In a culture of such rampant toxic masculinity, the litany of sexual abuse women endure is mind-numbing. It’s tragic how many have been desensitized by an onslaught of media messaging and gross interpersonal experiences, brainwashed into believing that our worth is – either wholly or in large part – based on the level of rise we provide in a given man’s pants.
When I was trying to break into acting, my first commercial gigs were a three-part series made for the American Cancer Society, by a producer named Tom Jones, who worked at KGW. I shared this story a year ago, because thanks to the disgusting Roy Moore scandal, the experience came to mind.
Around the same time that these flickers of memory resurfaced, I received a survey from “the progressive independent day school” Catlin Gabel, asking alums what we thought about upcoming tuition hikes. A quick search shows the current annual cost to attend ranges from about $26,000 for the preschool and kindergarten, to almost $33,000 per year, for high school. Back when I went, the price was less than half that, but even then it was absurdly expensive. My saving grace was getting a merit-based scholarship.
So, I responded to the survey. At the end, in the box asking if there was anything left to add, wrote a brief summary of what had happened with Tom, more than 20 years ago. I pressed send, wondering if any human would ever read it, then shelved the whole debacle in a dark corner of my mental archives.
Several months passed before I received an email from the current Head of School at Catlin. He was very much interested in hearing the rest of my story; we set up a meeting at a coffee shop. He brought an assistant, and I brought a friend.
The meeting took about an hour and consisted of them asking questions and taking notes. There wasn’t a whole lot to discuss, because the conduct that I described wasn’t extreme – just creepy and gross. I never told a soul when it happened, because I wanted to be taken seriously as an actor and for everyone to know that I’d gotten the job because of my acting abilities, rather than my sexual appeal to an adult, married man.
I did, however, spend lots of time in the counsellor’s office and experienced a bout of depression that came with a notable academic decline. I remember shutting down, physically unable to even stay awake in class. After some testing (to make sure that I wasn’t just dumb) the Head of School brought me into her office and told me if I wasn’t going to perform up to my obvious abilities, their scholarship dollars would be better spent on someone else.
The Catlin administrators wanted to be sure that there was no inappropriate touching involved. I didn’t recall, couldn’t guarantee it. Then they thanked me for sharing my story and promised to circle back to me after further investigation.
A couple weeks later, they emailed, asking to meet again, in person. They wanted to discuss the revelation in their findings: Tom Jones wasn’t one of my high school cross-county coaches. But during my sophomore year, a woman named Amy Jones was. His WIFE! It was his WIFE who was the assistant coach.
“What the heck was her husband doing in the mix?”
They wouldn’t discuss it via email, so I met the administrators for coffee a second time. According to their records, Amy Jones was the assistant coach during the year of my nosedive end ensuing exit from Catlin Gabel. They had no record of any Tom Jones and seemed to thinly suggest that he might not even exist. The more I think about my meetings with the Catlin Gabel administrators, the more this particular point irks me. To have them imply that I was making the whole thing up, is maddening. Conveniently – for them – they had no contact information for their former employee, Amy Jones, so there was no way for them to corroborate my story.
I don’t know how Tom was permitted to prey on the students, but HE WAS THERE. And he liked spending as much time as possible with me, alone. He told me I was special, so mature for my age… He said I had tremendous potential. And – grossest of all – he said he was falling in love with me. This is not this kind of thing that you forget. It was a Big Fucking Deal, and from my limited understanding, in order to be a successful actor, this was something I had to handle a hundred percent on my own. Perhaps the most humiliating aspect of what happened was when Amy called my home to tell me to stay away from her husband.
It’s a bit haunting to have such extreme examples of this same disgusting behavior playing out in the media. This means what has happened to me is not the exception – IT’S THE RULE. Toxic masculinity is a cultural epidemic and those who attempt to cast doubt onto victims, many of whom are for the first time bringing their worst experiences into the light, are serving ONLY to exacerbate the problem. Blocking/unfriending seems like an obvious must (see today’s example, below). But the question then still remains: How do we effectively communicate with these folks? Serious question. There must be something more constructive than total and complete avoidance.
Oh and to any parents out there considering sending your kids to Catlin Gabel? They’ve assured me that the pool parties at the coach’s house are no longer allowed.