Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has denied allegations of sexual misconduct made against him, responding to three women who accused him of inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
Over the course of the last month, at least three women have accused deGrasse Tyson of sexual harassment, reporting their stories to the religion website Patheos. One woman, a former colleague, says that deGrasse Tyson reached into her dress while checking out her tattoo of the solar system. Another woman — Tyson's former secretary — says he propositioned her last summer.
A third woman, who made her accusations earlier than the other two, says deGrasse Tyson raped her when the pair were graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin in 1984.
In an incredibly long Facebook post, deGrasse Tyson explained his side of the allegations, accusing himself of making innocent mistakes that he only discovered later were interpreted as "creepy."
"For a variety of reasons, most justified, some unjustified, men accused of sexual impropriety in today’s “me-too” climate are presumed to be guilty by the court of public opinion. Emotions bypass due-process, people choose sides, and the social media wars begin," deGrasse Tyson begins, lecturing his audience on the importance of "evidence," particularly in instances of sexual misconduct.
"I’ve recently been publically (sic) accused of sexual misconduct," he added. "These accusations have received a fair amount of press in the past forty-eight hours, unaccompanied by my reactions. In many cases, it’s not the media’s fault. I declined comment on the grounds that serious accusations should not be adjudicated in the press. But clearly I cannot continue to stay silent."
He then goes on to describe his version of each allegation.
On the subject of the woman whose tattoo he examined, he said he was simply going in for a closer look:
I only just learned (nine years after) that she thought this behavior creepy. That was never my intent and I’m deeply sorry to have made her feel that way. Had I been told of her discomfort in the moment, I would have offered this same apology eagerly, and on the spot. In my mind’s eye, I’m a friendly and accessible guy, but going forward, I can surely be more sensitive to people’s personal space, even in the midst of my planetary enthusiasm.
On the subject of his former assistant, he denies trying to seduce her and says the "handshake" she thought was creepy was a secret ritual he'd been taught by a Native American elder.
Further, I never touched her until I shook her hand upon departure. On that occasion, I had offered a special handshake, one I learned from a Native elder on reservation land at the edge of the Grand Canyon. You extend your thumb forward during the handshake to feel the other person’s vital spirit energy -- the pulse. I’ve never forgotten that handshake, and I save it in appreciation of people with whom I’ve developed new friendships.
At that last meeting in my office, I apologized profusely. She accepted the apology. And I assured her that had I known she was uncomfortable, I would have apologized on the spot, ended the evening, and possibly reminded her of the other social gathering that she could attend. She nonetheless declared it her last day, with only a few days left of production.
As for the woman accusing him of rape:
Over this time I had a brief relationship with a fellow astro-graduate student, from a more recent entering class. I remember being intimate only a few times, all at her apartment, but the chemistry wasn’t there. So the relationship faded quickly. There was nothing otherwise odd or unusual about this friendship...
The latter allegation is the most problematic, according to deGrasse Tyson. He says he found her story "odd," that he believes her story has changed significantly, and that reporters accepted the claims without asking questions: "I note that this allegation was used as a kind of solicitation-bait by at least one journalist to bring out of the woodwork anybody who had any encounter with me that left them uncomfortable."
These excuses mark a significant departure from other #MeToo allegations, which simply issued unqualified denials to be sorted out later on the assumption that the men involved were guilty. Neil deGrasse Tyson seems like he doesn't intend on going down without a fight.