Trigger Warning: Abuse
It’s a fascinating and disturbing phenomenon that women often don’t recognize their own abuse until someone else talks about theirs. This is why, when one woman comes forward with their story there is often a tsunami of similar accounts that follow.
It is not a case of us staying silent until we have the opportunity to “jump on a bandwagon” or orchestrate a “witch hunt”. It’s because our own experiences are so frequently invalidated that it takes us hearing or reading about another woman’s horror to recognize and face up to that which has occurred in our own lives. I have experienced this twice now and each time has been tortuous.
In the case of an assault I suffered in high school, it took me hearing the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to truly accept what had happened to me. Her words and suffering freed me by forcing me to acknowledge that anyone non-consensually groping, touching or entering your body is assault. That there are no degrees of badness, as I had been told after I confessed what happened to me to friends all those years ago. It is all really fucking bad.
Until her astonishingly brave testimony, I had been operating under the assumption that what I experienced could not be rape, could not be assault and could not be important. Before she spoke I felt unentitled to my suffering, my rage and my trauma. This is why in 2018, while I was working alone and unsupported in Bali during the Kavanaugh hearings, I came completely undone and have yet to fully stitch myself back together.
When women speak openly about their trauma, they hold up a mirror to us all. They mine their pain so that we may claim our own. This is why listening to and believing women when we speak is not only important, it’s a matter of survival.
When I first read the accusations Evan Rachel Wood made against Brian Warner (Marilyn Manson)I was sickened. Long have there been rumors about his treatment of women but, as a former fan, I used to think that it was all part of the show. It went with the image he so painstakingly curated that I thought it would be too cliché for him to actually be a misogynist abuser. I was wrong. It turns out he always was exactly who he told us he was.
The allegations made by Wood are truly disturbing. However, it was actress Esmé Bianco’s account of Warner’s relentless abuse that forced me to look in the mirror again. She spoke about Warner filming her for what he said was a music video. During the shoot, which was shot on a personal flip-cam, he degraded her, tied her up and beat her. He never sent her the footage or used it for its intended purpose.
When I was at university I became close with one of my professors. I thought he was cool and sophisticated — he often spoke about the art projects he was doing, as he was a photographer and filmmaker. At the time, I was doing some artist modeling and we made a plan to do a shoot that explored the themes of modern femininity and what it meant to be a woman.
The concept is murky at best, but it was my idea to be shot in a bathtub filled with ground meat, eggs and milk to represent objectification, fertility and I really can’t remember what the fuck the milk was for. We shot it at his house with a few of his friends and made a gross, unholy mess. It was fun and stupid and we both agreed the shots were terrible.
Fast forward a few months and our dynamic had shifted. I had become his friend but was also still his student. We hung out frequently and went to bars, despite my being underage and talked about films and what a fucking auteur Darren Aronofsky was. I looked up to him as a mentor and was desperate to please him in class and get an A. We talked about doing another shoot and him having a proper show with the images. I believed in him, I thought he was mega-talented and I was flattered to be his muse.
We decided to do the shoot at the university on a weekend when no one would be there. When I think about this now, I realize how inappropriate it was but when I was 20 it just seemed a little dangerous and fun. I turned up with a variety of outfits and a pair of huge angel wings.
The university was totally empty except for us and I have to admit, I felt powerful walking through the halls when I had no business being there. We went to the Audio Visual lab and I got changed into outfit number one which looks something like a slutty cowboy? My taste level was severely underdeveloped and I can’t recall what the theme of the shoot was but irrespective of any cohesive vision, I was sassy and letting the camera have it — giving angles, posing and smeyezing like Tyra Banks taught me to.
At some point, the suggestion was made that I lose some of the clothes. Having seen a million seasons of America’s Top Model I knew that nudity = artistry. He and I were making great art together and these shots were going to get him a gallery show. I specifically said to him that I wanted a copy of the negatives if I was to take off my clothes to which he guffawed and waved his hands around in a way that told me I was crazy for having to even request such a thing. After his brief attempt at performing offense, he agreed.
Hundreds of photos were taken. We found some strips of black fabric on the floor which he wrapped me in before I looked helplessly into the camera lens as he clicked. We climbed up to the rafters where I was a fallen angel, strategically placing my hands in front of my breasts. He clicked. For some reason I thought just wearing a belt might look cool. It didn’t but he clicked away anyway. I was silly and experimental because I felt safe with him. He said I would be safe with him.
It had gone dark by the time we finished. At some point during the day, he mentioned he was making a short film and asked me to be part of it. I jumped at the chance, as I had been acting on the stage professionally in my hometown for years. I loved to act and was so proud that this professor, who I thought so much of, wanted to keep working with me.
In order to participate, I just had to be naked, afraid and trying to escape. He explained that I would eventually achieve freedom and bring my captor to justice. This all sounded unbelievably great to me. I was at a point in my life where I was just finding my feminism and here was this man who saw my talent and who I felt was also a feminist and wanted to create his vision with me.
We filmed the first scene at the university. We rubbed black eyeshadow all over my naked body to make me look filthy. He played the soundtrack of Requiem for Dream at a deafening volume and shouted things at me to make me look more “desperate and afraid”. I remember the floor being filthy and dangerous, as we were in a bit of the building that was under construction as it was being extended. There were nails on the floor as well as sawdust and other debris. He was shouting at me to sit down in it. I didn’t want to and said something along the lines of, “I don’t want vaginal stigmata” and laughed. Our usual dynamic would have elicited a laugh from him too, but that day he was stern and angry and unkind. Our relationship changed forever after that.
I don’t think anyone will be surprised when I say that the photos he took never made it to any art show despite my securing a venue. Although I did get copies of the images, I never got the negatives from the shoot and I never saw the footage he filmed. But others did. I even heard that he had filmed the photoshoot itself, for which he never gained my permission.
On a few occasions, I was told by strangers at the very popular bar where I worked that I was a “great actress” and when I asked what they had seen me in they would almost always say, “a video.” My heart would turn to ice, I would laugh it off and tell them they must have me confused with someone else. I never felt like I had any recourse at the time. I just felt small and used and naive.
This is an unfortunate thing that happened to me. Although I want to acknowledge my willing participation in both the photoshoot and the filming, I also want to say explicitly that my participation in both was solicited under false pretenses. Furthermore, the power dynamic at play was inappropriate. I know that now.
I want to be clear that I am not comparing my experience to the torture suffered by Esmé. However, without her shining a light on the darkness of her abuse it is likely I would still be largely in the dark regarding mine. What happened to both of us is wrong and I believe that seeing Warner face justice is the least we all deserve. However, we all know how it turned out for Dr. Ford. How she was forced to move and completely rebuild her life after receiving death threats for speaking her truth while Kavanaugh escaped culpability to sit on the highest court in the land.
When women speak up, we know we are doing so at our own risk. We expect that our careers, relationships and lives as we know them will suffer. This is why it’s crucial that when we hear these accounts we show solidarity and support. That we build up women with voices and platforms who speak out because it is all of us who benefit from their courage.
I stand with all the women accusing Brian Warner/Marilyn Manson of abuse and I encourage you to do the same. There is a pattern and pathology that cannot be ignored. This is a man who has always been hiding in plain sight, who has been bragging about his abuse of women for decades and not only did we allow it to happen, we lionized him for it.
Shame on us.