Some people never forgive you: on recovery and reputation

I’ve been on the receiving end of some fairly strong cyber-calumny over the past few weeks. Google my name, and you’ll find it. I’m not asking for defenders or for legal advice (I have both, happily, in spades.) But I am interested in answering a question I got the other day:

How do you deal with the fact that so many people don’t think you’ve changed? How do you deal with all that animosity coming your way?

First off, I know there are worse things than being called names by folks who don’t know me. I have it easy. Second of all, I do come from the “if you’re not making enemies, you’re not doing your job” school of activism. You can tell a lot about people by the nature of those who hate them most.

I’ve been very open about the kind of man I was before I got sober in 1998. I left a lot of wreckage. I wrote in 2007:

There are people I hurt so badly that they have made it clear that they cannot forgive me. I have been told more than once in recent years that my “conversion” is a sham, that underneath this facade of a life transformed I am still the same old slick Hugo, self-indulgent and perhaps even sociopathic. They’re waiting, they tell me, for me to fall, to fuck up, to slip. I do not exaggerate or flatter myself unduly when I say that there are a number of people who would experience considerable schadenfreude if I were to be revealed as a charlatan and a fraud! I have earned some of that enmity through some really nasty behavior; the passage of time, my professions of redemption, and sincere attempts to make amends have not caused all whom I injured to forgive me.

I know that a lot of people love me. Even more are indifferent to me. Some dislike me for no apparent reason. And a small number really loathe me, and they do so with justifiable cause. Most of the time, I don’t think about this last group — but sometimes, in my darker moments, I do. And sometimes, I feel a wave of regret and sadness breaking over me. It hurts.

As it turns out, there’s also another group of people: folks who’ve never met me, but are convinced that the leopard can’t change his proverbial spots. They don’t believe in the possibility of redemption and transformation, or at least they suspect that mine is fraudulent. Their wrath doesn’t hurt, as I’m confident that I haven’t done anything to injure them and owe them no amends.

In two weeks, I’ll mark 13 years of sobriety. I can answer proudly for my behavior from July 1, 1998 forward; I’m far from perfect, but my boundaries and my ethics have been solid. For what I did before that date, I have made amends to the best of my ability to all whom I hurt. I’ve had forgiveness from most, and am at peace with the inevitable truth that there are those who cannot and will not forgive me.

So while I will take legal advice when needed to protect my reputation, I embrace the obvious reality that some people will not trust in the story of my transformation. I’m genuinely okay with that, and I appreciate the support and concern so many have shown.

It may be apocryphal, but I’m told that Marlon Brando used to say that if he was in a room with 99 people who loved him and 1 who hated him, he’d have to leave — because he could only focus on that one person’s enmity. Before I got sober, I identified with that completely. One of the great blessings of recovery has been to get to the point where I can be in the presence of those who (rightly or wrongly) loathe me without being consumed by the reality of their disregard.

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37 thoughts on “Some people never forgive you: on recovery and reputation

  1. Hugo- if ya ain’t pissing people off, then you are doing something wrong :)

    As for the fear that these people- and yes, I know whom you are talking about and have been on the receiving end of the same crap myself from similiar if not the same folk- will somehow taint your activism or professional effectiveness….well….

    Folk who are truly interested in various causes and various classes, and truly wish to come into these settings wanting to learn, grow, assist and make a difference? They are probably going to REALLY dig. Look for a variety of opinions and read MORE than what those folk have said, and well, prolly read much of what you have said as well, and the words of those who bear you no ill-will, and make INFORMED choices- which are the kinda choices people should make period. And such choices? Well, I think by in large will lean towards not judging you by the venom of some people.

  2. I was so excited to see that you were FINALLY on YouTube. I enjoyed the speech you gave at SlutWalk L.A. Was it the YouTube exposure that lead to the criticism? Don’t let this sway you. We need more Hugo on YouTube. What legal actions are you going to have to take?

    You say that you have made amends to various individuals in the past. It seems that you have done what you needed to do for you and for them. My point is that your past is YOURS not ours. Yes, you have chosen to reveal a lot of it (which is courageous and admirable) but it is yours just the same. In other words what others say does not matter unless you want it to. The naysayers do not know you and they are owed nothing. It is unfortunate that some have made statements which suggest that they know all the ins and outs of your history and who you are as a person today. This is arrogance simple and pure.

    Congratulations on upcoming 13th year of your sobriety.

  3. Must say, you seem to be overestimating this “cyber-calumny”, because I just googled your name and I haven’t found a trace of it.

  4. I Googled your name but the calumny must be more than 3 pages into the search because I couldn’t find it up to that point. :) Then I got lazy and decided I’d just take your word for it.

  5. I’ve never used substances, and don’t drink alcohol, and yet, like Brando, I would have a terrible time being in the room with a person who bore me enmity.

  6. Well, the rascals are lousy at using SEO.

    Try googling “Schwyzer slutwalk”, and you’ll find it on the first page. Also, lots of the comments on my Youtube videos, etc. In any case, they are a small but hostile little band.

  7. Eh, it still doesn’t really look that bad. I can understand it making you feel bad, but, well, Hugo, you have chosen to publicize your personal life and you did choose to behave very badly towards women when you were an adult capable of enough rational thought to know that what you were doing was quite wrong, for years and years. This is all a very natural and logical consequence of both those choices, isn’t it?

  8. So, i googled you. At the end of page 1, I stumbled onto Toy Soldier’s critique of you and got about 1/4 of the way through before realizing it was drivel.

    Some cranky MRAs?

  9. Lisa, I agree — it’s my family and friends who are upset, far more than I, when I’m called a “rapist” and a “predator.” Things live a long time on the internet, and as a father to a daughter, I’ve been advised legally and professionally it is irresponsible to ignore the slander completely.

    Calling me a rapist is simply silly — I’ve been very clear about what I did and who I was, and consensual sex with students was unethical but hardly “rape.” “Behaving very badly”, yes — “sexual predator”, no. There is a distinction and it does matter.

  10. Oh, good Lord, I must’ve missed the rapist accusations. :( I’m really sorry to hear about those. I’ve never caught so much as a whiff of that before. HCRS is going to be so, so angry when she’s old enough to surf the ‘net…maybe that crap will be buried by then. :(

  11. If it makes ya feel any better hugo- heck, I have been called a rapist and a predator by people of these ilk…it’s kinda well- what they have as ammo, period. I also looked at some of the stuff they’ve said, and not only did theygive you the business, they ALSO mocked on the women at the march, likening them to Girls Gone Wild , ragging on their choices in or lack of attire, and doing everything JUST short of making fun of them for the way they look.

    Sigh. You are NOT kyle payne. Most folk KNOW that. ANd the huge complaint about YOU being someone who stepped in and worked hard to make the walk happen…well, seems very sour grapes to me. Some folk wanted to do a slut walk, you were on of ‘em, so y’all made it happen. First off- these sorts don’t approve of slut walks cause it is not the feminist message they want out there, but uh oh- it was successful and got attention, so now, because THEY did not do it or some other event that sent their message and was successful, they have to poo-poo it and LOOK for reasons to deride it- everything from boo fun fems to oh, gasp, a MAN was one of the chief organizers. It’s smirk worthy really. They sink to really low blows then WHINE when people fight back, and you would THINK as much as they rally behind MEN NEED to STOP RAPING WOMEN (which they do) they would be please to see a man saying “yes, men do in fact need to stop raping women” in such a public way.

    As for them dragging up events of your former life when, well, you were an addicted person and not, well, Hugo, par for the course. Once you are deemed the enemy, any and every tactic is fair game. I am SURE if a WOMAN they approved of said “I used to be an addict, and when i was, I did some really horrible things, but I have changed and am me now, and not my addiction” as long as she sang the right tune she would be a brave strong heroine and all previous sins would be forgiven….but you are a man, and don’t sing the right tune, so you do not get that consideration and prolly never will.

    As for their hate on for you teaching Gender Studies…a snarky comment from my own blog made by a reader…

    “I think what bugs me most is her assertion a man can’t teach gender studies or in particular women studies. If we accept this assertion that only a women can understand and impart the experience (which is sexist and well seems narrow minded) then shouldn’t we look at the reverse? If only a woman can understand the female experience perhaps only a male can understand the male experience, so then by that logic , wouldn’t that disqualify any women from talking about the patriarchy or the male power structure, since not being male they can’t truly grasp it and perhaps fundamentally misunderstand it ?”

    Kinda points out the absurdity in thinking a man cannot teach gender studies IMHO.

  12. Also, lots of the comments on my Youtube videos

    Ignore that. The Youtube commentariat has a richly deserved reputation for unfathomable stupidity.

  13. I think all women have a perfect right to question how men define rape, and rape laws are written by men and not women. Since men are the vast majority of the world’s rapists, I think what radical feminism does is question male rape definition itself.
    Most of the evils men commit against women are “legal” and they get away with it. What that idiot congressman did was technically not illegal, unless he sexted a message to an underage girl. However, if women were in charge of writing the laws, and enforcing the laws with guns and armies, I think you’d see a very different legal system. So we don’t define what is right or wrong based on male self-serving legalistic thinking, which is what men do all the time. We look at the actual irreversable damage men do and have done to women. We look at the victims who can never forgive the men who did this to them, and we say quite clearly, that men who do this as adults are not to be honored or trusted. And any person who calls himself a feminist should get this. And women should be warned that men who have done this in the past might not be the best people to take a women’s studies class from, anymore than an ex-KKK man should be teaching African-American studies. How this is so hard for people to get is beyond me. Remember, we are dealing with a global system of male hatred, torture, and murder of women. We are dealing with a global system of male entitlement and supremacy, and you cannot use patriarchal reversals to get around this fact. I do believe it is a service to tell women what men have done, to know that they have damaged women to such a degree, that they probably won’t be the same again. And to know that the male definition of rape, and the male legal system is not something I would hold up as credible in a feminist world. We don’t measure ourselves against male standards, we measure the damage done to women by patriarchs, and by adult men. There are thousands and thousands of men who teach and have never done any of this to women. There are millions and millions of women worldwide who have never terrorized, raped or taken advantage of young women the way men have. If you can’t get this, you have no business throwing stones at feminists who have a perfect right never to trust men like this ever, and also to never trust the laws of men. Hey, men can lie all the time, but when they are under oath, only then do they get nailed. It is the under oath in a courtroom that even hangs the patriarchs, so if a man is not under oath, I would tend to not believe much of what he has to say about what he did to women. Or could do to them in the future.

  14. By that logic, recovering addicts should not be allowed to run NA/AA meetings or counsel current addicts, ex-cons should not be allowed to help paroloes re-enter society and return to life outside of prisons, and anyone who has actually experience with anything negative or knowledge of that experience should not be allowed to engage with people currently caught up and dealing with the same sort of thing.

  15. Hey were talking about rape, and how often men get convicted of it, and how it is an act of terrorism to keep women compliant fearful etc. We are talking to women’s chances of success in college, and how male professors can derail those chances, and it’s bloody serious business. We are talking about men writing laws and laughing off of what they do to women, and we are not hearing directly from the women harmed by behavior like this. It’s serious business, it goes way beyond “forgiveness” because in true forgiveness there is also the willingness to make restitution to the victims, to the women wronged, and I have yet to hear from the women wronged.

    I have never ever met a man who admitted to me that he raped a woman, for example. And I think all women have a right to an education free of this kind of thing, and they have a right to a higher standard of employees at an institution like a college.
    Women have a right to the highest standards, and they have a right to argue new laws that women write and have a hand in. When men destroy or ruin women’s chances in college, they are doing what men have done for eons. And it’s serious business. I myself don’t forgive rapists, professors who sexually exploit their students, I don’t forgive men who conduct massive rape on whole populations of women. I don’t forgive or reward this behavior with employment or access. And until women have a chance to say what they believe rape truly is, I don’t think we can trust men to define a behavior that is willful, that is preditory and that largely goes unpunished. Where was the punishment and the restitution to the women harmed? And no, I don’t want to take women’s studies classes from men, I want women’s voices and hertory given full reign. I want my life and herstory taken deadly seriously, and I don’t want the men who are the cause of the trouble in charge of the programs. What is rape? What is the sexual exploitation of women students? What is consent? Since we know rape is epidemic in America, and we have a full fledged rape culture in high geer, just who gets to define this, and who determines forgiveness? How did the offended give restitution to the women he irreperably harmed, and where are their versions of these events? Let’s hear from the women harmed, not the man who did this to them. That is a bit of male convenience I would say, and I don’t believe most women who are serious feminists would let this go.

    What men do to women is beyond forgiveness, and the more talk I hear of that, the more male serving it becomes. But I will say one thing, at least this man fessed up to this, and I think all women have a right to steer clear of those classes. I sure would. But until I hear from the women directly, I’m not going to really care all that much about “reformed” men. How can a man ever reform in a patriarchal structure?
    It really is up to women to step up, and start writing the law that women can live under. It is up to women to say that if a woman is drunk, and a man has sex with her (the way men define PIV as sex) — that that is taking advantage of an person who isn’t fully awake and alert. I think we have all kinds of laws protecting people who aren’t fully up to conscienceness, fully capable of making sober decisions. That’s the point here, just what do women have to say about the actions of men, and how would a real feminist discussion address this stuff. Men tell me all the time that their wives were crazy, their girlfriend is crazy, that they lost their children in the court battle, and I’m supposed to believe their story or their side of it. Well, until I hear the wronged women speak, I think the male is sluffing off his actions, that he keeps the job, the entitlement, while what happened to the lives of women he damaged? Is there ever justice for women on women’s terms, and sorry guys, your explanations aren’t going to cut it.

  16. One (of many) complaints against Hugo that I read over at factcheckme was that Hugo, in his teaching position, was taking a job away from a woman.

    Now correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t academia operate – at least nominally – under Affirmative Action rules, under which if Hugo and an equally qualified female had applied for the same position, the job would have gone to the female?

    If so, it would follow that Hugo was found to be quantifiably superior to all the other applicants for that position.

  17. Is anyone actually reading Sheila’s screeds? I got bored about five sentences in. Haven’t you heard? Abusing the word “rape” is old and no longer shocking. Step it up, radfems. Hahaha.

  18. If you are taking academic jobs away from women, then why call yourself a feminist then? Why not just say you are a careerist man who wants a job. No harm in being an honest careerist. Since when have men ever cared about women’s exclusion and historic absense from professions for hundreds of years in America? Wal Mart being the most recent example. So here’s the deal, why not have men talk to other men, and leave the precious space of feminist education to young women who deserve this educational opportunity? Since when was affirmative action a program for het white men? That was not the purpose of affirmative action; it was for the benefit of women, racial minorities… that was its purpose. So basically white men have had to loose court battles over blatant discrimination against all women and racial minorities, and now they want to benefit from affirmative action? That makes no legal sense whatsoever, but in the minds of white het men, they are entitled to everything, and will always reverse the law. White men own the law, and will turn the law against women always. And they’ll never get what this is, because they aren’t feminists. They simply want access to young women. So why not be honest. What was the original purpose of affirmative action? Who was the injured party? Who controls the law? Who writes the laws?

  19. And women, pay attention to these male anti-feminist arguments. They are classic white maletropes, and have been around for a long time. There is no such thing as reverse discrimination, it is about men doing everything in their power to preserve their privilege. No matter what they say, the law of affirmative action was not designed for them, but in patriarchy, men reverse the reversals. Reversal is a classic patriarchal strategy.

  20. If you really want to get at the root of male supremacy, you need a radical root based analysis, not a liberal male serving one.

  21. Well Shelia, if you dislike Hugo so much, as you have indicated here and elsewhere, why, oh, comment all over his blog?

  22. Wow. There’s some serious vitriol here. But one of the happier realisations over the past few weeks is that people like Sheila are in the minority, that the vast majority of feminists welcome and support male participation, and that, most of all, I’m strong enough to take it on the chin.

    Yes, I’ve not been a paragon of virtue before now. (Nice Guy™ to a tee — the realisation was painful.) Hugo’s been much, much worse. But our experiences as the perpetrators of misogynistic behaviour are no less valid or informative than those of the victims.

    People are still the same people as they were before, yes. But the choices that they make can be vastly different.

  23. “Calling me a rapist is simply silly — I’ve been very clear about what I did and who I was, and consensual sex with students was unethical but hardly “rape.” “Behaving very badly”, yes — “sexual predator”, no. There is a distinction and it does matter.”

    I agree and I can understand how it would bother you. I didn’t bother to google either. I do agree with lisakansas too. Publicizing a personal life opens you up to a degree of vulnerability, especially from other’s with agendas. I don’t really think this is necessarily an issue of forgiveness though–it’s just a way to smear you.

    “One of the great blessings of recovery has been to get to the point where I can be in the presence of those who (rightly or wrongly) loathe me without being consumed by the reality of their disregard.”

    It’s difficult being in the presence of people who bear one enmity and their ugly disregard. I think a lot of people struggle with the same feelings that you do, they are just not as open about it. One way to conteract that is to focus on the people who do love and appreciate you. It may be the blessing of recovery that helped you to arrive at this point–for others it’s just the knowledge that no matter who you are and what you do there are other people who will for whatever reason always bear you ill-will.

  24. >So basically white men have had to loose court battles over blatant discrimination against all women and racial minorities, and now they want to benefit from affirmative action?

    SheilaG, I think you’ve misunderstood my point.

    Hugo did not get his position because of affirmative action, he got it in spite of affirmative action.

    If he had been merely equal to the female candidates, a female candidate would have been selected.

    Instead, he was found to be superior to the female candidates and chosen for his teaching position.

  25. When Mr. Schwyzer finally expresses some remorse for fathering a child that was prenatally killed, and abandons his support for unrestricted abortion rights, then perhaps I’ll consider him to have reformed. Until then, his ‘remorse’ is ignoring the elephant in the room.

  26. When Mr. Schwyzer finally expresses some remorse for fathering a child that was prenatally killed, and abandons his support for unrestricted abortion rights, then perhaps I’ll consider him to have reformed. Until then, his ‘remorse’ is ignoring the elephant in the room.

    One regrets only what she considers wrong. If Hugo doesn’t believe advocating for abortion rights to be wrong, he has no reason to show remorse for advocating for them.

    All your comment really boils down to is “I don’t agree with Mr. Schwyzer’s current views,” not “He’s not really sorry about the things he did wrong in the past but wouldn’t do now.”

  27. Re: If Hugo doesn’t believe advocating for abortion rights to be wrong, he has no reason to show remorse for advocating for them.

    Apparently he doesn’t see ‘fathering a baby you have no intention of taking responsibility for’ as wrong, either.

    Which is, I suppose, intellectually consistent. It’s also morally bankrupt.

  28. I’d bet that the entire reason Mr. Schwyzer supports abortion, all the feminist verbiage aside, is because he doesn’t want to see himself as a murderer. Which is certainly understandable, but abortion is what it is, whether or not it makes Mr. Schwyzer feel guilty (and it certainly should, very much so).

  29. Hector there’s no reason to come on this thread and make it all about abortion. Hugo has talked a lot about abortion and his reasons for supporting choice. I think your last comment is either disingenuous or shows that you are not willing to listen to any reasons other than the one you have in your head. And it’s not at all what this post or the discussion was about.

  30. Re: And it’s not at all what this post or the discussion was about.

    The discussion is about things that Mr. Schwyzer feels guilty for. I’d suggest that participating in an abortion ought to be near the top of the worst things he has done, and then compounding that by pretending that abortion rights are A-OK and there is nothing wrong with abortion, is something he ought to feel extreme guilt and shame over.

  31. Hector, I’ve made it clear many times I regret my recklessness about contraception when I was in high school. I regret the pain I caused my high school girlfriend who chose abortion. But potentiality is not actuality and embryos are not persons, and the guilt I feel is tied not to what might have been but to the very real suffering I brought to the woman I impregnated.

    I continue to support abortion rights and give as generously as I can to the National Network of Abortion Funds even as I long for a day where abortions will be far rarer than they are now. And that longing for an end to abortion isn’t rooted in a deep sense that the procedure is morally objectionable — rather, it’s not a whole bunch of fun for the women who undergo them.

  32. Hugo – I come from a long line of addicts and alcoholics and I could very easily have been you before 1998 and there but for the grace of God I somehow avoided it. So many of my family members drank themselves to death, or died from overdoses.

    Unless you actually have lived it or seen it up close it’s hard to believe the way addiction can consume your entire life, it infests and infects every decision even though addicts often tell themselves it doesn’t. The whole thing about addiction is that it disorders our thinking. We do things we’d’ve never done if we weren’t in the grip of addiction. I know it’s a medical issue, it’s a disease and just as we don’t blame someone who is mentally ill for their actions, I don’t see how we can refuse to forgive someone who has asked our forgiveness for what they did while in the grip of their addiction.

  33. The main thing that strikes me as disconcerting here is that the people who see you as someone who hasn’t recovered are so quick to be hostile and accusatory about it. Sometimes I am admittedly too much of an optimist for my own good, but I truly do believe that most people are basically good, and that the average person does not enjoy hurting or disappointing others. Everyone fights different battles at different points in their lives, and some innocent bystanders are likely to get hurt in the crossfire. The best that a person can do, in those situations, is to evaluate the overall “goodness” of their actions and to adjust if necessary. Call me naïve, but from what I’ve read, it seems that you’ve done that (and even continue to do it).

    As someone who has struggled with years of depression and had several “recoveries” that were not really recoveries, one of the things that has been the most destructive has been the attitude of cynicism that other people have had towards my efforts. Likewise, if you were hypothetically still struggling with any manifestation of addiction or behaviour that hurt yourself/others, I’d hope that people would be more encouraging of change, rather than hastily throwing around such strong accusations. Who is helped by that kind of an outlook? I just wish that people could have a little more faith in each other.

    Well, for what it’s worth Hugo, as a fellow imperfect human being, I support you in both your triumphs and struggles!

  34. As a current PhD student in cultural anthropology, I can say that I have found a much greater and deeper respect for my professors and mentors who I know have not been ‘perfect’. My goal as their student is to learn from them, not only what they teach me directly, but what they teach me from the lives they have lived and from the people they have become. I want to see and learn from people who have fallen down and gotten up again, people who faced their fears, people who faced their cultures, and ultimately people who have faced themselves. I want to know people who have fallen and not gotten up again, those who never will, and those who just might.

    Then, when it is me who is standing up before the classroom or the field team, I want them to know me in the same way. Not as an ideal, not as a concept, not as an embodiment, but as a real person and that is what I appreciate the most from reading Hugo’s blog and listening to his posted lectures. It is easier to see in others what we cannot see in ourselves.

  35. Re: Hector, I’ve made it clear many times I regret my recklessness about contraception when I was in high school. I regret the pain I caused my high school girlfriend who chose abortion. But potentiality is not actuality and embryos are not persons, and the guilt I feel is tied not to what might have been but to the very real suffering I brought to the woman I impregnated.

    Yup, I’ve heard those rationalizations from your sort of people before. Colour me thoroughly unimpressed by your so-called ‘regrets’.

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