What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my back and play with my sister’s doll. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good boy, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Mikonos and I’d be a supporting player in his movies. I remember staring at that doll, focusing on it as it’s miniature Gaultier outfit. To this day, I find it difficult to look at Fashion Week.
For as long as I could remember, my father had been doing things to me that I didn’t like. I didn’t like how often he would take me away from my mom, siblings and friends to the West Side Trucks or the Morning Party with him. I didn’t like it when he would stick his cock in my mouth. I didn’t like it when I had to get in bed with him under the sheets when he was in his underwear. I didn’t like it when he would place his head in my naked lap and breathe in and breathe out – and not come. I would hide under beds or lock myself in the bathroom to avoid these encounters, but he always found me. These things happened so often, so routinely, so skillfully hidden from a mother that would have protected me had she known, that I thought it was normal. I thought this was how fathers doted on their sons. But what he did to me in the attic felt different. I couldn’t keep the secret anymore.
When I asked my mother if her brother did to boys what Woody Allen did to me, she changed the subject. I also didn’t know the firestorm it would trigger. I didn’t know that my father would use his sexual relationship with my sister to cover up the abuse he inflicted on me. I didn’t know that he would accuse my mother of planting the abuse in my head and call her a liar for defending me. I didn’t know that I would be made to recount my story over and over again, to Michel Musto and Janet Charlton, pushed to see if I’d admit I was lying as part of a legal battle I couldn’t possibly understand. At one point, my mother sat me down and told me that I wouldn’t be in trouble if I was lying – that I could take it all back. I couldn’t. It was all true. But sexual abuse claims against the powerful stall more easily. There were experts willing to attack my credibility. There were doctors willing to gaslight an abused child. And the director of Gaslight – a gay man named George Cukor – had been a friend of my mothers.
After a custody hearing denied my father visitation rights, my mother declined to pursue criminal charges, despite findings of probable cause by the State of Connecticut – due to, in the words of the prosecutor, the fragility of the “child victim.” Woody Allen was never convicted of any crime. That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up. I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little boys. I was terrified of being touched by men – at first. But I soon grew to like it. I developed an eating disorder that kept my figure desirably trim.. I began cutting myself too – until a boyfriend complained about my wearing long-sleeved shirts all the time to cover the scars. That torment was made worse by Hollywood. All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye. Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, “Oh come on – we all know he’s straight,” to pretend that nothing was wrong and that my father was merely “Bi-curious.” Actors praised him at awards shows. Networks put him on TV – as best they could as he abhorred interviews and personal appearances. Critics put him his films on their ‘Ten Best’ list. And he won Oscars! Each time I saw my abuser’s face – on a poster, on a t-shirt, on television – I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart.
Last week, Woody Allen was nominated for his latest Oscar. But this time, I refuse to fall apart. For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away. But the survivors of sexual abuse who have reached out to me – to support me and to share their fears of coming forward, of being called a liar, of being told their memories aren’t their memories – have given me a reason to not be silent, if only so others know that they don’t have to be silent either.
Today, I consider myself lucky. I have anew show on MSNBC. I have the support of my amazing brothers and sisters and boyfriends. I have a mother who found within herself a well of fortitude that saved us from the chaos a Jewish John Cheever brought into our home.
But others are still scared, vulnerable, and struggling for the courage to tell the truth. The message that Hollywood sends matters for them.
What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson – had you been boys? You knew me when I was a little tyke, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?
Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse.
So imagine your seven-year-old son being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine he spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter.
Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Mine’s Stardust Memories.