Monday, October 16, 2017

I Believe You

I was naive.

A few years ago I wrote an essay about sexual harassment in the arts, using personal examples and stories from friends. I didn't use real names, only aliases. I didn't have any identifying info about the theatre companies, but the stories still had teeth to them b/c they were raw and from the front lines. I took the story around to a few publications. I still have the rejection emails giving me all the reasons why they were scared of lawsuits. But I was assured that if I wanted to write about race-based issues again, the editors would be more than willing to listen. Around that time I was invited to New World Trade Center for a big meeting: The New Yorker. They wanted me to pitch stories, and I guess they thought I would bring them some raw #blacklivesmatter stuff or personal black trauma. If I cared for my career I would have fed them the 'race stuff' and -just to be clear- the 'race stuff' is still important to me. But I was still thinking about misogyny and sexual harassment, so I pitched them a story about rape and systemic sexual harassment within AA meetings. The editor was nervous but agreed to give it a go. I interviewed women who were raped and harassed, spoke with professors and psychologists, brought up specific cases where women -at the most vulnerable in seeking recovery- were stalked by predators, raped, and murdered while in the throes of their addiction. I even had a dramatic twist at the end of the story. I emailed it into the New Yorker and...radio silence. After a month, the editor said she couldn't print it. Legal stuff, needs more research, good luck in life, etc. I thought I failed. Surely if I did more research, focused, got more interviews then this story would get out there.

I interviewed more women, cited examples from documentaries, connected with more therapists, kept a bibliography of the real names and contact info for the fact checkers, wrote out timelines of abuse from various women testifying so that the stories didn't have any holes in them. One publication said this story could be an investigative piece. I got complete strangers to trust me with their story, to open themselves up. I assured them that there voices would be heard, that this might help change things. After months of editing and fact checking, the first publication backed away: legal issues, no way to verify, etc. I was paid a 'kill fee' to spike the article. I went to other publications. I have the initial emails of interests, concern for getting the story out, and then...silence. I was in a panic. I made a promise to so many women. I was letting them down. My literary skills, my research, my passion, my objective reports, interviews with psychologists, none of it was not enough. My experience with the 'wall of silence' happened during my last semester at Juilliard, so it was about 5 months. Some women experience this wall of silence their entire life and it is personal. I sat with that, meditated, and my righteous anger subsided.

Some people wonder why women don't speak out?

I believe:

-Anita Hill
-Lara Logan
-Amanda White
- and you
-83 female officers and 7 male officers raped and assaulted in the Navy Tailhook Scandal
- Fox News accusers
- Bill Cosby's accusers
- Donald Trump's accusers
- Bill Clinton's accusers (some, all, most, a few?)
- Harvey Weinstein's accusers
- Marilyn Monroe
-Roseanne Barr
- and you
- Oprah Winfrey
- Hillary Clinton
- Queen Latifah
- Gabrielle Union
- Fiona Apple
- and you
- Maya Angelou
- Vanessa Williams
- Teri Hatcher
- Missy Elliot
- Rosie Perez
- Billie Holliday
- Mary J. Blige
- Eve Ensler
- and you.

I hear you and I see you. I will do better.


No comments: