I don’t remember the date, but it must have been around June, 1996, because it was before I got transferred to Miami Beach the following October. It was sunny and hot out, because I remember wearing loose-fitting shorts, sandals, and a T-shirt. It was Nickelodeon, the Manhattan office, and in the 1990s “casual” wear meant dressing up like we were still en route to college keg parties. My Yale degree, fluency in foreign languages, and trove of original fiction had not really been the key to landing a job at MTV Networks and the famous tower of 1515 Broadway. I’d gotten the job because some employees of the company knew me as the cute little gay boy working the towel desk at the New York Sports Club Crowne Plaza, a few blocks away. I’d managed to get my resume passed on to some higher ups at MTV Networks, and I’d wormed my way in to an entry-level job.
“Pretty little slut boy,” was a phrase one lecherous homosexual used to use, in reference to people like me. “Young, dumb, and full of [—],” another slang term often surfaced. I had started in as a dubbing & acquisitions coordinator, so at least I was on the buying end rather than the selling end. If you were trying to break into ad sales, and all you had was your youth and ambition, the pressure was even higher on you to work around the usual rules of ethics to get ahead. Like many young workers in the company at that time, I was not “staff.” I was working under a temporary labor category and “promoted” to coordinator so I could get neither health insurance nor overtime.
I was lithe and had an athletic build, plus I was obviously Puerto Rican. The market niche in which I would fit was quite predictable. What went on, back then, explains the origination of my obesity later in life, after I got out of the Army. Once I was in my late thirties, a part of me hated everything that came with having a “good body.” I hated men looking at me. I hated being reminded of past times when all people saw was the shape of your torso. I started putting on weight and loving the anonymity and even invisibility of obesity. It freed me, for a time, of being targeted by creepy men. That was all okay until the doctor told me I was at risk of diabetes, so then with God’s help I lost a lot of the weight this year.
But if I can go back in my mind to the 1990s, before I reached the breaking point and decided, consciously, to become fat, I recall a lot of experience pertinent to the whole Harvey Weinstein controversy. On that summery day in 1996 a tall, overweight guy in management, who was in his late thirties, had noticed me when I first got there. “Noticed” might not be the right word. Apparently, from what I understand, he’d “heard” about me from some people who remarked that I cut a nice figure at that towel desk before someone scored me the job in MTV. This guy was “staff.” He was rich. He seemed to have come from a rich family. Like most of the men who were circulating in the TV industry and had professional favors to give, he was attracted to men; I think he was gay but many of them were bisexual.
He asked me to step into a conference room that wasn’t being used, so he could talk to me about opportunities in the company. I was dumbstruck and a little shy, so I didn’t know what to say. I was twenty-five years old. Despite having finished an Ivy League degree, I had been working at only $7 an hour for some time. When I started at MTV Networks it was $30,000 and that seemed like gold to me. I wanted to get ahead. I knew that for every job opening or opportunity in the industry, there were hundreds of posers, parvenus, and “climbers,” people trying to do whatever they could to get ahead. In programming, the area where I worked, people wanted to get into writing and creating their own material. That was all the big status. Like me, lots of them were creative writers who’d gone to college and dreamed of becoming storytellers, somebody famous, the postmodern version of an oracle. I knew I wasn’t going to be known to history as the next Thomas Aquinas. But maybe I’d sell a script.
I stepped into the empty conference room, which I remember had glass windows so everyone in the work area outside could see what was happening. The tall, overweight guy on staff stuck his hand up my shorts and grabbed my private parts. “Just let me explain,” he said. This was clearly the usual routine.
I knew he’d introduce me to people and get me meetings if I just stood there and let him fondle my genitals in full view of a whole office of people working. The complete contempt gay men had for other gay men in that era was stunning. If you were a self-identified homosexual in the industry, the assumption was you had no qualms about being used and sleeping your way to the top. You wouldn’t get as much blowback as straight women, and there was no risk of getting pregnant. But the downside was, back then, that you had to accept a public identity of a highly paid whore, one of the thousands upon thousands of gay men with low self-esteem wanting to overcome their lack of masculinity by making it big in entertainment.
By grabbing me in a conference room with glass partitions that everybody could see, this person was obviously playing a game. He wasn’t actually trying to keep anything secret. He was marking his territory like a terrier urinating on a fire hydrant. Other gay men could go after me if they wanted, but he wanted credit for being the first to draw me into the way things worked in entertainment.
I understand how women can feel oppressed and exploited by men in entertainment. As an industry it’s completely exploitative and fake, full of users and glorified pimps. But I can’t pretend that these women are all victims. Because I remember this moment very clearly–and I remember that I made a CHOICE. I knocked this man’s hand out of my shorts and pushed him off me. I didn’t care if that meant I would not have a huge future in the company. I had already accepted money for sex from disgusting old men more than once by this stage in my life. Forget being famous. I just wanted to wake up feeling like a decent, whole human being instead of feeling like a cheap piece of meat.
There is no way Harvey Weinstein could have racked up this much bad blood, unless multitudes of women decided in moments like the one I faced, to just let the guy get his thrills in the hopes of a big break. It wouldn’t be that hard. You just close your eyes, think about other things, and “reclaim” the whole episode like a badge of honor. Like the sassy widow in “Harper Valley PTA” you could just carry yourself with an heir of “honi soit qui mal y pense.” The thing is, you know what the game is. You choose whether to play the game or not. At the juncture when many of these actresses were faced with the choice of how to respond to Harvey Weinstein, they were young enough to have bright futures in other careers ahead of them, if they chose to get out. They could have reported him ages ago.
Harvey Weinstein’s conduct was horrible but he’s only one player in a very dirty game. If you don’t like what you hear about him, don’t just banish him from the game. You have to put an end to the whole system of shallow fame and meaningless glory. Boycott Hollywood.
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