I haven’t always been studious, but I have always loved to write. When I was fifteen I wrote a story for my English class for which I was getting fairly average grades at the time and when I got it back it not only had full marks, but a note that read:
To my next Emily Dickinson (or is it Danielle Steele?),
This was marvellous. You have a true talent and I hope that you never give it up. Well done.
I think this may have been the moment that a fire was lit under my arse and that I was able to salvage my flailing academic career and end up at one of the best universities in the world reading English Literature years later. For those of you new to this website or my social media accounts, Sex At Oxbridge (not sex on a bridge) is the name of the blog I started in my second year of university. Oxbridge is the combination of Oxford and Cambridge…I’ve never made which one I went to public information because given the heavy press attention this blog once had, I wasn’t keen for my identity to be revealed while I was still studying.
I began writing the blog because I found a distinct lack in the kind of writing about sex and relationships that I could personally relate to. Whilst I adore Belle de Jour/Dr. Brooke Magnanti’s blog Secret Diary of A Call Girl and read all of her books, it wasn’t exactly something with which I could identify, so I started my own blog about my sex life at university which resulted in a surprising amount of attention and press. A year later I was contacted by a major publisher to turn the blog into a book, but after many meetings it did not happen because I refused to write a 50 Shades of Oxbridge. They also asked me to make my story more salacious by lying about sleeping with a member of staff at the university, which I flat out refused to do. However, I did receive possibly the nicest rejection ever:
Obviously this is disappointing, but the team strongly felt that other non-traditional avenues for the book should be investigated, since you’re clearly a talented writer and dedicated to building up the SAO brand, and have so many brilliant plans in the pipeline. While the editors absolutely loved your sample chapter, many of them felt that, in order for it to be a NonFiction book and to thrive in the market we publish into, it would need to be high on scandal and tales of debauchery/drugs/affairs with the don etc. I feel that this isn’t really what you’re about, and you shouldn’t have to compromise in that area as the fact that your writing isn’t salacious and gratuitous, but is honest and witty, is part of its ample charm, and is the reason why people keep coming back to read your blog.
They also thought you sounded like just the sort of person they’d love to go for a drink with, a desire not usually expressed towards the more ‘graphic’ female writers…
Backhanded compliment aside (I would genuinely go for a drink with almost every ‘graphic’ female writer I’ve come across), I took this quite positively. For me, creating content that made me the the kind of person someone would want to know has always taken precedence over writing what I felt would sell. I have also always written as if someday my identity will be revealed, and for that reason I have never written anything that I would be ashamed of someone reading. Which is why having all of my content unceremoniously deleted from Buzzfeed and my website shut down was such a difficult thing to deal with, albeit temporarily.
After uni, book plans abandoned, I began working in a more corporate setting where I became very successful very quickly. I was handpicked by the vice president of the company, a very charismatic and charming man, to leave London and help him open up offices in a new city. This man was to our company what Simon Cowell is to Syco. He was very important, and very charming when he needed to be, which in terms of my business relationship with him was until he got me to uproot my life to work directly with him. It was only once we were in a foreign city that I discovered what an emotionally abusive person that he was. It was hard to recognise what was happening as it all went down since he had gone from chummy co-worker to manipulative boss within a month. By the time he got physically abusive he had worn me down so much that my first reaction to being hit in the face by this man was, ‘Oh God, how am I going to apologise for making him so mad?’ It took a few hours before actual sense was knocked into me to realise that while having a glass of wine after work was normal, holding an ice pack to your face was not.
I went to the local police to tell them what had happened and, though they filed the report, at one point I was asked, ‘So he just slapped you in the face and pulled your hair?’ as if the degree of violence actually mattered. I agree that on paper the description looked like no more than a toddler throwing a tantrum, but this man had not only hit me but had done so in front of a number of people who would later refuse to come to my defence. The first lawyer I spoke to was a man who told me I was probably overreacting but that I should call an employment lawyer, and it was only when I spoke to her that someone finally outlined the gravity of the situation and told me that under no circumstances should I return to work and that I had been right to stay away from this man.
An hour later that man was standing in my flat uninvited, unannounced, and of his own accord since he had a spare key to the company accommodation I had been provided with. He begged me to come back to work, apologised (kind of), and tried to bribe me. The red flags which made it quite easy to walk away from him that day forever were:
I swear I’ve never done this before.
I’m sorry, but you know how angry you make me. You really have a way of winding people up.
I didn’t even hit you that hard…hit me as hard as you think I hit you. Please, hit me.
I eventually had to leave the flat when he refused to and waited across the street until he left, at which point I went back to pack my bags and headed straight to the airport. Three years later I won a lawsuit against him which awarded me wages lost and emotional damages. He was in another country by this point and didn’t even bother attending the hearing because he genuinely thought it would just go away. While collection of the damages is a whole different convoluted story I won’t go into, having a judge sit there and not only comment on what a horrendous person this man was, but to also award me close to ten times the precedented amount in such a case was a kind of validation I didn’t know I needed until I had it. I knew I was right and that he was wrong, but why was it that no one but this one lawyer would help me? I couldn’t understand how people who I had thought were my friends could just turn a blind eye for money and because they were terrified of this man.
It’s for that reason that I think I went so aggressively about revealing things in the now-banned articles about how emotionally manipulative and abusive this One Direction situation seems to be, both behind the scenes and within the fandom. Since being forced to leave that job I have worked in an almost exclusively temporary manner for all my jobs since I wanted to focus on writing. A lot of things I haven’t written anonymously have been circulating script competitions and are projects I’m genuinely proud of. Everything else I did in a work capacity was just to make money.
I got the idea to apply to work at Buzzfeed when I saw that they had an editorial fellowship which is ‘a three month programme for the next generation of writers, editors, and content creators eager to master the tools and techniques of the social web.’ I had already started posting on Buzzfeed to relative success, with my first article going viral, so I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to combine what I love (writing) with a career. The instructions were simple:
First: Create a profile on BuzzFeed and publish a number of posts that show off your internet chops and writing prowess, but feel free to do so anonymously. How well do you get the BuzzFeed voice and style?
Simple. They always say to write what you know, which is why I started a blog about sex in the first place. Since watching This Is Us on a long-haul Virgin flight a couple years ago, I’ve also taken an avid interest in One Direction as I genuinely enjoy their music, but also found myself endlessly fascinated by the way in which they’re portrayed in the media and the ways in which they seem to portray themselves in real life. It was the first thing I noticed in their documentary, and the fact that they seem to be genuinely lovely people was part of their charm and quite a stark contrast to everything I had ever heard about them from UK tabloid journalism (an oxymoron in itself).
I’ve been writing about One Direction on Buzzfeed for almost a year. The editorial fellowship is an ongoing application process and I was tied up until recently by legal obligations with this lawsuit against my ex-boss, but when I was free of that late last year I thought I finally had the opportunity to apply. Having not written anything there in awhile as of January I started a couple more articles, and last week when Buzzfeed featured my article and I generated over 100,000 views in a week I thought, ‘Amazing. Now is the perfect time to submit my application and portfolio that I have built since 2013 on this website.’
And then they deleted my entire profile, which was essentially a CV for the position. Having my work deleted wasn’t just about the articles themselves, which I was thankfully able to recover, it was about the sobering reality that if I were to work in the media that my standard M.O. of just writing what I want to write about wouldn’t be possible, no matter how true it was.
The only reason Buzzfeed could give me for deleting my content was because they had changed their Community policy to no longer let brands post, and since Sex At Oxbridge is apparently a brand I was breaching their guidelines with self-promotion. Content to move all of the articles to my own website, since if this is a brand I might as well be directing the traffic where it belongs, I started re-posting my articles here. And then in the most terrifying moment of deja vu ever, I was unceremoniously logged out of my OWN website that I pay £150 per year to host on a server, and my account was suspended.
I won’t lie to you, it was at this point that I started to cry. Not because of One Direction, or Buzzfeed, but because over the past six years of owning and posting on this website it has sometimes been the only good thing in my life. The only outlet for things I don’t particularly want to talk about face to face, and at times the only thing I think that I’m good at. Blogging has become the routine which pulled me out of the shell of a person I had become due to mental and physical abuse. It was through writing that I finally felt like people were listening and understanding what I had been trying to say, and to have that one article snatched away along with everything I’ve ever written was like being hit in the face in front of a room full of colleagues all over again.
Except this time I had the force of Twitter and Tumblr on my side. I’ve grown up knowing what it feels like not to be taken seriously or believed and have fought for a voice for myself time and time again despite the fact that it’s quite easy to just get into bed and stay there for a month when true hardship hits you. Being a fan of One Direction is truly an experience in that the fans go through a constant dichotomy of what they’re told and what they see. To take everything that people are seeing and lay it out in a concise and rational manner to be discussed, and then having everything you’ve worked on torn away from you in a blink of an eye is something that myself and fellow writer Aaron Butterfield have experienced over the past week.
It’s no wonder no one writes about what’s going on if this is how they’re treated! I foolishly thought I had nothing to lose as an anonymous writer, and yet whoever is pulling the strings managed to take away what defines me as a writer – and even the company who hosts this website can’t explain how they did it!
Things in my life tend to come in a pattern of threes…Like, great and important things in my life. I tend to have to be knocked down twice before I either walk away or make a decision to persevere. When I was sixteen I was kicked off the first team I tried out for twice for the sport I would ultimately train at the international level for. Three years ago I was told by a police woman and a lawyer that I should forget about being hit by my boss and then the next person helped me win a lawsuit against my abuser a couple of months ago. The other examples are too specific to include, but trust me, rejection and tenacity has been a theme in my life. Buzzfeed and the temporary suspension of my website was definitely enough to make me think, is this even fucking worth it? But the overwhelming amount of support I’ve had from people and the amount of posts I saw thanking Aaron for being someone who finally didn’t treat the fans of One Direction like they were all delusional and crazy has solidified what I want to do.
The three articles which led to all of this took me approximately 60 hours collectively to write. Given that I cannot find a media outlet who will publish what I have to say, and that Buzzfeed considers me to be a brand anyway, my goal is to create the kind of website I want to read. One that can talk about things that don’t make sense at first glance without being labeled a crazy, tin-hatting fan. There must be some ounce of truth to something I’ve written or else why would it be so aggressively buried?
I don’t know how I’m going to do it yet, but I am going to create a space free of bullying, for one (you can fuck right off with that noise), and one that allows for critical thinking, because that is exactly what they are asking people not to do. It shouldn’t require a suspended belief in reality in order to believe what you’re reading in the news.
So, if you have any ideas of how I could go about this or if you would like to help in some way, please drop me a line at email@example.com
I hope that people understand that after what happened today I need to take some time to properly figure out a way to release what I’ve written which will not involve the complete destruction of everything I’ve worked towards for six years. I cannot thank you all enough for your incredible support, and hope that I can repay the favour by providing you with the kind of respect and journalism you deserve. Because the people in this fandom are not stupid, and they are most certainly not crazy.