There’s a thing that happens when time runs out for abusers. The loyalty they’ve managed to get from the people around them, the people who have been manipulated into only seeing the good, disintegrates and the protective shield it offered not only becomes useless but far more powerful of a weapon than even the initial rumors about their behavior. Ask people who changed their minds about the accusations of abusers’ victims what prompted this reversal and more often than not, they’ll point to a statement from a formerly loyal defender rather than anything an already known victim has said. It’s a very human thing. It shows that at heart, we take someone withdrawing support for an accused abuser more seriously than an initial claim, because this communicates the seriousness and legitimacy in terms we can understand. Because, we believe, it’s only when you’ve truly fucked up that your friends abandon you.
For Brandon Graham, that moment came yesterday, as comics creator and critic Sarah Horrocks spoke out against him, stating “when you start connecting the dots and the lies and half truths you’re being told start to build… you see the patterns of behavior across not just stuff like this, and it isn’t worth it.” Horrocks had passionately defended Graham when fellow comics creator Carta Monir had first warned the community that Graham was not safe to be around, particularly if you were a trans woman. Horrocks’ support was used as a key defense of Graham, something he and his other defenders pointed towards when people spoke about the accusations Monir had raised about Graham violating boundaries, behaving inappropriately and targeting trans women in particular.
Abusers excel at winning over intense loyalty from friends, using that to ensnare victims and to shield them from accusations. Horrocks describes her experience as “feeling like you’ve been made complicit by someone hiding behind your good character,” and it’s important to remember in the wake of this situation the very real harm and hurt the loyal friends of abusers feel when they realize they’ve been weaponized. This doesn’t excuse behavior loyal friends engage in to protect the accused abuser but recognizing that these friends have been manipulated is necessary for not just understanding the extent of abusive behavior but for recognizing when it’s happening in future situations. Because as comics pro Natalie Reed said in Horrocks’ thread, Graham “didn’t just prey on some trans women, he also used the rest of us as cover, expecting us to go to his defense over and over and over again.”
As a society, we often fall frey to the belief that abusers are obvious in their actions, that they explode with rage at all times and lash out at everyone around them. The truth is that abusers are master actors, capable of putting on whatever face they need to to get what they want. Reed theorized Graham’s approach with trans women went like this:
“He would meet us. He would decide whether he wants to fuck us. If he wanted to fuck us, he would exert whatever leverage necessary to make that happen. If he DIDN’T want to fuck us, he acted super squeeky clean and generous and friendly, so we’d all go around saying what a great guy Brandon is.”
Graham likely views most people in his life like this, separating them by what he wants from them and whether they can help cover his tracks, lure in others or be targeted themselves. This type of thinking is also why rehabilitating abusers is a difficult proposition. Their behavior goes beyond a single bad act or bad urge, it’s a complex process that relies on them maintaining an entire network of targets, defenders and lures. This is also why recognizing and shutting down abusers is so important in communities, because their actions never harm just one individual, they harm entire sections of a community, including people who are inadvertently helping the abuser maintain the illusion of their goodness.
Comics seems particularly vulnerable to predators like Graham because not only are there far fewer opportunities than hopeful pros, the opportunities that are available are frequently acquired through networking. Someone like Graham legitimately was able to give opportunities to people and establish himself as a key ally to trans creators in particular– indeed he was one of the few people consistently getting trans creators published, making it all that much easier for him to convince potential targets he was necessary for their careers and to also convince people that any action against him would cause the network he had built for them to crumble.
This connects with two of the other weapons of the abuser, isolation from peers and the fear of repercussions if a target outs the abuse. Graham combined these two pretty effectively, convincing collaborators that he had built them a necessary new community, outside of the mainstream comics community, and that any attack on him endangered that community and the opportunities he could provide them. Graham never would have had to state any of that explicitly, it was always implied, and he made sure to subtly suggest it whenever replying to criticism of him or his behavior.
Lately, Graham has also leaned on a more traditional abuser approach to repercussions, making vague comments about the toll criticism of him is having on his mental health, even going so far as to center his need for pity in comics while also inexplicably connecting himself to more prominent abusers, like Louis CK:
There’s a tremendous amount of red flags to unpack in that comic, from the Nabokov reference to the comment about the “emotional distress” he’s dealing with as well as the “avoidance technique” he utilizes to “push away the pain I’m feeling.” The comic also reduces Graham himself to a cheruby animal, a self-deprecation trick to make you join him in his self-pity. Graham notably never mentions what, exactly, is prompting this “emotional distress,” he’s careful to avoid any talk of accusations. Instead it’s all symbolism, his thoughts turning to a “city falling into the ocean,” a coded reminder that if he falls, others fall with him.
It’s true that it does seem that Graham is falling now. Yesterday after Horrocks spoke out against him, Graham deleted his Twitter for what is more or less the third time this month, only now it appears to be more permanent. There is a growing sense that Horrocks’ statement against Graham finally pushed other pros to believe the claims against Graham, and the community is revisiting similar distancing efforts by former Graham collaborators and friends, though some notable pros, like Joe Keatinge, seemingly remain committed to Graham. But it’s hopefully also becoming clear that the people Graham targeted don’t need him and never needed him, and that the more his former supporters speak out against him, the more he loses any power he had. Now it’s on us as a community to do what we can to keep Graham and others like him from gaining that kind of power in the future.