Category Archives: Opinion (Editorial & Commentary)

Freedom to Write: On Truth, Courage, & the Right to Write

The writer’s relationship with the truth is a curious thing. Today, I’m thinking of writing’s power after hearing about pianist James Rhodes’ legal victory for free speech. He is finally legally allowed to publish his memoir detailing extreme abuse and frequent rapes inflicted on him as a boy.

It offends me that he had the courage to write this searing book on his abuse only to have some asshole of a judge ban it because it’s “offensive” material. What a cruel irony.

Truth won this week. Writers should rejoice.

James Rhodes: Pianist, Author, Free Speech Hero. Photo from Herald Sun.

James Rhodes: Pianist, Author, Free Speech Hero. Photo from Herald Sun.

As writers, those of us with the courage to rip off the Band-aid and expose our wounds to others, we change lives. We inspire people with our struggles. Not just me, anyone who does it. The writers I admire most, even bloggers, are people who dive head-first into the human condition without apology. Fear, pathos, doubt, rage, lust, angst, pettiness — it’s all who we are. How dare you sanitize that?!

So many people are comfortable with glossing over their ideas so to be palatable to the broadest spectrum of people. They are who I find offensive.

Those who would tone it down, dress it up, soften it, take the edge off — they feel to me like betrayals in wartime.

Life may not be war, but it’s certainly a struggle for all of us. Everything we do is measured and weighed in ounces of joy, heartbreak, satisfaction, or any other emotional currency you devise.

Sanitizing that so it can be swallowed by the least open-minded of us offends me to my core.

Writing close to the bone can’t be done by everyone — it’s too hard. The more harrowing and authentic it gets, the harder it is to push through it. Being truly honest with yourself is challenging enough, but pressing “publish” and sending it to the hungry hoards — that’s truly daunting stuff.

I don’t know how my writing has evolved over the years — I’m too busy doing it to analyze it. I can tell you that what has definitely changed over the years is the reason why I write so openly. I’ve learned no matter how open and honest I am with my words on a page, my readers are never in my head. They’ll never experience the world as I do, be in a moment with me. And I’m grateful for that. In that way, being open doesn’t feel like being laid completely bare, no matter what my end-reader might think.

My fingers always filter my experience. I keep a little for me, share a little with you, and we both get what we want.

What’s also changed is that I’ve learned the value of sacrificing that part of my experience for public consumption. Much of the time my words just fly by folks, like dust on the wind. Hopefully, it finds those who need it at the time.

Nine years ago, I wrote about my mother’s death in a way that ripped both the Band-aid and some skin off. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever written. After struggling with the words for three weeks, I published it, it went out in the world, and fell silent thereafter, like an echo in a dark cave. Or so I thought.

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Now and then I’d meet someone who’d mention that post, how it moved them or changed them. One day, I got a PayPal email. A woman in Germany sent me $500, to this day still the biggest donation I’ve ever received. She wrote that she cried for half an hour, then went and sent it to everyone she knew. She finally found something that explained her grief over her mother’s death in a way that others could understand.

For me, that was a life-changing moment. It was as self-affirming as having a blog post go viral with 250,000+ reads in a couple days. I know, because I’ve been there too.

Having one person, though, say I finally put words to a pain they couldn’t voice — I mean, that still gives me shivers now. When someone pulls me aside at an event and tells me what my words meant to them, I play it cool, but inside I’m doing cartwheels.

Because that’s what we fucking do this for. That’s why we probe the dark places. That’s why we risk sharing them. It’s not enough to understand what’s going on with us, or seek understanding. Helping others do the same, that’s the pay-off.

I’m no guru. I don’t have life figured out. Lord knows I’m trying. But that’s the thing. Life isn’t one-size-fits-all. What’s right for you won’t be right for me.

For example, I got friends with the perfect family life. Several friends are doing parenthood and marriage in such a fabulous way that I know, if marriage was my thing, I’d do it just like them.

That makes me vomit a little, though. It’s great for them, but the mere thought of that life fills me with nauseousness and unease.

You know those moms you hear about who start out good, but come apart in a haze of addiction and depression because they feel like the kid wrecked their life, and they hate themselves for it because they also love the kid and know just how much they’re fucking that child up?

That’d have been me. If I were a mother, I’d love the kid, but I’d spiral into a depression I’d then chase with alcohol and drugs in hopes of taking the edge off my self-loathing. As a result, I’d neglect my child, my child would grow up knowing that they were the reason for my self-loathing.

I laugh at people who say “Oh, but you don’t KNOW that.” And you do? Come on. This is my head.

Does it make me evil, knowing this about myself? Or does it make me courageous to admit I could never be Suzie Homemaker? Either way, I don’t give a shit, because it’s simply what’s true. I’ve decided against doing that to another human being. Good for me.

So what’s wonderful for my friends would probably destroy me. My story, though, isn’t the prevailing mantra we hear in the media. Instead, we’re told family is the ultimate reward in life, that an existence without children means no legacy will follow us. What idiocy.

This is why we need different voices in the mix. We all have different truths. From the things that define us through to the roads we should take in life, there is no one universal account.

I never would have imagined I’d be packing up my life to be a nomad, but somewhere deep inside me, I wonder how it took so long to see that this was what I needed to do. Writing about this “pre-journey” phase has been teaching myself a lot about who I am and what I need. Sharing that with others, I think, is a great dialogue to begin.

Maybe, thanks to following my journey so far, someone somewhere has already realized they’re trapped in a life not right for them. Maybe my reasoning has helped another person create a bold new dream for their life.

I don’t know. I don’t care. I’d still write about it anyhow. Catharsis is its own drug.

In the end, putting my story on page is probably powerful for someone, somewhere. Maybe I’ll never meet them. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I have the right to say “This is my life. This is how I see the world.”

Speaking to our experience, sharing with others, that’s what humans have used their words for since time began. How can a court steal that right from anyone in our supposedly western, free society?

James Rhodes fought for our right to own what has happened to us. To share what has been done to us. He fought for our ability to have community, empathy, and understanding with others.

And he won. Today, all writers, and all readers, are the richer for it. Thanks, James.

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Oh, Just Don’t Even Bother: 50 Shades

50 Shades of Grey is a steaming pile of dog shit that can’t even compete with what your pooch is laying down.

Book, movie, whatever.

I’m that asshole who’s saying this without giving either the time of day. Do you know why? Because I work 6 days a week and life is too short to go out there reading and watching everything just to be fair before passing judgment on it. SUE ME.

But here’s the deal. Nearly every sex blogger on the planet is crying foul about this book/movie/steaming pile of shit, not just because of the bad writing.

When you get people like Jian Ghomeshi citing your book/movie/steaming pile of shit as an example of why he plays violent with sexual encounters like he does, maybe you’re doing something wrong.

BDSM is rough sex played by the rules. Yes, there are assholes who break rules, like Jian Ghomeshi and Christian Grey. They’re the kind of people that the online world and backchannels of BDSM will light up like a Christmas tree. Warning signs will be posted wide and far, if there’s any justice in this world.

Then you have the ridiculously subpar prose that shouldn’t have won any prizes, let alone space on any shelves.

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Example one: “Oh my,” I gasp as I bask briefly in the intensity of this visceral, primal attraction. “I feel it, too,” he says, his eyes clouded and intense.

Desire pools dark and deadly in my groin.

How are you supposed to get aroused by this? Really? Wow. People really need to improve their sex lives, and this ain’t where to start.

Example two: I want to clean my teeth. I eye Christian’s toothbrush. It would be like having him in my mouth. Hmm… Glancing guiltily over my shoulder at the door, I feel the bristles on the toothbrush. They are damp. He must have used it already. Grabbing it quickly, I squirt toothpaste on it and brush my teeth in double quick time. I feel so naughty. It’s such a thrill.

Wow. So risque. Actually, just gross. I’m not a germaphobe but sex is bad enough with all the crazy fluids exchanged. At least it’s fun. Using someone’s toothbrush isn’t sexy or hot, it’s just unhygienic to the nth. And it’s ridiculous writing.

How Not To Write

Wanna be a better writer? Butcher your adverbs. Kill them. Slaughter them. Leave them weeping in your wake. Look at that, all the descriptive ways I’ve suggested violence in just 4 phrases, nary an adverb in sight.

And this writing WON AWARDS? I’ll take a fucking flamethrower to the UK National Book Awards office one day if this happens again.

You want hot erotica? Scour the web. They’re out there. They’re making well-written stuff. They’re better than this hack.

Respect yourself. Aim higher. Don’t reward this bad content. And definitely do not confuse violent non-consensual sex with rich pretty-boys with what BDSM really is. It’s not even close.

Busted! At bail hearing. CTV photo.

BUSTED! Jian & His Big Penal Adventure

Woke up this morning to the news that Jian Ghomeshi has been arrested. It’s like rainbows exploded in my head. So this is Schadenfreude, eh?

I’m not someone given to delighting in the misery of others (aka Schadenfreude), but this time I’m not fighting it.

There are still some early defenders of this ass who’ve not publicly reversed their opinion on social media, and that’s sad, but hopefully they’re starting to realize that, yes, when you have a number of women coming forward, there’s probably a lot of substance behind those charges, and to not give them any credence is just another form of attack against them.

Those courageous women had NOTHING to gain from coming forward. They stood to have their lives dismantled. Lucy Decoutere could never have guessed that, instead of being hounded and harassed, Twitter would explode and “#IBelieveLucy” would be the first of several hashtags empowering all women to talk more about this oft-dismissed topic of sexual assault and violence against women. But thankfully, that’s exactly what happened.

Today, Ghomeshi’s on $100,000 bail, has dropped his $55 million suit against the CBC, owes them $18K in legal fees, is the topic of social media for deleting all his public accounts, and even has to go live with his mommy until completion of the trial, the duration of which will be spent without a passport in his possession.

Cops don’t proceed much on sex cases like this unless there really is something solid somewhere, which is often so hard to obtain given the nature of the crime.

With any luck, these charges being laid will give faith to others who’ve been hedging their bets. Maybe still more women will come forward.

The guy looks like a mess — sleepless and lost. The photo above is from his brief appearance in public today, which I think is his first since all of this news broke a month ago. Life’s hard on a narcissist like him, when they think everyone hates them.

Hate him I do, but I’m proud of the victims, thrilled with the cops, deeply sorry for Ghomeshi’s mother, and still curious how the CBC side of things proceeds, since I think they’re not taking responsibility for his almost legendary misogyny.

I hope every woman who’s ever had a bad encounter with this man, or any man, is enjoying watching his downfall. There are so few victories in the fight against misogyny and sexual violence against women that I think a little Schadenfreude today has been a long time coming.

Now we can allow the courts to do their thing, but here’s hoping the journalists keep digging too. One small victory for women, but it’s a good ‘un.

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Canada’s Shifting Perspective on Sexual Assault

Note: I have become painfully aware of language for sexual assault survivors this week. There are some who loathe the word “victim” and insist they are survivors. I would like to agree with them, but for clarity and legal purposes, I’m using the word “victim” where it is most apt, and I apologize to those who take offense. I can’t sanitize everything for you, and I hope you understand why.

And So It Begins

As I write, a third accuser is on the record with the Ontario police investigation into Jian Ghomeshi. They are requesting anyone with any knowledge, social media engagement, or evidence of Ghomeshi’s attacks and behaviour to come forward. (Call 416–808-7474 if you know anything.)

Ever since the first came forward last night, Lucy and another woman staying nameless in the media, I’ve been jumping for joy. I’m so proud of these ladies for starting what I think will prove to be a massive case, the extent of which, and the scale, has never before been seen in Canada.

When the Going Gets Weird…

It’s been a weird week in my world. As a result of unwittingly going viral, I’ve been a lightning rod for so many conversations and contacts. I’ve been inundated with stories and private emails thanking me for changing the conversation from Poor Jian to “But he beats women.”

Despite their wonderful notes and letters, and the since-changing conversation, I still found myself butting heads with many misogynists, apologists, and staunch defenders who insist that a sex crime without charges is most certainly not a sex crime. (But I’ve also felt celebrated and supported by men who steadfastly believe his accusers.)

And then there are still the idiots who insist this whole thing is about BDSM, even though they have never participated in BDSM, don’t know anyone living in the lifestyle, and think that because they read an excerpt of 50 Shades of Grey, they’re knowledgeable enough to declare Ghomeshi got a raw deal from chicks enamored with his mega-watt star who later decided they didn’t like how they were treated.

Now, I don’t understand how to get through to people I feel are being flat-out ignorant about this. I don’t grasp where their morals come from, how they could possibly expect people to empathize with them in their times of trial in years to come. But worse, I find myself imagining just what kind of person they really are if they’re behaving this way online.

96% of Sex Crime Perpetrators Walk Free

I’ve ended years-old friendships this week, blocked people close and far, and I’d do it all again. On the flipside, it’s been thrilling to see some people about-face on their positions when they finally realized everything they were saying was effectively another assault on women who might very well be telling the truth.

After all, of 100 sexual assaults or rapes, only 3.3–4% end in convictions. On the 40% chance she reports it to authorities, there’s a 10% her case results in charges, for which her entire life will be investigated, on the 8% chance she can be ravaged by the defense, judged by others, made to feel like she “wanted it,” all while possibly damage her career, and for what? Nothing. Just to have a too-painful reminder that ultimately sexual assaults are the hardest crime to prove.

Before you start attacking those statistics, you might want to take your arguments up with the FBI, the National Policy Center, and the Department of Justice, since the numbers are theirs.

False Accusations Do Happen

One conversation I kept seeing was that of false accusers. “But what about all the guys falsely accused?”

So many people I know say that they know all these guys that have been falsely accused. But the statistics behind false reporting say that it tends to be about 10% of all rapes reported.

That percentage doesn’t jive with how many people I have had telling me their friends were falsely accused. I question if they know their friends as well as they think.

Let me be clear: I am absolutely certain false accusations exist and do not argue it is 10% of those accused. I am certain some of these false claims become a very serious problem for a wrongly-accused man. I will not argue that. I do not condone this behaviour, I think a false accusation is one of the most despicable acts a person could make, and I would never, ever think it was a justified means of resolving a dispute or exacting revenge.

That said, let’s talk about false accusations and the seemingly large number of men who claim they’ve faced them. But first I’ll tell you a story.

There Be Monsters

When I lived in the Yukon, from ‘94–95, a young man named James Ward lived in my townhouse complex. He killed his girlfriend, stuffed her corpse in his waterbed, refilled it, and literally slept on it.

I won’t get into the case because it’s nearly impossible to find evidence online anymore (aside from comments here), given it’s from 20 years ago, before the internet took hold up North, but it served as a huge lesson for me at the age of 21: We really don’t know anyone.

People don’t tend to consider the implications of how much we don’t know about those around us. For me, this was a darkly cynical message to learn early, but many learn it the hard way. There are bad people, and they come in all kinds. Some are in our homes, where we work, and in our neighbourhoods.

The problem most people on the internet seem to have is, they haven’t had a come-to-Jesus moment like mine, where their eyes have opened to the darkness that can loom inside of some people.

Just because someone’s smart and funny to hang out with doesn’t mean they don’t have another side. Just because they’re your friend doesn’t mean you know what they’re like after they’ve snorted cocaine and it’s 2am on a date with a girl they don’t care about, but really want to have sex with.

Consent Can’t Be a Debate. Ever.

All sexual assaults don’t end in bruises and violence. No means no, and if it’s intimidation or force or brutality that takes it to the next level, it’s sexual assault.

Consent cannot be muddy or unclear. It’s time we have this discussion over, and over, and over again, because my social media accounts tell me there are a lot of guys who still aren’t getting this. Girls too. Consent is a changing landscape, minute by minute. When the mood shifts and one of the two says “No,” then it needs to be over.

The law needs to state this with razor-sharp clarity. It is not impossible to stop a sex act once it has begun, if someone changes their mind and says no. We need to stop acting like consent is gold once given.

If the BDSM community and their sacred “safeword” rules can mean playtime is over despite hours of planning and preparing, then why can’t the vanilla sex world figure out the same?

The hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported went viral this week and it’s one of the most powerful moments to emerge from this. I’m sure more than a few men were stunned by how many women they know say they’ve been raped, and recoiled at the stories their friends and family were telling. (And kudos to the men who had the courage to tell their own stories about being raped, using this hashtag. Wow. Brave.)

We Can’t Solve What Isn’t Investigated

I’m pretty sure a majority of my male friends are good men, safe men, and kind men. Some I’d trust my life with. I believe they respect women to their core. These men of mine have been on the side of the accusers since Monday, or shortly thereafter. They’ve blocked misogynist friends of theirs. They’ve been incredible advocates for the accusers.

And yet rape culture is a reality. At least one in four women will suffer rape or sexual assault, and usually at the hands of a man she knows.

Only 4% of them will ever hear the word “Guilty.”

Our society still doesn’t value rape as a crime. Rape kits languish untested, in the thousands. It costs $1,500 to process a rape kit. That’s how little we value the safety of our women.

In the United States alone, just 10 years ago more than 221,000 rapekits remained untested, and the assailants remained on the streets. Five years ago in Detroit, some 11,300 kits were found never processed.

As the Economist wrote in July of this year, “Tens of thousands of untested kits have been discovered in police warehouses in America, including as many as 20,000 in Texas, 4,000 in Illinois and more than 12,000 in Memphis, where three survivors are now suing the city for mishandling evidence. In addition, crime labs are estimated to have a backlog of 100,000 rape kits. Such delays betray victims. Most rapists are never caught.”

And how many of those assailants are guilty for multiple attacks? I don’t even want to guess. How many could have been arrested with a simple kit processing? My stomach turns at the thought. Jezebel looked at one example.

Despite all these kits never being processed, accusers are scorned as having an ax to grind or an ulterior goal they’re after. The accused generally get defended by coworkers and everyone else as a “nice, charming guy.”

But men who successfully prey on women can be good-looking, nice, and charming too. Look at serial killer Ted Bundy.

The Takeaway

This week, the country has learned what I learned two decades ago. We don’t know anyone, and terrible things happen even at the hands of people we see or hear daily.

Most people, when confronted with an accuser and an accused, will simply side with whomever their friend is. This is a big problem, and reached epidemic proportions here in Canada just last Sunday.

If there’s anything that we can learn this week, I hope it’s that we never, ever take anyone at their word without listening to both sides.

Maybe I appeared to do this with my now-infamous post on Monday, but I’ve been educated in both PR and journalism, and Ghomeshi’s take just didn’t add up under scrutiny. I never questioned my reaction when Jian Ghomeshi turned much of a nation against his accusers with his moving lie-filled missive. After all, lying can be persuasive, and he’s certainly considered a master manipulator.

For a couple days there, there may have been dozens, if not more, women across the country who felt like they’d just been kicked and beaten all over again, as legions of fans rushed to Ghomeshi’s side, swearing support and railing against these “petty, greedy women” they believed were launching smear campaigns against a beloved host.

Those women didn’t deserve that treatment at the hands of Ghomeshi, and they certainly didn’t deserve the fan-based attacks that followed after his exposure.

In the end, the tide turned. A nation began to say “I believe Lucy,” and an outpouring of support for those brave enough to tell tales followed and swelled.

Today we sit with bated breath as authorities investigate this. Ghomeshi is at large and authorities don’t know where he is. As yet, a search has not begun, charges have not been laid, and only three victims have come forward.

As I’ve been saying all along, the rumours of his behaviour go back years. Even celebrities like Jann Arden have said they’ve known of this behaviour for “years.” How it took so long for truth to out, we’ll never really understand.

For his accusers, though, what matters is that a man they see as a monster has finally been stopped. His stories are exposed, his behaviours are known, and his predilections are notorious the world over. Today, there’s one less serial monster in action, and if we’re lucky, we’ll see legal proceedings ensure the only rough sex he ever has again is of the prison variety.

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The Strange Saga of Big Ears Teddy and Jian Ghomeshi

Wednesday was an explosive day in the saga of Jian Ghomeshi, so much so that there’s now an online graph depicting his “likers” dropping like leaves in a fall windstorm.

Much occurred, but I want to focus on one major development: Big Ears Teddy, a stuffed animal so valued by Jian Ghomeshi that it merited thanks in the acknowledgements of his 2012 book called 1982.

Last night, Twitter exploded with the news this account had been sitting there since April of this year, when, for only three days, it levelled massive allegations against Ghomeshi.

There are a lot of similarities between one of the eight accusers detailed by The Toronto Star and the newly notorious teddy bear of Twitter. It’s an interesting aspect to this saga and one I wanted to look at more closely.

CONTINUE READING over at the Vancouver Observer.

My Latest on Ghomeshi

I’ve written another entry in this scandal, but it’s running over at the Vancouver Observer. 

It starts off…

We have the stupidest trend in word history going on, one that makes me want to jam a fork in my eye and twist every time someone starts it up again.

It’s this fad of using “-gate” as a suffix in order to denote scandal. Such as “Ghomeshi-gate.”

You know the origin of this, right? 1974’s Watergate?

The short version: basically burglary, doxxing, and invasion of privacy, plus a little cover-up on, oh, you know, a scale never before seen. Oh, Nixon, you dirty dog.

Phew, that’s some pretty impressive stuff. But you know what didn’t happen there? Women weren’t reported to have been shoved up against a wall, choked, thrown, beaten upside the head, or basically abused in every other way, including verbally.

To continue reading, please check me out at the Observer. Thanks!