During the spring of 2017, my life was drastically altered by a Facebook call-out. This is my account of what happened then, and what has happened since. It's not a template apology written by a PR crisis firm, nor a disingenuous act of career-salvaging self-contrition, these are signals sent from outside the boundaries in defiance of shame.
The writing has been impossible to get just right; I left it rough, realizing I wasn't going to please everyone. Given the fact that this continues to disrupt my life (I started writing this after my girlfriend received an anonymous email, harassing her for supporting me), my intention isn't to have a finished piece anyway, but to confront the disruptions, and to start a conversation, even if it is just with myself.
I was raised in a family that likes motorcycles, wrestling, Wicca and Elvis—protestant prohibitions on sexuality were not a part of my upbringing, and this has carried over into my art. I’ve been doing madcap, raunchy, absurdist theater since the mid 90s. My liberal sexuality has been something of an identifying characteristic for me as a person and as a feature in my work. Aesthetically, it has been something others have appreciated, but personally, it has made relationships a challenge. I’ve never been good with monogamy, though I’ve tried. And, as a result of my childhood environment, I have no shortage of abandonment issues. I’m not an easy person to be with, but I’ve been lucky enough to connect with some people who have balanced me out.
The call-out occurred while I was living in Baltimore, a chapter of my life that was characterized by a lot of visibility due to my presence as an artist and my position as co-director of a large arts real estate project.
At this time I was in two simultaneous relationships with women in different cities, one of whom did not know about the other’s existence. Robin (all names have been fictionalized) was a friend from the Baltimore arts scene, a filmmaker. We came to know each other through local events and discovered we had a fun chemistry. Dana lived in New York, and I was involved with her for the year before I moved to Baltimore, which dovetailed with my relationship with Robin.
Robin and I made a film together. We collaborated on various other projects, and dated off and on over the course of a year. We never had or wanted a serious relationship, though we were more emotionally attached than either wanted to admit. I was waffling, hurting her by lying about the people I was sleeping with, which would cause a break, then asking her to take me back. When she took me back, I’d keep an emotional distance, frustrating her with my hot-and-cold attachment.
We were both dating other people, though there were certain women in our scene whom Robin told me she strongly disliked and thus were off limits to me. When I did end up sleeping with someone who was on Robin’s no-fly list, she set fire to some belongings that I had left at her house and documented the event on Instagram. Then she spread the word around town that I was a cheater and an asshole. During this period, she sent me an email threatening a social media call-out.
While all this was happening, I heard that she was showing our film at a local film festival, presenting it as her film, rather than a collaboration. I texted her, telling her that if she is dedicated to slandering her collaborator on the film, she should stop screening it. She never replied, but shortly afterward, she posted a call-out on Facebook in which she described me as “emotionally abusive and manipulative.” Our film was central to her post, stating that I was trying to take credit for her work. As Robin’s use of the term “abuse” was mixed in with a public pronouncement of professional rivalry, the former helped the latter achieve its objective of removing me from the playing field. Word of the call-out spread rapidly throughout the Baltimore arts community.
Robin befriended Dana, the result of which was that Dana joined the call-out campaign. Dana was hurt by the fact that I hadn’t told her about my other relationships, and she felt that I was leading her on and toying with her emotions. She was hurting for good reasons. I treated her badly. Due to my own insecurities, deep abandonment issues, and my genuine attachment to her, I maintained our connection under dishonest pretenses. Dana opted to publish her own call-out, echoing Robin’s claim of emotional abuse.
Together, they set out to eliminate all of my professional and creative connections. My performances were cancelled, tenants at my art space were pressured to leave their studios, and groups performing at the space backed out of shows. The business at my space being untenable, I was forced to sign the lease over to another group.
Riled about what had transpired in their private romantic relationships with me which had nothing to do with my workplace, and encouraged by the support and attention the call-outs received, Robin and Dana were not satisfied with only my reputation and venue being destroyed; they wanted to get me fired from my job. They pushed the narrative that I was a powerful figure who needed to be stopped before I exploited my position to prey on more women. The so-called “position of power” that Robin and Dana wanted me removed from, was a position that had me living well below the poverty line— as I have most of my life— while receiving food stamps.
Robin met privately with two of my colleagues asking them to remove me from my position. When they said they wouldn’t remove me, Robin, with two of her friends, sent a letter to the board of directors as the “Baltimore Accountability Arts Alliance,” an organization which Robin herself had founded for the sole purpose of getting me fired (the organization has not been active since I was fired, and has not targeted any other case or individual). The letter stated that I was a “serial abuser” with a history of harassment in the workplace. The board decided that they would respond to the letter by offering professional mediation between me and the complainants. Robin rejected this offer. Instead, she arranged a meeting with the board, excluding me, and required them to sign a nondisclosure agreement stating that the contents of the meeting could not be shared with me or anyone else. This effectively meant that both me and the board were handcuffed against correcting any mischaracterization in the media or other public forums regarding the claims against me. In the meeting, the board was presented with multiple testimonies, which Robin read aloud from a folder; no physical testimonies were handed to the board, thus making them rely on notes and memory. According to one board member, the testimonies ranged from what sounded like stories from “messy relationships,” to examples of me displeasing people in ways utterly unrelated to anything sexual (including an account of me sending an angry email to friends who were co-curating a festival with me). The identities of those behind the testimonies were to remain anonymous, but from what I could gather, they were former lovers and peripheral acquaintances (with whom I have never been romantically involved) who Robin recruited for her case. I was made aware of her ongoing recruitment efforts through ex-girlfriends, my ex-wife and friends who she aggressively attempted to enlist as an ally in her campaign against me. One of Robin's surrogates called my ex-wife, asking for her to come out against me, and when she angrily declined, she was told only to respond when she was "ready to admit she was abused by me". On another occasion, a friend and vocal supporter of mine was cornered in a grocery store by Robin's close friend, who screamed "SHAME, SHAME, SHAME..." until my friend was forced to leave.
The fact that Robin was able to get others to write testimonials certainly means something— namely, that a number of people don't like me, and some for good reason. However, the way Robin and company presented the testimonials outside of the board meeting— i.e. that they contained claims by multiple women accusing me of abuse and calling for my firing— was exaggerated to fit their aims. In fact, two of the women had expressly stated in their letters that they didn't even want me fired.
Some board members were understandably shaken by hours of Robin sitting in front of them telling stories that attempted to characterize me as a dangerous, abusive man. Yet other board members were equally concerned that Robin and Dana’s accusations, which for months had been related exclusively to my emotional behavior and hadn't suggested any physical transgression, suddenly changed and grew in substance now that the stakes were higher. With their nondisclosure agreement in place, there was no defense against any strategic distortions of events.
The board, with some reluctance, unanimously decided to keep me involved in the project in a different, non-public capacity. In their official response to Robin and company, the board announced that they would institute a “restorative justice process” (the details of which were never conveyed to me). Unsatisfied with this response, Robin and friends declared to the board and to social media that it was an injustice that I wasn’t immediately fired, stating that the decision was an insult to women and abuse victims everywhere. At this point, increasingly far-fetched rumors were put into circulation. They included claims of repeated sexual assault, embezzlement, breaking and entering, property damage, maliciously spreading STD's and physical violence. In some cases, I had no clue where the accusations came from (to be clear, none of them were true). In others, I witnessed a distortion of inaccurate hearsay into unarguable fact. “I bet this Ric guy is getting away with being a sexual predator because he’s rich and has political connections” (quoted to the best of my memory from a comment on social media) quickly became “Ric is a sexual predator who is rich and has political connections.”
People I’d never met began sending messages to individuals in the community demanding that I be fired. I decided to quit, informing several members of the board about my decision. Before I could publicly announce my resignation, I was fired.
If firing me was an attempt to avoid a PR disaster, it didn't work; Two articles were quickly published about my termination; one written by a supporter of Robin’s and published in a local alt-weekly, and another written by a journalist who normally reviewed bars and nightclubs. The articles were gossip column material: eminently clickable, replete with titillating bedroom stories.
The fallout has been immense. I’m guilty of being a shitty boyfriend and cheating. My punishment for this is that I’m labeled an abuser (and sometimes worse) and treated like a criminal. I continue to be stalked out at every opportunity, venues pressured to cancel my shows, employers pressured to let me go, and associates pressured to disassociate. Employment-wise, I no longer have any experience to point to— I’m back to entry-level. The rumors about me have been persistent and extreme. I’ve lost many acquaintances and some friends because of it. And yes, emotionally and mentally I've been an absolute mess. Thankfully, I have the continued support and encouragement of my family, my close friends, and my girlfriend. I am happy, but learning that you can have happiness without having peace.
I know that I’ll be criticized for even discussing my call-out without a performance of self-flagellating repentance adhering to the ad hoc rules of modern call-out theatre, regardless of the validity of the claims. Despite this, I’m compelled to point out that the entire campaign against me was waged through unidirectional methods of communication that never allowed input from myself or my supporters, or the provision of other details that would affect the narrative circulated by my accusers. The narrative has been entirely in the hands of unreliable narrators, some out for vengeance, others manipulated into thinking they were out for justice. Keeping quiet once felt like my only option, but it has helped nothing, and at this point there’s little left for me to lose.
[Further writing: "The Troubled Maker; Transgressive Art, Public Shame, and Mike Tyson"]