came forward with my #MeToo story, I withdrew from poetry for a few months. I skipped events and didn't speak to that many people. I was deeply affected by those who were not in support of what I had done. I let that affect me more than those who had come forward to thank me and tell me they appreciated my actions. It took a lot of contemplation to finally reason myself back into my natural state as a more open and social person. It didn't help that this was occurring during the winter, when I am affected by the change in season and darkness at an early hour. I had other personal things going on to make me withdrawn, as well. I am not sure exactly what helped. I suppose, as usual, writing, and also the oncoming Spring, but somehow, finally, by the middle of March, I felt my mojo returning, so to speak.
I went to a literary event, and while there I spoke to friends about all that I had been going through, with coming forward about a Me Too situation, speaking on record to a reporter about it, feeling the sting of lack of support from some friends for having done so. I told them about my incident. One of them asked who was the offender. I named him. She said, "me too." The details are not mine to share, but what was of note is that this was just in the past year and a half. After all those assurances in which he had claimed over and over throughout the years to me, and all the public posts in which he asserted all his transgression were so very long ago and things he was working hard to fix, here was yet another casualty of the failed whisper network, sitting next to me, relating a very recent incident.
After that, I was more determined than ever to make sure everything that could be done to out his true character would be done.
He did not make it easy for me, though. While he publicly would claim to be doing all kinds of noble work to improve himself, and though he claimed he was deeply sorry for the harm he had caused and wished to do everything he could to do right by those he had hurt, and though such public social media posts got many likes and comments of encouragement by people who wanted to believe in him, none of it was honest.
My proof in this assertion is what I, and the other women, have had to endure in the last few months. The freelance reporter found a publication for the piece she was doing, and began the earnest work that has to go into a journalistic piece that follows the Code of Ethics. So, she had to contact the perpetrator and get his side. Upon speaking with him, he was alerted to what she knew of what he'd done by the women who had come forward to tell her their stories. And that is when we began to encounter the backlash of a guilty person, who does not feel remorse for his actions and who seeks only to protect himself from the consequences of what he has done.
Though initially saying he was backing out of poetry and was extremely sorry for what he had done in the past, and wished to do better by all those he had harmed, he then went on to get a lawyer and send cease and desist letters to some of the people who had come forward on social media about him. I did not receive one of these letters, but heard about others who have.
Also, in these past months, he asserted to the managing editor of the publication that I, and the other people who'd come forward, were part of a smear campaign against him. I had to be asked, and verify that I was not part of a smear campaign. In my reply, I noted that such a term is wholly inappropriate in this instance. A smear campaign involves an injustice in which information is distorted to undermine an innocent person. That is not the case here.
Further, participating in a smear campaign is ethically wrong. It is, in fact, my feelings of ethical obligation to anyone who may be vulnerable in the poetry community that I love so much, that compel me to do the difficult, emotionally taxing, work of coming forward publicly.
Additionally, the serial offender attempted to impugn the character of all the people who had come forward by actually claiming that we were paid to do so. A charge I find so sickening that I don't know how anyone can hear of it and not think it reflects more on the person who brought it forward in the first place, than anyone accused.
This emotional labor is not something that has a price tag on it. The strength and courage and endurance doing something like this takes is priceless. Only a person with extremely questionable morals could think that someone could be induced to go through all that I have gone through for a monetary price. The cost of relationships, of time, of energy, of mental will, of vulnerability do not have a price tag. It is grotesque to suggest otherwise.
I also have heard from many that the perpetrator has reached out to a lot of people. He has intimated that he is suicidal. He has attributed all his transgressions to a number of things, like his neurodivergence, the trauma he suffered as a young person, and the struggles he's had with substance abuse. While all of those things are aspects of a person that call for compassion, it does not, should not and in this case for me, will not stop me from being determined that he should be prevented from endangering more people. There are many people in the world who have dealt with the same things, and they do not end up serially abusing others as a result. It does no good to allow those things to be an excuse to dismiss all this harmful behavior. Coming forward about what has been done is not meant as a personal attack on the perpetrator, but, rather more importantly, it is a means of making sure no more people have to be susceptible to the transgressions he his capable of doing, as has been his past and present pattern.
As I write this, the article about the offender's prolific misconduct is due out tomorrow. The reporter has informed me that it is a long piece, but that is strong because I, and the other women who came forward, lent our voices in public to bring to light the many wrongs of the past and to protect our community going forward.
It is my deepest wish that this thorough piece convinces those in doubt to no longer remain there about this person, and that it will do much to prevent any future adverse incidents with the offender occuring with other people. But further, and most importantly, I hope that it inspires others to come forward about all the other people who have, for too long, gotten away with harming people. I hope that more and more Whisper Networks amplify into the Loud Speakers we need, to make sure those people who wish to merely live their lives and make connections can do so without fear of so much emotional, mental, or physical harm.
I feel extremely vulnerable. It is one thing to use social media to help shine a light where a dangerous darkness has been for too long. But there is a limit to what that can do. A legitimate news outlet with a wide audience is another thing altogether. I have seen what this person is capable of doing when threatened. I fear the unknown of what may happen once my #MeToo is far more public.
I have received so much love and encouragement from my loved ones, both in the poetry community and outside of it. I am thankful for them. If you come forward, I recommend you take to heart the words of those who tell you, "thank you" and "I'm here for you." You will need them. You will need that fortification of courage and strength. It is a scary place, to be so vulnerable.
But I also know that no amount of fear right now could feel as bad as remaining silent and letting others continue to be exposed and unguarded. I thank everyone who has encouraged me and reminded me of this. I want to tell you, if you have a #MeToo story to tell, and want to share but are scared to, do it. You will find support. There will be dark days, and it will be challenging. But there are people out there for you, if you seek them. I am here, if you're reading, even if you're a stranger. Message me. I am here.
Be brave. It's the only way things will change. It's the only way we're going to make things better.
I will post the link to the story in the Outline once it is published: you can find it here.