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June 27, 2011 12:14 PM   Subscribe

How violent sex helped ease a reporter's PTSD Female reporter Mac McClelland deals with the trauma of reportage. May include triggers.
posted by klangklangston (64 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
Humans are not only more perverse than you imagine, we are more perverse than you can imagine.
posted by localroger at 12:26 PM on June 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Wow. People are so amazing. Thanks for this, klang.
posted by generalist at 12:28 PM on June 27, 2011


I have a distinct feeling that this thread will be problematic to say the least.

I'm really not sure that engaging in violent sex (including getting punched in the face repeatedly) is particularly great therapy.

I understand the need to decompress but trading internalized trauma for external trauma seems like a poor solution either in the short term or the long term. It seems like she's willing to trade long term peace of mind for being able to function as a reporter in the short term. I'm not sure that's a deal her future self with 100% agree with.
posted by vuron at 12:30 PM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


wow. that is a really really incredible read. I don't even know what else to say, she's incredibly brave to confront this stuff in herself and kudos to her therapist for not backing away from it either.
posted by supermedusa at 12:30 PM on June 27, 2011


I'm really not sure that engaging in violent sex (including getting punched in the face repeatedly) is particularly great therapy.

It seemed to work well for her, and I'm almost positive she didn't recommend it generally for everyone. Great article.

Here are Mac McClelland's contributions on Mother Jones.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:33 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I normally avoid triggering, upsetting things, but I'm glad I finished this. It resonates with me and I understand it even if I don't understand it in a rational, explainable way.

Sometimes you have to let trauma go like smoke that's suffocating you when you lie still; sometimes you have to fight your trauma and eat it like an animal that's all too willing to eat you.
posted by byanyothername at 12:33 PM on June 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


One thing that was confusing in that piece - did she get raped by a UN peacekeeper? Or was it consensual?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:40 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


> did she get raped by a UN peacekeeper? Or was it consensual?

She said "I engaged him".
posted by Horselover Phattie at 12:41 PM on June 27, 2011


For months, anything could trigger the sobbing or the heaving. But two things guaranteed it: One was any smell reminiscent of the raw sewage at the displacement camp, where I'd thrown up in my mouth and swallowed it. The other was masturbating.

It's good to see actual sufferers of actual PTSD put a lie to the internet idea that "triggering" is always and only depictions of trauma. Real PTSD isn't that simple.
posted by kafziel at 12:44 PM on June 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


I kinda get it. Imagined traumas can be worse than the reality, so she got the reality in a controlled environment and moved on.
posted by Summer at 12:45 PM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's a terrific piece, and I am in complete sympathy with her pain. But the essay really does seem to make a good case — a better case than its author seems to think — that she should be looking for another job. There are surely people out there who can do this job without being this wrecked by it, and there are surely rewarding reporting jobs out there that she could do that wouldn't make her feel this way.
posted by RogerB at 12:48 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Imagined traumas can be worse than the reality, so she got the reality in a controlled environment and moved on.

Well, it remains to be seen if this can be called "moving on", but she also didn't just get an imagined trauma. Have you ever been in the same room with someone who is truly and absolutely out of control with emotion? Not just grieving or angry, but just in an abject indescribable redlined state? It can get a bit hand-wavey to explain such things, but there can be some kind of transfer of trauma like that.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 12:50 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I admire anyone with the courage to write something so deeply personal for publication.
posted by atrazine at 1:07 PM on June 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


That was really interesting, but also kind of a head-scratcher in some ways.

But the essay really does seem to make a good case — a better case than its author seems to think — that she should be looking for another job. There are surely people out there who can do this job without being this wrecked by it, and there are surely rewarding reporting jobs out there that she could do that wouldn't make her feel this way.

I wondered that, too. But from my very limited interactions with reporters who cover wars and other awful things, my observation is that most of them self-medicate to deal with the stresses and traumas. Sometimes it is alcohol, sometimes it is risky sex, and sometimes it is going out and finding adrenaline-junky stuff to do in their off-hours. There probably are people who can treat it like a 9-5 job and walk away untouched, but that's not going to be everyone, at all.

So her PTSD is probably pretty common in that subset of the field, though her method for dealing with it may be less common. But even so, even given how common the trauma is, I think she might be smart to find a different career track before the impacts on her life get too drastic. Maybe this time she can self-medicate with some fake-violent sex, but next year might she need something far more risky and scary to have the same effect?

It's like, if a beer helps you unwind from a tough day, that's great, and no one would say you have a problem. But if it gets to the point where you need six or eight beers to unwind, the problem might have become the beer, rather than the stressful day. At some point, her self-medication runs the risk of being worse than the problem it is treating.
posted by Forktine at 1:09 PM on June 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


HP - yes I understand that. When I say 'imagined' that's kind of what I mean, in the sense she felt it and it haunted her.
posted by Summer at 1:11 PM on June 27, 2011


I would imagine you'd very much have to have a particular frame of mind to benefit from this type of therapy. The line We'd done this sort of thing before. is a pretty big hint as to why it worked for her in particular.

(Not that there's a thing wrong with that, as long as it was consensual. If everybody agrees, anything goes.)
posted by delfin at 1:11 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


being worse than the problem it is treating.

I remembered this illustrated with horseradish.
posted by LD Feral at 1:17 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


It could have turned out much worse.
posted by localroger at 1:23 PM on June 27, 2011


I'm sure this says more about me than it does about Mac McClelland, but this piece felt extremely gratuitous to me.

Not from the violence/sex side, but in a "Look, look, I'm having a memoir moment. There is no aspect of my life that I'm not willing to examine and lay bare for the reader. Aren't I brave?"

The story made me feel like McClelland was trying to co-opt Sybille's pain. And Lara Logan's reality.

I won't go so far as to call sitting in a car with a screaming woman "not a real trauma." And yet, is it? Sybille was screaming. Not burning alive. Not watching her child be killed. Not being raped in front of McClelland. Is that truly the worst thing that McClelland saw on her trip to Haiti?

Even here at MeFi where we have a well-documented history of unquestionably supporting the victim, some people are still gently trying to ascertain whether something bad actually happened to McClelland.

Mark me down for the camp of "she's not cut out for this work." Not because women can't hack it, or because who knows what Anderson Cooper does when he goes home at night. But because a good journalist understands that she shouldn't become the headline. The story is the story. Someone whose inclination is to make herself the story when it's not even clear if there's a real story there... well, I'm not 100% sure she's in the right line of work.

People have used consensual sex (rough or otherwise) to work through emotions since the beginning of sex. Not every one of those millions of episodes is noteworthy. I guess I don't get why this one is either. I'm not saying the FPP isn't worth discussion... just that I don't think much of Mac McClelland's "breakthrough".
posted by pineapple at 1:26 PM on June 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Lord, I'm going to have to recover just from reading that. I'm glad I read it though. I don't think I'm even really qualified to try to have any insight into her situation, I've had less trauma in my life than she's had in a year.
posted by tempythethird at 1:41 PM on June 27, 2011


Her therapist doesn't actually seem to have credentials other than a one-year certificate from an unaccredited coaching institute as a somatic coach (her phrase). I don't know that her conclusions are wrong, but I'm not sure they have accrued the authority she's given here.
posted by liketitanic at 1:51 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure this says more about me than it does about Mac McClelland, but this piece felt extremely gratuitous to me.

Not from the violence/sex side, but in a "Look, look, I'm having a memoir moment. There is no aspect of my life that I'm not willing to examine and lay bare for the reader. Aren't I brave?"

The story made me feel like McClelland was trying to co-opt Sybille's pain. And Lara Logan's reality.


You are projecting a lot here. This is a short essay in a magazine partially devoted to media navel gazing. She isn't trying to be become the headline, as you say. People, even people in positions like this, should be allowed to tell their stories and how they feel. Questioning the validity of their feelings, especially when she acknowledged the parts of her pain that are somewhat inappropriate[1], is kinda awful.

People have used consensual sex (rough or otherwise) to work through emotions since the beginning of sex. Not every one of those millions of episodes is noteworthy. I guess I don't get why this one is either. I'm not saying the FPP isn't worth discussion... just that I don't think much of Mac McClelland's "breakthrough".

This would make sense if she was advertising her discovery as a "breakthrough". Instead, she is relating a personal story of how it worked for her. This isn't a news piece, it's an emotional piece, and one that I found cathartic.

[1] After talking to her therapist about what happened she follows up with, "Why don't I get some real problems?"
posted by The Devil Tesla at 2:04 PM on June 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is like someone going down south in Jim Crow times and coming back so upset at what was happening to the poor negros he had to smear himself with blackface, get a friend to put on a white suit, call him 'boy' and order him to make a mint julep.

And then feeling all better about everything.
posted by jamjam at 2:16 PM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


>> This would make sense if she was advertising her discovery as a "breakthrough". Instead, she is relating a personal story of how it worked for her.

You say tomayto, I say tomahto.

And, I did not intend to question the validity of McClelland's feelings, anywhere. My intent was simply to lay plain that McClelland's trauma (watching a woman scream in a car) is not the same order of trauma that Sybille herself experienced, and I didn't approve of her choice to implicitly equate the two in the story.

I'm not trying to take away the catharsis of anyone else here. That I personally didn't have the same reaction to the piece that you did, The Devil Tesla, is not exactly what I'd call a rational reason to call me "kinda awful."

McClelland herself refers to her PTSD as "not a real problem." She mentions trying to work through it at the spa, and in a karaoke bar with her pal. She deliberately minimizes the experience (in a way that I also feel is a little bit "gotcha", since clearly the audience dare not feel so casual about her experience).

If those doubts were sincere—i.e. not intended to be emotionally manipulative of the reader—then how could every single one of We the Reader be expected to have the exact same "appropriate" reaction to this piece? The author herself is doubtful of her "problems" and the "cure".

>> People, even people in positions like this, should be allowed to tell their stories and how they feel.

They are absolutely allowed to tell their stories. When they choose to tell them publicly (especially on a website about media navel-gazing as you described it), they risk the fact that not everyone is going to see eye to eye with their choice of words or their interpretation of the experience. I'm sorry that I didn't have the same cathartic reaction that another reader may have.

More to the point: I apologize if my lack of appreciation for this article has somehow offended a MeFite whose reaction was different or more meaningful. That's not my intent.
posted by pineapple at 2:22 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I won't go so far as to call sitting in a car with a screaming woman "not a real trauma." And yet, is it?

But isn't all trauma in the heads of the people experiencing it? An artillery shell hitting a ditch is just an empty event, it takes people in that trench to make it traumatic. Even if they weren't physically injured many still ended up with PTSD, almost at random.

I think playing the game of whose experiences are worthy of causing PTSD is a fool's game that fundamentally misunderstands the non-rational basis of PTSD in the first place.

This kind of stress is also cumulative. I'm almost sure that if she'd had the experience in the truck in a context where her mental reserves hadn't been depleted by weeks of being surrounded by brutality she wouldn't have lost it the way she did.
posted by atrazine at 2:23 PM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think playing the game of whose experiences are worthy of causing PTSD is a fool's game that fundamentally misunderstands the non-rational basis of PTSD in the first place.

I agree, wholly, and playing that game is really not my intent. Let's leave it at the fact that I don't care for Mac McClelland's choices in writing this piece, considering it was written with the understanding that it would be published.
posted by pineapple at 2:29 PM on June 27, 2011


This woman who routinely puts herself into the middle of some of the most horrific situations that we humans can manage, for average pay, for a dying industry, to produce journalism that will be overlooked by a huge number of people as "difficult," I would think deserves the benefit of our doubt. She's a human rights reporter for chrissake.

Any second now I'll be hearing about how Samantha Power and Nick Kristof are only in it for the attention.
posted by tempythethird at 2:30 PM on June 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


tempythethird: I apologize if my lack of appreciation for this article has somehow offended a MeFite whose reaction was different or more meaningful.
posted by pineapple at 2:31 PM on June 27, 2011


Oh, hey! Read this one this morning while browsing the front page of longform.org. Also read the Michael Bay article linked two posts earlier, from the same site!. I guess we at longform.orgfilter just have great taste!
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 2:34 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


"...trading internalized trauma for external trauma..."

This reminds me of the kids who cut themselves to relieve their emotional pain.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:35 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


pineapple, no sarcastic apologies needed and no offense taken, I'm just a little taken aback. Your interpretation is one plausible interpretation, it occurred to me as well. But its not the only one, and there are other far more generous interpretations. If this person doesn't deserve them I really don't know who does.
posted by tempythethird at 2:38 PM on June 27, 2011


My apology was not sarcastic. Nothing has been sarcastic in my entire presence in this thread. Not sure how else to share a contradictory opinion in this discussion, other than the way I have up til now, and I apparently am going to come off as a wrong note no matter what. So I'll be exiting before I derail altogether.

But I'll say that this: "Your interpretation is one plausible interpretation, it occurred to me as well. But its not the only one, and there are other far more generous interpretations. If this person doesn't deserve them I really don't know who does" is pretty disappointing to me.

That my admittedly plausible interpretation of the article in the FPP shouldn't be shared aloud because it's the minority interpretation and because it's not as generous as others' have been seems to be the antithesis of MetaFilter.
posted by pineapple at 2:44 PM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sometimes, for some individuals, the intial trauma can sort of....break you. Or break some things inside you, little sections of life.

Sometimes, those breaks hit the foundation. The cracks and damage go so deep, you can't really build on them at all. No structural integrity.

One solution is to smash the damaged parts completely, to leave the ground bare to rebuild.

I'm not saying this is precisely what happened here, but its worked for me and others from past support groups, and from her description of what happened when she asked for and received the violent sex this may come close to putting into more understandable terms what is going on here.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:54 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I gave it a go because of the positive comments here but I found the piece thoroughly ugly and, even worse, ultimately self-aggrandizing.
posted by grounded at 2:56 PM on June 27, 2011


As a person who has done a small amount of academic review on the uses of BDSM as therapy, and as a person who enjoys violent sex herself (although not, perhaps, for the same reasons), this article really resonated with me-- particularly her reasons for seeking out and engaging in violent sexual behavior.

In my particular circle, we would call what McClelland did a 'break'-- when the combination of carefully induced physical/emotional pain mixed with pleasure creates an intense catharsis. Sometimes the stressors of being constantly threatened-- whether it's by workplace politics or loneliness or self-doubt, or as in McClelland's case, literally physically and psychologically threatened by the individuals and aftermath around her-- the psyche just can't process it anymore. The ego is so desperate to cling to a sense of 'I', so caught up in trying to protect the boundaries of 'I' from actual and imagined incursion, that it becomes completely vital that the ego understands it can face its fear, and be destroyed, and the whole will survive. And the only way to safely do that is to put yourself in the hands of someone who cares about you and have them make the unthinkable happen. When you break, there is no 'I' anymore, just that one hanging moment and the pain and, sometimes, the pleasure. It pulls away all the layers of self-consciousness and social decorum and concept of contained self-hood and lets you fly into the face of what your real fears are, and when you come out of it, you feel empty and weak but you're done with it, whatever it was, you've embraced it, you've let yourself feel all that compassion and self-pity and horrible, stabbing guilt, and you can move on. Even if you're not finished with the business that brought you to break in the first place, the experience puts you, at least for a little while, in a moment where you're just too peacefully empty to worry about it for now. When you let all the old stuff go, you create room for new things to be processed. It's definitely not for everyone, but it can be a powerful tool in the right scenario and with the right people. I really applaud McClelland for standing up and being unapologetic about what might look like unconventional healing, but which really works for some of us.
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:30 PM on June 27, 2011 [36 favorites]


Questioning other people's right to feel trauma is seriously uncool. Being a witness to the aftermath of rape? Yes, that is traumatic. If that extra layer of abstraction is somehow not intuitive, recall that empathy triggers all the same neurons that direct pain triggers.

Mac McClelland not only vicariously witnessed the rape of other women, she was at risk of it herself. And she stayed to tell their stories at risk to her own health. That's not being a drama queen, that's bravery. It's a meta-story here, not meant to be headline grabbing news, I'd think the denizens of "Metafilter" would grok that.

I hope Mac McClelland also seeks more established forms of therapy. Sex can be a great anxiety reboot, but there's no magic replacement for other ways of mindfulness and therapy.
posted by Skwirl at 4:09 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


And the only way to safely do that is to put yourself in the hands of someone who cares about you and have them make the unthinkable happen.

I absolutely love this turn of phrase.

I think the reason McClelland had to tell this story is that it was an albatross about her neck. Here she is dedicating her life to documenting and hopefully helping to eliminate these abuses, and when the thing she is tracking finally overwhelms her her body is telling her that she needs to seek out the very thing she fights in order to heal herself. She knows how this looks all kinds of wrong but she has also realized you cannot reason your way out of madness.

There are a some important messages in McClelland's story. The messages your body sends you are important. You cannot let political correctness get in the way of healing. Sometimes you have to do something even if your doctor thinks it's a bad idea. Things that work for you might not work for everyone, but the fact that they don't work for everyone also doesn't mean they won't work for you.

And finally, McClelland is lucky to live in a country that doesn't make it illegal to set up a situation where someone has permission to assault you within parameters defined by you instead of some law, whether for fun or some other deeper reason.
posted by localroger at 5:50 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't know what to think. Years ago, when I was a field producer, I used to work with a camera guy in Belfast who every couple of months or so, picked up someone who beat him up. He knew what he was looking for, got what he wanted, and only once or twice, referred to it. Me, after enduring people screaming at us, throwing bottles, and such--not the stress-relief I was looking for.
But there's a certain amount of role playing in her essay that doesn't quite work for me. Her BP story was excellent, but she's not always doing front-line war reporting.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:55 PM on June 27, 2011


I suspect this kind of therapy would get a LOT fewer enthusiastic responses of "hey, if it works for them, fine" if the genders were reversed.
posted by ShutterBun at 8:02 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suspect this kind of therapy would get a LOT fewer enthusiastic responses of "hey, if it works for them, fine" if the genders were reversed.

Do you mean "if the genders were reversed" or "if the genders of the top/bottom were reversed"? Because I doubt many people would have significantly more trouble with this story if it were written by a male reporter who'd found a way to safely get himself beaten up during sex in order to work through a major emotional issue.

If you mean that people would have a problem if it were a man saying "I need to brutalize somebody else in order to process my trauma"... well, yeah, that would be more problematic than "I asked somebody to brutalize me in order to process my trauma." But it wouldn't matter whether it were a man or a woman saying "I need to brutalize somebody else", I think.
posted by Lexica at 8:24 PM on June 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


"when I asked him if his firearm had a safety "

Wut?
posted by bardic at 8:49 PM on June 27, 2011


I don't know why people keep saying her trauma is imaginary. In addition to the time she spent with Sybille, she mentions these incidents in Haiti:
one of the upstanding pillars of the Haitian elite, who insisted he was a gentleman because he loses his erection if a woman starts to fight him off, started to stalk me. On the third day, one of my drivers cornered me in an abandoned building, and I had to talk him out of his threats to touch me.

As well as these in the US:
I was having a weepy little fit because a white oil-spill worker threatened to lynch any black oil-spill worker who hit on me.... I'd taken a side excursion to Oklahoma for a story about some convicted ex-felons who once beat somebody to death with their bare hands at a party for fun. When they got drunk and handsy one night and suggested that I'd be pretty fun to pass around for lively intercourse, I fled into the rural darkness.

Any one of those would leave me pretty shaken. She describes being in what was basically an enveloping environment of impending sexual violence for months, with both herself and others as victims. I'm willing to call that plenty real.
posted by Forktine at 9:47 PM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I won't go so far as to call sitting in a car with a screaming woman "not a real trauma." And yet, is it? Sybille was screaming. Not burning alive. Not watching her child be killed. Not being raped in front of McClelland. Is that truly the worst thing that McClelland saw on her trip to Haiti?

Everybody knows that experiencing trauma can cause PTSD, but what you may not know, and should assimilate before you go on to minimize the suffering of others, is that it is well established that witnessing trauma can also cause PTSD.
posted by Jpfed at 5:28 AM on June 28, 2011


it is well established that witnessing trauma can also cause PTSD.

Then, I maintain that if witnessing, not the actual violence against Sybille but her reaction to it some time later, was what caused Mac McClelland to have PTSD, she seems unsuited for work that requires her to go willfully into traumatized, disaster-ridden, violence-filled areas of the globe in order to witness and report on her findings.

I know I couldn't do it. Nor would I have the intestinal fortitude to do a host of other jobs that require constant exposure to violence or death.

Forktine, the Haiti incidents McClelland recounts are less harassment than many women face every single day in the United States. Rejecting the unwanted advances of men who are determined that they deserve otherwise is not a new, culturally foreign phenomenon -- nor is it all intellectually honest for her to frame it as such.

In the Oklahoma incident, where she was propositioned in a bar, she then proceeded to willingly go spend time in a sweat lodge with one of her would-be rapists.

Again, it's all about the framing.

And having worked first-hand as a hospital advocate and hotline worker with women who have actually been physically assaulted, Mac McClelland's framing throughout the piece feels gratuitous.

I don't mind being attacked for having a differing opinion but I would like to reiterate that my problem is with the essay itself, and with the author's choice of tone, framing, and narrative style.
posted by pineapple at 6:06 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


witnessing trauma can also cause PTSD

I think the point was that she didn't witness the rape itself, only the reaction/aftermath.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:09 AM on June 28, 2011


"Then, I maintain that if witnessing, not the actual violence against Sybille but her reaction to it some time later, was what caused Mac McClelland to have PTSD, she seems unsuited for work that requires her to go willfully into traumatized, disaster-ridden, violence-filled areas of the globe in order to witness and report on her findings."

I've held off a bit on this, but you're absolutely wrong to maintain that.

You said upthread that you wouldn't decide for someone else what real trauma was, but by the time you're down here, you're doing exactly that by determining that victims of real trauma all act in one specific way, and because McClelland isn't doing that, you're taking umbrage at her story. Not only that, you're deciding that your experiences are universal and that what she experiences isn't notable because other women go through worse (language like "actually physically assaulted"). That's not fair, and it's been a shame to see you dig your heels in on it.

There's a bigger context in journalism, where women are seen as not tough enough to deal with the real grisly stories, where they're unsuited for the Hemmingway ideal of danger. Ignoring McClelland's choice to continue in her field, and to deal with her traumas as she sees fit, is judgmental nonsense and at the very least echos the sexist rhetoric that female journalists have to endure (or get sent to the health desk). It's her choice to make whether or not she continues, not yours, and by dismissing her experience and her agency, you seem ill equipped to make that choice for her.

"I don't mind being attacked for having a differing opinion but I would like to reiterate that my problem is with the essay itself, and with the author's choice of tone, framing, and narrative style."

… She told the story honestly, as far as we can tell. Her tone is standard feature journalism with a couple of informals thrown in. Her narrative style is fairly straight forward as well.

You've given an incredibly uncharitable reading of what she wrote, from holding her to a standard where you believe she equates herself with Sybille, while simultaneously taking her informal reportage of talking about her problem to mean it's not a real problem. If you're crying and vomiting all day long, it's a real problem, even if you talk about it at a spa and a kareoke bar. Her vacillations weren't manipulative, but rather self-aware.

So, no, McClelland seems suited fine to her work, as much as anyone can be. If you cover fucked up things long enough, it will traumatize you. That's pretty much why newsrooms are the blackest pits of dark humor around — because if you don't joke about the rapes, murders and burned babies, they get to you very quickly.

You don't get to say what an appropriate reaction is — McClelland does.
posted by klangklangston at 8:18 AM on June 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


Then, I maintain that if witnessing, not the actual violence against Sybille but her reaction to it some time later, was what caused Mac McClelland to have PTSD, she seems unsuited for work that requires her to go willfully into traumatized, disaster-ridden, violence-filled areas of the globe in order to witness and report on her findings.

In addition to what klangklangston deftly wrote, you also were not in that cab with those two women, so it's hard to give your evaluation of how traumatic it was much weight.

Is that truly the worst thing that McClelland saw on her trip to Haiti?

We all contain multitudes. Maybe not to you, no, but maybe to her? You can't conceive that different people react differently to horrible situations? You can't imagine that her relationship to this woman Sybille might affect the horror she felt?

And sometimes, there's one final straw that breaks it all.

Mac McClelland's framing throughout the piece feels gratuitous.

I don't think that's the word you're looking for. I think you mean "exploitative"? And if you're suggesting that some of the trauma she experienced is her own fault ("she then proceeded to willingly go spend time in a sweat lodge with one of her would-be rapists") I would advise treading lightly with that argument.

Is that truly the worst thing that McClelland saw on her trip to Haiti?

"We sit outside in metal folding chairs, the FAVILEK founders swatting mosquitoes off my bare ankles as they tell me how it's a struggle even to take care of their own: Last night yet another agent's tent was ripped down by pro-rape thugs.

...

His daughter Melissa is less radiant today. The storm terrified her, Daniel explains. Would that that were the scariest threat to her here. At 10, she wouldn't be the youngest reported rape victim from the camps. Not by eight years.

posted by mrgrimm at 8:58 AM on June 28, 2011


>> you're doing exactly that by determining that victims of real trauma all act in one specific way

I don't believe I've said anything like that. I'm sorry if my words made it come across like I feel that way.

In fact, I feel the exact opposite: that the generalizing being done here is on the part of those who feel that every person who ever has a bad experience is the same as any other, and deserves the exact same social response and has the exact same level of psychological damage as a result, and that to point out that they aren't all equivalent experiences is somehow not PC enough or makes me less human.

Mac McClelland's experience is either exactly the same as Teresa Butz's partner—or it's not. The staunch refusal to acknowledge shades of gray in this thread has been disappointing.

>> it's been a shame to see you dig your heels in on it.

The real shame is that because one person with a minority opinion is trying to participate in good faith, it's seen to be "digging in my heels".

I am not trying to win hearts and minds to my position. I offered my opinion, and then subsequently I have tried to clarify when I was called awful, sarcastic, etc. I am listening with full faith to opposing opinions, and I feel I am staying actively engaged as a dialogue, wearing kid gloves to boot. If you want to frame my participation as obtusely digging in my heels, you are of course entitled to your opinion, but I don't agree with your framing.

Put another way: there are plenty of threads on MetaFilter where I've obtusely dug in my heels and refused to listen to the other side. This ain't one of 'em.

>> Ignoring McClelland's choice to continue in her field, and to deal with her traumas as she sees fit, is judgmental nonsense and at the very least echos the sexist rhetoric that female journalists have to endure (or get sent to the health desk).

There is sexist rhetoric here, to be sure, but it's not coming from me. McClelland's opening paragraph goes:
It was my research editor who told me it was completely nuts to willingly get fucked at gunpoint. That's what she called me when I told her the story. We were drunk and in a karaoke bar, so at the time I came up with only a wounded face and a whiny, "I'm not completely nuuuuts!"
In three opening sentences, she is purposely inflammatory (I don't care what anyone brings to the table on this, that is as inflammatory an opening sentence as one could ask for, and in my opinion it is absolutely tone-deaf to open an essay in which you hope to be taken seriously about sexual trauma with a sentence that is clearly sexual shock-and-awe-bait), and positions herself as an immature adolescent who isn't taking this situation seriously. This tone continues throughout the essay, in my opinion.

In other words, McClelland as the author is the captain of this ship. If she chooses to take us on a voyage full of "gotcha" moments where she herself can barely take her problem seriously (her exact words, not mine)... is it really my job to dig deeper into the writer's psyche to divine and intuit that, wait, no, actually, the correct way to respond to her words is to ignore them completely and to consider her experiences as devastating as every other victim on the spectrum?

>>It's her choice to make whether or not she continues, not yours, and by dismissing her experience and her agency, you seem ill equipped to make that choice for her.

Actually, it's the choice of those publications who hire her. I don't really care whether she continues to work as a journalist or not. Suggesting that she's not cut out for the work was a flip remark intended to address: McClelland's own disingenous suggestion that she's not cut out for the work; her choice to turn herself from an observer of the story to the subject of the story; and my own observations that if willingly going to Haiti in order to write a commissioned piece about Haiti gives you PTSD such that you feel compelled to publish memoir-style essays about how psychologically difficult it was for you in Haiti, maybe you shouldn't be going to Haiti.

If Mac McClelland continues to choose to make herself the story, publications are going to stop buying her work.

>> Her tone is standard feature journalism with a couple of informals thrown in. Her narrative style is fairly straight forward as well.

I don't know any piece of "standard feature journalism" that would open up with the paragraph I quoted above. We clearly have two completely different sets of criteria when it comes to feature journalism.

I respect your right to yours, but to me McClelland's essay was adequate in tone for what it ended up being: a provocative headline + navel-gazing first-person essay in a high-minded vanity publication known as "a magazine for earnest young things" and "a free press for the critical idealist."

>> while simultaneously taking her informal reportage of talking about her problem to mean it's not a real problem.

No. I didn't take her informal reportage about her problem to mean it's not a real problem. I took her question of "Why don't I get some real problems?" as a coy way of manipulating the reader. We are clearly supposed to understand that this is a brave, valiant person who is wearing a hair shirt for her "weepy little fit[s]". We are given insight to her therapy sessions so that we can witness her reluctant transformation from victim-in-denial to brave survivor.

It's just not very good writing. There was a much better way to tell this story, the facts of which are frankly fascinating. I just believe McClelland missed it by a country mile.

>> Her vacillations weren't manipulative, but rather self-aware.

I appreciate your opinion. I believe the piece was manipulative, and actually lacking in self-awareness almost completely. Wall Street Journal called McClelland "a profane young bisexual", and this piece certainly helps solidify that brand for her. It seems pretty apparent that she chooses to place her own sexuality in the forefront of her vocation and her writing. I see this as one more piece in that oeuvre.

>> You don't get to say what an appropriate reaction is — McClelland does.

I would argue that I do get to have a say. If she chooses to take her personal PTSD story and waltz it out in public, for payment, wrapped in provocative, tasteless, dismissive language, I get to have an opinion about that.

>> And if you're suggesting that some of the trauma she experienced is her own fault ("she then proceeded to willingly go spend time in a sweat lodge with one of her would-be rapists") I would advise treading lightly with that argument.

I would advise treading lightly with any such implication on my part. Forktine posted the quote about Oklahoma, leaving out the final sentence where McClelland willfully went on a further excursion with the men who had made the sex remark in the bar. There was no trauma in the sweat lodge, accompanied by the men who we are to believe had sexually threatened her. It was a therapeutic experience. Read it for yourself, and do not accuse me of victim-blaming again.

mrgrimm: from McClelland's article, posted yesterday, "And the way Sybille went into a full paroxysm when we were on the way back to the post-quake tarp city she lived in was the worst thing I ever saw in my life."

For a human rights reporter who seems hell-bent on reminding us of her credentials and legitimacy as a Hardcore War Zone Truthteller, that is a very strong statement. Especially since it appears that, to McClelland herself, Sybille's screams in the car were in fact a significantly worse experience than visiting the rape camps that she saw in Haiti, in your article published Jan/Feb 2011. Please don't twist my words, especially when I am directly quoting the author.

>> I don't think that's the word you're looking for. I think you mean "exploitative"?

Thanks, yes. Exploitative is exactly the word I mean.
posted by pineapple at 9:37 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have PTSD as a result of non-consensual sex. Six years of non-consensual sex, any time my abuser wanted it, always with me in the dominant role. Being abused is awful. Having your abuser frame you as the arbiter, as the perpetrator, as the domme -- it's horrific, and there's no way out of it.

I was also a journalist for ten years. I left journalism because of my PTSD, though I miss the profession and I miss the work and I miss the excitement. I have this natural state of heightened arousal, in which I am always up for a crisis. Always on the lookout for a crisis, always ready to handle one. It's true that "normal" circumstances freak me out. I cannot handle calm.

Once, when things were particularly bad in my brain, I was hospitalized. The doctors said I showed no signs of PTSD, because I was so calm. What they didn't understand was that being hospitalized sent me into what I call "crisis mode," in which I am suddenly calm and healthy and happy and just fine. At the hospital, I organized little groups of patients into groups of friends, rallied everyone together for game nights and lobbied for better treatment of patients during group sessions. This is not the sort of behavior one expects from a chronically depressed person who normally does not even wash her hair. But the hospital was an emergency, and emergencies are my area of expertise. I am good at them. This is something McClelland points out very well, and I'm glad of it.

Journalists are constantly told not to make themselves the focus of their stories. But sometimes ... sometimes your own experiences are the ones you are best qualified to describe. Doing that work is fantastic and wonderful, and I'm proud of Mac McClelland for telling her own story.

Then there is the weird component of how BDSM is paradoxical. You'd think, you know, that violent sex would be "re-traumatization" or something along those lines. For many people, it may be.

But then there are people like me, and like Mac. We need our darkest fantasies because they assist us in the process of differentiating between "sadistic/non-consensual" and "sadistic/consensual." There is a sense of liberation, of catharsis. It can be a source of strength, even love. It's a dynamic that, once entered, takes you right through the looking glass. I think BDSM is the only place in the world where "no" can mean yes. Where you're allowed to scream and cry because that is what's inside of you and what has always wanted to come out and what has never been allowed to come out. Again, paradoxically, that screaming and crying can signify enjoyment and wonder and beauty. It's a strange thing.

A lot of mainstream therapists worry that entering into a power-exchange dynamic is bad for anyone who has been abused, who has directly experienced a severe imbalance of power. The difference, of course, is that the power exchange in BDSM is completely fictional. It's something that has been discussed and agreed to in advance. There is a safe word. There is an out. No real harm will come to you. Entering that play space in which you can act out your fears allows you to create your own ending. To re-contextualize, to rewind, to show that there is a situation in which all of these terrible things can happen but not be terrible at all.

I wish I had better words to describe the real liberation that can come of exploring BDSM, specifically in the context of PTSD. But I think what Mac has done is brave and strong and wonderful and should be encouraged.
posted by brina at 1:38 PM on June 28, 2011 [18 favorites]


Prospective commenters on this FPP:
I encourage you to take a minute and breathe.
posted by azarbayejani at 6:42 PM on June 28, 2011


I have K*'s permission to publish this letter and to talk about K* because she is angry at the way Ms. McClelland has portrayed her in the tweets, has ignored the wishes of her letter and continues to make K* part of her story.

This week, K* wrote me an e-mail from Port-au-Prince saying, “I want victims in Haiti to know that they can be strong and stand up for their rights and have a voice. Our choices about when and how our story is told must be respected."

posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:56 AM on July 12, 2011


That's an interesting link, Amanda. I didn't know that K/Sybille had withdrawn her permission for McClelland to talk about her experience — that's a really thorny issue when it comes to reportage, and it seems like McClelland acted unethically with regard to the initial tweeting (which seems pretty fucking heinous, honestly, though the line between objective and callous is a hard one for journalism). I'm not sure I'd argue that her behavior in this issue current story is unethical, though I can certainly see the case as made.
posted by klangklangston at 1:52 PM on July 12, 2011


So if Fate has made you part of my story, I'm only allowed to tell my story in ways that you find acceptable?

K* is a coda in the story of Mac, her PTSD, and her unusual treatment. Considering that Mac spends much of her life documenting sexual violence it seems likely that K* would have remained completely anonymous had she not come forward. If Mac did name K* in the initial tweets it was probably because she honestly thought she had permission. She has obviously since used pseudonyms and describes the incident in only enough detail to explain how her own experience began.

It sounds very much like K* simply does not want the story being told of how Mac dealt with her PTSD. I'm very sorry that something very bad happened to K*, but she does not have the right to shut Mac up simply because she occupies a corner of Mac's story. Mac has done what is necessary to protect K*'s identity in the OP. To expect her to do more, in particular to not tell the rest of her story at all so that a particular narrative can be maintained about its loosely related circumstances of inception, is completely unreasonable.
posted by localroger at 3:16 PM on July 12, 2011


Still with the Scarlet Letters

This was written before the Essence piece, but the author addresses it in the comments.
posted by homunculus at 4:21 PM on July 12, 2011


homunculus, do you see any problem with the fact that the website you linked (which hosts the op-ed defending Mac McClelland) has as its managing editor the same lover that Mac McClelland used for the therapeutic sex she recounts in the Good piece?

(From a personal taste perspective: how passé. Sleeping with someone, splashing the explicit details on the internet for public consumption, and then having someone from his website ride innocently to your defense against your nasty public detractors is just so Diaryland 2003.)

I agree with localroger that, by the exact letter of the law, McClelland didn't do anything actionable to K*. Technically, yes she became "part of the story" by riding with K* and her mother. Technically, yes she has every right to tell her own experience however she likes. She is pretty clearly someone who likes to dance around those lines without worrying whether she's crossing them.

But this comes back to one of my original points: a journalist who seeks ways to insert herself in the story, and so spectacularly ignores the privacy/confidentiality requests of her subjects, is not going to stay A-list for any significant amount of time. After all this, I will be surprised if an "authoritative" publication commissions any work from McClelland again.

I'll leave it here: given my initial feelings regarding McClelland's choices with this piece, I can't say that all the subsequent questionable ethical issues that seem to be swirling around this one writer have offered me any reason at all to change my mind.
posted by pineapple at 8:00 PM on July 12, 2011


When I saw the disclaimer at the end I certainly thought "WTF?" for a moment, but I think it's an excellent piece which deserves to be judged on its own merits. Also, I've read this writer's work before (which I could have sworn I first saw in this thread, but I don't see it now) and I don't think she would be a stooge for McClelland or The Rumpus. That she contributes to the website doesn't mean she's going to compromise her integrity for it.
posted by homunculus at 9:15 PM on July 12, 2011


pineapple, I don't see how Mac is "inserting herself into the story" here. Her PTSD and what she did to recover is the story. People getting raped in Haiti is dog bites man; arranging to be raped so your PTSD will fade is man bites dog. In the OP Mac says the bare minimum about K* and her experience to set up her own.

I think both you and K* object to the telling of the story primarily because the final outcome squicks you. Which is understandable, but I don't think you're being honest about your objection.

BTW, "technically" is all that separates civilization from chaos.
posted by localroger at 5:50 AM on July 13, 2011


[few comments removed - that is way over the line. We don't play the "I just wanted you to know how it feels to have people say shitty things about you" game here, take that to email or take a walk, stat. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:50 AM on July 13, 2011


localroger, I feel very confident that you saw my original remark to you, and I feel no different about it so it stands, in my mind. You're way over the line in presuming to publicly assert how I "really" feel or accusing me of being dishonest. That's a cheap and tacky shot. You don't know me and you have zero business presuming to decide on my behalf whether or what I'm secretly hiding if anything. You aren't MetaFilter's resident shrink, last I checked, and you are in the dead-wrong for ascribing motive to me. It's even more egregious that you would ascribe motive to K*, in my opinion. She's the actual rape victim here but now you've decided she lied in her statement decrying McClelland's memoir. Why is that okay?

homunculus, not sure if you saw the part of my original response directed at you so I will try to recreate:

While I agree that the op-ed defending McClelland was powerful in and of itself, it's hard for me to view it as anything but fruit from a poisonous tree. Did the managing editor Isaac (who admits to being McClelland's violent lover) commission the piece? Was the author paid to write it? If the author went to The Rumpus and requested the platform, why didn't they turn her down, due to the patently obvious conflict of interest? What is the personal relationship between Isaac and Roxane or Roxane and Mac?

There are simply too many ethical issues constantly swirling up around McClelland and her posse, as far as I'm concerned. I'll be blatantly surprised if any legitimate, authoritative publication commissions her again.
posted by pineapple at 5:39 PM on July 13, 2011


I understand, and it's totally a legitimate criticism, but I'm giving Gay the benefit of the doubt. She doesn't strike me as a writer who would compromise her voice like that. That's a purely subjective reaction on my part, so take it for what it's worth.
posted by homunculus at 6:19 PM on July 13, 2011


Well pineapple, a good start would be to say that you're wrong to think I saw your remark to me that was deleted, because I didn't. I have been wicked crazy busy at work and at home and I get to MeFi when I can. I am a bit awed that I provoked a deleted subthread. It's like I've achieved MeFi tweenage or something.

This whole thing is about an awful confluence of happenstance. I don't know how it works in Haiti, but here in the US the way it works is you get to tell your story unless your story includes some really egregious things (and the degree of that differs depending on whether you're a "public figure" or not) about the other actors in your story. Mac has carefully walked the line about that. There is nothing "technically" about it. She is within her rights. Period. There is nothing to argue here. The fact that a minor actor in her story would prefer that her own story, or that of her country, be cast in a different light, is immaterial. You might get to argue that in Haiti but in the US you don't. And that is a good thing, for reasons counting into exponential notation compared to this particular oddity.

If you think I was over a line saying you were being dishonest about your motives, you could always counter by demonstrating how why I was wrong.
posted by localroger at 7:03 PM on July 13, 2011


Ladies, We Have a Problem: Sluts, nuts and the clumsiness of reappropriation.
posted by homunculus at 11:30 AM on July 20, 2011


[seriously folks, email at this point, don't drag this out in the thread]
posted by jessamyn at 12:08 PM on July 20, 2011


That's a smart little OpEd, Homunculus. Thanks.
posted by klangklangston at 1:35 PM on July 20, 2011


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