The Great Con Scandal of New Jersey

posted in: Uncategorized | 9

I couldn’t sleep last night.  I tossed and I turned and I tossed and I turned.  I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t sleep, I honestly couldn’t.

Until this morning where I continued to read about the current scandal du jour in the New Jersey con scene.  And I felt sicker.  And sicker.  And sicker.

Because I’ve been silent about my experiences there for a very long time.  Fourteen years long.  I keep trying to mantra that our secrets keep us sick, but I didn’t know what the mantra was for, oh hey you didn’t even know you were keeping the majority of the secrets you were keeping because that’s how fucking deep in denial you’ve been despite years of therapy and a vast array of exciting traumas you’ve been through over the years.  You just buried your head so deeply in the sand that you didn’t even realize you were suffocating.

I started hearing things too, before it all started coming out.  You would think as a feminist and as a Witch I would have been like, No!  I will disengage from all of those events with That Man in the names of all of my (gender neutral) sisters who have been too scared to speak out!  

But I didn’t.  Nope, nope.  You would think having been one of his assistants, one of his early assistants in fact, that I would have stuck to having nothing to do with That Man.  I was 25, it was 2004 and I had just left my first job in corporate.  That particular corporation was lousy with drinking excessively at lunch, likely rampant coke use and consistent extra marital affairs so I’m not sure how well it worked to set my work place moral compass.  Probably not terribly well.  I was pretty powerless then, mostly a “nobody” in the scene.  I was fresh faced and thin, especially for a con scene.  That Man was not who he is today.  His cons pulled in a couple hundred people, modest but reasonable.  I wanted to be a scene queen then and of course the possibility of that was offered.  I thought I had things under control.  He asked me for Certain Favors which I crisply replied with, if I have to remind you to put on your sweater as your assistant, it’s ridiculous to even think I would give you Certain Favors.  I can’t remember if there were other overtures.  It was fourteen years ago.  It felt like the cost of doing business in an industry that was surely less filthy than Hollywood, entwined with fellow geeks and outcasts.  There was a business meeting where —

I don’t want to get into all the specifics.  Partly because it’s pointless.  We could all debate all the recollections of over a decade ago.  Who said what to who, who did what to who.  In the early aughts, we were still very much on the Take Back the Night rah-rah-rah No means no even on frat row!  He asked.  I said no.  Fin.  And if he kept asking and I kept saying no, well then, that’s what I signed up for, right?  At 25, I don’t think I had a good grasp on the concept of “power abuse” and what it means to have someone who had significant power over you (financially, reputation) to ask for things that are now outlined as no-nos in an HR Manual.


Not fine.

But it happened.

Then Another Thing Happened that involved That Man and my ex-husband.  It was part of my ex-husband’s parting salvo on his way out during his farewell Surprise!  You’re Getting a Divorce!  Tour.  Exile for me isn’t an abstract.  If my ex-husband could have went Henry VIII out on me and treated me like Wife #1 (Catherine of Aragon), he would have.  It didn’t quite come together the way he had hoped, but I was in exile from the larger local con scene for quite some time.

I didn’t publicly say anything about my time as his assistant or about the ex-husband incident.  There were a lot of reasons I thought no one would ever believe me.  Not to get all Anne Rice on you, but I was a different person then.  I was much more shallow, much more vain, much more basic, much more trifling.  I talked a lot of shit, I danced on a lot of tables.  My divorce taught me to keep silent.  I was (and am) so afraid all the time.  Because I have been ruined.  I have been in exile.  I have had many people not believe me.

And I just . . .thought if I kept my goddamn mouth shut, the truth would come out.  And it did about my ex-husband.  But as for That Man, no one seemed to be saying a damn thing.  An occasional hushed whisper if you knew the right people.  But nothing louder than that.  If I had changed so much in fourteen years, couldn’t he have?  I knew people on his staff, people I still trust and love.  If they were there, maybe everything changed.  Because that’s, like, how increased privilege and power . . .never fucking work.  But I wanted to believe that it did, so badly.  I wanted to be redeemed in the circles I love so much.  I wanted to be washed clean of all my previous sins.  So I asked to become involved again.

Really let that wash over you.  I asked to be part of That Man’s events again.  I.  Asked,  Him.

I thought the only way to get to where I was trying to go with my book, with the scene was to play the game.  Again.   I thought that maybe I could get my power back that way.  I know better.  I really fucking know better because I wrote a whole goddamn book about that.  You never get your fucking power back from your oppressors.  Ever.  Ever.  But fear twists you up and makes you think crazy things.  And at first it was fine.  More than fine.  I was having the time of my fucking life, the band was back together, I was forgiven and I was clean again.  I was holy.  I was a goddamn scene queen finally.

And then [X] quit.  And it computed on a personal level between me and X but it didn’t fucking click with me on a oh hey, maybe you should support your (gender neutral) sister.  Because I was one of the prettiest pretties and so toasted and had so much fucking fun there, that I couldn’t see my way out.  I was a scene queen of a fucking con in New Jersey and I sold my sister out by continuing to participate because I was allowed  to have a seat at the goddamn table.  The first fucking minute I was given any kind of privilege, I sold her.  I sold my sister.  And I’m so fucking sorry about that, X.  You never said anything about it.  But I know you knew that I betrayed you by signing those contracts with That Man.  You loved me anyway and you keep on loving me even though I was so fucking weak.  And I’m crying at my mother’s desk writing that, too sick to even eat.

And you would think that would be where it stops.  But it doesn’t.  As recent as 10a this morning, even as more former assistants and staff and attendees and vendors kept coming forward, all I kept thinking was, you promised and don’t you deserve one last night out before tax season?  One last chance to eat, drink and be merry?  To go . . .shopping?  Can’t you close your eyes for just a little longer.  Because . . .the alternative to closing my eyes, is this.  And I felt so sick with fear and my palms were so sweaty and there was so much vomit in my throat, I kept thinking, you can!  You can!  I needed to be reminded by sister amazons about what going would do.  To me.  To you.  To each other.  I didn’t stand up righteously and say, This is the right thing!

But I couldn’t sleep last night.  Even that deep in denial.  I couldn’t.  I remember the last time that happened.  I was Con Head and MTV was going to attend my little con.  [X] and their then partner wanted to propose to their (poly) partner.  And at first I said no.  Because I was afraid.  And it could be a PR nightmare.  And I couldn’t sleep at all that night.  Because telling X no went against everything I believed in about love.  And we kept talking to each other, as sisters.  Gently, kindly.  And I got brave and said yes.

I’ve been too afraid to say anything about any of this for well over a decade.  I’ve been terrified I would be ruined.  My reputation would be in rags, anything I’ve accomplished would be taken from me.  But I’ve been ruined before and I survived.  I will survive ruin again, if this brings me that.  I intend to survive.  Just like I always do.

This is not how I wanted to spend my 39th birthday.  Literally sick with fear.  Sick with what happened to me.  I could accept that it happened to me.  I couldn’t accept it had happened to all of you (other assistants after me) too.  I couldn’t.  I can’t.  I will use the only power the lordess has given me, my words.  I will tell you that I am not immune to being weak.  I will tell you that it happened to me too.  I will tell you I gave That Man my resignation this morning.  I will tell you that I will stand here for you, my sisters.  Trembling, with vomit in my throat.  Even when I don’t think I can.  Even when I really, really don’t want to.  It’s so fucking painful, maybe one of the worst birthdays I’ve had.  But it’s standing in my truth.

You won’t see me at That Event next weekend.  Or any others That Man produces.  And I’m so sorry that I went back to him.  And so ashamed.  And so disgusted with myself.

Maybe this will be what finally washes me clean.  Whatever comes of it, comes of it.

Deborah Castellano
Deborah Castellano's book Glamour Magic: The Witchcraft Revolution to Get What You Want is available for purchase through Amazon, Llewellyn and Barnes and Noble.
Her frequently updated catalogue of published work is available on Author Central.

She writes about Glamour Magic here at Charmed, I'm Sure. Her podcast appearances are available here.

Her craft shop, The Mermaid & The Crow specializes in old-world style workshop from 100% local, sustainable sources featuring tempting small batch ritual oils and hand-spun hand-dyed yarn in luxe fibers and more!

In a previous life, Deborah founded the first Neo-Victorian/Steampunk convention, SalonCon which received rave reviews from con-goers and interviews from the New York Times and MTV.

She resides in New Jersey with her husband, Jow and their cat, Max II. She has a terrible reality television habit she can't shake and likes St. Germain liquor, record players and typewriters.  


9 Responses

  1. <3
    All of this
    Well said

  2. Fantastic writing. The important thing is doing the right thing now, and it is always now,

  3. Proud of you, hon.
    And, tbh, you’re braver than Margaret Atwood, who has a lot less to lose by doing right by her girls.

  4. Fuck. Wow. 🙁

    As always, if I can help… just ask.

  5. Well said.

  6. Christopher Bradford

    You’re powerful, and your strength is evident. This shit takes *GUTS* and, any scene worth being part of will coalesce around folks with character. Well done!

  7. I don’t know you but I’m proud of you. Thank you for speaking your truth. Thank you for being strong and brave.

  8. I’m so glad you wrote this and found your voice. It really is a shining example that even if you fuck up, you can still be accountable and work towards making things right. Everyone figures things out different times. I didn’t come to the realization that had been abused and assaulted until years after. I’m well-educated and very much a feminist, but sometimes your brain works in the double-think pattern, accepting contradictions and burying things so deep.

    I went to Salon-con in 2007. We used to chat on twitter years ago and even had the hashtag #twitsis going for awhile I think. I have always enjoyed your posts, and although I’ve only gone to SPWF twice and don’t really know anyone in the scene, I’m glad you were able to speak out and I hope some kind of justice can be found for all those who suffered because of that creep.

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