For the last year, I’ve been subjected to harassment from two members of the consumer/survivor/ex-patient community who persistently attacked me online for my speech at the 2018 American Psychiatric Association protest in New York.
With time, and with the support of valuable mentors, I learned not to engage with public attacks on the internet. I came to accept them. I believed that anyone who watched the video of what happened at the protest would see the truth. I didn’t act out of hate, disrespect, or contempt toward the woman who interrupted me when my speech upset her.
I am comfortable with the outcome of the APA protest incident because I spoke with the woman immediately afterward, discussed our interaction, and we are on good terms. That’s what matters to me — what she thinks and feels.
Lately, however, I’ve been very angry. I haven’t expressed this publicly because I felt that it’s wrong to express anger. I’m afraid of expressing it, and I’m afraid that expressing it won’t solve any problems. Consequently, burying my anger is causing a lot of pain.
I’m remembering a chapter titled “Recovering a Sense of Power” from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which I read in 2013 when I started doing comedy.
“Anger is fuel. We feel it and we want to do something. Hit someone, break something, throw a fit, smash a fist into a wall, tell those bastards. But we are nice people, and what we do with our anger is stuff it, deny it, bury it, block it, hide it, lie about it, medicate it, muffle it, ignore it. We do everything but listen to it… Sloth, apathy, and despair are the enemy. Anger is not. Anger is our friend. Not a nice friend. Not a gentle friend. But a very, very loyal friend. It will always tell us when we have been betrayed. It will always tell us when we have betrayed ourselves.”
My anger is related to the heated misunderstanding that surrounds my standup comedy bit from 2013 titled “Bipolar Disorder,” which is on YouTube and “The Flim Trilogy” album. While I haven’t performed this bit in five years, it was a piece of art I was proud to call my own. I had gotten into comedy to share with people about the mental health system, and this track was my first piece of work that successfully did so — my “coming out” performance.
This was not some random open mic where I was trying out new jokes. This was a bit I believed in and proudly showcased on my website for the last five years. Around this time last year I even shared it in the same APA protest’s Facebook group from which this controversy erupted — and not a single person had an issue with it. In fact, one of the people who recently signed the petition denouncing me had clicked “like” on the same video when I posted it last year.
If you want to watch the controversial bit, it’s embedded here:
The misunderstood joke appears around 30 seconds into the video when I compare my experiences of being locked in psychiatric wards on the East Coast and the West Coast:
On the East Coast, it’s like going to jail.
On the West Coast, it’s like going back to college…
You get to read books, play basketball, and hook up with girls overmedicated on prescription drugs.
At the beginning of this month, three people (two of whom were the ones harassing me for the last year) started sharing my video around Facebook with an annotation that acted like horrific digital graffiti, painting a proverbial swastika on my Mona Lisa, forever attaching a negatively biased lens to my work.
Variations of this post started appearing on several Facebook groups related to psychiatric oppression and the consumer/survivor/ex-patient movement. The annotations evolved into false claims that I had raped a woman in a psychiatric hospital.
These people made me feel very angry and hurt by taking my words out of context and spreading lies that I was a rapist, not once asking me about the truth.
I expected the harassment to subside. But it didn’t. Instead, other people started blindly believing them! Many people just accepted these horrible, false accusations as true.
Some people who watched the video replied to the accusations, pointing out the obvious. These people were subsequently also attacked.
I continued to be silent and assumed the bullying would die down. Just as I thought the storm had passed, a public petition was drafted to MindFreedom International.
I don’t think it’s fair to let MindFreedom, an organization whose mission and values I truly believe in and support, take a hit because of a standup comedy bit I made years ago. I was able to tolerate the harassment about the APA protest, but the recent behavior of these individuals has gone too far.
By going after MindFreedom and by spreading my comedy with their malicious annotation attached to it, these people are hurting others, not just me. That’s where I draw the line — when they start harming others in an effort to attack me.
I felt I needed to break the silence and end this issue. This resulted in the statement some of you may have seen me make on Facebook.
I spent several days drafting this statement and it went through multiple revisions. The first drafts were filled with anger — I was afraid of expressing this anger because of how I would be perceived.
I wanted to show a more vulnerable emotion, so I focused on expressing my sadness. This is genuine sadness. I didn’t force a statement to try to please anybody. Everything I said in my statement, I believe and I stand behind.
But, I omitted the anger. I didn’t want to distract people from my sincere grief over the harm that was caused. So I buried the anger and focused on my sadness, as well as gratitude.
I am angry this comedy routine from five years ago and my reputation have been tarnished and that the previously mentioned individuals were able to harm others using a creative work of mine. My comedy recording was published on the internet five years ago, viewed by over 2,000 people, and not once did any viewer express this joke was suggestive of sexual assault or misogynistic — instead, the feedback was positive and encouraging.
That is, until those three people went looking for something they could hold against me.
They browsed through my personal website and viewed everything through a lens of hatred and malicious intention. Then, they purposely preconditioned others to view my work through a hateful lens, using my standup comedy as their tool to spread their agenda of hatred.
These individuals claimed I should be held accountable for jokes I told that were negative and hurt many people, yet statistics show that they are responsible for pushing my work covered in their graffiti to cause people harm.
Not only have they taken my jokes into a context that is harmful to the viewer, but they also falsely claimed the jokes I told were 100% autobiographical.
It is true that if I had previously been more aware of the prevalence of sexual assault in psychiatric hospitals, I would have been much more careful with how I crafted this bit. In fact, an earlier version of the joke would probably have sufficed, which used the word “high” instead of “overmedicated.”
Unfortunately, the term “overmedicated” got bigger laughs from the audience, so I went for the laughs and sacrificed the more accurate comparison I was trying to represent. My purpose in saying “overmedicated” was never that anybody was too drugged up to give consent.
Other punch lines could have worked, like “I don’t have to cook my own food” or “my roommate sh*ts with the door open.” I could have gone more absurdist with “nobody will sit with me in the cafeteria because I eat my boogers.” The punch line wasn’t important; the point of the joke was not about sex in a psychiatric hospital. The point was to compare college life to psychiatric imprisonment.
I went with the “hooking up with girls overmedicated on psychiatric drugs” line to bring in a comparison of the college culture where students recreationally get high on prescription drugs (many being on them for psychiatric diagnoses).
I compared that to the psychiatric hospital where everyone is forcibly taking psychiatric drugs. I also thought there was some humor in the absurdity of having sex in a psych ward (which was admittedly ignorant of me). At the time, I had never met anyone from the c/s/x movement who could enlighten me about how frequently women are sexually assaulted in locked wards.
In standup comedy, we sometimes take silly topics and talk about them in a serious way. Other times, we take serious topics and talk about them in a silly way. My bit was an attempt at the latter.
It is incredibly hurtful that people have used my innocent words to spread harm. And yes, I say innocent, because the punch line of that joke is not — and I repeat — it is not about anybody being raped in a psychiatric hospital, or about anyone having non-consensual sex, or anybody being too drugged up to give consent, or any variation in between. It is about two people having sex in a psychiatric hospital who both happen to be on psychiatric drugs. Period.
For those purists holding onto their hatred toward me and accusing me of being a “sexual predator” because they feel any type of sex in a psychiatric hospital could never be consensual, well, I have disappointing news for you. I have never had sex in a psychiatric hospital! It was a joke and I made it up.
So, please redirect your anger from “F*ck you, you f*cking rapist! If I see you, I’ll f*cking kill you” to something like, “Hey, I didn’t like that joke. It was insensitive of you.”
To make sure you understand, I will give you a diagram to show you just how far removed you as the viewer of a comedy routine are from reality — and how you have impacted the perception of other people with your hateful annotations.
I could say it’s embarrassing for those hateful people that I even need to break it down that not everything said in a comedy routine is true. It could also be claimed that I “should have known already” about the way women are treated in psychiatric hospitals. The truth is, there is no benefit in putting one another down over our mutual ignorance of our respective fields of expertise. What’s important is that we both know better now, so we won’t make this mistake again.
While I’m angry at the people who started spreading these lies, I don’t hold it against them. A part of me has thought, “How could you possibly watch my routine and think I’m talking about raping someone who is too drugged up to give consent?”
That’s ignorance on my end.
For people who have been sexually assaulted in a psychiatric ward, maybe they can’t not interpret the bit that way. I can’t imagine what that experience is like — it must be horrible, and I genuinely feel bad that you have been mentally/emotionally forced to re-live that experience.
Maybe my words have been misinterpreted because of the combination of that traumatic experience and a pre-existing bias against me from last year’s APA protest. I’ve also learned there is a long history of inappropriate actions in the c/s/x movement perpetrated by various white men. So maybe seeing me, a white man, has also distorted the perception from my intended meaning. But it’s not fair of you to hold my race and gender against me.
It hurts so much that nobody even asked me the backstory of the jokes — people immediately went to smearing me online and even started a petition against an organization I collaborate with.
The fact that we don’t talk to one another in the world is a real problem. It happens all the time. You hear of people calling the police on neighbors for petty things, like having an unkempt yard, instead of just knocking on their door and having a conversation. We don’t talk to one another. We really need to if we want to make any progress!
I am angry at people who saw these posts online and just blindly “accepted” the false accusations that I had non-consensual sex with women who were so drugged up they couldn’t make decisions — especially those people who started spreading this lie further through the internet without ever actually asking me about the truth.
Seriously, through all this drama, only three people messaged or called me, saying, “Hey, so what’s up with these videos? What’s the story behind it?”
It’s not difficult to contact me if someone chooses to do so. It seems like nobody actually cared to know the truth — you simply wanted to spread more fear and hate.
Hate and fear spread like wildfire on the internet. Case in point, here are the analytics on the views my video got during the week when I posted it myself a year ago, and then when it was posted recently with people’s hateful annotations.
Amid all this anger, I am angriest at myself.
I’m angry at myself for not doing a better job with this joke. I aimed to use comedy as a tool to make change, and I failed. I feel like I engineered a gun pointed at our broken mental health system and forgot to include a safety on it — which allowed it to be pointed at innocent people instead.
That’s on me.
I have a small understanding now of how tech company founders feel when their creations get misused by people with ill intention. It is unfortunately the risk one takes by deciding to be a creator.
I feel like my bit was a piece of software that someone hacked. But unlike software, I can’t just create a patch and roll out a bug fix. A comedy album is more like a novel: Once it’s completed, it’s done, and you move on to creating the next piece of work, no matter how society begins treating your work.
Two positive things have come of all this.
First, I have learned about the reality of sexual assault against women in psych wards — which occurs with disturbing frequency. This knowledge will no doubt improve my activism toward fighting psychiatric oppression.
Second, a lot of my friends and family reached out to ask about the statement I had posted on Facebook regarding this matter. These conversations have led to them becoming more aware of the prevalence of sexual assault against women in psychiatric hospitals. If my aim was to raise public awareness about psychiatric oppression through comedy, it appears that this controversy has actually achieved that.
So, I can accept that people are angry at me about an insensitive joke I made. That is the risk and burden I took on when I chose the role of comedian; however, I am incredibly upset that people are spreading lies, saying I actually raped a woman in a psychiatric hospital.
That is f*cked up and I would like those people to please stop.
I know some people have demanded something “happen” to me to punish me for my joke. They’ve pointed to MindFreedom and demanded they take action against me.
As MindFreedom stated, “We believe that the petition demanding the removal of Jim as a further contributor to the work of MFI based on a past comedy routine, in which he attempted to use humor to cope with the personal traumatic impact of a life-changing diagnosis and the awful conditions of hospitalization, would discourage any of us who have ever made a mistake from participating in any organization working towards positive change.”
Others have demanded some form of restorative justice, which I’m not opposed to, but who is to dictate what that justice looks like? And how exactly can I reconcile with those who were hurt by my jokes, or with the community as a whole? Is there a process of “Truth and Reconciliation” that can be facilitated?
Maybe someone can facilitate a conversation between me and individuals who have been harmed by my comedy?
Is justice served through punishment? Have I not been punished enough? Is it not enough to have my name slandered as an alleged rapist on social media? To have put my whole family and my girlfriend through the hurt and shame of reading that sh*t online? To have a figurative asterisk next to my creative work? To live with the knowledge that many people will never get corrected on the fact I never even had sex with anyone in a psychiatric hospital?
Is justice served through empathic competency? I’ve already purchased and started listening to Not That Bad by Roxane Gay, per the suggestion of MindFreedom Board President Celia Brown. I’m attending the Rooted Us Youth Liberation and Anti-Oppression conference in New York, as well as the Alternatives 2019 conference in Washington, DC.
This is what I’ve been doing to make amends. Please share with me what more I should be doing.
And what of the justice for the perpetrators of this smear campaign against me?
Has anyone considered the role they played in purposely harming my reputation while also hurting others in the community by annotating my performance with harmful words and spreading it with malicious intent?
I’m not trying to play “who got harmed the most” here, but it’s safe to say I have been immensely harmed through all this. That’s not to say I don’t feel bad that my words have harmed people. I’m just saying I also feel bad that I’ve been harmed. This situation is far more nuanced and needs to be reconciled in a way that brings balance to all parties involved.
Let me clearly state: I am open to a process of reconciliation and I am open to learning how this process would work best.
All I can do at this point is continue to learn from the world as I experience it and continue to do my activism work. I am looking forward to the virtual protest this weekend and also to sharing with all of you the “Voices for Choices” video series we have been tirelessly creating over the past year and a half.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.