November 11, 2017


Louis-ckLouis CK has been telling us who he is all along.

Onstage he has said he feels trapped in his own perversion – a slave to it.  Just because a comedian makes you laugh about something does not mean he isn’t serious.

He put his most disgusting self on display and we laughed.  It was funny because we could relate to his suffering, and because we weren’t talking about the victim.  We weren’t even considering that there was a victim.

Once we saw the victims, it wasn’t funny anymore.

It took him a damn long time to admit there were victims.  Years ago, I saw him brought to tears in an interview as he described his admiration for Tig Notaro.  She has publicly pressured him to speak to these accusations for months, and he still didn’t do it.   Probably because he knew it would be the end of his career, and likely ruin his relationship with his daughters.  Can you imagine being a kid and having your dad be this public figure?  He has long said he would not respond to these claims.  I am glad he changed his mind.

Men like this run rampant in show business, and certainly in comedy.  It would be hard to find a female comic to dispute one word of Laurie Kilmartin’s experience.  But it also runs rampant in mundane industries.

My first experience of sexual harassment was from a CFO of a non-profit.  He was 70 years old at the time, and I was 22.  He had a warm, folksy, soft-spoken demeanor, as did his adorable wife.  If you met him, you wouldn’t believe me.  I know, because someone else accused him and I didn’t believe her.  Until it happened to me.  My shock was so substantial, my view of him so shattered, I couldn’t bear to be in his presence.   I suddenly had no idea what to expect from him.  By the way, I was the HR person.

If you are reading this and still don’t get how common this is, you need to wake the fuck up.

I love that women are coming forward and speaking out about men who operate this way.  Speaking out helps, because secrecy is the lifeblood of shitty behavior.  For every person brave enough to disclose such experiences, you are my hero.

But what can we do before it happens?

We need to teach respect for women in society and admit when we fail to have it in our policies and behavior.  Women and men have been saying this for a long time.  It is correct, but it is not enough.

Calling these guys monsters doesn’t work.  How they arrived at being an asshole of this level is not a healthy individual deciding to be a shitty person.  There are more out there.  There are teen boys jacking off in a shower right now who will grow into this kind of person.  What can we do to get them off this path?

What do we do with unacceptable sexual urges?  If you find a willing sexual partner to happily play your game, you are lucky indeed.  But if you don’t, what do you do with the longing?  And what do we call it?  Is it sexual deviancy?  I’m not sure that label helps.  Is it sexual dysfunction?  It sure seems to interfere with healthy functioning, so I say yes.  What does it say that we have a pill to help a man get it up, but not one to control where he puts it?

Few things are more taboo than discussing your weird sexual desires.   The comedian’s stage is a true exception.  Sex is an endless fount of comedic material.  People joke about their sexuality, often in horrid ways, but they get laughs.

But where are we allowed to seriously discuss it?   When a teenage boy is discovering his sexuality and the myriad of urges that come with it, who is there to guide him in managing those urges in a healthy way?    If having control over someone turns him on, who is there to help him recognize and deal with those feelings?   If he has inappropriate thoughts about children, what does he do?  What if such things crop up in his teens, fraught with awkward social interactions and hormones and insecurity.  Where is the safe path to deal with what scares you inside your sexual self?   I am not saying Louis is a pedophile, but there is commonality across predatory sexual behavior.

That kid may even have people in his life who are willing to guide him, but the taboo attitude around errant sexual desire is a major barrier.  Such feelings are vilified everywhere you look, and they should be.  But that doesn’t change the reality that what turns us on can be a psychological and chemical mystery.   Scientists make careers out of studying it.  It is not surprising if a boy struggles and gets psychologically off course.  Some people are going to have these urges, and they need a way to deal with them early.

Unless he is a narcissist or psychopath already, shame is the first to arrive.  When we feel weird sexually, our first instinct is to make sure no one finds out about it.   Then there is a super accessible, multi-billion-dollar industry with open arms, ready to surround that shame with a false narrative of sex.  Its expansive venue for exploring those urges in secret is an easy escape from dealing with the downsides of one’s predilection.  Whatever weird thing you’re into, porn is there for you.

Take this teen scenario and fast forward 10 years.  He’s probably had sex – if he’s lucky, a lot of it.  He may have fallen in love, maybe even more than once.  But where are those urges?   Has he discussed them with anyone other than locker room banter?  Has he faced the shame and the risk such urges could cause if gone unchecked?  Has he pressured a partner into having sex?   Has he pushed past a drunken lack of consent?  Is he on a path to healthy sexuality, or can he see it if not?

In that time of forming habits and getting to know yourself, there are ample opportunities to get off course in your psychological relationship with sex.  With each wrong turn, another layer of shame and false narrative and denial is added.  Add another 25 years, and you have a Louis CK finally admitting he’s a shit.  Decades of such denial is why perpetrators are unable to face the magnitude of their crimes.   No one wants to see that they’re a bad person.

If you are a man and genuinely want to be an ally, how can you influence this issue among the men in your life?  Yes, this behavior is rampant, but so are really good men with good intentions.  I see you and I’m asking you to consider how you can impact this issue.  Do you see glimpses of this in men you know?  Do you address it seriously?  If you don’t know how, research it.  Ask for help.  Learn to deal with this.  If you value bravery as a feature of your masculinity, then here is your chance to shine.

By middle age, more than a few men like this are in a position of power, and likely have people around him who share his faults.  Power is intoxicating. Only the most mature and self-confident have the self-awareness to even admit they are exploiting it, much less resist doing so.  Watch a child gifted with charm, good looks and social savvy begin to discover and capitalize on the social impunity that comes with those gifts.  It’s human nature.

I like a lot about Louis CK’s admission statement, but I don’t buy the notion that he didn’t understand the power he held when he did these things.  He was just too turned on by it to consider the other person’s feelings.

There are mental health practitioners who deal with destructive sexual predators.  You’d be amazed how many people are receiving such psychological services for the most severe presentations, in the county where I live alone.  By the time treatment is sought, though, things are really bad.  Very bad things have happened.  Major damage has been done.  How many more need such treatment?  How many men fly under the radar because they have these attributes to a lesser degree?

Are we going to vilify an entire gender, or are we going to see mental illness and faulty wiring in human beings and systematically deal with it?  We can call it sin and immorality and evil all day long, but look at addicts.  Shame and judgment don’t change them.  It takes a more complicated suite of mental health services for them to become a productive and functional member in society.

How are we going to teach our children, our teens, and all of humanity, to be brave enough to recognize and proactively address the disgusting things we find within ourselves?  This is the question we need to be asking.   When are we going to admit that this is common and that we perpetuate this in our society?

If we bring perversion and sexual dysfunction out from under the taboo umbrella, we can openly discuss that it is real and common and can be destructive.  Such an open recognition would support a safer space for victims to tell their story.   Each of us, of every gender or age or sexual orientation, needs a safe place to deal with our sexuality.

I love Louis CK’s comedy, even today.  Is he fucked up?  Of course he is.  He’s a comedian.  We cannot crack this joke and pretend that fucked up people don’t inflict damage on others.

I believe his contribution to comedy and social dialogue is important.  It has informed my thinking on this issue, and helped me question how we address it.

Now that his shit has finally hit the fan, he has a unique opportunity to influence a whole generation of men who need open and humble dialogue about this behavior.   He also has a unique opportunity to validate women’s experiences with men like him.  I hope his admission statement is only the beginning.  While his power has changed dramatically, powerful he still is.  It is not too late to use that power responsibly and influence this issue in a positive way.


Note:  As I express these thoughts, I speak in terms of men perpetrating crimes against women, because that pattern is rampant.  I recognize it happens in all kind of ways, in every direction along the gender spectrum, and everyone needs a healthy path to deal with any number is issues in our sexuality.  That is my whole point.