For My Daughters

I am a new father…I have daughters, 2 of them and so I am coming at this issue from that space. In the spirit of having daughters I just want to say that the intention of my sharing is not usurp the voice and stories of the women who have been subject to any kind of harassment, violence or abuse and feel as though they have been unheard. I sincerely apologize if I have in any way have been complicit or contributed to any fear, shame or silence. I know that I would want someone to listen to my daughters if they had been harassed, manipulated or otherwise mistreated or to provide a space for them to speak about what happened to them and have a family and/or community to stand up for them.

I have only known Thomas Sayers Ellis since 2005 he and I spent a lot of time together when he would come to DC, particularly during the summer. For more than a few of those summers “I was his landlord” as he would say, but we were roommates and I thought we had began to build a friendship. During this time, I got a chance to see his genius and generosity, as well his manipulative personality and his wrath. On several occasions I heard phone conversations that included threats about ruining people’s careers or he would say things like “your book sucks” or  “your book will get buried.” A few years ago while at JMU, a woman who had been dating Thomas told me that he was mean, insensitive, and manipulative; and that he had not only repeatedly tried to discourage her with visual art and poetry, but he also implied that he could ruin her career, because she wrote “little hurt poems” and her art was not that good. She did not give me any further details, but I had heard enough to advise her to stop seeing him and stay away from him.

From time to time he and I would get in arguments, mostly because some alleged “miscommunication”, “lack of communication” or my failure to properly communicate to him. I now know this is one of the ways he emotionally manipulates and intimidates people, men and women. On more than two occasions Thomas has told me he would ruin my career, but when I asked him how and why , which would usually cause the conversation to end abruptly. He would always try to turn these disagreements into something larger than it really was and insist that I owed him some type of apology and he would often hold these disagreements over my head as a kind of punishment.

In 2014 I moved to Bamako, Mali and enrolled in Lesley University’s Low Residency MFA program, mostly because Thomas taught there (and because I thought Nikky Finney would still be there) and I wanted to study with him. It is fair to say that I probably would not have gone to Lesley if not for him. I am thankful for his initial vote of confidence and patience however being his student really complicated our friendship. Because of my move, I actually did have legitimate communications issues with him and my other mentors. I had trouble receiving and traveling with my books and other possessions, my email messages would often get lost in cyberspace and I was trying to adjust to the emotional ups and downs of living in a new country. While he was patient and flexible at first, when his relationship with Lesley started to degrade he tried to make feel guilty by giving me the impression that I was somehow at fault for the reason he was fired or otherwise parting ways with Lesley.

I apologize for rambling, but I felt it necessary to not to keep silent. I thought it particularly necessary because I felt implicated in that, at least one of these women was in my home at time they felt unsafe or uncomfortable. I did not know that then, but I know now and it I was forced to ask myself if I was complicit. How did I miss this? Did I notice something but just ignore it? Was possible that I could have helped in anyway? Now that I have daughters of my own I am asking myself how I would want someone act to defend or protect one of them if they were in this type of situation. How would I want someone to provide a safe space for them to be heard, acknowledged and protected? I hope that something that I have shared gives someone else the courage to speak up for themselves and not keep silent.

To be clear, I did not ultimately decide to speak up because of Larkin Grimm. I do not know anything about her and cannot speak to the veracity of her claims, it is not my place anyway. My intention in sharing is not to pile on and be a part of some cyber lynch mob or to damage Thomas’ livelihood. I actually hope he gets help for what is obviously a more serious problem than even I knew. I also chose to saying something after hearing other accounts and connecting the dots with what I witnessed, was told or otherwise was privy too. I spoke up to let those women who may have been in my home, or in my presence, or that I call friends, know that I stand with them – it was the least I could do.

More than anything, I thought of my daughters and what I would want done if they were subject to something like this and felt like no one was listening.

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