Monica Lewinsky: In Praise of Alternate Endings, 10 Years After My First VF Essay


Never lose hope.

“I love you. Bye, Felicia!” I texted my friend Katerina on October 27, 2016. The sassy send-off had been in the culture for two decades (a reference from the film Friday), but it had only crossed our transom that year. We used it affectionately and, therefore, ironically. Unbeknownst to me, it would be our last text exchange. She died unexpectedly on November 1.

Our friendship had been a salvation in the latter half of what I now call my Dark Decade, roughly 2004 to 2014. Though that stretch of time included some moments of joy, they were few and far between. For the most part, I was in a sea of pain, coming to grips with what it meant to have been standing at the center of a political sex scandal in which I was opposing the most powerful man in the world. Coming to grips with the trauma that grew around me, like weeds, as a result of the public revelations of my private life, the ensuing media circus, an impeachment trial. Coming to grips with what my future might look like. Answer: It looked fucking bleak. I was unemployable. And I was Angry.

Katerina, an entrepreneur and activist, was whip-smart about current events, world history, and spiritual matters. She had a roaring, infectious laugh. She was also kind. You would hardly know that less than a decade earlier, in a freak accident, she had broken her back in five places. After being reassembled with metal rods, she was told she’d likely never walk again. “Screw that,” she would say, “pun intended.” She didn’t lose hope and instead insisted on an alternate ending, prognosis be damned. With grit (and some luck), she recovered and did indeed walk again. And she walked tall.

Our conversations spanned the personal and the political. In 2013, as Edward Snowden leaked classified NSA documents, exposing an array of methods the government and European allies used to spy on private citizens, Kat posited that 15 years earlier, the Starr Report had catapulted us all into what she termed the Age of Transparency. We’d had explosive disclosures in politics before: the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, Iran-Contra. But at their core, these were military, political, professional; 1998 was personal. A boss having an extramarital affair with a young subordinate. A politician abusing power. People, under oath, lying about sex. Rumors titillating the Beltway and beyond. All ordinaire. Almost quotidian. But this time was different. As the truth was made public, published in full on the internet, the personal behavior of a private citizen (me)—along with the actions of others, which had typically been obfuscated by power, gender, status, and wealth—was laid bare. And this transparency led to historical and cultural shifts.

Kat made the point that after 1998, for better or for worse, becoming transparent meant becoming Seen—in new and sometimes disturbing ways. And year upon year, we began to peek behind the veil in all facets of life and culture, thanks to the Patriot Act, reality television, the truth about weapons of mass destruction, the advent of social media, Wikileaks, 23andMe, the UK tabloid phone hacking scandal, and on and on.

Kat’s argument was compelling. And a year after Snowden’s data dump, 2014, I would find myself impacted by this Age of Transparency yet again, this time gratefully.

Never lose hope.

Ten years ago, after a decade of self-imposed silence in which I had retreated from a world that still shamed me, after a decade of involution and integration (and a fuckton of healing), I jumped back into the public conversation. With no safety net. And I found my voice…by writing for this magazine.



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