It’s been difficult for me to watch the #metoo campaign against sexual abuse and harassment towards women develop this week.
That isn’t remotely because I disagree with or oppose it, but quite the opposite.
I’ve never (at least not that I’m aware) used my influence, power, or strength to harass and abuse women. I have never groped anyone who didn’t clearly expect and invite me to.
But I have been abused, harassed, groped and intimidated by men and women alike. I’ve had advancement in my career offered in exchange for sex. I’ve had record deals and press coverage extended to me, contingent upon ‘quid pro quo’ favors – both discreetly and not. And from that perspective, as a man, I support #metoo wholeheartedly.
As this topic arose recently, I began to notice old anxieties do the same. My hesitation in posting and discomfort in addressing this subject at all is that as a man, I’d rather not take away from the horribly institutionalized experience women have had to bear in society. But I have very direct experience with this.
I was recently confronted by some of my female friends and asked to honestly share as a man, in a supportive environment, how I might have crossed these lines myself. Told that it was okay for me to ‘come clean’ as I wouldn’t be judged, in the interest of understanding. But I’m honestly not consciously aware of crossing any lines of propriety with women – and if for some reason my previous words, behaviors or actions have made any woman feel that way, then I deeply and truly apologize for it.
But my story does directly relate, and I suspect is familiar to many – even across gender lines. So in the interest of support and healing these wounds as a society, it’s time to bring my experience with abuse to light in a way I’ve never done outside a therapist’s closed door.
I lost my virginity at 12 while attending a Christian summer camp. I’d been going for several years, and felt very comfortable and familiar with the counselors, facilities, and agenda. So when a pretty junior counselor several years my senior told me I ‘seemed so much older than my age’, I was mostly flattered. I won’t deny being attracted to her. When she sneaked a few shots of her illicit stash of vodka into my ‘bug juice’ (a camp term for Kool-Aid) and told me she wanted to visit me later that night after bedtime, I got a bit nervous. I gulped the Dixie cup down quickly out of fear that she’d think I was a loser, or make fun of me for being a bit scared, and the nervousness grew. I’d never drank alcohol before, so the feeling of intoxication was completely foreign and fearful – and I just wanted to lie down and sleep it off. She slipped into my sleeping bag soon afterwards and began kissing me, and then things started happening. At one point I asked to stop and she told me to quit being a baby and enjoy it- that she was doing me a favor. I should be grateful. But I was really just overwhelmed, confused and heavily buzzed.
Although the counselors didn’t catch us in the act, they caught a glimpse of her dashing off afterwards, and immediately confronted me. No one asked me a thing, they drew their own conclusions. They said they could smell what happened. I was mortified and refused to talk, so they assumed I had pushed myself on her and she had ran away from it. My parents got told that I’d been inappropriate with a unidentified girl and should be disciplined, no one really understood the depth of what occurred. People mostly laughed it off. Male friends and relatives gave me back pats and called me a ‘stud’.
She was pretty and willing, and I was a boy. Therefore, nothing wrong. Move along, young man.
But I was petrified, in disbelief at what happened, and how quickly it was blamed on me and then brushed under the carpet. I nodded and listened, apologized for something I didn’t really do, and just wanted it all to go away. But it never really did. Church was no longer a comfortable place for me. The world seemed a bit less bright. But yeah, moved on.
In high school swim team I got groped underwater several times. Mostly by girls, but once by a guy, too. I didn’t speak up as I’d already gotten good at ignoring these situations.
As a teenager I got a reputation for being a womanizer that wasn’t founded in fact- as I didn’t really date much in high school. At first it was mainly just because of my shyness, but in my junior year, a freshman with a big crush on me approached at a weekend party. I declined her advance and the next week she started spreading rumors that I’d forced my way on her inappropriately. Despite being a lie, it was clear the rumor spread as I couldn’t really get a date again in my remaining months of high school. A female friend confirmed the rumor long after graduation, and seemed honestly shocked to hear my side of the story.
Realizing that even my closest female friends secretly assumed the worst of me was the gut punch I never really recovered from. It made me build an thick shell of self-dependency that has made intimate relationships difficult ever since.
After graduating from MI I was playing and teaching music as my sole focus. I was in several bands that played about California, and the rumors you’ve probably heard about touring musicians are largely true. It’s an environment filled with alcohol, drugs, and wanton sexuality – ripe for abuse and regret. Although I did enjoy the lifestyle in many ways, I had a real problem with the objectification of women in general. I can’t count the bizarre and decadent opportunities for sex that arose, and all the times I found reasons to be doing something else.
It happened a lot.
I remember being curious as to why a particular record label just stopped talking with us at one point, after a few months of potential and interest. Found out much later that our manager turned down the A&R guy’s ask for a quid-pro-quo “favor” in exchange for the contract. Par for the course.
I was offered a better slot in a festival if I went on a 3-day hotel fuck-fest with the organizer, an alpha-female of the most predatory variety. I told my agent, but he asked why that was a bad thing. And that pretty much did it for me. I switched to studio and sideman gigs where I didn’t have to commit, didn’t have to get close to the people paying my checks, I could just play my ass off and move on. It wasn’t what I’d dreamed of, though. I cried myself to sleep quite a few times in those days.
It started to seem like any path upward or forward would require bending over, and as much as music was at the center of my soul, I couldn’t really pursue it as a career with the same enthusiasm after that. I started considering other things I might like enjoy doing to pay the bills.
My first real job in tech was amazing. I worked individually, and didn’t have to expose myself to social situations as much. It taught me so many wonderful new skills that have become instrumental to my career, I felt that for the first time that I had a bright future away from all the weirdness of the music biz. But in the time I held that job, promotions were held over my head for sex. I said no, and although I did continue to advance in my career, it wasn’t without significant friction and fallout.
I got jaded thru these years, realizing that it wasn’t just the craziness of school years and musician’s lives, but the world. Abuse of power and sexual assault and coercion seemed to be everywhere I looked. It seemed to always be a wall between me and everything I wanted.
And those seeds of self-doubt and insecurity the experiences sowed in me grew into larger scars that have taken years to heal. I’ve worked hard to address the underlying self-consciousness and shame and move past it. If I’m being really honest, these scars have cost me jobs, friends, and even relationships over the subsequent years. Despite accepting my past, it still affects me, though.
So when I say “me too” this week, it’s not to ride the coat-tails of a movement that should be focused on the horrible, institutionalized sexual abuse that women in our society face daily. It’s certainly not to co-opt it for my own means. I’m not looking for sympathy, just acknowledgement.
To acknowledge that Harvey Weinstein isn’t an isolated predator. To acknowledge that predators come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and genders – including the current President of the United States, who was somehow able to still be elected after bragging about his abuse. (How anyone can support that creep – especially women – baffles my mind and proves how normalized this abusive behavior has become.)
It’s to publicly acknowledge that sexual abuse, and the underlying misappropriation of power and influence that fuels it, is wrong – and needs to stop.
It’s to say I don’t just claim to understand, but I know quite personally what it feels like to be abused, and that my outgoing, hyperactive personality is the result of a shy, scared boy who built a shell of positivity around himself to bear the cruelest aspects of our society. And it happens to more of us than you might think.
And maybe, just maybe, if more of us bring our stories forth- this horrible underbelly of shame and abuse in our society might finally be burned clean with the light of truth. In the last two weeks I’ve learned many of my friends (female and male alike) have suffered the same experiences, and as disappointing as that seems, it’s also comforting and empowering to know I’m not alone.
Thanks for listening.
But please don’t be silent.