A Failed #MeToo Moment: Just How Horrible Being An Ancient Roman Actress Could Be

A Failed #MeToo Moment: Just How Horrible Being An Ancient Roman Actress Could Be

When an actress in ancient Rome was brutally gang-raped by a group of young men who’d come to see her show, she started a very public battle for justice. The story of her fight and her failure is usually nothing more than a footnote in the history of important men. But it actually reveals a dark side to what it meant to be a woman 2,000 years ago.

The woman, whose name has been lost to time, was a mimae, a sort of silent comedian popular in the days of the Roman Empire. She’d been performing in a countryside theater to a modest crowd in Atina, expecting nothing more than a few laughs. But before she’d even left the theater, a gang of men in the audience knocked her to ground, pinned her down, and brutalized her.

She fought for justice. She pressed charges against the men who’d attacked her and tried to use the scandal to destroy the political career of one of her rapists. But the courts of Rome just laughed at her.

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Beating, pinning down, and gang-raping an actress, the courts of ancient Rome ruled, was simply acting “in accordance with a well-established tradition at staged events.”

“O how elegantly must his youth have been passed,” her attacker’s lawyer, Cicero, quipped during the trial , “when the only thing which is imputed to him is one that there was not much harm in.”

It’s a horrifying story that rings disturbingly familiar today. But it’s more than just a single incident in history – it’s something that happened again and again; a glimpse into the horrible lives Roman actresses endured for hundreds of years.

Mosaic depicting masked actors in a play: two women consult a "witch". Roman mosaic from the Villa del Cicerone in Pompeii, now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Naples).

The Horrifying Treatment Of Actresses In Ancient Rome

Women were rarely allowed to perform in respected acting troupes. Like the theaters of Shakespeare’s time, the female roles were usually taken by men dressed up in women’s clothes. There were a few exceptions – in the empire’s later years, a small handful of women managed to land respectable roles – but those were rare. Most women never got the chance to perform on a respectable stage.

Instead, most women were relegated to lives as dancers and “ mimae” – mimes who would put on parodies of myths and heroes. It wasn’t an easy job. These women started training when they were small children, and they’d have to spend years honing their craft.

But the men in the audience treated them as little more than prostitutes. Men would regularly yell at the stage, demanding that the actresses take off their clothes – and, over time, most of the actresses would comply.

‘The Empire of Flora’ (circa 1743) by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Based on Ovid's account of the Floralia, a festival to the Roman goddess Flora involving prostitutes.

There are no accounts of these performances that talk about the actresses’ clever wit or their ability to conjure up subtle emotions – instead, they’re usually described as something a bit closer to pornography. The satirist Horace quipped that “[what] you have with actresses, you have with common strumpets”, while the poet Martial described a show by saying that the women “would have made Hippolytus himself a masturbator.”

A Life They Couldn’t Escape

To be fair to these men, the women essentially were sex workers. Most of them were something closer to modern strippers than actresses, expected to titillate more than amuse. One of the most famous, for example, made a name for herself by putting on a parody of the story of “ Leda and the Swan ” in which geese ate grains off her body until she was completely exposed.

For women in Rome, though, this was the only theater they were allowed to enter. And usually they weren’t there by choice. Most were slaves, stuck in a life of what the Romans called “ theatrical servitude ”. They had no choice but to perform. If an actress ran, her owner had every right to drag her back and force her back onto the stage.

The Slave Market by Gustave Boulanger's 1886.

But that didn’t mean that every actress in Rome settled into a life of mediocrity, exploitation, and sexual abuse. Plenty of the women wanted more – and they fought hard to get it. They joined actresses’ guilds, pushed for better roles, and a handful won enough of a reputation that earned a respectable income performing on the stage.

At least one woman got it. A young girl named Eucharis performed so well that it was she said that she was “taught as if by the Muses’ hands.” Her talent won her her freedom. She got roles in classic Greek plays and a place on the stage in front of audiences of nobles, and she took pride in the respect she’d earned.

Theodora is said to have worked as a prostitute and performed on the stage in Constantinople. ‘The Empress Theodora at the Colosseum’ by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, 1845-1902.

Her story, though, was an exception rather than the rule. Most actresses toiled on dirty stages stripping for drunken men for their whole lives, without any chance of escape.

An Actress’ Battle for Dignity

The woman who was gang-raped at that show in Atina was like most of the actresses in Rome. She was a mimae, a silent comedian who performed in satires, playing in a small town to a crowd of drunken men.

When she was attacked, nobody seemed to care. Nothing happened to the men who attacked her, and she had to watch as one, Cnaeus Plancius, rose up to the curule aedileship, one of Rome’s highest political offices.

A rare painted depiction of Roman men wearing togae praetextae participating in a religious ceremony, probably the Compitalia; note the dark red color of their toga borders. Fresco on a building outside Pompeii.

When she told the world what he’d done to her, she surely saw herself as a woman fighting for justice. After everything this man had done to her, he hadn’t suffered consequences at all. She’s been stuck in a dirt road town, likely living as a slave, struggling through the trauma of his attack, while honor after honor had been put on the man who abused her.

To the men of Rome, though, her rape was barely even worth mention. Planicus’s lawyer, Cicero, only deigned to waste three sentences of breath talking about it. He didn’t even deny that he’d done it; instead, he just wrote it off as something “there was not much harm in.”

As far as the men of Rome were concerned, it was her own fault. She was asking for it, purely by being an actress.

Fresco depicting a seated woman, from the Villa Arianna at Stabiae, 1st century AD, Naples National Archaeological Museum. (Carole Raddato/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

And history sided with the men. Her story’s been passed down for more than 2,000 years, but not as a story of a woman wronged. Instead, it’s been remembered as a small footnote in the story of Cnaeus Plancius, an innocent Roman politician whose enemies tried to discredit him with trivial complaints, or as an example of Cicero’s masterful rhetoric .

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Barely a word in any history book has been expended to the woman he attacked: the actress he and his friends brutally raped. Her fight for justice, in most ways, failed.

But just by fighting, she proved something – even if the world wouldn’t fully understand it for thousands of years: she wouldn’t accept it.

Funerary Portrait of a Woman, about 138-192 AD, Roman Empire, Antonine, encaustic on linen - Cleveland Museum of Art. ( CC0)

She might have had a degrading job with a bad reputation, but she never wanted that to happen to her. The men who attacked her got free, but she proved that they were wrong about her. She never allowed or wanted it to happen.


Why Was Joan of Arc Burned at the Stake?

The English claimed many offenses against Joan of Arc. But when they burned her at the stake in Rouen, France on May 30, 1431, they not only immortalized the 19-year-old, but made her a national symbol for the French cause during the long-fought Hundred Years’ War.

Born a peasant in a small French village, the illiterate girl claimed to hear divine voices and see visions of St. Michael, St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Margaret of Antioch from the age of 13. Their message: Help Charles VII, heir of Charles VI, be named the rightful king of France.

Convincing Charles to let her fight𠅊nd dressed as a man—Joan led the liberation of Orleans, triumphed with other victories against the English, and soon Charles VII was crowned. But a series of missteps, including her failure to liberate Paris followed, and on May 23, 1430, she was captured by the Duke of Burgundy’s men, jailed for more than a year and put on trial for charges including heresy, witchcraft and violating divine law for dressing like a man.

Joan of Arc&aposs entry into Orleans.

Universal History Archive/Getty Images

At the time of Joan’s trial, which began January 9, 1431, her notoriety could not have been greater, writes historian Helen Castor in her 2015 book Joan of Arc: A History.

𠇊s the opening of the trial record noted, ‘The report has now become well known in many places that this woman, utterly disregarding what is honourable in the female sex, breaking the bounds of modesty, and forgetting all female decency, has disgracefully put on the clothing of the male sex, a striking and vile monstrosity. And what is more, her presumption went so far that she dared to do, say and disseminate many things beyond and contrary to the Catholic faith and injurious to the articles of its orthodox belief.’

“If her guilt were established, and she remained unrepentant,” Castor continues, “the Church would have no choice but to abandon her to the secular arm, which would sentence her to die in purifying flames.”


Hollywood’s horror stories of sex predators long before Weinstein

Hollywood producer Darryl F. Zanuck was legendary in the industry — but not just for the movies he made.

Darryl F. Zanuck Getty Images

Zanuck worked his way through actresses on the sofa in his office faster than the credits rolled on his flicks, according to the tome “The Zanucks of Hollywood: The Dark Legacy of a American Dynasty’’ by Marlys Harris.

His daily bedding of budding starlets operated like clockwork. At 4 p.m. every day, his Fox Century City studio would shut down while Zanuck shuttled a young woman through a subterranean passage to his green-paneled office, according to Harris and Deadline Hollywood.

“Anyone at the studio knew of the afternoon trysts,” Harris wrote. “He was not serious about any of the women. To him they were merely pleasurable breaks in the day — like polo, lunch and practical jokes.”

In 1937, Zanuck won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ first prestigious Thalberg award for producing.

It was the same decade that Variety first used the now-ubiquitous term for the abuse of power that Zanuck and other Hollywood execs were perpetuating behind the scenes — “the casting couch,” according to Slate.

Years later, in 1975, Newsweek would do a story titled “The Casting Couch” in which it quoted the words on a plaque above the couch in the office of a Tinseltown producer in the 1950s: “Don’t forget, darling, tomorrow you’re going to be a star.”

The mag wrote, “Contemporary starlets no longer take sex-on-demand lying down.”

Joan Crawford ullstein bild via Getty Images

But things didn’t change then, and they haven’t changed now.

In the past two weeks alone, more than 30 women have come forward with stories of being propositioned, harassed or worse over the past three decades by powerhouse producer Harvey Weinstein. And he’s only the latest Hollywood horndog.

Marilyn Monroe once famously wrote in a memoir about the sexual predators in her industry. “I met them all,” she said. “Phoniness and failure were all over them. Some were vicious and crooked. But they were as near to the movies as you could get. So you sat with them, listening to their lies and schemes. And you saw Hollywood with their eyes — an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.”

Movie moguls have preyed on the ambition of young hopefuls seemingly since the beginning of celluloid.

Actress Joan Crawford, who got her start in the 1920s by dancing naked in arcade peep shows, only advanced her career by sleeping “with every male star at MGM — except Lassie,” quipped fierce rival Bette Davis.

According to ReelRundown.com, “Even at the peak of [Crawford’s] career, rumors continued to surface about how her loathed mother forced Crawford to work as a prostitute, make blue movies and sleep her way to the top.”

As with Zanuck — the longtime head of 20th Century Fox — the preferred perverted method of doing business at MGM allegedly came straight from the top.

Louis B. Mayer Getty Images

Studio head Louis B. Mayer “terrorized Hollywood’s women long before Harvey Weinstein,” according to a recent headline in the UK’s Telegraph.

Mayer would direct a 16-year-old Judy Garland to sit on his lap, whereupon he’d palm her left breast while telling her, “You sing from the heart” — a creepy anecdote Garland recalled in a memoir.

And an 11-year-old Shirley Temple got her first — and, she thought, hilarious — peek at the male anatomy courtesy of MGM producer Arthur Freed, who once dropped his pants during a meeting. Temple burst into laughter at the sight and was promptly ordered out of the room.

Monroe was among those who allegedly suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her MGM handlers.

In the 1950s, there was a valiant attempt to bring casting-couch incidents out of the shadows and expose them for what they were — sex abuse.

Two writers with a British fan magazine called Picturegoer tried to expose the industry’s seedy underbelly in a four-part series called “The Perils of Show Business.” Their stories were filled with the same type of on-the-record accounts of power-grabbing sexual harassment that Weinstein would be accused of 60 years later.

“This is the most depressing story we have ever written,” the reporters wrote. “For weeks, we have made our investigations — over the lunch table, in studios, and from the depths of cozy armchairs. Gradually, we have built up a dossier of information, which, we believe, is an ugly scar on the glamorous face of show business.”

But while actresses Joy Webster, Dorinda Stevens, Anne Heywood and Marigold Russell allowed their names to be published, the dastardly bad guys remained anonymous.

Actress Marigold Russell Getty Images

Russell, who appeared in bit roles in movies such as 1954’s “The Bells of St. Trinians,” said girls trying to break into the business would pass around a set of rules in the hopes of preventing unwanted sexual attacks.

“One: When you have to talk business, stick to offices — and office hours. Two: Refer invitations and offers to your agent. Three: Don’t give your home phone number, give your agent’s,” she said.

But the casting couch is not just a distant memory involving long-gone stars and their abusers.

Oscar-winner Dame Helen Mirren, who commands respect and awe wherever she goes today, has said that back in 1964, at the tender age of 19, she was just another plaything to director Michael Winner.

Mirren, now 72, said she will never forget how, during an audition, Winner made her flaunt her body as he leered.

“I was mortified and incredibly angry,” she told Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan in a 2007 television interview. “I thought it was insulting and sexist, and I don’t think any actress should be treated like that — like a piece of meat — at all.”

As Weinstein has downplayed his sexual aggressions, so did Winner, telling The Guardian he didn’t remember ordering Mirren to turn around — but “if I did, I wasn’t being serious.”

Joan Collins ullstein bild via Getty Images

“I was only doing what the [casting] agent asked me, and for this I get reviled!” he insisted. “Helen’s a lovely person, she’s a great actress, and I’m a huge fan, but her memory of that moment is a little flawed.”

Actress Joan Collins, warned by Monroe about the “wolves” in Hollywood, also wrote in her memoir that she missed out on the title role in 1963’s “Cleopatra,” which went to Elizabeth Taylor, because she wouldn’t sleep with Buddy Adler, the head of 20th Century Fox.

“I had tested for ‘Cleopatra’ twice and was the front-runner,” she said. “He took me into his office and said, ‘You really want this part?’ And I said, ‘Yes. I really do.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘then all you have to do is be nice to me.’ It was a wonderful euphemism in the ’60s for you know what.

“But I couldn’t do that. In fact, I was rather wimpish, burst into tears and rushed out of his office.”

Other stories are even darker.

“Rosemary’s Baby” director Roman Polanski initially had sympathy when pregnant wife Sharon Tate was murdered in 1969.

But then details emerged of how he gave a 13-year-old aspiring actress champagne and Quaaludes before having sex with her during a photo shoot in 1977, and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office stepped in.

Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

“I didn’t want to have sex,” Samantha Geimer wrote in her memoir, “The Girl.”

The Polish director fled the United States before final sentencing and still has an outstanding warrant on that charge.

Eighties child stars Corey Feldman and Corey Haim also have said they were given drugs and “passed around” by male higher-ups when younger.

Feldman told The Hollywood Reporter that Haim, who died in 2010 at age 38, “had more direct abuse than I did.

“With me, there were some molestations, and it did come from several hands, so to speak, but with Corey, his was direct rape, whereas mine was not actual rape,” he said. “And his also occurred when he was 11. My son is 11 now, and I can’t even begin to fathom the idea of something like that happening to him.”

It can take years for such abuse to come to light, leaving victims silently suffering.

Disgraced star Bill Cosby has been allegedly drugging and assaulting and raping countless women since the 1960s, but the accusations against him didn’t surface for years.


Related Articles

The hashtag has been tweeted half a million times in the past 24 hours, a Twitter spokeswoman said Monday. It was started Sunday by actress Alyssa Milano, who encouraged people to reply “me, too” to her tweet about being a victim of sexual harassment or assault as a way to show how pervasive the problem is.

Other famous people who have chimed in with #MeToo on Twitter include singer Lady Gaga, who has written a song about sexual assault, as well as actresses Gabrielle Union and Evan Rachel Wood, who both talk about being raped.

Despite originating on Twitter, the hashtag has been even more widespread on Facebook, which simply has more users.

“In less than 24 hours, 4.7 million people around the world have engaged in the ‘Me Too’ conversation on Facebook,” said a Facebook spokeswoman Monday, “with over 12 million posts, comments, and reactions.” She said 45 percent of people in the United States are friends with people who posted #MeToo.

If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n

&mdash Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017

The famous people who posted about #MeToo on Facebook include Sen. Elizabeth Warren, author Jessica Valenti and poet Rupi Kaur.

The spotlight on sexual harassment has become more intense after recent revelations of numerous sexual-harassment and rape allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. So far, he has been forced out of the movie company he co-founded, is being investigated by authorities, was booted out of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and is being stripped of France’s highest honor.

One of the actresses who long ago reached a settlement with Weinstein, Rose McGowan, now alleges he raped her. She was talking about Weinstein on Twitter last week when she was briefly banned from the social network. The company says she tweeted out a private phone number, which violated its rules. The backlash to Twitter’s temporary silencing of McGowan led to a daylong Twitter boycott by women — and some men — Friday.

The #MeToo campaign is just the latest example of hashtag activism, and its effectiveness is already being debated. But no one can deny that it brings even more attention to the harassment and abuse that women from all walks of life, in many different industries, are facing.

For example, the tech industry is inundated with such scandals. Here are some figures in the world of tech who have been accused or forced to resign this year:

Roy Price
The Amazon Studios chief was suspended last week after Isa Hackett, a producer on one of the studio’s well-known shows, “The Man in the High Castle,” accused him of sexual harassment. The news coincided with McGowan’s accusation that she told Price about her history with Weinstein and that he was dismissive of her claims.

Amazon Senior VP of Business Development Jeff Blackburn acknowledged the controversy in a Friday email to employees, which was obtained by BuzzFeed.

“The news coming out of Hollywood over the past week has been shocking and disturbing — and unfortunately we are a part of it,” Blackburn wrote. He said Price is “on leave of absence for an indefinite period of time.”

Amazon Studios also has cut ties with the Weinstein Co.

Travis Kalanick
The most high-profile sexual harassment scandal in tech involves Uber, the once high-flying ride-hailing startup whose co-founder and CEO, Travis Kalanick, resigned from the top spot in June. His exit from the San Francisco company came after a firestorm sparked by a blog post by Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer who says she was sexually harassed by her superiors while at Uber, and that management failed to take action. She also said sexism was rampant in Uber’s culture. Kalanick’s leaked emails, in which he referred to employees possibly having sex while on a company trip, didn’t help matters.

Justin Caldbeck
The co-founder of San Francisco-based Binary Capital, a venture capital firm, stepped down in June after being accused of sexual harassment by six different women. The allegations include grabbing one woman’s thigh under a table offering another woman a position at a company he was considering funding and sending another explicit text messages.

Chris Sacca
At the end of June, the former “Shark Tank” investor published an essay the day before the revelation of a sexual harassment accusation against him in a New York Times report. He admitted to being part of the industry’s sexism problem. “I’ve learned that it’s often the less obvious, yet pervasive and questionable, everyday behaviors of men in our industry that collectively make it inhospitable for women,” he wrote. “I now understand I personally contributed to the problem.”

Dave McClure
In July, the CEO of 500 Startups apologized, called himself a creep and quit the Mountain View-based tech incubator he helped launch after the New York Times reported that he had hit on a job candidate he was trying to recruit. He admitted that he had made advances toward multiple women, and said his female co-founder had asked him to resign. Later that month, a reporter alleged that another 500 Startups partner groped her.

Meanwhile, here are harassment and sexual assault scandals in entertainment and in cable news that have brought unwelcome attention or serious civil or criminal complaints against powerful men in the past year:

Bill Cosby
The comedy legend, 80, has been accused by nearly 60 women of sexually abusing them over four decades, often after drugging them. Cosby, who has maintained his innocence, faced trial this spring in the case of one of the women, former Temple University employee Andrea Constand, who said Cosby assaulted her at his home near Philadelphia in 2005. He was charged with aggravated indecent assault but a jury deadlocked on a verdict, and judge declared a mistrial. A new trial is expected to take place in 2018.

Woody Allen
The beloved film film auteur, 81, faced a possible career-ending scandal when it was learned in 1992 that he had been having an affair with the 20-year-old adopted daughter of his longtime partner Mia Farrow. During a bitter custody battle, his then 7-year-old daughter with Mia Farrow, Dylan Farrow, accused him of molesting her.

After a police investigation, prosecutors declined to file charges, though they said there was probable cause to arrest him. As much as Allen has strongly denied the allegations, they continue to resurface whenever he has a new movie out or is receiving an honor, notably in 2014 and 2016, when Dylan Farrow and her brother, journalist Ronan Farrow, who penned the blockbuster New Yorker investigation on Harvey Weinstein, wrote essays for the New York Times and Hollywood Reporter, respectively, saying that he has never been held accountable.

Roman Polanski
Over the years, four women have publicly accused the 84-year-old director of sexually assaulting them when they were teenagers. His first victim was a 13-year-old girl he was charged with drugging and sexually assaulting in Los Angeles in the late 1970s. He pled guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse and spent 42 days in jail. But when he heard that a judge was going to disregard a plea bargain and give him up to 50 years in prison, Polanski fled to Paris.

He has been a fugitive from U.S. justice since. Since then, three women have said he attacked them. The most recent is a former German actress who came forward this month to tell the New York Times she had filed a report with Swiss police, saying Polanski raped her 1972, when she was 15.

Louis C.K.
The comedian, actor and director has been the subject of “rumors” that he engages in sexually inappropriate behavior with female writers. The rumors hit the mainstream when collaborator Tig Notaro gave an interview with the Daily Beast, in which she said it’s time that C.K., 50, addressed these allegations in a serious way and not brush them off. But in a September interview with the New York Times, C.K. evaded mot of those questions, saying, “If you actually participate in a rumor, you make it bigger and you make it real” before he said, “They’re rumors. That’s all it is.”

Roger Ailes
The Fox News boss, who died May 18, led the network for two decades before his ouster amid a sexual harassment scandal. Ten women came forward with their personal accounts of harassment, including former Fox News hosts Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly. His downfall was swift and he was soon out of a job though with a reported $60 million payout. At least 20 women in all alleged that Ailes subjected them to some form of workplace harassment, the Huffington Post said.

Bill O’Reilly
In April, the longtime Fox News host was removed from his primetime spot on the “O’Reilly Factor,” following multiple accusations of sexual harassment. He and 21st Century Fox paid five women, who worked for O’Reilly or appeared on his show, a combined $13 million to keep them from pursuing litigation or speaking out about sexual harassment accusations against him, the New York Times reported.

R. Kelly
The R&B legend, 50, was charged with statutory rape and child pornography in 2002 after a video surfaced that appeared to show Kelly having sex and urinating on an underage girl. After several delays, Kelly was found not guilty in 2008. In July, Buzzfeed News published a report in which three sets of parents accused him of holding their daughters in a sexually abusive cult. Kelly and the alleged victims deny the allegations.

Kevin Spacey

Production for Spacey’s Netflix show “House of Cards” was suspended indefinitely, and Hollywood seems to be in the process of turning its back on the two-time Academy Award winning star after another actor, Anthony Rapp, alleged in an Oct. 29 interview that Spacey tried to molest him in 1986 when he was 14. Since Rapp’s interview, at least seven other people have come forwards to say that they or someone they know was on the receiving end of unwanted and sometimes aggressive sexual advances by Spacey.

James Toback

The writer-director, who received an Oscar nomination for “Bugsy,” has been accused by more than 200 women of sexually harassing or assaulting them. One common theme in the Toback accusations, according to the Los Angeles Times, is that his encounters with women often ended with him rubbing himself against them or masturbating in front of them, ejaculating into his pants or onto their bodies.

Bret Ratner

Natasha Henstridge, Olivia Munn and four other actresses have told the Los Angeles Times that Ratner, the director and producer of films such as “Rush Hour,” “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “The Revenant,” sexually harassed or assaulted them. Munn said she was an aspiring actress in 2004 when Ratner masturbated in front of her in his trailer on the set of the film “After the Sunset.” She and the other women told the Los Angeles Times that the incidents occurred in private homes, on movie sets or at industry events.

Ratner, a controversial Hollywood figure with a bad boy image, has most recently announced his plans to direct a biopic about the life of Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, with Jared Leto playing the lead.

Dustin Hoffman

The two-time Academy Award-winning star of some of late 20th century cinema’s most beloved films has been accused by a writer of subjecting her to sustained and unwanted sexual advances on the set of a TV movie in 1985. The writer, in a guest column for the Hollywood Reporter, said she was 17 at at the time.


Authenticity and Truth in the #MeToo Era

Kavanaugh image: Saul Loeb/Pool/ZUMA Press/Newscom Smith image via Twitter Buruma via IanBuruma.com

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual misconduct ranging from flashing to attempted rape. Some of the accusations were the subject of widely televised testimony in the Senate last week. Conventional wisdom now holds that it was Kavanaugh's personal performance during this testimony—not the believable but unprovable allegations of his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford—that tanked the judge's credibility among the persuadable.

Those who have been swayed against Kavanaugh cite his vague and sometimes implausible answers about his high school and college life outside of the alleged assaults. They argue—in tweets, essays, explainers—that his shiftiness should serve as a mark against him, even if it's not necessarily evidence that he's guilty of sexual violence. That he may not have lied outright, but his evasive and emotional performance was still potentially disqualifying.

Whatever more serious things Kavanaugh may or may not be guilty of, his antics inspired suspicion that the perfectionist public persona was but an exquisitely constructed mask. Kavanaugh's credibility crisis isn't about belief (or lack thereof) in any particular set of facts but a perceived absence of authenticity in the nominee overall.

Perception Is Everything

What exactly is authenticity? For some time, it's been a powerful buzzword. Social media marketers, millennial whisperers, politicians, and restaurants all touted it. We were told that authenticity was what hot demographics were craving and missing—in their lives, their processed meats, their travel experiences, their "news brands." It was the key to selling yourself as an "influencer." It was the key to winning elections.

But authenticity is a fuzzy concept. Hillary Clinton has always suffered from a lack of perceived authenticity, even among people who would also describe her as honest. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is often credited with an abundance of authenticity—a man who calls it like he sees it—even among those who admit that he's not always 100 percent truthful. Instagram stars can have authenticity even while shilling and staging and posing. So too for celebrities whose stage-managed endeavors strike the right notes.

Authenticity isn't related so much to universal truths as loyalty to your inner truth—an honesty about who you are and where you're coming from. Being authentic only implies being worthy of belief that you are indeed authentic.

Authenticity is as authenticity is perceived.

The Anatomy of Gray Areas

Authenticity—or a lack of it—lurks in many recent "gray area" discussions around sex and relationships. Take this recent piece, published by the feminist site Jezebel, about a former editor at the millennial progressive publication Mic.

The editor, Jack Smith IV, had built a high-profile career exposing right-wing "fascists" and championing social justice causes. But the article alleges that in private, Smith was far from the feminist-minded good guy he had built his public brand on. Shortly after the article came out, Mic placed Smith on temporary paid leave he was fired a few weeks later.

The author of the Jezebel piece, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, lays out a litany of Smith's alleged abuses against women he dated or hooked up with, including telling one woman he wouldn't have sex with her unless she wore specific eye makeup and berating another for hours because she said she was slightly younger than she was. For the most part, it's the kind of stuff that falls into the category of caddish, lame, or unsavory behavior without being criminal—the so-called gray areas.

Only two of the article's many allegations about Smith include claims of non-consensual acts. One woman accuses him of foregoing a condom without her permission during (otherwise consensual) sex. She also says that during the sex, Smith "wrapped his bicep around my neck and restricted my breathing," ignoring her when she asked what he was doing. In neither instance, however, did she tell him to stop, according to this article. Their relationship continued "for several months."

One of the charges lobbed against Smith is that he had sex with a woman after she explicitly consented to it, told him to get a condom, and told him to be rougher. She alleges that she only did those things because she was feeling insecure and guilty. This is presented not as a story about women struggling with sexual assertiveness but as a failing on Smith's part.

Throughout the piece, Shepherd pivots between positioning it as a big-picture story about sex and power and a particularized case against Smith. Ultimately, both frames feel incomplete. What can we really take away here, other than that Smith seems like a drag to date? The author shies away from providing a coherent model of consent and good sexual etiquette. "Manipulative behavior and sexual coercion of the type Smith is accused is notoriously difficult to define," she writes.

Ultimately, Smith's real sins seem to be less about specific boundaries crossed than about how his alleged treatment of women doesn't match the feminist airs he put on in public. It's an alleged authenticity deficit that doomed him.

At least some jerks have the honor to be authentic about who they are. Perversely, these types are generally better positioned to weather exposure of bad behavior. Meanwhile, the hypocrisy of sneakier jerks adds fuel for the flaming pitchforks.

The Wisdom of Villains

Another recent authenticity-crisis casualty was Ian Buruma, editor until last month of The New York Review of Books. This time, it wasn't Buruma's own authenticity that was called into question it was an article he published by the former Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi.

In 2014, Ghomeshi was fired from his job and declared a pariah in the media after nearly two dozen women accused him of not respecting boundaries during sexual encounters. A court indicted, then acquitted, him on charges in six of these cases. He settled with one accuser out of court.

Buruma said he accepted the Ghomeshi essay because he was interested in hearing from someone on the far side of public disgrace. But it failed to include some key facts and was widely seen as an inauthentic attempt at rehabilitation that The New York Review of Books should not have published.

In post-publication interviews, Buruma posited that we need neither moral purity nor authenticity from someone to learn from them. Buruma told Slate he was interested in what it was like being "at the top of the world…and then finding your life ruined and being a public villain and pilloried. This seemed like a story that was worth hearing—not necessarily as a defense of what he may have done." Critics retorted that no form of the essay would have been acceptable.

Personally, I agree the piece left much to be desired. But I also think Buruma was on to something. There can be value in the wisdom of villains.

Around five years ago, a person who helped get me through one of the roughest periods of my life was concurrently going through his own Jack Smith IV–style fall from Male Feminist hotshot to disgraced creep. Unlike Smith (who has been basically missing online since the Jezebel story came out), this man couldn't shut up about it, chronicling his job losses, marital breakdown, and mental-health decline in an alarmingly public and realtime fashion.

I never suffered any delusions about his moral culpability—most of the things causing crowd consternation came from his own past writing. He had been given a pass for past transgressions by confessing them and claiming to be redeemed. But this redeemed self was at best an idealized vision he tried and failed to live up to, at worst a calculated deception designed to optimize his online brand and predatory potential. The feminist internet in which I lurked and worked then was in a tizzy over which it was, how he pulled off the con, and who had enabled him.

I reached out directly. I wanted to know something beyond the tweets. I wanted to understand, or at least glean more data for my analysis about how someone could so loudly preach one thing and live another. I was curious, supremely bored, and going through a career, relationship, and all-around rough patch. I was feeling down. Then depressed. Then worse.

For a brief but intense time, we struck up a strange long-distance friendship. What started as an amused bid to ascertain his authenticity became something darker, weirder, more desperate. He slipped in and out of the hospital, headlines, and social media mobs. I imbibed him as a much needed distraction, puzzle, mentor, monster, and cautionary tale.

I never did make much headway on getting to any truth about him. But that had ceased being the real point. I had needed help and (though I didn't consciously think of it like this then) seized upon him because I supposed he had both experience and no room to judge.

In the five years since I watched along online as he lost almost everything, I've watched him build a new life, one that revolves around his kids, therapy, working at a grocery store, adoring his new girlfriend, staying out of the spotlight, and staying humble. Is this the work of a master sociopath, or a once-again redeemed man?

We all like to think we can tell the bullshitters from the genuine believers and repenters. We use these wispy calculations to get to what's often considered the crux of the redemption issue: Have they earned it? Do they really deserve another chance? Certainly, no one is owed an opportunity to plead their comeback case. Yet "platforming" them isn't really the problem so much as failing to put what they have to say in proper context.

I want editors, curators, and gatekeepers who are better and smarter than the con men. But also ones open to the possibility that sometimes, the con men can still teach us about ourselves.

Authenticity vs. Truth

There's much talk lately about who deserves a second chance and how to tell when they do. Some folks almost everyone agrees do not deserve it—your Harvey Weinsteins and Bill Cosbys. Those who commit violent or myriad crimes. Whether Brett Kavanaugh falls into this category remains an open question.

But what about Jack Smith IV? Aziz Ansari? Louis C.K.? Al Franken? Avital Ronell? These "gray area" perpetrators present more room for debate. Here, authenticity becomes central, perhaps even more so than the truth of the specific accusations. Is their repentance really sincere? How do we square the now with the then?

Not even those specifically trained to tell truth from lies—judges, police, etc.—do much better than anyone else at it. What hope, honestly, do the rest of us have? Outside the cases where someone is caught in the act of contradicting his own redemption narrative, it's an unfalsifiable proposition.

You can drive yourself crazy trying to know for sure what's in someone else's heart. You'll still fail. Luckily, forgiveness can be as much about what we owe ourselves as what someone else deserves.

Forgiving someone—friends, lovers, public figures, internet strangers—doesn't mean you need to hang out with them or support their work. It's a means of letting go of the corrosiveness of harboring hatred. Relinquishing the idea that there are tell-tale gives about the state of someone's soul if you just watch closely enough.

Accountability and authenticity are important, but they're not everything. And whether we're talking about personal growth or social change, focusing too much on parsing particular motives and taking down individual enemies can get in the way.

A more productive moral imperative is getting at the underlying systems that allow bad actors in your own world or the world at large to thrive. But this is hard to come by in a culture intent on making people pay in perpetuity for their interpersonal failings. Right now, the media are too eager to draw lines in permanent marker around both villains and victims, while the rules for each category are scribbled in disappearing ink.


Update on My #MeToo Post (or how I am coping)

Back in 2018, after years of suppressing and not wanting to acknowledge what occurred, I finally decided to write what happened to me. Now, it may come as a shock, but not everything that occurred has been told. Some of it I probably won’t tell for a while (because legalities and all that), but some of it I can elaborate on.

When I had a neighbor/babysitter parade me around naked, telling her son that he would someday marry me, what I did not mention is that his sister, who was a teenager at that time, would then take me to her bedroom, molest and sexually assault me. Now, remember, I was 8 and she was a teenager. So, it is no wonder that I often still have issues regarding my sexual identity. Because, on the one hand, I do find myself attracted to women, I also wonder if it stems from what occurred then. Now, I sometimes will state that I am bisexual, and sometimes I don’t because, quite frankly, I don’t know. I don’t know if I will ever truly know. It should come as no surprise to anyone that anything of a sexual nature is something I struggle with and will probably always struggle with. Now, currently, I have been dating a wonderful man for over a year and while he doesn’t know of everything that has gone on in my past, he does now that I have been hurt. So he’s never pushed me and he’s let me just be comfortable with just being together (often, we fall asleep watching a film but then, we are both 40 and up). And you know what? That’s also perfectly fine. Sometimes it’s nice to cuddle, talk, and just be able to be comfortable with another person because that certainly feels more intimate than anything else. Now, the babysitter in question is dead. I have not shed one tear for her death and expect that I never will. Her daughter is still alive, but I don’t think she lives in the state and I hope I never see her again. Occasionally her brother, because he is still around, will send me friend requests on Facebook. I just delete and move on. And the reason I am so willing to move on from this part of my past, is because it’s the one I have worked through the most and I truly can state that it no longer bothers me. But if I ever met the son in person? I’d probably slap him.

As to the academic advisor, Helene Siebrits is still teaching. She is currently at Ohio State and she is the main reason that when I was applying to PhD programs, I just stopped. I found out when I was applying to schools I was interested in and I just couldn’t finish my application anymore. She has connections to many schools from people she has worked with through academia or professionally, plus students she has treated well. It would be impossible for me to be involved in any PhD program without coming into contact with her at some point. I had excellent letters of recommendation and the department at Ohio State was keen to meet me. But I couldn’t. And I don’t know if I will ever go on for a PhD. Because she was scarring. She inflicted injuries that are soul crushing. On a weekly basis, she would have me in her office, in Urbana-Champaign, and politely tell me that my existence was a mistake. People like me had no right to exist. People with depression had no place in Theatre or Academia. These were the weekly mantras I was forced to endure as Helene would drum into my head how utterly pointless my continuing existence was. Then the Costume Shop manager and the other Costume Professor, would do the same thing to me every other week, couched in terms of gentility (the other professor) and flat out disgust (the manager). It was a constant stream of being pointed out how ugly I was. How wrong I was. How I did not fit in. They spread a rumor that I was Autistic, but I apparently also slept with a professor for good grades/to get into the school. I purposefully sabotaged my grade in a class I was getting an A in to end up with a C JUST to dispel this rumor and I shouldn’t have. This professor that I supposedly slept with was Peter Davis. I never slept with him. I liked him, as a professor. I thought he was a pretty nice guy. But he also has a tendency to flirt with attractive students who are undergrads, which always made me uncomfortable as a student. I told him, in the Fall of 2009 what was going on-he didn’t care. He acted like he did, but he really didn’t. It took me years to figure out he is a narcissistic asshole and because I didn’t flatter him enough, I wasn’t worth his time (nor worthy of being moved from Costume Design to Theatre History because I did try to switch and while the Graduate School was all for it, it just wasn’t to be).

I was told to not socialize with any of the other Costume students. If I was seen socializing with them, or they found out, they would punish me. And I was punished. I was punished for hanging out with the Theatre History students. While the other Design grads avoided me like I had the plague, the Theatre History grads were the only ones in that entire department that didn’t give two fucks what Helene thought and have supported me and continue to support me. So, my loyalty always is to them FIRST because they kept me from killing myself. But my punishment was probably illegal. I had to work in the shop, but unable to log hours. So while the others worked 15-20 hrs a week in the shop, I was made to work twice that. Doing everything from cleaning the area, to cleaning the bathroom, to being loaned out to other departments. I’m fairly certain the other departments had no idea that I was doing all of that work without compensation. But any and every attempt I made to tell anyone in a position of authority within that department was met with silence. The only Design Head who gave a fuck was the Sound Guy. And he was going to put a stop to it. Then he died. And it was unexpected. And the abuse continued.

I routinely was called into “meetings” with the costume heads (Helene and the other two ladies) and yelled at. It was a constant stream of abuse. Helene would call me up and tell me that there had been a change of plans for homeroom on Fridays and to not bring my watercolors. Only for me to show up to class and have no watercolors when everyone else was going to paint. She did that all the time. She did it in order to verbally abuse me in front of the others. When we had projects and she did one on one evaluations, she would destroy my work and I would have to start over. So, when others got 2 weeks to work on a drawing for her, I had 4 days. Only once did I outsmart her. I never showed up when we were doing a project that required us to fill in shadows with dots. It was the only time I purposefully didn’t show up because I knew she would have destroyed my work and I just couldn’t. I just couldn’t keep seeing work I had done be torn up and told to start again, but given so much less time to complete it. Because, of course, I would have to work those extra hours without anyone knowing and would have even less time to finish. I had no life. I was depressed. And even the psychiatrist I was able to see on campus confronted Helene and she told him, in person, that it would be better for everyone in the Theatre Department if I would just kill myself. He came to her office and in front of me, she admitted to him what she thought of me. Just think about that. The head of the Costume Program openly admits she wants a student to kill themselves because it would be better for the entire department.

I don’t know why she wanted me dead. I still don’t understand. But I do know Helene is a racist. She is white and from South Africa. She was equally cruel to other Asians in the Theatre Design program. And I mean awful. One was gradating the year I arrived, but Helene would berate her for no reason. In front of the others, and often in front of me. She would do this in front of other professors and not one told her to stop it. The other was a girl in the Scenic program. Helene hated her as well. And yes, this is something I have longed to write and tell because it’s a problem that needs to be addressed in Academia. No supervisor has the right to treat students as if they don’t matter. Now, I loved designing Costumes. I still dream about fabrics and styles and they way fabric drapes or sounds when it moves. I have always loved dressing up. Next to Austen (and Kermit the Frog and David Bowie), costumes have been a huge part of my life for years and years. But my interests in History, English, and Theatre don’t end because I no longer do any costuming. Because I am a writer, I tend to do costume character sheets first when creating a character (so, the knowledge I gained has still worked out well). I focus on how they dress to figure out how they moved. And from that, how they act, speak, and everything else falls into place. And instead of an MFA, I got an MA in Costume Design. And, you know what, that’s just fine.

At the end of that first year, I was stripped of all financial aid and my graduate assistantship. The reason given was my grades. I petitioned the Gradate School for clarification. I was told that having and maintaining a GPA above 3.0 (mine was 3.4) was not grounds for being removed from any graduate program. I should mention I was put on probation the first semester for crying. An undergrad slapped me because I told her she had to show up for her duty on Wardrobe Crew on time instead of whenever she felt like it. She slapped me, threw me up against a wall, and threatened to kill me. I was put on probation. She was never punished. To this day, I have no interaction with her on Facebook and refuse to applaud anything she’s done when it comes up on my news feed from mutual friends. Oh, and per the Graduate School, the academic probation was also illegal. The probation and removal of financial assistance were both in violation of the Graduate School at UIUC. So, for clarification, Helen Siebrits illegally placed me on academic probation, then illegally removed me from my assistantship and barred me from the program per the Graduate School at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Crying is not an acceptable reason to place someone on academic probation. Crying is not an acceptable reason to remove someone from their assitanstship and bar them from the program. And yes, I did fight to stay. The Graduate School was behind me 200%. Everything was in my favor. I had the grades. The probation was not an acceptable reason, and when Helene tried to change it to me having depression, that was also deemed as an invalid excuse. The final thing I had over Helene is that I refused to sign away my rights to my assistantship and sign an agreement to be removed from the program. I never signed these forms which are a requirement by the Department and the Graduate Student BEFORE funding can be taken away. I never signed it. I still had funding taken away. Because, unfortunately, the final say was with the Department Head. He was leaving and didn’t care. He was moving to Texas and a different school. His replacement? He also didn’t care. They gave the excuse that I was physically unable to sign the forms and everything was taken away. I could have appealed and I probably would have won. But I just couldn’t handle it all anymore. Instead, in an act that can only be described as petty, Helene Siebrits destroyed my file, containing my letters of recommendation to the program. While the Graduate School has a record that they were received and they did exist, my file is gone. And I mean everything as in all hard copies. They cannot find my transcripts. They cannot find anything related to me and the Theatre Department. The last person to have the file was Helene Siebrits before it all was gone. And while I will be found to have attended the school and was in the program of MFA Costume Design (and I can and do have a copy of my official transcript), any and all mention of my name and the shows I worked on were removed from the department’s website. I am, for all purposes, erased from ever having existed at that school.

I stayed another year, taking classes I wanted to take. History classes, Ballet, Art. I worked 20 hrs a week in the Music and Performing Arts Library, and also did tutoring on the side for extra income. I was put on food stamps and went to a food pantry twice a month. I survived. I left that school with a 4.0 GPA and went to Kansas State, where I maintained a GPA above 3.2 and ended up with a 3.7 GPA (other schools, it would be considered Cum Laude, but for some stupid reason, the Theatre Department there doesn’t allow such honors to be bestowed on their grad students, only the undergrads). But you know what, I’m ok. I have taken more history classes than the average non-history major (if I could ever transfer those credit to another school, I’d have enough for an MA in History, which is scary). I had fun working at the library (I always do, to be perfectly honest). I enjoyed Kansas State. Didn’t particularly like the costume teacher nor her shop manager, but then they focused on the grad who got the assistantship while I was just the backup. Whatever. At the time I was hurt but now, I could care less.

No matter the abuse I suffered BEFORE grad school, being abused by your professor (and head of the program) IS soul crushing. Because it is. You cannot imagine how many similar stories of abuse I have read and heard from others, in all fields of study, that have traumatized generations of academics. I know people, who like me, just couldn’t continue anymore. Because the abuse, the lack of understanding of mental health issues, is an ongoing problem we need to talk about. Googling “abuse by a professor” brings up pages of examples. And how sad is that? What I experienced is not unique nor is it uncommon. There are so many examples of other grad and undergrad students being abused by professors and academic advisors. This is a culture of abuse that goes back centuries and needs to have it’s #MeToo moment too. And while the treatment I got at Kansas State was better, being ignored and forgotten that you even exist in the program is just as harmful (Thankfully, I was able to retain the Drama Therapy professor as my advisor and Sally Bailey is the best and sweetest advisor anyone could hope to have).

Academia has long needed people to stand up and talk about the abuse. It’s time we really push this narrative forward and start holding those accountable. And yes, just because Helene Seibrits has worked for people of color (and worked with them), doesn’t mean she still isn’t racist. She told me, on a weekly basis, to kill myself. She called me a Kaffir to my face, every week. Kaffir is, well, it’s a very derogatory and racist word meaning I am not white. She referred to me as the Kaffir, on speakerphone, to my psychiatrist AND a person from the Graduate School in my presence. She yelled that I was better off dead because I didn’t deserve to live. Was she ever aware she said this to not one, but 2 people? Probably not. But she was never punished by the Department and I know, because I was told, the Graduate School did issue a complaint against her on my behalf. They found her actions to be racist. But remember, no matter what the Gradate School dictated, it was up to the Theatre Department itself to rectify this issue And they never did. And in case you are wondering why I am focused on Siebrits, it’s because she is still probably abusing other students. She moves around every few years and my concern is that there are others like me who she has abused in the past and will abuse the future. She should not be teaching. She should not be a member of United Scenic Artists Union Local 829. She should not be allowed to hurt others. Because I was very close to killing myself when I was there. I almost didn’t live to see the end of that first year. That’s how much abuse I suffered under her. She is toxic.

How close is too close? My mom was on the verge of coming down, packing everything up, and taking me to a mental hospital for suicide watch. She lived over 3 hours away. Instead, I allowed my psychiatrist to check me into the Pavillion Foundation over Spring Break in 2010. He did this because he felt the Suicide Prevention Team at UIUC would not be adequate. I was there 5 days. I got help. I completed their outpatient program and continued to see my psychiatrist at UIUC the rest of that year, staying over the summer to continue treatment and the next year as well. THAT is the result of non stop emotional abuse.

Its’ important that I write about this because I, at least, had some help. I had the vet grads in my building who knew something was wrong. I had my theatre history friends who could tell that all was not well with me. I had a doctor that fought for the right to call Helene in front of a representative of the Graduate School because he wanted her hatred of me heard by someone in a position of authority. If I didn’t get the help, I would not be here. And that is a fact. I would have not been here to finish my novel. I would have not seen my brother get married. I would have not had the joy of seeing my niece grow up and seeing my nephew. Everything from Spring 2010 to now has been a gift because it was so easily lost. But mine is not the only tale. How many did not make it because of the abuse? They believe 50% of PhD students end up dropping out. Around 20-30% of Master’s do the same. They know, only because some come forward to talk about it, that around 8% think about suicide. And those are the ones that talk about it. And how much is from abuse? Probably a lot of it.

As for John Ortberg, it’s complicated. I have been lucky to talk and find support from Daniel Lavery, Ortberg’s son. I have had people who initially did not believe me in 2018, now believe me because they have realized that there is abuse at Menlo & Willow Creek Church. Friday, I make a statement to the South Barrington Police Department. And I am scared. I am terrified. Because last time I spoke to a cop about sexual abuse, I was 11 and the guy did zero time. But this isn’t about abuse and sexual assault has no statute of limitations. Will anything happen? I don’t know. Would I like something to happen? Sure. I want to know why. I want to know why those who knew this was happening helped. I want to know why Orberg did this to me. I want to know why Ortberg III was allowed to do what he did (and why his dad is ok with it). So, yeah, it’s a lot to deal with. I can’t tell you why anyone sexually abuses or sexually assaults a child. I can tell you that it’s extremely hard to come to terms with and I don’t know if it will ever be ok. Because you lose something when it happens.

Basically, I want answers. I want to know why Helene Siebrits is allowed to teach when she should not have the opportunity to abuse another student emotionally. I want to know why Willow Creek allowed abuse to happen from so many people in charge, for years. I want to know why Menlo reinstated Ortberg in 2020 when it’s clear he should not be in position of power. I want to know why the Theatre Department at UIUC allowed the abuse to happen, when there was evidence happening in front of their eyes. And yes, it’s a lot of questions that I have, but these are questions I need answered to be able to move on. I had some trolling recently, on another post (well, several) that have caused me to not sleep very well these past few days. I spent 40 minutes in the shower crying today because sometimes the memory of what happened at Willow Creek is still painful. And there are things that happened that I have never told my mom because I can’t. I can’t burden her with my pain.

So, I am coping. I am doing better than I thought I would be, but not here I want to be. Is this an issue I will revisit again in he future? Probably. Besides Ortberg, I still on occasion, have flashbacks to the abuse Siebrtis did and because it is fairly recent (still) it’s also a bit too close to the surface. Those are my main two scars and the ones that haunt me the most because there has been no closure for me. The abusive babysitter is dead. She can’t touch me. The neighbor who sexually molested me is dead. I have no issue being in my front yard anymore. Because I have closure on those parts of my past, I have healed from them. But Ortberg? I don’t know how long it will take, but I do want closure. And for Helene? I definitely want answers there. Because I was not the only person being abused by her at that time. And all of us deserve answers from her and from UIUC.


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H e doesn’t love me. He never loved me. And he isn’t looking for me — so I damn well better survive the night on my own. No food, no tent, no map. No one to blame but myself. Too bad burning hot shame isn’t a heat source.

Moonlight traces a craggy ridgeline up around me in a massive arc. The sparse lodgepole pines give way to barren rock, which means 12,000-foot elevation. Thin air breeds spartan creatures — mountain lions, king snakes, bighorn sheep. Not soft-fingered writers.

My body curls into the fetal position inside the soggy sleeping bag as my teeth chatter with percussive violence. No comfort for animals that don’t belong. The hard earth refuses to yield an inch to the curve of my hip.

I lay my spine flat and look up — I haven’t seen a star in nine years. Even through my panicked fog, the glory catches me. The sky glitters and winks like a showgirl. The Perseid Meteor Shower should peak tonight. Hey if I don’t make it, at least I’ll get a good show, right? But nothing falls.

“W e tell ourselves stories in order to live,” writes Joan Didion. “We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”

My compulsion started around the time my father surprised everyone by dying. I’d just been dumped by the first person I’d ever kissed (and asked to keep it a secret). Then I’d blown out my knee in a basketball game and torpedoed my collegiate career. I craved control over an uncontrollable world.

So I began to write. When I’m overwhelmed, I imagine I’m inside a movie of my own design. Nothing can hurt the omniscient narrator.

This is a love story. More specifically, it’s a story about how I froze the phantasmagoria into a false map and got terribly lost. Sure, emotionally lost, but also get-me-the-fuck-off-this-mountain lost. We tell ourselves stories in order to live, unless they end up killing us.

I met Mountain Man at a boarding school in Ojai, California — my first job out of college. As an expression of its “ranch values,” the school assigned each kid a horse to ride and shovel shit for. The faculty led mandatory backpacking trips twice per year, often to a camp under Mount Langley in the Sierras.

I was eager to create new memories in the wild after my last experience: a college trip in New Hampshire where we went off course. Administrators spent three days searching the White Mountains to tell me that my father had died. Others might hold a grudge against Nature for this affront, but not me.

My dad, a second-generation Finn, respected Nature’s brutal majesty. I’d seen the photographs of him in pre-suburban life — paddling on wooded lakes and tromping across snowy bluffs. Two summers earlier, I’d completed an Outward Bound leadership training course. I’d spelled out sisu in my head over and over when the trail got tough. He beamed when I told him this. Sisu means “guts” in Finnish.

At 6-foot-4, I’ve inherited my dad’s frame. I’m the tallest woman most people have ever seen. Strangers tell me so on sidewalks, at cash registers, and in public bathrooms. A hipster once asked, “Do you secretly hate yourself?” No. I was just bone-crushingly lonely. I was a 24-year-old Harvard-educated virgin with a signed copy of The Elements of Style. I’d never had a boyfriend. Given Ojai’s microscopic dating pool and my waning confidence in the allure of late bloomers, perhaps I never would.

Mountain Man arrived my second year at the school — the hirsute love child of Ryan Gosling and Bear Grylls. His eyes were the blue of alpine lakes, and although only 5-foot-11 he swaggered like an NBA champ. He took jobs when he felt like it and lived off the grid when he didn’t. Before this gig he’d led scared-straight wilderness treks in Idaho — like the one he’d been sent to as a teenager. He brewed his own kombucha, caught trout with his bare hands, and had once lived in the Sierras for 40 days and nights alone. How Biblical.

I saw him for the first time at an outdoor school assembly. I’d spent the morning asking 12-year-olds, “What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?” and proffering gingersnaps to their anxious mothers. I stepped out of the air-conditioned Admission Office wearing a Laura Ashley knockoff from The Tall Girl Shop. Mountain Man strode in from the Horse Department — sweat-stained in jeans and leather. Blades of grass leaned toward him, hoping for the crush of his boot.

I’d heard about him. News travels fast at small schools in small towns. He’d taken his freshman boy advisees out for pizza that week and a minx had dropped her number on his plate — solidifying his godlike status among the prepubescents faster than you can say arrabbiata.

Mountain Man introduced himself to the student body and began a tutorial on how to light a fire by rubbing sticks together and blowing on them —

[A film producer interrupts from behind her posh desk.]

FILM PRODUCER
Without a match? You’re shitting me!

MELISSA
This is exactly how it happened.

FILM PRODUCER
Love it! Add a kitten rescue in the rewrite.
(picks up phone)
Gina, is Chris Hemsworth available? …
How about Liam? …

I looked across the faces in the crowd — there was a blaze all right. Even the aged school nurse and her hound had heart-eye emojis. My married colleague, heavily pregnant with her second child, leaned over and whispered, “Damn.”

This guy is such a cliché, I thought. Hard eye roll — chased by self-loathing.

I, too, was charmed by Handsome McMuscleface, which made me a worse cliché — Girl Who Didn’t Stand a Chance. I hadn’t successfully dated anyone, let alone Field & Stream’s cover boy. Plus the height difference? My desire was humiliating.

Yet still! My storytelling brain sensed an opportunity of Hughesian proportions. Sexiest guy in school falls for intriguing, overlooked assistant admission officer.

The secret to elevating my dating game lay in the heart of my favorite teen rom-coms: Don’t be yourself. I pictured him with a SoCal Lara Croft — half assassin, half sun-bunny. You know, a cool girl.

Adorkable overachiever was my brand. Cool was not. My mother once punished me in high school by forbidding me to study on a Friday night.

Another time, I accidentally outed my 14-year-old sister, Sarah, for taking the family car on a joyride. I was 16 and hadn’t bothered with the car yet — the library was within walking distance. When Sarah wasn’t in bed after midnight, I’d assumed she’d been kidnapped.

“I’m so sorry,” I told her when she was grounded into oblivion. “I never considered the possibility of something fun.”

“It’s OK,” Sarah’s braces gleamed beneath headgear. “I know.”

Nonetheless, I had minor superpowers. I understood narrative. I knew how to play a part. See: Lady Macbeth, third runner-up, Central New York’s Teen Shakespeare Monologue Competition.

How hard could it be to write myself into this story?

C ool Girl made no effort to meet Mountain Man for weeks. I watched from afar in the cafeteria. He’d clomp over to the soft serve station in his big boots after lunch.

[Re-creation of the famous balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.]

Mountain Man (Juliet) swirls up a vanilla ice cream cone and takes a sensuous bite as Cool Girl (Romeo) watches below, unseen.

COOL GIRL (ROMEO)
(Elizabethan accent)
O, that I were sprinkles upon that
cream, That I might touch that lip!

I forced my eyes away as he passed. Let him come to me. Cool Girl 101.

The Spanish teacher at my lunch table said, “I’m a happily married woman — but for a chance with him … ?” She whistled through her teeth. “You should go for it.”

“He’s not really my type,” I said, channeling my best James Dean lean.

“That man is everyone’s type,” she hissed. I smiled and shrugged.

B asketball season rolled around in November. As head coach, I mentioned I could use an extra practice player. He offered with a grin. I put on my best game face, but my players, teenage girls fluent in body language, tittered on the sidelines.

As Mountain Man and I drove the team in two passenger vans to an away game one sunny afternoon, my van started to giggle. I turned to look at his, the next lane over on the highway. One of the darlings pressed a handmade sign to the window: Ms. Johnson, he’s too short for you!

Both vans shrieked with laughter. He couldn’t see the sign. I prayed they didn’t tell him what was so funny.

Kill me now. Just end it.
I smiled at my girls and shrugged again.

I was assigned to chaperone a holiday school dance. I’d seen Mountain Man’s name on the list too. However, it was midnight and all of the students had left, with no sign of him. He was probably out birthing a foal or eating a volcano. The school webmaster-cum-DJ cranked up ’90s jams and we chaperones took over. Nothing like earnest high school teachers getting stanky to “Big Pimpin’.”

I danced, sweated and didn’t care how I looked. A tap on my shoulder — I turned. It was him. His cerulean eyes locked with mine. “Trust me,” he said, and put his forearm against the small of my back. Cool Girl was ready to rob a bank.

I leapt up and back as he flipped all 76 inches of me, 360 degrees, head over heels. Adrenaline surged through my veins as I stuck the landing. Cheering friends circled around. He flipped me again. I was giddy, dizzy, unable to comprehend the physics of such a move — but when the ground looks like the sky it’s no time for thinking.

The lights came up and the music stopped. I gave him an awkward high-five and bolted for home, like a Cinderella who knew tonight’s ration of magic was up.

I laid awake in bed. After the school year, I’d be moving to New York City to accept a fellowship in public affairs. Time was running out.

The following week, my basketball team, perennial underdogs, won a big game on a heart-stopping buzzer beater. Mountain Man and I celebrated by playing pool in the back room of a local dive bar. It was the first time we’d been alone together. I matched him point for point until his final turn. I swigged my beer like Angelina Jolie — if Angelina Jolie drank Miller High Life.

I perched against the table, blocking his approach and said, “Take your best shot.” He stepped between my legs, took my face in his hands and kissed me hard.

All the fireworks fired. Holy shit I’m a natural!

Some minutes later we were still atop the pool table when a guy opened the door.

“Are you guys still playing or … can I have a round?”

The darkness enveloped my flush. “Sorry man, all yours,” Mountain Man said with a wink. “She’ll do anything to win.”

We drove to my little house where he strummed his guitar and sang a song by U2. His eyes were closed and his voice was deep.

In a little while
This hurt will hurt no more
I’ll be home, love …

I held myself, fingers digging into flesh — tight, lest I burst into flames.

The sex was great, but what really blew my mind was the story. To be desired by the Most Desirable, I must be fucking exceptional.

As our romance progressed, he confided that he was drawn to a solitary life in nature. “I’m bad at relationships,” he said. Again, with those eyes.

I’ve never been in one.
“Me too,” I answered.

He liked independent women with their own passions — but so often they changed, lost themselves. Like one college girlfriend who started showing up to watch his lacrosse practices.

Pathetic, I thought. I wouldn’t do that in a billion years.

I doubled down on Cool Girl. I served up the fun, wild parts of myself and kept the wobbly bits hidden. A nasty blister stained the inside of my boot blood red on one of our treks, but I didn’t let on. I drank whiskey without flinching, hustled darts with my opposite hand, and wore low-cut tops with black bras when we played pool. Oh, if the Teen Shakespearians could see me now!

I listened for cues to up my game. “Don’t ask for what you kind of want,” he said after hearing me on the phone with a customer service representative. “Ask for exactly what you want.”

I didn’t just love him I wanted to be him.

He suggested we try dating long-distance. I was elated. Coup of the century!

M y sister Sarah, now a design student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, moved in with me in the Big Apple. We caught five mice in our decrepit apartment in the first week. Yet as long as Sarah was there, I was home. I wrote her résumés. She framed fashion feedback in a way I could understand: “Your outfit,” she’d say with the forbearance of a monk, “is not telling a consistent story.” She threw herself into the maelstrom of New York dating as I happily abstained.

Mountain Man sent me handwritten missives and pencil sketches of my face. He highlighted words in a pocket Spanish dictionary — amante, beso, toque. In between pages, he pressed columbine and Indian paintbrush. He included a little satchel of rocks — limestone, hornfels, mica — tiny treasures from his rambles in the high places. His letter read, “My longing, in a pocket for you.” New York City was kicking my ass, but my belief in our epic love story buoyed me.

He even came to visit me in Babylon, as he called it, for New Year’s. It was the first time I saw him away from his other woman, the wild. He strained to put on a good face despite obvious irritation with the concrete canyons, $14 gin and tonics, and affected hipsters. I joked about the local wildlife (pigeons, rats in the subway, my asshole mice roommates), but it was plain that he was lost without his true love. I could never compete.

“So great to see you killing it out here,” he said.

This city is crushing my soul.
“You know me,” I said.

Cool Girl was wearing me out. I’d pulled off the heist but now had to live with the con.

When it was time for Mountain Man to fly back home, I watched him in the ticket agent line, certain he wouldn’t be let on the plane. He’d lost his license. This was post 9/11 LaGuardia — no chance. Sure, he knew how to survive in the wilderness with nothing but a pen and ball of twine, but I knew how this city worked. He waited, beaming at the agent, wafting manbrosia from 20 feet away.

“Driver’s license?” She called him forward. I shook my head. I’d tried to warn him.

“I don’t have a driver’s license,” he replied, “but I do have a diver’s license.”

He slapped a scuba certification ID onto the desk. In it his hair stuck out in all directions, his expression adorable. She laughed and waved him through. What?! Manic Pixie Dream Boy strikes again. He gave me a winning smile and headed toward the gate, back to his mistress.

I took a taxi home, depleted and confused. Was he even a real person?

Life got harder in New York. My mother, living alone in Syracuse, was hospitalized with a perforated bowel. I had just worked up my courage on a phone call to tell him how scared I was to lose her, when his surf buddy knocked on his door.

Please don’t go. Choose me.
“Of course,” I said. “Have fun!”

I craved his support but wouldn’t break out of my role. Needs? Cool Girl didn’t have needs. Gross.

He called once a week from a landline. He didn’t believe in cell phones. I held my cell all February 14th, certain he’d call any minute. He didn’t. Later he remarked, “Hallmark holidays are such bullshit, right?”

But you’re my first Valentine.
“Total bullshit,” Cool Girl agreed.

Sarah saw through my story. “You’re not happy with him,” she said. “Stop being an idiot.”

[Sarah addresses camera.]

SARAH
More like, “Stop being a fucking
idiot.”

I couldn’t explain how being his girlfriend made me exceptional. It sounded pathetic. There but for the grace of God, go I to the lacrosse practice.

A year into dating, I visited him in Ojai. We returned to the dive bar where we’d had our first kiss. He loaded up “Sweet Melissa” on the jukebox but was out back having a cigarette with strangers when it came on. I felt like a hollowed-out piñata.

A woman at the bar advertised palm readings for five dollars. I didn’t hesitate.

“Let’s see what we can see,” she said.

I placed my clammy, open-faced hand into hers.

“Hmm.” Her brows knit together as she traced a ridgeline.

“You’ve got the Jupiter Mate Selector,” she whispered, like it was a tumor.

“You know, Jupiter, Roman god of the sky. Zeus to the Greeks.”

“You fall for powerful men. You put them up on a pedestal and keep yourself down low.”

Stone-faced, she folded my sweaty hand and gave it back to me.

“If you don’t believe that you’re just as powerful as the man you’re with, then you’ll be alone forever.”

My Cool Girl act proved that I didn’t feel like his equal. So I could either get real quick or break up with him. I chose the latter. Maybe I didn’t think he’d like my true neurotic self. Or I valued the preservation of my fairy tale over the actual relationship. Or I was just damn exhausted.

We went on one last backpacking trip in the Sierras. Distance was a perfect excuse. Nobody’s fault. “A good run.” I exited the union the way I’d entered, by suppressing my emotions and calling it strength. He told me how amazing I was, but I knew the truth. I didn’t cry until I was alone. What a fraud.

I consoled myself by expanding the story. I wasn’t another notch on his lipstick case — he was in pain too. No girl had broken up with him before! He’d start calling me The One That Got Away and flirt with me into our 80s. I’d smile and shrug — cool till the end.

He started dating someone a nanosecond later.

“I’m sure she’s great,” I told our mutual math teacher friend through a stiff smile.

Yet, his claim of wanting to stay friends seemed genuine. He set up times to talk on the phone during his brief interludes down from the Sierras that summer. Then he flaked every time. WTF? The dull ache in my chest tightened into something sharp.

Autumn came, still I waited, hating myself for it. I worked insane hours for low wages at an environmental nonprofit run by a sociopath. I hadn’t had sex in four months and all my first dates had flopped.

One afternoon I got a voicemail from him. Finally! But it was a pocket dial. (Now he gets a cell phone?!) A week later I rode the tide of commuters up from the Union Square subway station, buoyed and beaming. He’d left another message, surely a real one this time.

Nope. Another pocket dial. In it I heard Mountain Man coaching his lacrosse team. He sounded so happy and I was so miserable. The final indignity.

The dam that had held back my messy self for so long burst. I’m getting tossed out like yesterday’s trash? Hell no. NOBODY DOES COOL GIRL LIKE THIS!!

I scream-shouted my own voicemail, “Learn to use a fucking phone and delete my number!!” I hung up and put a hand over my mouth to block the sobs. The gray-black river of indistinguishable New Yorkers streamed past me on the sidewalk. I wasn’t exceptional anymore.

N ine years passed in New York. I wrote stories for money. Got rejected. Wrote more. My mom’s health worsened. Then improved. Then worsened again. I dated a police officer, a tech entrepreneur, a newspaper man. Sarah and I upgraded to a “garden-level” apartment. I had pigeons in an air shaft outside my bedroom and Sarah had a dumpster full of mice outside hers. At least the vermin were outside now.

Sometimes, especially in summer, I’d squint my eyes and see Mountain Man on the poster of Mount Langley above my bed, climbing the ridgeline. So small, only I could see him. While I never opened his box of letters and pressed flowers under my bed, I didn’t throw it away either. My longing, in a pocket for you.

I spent my life’s savings to create a film that sold to Showtime. For once I hadn’t sought anyone else’s permission. I’d leaned back, jumped into a flip, and stuck the landing on my own. I decided to move to Los Angeles, though leaving Sarah was like leaving behind a limb.

I hadn’t spoken to Mountain Man in almost a decade. Missing him and missing the mountains felt the same — a tug to abandon acceptable society and get dirty. I considered reaching out to him. I’d done hard things. I was stronger now — his equal, right? Maybe it could work?

I’ll be my 100 percent true self this time.

[Orchestral music swells. A narrator speaks.]

NARRATOR (V.O.)
The lovers reunite in the wilderness.
Older. Wiser. Only now can they truly —

“Aren’t there like, other mountains in California?” Sarah interrupted my reverie, eating peanut butter out of the jar. She’d never bought into Mountain Man’s charms.

Mountain Man answered my email with a warmth that made my entire body blush. He welcomed me for a weekend at the school’s camp in the Sierras. I knew the location under Mount Langley well I’d led student trips there. We’d rendezvous at the parking lot trailhead in three weeks. I’d join a group of alumni who were vacationing at the school’s camp. Their burro train would be easy to spot with Mountain Man at the helm.

I let Sarah keep all of our furniture, and she helped me pack my books and wardrobe into Goldmember, my secondhand Subaru. “If I catch you wearing Birks,” she warned, “I’m bringing you back.”

I drove alone from New York to Los Angeles in a daze of possibility. I was about to start telling stories for a living in the City of Angels. Who knew what might spark between Mountain Man and me under the stars? I wandered through story castles in my mind as miles of Midwestern corn flew past my window.

I awoke on a bright August morning in Silver Lake. My friend Adam was letting me crash in his converted garage until I found my new home in L.A. Today was the day. Butterflies danced up my thighs but Cool Girl was back and took charge. I pulled on new Patagonia shorts I couldn’t afford, laid down in the garden and rolled around in the dirt.

“Whatcha doing?” Adam asked from the kitchen window, bleary-eyed in boxers, coffee in hand.

“Gotta rough ’em up,” I explained. “Can’t look too new.”

I debated the merits of cowboy hat versus baseball cap in the bathroom mirror for 20 minutes. Then I painstakingly applied no-makeup makeup: professional grade mascara, concealer, tinted SPF and bronzer — camouflage to the untrained male eye. Why, Cool Girl hadn’t aged a day.

I hit the road late. No matter, I could make up the time on the five-hour drive. Goldmember bombed through the scorching Mojave Desert, past Joshua trees, Death Valley, and the dried-up salt of Owen’s Lake — grim tribute to the unnatural thirst of Los Angeles — into the Inyo National Forest. I climbed the precarious switchbacks, well-known to wilderness junkies and location scouts, into the mighty Sierras, youngest mountain range in the United States. Impossibly young, like me.

View of the Sierras from the Sequoia National Park, adjacent to Inyo National Forest.

I shout-sang to the radio until it fuzzed out. My ears popped as I dodged fallen rocks with one hand and called Mountain Man with the other. There were no guardrails and the road narrowed to a blind turn, above a thousand-foot drop-off.

It went to voicemail. “It’s me,” I said, buzzing with adrenaline, “I’m a little late. No need to wait — I’ll walk myself into camp!” Cool Girl knew the way.

I arrived at the sprawling parking area, dotted with dozens of trailheads. Goldmember quickly found the right one. Mountain Man and the alumni had departed. Fresh burro tracks crowded the trail. Fair enough, I was 20 minutes late.

The midafternoon sky was hard and bright as a marble. I reapplied no-makeup mascara and started down the trail, recognizing trees and streams as I passed. Cocky about my sense of direction, I stopped to meditate on a felled trunk, freebasing sunshine and alpine air.

I’ll catch up to them in 30 minutes, tops.

H ours later, I climbed a grueling series of switchbacks as sunlight narrowed to a thin ribbon over the saddle. My mascara had fallen into racoon eyes. I distracted myself from my gnawing hunger by rehearsing my opening line to Mountain Man.

[Cool Girl, dressed in trench coat and fedora, addresses camera.]

Cool Girl
(as Humphrey Bogart)
Say, what’s a girl gotta do to
get a drink around here?

I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. No problem, I’d see Mount Langley from the top of the pass and the camp beneath it. There’d be a full spread waiting.

Landscape of the Sierras viewed from the Sequoia National Park.

S-I-S-U, S-I-S-U … I repeated the old mantra on a loop in my head.

Sweat-drenched and huffing, I made it to the saddle and looked out upon the long-shadowed wilderness. No Langley.

The trusty burro tracks were still there. I scurried down the opposite slope into the gloaming. Raindrops pinged my bare arms but there was a lake up ahead that I recognized. Just a little farther.

Night ambushed me. Total blackness. My instinct was to yell, “Not funny, guys!” as if that might bring up the house lights. I balanced my pack on a rock, hands trembling as I fumbled with an ancient headlamp mummified by duct tape. I didn’t notice that the sleeping bag at the bottom of my pack was getting soused in a puddle. Was I shaking because of the cold or my nerves? The rain intensified. Just a little farther.

Tharump-tharump-tharump! A mountain lion pounded down the ridgeline behind me, jumped with jaws wide, ready to rip into my flesh — I whipped around, hiking poles braced. Nothing. It was only the sound of my own heart, trying to beat its way out of my ears.

Nausea washed over me. I knew the hypothermia risk of sleeping out in precipitation. I was at the tree line, 12,000-foot elevation, which meant near freezing temperatures, even in August.

Is this a joke? Donner, party of one? I wandered aimlessly now. Just a little farther.

My story mind grew emboldened. A voice spoke up like my personal HAL 9000, “DON’T PANIC … DON’T PANIC … PANIC … PANIC … ”

“Stop that!” I hissed, sounding like the homeless man who used to wander around my block.

Maybe Mountain Man can hear me from here. I released a high-pitched cry into the wild dark.

Up and down the ridgeline I paced, redoubling my ragged cries.

Then I heard it — a faint, deep voice across the lake. I shouted Mountain Man’s name from the deepest place inside me.

“HEY!” the voice rang back. Relief, pure and sweet, dropped through me. I was already in that warm cabin, laughing it off—

“SHUT UP!” the voice said. Not. Mountain. Man.

Should I shout again? What if he’s a serial mountain rapist ready to cast me in a gritty reboot of Deliverance?

Weary, I hunkered down with my wet sleeping bag and used my dirty sneaker as a pillow. Dankness soaked into my bones. My knee throbbed. I couldn’t stop shaking. I began sit-ups to generate body heat as hail pummeled my face.

If I die, I’m gonna haunt Serial Mountain Rapist’s ass for eternity.

[A movie trailer voice-over interjects.]

ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
(deep, authoritative)
She’s a vigilante specter with nothing
to lose. He’s the dick across the lake
who couldn’t be bothered. GHOST JUSTICE,
coming to CBS this fall.

I closed my eyes for short, drowsy intervals, and opened them mechanically, as if triggered by the slow, audible click of a lever behind my ear. The view changed a little bit each time. Hazy, no stars. Then a low, drippy moon. Then faint white pinpricks everywhere.

View of the Sierras from Sequoia National Park with the moon high in the sky.

Click. I opened my eyes again to find a clear-eyed moon bearing down on me like an interrogation lamp. I threw myself upon its mercy.

I confess. I’m here because I took too long putting on my Cool Girl bullshit costume. I was trying to impress an asshole who couldn’t wait 20 fucking minutes after TEN YEARS. I understand the story now. It’s a cautionary tale. Let me survive this and I’ll drop Cool Girl forever. Please.

Click. I opened my eyes wide to take in thousands of stars, a dusting of cosmic sugar that extended beyond my periphery, brilliant and twinkling.

There was something new — bright white lines drawn around constellations, like the poster on my sister’s childhood bedroom door. HAL narrated, “ANDROMEDA, THE BEAR, CASSIOPEIA … ”

I didn’t know that I knew the names of these constellations — sweet!

HAL continued, “PEGASUS, SAGITTARIUS … ” It was a movie screen in the sky.

Revelation punctured my woozy delight. What I was seeing wasn’t real. I shook myself upright and pinched my arm. Snap out of it, Johnson! But the shapes didn’t go anywhere.

I squeezed my eyes shut and laid back down.

It’s OK — just a little stress hallucination. Deep cleansing breath. I’ll open my eyes and the shapes will be gone.

I reopened one millimeter at a time.

I locked my eyes shut. A frantic sparrow was trapped inside my head, flying room to room, bloodying itself against every window — looking for the way out.

I t was a long sleepless wait before I dared to open my eyes again. The stars were gone now, and I watched the sky change from black to indigo to pink, like a bruise healing. I rose, quaking as a colt. Everything hurt. The muscles around my knee spasmed. My lungs worked for every breath in the oxygen-depleted air.

On the far side of the lake I spied campers packing for departure. I shuffle-ran toward them, legs screaming, desperate to make it before they left. They were just below me when I realized this must be Serial Mountain Rapist and friends.

Just be as polite as possible.

“Beg your pardon!” It came out in a British accent. That’s weird. My survival instincts had turned thespian. Six grave, bearded mugs turned to face me in unison. Bloody ’ell.

“I appear to be in a bit of a pickle. Might you have a map?”

They were a group of fathers and sons from San Diego and were horrified to hear that I’d spent the night exposed to the hail and rain. I inhaled three bags of their M&Ms and two Nature Valley bars. They were hiking out today and encouraged me to join them.

Their map showed that I was nine miles and 2,000 feet up in the wrong direction. I’d confused the Cottonwood Pass Trail with the Cottonwood Lakes Trail and recognized landmarks because I’d taken trips of students out on this route. I’d been wrong from the first step.

Me at Cottonwood Lakes in Inyo National Forest, with the Sierras and Mount Langley peeking out in the back. Photos courtesy author.

I toed the back of the line with the eldest father. We settled into a meditative cadence. The others got farther ahead.

“You know that camp I was headed to?”

“It’s run by my ex-boyfriend. Haven’t seen him in 10 years.”

“Yeah.” I paused. “The good part is, bet he hasn’t noticed that I haven’t arrived yet. Or he thinks I’m coming tomorrow, or whatever.” I forced a laugh.

“Maybe,” the father said, “or maybe he’s really worried about you.”

Fathers aren’t big on tears in my experience. I’d never seen my dad cry. Misty-eyed once, when his sister died. But never cry. He’d requested two things for his eulogy, which we both knew I’d be writing. First say, “Not bad for a poor Finnish boy from Quincy, Mass.,” and second, “Don’t go crying and carrying on.” He was the original Jupiter. While Sarah and my older sister, Toby, fell apart next to me at the lectern, and my mom sobbed in her pew, I held steady. My tribute. Don’t show your feelings. Be cool.

I was glad to be ahead of this father, single-file, so he couldn’t see my wet face.

T he day was late back at the trailhead parking lot. I slumped in Goldmember’s hatchback, sorting through wet clothes. Hair ratty, makeup frightful, I was downwind from the public toilets and too spent to move. Portrait of The Uncool.

A school van rolled towards me.

“Melissa Johnson,” a serious voice said, “everyone is looking for you.”

Bearded, older, but those unmistakable eyes. Mountain Man.

He sounded pissed — his voice, low and even. I’d never seen him like this. Then I realized — I’d scared him. The unflappable guy, flapped.

“I got lost,” I said in a soft voice. He got out of the van. We embraced.

He had waited for me at the correct trailhead, five minutes away, until nightfall. Then he’d sent out the call. State troopers were looking for me on the highways park rangers were searching in the mountains student workers from the camp were scouring the trails — a full-scale search-and-rescue operation. His backpack held an emergency oxygen tank.

He’d used his satellite phone to track down our math teacher friend who had, in turn, called the headmaster on vacation in Wyoming, my friend Adam in Silver Lake, my former boss in Oakland — and Sarah.

We drove to a nearby vista so I could call Sarah. She screamed to the point of squeaking.

“You are an ASSHOLE! I thought you were DEAD!”

My tongue was thick with shame. This was the worst thing I’d ever done, to the person who loved me the most. She’d been on her way to tell Mom that there had been no sign of me for 24 hours. It was worse than the search for me in the White Mountains, because she knew I was alone.

“Enjoy this trip because YOU ARE NEVER GOING CAMPING AGAIN, ASSHOLE!”

To this day when this story comes up, Sarah leaves the room.

M ountain Man and I walked to the camp from the correct trailhead. It took 45 minutes. I looked up at Mount Langley — eternal and unchangeable to a small human.

We sipped tequila that night in his cabin.

“After we broke up, I missed you so bad. Thought we’d be friends. All this hard stuff was happening. I couldn’t understand why you just … dropped me. You were a real shit.”

My body trembled. I’d never been so forthright.

“What?” His face fell. “You told me to delete your number. You didn’t want to have anything to do with me. Why didn’t you tell me?!”

Turns out, I’m the hero of this story and also the villain. In my search for a romantic lead, I’d replaced him with a totem. Mountain Man neither possessed nor could tolerate weakness. But his real name was Gabe. He wasn’t a god out of Roman mythology. He was born in Reno with a clubfoot to parents who got divorced. He’d failed to graduate college and went back years later. He was self-conscious about his hairy back. Clean arcs resist messy details.

At a grassy alpine meadow in the Sierras, two days after reuniting with Mountain Man.

“The way you live your life apart, I realized you don’t need people,” I insisted.

“That’s not true. I absolutely need people.”

No, he didn’t need people! It was a pillar of my story. But then he opened up about his own bone-crushing loneliness after his last breakup. It had been drawn out, ugly, emotional — an altogether human affair. I felt the hurt radiating off his body. I couldn’t hide from the deeper, more painful truth —

The words sat heavy in my mouth. I ached to say them, to drop the Cool Girl mask for good. Vulnerability is death. Yet lack of vulnerability is also death. What a rotten trap! I wanted to shout back at the voice in the wilderness that had told me to shut up. I wanted to sob at the lectern. I wanted to be messy and real and loved for it all.

But I choked. I filled my mouth with tequila instead.

“I would have gone up every trail,” he said, “followed the road all the way back to Los Angeles to find you.” My heart split in two and fell to the ground.

All my stories had been wrong.

I’d picked the wrong map, gone down the wrong trail and reassured myself with misinterpreted data points that I was going the right way. I’d been wrong from the first step.

L ater that evening, I lay snug in the open meadow under bountiful stars. No white lines tonight, only Gabe’s red laser pointer naming constellations. Middle-aged alums had returned to see the stars they’d known as kids, to feel young again in the seeing.

Andromeda was about to be eaten by a sea monster. Callisto was transformed into The Bear so Zeus could hide her from his wife. Virgo, daughter of Demeter, was stolen by Hades. Ancient poets and wandering minstrels flung these stories about women upon flaming balls of hydrogen and helium — so they could feel less alone in the dark night.

We hope our stories will protect us from sailing off the edge of the earth, or the unpredictability of the harvest, or loving someone who doesn’t love us back. Our toy swords against the dragon.

T he rest of the weekend was full of hikes, hammocks, and music around the campfire. I reminded Gabe of that first fire he’d made at the school assembly.

“God, that was so embarrassing,” he confessed, “when I couldn’t get it to light.”

What? I stared at him. Exactly how different had our stories been over the years?

What if neither of us was right? What if both of us were right? What if all the stories were true and untrue? What if we could experience the multitude of competing narratives at once — and enter the Spider-verse like a god, like Jupiter?

[Characters address camera in montage format.]

SCHOOL WEBMASTER/DJ
It was like watching two superheroes
unite.

SARAH
He was a garden-variety dilettante with
an REI card. And his beard was gross.

HIS COLLEGE GIRLFRIEND
Have you seen him play lacrosse?

SPANISH TEACHER
I mean, I’m a happily married woman —
but for a chance with her … ?
(whistles through teeth)

VANILLA ICE CREAM CONE
I never met a mouth I liked more.

PALM READER
I predicted the whole thing.

MATH TEACHER
I’m the one who insisted that he start
the search party.

GABE
She came back to see the mountains.
She didn’t come back to see me.

W hen the time came for me to return to L.A., Gabe invited me to join a river rafting trip with him and two ranger buddies deeper into the wild. They were bringing homebrew and a yeti costume.

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” he said.

Indeed, it was. Manbrosia flooded my senses.

“So?” he shrugged with a devilish smile. All creatures in his gravitational orbit bent toward him. I felt the pull and leaned away.

He is the guy. He’s not the guy. He’ll always be the guy. He never was the guy.

I could hold all of the stories at once, devour them in a mouthful. They swirled together in my magnificent round belly. There was no past and no future here. Nowhere else to be. I felt my life force expanding in a primordial storm. I was the descendant of supernovas.

“What’s it gonna be?” he asked.

I had thought that becoming his equal would mean that we’d be together. I was wrong.

I have a life to go build.
“I have a life to go build.”

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Kate Winslet Promotes New LGBTQ Movie By Claiming Hollywood Is Homophobic

Actress Kate Winslet known for her roles in Titanic and Sense and Sensibility claimed Hollywood is homophobic while promoting her new LGBTQ film Ammonite.

Winslet spoke with The Sunday Times and Jonathan Dean out of England where she claimed there are not enough LGBTQ stories in the mainstream.

The actress stated, “And I do believe the issue of there not being enough LGBTQ stories in our mainstream is on the brink of change . . .”

From there Winslet stated, “A conversation about straight actors in gay roles is incredibly important.”

She added, “I hope there will come a time when it is automatic that [gay] actors get those parts and you wouldn’t have to put punchy film stars in to get it made.”

Source: Movie Coverage YouTube

Dean then writes, “So the idea is that by casting Winslet and Ronan — 11 Oscar nods between them — the film paves the way for more same-sex stories, this time with same-sex actors?”

Winslet responds stating, “We could have had a conversation about how I feel about playing a lesbian and possibly taking that role from somebody, but I’m done with not being honest about what my real opinions are, and I know the part was never offered to anybody else. In taking this part I had an opportunity to bring an LGBTQ story into living rooms.”

Source: Movie Coverage YouTube

She then went to claim that she knows a number of actors in Hollywood who are terrified of revealing their sexuality.

Winslet explained, “I cannot tell you the number of young actors I know — some well known, some starting out — who are terrified their sexuality will be revealed and that it will stand in the way of their being cast in straight roles. Now that’s f***ed up.”

She continued, “I’m telling you. A well-known actor has just got an American agent and the agent said, ‘I understand you are bisexual. I wouldn’t publicise that.’”

“I can think of at least four actors absolutely hiding their sexuality. It’s painful. Because they fear being found out. And that’s what they say. ‘I don’t want to be found out,’” Winslet added.

When asked whether this was men or women, Winslet answered, “Men more than anything. It’s bad news.”

Source: Movie Coverage YouTube

Winslet didn’t stop there. She went on to say, “But Hollywood has to drop that dated crap of, ‘Can he play straight because, apparently, he’s gay?’”

“That should be almost illegal. You would not believe how widespread it is. And it can’t just be distilled to the question about gay actors playing gay parts. Because actors, in some cases, are choosing not to come out for personal reasons. And it’s nobody’s business. Perhaps privacy. Perhaps conditioning and shame,” she said.

Source: Movie Coverage YouTube

In order to change Hollywood, Winslet says, “It takes more people to speak the way I am. People are afraid because we live in a world where political correctness is dictating people’s willingness to be upfront. We live in a finger-pointing culture.”

She continued, “And I definitely feel that holding myself accountable, as I have done, for having worked with Woody [Allen, for Wonder Wheel] and Roman [Polanski, for Carnage] has helped me feel like I am allowed to have a voice again.

“For a number of years it wasn’t right for me to speak like this because there would be too many people getting ready with their big pointy fingers. I don’t intend to browbeat or take on Hollywood,” Winslet added.

The actress then stated, “We’re just talking about young actors who might be considering joining this profession, and finding a way to make it more open. For there to be less judgment, discrimination and homophobia.”

Finally, Winslet then claims there needs to be an LGBTQ version of the #MeToo movement.

Dean writes, “So there needs to be a #MeToo moment for attitudes towards the LGBTQ community in Hollywood? She nods.”


In Light of #MeToo, Is Broadway Going to Address Its Forgiveness of Their Current Phantom?

Someone who sexually abuses a teenage girl on multiple occasions should be in jail.

Someone who confesses to and is convicted of sexually abusing a teenage girl on multiple occasions should be registered as a sex offender.

Someone who is convicted of sexually abusing a teenage girl on multiple occasions, should not be allowed to return to the very place of work where they committed the crime.

Seems pretty straightforward and reasonable right? Can we all agree? If that's the case then,

Someone who is convicted of sexually abusing a teenage girl on multiple occasions, should not be starring as the current Phantom of the Opera.

Ever since the news of Harvey Weinstein's allegations came out, men and women have been defiantly and bravely sharing their own experiences with sexual abuse and harassment on social media with the #metoo. Thankfully, the entertainment industry has also started to seriously discuss how it handles this issue and those who perpetrate it.

Many have said that Harvey Weinstein will never work in Hollywood again.

I say, are we sure about that?

Becuase Hollywood has a horrible track record of forgiving and forgetting when it comes to sexual abuse and harassment.

While they booted Harvey Weinstein from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, they have not done the same to Bill Cosby who has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 50 women and is currently awaiting a re-trial this spring.

Also still a member in good standing is Roman Polanski who was convicted of drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in the 1970's. He was awarded the Oscar for Best Director in 2003.

So is 7th Heaven actor Stephen Collins who admitted to “inappropriate sexual conduct with three female minors." As of today, he is welcomed company by the Academy.

And Broadway is no better.

They welcomed convicted rapist Mike Tyson, who used moments of his one-man Broadway show to paint his accuser as a villain, to perform alongside Neil Patrick Harris at the Tony Awards.

Two years ago the New York Times published a damning article which detailed actor Scott Shepherd's domestic abuse of his girlfriend. Today he is starring in Measure for Measure at The Public Theater.

So pardon me if I don't believe Hollywood's exile of Harvey Weinstein is going to be permanent. Hollywood and Broadway have short memories as long as you have talent and friends in high places.

Which brings us to Broadway's Phantom of the Opera, James Barbour.

In 2001, James Barbour was starring in the musical Jane Eyre. A 15-year old aspiring actress comes to the show and is also scheduled to meet the then 35-year old Barbour backstage since they both went to the same high school and had the same drama teacher.

At some point during their initial encounter in his dressing room at the Brooks Atkinson, James Barbour fondles the 15-year-old girl.

After the encounter, Barbour, the victim, her parents and Barbour's girlfriend, grab dinner at a nearby restaurant. Allegedly, with her parents and his girlfriend just mere feet away, Barbour fondles the teen again, under the table.

A month later, Barbour invites the teen to his West 98th St apartment where the two perform oral sex. All the while, Barbour knew she was 15-years old.

For the next five years, Barbour would go on to appear in Broadway productions of Urinetown and Assassins. While he was performing on stage, his victim was left suffering from shame and guilt.

In 2006, the 15-year old victim, now 20, after learning that another woman also had accused Barbour of touching her as a teen, reports her encounters to police.

"When the idea that another girl could be going through what I had gone through, I felt obligated to come forward," she said to the Daily News.

James Barbour outside court in 2006.

James Barbour was indicted in 2006 on nine counts of engaging in criminal sexual acts, sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child.

Days later, upon learning of the charges leveled against Barbour, a second accuser comes forward stating that he molested her when she was 13 years-old in California, seven years prior.

Due to California's statute of limitations of just three years, charges could not be pressed. However, the victim stated she would testify if need be.

After pleading not guilty, Barbour and his attorney, Ronald P. Fischetti, beyond denying the charges, launched an ugly campaign against the victim.

In December 2006, Fischetti asked the judge in the trial for permission to publish the victim's name in the newspapers in order to set up a hotline to see if she had falsely accused anyone else of sexual misconduct.

"I want to put up a hotline with her name on it (and place it) in the newspapers," Fischetti told the judge. "I want to have people call me on the basis of other claims that she had made. We believe that this alleged victim has made these false allegations before."

That request was denied and a gag order was put in place.

Months later, Fischetti tried to get the gag order lifted. His appeal was denied in July of 2007. The Daily News reported,

"The court upheld the judge's decision not to allow it, saying that Fischetti had shown no good faith basis for suggesting the girl had a history of falsely accusing anyone. It said that without such a showing, the policy interest of having sex crimes victims come forward without fear of exposure "outweighs what would amount to a fishing expedition."

The following month, on August 17th, it was announced that James Barbour would star in the upcoming musical, A Tale of Two Cities.

So at the time, Broadway producers and casting professionals had no qualms about casting an actor who was on trial for sexual abuse of a minor.

Barbour's defense was that the 15-year-old girl was the aggressor and somehow overpowered a 35-year-old man with her sexual advances. Rather than guilt and shame, Barbour, through his attorney, accused the victim of reporting her abuse as nothing more than a money grab.

"She left NYU, she's working in a bakery, she's completely out of money," his lawyer Ronald Fischetti had claimed. "The motivation has to be because he's coming into money, and because he's becoming a Broadway star."

At one point during the trial, when Fischetti stated that it was the victim who initiated the contact, the victim screamed "That's not true!" and ran out of the courtroom crying.

In response to the outburst, Fischetti stated to reporters, "She's an actress, this girl can cry on a moment's notice."

Months later, after trying to paint his victim as a conniving golddigger, James Barbour accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

In court, Barbour, was asked by the judge if he knew the age of his victim.

“Were you aware of her exact age?”

“What was that age?” Justice Scherer pressed.

According to the Daily News, Barbour also admitted luring the victim to his apartment by promising to introduce her to theatrical producers - and then engaging in oral sex with her.

He was sentenced to 60 days in jail and three years’ probation. By accepting the plea deal, Barbour would have to go through many of the protocols associated with being a sex offender.

The New York Times reported,

"While he was on probation, he had to inform the manager, producer or assistant director of any theatrical, film or television project he worked with in that he has been convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, “having engaged in oral sexual conduct and sexual contact with a 15-year-old child.”

And he had to get permission from the court or probation officer to participate in shows employing child actors or to give backstage tours to children.

He also had to attend sex-offender treatment and could not visit playgrounds, arcades, amusement parks, school grounds or Internet chat rooms frequented by children without permission from his probation officer."

However because he pleaded to misdemeanors, not felonies, Barbour would not have to register as a sex offender and would not have to disclose his conviction after his probation expired in 2011.

During the sentencing hearing, the victim read a statement in court which she stated her reasoning for coming forward. She then criticized Fischetti's defense tactics.

"It's no wonder more victims of sex crimes don't come forward," she said. "Not when they risk facing such brutal attacks."

Rather than fire an actor convicted of sexual abuse of a minor, producers of A Tale of Two Cities stuck by Mr. Barbour. After serving his prison sentence, Barbour returned to rehearsals and starred in the show when it opened on September 18th, 2008.

James Barbour and the company of A Tale of Two Cities bow on their opening night. Photo: Pablo Pimienta

The show was panned by critics, failed to sell tickets and closed quickly on Nov 09, 2008 after 33 previews and 60 performances.

With the show closed, Barbour wasn't seen much during the three years of his probation.

In 2011, he was announced to star as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. Since his probation had expired by then, it's unknown whether or not Barbour disclosed his conviction to producers at the Old Globe during the casting process.

Nevertheless, once his casting was announced, news of his prior conviction started to spread. The LA Times reported, "the case was mentioned several days ago in the San Diego Union-Tribune. A San Diego radio talk show host picked up the fact and criticized the Old Globe for several days in a row for hiring Barbour. "

It also probably didn't help that the Old Globe advertised a show starring a convicted sex abuser, fresh off his probation like this:

Days later, James Barbour left the production citing that he was leaving due to issues surrounding his wife's pregnancy.

In January 2015, it was announced that James Barbour would succeed Norm Lewis as the Phantom in Broadway's Phantom of the Opera, his first Broadway role since his conviction. The outrage, which I wrote about, was immediate.

In response to the protest of the casting, Phantom's producers put out the following statement,

"PHANTOM has the best fans in the world and we are deeply appreciative for all of you and listen to all comments posted here. We are of course aware of the reaction to the announcement of our newest Phantom for Broadway and want to respond to you. James gave a tremendous audition and we are confident he will be a thrilling Phantom. James fully accepted responsibility for what happened 14 years ago. Following his sentence in 2008, James resumed his career, starring in A TALE OF TWO CITIES on Broadway. In the seven years since then, he has appeared in countless productions in New York and around the country, receiving great acclaim, and maintaining a spotless reputation. Additionally, he has been an active member of the Broadway community, giving his time to numerous charitable causes. While we know some will disagree, we believe James has completely honored the second chance he was given beginning 7 years ago and we are happy to have him join the production next month."

Barbour has been playing the Phantom ever since. In that time he's also been the recipient of the Shining Star Award by the Jane Elissa Charitable Fund and had his portrait displayed at Sardi's. At this time, there is no sign that James Barbour's run as the Phantom will end anytime soon. As of today, James Barbour has never publicly discussed the incident or his conviction.

Broadway's condemnation of Harvey Weinstein's actions is understandable yet peculiar since someone convicted of doing the same thing, to a minor no less, is currently starring in one of the most coveted male roles today. Also keep in mind that the actress who reported her abuse backstage at Jane Eyre to police, did so because she had reportedly heard that Barbour had sexually abused another actress. Whether or not this was the 13-year-old in CA is unknown, but it could also mean there are at least three different women who were sexually assaulted by James Barbour.

Do convicted sexual abusers deserve a second chance? Pending the circumstances, I'm inclined to say yes. However, should convicted sexual abusers be allowed to return to the industry they used to commit their crimes? Absolutely not.

Remember, James Barbour used his stature as a Broadway actor to lure and sexually assault a 15-year-old girl backstage at the Brooks Atkinson theatre. Aside from breaking the law, what Barbour did violates every sacred trust there is between performers and their fans. Using his position of power as methods to sexually abuse a young girl is exactly what Harvey Weinstein is accused of doing.

While many have defended him by saying he deserves to be able to work and make a living, I'm saying that his living shouldn't have to be made doing the same thing he did when he sexually abused a minor. Would you let Jerry Sandusky coach another football team? Would you let Harvey Weinstein produce another movie? Should Donald Trump be allowed to own another beauty pageant? James Barbour could have left the industry and made a nice living in another one, especially since he wouldn't have to disclose his conviction.

Also consider the show, an older man who was convicted of using his position of power to prey on a young girl is now starring in a role of an older man who using his position of power to prey on a young girl. That's a more than awkward realization.

James Barbour as The Phantom of the Opera. Photo: Matthew Murphy

So why has Broadway defended James Barbour and gone as far as to celebrate him? That's a good question.

James Barbour has been the beneficiary of timing. Nine years ago, when he was convicted, crimes of these nature weren't prosecuted the same ways they are today. Would that deal be offered in 2017? Perhaps not.

Would a convicted sex abuser of a minor be allowed to stay in a role that would open on Broadway mere months after his prison sentence ended? Probably not. I would go further in criticizing the producers of A Tale of Two Cities but most of them haven't worked on Broadway since. Yet the producers of Phantom praised their poor decision making. Go figure.

Would Casting Director Jay Binder have confirmed the belief that talent trumps criminal convictions in casting? After all, he was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “James Barbour is a first-rate Broadway leading man. If he were the actor that the entire creative staff agreed upon, there would be no professional reason not to hire James Barbour.” I'd like to think Binder's opinion has changed since then.

But most of all Jame Barbour has benefited from our stance on sexual abuse. All of us abhor it, but when it comes to post-conviction, our stance softens.

When we reported on this issue two years ago, what shocked me the most were some of the responses I saw on social media.

Some of them displayed flippancy to the severity of the crime.

"So an actor who was tried by a court YEARS ago of a misdemeanor, served his time - should never be allowed to work again? Move on people. Enough with the witch hunts."

"Another thing that's making me nuts is that consensual sex (albeit illegal, and I'm not saying it's okay what he did) is very different from drugging/raping a woman/girl. I'm not saying it was okay. It wasn't. And he pleaded guilty. But statutory rape isn't necessarily abuse. In this case, I'm almost certain it's not."

"I think it's fine that he's the new Phantom. We all have a past, but 14 years ago is the past, if it was 3 years ago, I'd understand."

"If his sexual contact with this girl had happened in Austria, Germany, Portugal, Italy, France, the Czech Republic, Denmark, or Greece, no one would have cared, and he would have never gone to jail because it would have been perfectly legal there. The age of consent is either 14 or 15 in all of those countries. In 31 U.S. states, the age of consent is 16. In New York, it’s 17."

Some of them even blamed the victim,

"Those who are without sin or do not know the facts cast the first stone. Amazing none of you know the truth and yet you condemn. Things are not always black and white and sometimes the victim is not as innocent as they claim. Sometimes it is a convenient way to climb up the ladder. Ever heard of the bad seed? Want to condemn someone why not her parents who were there, who drove her and who try to sabotage anything Barbour does. (This one was made by a Drama Desk Voter)

"I don't understand why the girl was in his dressing room before the show was over, and why she continuously returned to his residence despite the actions taken. I question her as much as him."

"She was a 15-year-old girl (not exactly a child), and she went to his apartment for sex on more than 1 occasion. I think she "preyed" on HIM when she realized SHE had made a mistake."

Would these comments continue in light of the Harvey Weinstein allegations? I'm sure we'll see with the publishing of this column.

I'm thankful that this watershed moment has stirred enough people that there is now a national discussion about sexual abuse and harassment. Men who have used their positions of power to enact sexual assault are now being outed, condemned and punished both professionally and criminally. More importantly, those who helped to protect these individuals and cover up their crimes are being outed as well.

I'm not going to call for James Barbour to step down as the Phantom or for producers to fire him. I did that two years ago and was ignored.

I'm not going to call for a boycott of the show because I'm not interested in punishing Barbour's co-stars who had nothing to do with any of this.

I'm not going to call on the Actor's Fund to remove him from its Actor's Committee. Again, all of this should have happened years ago and the fact that it didn't, speaks volumes.

However, I am going to call on Broadway professionals to use this watershed moment of raised awareness of sexual abuse as a teachable one.

If Hollywood and Broadway are sincere with their outrage and support of victims of sexual harassment and abuse, that condemnation needs to be practiced by not welcoming back their perpetrators with open arms no matter how much time has passed.

Because if they do, lessons will not be learned, all the #metoo's mean nothing and even worse, these incidents of sexual abuse will continue.


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