Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Luna C.

In spring twenty-sixteen, I ended my relationship with a young storyteller, Luna C., after one-and-a-half years. I felt the break up was necessary to sustain stability in my life. I wanted to focus on my relationship with my primary partner as we moved beyond our first several years to a place of planning for our shared future.

My girlfriend helped me to understand that I could better enjoy the “one life, take two” I had created since entering middle age by avoiding the hazards of self harm, alluring though they may be. She encouraged me to take care of myself. I came to accept that my fortunate good health stands a better chance of enduring if I refrain from abusing it. I undertook harm reduction to curtail my alcoholism. I showed up for regular physicals. I entered into therapy. I turned my creative energies to writing a memoir.

As I had for the duration of a custody case nearly a decade ago, I put aside the risks and potential chaos of public life in favor of private quietude to take care of myself and those I care about. I’m now over fifty. If we’re going to stay together for the long haul, my girlfriend says, I goddamned well better stick around for it.

As Luna and I adapted to our break up, we shared a concern for the future of Foreplay! A Sexy Storytelling Open Mic, a free weekly show I created and hosted for five years. It fostered a substantial community. Luna and I met there when she first developed an interest in storytelling. As our friendship grew, we developed a shared rhythm in nurturing the evenings. I took care of the front of the room, running the stage, as she worked the back of the room, interacting with regulars and encouraging participation. The regulars adopted my loving nickname for her: “Mama Luna.” Luna and I cherished “church,” as she called the open mic, and made it the start of our weekly sleepovers. After shows, we’d go to her place or mine to devour greasy food, get drunk, watch cartoons and bask in what we created.

“What are we going to do about church?” she asked as we pondered our break up.

“This isn’t a divorce. We don’t have to divide custody,” I assured her. “It may be an awkward transition, but there’s no reason we can’t continue performing together.” I paused. “That said, often when there’s a rift within subcultures, one or the other faction will try to destroy the community. That’s so commonplace as to be trite.”

Whatever happened between us, I was certain Foreplay! would continue. I believed the community was more important than either one of us.

One day, she asked to meet me for a long conversation before Foreplay! She didn’t want to come to the open mic, as she wasn’t up to seeing everyone. It wasn’t the same since our break up. I said I understood and hoped that feeling would pass in time. She would always be welcome. As for me, I had to go. I ran into many of the regulars as they assembled. One comic pulled me aside to say he planned to interview Luna for his podcast. In the interview, she spoke sadly of our break up, acknowledging that we split because I wanted to be with my primary partner.

As we endeavored to remain friends, we met weekly to sort things out. I set boundaries: we met in public, neutral places, generally outdoors. If things felt sexual or I felt uncomfortable in any way, I would leave. After each meeting, I sent a safe text to my primary partner. Under no circumstances was I going home with Luna.

Things deteriorated between us. On one occasion, Luna insisted that I “act like a human” by going home with her. I left. On another, when I reiterated my refusal to go home with her, Luna punched me in the face. I left. The next time I saw Luna, one of her friends—a stranger to me—threw a drink in my face. I left. Luna’s violence ended things for me. I would remain civil toward her at Foreplay! and other open mics, but I had no further interest in maintaining a friendship offstage. 

Luna asked some of the regulars to meet her elsewhere on the nights of the open mic, saying it was too hard for her to attend. As they complied, I understood the communal empathy even as I saw a typical indicator of subcultural fissure: mutual friends asked to choose between one party and the other. One night, she showed up at the venue without entering. She sent in another regular, who scanned the room to see who was in attendance. They left together a moment later, their private roll call complete.
Though I was now out of her life, Luna continued to discuss me and our break up on social media. Seeking to curry favor, a middle-aged motorcycle dude Luna occasionally fucked introduced her to the blog of Tricia Nixon, a middle-aged woman I declined to date years ago. Unbeknownst to me, my former acquaintance maintained a cul-de-sac on FetLife in which she inveighed against many things, including the kink event where we met, sometimes numbering me among her complaints against it.

My former acquaintance provided Luna with a handful of negative things that have been said about me in the course of my seventeen-year public sex life. Tricia Nixon knew very little about me; we’d only met a few times. Luna and I had been very close. She had heard my stories on stage and in bed. She had eighteen months of intimacy and trust to exploit. With the encouragement of Tricia Nixon, Luna decided that a public statement would be compiled with the intention of revealing that despite all outward appearances, Jefferson was actually an awful person.

The statement would focus on three blog links concerning scenes dated from years before I met Luna. She had no direct knowledge of any of them, though she’d heard the stories before. I’ve told them publicly. Anyone who knows me privately has heard them. They aren’t secret.

One link concerned an event from two-thousand-five, a story I had told on my blog, on stage and privately with Luna. After Luna resurrected the story more than a decade after the fact, I wrote about it at greater length in a blog post published in November twenty-sixteen, citing the author of the link Luna circulated as well as numerous eyewitnesses.  

Tricia Nixon made her own contribution by running a concurrent flame war. Commenters were encouraged via direct messages from the original poster to stoke the thread with incendiary language and speculations. Though I was the burning effigy at its center, the flame war was unknown to me until Luna brought it to my attention, demanding that I respond to its comments. If I refused, she threatened to post screen shots of our past text messages. That struck me as odd—why would she do so, and why would I care? Threats aside, I declined Luna’s invitation to a beheading. I had no knowledge of these strangers; for all I knew, they included sock puppets. They certainly had no knowledge of me.

Tricia Nixon's feverish flame war brought Luna’s compilation to four links. Two of these concerned BDSM scenes that were nonsexual. The other had been well known for more than a decade. So it was that an anonymous broadside intended to depict me as a “sexual predator” relied on the testimonies of four individuals with whom I had never sought nor engaged in intercourse, repackaged by a woman with whom I now refused to have sex.

Luna disseminated her broadside widely, hiding her identity behind the unattributed guise “calloutcommunitypost.”

At the same time, Luna redoubled her efforts to divide the Foreplay! community, insisting that no matter one’s own positive experiences with me—indeed, no matter her own positive experiences with me—I was secretly a bad person. As word of her actions spread, I decided to hand the open mic to another host. I believed the community was more important than either of us.

Not surprisingly, most people who received Luna’s anonymous broadside responded viscerally to her carefully crafted vitriol. Few would bother to read closer or investigate further.

The anonymous broadside caught the attention of a reporter, who contacted me for an interview. She wanted to write a profile on me for a class at the Columbia School of Journalism, supervised by the school’s dean, a respected journalist who would act as editor of the piece. At first, I ignored the request, thinking it would be foolhardy to comment on Luna’s anonymous campaign, particularly with a stranger. Eventually, I was persuaded to meet. The reporter told me she was concerned with larger issues, not break-up gossip. She offered a disinterested view. I was impressed by her integrity and process, and agreed to participate. In effect, I allowed her to fully investigate and narrate my story. She warned the results would be honest and not necessarily flattering. I replied that I preferred transparency to flattery. I braced myself for the results.

The reporter interviewed many people, including Luna and Tricia Nixon. When the profile was concluded and edited by the school’s dean, the reporter permitted me to read it and make a limited number of copies available to interested parties, including the reporter’s many interview subjects. The reporter found nothing of substance in Luna’s unsigned broadside. I offered her profile publicly beginning in February twenty-seventeen. The public offer was concluded some time ago.  

When I began to circulate the investigative reporter’s profile, I was contacted by people who illuminated Luna’s continued behavior against me. This came as no surprise: the litmus test of a relationship’s toxicity is how toxic it remains after you’ve left it. Yet I was stunned to hear from others Luna had similarly targeted.  

Luna had many sexual relationships during the time we were friends, including one with a comic she admired. We regularly talked about their relationship, which she told me she regarded more seriously than her casual hook ups. As it happened, not long after I broke up with Luna, the comic also broke up with her in favor of another relationship.

In retaliation, Luna anonymously posted his full name, photograph and other personal information online, decrying him as a sexual predator. She railed that he had multiple partners and shared photographs without permission, apparently missing the irony of making this condemnation as she did precisely that. She exulted that she was organizing other women to harm his reputation. The comic immediately recognized Luna as the attacker. He had her IP address.

Luna went further in her anonymous attacks. In a bizarre twist, she contacted the comic’s former girlfriend and, using intimate information he had privately shared, posed as another woman he had dated. Thus disguised, with a tone of sisterly solidarity, Luna offered purloined photographs and entrusted secrets in an effort to elicit an ally in talking trash about the comic.    

The comic was contacted by his former girlfriend. They easily identified this new “friend” as Luna. They had her IP address.

Such stories abounded. Luna gossiped at clubs, trolled websites and contacted venues—generally anonymously, always professing community concerns—to allege that numerous men and women in the comedy scene were sexual predators. Some targets of Luna’s ire were people she had fucked in the restrooms of the same venues she now hoped to influence.

Hearing these stories, I felt some sadness for Luna. She had physically attacked me and relentlessly undertook to damage my reputation. Still, I empathized that she acted from hurt. I hoped my former fucking-and-drinking buddy would find peace.

I was nonetheless angry to learn she used me and my stories to harm others. She was concerned primarily with disseminating her righteous upset, no matter who was hurt in the process, no matter that her crusade betrayed trusts, fostered hearsay and relied on deceit.

Such were my feelings when I was contacted by a stranger. Susan introduced herself by saying that while we had never met, she had heard Luna’s stories about me and others through the twisted grapevine of the city’s comedy scene. Luna’s stories had caught her attention when they struck close to home—Susan was the woman the comic dated after breaking up with Luna. We traded a few wary notes. If Susan wanted me to commiserate about her boyfriend’s experience with Luna, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t really know him. Luna was well in my past.

After several exchanges, we agreed to meet. Cautiously, Susan began to lay out the story of her life. She’s a survivor: you name it, she’s survived it. Now, she’s in her early forties and doing well for herself. She makes a good salary working a corporate job she enjoys. After years of telling her stories to friends, she recently began to tell them on stage. Revealing her storied past is risky, she knows, but she owns her experiences. They inform who she is. By being vulnerable on stage, she feels stronger in coming to terms with her struggles, failings and successes. She thinks she’s got a book in her.

I heard that.

Susan thought to contact me after Luna’s anonymous broadside was published in a Facebook group formed for New York City storytellers. Luna had sent it to the group’s administrators hoping to do further harm to me. (She succeeded. I was summarily banned from the group solely on the basis of Luna’s defamatory attack. The administrators did nothing to investigate her anonymous broadside, not even to determine its author or her motives, and offered me no opportunity to respond or appeal.) Luna’s inflammatory words were triggers for Susan, and, she suspected, no doubt others among the nearly five thousand members who use the group primarily to discuss storytelling shows. It also struck her as essentially unfair that I was not permitted to speak on my own behalf. This led her to wonder: what was my side of the story, anyway? I had largely remained quiet on the subject in public.

Luna’s anonymous broadside brought me to a stranger’s attention, just as it had with the journalist. I once more offered a timeline of events as I knew them, as outlined here and elsewhere.

Susan added more that I didn’t know. While the comic was dating Luna, he had sent her photographs of Susan in the hope of sparking a threesome. This was done without Susan’s knowledge or consent. Susan, who had never met Luna, declined the suggestion. After the comic broke up with Luna, she attacked Susan, posting an intimate photograph, her full name, references to her storied past, her current career and her sexual activity.

“That’s revenge porn,” I interrupted.

“Yes,” Susan agreed.

“That’s a consent violation,” I went on. “What’s more, it’s criminal: revenge porn is a felony in a majority of states. That’s jail time.”

“But not in New York State. Trust me, I’ve looked into it.” Susan went on to say that she had no idea the post was even out there until she was interviewed for a six-figure job. The job was a cinch pending a routine background check. That’s when the company discovered the post. Susan was denied the job due to Luna’s revenge porn. She has a letter to prove it.

“And you’re sure it was posted by Luna?” I asked.

“I have her IP address,” she confirmed. The whole thing pisses Susan off. But she survives, she says, adding” “That’s what I do. I survive.” She went on to land another six-figure job. But here’s the part she says she can’t forgive: “Luna goes around railing about rape culture, wrapping herself in the mantle of third-wave feminism. All the while, she’s anonymously knocking down a woman she’s met exactly once—one time!—even costing her a job, precisely by engaging in consent violations, shaming, harassment and revenge porn . . . that’s the epitome of rape culture. All because she lost a boyfriend. And don’t get me started on the other thing.”

“There’s not more,” I replied, rapt.

“Oh, yes. The fun never stops,” Susan said. “Turns out I’m a rapist.”

“You don’t say.”

“I had sex with a woman Luna knows,” Susan explained. “Word got back to Luna and then she’s telling everyone I raped this person. The woman hears this, gets pissed, and confronts Luna, saying the sex had been consensual and the story had been told in confidence. This woman had fun! We’re friends! And still Luna goes around saying, oh Susan, you know, she’s a rapist because, you know, rape culture.”

I sat back. “You have a book in you,” I marveled.

In the following weeks, I spent more time getting to know the woman Luna sent my way through her own relentless, obsessive attacks, becoming friendly with someone who would otherwise be unknown to me.

Recently, Susan contacted me, upset. While on a business trip, she was called into a meeting with her employer. The company had been sent an anonymous email detailing Susan’s storied past and including numerous explicit photographs. Susan listened mortified as the company CEO went on. She was assured that the company values her. They don’t care about vicious anonymous emails. The company fully supports her. Susan’s job is secure.

The CEO went on to inform Susan that the company’s attorneys replied to the email with a cease and desist letter.

“Of course they did,” she laughed. “They have Luna’s IP address.”      

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