The Stalker

A few days ago, I posted an article about Lily Allen on my private Facebook page, with some comments about my own experience of stalking in 2014. I was then contacted by the journalist Nadine McBay of The National to talk more freely about it. (Article – here )
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I have not spoken about this in any detailed way before, partly because I was a bit worried about doing so publicly, and partly because 2014 was the most batshite year of many of our lives and there was rather a lot going on back then… Also, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to. People can be a bit shit sometimes, either assuming that an experience like the one below makes ye some fragile flower that doesn’t want any contact at all from anyone ever, or, worse, they blame you for somehow encouraging the behaviour. Neither is ever true.

Don’t get me wrong, the whole experience made me feel vulnerable. But that was part of my anger at the situation. I am a performer, someone who has overcome deep self-doubt, shyness and uncertainty to stand on a stage and do what I do. To have someone exert power over me to the extent where the stage no longer felt safe was fucking appalling. But it didn’t stop me performing. And it never will.

My interview follows below, but first, I’d like to share the short segment from Ire & Salt where I talk about my stalker. Having explained, as I do below, that while 2014’s stalker was the most terrifying, and the only one that led to a court case; and while my stalker was clearly a very unwell man; the pattern of behaviour he displayed was unfortunately common. As we know, making art outta pain is sometimes cathartic, so I printed out an highlighted THREE DIFFERENT MEN’S correspondences, and watched the four-stage pattern emerge. This is a ‘found’ poem, meaning these are direct quotes, from my 2014 stalker, from someone I almost called the police on in 2013, and from an ex-turned-nasty in 2005:

How To Be A Stalker
Part 1: You are a beautifully souled car-crash of a woman I want to save and adore and own…

Part 2: You hurt my feelings last night, you little bitch. Stop playing games with me, you know we were meant to be together…

Part 3: I know you could call the police on me again, but I’m banking that you’re not so cruel…

Part 4: You are disgusting. You man-hating whore. You will be with cats forever. You will die alone.

Being stalked is nothing to do with your actual personhood. It is to do entirely with the presumptions a stalker makes about your personhood based on their various, competing assumptions. It is not reciprocated; it is un-wanted attention and obsession. It is obsession.

As above, and below, my last stalker assumed that my even being on a stage where he happened to be able to see me was part of an elaborate ‘courtship.’ The guy in 2013 assumed that my being on a stage was to hide an actual vulnerability that my on-stage ‘persona’ was hiding. (Translation: I was a “hard-as-nails feminist” who just needed to get fucked by a macho-guy. He said this in not so many words.)

It was about power. It was about gendered assumptions. And I guess, it’s about time I got all this out there. Thank you to Nadine for the interview, and to Claire Stewart from the Women’s Equality Party for her chats about policy earlier this week. Thank you also to the various folks who have emailed to say thanks to me for speaking about this. This was 2 years ago. One thing that has struck me since then though: I’ve had more than a few people say things like “I was going to come along to the gig and then speak to you  about (insert topic) afterwards, but I didn’t want you to think I was stalker!” or things like, “I wanted to ask you out for a drink but I didn’t want you to think I was a stalker…”

Folks; that is just about the worst way you could deal with my having had a stalker, as it puts all of the assumption of blame on me. I didn’t ‘think’ I had a stalker. I did. And if you make me uncomfortable, you’ll flippin know about it. If you ask me out for a drink and I say no in a totally friendly way and you send me poems telling me I’m a man-hating whore who needs shot? Stalker. If you ask me out for a drink? That doth not make you a stalker. If you come along to gigs, enjoy my shows, read my blog, occasionally converse online? Not a stalker. If you come along to my gigs with the express purpose of cornering me afterwards and telling me how you want to save me from myself with your man-ness, and do this repeatedly? Stalker.

Full interview follows below.
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Full interview for The National, 22/4/16

Why did you decide to post about your experiences – was it because people sent you the article on Lily Allen?

I used my experience of stalking as part of my last solo show (Ire & Salt) to highlight patterns of abusive power, so people know it’s something I’m actively interested in. But also, yes: I haven’t talked what happened in 2014 in a massively public way and it’s possibly only me and a couple others who know absolutely everything in detail… Most people know I had a stalker, and now no longer do, but I’ve never written anything other than a sort of ‘Phew! Thank God that’s all over’ type post when he was sentenced.

When did the guy start contacting you, and when did you realise that things were problematic?

In all honesty, I don’t know how or when he first came across me. I perform regularly so it’s hard to know. I first had him approach me at a gig in Edinburgh in March 2014; he kept trying to talk to me while other acts were onstage and I shushed him and was very uncomfortable. He seemed agitated and left muttering ‘Just talk to me!’ But I didn’t think too much on it.

He then turned up at my next 3 events, only one of which he approached me at, and I did start to think there was something seriously wrong with how this guy approached me (very obviously agitated and nervy but intense and demanding I give him attention), but there was no real way to know if he was just interested in spoken word, was just a slightly odd fan, or if he was a danger. Then he sent me an email asking for feedback on his poetry, one of which was dedicated to me and was clearly projecting an awful lot into our only brief exchange where I shushed him.

At my next event, he came up to me at the bar (I was talking to a friend at the time, who became one of my first witnesses) and demanded I read it in front of him. I was really, really uncomfortable, and my friend jumped in and he backed off. This was when I started actively worrying, but he didn’t approach me again that night. Then, he turned up at a gig in Edinburgh where I was supporting Aidan Moffat. This wasn’t a small, local scene type gig – it was a much different audience-base than the other events he had seen me at, most of which were either Yes campaign related or smaller, grassroots poetry events. I was with the guy I was dating at the time, and I clocked that my stalker was in the massive crowd, so my date and I just kept moving through the crowd until he was no longer in my sight-line. I performed, and then we left.

At this time, I was in the last month of my teaching contract at an Edinburgh high school. During my break on Mon 28th April, I received a highly threatening email from my stalker that started with a link to one of those Men’s Rights Activist list sites where they posit that women have set patterns of rejection and playing hard-to-get in order to ‘game’ men. He insinuated this is what I was doing, and said “You hurt my feelings last night, you little bitch” and to stop playing games with him and that I was “lucky” he wasn’t going to “throw the towel in” after how badly I was treating him. He went on to say he was coming to my next show, which was in Glasgow in two day’s time.

The first thing I did was start shaking like a leaf, then I forwarded this on to my friend, also a poet, who I had also made aware of the other ones too. She advised I instantly call the police, but I didn’t call Police Scotland directly at this point. I was free period 3, and went to speak to my line-manager, and also to the police officer attached to the school, who advised keeping a log of everything, and I was also advised to reply to this last email with an extremely short response categorically requesting that he cease all contact or I would contact the police. I did this. I received a short one sentence reply saying “Ok, best of luck.” And so I hoped for the best.

I was performing at an event as part of TradFest a week later and spied him in the audience during the first half. I was opening the second half. It was after this that the police became actively involved, on the advice of the school’s police officer, I phoned them the next day and they came round and took a full statement from me, contacted witnesses to this guy’s behaviour and also took a statement from my then flatmate and co-producer of Rally & Broad, Rachel McCrum as she had been parry to a lot of this too.

After coming round and taking these statements, I was also advised to forward my stalker’s photo, which was easily obtained as it was attached to his email account, to any promoters I had work for in the coming few weeks. I did this too, and one of them informed me that he had seen him before at spoken word open mics. The police were excellent at this stage, apart from one very silly comment saying I should just not advertise any events I was performing at in order to discourage him…. My stalker was cautioned at this point by the police. Apparently, he admitted wrong-doing, said he just hadn’t been sure if I was interested in him, and that he would thus stop contacting me. I was informed of this a few days later.

A week later, I received two more poems about me from him, and a plea not to call the police on him as he was “just a guy who likes you!” He also said he had spent his day watching my videos on Youtube and gave me comments about my appearance. He clearly wasn’t taking anything seriously at all, and was intent on getting my attention. I called Police Scotland and they arrested him for stalking. I can’t quite remember exact days and the like, but regardless, he pled guilty to the charge and was allowed bail on condition of not contacting me. Sentencing was deferred pending psychiatric assessment.

So, he was still out, and I was still scared. Despite him not contacting me, he had a very active presence online, uploading videos, a completely public Facebook account…. Rightly or wrongly, and still scared he would turn up at an event and try to take revenge for his arrest, I kept an eye on him…. And his output was frightening. None of this was allowed to be used against him, though as it wasn’t directly sent to me, but there were frightening comments about wanting to cannibalise poets; insinuations about lying to judges, and more besides. But he didn’t contact me and I awaited the sentencing, which was to take place in June, on tenterhooks.

The day came as did another email. He had gone to court, but left before seeing the judge. Look, he was seriously, seriously unwell as should be evident and I don’t in anyway want to take away from that, but he instantly contacted me again at what in his mind was the soonest he was ‘allowed’ to, as his bail conditions, in his mind, were only set until the court-date. He sent a short email saying he had gone to court but “nothing happened. Want to meet up?” and then half an hour later came another. He requested that we meet up for coffee and asked to meet at a cafe that was a block from my house as he spent a lot of time there, he told me. He said he really hoped I would because his life meant nothing without me.

I was raging and sad and terrified again. I instantly got in touch with the police via Police Scotland’s 101 number, recorded the incident number and was told that officers would contact me that evening to take another statement. That evening, no police came, but my flatmates and I were having some people over. Shortly before they arrived, Rachel came through with an email my stalker had sent to her. It was the most threatening one to date.

It posited that the Yes movement would benefit from someone murdering me and it being made to look like a suicide, which my stalker had based on a story he had read somewhere, he said. He demanded that Rachel “listen very closely” to what he was saying in the email and online. I called 101 again, and recorded this too. I was in bits. I heard nothing that evening and had a gig the following evening. Two days later, I phoned Police Scotland’s 101 line again, and had an extremely bad experience. The woman on the end of the line told me that officers had come to my address the night before, and I hadn’t been in. I told her I had been working, but that I’d really appreciate it if someone could please give me some advice and respond to the latest as I felt under threat and had no idea if he was dangerous to me. PLUS, he had skipped his court-case! She snippily replied that it wasn’t officers job to “fit in around your schedule.” I hung up. Burst into tears. Phoned back, got someone nicer.

They sent officers round and they took a statement and went and arrested him again. He was again given bail and a new court date set. His new bail conditions disallowed him from contacting me directly or indirectly, or contacting Rachel, or appearing at any event I was connected to at all. I continued to keep watch, of course. He was out and had proven before he didn’t take police or courts seriously. To him, it seemed an elaborate game and all part of my wily ‘courtship.’ All of this was me just playing hard to get…

The new court date was in August. I had Yestival, Rally & Broad, and tons of events that summer. And yes, you guessed it. He contacted me again. I was up in Aberdeen on the Yestival tour at the time, but he sent one final email that was of epic proportions, telling me I was making him miserable, that he knew I could put him in jail but he was banking “that you’re not so cruel.” This contact led to him being arrested for a third time and this time bail was refused. He was kept in jail until the court date a few weeks later. He was given a compulsory treatment order and time-served as he’d been in jail for a few weeks. He has not contacted me since.

When did they tell you that online harassment wasn’t enough? And that the stuff he’d uploaded which was about you but not directly sent to you, didn’t count?

The first time they came over I was told that if it had just been emails it wouldnt have been enough to caution him. But because it had started with physical contact and repeatedly so, that was definitely grounds to charge him with stalking. Online stalking doesn’t count…. I was told that the things he was uploading between the court cases didn’t breach his bail conditions, and my argument that they went a great deal of the way to showing a pattern of escalation that suggested he should be getting treatment as part of his bail wasn’t, apparently, my concern and to leave that to his lawyers and relatives.

Do you feel that the 2010 law, which made stalking an offence, is not adequate for today’s online world? (Isn’t it odd that this wasn’t properly accounted for in such a recent piece of legislation?)

Leaving my own case aside, it seems to me to be pretty odd that the effects of online stalking, whether by email, messenger, Twitter, can’t be taken into account more in stalking cases. They go a long way to highlighting an individual’s intent and mind-set. That was what I found so frustrating in my own case.

Communication between the legal system/the police and yourself sounded frustrating. You say you had to battle to find out the result of the court case, and don’t know whether he did his treatment order. What would you ideally put in place if you could draft new legislation on this?

I understand that my stalker has a complete right to privacy too, so I do understand that it wouldn’t be appropriate that I was allowed to know his medical assessment … But, when his CTO came to an end, I admit, I was pretty sure I was going to hear from him again. That I haven’t suggested that he has been given adequate care and treatment as he was clearly very unwell. But I have no idea. I had absolutely zero follow-up and had to actively ring the court myself to find out if he had even been sentenced.

How you feel now; does it feel OK to get all this out there?

I don’t know…. In all honesty, I might regret it. I am slightly terrified he might read it and contact me again. Scotland is a small place. If that happens, some may blame me for this reaction saying that speaking about it so frankly means I am inviting it.

I had some ridiculous responses when some people found out I had a stalker, from the ‘OOh, you’ve finally made it!’ dafties who assume that stalking is anything to do with admiration of one’s talents and nothing to do with power, gender assumptions, and trying to make someone feel vulnerable; to a sort of tacit shrug that this is what happens when you get on a stage. I hate to say it, but though this is the first time it has been this serious, I have experienced stalking behaviours from men my entire performing life. Some guys turned extremely nasty upon rejection having assumed some kind of connection merely because I was performing poems they related to; some made up stories; some wrote about me online in strange blogs. All followed the same pattern (the pattern that opens this blog) of assuming what power I had was an illusion and that I really just wanted some tender, loving man to ‘save me’. Ye know. Like in the movies. My own experience is nothing to what a lot of other women I know have experienced and I am lucky in that, and that it has stopped. Lily Allen’s case has been going on for seven years. That is appalling and an utter failure.
Long-term effects wise? I struggle to talk to men I don’t know, or who I know aren’t known to others, after an event. I struggle to date, wouldn’t even consider going on any kind of dating website, and get The Fear whenever anyone sends me unsolicited poems asking for feedback. And I admit, I often find myself scanning crowds, just to make sure….

Long-term wise too, though, and overall, I just hope, hope, hope that my former stalker, who I forgive, is healthy and now aware of how wrong what he did was.

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Whose Privilege and Whose Prejudice? A Response to Darren Loki McGarvey

Disclaimer 1: I count Darren McGarvey as a friend, and at other times as an ally. I both respect and admire the majority of his writing to date, and thus this response is neither a character assassination, in any way a personal attack, and nor is it designed to sling mud at everything he ever writes.

Disclaimer 2: I hate that this even needs said, because any reasonable reading of what follows and what has preceded publishing this shouldn’t require such a helluva lot of caveats from women seeking to respond to an article. That so many feel the need to caveat, myself included, speaks volumes about what women expect when they speak out online.

Disclaimer 3: Darren, alongside Harry Giles and Laura Waddell were three people who encouraged me to publish this, which started as a very long status update on a private Facebook page. They pointed out that perhaps I have something worth saying to a wider audience. I’ll let others be the judge of that, but I do often note with interest my willingness to self-censor at times due either to fear – real or imagined – about inviting the kind of stick I often faced during the independencence referendum for speaking and writing about the Yes movement. I know this to be something I share with several other women, so aye. Maybe it is time to challenge that inner fear! Anyway. On to the blog…

There’s been a lot of chatter the last few days, mainly sparked by a long-read essay on Bella Caledonia by Darren McGarvey, otherwise known as Loki, which was written to argue that the left (taken to mean those who campaign for social justice and equality) have become so insular and obsessed about terminology that their campaigning fails to actually make change in a real, practical way with real people. The article furthermore asserts that feminism – which, while it is not to focus of the article in entirety, is used to highlight this failure throughout the essay – is part of this movement that has helped spark the new and dangerous neo-libertarian ‘free speechers’ who are reacting to things like trigger warnings, safe space policies and the like by using examples of them to encourage disenfranchised men into their ideology.

When women talk about ‘privilege,’ in an attempt to talk about power structures, men, many of whom feel far from privileged, throw the baby out with the bathwater and turn from leftish ideas entirely, feeling attacked and alienated. Darren calls for this to change, for us to be able to debate better, to perhaps say the un-sayable, because too much of our focus is on silencing bad opinions and not trying to empathise or relate to those who find the lexicon of ‘our’ movement alienating.

There’s a helluva lot in the essay and it’s well worth reading. Taking aside the feminist angles – it’s in the tradition of Orwell’s critique of the left when he said that socialism alienates the very people it proposes to help due to the obfuscating language used by its followers – and also the ‘crank’ like nature of the majority of its proponents. Orwell was highly critical of feminism too, of course, but Darren has written elsewhere that a critique solely of feminism was not his intention.

But it’s also worth reading the two responses in long-form I’ve seen, both of which (as is the original article) are available on the Bella Caledonia website. Focusing in on the elements of the article that were quite obviously directed at feminism, if only using it as examples of what Darren states is a wider problem, the first is a blistering and at times pretty insulting rebuttal from Mhairi McAlpine, while the other, from Kirsty Strickland just uses this recent online debate to highlight that it’s pretty common for men to tell women how to do feminism better. The latter is a really short read – but both are worth yer while. What is also worth yer while is seeing and reading the comments and responses to both these women’s writing, and the responses to Darren’s article too. I am advocating heavy procrastination and being glued to the internet, I admit, so if ye’d rather frog-march yerself into the sunshine, do that instead, of course…. Mhairi in particular has faced furious criticism for highlighting what she sees as sexism and misogyny at the heart of Darren’s article, and has written on Facebook that she was very much writing from a place of anger at the backlash against feminism. This is an anger I share, while not wholly convinced of everything Mhairi has written.

My main critique of Darren’s original piece is that while I could hardly disagree that the left often tangles itself and eats itself through internal division at times, and that there is a worrying growth of followers for people like Roosh V and his charismatic leadership, Darren’s artice appeared to link the latter to some kind of failure of the left to enfranchise angry, young men, particularly those from deprived backgrounds. I’ve been reading about the Men’s Rights Movement for quite some time, including reading these blogs, trying to unearth the logic and finding it all repellant and fascinating in equal measure, and, as Darren advocates, actually listening to these voices is important if you want to understand them.

These men – angry, of course – are listening to and engaging with an ideology that explains to them their powerlessness. That is done not by critiquing the state, governance or global capital, but by attacking – not feminists – but women. Not feminists, I repeat, but WOMEN.

Feminism is the broad insult they attach to what they say is the problem, but it is women they loathe and find disgusting. Roosh V and others of his type look around the world, hate seeing women allowed to marry or be unmarried, hate their choices, hate the small gains in power women have made, fail to see any lack of power there – oh, and they hate homosexuality too. And they *really* hate ‘ugly’ (read: un-feminine) women.They hate that women have become ‘sluts’ but because they believe women *have* all become sluts, they advocate treating them as such, which to them means finding ways to ‘bang’ them and discard them in order to take back a little bit of power. It almost seems contradictory, but these men appear to long for traditional gender roles, but believe them impossible to attain, and so they advocate making the most of the situation they find themselves in and banging as many women as they can because it’s the only way they can take back a little of what has been stolen from them by the evil feminists and lesbians.

These are men from a variety of backgrounds and a variety of different concerns about the world; a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, and probably a variety of different levels of belief in such ideas. Some may be fuelled by a fear for their daughters in a post-Christian world; some pissed off at an ex who didn’t want to ‘submit’ (their words); some may genuinely believe that feminism has gone too far. Roosh himself says that men are deprived and that women and gays are handed everything on a plate.

I agree with Darren that understanding what fuels these men is important and that we should try to ensure men do not get beguiled by such ideas. As a woman who has dated men, I’m also aware that wee elements of the above can be present in who are otherwise thoroughly nice guys; that the backlash against women’s rights and equality has as expected produced anger and rage from those whose power and dominance is being challenged. Of course it would be.

‘Feminist’ becoming an insult is a massive part of this backlash. Using absurd examples of no-platforming OR making up ridiculous examples of ‘feminism going too far’ to further your agenda is also a massive part of it. Saying that women who care about trigger warnings, safe spaces and violence in the mainstream media are idiotic ‘feminazis’ is also a major part of it too. Which is why, I’d suggest, that Darren’s article led to an interesting situation where both critiques are from feminist women who chose to focus on the feminist angle rather than the many other things he was saying. As a feminist, it was these parts of the article that jarred with me too. As a woman who has often felt utterly dismissed and at times actively silenced as an activist, who has had sex used against me in a bid to damage my reputation and silence me further, along with just the general everyday sexism I face and at times probably perpetuate unknowingly, reading that it’s supposedly demands from feminists like myself that are leading to the new wave of misogynists is pretty hard reading. Mainly because it’s not true, but also because, as seen in many of the comments on Darren’s own facebook account, the usual suspects accusing those women who disagree with Darren of being a rabid band of feminazis has woven its way throughout the comment threads.

I accept that Darren’s article wasn’t solely about feminism at all, but as a feminist reading it – and also seeing the responses (not just Mhairi and Kirsty’s) it appears that he has tapped into something that a lot of men are feeling and he is being applauded for pointing it out. But, my worry is that for all the championing of no-nonsense clarity and a cry for nuance and open debate (who wouldn’t want that?) that, once again, important things are being lost. There’s a helluva lot of projection going on, and sometimes it’s best to hear it from the horses mouth, so to speak…

And so, below I link to a few of those angry men talking about what fuels them from the recent BBC3 programmed ‘Men At War.’

 

If you want to explore this further, Roosh V’s conspiracy theory response to the programme and also to the recent protests against him can be found here. As with most charismatic leaders, Roosh takes a legitimate distrust of the media and twists it to propose that there is a feminazi conspiracy to denigrate men and stop them from being free.

I cannot think of a better way to challenge this type of thinking than feminism – which I more than believe men can be allies in (and am thankful for those male pals of mine who are part of that too.) I’d suggest that class inequality, which I know is Darren’s main concern – he says elsewhere that he dislikes how class has been superseded by other leftist concerns and he thinks this is a bad thing – is in a major state of flux, and that we’re definitely going to have to find better ways of addressing and understanding that, not least to recognise that the old ways of discussing class are not particularly useful.

From what I can garner, these men are fuelled by a toxic mix of frustration, anger, a feeling of powerlessness which they feel they are owed as men, and quite blatant hatred of women (but not their mothers who, in many blogs, are painted as quasi-mystical saints of homeliness and godliness and nurturing like a ‘proper’ woman should be.)

I know quite a few men trying to explore masculinity and address this kind of ideology and that’s brilliant. I also understand Darren’s point about people being put off a lot of leftish causes because of a dominant narrative that, just as in Orwell’s day, says the left are a bunch of cranks who spend too much time talking about language and not enough time getting to action or talking to people. But I’d also argue that language determines action and that women have been fighting for a damn long time to even have any kind of a voice in the left and by necessity have had to focus at least some energy on creating spaces that recognise their importance. Aye, safe ones. Inadvertently, I see how parts of Darren’s essay seemed to denigrate that. I can see that while still agreeing with parts of it.

That’s what nuance is. I agree we need more of it, and that is why I found Darren’s article problematic.