On December 18th, MariNaomi, author of Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Résumé, Ages 0 to 22, posted an article on popular feminist website xoJane.com. It detailed how she was publicly humiliated and heckled by a heterosexual man who sat beside her on a panel at a convention. The convention was not named, and the only information about the panel given was that it was presumably for queer artists and / or queer-themed comics.
In the article, MariNaomi extensively details the ways in which this man made her feel uncomfortable and unsafe: he said her lipstick was “distracting”; kept touching her arm; told her she should “stimulate” her microphone when it started to droop; suggested he should be featured in a graphic novel of hers about sex; and questioned her bisexuality. It should also be noted that before the panel had started he had inquired to MariNaomi whether she was gay or not. After learning that she was bisexual, his barrage of sexual harassment began.
Even when MariNaomi tried to diffuse the situation by gesturing to her husband, seated in the front row, the man apologized to her husband instead of to her. After the panel had ended and it was time for a group photo, the man once again touched her arm against her wishes and told her, when she was too upset to smile, that because of her “squinty Asian eyes” she’d appear to be happy in the photos anyway.
The article gives no indication as to who the man was – MariNaomi gives him the initials “DB”, and in her illustrations he is devoid of any identifying features. In the readers’ comments, some of them try to work out who her harasser was. MariNaomi then enters the comment thread and asks them to desist, saying that she “wanted to expose that this stuff happens, not start any witch hunts”.
On December 19th, news broke on the Comics Beat that Scott Lobdell – a writer for DC who has worked on titles such as Red Hood and the Outlaws, Teen Titans, Superman, etc. – was the man that had harassed MariNaomi.
You can read his full apology here, but here is an excerpt:
I am also sorry because if I had realized my failed attempt at humor had offended MariNaomi or her husband in the moment that I made those statements, I would have certainly apologized in [sic] then and not have left her to feel victimized in the hours and days that followed.
The thing is, with such a detailed description of his actions, written by a person in the public eye (MariNaomi) on a public site, his identity was bound to come out eventually. I sympathize with MariNaomi – her experience sounds absolutely awful, and in her article she struggles not to blame herself for not being more assertive whilst also railing against the idea that guys can get away with this crap at comic conventions. She was in a difficult situation because she was worried about how the audience would perceive her if she called out Lobdell on his gross behavior, but also frustrated that nobody else seemed to have the power (or motivation) to intercede on her behalf.
But that’s the thing: Lobdell was completely comfortable acting like a gross pig in front of everyone at that panel – the audience, the other panelists, the moderator. He only stopped his public abuse when MariNaomi pointed out her husband, and that was likely because Lobdell was worried about MariNaomi’s husband perhaps physically retaliating because he was in such close proximity.
But even in private, Lobdell touched MariNaomi inappropriately – AGAIN – and made a racist remark about her appearance. This is a man who displayed complete and utter disrespect for others.
And that is why it is so important to call out douchebags by name – it shows that we shouldn’t have to (and won’t) put up with their foul behaviour. Period.
As commenters on the xoJane thread pointed out, consumers should have the right to know the name of somebody who acts unethically, as it means that they can then boycott his work if they wish.
There’s also the issue in the xoJane comment thread of MariNaomi not wanting to start a “witch hunt” – but, the modern definition of a witch hunt refers to somebody being unfairly persecuted based on flimsy evidence. MariNaomi’s evidence is far from flimsy. Her article meticulously details Lobdell’s behavior and quotes. Some names that were put forward in the xoJane comment thread – when Lobdell was still anonymous – were quickly shut down based on lack of evidence / identifying markers. If MariNaomi’s story was more vague, there may have been the problem of a creator being unfairly dragged over the coals because of mistaken identity, but because the article is so pedantic, it means that MariNaomi’s fears of a witch hunt were perhaps unfounded.
If MariNaomi was afraid of repercussions based on Lobdell’s stature though – DC are no small potatoes, after all – that’s more concrete. But really, it would be a pretty bold move from DC to challenge MariNaomi, as (A) it’s incredibly unlikely that this incident is fabricated, and (B) Lobdell is clearly the one in the wrong. DC themselves have a pretty shaky record with being respectful to women / LGBTQ people as it is (e.g. Batwoman being unable to marry, the Harley Quinn suicide debacle, Starfire being overtly sexualized, Gail Simone being fired from Batgirl, DC’s lack of female creators in general… the list goes on). It would be foolish to leap to the defense of Lobdell. If anything, they should probably distance themselves from a creator like this, as consumers may boycott, or already are boycotting. Now that Lobdell’s name has been dragged into the light, conventions may also think twice about hiring him for panels. And fellow creators need to know that there is a predator in their midst.
Let’s now go to Scott Lobdell’s “apology”. Heidi MacDonald says that Lobdell has “learned something about appropriate behavior”. Me? I call bullshit.
Fuck you, Scott Lobdell. Fuck you. Fuck your “attempt at humour” – nobody is laughing. Sexually harassing somebody, making fun of their race, sneering at their sexual orientation, and touching them inappropriately doesn’t make you a comedian, it makes you a bully. And let’s be clear – the onus isn’t on MariNaomi to call out your behaviour “in the moment” that you made those statements – the onus is on you to not be a dickhead in the first place.
And hey, you did apologize in the moment – to her husband. What a coward you are.
At no point does Lobdell apologize for being racist, sexist, or homophobic in his weak “apology”. He does however apologize for his presence on the panel distracting MariNaomi. Wow. That’s some deep insight into your behavior right there. Well done, buddy.
The only thing that I didn’t roll my eyes at in that apology was Lobdell saying that it was brave for MariNaomi to put her life out there for people to see. Because it’s true.
MariNaomi, you are brave. When you pitched your piece to xoJane, it mustn’t have been easy, and I know you might be afraid of a backlash. Because there will always be people out there who will accuse women of being liars, difficult, whiny, fussy, uptight, attention seekers, harpies, and goodness knows what else, all because they dared to speak up about sexism.
But there are people on your side. We will stand with you. Trust your writing, the evidence you’ve compiled. Don’t wait for jerks like Lobdell to rat themselves out when the heat gets too much – name and shame. Demand a proper apology. Demand the respect that you deserve. If you can’t call out his crappy behavior on stage, then reveal it for the world to see.
That day you sat on the panel next to this creep you will never get back, and I’m so, so sorry you feel, as you said at the end of your article, “sad, ashamed and powerless”. Because you’re not. You have done so much with your article, even with giving Lobdell the pseudonym “DB”. But in my opinion? He doesn’t deserve your discretion.