Some thoughts on Jian Ghomeshi, about whom I feel entitled to opine because I was once a guest on his show — talking about the little fundraising thing I did last year which included RAINN, an interview which now in retrospect is sadly ironic.
(For those of you not up on this, Mr. Ghomeshi was a radio show host in Canada, who was let go by the CBC because of then-mysterious reasons. Mr. Ghomeshi took to Facebook to allege that he was fired because he participated in consensual BDSM play which was now being used against him by vengeful exes, and sued CBC for
wrongful termination “breach of confidence and bad faith.” Since then a number of women have come forward to allege totally non-consensual abuse and/or harrassment at the hands of Mr. Ghomeshi.)
So, a numbered list.
1. There’s nothing wrong with consensual BDSM play; if that’s your thing and you can get other people to go along with it in a safe and consenting manner, then you kids have fun with that.
2. Suddenly smacking the hell out of someone and/or choking them without prior discussion or agreement is pretty much the opposite of consensual BDSM play, now, isn’t it. (Note: this is a rhetorical question. The answer is: Yes, it is the opposite.)
3. As a matter of law (to the extent that I know anything about Canadian/Ontario provincial law, which I don’t so I might be entirely wrong), Mr. Ghomeshi is innocent until proven guilty.
Currently there is no criminal investigation against Mr. Ghomeshi. (Update, 8pm: Toronto police have opened an investigation.)
4. The procedurally laudable governmental presumption of innocence does not mean, however, that as a matter of opinion, one cannot believe the allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi. As a matter of personal opinion, I believe the women who are coming forward and saying that Mr. Ghomeshi attacked, abused and harassed them. I could be wrong, but I don’t really think that I am.
5. I think it’s possible that Mr. Ghomeshi deluded himself into thinking these attacks equated to consensual sexual play, which is both not an excuse at all, and a good argument for availing one’s self of educators in that particular field who can teach one how to do one’s play safely and to know what “consensual” actually means. However, I think it’s rather more likely that Mr. Ghomeshi, who is a full-fledged adult and someone with some evident facility for words, was in fact quite aware that what he was doing was not in the least consensual and relied on his position at the top of the Canadian cultural heap to protect him from the consequences of his actions, as indeed it appears to have done for a very long time.
6. If what is alleged against Mr. Ghomeshi is true, and to reiterate I rather strongly suspect that it is, then his being fired from the CBC is, bluntly, the least worst thing that could happen to him at this point. If the allegations are true, he deserves a stint in prison, full stop, end of sentence.
7. It was canny of Mr. Ghomeshi to try to frame his assaults in the context of BDSM, but also disingenuous and false. BDSM is not my thing, but I know a lot of people for whom it is. None of them would see what Mr. Ghomeshi did as something relating to their particular kink. Attacking someone without their consent isn’t about sexual gratification, it’s about the assertion of power — the ability to say “I can do this to you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” And sure, maybe Mr. Ghomeshi got a rise out of that, too. But at the end of the day choking a woman who is not consenting to the experience and saying it’s BDSM is akin to stabbing someone in a bar and claiming it was a martial arts test match. Again, BDSM isn’t my thing, but it’s a thing I know enough about to know that what Mr. Ghomeshi was doing wasn’t that.
8. The irony of the above point is that if it really was about BDSM (which it was not), then there was no reason for any of that to happen. What little I know about BDSM is that those who enjoy it are happy to share and to teach and to provide a safe space for that enthusiasm. Mr. Ghomeshi, I am certain, would not have lacked for willing, consenting partners — if this was really about consensual sexual exploration and enjoyment. But, again, I don’t really think it was ever about that.
9. I don’t know Mr. Ghomeshi other than through a very brief professional encounter. I don’t envy the people who do know him who are now learning about the allegations and who suspect that they are true. What do you do with a friend like that? Do you drop him? Do you maintain he is your friend but acknowledge what he’s done is wrong? Do you fight for your friend, right or wrong? One of Mr. Ghomeshi’s friends addressed this in a post of his own, which is worth reading. I don’t have any answers for this one. I know what I think I would want to do; I don’t know if it’s what I would do because I’ve never had to be in this situation. What I can say is that I hope I never am in this situation.
10. To reiterate, because it’s important: I believe the women who have come forward to allege assault and harassment. It’s been noted by other people better able to testify on the subject that one of the most radical things you can do when a woman speaks up about abuse and harassment is to believe her. Which initially seems like an incredible statement to someone like me, who is almost always believed by default when he chooses to speak up about something. I have that luxury. Not everyone does. It’s a fact I strongly suspect Mr. Ghomeshi knew, and used.