Trigger warning: sexual assault, ptsd, general assholery.
When allegations of assault by T.J. Miller were reported in The Daily Beast this morning, I felt a heavy sense of something. There was the feeling a lot of us are now used to, the “there it is” sensation of seeing an allegation sourced and reported on that we’d heard ourselves. A little relief, a little wondering if you’d done your part in making sure your community was aware. This one felt a little different—it sent me back to a conversation I had in a yellow pickup truck two years ago on this very topic, about this very person.
This is an essay about sexual assault, PTSD and trauma and the trigger warning for those topics begins here. But it starts with a conversation in a yellow pickup truck, and maybe you have had a similar conversation in a similar conspicuous-looking vehicle, and have felt a similar way.
Both the truck and the relationship taking place inside the truck on this particular night are now history, but it’s where I first heard about the allegations against Miller from a comedian I was dating at the time. My boyfriend had gotten the opportunity and was being encouraged by his representation to put T.J. Miller on an upcoming show of his, and wanted to run something by me “given my perspective.”
This is a bizarre and deeply misguided thing that’s happened to me and other women I know more than once: “Hey, you were raped, mind telling me whether I should book a rapist on my show or not?” It’s asking an amputee if they should invite someone who cuts off arms and legs to a party. It’s not a question. By asking it, you make clear you know the answer already. What you’re really doing is asking a victim to tell you it’s okay to be complicit in someone else’s wrongdoing if that’s the easier choice.
But I was being asked a question, and I didn’t know how to answer it. I asked for the allegations to be explained to me and the events being reported on now were detailed almost exactly: T.J. Miller had sexually assaulted a woman in his college comedy group, had been brought to student court and left college early with speculation of a quiet expulsion, the victim (at that time) did not want to make allegations public but in spite of Miller’s denial of the event, a lot of people knew and a lot of people corroborated the story.
“It was so long ago now,” my boyfriend said, then detailing Miller’s close relationship with a few people he knew. For him, me saying it’s okay to book T.J. Miller meant a lot of awkwardness avoided. He wouldn’t have to tell his manager why he didn’t want Miller on the show, and the professional relationship would not need to be severed. Permission to let it happen would be easier. Miller was in his 30s; the alleged assault and ensuing disciplinary action took place in student court in the early 2000s. Did it matter in 2015 when he wanted to perform on a crummy show, if it meant more people would be there?
I understood why the question was being asked, because the same thing had happened to, and was still happening to me. I was raped in college by a man who was in my crummy college comedy group and did not bring it up immediately. When I did about two months after the assault, I informed my school, and my friends, and one of my parents. Some friends panicked and encouraged me to leave the apartment I shared with my abusive partner. The school guidance office offered nothing but a deeply invasive therapy session and encouragement to ‘move past it.’ Some friends who knew the both of us would say that they believed me, but he was sorry. I could leave if I wanted. He loved me. It would be okay. It wasn’t. We know how the story goes. It doesn’t stop being painful. Every victim is different, and it’s an invasive and triggering process coming forward. This night, in the truck, I had only spoken about my own assault to people who I felt needed to know.
But I was being asked a question, and I didn’t know how to answer it. Most pertinently, I was being asked a question in 2015. If I were asked today, I would say do not book a predator on your comedy show, you stupid fuck. Never do that. Now that the #MeToo movement is in full swing, it’s an easy thing to say, even if I’ve felt unable to say it before.
I’ve always struggled with the idea of redemption for the people who commit these acts against women, or any marginalized group. I was driving from one gig to another with a friend this past fall when she mentioned needing to “rehabilitate our communities” as it pertained to men assaulting female comedians, and the involuntary wave of anger it sent through my body. Rehabilitate? Make them leave. That’s the least we can do. It’s not my responsibility to explain to someone why they can’t touch me, berate me, rape me. Make them leave. I didn’t say anything the rest of the night.
I also don’t think she was wrong to bring the idea of rehabilitation into the conversation. It’s a complicated issue that I think we will have to grapple with in the coming years with predators who are finally being held accountable. Today, right now, I still think we should make them fucking leave.
This particular night two years ago, in this truck and to this crummy guy, I still wanted to think that redemption was an option. I felt that I had to believe it was. If it wasn’t, then I was currently living in the same city as my rapist, pursuing the same career. If it wasn’t, then I could be in danger. T.J. Miller had had time to reflect on his actions, and maybe that meant that my rapist would be able to in time, too.
I answered the question in the yellow truck. I said, “Follow your judgement.” I said I wanted to believe in redemption over time but wasn’t sure. I said I didn’t know how to answer the question. You will not be shocked to hear that a week later, T.J. Miller was headlining the show.
Looking back on that interaction now, I see a behavior that’s finally being addressed—people asking victims for permission to excuse and ignore what’s right in front of them. He had taken it. It was more comfortable and personally advantageous for him to do so. Where does redemption fit in there?
These days, I don’t believe in redemption as much. Since the conversation in the yellow truck, the man who raped me has made public confessions and retractions of what he did, a slew of defamation threats, and an extended denial on a Reddit board he made to promote the podcast he makes under a fake name, because his real name is connected to a real thing that he did. It should be. It happened.
When I read Miller’s response and denial of this assault, his claiming that “she is now using the current climate to bandwagon and launch these false accusations again,” it put me right back into the feeling of smallness I had that night, and in the years before, and in the years since.
Like most, I dealt with this knowledge by promising myself I would not associate with Miller if the opportunity arose. I would make sure people knew of the ‘open secret’ if he came up in conversation. Years passed, and as with so many of these stories, Miller’s immediate community will not be surprised to hear that the reckoning has come, and should applaud his victim for the exceptionally difficult story she is sharing.
I wish I had made a better decision in the yellow truck. I wish I had been angry for his victim and at the person who was asking my permission to ignore it. I wish I had not gotten excited when I saw T.J. Miller had followed me on Twitter—before I remembered everything I had heard, and that any sort of communication was the same complicity that had so angered me years before. I wish we didn’t get excited when someone whom the world tells us is a force of good and brilliance knows you exist when you know what you know. I wish the suggestion of “redemption” didn’t make we want to punch a hole in a wall. I have work to do and thoughts to unpack. So do most of us.
“It’s kind of been her platform since I broke up with her,” my rapist wrote in the Reddit forum where he cannot use his own name, because to use that name would be to own an action he has not accepted. This was about a year after I’d begun discussing the rape in my own work, and it’s an easy thing for him to shame me for. Being raped in college was not my “platform” to advance, nor is it Miller’s victim’s. It was my experience, and it’s one of the most horrific things that can happen to someone. Advance to where? What is the major career boost that comes from trying to prevent a predator from infiltrating your community? If a woman who has reported a predator does well in her respective field, it’s very likely that she’s working harder, like all marginalized groups generally have to.
I’m glad T.J. Miller’s name is next to a thing he did. It should be. I’m glad it was a story reported on the victim’s terms and when she was ready. It should be. Victims should be listened to, respected and believed. It is not their job to make you feel better about doing nothing.