I hate me and so can you! Last September, roughly 72 hours before I was supposed to get on a plane to go to Conference 2016 I received a call from the executive director. It wasn’t a good call! Per the executive director someone had filed a complaint against me for sexual harassment. I was no longer welcome there as a patient advocate nor as an advisor. As near as I could gather from the limited details I did receive, it was sometime during Conference 2015 when I supposedly harassed my accuser. I was shattered and destroyed! I’m a nice, funny, supportive, good friend, hard worker, skier, gym rat, hiker, obsessive photographer, laid back, chronic pain, sarcastic, introvert, cookie connoisseur, loner, to tall chronic patient: I’m not a sexual harasser.
I had left Conference 2015 utterly impressed with myself. It was my first Conference as an advisor, the quality of my content was surprising me, I was more open and vulnerable than I knew that I was capable of, and most importantly, I had received an abundance of positive feedback from other patients that I had an immediate impact on with my story. I’m almost never proud of my own work, thanks to that one short phone call that was gone.
Let’s jump ahead to February 20th, 2017. My mom’s birthday. The day my Aunt Dianne, my mom’s older sister, died. Also, February 20th is the day that my accuser decided to go public with her accusations on Twitter. So, on my mom’s birthday, with the passing of my Aunt, I was being accused of sexual harassment on Twitter from someone who has blocked me on all forms of Social Media for years. I’m not going to lie; I was not at my best at that moment physically or mentally.
Let’s discuss some history for a second. My accuser and I have disliked each other for years now. We don’t get along at all, not at all! We have been fighting for so long that I don’t even remember what started our dislike of each other. In her defense, I have been a jerk towards her. Throughout my oddball life, I’ve had the opportunity to meet powerful people of faith, commitment, and hope, she is none of these things in my humble opinion. I know it’s childish and that I’m capable of so much more as a human but I figure why put effort towards her if I’m not going to get the same respect in return. That’s all I am willing to say regarding my opinion of her.
Back to my original story, being accused of sexual harassment. If this was a just world, all males would have to take an IQ/psychological test before being issued an account on Social Media, including me. My gender is horrible online, it’s that simple. I know not all males are trolls, but the most egregious and horrible seem to be. I am truly sorry but I have no idea how to change that…yet. I’m working on it. In the meantime, I’m going to risk the label of mansplaining in the hopes of using my story as a tool for good.
First, I think there are 3 types of sexual trolls people should be afraid of. First is the frat boy type. Think President Trump. Their ego is usually bloated because their parents are scary rich. They like to play the numbers, if the first girl doesn’t give in they move on to the next potential victim. Most of their so-called game comes from materialistic and flash, nothing substantial. A frat boy would never create a blog, share details about their health, or want to be a member of a disease community. Football, basketball, baseball, and current hip hop will be their only topics of conversation. This doesn’t sound like me.
The second type of troll would be the low self-esteem but loud voice type. Chances are these types have some sort of devil or “don’t tread on me” profile picture and that is it. They don’t care about anything but themselves. There is no right or wrong with these types, it’s “all the women want me and all the men want to be me” attitude. Think extreme Trump supporters. If I were a betting type, chances are it is this group that will kick my ass at some point in my life. When I get bored I love to see how quick I can get a physical or death threat from one of these types online. They have even a less understanding of the word “no” than the frat boy types. I’m certainly not this type of guy!
Finally, the third type of troll would be an obnoxious, shirtless, meathead type. Chances are this type is not going to be prone to violence or threatening online. They just have multiple pictures of themselves without clothes on. Most believe they are god’s gift to women so if you reject them you must be a lesbian. I have no pictures of me without a shirt on, nor will there ever be any.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying by any stretch that I’m incapable of sexual harassment. I know my place in the pecking order of social status. I’m not traditionally good looking. I’ve got the wing span of a bald eagle which means unless I eat 15,000 calories a day I will never have any arm gains. My head is big and my body’s frame is like Gumby’s. Thanks to huge growth spurts and bad joints, I’m not coordinated, traditionally athletic, nor graceful when I walk. Now with the addition of my inflammatory arthritis (RA), PTSD, joint replacements, and severe osteoarthritis I’m even more self-conscious. Long story short, I’ve never been nor will I be any girls #MCM (Man Crush Monday’s for you old people that don’t understand the Twitters). Sadly, I can vividly remember coming to this conclusion during Middle School. However, I also concluded at that time that the one thing I had to my advantage was my spirit. I could be everyone’s best friend, partner in crime, rock, or person you can always count on in a time of need or happiness. That was going to be my selling point in life. Lately though, I’ve started to doubt my one advantage in life.
Self-reflection by yours truly time. I got into the advocacy business thanks to a big-time leader in the arthritis community. At the time, I also developed a personal friendship with this person. She was married but we had a lot of similar interests and philosophies on life which made becoming fast, close friends easy. Being in a disease community dominated by woman, I tried hard to ride this leaders’ coat tails until I could establish myself as a trustworthy single male. I’m dumb but I’m not stupid, I fully understand that in this politically correct climate being a single male in a community dominate by women would lead to trouble if I was an ass.
Being in my 40’s and still single in the pop psychology t.v. culture of ours means I obviously have some issues. The good people are married or in a committed relationship by their late 20’s so what the hell is wrong with me. Personally, I use the excuse that I never learned how to put myself out there for girls to get to know. Pick your own diagnosis if you must, it won’t bother me.
Despite my issues, I still do like to flirt. This is especially true knowing full well that I’m never going to be some girls first choice to flirt with. I gain energy and confidence from flirting. More importantly, flirting buys me a moment or two away from my chronic pain. It is an excellent distraction technique along with building my self-esteem that has been robbed by my health. I fully admit that I use this pain management technique a lot, probably too much considering these accusations. I never set out to flirt with anyone that I didn’t feel like I had a comfort level with so they would know that my intent was pain control and not harassment. I’ve never closed an avenue of communication with anyone in the community just in case I did go over some social or personal line. My intention was never to harass, scare, intimidate, or other, it was mostly selfish, I just wanted to forget about my pain for moment!
Another technique I’ve used to forget about my chronic pain is to be a friend that gives without asking. One of my most proud moments as I look back over my career as a loser masquerading as an advocate was about 2 years ago. Since this post is partially about trying to defend my reputation I’m going to cheapen the memory by using it as evidence.
Shortly after leaving work one day I received a text from the leader that I thought at the time was a close friend. Her husband was going to meet his boss and one of the potential outcomes was him losing his job. While doing my best to be a supportive friend, I was also receiving direct messages on Instagram from another friend experiencing a horrible rheumatoid arthritis flare. In addition to helping these two, I was also trying to be a friend to someone with psoriatic arthritis and another person with lupus who were also going through terrible flares and texting me too. At no time did these 4 ladies know that I was helping with the others, I busted my ass that night to make sure each felt the necessary support to help them through the night. At no time did a message go unanswered for longer than a few minutes. At no time did I ever but my mental or physical health first because 4 friends needed me at that moment. Finally, at no time did I ever ask for a thank you, acknowledgement (public or private), or any other emotional, physical, or monetary compensation. My reward was knowing that I took my responsibility as a friend seriously so these important people knew they could come to me in their time of need. I’m happy to report the husband kept his job and the other 3 are currently fighting hard for their arthritis community.
In addition to this accomplishment, I’ve stayed up past midnight with a female patient that was having hip surgery the next day and wanted someone with surgery experience to talk too. I’ve skipped gym and ski days because a female friend from the community needed support. Yours truly has missed countless Daily Shows and Colbert Reports, which were life, because I valued helping if I could. Know that if I have ever talked to you privately after 10pm it’s because I put a huge value on our friendship. Currently, one of closest friends is a wife with multiple chronic conditions who I’m positive is being abused by her husband. If advocacy is about having to brag about simply being human to my patient friends in order to appease people like my accuser in order to avoid harassment charges then I’m out.
Throughout my short career as a so called advocate, I’ve been asked frequently why more males don’t get involved in patient advocacy. This experience is a perfect example as to why. I’m perfectly fine with Conference 2016 setting the bar of excellence at the moon. My arrogance won’t stop until I raise the bar to Mars on own. I now realize that I barely made it to Florida and should accept responsibility for my actions. However, my accuser should be held to the same level of responsibility. For the amount of time, effort, and mental and physical expense I’ve dedicated to the cause this doesn’t seem like an outrageous request. I had to result to cheap political tactics before someone stepped up to get her to shut up for a day so I could go to my Aunts funeral and be somewhat helpful to my mom instead of having to talk to my lawyer. Advocacy should be about life stories and working together, not judging others without so much knowing the intent or heart of others.
Of all the destruction, pain, hatred, and stress this has caused, the worst part is the loss of one friend that has left me profoundly sad and utterly disgusted with myself. I will forever have to live with the guilt of them calling me an asshole and claiming I had been unsupportive as a friend the last time we talked. That’s my loss. Despite this, I’m going to end this post on the audacity of hope.
The Friday after I got home from the funeral I was at work when I received an email from Angel (not her real name obviously but my accuser has threatened to spam anyone or any org associated with me from what I’m being told through the grapevine, again I can’t see her threats). Angel told me about how my accuser had viciously gone after her for no apparent reason too. At this point I should mention that Angel survived cancer. Luckily for Angel, the cancer community is insanely supportive of each other so the attempt to damage Angel’s reputation wasn’t received well. Angel closed her email by saying “I know you would never intentionally hurt or offend someone. So I am here…”. That validation caused me to fall sound asleep on my desk. After reading her email another hundred times when I got home I slept for 15 straight hours. The power of patients helping patients is simply amazing!