Kitty Stryker here. I normally wouldn’t get sucked into the discussion of Hugo Schwyzer, but I felt a draw to this piece by Christina Parriera, the sex worker who was outed by an abusive ex as Hugo’s sexting partner. I have seen mirrors of Hugo’s Male! Feminist! Ally! while being abusive and not taking ownership in his personal life in people in my own life, and I bet you might have seen it in your own circles.
I want to acknowledge that my privilege may be blinding me to stuff within this, so please do call me out if that’s the case!- but I do appreciate that it discusses mental illness, abusive behaviour, and accountability as not mutually exclusive.
Hyperbole and a Half Pain Database- also applicable to emotional pain? Discuss.
The past five days of my life have been an absolute clusterfuck. I live in Las Vegas, but flew to Boston for the weekend. Afterwards, I went to Providence to stay with friends, and now I’m back on a plane. I had hoped my weekend getaway would be stress free, and although it was pleasant, it was not without drama. This is likely the last piece I will write addressing the Huge Schwyzer issue. I think that many people want to move forward and begin to heal. There were positives that came from the situation, like the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen trend, and several discussions about race, class, gender, consent, and privilege. His meltdown got people talking about critical issues, and so I’d like to acknowledge the silver lining. It also got people talking about mental illness and culpability. This is what I want to address, and although I know many of you may disagree with what I have to say, I’m going to say it anyways. I’m hoping that at least a few people will see my point. At the very least, perhaps this can spur some interesting and respectful discussions.
First, I need to preface this. If you’re reading my blog, by now you probably already know that I’m the sex worker who got caught in the “sexting” scandal with Schwyzer. You can read my piece in Tits and Sass I’m The Sex Worker Who Was Outed As Hugo Schwyzer’s Sexting Partner
to get a background of the situation, and of how those texts got leaked.
Second, I will once again clarify that I have never met Schwyzer. I have had several phone, email, and social media interactions with him, and was going to speak in his Navigating Pornography course last February, but that never happened. Third (and perhaps most important to the context of this article): I DO NOT CONDONE WHAT THIS MAN HAS DONE. He is an abuser. He is manipulative, attention seeking, selfish, and he has done unspeakable things to women in his past. Full stop. There is no excusing that, and if you read my article in Tits & Sass, you’ll see that he also betrayed my trust. So, given all that he’s done, I can understand why people’s immediate reaction to his mental illness is “that’s no excuse. He’s still an asshole,” and some even believe that he’s not mentally ill. I honestly cannot wrap my head around anyone who could possibly think Hugo Schwyzer is not mentally ill. Perhaps this has to do with a public lack of awareness about the different types of mental illness. I obtained a MA in clinical psychology and got through almost two years of doctoral study in the same discipline. I treated patients in various settings for almost 3 years, including at an intensive outpatient clinic that exclusively treated patients with borderline personality disorder (one of Hugo’s major diagnoses). There is more to mental illness than just anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADHD some of the most commonly talked about illnesses.
Many people are asserting that he’s not ill, but rather, that he’s a sociopath. Well, that statement makes no sense. The term “sociopath” is actually a way to describe individuals who have been diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder. This is a very real mental illness. It is difficult to treat, and characterized by abusive behavior, manipulation, and many of the other behaviors that Hugo presents with. Again, I am not making excuses. I am simply stating facts. He has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, a very serious Axis II personality disorder that is pervasive and difficult to treat. Signs of the disorder are usually present early on in life, and continue through adulthood. Common features include self-harm, suicidal tendencies, attention-seeking behavior, a pattern of unstable and volatile relationships, sexual promiscuity, identity crises, and extreme black & white thinking. Sound familiar? Yes of course it does. It sounds exactly like Hugo.
He’s also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features. This is perhaps the most severe aspect of his illness. I’ve seen people critique his constant manic episodes, saying that it’s not possible to swing that rapidly. However, there is a form of bipolar disorder that DOES rapid cycle, and it’s the biggest pain in the ass to treat. So, all three diagnoses are very severe and in my honest opinion, I believe they are accurate. Now let’s be clear- I have never met him, I am not qualified to diagnose him, and I am not his therapist. However, I am extremely familiar with the disorders, I used to diagnose patients in a healthcare setting, and from my interactions with Hugo, I think it’s likely that they’re spot on. Just my opinion.
So, what does this all mean? For starters, he should not be agreeing to interviews while he’s in this state. He’s on very heavy and sedating medications. He appears to be rapid cycling through mania. I think journalists should have waited to interview him. He’s not even remotely close to stable right now, as is clear by his frequent Twitter meltdowns despite his claim of “quitting the internet.” He should stay the hell OFF the internet. It’s not doing him any favors and it’s only upsetting to the people who he has hurt. But once again, he’s hardly in a place where he can think clearly. I messaged him yesterday and told him to GET THE FUCK OFF TWITTER. I’m not enabling his destructive behaviors, and once again, I hope everyone understands that the point of this article is not to enable him.
I am not an apologist for his bad behavior, but here is what I do want to stress: it is possible to be a complete asshole/abuser AND be mentally ill. When people make statements such as “he’s not sick, just an abuser,” I’m baffled. Why are we unable to hold the dialectic that both are possible? Is his illness an excuse for his behavior? Absolutely not. He must be held accountable, but we must also be savvy enough to consider the possible etiology of some of his behaviors. I think it’s much easier for people to just close their ears and say “I don’t care that he’s sick. He’s a jerk.” Well, that’s the easiest way to look at the situation, especially for his victims. It’s just not true though.
Perhaps people are quick to discount his illness because they fear that it will excuse his bad behavior. As a society, we need to get over that. It should not excuse his behavior. If a sociopath kills someone, he should go to jail. However, I think it’s interesting to explore the disorder and what led the sociopath to do such a heinous thing. It likely has to do with his disorder, right? Of course it does. Perhaps the only reason I’m intrigued is because of my background and mental health training. I’ve always been fascinated by disorders, etiologies, behaviors. I’ve also had my own struggles. My fascination does not translate into forgiveness. I’m just taking a balanced and fair assessment of the situation. As an aside, I did some crappy things that I’m not proud of when I was in an abusive relationship. That’s no excuse for some of my behaviors, but it is important to note that they were brought on as a result of being abused. That doesn’t mean I’m not taking responsibility.
Some say that he’s faking the whole thing and that he’s not ill. What? That man is sick as hell. Mentally healthy people don’t behave in the way that he has. On the other hand, not all mentally ill people do behave the way he did, and no one says they have to. I’ve seen a lot of people say “he’s making mentally ill people look bad.” That’s ridiculous. There are hundreds of different types of illnesses and thousands of ways that they can be co-morbid and manifest themselves. He doesn’t need to be a poster child for mental illness, but to discount the fact that he does have several of them isn’t helpful either.
Another point of interest- people saying that he’s white and privileged and can get treatment. They seem upset about this. If Hugo were a minority of low socioeconomic status, he wouldn’t be able to get the high level of care that he’s receiving. Yes, that’s absolutely true, and it’s terrible. But, what does that mean? Does it mean that Hugo shouldn’t get treatment? That’s also absurd. I wish that everyone could get the same level of care that he’s getting. It should be a basic human right, but just because some people get it and others don’t doesn’t mean that no one should. This man is destructive and has hurt MANY people, including me. Shouldn’t we ENCOURAGE him to be in treatment so that he can stop his abusive behavior? That’s the ideal outcome.
We should also be angry. We should express it, write about it, tweet about it, etc. Absolutely. People have a right to be pissed off. Women of color have a serious right to be pissed off. Again, my point is that all of these things are simultaneously possible. For some reason, people have a hard time accepting these many truths, and sometimes it’s not a neat and tidy presentation. A man can be abusive, manipulative, mentally ill, and deserving of care. All at the same time, even if some of us hate him. We also don’t (and should not) use his illness as a free pass for him. He’s gotten enough of those, and he should not be enabled right now. All I’m saying is to examine the possibility that his mental illness is a large part of what leads to his terrible behaviors. If you look up the symptoms of borderline personality disorder, it’s characterized by his exact behaviors, even the worst of his behaviors. So, that’s all I want people to take away from this. That it doesn’t need to be black and white. It doesn’t need to be either “he’s mentally healthy and just lying to all of us” or “he’s mentally ill and deserves a free pass.” It can be “he’s mentally ill and should be accountable for his actions.” These aren’t excuses. They’re truths, and we don’t have to place judgments and assumptions on them. They can simply be. Actually, this is a large premise of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, the only empirically supported treatment for those with borderline personality disorder. I worked at a DBT unit, and we used to teach our patients about mindfulness, non-judgmental stances, and radical acceptance.
By knowing his diagnoses, we can at least begin to understand WHY he did what he did. It doesn’t mean we have to forgive him, but at least we can be knowledgable. What’s so bad about that? Why are people so quick to assume he’s not sick? I don’t think many people would spend almost 2 weeks in a psychiatric facility if they were healthy. Doctors and psychiatrists would likely see through it after a thorough assessment. How did he get all of those prescriptions if he’s not ill? Or perhaps some of you think he’s also lying about that. Hell, maybe he is and maybe I’m totally wrong! That’s also a possibility but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and believing that he was in the hospital and that he was prescribed those medications. Is it possible that he’s exaggerating his symptoms and playing the “mentally ill role” for sympathy? Yes, and he probably is. That’s the sort of attention-seeking behavior that’s typical of borderline personality disorder. There’s a reason that most therapists don’t like to work with BPD patients. They’re difficult as hell. They’re a challenge, and one that I found exhilarating actually. It’s very complex.
Hugo needs to take responsibility for what he’s done, but we don’t need to accept his apology. Everyone has a right to feel the way that they do, and to react in a way that they can feel good about.
I feel good about acknowledging that many of his horrible actions are related to his diagnoses, that he’s screwing up, that he pissed me off, and that he still deserves proper mental health treatment.
Even if he is a one hundred percent sociopath, that still means he has a mental illness. Unfortunately, the prognosis isn’t great, but he claims to only have traits. I’m not sure how things will turn out for him, but I honestly wish him the best and hope he gets treatment.
Do I think he should teach again & be around students? No. Well, not unless he seriously goes through extensive treatment AND takes a LONG break. I doubt a short leave of absence will make a difference. Should feminists trust him again? Ha, fuck no. Should we recognize that he has an illness and it may have contributed to some of this. Yes. That’s ALL I’m saying.
I hope some of that made sense. It was written with good intentions.Yours truly amidst the chaos,