Occupy Sexual Harassment

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I can’t exactly recall when in the fall of 2011 I first met G. I remember her speaking at the last General Assembly in Tompkins Square Park before Zuccotti was taken, but we didn’t yet know each other back then. We mostly interacted over the private September 17th email list prior to the beginning of the occupation. She was answering questions about the occupation over the phone. I snuck away from a slow day at the office in order to speak to her directly over the phone for the first time on September 20th regarding a public statement the Senior Editor of Adbusters made. She was energized and optimistic. I remember feeling excited too, but I watched Jason, a new acquaintance I made over the weekend of September 17th, get slammed to the cold wet pavement of Zuccotti Park, handcuffed, manhandled and arrested. I watched it happen on the globalrev livestream channel from the safety and comfort of my dry warm cubical. I felt useless and helpless that first week. I was mostly trying to figure out what the fuck to do. Leave work? Quit my job? Then what? I had a high speed internet connection, a landline, and a lot of free-time at work. So I focused on doing my best to spread the news about what was happening at the square. I wound up working with a lot of people with PR expertise, and G was definitely a rock-star. She had clear direction. I knew what I wanted to do, but I was also still trying to figure out if I actually belonged in the movement.

I welcomed her comradery. Collaborating with her online was great. I was happy to grab a drink with her near Zuccotti on September 27th. She brought a ‘datey’ vibe to the meeting that I wasn’t expecting. It became awkward for me once I began describing my academic research on sadomasochism, BDSM, and polyamory. She insisted that we “combine our harems.” I recall explaining to her that I was recovering from a really painful break-up, that I didn’t exactly have a “harem” or much firsthand experience what-so-ever with consensual non-monogamy, and very little with BDSM. I had a lot of respect for her, I didn’t want to have to outright reject her or hurt her feelings. I hoped she would take my explanation as a polite “no”, but she went in for a kiss close to the end of the night anyway. The professional (male) pick up artists who I’ve been trained by never do this because it’s awkward as fuck. (We’ve observed through experience for the record, that it’s important to risk rejection early in the evening and go in for the kiss before the night’s over so as to be clear about intentions). I mention it not only because G had vocally disapproved of me being (a very amateur) pick up artist (whereas she had very much approved of the other deviant activities I’ve mentioned) but also because her attempt to make out with me was so unbelievably unwanted and awkward that I made out with her back just to get out of the situation. Apparently this happens all the time, to women. My current girlfriend recently told me that she had to kiss a guy on the lips in order to get away from him at a dance party she was at a few weeks ago. I had no clue at the time that this is essentially what happened that first night with G.

I kept working with her on a list of projects longer than my leg online, but did everything I could to avoid her in person after that. I was doing an interview update with MSNBC when she unexpectedly popped out of the back of a truck that had been blocking MSNBC’s shoot and started handing out copies of the paper she had helped put together. MSNBC began filming the spontaneous human chain of occupiers that formed to move stacks of papers from the truck across the street to the camp. It was a great moment. The reporters were stunned and surprised by our level of efficiency in spite of our lack of any clear structure. It was good to see G. for a moment as well before we drifted off to our respective tasks for the day. I received a text message from her about an hour later asking me if I was in the park. She indicated that she was there without her kid. I actually was in the park, but I split as soon as I got the message.

It was late in October when the pick up artist who had been coaching me at the time put me in touch with one of the original organizers of Woodstock. She and her friends from Woodstock wanted to throw a party at her bar to support #OWS. The logistics of the idea were beyond my capabilities as an organizer, but I couldn’t let the opportunity go to waste, so I asked G to help out. She knew way more about the promoting business and the meeting went well. She tried making out with me again after that meeting too. I acquiesced to get out of the situation again. I told her that I don’t like to shit where I sleep. She shook her head and said “no”, because she didn’t agree and that she didn’t care for my analogy. She made out with me again and said that that was better. I did my best to avoid her in person again after that.

The different affinity groups we worked in gradually began to merge. G began working with the creator of the website whose digital traffic I monitored and reported on. I believed that G, much like the website creator, was much smarter than me and in certain ways they both certainly are. I genuinely enjoyed and still value the acknowledgment, respect, acceptance, and affection, in addition to (and more so than) all of the tangible, commodifiable, cutting edge cool nerd shit I’ve learned from these people. Hindsight has taught me however, that my affections and intentions toward these people were admittedly tainted by my ego, which sought them out for validation as an occupier, as a member of whatever it is that #OWS is, but also more fundamentally and problematically in order to be recognized and acknowledged as anarchist and as a revolutionary, because these people truly are dedicated anarchists and revolutionaries. I never enjoyed the unwanted sexual advances from G however.

I began to surrender into something of a “relationship” with her that I was never comfortable with in early November. She called for a meeting at Bryant Park on November 5th to discuss occupying the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza. I had been running late and G and my best friend A were the only other organizers who showed up. We quickly came to consensus on holding the remainder of the meeting at my place where we could get high. G and A were flirting a lot. I started feeling jealous; I didn’t want to feel left out. I started snuggling up to G. I may quite possibly have fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the book. Pick up artists call it “triangulating”. I doubt G had any word for it. She slept over that night. I recall trying to get as fucked up as I could on indica and scotch precisely to avoid having sex with her. I recall waking up with our clothes on. I admittedly enjoyed the cuddling in spite of the other awkward, confusing and unpleasant emotions I found the dynamic of the situation.

I didn’t feel comfortable at all with the idea of having sex with her even though I began to find myself enjoying her affection and intimacy in spite of my better judgment. Neither one of us had much free time. There was so much work to be done that there weren’t many opportunities for sex. I definitely used the work as an excuse to avoid sex.

I agreed to go over to her place the night of November 12th after I had a meeting with a bunch of other organizers. The “meeting” was held in a commercial loft space that had been occupied by some of the most effective and notorious organizers in the movement. We called it Magic Mountain. The walls were covered with art and the floors were covered with art projects as well as cots for squatting occupiers. The meeting turned into a party and one of the most fun nights I’ve ever had in the movement.

I told G that I’d be on my way over to her place just before midnight, but the party raged on and turned into a friendly multi-martial-disciplinary sparring session between myself and another organizer. I texted her saying that I was on my way after we had finished rough housing. I texted her again a bit later saying that we were wrapping up a meeting that had just started. She texted me back a frowny face. I started heading over around 2am. She asked if I could pick up toilet paper for her before I arrived.

I wasn’t at all interested in sex by the time I arrived, and it wasn’t because I was tired from sparring even though this was the excuse I vaguely remember using to get out of it. I laid passively on my back while G tried to turn me on with her full figured Betty Paige style porno playing cards. I recall trying to be tactful but honest with her about being every bit as sexually attracted to muscularly-thin, glamorous women as she seemed to be turned on by muscularly-thin men, while she was in the act of admiring my shirtless, well-developed, but hairy Capoeirista’s torso, which had a good pump after the bout at Magic Mountain. She tried to make me feel guilty for not seeing everyone, and fuller-figured folks specifically, as beautiful; which I do, even though I am in no way compelled or obligated to have sex with or love every single beautiful person on this planet. 

I don’t recall putting out that night, but I do recall having breakfast with her and her daughter at the family table the next morning. Her daughter’s resentment towards me was instantaneous. She seemed to treat me as if I was competing with her for her mother’s attention and affection. I remember agreeing to run all the way across town for G in order to pick up weed for her, probably in order to get away from the breakfast table. I remember feeling annoyed with myself for taking time away from the things I wanted to get done that day. I distinctly remember telling myself however that G had it rougher. She had suffered and sacrificed more for the cause than I had. I felt for a time that sacrificing for G was the same thing and perhaps the best thing I could do for the cause. I believed at the time that G’s work was more important than mine. I remember her staring at me when I came back with her weed and toilet paper with the same loving but sadistic expression that my mother used to have on her face when I would brood with my frustrations in her kitchen a long time ago, when she had been very frustrated herself after having split up with my stepfather and was unjustly fired from her job. Both of these looks essentially expressed, “I’m miserable, but you’re miserable too. I’m not alone and your company makes it more worthwhile.”

I was under more stress than I had ever been in my life at that point from the occupation. I was very confused and even more stressed out over what was happening with G. I realized that something was wrong at a meeting at her place the week after Zuccotti was evicted. We discussed what to do after the eviction all night long. I had specifically been discussing findings from the surveys I had been working on at the time. After the meeting, in front of all of our colleagues, she switched tracks and asked me if I would be her date to a banquet. I don’t think that I would have necessarily minded going, but I felt completely manipulated into it. I wasn’t expecting it, I couldn’t think of any excuses or anything else I had to do that night and I didn’t feel as if there was any way I could have possibly said no to her without potentially embarrassing her in front of our mutual comrades. I once saw a former friend propose to his former wife at a public Capoeira event. There was no way she could have said no without coming off as a completely callous bitch in that situation. G had used social norms to her advantage to manipulate and subtly coerce me into a situation I didn’t necessarily want to be in with her. It was an example of what sociologists call Interaction Vandalism. This was the first moment I realized that she had been exploiting my emotions and my values. Before this I never believed that she could be capable of doing so, given how much abuse she had endured in her life. I don’t even think G thought she was doing anything wrong either. I do think that she knew perfectly well what she had been doing in terms of the manipulation, as far worse but very similar things have presumably been done to her. I never went to the banquet with her. I called her out on it right away and told her that I needed autonomy.

I wound up seeing her the night of the worst Thanksgiving Day of my entire life. I think I told her that I wanted to stop seeing her shortly after that.   

She had a death in the family and incredibly stressful family drama to deal with in the wake of the death. She took it out on me the next time I remember seeing her, at a beautiful bed and breakfast motel in upstate New York that a few dozen other organizers and I had occupied during the first weekend of December in order to experiment with magic mushrooms. I wasn’t going to go at first, but I was let go from my job as a business intelligence analyst the week before the trip so I said fuck it and went. G pulled me aside as soon as I arrived at the motel. We smoked the last of my weed as she told me about a trip she had just taken back home for the funeral. She threw just a few bones from just one or two of the skeletons in her closet at me. I told her that she deserved better. She said “yeah, but better never shows up”, as she dramatically smoked the last of my medicine. She also told me that I wasn’t an anarchist because I’ve studied techniques to help me meet and seduce women, “because anarchists care about people,” and pick up artists apparently do not, according to G. She also kept my pipe. I asked for it back and she said “no”, as if I was stupid for asking, before she walked back into the giant cabin to party with the others.

She kept distance from me and conspicuously tried to ignore me throughout the most hostile and antagonistic dinner table conversation I’ve been a part of between over a dozen anarchists, and also during the self-indulgent prep speech from our “guide,” who may have actually taken a bit more of the tea than the rest of us as opposed to staying straight like a guide is supposed to. I remember wanting him to shut up and stop talking so I could drink the tea and get altered. I wanted to feel something good. The collective energy of the other organizers began to buzz. We trekked out into the snow to start a good fire. I can’t recall if we got anything to burn. About eight or nine members of our group started running and jumping around, doing cartwheels and throwing themselves into the snow, while yelling things like ‘property, property.’ The only thing I felt was sickness. I felt nauseated and feverish. I sat off to the side. I didn’t feel well enough to be around the group. I felt isolated, like I didn’t belong and like I didn’t want to belong, even though I was there. It was nothing new really. It was no different than school, work or any other institution anywhere else. I didn’t necessarily mind this new sickness compared to the cold and the amount of fun everyone else was having. It was a new form of sickness which interested me enough to want to try mushrooms again at least. I decided to enjoy it inside in a sleeping bag near a fire, while I listened to the boyfriend of our seemingly ‘regretful for having invited a bunch of brilliant but bat-shit insane anarchist organizers host’ complain about how we didn’t turn to him with gratitude and thanks as some sort of messiah for his post ‘capocalyptic’ hippie survival skills he wanted to demonstrate.

Our host and her partner retreated to their quarters with poise as the merry trippers came inside as they came down. The real games began as everyone began to occupy or search for their sleeping arrangement. I tried to crash out on a couch off to the side of the main fireplace/living area, but there was way too much subtle commotion all around me and on the floor with its half dozen rooms above me.

I finally gave up on sleep when I heard G talking to A and two others on the stairwell. Even though I wasn’t a part of the conversation I could sense, in part I now suspect due to the increased emotional capacity for empathy that seems to characterize the experience of the drug we were on, that G was severely distressed and putting on a good face in spite of whatever else she was sharing with the others. I waited only a little while after she and the others left the stairwell before going to her room. I found her sobbing in a seated fetal position with her headphones on in the shower stall of the bathroom in her room saying to herself “I have to do it all by myself, I have to do it all by myself.” She didn’t hear me and she startled back up to her feet to compose herself immediately as I tried to wrap my arms around her. She kept her back to me as she told me that “You’re a wonderful person Harrison but I don’t need a white man telling me what to do.” I knew somewhere deep down that I was deeply offended in spite of all the other emotional energy circulating throughout the house and the people within it that night. I took my hands off of her incredibly tense shoulders and left her room. She left her room after I did as well in order to have a threesome with my best friend and his girlfriend at the time.

I couldn’t fucking wait to get back to Brooklyn the next morning even though G and I had made arrangements to travel back to the city together. She made a point not to sit next to me on the car ride home after all of the sincerely warm (albeit awkward, for me) goodbyes. She patronizingly cut me off and contradicted me during the conversation on the way to the train. We barely spoke a word to each other on the bus back to Manhattan. She plugged in to the free Wi-Fi. I tried and failed to fall asleep. I smiled and told her we should do it again sometime after we grabbed our luggage and went our separate ways (without hugging if I recall correctly). I don’t think she said anything. I never got my pipe back either.

I mostly saw her online for a while after that. She conspicuously ignored me at the benefit party she organized as the long-awaited result of the conversation we had with the Woodstock Organizer who wound up asking us, a bunch of debt saddled organizers trying to provide for an occupation that had come to be increasingly made up of occupiers who were actually homeless, for a bar back guarantee in order to make sure their staff got paid. The benefit party was dead. We didn’t raise any money and the party wound up costing us several hundred dollars that none of us had. I had some fun talking to Captain Ray, partially about a short-lived relationship I had suddenly ended with the successful, sophisticated reporter from a major Spanish newspaper who had introduced me to the Captain, without really ever knowing why in the midst of the turmoil with G. G. mostly mingled with others and danced with the guy she had been seeing while we had been “dating.” She bent over with self-satisfied sheepishness when I told him that I recognized him from our classes on Freud and Benjamin together. He always had smart shit to say in class and it was actually pretty cool to see him again in spite of how completely awkward the situation was due to G’s triangulation.      

I remember that I donated $50 to her campaign to fly herself to visit the occupation in Puerto Rico. I remember doing so thinking it was really important that she went and that she deserved to go. In hindsight, I think I gave it to her because I felt guilty, as if I had treated her poorly. She seemed genuinely grateful at least.

I remember making the donation to her while I was in Milwaukee for the most depressing Christmas I’d ever had. We had all been struggling with life and with school. My family had never been more proud of me for my involvement and effort with #OWS and I’ve never lashed out at them as bitterly as I began to that Christmas. My experience with G had triggered memories of forgotten abuse and newfound resentment towards my family. I stopped speaking to or writing my grandparents altogether for nearly a year because of the similarities in the patronizing, condescending tones that my grandmother and G both used to make me feel guilty for not behaving in the ways they expected me me to, which included submission to school in the former case and emotional and sexual submission in the latter.   

The next time I saw G was at a really killer social media conference where she had acquired a lot of her skillz. I noticed her sitting a few rows in front of me before she spotted me. I texted her and told her to look behind her to her left. She said it was great to see me and that she had whiskey to spike things up afterwards. There wasn’t any drama that opening night of the convention. She hogged the floor, noting her not at all insignificant contributions to the social media front of the movement during the breakout session they had on Occupy Wall Street and social media. The discussion became so fierce that no one else in the room, including myself, had a chance to speak. After lunch we shared some of her whiskey and some more of my weed. She became incredibly patronizing and condescending with me over something trifle. She ostentatiously stormed off, walking away from me with another organizer who was with us at the conference on the last Saturday of January 2012, just before my 29th birthday. She almost seemed surprised that I didn’t come chasing after her at the after party, where I would occasionally catch her eye from way across the room.

Her online behavior, which had always been far more civil than when we interacted in person, became patronizing, condescending and demeaning. Her emails became much shorter in length. She would delegate things to me in them and then never follow up after I’d write-up some copy for example. An interesting and successful project that we had been working on together fell apart. It was all incredibly passive aggressive. I didn’t feel like I was welcome or a part of the group behind the website we had all been affiliated with, even though it’s original creator tried to tell me that we were still friends. 

I eventually came to define my experiences with G as sexual harassment. This realization came after she had gotten into an egotistically charged argument on the loose subject of right and wrong, with a slave-owner at a presentation I gave on January 4th 2012 at a BDSM support group where I’ve been taking notes on a variety of kinky presentations for my dissertation. She asked me if I could get her into the presentation for free and I told her that I would cover it for her if need be, as if I was somehow obligated to. My topic was about how consent is the critical difference between BDSM and the manipulative, oppressive, degrading, non-consensual and socially acceptable sadistic ways which people treat each other in everyday life, which I realized that G had embodied in regards to the way she interacted with me. 

I had become paranoid of the intentions of my closest friends and family and alienated myself from them.  

By early February of 2012 I had come to realize that I had been sexually harassed. The things I read about sexual harassment online reminded me of my experience with a lewd patron I had met in the steam room of the men’s locker room of the notorious Chelsea YMCA some time before #OWS began. G’s gender and her self-righteous identity built upon very traumatic experiences prevented me from putting two and two together in order to give the confusion the label of ‘sexual harassment.’

I wanted to leave the movement, and would have, had it not been for my ever-faithful friend A. He was the only one who took anything I had to say about G seriously. He told me that he and his girlfriend at the time had heard her telling me that she didn’t need a white man telling her what to do that night after the mushroom trip and that G had contacted him and his partner about having more liaisons which he, unlike me, in no way felt bad about straight up turning down. It was the only recognition I had ever received regarding the entire experience.   

My guilt transformed itself into anger. Mostly anger at myself for having been so foolish and stupid for jumping through her hoops, trying to meet her expectations of me, allowing myself to be manipulated by her through my insecurities, but I mostly felt it as rage towards her. I definitely became knowingly and deliberately and disruptively passive aggressive towards her on at least two specific email chains.

We agreed to talk over the phone. I was seething with anger as I told her it had been ages, asked her how she had been, and what I could do for her with as much deliberately faux sociability as I could muster. She may have mentioned something about not showing any respect, which I told her I agreed with by making it clear to her that I didn’t even like or respect her as a person by this point (or myself for that matter). I suggested to her that she had been acting more like a stereotypically privileged white male with a sense of entitlement than I was. I argued that her behavior had more in common with the people who doubtlessly pulled the same but infinitely more manipulative and sadistic shit on her than my behavior towards her did, and in spite of my gender and phenotype. I tried to explain to her that she had ironically but predictably become what she had been fighting, and that she was too self-righteous to admit it to herself. I told her that we could have been a great team, that we could have done a lot of good, that she selfishly fucked it all up, and that I’d prefer to have an openly hostile and adversarial professional relationship with her as it was the only way to truly keep things transparent. She was mostly silent throughout the conversation. She told me that I had given her a lot to think about. I told her that I’d leave her to it and that she shouldn’t contact me again unless it was absolutely necessary as I had and have no interest in ever working with her again. I saw her later on the same night I talked to her at a screening for a documentary about #OWS. She stayed away from me the entire night and looked more physically uncomfortable than I had ever yet seen her the one time we passed each other in a narrow part of the theater that evening.

We had a few online exchanges which were basically drama free during the one year anniversary of the Occupation during the days surrounding September 17th 2012. I freaked out, stressing out at the possibility of having to meet with her in person again during the late summer/early fall of 2012, but that meeting never happened. She reached out to wish me well at some other point and she even hooked me up with a job recruiter, who actually got every bit as patronizing with me as G typically would after I asked the recruiter about a detail on the job spec.    

I see G condemn male-perpetrated sexual assaults of all sorts online from time to time, but I’ve never observed her once embody the change she’d allegedly like to see and own and condemn her own behavior towards me in any sort of public way. A mutual colleague in the affinity group I left recently contacted me online suggesting that I was immature for having posted two-year old relationship drama on my blog, urging me to completely change G’s name to something other than G, as this person felt that even a single initial would be enough for anyone familiar with us both to surmise G’s identity. Our mutual colleague’s dismissal of G’s sexual harassment through her characterization of it as “two-year-old relationship drama” only reinforced the need I felt to publicly tell this story in spite of any and all potentially unwanted consequences. I explained to our colleauge that changing G’s name entirely would be akin to lying as far as I’m concerned. After nearly two years of reflection on this experience, I’ve come to feel that it’s necessary for certain organizers in the movement to know about what G did so that she knows she’s accountable, not only because her behavior towards me jeopardized the integrity of the public work she’s done to represent the movement and therefore the integrity of movement itself potentially, but also because if she turned the movement into dangerous space for me it’s only safe to assume that she’s turned it into dangerous space for others as well. I only wish that I had written this as well as other pieces on this blog sooner.

My broader purpose in writing and sharing this extremely embarrassing and painful personal narrative has been to document and demonstrate that white privileged males in no way hold a monopoly over sexual harassment, assault, abuse, and rape in our society. Our society must acknowledge this social fact furthermore, if we are to ever successfully understand and control these social issues.

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