On feeling sick about it
Today I feel sick because I went back through the transcript of my interview with Russell Brand and Helen Mirren, when they made a film together in 2011, and it was full of lovely quotes from Helen about how nice Russell was, how caring, and also lovely quotes from Russell about how nice Russell was, how caring, and I had written it all down and lapped it all up and published it in a women’s magazine.
Even though I had read his Booky Wooks and seen all his shows and now, when I see things quoted from that same material, that same time, I feel sick.
But I wrote it all down for a free magazine that gets given out at stations, so any woman could have picked it up and seen it on the commute home from work, any woman who would have ended up going to one of his shows and being sucked into the vortex and left splintered by the man who is officially caring and has some very, very scary lawyers if you seek to dissent from that view.
I wrote several pieces about that man. None were in protest against him.
I feel sick when I think about the yellow boots I wore to the interview, shiny things from Zara, and how much he liked them, those kinky boots, and how years later I still couldn’t throw them out, even though the shiny material was cheap and ripped and now looked awful. (A friend actually threw them in a skip in front of my eyes and said I had to get over the fucking things.)
He was a very charismatic man and the most exciting thing to happen to mainstream media for some time. You can look back and say you never liked him, always thought he was lame, gross, whatever, and perhaps you always did.
But I was interested.
I was also worn down after growing up and coming of age in a culture that had convinced me the way to get anywhere near the level of power that charismatic men had was to go along with their cheapening of women. I don’t think I thought I was doing this at the time, as I would always have proudly called myself a feminist. But looking back, I was. It was where the power was. The joke.
“Why do women wear make-up and perfume? Because they’re ugly and they smell.” I told that joke to everyone.
I feel sick because I have just read a conversation between Sara Pascoe and Katherine Ryan, where they had tried to talk about this on a podcast some months or years ago but they didn’t want to get sued so hadn’t named the predator they were describing. And Sara had said to Katherine, ‘Do you ever get that thing where you do a show with some guy in comedy and a member of the public messages you afterwards and says “that’s my rapist.”’
I think of some of the other famous men I have interviewed and wonder how many people saw my articles, saw those men’s photos on the cover of a magazine, and thought “that’s my rapist.” I wonder how many lies the rapists told me and I wonder how many of them I published. I feel sick.
Not all men are rapists. There is a particular drive for power that comes with the drive for fame, and the industry I work in is swimming with people who are here to make sure the normal rules don’t apply to them.
I always think other people should report their rapist, and I think this so often that I actually forget that I didn’t report mine. The thought of reporting him is as wild to me as suggesting I move to Tibet. I still rang him afterwards, still wanted to see him, the hole in my soul trying to make it alright, trying to create a relationship that could justify this sinking feeling of a precious part of me being dead before it had even had a chance to live.
I was the one who went round there, who snuck out in the night. I remember saying no. I remember thinking afterwards that I must have said it too quietly. But I had not said it too quietly. It’s hard being fifteen. I then spent a decade thinking I had said it too quietly because it’s also hard being 25 and 35 and 45 in a culture that is awfully quick to tell you to hush now and have another drink, make it go away.
I feel sick because I remember not being quite able to believe he had raped me because he had also, in the days preceding it, introduced me to the music of Teenage Fanclub and 808 State. He listened to the same radio shows as I did, ones that had made me slightly obscure at my school. This created a bond. You don’t know which bonds are which when you’re fifteen. Is this the good bond? Is this the whole bond? Are you my rapist?
And this was the 90s and the culture supported it. I thought it would be different by now but rape convictions are so low as to be almost non-existent in this jurisdiction. They have effectively legalised it. I feel so sick, I have spent the whole weekend feeling sick.
I think of the men I myself have loved and feel sick again.
I think of the women I grabbed when I was partying a lot and how it crossed a line, on two occasions, with one of them. I think about finding out, later, how it had been for her. It had not been fun for her, what I was part of, what I did, what I thought at the time was funny.
It had been very dark indeed.
Am I her rapist?