These comments appeared on a SLJ article comment thread regarding sexual harassment in the kid lit community. I was also in this room. This account happened to me. For the purpose of this statement, I am commenting specifically on the event mentioned in the SLJ thread.
Stories are often full of nuance. When someone says, this person did X to me, there are usually histories, emotions, and past actions that no one else sees or understands. Nuance feels very private. Nuance matters.
Part of the nuance for me, in my account of sexual harassment:
-Tessa Gratton was my dear friend.
- We spent hours listening to each other’s stories.
-When she was trying to launch a retreat business, I gave hours of help that I could never regret.
-Tessa Gratton is someone I care about even though I experienced a tremendous amount of pain and shame at her hand.
Here are more nuances:
-I never wanted this story public, but it is, and I am living with that.
-I am always scared of the Internet’s scope and range — of blowback — and I was scared that if this incident got out it would do damage I couldn’t undo. The narratives around narrative can’t be controlled. That’s terrifying for me, but I can control what I say here. That will have to be enough for now.
-I don’t want Tess hurt just because she hurt me. I don’t want myself hurt more because I am choosing to speak.
-I desperately want to move through the world being light and giving grace. I want even these difficult words to be full of grace and light.
When so many accounts of harassment started being revealed — accounts that I’m so sorry were ever experienced by my peers — I didn’t know what to do. I’d done my best to forgive Tess and I wondered why I would ever tell this story for public consumption. After this harassment happened, I acknowledged it to Tess, I set a boundary that meant we were no longer dear friends (also changing my social circles), and I held the boundary. (If you have experienced abuse of any kind, you might understand what a huge triumph that is.) That made it feel settled. Not emotionally handled, but settled.
I try very hard to forget all Tess said and did, I try very hard not to hold old actions against her, I try very hard to remember we’re all human and imperfections make us beautiful. I am not forgetting those things when I say this:
I am capable of understanding the event described in the SLJ comments above happened to her flippantly.
I am incapable of understanding a flippant apology. I am worried flippant or non-apologies are tearing at the fabric of this community.
Let me be clear, Tess apologized to me initially about the rape comment. I believe directly afterward, she knew that one action was wrong. (That if she were a man, this particular situation wouldn’t feel like it had such nuance.) She hugged me the next day and told me not to make her feel better because what she said wasn’t okay. But as we got away from this incident, she unraveled the apology. Her understanding unraveled. She later told me she would have made this comment to anyone and that it was my history with sexual abuse that made it difficult for me to handle a rape comment being made about me. But the truth is, it wasn’t just the rape comment or pressuring me to drink, it was all the previous behavior that now felt like part of a pattern of inappropriate behavior toward me.
This was never ever flippant to me. In experiencing it. In reflecting on it.
I was not okay.
I am not okay now, because this flippancy will continue to be the story, if there’s never any accountability. And if there’s no accountability, it can happen again.
I believe that’s how we got where we are as a community: a lack of understanding. (Sometimes through ignorance, often by pride.) It’s not that people have to be perfect; it’s that they need to understand when they aren’t. They need to apologize for real. They need to take ownership. Not only when there are consequences that mean they have to. Not only when there are emotional effects for the other person. Apology, sorrow, repentance: these are balms that heal hurters too. These tools heal abuser and abused alike.
And that’s when I go back to the need to be light. And light is far bolder than me.
I am NOT trying to hurt Tess. I am afraid if this just passes by unaddressed by me what it will do to other women (and men). Experiencing the last few days re-whispered the lie to me: this is not that big a deal. Get over yourself, Court Stevens. Stop being a victim. You’ll always be a victim. What if you’re re-writing what happened to make yourself a victim?
(I am not.
We weren’t in that room alone.)
Anyone who knows me, knows I’ve agonized over this. I’ve replayed it so many times. I’ve asked myself if I wasn’t a good enough friend. If I asked for this. How I got myself entangled in a friendship with someone who would do this. If I could do damage to the LGBTQIA community by bringing this up, because I do not want that. I always look at this situation and blame myself, someway or somehow, because I don’t want it to be Tess who hurt me. And it felt safer to blame myself. And the thing that came packaged with blame: fear.
Fear that I shouldn’t do professional events in case our paths might cross. Fear that I would be attacked on the Internet outright or with subtweets. Fear that the sides that were created among our once mutual friends would mean that those on opposing sides would come for me and I wouldn’t be able to handle the emotional/professional fallout. Those things mostly didn’t happen. But it felt like they could if I took a single misstep. If I got too loud. This, right here, is loud. And I am afraid. But I am looking for the end of fear. I need to believe it exists.
I think there are women out there like me — you blame yourself privately, you have a personal judge and jury that sentences you to live with this alone — and that means you stay stuck in your hurt. I also think there are women and men out there who are afraid to act because you can’t see your way through the repercussions and fallout. Self-blame and fear are silence-makers.
If I’m going to attempt to be grace and light, I can’t only think about protecting Tess or myself, I have to think about the rest of you who are afraid and blaming yourselves. I want you to know this is a great big deal when/if it happens to you and it’ll stay a big deal until there is a fundamental shift in how humans treat one another. You are not to blame. Even if there is nuance. There will always be nuance. And sometimes, it will even be that you love the person who hurt you.
Here is something I hope you can hear:
-I am not calling for a jury.
-I am not demanding a consequence, professionally or personally.
-In fact, I desperately hope Tess is surrounded by love in this awful season and that she feels safe.
-Internet, kid lit community, if I could be so bold to ask you this: please let her heal. Let her grieve (because this stuff is hard no matter how it comes to your attention). Give her permission to be/become the best version of herself.
-For those of you who feel like this is/was a battle between the person who left the original posts and Tess, or that it got blown up for no reason: to say that makes it less than it was to me. This has nothing to do with the space between them.
-Also, this is my version of closure. If you’ve experienced harassment, I would never suggest my version has to be yours. Silence. Anger. Therapy. Private support systems. Legal Action. Etc. You choose and I am with you and I will believe you. I only hope you know you don’t have to choose fear.
I said what I said today to bat down the “it’s no big deal” or the “there’s so much gray area” or the “can’t we just put all this ugliness behind us” people, to believe in a world that can be redeemed with kindness and through forgiveness, and to offer hope to all those women and men who are scared to speak truth over your lives. Until you can speak it for yourself, I’ll speak it for you: it is a big deal and it is not your fault. And I’ll tell you what my agent tells me: You are so strong. You are so brave. You are so inspiring to me. I will fight for you.
This is not a perfect statement, but it’s the best I have.