I got a note yesterday that, with the author’s permission, I’m posting in order to answer her questions:
I follow you on Twitter and have bookmarked your blog; additionally, I
have read many of your pieces at various other blogs. In particular, I
loved your piece for Relevant (Beauty vs. Sexuality) and the one you
wrote recently about Jesus coming as a man being essential to His
being the ultimate role model (I shed a few tears over that one). But,
I’ve also read a lot of backlash over your pieces, particularly from
the Christian community; at times, I’m ashamed to be a part of that
community but I am in no way ashamed of my Savior Jesus or being a
follower of His. I guess I just wanted to ask you this: where do you
stand, religiously? And how do you feel about your past- particularly
when it gets thrown into your face? How do you reconcile what
happened, the choices you made, with your current profession (speaking
on behalf of women)? Do you think people, particularly these victims
of abuse who claim you have no right to speak without identifying your
past, have a right to ask that? I suppose I would
just love to have some of my own confusion cleared up so I can
understand your platform. Please continue to write- though I may not
agree with everything you say, I do enjoy reading your writings very
(I added the hyperlinks to Kayla’s note.)
I’ll get to Kayla’s specific questions further down.
It’s been a while since I’ve written an update on the huge controversy that erupted in December. I can’t imagine that many regular readers are unfamiliar with what’s gone on, but one of the best (if imperfect) summaries ran in The Atlantic in mid-February. It’s as close to a fair recounting of the situation as exists.
I did a video interview about the blow-up in January 17 with the Feminist Theologian, click here for links to the four-part series.
On January 24, lawyers for my employer, Pasadena City College, enjoined me from speaking or writing further about the two most controversial aspects of my past: my sexual relationships with students when I was an untenured faculty member in the 1990s and the events of June 27, 1998, in which in the midst of a drug binge, I tried to kill both myself and my ex-girlfriend with gas. As it was explained to me by the college’s counsel, the administration appreciates that my behavior as a faculty member has been above board for almost fourteen years. On the other hand, in my past writing I alluded several times to the fact that a previous PCC administration was well aware both of my unethical sexual relationships with students — and of the details of my murder/suicide attempt. I confessed both to several administrators after getting sober. Though none of those administrators are still employed by PCC, the feeling of the current college counsel is that rehashing the story cast the school in a poor light. In other words, why wasn’t I dealt with more harshly? The college wants to make clear that it takes sexual misconduct by faculty very seriously (“consensual” faculty-student relationships are now classified as misconduct thanks to a policy that did not yet exist in 1998), and as a result, would rather not have the regular reminders of their leniency in my case.
For that reason, while I can reiterate what’s already been said, I’m not to add new details, even as questions keep getting raised about my past. It’s been incredibly frustrating not to be able to respond to a great many misrepresentations. A few things I can clarify, however, while still honoring my obligations to the lawyers:
1. The original piece from January 2011 that detailed the murder/suicide attempt was removed on legal advice from several sources.
2. One blog, Are Women Human, raised the legitimate question of how previous accounts of what happened on June 27, 1998 were presented. I’d written about my last episode of drinking and drugging several times over the years, but until 2011, could not bring myself to write in a public place the specific details of that night. Though I’d made amends to everyone involved to the extent that it was possible to do so, I wasn’t emotionally ready to share the full story. So I told a half-story, noting the suicide attempt but not the fact that in my psychotic state, I attempted to take another person with me. That was wrong of me to leave out; in hindsight, I understand I ought to have either told the whole story or none of it.
When I posted the January 2011 complete account, I didn’t do what I ought to have done: go back and make a note on the older incomplete versions. Indeed, it didn’t occur to me to try and reconcile the incomplete originals with the honest new version until this whole controversy broke and someone pointed out the discrepancy in an email. I went back and edited the earlier versions to make them more accurate, and stupidly didn’t note the edits (as is standard Internet protocol.) The end result was that an attempt to be completely truthful looked like a ham-fisted attempt to whitewash the truth. Fearful that any further attempt to clarify would only create more problems, I followed advice to stay silent even when the inconsistencies were pointed out. As a result, I appeared to be callously indifferent to accuracy. That’s my fault, and I accept responsibility.
3. I want to reiterate that the only source for my past transgressions is my own writing. In the past four months, I’ve wondered constantly whether I did the right thing by sharing these details of my past. Never mind that once shared, I should have shared completely and not in “stages,” completing the full picture in a series of posts over a period of years — that was a huge error. The real question is whether, for the sake of my family and for the sake of those whom I hurt with my behavior in my years of addiction and abuse, I ought to have written about sleeping with students or about my last drink/drug episode at all. Honestly, I naively believed in the power of confessional writing to serve as warning, to serve as encouragement, to serve as a document not only of the power to change but of the ways to do so. I’m not sure I believe that anymore.
As for Kayla’s questions:
I was delighted to be asked to write for Relevant. They were fully informed of my past before my piece appeared; I don’t want anyone to be taken by surprise after they’ve published an article by me. Though I haven’t read all of the criticisms of Relevant’s decision to host me as a guest author, I do understand those who are upset to have someone with my past writing for a Christian magazine. I recognize that the real debate is not about the content of that particular piece, but about me – the problem is less with the message than the messenger! That said, I do believe I’ve earned the right to go where I’m invited to go once I’ve fully disclosed my story. The article was not about domestic violence or murder/suicide attempts; the article was pushing back against a particular manifestation of the myth of male weakness. In other words, I framed the piece as a call to greater male accountability — something I do believe I’m qualified to write about based on my past, my present, and my academic work.
On my faith: I am a Christian. I’m working to be a better and more faithful one. (Writing for Relevant was hardly my first sojourn into Christian spaces; from 2000-2007 I helped run the senior high youth program at All Saints Pasadena and in 04-05 I was a regular blogger for Christians for Biblical Equality. I left both gigs on excellent terms.)
I am frustrated that many of my critics misrepresent my work. My column at Good Men Project on consent has been misread as both a confession of rape and a celebration of victim-blaming. My more recent piece at Jezebel defending the use of the word creep was described by one critic as a pro-MRA article, when nothing could be further from the truth. My column on adult men’s disturbing interest in the “barely legal” genre of pornography was misrepresented as a defense of sexualizing teens. It’s not new to be quoted out of context, but some folks don’t bother to quote me at all, preferring instead to accuse me of saying the opposite of what I’m actually saying. I stand by all three of these articles and the others I’ve written for Jezebel and Good Men Project in recent years.
The bottom line is that in the 1990s, I did some terrible things. I was an abusive, destructive person to myself and to others. I have spent nearly 14 years making amends and restoration for what I did. I haven’t gone into detail about those amends because it would be self-serving to list the good I’ve done. In my writing, I focus on the wrongs I did far more than I do on the specifics of my work at restoration. That’s not dishonesty, it’s an attempt (perhaps misguided) at humility. My old Twelve Step sponsor told me to be quick to confess my shortcomings and reluctant to praise my own recovery work. His advice has informed my writing since I started blogging nearly a decade ago. In this case, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but rather of discretion.
I am hugely grateful for the expressions of support I’ve gotten from many people in the last few months, including kind private notes from public figures who are unable to be more publicly encouraging due to fear of backlash. (As several have reminded me, there’s nothing unique about my story; what’s happened to me with this controversy has happened to other writers and will happen again. Take-downs, just or unjust, are part and parcel of internet culture.) I have lost many friends in recent months — and gained many others. It has been a time of winnowing and discernment.
I believe I can continue to do good as a writer, a speaker, a teacher. I will continue to write, speak, and teach — even as much remains to be revealed about where I will be welcome. I will only go where I am welcome, and will only trust the welcome of those who fully understand my story.
Lastly, despite the huge personal and financial cost of this controversy, I am not sorry that it’s happened. It has strengthened my relationships, it has strengthened my faith, and it has forced me to be more fully accountable for how I talk about my past (and my present) in public spaces. These are good things. I am grateful.
I may be laying low, however, in the weeks to come. We’re expecting a little brother or sister for Heloise within the next fortnight. That joy swamps every other concern.