November 18, 2019

Email from Grace Lavery to the Ortbergs (Nov 18)

Originally published on Twitter. This was sent along with the letter from Daniel Lavery to his family. Daniel’s portion has not been published.

Dear John, Nancy, and Laura,

I am heartbroken. Since I met you all a few years ago, as I was first getting to know my now-husband, and taking the first steps of my recovery, I have loved you all deeply and fully, and felt loved and held by each of you in turn. It is therefore with the most despairing, thwarted feeling that I must resign from the family that you’ve welcomed me into. As I see now, the price of membership is simply too high for my conscience to afford.

I have known for some time that something was very wrong with the way you all talk about Johnny. There has always been a strange attempt to excuse or mitigate his rudeness, and an inexplicable acquiescence to his whims. But I did not know - how could I, could anyone, have guessed - the extraordinary depth of your depravity in this matter. You have, for eighteen months, colluded in secret to supply an avowed pedophile with unsupervised access to children, with no accountability of any kind, on the grounds of his claim that it helps to treat his compulsions. You have taken his word, unquestioned, about the nature of his relationships with children, without reflecting that, even if he is telling the truth to the best of his ability, Johnny is, of course, singularly unqualified to judge whether his interactions with children will create emotional harm. His word is also questionable: his Instagram account quickly disproved one of his claims to Danny, that he only worked with older children. (This is no surprise: if I were attempting to get sober by working in a bar, my word would be questionable too.) You did not require him to seek spiritual or therapeutic guidance as a condition of your conspiracy.

You failed, even, to discuss your deranged plan with your own spiritual and therapeutic guides. That latter decision proves that your delusion, while it may have been sincere, was not stupid - you must have realized that no therapist would ever sign off on the plan you and Johnny cooked up, to allow an avowed pedophile to self-medicate his compulsive sexual attraction to children by being in regular close physical contact with them, without supervision of any kind. Yet despite whatever unconscious dread prevented you from seeking direct help, you decided that you knew better than the professional teachers, therapists, and specialists who are trained to protect children, whom you treated as threats to your own plan for Johnny’s salvation. You have exposed dozens of children to possibly irreparable harm. That harm is on your heads.

I wanted to write on my own behalf, to affirm what Danny has said: that of course you cannot be present at our wedding, or in any other part of our lives, from this point forth. Were you to discover sanity in this moment, and take immediate steps to ensure that Johnny were never again in the presence of children without supervision, you would simply be responding to a threat that Danny and I have made. A threat we feel is immediately, and obviously, necessitated by your actions. So, I do not write to recriminate with you, nor am I “expressing anger” towards the goal of eventual reconciliation. Rather, I write to convey the full extent of my moral horror, because it is - despite the conventions of whatever theology you have used to justify your conduct in this case - the responsibility of human beings to call good what is good, and to call evil what is evil.

That is to say, I share Danny’s sentiments on this matter entirely, and have little to add to his letter. There is, however, one particular horror that I would like to register that he, perhaps, cannot. For eighteen months, you have all three insisted that the distance between Danny and Johnny was caused by Johnny’s resistance to and confusion about Danny’s transition. “Danny didn’t even tell Johnny himself,” you have complained to me. I must now conclude that when you said that to me - which each of you did, on numerous occasions - you were lying. You knew very well that Johnny’s distance from Danny was entirely self-imposed, just as you knew that while Johnny perhaps heard of Danny’s transition from a third party, you yourselves were conspiring to keep Johnny’s secret from Danny. I think, on the other hand, of the family emergencies that have required immediate group confabs and am stunned by your collective sense of priorities. But I should not be: you all evidently sensed that Danny has more backbone and sounder moral judgment than you do. If he had allowed himself to be seduced by the love-bombing/gaslighting tactics that you have deployed against him, I would have ended our relationship. I am relieved beyond belief that he was not taken in for a moment. I, meanwhile, remain disturbed by the shamelessness of your attempt to make Danny into the problem in this situation, and stunned by your attempts to manipulate me into taking that position too. (Which I have done, in fact - a few times over the last year, I’ve tried to cajole Danny into sharing more about his transition with Johnny. What a chump I have been.)

For the last few days, I have been wondering why you all think Johnny is a hero - a word I heard John use, and which Danny tells me Laura has also used. Of course, he did not choose to be sexually attracted to children, and that fact alone cannot make anyone a hero any more than being gay, or trans, or an alcoholic, can make someone a hero. Any more than a latent attraction to children makes one a villain. I think it is perhaps that you think there is something heroic about forbearance in general - you prefer celibacy to sexuality, and so you have sanctified your son/ brother on the basis of your belief that he has never hurt any children. I don’t share your certainty on that point at all, but even if I did, I would encourage you to reflect on your apparent disdain for sex, and the relation between Johnny’s preference for childlike innocence and your own. I encourage you, for example, to discuss with Bart whether he agrees that Johnny’s experiences mirror his. Bart fought through the very repression you extol to discover sex, joy, community, love, and pleasure. Johnny is instrumentalizing children in the service of his own piety, as part of a refusal to seek help, or think with any sensitivity whatsoever about the ethical obligations that desire imposes. These are polar opposite responses to the fact of sex. Your attempt to justify covering up for a pedophile by appealing to the queer ethics that Danny and I hold so dear, demonstrates a disappointing lack of familiarity with the central claims of the LGBT civil rights movement.

I have been reminded, again and again over the last few days, of some of the most powerful, most morally necessary, and most distinctively Black and American, sentences that I have ever read. They come at the end of James Baldwin’s essay “Stranger in the Village,” in which he reflects on the differences between American and European Whites. Europeans, Baldwin argues, possess the prejudices of ignorance, the product of lives spent away from Black bodies and communities. Americans, meanwhile, possess the prejudice of an over-familiarity that wishes to return itself to a discredited state of innocence. “It is only now beginning to be borne in on us — very faintly, it must be admitted, very slowly, and very much against our will — that this vision of the world is dangerously inaccurate, and perfectly useless. For it protects our moral high-mindedness at the terrible expense of weakening our grasp of reality. People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”

Your homophobia and transphobia condemn you all; your dishonesty shames you; and, of course, the choice for which you will all be called to account - I remind you: you have colluded in secret to provide an avowed pedophile with unsupervised access to children, for eighteen months - is of the most serious kind imaginable. I will not be able to wish you well until a full account of Johnny’s conduct over the last eighteen months has been completed in public, and that may take decades, since (as I’m sure you all know) the rates of reporting among survivors of childhood sexual abuse are incredibly low. So, I wish you justice first, and healing after. You will have to seek both without Danny and me.

I shall end by reiterating, once more, that I the necessity of severing my ties with you all breaks my heart. You have always treated me with great kindness and generosity, and I have looked up to you all. I can do so no longer.

In shame, Grace