Early last year, I buried a sense of helplessness and betrayal and moved on, away from the professional / activism drama. I hate hate hate drama. I don’t like it, I don’t need it, screw it. Then recently, I heard that the man who had turned my existence into sheer misery for standing up to his ways, didn’t stop there and tried to do the same thing to other people. When it was just about me, I walked away from it to save myself from the mega stink–but it is no longer about me. It’s about standing up together and being there for each other. I am writing this for the women (and men) who feel like they have no choice but to bite the bullet and shut up, I am writing it because I know the feeling. There is certain unspoken power in supporting each other, in telling our stories out loud. And yes, everything I say is my side of the story. It is subjective and personal, like any story any human being can tell.
When in 2014 I came to New York’s Le Poisson Rouge for a Content Creator Coalition event dedicated to justice for musicians, I immediately fell in love with the people and the cause. As a musician, I know very well that in the public eye, we are usually at the bottom of the food chain. Every lawyer and businessman and their dog attempt to lecture us and push us around, as if profits were the only thing that ever mattered, and music had no intrinsic or emotional value.
When you go to music industry events and conferences, you are exposed to a million catchy infomercials from everybody under the sun who wants your ‘content’ as faceless data and who knows a few mesmerizing buzzwords to unleash on your brain–but doesn’t give a damn about whether you live or die after you buy into their fairy tale.
Being aware of the problem but not knowing how to counter the massive devaluation of culture, I joined Content Creator Coalition (c3) eagerly–and to this day, I am tremendously honored that I was accepted as a part of the family. I am tremendously honored to have worked with amazing people giving their love, time, and soul to the cause of defending the dignity of people who make culture. I have made friends for life. I am grateful for their friendship, and I am thrilled to have contributed to the cause that continues to be an uphill, difficult battle.
I could write volumes of poetry about the importance of music to every human–the music that brings us joy and helps us cope with sadness–and about the importance of exposing and countering the dysfunctional business models that leave artists to beg or die. These words need to be shouted from the rooftops till our lips turn blue or till people hear, because most people don’t even know. The attack of the Silicon Valley mentality on the arts and on human soul is brutal, and they cover it up with smiley faces and happy keynote speeches about progress. The hypocrisy and the misinformation are stunning.
However. It is just as sad when one individual poisons an entire group whose cause is just.
Different people come to the world of artists’ rights from different places and for different reasons. Some are into the legislative change, some come from the business world, some are into grassroots activism, and some are into artistic and spiritual impact.
Me, I greatly care about soul, about general fairness, and about defending the weak from the predators. I come from the place of artistic and human dignity because I think that without dignity, nothing fucking matters.
Soooooooo, back in 2014, I was very excited to find c3 and join. Very, very excited. I was attracted to the conversation that was new to me, to the bright people, to the community of artists who were all interesting, hard-working people with distinct personalities. I felt like I hit the jackpot in terms of finding the right community for me. The people made me very happy.
Okay, yes, I felt that the Executive Director of Content Creators Coalition, Jeff Boxer, was somehow different from all the others. His jokes seemed extra lame, and meetings with him felt like dates–but he said all the right things about artists’ rights, and my peers seemed to completely trust him.
I didn’t grow up in America, I don’t think about life in terms of the notorious algorithmic ‘sexual harassment.’ I think we are a part of nature, and sometimes a person has romantic thoughts or sexual desire for another person, and that’s just life. I don’t think that in itself is outrageous or unnatural, even in a professional environment. Feelings are feelings. The yucky part is the imposition, or the violation of one’s physical space, or using power to manipulate another human being into submission (regardless of gender). Like with many other things in life, it’s all about freedom and respect.
So yeah, awkward it was. But I have a very high threshold for that kind of thing. I come from a culture that is big on sincere human relationships and frankly, I took pity on the guy. In my eyes, he was irreparably uncool and said things that rubbed me the wrong way all the time, but he seemed to be trying so hard that I made it a point to be nice to him, out of respect for what we were trying to accomplish for the good of all musicians. When business dinners felt like dates (which was, all the time), I tried to sweetly sway the conversation in the direction of work. When he blatantly deflected my work-related questions (‘nothing to talk about there!’) and told me stories about his life instead, I listened and tried to be a good friend. I really tried to see the good in him. When he attempted to play with my hand, I cringed. Yikes, his hand, yikes. But I just laughed it off as a blunder of an awkward man with poor social skills and hopefully good intentions.
When we went together to see the performance of another c3 member in New York (I didn’t intend to go ‘together’ but we had a chapter meeting that day–I was New York Chapter President–and he insisted that in-between the meeting and the performance he would come over and sleep on my floor, even though I was feeling sick that day and told him that I needed to go home and sleep after the meeting)… anyway, when we went to see that performance, he was acting like a possessive husband, scaring men away from me. I was very annoyed because I didn’t want anybody to even imagine the possibility of me with that guy. I have never given him any indication that I could even remotely be interested in him romantically. God, no. No, no, no. And again, no, no, no. So I was really annoyed with that possessive display–but again, I thought he was awkward, and in need of compassion. For better or for worse, I am very good at masking my irritation when I don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.
I used my high threshold to suppress any doubts I had: We had work to do, that’s what mattered! I treated Boxer as a friend (an annoying friend who was imposing himself on me and saying things that didn’t belong and flattering me so much that it could almost give me diabetes–but hey, the world is not perfect!) I assumed that he was something like a socially inept but harmless suit type who really wanted to be around musicians. Importantly, Boxer strongly emphasized his experience in organizing, and as somebody who had no such experience prior to c3, I had to take his word for it.
It was when Boxer started revealing his strategy to me and talking with what sounded like great contempt about my fellow musicians–behind their backs–when I started getting a really bad taste in my mouth. One time Boxer thanked me for keeping one of the artist members whom he seemingly despised ‘on the reservation,’ after said artist offered him help, unaware of his low standing. I am not on the algorithmic political correctness wagon at all but ewwww. Besides, all musician members, perfect or not, were volunteers. I put many hours into this thing, and so did my peers–and we were supposed to be upfront with each other. And even though Boxer was telling me that I was super special and super smart and that he sort of favored me (and others were, well, worse than me), I really didn’t like the idea of using others–all musicians with a soul and an honest desire to help–to achieve ANY goal, like they were a dumb ‘resource.’ Even the noblest goal. After all, I made fighting proverbial robots my cause, and I believe that people are neither machines nor resources–but personalities with souls, and need to be treated as such. Up until that time, I more or less trusted Boxer’s assessments of other people–he presented his opinions with great confidence–but after he started revealing what felt like complete contempt for some of my peers–strictly behind their backs–I started having doubts about his motives. I felt like I knew a dirty secret, and didn’t exactly know how to proceed.
And then Jeff turned on an extremely honorable (male) member of Content Creators Coalition who did absolutely nothing wrong in my opinion (on the contrary, his contributions to the group were huge) but who voiced his objections to the same manipulative ways that I found questionable. I had to speak up because witnessing what seemed to be absurd personal attacks on a man so honorable, was painful. It turned my stomach. Yes, Boxer was favoring me. Yes, he was promising me various side perks (like possibly getting me a company iPad, or taking me to meetings with ‘name’ people)–and if I kept my mouth shut, I would be probably typing this on an iPad surrounded by celebrities (LOL). But what I was witnessing didn’t feel right, it was sickening to me, more so in the context of an organization that was created by people with pure intentions, to fight for what’s right.
I am no fan of martyrdom but seeing an injustice is painful. One can’t be mistreating an innocent, honorbale person in front of me, I will open my mouth. And so I did. And no, I didn’t just go from nothing into the ‘open letter’ mode. I wanted to talk to Boxer in private, first–but he would just shake my questions and my objections off like I didn’t know what I was talking about and he didn’t have the time to explain.
When I openly spoke up in defense of that person (who later left the organization) in front of other c3 members, Boxer turned on me, like a dog from hell. He was acting as if he were a spurned lover. I abruptly went from his favorite pet, the most effective, hard-working, and reliable c3 member on the planet, to a crazy woman who had paranoia, who was bad for the organization and who could not get anything done. I think he did every trick on the book of framing. As the Content Creators Coalition Executive Director and Legal Counsel, he was in the position to set the context. He turned my innocent questions in acts of treason. He cornered me and made me isolated. I cried. I literally cried, and mind you, I am a very strong person who has done solo field research in Tibet, and who has gotten away from an abusive partner, and who has fought off a violent sex trafficker. And yet, I cried like a baby because I put so much love into this thing, and yet here I was, unfairly attacked from every direction and gaslighted, because one toxic motherfucker (imo) was setting me up to look crazy (imo).
Yes, I sought help and support from c3 President, and that’s when my biggest human disappointment happened. My concerns and my pain were handled in a way that made me the problem. The president of Content Creators Coalition consulted with Boxer on how to handle my complaints about um, Boxer. I was thrown under the bus, in the name of keeping the status quo and an appearance of order.
Melvin, this one is for you.
You are a musician from God. I believe that you were born with a good soul and that you were misled. I believe that people should be able to find their soul and make things right, even if mistakes were made. Melvin, you let me be subjected to public humiliation and let the bad guy tear me apart in front of other people (yes, I cried). You let my offender be the arbitrator, and you convinced yourself that it was the responsible, adult thing to do. I am still waiting for a non-bullshit, heart to heart apology. It’s okay to fuck up, it’s not okay to never find your soul. I do not seek blood or shaming, it’s not my thing. I realize I am not a perfect human either, and when I make mistakes, I, too, want to be treated with kindness. But you owe me a big ass fucking apology, and I fucking mean it.
Out of disgust over how my outcry was handled, I ended up resigning from the Content Creators Coalition Executive Board beginning of last year, and from the position of New York Chapter President, and from the organization altogether. I was tired and disappointed. I hate drama from the bottom of my heart, I don’t need it for any reason. When I was resigning, I said, “I certainly hope that no other women find themselves in a similar situation.” And I forgot about it. I decided to let them be, hoping that after being exposed internally, Boxer would be too scared to do it to somebody else.
When recently I heard other women share their own stories of Boxer’s peculiar and inappropriate ways–followed by an attempt to discredit the woman who complained and her defenders–two things happened. Firstly, I obviously felt bad for the other women with stories similar to mine. I absolutely believed them because I’ve been there. They were describing the same behaviors I have experienced, the same behaviors that made me uncomfortable and disgusted, the same ways of covering up one’s messes with aggressive verbal attacks on the victim. Evidently, some things don’t change. I even recognized the mannerisms.
UPDATED: Read the story by Chelsea Crowell here.
Nobody should be subjected to humiliation and helplessness like that–no man and no woman–and certainly no one in the context of a social cause that is noble and greatly needed.
But also, a part of me that felt dead since I gave up and resigned–suddenly came alive. The happy, innocent part of me that needed validation and camaraderie. I became free again. It feels horrible to be silenced, and it feels particularly horrible to be silenced if you are an artist and a generally strong person.
Back then, I chose to move on and focus my attention elsewhere – but in the background, there was still a feeling that I had been betrayed for no reason–until now. It’s gone. Now I am just happy.
— Tessa Lena (@TessaMakesLove) November 21, 2017
Some of you may remember last year when I shared my story of being sexually harassed in Nashville. I didn’t name him then but I am naming him now. #jeffboxer #c3 #MeToo #sexualharassment #endsexism #enough https://t.co/etydU3E4Qn
— Rosy Nolan (@Feministargaze) November 21, 2017
Photo credit: David Dyte