The recent unfortunate and tragic news about Alec Holowka has hit me very hard. On the one hand, I was a fan of his music and games, and saddened that he could be responsible for such things. But also the reaction at large to every stage of this whole horrible affair has been dredging up some very bad, stressful feelings that have been affecting me for the past eight years, and I feel it’s finally time to talk about it publicly.
I am not going to name names, even though the names are easy enough to figure out. I don’t want this to be about me, either, but I am necessarily talking about a thing that happened to and around me, and affected many people in a profound, terrible way.
In particular, I have at least something of an understanding of what Scott Benson is going through right now.
This is probably going to be a difficult read.
CW: suicide, abuse of minors
Back in 2011, I was in a loving relationship with a very gentle, incredibly kind person. That relationship was a bit hard to quantify. I was happy to be in a platonic, comfortable, mostly-on-the-weekends sort of thing, and I think he wanted more but also wanted to respect my boundaries and my needs. He was also polyamorous and had other relationships going on at the same time, which I was mostly fine with; my disagreements weren’t around him being polyamorous so much as who he was being polyamorous with, but that’s… well, not germane to this issue, at least not directly.
We’d hit a bit of a rough patch in our relationship. Some of it was brought on by some conflict with one of his other partners, some of it was due to me just not feeling like it was right for me, and some of it just due to respective stresses in our own lives. We were trying to make do and just generally be kind to each other through all of it.
One night he texted me to ask if I could talk to him on the phone, while I was still at work.
I asked if it was about the stress with one of the other partners, who he’d had a falling out with the previous evening.
He said it wasn’t, and he really needed to talk to me on the phone.
So I found an empty office and called him.
“I’ve been arrested for distributing child pornography,” he said.
After a very stunned moment and a few questions (he’d been let out on his own recognizance and a fairly modest bail), he said that he had done “a very stupid thing” – which, as it turns out, was leaving his stashed share open on a file sharing network.
He wasn’t remorseful about the act of downloading and sharing the porn itself, but about getting caught.
He made it clear to me that this wasn’t furry “cub art,” either, but actual, real, human children, recorded on surveillance cameras. I didn’t want to know more than that.
I had absolutely no idea what to say or do. The last thing I said to him was, “We’ll talk later.”
Over the next few blurry whatevers I saw him online a few times, and I’d not be sure whether to talk to him or not. Other people asked me what was going on, because what little they saw of him, he was acting very differently. I didn’t know what to say.
I confided in some close friends, some mutual but most not, about what was happening. The mutual friends didn’t know what to do either. The ones who only knew him through me said I should dump him immediately, walk away, don’t look back. But so many of the people I’d grown close to were ones I’d met through him; what extent did I have to go to in just walking away? And could I throw away a pretty good (if not perfect) relationship over what felt like a survivable road bump? How much work did I want to put into making it survive?
It ended up not mattering, as three days later – as far as I can tell from my journal comics, anyway – one of our mutual friends did a wellness check, and called me on the phone. He had taken his own life, leaving a suicide note which only read: “I’m sorry.”
The next few days, weeks, months were a blur of confusion and self-doubt. Could I have done anything to save him? Was it my responsibility? Who should I even tell what happened? He was very well-known in the furry community; I was a nobody. I was being inundated from all sides from people wanting to know what happened. If I even mentioned that he took his own life that would lead to other people telling me to shut the hell up, that I shouldn’t be saying things like that, because that would only lead to more questions. If I said I couldn’t talk about it, people would start to speculate and ask me even more questions; was it a heart attack? Did he get in a car accident? Why wasn’t I telling everyone every little lurid detail that everyone demanded to know, damn it?
His greater community, of which I was only barely a part, demanded to know everything, and when I was unwilling to give it to them, they started to speculate. Mean rumors circulated, that he’d been depressed and I was manipulating him into it. Others were claiming that I wasn’t really his partner, and anything I said couldn’t be trusted, someone even saying because I had a reputation for being “clingy” (based on what, I don’t know, and how does that make any difference even if I was?!).
My health was suffering. I was missing a lot of work, I was barely eating, I lost about 30 pounds in a month, I was having constant panic attacks and pain and every possible flareup. A friend reached out and we went for a walk together and I was so dehydrated I passed out. A few days after I tried going back to work I ended up in the hospital with a severely impacted bowel (also due to dehydration). My body was falling apart, along with my life and everything I knew.
So many people were profoundly affected. The mutual friend who did the wellness check, in particular, took on the task of handling everything about the estate, and funeral preparations, and notifying friends and family and coworkers, all thankless tasks that shouldn’t be anyone’s responsibility, much less that of someone who just happened to be a friend who was there at the time. He truly went above and beyond, and I’m sure he had so much to deal with that he never even told me about. He was very profoundly changed by all this in ways I can only begin to imagine.
From our mutual friends I mostly got love and support. But from strangers, the questions, and accusations-veiled-as-questions, kept on coming.
Every time an abuse allegation comes to light, a certain segment of the population is out for the perpetrator’s blood, and also for the blood of everyone who “enabled” them or was “complicit.” They don’t understand that just because someone does a heinous thing, it doesn’t mean that anyone who is close to them knew at all beyond suspicions of things being “not quite right.”
And in the confusing times after these things get revealed, everyone demands instant satisfaction or else they will instantly boycott everything the abuser works on and their “enablers,” with no mercy given to the collaborators who were just as blindsided by it as everyone else. And things can move oh, so quickly.
I didn’t know anything about this horrible “hobby” of my partner’s. Other people had suspicions but always managed to deflect it as something more innocent; oh, he just loves playing with children, oh it’s just cartoons, oh he just has a lot of love for everyone.
Most of the few people I told about it assumed this was about “cub art,” sexual drawings of furry children. They didn’t know what to say when I clarified that it wasn’t.
In retrospect, there were huge red flags, but I was feeling too generous, too benefiting-of-the-doubt to really pry into any of it. By the time I was starting to see things that were truly worrisome I was in too deep with the relationship and thought that if I made a mention of it, he’d throw me away, that I wasn’t worth his time or affection, that it was my responsibility to make everything work. I kept on telling myself that I was just reading too much into it, because if there was a problem, surely somebody would have told me about it, right?
And if someone had told me, would I have even believed them?
He was very selective about who he showed his many sides to. I still don’t know if he actually committed acts of sexual abuse on a minor, or if he was only interested in seeing it happen from afar. Nobody who knew ever said anything (to me, anyway) beyond speculation. Anyone who did have concerns only told me about them in retrospect. Even then, nobody thought anything of it – or nobody wanted to, because he was such a kind, wonderful, loving person.
It’s easy to have a blind spot.
When an abuser ends up taking their own life, a different segment of the population is out for the blood of whoever made that happen. The victims of the abuse become the reason they died, and therefore their victims murdered them.
The final decision, the horrible, tragic ending of a life, is the abuser’s decision alone. Even if they are struggling with mental health issues, even if they were important to a community, even if so many people wanted to love and forgive them for it, it is something they can no longer live with.
My partner was very much an atheist, and believed that after someone dies, they simply cease to be. He was already going through his own personal hell, and he only saw one way out of it. I don’t know if he didn’t care about what the impact would be on those he cared about, or if he felt that the impact would be less than the impact of him still living after things came to light. He was very concerned about his community, one already battling with a vicious reputation for being a hive of pedophilia and grooming. Maybe he thought killing himself would be one less thing to impact the community that way.
Maybe he came to believe that his actions were irredeemably monstrous and that he didn’t deserve to live. Maybe he realized that by downloading child pornography he was enabling the abuse of minors, that it wasn’t a victimless crime.
Maybe he just saw no future.
I don’t want this to be about me. But I do want to say: There is evidence that fibromyalgia is usually something that’s latent and becomes fully-blown because of a major trauma, and I know from my life that I was always struggling with pain and anxiety symptoms but after that terrible month I have been shattered and getting worse. The weight of carrying this around hasn’t helped me at all, and this one terrible moment in my life has ended up defining the rest of it in the form of pain and misery. And these past few days have been especially bad for me.
Maybe I’m talking about this with some hope that it will finally lift the weight from my shoulders and I can start to get better, even with the thoughts that this will only start another cycle of abuse and hatred coming from people who knew him, how dare I say these things about him.
I’m angry at him and what he did and what he hid from everyone, but I also miss him and wish he were still around. I also want him to take responsibility for what he did, to me and to everyone who was close to him and to everyone that he hurt, directly or indirectly. But that isn’t ever going to happen.
And now I see so many people heaping hate and misery on the people who happened to work with Alec and were affected by him, some accusing them of being complicit in his abusive actions but so many more accusing them of “basically murdering” him because it was them sharing their allegations and taking actions from them that led to Alec taking his own life. They’re out for blood, or want some sort of closure, and without closure the only people they can think to blame are his victims, or the people like Scott who cut ties after much difficult deliberation.
Certain people think that Alec’s accusers must feel “really happy” that he’s dead.
There is no closure in this.
All we can do is be nice to each other and try to understand, and realize that in a shitty situation there’s no way to solve it where everyone gets exactly what they deserve or need and then life goes on with every problem solved.
There are no happy endings, except for the ones we make for ourselves.
Choose love, choose patience, choose hope, and try to be nice to each other. It’s what the world needs.