Billy Bush Does First Interview After Release of Access Entertainment Bus Tapes

Excuse me while I get political. I’ve got some stuff to say about Billy Bush and…other things.

Image Description: Billy Bush, a white man in his late thirties with short brown hair, stands in front of greenery. He speaks into a microphone that someone holds in front of him. He's wearing a navy polo shirt.

Image Description: Billy Bush, a white man in his late thirties with short brown hair, stands in front of greenery. He speaks into a microphone that someone holds in front of him. He’s wearing a navy polo shirt.

Content Warning: Sexual harassment, sexual assault, Donald Trump, vulgar names for female anatomy, Access Entertainment bus recording, Roy Moore, Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, Billy Bush

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There’s an interesting emerging trend in late night lately…if you want your side of a controversial story to be heard, book yourself on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. First.  We saw this first when Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci departed the White House after just eleven days, before he even officially began his position as Communications Director. He thought he could bullshit Colbert. The results were awesome.

Part of the reason why Colbert has been so successful in his new role as host The Late show, I believe, is that he’s a very good interviewer – charming and engaging, but fair, and totally able to hold a person’s feet to the fire when the  occasion calls for it. I made it a point to watch Billy Bush’s “explain myself” interview on The Late Show, his first since his firing from NBC after the now infamous clip of him and Donald Trump talking on the Access Entertainment bus emerged doing the election.

The interview followed an op-ed by Billy Bush confirming that, despite Trump’s recent insistence that it’s not his voice on that recording, it is. Bush followed up in the Colbert interview, saying that he’d not only heard what he’d assumed had been a ” crass stand-up act, Andrew Dice Clay performance “(I’m old enough to remember Andrew Dice Clay’s standup, so I know the reference) , but seven other men on the bus had, and that it wasn’t him laughing on the tape, which he obviously felt had gotten lost in the coverage. Also:

“If I’d have thought that there was a man detailing a sexual assault strategy to me,   I’d have called the FBI, not just reported it to my executive producer…”

I narrowed my eyes, surprised at how angry I was. Because yeah, I totally agree that it sucks that Billy Bush lost his job because he was complicit in the bus incident while the guy that talked about grabbing women by the pussy is now running the free world. But something about how Bush talked about the incident really irritated me.

“Don’t let him off that easy, Colbert.” I said after Bush got done describing how Trump was a big NBC star at the time and how everyone had to “kiss the ring of The Donald.”

Colbert didn’t disappoint. “And where exactly was he wearing that ring at the time?” And he didn’t smile. He didn’t smile much at all during this interview.

Female friends and I have disagreed over whether Colbert was harsh on Billy Bush. One of my female friends saw an interview that was just designed to let Bush get his side of the story out. I saw that, yes, but I also saw an interview where Bush is held accountable for his behaviour. Colbert definitely got some jabs in. He makes Billy Bush relive the embarrassment of being fired from his job, including his feelings on being the one who lost his job over the bus incident, while Trump went on to become President after women actually accused him of sexual assault. Colbert even asks him to speculate on what Trump meant when he said, “I moved on her like a bitch” because it didn’t make sense to him. It all moves forward in a comedic way, yes, but there’s a subtext to it:

“If you want to tell your story, Billy Bush, you’re also going to have to tell us what you’ve learned.”

I do think that’s feasible and fair There’s no reason that an interview can’t be both an opportunity to get a story out and a push toward a broader point. I watch 24-hour news networks, and I see it happen all the time, in a lot less subtle manner than Colbert did with Billy Bush – and Colbert is not a reporter here. And kudos to Billy Bush for going on Colbert likely knowing that he was going to get some jabs. It’s no secret that Colbert can turn the screws when he wants to. After all, in Colbert’s previous life as host of “The Colbert Report”, politicians avoided being booked on his “Better Know a District” segment because he had a tendency to make them look foolish.

What Has Billy Bush Learned?

So what has Billy Bush learned? From my perspective, not a whole lot, but he did give some clues if you read between the lines of his answers: That he really wants to be a better man, one that doesn’t objectify women, one that, hearing today what he heard from Trump on that bus ten years ago, would instantly know that it was wrong and know exactly what to do about it. But I’m not sure that he knows how to start, and I know from hearing men talk and from hearing my female friends talk about what their male friends have said since the Weinstein story broke that he’s not alone.

Don’t get me wrong. There are good men out there who treat women well because they sincerely want to and believe it’s the right thing to do – they value women and their contributions, they talk respectfully about and to the women in their lives, and their actions demonstrate their commitment to making  women feel safe and respected in their presence, without expectation of reward. I was surrounded by men like this as I grew up. I was lucky.

But in adulthood I saw that there are a lot of broken men, too, products and purveyors both of a culture of toxic masculinity. Some know that they aren’t “nice guys” and aren’t interested in challenging their ideas of women. Some think that they are the good guys, and when they’re told, “Your behaviour tells me you’re not” will not believe it. Or maybe wouldn’t believe it until recently, and  now they’re having their eyes opened, and want to be better for the women in their lives…but legitimately don’t have a clue what they need to do.

They don’t know how to not treat a woman like an object. The Billy Bushes of the world are feeling truly lost.

And that’s scary to me as a woman, because that tells me that to achieve true equality between the sexes, the unlearning and relearning that men are going to have to do is so fundamental that just “discussion” and “dialogue” isn’t going to do it – there’s going to need to be a seismic shift in how both women and men look at themselves, each other, and the world.

So What Now?

I’m not exactly sure. I do think that this is going to be big and messy and hard to deal with for a whole lot of people.  I don’t think that any of us should assume that we’ll be exempt from asking tough question about ourselves and people around us.  I thought hard over whether I thought that Al Franken should resign after the recent allegations of sexual assault made against him, because I like Al Franken’s voice in the Senate about issues that are important to me. It was uncomfortable, taking a look at myself and my thoughts and what I’d being saying with my stance. I decided that Al Franken and Billy Bush are guys that are pretty much in the same boat in that they “get it” for the most part but still have some work to do, and that cleared things up for me.

The All Frankens and the Billy Bushes of the world don’t get a free pass for creating an environment that makes women feel unsafe, even if harm wasn’t intended.  It’s not the fault of the victims of sexual violation that society’s failure to work out its issues with women and power on a collective level has  caused some confusion in even men that appear to “get it” about women and respect and power . Even if they didn’t understand the effect of their actions, those actions have real consequences for the victims, and they need to have real consequences for the perpetrators.  In All Franken’s case, it’s too bad for for America because it means the loss of such a valuable voice in the Senate, and it’s okay for Americans to feel conflicted about that, I think. As one of my new favourite bloggers, The Rude Pundit, said on Twitter:

“It is possible to be both glad and angry that Franken is resigning. It’s just a sad fucking situation all around.”

But you can’t have it both ways, America. You can’t do this dance that I’m hearing some Democrats (badly) doing of: “Yes, we believe women, but we don’t want to be too hard on these guys either, because hey, we like them a lot…”

Meet Me at Camera Three, Democrats

Keep your own house clean, because you know…you know…that there are at least two Republicans who are more than well-meaning but a bit confused when it comes to this stuff.  Your President, who has allegations of sexual assault against him, has thrown his support behind Roy Moore, a man running for Senate who has allegations of sexual misconduct with teenagers when he was in his 30s against him. Not only that, he’s got a history of racism, homophobia, and anti-Islam remarks.

I said a while ago that I was going to be careful about what I write about Trump in this space. I’ve considered lately what I want to say. I think that I need to say…this…because it I think it’s one of the things that recent events have dictated *does* need to happen next:

I think that Democrats need to call loudly for Trump’s resignation, every damn day.

I mean, I can write here every day that Trump should resign, but I’m Canadian – I don’t count. *You* need to be pointing out the hypocrisy of the GOP, and what it says about Alabama, the GOP, and your President that apparently electing a Senator who’s been accused of sexual misconduct with a child  is preferable to electing another Democrat.

I’ve had three incidents since Trump took office where watching the news literally made me feel physically ill – two of them have been in the last two weeks, listening to the people of Alabama talk about why the allegations against Roy Moore don’t matter and why they’ll vote for him despite them, including pastors of churches. It’s simply gross that President Trump is in support of him as a Senate candidate – it boggles my mind.

Keep your house clean, and keep showing women who have experienced sexual violation that you are the party that will believe them and fight for them – insist that perpetrators in the GOP resign.

Even the President.

Every. Damn. Day.

The TALK-SC: Sex Education for People with Intellectual Disabilities

Content Note: Consent, Sexuality, Sexual Education, Sexual Safety, “Public vs Private”, PWD treated as non-sexual humans

Cover of the TALK-SC: "Tool for the Assessment of Levels and Knowledge of Sexulaty and Consent" in black uppercase letters, with names and logos of participating agencies in top right and left corners. Solid orange stripe at top and bottom of page. Keyword: TALK-SC

Image Description: Cover of the TALK-SC: “Tool for the Assessment of Levels and Knowledge of Sexuality and Consent” in black uppercase letters, with names and logos of participating agencies in top right and left corners. Solid orange stripe at top and bottom of page.

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In a discussion with friends that came up after I published my post about Judge Christopher McFadden and his ruling on a case involving the rape of a young woman with Down Syndrome, questions came up about whether she could really consent to sex in the first place.

“Depends on the person,” I said. “It gets complicated.”

I didn’t go into it any further because it *is* complicated, and having to talk about the issues involved with sex and sexual consent in adults with intellectual disabilities is something that’s still relatively new for the field. Society tends to treat adults with intellectual disabilities like they’re children, forgetting that they’re sexual beings with adult sex drives and the same desires as most people to be in romantic relationships. Changes in how we view the rights and responsibilities of adults with intellectual disabilities, and increased opportunities for community involvement and interaction with others, have given them opportunities to explore the world of romantic and sexual relationships that previously weren’t available to them…but have created a need that historically hasn’t been there for education and safety training.

With so many differing attitudes in society regarding sexuality, confusion about it among people not facing the challenges associated with an intellectual disability, and discomfort about talking about it general, it’s no wonder that people with intellectual disabilities don’t get information about relationships and safe sexuality that they need and are entitled to.

Which is why I was so excited to hear that disability advocate Dave Hingsburger and a team of professionals who have worked closely with people with intellectual disabilities in the area of sexuality had developed an assessment that could either be used to determine in what areas an individual needs education about sexuality (and to assess how effective that education was), or to determine (with an appropriate professional’s assistance) whether a person can legally consent to a sexual relationship. It’s called the TALK-SC.

I was very excited to see the TALK-SC. I’ve talked before about how I’ve had to work with individuals to assess their level of knowledge around sex and sexual safety. Getting the required information without prompting or putting words in someone’s mouth is tricky.

I asked Dave if I could blog about the TALK-SC. I really like it, for several reasons:

1. The Person Being Assessed Has to Consent to Having the TALK-SC Done, and Can Revoke the Consent at Any Time

The assessment instructions make it clear that the person is at the centre of this. They are to be informed about what the assessment will be used for, the benefits and risks of taking it (especially in the Consent context, which could result in them not being able to have sex until getting education in some areas of need identified by the TALK-SC; I don’t know enough about this area of support to know how this would be enforced), what they’ll be talking about, who else the assessor will be talking to, and that they can revoke consent at any time. The materials explaining the TALK-SC to the person being assessed, and the consent forms, are wonderfully plain-language. The consent forms in particular are among the best that I’ve seen.

2. The Must-Pass Questions Get to the Core of the Issues

In order to pass for Consent purposes, 6 questions have to be answered correctly, and they nicely get to the heart of the issues around public and private behaviour, consent and safety:

1. a) If someone asks you to take your clothes off do you have to?  b) Why would a doctor ask you to take off your clothes?

2. Two people are having sex. What are their bodies doing?

3. A person wants to have sex with their partner and the partner does not want to.  What are their choices?

4. You are making out (kissing and touching) with your partner, they ask you if they can touch your penis/vulva (“vagina” can be substituted) and you say yes. When they start, you get uncomfortable, can you still say no?

5. You are on the bus and your crotch is itchy, is it okay to pull your pants down to scratch it?  Why or why not?

6. You see someone really sexy in the park and you decide to go to the bushes and start to masturbate. Is this okay? What can happen to you?

These questions are part of the 5 scored modules in the TALK-C. The person must get a 70% score in each TALK-SC module to be deemed to have enough of an understanding of the issues surrounding sexuality to be able to consent to sex.

3. Professionals Are Involved

While a support person (preferably with another support person present) can administer the pre-test portion of the TALK-SC that’s designed to assess a person’s level of knowledge, the post-test (whether it’s being given as part of the process to assess ability to give informed consent, or to re-test knowledge after training) is given by a clinician or someone with experience with sexuality in people with intellectual disabilities.

Thank goodness…especially regarding the consent issue.

I probably could handle giving the TALK-SC, but making the actual ruling on consent isn’t something that someone without considerable knowledge and experience should be doing (my opinion). And it’s much more influence that I personally care to have over anyone’s life, quite frankly. I’m all for keeping people safe, but I have a healthy sense of when something’s outside my knowledge level and skill set, and I don’t like to stretch very far when other people are involved.

Which is why I overcame my initial resistance to the idea that, when conducted to investigate ability to consent, a information-gathering interview is also done with someone close to the person being assessed. I generally don’t like the use of interviews about a person where they are not present as a means of gathering information, although I do recognize that sometimes there is no other alternative. The TALK-SC instructs that the person is to be made aware that this is going to happen, they’re told about the questions that the person will be asked, and can stop the assessment if they’re uncomfortable with an interview being done with others at which they’re not present, so this is really done as ethically as it can be (again, my opinion). And for a decision with potentially far-reaching implications for a person’s life, it makes sense to get as much information about a person’s level of insight about sexuality as possible. Ultimately the ruling around consent is about keeping people safe.

4. Even a Finding That a Person Can’t Consent is Treated as Temporary

The TALK-SC definitely allows for the possibility that people may be found to be in a position where they have to be told that they can’t have sex. However, the TALK-SC is also very firm that this circumstance is to be treated as temporary, pending appropriate education, and that a prohibition on having sex does not mean that a person cannot be in a relationship and hold hands, kiss, etc. It assumes the best in people, and assumes that people can learn and grow. Any sort of support for people with intellectual disabilities should be making these assumptions.

The Importance of Tools Like the TALK-SC

As I said at the beginning of this entry (and as I’ve said several times already in this blog), people with intellectual disabilities have the right to be in romantic relationships and the right to high-quality education about all aspects of being in a romantic relationship, including sexuality and sexual safety. This is a great step forward in that area.

I would assume that any sort of assessment that comes from a team involving Dave Hingsburger would have these assumptions at the centre of it, and be firmly rooted in compassion and deep respect for the people for whom it was developed. The TALK-SC exceeded my expectations. When I first heard about it, I thought, “It’s Dave, so I’m sure it’s going to be great, but I have no idea how he’s going to pull it off,” and I really am impressed by what he and the team have come up with. It is being offered to agencies and advocates free of charge. If you’d like to receive a copy, email Dave Hingsburger at dhingsburger@vitacls.org.

The TALK-SC was developed by Dave Hingsburger, K. Beattie, T. Charbonneau, J. Hoath, S. Ioannou, S. King, S. Loftman, L. Lynn, K. Miller, M. Mudunuru, C. Outhwaite-Salmon, and S. Woodhead, with support from MacKenzie Health, Vita Community Living Services, Angie Nethercott, Patty Barnes and and Joe Jobes.

Why Dave Hingsburger Doesn’t Do “Sex Education” for Disabled People

World-famous disability advocate Dave Hingsburger has been working with and advocating for intellectually disabled people for over thirty years. We read his books in my training to become a developmental services worker. He’s highly respected in the field, and it’s long been one of my goals to attend at least one of his workshops.

Content Note: Sex, sex education, relationship norms, sexual assault/abuse, sexual safety

"SEX ED" written on a chalkboard with a heart drawn around the words. Keyword: Dave Hingsburger

Image Description: “SEX ED” written on a chalk board with a heart drawn around the words.

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Dave Hingsburger has a great deal of experience with speaking to intellectually disabled people about sexuality. I’m so glad for this…regular readers will know how important I believe it is that intellectually disabled people get the chance to ask questions about sexuality and accurate information in response. When I first wrote this blog, I’d found a video explaining why he prefers to do what he calls “relationship training” rather than sex education with the people he supports, and I put it up because I wanted to talk about that approach.

Unfortunately, the full video is no longer available on YouTube…you can get a taste of it from the preview I’ve posted here, and hopefully my reflections on the full video will still make *some* sense!

Dave Hingsburger on “Sex Education”

 

 

Dave Hingsburger is correct (as I’d expect him to be!): The term “sex education” does make parents, Boards (not to mention many teachers) nervous when it comes to intellectually disabled people. And yes, the only times I’ve really had to have a discussion about the mechanics of sex explicitly are when an issue has already come up (some sort of assault or abuse has happened, sexual safety within a relationship is a concern, someone’s level of understanding about sex needs to be determined).

The rest of it, as Dave Hingsburger talks about, has been the sort of questions that you’d expect from people that have modeled to them that it’s the norm to be in a relationship, to want to be a relationship…but that don’t always have the skills required to negotiate relationships (which is a great deal of us, disabled and non-disabled).

I’m not crazy about the term “relationship training”…”training” leaves me cold…but I do like the concept, for a couple of reasons:

  • It gets around that  knee-jerk negative reaction that people have to sex education for intellectually disabled people. 
  • It reinforces to intellectually disabled people and to the people involved with them that it’s healthy and natural for intellectually disabled people to want to be in relationships. It’s their right, and an appropriate area in which to offer guidance should it be desired.
  • It normalizes a healthy need for education for *everybody* in this area. I can think of at least five non-disabled people off the top of my head who would likely take “relationship training” if they felt that it would increase their chances of finding a long-term partner. Hell, I’d benefit from it myself. It’s not just intellectually disabled people who, for a variety of reasons and sometimes through no fault of their own, need to learn or improve upon relationship skills. In fact, I’d go as far to say that we all struggle at times with knowing and or/doing what it takes to be in a relationship – this isn’t a “disability thing”.
  • As Dave Hingsburger points out, it de-emphasizes sex. Sex is (usually) a part of a romantic relationship, but not all of it.
  • Lots of platonic relationships require negotiating as well, and some of the interpersonal skills that “relationship training” would teach are transferable to platonic relationships.
  • In both individual and groups contexts, it could address confusion about sexual orientation and different kinds of loving relationships in society.

For staff and families, supporting intellectually disabled people as they learn relationship lessons can be a full-time job in itself – Linda Atwell does great writing about this on her blog. We should make use of all the effective tools available. I like the idea of “relationship training” as a tool.

Now, if we could just do something about the name…

Thanks, Dave Hingsburger, for (as always), giving me plenty to think about.

Check out Dave Hingsburger’s blog.