This post has been incredibly hard to write, and I’ve gone back and forth about posting it a million times, but as its now been one year since everything happened, it feels like the right time to put my side out there, get my story across, and release the poison, no matter how vulnerable it makes me feel.
In June last year my entire life got flipped on its head, and I’m not being hyperbolic. My life got flipped by two things; one being one of the most meaningful things I will ever do in my career, and the other being one of the stupidest errors in judgement I’ve ever made. Let me give you some background so this isn’t all so out of left field.
In 2014, I started working at a national children’s charity. It was a temp marketing job to help me out whilst I was unemployed. I had no interest in working for a children’s charity, but the work sounded like it could help further my career, and it was offered so I thought why not. Up until then I’d been doing PR for celebs and brands, and was really enjoying that world, but this felt like a good way to learn some new things. When I first started, I said to my manager at the time that if I were to stay there I would want to join the Celebrity and Talent team, as that’s where my interest and previous career leant toward. Like a lot of people that work in head offices of charities, the cause wasn’t a factor to me being there – it was just a job – so the right job would make it more appealing. That started to change for me during my 4 years there, and by the time I left, I really cared about the cause, especially after I became an uncle. I finally got a job opportunity in the celeb team team in November 2018, and I was beyond thrilled, and that’s where this story starts.
The team I joined were great, I immediately got on with my colleagues and boss, and started to show my worth quickly. I recruited amazing talent to support campaigns and attend events, and my ideas of people outside of our normal scope were taken on board. The charity decided that we should dedicate the months of April, May and June 2019, to talking about LGBTQ+ issues to coincide with Pride month in June, and London Pride at the beginning of July. As the only queer person in our team, I took on the responsibility for getting LGBTQ+ talent to support this, and quite frankly smashed it. I got various LGBTQ+ household names like Rylan and Michelle Visage to support on social, and recruited arguably the foremost voice in trans issues in this country – Munroe Bergdorf – to create a series of videos to help children with gender issues and worries. The videos created with Munroe were fantastic, they answered questions’ and gave ideas of how to deal with gender issues, both for those struggling, and for their friends/school mates to be effective allies. In no way did they ‘promote transgenderism’ or tell kids they should question their gender, but merely said to kids that are questioning, ‘we hear you you, and here is some info that might help.’ The charity’s helpline had received something like a 150% increase in contacts by kids struggling with gender identity in the previous year alone, so clearly there were children out there that needed this information and support. So bare that in mind because once again I need to go back and give some context to the other side of this story.
When I was around 10/11 – maybe even younger – I realised I was inexplicably fascinated by people in skin tight wetsuits. I have no idea why, I grew up in central Essex, so its not like I was surrounded by surfers on a daily basis. I remember going on holiday to places like Yarmouth and being fascinated by people in their wetsuits walking by, and being transfixed whenever I saw someone wearing one on the TV. When I was around 13, and google image search was getting going, I did the natural thing and searched for wetsuit pictures. I guess I’d started to realise maybe what I felt was a sexual thing, but at that age, there is no education for that side to sexuality, so I was in the woods firmly alone. Searching for that lead me to discovering fetish sites dedicated to it, and then discovering rubber/latex clothing websites, and as I looked around and researched, I realised maybe what I had was a fetish, and realised it was really just men in those rubber suits that got me ticking.
At around 14/15 I joined a couple of ‘dating’ sites and started talking to some guys that had rubber fetishes. They often tried to get me to meet them for some fun to give me my first rubber experience – most were usually fully aware of my age – and at that time those teenage hormones just really wanted to have sex for the first time. As an educated adult I can fully see that I was being groomed, but at that age I just didn’t care. I hooked up with a guy for the first time when I was 15, and he was fully ware that I was 15. It was fully consensual, but I realise now that my age was a huge factor in why he wanted to hook up with me as he went mysteriously quiet once I turned 16. When I look at that experience now it makes me feel physically sick to think that I put myself in that position. I usually tell people I lost my virginity on holiday the same year because I’m so ashamed that I even did that.
As I got older and turned 18, I started to go out on the fetish scene, and meeting people, and the scene has subsequently become a huge part of my life. I love the fetish scene, and the people in it. There are people from all walks of life, and everyone is liberated to enjoy the (legal) things they find sexual. Fetishes have been studied millions of times, and there is seemingly no rhyme or reason as to why someone is sexually attracted to one thing over another, so to my mind – even as a teenager – I thought I might as well embrace it rather than try to fight it. Also, as gay men, sex is very much at the forefront of our culture; something that is sometimes strange to straight people that have been raised to think that sex should be a secretive thing between two people in love. In the gay world before legalisation, the only way to meet guys was at underground clubs and bathhouses, and they almost always had an area just for sex, as it was the only place gay men could indulge in that part of their lives. Remember, that most of these men were living closeted, heterosexual lifestyles day to day too, so it really was the only option. Thanks to this, sex – and fetish – was put very much front and centre of gay culture, thus meaning we have far less hang ups about it than our straight counterparts. You can see this in a lot in the stereotypes of gay men, as well as the popularity of personal porn sites such as OnlyFans, and how open relationships, polyamory, and alternative fetish lifestyles are much more common place in the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve actually written more about that here.
My rubber fetish is as integral to my being, as me having a ginger tinged beard, or that fact that I sometimes snort when I laugh. Over the years I’ve become very involved in Europe’s gay rubber scene. I run a community group and club night for rubbermen in London, I help produce the Mister Rubber Europe and Mister Rubber UK contests, and I have used my position in the scene to talk about body shaming, discrimination, and safe sex issues. It’s become such a part of my life that its sometimes hard to separate the two, but I do, and that separation is – or was – important to me.
With these two bits of context laid out, we are ready to discuss the events of June 2019 that nearly destroyed me.
When Munroe’s first video for the charity went live; the usual TERFs (trans exclusionary, radical, ‘feminists’) started attacking her on twitter, calling her a pornstar, and say that she must be a pedophile because she is trans. The attacks were disgusting, they mocked up fake images of her, said she had done pornography, and suggested that tweets that encouraged children struggling with their gender to message her were sinister in nature. None of which is true. It’s also totally hypocritical, since none of these TERFs have an issue with the charity working with various cis-gender celebrities that have engaged in public sex, have had sex scandals, or have fully frontal nude imagery freely available, but when its a trans woman who is not ashamed of her sexuality, its suddenly an issue. The attacks led to the charity’s board of trustees deciding to axe any ties with Munroe effective immediately. I wasn’t even allowed to talk to her directly before the official statement went out (She was asleep because of the stress from the transphobic attacks she’d bombarded by that day). The statement itself was vile and defamatory, and you can read more about that just by googling it. The staff were outraged, as were the mainstream press, and the millions of LGBTQ+ people (and allies) that supported and worked with us. Thanks to this huge spotlight on the situation, the TERF trolls searched into the organisation and found out through my LinkedIn that I was the one that had recruited Munroe. This then lead to them hunting into anything they could find about me on the internet. Somehow (there are false claims that it was linked to my LinkedIn – it wasn’t) they managed to find my fetish life and content. I have an Instagram and Facebook (and perviously a twitter account that was deleted 8 months before any of this) dedicated to my rubber fetish that I use to keep in contact with fetish friends and events, and share the odd picture of myself looking a bit sexy in some rubber gear. These accounts are all under a pseudonym, and never mention my work place. I’ve always wanted to maintain some autonomy on who knows about my fetish life, and because the internet is such a vast place, I was able to do this for years with no issues. Friends, family, and colleagues knew about my involvement in the fetish scene as it is something I take huge pride in, but anything that was shared was always PG13…mostly…
Remember what I said earlier about how the gay world is a lot more upfront with sex than the straight world? Well this upfront-ness lead me to feel pretty safe in uploading some very amateur ‘adult’ videos to well known adult porn sharing site Xtube. They were all uploaded under yet another pseudonym and made zero reference to my actual life. For those that know anything about the porn landscape (98% of men, and 73% on woman watch porn regularly according to psychologytoday.com) you’ll know that certain things get more traction than others, one of those things is exhibitionism. So in my infinite wisdom, I captioned one of my videos to say it was filmed ‘in the toilets at work’, and that another in a hotel was filmed on a work trip. For the record; they weren’t. I put that because people find that kind of exhibitionism sexy and dangerous. It only takes one quick search to find the millions of videos that do the same thing, and let’s face it, we all know that most porn isn’t real anyway. I can categorically say that putting that in the captions of those videos will go down in my personal history as the dumbest idea I’ve ever had.
When the TERF trolls searched into me, somehow – and I genuinely cannot work out how – they found these videos, and started sharing them on twitter. The fact videos of me masturbating were shared was humiliating enough, but the thing that stung most was the narrative these trolls had built around it. I had people calling me a pedophile and a danger to children, just because I had a wank in a rubber suit and said it was at an unspecified work place. Trust me, I can see the error in my judgement, but I felt secure that no one could ever have made the link between those videos and my career. So this unspecified workplace, suddenly got linked to a children’s charity and boom, people assume that’s WHY I was having a wank, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The abuse on twitter involved two camps. There were some that were genuinely concerned that my conduct went against the organisations values. Then there was the camp that took the stance the because I’m a gay man with fetishes, I must be a pedophile and predator. I have no issues with the first camp to be honest, I get it. The charity does campaign to have accessible porn removed from the web, and I directly contravened that, so yeah, I get it. The second camp – which I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to find out were the most vocal, I take issue with. To call someone a pedophile is the single worst thing I think you could call someone. Historically, anti-gay campaigners have said that gay men are pedophiles and are a danger to children, and thanks to society progressing, this is now rightfully and outdated notion, so these vile people used the fact I was a self-proclaimed pervert to call me one instead. We have all seen those stories about female teachers that have some sexual thing in their background that has come to light, and never are they called a pedophile. At worst they are called a whore, and at best a ‘Mrs Robinson’ type. Straight men get it when it’s a teacher/student situation, but otherwise they are a ‘stud’ our something equally inoffensive. This disparity is unequivocally homophobic. LGBTQ people – and frankly anyone – should be able to enjoy their sex life in any way they want, and as long as they aren’t engaging in illegal acts, or hurting un-consenting others, there should be no repercussions into their life for enjoying it.
The twitter abuse was beyond painful, I broke down in my kitchen; full on sank to the floor crying uncontrollably with my flatmate looking on in shock. I’m not outwardly that emotional, so for me to break like that shocked him. He tried to comfort me but to be honest there was no helping. It seemed like my career was ruined, and with it, my reputation. What if my friends and family decided to listen to these trolls and decide I was a danger to children? It doesn’t take much more than the very suggestion of it to create a black cloud over some people. I’d worked for 4 years raising literal millions (around £4.5m across the products I’d managed at the charity, not including the value of awareness) to help children who were victims of this kind of abuse and now I was being accused of being a perpetrator on the back of vile false narratives? I couldn’t comprehend it, it destroyed me. And still does, and probably always will. I don’t think someone can get over false accusations like that.
The thing that made it doubly painful for me, is that I am a survivor of a sexual assault myself. When I was 20, I was fooling around with a guy, and he clamped his hand over my mouth so I couldn’t breathe properly, he wouldn’t remove his hand and proceeded to fuck me aggressively whilst I struggled, he chocked me, and wouldn’t let me go until he’d finished. I didn’t recognise it as rape until many years later, but it formed a lot of the basis for my campaigning for safe sex practices within the fetish community. I haven’t told many people about it, because its an intensely private thing, and I’m not looking for sympathy – I’ve come to terms with it, and dealt with it – but maybe it can provide some context as to how hard I took these kinds of false allegations.
I carried on going to work that week which was tough as hell. My colleagues were massively supportive, and I felt real love coming from the people I’d worked with across those 4 years. Then on the Friday morning that changed. I was pulled into a meeting to be told that a few major newspapers were sniffing around to make it a story. I crumbled. I had never cried like that in front of other people. Not when my grand-parents died, not when my parents divorced, never, and here I was, a mess, in front of my department director and my boss. My director put me on immediate compassionate leave for two weeks, and put me in a cab home. I had to get a cab as apparently one major press outlet had sent a photographer to get pictures of me at the office. I sobbed all the way home. When I got home I’d stopped sobbing and just felt numb. I called my mum who just so happened to be in Essex, and explained what had happened, and that I needed her, I cried my heart out again. It doesn’t matter how old you are, sometimes you just need a hug from your mum. She came to get me and whisked me away to her house in the rural countryside for two weeks.
No story ran that Saturday thankfully, but I was told a story would be running that Sunday in 3 of the biggest papers in the country, potentially on the front page of one of them. That terrified me. I imagined my grand-parents buying their Sunday papers, and seeing their grandchild on the front page. I imagined my family having to field questions from their friends about me. I imagined becoming the gossip of the village I grew up in. I imagined my once supportive colleagues turning on me. I imagined my life falling apart, and could see the career that I’d worked so hard for turn to ashes in front of me. My mum did her best to distract me. We went for a walk, we went to the pub, and it helped a bit, but my resolve shattered that night when I was getting ready for bed. I accidentally knocked off and smashed a glass on the windowsill of my bedroom, and for some reason it unleashed this tidal wave of emotion. I could barely see through the tears. I couldn’t cope, I couldn’t do it anymore. My life was ruined, what was there to live for? I stumbled into the bathroom looking for something to end it with, I picked up a razor and caught my reflection in the mirror. I looked myself square in the eye, and realised this wasn’t right. How could I do that to my mum? How could I do something like that and put her through having to find me bled out on her bathroom floor? As quickly as the thought had come, it subsided again. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to suicide, and I never want to go there again. I put the razor down and tried to control my crying. I had a shower and sobbed. I then went and asked my mum for a dustpan to tidy up, I started crying again whilst I swept the glass shards away, my mum heard and came and comforted me. I haven’t cried like that with her since I was a child. If I hadn’t been there with her, and been able to have her envelope me in a cuddle only a mother can give, I honestly don’t know if I would have survived that night.
After effectively crying myself into exhaustion, I slept properly for the first time in a week. After that it all became easier to deal with. That night I hit a rock bottom I didn’t think I could ever hit, so everything afterwards was an uphill climb. Those two weeks were the most difficult of my life. Every other day there was one newspaper or another that was threatening to run the story. But there were moments that helped me though, my best friends were incredible checking up on me, and they, as well as some of my other close friends, effectively galvanised the fetish community to come to my aid by reporting trolls saying vile things on twitter, and fighting back with actual, logical rhetoric. To find that the community I love and work so hard for would come to my aid in that way was an incredible feeling, and I will be forever grateful to anyone that came to my defence throughout this entire situation.
Eventually the story did run in The Mirror online, and they kindly didn’t include my name and picture, which was a huge relief. After that it became easier. Thanks to my incredible friends I got my shit together, and started to try and work out how to move on with my life. An investigation had started at work, and I went back to London to deal with that. I’m not going to go into the investigation details as that is between the charity and I, but they did agree that at no point was there any evidence that I was a danger to children, and that those allegations were cruel and completely unfounded, which to be honest, was all I cared about. Throughout the entire investigation process I was forthcoming in acknowledging my fault, and the stupid decisions I’d made. I asked to resign a multiple times but wasn’t allowed. I didn’t want to drag anything out, and didn’t want to cause an organisation I’d worked so hard for to have to deal with this shit any longer than necessary. They ended up dismissing me, and I went to an appeal. When I appealed the dismissal decision, I didn’t do it to get a pay out, or anything like that. I did it to ensure a fair reference so my career wouldn’t be over. Multiple people told me I should seek a payout – both friends and lawyers – but I had no interest in taking money from the charity. I wouldn’t have been taking money from some fat cat executive, I would have been taking money away from children that need resources and help.
In October, another story ran, this time about the dismissal. This time they did use my name. The trolls were galvanised again demanding an apology from the organisation for being ignored and being called bullies, and those two camps I mentioned before were back at it. Unfortunately for one camp, they are the bullies and the organisation didn’t bend to them.
Twitter is a hateful place. A place where everyone is given a voice, and hate is backed up with affirmation, and hardly ever reprimanded. I just wish people would be more thoughtful about who is on the receiving end of their tirades. I think this was quite clearly summed up but looking at the tragic story around Caroline Flack. The way the public and press treated her was vile, and that directly lead to her feeling the only way out was to end her life. Understandably this was triggering for me. But it was the public outrage afterwards the got to me more. People that had directly contributed to the bullying of her – and of me – that took to their Twitter to say how bullying is awful and they would never do that. The hypocrisy was staggering, and I think shows that people don’t even realise their own actions are bullying or damaging. We all need to be more aware of the opinions we put out on the internet, especially when it relates to an individual. No one is immune to the hurt you feel when you see someone you don’t know passing damning judgements on you with no facts. People talk about others online as though they are an abstract thing, but we aren’t. Behind my name is a real person. I’m not some statistic, or mythical creature. I’m a real person with my own emotions, and issues. I can’t be reduced to some ‘toilet wanker’, or ‘narcissistic pervert’. There is more to me than those things. I campaign for equality in how we perceive mens body image, and for awareness of mens body image and mental health issues. I raise money for LGBTQ and HIV charities. I am a proud feminist and advocate for the rights of ALL women. I support my queer sisters, brothers, and others, no matter where they fall on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. I am educating myself to be a stronger ally to people of colour. I am a loyal friend and fierce protector. I’m a brother, a son, a cousin, a nephew, a grand-child, and the proudest uncle in the world. I’m a drag fan, a musicals fan, and a genuinely unashamed proud gay man. I am a multifaceted human being, just like you, and everyone else. So all I ask of anyone reading this is to not judge me based in one stupid thing I’ve done. We have all made stupid mistakes in our lives, and we all have things that if they became public, could result in a lot of embarrassment or even a situation like mine.
This entire situation has changed my life in ways I never could have foreseen, in both good and bad ways. The bad; I’m basically unemployable, and I’m so broke I can barely afford my rent, let alone my bills. The good; I’ve realised a lot more of who I am and what is important to me. I’ve dropped that ‘bitchy gay’ persona that so many of us carry around. I noticed that I was using acerbic humour to assert some sort of dominance, and deflect people from the real me. The real me that is actually really sensitive and loving. I have no interest in being ‘the shady one’ anymore, and realised that showing that I can be loving and sensitive isn’t weak. It also showed me which friends are there in the hard times, and which aren’t. And most importantly perhaps, it has galvanised me to speak out more about the issues and topics I care about.
I’m never going to be able to change some people’s opinions of me, and to be honest, I don’t care about doing that anymore. I’m going to continue to fight the fights I care about, and carry on attempting to build myself into a strong human being that can make some real change in the world. Because I am a good person, I am a talented person, and I deserve a good life, despite the stupid mistakes I’ve made.
Edit: As this whole thing started with trying to help give trans kids resources and a voice, I just wanted to highlight Mermaids. Mermaids are a charity dedicated to helping young trans people, their families, and professionals navigate this journey. If you have a bit of spare change, donate to them here as they are a small charity that relies on donations to carry on their important work, Thanks. James x