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This is an open letter to my friends and acquaintances in the publishing community who have been outed as serial harassers, and to the ones who still think they're getting away with something.
Hey there. I know you’re having a rough time right now, and I’m sorry to say you earned it. I wish I had known about your behavior sooner; I wish I had known that you weren’t just making rank jokes among friends, as we all do once in a while, but engaged in serious abuses of your power, engaged in harming people.
I am, needless to say, very very disappointed in you.
I’m saddened for the people you have hurt, and I’m really disappointed that you have turned out not to be the person I thought you were. Even more, I’m wondering if you even have the self-awareness to realize how much you have harmed not just the people you harassed or gaslit or backstabbed, but also the communities you were a part of. How much you have damaged the people who care about you and who have tried to be your friends, as well.
I understand that your actions come out of your own personal damage and insecurity, a kind of arrested development where your emotional life and your self-esteem have never recovered from being that adolescent kid that everybody picked on. (I was that kid too. I know how it feels.) I understand that you find it very hard to internalize that you do have social power and so you are driven to prove it to yourself over and over again. That you act out of pain.
But what you have not taken on board, my friend, is that your denial of that social power is also a refusal to accept the responsibility that power entails. You have the obligation to recognize that power. And you have the obligation to use that power for good, or at least not to actively do harm with it.
“Good” is not the same as “getting what I want,” by the way.
I know you are aware of that social power, because I’ve seen you use it to get what you want while denying that you have it. In some cases, where I’ve noticed that it was happening, I’ve mentioned to you that what you were doing was inappropriate, and when you haven’t listened, I’ve worked to remove you from communities that I was a part of because of that abuse of power.
The refusal to see yourself as having power or privilege is not just toxic to you, but to everyone around you. That power and privilege comes on many axes—gender, sexuality, wealth, skin color, social class, career stage—and it’s wise for us to examine our authority as other people see it, not as we experience it ourselves.
I know your denial and feelings of self-loathing and inadequacy are real, and rooted in real trauma.
That does not give you the license to pass your trauma along to others. It does not give you a license to use other people to fill the void of emotional need inside of you, whether that need manifests as sexual desire, the need to be the most popular person in the room, or an urge to cut other people down, neg them, or harm them in other ways to make yourself feel big.
To paraphrase Toni Morrison, if you can only be tall because somebody else is on their knees, the problem in the room is you.
I also think that you are in denial about the real damage you do not only to the people you abuse emotionally (and in some cases physically) but to the communities you are a part of. You do not see your social responsibility to those spaces and those people. You do not see the work others do to maintain them, to make them collaborative and supportive.
You see them only as hunting grounds, as places to feed the hunger inside of you. You do not see that your actions have consequences for everyone around you, every community you are a part of. You don’t understand why, time after time, you are asked to leave those communities. You do not see the work that people have to do to repair those communities once you are gone, because you cannot see anything past your own need.
You are not self-aware, and you do not stop to consider what the consequences of your actions may be for those who are the object of those actions.
As a result, a lot of people lose a lot of productive time to standing around with mops to clean up your messes, and you see those cleanup actions as betrayals rather than the defenses of community they are.
Because you are not self-aware, because you are in denial, because you are willfully choosing to be ignorant rather than to subject yourself to self-examination, the only consequences for your actions come from outside. They come when people reject you, end friendships, close associations. You feel this as a betrayal, and you never consider that there is an emotional toll on the people who have to decide to dump you, too.
It’s not because they’re disloyal. It’s because you have been a terrible friend.
It’s because they cannot support your actions. It’s because you’re acting like a child, and refusing to take responsibility for yourself and your community. It’s because you have chosen to put your own internal drama over the wellbeing of others.
And then they’re faced with the grief not just of losing a friend, but the grief of having unknowingly enabled your abusive behavior—or perhaps having suffered it.
That’s on you. I know the actions arise out of reactivity, out of damage, out of painful embarrassment and shame and a visceral emotional need.
But it’s your job, my friend, to find ways to meet your needs without harming others. It’s your job to take responsibility, to be Spider-man, to use your power for good.
If you recognize yourself in this letter, I hope you’re ready to hear this. I hope you’re ready to change, to enter therapy, to begin the process of learning, accepting responsibility, and becoming a self-aware adult.
If this letter made you angry because you felt like it was directed at you, if you have a long history of detonated friendships and social groups behind you—but you’re definitely sure you're not an abuser and you definitely don’t see how you have any social power—maybe it’s time to find a professional or self-educate about taking responsibility and making amends.
You probably owe some people some amends.
I hope you find it in you to change, because frankly, the rest of us have better things to do with our lives than endure your abuse, and repair the damage you do, and have done.