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:
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.
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.
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.
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.