Previously I had written that I was hoping to speak with Bill Graber and get an explanation and an apology regarding the deception that had happened by him pretending to be lesbian blogger - 'Paula Brooks', founder of the blog Lez Get Real. I am happy to say this conversation has happened. While I had planned on it being a private conversation that I would just acknowledge happened so readers would know, Bill gave me permission to do a post on it.
Bill and I spoke for about a half hour. The first thing out of his mouth was, “I’m sorry I was such an ass.” There were no excuses, in fact it was backed up with a few more statements of I’m sorry for various things. While I accepted the apology I also needed to get some things off of my chest. It was important to me that Bill understood that my issue was the lying that happened on a personal level (see the Google chat example in my previous post).
Me: Why tell me these stories about Deb, the kids, etc?
Bill: It was part of the character.
Me: I understand, but that wasn't what was important about the character for me…you had me at politics. I am a politics junkie and I respected Paula’s mind on the issues. We could discuss and debate many political topics. That’s what I enjoyed. You and I didn’t flirt and we didn’t discuss personal things all the time. So the need to go there with me I just don’t understand.
Bill: I was manipulative. I was trying to get to people’s emotions because sometimes I needed them to do and write something emotional. It was wrong…but many times it was effective. People wanted to talk to the surfer mom. They told her things they wouldn’t tell anyone else. We had the best information of any of the blogs. That was because of the surfer mom. In fact, what I find is people are mad because I killed 'Paula.' They are mad because their friend is gone.
Me: I just don't understand the need for all the lying and manipulating of us on a personal level. For me it was not needed. I wanted to write. You didn't need to manipulate me to do so. I logged, in wrote my stuff, and logged off.
Bill: When the next time I pretend to be a lesbian surfer mom I'll be sure to ask you on how to handle it.
Me: It's really not even funny to joke about doing it again.
I was also curious about the other cast of characters. Let’s face it…this felt like the end of some move that I just didn’t see the ending coming. I’m one of those people that like to see the credits and know who played their roles. This was no different.
Me: Who are the kids…are they real?
Bill: They are my Grand kids. I’m sure you noticed the progress of time throughout the pictures. Had to be someone I knew.
Me: I put one of the pictures you sent me of them in a post. I will remove it. It's not my intention to do them any harm with all of this. My anger is not at them.
Bill: Thanks, I’m sure my daughter would appreciate it. She is just as mad as my wife.
Me: I can only imagine. You seem to have a shit load of woman pissed at you. Who is the woman in the pictures we see as ‘Paula’ on all the social media?
Bill: My sister when she was 20…keep it all in the family.
Me: What about Deb?
Bill: That is from my friends…what happened to them.
Me: But no one died I thought?
Bill: That’s true. I dramatized it. I wanted to get the story on the survivor blogs to draw readers to Lez Get Real.
Me: But people donated money. That was a horrible deception. What happened to that money?
Bill: It all went to charity. I made sure nothing came to me. That was hard. Every time there was a hit on the story on a survivor blog I felt bad because I knew it had happened to them for real and they were looking to real support and the story they were reading was a fake.
This was a pretty low point. To use this death to essentially gain more readers for the blog. It was all about the blog. It seemed that anyone could be sacrificed or hurt to move the blog forward. I was a fairly new writer for the blog when this happened so I wasn't as emotionally wrapped up in it as the others. But to hear him talk about using it simply to promote on the survivor blogs really showed me a new reality. There were no boundaries to who could be hurt. Then we discussed the blog and why this had all happened.
Bill: All I wanted to do was help the LGBT community. I served 25 years in the Air Force. I served to fight for the little people. However, I didn’t even realize the gay community was the little people. I didn’t know anything about it. Then I met a great lesbian couple. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to fight for them because I didn’t feel like I had when I was in the service.
Me: It’s funny. The character of ‘Paula’s Dad’ that I would talk to on the phone is the closest to you. His character was retired military and it took him a long time to come around on LGBT issues but he did so because he learned about it from someone he knew – his daughter. That is to me the closest thing to reality in all of this.
Bill: Yes but the ‘Paula’ character is me too. That was my desire to want to fight for equality. Problem was I didn’t know anything about the gay community. Honestly, I thought all gay men did was go to the park to have sex. I have learned that is not the case. I may have infiltrated a community but the reality is the community educated me. I learned about the strength of the community. I really believe it is the women in the LGBT community that will win this battle. You have the kids, families…your voices are just so powerful. I know there were times writers were mad at me because I would say I was too busy and ask them to write a story. It was because I really did want the blog to be from a lesbian’s point of view…and I am not one. I wanted your (lesbians) voices on the blog. I kept trying to get out but things just kept happening and I was just never able to walk away.
Me: I know you kept saying you were trying to leave.
Bill: I was. You were a problem.
Me: I was?
Bill: Yes you were someone that would come to D.C. and want to meet her. I never thought that would happen. I didn’t know what to do.
Me: Yeah that pissed me off too. I didn’t need my time and that of my friends wasted like that. I wasn't in D.C. to see 'Paula' I had other stuff I was doing. Instead of just saying you couldn't meet you had me waiting for you on two different occasions. I was pissed then and now to learn that it wasn't even real?! That is the shit that drives me nuts. It's the pure manipulation. It leaves us feeling violated.
Bill: I was in panic mode I didn’t know what to do and I am sorry.
Me: So after all this time with these characters and running the blog is it hard to give up?
Bill: Yes…I loved my blog. I worked hard on it to make it something that made an impact. Since the whole thing blew up I have done some interviews and the first thing they ask me is to give them my contacts. Pretty funny, huh? They think I am a fraud yet they want my contacts! What does that say about our blog? They know we were about four days ahead on every story. People wanted to give the surfer mom info. Boy did we get great tips. They were dead on.
Me: Did you give them the contacts?
Bill: Hell no! I gave the blog to Bridget and I’m not going to give someone else the keys to destroy Lez Get Real. I know I hurt her the worst. I am doing everything I can to help set it right for her.
Me: Do you still have access to the blog?
Bill: No I am locked out. It’s all hers now.
Me: Sounds like that is for the best.
It was a good conversation because I am a person that likes closure. So to be able to confront Bill with my anger and ask him the questions I needed to have answered feels good. I am not one to dwell on anger. I find it takes way to much energy. So I am moving on.
There were things in the talk that stood out to me. His use of the words manipulation and infiltration in particular. It seemed like he was a soldier on a mission. While I understood that he was apologizing, I also felt like he was debriefing. Not a lot of emotion. Sincerity, I think, but not emotion.
I imagine this will not be my last contact with Bill. There maybe other questions I have that I would like answered. I wouldn't be surprised if we chatted on and off. I won't be able to ever trust him. The violation was just too much to go back. In fact, the only thing I fully believe is that he loved his blog. I know that because he would lie to anyone to protect it. But frankly, it's hard for me to resist talking with him. After all, once you finish the movie, wouldn't you love to sit down with the writer and see how they pulled off an ending that no one saw coming?