TW sexual harassment, victim blaming, #MeToo
Back in February, I started to publicly discuss a sexual predator within patient communities [initials AB]. I’ve brought it up again recently but, sadly, have wound up feeling less supported. I’m not a celebrity, nor do I claim to be, but it seems odd to have people continue to question sexual harassment in the era of #MeToo.
This whole situation started when this man made questionable comments of a ‘playful’ nature that escalated over time. The first time I was on the receiving end of one of these comments, I actually responded very negatively. He responded and said something about how this was just how he interacted with people.
Against my better judgment, I let it go. Part of that was his involvement with other prominent patients and patient organizations. None of those connections should have pushed me to do differently than my gut suggested.
Over the years, this continued and got worse. Incidents took place between this man and other women – especially young women, like those in high school – for years. The fact that this person is in his 40’s wasn’t, apparently, a deterrent to his actions. Most of this was on social media but wasn’t limited to that. He has harassed and cornered young women at conferences and events. He’s sent text and other messages to patients, asking how he can get into bed with them. This man has removed many of the inflammatory posts from his site where he dismisses words like cisgender as slurs, uses MRA language, and labels those of us who fight for actual justice negatively as “Kirstens” (I shit you not). Other patients in the past have tried to step in and help him understand what is and isn’t okay. When he turned on them or continued his actions in the face of their help, they ultimately abandoned that task.
As I’ve talked about before, I believe that we need more male voices within patient spaces. Even further, we need more voices around queer, trans, and non-white experiences. So why are we allowing people within the first category to make things uncomfortable and painful – especially while excluding those in the latter? I just don’t know.
It’s something that took me a long time feeling comfortable discussing, even among friends. This man would attack me, telling me to get over my PTSD in the later years of our ‘friendship,’ and other patients – people I trusted – labeled me as hateful for my rebuttals. He was barred and then reinvited to a medical conference at a prominent university on the west coast because of his relationship with the head staff at this conference.
When I began talking, mutual friends would entertain the idea that this happened and claim to support me and others. Still, they would and do maintain an active friendship with this person – even after telling me they didn’t.
It is beyond frustrating to see, especially when fellow patients echoed similar situations and concerns. It tells me a lot about what other people think of those of us who have spoken out about this man.
If I’m completely honest, it still feels that he was sided with more often than those of us speaking out.
Something I wrote in February that continues to ring true today, especially in light of the MeToo movement:
People who call these issues out aren’t trying to stage a witch hunt [sound familiar?]. That’s not what I’m after. I’m not vindictive or hateful on that level and, by golly, I have enough going on with my health and my things I’m running and doing that I don’t need the drama. None of us do.
As a society — whether as a whole or as patient groups — we cannot make excuses for sexism or sexual harassment. We must call these issues out. Just like with ableism we experience at the hands of people who don’t understand, we have to call out this behavior so that it can be corrected. Ignoring it as a courtesy only allows it to get worse and for more people to be violated.
And again, just like with our illnesses, sharing our stories helps people feel less alone. When I’ve shared my experiences with this person and experiences I know of with people, they have felt redeemed and like their gut reactions to comments or questions have been validated.
#MeToo (unless it upsets someone)
When people began to share their #MeToo stories, I took initiative in posting about this person. I used his name publicly on social media. This was met with a variety of responses from shock to shared experience and more. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until statements dripping with victim-blaming mentality started showing up.
As a sex educator, it disturbed me greatly to see these comments from people I considered friends. I cried and screamed because I didn’t grasp how someone I trusted – someone who even shared some uncomfortable experiences with this man – could ask questions of me and others like did we ask him to stop.
I couldn’t let these kinds of comments go unchecked. No one’s story about sexual harassment should be policed. A person should be believed, regardless of how much they “fought back” against someone. No one should be met with victim-blaming statements as they speak out about sexual harassment or more.
I spoke out. Calling bullshit, I shared how these questions were inappropriate and harmful – and that, yes, he had been asked to stop several times. It was odd, too, to see someone who claimed to send this man’s messages to spam in order to avoid dealing with them then say that wasn’t the truth. I pointed out the hypocrisy in these questions and how harmful they were.
Could I have handled it better? Absolutely. I could’ve taken the exchange to a private message – though, it should’ve started that way as well. Since I didn’t start it, I don’t feel too much pain over it – especially when victims from various walks of life messaged me about why victim-blaming comments were being made.
People who know me know that I speak my mind – and know that my history of abuse combined with chronic pain is why. I’ve been nothing but forthcoming on how holding in emotions causes me physical and emotional pain. Despite that, I tried for a few months to ignore my gut (yes, again) and continue relationships with people who want everyone to just get along.
It’s clear now that I can’t.
TBH Losing Friends Is Okay
I lost several friends during this exchange because of speaking out and setting boundaries. I received an email a few weeks later from one person trying to explain that this was the final straw in a number of things they disliked. While they think my voice needs to be heard, they said, they find me to be a little “too much.” I talk about being queer which apparently feels exclusionary to people who aren’t.
That frankly is bullshit.
Within the next few days? The victim blamer and the excluded person both were joking with the sexual harasser all started talking together on social media.
I used to find comfort in the arthritis community. Now? I try to avoid it whenever I can, frankly. We can’t all get along, but it’s upsetting to see people who want that abandon victims for perpetrators. It’s nauseating as fuck.
I’ll be honest, too – it hurts to know that old friends and this creepy dude are the ones who will hold me back from being able to attend conferences or take part in events. I won’t go or won’t apply because I know there will be awkward exchanges. Even when I do apply, their influence may guide people in deciding I shouldn’t be there. Hell, this asshole and his defenders ruined that medical conference for me, something that I was so fucking excited about. I shouldn’t have expected much given how this university handled Brock Turner, but JFC.
Thankfully, after this exchange went down, I do feel better. My pain has gone down in huge amounts. Emotionally, I know that I’ve spoken my truth to the best of my ability. Physically, my pain related to holding in emotions is no longer there. I’m no longer dealing with emotional potatoes.
When combined with other self-care methods, my daily overall pain has gone from sitting at 6/10 to 3/10 (though it went back up a few weeks after I wrote this because winter is a thing).
My social media accounts have gone back to what they always should be – a way for me to speak to the world. I no longer sit worrying about how others are perceiving what I’m saying. Between that and the below tweet, I’m back to feeling much better about why I do what I do.
overheard the dunkin donuts cashier tell someone “if you don’t like my content you’re not my audience” and now i’m saying that to everyone
— Kristen Arnett (@Kristen_Arnett) October 27, 2017
You can share things with others – illnesses, life experiences, etc – but not really get along with them. The people you share XYZ with and those you feel are your friends don’t always overlap – sometimes they’re a Venn diagram. That doesn’t mean you aren’t acquaintances – we just can’t all be friends.
I see friends as people who hold each other accountable for these kinds of comments. Sometimes, that’s not what others think friendship is.
And that’s okay.
Sometimes all you can do is step out and bask in the sunshine of your truth.
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