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Processing the Joss Whedon Allegations as a 'Buffy' Fan and Trauma Survivor

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

It all began in summer of 2020, when Ray Fisher initially tweeted accusations of abuse and unprofessional conduct by Joss Whedon on the set of the “Justice League” movie.

Months later, on February 10, 2021, Charisma Carpenter became the first castmate from one of Whedon’s most popular shows to speak out in support of Fisher, recounting her own experiences of abuse by Joss Whedon and creating a whirlwind of media frenzy. 

In the days since, other castmates of Carpenter’s from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” as well as those who starred in Whedon’s shows such as “Firefly” and “Dollhouse” have come forward, some sharing their own stories, others offering support. As someone who is both a huge fan of Whedon’s work and a victim of abuse myself, it has been a lot to process, leaving me with many conflicting feelings.

When I was younger, I was a huge fan of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” television series. Though it was a fictional horror fantasy show, many of her storylines resonated with me on a very personal level, reflecting my own life struggles and battles with mental illness. I saw bits of myself not only in the titular character, but her whole Scooby gang. I, too, was the outcast, the misfit, the nerd, the goof, the misunderstood soul battling demons most of the people around me didn’t even know existed.

From Buffy, I gravitated to other works by Joss Whedon, including most notably “Angel” and “Firefly.” And once again, the characters and the storylines in his various shows all resonated with me on a personal level. I saw myself in the sweet, awkward naivety of Fred, and in Cordilia’s struggles to find her place in the world. While the shows themselves may have been fantastical in nature, the characters within the roles always felt very real, authentic and relatable to me. I had been going through the motions, trying to do my best, looking to fit in somewhere, and the fictional worlds he created gave me a sanctuary where I didn’t feel quite so alone.

Years later, I would still turn to his shows in times of struggle. When I lost both of my parents in 2010 only a couple months apart, I found myself watching the Buffy episode “The Body” to help me mourn because the myriad of feelings I was grappling with were all so aptly displayed by the entire cast on the screen. Buffy’s songs from “Once More With Feeling” echoed my own battles with suicide, depression and mental illness. Buffy’s attempted rape, the recurring struggles to work through loss throughout the various shows, the very human need to have people there who genuinely care and support you — I could easily spend hours discussing how both specific episodes and general undercurrents that flowed beneath the surface resonated with me on a very personal level. Though I felt invisible in the world in many ways, through those shows I felt seen and understood. Many of the characters from Whedon’s shows did not just resonate with me, they had become in some ways a part of my very identity. I could see bits of myself in characters of every one of his shows that I watched.

Likewise, I have now come to see myself in many of his accusers, the people behind the characters I had grown to love. I, too, suffered in silence through abuse and “casual cruelty” as Charisma Carpenter so aptly put it. Though my abuse occurred at home and not in a workplace environment, it was no less traumatic, and much like those coming forward to speak out against Joss Whedon, it has had lasting effects that still plague me decades later. 

Much like how Whedon has existed on a pedestal for many people and many years, both my mother and my brother seemed universally adored when I was growing up. My older brother was a jock in high school, always on the starting line, in a small city that loved their sports and the athletes that played them. My mother was on the PTA and on everyone’s speed dial if they needed food for a bake sale or a volunteer for something. Many of my teammates and classmates regularly congregated at my house throughout my childhood, fondly calling my mother Mrs. A as she insisted. From the outside looking in, my life was ideal. 

Yet my mother and brother were also both my primary abusers. Behind closed doors, they both seemed to relish in my suffering, taking joy in my pain. My mother lived with often untreated, always undertreated bipolar disorder with bouts of rage, and I was her primary target. From an early age, she frequently told me she hated me and wished I was never born. Despite being an A student in many advanced classes, nothing I did was ever deemed good enough by her standards. I was once beaten and grounded when my semester grade in an advanced math course I was taking dropped from a 94 to a 92, because an A was acceptable, an A- was not. No matter how skinny I ever got, I was criticized for my awkward shape and reminded that my mother had always been smaller. When I placed third in a beauty pageant my mother had put me in, my mother walked away disgusted, saying that my sister “always was the pretty one.”  When my cheerleading squad got second in the state at a competition the one year, my mother asked what I specifically had done wrong that we didn’t get first. While the physical abuse didn’t occur as frequently from her, the mental and emotional abuse was steady, and “casually cruel” easily sums it up.

My brother was more brutal and physical in his abuse. There were times he would take a swing at me when I entered the room, not because I had done anything to provoke him but rather simply because he had a bad day and I was an easy target. Once my father began noticing bruises on me and punishing my brother for them, he became more calculated in his attacks, hitting me in the back of the head where it wouldn’t so easily show or finding other ways to hurt me. I could not bring myself to tattle on him because I knew any punishment he received for hurting me would be inflicted back upon me again threefold.

It wasn’t that my childhood was all bad. I had good friends, got good grades, lived in a decent house in a good neighborhood, always had food on my plate, new clothes to wear and the latest toys to play with — again, from the outside looking in, my life was ideal. But that façade only existed because nobody saw the undercurrents of abuse that existed behind closed doors after everyone else went home. For many years, even beyond my childhood, I bore the scars of the abuse from them both in silence.

Decades later, I still struggle with the aftermath of all the abuse I endured, in ongoing treatment for major depression, anxiety disorder and PTSD. 

Following my mother’s fall from grace when she shot my father and it became clear she was not the saint many envisioned her to be, I still struggled to speak out about what I endured because the good and the bad were so intertwined. Years later I still occasionally hear from people who only knew one side of her that they cannot believe she did what she did, reminiscing and highlighting all the good they remember her doing as if it somehow magically erased the bad. 

Even Charisma Carpenter’s account of Whedon’s harsh reaction to her pregnancy struck a personal nerve for me. When I was 18, while my mother was in Albany County Jail awaiting trial for shooting my father, I went to visit her and inform her that I was pregnant. I hadn’t been wild or promiscuous by any means, having been with my high school sweetheart for four years at that point. However, when I returned home from telling her in county jail that she was going to be a grandmother, I received a call from her brother telling me in no uncertain words that I should “get an abortion and stop shaming the family.”

On multiple occasions, I have encountered people who remembered my brother and me from our school days. They always seem to inquire how he is doing these days. More often than not, I uncomfortably mention I haven’t spoken to him in years and rush to change the subject because that awkward silence and strange conversation detour is still easier than recounting years of abuse to someone I haven’t seen since my childhood and haven’t spoken to in decades.

Like those who worked with Whedon, I have held many things inside for years, even as they have tormented my heart, mind and soul. And like them, I faced criticism and doubt when I finally spoke out, with people asking “Why now?” And like them, I have a complicated past, intertwined with good and bad that are nearly impossible to separate.

While I understand fully that all the talk of abuse are only allegations at this point and nobody but those involved knows the truth of everything that transpired on and off Whedon’s sets over the years, as a survivor of abuse myself, I painfully relate to the words his alleged victims have used to describe not only the abuse itself and the impact it left behind, but also why they struggled to speak out over it. While it makes me cringe to even use words such as “alleged'”and “allegations” when I completely support his accusers and believe their accounts, the court of public opinion is not a court of law and people can be held accountable for presenting anything as fact that can not be proven in a court of law. Therefore, having not been there myself, I cannot state with any certainty the truth behind the allegations. I can only share my opinions, based on my own history of abuse. 

I honestly completely understand why they remained silent for so long. Part of me always felt like I bore part of the responsibility for my own abuse, while yet another part felt guilty for never saying anything. I was also strangely protective of my abusers for years, making excuses for their actions. I didn’t want to tarnish other people’s memories of them or their personal experiences, which I knew greatly differed from my own.  Part of me believed on some level that as long as I never spoke about the abuse, I could pretend it didn’t happen. And quite honestly, I never wanted to be seen as weak or a victim. To admit the trauma and abuse I had endured made me the victim I never wanted to be. 

Further emboldened by the recent support given to Charisma Carpenter, and by extension himself, Ray Fisher has doubled down and spoken out again, stating that the reason he has not been held legally accountable for his statements against Whedon is because they are true.

While the accusations may never see the inside of a courtroom, whether to seek accountability or prove defamation, Warner Brother’s did launch an investigation into the allegations of abuse and misconduct in July 2020.  And the whole matter has continued to play out in the court of public opinion.

As a survivor of abuse myself, I know that being able to finally speak out, to share your truth, and to have others hear and support you on your journey towards healing is of utmost importance.  Admittedly, I was very pleased to see so many people rally behind Charisma Carpenter, because I understand all too well how scary it is to finally open those floodgates and speak about abuses you have held inside for far too long. 

  • Sarah Michelle Gellar, who played Buffy Summers on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
  • James Marsters, who played Spike on both “Buffy” and “Angel” 
  • Eliza Dushku, who played Faith on both “Buffy” and “Angel” 
  • Amber Benson, who played Willow’s girlfriend Tara on “Buffy”
  • Michelle Trachtenberg, who played Buffy’s younger sister Dawn
  • David Boreanaz, who played Angel on both “Buffy” and “Angel”
  • Jose Molina, one of the writers on “Firefly”
  • Amy Acker, who played Winnifred “Fred” Burkle, on “Angel”
  • Anthony Head, who played Giles on “Buffy,” admitted during a recent  interview in the UK that he was absolutely gutted by the allegations, not because he doubts the accounts of abuse but rather out of guilt for not seeing them himself. He had believed the show to be empowering and having forged a familial bond among the cast, and has since wracked his brain trying to make sense of the fact that he was unable to see the currents of abuse that existed below the surface. 

Many of the reactions Charisma Carpenter received from co-stars mirrored much of the support I received when I finally spoke out about my own abuse decades later. When I finally began writing and speaking out a few years ago about the abuse I endured as a child, I was amazed at the outpouring of support I received. For example, my oldest friend who I had known since I was 4 years old, reached out to apologize for never seeing or realizing what I had been going through. One of my old babysitters who lived down the street reached out in response to the book I wrote about my abusive childhood to offer her support. 

Even my husband has expressed remorse because we grew up together and a part of him feels like he should have done something, done more, to protect me. He was my older brother’s childhood best friend for a time and has reflected back numerous times about how even as a kid himself he could see there was something wrong below the surface but never realized exactly how bad things were. He was a survivor of abuse himself and, even as a child, he could sense the unspoken bond we had as victims of abuse. Survivors of abuse can often see that dark stain left behind on other victims.

I honestly don’t want him or anyone to feel guilty, though, for not realizing the extent of the abuse or for not doing something to help. Hindsight is 20/20. Nobody should beat themselves up over abuse allegations they were not even fully aware of until after the fact, especially if they themselves were young and not in any position to have prevented the abuse had they known. At this point, all anyone can do is stand by in support of those who are coming forward. As Eliza Dushku said, “We are as sick as our secrets.” And to quote Michelle Trachtenberg, “What he did was very bad. But we win. By surviving.”

I admittedly am unable to sever my connection to shows made by Joss Whedon that have helped to shape me as a person, but at the same time I cannot ignore or deny the tarnish that now exists on them. As someone who advocates for mental health, I genuinely fear that some might misconstrue my adoration for beloved and relatable characters brought to life as my condoning the abuse they endured while creating those characters. That duality of good and bad extends to many of Whedon’s shows for me because those shows were a large part of me growing up and becoming who I am today, yet the undercurrents of abuse are shameful, disgusting and vile. I struggle to hold tightly to shows and characters I hold dear, while still feeling the need to acknowledge and support those who have come forward in recent days. I think, if anything, at this point I find myself more connected to not only the characters on the screen but also the people behind them as well. 

“The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” My continuing sentimental link to many of Whedon’s shows has nothing to do with Whedon himself and everything to do with the incredible actresses and actors who brought those characters to live on the screen and in my heart. I thank them all sincerely for the support their characters gave me as I struggled to grow up in the midst of my own abuse and mental health struggles, and I stand firmly behind them in support for the bravery they have shown in coming forward with their own accounts of abuse today.

Originally published: February 16, 2021
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