As a young man I was the victim of unwanted sexual attention from someone in Hollywood. In the intervening decades I never told anyone what happened. I know the name of the man who did this to me, but I am not sure what to do with that.
I landed a summer internship with a major studio, out of a Midwestern college in the 1980s where people simply did not talk much about sexuality. One of the only men at the school who was open about being gay was considered something of a political celebrity on campus. I am a straight man, what today people dismiss sarcastically as boring CIS binary old white bread.
I knew no one in California. The man who played me was in a position to help me in all sorts of ways, and he sometimes did. He was generous with advice and what seemed to be friendship. Things changed as I remember him showing me the thick binders of aspiring actors and actresses’ head shots, him lingering on the beefcake images and making jokes about how he knew a no-name young shirtless actor, who since went on to some modest roles. The man complimented me on the way I looked, and “accidentally” touched my arms, especially on the days I wore short sleeves. I was very naive and it wasn’t until the invitation to take a drive out into the desert that I finally realized what was happening.
I distanced myself from him via a rotational program that sent me to another office. It never occurred to me to say anything. For anyone who questions the value of Human Resources in 2017, it was called just Personnel then and did little more than process tax forms. After I moved to the new department, the man called me a few times, showed up at my new office to “say hi” more than once, and invited me to lunch, parties, events, and a place he kept in Palm Springs long after he knew I would say no. He was older than me, and married to a woman at the time. He wrote me a nice letter of recommendation, which I shamelessly and selfishly used to get a future job.
After I left California, he sent me occasional photos, often just in beachwear. A string of late night phone calls that woke me up, always with an apology that he’d mistaken the time difference – again – between California and the east finally made me realize who I was and what he was when he looked at me like a meal. I think my new-found hostility coupled with his growing boredom (perhaps there was a new intern?) convinced him to leave me alone.
I never heard from him again after that last unwanted call. I have had no contact with him for decades, and I wonder if he would see this article if he’d even have any idea who I am.
I don’t think of myself as a survivor, or anything like that. But some of my adult bitterness has roots in what happened. Nobody just walks away. I did learn a lot. I learned about fear and insecurity, and because I was ashamed of myself, I learned how to keep my mouth shut while for years people said to me in response to all sorts of terrible things in the news “Well, you don’t know what it feels like” when I did.
I wrestled for some time with the idea that I had done something wrong – this took place in a world away when even in Hollywood people didn’t show all their cards to strangers, and some careful back and forth signaling was not uncommon if one party found another of the same sex attractive. Maybe I sent out the wrong signals, maybe I didn’t realize I had to say no unambiguously much earlier than I finally did. Maybe at some level I enjoyed the attention, drawing a line in my mind that didn’t exist in his between the non-sexual and sexual.
The events of the past weeks brought all of this back from the dark place in memory where I had left it. I was able to make peace with myself long ago, but the complexity of emotions these days still surprised me.
It took me a moment to pull his name forward, though his face came readily into my mind once I let that happen. Some Googling of a person I had not thought of for many years tells me he’s still in the movie business, doing well, though by no means an A Lister. You’ve heard of some of the projects he has worked on, and he is very active with charities. Turns out he played an important behind-the-scenes role in a TV series I really enjoyed watching with my kids when they were younger. He has some minor connections with the Democratic party. In the current climate, the story might make the news.
If I say his name.
I tried to think why it would make sense now to say who he is. If I said his name and Twitter caught it, I’d have a chance to tell everyone I did it for those who can’t stand up, to empower others, those things people seem to know just how to say now when the cameras come on. Maybe someone else would find comfort knowing they are not alone, but I really doubt the world needs my story to understand unwanted sexual attention is rampant. Maybe people would say I am brave and put me on a talk show. We don’t like to acknowledge it, but in 2017 there can be profit in being a victim, and sensationalism for its own sake is part of the world we live in.
Who knows, maybe the guy would Tweet out an apology, say he was ashamed of his former self, explain he has since gotten help or something, though that would be for him and the people close to him. I certainly don’t need it for anything. Humiliation isn’t zero sum. His wouldn't erase mine. There was never a chance of justice, not then and not now.
I can only speak for myself in saying the only reason I could really come up with to “name and shame” this man now is revenge.
Years ago he was in a position of power over me, and I convinced myself I had no choice but to put up with what was done. Times have changed, and in a way I’m now the one in power: he potentially has something to lose via my accusations while I have little to worry about in the current climate. I have the chance to use the power I have now to hurt him.
So yeah, #MeToo. But if me, too, means doing to him what he did to me now that I finally can, then, no, not me, too.
Peter Van Buren, a 24 year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan. @WeMeantWell