Tristan Blake Coopersmith is a psychotherapist. She told Refinery29 about her experiences leading up to and after accusing Republic Records executive Charlie Walk of workplace harassment. Coopersmith is the first of five women who have accused Walk of misconduct during his time at Columbia, Epic, and Republic Records. He denies their allegations. The opinions expressed here are Coopersmith's own.
The Harvey Weinstein allegations unlocked a part of my life that I had left behind for 13 years. When I left Columbia Records and moved away from New York in 2005, I never looked back. I never talked about it. I never addressed it. I never healed it. I just moved 3,000 miles away in order to move on. After the Weinstein allegations were in the news, I felt an unearthing of all the shit I never dealt with.
So, I went to work on myself. I used all of my internal resources, and I worked with my therapist. I went to a crystal healer and my reiki master. I'm a licensed psychotherapist, and I have a women's wellness empowerment studio. I consider myself pretty equipped to manage emotional challenges. I did all this stuff, and I wasn't able to calm the experience I was having internally. I was having nightmares, flashbacks, and felt a lot of confusion. In November of 2017, my therapist suggested I write a letter to my harasser, Charlie Walk, and not send it. It's a common therapy technique that I have found helpful and cathartic in the past. It did nothing. I was thinking, this is just going to go on forever. So, I put my feelings aside.
Then, in January of 2018, I went to the Women's March in L.A. It was a profoundly impactful experience for me. I went to hear the speeches at City Hall. I have no idea what Viola Davis said, but I wept through the entire thing. I got a very clear download that I was supposed to share this letter. And so the letter that I posted on my blog, outing my former boss, Charlie Walk, is actually the letter that I wrote just for myself as my assignment from my therapist, with no intention of sending it. Vulnerability is what heals us. The impetus for sharing it was just about continuing a conversation. I have a 6-year-old, and I don't want him to grow up into a workplace where sexual misconduct is the norm.
When I posted my blog and shared it on my social accounts, I never expected it to become what it did. Partly because I didn't know that Charlie was now on a TV show, The Four, let alone that it was the last week of taping. I also didn't know that the Grammys were the night before because I'm pretty disconnected from the music industry these days. Two hours later, a friend called me and said, "You're on Variety."
It was incredibly emotional, particularly the first and second week after I posted my letter. The minute I pushed send into the online world, I felt what I had been looking for: liberation, because it was not my story to carry anymore. I felt so much lighter. I was surprised by the reaction. I didn't know that I wouldn't be able to answer my phone for four days because reporters were calling nonstop. On the other hand, I received hundreds of messages on Facebook from women and men, some of whom I knew, but most of whom I didn't, with really beautiful messages of gratitude. It made them feel like they were being seen, because they had a similar story with Charlie or with somebody else. It was wonderful to be able to spend the next couple of weeks connecting with other women who had very similar experiences; not coaching, consulting, or being a therapist for them, but holding them in their truest place of vulnerability and understanding. To tell them, I know what it feels like to go to work every day like this. I know what it feels like to have to deal with the aftermath of shame and soul shrink.
Every single person that I worked with at Columbia Records was a bystander. Every one of them, men and women, saw how Charlie behaved, and to my knowledge no one did anything, no one said anything. We tell kids in school all the time about bullies. We tell them, don't be a bystander. It's like if you see something, say something; if you hear something, do something, you know. That same concept needs to apply in the workplace. I got so many emails from men saying, thank you so much for coming out about Charlie. It was disgusting having to see him mistreat women all of these decades. And I'm like, you didn't have to see him. You could have done something.
When Charlie came out with his denial the day after I published my story, I was not surprised. Truthfully, my first reaction was to think, You're so dumb, do you really think you're going to get away with it? I knew I wasn't the only woman. I had dozens of messages from women who had similar experiences with him. All he had to do was say, "I'm sorry, I fucked up, how can I make it right?" Part of the problem is that in our culture we tend to not be taught to say I'm sorry.
There was a lot of love and a lot of support, but it wasn't all rosy. I woke up one day, and there was an Instagram feed called Boycott Tristan Coopersmith. My business was affected, and that was a bummer. My Facebook page got destroyed overnight. Men were giving me 1-star ratings. I had a 5-star rating and went overnight to a 2.4. I'm a small local business owner, and that stuff matters. Thankfully a friend helped me fix it.
Time's Up has been really supportive. I was connected with them, which I was grateful for, mostly on their PR side. I have not been threatened with legal action by Charlie Walk or anybody. I talked to one of their lawyers early on, as a just in case, but I haven't needed that. On the PR side, my phone was ringing off the hook for four days. One of the conversations that I'm having right now is about filling in the gap. There isn't anything for people's psychological and emotional needs. How can we support women in that way? If a woman gets paid out by a company, let's say $50,000, she can start over or go live somewhere else, but she'll be carrying all that stuff within her that tells her she's not worthy. I'm hoping to be able to be a thought leader in figuring that out. We need women to be empowered. We need women to be big, not small.
I feel really grateful to be a part of this movement. I think about how 10 years from now, my 6-year-old son will be be talking about this and see that his mom was a part of it. I feel proud about that, even though he doesn't know about it currently. I went public with this experience to help heal my soul and because it felt like the right thing to do. I also shared for the benefit of countless of other women in the music industry who have had to and continue to endure sexual misconduct in the workplace. It wasn't the easy thing, but so often the right choice and that hard choice are the same choice. In choosing that path, we experience a sacred solidarity that heals and inspires change.
The question of what to do next is something to which I've been giving a lot of thought. A lot of the work that I do with my clients and my students is on connecting with your inner voice, your intuition, listening to yourself, listening to your body, and then honoring that and being able to communicate your voice in all of your relationships. When something doesn't feel right, what do you do about that? How do you speak up for yourself? It all comes down to having a solid foundation of feeling worthy of being heard.
As an advocate against workplace misconduct, I think it is important to rise up in the face of fear. If we aren't talking about the wrongs of the world, then we are silently perpetuating them. I refused to be a part of the silence. The conversation must continue until there is no more reason to talk about it because every human feels safe, respected, and valued in the workplace. For social, moral, and political shifts to occur, we have to dare to be vulnerable. When we experience emotional trauma, we carry a story rooted in feelings like shame, sadness, grief, and confusion. On the other side of the experiences, on the other side of the story, is freedom. There are many paths to feeling free.
For women who are thinking about speaking out about their experiences or naming their harassers: Sharing your story publicly is just one path, and if that feels like the most effective, most cathartic way to freedom, then my advice is to wholeheartedly go for it. Share your truth in its purest form. Let your story and the pain attached evaporate so it is no longer your weight to carry.
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