Regarding your recent request that I use my position and connections and good name to help garner positive reception of your forthcoming book, now that the tide of public opinion has largely turned against you:
Oh, _. How dare you even ask? Don’t answer; I know. You are accustomed to women volunteering to aid you, free of charge, for the mere pleasure of finding ourselves in your good graces, if only momentarily. And it is only ever momentary. The charm offensive and attention never last. I know this well.
Years ago, you summarily dropped me as a friend, despite the ways in which I consistently helped you — come to think of it, probably because of the ways I helped you.
It happened right after the last time you leaned on me. Weeks later, just like that, you received the next of many plum rewards for your boyish, affable averageness, a coronation so prominent it seemed advisable for you to cut ties with anyone below your station; anyone who knew that you were more manners and style than substance; anyone who had once been tasked with holding your hand as you effortlessly ascended a ladder we were not welcome to climb, no matter how talented or hard working we were.
I was not alone, _. There were several of us who got left behind — women who’d willingly stood over your shoulder again and again, feeding you words and sentences and assurances as you struggled anxiously with your writing. We never asked the same of you because, frankly, we didn’t need your help. We were better trained; more capable. We had more than earned our places. Nothing had been handed to us straight out of the gate because of family connections. We knew that to even tenuously hold onto our rungs of the ladder, we had to work twice as hard, had to sometimes do both our work and yours, had to act like your personal secretary, phoning people to cancel lunches for you at the last minute despite our technically being your peers, and older than you.
We had to muffle our anger, sublimating it into smiling agreeability. There was no vernacular back then for the gendered differences in how we were treated, or at least no forum, and no support for those who might dare to speak out.
All those years ago, _, you sat on my threadbare couch in my East Village hovel, fresh off the Concorde, begging me (a struggling freelancer and ghostwriter!) to help you (a well-compensated editor!) assemble the latest of many articles you were insecure about writing, free of charge. This was for a publication I’d left years before, after being treated unfairly; no, badly. Okay, not entirely free of charge; in exchange for my help, you tossed out a promise that if I finished my memoir, you’d feature it in said publication, despite one of the top brass (your tireless champion, my bully) shunning me.
Here we are, two decades later, and look at that: you effortlessly landed a publishing contract for a splashy book of your own (I’d like to know who stood over your shoulder and helped you write it), and I am out here trying to find a deal for my quiet little memoir in essays.
__, you might never know what it is like to live in a world where for decades, every time you pursue something, the first answer is predictably “No,” where you have to constantly labor to get across to gatekeepers why your voice and ideas are worth amplifying. Perhaps, after years of hearing only the word, “Yes,” you are now first finding out.
On the phone, you asked me about my book, “And You May Find Yourself…” the proposal for which my agent is now shopping. I told you it’s about being a late-blooming Gen X lady who has zig-zagged haphazardly through life while battling a case of impostor syndrome borne of trying to be who I thought people (mostly men) wanted me to be instead of who I actually was. The irony is that on our call, I slipped right into being who I thought you wanted me to be — an instantly all-forgiving, sympathetic, helpful, spineless pal, even though you never once asked for my forgiveness, or acknowledged having ditched me.
I regret the enthusiasm with which I received your call, my knee-jerk cheerful agreement to help you out, and my openness about how hard it was for me where we worked, back in the day. I wasn’t lying, though — it was good to hear your voice. I’d missed you since you dropped me! We’d had some nice times together. I’d felt a kind of kinship with you. There was also a very old part of me that was energized by once again feeling “seen” by the likes of you, an anointed arbiter of the straight, white, male gaze.
All those feelings tripped me up and took me off course, away from myself and my best interests. But after the call, words you’d said reminded me: “I’m glad you were willing to take my call…” Right. There are reasons I might not have been willing, perhaps should not have been. Since then, I’ve been feeling pretty triggered.
I hope you appreciate my blurring your identity here, _. When I obliquely tweeted about this, women I respect suggested I name you. You are the beneficiary of my great conflictedness, part consideration of your humanity, part distaste for the over-simplicity and brutality of cancel culture, part deep patriarchal conditioning toward pleasing and protecting charming men.
Honestly, it ultimately doesn’t matter who you are. There are so many others just like you. You aren’t even the first essentially canceled man to turn to me for sympathy and assistance. (You might be happy to know that one of the other guys is a lot more canceled.)
I’ve worried it might hurt for you to see this, but considering that you hadn’t been sufficiently curious to even google me before reaching out on your book publicist’s suggestion (you said you knew nothing of the anthologies I’ve published or my other recent work as a writer, editor, and teacher), it’s quite possible you’ll never come across this, anyway.
Then again, I did briefly mention this newsletter to you. I told you I was writing about my wayward career path, but hadn’t yet gotten to the part where we worked together. “Now, be nice!” you chided me in a paternalistic tone. But niceness in the face of shittiness is false and self-abandoning. And I am writing a goddamned book about no longer being false and self-abandoning (goddess help me if you get to publish a book and I do not), so I need to live by my word. Sorry, dude. In the words of one of my feminist idols, the late, great Maggie Estep: No more Mr. Nice Girl.
I can’t help you, _____. Probably no one can, but good luck in your search. Meanwhile, I hereby tender my resignation as the Patron Saint of Canceled Men.