Ben Shimkus spoke out against sexual harrassment in the queer community. A daytime talk show turned it into a joke.
When I was young, the sound of laughing around me made me upset. If I wasn’t involved in the laugh, I would theorize it was about me. A lot of the times it wasn’t, but the fear of harsh judgment from others was something I couldn’t get rid of.
I was mocked openly in this segment on national TV, by a presenter named Michael Yo during an appearance on The Wendy Williams Show. My story was told incorrectly, people laughed at me, and the conclusion at the end of the piece was dismissive and vapid.
This video is marked to start at approximately 31 minutes into the show, at the segment where the Sherry Pie scandal is discussed.
Michael Yo made a joke out of my decision to come forward with a story that I posted online. During my senior year of college, a friend of mine “catfished” me by posing as a casting director, using a fake email account, and tricked me into making lewd audition videos for a play that did not exist. (I never masturbated in these videos, as Michael Yo told the audience I did.) This was not just a few emails asking for some pics. The lies, the coercion were very targeted and it went on for weeks.
I decided to come forward because that friend who lied to me was about to make his debut on RuPaul’s Drag Race, as a drag queen named Sherry Pie. Being on a TV show would expand his audience of people that he could coerce into making more videos.
Since I went public with my story, eight other people have spoken to Associated Press journalists with similar claims. After those journalists published their stories, Sherry Pie, a.k.a. my former friend Joey Gugliemelli, finally apologized on social media. I had previously confronted Joey about what he did, but of course he lied and denied everything. I also reported Joey for what he was doing to various authorities, as did several other people, but at the time nobody believed us.
When I watched this video clip of Michael Yo getting an audience to laugh at my story, I immediately became angry. With time to reflect, I am attempting to maintain moral integrity while not becoming bitter about this situation that has put me on national television. I’ve found other ways to interpret this moment.
1. The queer and queer ally community is awesome. The nine of us who came forward told flagrant accusations of sexual harassment, and when we spoke out together, it was the queer and queer ally community who believed us, and supported us. I have received messages directly from hundreds of people, who have been so generous and shared their stories. I recognize that I live at the intersection of all privileges in the queer community—I am a white, cisgender, gay male who has supportive parents—but even so, nobody else had believed me when I tried to report Joey for what he was doing.
2. Giving in to the fear of judgment is not an option when you’re faced with the right thing to do. I agonized for months, starting when Sherry Pie was announced as a cast member on Drag Race, about whether to share my story. Now with other people’s stories coming forward, I know I made the right decision. I encourage you to do the same if you have something to speak out against.
3. Lastly, we need a revolution of love. That starts by listening to each others with an open heart before creating judgment. It continues by leveraging your anger into action done for good.I don’t wish ill will on Michael Yo. I hope he learns from this moment.
We have a lot of work to do to advance our conversations around how we treat people who speak out against sexual harassment and coercion.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me. In moments where I can be mad about this, I am choosing to remember your support.