Catching Up: Harassment and George Takei
I’m still scrambling to catch up with everything after last week’s book release. Huge thanks to everyone who supported, signal-boosted, posted reviews, came to the events, and so on.
A lot has been happening, and I don’t know that I’ll be able to talk about everything I want to, but I’ll try…starting with the sexual harassment/assault accusation against George Takei.
We’ve seen a lot of these stories coming out recently. It feels like the Weinstein revelations helped to break the dam of silence, and we’re beginning to hear from victims who have been suppressed for decades.
In the case of Takei, model Scott Brunton accused Takei of groping his genitals while he was unconscious. There’s also a suggestion that Takei might have drugged him. This allegedly happened at Takei’s house in 1981.
Takei has denied the accusation, saying he has no memory of ever knowing Brunton.
However, a radio interview with Howard Stern a month earlier included the following exchange:
Stern asked Takei if he had ever grabbed a man’s genitals against his will.
Takei paused, said “uh oh” and laughed. Stern repeated the question and Takei said: “Some people are kind of skittish, or maybe, um, uh, afraid, and you’re trying to persuade.”
Stern’s co-host, Robin Quivers, asked if Takei did “this grabbing at work”. Takei said: “Oh, no, no, no, it wasn’t at work. It was either in my home. They came to my home … it didn’t involve power over the other.”
Like many others, I’ve admired and respected George Takei for ages. I recognize that I very much don’t want to believe Takei did this.
I also know false accusations, while they do happen, are rare. And while Takei’s interview says nothing about drugging people, he does admit to grabbing men’s genitals against their will, which he justifies as “trying to persuade.”
As I said on a friend’s FB post, I’m still processing. But I’m seeing a lot of reactions that are troubling as hell.
1. “I’ve met George Takei and he’s always been a gentleman” and “I’m friends with Takei and don’t believe he could do this.”
Harassers don’t go around wearing signs that say “I drug and grope people against their will.” They don’t greet everyone they meet with a hearty handshake to the genitals. Abusers tend to be very good at maintaining a pleasant, friendly public persona. The fact that you’ve never seen someone behave inappropriately doesn’t mean it’s never happened.
And yes, Takei has been outspoken against harassment and abuse and such. Unfortunately, there are predators even among anti-rape, anti-harassment circles.
2. “Why would Brunton wait all these years before saying anything?”
This is the same criticism being thrown at accusers against Moore, Spacey, Weinstein, and so many others. There are too many real, valid reasons to list here, but some of them include:
- Fear of the consequences of speaking out
- Shock and confusion over what happened
- A desire to “get on with your life” and not relive the assault
- Believing you’re alone
- The power difference between you and your harasser
3. “This whole thing is turning into a witch hunt” and “It’s McCarthyism all over again!”
Why? Because there are so many accusations and revelations coming out?
We as a society have spent decades silencing victims of sexual harassment. What the hell did you expect it to look like when the dam finally began to crumble?
Victims of harassment — particularly women — have been saying for ages that this is a huge problem. Most of the stories we’re seeing involve multiple victims coming forward, and most of their accounts are corroborated by others. The Takei accusation feels like an outlier in some respects, since to the best of my knowledge, Brunton is the only one to have spoken out against him.
What pisses me off the most about this deflection is that when people try to defend Takei by calling it a witch hunt, they’re undermining everyone who’s been speaking out about their harassment. They’re suggesting all of these victims are lying, caught up in hysteria and publicity.
If you want to say you don’t believe a particular allegation, that’s one thing. If you say it’s all a witch hunt, then intentionally or not, you’re joining everyone else who’s silenced victims and helped to perpetuate this harassment and abuse for so many decades.
Like I said, I love George Takei and his work. I don’t want the accusation to be true. But Takei’s interview is troubling as hell. And so are some of the knee-jerk defenses I’m seeing from others who simply don’t want to believe.
November 13, 2017 @ 4:36 pm
Thank you for this. As a survivor of sexual abuse it always kind of hurts when people can condemn the acts that were done to survivors such as myself because the people behind them are those they didn’t know, didn’t like or had no place in their own life yet knee-jerk defend the moment it’s someone they do know and like. It’s fine to acknowledge you don’t WANT something to be true, but emotional want isn’t the same as fact. If you only hold people you don’t like accountable when ugliness raises its head then it’s not about being nonpartisan or just. I don’t know what’s true in this case, but I refuse to dismiss it simply because I want to think better of someone than that.
November 13, 2017 @ 4:43 pm
So that’s what this was about — I’d seen references in the news but I hadn’t had a chance to read anything.
Very, very depressing, but as you say that’s not a reason to question it.
November 13, 2017 @ 4:50 pm
I was gutshot by the Takei accusation. But I had to take a good hard look at it and admit yes, he could have done it. The Stern interview… that I found out about today, also, and just – my heart sank, because for me (already inclined to believe the victim), it was a verification.
Ugh. It hurts like hell when it’s someone I look up to and admire, but it’s not about me – it’s about the reality of the situation and the reality is looking like he did exactly what Brunton says he did, and that this reality is something Brunton has had to live with all these years while George built himself into a paragon of virtue.
November 13, 2017 @ 6:01 pm
I think it only makes sense that there must be some cases where there was only one victim and then the perpetrator pulled themselves together and didn’t do that any longer. But it’s not the way to bet, especially in the case of a celebrity with a lot of power and charisma.
November 13, 2017 @ 6:29 pm
Your response to point #3 is spot on. Thank you, Jim.
Lenore Jones / jonesnori
November 13, 2017 @ 7:27 pm
I took the interview to refer to an awake person, not an unconscious one. Still not something I approve of, but very different from stripping and groping someone unconscious. So I don’t think the interview is evidence one way or the other.
November 13, 2017 @ 8:06 pm
Yeah, I don’t know.
I have read one article which points out a few problematic points with this particular accusation, and it does make sense. But we’ll have to wait and see. We can’t treat this guy differently just because we don’t want to believe it.
Jim C. Hines
November 13, 2017 @ 9:30 pm
Lenore – The interview doesn’t address the insinuation of drugging, but does suggest groping without consent.
I just saw a follow-up post from Takei, in which he says this is a character he plays for Stern’s show. Full statement at https://www.facebook.com/georgehtakei/posts/2272346556128118
November 13, 2017 @ 10:36 pm
While I was a grad student at Michigan State I spent a year presenting rape prevention and awareness programs to men living in the dorms, in fraternities and on sports teams. The sad and shocking thing is how pervasive our ignorance of sexual harassment and assault are, not just with regard to clear-cut incidents like Weinstein et al, but the myths perpetuated, the ignorance and confusion about what is and isn’t stepping over the line between consent and assault.
I won’t offer an opinion about George Takei, but about those who are being outed: you can be confused, shy, overzealous as you begin to explore sexual and social relations, but if you can’t tell or choose to ignore another person’s feelings, statements or reactions when you step over the line, including “freezing” that past victims often get stuck in, then you are either oblivious or a bully.
The guys I taught were mostly scared of hurting someone, or the kind of guys who’re being outed, and with as many as 1in 3 women experiencing assault or harrrassment (according to the stats at the time-1993/1994), that’s a lot of bullies crossing lines with impunity. Not one-third of men, because bullies usually victimize many people, but lots of men who did not take the time to see the effect of their actions and care about them.
Thanks for addressing this Jim. You are consistently one of the good guys and men’s exceptional behavior needs to also be noted. Duly noted…Write on!
November 14, 2017 @ 11:52 am
I don’t have an opinion at this time about Scott Brunton’s allegations about his experience with George Takei. I don’t have enough information to form an opinion.
I also had the exact same reaction when the first accusation against Roy Moore was published; I find Moore utterly repellant and appalling, but I wasn’t persuaded the first person’s allegations were true the moment I read them. I thought it was possible they were true, and waited for more information (which came rapidly). I admire Kevin Spacey’s acting and knew nothing whatsoever about him beyond that; when the first allegation against him was published, I thought it was possible it was true, but I had no opinion on the matter without more information. I found the first release of allegations again Weinstein persuasive because multiple victims came forward in the first article I read. Same with Cosby.
What’s different for me about the allegations against Takei is that I admire him and would be sad to find out he’s a sexual predator. This is the first time I’ve felt that way about anyone who is named in this wave of decades of victims ending their painful silence.
If more people come forward with accusations again Takei, as happened in those other instances, I will find Brunton’s story credible and will be sad to learn Takei did these things–but I will believe it. Brunton seemed so upset in the article I read, I don’t think he was lying or fabricating. But if no one else comes forward, my opinion may wind up being that what he remembers or how he saw it at the time is not necessarily 100% objectively accurate.
To give an example of what I mean by that: I once attended a dinner with about 8 writers, 6 of whom were susccessful, all knew each other, and were old friends. I was one of 2 people at the table who was a newcomer and unknown at the time. I thought we had a really fun, relaxed evening and that they were very welcoming and inclusive. After dinner, in the rest room with the other newcomer, I was surprised at her reaction: she complained they were cold, stuck-up, cliquish, condescending, and ignored us all evening. I don’t know why she and I had such completely different reactions to 2 hours of sitting at the same table, but we did, and each of our reactions was sincere and heartfelt.
If no one else comes forward and/or if no more information emerges about the night with Brunton, I will be inclined to think Brunton and Takei each thought something very different at the time about what was happening that night years ago. If others come forward… it will affect my opinion of George Takei.
For now, i don’t have enough information to have an opinion.
November 14, 2017 @ 2:41 pm
If others come forward… it will affect my opinion of George Takei.
I can understand that point of view, but I also understand why this commenter said what this says to men: the first one’s free.
November 14, 2017 @ 10:40 pm
I understand the point, and I think this is a big part of what makes it so hard to be the first one to come forward. OTOH, when I read or hear such a serious allegation, and it involves two people I don’t know, and a situation where I cannot ask questions to clarify any of the things that are not clear to me in the media account or TV interview or 3rd-hand account of the allegation… I don’t know enough to think “it’s true” or “it’s not true.”
I don’t have access to Brunton or Takei, just as I don’t have access to Moore and the first woman who spoke out about him, or to Rob Lowe (mentioned in that link) and his children’s former nannies.
In any instance where there is only (so far) one known accuser, if I am in a position to hear a story first-hand and ask questions, I usually have a belief by the end of the conversation.
But reading media reports about people I’ve never met, in situations where the information is filtered through other parties? I don’t. Additional allegations take the place of the information not available with regard to the first/one account.