I want to take just a little bit of time to talk about someone who, literally, shall not be named. And, more to the point, my feelings about people who enable abusive and manipulative people. I don’t intend to be disjointed in this, but I no doubt will be.
Once upon a time, I had a work-based acquaintance, someone who contributed to two advice columns where I didn’t feel I understood the situation enough emotionally, despite getting it intellectually: questions from evangelical users struggling with feelings of being bad people because of having a sexuality or sexual life. I forget who initially connected me to this person, or how I noticed them, but it was the fact that they appeared to be someone who strongly ID’d as Christian, yet seemed to have some sense of how to approach sexuality through that lens in a way that didn’t make others in that spot feel like garbage. As well, as someone who runs a site which serves people of all genders, but in a field which is largely dominated by women, I was always on the lookout for men who could work with us, particularly for our readers who were young men, young men who often expressed feeling like older men didn’t care about this stuff with them, or that they couldn’t find older men, period, to talk with or hear from on these issues at all unless they wanted to talk porn, beer and boobs. Then I worked with this acquaintance on two articles, though working together still meant I did the lion’s share of the work, primarily since this person didn’t offer much of great substance: style over substance did seem to be the order of the day. But so it goes.
Then this person offered up a guest blog, which we didn’t wind up keeping, because there was a mansplaininess to it that felt not-quite-right, particularly given that the topic was addressing young women’s feelings and experiences with the way men viewed their bodies.After that piece, I made a quiet personal decision not to publish or work with this person again. Not because of anything dramatic, but instead because that last piece was just iffy, and because again, working together seemed a lot more like working alone but having to integrate and flesh out someone else’s thoughts in ways that didn’t seem productive or worth the time.
Right about that same time, this individual seemed to find a couple big, paying markets for themselves. What I saw getting published verified my ooky. iffy feelings, and I remember thinking, “Yeah, I’m glad I made the choice to let them float away: really not feeling this stuff.”
And then, maybe a year after that, some savvy readers had dug into the background of this person, primarily (entirely even, I think) via a personal journal he kept which I had never read. In it were admissions — that word feels too neutral: really, confessions, strangely braggy, lurid confessions, given the subject matter and the fact that this was a public, not a private, journal – of things that I just couldn’t imagine anyone with half a scarp of ethos would not only not have told someone like me before working in the kind of space Scarleteen is, and I work very hard to make and keep it, but would have simply said no when I asked for even the slightest contribution, knowing exempting themselves from a space and organization like Scarleteen would be the only right thing to do. Again, something anyone, with even one tiny, tiny bit of both personal ethics and earnest care for the organization and those it serves would have done.
Confessions about sexually abusing a position of power with young people. Confessions about domestic violence, right down to attempting to murder an intimate partner.
The shit — in this case, so very literally — understandably hit the fan all over the place at that point. We immediately started having some behind-the-scenes talk at the org about what to do with the material we had from this person, feeling, on the one hand, that any endorsement or notion of us endorsing this person was deeply problematic, since, with this information now in hand we most certainly did not and very much feeling that some of what had been written also rang so false with the reality of who this person had been — still was in so many ways, but more on that in a moment — that…well, publishing bullshit isn’t something we’re in the business of doing.
At the same time, I have issues with erasing or editing history, and also want us to do the best we can to be accountable for our choices. After all, while we didn’t have this information at the time, and some of it wasn’t available when we published this person, some of it was: if we more thoroughly vetted people who work with us, even in the smallest capacity, we probably would have found a couple of things back at the time which would have had us nix working at all with this person.
Because we weren’t the only people finding all of this out at the time, we then got an influx of emails from readers and supporters asking what we were going to do. This wasn’t helped by the fact that this person was — and never stopped — publicly describing a level of connection and interaction with us that was deeply inflated. Mind, they also didn’t know at the time about my quiet choice, one I never shared with them, primarily because they were not staff nor a regular contributor, almost two years before not to work with them anymore. But still.
So, things went bananas. Validly, given the gravity of the situation: I don’t have issues with people taking issue with us having even small amounts of content from this person. Saying a visible site gives someone credibility and more of a platform, even if it isn’t paying them or working with them anymore, is utterly valid: I agree. But we have a wide readership, and very few people doing the work, so the level of bananas was, well, bananas, and dealing with this basically shut down all the rest of our work for around a solid week.
Here comes the funny part. Not funny ha-ha. I’m talking knee-deep-in-guts-and-formaldehyde gallows humor, here.Because I tend to take people at their word — which is both a strength and a failing of mine, as well as a personal blindness, as a lot of that comes from the assumption that because I say only what I mean, so does everyone else, which is obviously foolish to some degree — I figured the things this person was saying about changing might have been true. Maybe. That maybe was less about what they were saying and more about what they withheld: a person who no longer seeks to abuse, exploit or manipulate, after all, would have disclosed these things to me before working with me. But again, perhaps there was something I wasn’t seeing.
Regardless, we had decided to remove this person’s work, leaving a note at the end of the pieces about having removed it. That seemed to be something which would satisfy us and our readers and supporters. But because this person had given some time, and for free, to us, I figured on my part, I owed them the courtesy of letting them know what we were doing, why, and telling them the content of the addendum.
Then the emails and the phone calls happened. The emails were bad enough, but the phone calls? The phone calls made that “maybe this person is different” go away almost immediately.
I say almost because for as much as I know, from my work, what abuse dynamics are like, as someone who has survived and lived with several kinds of abuse, I have those special blind spots it leaves you with: that thing where you still don’t see it at first, rather than — as also sometimes happens — you recognizing it on sight. And, of course, as absolutely anyone is, I’m vulnerable to abuse and manipulation; capable of being abused or manipulated just as much as anyone else, despite what I know about it, personally and professionally.
There was this moment in one of the phone calls, after trying to talk about what we needed to do and why, and being fairly constantly either mildly mollified, or outright derailed with talk of what THIS person was going through — all based on their own choices and actions, mind. This moment where I had realized I had been sitting, without the ability to respond with the “WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK?!?” that was in my head when someone who made vastly more income than not just I, but my whole organization does, ever has, was telling me how hard this was going to be on them financially. Given this person was, at this time now, primarily making their income from feminism, and was not a woman of any variety — and was talking to one, no less — it was particularly priceless.
This moment after I heard a strange monologue about how I surely must understand how hard it is to work in this field when people find things I have done controversial — in a word, things like my having been naked in places where people can see me, being a rape survivor, being queer and having worked in abortion apparently was comparable to abusing positions of power and engaging in domestic violence. Also, let’s just take a moment to let the unmitigated gall that is presenting DV, abusing positions of power, and defrauding people as merely “controversy” sink in.
This moment during which I was listening to some completely self-serving, bullshit monologue about “Well, how much of our pasts do we owe an employer, anyway? With respect (that was my favorite part: how smooth is it to say that while you’re disrespecting someone?), I don’t think I owed you or Scarleteen any disclosures about my past before working with you,” which was bookended with the super-WTF of “Clearly, we should all keep our secrets to ourselves, because mine (the “secrets,” not the actions themselves, of course) are ruining my life,” all of which followed a very hollow-sounding, “I care so much about the work you do, I’d hate to put it at risk,” that the lights went all the way on. Alarmingly bright, like when someone turns on a flashlight in the dark that they’ve accidentally aimed right in your eyes. I had just been sitting through more than an hour of gaslighting, more than an hour of attempts to manipulate me completely.I knew what this felt like: I’ve been here before. Rather than having someone express any sense of responsibility, nor any real care whatsoever for myself, the work I do, or the people we so strongly and devotedly advocate for, I had been roped into an attempt to make me feel bad for this person, to blind me to what was not only done in the past, but was being done in the present. I was in the thick of a conversation with someone convinced enough of their own power and my vulnerability and disempowerment that, clearly, they felt certain the things they were saying would have the intended effect: that is, where I left the conversation feeling wrong and feeling sorry for this person.
This person who had not only exploited, abused and manipulated other people in the past, but was still, very much, doing it now. Doing it better, even. And had been, and was now, doing it to me. And once that light turned on, I went back, in my head — and my email — and saw how he’d managed to get personal details out of me in exchanges that really weren’t personal. Even made or wouldn’t let go of slight sexual gags (to be fair, when you work in this field, many people take more liberties with this) that I clearly wasn’t receptive to or responding in a way that gave any notion I thought they were funny or appropriate, but my response was silence or ignore, which is how I tend to respond when someone is pushing my boundaries but a response either isn’t needed — because they’re not right up in my face or my life — or doesn’t seem worth it. The more I looked back, the more clear it all got. The more of a moron I felt, the more angry, the more upset. And I had very few places to put that, particularly since it had been so clearly shown to me that this person would probably take a knife to their own eye before they’d take anything even vaguely resembling responsibility.
I didn’t say anything during that conversation, about realizing I was being, had been, manipulated. I wasn’t up for hearing denials, and I just wanted outta there, so I basically just finished it up as best I could, and tied up loose ends as minimally as possible in a few more brief emails. Emails where it seemed like this man had at some point figured out on his own that the jig was up when it came to me.
That was the end of that, really. Of course, after this exchange, this person basically made efforts to make me try and pay for not taking their bait, and doing what I could to just be responsible, as both a person and a publisher, and to just manage a giant crisis they had knowingly, willingly created for me to manage. They stopped trying, for the most part, pretty shortly thereafter: looking at things as they are now, and were after, what seems clear is they just found far easier prey, and stuck with that, as predators are wont to do. They also found more than their fair share of enablers and defenders, or when not either, those who could justify still working with him in ways they’d personally benefit from. This includes, sadly, more than one colleague who took generous portions of my time to have me explain all that was happening and went down, but who, clearly, just didn’t care, or didn’t care enough to behave differently. I’ve unfriended some people on Facebook because seeing, in their own posts and links, endless defenses of a person who I find utterly indefensible, was just something I didn’t want to see or touch. I’m certain either none of those people have been people he has — yet, anyway — tried to manipulate personally or are people who, like me for a little bit there, hadn’t seen the gaslight was turned on yet.My hope is that at least some, and ideally all, of them have seen it by now, particularly since recently, what looks like (but probably isn’t) all of the shit has come to light, with more very public, and intentionally publicized, confessions and admissions, as well as what looks, from my view, like a growing inability to stay in character, per the person this person pretended to be, probably as much to themselves as to anyone else.
No, scratch that: see, I know better, I’m still vulnerable and easily blinded. Probably pretended to be far more to other people, maybe a little bit, too, to themselves. Or maybe they knew full well and good they weren’t who they pretended to be: they sure wouldn’t be the first, nor the last.
One last — please, please, let it be the last — appeal was made to get my attention. Before calling news sources about their recent, presumably private demise, some emails were sent out, and I got one of them. I have to tell you — though I’m reluctant to, because should this person find this, giving them any satisfaction per causing me to feel anything around them is the last thing I want to do — even just seeing this person’s name in my email made me recoil and feel a giant dread. Reading it wasn’t much better: it seemed to contain a lot of hidden fuck-you’s to the couple of us on the email who had been critical, or simply done the monstrosity of not publicly defending him — paired with a handful of lies, blame, and sympathy-ploys. It seemed to me to be one of the most disingenuous things I’ve ever read, coming from a person who maybe was truly falling apart, but who maybe was still carefully, and for some readers, probably successfully, crafting narratives from a place no less sane or sound than any other time he’d written anything. I’ve no way of knowing, nor would I even venture a guess, particularly since it just really doesn’t matter. I deleted it without a response to him. I felt like I needed a shower all day after reading it in order to get even the yuck of those short, transparent paragraphs of that guy, somewhere as benign as my inbox, off me.
I’ve been having a lot of feels about all of this, and not just towards this person. I’ve been angry this person was even brought — brought themselves — to my attention again, angry that they get any kind of emotional real estate with me at all. I would prefer nothing but apathy: they got enough from me already, took enough, and even though these aren’t feeling I share with them, just even having them feels like giving them something in some way, when I don’t want to give a damn thing. And of course, I’m angry with myself for getting played. I think so many of us who have survived abuse have this wonderful fantasy of an idea that we’ll be ever immune somehow, and when that fiction and that bravado, that egotism, shows itself to be just that, it really fucking sucks. I want the magic manipulator immunity I somehow feel I earned, please.
I am furious and grossed out by this person’s “friends,” “allies,” and supporters. Furious at their silencing, including silencing facts about this person he himself has verified as truths. Furious at their clear nepotism. Furious at the noxious self-interest they had, have, in common with this person. Furious that some of these people and places pretended to give a shit when they didn’t. And that includes about this person: if you truly give a shit about someone, if they have all there value and worth that you feel is SO huge, it validates silencing dissent or concerns about harm down to other people by someone, well then where the fuck are YOU when this person seems to clearly be going totally over the edge, and needs the people who feel that way about him to be the friends who show up where they are, refusing to leave until they get their shit together? Or, if you know or sense an announced downfall is false or inflated, where are you per being as vocal about that as you were when others were saying things before about this person you probably know now are true?
Also, sweet bloody hell, do I hate clickbait and tabloid culture. I might be swerving a bit here, but I’ll tell you, without those things, this person would have lacked at least half their arsenal of tools to do the damage they have to people. They may not have been rendered toothless, but it would have been much harder for them to find people and places to bite. I hate this stuff because it’s made keeping afloat on the internet as an organization and independent media way harder — unless you’re willing to jump on board, and I/we are so, so not — but I also hate it because it seems to massively help people forget that ethics are a thing, and a thing that matters.
There are things now being reported, primarily with this person’s help, maybe even with them steering it, which include statements about people, including students, that make me totally ill. Seeing this person sexualize their students so outrightly, and with language straight out of Penthouse Forum letters, makes me ill as an educator and youth advocate; makes me ill as someone who let this person have even a toe into what I do (though, thank goodness, who I never even considered asking to do work with us that would have given them any kind of private or direct access to our users: $20 says I owe my intuition a drink for that one). And, perhaps selfishly, it makes me ill as someone who, regardless of what I didn’t know, was in any way complicit in giving anyone the idea this person was a safe person, a sound person, and someone who could be trusted, even in the smallest way, with people who were vulnerable, and people who assumed the person they were reading had a respect for them they very obviously did not. And probably don’t have for anyone but themselves, when it all comes down to it.
Also? Listening to anyone do a, “But: mental illness,” “But: addiction,” or “But: suicidal,” to excuse or justify someone’s — or their own — manipulative or abusive behavior BURNS MY FUCKING BISCUITS. I have a parent with mental illness and suicidal ideation I have taken care of to some degree my whole life, who has struggled like hell, and is one of the smartest people I know, but lives sometimes homeless, and sometimes transient, rather than being someone with a bucket full of privilege and big paychecks, paychecks from positions they use to exploit people. I think it’s miraculous my father has remained one of the kindest people I know, but I’m also not surprised, because that’s who he is. The fact that he has mental illness and is suicidal makes it harder for him to live his life, get through his days, but it doesn’t make him an asshole. I have other people who have or have had these issues in their lives, and overwhelmingly, they are not manipulators or abusers, and that’s not because they are magic or superhuman. It’s because abusing and manipulating are choices, and choices people with or without those issues and conditions can and do make, every day. It is both a gross insult and an astounding ignorance to and about people with any of these issues to justice, excuse or rationalize abuse or manipulation with these things. (Also, for those playing at home: it’s usually the abusive person who handily provides these narratives for others to repeat, and you can be sure most know how much more powerful they are coming from someone who isn’t them.)
And, of course, I’m sad as hell that where we are with abuse as a culture, as a people, is not the place I want us to be. I have had to know, through all of this, people have chosen to publish and work with this person knowing they are dangerous, knowing they do harm, but figure out how to use that for their own benefit and profit. I have watched victim-blaming run rampant, and heard some of the most standard tropes around abuse come from mouths I thought better of, and who presented themselves as far wiser.”But he’s someone’s husband and father.” “Well, he has always been wonderful to me.” “He’s changed.” “Prove to me he’s what you say.” “You just don’t know him like I do.” “Prove how he is what you say.”
(Which, in this case, is particularly stunning since this person has done that better on their own than almost any manipulative person I have ever seen. If manipulating was something to be proud to be good at, I suppose they should be proud, because it’s quite amazing how someone could manage to make so many admissions of engaging in abuse, and still behave so abusively, yet manage to at the same time to not only convince some people that they’re not, but to get them to do some of their manipulating for them. Of course, that’s what happens when you’re both a good manipulator, and you also have access to wide public platforms, platforms you intentionally choose — women, evangelism, sex, sex workers — because they are made of some of the most vulnerable people there are.)Those statements: those statements which have never meant someone hasn’t harmed or abused someone. Those statements which assure people stay as blind and as vulnerable to abuse and manipulation as ever. If abuse were a car, statements like those? They’re the gas.
I’ve no brilliant takeaways here, nor any neat or stunning summary to offer. Maybe I will at some point, but I really doubt it. Because ultimately, all of this is, yes, about this person, but it’s really, particularly per my own feelings, about anyone and everyone like this person, and about where we’re at — or, rather, where we’re not at, but would like to think we are — as a world and a culture when it comes to abuse, and how we treat those who abuse, and how we treat those they abuse.I know, we know, we’re not anything close to far enough with this stuff to have The Big Takeways or summaries for that. I wish we were, and I think so many of my feelings around all of this, now and throughout, have, more than anything, been anger and sadness at how far we’re not, and how far *I* am not. How I didn’t get my magic abuser-avoiding powers. How I can still be manipulated, probably even easily. How I can still be scared into silence, and am still living with and amidst all of the things that keep my silent in situation like this. How I’ve avoided even writing any of this for a long time now, and not just because I don’t want to add content about this person online.
But also because I was, am still scared. Not for my life, not even for my physical safety, though clearly there have been people who needed to have those fears about this person: maybe there are still. But scared about my ability to weather harassment; scared about the way I can’t react at all calmly to people gaslighting on behalf of someone else and how it still triggers the holy crap out of me, and can make me a mess for not just minutes or hours, but days. (Truth be told, and I imagine I’m not the only one who’s had this experience, I am actually less triggered by this person and the things they say than I am by their defenders and what they say. At times, it’s looked like someone took out an “I don’t believe you! You made it up!” victim-blaming banner and draped it across the whole fucking internet.) Scared, if we’re being real about it, about not having the skills to protect myself and others from people like this, I thought I did, I wanted to have. Scared, because people can lash out intensely when you make denial harder.
Scared, because it’s one thing to think that people care, but just don’t understand, and were they given the education and information, they would care. It’s entirely another to make attempts to do just that and find that actually, even with the education, even with the facts and information — including right from the source of the abuse himself – some people truly just don’t care. So, talking about the facts, illuminating the situation means, especially around this person, you might open yourself up to more discovery about how much plenty of people just plain don’t give a shit, and will side with an abuser, and help them to keep harming others, time and time and time again.
* If you know who this is, please don’t refer to them by name in comments or link in comments to pieces about them. I ask you not to do that just so I don’t have to deal with them or their enablers, but also because, again, clickbait? Not a thing I like or want to take part in. I don’t want a flood of people coming here for this. And I don’t think a media frenzy, even macromedia, like this journal, helps anyone, particularly this person, who seems to thrive on it, if by thrive, we mean feel fed, and get more weapons to abuse people with, yet remain or become more empty, but just as dangerous.