cn: emotional abuse and manipulation, alcoholism, suicidal threats, threats of physical violence
I’m not going to bury the lede on this one. From May-September of 2015, I experienced emotional abuse and predatory behavior from Jamie Kilstein, former co-host of the progressive political podcast Citizen Radio, and sometimes musician and comedian. My last contact with him was in April of 2016.
I’ve been thinking about and planning on writing this post for a long time, but I haven’t because I’ve been scared. Jamie has some celebrity, I have none. Jamie knows people who have quite a bit of celebrity, I do not. I also didn’t think that I was ready to go back over the situation in all its detail.
Because I’ve been avoiding any news of him or Citizen Radio for a long while, I didn’t hear that he had gotten kicked off the show and his record label in February of 2017 after similar allegations came out from multiple other women. I am shocked, I am relieved…I am a lot of things, but most of all I’m ready to tell my story.
I started listening to Citizen Radio in 2014, and it immediately became one of my favorite podcasts. I reached out to Jamie because he had asked fans for help with his spring 2015 tour, and I had connections with a venue in town.
The day of the Portland, OR show we were chatting after sound check, when he blurted out that he and his wife had opened their marriage, and that things were rough. He immediately apologized for sharing such personal information, but he “just felt really comfortable with me.” We wanted to keep talking, so we made plans to grab food after the show before he had to fly back home to the East Coast.
When the show ended he apologized because he wouldn’t have time to go out, so we took some pictures together and hugged goodbye. About 20 minutes later I got a text from Jamie asking if I’d still like to hang out, because he was thinking about changing his flight in order to spend more time with me. I thought it was weird, and extreme, and kind of flattering? I said okay.
We met up and walked around the Portland waterfront. We talked and talked- he was self-deprecating, fun, and endearing. At one point as we stood at the railing looking at the water, he put his arm tightly around my shoulders and pressed his body into mine. I was startled by this sudden close contact, but earlier he had alluded to a lack of touch in his life, so I let him stay like that and just kept talking.
It was getting late, so I offered to let him crash at my place. I didn’t intend to have sex with Jamie. I thought that he really just seemed like someone who needed physical touch, and I didn’t mind sharing a bed with him for one night. We lay on the bed and talked, then abruptly, without asking and without any positive body language from me, he kissed me, hard and wet. Then we had sex. He didn’t force me. I hadn’t really wanted to, but it wasn’t terrible. It was simpler to just go along with it, and I was glad it was a positive thing for him.
The Friend Zone
We parted ways early the next morning, but we immediately started texting back and forth. He told me he just felt this amazing connection to me, and I felt the same. Talking to him felt really fun and easy, but I was just excited to have an amazing new friend. I wasn’t really looking to get into a romantic situation with a person I had just met who lived on the opposite coast and was in an open marriage.
As our friendship quickly progressed, he would say suggestive or flirtatious things, and expressed jealousy over my male friends. I told him I was just interested in friendship and he pouted, but agreed. It didn’t take long for him to say something else inappropriate, then make a joke about crossing the line. I valued our friendship and didn’t want to cut him off completely, so each time I would gently remind him about the boundaries we had agreed on.
After a few weeks of this I just got tired of trying to enforce the boundary, and I let myself develop romantic feelings for him. He seemed so brave and vulnerable when he shared things with me, and our early text and email conversations felt so in sync with each other.
…except when I said the wrong thing and he got upset and stopped responding to me. Then I would work to soothe and placate him, and Jamie would either come back, or leave a long voicemail to tell me that he couldn’t do this anymore and it was over. If that happened, he would contact me a day or so later to reconnect.
Here’s the thing. Jamie, like many manipulative emotional abusers, is really really good at making you feel like you’re the most amazing person in the world. He rewards the behavior he wants with more of this attention, along with offers of over-the-top support. He punishes the behavior he doesn’t want by abruptly becoming emotionally distant or leaving the conversation altogether. I was constantly scrambling to apologize for doing anything other than going along with his narrative, but I excused his behavior because there seemed to be so much he was struggling with in his personal life.
Somehow all this up and down seemed to make us closer. We wanted to see each other in person again, so he bought a ticket to fly out to Portland, and I bought a ticket to fly to San Francisco to stay with him while he did some gigs there.
Well That Escalated Quickly
Jamie needed to attend a family wedding, and asked for extra support because he was going to be dealing with family issues and being around alcohol (he was sober at the time). I said of course I would support him. During the week I sent him a continuous stream of sweet and silly things that I knew he would like. At one point late in the week I texted him an “oh my god can you believe this” story about my male coworker who had dropped trou in the office kitchen to show me his Darth Vader boxers (definitely not great behavior, but I was more surprised and amused than upset). Jamie replied, “Why would you tell me that?” and completely shut down for the rest of the wedding trip. I felt I needed to apologize, and did so—profusely—but he wouldn’t respond.
That Saturday I met a friend for drinks, and we had sex that night. It’s important to be very clear here: Jamie and I never had a conversation about exclusivity. I didn’t hint at or half-promise this in any sense- we never talked about it.
At about 6am Pacific time (9am on the East Coast), I got a text from Jamie that he had gone to the hospital for an anxiety attack. I was concerned, but this wasn’t the first time he had had extreme anxiety symptoms and it sounded like he was getting the care he needed. I also got a phone call from him at 7am West Coast time, but was still at my friend’s place so I sent it to voicemail.
I checked in with Jamie later that morning, and he started to grill me about what I had been doing the night before. I told him that I had gone out with friends. I didn’t want to talk about my sex life with him, because it was none of his business. He asked me over and over again, “Did something happen?” At first I said no, then I said I was so sorry…I had slept with someone.
He. Blew. Up. He proceeded to say some of the nastiest things I’ve ever had hurled at me. This supposed “male feminist” slut-shamed me, and asked me over and over again why I couldn’t “just fucking wait,” as he had (this was news to me), until he was due to visit in about 10 days. Here’s a snippet ([sic] throughout):
That’s how bad you wanted to fuck this dude
You couldn’t have waited two weeks
It was so fucking dumb and selfish and cruel
To get fucked
There have been days you didn’t text me bCk and I didn’t suck a dick that’s not how it fucking works
Every time I started to say that I didn’t know that he’d decided to be physically exclusive he would just get more angry. While I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong, I did feel a lot of pain because I’d hurt him. I also had pretty strong romantic feelings for him at this point, and was so afraid that he’d go away, so I just sat there and took it, doing everything I could think of to apologize and try to calm him.
I really hope it felt good dude cause this is it
This is it for us I don’t know if it’s it for me but Im done Im tired of sick of being hurt and used Im fucking sick
You did it cause you were selfish
Yeah it was really was the dumbest fucking thing you could have done
The most hurt full and selfish and mean
And I didn’t do anything to deserve it
This verbal abuse via text went on for hours.
Over the next couple of days he would text me to let me know that he was in a bar and staring at a drink he had ordered, threatening to break his sobriety, or that he was on a bridge, threatening to jump. I worked so hard to talk him off of the proverbial and literal edge. I even called an addiction hotline to get their advice, but there wasn’t much they could say since I had no idea where he was.
Hello From the Other Side
After a few days, Jamie reached out to me again, saying that he missed me. I had missed him a lot too, and was so relieved that he wanted to talk to me. We began trying to communicate, but after each time he would inevitably shut down and stop talking to me.
He canceled the trip to Portland because, as told me, if he came to the city he would figure out who my friend was, find him, and beat him until he would need to be hospitalized. When I responded that this made me deeply uncomfortable and expressed concern for my friend, Jamie got angry with me for “taking his side.” In an attempt to placate Jamie, I told my friend that we couldn’t see each other or talk for awhile.
This wasn’t the first time Jamie had threatened to physically harm one of my friends. I had once confided in him after a different friend had made fun of me for how much I was eating. Jamie was sympathetic, and told me that I could never tell him who it was, because if I did then he would find that person and beat them at the next opportunity.
We continued our previous pattern of connecting, abruptly leaving (him), then soothing (me)…but this time it was more volatile. I needed to tell Jamie where I was going and who I was going to be with in order to make him feel comfortable. Sometimes he would try to exert control over my life in the guise of care. For example, I had gone to a street fair one day and come home with a headache. He told me that I had “just overdone it, and needed to rest.” I said that I was going to lay down for a little bit, but planned to see a play later that night. He repeated that I should take it easy, and I told him that I could make that call. When I texted him as I was getting ready to go to the show, he got angry and reminded me that “we had agreed” that I wasn’t going. I reasserted that I could manage that decision for myself, and in response he shut down and stopped talking to me for the rest of the night.
Every time Jamie would reach out to me after arguing and leaving, he would ask if I’d canceled my ticket for the San Francisco trip in July. I hadn’t. I didn’t even cancel it after he told me that I couldn’t come because a therapist had told him to break off all contact with me, for his own health. He had decided that if he even saw me at the airport, he would have to start drinking again. This was just a few days before I was supposed to leave.
I waited for him to reach out again, but didn’t hear anything. I didn’t know what to do. Every time I pictured one of my coworkers the next week asking me how my trip had been and having to lie to them or answer questions about why my trip had been cancelled, I felt sick to my stomach with shame.
The night before, I slowly and methodically packed my bags. My flight was leaving in the afternoon. In the morning I texted Jamie and told him that I was going to go to the airport, sit at the gate, and wait to hear from him. If I didn’t hear anything, I wouldn’t get on the plane.
And that’s exactly what I did. I took the train out to the airport, checked in, and sat at my gate. With no word from him, I watched my plane roll away from the gate.
I had thought about going on the trip anyway, but I had zero disposable income to spend on accommodations. More importantly, I was terrified of running into Jamie at the airport, and the rage I would surely see on his face (our planes were due to get in at about the same time, at gates that were near each other). So instead I took myself and my bags back home, got in my car, and headed to the beach. I needed to be somewhere big and open, because the city felt like it was choking me.
I did a lot of thinking on that long weekend. In reflecting on the way I had been treated and letting myself be angry for the first time, I felt like I was coming up from deep underwater. When I took that first gasp of air after holding my breath for so long, I was shocked to see how far away I was from the firm ground of the shoreline.
I Know When That Hotline Bling
That wasn’t the last contact we had. Even though I had feelings of anger, the connection we had had was still very important to me. I thought that if we were able to talk about what had happened and I was able to voice my concerns about how I had been treated, maybe we could reconnect in a healthier way.
In August Jamie announced that he had booked a gig in Portland at the September Vegan Beer & Food Festival. I wanted him to know that I knew he was coming to town in the least confrontational way possible, so I hit “Like” on his Facebook post about it. Minutes later I got a “Hey you” text from him, followed closely by, “So I’m probably going to see you in portland?” He told me he that the festival was putting him up all weekend, and that he had “asked for that for a reason…Start breaking up with boyfriends if need be!”
Talking with him like this made my heart race. I really hadn’t expected to be back in contact so quickly and chatting like things were normal. It felt good.
After goofing around for a bit, I brought up some real talk ([sic] throughout):
I also don’t feel great about how some dynamics were before. So I’d like to talk through that and move forward, but I’m also afraid to do that.
Totally yeah let’s do it later this week and enjoy this for a bit today was a lot for me
But Im a pretty different person
Im honestly happier than I’ve ever been
Im embarrassed about how I treated you even when the hurt was real/I didn’t like how I felt and I didn’t like how I treated you
I was amazed that had gone over so well. We texted back and forth over the next couple of days, mostly trying to make each other laugh and talking about how his shows were going. Jamie spoke a lot about what a great, healthy place he was in. When I asked him what had changed, he told me:
Over coming our stuff was big for me. I hate saying that to you but it was over coming pain on my own without another girl or anything and being so sad and instead of turning to food or anything just writing music fighting harder eating healthier etc
Then it got better and better from there with any and EVERYTHJNF that happened which was a lot of good and some really bad but it didn’t matter cause I was already unstoppable lol
It’s no longer ‘me getting over when you hurt me’
It’s overcoming my unhealthy habits and our break
Im not blaming you anymore
When I talk about what happened.
This surprised me, because I hadn’t expected his healthy new outlook to be so directly related to our relationship. At the time, I didn’t really consider how fucked up the subtext of his reasoning was; mostly I was just relieved that he didn’t seem angry at me anymore. I was also genuinely glad that he was in a good place, so I just responded with affirmations. I asked him if he was still up for talking about what had gone down before “our break.” He agreed, but I knew we were both tired and suggested we pick it up the next day.
After turning this conversation over in my mind, I began to get worried that we would never actually have this talk, and once again my thoughts and feelings wouldn’t be heard. A few hours after we had said goodnight, I texted:
I’m glad that we’re in communication right now, but if we’re going to keep talking then a conversation where I’m heard on some things that were hurtful and problematic for me is not optional. It’s not about shaming or attacking you, it’s about healthy boundaries.
(Note: Reading back on this conversation has me feeling a lot of feelings, but this is the first time I’m really, really proud of myself.)
Yeah to be honest things have been nice and I’ve already been effected poorly after feeling invincible for the last month so let’s just call this has a nice bump into you and we both found out the other was happy and healthy. Take care Lauren
You can call it a nice bump, but you reached out to me and then when I asked you to be accountable and to be heard, you left again. That makes me feel uncared for and disrespected I care about you deeply and wish you the best, but you don’t get to come in and out of my life and treat me however you want.
I didn’t I told you you made me feel unhealthy and still were liking shit on my FACEBOOK and it’s about me coming to portland when I pretty much told you I would relapse if I saw you in San Fran? and of course it’s hard not to respond because of everything. please don’t do that again and I won’t as well.
I need you to stop saying I make you feel unhealthy. I can’t make you feel anything. I understand that it’s hard not to respond, but I’m not responsible for that either.
And that was it, that was the last text he sent me. The speed with which the conversation changed from warm connection to anger and blame made my head spin. He had initially seemed willing to be accountable for his behavior, but as soon as I insisted on being heard, he got out of there so fast.
I was frustrated and hurt that my feelings and needs had been completely disregarded, and deeply sad at the loss of the relationship once again. But I was also really proud of the way I’d advocated for myself.
He never came to Portland for the Vegan Beer & Food Fest. He canceled a couple days before, for “logistical reasons.”
After that, I really started to think about our relationship. This time I started to call it what it was- emotional abuse.
The last time I heard from him was in April of 2016, after I made a public Facebook post to let my community know that I was moving to New York, a city I had dreamed about living in since I was a kid. I received this email from him:
So in a stupid late night haze i went to your dumb facebook page and saw your stupid face. (Hi sorry for calling your face stupid)
Anyway, i’m totally hear[sic] if you need to talk to someone about NYC, or at the very least ignore this email and know if you see me in NYC i won’t be a dick, and or will run away, so its at least one thing you don’t have to worry about.
I decided not to address the completely tone-deaf inappropriateness of this email and just told him that it hadn’t been too high on my list of things to worry about. Which it wasn’t, although I didn’t particularly want to deal with seeing him, and certainly didn’t trust him to act appropriately. I was relieved when I found out some months later that he had moved to LA.
I’m sure some people reading this are wondering what the big deal is, why this was so upsetting. I wasn’t raped or hit. Most of our relationship was conducted over phone and email.
An emotionally abusive relationship doesn’t leave visible marks; it wears away at your sense of self, and your self-worth. Setting boundaries tells another person, “This is what I need to feel safe and supported, this is how you can show me that you respect my feelings and my autonomy.” In a healthy relationship boundaries can be discussed, but in my experience an emotional abuser will wheedle away at or blast through those boundaries, all the while making you feel that you did something wrong in setting them. You get wrapped in this constant state of guilt and trying not to do wrong, holding your breath and hoping that they won’t bring up a past wrong thing you did.
But if it was so terrible, why didn’t I just leave? It’s a question I spent a lot of time asking myself. Why didn’t I just stop talking to him?
The thing is…he had created this image for himself that appealed to and ultimately preyed upon my sense of empathy and my tendency to caretake. He spoke often about dealing with anxiety and depression, and I thought that he just badly needed someone to listen to him and support him. It sounds kind of stupid to say it now, but I didn’t think that anyone who was hurting as he seemed to be could also be so cruel and manipulative. Or at least, any hurtful behavior could be explained away because he was just so sad.
He was a feminist and spoke loudly about social justice. I thought that because he “got it” that he wouldn’t engage in any of the usual toxic masculinity behaviors that I’d learned to look out for. I thought he was kind, and I thought he was safe.
It wasn’t until more than a year after that last email that one night as I falling asleep, I shot straight up in bed and whispered to the dark, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” I don’t remember what I’d been thinking about before, but the thought came to me so suddenly and clearly. I repeated myself, just to test out the phrase again. I hadn’t realized until then that I’d been carrying the fault of the situation. I understood finally that the only person I’d let down was myself…but that was okay. I could work on forgiving me.
A New Leaf
After about a year of laying low, Jamie recently went on Joe Rogan’s show and talked about his new comedy identity and the circumstances around leaving Citizen Radio.
On the show, Jamie and Joe dig into the accusations against Jamie. Joe says that the tone of the Jezebel article made it sound like Jamie raped someone. They have a conversation about how the statistics on rape aren’t accurate because a lot of things are counted as rape that aren’t really rape (this same argument is used over and over in popular discourse to discredit survivors). They discuss how there are no specific actions discussed in the article (not true), just that his behavior was predatory. Joe defines this as, “Predatory behavior, meaning he’s trying to get laid; that’s what a man does.” (Boys will be boys.)
Joe said, “They’re defining it as predatory because you’re famous?…You got a bunch of people upset at you because you had embodied the quintessential ally.”
Jamie’s behavior wasn’t harmful in these relationships *because* of his progressive stance. But yes, it does hurt when a supposed ally acts in this way. It hurts because after years–centuries, actually–of telling our story, we finally have people who don’t share our experience who seem to believe us. It’s not surprising when people who don’t get it act in oppressive ways, but when it comes from an ally, the betrayal has an extra sting.
As it turns out, that ally identity was all for show. As Jamie tells Joe, the “male feminist” title and radically progressive stance of the podcast weren’t things that he really identified with, he just adopted them because it was where he found a responsive audience:
“I was never comfortable with a lot of the stuff I got thrown into…I was constantly saying either the wrong or offensive things on the show, and we would have to stop and edit it out…there’s so many words I can say now.”
Yo, I’ll Tell You What I Want
What Jamie did wasn’t sexual assault, or physical abuse. It wouldn’t make sense to expect some sort of legal action against him, because he didn’t do anything illegal. His work has already been impacted- he was kicked off of Citizen Radio, and his record label is no longer distributing his album (they actually had an awesome response that you can read here).
So what do I want from all this?
I want an acknowledgement and an apology from Jamie on behalf of myself, the other women who’ve come forward, and those who haven’t come forward who I’m sure are out there. Thus far he has refused to do this, even going so far as to tell his Twitter followers, “Don’t buy into clickbait trash fucking headlines.” I want good people to refuse to work with him. Before people decide to listen to his new podcast, I want them to know this story. Before they trust him, I want them to understand that just because he says something doesn’t mean that he believes it. I want people to know about his pattern of behavior so that no one else has to go through this.
I want anyone who has experienced emotional abuse in a romantic relationship to know that it’s not their fault- neither the abuse, nor the lion’s share of the issues in the relationship. I want them to know that their feelings matter, and they deserve to be heard. They deserve to be treated with care and respect. It’s not their fault, it’s not their fault, it’s not their fault.
Articles linked to in this post and further reading: