Atlanta Poly Weekend! March 4, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: #APW2015, Atlanta Poly Weekend
What am I talking about? Well, Atlanta Poly Weekend, of course. I first went when I was living down in Atlanta, and made friends with some of the people involved with it, and have enjoyed my experiences there.
And now that I have a real (as in, you know, adult) job, I can do things like spend a weekend in Atlanta, hanging out with a bunch of awesome people and hopefully having a lot of fun without worrying about it too much. After a few years of employment concerns, it’s really nice to have the freedom to be able to do these things, and I appreciate it much more after having struggled for a while, financially.
Also, I’ll get to see Steph while down there, from whom you can get these wonderful PolySkeptic-themed gifts (I almost always wear mine, here’s her storefront). Because she’s far away, I don’t get to see her very often (although we talk pretty much every day), and conferences like this allow me to see far-away people.
I’m looking forward not only to the warmer weather which is coming, but trips over the next few months which will allow me to see loved ones, listen to some good talks, and to hopefully make new friends.
If you plan on going, feel free to stop me and say hello. I’m a bit shy, reticent even, but I am friendly.
In any case, I look forward to a great conference this Spring. I hope to see some of you there!
At a Distance February 27, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, Polyamory.
Tags: communication, long distance relationships
One of my personal love languages is physical touch, or affection. Being too distant, for too long, from a lover makes it really difficult to maintain the feeling of care, love, and appreciation for some of us. But it’s not impossible for a person who really values physical affection to find love, comfort and appreciation at a distance. Sometimes, it may take a little longer and you may have to shift your expectations and the way you express and accept love a little bit, but it can be done.
Long distance relationships have been difficult for me, over the years, and I really prefer to have people I’m involved with close, so that I can see them fairly frequently. Currently, I’m involved with three people. None of those people live in Philadelphia (where I live). Two of them are within an hour (or so) drive, but one is a few states away meaning that our relationship is maintained primarily through texting, phone conversations, and other forms of telecommunication.
It’s not necessary, I’m discovering, to cohabitate with partners to feel fulfilled (although, ultimately, I will probably want to with someone I’m partnered with). Nonetheless I require, to feel fully happy and loved, regular physical touch from people in my life. With one partner, that’s once a week (Saturday night/Sunday morning, usually), another it’s 1-2 days a week. With the third? Well, that’s a little different.
When someone lives 10 hours away, finding time to see them is more challenging.
Anticipation is a thing. For someone (like myself) who has struggled with patience all of my life, anticipation is a really difficult thing. Knowing that I will not be seeing someone whom I care about for weeks, months, or longer can be a really difficult thing to get through day to day. There are simply some times you want to cuddle with them, and not being able to do so is really difficult, for many of us.
Now, the fact that I have two other people I see regularly helps, but not completely. Also, most of my relationship with my long-distance partner has been, well, long distance. In fact, we’ve only met once (a weekend last Summer), so I am sort of used to not being able to touch and be touched by them. But now that we are getting closer, trusting each other more, and are identifying as being more significant to one another I am definitely feeling the lack of physical touch more and more.
And I find myself looking forward to seeing her more and more, the closer it gets to our plans to spend a weekend together.
What do do?
So, for a person who might be struggling with this lack of physical presence, what might we do to make it better in the meantime?
Start with finding what kinds of alternative interactions are appreciated by your loved one. If you can’t hug, cuddle, and share physical intimacy with them this week or this month, what will you do?
First, you need to start by knowing how much your partner, lover, friend etc wants to interact with you. Some people are completely comfortable with only occasional interaction. They may be busy with other partners, personal projects, or they just may not need to interact with you as much as you’d like. Make sure that you are not being too needy or negligent, and find an amount of interaction that works for you both.
And keep in mind that sometimes the amount of contact, intimacy, and attachment you have for that partner may not match their desires and needs. It may be OK to occasionally say “hey, I really need to talk with you right now, can we please set aside some time now or soon to do so?” but there will be times when they may not want or have time for your attention. Just be sure to communicate when your needs don’t seem to match up.
Use your words, and know how important those words are to your partner. Express your feelings of appreciation and affection. Whether you’re rapport is periodic, comes in bursts of long conversation, or seemingly never ends, make sure that You are expressing how you feel about them in a way that is both meaningful and appreciated. And remember that not all people respond to words of affirmation in the same way. Some people don’t need to be reminded of how you feel, but others do appreciate hearing those kinds of words.
Conversation is a wonderful means towards intimacy and trust. Whether with friends, occasional lovers, or your live-in spouse, conversation can be a really important way to develop and maintain intimacy. You don’t have to talk every day (and, in fact, many people won’t want to), but make time to talk and stay emotionally connected. When you are distant from each other in space, that conversation becomes the primary vehicle for relationships maintenance.
Make plans. OK, so you are not going to see them for a week, a month, or maybe not until the next conference. But try to make some plans to see each if you can. Knowing exactly when you will be seeing them can act as a focus for your feeling separated, and give some structure to the feelings of absence that you may be having. It gives you a goal to move towards, and (at least for me) the anticipation can be delicious while simultaneously frustrating.
But also be aware that some of us can, sometimes, put too much pressure on ourselves for these things. We create fantasies, ideals, and can also over-plan so that we can’t just let that time together create its own spontaneity. Having said that, I’m also aware that I err on the side of being too spontaneous, and tend to (perhaps) not plan enough. Be sure to communicate about expectations, desires, and activities you’d like to do (aside from just spend the weekend under the covers, lacking sufficient sleep and possibly nutrition….actually that doesn’t sound all that bad….).
Try to build memories and to make the most of that time together when you are there. Because if you are not going to see them for 2 weeks, a month, or 6 months, make sure that when you have that time, you appreciate it and are not getting caught up in concerns about what we are “supposed” to do, but that we are doing the things that we want to do.
Remember that distance can extend the normal NRE experience. New Relationship Energy tends to last anywhere from 6 months to about 2 years (if my memory serves me), depending on various factors I’m not an expert in. But that time can be extended when you don’t see each other as much. This means that there is potential for some of those really wonderful feelings that exist for the beginning of our relationships over a longer period of time with that distant partner.
This, has the possible draw back of making a long-distance relationship harder to maintain in the long run, however. What happens when, after 2-3 years, those visits become less new and shiny? Well, what do you do in any situation like that?
Sometimes, you just have to recognize that those ebbs and flows are going to come and go. Sometimes, you may have to re-discover new aspects of the relationship, and connect in new and different ways. Sometimes, you may just end up drifting apart in ways which are comfortable for both of you.
Sometimes, you may actually decide to re-locate. And then, maybe, that long-distance is not so long.
I’m thinking about all of this because I’m made steps towards becoming significantly closer to someone who lives far away from me. And while I will see her in a few weeks, it may be a while until I see her after that, and so I am simultaneously anticipating the trip, am wondering if 2-3 days will be long enough to stay (I mean, I could just decide to stay an extra day, I suppose), and am wishing that I were seeing her sooner.
And it’s weird, because it’s really rare that a develop feelings for someone at a distance. I think, maybe, that I am learning that affection and sexuality are important aspects of relationships for me, they are not necessarily the strongest altogether. I’m learning more and more about myself, my capability to love, and what I have to offer is expanding with that understanding.
Follow-up, Response, and a Call for Restorative Justice February 26, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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Wes emailed Rabbit Darling, and this was the result.
Originally posted on I could hide my own Easter eggs.:
[Content Warnings: Direct contact with Involved Party, references to manipulation, gaslighting, trauma, shared trauma, misdirection, victim-blaming. Take care of yourselves, friends]
As many of you know, I recently took a huge risk and publicly named my experiences with my former polycule, naming them explicitly, and staking my legal name and reputation on my claims. I appreciate everyone signal boosting, sending support, and being respectful and careful about how they share my narrative. It’s everything.
Below, you will see two communications from Wes to me received on 23 February 2015, with his permission to post them in their entirety (see addendum in Part Two, below). My responses to Wes are engrossed within the body of his communication. I am choosing to respond to him in the full light of public discourse in part to protect myself. However, after speaking to the other involved parties (the ones known to me…
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Consent, Community, and the Importance of Leadership (via Frisky Fairy) February 23, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: #AbuseInPoly, abuse, community, Eve Rickert, Franklin Veaux, leadership, Poly Living 2015
I agree, generally, with her post. She is more optimistic than I am about the possibility of Wes’ (in particular) ability to make amends in an appropriate way (especially since he is still harassing and abusing at least one person close to me in the exact same way that we have been describing), but I will still hold out some hope that he will take responsibility for his mistakes, try to genuinely make meaningful amends, and alter his toxic behavior which dominates many of his relationships and interactions with people.
I believe in rehabilitation, restoration, and forgiveness. So far, Wes has shown no capability to even recognize he has done or is continuing to do anything wrong. On the contrary, his behavior has been the exact opposite of that. While I was at the talk, given by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, about Abuse in poly dynamics, I was sitting in the back of the room, while Wes sat directly up front. At some point in the talk, it seemed to me (And not only to me, BTW) that Franklin and Eve were describing him and his behavior to the room, while he sat directly in front of them on his phone (seemingly tweeting about the hashtag #AbuseInPoly, which some of the people he’s hurt took exception to) and chatting with a woman next to him off and on.
I don’t know what he was talking about with the woman next to him, but he seemed to be flirting. Here we were, talking about abuse, which he had been accused of, removed from the PLN because of those accusations, and he had the myopic temerity to not only be tweeting about #AbuseInPoly during the talk but also to be potentially flirting with a woman next to him while a very difficult and emotional presentation was going on.
What the actual fuck?
It’s like he’s completely incapable of even considering that maybe, just maybe, he’s done anything wrong.
I hope that changes.
Abuse, Exploitation, and Narrative Control in Polyamory February 23, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: #AbuseInPoly, abuse, polyamory
Here is RabbitDarling’s most recent post, concerning the abusive patterns of people formerly in her life. #AbuseInPoly
[I’m disabling comments for this post. Post comments on the site linked, where RD can control the conversation.]
Originally posted on I could hide my own Easter eggs.:
[Content Warning: Manipulation, abuse, victim grooming, sexual assault, physical assault, mild reference to BDSM themes, toxic relationships, general squick]
[Author’s note: this account, while full, is not exhaustive or replete. It can’t be. There are hundreds of moments I could include in this narrative that illustrate and illuminate the dynamics of the relationships I’ve survived, and despite which, have chosen to thrive and flourish. Comments will remain open, but as always, moderated strictly by me, prior to posting publicly. ]
Being in an abusive or exploitative plural relationship is a lot like falling asleep in the bathtub with the lights out and no map. Wait. Let me explain.
Okay, so let me back up. Have you ever fallen asleep in a hot bath? I do it with some regularity. It’s a rather odd experience and feels as close as I can get to describing what it’s like to find yourself…
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Wes Fenza, The Polyamory Leadership Network, and Spinning Tables February 20, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: abuse, Polyamory Leadership Network, sexual assault, Wes Fenza
There’s no good way to start a post like this. This is a difficult post to compose, and a terrifying one to publish. But I don’t feel as if I can leave this unsaid.
I feel as if I must say a few of things about Wes Fenza, because I think it’s worth saying in the interest of people within our community being able to make more informed decisions concerning an individual who seeks to have influence and respected status within our community.
Many people out there like Wes Fenza. Hell, I did at first as well. He’s smart, entertaining, and he throws a pretty good party. Then I lived with him and his family for 18 months or so, and eventually saw beneath the mask he wears for most people and saw him behave abusively to many people, myself included. Later, I found out that he was much more than a mere assclown, but we’ll get to that.
Recently, his family has been painting themselves publicly as the victims of a vendetta and smear campaign, the seeming intention of which is to ruin their reputation, by people formerly close to them.
And what form has this imagined vendetta taken?
Wes was, for a while, a member of the Polyamory Leadership Network (PLN). He isn’t a member any more.
Wes was removed from the PLN due to some people coming out from their various hiding places in order to tell their stories about how he had abused, sexually assaulted, and manipulated them. I don’t know very much about those stories, but what I do know is deeply upsetting to me and all too familiar. From what I know about the people who contacted the PLN, they were offended, hurt, and angry that a person who was so criminally insensitive to boundaries, consent, and the truth was allowed to be in a position of any respect or leadership within our community. If Wes Fenza is to be representative of our community, then we are failing as arbiters and examples of healthy and loving relationships.
Wes, as well as his family, seem to think this action was the result of an ongoing campaign by “delusional” people who have been trying to smear his reputation. Nobody has done more to damage the reputation of Wes than he has done through his own actions. Nobody had to make up any stories, all they need to do is talk about their experiences with him and his reputation takes the hit it deserves.
The fact that a growing list of people have started to speak about their experiences is a sign not of a conspiracy to ruin them, but of something much simpler; it’s an attempt to warn people of what he has done, how he responds to people he hurts, and how he tries to control narratives to protect his image.
What people are responsible, according to him? Well, he apparently thinks this is “team Shaun” in action. Let me make something absolutely clear; I had nothing to do with the process to remove him from the PLN. In fact, I did not know he was a member until I was informed that the process was already initiated to remove him. I did not initiate the complaints nor did I contribute when it was brought to my attention that it was going to happen. I knew about it because some of the people involved informed me, but I decided to keep my distance from the process.
Wes does not know who was responsible for him being removed from the PLN, but that does not stop him and his partners from casting blame and crying “abuse” towards the people he assumes it was. He may have some guesses as to who is responsible (I mean, all he has to do is remember who he abused, right?), but the fact is that this action was not a smear campaign by any “League of Evil Exes.” This was the result of a number of people, unknown to him, sharing their stories with the PLN, and the PLN taking appropriate action.
His pointing blame towards the people who have been abused by him, and calling them “evil,” is nothing more than an attempt to re-frame themselves as the victims; it’s a distraction. Calling the people who Wes has emotionally abused, sexually assaulted, and manipulated (among other infractions) “evil” is hugely inappropriate at very least.
People have come out, bravely, to share their stories and they are being treated as the aggressors. Let me emphasize this; people who have had the strength of character to stand up against a man who abused, manipulated, and sexually assaulted them are being mocked, dismissed, and attacked publicly for daring to tell their stories–and not only by him! For a person who talks a lot about consent, ethics, and abuse, I find that highly problematic, disturbing, and horrifying.
Speaking only for myself, I wish I could put this all behind me more easily, but a year of actual smear campaigns against me, PTSD caused by the abuse leveled against me, and running into other people with similar experiences has not allowed it to die away. Wes and his family claim to want to be able to move on and not be bothered by others’ “misery and delusional hatred” of them, but those who commit abuse while claiming to want to move on are tragically missing the point. When you hurt people, you don’t get to simply move on and put it behind you.
Wesley Fenza is not only manipulative and abusive, but when he is confronted with these facts he consistently turns the accusation around and paints himself as the victim. I’ve rarely heard him even directly address the accusations (in fact, when you directly accuse him of hurting you at that very moment, he has been known to ignore it and argue with you more), because he understands that a good offense is better than playing defense. Also, some of his friends and family have flatly denied that there is any reason to take the allegations seriously. The fact is, Wes is not universally abusive, so those who don’t receive it (at least, not often) get to be his choir.
speaking up [edited title]
[edited for clarity and out if respect for privacy]The people Wes has harmed [/edited] have been speaking up over the last year about his behavior, and will continue to do so until he actually takes some responsibility for his actions. Wes and his family can dismiss us, mock us, and ignore his deep flaws and crimes all they want, but we are not “planning attacks”. To the contrary, we are responding to the toxic, abusive, and unconscionable behavior shown by Wes. Whereas I (for I can only represent myself) have been forthcoming about my mistakes, Wes has never acknowledged his own without blaming someone else for them or simply denying it.
Wes has cultivated credibility both locally and nationally. He likes attention.. That he speaks at conferences and goes about the poly world publicly decrying the behaviors he often practices in his private life is hugely problematic for the people he has hurt, those he seeks to control, and the polyamorous community as a whole. And, to our partial relief, some of that community is listening now.
There are too many stories, too many people, and to much harm done for those of us who Wes has hurt to remain quiet. Even if I were to stop writing about this, others have their own stories to share. RabbitDarling has shared part of hers here (and elsewhere), previously (and she has more, if she decides to share it). I have written some things too. I have heard the stories of others, and if they decide to share, they will.
We are not delusional and we are not wrong. And we are not afraid to speak about what we know.
No doubt that Wes and his family will respond to this, as is their wont. He will invariably try to re-focus the attention on what we have done to hurt his family, which has become their childish “nu uh” narrative. In anticipation, allow me to say one last set of things.
I have been talking with some close friends over the last few days about whether to post this or not. We all know the type of response he will make. We all know that writing such things will not convince them, or anyone they are close to, of anything. I write such a thing knowing what kind of response we have gotten thus far, and that writing this will not likely change Wes’ behavior or his family from crying “we’re being attacked.”
But here’s the thing. Every night this last week, I have not been able to sleep well. Why? Because stepping out of the shadows, being in the same social space as Wes, is terrifying to me. Writing this was terrifying to me. Publishing it is, I believe, necessary, but terrifying. I’m traumatized. Not pretend traumatized, but actually terrified of his lack of scruples or concern for any meaningful self-reflection.
So, why am I speaking? Am I crazy? Am I delusional? Am I maliciously trying to ruin his reputation so that I can “win” (that’s their goal; to “win”)? No. I have had moments when I thought I might be seeing this wrong, but the more I have talked with other people hurt by him, the more I see the pattern of how he inflicts fear, destruction of self-esteem, and unhealthy self-doubt in people. He actually rationalizes his emotionally abusive behavior, in some cases, by saying that he treats people who he trusts and respects that way (they should be so lucky!).
The process seems to be to treat some people who gets within his trust/respect sphere like an asshole, and anyone who does not object to being treated like shit? keep them. If you object, then he argues with you, berates you, and only occasionally is nice to keep you guessing. It’s a bombardment upon self-worth he launches until either you turn out to be able to take some selfish mistreatment (or are equally willing to give it to the same targets), you submissively relent, or you are deposed from the court of Lord Wesselton and labeled as “terrible,” not worth his time, or “abusive” for daring to tell people what he did.
And also to treat the people he knows he won’t get away with that bullshit decently. You know, mostly.
Wes creates, within the people he repeatedly hurts, the fear that has two edges. If you say anything, you know he will respond with his rhetoric and effectively market himself as the victim. If you say nothing, then he can continue to paint whatever narrative he likes, knowing that if you later speak up then he’ll be able to call you “dishonest” for not saying anything sooner, “delusional” because what you are saying does not match the narrative he subsequently manipulated people around him to believe, and “abusive” because playing the victim allows him to turn the tables on those he hurts. No need to actually deny anything, because everyone’s too busy wondering if it’s true that Wes has been judged unfairly.
Arguing with him, when he’s being abusive in the way that many people have seen, is pointless and only seeks to deepen the hurt he’s causing while allowing him to paint his own victimhood and distance himself from addressing how he’s hurting someone. It’s sort of brilliant, is a terrifying way. Power, control, and manipulation at its sociopathic best.
The more I have become convinced that my experiences, feelings, and thoughts about Wes are not only valid, but shared by many others, the more I’m certain that this needs to be said publicly. And yet, I write this knowing I’ll receive more abuse, whining, and counter-narrative from him.
Why would I put myself through this, unless I thought that it was necessary? What do I have to gain by this? There are plenty of people who have hurt me, who I don’t like, and who I would not speak reverently of in private. Why stick my neck out here? Why take this risk? Why expose myself to the inevitable and childish responses?
Simple: he’ll keep doing it.
[images removed. It was wrong for me to include screenshots of private posts not directly relevant to Wes’ behavior]
[RabbitDarling has posted more of her side of the abusive, exploitive, and narrative-controlling aspects of the Fenzorselli home. She talks about things that I could not, and I appreciate her willingness to step forward. She has my full support.]
Happy Darwin Day! February 12, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: Charles Darwin, Darwin Day, evolution, natural selection
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By pure accident, I published my first blog post on Darwin day back in 2009; 6 years ago today. So, for readers who may not know much about Charles Darwin or Darwin Day, Let me point you to some resources.
First, let’s start with the website dedicated to Darwin Day itself, DarwinDay.org. Here, you can find all sorts of things, such as local events, including this, happening in Philadelphia tonight at National Mechanics–which I may decide to pop into (if I have time after the laundry that really needs to get done). There are also educational, activism, and news resources there, so take a look.
There’s also a Facebook page for Darwin Day.
But there’s also a plethora of excellent resources all over the internet about Charles Darwin. I will not even try to summarize them all, because they are too extensive. There are, of course, organizations and site dedicated to misinformation, misunderstanding, or outright opposition to Darwin and to the theory of evolution itself (it does pain me to post those links…).
Among my favorite evolution/Darwin specific websites is the Understanding Evolution website hosted at Berkeley. There’s a series of articles about the history of evolution, which includes some details about Darwin which start here. among my least favorites would be places such at Answers in Genesis, whgich is a group dedicated to the Biblical “truth” of creation. Hacks, and idiots, really.
Let’s not forget that you can get all sorts of bumper stickers, decals, and other DarwinFish to put on your car, forehead, or computer screens. They are a good way to show the person driving behind you in traffic that you are educated in the scientific method, understand at least some of the complexities of the concepts within evolutionary theory (such as natural selection), and that you will not submit to bronze-age pseudoscience or creations myths.
That, or you really love your fish named “Darwin.”
I will not even begin to try to summarize the influence of Charles Darwin myself, mostly because I’m not an expert but also because there are already so many good resources on this subject. I’ll simply say that reading the Origin of Species was a positive experience, and what I do understand about biology is both fascinating and often beautiful.
If you don’t know much about Charles Darwin or if you just want to know more, take a look at some of the links here. Or, if you just want to celebrate his birthday with some like-minded people over beers, food, or just conversation, check out the events page and find some local people.
Happy birthday Darwin!
I hope you don’t rise from the grave as a zombie to eat all of our brains, because that wouldn’t be very nice. So, let’s not do that.
Thoughts on a chilly bright February morning February 11, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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Rabbitdarling has some thoughts about responses to abuse as well. Obviously, she and I have some common experiences, and I’m glad that she’s able to articulate her thoughts and feelings so eloquently.
Originally posted on I could hide my own Easter eggs.:
Guys, I have all the tired today, but I’m so ridiculously happy.
The Whiskey Kittens had a show last night, and we had the most fun I have ever had performing. The comedy was on point and utterly irreverent and hilarious. I don’t usually enjoy stand-up, but this was great. I debuted a new act as Iris, the over-worked rainbow messenger goddess, and reclaimed my old Donna Noble, which is consistently well-loved, no matter how many times I reprise it.
I am exhausted, but deeply happy. I got a great group hug when I shared my experiences of the pastyear, and a solemn promise that my autonomy, image, time, talent, and boundaries will always be respected and valued. I cried a little when everyone went back upstairs, and my eyeliner ran a little. Also I am still wearing that eyeliner at 8:45 the following morning, and there is…
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The Community Response to Abuse (re-blogged from Navel Gazing) February 10, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: abuse, community policing, polyamory, rehabilitation, victims
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Let’s take a look at some of it, and let me say a few things.
When I first tried to articulate what I thought the community response to abuse should be, the only thing I could really think was that abusers need good friends. The kind of friends who are willing to tell them when they are not being the best that they can be. And survivors need good friends. The kind of friends who will be on their side, who will believe them, who will protect them, and who will provide unwavering support when their inner support fails.
I agree with this. The simple fact is that as human beings, complicated as we are, we have the potential to harm others and to take harm from others in a myriad of ways. I have made mistakes and hurt partners myself, and regret doing so immensely. I’m glad that I have friends who are willing to honestly point out where I err, and I am glad that my friends have been there to help me through my own traumatic experiences from both partners and metamours.
Both survivors AND abusers need community support.
Specifically, survivors need protection and validation and abusers need support for accountability.
Again, agreed. People who hurt others, especially if it’s part of a pattern of behavior (and especially if it’s ongoing and unacknowledged) need the people around them to not only keep pointing it out, but also be willing to be ready to support them when they are ready to take steps towards whatever kind of reconciliation or at least personal improvement may be possible.
In most cases, I think that those who hurt other people will be able to find a path back to respectability and welcome by any community. In the cases where they cannot find that path, then the community needs to know about those people in order to make a more informed decision as to what kind of relationship to pursue with those people.
People who don’t want to change will often tell you that they don’t change because of the way that you are asking. This is horse puckey. Change is a personal matter, and it’s hard no matter what. If you want to change, no amount of assholery will be able to stop you. If you don’t, no amount of gentle crooning will make it happen. However, having said that, when we threaten community members who do not support community standards, what we do, mostly, is encourage them to hide their bad behavior.
Change must come from within. It starts with the recognition of wrong-doing, and moves through understanding the cause of the behavior and how it is seen by others. Those who feel attacked, criticized, or maligned by accusations will often find a way to camouflage, rationalize, or re-direct attention from their behavior.
Two of the biggest seeds are the invalidation and naming of another person’s experience and the sense of entitlement over someone else’s choices. Look for it, in yourself and others. Call it out. We can all weed the garden. Remember,
This is my experience. You can not know my experience.
That is your experience. I can not know your experience.
These are my choices. You are not entitled to control over them, you are not victimized by them.
Those are your choices. I am not entitled to control over them, I am not victimized by them.
Look for systemic oppression, and the stories we tell ourselves and each other about why it’s ok. Challenge the stories, and think about how to best support someone who wants to change.
Word. This is a problem which all communities must face, as the atheist community has been facing issues related to harassment and feminism in the last few years. We, within the poly community, have some things to learn about how to deal with accusations of abuse.
How to be the friend of a survivor
Give them a safe space away from their abuser
While you may still be friends with their abuser (remember, abusers need good friends), understand that if you invite both people to the same space, you are actually only inviting the abuser. Try to also create events that are safe for the survivor. If you do not, understand that you aren’t a friend anymore.
I cannot emphasize this enough. I have (and I’m not the only one) avoided a plethora of social activities over the last year to avoid a specific person who I knew would be there, even if the social event was in my neighborhood and would be attended by friends of mine. I have avoided being around this person because almost any memory of him causes a miniature panic-attack. The sound of whistling still gives me chills, because he whistles tunes much of the time. For months after I left his house, the sound of his notification, on someone else’s phone, would cause me to become highly anxious that he was around.
I did not want to be anywhere near him. And the couple of time in the last year I was, it was terrifying and upsetting. Luckily, that is all fading (the nightmares still come around now and then), so I will no longer be hiding, but the fear, anger, and trauma still exist.
We need to be aware of accusations because a victim will avoid their abuser, often for a very long time.
Be willing to distance yourself from people who display abusive behaviors
Sometimes you can’t be a friend of someone who is abusive unless you support their beliefs. It’s hard to fracture your community that way, especially when it is already small. It’s hard when you realize that maybe you can’t just invite everyone to your party. But you know who doesn’t have the choice that you’re struggling with? People who have been abused. Our lives are about avoiding places our abusers are going to be, about losing friends, about being incredibly careful about where and how we share our experiences and about not being able to go to parties. Suck it up.
On top of this, be willing to listen to people who have stories of being abused. I know quite a few people who, upon being faced with the stories of what friends of theirs have done, have refused to even hear their stories. In some cases, the victims are dismissed and the abuser not given a second thought.
This is problematic.
It’s especially problematic if the reason this happens is because the abuser turns it around and blames the victims of abuse. Recently, a dear friend of mine broke out of such a spell, and has received a fair amount of dismissal and disrespect from people within the circle of a person who has caused considerable pain and trauma to people close to me. Her crime? she left the inner circle around the person responsible, after going through her own ordeal with him and his family. She wrote about her experience with this falling out here. Subsequently, someone I know could only speak disdainfully about her for having left the way she did while defending the culpable person as being a victim himself.
Those who do not distance themselves will land on the other side of that rift, and will often not be trusted by victims any longer. The unfortunate reality of social and tribal behavior is that sometimes we lose friends merely because they are no longer part of the safe space.
This is actually not as simple as it seems. Because people who are abusive almost always hide as victims. If we believe them, unequivocally, we give safe harbor for abuse. But if we are always suspicious of people who report abuse, we do not give a safe space to survivors who already doubt their own experience. Even more uncomfortable is the fact that when I am talking about “abusers” and “survivors,” I am talking about potential that is in all of us. We are all susceptible to abuse, and we are all capable of it.
Let me emphasize something there: “people who are abusive almost always hide as victims.” Holy shit yes. This is hard, I know. Hearing accusations about abuse and other problematic behavior is tough, especially if you know one or more of the people involved. There is almost always nuance and blame to be shared, and knowing what to believe is hard, especially if accusations are coming from all sides.
But when someone who is the perpetrator of a long and established pattern of abusing others starts to claim to be the victim, the terrifying thing is that it often works. Telling the difference, from the outside, is hard as fuck. I get it. I get it because I think most of us, and maybe all of us, know what it’s like to have hurt someone. A person facing an accusation often wants to emphasize how they were wronged, and having the strength of character to look at one’s own crimes is really really difficult. The result is we become defensive, start spinning counter-narratives, and we may even start to concentrate on our own pain caused by others rather than take an honest look at what we have done.
Recognizing this pattern is the only means towards cutting that shit out.
Throughout our lives, we will be both the accused and the accuser, to varying degrees. And having been through that, we can recognize and empathize with all sides of a situation. And from that vantage point, seeing people on all sides claim to be victims, we tend to want to side with accepting that those people are victims, rather than those responsible for the harm.
It’s hard to look at someone responsible for abuse and see it, especially if the look on their face is one of pain. But it’s possible to be in pain and to be responsible, and we need to be able to handle each separately.
So I want to propose a meditation. When we really understand the difference between these statements, we will understand how to support both survivors and abusers.
“I was victimized by acts of control” is not the same as “I was victimized by the other person’s resistance to my control.”
“This is my experience” is not the same as “This is someone else’s experience.”
This is critical, because I am not sure that when people are in a space of culpability, they understand the difference between the statements above, as they pertain to their actions. I have seen examples of the conflation of these statements from people in my life, and this type of distinction has been topic of discussion around me for some time, now.
This is especially relevant to people who seek to, and are good at, controlling narratives. Persuasion is a powerful tool, and if used well it can be a very effective means of manipulation. Those who seek control may view push-back against that attempt as an infringement on them, and perhaps an injury. This is essentially similar to how power and privilege work against those who have neither; they are used to getting their way, and this time they are not.
It seems simple, but it is not. And I feel that not being able to tell the difference between these things allows us to harbor abuse in our communities and abusive behaviors in ourselves. Being able to see the difference between these statements will allow you to really, truly and solidly hear the story of a survivor. It’s not simple, but if it was, we would have figured it out by now. I’m willing to be imperfect while we figure this out, how about you?
We will all fail, from time to time. We need to be comfortable with failure, if we are to process and improve as people.
We as a community, especially our leaders, need to take the time to learn about how to respond to allegations. When abuse rears its head, they need to not only hear the stories that victims tell, but they need to make sure that they have a means to respond to the accused.
In some extreme cases, there may be nothing to do but to ask them to leave. In most cases, however, there must be room for rehabilitation. But that rehabilitation must keep in mind the place of those they have hurt, and prioritize them. The must be rom for rehabilitated people, but that room should not be next to their victims, and certainly not in a place of authority or leadership over their community.
The community needs to create safe spaces, and those safe spaces must be carved out by those leaders in that community better. We all have more to learn, and more we could be doing better.
Humility: The Song and the Notes February 8, 2015Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Personal, Religion, Sex and sexuality.
Tags: Cheryl strayed, journeys, music, Nietzsche, polyamory
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So, you know this concept of humility? Yeah, that one is rough sometimes. It seems like some people hear it’s tones as a discordant miasma of chaos, while others hear a well-trained symphony playing something seemingly divine. The truth is that it’s neither of those things, but the nuances of music are such that there is room for argument and taste.
There is the kind of humility which is supposed to be the theme song which follows you around. It’s like a master beat-box artist, or possibly an angel with a harp or even just some dude just wailin’ on that bass (tastes do differ, after all), but not matter what that arrangement is, it’s one of the presences in your life, ideally keeping arrogance, bias, and simple error at bay.
Listen, confidence is great. I’m all for confidence. And I’m definitely not for deference or prostration to either gods, absolutist ideals (or Platonism in general), or traditions. But there are other sources of servitude than religions and traditions. Our emotions, desires, and cognitive biases will perpetually get in the way of our ability to navigate between the Scylla/Carybdis of our hubris/timidity. Humility, if played to an Aristotelian key, is a song of temperance, and not docility.
So, given the tempo of this Aristotelian ballad, floating between Prestissimo and the Grave (perhaps an adagio today and an allegro tomorrow), I think that some sense of perspective of who, where, and how we are requires the ability to be self corrective more or less based upon the circumstances in which we find ourselves. That is, we need to listen to the other players if we want to make music well. Life is not all solos.
But also because sometimes it’s time for quiet reflection, and sometimes it’s time to dance! Sometimes we need to assert ourselves, and sometimes we need to step back and listen. And sometimes we might hear something new in our favorite songs or discover that upon further reflection, we hate this song (Hell, Nietzsche could tell you all about that, amirite?). Sometimes we can find new ways to interact with the world, as our desires and tastes change.
The path behind and the path forward
Our preferences are linked to things like memory, experience, and emotional associations. These preferences are also intimately related to the ideals and goals which we revere. These ideals are immensely powerful motivators, but they can also be anchors and delusions.
Sometimes these ideals come from an ancient religion, steeped in history and buried into the very language, culture, and psychology of a community. That is where this blog started, as a log of ideas about how religion wove its way into the fabric of love, sex, and commitment in our culture. It was an exploration of the problematic concepts which underlie all of our ability to conceive of who and what we are as people living in a universe without gods, but within a culture drowning in the psychopathic, unconcerned, or impotent ideas of gods.
This was a blog about exploring what was possible, if we stop adhering to the sexual, romantic, and relationship norms our society defers to. It was, in a sense, one more hammer to the old gods, ideals, and philosophies to which so many are still adhered.
And over time it changed. I started thinking about polyamory more. I started having more experiences within polyamory. I had many wonderful and fulfilling experiences, I’ve had experiences which were fun but often challenging, and I’ve experienced the worst interpersonal trauma from people I lent some trust to.
And I’ve changed. Who I am today is not who I was 6 years ago, when this blog started. And in the last several months, I came to a realization that has had a profound effect on my outlook for the future. I realized that I was wrong about something very fundamental about myself; something that has been the cause of a very significant problems in my life. And I owe that knowledge to someone who I love dearly and who had to allow me to sink or swim on my own.
What is it? Well, that’s not really important, is it? The specific lesson is not the point, at all. Besides, that revelation is personal, and while I would be more than willing to share that understanding (assuming I could properly articulate it) with the people I’m close to in my life (and I’m happy that I have people in my life who honor me with their friendship and love), it’s not necessary here.
Also, there are people who still read this blog (hi there! You can one star my post if you like, but that’s sort of childish, isn’t it?) who would attempt to bend and stretch such information against me if they could (narrative spinning is their specialty, after all). Also, because it can’t really be that interesting to most of the rest of you anyway. You don’t come here to be my proxy therapist. I tend to pay people to do that for me.
The last reason I’ll not explore this personal revelation here leads to another kind of humility which I’d like to talk about. This is the kind that comes out of nowhere and knocks you on your ass. These are the striking and emotionally intense notes in the song of your life, ones which have consequences for how you hear the rest of the song.
It’s the kind of humility (humiliation, perhaps) where you have found that you (perhaps) fucked up, big time, and now it’s time to shut up and start listening. Of course, one does not always shut up and listen, so one might talk themselves into a corner. And then, well, you’re in a corner having to decide what to do next.
And then you have to learn some things. Then you have to reflect one how you fucked up, what you are going to do about it, and even though you might hate doing it….
Now it’s time to walk the hard path.
And then, sometimes, while walking that path, you find that you didn’t know as much as you thought, especially about yourself.
My lovely girlfriend and I, with whom I’ve just celebrated a year together just this week (but who must remain anonymous, for unfortunate reasons related to social expectations and cultural taboos), went to see the movie Wild, which I liked quite a lot. Obviously, it’s a movie about self-discovery and traveling a difficult road (both literally and metaphorically) towards a goal which may be arbitrary, but which takes on new meaning as you approach it.
The problem is that by focusing on that destination, that ideal, you miss all the details all around you. It’s also not unlike hearing that note or phrasing in a piece of music which keeps dancing around a melody, harmonic, or note. If you do nothing but anticipate that note, that goal, or even that (perhaps) perfection then you are not paying full attention to the path itself. You start to miss the trees because you are looking for the whole forest.
If we, as listeners and as path-travelers, learn to pay more attention to the moment then we will notice that it changes our journey from progress to process. In other words, we become less-ends-oriented and we become more aware of the experience of journeying. Knowing precisely where you are is a humbling experience, sometimes. Whether we think of this humility in the cosmic sense of size or in the existential sense identity, it amounts to a humility which should offer us some pause.
And we should accept that offer, from time to time.
Eventually that destination, which was so dramatic and distracting to start, dissolves either into the horizon and becomes your theme song or it starts to fade into background noise, ultimately to be unnoticed or forgotten. And then all there is the path. And when you are bored on this path you start to see things differently. When it’s quiet, when you are alone without distraction, you have the opportunity to listen to yourself a little closer, and you will almost certainly learn something.
Well, I’ve learned some things recently. And I think that I am feeling better than I have in a long time, at least in terms of being optimistic about my personal future. The dawn has broken, the storm clouds are retreating, and what I thought was going to be my end may end up being my greatest beginning.
I’m not saying that it will be easy, because it will not be. I will not say that I do not fear it, because I do. But where it will be hard I will work harder, and where it will be terrifying I will allow myself to slow down, look at the path, consider the destination I may create for myself at that moment. As a practical result, I will no longer retreat from the world as I have been in recent months.
Now, the biggest challenge I have is to have the patience to wait for Spring, because this cold weather is not pleasant for me, at all. Is it May yet?
Bottom line? Well, I was wrong about some things concerning myself. But as a result I was able to discover that maybe I have an opportunity for something better, now. My advice is to be willing to listen, be wrong, and to imagine that perhaps the reason you find yourself where you are has more to do about what you are wrong about than anything else. Or, alternatively, you may find that you were more right than you knew, only you didn’t believe in yourself enough.
Not arrogance and not servility, but instead a humble sense of perspective towards finding a way to balance your individual strengths with an ability to weave those strengths into a larger whole. There will be times for solos, soap-boxes, and individual efforts, but working harmoniously and in symphony is often much harder and more rewarding.
I wish for beautiful music along all of your paths.