This past weekend, two young women came forward with personal stories of rape and abuse perpetrated by a magazine editor, Stephen Tully Dierks, prominent in the hip young "alt-lit" community. But it was only the start for the close-knit and famously gossipy scene.
Now, a young man has accused alt lit's most famous author, Tao Lin, of statutorily raping him when he was 16. Lin fervently denies the allegations, and has said he is retaining a lawyer to dispute the accusation. Another prominent writer and artist, Stephen Michael McDowell, has said that he considers himself "a rapist, a sex offender, and a predator."
All over the Tumblr blogs and Facebook groups on which most of the youthful, self-promotional, web-focused literary scene's interactions take place, participants and observers are coming to one conclusion: The web's most earnest purveyors of navel-gazing self-examination may have to start looking a little harder at themselves.
Since 20-year-old Sophia Katz and another 18-year-old woman published accounts of Pop Serial editor Dierks abusing them on Medium and Tumblr, respectively, writers in the alt lit scene have taken to their natural habitat—Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter—to wonder how their open community has allowed apparent sexual predators to succeed as writers and editors.
In response to the accusations, Dierks quit his public writing career. In a Facebook group associated with the Tumblr Alt Lit Gossip, Dierks's ex-girlfriend posted screenshots of, in her words, "increasingly manipulative and disturbing facebook messages" from Dierks in the group. In the messages, Dierks threatens to kill himself, but says he'd like to avoid his "life being ruined."
Perhaps because of the increased attention on rape in the community, alt-lit writer Sara Woods found and promoted tweets from E.R. Kennedy on Tumblr accusing Lin of statutory rape. Kennedy, a female-to-male trans person, dated Lin when he was 16 and Lin was 22. He went by Ellen then. Kennedy says Lin statutorily raped him, was abusive, and "stole" his emails and work to write his 2010 novel Richard Yates.
Kennedy has since deleted the tweets and tweeted:
Lin patently denies these allegations. In an email to Gawker, he wrote, "The allegations, which should be stated as statutory rape allegations, not rape allegations, are false. ... I'm taking this seriously and I've been advised to get a lawyer, which I will be doing today and you'll probably hear from them." When I asked if he asked Kennedy to delete his tweets, he responded, "She asked me which ones I thought were inaccurate and I told her." Kennedy also tweeted this:
Lin also sent along something he posted on Facebook, which further explains his side of the story:
In another email, he added,
I've not seen Elton in person for ~5 years, but we've been friends and have emailed regularly until her recent bipolar episode, after which she lashed out against me online. Similar things have happened before, not involving me and involving me, around times when she has gone to a hospital. I recommend seeing the context for this with Elton's other tweets. Friends have told me how serious false rape allegations are and how it can affect everyone involved direly for the rest of our lives. I'm guessing my lawyer will have more to say and I should leave it here for this email.
Lin is the scene's most famous writer, and the accusations against him have gotten the most press. But he's just one member of a divided, angry community. One female writer emailed us, exasperated: "this & the stephen tully dierks shit reveal something awful about the 'golden boys' of 'alt lit' and the culture they've created."
Others have expressed similar sentiments in a private Facebook group associated with the Tumblr Alt Lit Gossip. A male writer posted, "what do you think an appropriate response from this community/scene would be? the very term 'alt lit' seems toxic in light of this, seems almost as if the only ethical thing for alt lit to do is 'disband' and hope that something less disgusting emerges from the ashes."
Dianna Dragonetti, an alt-lit writer who's been vocal on Tumblr and Facebook throughout this wave of allegations, wrote today for The Tusk, "The Alt Lit Boys' Club Mentality Is Exactly the Problem." Dragonetti asks, "Dierks is facing consequences, but where is the accountability process ... for all of those unknown and pervasive predators that still exist and thrive in what alt lit has allowed?"
And at least one of alt lit's "golden boys" has responded to the allegations against Dierks and Lin by outing himself as a "rapist" and "predator" on Tumblr without even being accused. Writer and artist Stephen Michael McDowell wrote:
though no legal action has been brought forward against me, ive never been publicly called out, ive never had to face any life-altering consequences besides a broken sense of self and the losses of people who i felt close to, and, though i have reconciled with some of the people ive hurt, come to better understand their pain, and sought to make them aware of my intentions, i consider myself a rapist, a sex offender, and a predator, simply based on the kinds of liberties i have taken with others desires, bodies, and lives
His post has gotten mixed responses from the community. One male writer in the Facebook wrote:
Another female writer linked McDowell's post with only the words: "i am so angry."
Back in 2007, when then-23-year-old Lin was first gaining some critical success for his novel Eeeee Eee Eeee, he did an interview with Bookslut, where he joked that his next novel would be called Statutory Rape. "The main characters are Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning," he said.
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