Earlier this week, Sophia Katz posted a piece on Medium detailing her experience of being repeatedly sexually assaulted by an alt-lit editor and writer, identified as ‘Stan.’ Her writing was honest and deeply affecting – explaining in excruciating detail that rape doesn’t have to be spectacular to be very real, very violent, and very devastating.
Sarah Jean Alexander then came forward on the Facebook group, Alt Lit Gossip (Spread) to support Sophia, detail her own experience with the perpetrator as a former roommate, and to identify him with Sophia’s permission, as Stephen Tully Dierks.
Soon after, a woman named Tiffany posted on Tumblr about her own experience with Dierks last April. She identified Dierks by name and explained how he pressured her into intercourse multiple times while she was intoxicated and after she explicitly told him she wasn’t interested in being physical with him.
In response to Sarah Jean’s growing thread in the Facebook group, Dierks posted a short apology, tying his actions to ‘our society’s patriarchal structure’, and resigning from his public writing career.
The story was picked up by Gawker. They published a piece titled, “Hip Alt-Lit Editor Quits Public Writing Career After Rape Accusations,” which seems more concerned with writing off the entire alt lit community than with addressing these specific instances of sexual assault. This is not only a misrepresentation of the community, but also a way to implicitly excuse Dierks’ actions by identifying them as part of a mentality held by the group at large.
Gawker paints alt lit as a ‘boys’ club,’ effacing the contributions of the community’s many talented and prolific female writers and editors.
Alt lit has produced an exceptionally large number of extremely influential and visible female writers whose work is informed by feminism and contemporary women’s politics. Mira Gonzalez, Gabby Bess, Sarah Jean Alexander, Stacey Teague, Melissa Broder, Ana Carrete are just a few members of alt lit who have not only come to shape this community, but who have become influential voices within the poetry, fiction, and feminist communities at large.
These writers have in many ways been more important than their male counterparts in putting alt lit on the map, and forging the literary and political values it represents. To paint them as anything else, or to not address their existence at all, is an incredibly violent and disrespectful act.
This “boy’s club” narrative of the alt lit community also distracts from the real problems at hand – that rape, sexual abuse, and destructive understandings of consent and power can and do exist in all communities – even those widely populated and helmed by women and individuals uniquely committed to addressing feminist issues.
This understanding is essentially adopting the same position that Stephen does in identifying himself as a “straight white male who clearly has taken in the toxicity of our society’s patriarchal structure.” While it is essential that we recognize the systemic problems at work here, ultimately Stephen needs to take responsibility for his own actions, and we need to hold him personally accountable.
Passing these assaults off as a product of “society’s patriarchal structure” or an alt-lit “boys’ club” transfers responsibility away from the perpetrator himself. It ultimately excuses the individual, while also erasing all of the incredible women in this community who are not only extremely talented writers, but who have dealt with the situation at hand in a way that is to be applauded.
The story of Stephen Tully Dierks is a chance for both men and women to reflect on what consent means, and how to better identify, prevent, and respond to sexual assault. This is an issue that every single community must grapple with, and that few respond to well. Individuals within alt lit like Sophia, Sarah Jean, and Tiffany have addressed these events with a level of intelligence, sensitivity, and urgency that few communities have matched.
Their writing and responses have been inspiring and humbling to me as I work to be a better ally to those who have been victims of sexual assault. Using this story as merely a way to write a spectacular portrait of an entire community does a disservice not only to those women who have been abused by Dierks, but to these individuals who have worked so hard to create a community I feel proud to be a part of. Especially now.