*Disclaimer - If you follow the link provided below to read more about the story I’m referring to (or continue to investigate the information that's floating out there about this story), please know that you may find some of the content to be disturbing or triggering for someone who has suffered abuse or oppression.
There has been a recent revealation of unsavory information about the co-owners of a popular West Asheville coffee shop known as Waking Life Espresso.
The two men had created a podcast that aimed to discuss “dating advice” (if you could call it that) and to brag about their sexual conquests in detail by using misogynistic language that I found very difficult to hear - as a woman who is a survivor of sexual assault. They also used other online means (such as Twitter), using personas that they believed would cover their true identities.
I could not get through a lot of the material because it was so painful to read and to hear, but it has been reported that in addition to making sexist comments, the two men also made racist and homophobic statements. Their behavior, like many hurtful behaviors, was cowardly and unacceptable.
So why did I title this “Thank you, Waking Life?”
Because now that the truth is out, these are some things that are happening:
- Asheville is working hard to turn this negative into something positive. Citizens are uniting to spread the message that this is a community that won’t tolerate such blatant acts of misogyny.
- Local business owners who were carrying Waking Life coffee products have responded quickly by pulling them off shelves.
- Many of these businesses are donating to Our Voice, Asheville’s local rape crisis organization.
So it's really a big Thank you to Asheville. This story of what the Waking Life owners had done, ironically and unintentionally, turned out to remind us that we live in a community that has a low tolerance for misogyny.
I tend to speak a lot about being “sex-positive” and to rail against the sex-shaming culture we live in - so let me make this perfectly clear…
Bragging about sexual conquests while using language that invokes thoughts or feelings of sexual violence is NOT sex-positive; It is sex-shaming and degrading.
Having multiple partners or being primarily interested in casual sex is one thing (that I don’t believe should be shamed and a lot of us in the sex-positive world call that "slut-shaming"), but lying about your intentions, manipulating people, and then going public (under the disguise of a persona) is downright abusive.
I mentioned above that I am a survivor of sexual assault. Please know this about my personal disclosure:
- While I certainly don’t feel “grateful” to have gone through what I went through, my experiences are a large part of who I am today as a human and as a therapist. I made a commitment to myself long ago that I wanted to turn my negatives into positives (to the best of my ability) so that I may help others who have gone through painful experiences.
- I still struggle with publicly discussing my story at times… but I started my journey to become a therapist by being an advocate for survivors of sexual violence. Sure, I could have this part of my past be a hidden identity that I carry - but that would not be authentic to me.
- I’ve done a lot of work on myself to heal from my past. I continue to take care of myself and I never let my own story interfere with the unique stories of my clients. I never pretend that my story is the same as anyone else's. I don't make my stuff about anyone else, but I do think that it can be helpful for a client to know that I have been through some things on my own and it helps me to empathize with the pain in others.
The survivor in me:
Feels so hurt when I read the things that they wrote about women - because this was written without the consent of the women, but also the very hurtful ways in which the women and the sex acts were described and the beliefs they shared about women in general. (I kept asking myself, "Do they really feel this way? Do they really believe these things that they're saying?")
Feels fearful of all of the men out there who hold these beliefs, but who are also in disguise about their misogyny. (And I would imagine that many survivors are asking themselves the same question of, "Am I safe?")
- Feels so proud when I see the reaction this has stirred in the Asheville community, which is sending a clear message that this behavior is unacceptable. This is actually quite healing to see the outcry of Asheville citizens - because it does help me to feel safer in my community.
The therapist in me:
- Wants to help anyone who felt victimized by these two men.
- Wants to help anyone who was triggered by the news of what these men did.
- Wants to know why these men did these things, to hear their stories, to understand and somehow make sense of it all.
That last part is what I struggle with the most. I believe that people do the best with what they’ve got. I believe that everyone deserves compassion and empathy. But I also know enough to realize that some things can’t ever be explained or justified. I think this is a part of my forgiveness process - realizing that these actions have been so hurtful and wrong, recognizing that it’s difficult or impossible to make sense of it, and deciding to accept the pain and begin a process of healing.
My hopes are:
- That this terrible thing that happened here in Asheville will continue to raise awareness for sexual abuse and continue conversations about the importance of consent.
- That this will create opportunities for people to discuss other aspects of oppression that continue to negatively impact human beings every day (in forms of every “ism” you can think of - racism, classism, ableism, ageism, and the list goes on).
- That people start to question the harmful impact that some aspects of perceived masculinity (AKA: what it “means” to be a man) has on many men.
- That people who are hurting will seek help - including both of these men.
Thank you so much for reading this. Despite feeling sadness and disappointment over what happened in this Waking Life story, I remain so hopeful of the future and so grateful to be a part of the Asheville community.