READ FIRST: My life is fucked up because I called a powerful man out for rape on behalf of Young Chicago Authors
In December 2014, I published “small fortunes,” a novel chronicling my life. Inspired by Ernest Hemingway, and Roberto Bolaño’s Savage Detectives a lot of it was about romance, but the point was making a snapshot of the arts scene in Chicago at that moment in time.
At the closing of the opening vignette, I see Chance the Rapper at one of Jamila’s release shows and it’s a warm handshake-hug. But he’s hanging out with Bee Kapri, who isn’t talking to or looking at me. I show me watching him embrace and embraced by the friend group I am being excluded by right in front of me, as we look up at Jam jam from the edge of the stage. I’m going to fill in missing information in this thread with the help of this record.
I tried to be very kind as well as firm in my thread, but at least two people were angry with me because they thought I was omitting important events as well as implying that their success in the past five years wouldn’t have been possible… if they had… I dunno. Followed through like I did? I intentionally was not implying that from a general, conspiratorial standpoint~ Young Chicago Authors nefariously kneecapping careers. But since I’m being pressed on specifics and omissions now I am going to say it:
If you were excluded by Bee Kapri for calling out Roger the way I was five years ago, you would not have the same opportunities for success you have now.
Five years ago, after the allegations against our mentor came out, Jamila + Fatimah invited me to a meeting at their place to talk about it.
I saw Adam at a poetry performance about sexual violence in the arts and we emoted about our world breaking apart on a leaf-covered street corner. I let him know about the meeting, he indicated to me that he already knew about it. I didn’t organize the gathering or see it as my responsibility to do so, I was just so so grateful to Jamila and Fati for putting it together and for everyone who was there. I trusted them with my life.
Myself, Dominique Chestand, Malcolm London, Kush Thompson, Jamila Woods, Fatimah Asghar, Adam Levin, and H. Melt met to discuss the sexual violence accusations against one of our mentors, Roger Bonair-Agard.
As soon as she heard about this meeting our friend, YCA employee, and influencer Bee Kapri ceased contact with us. During the discussion at the apartment we vented our fears and reactions and discussed what we could do, hoping to incorporate more community members as we expanded.
We discussed Bee and someone said she had just been posting about some new book award of Roger’s so they didn’t include her yet. We came up with the idea to bring one or two people each to the next meeting.
I just knew I was coming with Raych (and probably Molly tbh). I hoped Bee would come, but left it to the leaders (Jam+Fati) to navigate. We wanted to work through soliciting public support and response from YCA. But when Bee found out about the meeting she felt like she was being made out to be a rape apologist, and like we were basically conspiring against her. And like I said, she stopped talking to us, except for with hurt and rage.
Our next scheduled meeting was cancelled because Malcolm was attending Roger’s baby naming ceremony. I watched and was told that Bee was letting person after person back into her circle, but not me, and person after person receded from our working group.
That was the end of my friendship with Bee and the beginning of the end of my time at Young Chicago Authors.
I stopped feeling safe in the YCA space primarily because of Bee and Kevin Coval’s power and proximity to Roger. I think in the following Spring she sent a text inviting me to co-feature at that week’s open mic. I told her I was going to do a piece about Roger. She rescinded the invitation. The last and only time we hung I think was the end of that year I remember being invited to a holiday party of hers. I was grateful. Her family is awesome. Her little sister loved me. I was loved.
I was talking to survivors. A former YCA instructor who is a trained rape counselor and now runs her own poetry space for survivors of trauma+abuse told me in a public Facebook thread that years prior she had informed Kevin about another mentor’s inappropriate sexual activity with young people and she was ignored, he stayed, she eventually moved away from Young Chicago Authors. Others chimed in.
Before any of this I had also recently seen my mentor slammaster Robbie Q communicate that he was weirdly frozen out from YCA leadership by Kevin. And by all accounts and appearances, Kevin Coval and Roger Bonair-Agard were great friends who had been teaching, organizing, drinking, living, and…etc. together for years. I spent a year trying to navigate the fact that no one was taking responsibility at YCA while other organizations around the city WERE making public statements; Bee was not talking to me but hanging out with all my friends, and all of these things were problems that I knew could have been avoided maybe even before we held our first meeting the year before. I was not a legal employee of YCA, Bee was, most of the others were too.
In a mediation with Kevin Coval, H. Melt, and Jamila Woods, Bee Kapri later tells me she singled me out in regards to Roger+YCA for not including her in a meeting I didn’t even organize because of how much I meant to her, and the specific depth and origins of our friendship. What am I to do? But this was later in 2015.
At the end of 2014, I had my first mediation sessions with Kevin Coval. YCA had publicly severed ties with Roger, but I continued receiving messages about him working WITH YOUNG CHICAGO AUTHORS via satellite slams, helping with programming, etc. Even this year, when Eve Ewing posted my tumblr post from 2014 asking for accountability, an educator tweeted under her saying Roger had been booked for an LTAB slam in Texas and they wouldn’t be attending because of it and wish they could find more information. (Even now, Roger is listed first on the Free Write literacy youth program’s leadership page, and YCA collaborates with them basically every day of every year) So I had been publicly pressuring Kevin to make a statement using a diversity of tactics including letters, patience, diss tracks, genuinely tweeted rage, and fielding public conversations that folks wanted to have but couldn’t find an outlet for.
At this point, I am an outlier amongst my friends.
But Kevin and my’s mediation sessions were beautiful. The facilitator was kind and thorough. They were difficult too. I was surprised in some ways that Kevin was disturbed by my behavior, I always tried to make it extra clear, even at my most emotional, that I was genuinely literally following protocol and using all the tools at my disposal to make sure…no one got away with rape.
But we saw eye-to-eye in those sessions, and the mediator suggested we use our powers to work together and make something new and wonderful.
Kevin and I met for lunch. Encouraged by H. Melt’s affirmation of me being an important queer male presence in the space, we settled on doing a queer-themed open mic. Kevin got the Queeriosity name from another similar event, and got the title cleared. Wow, this was gonna be awesome. My own space to help kids like me and be radical.
Then Louder Than A Bomb 2015 happened.
From my apology the next day…
“Yesterday I went to LTAB semifinals. I went to the 4-6 PM bout and was a VIP judge for 7-9PM.
I left several times during the first semis bout. I was disturbed by the consistently upsetting content. I had to call a friend for help. To calm down and also to ask how I was supposed to judge in this setting. My friend asked me -my- criteria, I chose out of what they offered: word choice and complexity of approach to the subject matter.
I made tweets criticizing the first slam and it embroiled me in some serious conflict with a few organizers of the event during.
My initial tweets read:
rly disappointed in & unenthused by this #LTABsemis. it feels formulaic, uninspired. “every piece” is quivering voices, generic complaints
and all the scores are like 8.5s. realized what a specific event this is (has become) #ltab
The organizers feel that I was belittling the children. Given the sensitive, passionate nature of my self, the children, the organizers, and the cause itself I hope you can empathize with how difficult and tenuous this is. I am trying to be direct. And kind. I do not intend to be destructive. Ever. Forgive me, please. I offer this essay to give background to my truest, most complex thoughts.”
I publicly and privately apologized and offered to talk with anyone who was still mad. No one responded to my email. I let educators and community members express themselves on my wall and engaged in dialogues. The next time I went to an open mic at YCA Toaster pulled me aside to make sure I wasn’t going to make fun of any kids.
Like, nigga what? ME, NIGGA? I was literally the cheeriest most affirming presence at every single Wordplay, I got kids to scream their life was fantastic, I cheered, laughed, I listened, I documented, I shared, I cried, I checked in on loners, I introduced myself to newcomers, I even started the thing they do where they make sure the room repeats after all the -isms that aren’t allowed. (Lamar Jorden was hosting, when he said “no sexist” and because it was such a persisting problem I said again “SEXIST” and he said “actually that’s a good idea. I want yall to repeat after me when I say this”)
In 2018, my good friend Raych Jackson still wants to remind you that I was/am the guy who is MEAN TO KIDS while everyone jokes about people digging up tweets.
I know this is because I haven’t been hanging out with Bee Kapri and able to humanize myself and ingratiate myself with folks anymore. I became not just an outlier, but an outcast. All anyone seemed to see was my indignance, me from a distance. My tweets going at their leader and their best friend not talking to me or looking at me. I’m not at parties, I’m not at a show with you, unless I’m with Raych and thus under her protection.
Malcolm London, who looked up to me for years, directly insults me online during the twitter thing. I go around the event approaching people who responded online in person, with love in my heart. When I talk to him in person he is still mad but more understanding, says something to me like “we want you in the space,” referencing the roger thing as if to reassure me but also with a tone to assure me that it can be taken from me. Jasmine Barber enthusiastically supports me when I see her that night, she gets that there is a bigger split happening.
No one is ever as loud in supporting me as they are in disparaging me.
At the same time, I’m inviting H. Melt to be the first feature at Queeriosity. I wanted to have different features come in and help make the theme/program for their evening. I specifically ask H. Melt to help me because I believe in YCA and that we can get back on the same page with our homies but I need H. Melt’s help to feel supported and sane. “I need you.” H. Melt super reluctantly agrees. In the wake of Roger, etc. they do not believe that YCA can care for them, will only hurt them.
After LTAB i’m worried YCA is going to cancel Queeriosity anyway but instead the nonprofit tells me they’re just going to institute more control of it. Jamila and Fatimah are brought in, and me, H. Melt, and those two are the Queeriosity team.
Queeriosity was difficult because we had nearly no budget, promotion was wonky, and there were a couple times the space was double booked, and our main supervisor stepped back weirdly so then Jamila became the boss and our peer and our friend? The four of us had an amazing season tho where I helped mentor the first openly queer generation of YCA. The kids still come up to me and hug me, send me messages; I consider young Sol Patches family.
But at the end of our Queeriosity pilot session, Jamila sat down H. Melt and I, the two people who were pursuing justice with Roger the longest and hardest and the two most visible queer people in the community at the time, and fired us as young people walked around us printing things and H. Melt wept and asked “why?” “is it roger?”
Jamila later sincerely apologized for how this went down. And assured me it had nothing to do with Roger. They didn’t like my teaching style, I didn’t fit their standards. I said “you never trained me. I asked to be trained and brought in more you never let me.” I am still fired from the program I started; they tell me later others behind the scenes were “interested” in a program like Queeriosity anyway before I came along. People like Bee…
H. Melt and I consider bringing a Queeriosity-like program to somewhere else. Young Chicago Authors had made us sign a contract giving them the name and program, something H. Melt was iffy about from the start. In the end, H. Melt is rehired by YCA and teaching and featuring at Queeriosity alongside Bee Kapri when the next season starts.
Then I sexually harassed my friend Molly at a party. We had had a sexually explicit friendship. We had helped each other through breakups, double dated, flirted, propositioned each other at various points. Literally said “we’re going to have sex one day” to each other, like boop.
The only time we actually hooked up, I had just ended a long term relationship as she was ending one and beginning a new one simultaneously. We made out but didn’t go further because she was really into this new guy.
That great guy Joseph Chilliams became one of my friends and collaborators, but I was hella jealous. And at this party, I was really drunk and dealing with sex and having a lot of sex and wanting to see how much explicitness and bad-ness I could get away with with my sexy thighs and long hair. I had been approached by and gotten away with hooking up with girls with boyfriends before and honestly felt so cool that no one would fuck with me even if they knew. The taboo made it…you know
So i told Molly all the things I wanted to do…with…to her…around the party. It wasn’t explicitly violent, but if Molly was trying to give me signals that she was very uncomfortable and I wasn’t following them… yeah. We talked in the morning. She told me how it especially bothered her because of my friendship to Joe and me knowing how she had just been through awful shit with her ex. She was right. I was sorry.
We hung out and corresponded a little after that. She even told me about her later doing… things at a party Joe was at, and him understanding, but her not even completely understanding herself. Word. But we continued to drift, we were already estranged. Where am I now with my friend group? How do they see me? They won’t!
I truly believe Molly knew and knows me as a person. She watched me developed from someone who had never had sex, to my first queer experiences, and beyond. She knew I didn’t even let Joe say “bitch” on our record, and I didn’t use that word or really allow others to say it around me. She knows how sad and devastated I get after causing pain to a woman, any woman, in any way. She’s seen me check our other male friends with love for a decade every time they hurt or disrespected women.
I always thought we could have worked through it. If I was able to be around, at all. But my fate was sealed. Like I said, people in the larger community still fuck with me. Most of these people I name still Twitter followed me, even though they didn’t interact with me or show up to anything I ever did… And I couldn’t show up to their shit or YCA out of fear of seeing Bee.
This is the story of the erratic sexual aggressor who is bad for kids. It feels good to own all this. This is the truth, my life.
The people holding me most to the LTAB situation and maybe the one with Molly (I really don’t think most people know about it, but I need to take responsibility now), are the people who should know me best, but are also the closest to Bee. Who should also know me better.
(I was just sitting here this morning reading that novel like damn I could have hung out with Chance, Bee Kapri, and my homies that night at Jamila’s release show alone, and my life might be drastically different now.)
Atevery step of the way I worked to make our original demands the new standard for all arts and activism in the city. I checked in with YCA however I could, sent emails, tagged folks, chopped it up with Kevin about my work with the Feminist Action Support Network, he said “Like a superhero?” I stopped having sex, lost my sexual identity. Molly wasn’t the only womanfriend I had harmed or harassed while drunk during that period. Trust me, it’s not that crazy but I took sober time. Night after night, I kept organizing, empowered venues to protect women from harassment at parties, to help people see the violence in all of us, to help people heal, I stopped pursuing sex at all especially with folks in my community, except the once when love hit me like a dump truck. And even then I couldn’t get it up. Get over it. I did it all for free and I am a broke, broken man, who has paid my dues.
I never meant to use you all for my stepping stones.
From small fortunes:
“How would you feel if I was your daughter, though?”
I know it’s a good point, one of the points of this. Mom says “I understand what you’re saying, it’s just that you’re my son. And when stuff like this happens it can make you a target. People are going to try to mess with you.” That’s hers. I know that if something ever happened to me, for any reason, she’ll know that this is who I am, that me being in these situations and pushing them forward is inevitable. Maybe one day she’ll tell me she’s proud instead of afraid.
“It doesn’t matter what people say about me. I’m straight edge, I’m in school, I have a job, I’m really nice, whatever. As long as no one tries to kill me it doesn’t matter.” We never agree, in this conversation or others like it, we just talk ourselves dry and tell the other we love them.
I love my mom. I get off the phone with her and continue getting ready. I tweet “This is my first act as a man.”