Swings and Roundabouts

Let’s say a friend told you something. And for years, you kept it secret.

You had a lot of secrets, hers as well as your own. She was one of the few people who got you, someone you could anything to without fear or having to explain yourself or of being judged. As close as family. Closer, even — your family don’t know what you’ve been through, and every time you see them, they make noises that sound like conversations but you are really speaking vastly different languages. Maybe you should make more of an effort to close the family gap, maybe they should, but in any case, you built your chosen family out of people whose experiences were more like your own. Even if you didn’t always agree with your friend, she did not judge.

Sharing secrets with your friend was sometimes deadly serious, sometimes cheeky. When she asked you, in case she died, to avenge her — well, you laughed, and said of course, never imagining there was a grain of solemnity in that. Who asks for vengeance outside of fiction? But you are a person who keeps promises, especially to the dead. You learned that much in the morgue, mutely handling and recording the facts of the no longer living.

So you published. And her secrets were no longer secrets.

This is what the public both want and do not want from you. The thrill of looking inside the life of someone they imagine to be vastly different to themselves. The frisson of naughtiness that has inspired a thousand or more memoirs. And then the fear, the revulsion. The fear that once unleashed, you will not stop telling the truth, and will lay bare all of the things they are afraid to know too much about. Sex. Violence. Death.

An artist at work

If you follow me at all, you probably know the outlines of Laura Lee’s story by now. How the vivacious and outspoken campaigner for rights was (in her words) abused by a man who interviewed her, then she reported him, then she died. How he has gone to great lengths to cover up his misdeeds since. Including demanding apologies out of Senators and journalists, simply for sharing what I wrote. How he leans on Twitter to disappear my tweets and, perhaps, my account from Irish followers. How Medium caved in to ridiculous demands such as these. How he does anything but face justice.

This week, a mote of light shone through a chink in the brick wall of denial. Gardaí have reopened their investigation into Laura’s accusations. This includes interviewing witnesses who saw Laura and Olaf on the night in question, who offered information to the police before but whose evidence was never followed up in the first go-round.

Is it a success? It depends on how you measure success. I do not believe in the effectiveness of the police as such. There are people who firmly believe that ‘daylight is the best disinfectant’ and that the Streisand Effect will bring justice where before there was none. There are others who chant ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ as if humans are free-floating independent court systems obliged to live their lives by the byzantine and inhumane rules of the chamber. (Even were he to be proven guilty, one suspects, they would not believe a sex worker in any event. It’s funny how they overlap strongly with the malum prohibitum crew, who claim to toe the letter of the law up until the moment it rubs uncomfortably against what they believe about women and sex.)

We see a pattern in all of this: that an assent, or an apology, or public acceptance wrung out under the threat of legal proceedings says very much about the man who tries to bend women to his will, and very little about the women — for it is only women — he has tried to silence. How he systematically uses their fear of humiliation and harassment to get a superficial approximation of what he wants.

People have quietly asked why I keep on with this. Why, when the easier thing would be to post a watered-down apology somewhere and never hear about it again, as others have done. I don’t blame them for making that choice but it is not my way. The world will not change because of this one thing. I get that, but. But. They did not make a promise to her, and she was not the same loss to them, she was not the vault of their secrets. More than that: it is an honour to do it, because she was righteous.

Laura loved ghosts. She went on supernatural hunting expeditions, visited all of the famous sites in search of evidence of another dimension. We talked about spending the night at Inverary Jail one day and never did. I am not a believer in the supernatural anyway. But if the truth can haunt you, then every day she is being proved right.