I’m going to write some things now about:
- Growing up gender non-conformist.
- Working in the comic book industry.
- Participating in the fandom culture of the 2000’s.
- Most likely other bits here and there, perhaps I will sandwich in some references to early 1990’s direct-to-home-video legend Wings Hauser. We can only hope.
When I was about ten years old I remember reading a comic book (perhaps either G.I. Joe or Secret Wars) in the schoolyard, by the fence, and having several girls surround me. One of these girls asked me snidely why I was reading a comic book, and if I was a “lesbian.” I did not know what a “lesbian” was. I would not find out what a lesbian was until about four years later, when a classmate explained it to me on the public bus to school.
I hung around mostly boys in school. Many of the girls in my class used to mock me for my clothes, my choice in reading material and toys, and heck maybe there was also a wee bit of primal jealousy in there too. Even as a scruffy stinky “tomboy,” I was quite adorable.
By the time I graduated junior high school, I had been abused and “attempted-abused” by a number of men, including a psychologist assigned to me to investigate the abuse. By the time I graduated high school, I had been groomed and “attempted-groomed” by a number of men—almost all within the comic book fandom of the time.
While none of these men were “names” in the comic industry, a number claimed to be friends with names in the comic industry. Was it true, or were they just bullshitting to impress me? I don’t know. How can I know? I am not omnipotent like the Beyonder was. I am not Uatu the Watcher. I am not Metron.
At the time I was a teenager, I deeply craved friends to discuss comic books and toys with. So having these adult men come into my life and “be” those friends to me felt amazing. That they so-called had these connections to the comics world was even more exciting. It was so exciting for me. I was so lonely.
I “dated” at 27-year-old comic book fan when I was 15. At 16, I moved in with a 32-year-old comic book fan. Why did these and other supposedly grown-ass men do this with a teenage girl, especially one that *clearly* was immature and naive? Maybe I’ve just answered my own question.
In college, there was a very popular professor who was serially seducing his (much, much younger) students. A bunch of us who had run-ins with this dude—and felt completely fucked-up in the head from the experience—formed a “feminist” club in school. This club was centered in the English Department. We created a support group for these young women. We put on art shows, poetry shows, show-shows, all types of shows and events, to raise awareness about female issues such as assault and harassment.
The problem was—it turns out—that the whole time, there were “rumors” about me. There were rumors that I was kind of “odd”…you know, with the comic books, the way I dressed, my general demeanor. There were rumors that I was secretly a “lesbian,” and also just a very mannish person who “snuck” into this feminist club (which I had partially founded) probably to sleep with all of them.
These rumors were mostly started by my best friend. And I only found out about them years later.
My best friend—an ardent and proud “feminist”—said she first “knew” about me one day when we were all at an Italian restaurant (you know, like in the Billy Joel song). There were two single bathrooms, one for guys and one for girls. The girls bathroom was out-of-order. I really had to pee. And so, seeing that the door to the guys bathroom was ajar and that it was empty, I went in to pee.
And this, as I found out my former best friend said later, was when she KNEW “there was something WRONG with Val.” Because I went into the single-stall men’s bathroom that was identical to the (out-of-order) girls bathroom, to relieve my bladder.
I was in the feminist group, but I must have been a “traitor” or “spy” or something. Because I used the toilet.
I *did* once try to attend an LGBTQ event at the college, wondering if I could make friends there and maybe understand myself better.
I dressed to impress. I wore my favorite Jim Lee “Wolverine” shirt:
I didn’t make any friends there, but I *did* take a couple of pamphlets with me.
Jump ahead ten years and I’m in another feminist group, this time in the comics industry. (In case you’re wondering if I’m either dumb as a brick or a masochist…maybe a bit of both.) You see, the comic book industry and fandom has had a long, long, decades-long, history with sexism, harassment, and even assault. That’s the ADD Reader’s Digest super-short version of it, suitable to fit on a single tweet. I had been harassed by one of my bosses at DC Comics, made a complaint, and was offered an NDA. Nothing was really going to happen to the perpetrator, but I was assured that if I kept my mouth shut about stuff, maybe I could still be in the industry editing collected editions or something.
So here I was, in this group with these other women, all for the cause of protecting and educating other women.
But soon, the “whispering” started. Because, you know…I kind of wasn’t like most of them. You know…just “different.” I talked different…I liked a lot of these really masculine comics and creators and aesthetics…and goodness, my table manners!
And then the whispering turned into public accusations that I “hated” women, that I was some type of “traitor” to women in comics, and even that my stories of harassment and abuse *couldn’t* have been true because…because why? Because…she’s just not quite like **one of us**.
By this point, being “gay” (which I don’t really primarily identify as) was not an issue regarding me. It was **clearly** about gender expression.
When I was recently searching for videos and advice on how to get toxic peer groups out of my life—you know, that sort of core “legacy” comics industry/fandom crew—I came to a revelation.
And that revelation was: some of that core legacy comics/fandom crew? The ones who cover for sexual assaulters? The ones who pretend to be *so* progressive but then secretly harbor all this retrograde shit? The ones pushing 40 and 50 and 60 and are still trying to relive their 2000s glory writing about comics on Blogger and meeting up at the convention bar and always that hope-against-hope that they are going to write/draw their childhood fave comic book characters and will murder their elderly aunt to do so if need be?
It’s kinda…like a *cult.* Innit?
And so what I *really* should have been seeking advice for is: how to escape a cult. And after purging myself of that cult, I probably should work on purging others from my life as well—like how to stop going to people for help and support who end up stabbing me in the back & using me as the scapegoat for all that has gone wrong in their lives. I should probably stop doing that; it makes me seem either as dumb as a brick or a masochist, maybe both.
I am no longer in the comic book industry, and I rarely blog about comics. This is in part because from 2006-2010 I was massively bullied by a number of people to the point where I have been diagnosed with PTSD. Part of the bullying crew were the same women I went to for support.
I recently found out that even though I have been bullied out of the industry, there are still people I barely knew over a decade ago who are obsessed with me because “there is something wrong with her.” They can’t quite put their finger on it…but they’re pretty sure I’m a traitor to women in some way, a generally terrible human being, and maybe even a closet Wings Hauser fan.
Since they have achieved their goal of bullying me out of the industry and fandom years ago, I’m not really sure what more they want from me. And I’ll admit that a couple of days ago, I honestly believed what they wanted was for me to finally end my life. Wouldn’t you come to that conclusion when you’ve done everything else they wanted and they still bully and slander you?
One of their points is that they honestly believe I “abused” a blogger named Chris Sims who years ago bullied me. Sims had publicly acknowledged that he had bullied me, apologizing for it, years ago. In fact, I pretty much forgot about Sims until these fine people decided to bring him up.
Several years ago, I received an anonymous email from a person claiming to be a “female journalist” in the comics industry defending Sims. Among other things, she expressed disbelief that I had ever been abused in my life, because I was not “woman” enough. This person suggested to me that when I publicly talk about the past abuse I’ve suffered it is a laughing stock—and that it discredited “real victims.”
When I read that email, I really did wonder if this fine person wanted me to kill myself.
And here I will say that I take anti-depressants and that they work amazing for not letting myself get depressed to the point where I want to take my own life. So if you are worried about that…that’s the story on that.
But yeah: for a while, for a number of years, this bullying made me deeply want to commit suicide. And the heat for the gender non-conforming stuff, and the bullying on that, made me want to die too.
This is an era of “Believe Women”—but for some of the most outspoken voices in the comics industry/fandom, it’s “Believe Women…but not Val.”
It’s this idea that I couldn’t possibly be *really* abused, often voiced by women themselves in defense of males who have been accused of bullying and/or abuse.
It’s really sick, actually.
And it seems to speak more of these fanatical people and the relationships they themselves have with these men, more than it really does of me.
Based on my previous experiences, outside of very few people I do not want to be involved with the comics industry or fandom in any way. My trust is completely gone.
Like I said: I’m not in the industry anymore, and I barely write about comics. And when I do write about comics, it’s either in terms of some esoteric mythological shit or some obscure Dell comic nobody cares about. A real endorsement for my work, I know.
Since I have your ear, I have a couple more “quick” things to note.
- Based on years of experience studying the male bullies and so-called “incels” who have trolled me and others, one thing that comes up again and again is abuse. Some of these men have experienced unaddressed abuse in their lives, sometimes as kids, sometimes even sexual abuse. It is not an excuse for their actions, but if we do not take the time to see the whole picture nothing will get fixed.
- Now, in terms of this core comics industry/fandom matrix—ESPECIALLY those 35 years and older—there just seems to this abiding love of abusers. There just does. I’ve observed this now for over 30 years, ever since working in comics retail as a teen and basically getting statutory raped. There is a big predator element, and it’s often tolerated much longer than it should by peeps who claim to be progressive and feminists and “know better.” As of this writing, I honestly see nothing that convinces me it’s safe for a teenage girl (or boy) to get involved with fandom/industry matrix without parental supervision.
- I’m proud of who I am. I do not need acceptance from men, women, or any identification in-between. I am Val—I am myself. The end.