Friday, January 08, 2010

Feverish, Sad Drama

Everyone seemed to have an opinion about my custody case. In managing her smear campaign, Tess modified her gossip to be sure it resonated in receptive ears. Above all, she wanted to impress the women whom she felt could further the reach of her new “secret sex blog cabal.”

On the day after I learned that my ex had filed a motion against me, Tess huddled over lunch with Dee and Rachel, a sex writer with a popular blog. Tess had been pressing Dee to end our relationship. Now, she encouraged her to complain about me in detail, hoping to influence Rachel against me.

A few days later, I posted some details about my case. The Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund had set up a legal defense fund to support my case and I needed to get out word about that. I took care not to reveal anything that could impact the case; just to be safe, I ran the text by my attorney. She encouraged me to point out the free speech ramifications in the filing, as this was fairly unique in a custody case. I did as she suggested.

Reading my post, Rachel was confused. How could a custody case have anything to do with the First Amendment? A former law student, she could not imagine any circumstance in which that could apply. Although I had asked my friends not to comment on the case as it was before the court, Rachel felt moved to blog “if you've ever studied anything about the First Amendment, you should know that it applies to the government dictating what you can and can't say, not your vindictive ex-wife. Nobody ever said he didn't have the legal right to post anything he damn well wanted.”

Rachel had never read my ex’s motion against me. She didn’t discuss it with me before blogging about it. Small wonder, then, that her uninformed conjecture was simply wrong. I had never claimed that free speech issues were involved because my ex wife was upset by my writing. My attorney informed me that First Amendment rights were involved because my ex-wife’s attorneys sought to have the State of New York shut down or curtail my blog. My attorney’s research showed that this was a case of first impression, meaning that if the court ruled against me, we would be able to appeal, perhaps so far as the United States Supreme Court.

Thankfully, the court did not rule against me. But in the court of blog opinion, Rachel had established a critical fact: I was either misinformed or lying.

Tess added this to her gossip.

Tess lobbied Dacia to come out against me and to discourage contributions to my legal defense fund. Persuaded that “this is a big and important thing for the sex blogging community to talk about,” Dacia wrote a blog post in which she questioned my revelation that my ex’s motion was concerned with my sexuality as discussed in my blog. “The bisexuality and the blogging is just a piece of the puzzle,” she ungrammatically opined. “Anyone who reads his blog knows Jefferson’s affinity for bourbon—and though he has a flip way of writing about it, his drinking is a real problem that I personally have seen unfold in embarrassing and fucked up ways.”

Substance abuse was very much on Dacia’s mind. She was then breaking up with her boyfriend of several years due to his inability to kick his cocaine addiction. Of all the subjects covered by Tess’s gossip, my drinking resonated most for Dacia. If the motion was not about my bisexuality and blogging, my former drinking buddy could certainly imagine that it might have to do with alcohol.

Dacia had never read my ex’s motion against me. She didn’t discuss it with me before blogging about it. Small wonder, then, that her uninformed conjecture was simply wrong. The motion, which was the size of a phone book, made no mention of my drinking. Dacia had originally noted that her post was based on her six-year relationship with me; she would eventually revise that to say that she had not spent any time with me in the previous three years and therefore, she wasn’t speaking with any direct knowledge. “Much of what I know about Jefferson in the here and now is admittedly second hand information,” Dacia confessed. She was repeating gossip, much of it proffered by Tess. Neither Tess nor Dee had witnessed me drinking to excess, so Tess sent Dee in search of evidence to support Dacia's claim.

As comments flowed into Dacia’s blog, people alluded to their own lives with alcoholics and shared stories of abuse and neglect. One commenter, attracted by the drama, offered to start a blog outing me and other bloggers. Anyone contacting the commenter was given our names and told how they were discovered. This was brought to Dacia’s attention, but she declined to remove the comment. In fact, she did little to moderate what another commenter aptly characterized as her blog’s “witch trial.” Dacia let the flame war burn, impressed that her betrayal of those who had trusted her proved so beneficial to her ratings.

In the court of blog opinion, Dacia had established a critical fact: my ex-wife was suing for custody of our children because I was an alcoholic.

Tess added this to her gossip.

On the day Dacia posted her attack against me, Tess added a post to her own blog. Dacia’s post had given Tess the grounding to take a public stand against me. Tess made a point of discouraging contributions to my legal defense fund. In subsequent posts, Tess turned her attention to the women she courted for her “secret sex blog cabal.” In order to impress them, Tess felt it was important to maintain an air of indifference to me in her blog, even as her gossip about me provided her with the material with which to keep them entertained. Still, she encouraged Dee to post about me frequently. Tess and Dee knew my ex read Dee’s blog—Dee had provided me with my ex’s IP address—so it was the site most likely to do damage to my case. The strategy had the added advantage of making Tess appear far less obsessed than Dee, at least publicly.

Tess and Dee added their own negative comments to Dacia’s blog, both under their own names and under pseudonyms. Tess continued this practice on other blogs as well, repeating common refrains under a variety of identities. People were dissuaded from donating to my legal defense fund; indeed, its very legality was questioned. Bloggers were encouraged to remove links to my blog from their blogrolls. If enough followed suit, Tess felt, she would succeed in erasing me from the blogosphere.

It satisfied Tess to believe that so many people were thinking ill of me, but she was frustrated that my case garnered support from Lambda Legal, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom and the Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund. The latter had set up the legal defense fund Tess was working hard to downplay. If the organization was made aware of the online controversy Tess had helped to create, she felt, surely they would not be willing to continue supporting my case. As she fanned Dacia’s flame war, Tess became impatient to put the controversy to use in destroying me. It was time, she felt, to cut off my support.

A month after Dacia's initial attack, comments to her post continued to come in daily. By this time, the comments reached into the hundreds. The flame war had deteriorated to such an extent that commenters referred to my addictions to alcohol and sex as established facts and my real identity was routinely outed. Dacia dug in to assert, “I think that most readers of this post and others that have been scattered around the Internet have enough information to realize that this is not a clear-cut case of being persecuted for sexual orientation.” It was no longer conjectured that perhaps my ex wife’s motion against me was not based solely on my sexuality as described in my blog; Dacia now stated with confidence that the motion she had never read was not “clear cut.”

Dacia’s confidence emboldened Tess and Dee. The day after Dacia’s assertion, Dee wrote an appeal to the members of the Friends of Jefferson, beseeching each to abandon her support of me and my custody case. That same day, an email was sent to Valerie White, Director of the Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund. “His custody case is not based upon his bisexuality,” the writer categorically stated. “His wife has known about his bisexuality for a long time. The case is based upon his reckless conduct which is not in keeping with responsible or even barely adequate parenting.” The writer repeated allegations that I was an alcoholic and added new claims that I was a gigolo and other suppositions that had surfaced in the unmoderated comments on Dacia’s post. The writer offered a link to Dee’s blog in order to detail “the ugly truth about Jefferson's life,” and concluded by urging the organization to “please reconsider lending your good names and influence to this cause.”

Valerie White forwarded the note to my attorney. Valerie knew that my ex’s motion against me was, in fact, entirely concerned with my sexuality as described in this blog. She knew it made no mention of alcoholism, prostitution or other awful suppositions. Valerie and the Board of Directors of the Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund had reviewed the motion before agreeing to establish a legal defense fund, as was standard procedure for the organization. She recognized that the writer of the email was uninformed about the motion. My attorney dismissed the note as a poor attempt to adversely influence a case before the court.

When I read the note, I saw Tess’s gossip neatly surmised in one text, articulated in her distinctively melodramatic idiolect. It was clear to me that gossip had displaced reality in Tess’s mind. Anonymous blog comments and slanderous attacks were now the truth as she wanted it represented. It was the truth that that Tess could use to destroy me and deny me my family.  Nearly a year later, after the custody case had been settled and the blog drama laid to rest, the allegations and language used in the letter to Valerie were reiterated in an anonymous online attack outing me. Tess's obsession continued to seethe.

Flame wars come and go in the blogosphere. Dacia’s flame war against me burned brilliantly, but eventually, it died down as others flared up. Looking back, Dacia would later describe her destruction of our relationship as a “feverish and sad drama” largely of her own creation. Perhaps from the experience, Dacia learned that attacking people feels awful, particularly when attacking people who care about you.

Recently, another blog drama reminded me of Tess’s obsession. Some unidentified person had started a blog revealing the identities of sex workers, echoing the use of Dacia’s blog to out sex bloggers. As Tess had since come to care about sex worker rights, she addressed the controversy in her blog. First, she advised others to talk about the blogger offline but not in tweets or on blogs, as that only gave more attention to the blogger. Evidently, she felt the strategy of back-channel gossip had worked well in her campaign against me. “The best way, the only way, to make people like [ . . . ] go away is to starve them of any attention,” she intoned. Gossip is good, she suggested. Direct confrontation was to be avoided.

Tess decried the blogger’s effort as “mired in vindictiveness, in pettiness, in meanness and its intent is solely to cause harm. Let me repeat that because it's that important—its intent is solely to cause harm.” She concluded by shaming the blogger’s “goal of harming individuals by disseminating private information.”
Tess couldn’t have done a better job of describing her campaign against me. In fact, Tess’s behavior just a few months earlier presaged actions she now decried.

In the days after her break up with her lover Victor, Tess dealt with her despondency by anonymously attacking me online. Creating an account at a website designed to be used by women complaining about bad dates, Tess described “Jefferson Blogger” as follows:

“He's known for being charming when you meet him and he's seduced countless young, inexperienced women. He keeps a blog where he makes his life sound wonderful and glamorous. But he seeks out mentally unstable or naive women and he uses them for his benefit. He's an alcoholic and has been accused of sexual assault. He is also known for getting his young girlfriends into sex work.”

To this profile she added a photograph of me that is readily available online.

When I revealed Tess’s anonymous attack in post entitled “Tess’s Obsession” she quickly made revisions:
“He keeps a blog where he makes his life sound wonderful and glamorous. He's an alcoholic and has been accused of sexual assault. He recently fabricated a long post about who he thinks posted this profile. However, he's wrong. I've decided to snip out the things that are hearsay, but include only the bits that I've witnessed myself to be fair.”

Not surprisingly, Tess claimed I was wrong in identifying her as my attacker. As she knew I was not wrong, she dissembled into damage control. She backpedaled, admitting that her claims against me were hearsay, merely gossip she had concocted and spent a year honing through constant circulation.

Tellingly, the hearsay that Tess omitted in the revision concerned the countless “mentally unstable or naive women” I had allegedly seduced into sex work. When Tess began her smear campaign against me in the summer of two thousand and eight, she and Dee were quick to condemn me as a “whore.” They were called aside by Dacia, who discouraged them from using that word as an epithet against me or, indeed, anyone. Dacia began to educate the two women about sex worker rights, a cause of great concern to her. Many strong women make the choice to become sex workers, Dacia instructed, and archaic myths of white slavery insult their intelligence. Certainly, no one should out the identities of sex workers.

Tess and Dee were impressed by Dacia’s lessons and guidance in their assaults against me; so much so that they began to style themselves in her mold as activists for sex worker rights. Dee was charged as, in middle age, she began to acquire a political consciousness. Tess saw the advantage of impressing Dacia in achieving her own ambitions. Just as she wooed Rachel in hope of participating in readings, Tess knew that associating with Dacia could suggest an intellectual credibility she otherwise lacked.

Still, her lesser demons could not rest. A full year after Dacia’s lessons—a year spent forging a new activist identity, a year in which she neither saw nor spoke with me—Tess couldn’t resist decrying me as a Svengali who forced feeble-minded women into the horrors of sex work. What’s more, in posting a photograph of me, she was outing me, using precisely the same tactics of the blogger she would soon self-righteously decry.
Embarrassed by my exposure of her anonymous attacks, Tess revised her language. Minus the admitted hearsay, all that was left was her claim that I was an alcoholic and an allegation that I had been accused of assault. She claimed that she was, in fact, an eyewitness to these claims.

Tess had seen me drink; as recently as fourteen months prior to this attack, she had invited herself to drinks and dinner with mutual friends. From what Tess could recall of the night, before she staggered home, she had seen me imbibing alcohol. She clung to this claim as Dacia had made it central to her own online attack against me: Dacia alleged that as recently as two thousand and five, three years prior to her own post, she had seen me drink alcohol. Tess needed to align herself with Dacia’s authority, and so sent Dee in search of proof of my alcoholism. During our eight-month relationship, Dee had never seen me drunk. Dee’s entreaties to Avah provided further frustration, for in our two-year relationship, which included countless parties, my teetotalling kinky girlfriend could only recall seeing me drunk on one occasion. Evidence be damned, Tess clung to her claim. Apparently, by her reckoning, alcoholism was a moral failing that should bring me down in the eyes of others.

Even more serious was Tess’s claim to have witnessed an assault. On the one hand, this allegation avoided the problem of giving offense to those she sought to impress. Some may be concerned with protecting the rights of sex workers, but who would defend assaulters? Still, as the revision settled in her mind, the limitations of her allegation became clear. If Tess had witnessed an assault, what action did she take? Did she report it to authorities? Isn’t that what anyone would do? Or was her reaction limited to making anonymous allegations online?

Tess knew there had been no assault for her to witness, nothing on which to take action. Now that attention was on her anonymous attack, she found herself in a bind. She could dig deeper into her trench, hurling mud at me with the increased audience I had brought to her forum. There could be some satisfaction in that; attacking me enflamed her passions, and now the dickhead that obsessed her had provided a new opportunity to scratch that itch.

However, Tess was no longer in the heated throws of anger at Victor. She had made her attack in the summer, when the break-up was days old. Now it was autumn and Tess was basking in another kind of attention: there was soon to be a launch party for the sex blogger calendar she had helped to create. Her anonymous attack, taken in an impetuous fit of misandrist pique, had been revealed at a most inopportune time. Everyone was talking to Tess about me. Attention was once again drawn to her obsession. Despite her weak defense—“he’s wrong”—she recognized that my discussion of her actions would ring true to those she wanted to impress. She had, after all, gossiped the narrative of her anonymous attack for well over a year.

The letter written to the Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund had asserted, as fact, gossip that the recipient, Valerie White, recognized as false. The letter made claims about a legal motion that Valerie had read and the letter writer had not. The writer of the letter was simply wrong.

Tess’s gossip consumed her thinking. If words fell from her lips and flew across her keyboard with enough repetition and frequency, they took root as fact in her mind. She could not let go. Everyone must see, as she did, what a dickhead I am. Establishing that meant all. It allowed her to push me aside in her urge to take what she coveted.

Now, in revealing her attack, I had exposed the fissures in the fa├žade of her new persona. Continuing her attack was too risky. If she appeared consumed by attacking me, those she sought to impress may see her as no better than Dee. And, as Tess enjoyed repeating, Dee’s most useful function was in making her look good.

A few days after the attack had been revised, I was contacted by the administrator of the website on which it had appeared. The anonymous post had been removed. Now, no one would have further access to this evidence of Tess’s obsession.

The anonymous attack was removed just days before the sex blogger calendar launch party.


Wendy Blackheart said...

Whats both funny and sad is that she probably never has, nor will she ever, realize she's talking about herself.

Tear Drop said...

I'm glad you explained the nature of the first amendment issues, because I was confused by it too. It would have been helpful if you could have clarified that earlier.

Jefferson said...

I'm glad to have clarified matters, Tear Drop.

During the course of the court case, my goal was to preserve my family. I knew that my ex and her attorneys read my blog, and of course the court also had access to it. I needed to be very careful about what I said herein about the case and my own attorney's strategies. Addressing the uninformed speculation of other bloggers was simply not a priority.

Certainly it was frustrating to read such subjective speculation in other blogs, particularly given my specific request that my friends refrain from discussing the case while it was before the court. Unfortunately, some people are more concerned with blog drama than respect, friendship and objective reporting.

Anonymous said...

@I can't believe this post ---I haven't read you in months and your still dishing about Tess, who obviously has no attractive qualities outside of the blogworld. Why bother. Quite honestly I couldn't get past the mention of Tess to hear the rest.

I hope all is well in your real world.

Jefferson said...

Right you are, Sandra!

Part of researching and writing the tale of this "feverish and sad drama" that so consumed people in Summer 2008 is revisiting just how picayune and small it all was. Those who perpetuated the drama did so with malice and a lack of concern about adversely affecting someone's life and family. Indeed, for some participants, there seemed to be a genuine excitement in potentially causing harm, as though that would showcase a power they imagined to be theirs. The disconnect between reality and online actions has never been so striking for me than this.

Carolynne said...

This is really sad...and now explains why I couldn't find you linked anywhere (I couldn't remember the name of your blog). Huh.

Jefferson said...

Welcome back, Carolynne--and others.