Essay / Jessica Schultz / October 2018

Steve Roggenbuck is an Asshole

Written by Jess Schultz

TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses sexual assault and abuse, which may be triggering topics for some. If your mental health could be affected by this topic, please read this at your own discretion.

In 2015, during my first month of college, Steve Roggenbuck did a reading and gallery show at Champlain College. He also attended a concert that my friend’s band Lizrd Women put on at Radio Bean. He walked me and my friend (both of us were 18 year-old girls) home afterwards. Steve Roggenbuck is a well-known “alt lit” poet. He made Youtube videos, performed across the country, and published numerous books of poetry. He was accepted into many different writing, poetry, and art scenes around the country and was on the forefront of the alt-lit community. And he was a fucking creep.

In the past month, Roggenbuck was accused by multiple people of sexting underage girls, trying to build sexual relationships with vulnerable teenagers and young people in the writing community, and manipulating those around him. These allegations have been years in the making, and the alleged behavior dates back to 2010. It’s been happening. Roggenbuck quietly stepped away from social media in October 2017 during the height of the #MeToo movement, and now it’s become clear as to why.

We’ve seen those we previously looked up to fall from grace after stories of coercion, manipulation, and assault become public. Comedians, news personalities, musicians, writers, even the late J.D. Salinger (though after creating a character as whiny as Holden Caulfield, is anyone really surprised?) have been knocked off their pedestals for good reason. Few have returned. 

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from @christlover2000 on Twitter.

 

The worst thing about Roggenbuck’s situation is that he inserted himself into a lot of safe spaces such as LGBTQ writing and art communities. He used his prevalence in those spaces to make young fans and writers feel unsafe. His trademark “quirky misspelling” and “creative frugalism” turned into something else: asking minors about having sex with him in a “younger” voice to make the things he was asking for sound less vulgar and sleeping in the homes of younger fans while on tour. What were once safe spaces became anything but.

Unfortunately, abusers inserting themselves in LGBTQ safe spaces is not new. Another high profile example is PWR BTTM’s downfall in May 2017. They were a queer-punk musical duo that made some (arguably, great) music about gender, love, and the valid struggles that femme/nonbinary/trans people face every day. Their venues had gender neutral bathrooms and they were vocally committed to making every concert a safe space. Their music, image, and shows were meant to feel inclusive and safe.

That is, they were safe until sexual manipulation and coercion allegations came to light against Ben Hopkins, one of the band members. In addition to that, anti-semitic content was found on their social media from their college days. PWR BTTM made an attempt to gaslight the victims once more—in the form of a shoddy apology rehashing the events “in their eyes.” Their album and tour were cancelled, they were dropped from their label, and their management abandoned them. Their music was pulled from streaming services.

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from @christlover2000 on Twitter.

We’ve seen mainstream comedians, like Louis C.K., get outed as abusers in the last year and felt a sense of betrayal learning that the people who made us laugh were abusers and sexual predators. And yet, Steve Roggenbuck and PWR BTTM arguably hurt more, as they explicitly promoted feminism, LGBTQ acceptance, and safe spaces. Then they turned out to be abusers and manipulators. It fucking hurts when those who make art within these spaces are exposed for exploiting the people who look up to them and treating women and nonbinary people like they’re objects. When somebody you admire for their supposed sincerity and honesty has been lying the whole time, it feels like a betrayal.

im rowing down your sexual mississippi river / im like / huck finn for you / im the sex version of huck finn / im like / mark twains sex toy – Steve Roggenbuck

(I know, right?)

A good amount of Steve Roggenbuck’s poetry was about fucking—not sex, not making love, just fucking. Talking about sex in such a blunt way was normal in Roggenbuck’s work—and in his messages to underage people.

“It’s tempting to want to prove to yourself that your sexuality can be a positive thing, cause everyone is sexual,” said Matt Cruz, a friend of mine who had interacted with Roggenbuck previously. “But embracing it that way in art is really ignorant to the fact that your body is socialized from other people’s perspective to be a weapon.”

Steve Roggenbuck still follows me on Twitter—there’s a chance he’ll see this article when I post it. That is, if he isn’t hiding away from the criticism that he so richly deserves. When I first heard the news, I was immediately taken back to that warm September night, walking through campus after the concert with Roggenbuck and friends. I felt like I could trust him and talk to him, maybe even become his friend, since his work resembled the feelings and style of someone much younger—somebody my age.

He was 27. I was 18.

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