the invisible spell of silence
on music & cyberstalking & visibility
Hello. This writing includes references to abuse, stalking, suicide, and general struggles with mental health. Please take care of yourself and remember that you have choice here in how you do or do not engage.
I often tell people that I have been making music for two years but that is slightly a lie. Although true under my current name, technically I was in the orchestra in middle school and high school and then wrote and recorded music from seventh grade to my senior year of college. There are binders full of song lyrics, embarrassing YouTube videos, and uploaded (now private) songs to prove it. Music was and is the most distinct calling I have ever had which is why it felt so inspiring to discover my deep ancestral connection to music, which I wrote about for Dweller.
I wish I could say working with this sonic medium always feels safe, inspiring, and life giving but that is not the case here. And the true feelings and energy surrounding my sonic work feel so complicated, I am often shocked I make music at all.
While in college, I was briefly intimately involved with someone. Although we were not dating, I cared about them. I will keep the specificities brief not as a way of minimizing the situation but because I have to balance what I say with concern of my safety. So I won’t go into details about the many complex situations and dynamics that were present during our physical time together while we attended the same school and what occurred afterwards, once he suddenly left. I will however say that there was a point as to when things shifted and I began to become more worried about this person's presence in my life and my own sense of safety.
And then came the many messages about my music.
This person I was with had discovered my Soundcloud and began accusing me of creating songs about him. What began as an already intrusive curiosity through asking me why I wrote them and what my intention was quickly devolved into something more explosive and accusatory. Despite my objection, he decided to believe that all these songs were about him and that this signaled that things were somehow actually not over between us even though I had told him multiple times I was not interested in exploring any romantic or sexual dynamic. He even went as far as directly quoting song lyrics, again none of which were about him. To this day, I have such hesitancy around creating lyrical content within my sound work because of this situation.
This was 2016 and the first time I became aware of the relationship between art, my worlds, and anothers projection, a theme that shows up very intimately within my work still to this day. This was also the time I discovered that “truth” as I had been taught is often irrelevant. There are often multiple worlds that we are navigating simultaneously, even ones we do not want to or feel like we consented to.
Artists often talk about not having full control over the narrative of our work once we birth it and it is released into the world. Of course, there is still accountability and a tending that happens once something is released (we are seeing this in a super public way with the newest Beyonce album). But when we break down the components of artmaking: there is you (and collaborators), the fusion between you and your art when creating it, and often this other third thing that is the space between your visions and everything that you could not have imagined or did not account for.
Still intimately connected to you, this work is now of you but also now another thing entirely. I have learned this in multiple ways with work that I have created. “In Pursuit of Black Noise,” is something very special for me and yet this third thing this unimaginable space that I was made aware of once out into the world is the reason I highlight this project less.
It is a capture of a specific time and pessimism that is not reflective of me anymore and yet it is still mine an I am still tending to it by creating other worlds, which are all in conversation. This I am ok with but what no one ever prepared me for was the way in which your worldbuilding could become a tool someone else might use to negate your autonomy. The idea of a big scary society building a narrative of whatever I make feels less scary than an individual using it as a way to ignore my boundaries and exercise control over me.
In 2019, I received an email with (no subject). This person referred to himself as my stalker and told me to tell him to kill himself and to blame him for turning me gay.
In 2020, Soundcloud released Audience Insights allowing for users to now view data on how others were engaging with their music over time. And it was with this new development that I learned this person was my all time top listener of my old Soundcloud page and had given my songs 321 plays.
This past February, I received an email telling me that he always knew I was going to be a great producer/musician and that he was impressed with the artistic work I had done. This was also a way of communicating that he was aware of my new work under a different (my current) name. For context, my name is not my legal name and because of that, I was briefly hidden away from his view. Changing my name was also also a safety measure.
This month, I received a friend request from a newly created FB page and a follow from a new Soundcloud page which left a comment under one of my songs saying he spent six times in a mental hospital because of it, along with other comments referring to my music as therapy.
This is only a snippet of my experience, which has been ongoing in various cadences since 2013.
All of my life, I have had to be so acutely aware of the subtleties of another's words, actions, behavior, and everything that moves underneath the surface so that I can potentially shift towards safety. Mostly, this means in the felt sense of my body, I don’t believe or feel that I am ever or will ever be safe.
Everyday I walk down the street and am harassed and confronted with what someone else desires from me based on their projections.
Every new encounter I am determining if someone actually cares about me or if they are more self-interested in what fantasy they want me to fulfill for them. This does not get easier now that I have dedicated my life to doing pleasure work.
And every day I post, every event I’m a part of that is shared, and every song created, I wonder if somehow some way it will just fuel the fire that could end in my demise.
No one shouting obscenities on the street actually cares about what I want or even what we could grow in an authentic consensual relationship. It is purely about what I can (or should) give them. It is never about me, just as my stalker making my music about them is not about me.
My passion for making music was mostly put on the wayside in college and instead I became a music and arts event planner, supporting others in their artistic journey. I often planned 2-3 events a month. The school trusted me with well over $100k during my time there and I was really good at it, receiving multiple awards honoring my commitment.
I threw myself into that work because it was the closest I could get to my passion while still keeping emotional space from it to avoid some of the hard truths. From my earliest experiences in college, in a music scene dominated by men, I knew that I was at a disadvantage. Early attempts at collaboration were met with fake interest that resulted in people using that space to make sexual advances. No one wanted to collaborate even if they said so because to do so would mean they would have to take me seriously as both a person and an artist.
I continued to make music very slowly and mostly quietly alone in my dorm when my roommates were out of the room for longer periods of time, mostly during breaks. My junior year, I tried to work with a newly hired professor to develop the music technology program on campus while doing an independent study as part of an independently designed music technology major I was creating. In addition to my self guided classes, I took a music theory class with this new hire. For one of our exams, we had to sing and play the piano at the same time. I had no experience with piano prior to this class and was not made aware it would be a requirement until I was already enrolled. It was just me and him in his dimly lit office. I was so nervous and uncomfortable with his presence that I had a panic attack while playing and started to cry, to which he responded coldly “if you quit, I will fail you.” I continued singing with tears streaming down my face. He spent much of the time during my independent study preaching to me about how I needed to shape what I do to fit the “industry standard.” I taught myself Ableton and I still use it and now teach other people. It turns out, the world didn’t end because I didn’t learn Pro Tools.
Senior year, I was playing bass in a band and funneling all of my energy toward getting a student run venue, a project that I spent three years on with various groups of people including B-Side Collective, an artist collective I started. Finally we “won,” at least it seemed. The college said yes to the proposal and had some budget for us. We met with architects who were going to redesign an old dentist space that was newly acquired on the edge of campus to make it more fit for sound performances. It was perfect and then somehow the Office of Innovation got word of the space and literally stole it from us, which was ironic considering I was recognized as a Face of Innovation due to my contributions in the music scene a couple years prior. Someone in the administration supposedly tried to advocate for us but said it seemed like they weren’t really giving us a choice. We had to give that space up. Instead they gave us a different space, one they knew was to be demolished within a year to build a new hockey rink that most people did not really care for. I believe the Office of Innovation is still located within this student designed space.
In 2017, I graduated college and quit music mostly. I tried to pick up this instrument, write that song, and feel good about it. But ultimately, it was clouded with the energy of manipulation, danger, and non-consensual power dynamics. And the times where I was actually recognized for my relationship to music was when I was operating from a place of unboundaried giving or dissociation. My role in music event planning became a tool for me to avoid not only my own desires but also the pain and trauma I was navigating daily. There was always work to do. Doing things for other people has often been the way that I have received recognition and sometimes I believed it was more important for me to use my energy for others and not myself.
When I really think about it - it’s clear how structures of power and the entanglements of whiteness, patriarchy, and the technology of sexualization influenced the way that I relate to my art, my work. Ideally creating new worlds would provide spaces for me to fully dream and experience the fullness of my imagination and desires across multiple timelines. And in the worlds I create, I want to be safe and I want others to be safe too.
As I have been making more work, so too has the onslaught of harassment from this person increased. So too have the unsolicited sexual remarks and projections and demands that I be in service to random others also increased. Being “public” online is not only a desire of mine but feels beneficial for securing work, which I need to survive but so long as I continue to share my worlds, my dreams, my visions am I safe?
This draft sat in my folder for multiple days. I know that sharing in this case is not the safest thing to do. Doesn’t this fall into the same trap and worse, what if this adds fuel to the ongoing harassment I have been receiving for years.
There is so much that mandates that I be silent. And it is the forced and enforced silence which makes these experiences fester and grow. I experience chronic pelvic pain and gut pain from the constant clenching and digesting the stories and traumas of myself and others. And I wonder, why is it that I must receive the emails of my stalker in private, be harassed in private, keep stories of institutional manipulation to myself to preserve another's image and power?
I wrote this because I feared that every share, every work of art will bring me closer to death because that is honestly how I was feeling. It often feels like I share a part of myself and brace for impact. But let’s be honest, it is not my silence that will keep me safe if it means everyday I move in fear and am kept from asking for the support and care that I deserve and need.
So what I need: to be able to show up as my fullest safe in every manifestation and to share that full self and still be safe. to not be the sole keeper of this story. to create and live in worlds that are not constantly subjected to the violence of patriarchal projection. & for everyone to be so sufficiently supported, seen, known, and loved. I want a world of consent, pleasure, and connection where we feel abundantly full of love and have no need to operate from a place where we demand or take non-consensually from others.
And I also want people to take digital harassment seriously and learn how it effects others. There are not that many resources for support within our institutional systems and oftentimes the tactics are so confusing and manipulating, the person experience it might even initially reduce the severity of the impact in their own mind. I know I did for years.
I am also an abolitionist and even if you are not, I want you to know that the police will not take these cases seriously unless serious harm is done and by then it can be too late. According to cyber reason, “Cyberstalking is still a difficult thing to identify, define, and prosecute. Less than 40% of stalking victims found that police took action against a perpetrator when they reported the crime, and the most common action by the police was to take a report of the incident. Reports give no additional protection to the victim and have no impact on the perpetrator.” So please stop solely recommending that people go to the cops.
I do not have many answers myself. But I do know the conditions that produced this dynamic are prevalent in more than just the online world so a digital-only solution will not be enough. For now, the most important thing want is for someone, for you to know and maybe we can figure it out together.
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