I want you to think of someone you admire. It doesn’t have to be the person you admire the most, just someone whose work you appreciate. Maybe you share their content online when it’s released or recommend their books to your Facebook friends. Maybe you go to all their movies or like all their original tweets. Perhaps you attend any talks they’re giving within a 50-mile radius. You know, you won’t get their face tattooed on your back or anything, but you appreciate what they do and support it when you can.
Now, I want you to imagine that person, who has never spoken to you one-on-one before, suddenly becomes aware of your presence in the world and tweets that you’re a right-wing sexual harassment apologist.
Welcome to my weekend.
Before we get into details, I’m going to tell you how I feel about sexual harassment and where on the political spectrum I lie. Of course, there are many of you who seem to think I might have reason to lie about this and will be adamant I am not being truthful, but there’s just no talking to people like you. This post is for those who understand and can cope with the fact that I know myself better than anyone else does. Yes, even you.
I am a rape victim. Twice over. So, you can imagine where I might stand on the issue of sexual harassment. Granted, I think the term is used too loosely in some cases, but I don’t think sexual harassment is a good thing. Beyond my assaults, I have been sexually harassed at almost every job I’ve ever had, and even groped and propositioned on the streets of Bali at age fifteen.
I don’t and never will let these things define me, but I think mentioning them might help you understand why calling me a sexual harassment apologist is bereft of any thought whatsoever.
As far as the political spectrum goes, I’m so left I’d make Karl Marx blush. I believe in universal health care; in free post-secondary education; in universal basic income. I believe in charity, an entirely left-wing notion. I believe in workers controlling the means of production and that the fruits of their labour ought to benefit the whole of society and not just the 1% at the top. I think that those who believe that their hard work should only benefit themselves are unneighbourly, lacking compassion and self-centred. I believe that even those who cannot or will not work deserve the necessities of life and that we are all responsible for each other. It’s why I stop when I see someone run out of gas on the side of the road: sure, it was their own lack of planning that led them there, but I don’t know what’s going on in their life and in their mind. I don’t know their struggles. I see a human being who made a mistake and needs some help.
I’m a leftie and if you want to call me a commie, I wouldn’t take offense.
So, naturally, when someone calls me a right wing sexual harassment apologist, it kind of sucks. Obviously, I am not doing a good enough job of portraying who I am here. Either that or the person who posted this tweet, Ryan J. Bell, just didn’t have the time, energy or wherewithal to do his homework. He was looking for the shock value, the low-blow, the uncalculated virtue signal that was absolutely worth a few casualties.
For those of you who don’t know Ryan, he was, at one point in time, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor. That means he took his sabbath on Saturday, believed Jeeby watched him beat the bishop and was pressured to think same-sex relationships were icky. Over time, he began to see reason, became an atheist and left his church. Not an easy thing to do. Mountains of respect to Ryan for this.
Ryan wrote about his experiences going from his pastoral duties to being an outspoken heathen in his blog, Year Without God. He did a great job. He was a great communicator and, at one point in time, I might have suggested he was among the most important voices in our movement. You could say I was a fan. I’m still a fan of that work.
I followed Ryan on twitter one day and to my surprise and absolute honour, he followed me back.
It wasn’t long before I noticed his penchant for hyperbole, though. It wasn’t long before I began to see a whole load of content I disagreed with. The constant virtue-signalling and promotion of violence were disappointing. While I vehemently disagreed with the things he said and how he said them, it really wasn’t a game-changer, though. I can cope with people having vastly differing opinions from my own and continued to follow him.
It wasn’t until this weekend that I noticed he’d posted this tweet four months ago:
This is a collage by the creators of Mythcon, an atheist convention I was scheduled to be at. Now, maybe it’s because it’s my own face, but I think my image in this collage is the one that stands out the most. The colour in everyone else’s photo just seems to be muted, while mine is like an ad for a Hewlett-Packard photo printer.
So, when I noticed this tweet, with my face front-and-centre, from someone I have admired for a long time, with the labels “right wing” and implying we are sexual harassment apologists, you might be able to imagine how my heart broke a little bit.
What have I ever done to Ryan to deserve this? I honestly don’t recall ever having said one word to him… ever. I don’t recall Ryan interacting with any of my content and so would bet money on the assumption he’s never read a word I’ve written. Is this merely because I was in the line-up of speakers at the controversial Mythcon? Is that all I did to attract this sort of attention?
Adding to my horror at this tweet are the presence of other people in the collage who I would never describe as right-wing sexual harassment apologists. Stephen Knight, for example, host of the brilliant podcast Godless Spellchecker. The first time I ever got to speak with Stephen was when he invited me on his podcast to bring attention to the campaign I was running to free Mubarak Bala from his commitment to a mental hospital after telling his Muslim father he was an atheist. I have watched Stephen, over the years since, stand up for the rights of women in the Middle East and speak out against atrocities committed against innocent people, mostly women. I’ve seen him use his massive and respected platform that has hosted guests like Ricky Gervais to draw attention to human rights violations relentlessly.
But alas, Ryan still thought it would be a good idea to post this tweet.
Why? Because Mythcon has invited, for the second time, a man who tweeted about not wanting to rape someone. Carl Benjamin, A.K.A Sargon of Akkad, who tweeted “I wouldn’t even rape you” in response to a sexual assault victim, is scheduled to be at the con just as he was last year. Of course, I would never have tweeted what Carl tweeted and I think there are better ways to communicate your point, but I do not see this as a rape threat, nor as a reason to boycott a con filled with many other people who do wonderful work. Unfortunately, there are people who disagree with me and believe that the con must be taken down by any means necessary. All casualties are acceptable on the way to this end.
The fact that Carl Benjamin will be in attendance makes it okay to call a two-time rape survivor a sexual harassment apologist, in public.
The irony here is so overwhelming, I feel like I’m breathing it.
These people are so outraged at an inflammatory tweet to a sexual assault survivor, that they have tweeted an inflammatory tweet to a sexual assault survivor.
Something tells me, though, that there will be no outrage in their camp over Ryan’s tweet, despite the fact that there is little difference from the tweet by Sargon that has them all in a tizzy.
I think it was Saturday night when I received an apology from Ryan in my direct messages. He tore me down in public and apologized in private. Included in his half-assed apology was his reasoning for not apologizing to Knight. He claimed Stephen Knight had been harassing him.
Of course, what Ryan meant was that Stephen had written up a fair criticism of the poor handling of a crowd-funded project for which Ryan Bell had been the primary promoter. A Year Without God, the documentary, of which Ryan was the subject, raised over $20,000 in 2016 and up until Stephen Knight’s post, little had been said about when the final product would be delivered. The filmmakers and Ryan, for the most part, appeared to have gone silent on it. Stephen wrote about it, offering the facts and when he received responses that explained where the project stood, he didn’t hesitate to update us all. Fair and balanced. This is a wonderful example of Stephen Knight standing up for people who, from all outward appearances, had been done wrong. The backers of this project deserved to know where their money had gone and through his efforts, they got the information they needed.
Ryan’s response? Though it was his face on the project and he was the primary promoter of the crowd-funding campaign, he could not be held responsible for the project itself. In other words, “It’s not my fault!”.
Of course, it never is with these hyperbole-loving, professionally outraged regressives. When he was called out for including me in his latest inflammatory tweet, it wasn’t his fault either:
I didn’t make the collages, genius.
— Ryan Bell (@ryanjbell) June 16, 2018
“I didn’t make the collages, genius.”
The problem, Ryan, is that you shared the collage insinuating that the faces within are “right-wing” and implying we are all okay with sexual harassment. You clearly saw all the faces before you tweeted it. You certainly couldn’t have missed my hyper-colour, Cheshire Cat grin. You didn’t take the time to grey some of us out. You didn’t opt to list the folks you had a problem with instead, thereby enabling you to leave me and Stephen and other innocent bystanders out of it. No, you shared it without thought to get a reaction. You shared it without any consideration for how a rape victim might feel about being called a sexual harassment apologist.
This is why I am always open to the conversation. This is why I am willing to be intellectually charitable. This is why I’m always willing to sit down and talk with those who believe and say awful things. Because the alternative is what Ryan’s chosen. He’s chosen, instead, to remove himself from the conversation, get out his bullhorn and make incoherent noise while he sinks lower and lower. Finally, he’s sunk so low that you have to squint really hard to see the difference between what Sargon did to spark all this outrage and what Ryan did in his hyperbolic tweet four months ago.
If you can’t rise above, you end up just like those you’re screaming about. Ryan was so blindly angry about a tactless tweet to a rape survivor, that he ended up sending a tactless tweet to a rape survivor.
Unlike your camp, however, I will choose the high road. I am sure you didn’t mean for your tweet to be directed at me. I accept your apology though I urge you to issue your apologies in public and include the other people in the photo collage you consciously shared who don’t fit your comments on it. Going forward, I hope you can manage to be a constructive part of the continuing conversations about sexual assault, harassment and the divisions in the atheist community, rather than standing on the sidelines calling names. You might consider going to Mythcon yourself, to talk to those with whom you disagree and potentially change a mind or two.
After all, you, Ryan, of all people should know that minds can and do change. If they didn’t, you’d still be leading prayers every Saturday to a congregation of homophobes, now, wouldn’t you?
Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay