By Dianna Dragonetti
On October 1, 2014, HTMLGiant published Emily Swanson’s “Gawker Response,” a reaction to the Gawker coverage of the previous day, continuing to publicize the idea that Stephen Tully Dierks is a rapist and abuser. Though Swanson decries the Gawker article (written by Allie Jones) as a “misrepresentation of the community,” I would argue that the invocation of the “boys’ club narrative” was one of the better points presented in that analysis. Though neither article covers the situation adequately, Swanson’s is more damaging for its predication on fallacy: the fallacy of “alt lit” as a somehow redeemable community, separate from its roots in privilege, oppression, and enabling—the fallacy of justice.
I would first like to address the obvious fault in this piece and in Gawker’s, and that is sloppy journalism. This problem is exemplified by the treatment of Tiffany Wines, one of the people alleging abuse by Dierks, who bravely published an account shortly after Sophia Katz’. Jones refers to Wines as “an anonymous 18-year-old woman,” when Tiffany was not by any means anonymous—in fact, Wines came forward through an open post (public on Tumblr) and has been greatly involved in discourse. The fact that this inaccuracy carried over into the Swanson article (though there Tiffany was at least named), and that Swanson arguably downplays the alleged rape through vague and convoluted language (“She explained how he pressured her into intercourse multiple times while she was intoxicated and after she explicitly told him she wasn’t interested in being physical with him,”) really undermines the depiction of alt lit as a sensitive community.
But perhaps more misguided is the message of Swanson’s piece, that the “boy’s club” idea somehow distracts from what alt lit somehow really is, “implicitly excus[ing] Dierks’ actions by identifying them as part of a mentality held by the group at large.” And yet this is precisely the base on which alt lit has been predicated since its genesis: empowering predominantly white, cis, heterosexual male writers and giving them voice, enabling them to abuse through an “alternative” veneer—or, as Jones writes in her first sentence, making “gestures towards radicalism and openness,” while still aligning with normativity and endangering the marginalized. I agree with Swanson that the women writers she does mention (and trans, queer, and non-binary that she doesn’t) are “more important than their male counterparts”; however, the “violent and disrespectful act” is conducted by alt lit itself, for pedestaling the artists (Tao Lin, Steven Trull/Janey Smith, Dierks) who, according to numerous reports, abuse, rape, and subjugate. Alt lit as a culture and community has existed as little more than a replication of “society’s patriarchal structure,” and allowing the actions of those like Dierks to be contextualized that way demonstrates how importantly and horrifyingly commonplace they are.
If alt lit is any kind of progressive community now, it is because of tireless work of countless people who have attempted to dismantle its tendency to enable—Andrea Coates, for example—and very likely the recent precedent established by Alexandra Naughton and I, along with several others, in an attempt to finally hold Janey Smith/Steven Trull, another alt lit gatekeeper, accountable for his abuses. That situation, while more supported than arguably any other critical call-out effort attempt within alt lit, was far from ideal. Firstly, Alexandra and I were coerced into our positions, with her being publicly shamed by Smith/Trull in a baseless post and with my violating inclusion in the “Fuck List.” I am grateful for what support we received, but it was unreliable at best: when I posted my article on “Sad Girl Misogyny,” for example, I was accused of cherry-picking and “character assassination”; Alexandra and I were both accused of utilizing our trauma for popular gain. But perhaps most disheartening of all is the very obvious divergence between how alt lit received the Smith/Trull situation versus how they received the situation with Dierks: people who had angrily denied or belittled our purpose now rallied for Dierks’s victims; people made posts acknowledging those who had spoken out about their alleged assaults by Dierks, passing right over Alexandra and others impacted by Smith/Trull (which, if you count the illegal and often potentially traumatizing use of likeness in the “Fuck List”/“We’re Fucked,” spans 200+ victims); people lamented the fact that the community had been in “uproar” about Trull while ignoring Dierks– despite the fact that Trull has threatened to silence many of the people attempting to call him out, such as Amy Silbergeld, and that Smith/Trull has yet to be held accountable for his alleged actions.
Is this “inspiring and humbling,” how a community should function? Is this something to “be proud of?” Dierks is facing consequences, but where is the accountability process for Smith/Trull (and, for that matter, peterbd and Plain Wrap/Heather Watson,) for all of those unknown and pervasive predators that still exist and thrive in what alt lit has allowed? It is our responsibility to reject our complicity and stand with these accusers, and with any and every survivor there is. Until that is the reality, progress is an impossible dream.