CN for rape culture. Sexual misconduct.
I exist on the edges of many literary communities. I have been around many of them online and been involved with in some way many of the uglier events revolving around the misconduct of men in our communities. My involvement has always been as someone speaking up, hollering in defense of the victims or to point out when things have been wrong. What I haven’t been is a victim. Reading many of the #metoo stories pouring out of my little area of the literary universe, upon reflection I know why I don’t have those stories.
I know some of these men. Some of them I have spoken to, emailed with, had friendly relationships with and they did not victimize me. I could be glib and say I wasn’t good victim material, or pretend that I am somehow above it but, the truth is, I don’t have sexual or social capital in the lit world. Part of my insulation from the abuse is that I don’t come from academia. I have never viewed men like this as my mentors. I have not depended upon them for help to advance my career.
That said, there is a whole other layer to my outsider/observer status. To most of these men, especially those I’ve met on the internet, my allure has been short lived. In more than one circumstance my work has piqued interest, until they’ve seen me. I am often too much of something. Too fat, too old, too Black, not quite unknown enough but not known enough. As more stories emerge, I witness my friends and peers expressing pain that is both new and old.
I mentioned on Facebook that, my undesirability to these men and my poverty resulting in me not taking part in various events and workshops has protected me from them. When I said it, many friends chimed in to say they had the same experiences and I was floored. I had no idea other people had these conflicting feelings. On one hand, I am deeply grateful I haven’t had my work held hostage or been assaulted or had to keep terrible secrets.
Not these secrets.
Being a Black person who says things in public has left me open to many types of abuse. I have been doxxed, threatened with rape and murder, had people try to get me fired from my dayjob, been told I would never be published in certain magazines, had entire forum threads dedicated to how ugly and awful I am, I have been cornered at literary events and grilled on my “racism”. I know from that perspective what the consequences of speaking up can be.
And yet, I am still deep down so relieved to be fat and ugly. When men in lit have abused me, it has never been sexual. I don’t have the expected #metoo story. What I have is fallout. I have to sit back and watch my friends suffer and disclose terrible things. I have to sit back and sit with the fact that I am not in a position to give them the justice they deserve and I am keenly aware, that I have to sit with and process this strange privilege.
I’ve been trying to pinpoint my discomfort while following and doing what I can to support survivors and that is what makes me so uncomfortable. This is a privilege I don’t want and I don’t know what to do with. I don’t know how to express my support for the survivors and mourn the losses of community. I have a deep desire to do something. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to go.
Part of my conflict is that a lot of the discussions that have come up recently in light of the things Junot Diaz has done and the ensuing things I’ve seen, for my own safety I’ve had to leave several writing communities that I hold dear. I feel a deep sense of guilt because nothing was done to me. Yet, the discussions and victim blaming trigger my own traumas. I feel that I’ve abandoned my friends when they need me and that in my need to withdraw, I’m failing my community.
I have to sit with that.
I sit with it and watch my communities burn. A large part of me wants to see it burn. So many of us have said for years that the predation in our communities must stop. For years we have been suffering abuses in silence because, that’s just how it is right? My heart says burn this mother fucker to the ground. Out them all. Every sext, every unsolicited dick pic, every time some male it writer has done something to someone, tell it.
Another part of me, the baby potato writer with a story, watching themselves be examined and dismissed out of hand just wants to hide. That writer doesn’t want to reckon with the many intersecting reasons why my #metoo stories didn’t happen in my literary life. That part of me is still in that moment, taking in the idea that because I am not and never have been desirable to these men, that my work is thus below notice.
I hate that I feel that way still, not always but on occasion. I hate that our culture is so sick that part of me is hurt and bitter that my looks or whatever have been a barrier to some moment or “success”. These abuses are so normalized that from a young age, I fully expected to experience it as part of my advancement in the literary world.
It enrages me to realize that I expected it to happen to me and when it didn’t I spent years blaming myself. And now that I am witnessing the aftermath, I hate that I have ever felt like I somehow missed out on something.
I am angry.
I am devastated.
I believe survivors. I don’t want to see these men continually forgiven when they repeatedly show us who they are and how they operate. I want to see change. I want to see justice.
I will end with this.
We have to break it before we can fix it. We have to allow for each other to be human but not give anyone free reign to use their position and how beloved they are in our communities to abuse anyone. Burn it down and let’s do better. Let’s work to make it so no other baby potato writer, has to have a #metoo story or has to sit with the privilege of not having a #metoo story.
I believe our communities can be repaired and remade. I believe in us. My response here is imperfect and messy. My feelings about it are imperfect and messy. I’ve been hesitant to speak up because I don’t know my place in this whole situation and I don’t know how to get these thoughts out. So this is a start. There will likely be more.