I work pretty much exclusively in male-dominant fields, and while I can’t say I’ve seen “it all,” I follow in the footsteps of and learn from a group of those who collectively undoubtedly have. I was also sexually assaulted at a very young age, and as that subject matter has become a greater and greater part of my work, I’ve been increasingly unable to turn a blind eye to the power dynamics in our musical communities that enable and encourage continuing sexual abuse among our colleagues, superiors, and peer groups. For those of you who have read me before (be it in years past or last week), none of this is a surprise. And while I don’t often talk about it on here, a nontrivial part of my deep thinking on the subject revolves around being prepared to be an active force for good if I’m ever able to step in and prevent an assault or provide care and assurance in the aftermath.
Honestly, I should probably talk about that more, since I know I’m far from the only person in my circles who would want to help in those situations. However, I spend a lot of time around a lot of men, and due in part to my own risk tolerance and in part to my knowledge of my communities, we can’t have that discussion until we have this discussion.
See, some of my friends are probably rapists, and some are probably guilty of assault.
Still others have never committed either crime, but I can’t tell you which group is the most heavily weighted. Over the years, I’ve heard the occasional whisper, the odd comment. I even have my suspicions, in a couple distinct cases. But I know I don’t live in a utopia, surrounded by people who have never and will never sexually abuse another human being—and I can simultaneously believe many of my friends and colleagues want to end sexual violence and hold space for the likelihood that some of them have perpetrated it themselves.
In a way, this post has probably been inevitable since the beginning of 2019. This line of thinking is essentially a leveled-up Schrödinger’s Rapist. I, a queer person, have to move through the world and my professional spaces knowing that it is possible, at any time, for any of the men around me to decide to assault me and act on that choice. It is not, then, a long shot or even a big leap in logic to assume that at least some of them have already done so to someone other than me. When you add whisper networks to the mix, those odds shift from not unlikely to absolutely true.
These shifts don’t all happen at once. Even for me, the stories arrive in bits and pieces, with victims often dancing around the truth because even admitting to having been assaulted by a peer or colleague can put a target on your back in bright red paint. Stories are often incomplete or downplayed, usually for our own protection. Enough of us have brushed up against Title IX or told the wrong story to the wrong person to know how quickly control of our lives and experiences can be wrenched away. Many of us are also familiar with the complications that arise when an assault was committed by a partner or ex-partner or teacher or mentor. We’ve seen how quickly others have been disbelieved and dismissed. And, as I discussed earlier this year, the price of conventional justice is too steep for many of us. For the sake of our careers and our lives, many of us remain silent, speaking only to warn others who might become prey.
As such, many of our assailants and rapists are never told point-blank that what they did was a crime. While I contend they shouldn’t need to be told, I suppose that’s a tricky part of all of this—in reality, some of my friends are rapists and don’t realize they are.
I’ve written in bits and pieces about the assault I suffered as a child, but one thing consistently haunts me to this day: that this single event, that forever changed my life and seared itself into my memory, was probably so inconsequential to my attackers that it was quickly forgotten or dismissed. I’ve seen this described on Twitter and elsewhere quite succinctly: “but for them, it was Tuesday.” The idea at play here is that while someone might acknowledge an act is wrong in the abstract, it is such an ingrained behavior for them that they never considered the severity of even a single occurrence when it manifests in their own actions. This applies to a lot of the things we classify as sexual harassment—catcalling, lewd come-ons in class or after rehearsal, flirting in networking spaces, comments that single out and Other the only marginalized person in the room—but even just in my own experience, they can also be applied to acts we often call coercion, assault, and rape. Like whining about not liking condoms until the other party caves in. Like forcing someone’s head down despite their distress. Like failing to ask for and receive consent.
I can’t tell you what date I was assaulted. I was too young to remember, or even to think to look so I might know someday. But to my attackers, it was probably just a Tuesday. And that nonchalance, that lack of giving a shit about a person you’re touching or would like to touch, is terrifying. I can convince the people around me of many things, but I can’t make them care. Or, more accurately, I can’t convince them that caring about me or anyone else means putting fundamental safety and enthusiastic consent above their own pleasure and greed.
Some of my friends are rapists. I’ll keep repeating it, because I need to see it on the page.
With very, very, very rare exception, my job is not to out them to themselves. To do so would take control away from their victims yet again. It would risk forcing a confrontation that might result in further trauma. As an advocate, my job is to listen, support, and amplify when appropriate. In rare cases, that may involve putting myself into a line of fire to protect someone else’s identity. More than anything, though, my job is to speak on relevant topics at a general level, in the hope that those in my orbit use the concepts I present to examine and interrogate their own behavior. Speaking openly and candidly about an assault is a decision that should be made only by the person it happened to. And that decision should be made at their pace.
I’ve talked about why we don’t report, but you’ll probably never know why someone’s stayed quiet and then decided to come forward at a later date. Not the whole story, at least.
All of these things, though, are choices we get to make. Truths we understand for ourselves. Situations we get to control. Because sexual assault is about exactly that—control—and it is imperative that power not be taken from us a second time.
Some of my friends are probably rapists. It’s not my job to go after them—I am neither judge nor jury nor executioner. However, I’m writing this because at some point, someday, I may be asked to take a side. Survivors may come forward, speaking out against both the friends already in my circles and those I haven’t met yet. And while I won’t dump people in my life because of vague rumors I can’t source, if a victim comes forward and stands in the sun, I will stand with them.
That feels like an important thing to say, even though to most of those who know me it’s probably not a surprise. It’s not an easy thought exercise for me (or, probably, for anyone who hasn’t already had to make the choice), partly because the way I challenge my beliefs is by mentally applying them to the applicable parties closest to me. In this case, that’s my family. My partners. My best friends. People I love and have loved and will love. For me to make statements like this, publicly, I mentally need to be prepared to enforce them with the people I want with me for the rest of my life. Getting there is not an overnight thing; it’s a lot of pain processing, especially in moments like this with situations I’ve already lived and in which I understand the relevant trauma.
But here’s the thing—I move through the world in a place of relative privilege. I have many supports around me that enable me to succeed and thrive. And while my world is not perfect, while there are still days and weeks I’d like to throw in the towel, I also recognize that I have access to power by the circumstances of my birth that many others do not. My responsibility isn’t only to make compelling art and poke at the belly of the beast, it’s to ensure that I am not abusing this power to further my own ends at the expense of those who may be reliant on my position and access. By extension, my activism is a necessary part of my art, even (especially!) when it means holding myself or those around me accountable.
Because folks who sexually assault people within their spheres of influence are profiting off of continuing abuses of power. We saw it with Weinstein, able to build and build and build despite evidence and documentation of his crimes spanning decades; we saw it with Levine, long considered too valuable an asset to discipline; we saw it with La Rosa, a known predator who still walked into a coveted job at a prestigious institution and was given free rein to continue victimizing students. But I also see it in my peers who excuse assault and coercion because someone’s slept with others in the community before; I see it in colleagues who still refer to myself and others as eye candy; I see it in the sense of entitlement many of our communities have in regard to sex and women; I see it in the hostile work environments and the long-ignored Title IX reports and the gatekeepers who do nothing—not because their hands are tied but because their fondness for their male students and friends overpowers their commitment to equity, safety, and justice for the victims, survivors, and casualties in their lives, schools, and workplaces.
Those male students and friends are betting on that fondness, folks. See, when you rape or assault or abuse someone, you take two gambles—one, that that person is (and will continue to be) so insignificant in your life/community/field that they will never become a threat to your power, and two, that even if you are outed, the brownie points and rapport you’ve built with the men around you will allow you to leverage those connections in your favor. That’s why people like Weinstein and Levine and La Rosa got away with it for so long; they had either well-established relationships with or dirt on the people in power around them. (Or both.) Put another way, guys, when your friends are credibly accused of rape or assault or whatever the case may be and they depend on your support to maintain their power and presence within our communities, they are manipulating you. Y’all should be PISSED.
But many of my friends who are probably rapists will be continually allowed to grow their careers and their image, just like Weinstein and Levine and La Rosa, because our hostile environments and complicit gatekeepers all but guarantee those they’ve attacked will suffer if they come forward. Consequences will come, but they’ll fall on the wrong people. Just ask Ambra Gutierrez. Just ask Anita Hill. Just ask Christine Blasey Ford.
Actually, let’s stop there for a minute, because three thousand words of draft (and probably two thousand of actual final post) later, I’m pretty sure I’ve been thinking about this since the Kavanaugh hearings. The ghosts of that week still float around in the back of my brain, just like I’m sure they do for so many of y’all. Brett Kavanaugh is an excellent example of a (probably-)rapist-who-didn’t-know-he’s-a-rapist. His accuser stayed quiet for decades—and let’s remember that her dad is still friends with the Kavanaugh family, so if you wonder why she waited, keep that context in mind. But Dr. Ford came forward, used probably every ounce of courage she had and then some, and testified before the nation about what was probably one of the worst nights of her life.
Many critics of the Kavanaugh investigation (if we can even call it that) have said that we cannot and should not apply 2018’s ethics to an event that happened decades prior. While I’m not always a fan of that line of thinking (the popularity of a bad thing does not change the fact that it is harmful), even if we follow it to its conclusion, things don’t line up. Say we said okay, it happened a long time ago, so the assault itself isn’t disqualifying. However, the gravity of an assault often colors the rest of a victim’s life, so it’s a valuable addition to the public record, and as someone who is a strong believer in restorative or transformative justice, I am not inherently opposed to putting someone who’s assaulted before in a position of power. An assault itself may not be instantly disqualifying for me, because the thing I need to see is the response. And the response is the thing we always, always judge by today’s standards. (Note: not all folks with assault histories will have this line of thinking. Don’t make assumptions.)
Why? Because an assailant who has understood the harm his actions have caused and who has used that knowledge to become a better human could still potentially be an important addition to a deciding body. A rapist who has engaged in a justice process that favors the victim’s needs and support and who has used that experience to brighten the world around them could, in the right situation, be a valuable voice.
And that’s where Kavanaugh not only failed but proved he is still a threat.
Most marginalized people can tell you that an important part of our survival (and decent treatment of others generally) is our ability to remain at least a little calm in the face of insinuations and allegations against us, regardless of their validity. Kavanaugh probably can’t speak to that skill, because it sure as shit didn’t show up in his testimony—probably the single moment in his life where he could have used it the most. He did not seek to understand Dr. Ford’s experience; he did not seriously entertain, even for a moment, that he may have committed this assault without realizing its significance or harm. He did not prove he valued victims’ voices or thought they deserve to be treated with a fundamental level of respect. He did not uphold anything besides a general disdain for anyone who dared question his moral superiority. He shouted and blustered and insisted he couldn’t have possibly done such a thing, because he was good.
I don’t care how good or bad you think you are, mostly because I’ve seen scores of white men brush off things that couldn’t possibly apply to them solely on the virtue of them being Good™. I’ve talked on this blog about experiences I’ve had at the hands of people who I know read me, and only two have ever seen themselves in my writing. I have seen supposed allies berate me in the presence of others because I was daring to ask for better of them. (Allies whose investment only extends to holding others accountable aren’t real allies.)
Hell, I spent a whole two minutes on the concept of “good guys” in People Talk. I’ve talked in my music about how that concept is used to prop up people like Kavanaugh (and Weinstein, and Levine, and La Rosa…) at the expense of the very ideals they often claim to fight for. I wrote a year and a half ago about how Schrödinger’s Rapist applies to everyone I’m around, including the people I love. I wrote during the Kavanaugh hearings about why we don’t come forward and how it feels to watch someone get away with everything in slow motion; I’ve talked, in more roundabout ways over the span of years, about how bad it feels that oftentimes the people who claim to care about our traumas refuse to care once we’ve said it happened to us.
I don’t care how good you are. Some of my friends are probably rapists.
That, in itself, does not mean their fates are forever set in stone. But some will likely leverage their power and privilege to excuse themselves from the consequences of their actions. And I will not—I do not—stand for that.
My life changed forever on a day I will never forget. But for them, it was probably just a Tuesday.
Thanks for reading! If you’d like more analysis and commentary like this in your life, come back every Saturday at 8pm MST. To support the work I do as an artist and advocate, you can find me on Patreon and @honestlyeris on Instagram.
Want to learn more about sexual assault, gendered violence, and power dynamics? I’ve got a list for that.