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
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
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
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
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
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 onelifetaketwo.blogspot.com 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
When I revealed Tess’s anonymous attack in post entitled “Tess’s
Obsession” she quickly made revisions:
“He keeps a blog onelifetaketwo.blogspot.com 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
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 façade 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
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