Now You See Me

November 6, 2013 Comments Off on Now You See Me

The other day when I logged into Facebook, a girl I’d sung with in high school had posted a news article about a former choir director being suspended because of a 20-year-old conviction for attempted sexual abuse of children. Here is what she had to say about it:

This breaks my heart. I don’t believe it for a second! I sang with his daughter and he even directed my choir. He is such a great director. All [name of our old choir] singers would agree!!

I work at a rape crisis center now, and I’ve learned all about victim blaming—or so I thought. But this is the first time I’ve seen how bitingly you can blame the victim without even trying, without even knowing who the victim is. See, this former director behaved inappropriately with me in private voice lessons.

He was maybe the greatest director I have ever had. Things I learned in his choirs have stayed with me and made me a better singer years and years later. Believe me, it breaks my heart that he of all people acted the way he did. But if you’ve never experienced a violation of trust like that from someone you deeply admire, you have no idea how much that breaks my heart.

Fortunately I went home, told my mom I was uncomfortable, and she suggested I not go back, and that was the end of it. I never had to deal with people who didn’t believe me, or with the fallout of accusing an upstanding and beloved member of the community of sexual misconduct. That’s why it was such a bolt out of the blue to have someone say about my story, “This can’t possibly be true. Every single person who knows this man would take his side against anyone else.”

The girl who posted this is extremely sweet and I always liked her a lot. I know she didn’t write it to hurt me; she just never knew I existed. She never knew there was a victim. And I understand that saying you don’t believe it is a way of expressing that heartbreak, more along the lines of “I can’t believe it” rather than “I don’t believe it.” But god, it hurt to read.

I sang with his daughter too. I know he’s a great director too. I don’t hate him and I don’t wish him ill. Here is my point: it is possible—because I’m doing it right now—to acknowledge that he was the best director I ever had and that I’m pretty sure he was a genius and that I loved being in his choirs while at the same time acknowledging that he was guilty of really awful misconduct. It is possible to hold two apparently contradicting ideas in your head about the same person. That’s what truth is: it’s complicated and counterintuitive and sometimes it doesn’t come anywhere close to setting you free.

The comment thread on her post is full of sad people talking about how he’s such an example of having learned his lesson. Well… I’d love to agree, but no. People with his problem are notoriously difficult to reform. Chances are excellent that I am not the only person in twenty years that he’s taken advantage of. The sad part is not how society can’t let people off the hook once they’ve learned their lessons. The sad part is that society thinks people learn their lessons. The sad part is that society’s first reaction on hearing about a man molesting children is “oh, that can’t be, we like him.” The sad part is that people say things like “I don’t believe it for a second,” as if tweens often conspire to frame respected community members out of spite.

I didn’t write this to shame people for feeling regret about the way things are. I wrote this because I hope that everyone will remember that people are complicated, and that despising and condemning one aspect of them doesn’t mean that you can’t still admire what you always admired about them. I hope that people will think twice before assuming someone’s innocence at the expense of their victims. It was very hard to write this—and would’ve been harder if my experience had been worse—just because one person I knew a long time ago tossed off a Facebook status about it. Don’t put that burden on victims, especially invisible ones. No matter how much it broke your heart that this news has come up, I can guarantee I feel worse than you do (for many reasons). Someone commented, “This situation is so unfair.” Actually, it isn’t. You don’t have to like it—I don’t—but it is not unfair.

And if you sang with me in high school and you hate me a little bit for this post, that’s okay, especially if it means that when your best friend or your sister comes to you with worse news than mine, you might choose to say (and think), “I believe you,” rather than “But he learned his lesson twenty years ago.”

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