A few words about Russell Brand, and how this all about a lot more than Russell Brand.
Greetings from a bookshop, where I am, once again and probably against all better judgment, simply writing what I think and publishing it without sending it to a focus group. I’m reading comments here.
I also posted this to Facebook if you’d like to comment and share over there. It was too long for Instagram so I’m linking IG to this post here on Patreon.
(Heads up, this post is a graphic and emotional read).
If you missed the news, Russell Brand (the UK writer/actor/comedian) was me-too’d this last week. The allegations are serious and I believe the survivors. You can read about it here.
A few weeks ago, my high school groomer, the man who sexually assaulted me when I was fourteen (I liked, at the time, calling him “my corruptor”) passed away.
He lost a lifelong battle with addiction.
As a teenager, I wrote my first significant handful of songs about him, about what he did, and how horrible and disorienting it all felt. One of those songs wound up on The Dresden Dolls first record. I was fifteen when I wrote it.
It was this guy who first – tragically – taught me how to transform the pain of sexual harm and confusion into art, to transform violence into a good little goth song, into an offering I was allowed to give the world.
I never spoke a word about he did to my teachers, the school, my family, his family. I still feel the tenterhooks of oncoming kerfuffle even writing the words in this post, lest I offend his parents and siblings.
But here I go. I’m not very afraid of anything anymore.
In the wake of his death, a handful of women from my hometown who knew of our old connection reached out to me. There was a miniature ocean of Me Too conversations. Over texts and phone conversations and in-person walks, we mourned the tragedy of it all: what he did to us and our whole community, what he took from us, the extreme sadness. And for me, man….how comforting it was, seriously, to feel seen and recognized by his fellow survivors.
But now what?
His death sent me down a long few weeks of deep contemplation; about harm, about accountability, about men, about our culture. I spent all of 2019 touring a show (“There Will Be No Intermisson”) about abortion, grief, sexual assault, and how we manage to survive in the face of everything.
I had no idea, back then, how much worse it could get. What I’ve seen and heard since then, in my personal life and over the internet, has made all that seem like a cakewalk.
So many women (and men) told me their painful stories when I was on the road. Stories of dads who had raped their daughters. Stories of being trapped in cars. Stories of sexual violence so horrific it would take my breath away, every time, and I would find myself staring at the sky thinking HOW, HOW, HOW.
And still it happens. Every day. I have been ringside to yet more of these stories lately, and have thought a great deal about the lengths a community, a workplace, a fandom, and a family will go to in order to protect a man’s reputation and a family‘s good name. The cost of telling the truth is massive, the cost of staying silent so often feels more affordable on every level. We are taught not to rock the boat and stain the fragile ecosystem. It’s easier to stay silent. It really is. But it keeps the cycle of violence intact.
I just posted a variation on the below as a comment on Neurodivergent Rebel’s post about Russell Brand, and the comment kicked off such a good discusson that I am bringing it over here.
We were asked in the original post if we were “surprised” by the Russell Brand accusations.
Nobody should be “surprised” anymore when a man in power is outed for abusing that power to get sex from whoever is proximate and to commit acts of sexual violence that they hope will be immediately excusable, and accountability escapable.
We all know how common it is, we have all seen the statistics at this point, and we all know – tragically – how very rarely powerful men are held to account when they do stupid shit.
In the case of Russell, he’s been really open about his many dicey life choices, so it would be weird to be “surprised” here.
But the interesting part of this story unfolding will be about whether he will – at any point – actually open up about his past behaviors and find a way of threading a more honest story together.
He’s a really smart guy. He knows how to create a moment that matters. The world would hold it.
Call me naive, but I feel Russell could use this moment to take hat in hand and admit he’s done harm. He’s done recovery work; the same rules apply. Amends. Honesty. Transparency.
It’s the only way out of this hell realm for all of us.
I met and podcasted with Russell in 2019 and he was nothing but kind to me. I have the feeling his behavior has probably evolved for the better since the time these assaults allegedly (and in my opinion, probably) happened. That’s good, if it’s true. People who have done stupid shit can evolve.
What’s not good is if the whole thing goes away in a mess of smoke and faffing of hands around “cancel culture”. It’s a red herring.
I think the world has matured to the point where we are ready to see men come out and openly admit their harmful actions, talk about their struggles and their sex addictions, their deep insecurities, their massively stupid and hurtful mistakes, and I think we are ready to create a space for healing, forgiveness, and eventually, a massive change in the way the whole culture works.
We have to change the way this all works, or our kids will simply continue the spin cycle of terror.
I eventually forgave my high school groomer/predator. I told the story on stage, every night, in 2019. One night in Portland, Oregon, at The Crystal Ballroom, a woman screamed at me: “AMANDA PALMER ARE YOU SERIOUSLY SAYING WE SHOULD FORGIVE OUR RAPISTS?!?”
The room of 800 people all starting screaming at her, and at each other to shut up, and at me to do something.
I sat down at the piano, put my microphone in its holder, and said nothing for thirty seconds while the audience carried on in chaos.
That moment feels like a microcosm of the whole world right now.
I eventually picked up my mic.
Yes, I am saying that.
I forgave my rapists (surprise, I’ve had more than one!). I didn’t condone or endorse their horrific actions, and I would have loved to see them punished and reformed.
I didn’t wanna hang out with them, and I wasn’t ever gonna invite them for Thanksgiving dinner, but I forgave them.
I know enough now about men and their wounds and traumas to know that the poor kid – who was seventeen at the time – who tied me to a table in a basement when I was fourteen was just swimming in a sea of unhealed pain. His mom was institutionalized (which I only just learned). He was unhealed, lonely, angry, lost. I imagine the same is true of any man who commits sexual violence. It comes only from a place of lack and fear. I imagine that the guy who raped me when I was 20 was probably similarly lost.
My hope for all of us to progress would be to see Russell – and any men who commit sexual violence – simply held to account.
To hear honesty.
To hear the truth.
To hear real apologies.
To feel true accountability.
To hear true understanding about the deep and rippling harm it causes women and their echoing networks of friends and families when this stuff happens. Maybe then these men can un-lose themselves. We have to be ready to help them if they are ready to do the work.
Sexual violence has a hardcore ricochet effect, and the bullets and broken glass keep flying all over the place after the act. The pain is endless and the pain effects everyone, everyone in the world.
I would love to see Russell tell the truth. And that shouldn’t mean Russell has to be cancelled into oblivion and shot to the moon. He has art he could still offer, and if he wanted to work through all this, I, for one, would like to see what he’d make in the wake of a true reckoning.
If men were simply held to account for the stupid shit they do in this arena, things would change, drastically. We would see real progress.
If men were held to account, every single time, and over a long span of time, men would eventually understand that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated by a sane and just society. My lips to god’s ears, anyway.
My long-held stance: radical compassion for all beings, always. For Russell, for these women, and all those affected by the endless tendrils of violence.
May we find a way out.
Men: we are looking at you.
Please don’t leave us to do all the excruciating work here. Please don’t leave us to be the ones stewing and agonizing in the false safety of silence in order to protect the kids, protect the family name, protect the company, protect the firm.
Help us out.
Just be more honest.
It is time.