September 11, 2018
It’s been a long time since I corresponded.
I have been busy, and surely you have also been busy. Even so, you abused me a little in 1995, and quite a lot in 1996 – so I have complicated, unresolved feelings for you. Not to worry, I pay a therapist to listen to most of that, but, since the article came out I’ve been kind of mired in feelings that I should have resolved decades ago. Dumb stuff. Self-blame, then externalizing the anger (shame, regret, fear) at other folks, then back at myself. You know the cycle. You, of all people, know that cycle. You created it. It’s the cycle of abuse.
It’s not certain whether you’ll read this letter or not. I am not planning on emailing it to you, but I’m actually curious about your reaction to the article. I don’t want to be outright rude. Straightforward, yes. Critical, definitely, but I’d prefer to keep this civil. Civility and diplomacy are in my blood. My great-grandfather was a widower with 11 children. He founded a settlement in one of the North Fjords of Iceland. He was also a writer, a shepherd, a farmer, a fisherman. I think he taught school, as well. Iceland is that sort of country. Maybe you’re even President for a while, but after that, you still have to make yourself useful. It’s not like here, where you might do one thing, over and over again – learn one glitzy trick, and rest forever on laurels other folks earned.
(We all know you copied those Lost Colony costumes, William. You bragged about it. You stood, studying rare art pieces featuring Elizabeth and Raleigh, and you copied them exactly. You purchased the most exquisite fabrics and you supervised a team of people you trained to build clothing that would last. It’s a phenomenal skill, but you’re not creating any new ideas. What you do is NOT art. It is very much a craft. You’re a crafty guy. You have crafty fingers and a crafty mind.)
Your lawyers tied up the Buzzfeed story quite a bit. They made publication take another 10 days, after we had already researched and corroborated your abuse from quite a few sources. Some folks talked to us about other illegal activity you should have been criminally charged for (prostitution, intimidation, coercion, hush money, bribes, date rape, sexual assault) in the 90’s. People keep acknowledging what you did was wrong, talking about it explicitly, then, right at the last minute revoking permission to quote or source them, even anonymously.
Congratulations, you did a decent job scaring everyone.
But, there’s a difference between “decent” and “world class.” You taught me that. So, in some sense, it doesn’t matter. The people are coming forward now. Your days ignoring this are numbered, William. You won’t be able to act ignorant much longer. Of course, we both know you’re painfully aware of the charges leveled against you. Your team communicated extensively with Buzzfeed when we were working on the story. We both know it’s a matter of time before more and more (and yes, even more) people step forward to label you what you are: a serial abuser, and quite probably, a rapist. Most certainly, you covered up sexual harassment. We know about that. The stuff you were more careful about? Maybe we’ll never know. Or, maybe it’s a matter of time?
I was just in NYC, talking to a few theater-oriented publications, as well as larger outlets like NPR and the major papers in town. People are interested in this story. It’s not going anywhere. I’m not going anywhere. We’re still dancing William, at least until this song is over, or someone changes the tune. I rather like the chords the article struck. Adam is a good journalist, and though I didn’t love him painting me as a long-suffering Broadway hopeful, I did love that Buzzfeed thoroughly vetted every SINGLE charge they leveled against you. I did love that Adam was professional, yet compassionate. I did love that I have control of my side of the narrative now. That I can say exactly what you did, and who you are, and how dirty those crafty fingers are.
I was going to drop by your new studio while I was in the city, but I got wrapped up in story pitching, media outlet commentary, and reconnecting with old pals. My mother called me on the phone, specifically, to ask me not to drop by. She’s worried you might shoot me, or be so angry that you struck me dead. She loves me, and wants to see me healthy and happy. She can’t stand you, William. She really hates you, and what you tried to do to me. She’s mad at herself, a little, sometimes, but she doesn’t let any guilt she has affect her joy. Wallowing in regret isn’t what life is for. But, sometimes, William, I know she blames herself. I know she wishes she would have made a big stink about it when I told her you were abusing me. We were at dinner, with extended family. They didn’t yet know I was gay, and they were coming to see the show opening. Someone asked me what it was like to work for a Tony Award winning designer. I said it was an honor, but then I said I wished you’d keep your gross hands to yourself. Everyone gasped, and my mother (who had heard a more detailed version of what you put me through) changed the subject in that firm, graceful way Southern women have of insisting on a new topic. I’m sure you know women like that. You’re a Southerner, after all. From an old, respected family, I hear. As you can imagine, the ladies whisked the conversation away from your abuse, and the men acted as if they’d heard nothing.
That’s the South for you.
Anyway, I was going to head down to 44 Walker St. to see your studio. Last I visited you was in the early 2000’s. It was at your townhouse, back when you did a lot of work from home, in your Chelsea brownstone. Your assistant, Brian Mear, was still alive, and he greeted me in the lobby. He looked worried and exhausted. You came down, annoyed, it seemed. You could barely hold your impatience, but as I chatted with you you softened and got those doe eyes you sometimes get when you’re toying with the idea of breaking someone down. You left the room to get some drawings. Brian asked me why I was visiting. I told him I was out of work, and that I was hoping that you might point me in some right direction. A director friend who needed an assistant would have done it. Another designer, or a playwright, or hell – even a casting director that needed an office manager. You left Brian and I alone for a few moments and he asked me why I was visiting, and when I told him he shook his head no.
“William would rather break something than not have it,” is what Brian said to me. It was a simple metaphor, but I understood it immediately. I understood that Brian wasn’t going to let me push my resume at you. I understood it was probably fruitless to ask you to open your Rolodex for me. I’d already unsuccessfully tried to get Agnes and Fred Chappell to press harassment charges against you. Agnes talked me down. She said, don’t do it, you’ll regret it, young folks (especially homosexuals) will never be believed against an industry giant. All the ingrained lies people always repeat to get abuse victims to shut up about their bosses and their crafty fingers. They did your dirty work for you, William, probably without you even having to ask them. You were always the biggest name on the Lost Colony, and I suspect that was by design.
Your fingers are really gross, William, but your designs are fantastic.
Brian Mear warned me to get away from you, and I did. I didn’t come back to your office or your house. Something about how he said what he said to me that night struck me as a little more dire than his measured voice was letting on.
William would rather break something than not have it.
I had a brother like that. He went through a phase where he broke a few of my finer toys, on purpose, just because they weren’t his. It creeped me out when Brian said that to me. Because I knew the violent, abusive tendencies that accompanied the type of personality that would see beauty, and ruin it – just for the sake of spite. I’ve learned since then, there are actually many people in the world who will go to no ends to be cruel to other folks, just because they can. Brian Mear reminded me – watch out for that personality type. It is only emboldened by money, status, and pedigree.
It was chilling to me, this summer, while researching with Buzzfeed, to find out Brian Mear had killed himself. A trusted tech person at Lost Colony told me he shot himself in a vacation house of yours.
I’m sorry you lost a good assistant.
I didn’t drop by your office or your house. I was going to – not to knock on the door or try to surprise you with a microphone in some “gotcha” moment – I wanted to photograph the exterior of your brownstone and your offices, and make some sort of use of those images here, on this gay culture magazine I publish.
But, my New York pals were so happy to see me, and my new journalism connections had so much to talk to me about; I didn’t have time. I used to fantasize about taking your awards away and melting them down into chains and handcuffs, and giving them back to you. I still think that would be fun, but I don’t really want that anymore. I just want you to admit what you did and apologize. Maybe, you get extra credit if you offer to help some of the folks whose self esteem you damaged by cheapening them down inside when nobody was looking?
By the way, is that what I was to you? Is that why you whispered about how smart, how poetic, what a great ‘eye’ I had? Why did you say all that nice shit above my waist, and treat me like raw meat below? Didn’t you see I just wanted someone to show me how to make beautiful things? Why did I have to confront so much evil in the world, just to learn basic design principles? Were you bored? Did I threaten you, somehow? Or do you just like breaking spirits because it’s useful and fun? I know those costumers working under you always mumbled through glazed over, faraway eyes. They were always exhausted. Always shaking their heads and muttering about the latest indignity you foisted upon them. Never social, and always bitter after just two beers.
I lived through 9/11 and I’ve never been to ground zero. I never thought I needed to see the gaping wound inflicted on my beloved City of New York. I think I’m not going to drop by your house, or your office, either.
I think I’ll wait for my apology. And, if I wait my whole life, maybe that’s fine, too…
But, I might just keep writing to you. I hated the way you touched me, and I told you as much to your face a few nights. But, I loved the way you talked to me, once in a while. The way you sometimes taught me, encouraged me. Like I said, it’s complicated and unresolved feelings.
Why must you take so much away, when you give a small encouragement? Is that what you think is fair? Is that how people should be treated? Like chattel, to be fondled and cooed at, then forced to pull a plow or get hacked up for the dinner table? Or, slowly milked by oily, crafty fingers by the light of a candle in a shady barn or props cabin? Gross. You see what gross thoughts you inspire? Why couldn’t you have been a mentor, like promised? I’m sorry. This is fringing on uncivil. I’ll move on.
I hope this letter finds you well. I want you alive and well when this story gets bigger. It’s already happening. So no, I won’t be visiting your office to take photos of your soot-covered brownstone. Unsettling as it is, I’m going to have to give myself boundaries.
I’ll explain boundaries and why they’re so important in another letter maybe.
This is exhausting. I’ve been losing weight rapidly this year. I’m so worn down by this and I don’t see a way to stop what I’ve set in motion.
Probably, I just need sleep, or a vacation. The long summer is over, and I suppose I owe myself the opportunity to bear witness to an incredible fall.
I await your apology.
Michael S. Martin