Trigger warning: this post and the links therein contain descriptions of physical and sexual abuse, as well as consensual BDSM in some cases. If any of that stuff bothers you, you should take care of yourself as best you can and feel free to skip this post.
If you live in Canada and/or follow the news, you’re probably aware that a HUGE scandal broke here this week. Media personality Jian Ghomeshi has been accused of physically abusing multiple women behind closed doors.
Normally this isn’t the sort of thing I’d write about here, but I am, for two reasons: a) the story has become unfairly entangled with consensual BDSM and I’d like to help reverse that however I can, and b) if I’m honest, this story has affected me profoundly on an emotional level, even more than these violence-against-women stories usually do. Maybe it’s because it happened in my own city, or because I’d seen so much of Jian and he always seemed like such a normal guy. Maybe it’s because the good, upstanding in folks in my sex-positive, kinky communities are getting conflated with abusers in the wake of this mess. Or maybe it’s just because violence is always a horrible, difficult thing to encounter, no matter how indirectly.
In any case, for those of you who haven’t been following the story, or who have but are interested in knowing more, I’ve compiled this reading list. It contains links and articles I think are important to understanding the full scope of what’s gone on. Feel free to pick through it, read what interests you and skip the rest. And if you start to find any of it difficult to read, don’t feel you have to slog through it. You do what you have to do to take care of you, okay?
• First off: if you need some context for who Jian is and what he does (professionally, not criminally), you can take a look at his Wikipedia page or his website. Basically, he’s a widely-known, widely-broadcasted radio and TV personality who hosted/co-founded a show called Q, which focused on arts, especially music.
• One of the things Ghomeshi is most known for is this interview with Billy Bob Thornton. It was applauded at the time because Thornton acted totally unreasonably and Ghomeshi kept calm and dealt with it well. We even watched this clip in one of my journalism classes last year as an example of good interviewing skills.
• One of the first pieces of evidence to surface about Ghomeshi’s abusive habits was this article by xoJane contributor Carla Ciccone. It doesn’t allege any violence, just creepy non-consensual touching and stalker-ish behaviors. Ciccone never outright identified who she was writing about, but many details led people to believe it was Jian, including the references to his book and band, the brand colors of his show, and – yes – his quiet reputation as a creep. Plus there’s this tweet, in which he says exactly what he says to Carla in the article.
• On Friday, it was announced that Ghomeshi would take time off to deal with “personal issues”. He had recently lost his father, so some people in my community speculated that perhaps he was depressed from that grief, though we were surprised it could be so bad that he’d need time off.
• Then on Sunday, the CBC changed their tune and said that Ghomeshi wasn’t actually taking time off for personal issues but actually had been fired, due to “information” they had learned about him. (Toronto Star investigative reporter Kevin Donovan has hinted that the Star will report on what exactly transpired over that weekend to cause this change.) Ghomeshi – or perhaps more accurately, his PR team – composed this Facebook missive claiming that he was fired because he partakes in consensual BDSM in his private life, and that the claims of non-consent all arose falsely from one “jilted ex-girlfriend.”
• Incensed by the usage of the word “jilted” as gendered code, Mandy Stadtmiller at xoJane wrote about other such coded terms and how they’ve been used to invalidate and insult women over and over again.
• For those interested in the literary references Ghomeshi makes in his statement, here’s some information about the Lynn Coady story he references alongside Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s from Coady’s Giller Prize-winning book Hellgoing. Incidentally, Ghomeshi was set to host this year’s Giller Prize ceremony, but was replaced by Rick Mercer after the allegations of violence were made.
• On Monday, the Star published a story alleging that three women had been physically attacked by Ghomeshi. The Star had been quietly researching the story for over a year. These women were all on dates with Ghomeshi at the times of their respective attacks but had not consented to what he did to them (punching, slapping, biting, choking). A fourth woman, one of Ghomeshi’s co-workers at the CBC, also alleged that he had touched her without consent and told her at work that he wanted to “hate-fuck” her.
• Law professor Brenda Cossman wrote an article explaining that Canadian law does not recognize consensual BDSM and causing bodily harm to another is always considered illegal, even if the “victim” consented. (It should be noted that this is probably irrelevant to Ghomeshi’s case, since he seems to have assaulted many women without consent – but this legal information may still be of interest to actual kinksters.)
• Indie musician Owen Pallett, who is (was?) a friend of Ghomeshi’s, spoke out in defense of the alleged victims and said they ought to be believed, not dismissed.
• A post called “Do you know about Jian?” talks about how Ghomeshi being “weird with women” has been quietly known about by many people for a long time. Scary to think that so many folks felt silenced.
• Prominent sex writers Andrea Zanin and Dan Savage both wrote excellent posts essentially warning readers not to conflate kink with abuse. Dan’s tweet sums it up nicely: “I oppose the demonization of consensual kinksters. I despise abusers who cover for their crimes by claiming to be consensual kinksters.”
• Wednesday night, the Star dropped another bombshell: eight women have now come forward about having been abused by Ghomeshi, including TV actress Lucy DeCoutere from Trailer Park Boys. This latest Star piece contains many unsavory details, so definitely skip it if you think it might trigger you – but it is an incredibly fine piece of journalism that seems hard to refute or explain away. If you’re wary of media outlets that use anonymous sources, maybe it would help to remember that it was the Star’s investigative team who also broke the Rob Ford crack scandal last year – using then-anonymous sources.
• One of the weirdest details in the Star story was about Jian’s teddy bear, Big Ears Teddy; two of the women the Star interviewed have said that Ghomeshi turned the bear around to face the other way before assaulting the women, saying, “Big Ears Teddy shouldn’t see this.” Jian has spoken before about the bear’s significance in his life and in easing his anxiety. Some folks in the #JianGhomeshi hashtag speculated that there could be something more sinister going on with that bear, like a hidden camera, but there’s no proof of that and it seems unlikely.
• Also on the topic of the bear: Twitter account @bigearsteddy has tweets dating back to April of this year that allege Ghomeshi is violent toward women. The tweets are written by someone who claims to have been one of Ghomeshi’s victims and might be a Carleton University media grad but they are unsubstantiated so it’s hard to know for sure. (I wonder if one of the women from the Star article is also behind this Twitter account.)
• Steffani Cameron wrote about Canadian sexual context and safety in BDSM.
• Dan Savage found and interviewed a woman who dated Ghomeshi and says she engaged in completely consensual BDSM activities with him. But, as Savage points out in his post, it seems that Ghomeshi’s MO was to get violent/aggressive with all his romantic/sexual prospects as a way of “asking” for consent to do more, so in the case of the woman Savage interviewed, it seems Ghomeshi just lucked out and happened to find a woman whose kinks matched his and who didn’t object to his “reckless, abusive and dangerous” approach. One consensual case doesn’t outweigh or invalidate the many non-consensual cases.
• Ghomeshi announced today that he “intend[s] to meet these allegations directly,” whatever the hell that means, and that he won’t be speaking to media about it anymore (although it seems he hasn’t spoken to media about it at all anyway).
I think those are the most important pieces of the story so far. If you’re interested in following how this plays out, the Star is probably your best source; their investigative team is out-of-this-world amazing and their coverage has so far been fair, balanced, and (I believe) accurate.
If you take anything from these events, I hope it’s this: we need to work together to create a world where abusers like Ghomeshi are publicly shamed and identified as he has been, and a world where victims don’t feel ashamed and silenced as his did for so long, and as some no doubt continue to.