Dear polyamory community,
Especially Polydelphia, who booted me almost a year ago for a mix of (admittedly) good and corrupt reasons. And who made no attempt at restorative justice, despite your paying lip service to this very powerful and important concept.
OK, so right off the bat for the sake of clarity, I’m not becoming monogamous. My long-distance girlfriend, who is married to someone else and who is quite dedicated to sexual and romantic freedom, might have something to say about that. Not that she could prevent me if I decided to do so, but she would likely just laugh at me and think I’m being silly again.
(Side note; she somehow didn’t know I was silly until she was already dating me. Somehow, she got the impression that I’m very serious and lacked mirth from my years of writing. I wonder why she concluded that? In any case, in real life I’m extremely silly, irreverent (I think that might have been clear), and I definitely do not take myself very seriously at all.)
Anyway, back to (not really) shedding the thing that is half of the portmanteau which is the URL of this (increasingly irrelevant) blog….
So, a number of years ago, while still a member of polydelphia, I started to notice the rifts and factions forming in the polyamorous community, especially online. Facebook has been awful for a while now (I’m barely on it, now), and polydelphia in particular has become increasingly awful since they decided to make up that I was threatening people within the group and banned me (which was annoying, but the place is a shit show so whatever? A number of my friends had already left, previous, for the same reasons I was being critical of the group). But like just about everything in our culture, now, we are more divided than ever, and each faction sees itself as righteous and the others as bad.
Remember when that happened in the atheist community? Yeah, look at it now. David Silverman, Rationality Rules, The Atheist Community of Austin, oh my! (I’ll leave my opinions on those particular people to the side, for now, as they are not pertinent to this post).
Well, the poly community is very much the same, and the various factions continue to fight and dismiss one-another, and have become toxic.
And I’m so done with that community in general. Polydelphia won’t have me back, quite likely (and I would be very unlikely to want to be back), but I’m done with the community in general. So done, that I’m contemplating just dropping the “polyamorous” identifier from my life. This was spawned during a conversation with one of my closest friends, with whom I was having drinks last Saturday. A long-time member of the lifestyle (swinger) community, and a person I met through the local poly scene several years ago, we have bonded over many things, including both of us being total geeks. But the silliness and toxicity of the poly community right now is among the things we bonded over.
And I have to ask; is there any benefit from calling myself “polyamorous,” anymore?
So, this is the point where my amazing girlfriend, as brilliant as she is, would remind me that labels are mere descriptions. And as she has argued that no matter what the association of the word ‘atheist’ has, and no matter how annoyed any of us would be with the community, the fact that she does not believe any gods exist means that she simply is an atheist, and that declining the word would be absurd (Someone tell Neil deGrasse Tyson!) and meaningless.
Which, well, is true. Insofar as I continue to maintain multiple sexual and romantic relationships, or at least intend to, and do so in a transparent way, then no matter my thoughts on the connotations of “polyamory,” I simply am polyamorous. Conceded.
And yet my friend, who definitely does not self-describe as polyamorous (but who definitely transparently maintains relationships with multiple women), finds the whole damned thing to be ridiculous. He looks at our former friends in that community and just shakes his head. He gave up on you all a long time ago. Us re-connecting was a chance encounter, and one that has led to one of my closest friendships. And I can’t say he’s without a point in wanting nothing to do with any of you.
He is unimpressed and amused with all of the conferences, the self-righteous posturing, and especially the social mud-slinging over theory and control over such groups. And when he articulates such thoughts, all I can do is say amen, brother.
Shit, I think I just understood why Neil deGrasse Tyson refuses to adopt the label atheist.
Yeah, labels describe, but sometimes it describes who you are associated with. And I don’t wish to be associated with most of you. There are a few in there which I still love and will miss, but the community is too much of a mess to want to be associated with it, anymore.
Here are some reasons why.
The Republic and the thing about people….
get it? Res+Publica? Gah! Nevermind…
So, we might think of the leadership of the poly world as, in a sense, representatives of a set of ideas and the groups which form the groups which form the conferences, social events, and orgies which constitute the poly world. Such people are as potentially amazing and corrupt as anyone else (and are often both), but they are, at bottom, merely people (like I said, both awesome and corrupt).
But those people have a kind of power. Influence? definitely. Control? In some cases, especially of the rules of groups, choosing who speaks at conferences, etc. But most importantly they control the narratives. Those who speak first control the narrative, so I’m now very suspicious of certain people who are doing this loudly. We are on the eve of a time when those who manipulate will either be knocked from their pedestal or will solidify their influence with different tribes within the community, and those tribes will be ossified into tribes, with canyon-sized rifts between them, just like the atheist community. You will stop listening to each other (Many already have), you will point fingers and blame, but it will be all of our faults (mine included, in case you wonder if I think I’m innocent here. I’ve waged war, and we all lost).
When individuals or political alliances form (sort of like parties in the poly republic, vying for control of the larger community) and are faced with individuals or parties with which they have disagreements, bad blood, or mere power-struggles based in nothing but a desire to be in control, then the rest of us are left siding with our friends, the first narrative we heard, or who aligns with our worldview more. People will fall into different factions or tribes. Those factions will not be divided by people with the truth and good ideas over here versus people with bad ideas and abusive pasts over there. Instead, it will be multiple, in some cases overlapping, factions who will all have good and bad ideas, people with various levels of harm caused to other people, and better and worse (and separate) conferences. Some might be better than others, but they will all think they are that one.
Just like in all politics. And right now, those vying for control of polydelphia, in particular (not the steering committe, per se, but those who drive the narratives) are a lot more akin to the Democrat and, perhaps more appropriately now, the Republican party than I’m comfortable with; dismissing evidence that doesn’t favor them, defending people they know are guilty within, and holding sway with many well-intentioned people who go to the
rallies conferences to cheer for their idols. Idols who are as problematic as any of us who found themselves on the wrong side of a narrative-promulgation.
The general community are overwhelmingly lovely, funny, and cuddly people who I adore. They are the people out there just getting freaky with their many loved ones from day to day without concern for the politics around them, with little understanding of how the sausage is made. They may have opinions or allegiances but what most of them want is just to find people with whom they share one slice of their worldview, and maybe get invited to the cuddle party. They just want a community.
They don’t generally care about ideological purity or the definition of solo poly (for example). They get annoyed by squabbles and just stay out of the line of fire. And when wars erupt (and one is coming), they tend to tune it out, stop attending events as often, or leave groups. Many are left without a community, in that case. Many are left wanting that community, but see it as so toxic that they refuse to re-join. Many of them were hurt by those screaming the loudest about how the community needs to be safer, ironically.
And for what?
Well, all sorts of reasons. Let’s look at a few of them, shall we?
- Ideological purity: We have to make sure that the people in our group have the right ideas, are educated in the complexities of
goodthinkbetter ways to do poly, from people with experience. Never mind that people with experience disagree on these things. Never mind that we all fuck those things up. Purity is important at the level of ideas, if not action. I’m bothered by this, but have addressed this elsewhere (here and here, for example).
- Safety: These communities need to be safe for those who decide to participate, so we need to keep bad actors out. Agreed, in general. Of course, where the line is is a point of contention. Also, pretty much everyone hurts people, and if you make that line in such a way that minor issues become cause for removal, then nobody, especially those screaming for safety, are immune from accusations. I know, for a fact, that those screaming for safety in the local poly community in Philadelphia (polydelphia) are protecting their friends from accusers who have been bullied out of the community. Many of those hurt people are genuinely terrified to speak out. One of those people who have acted inappropriately is giving a keynote speech at Poly Living tonight. Yup, I’m talking about you, Kevin Patterson. You are no role model. Not because you made mistakes and hurt people (we all do. I certainly have), but because you take advantage of your popularity, charisma, and celebrity to brush off your mistakes while vilifying and push out others who do similar things. You do not deserve to be talking to a community about responsibility, sir. You need to take responsibility first. (I won’t be naming accusers because they asked for anonymity. It is up to them to come forward, if they decide to do so. But as I was told, the accusation is sufficient to hold the accused accountable, right?)
- Friendship: We know our friends make mistakes. But we love them, and they have wonderful attributes, so we are willing to over look or dismiss the accusations against them as overblown (and, perhaps they are). Just like the friends of the people that you pushed out of the community, like me (and perhaps you may have overblown our sins, as well). This is how in-group/out-group works. You defend your friends and vilify those with whom you have beef. It’s usually the bullies who gain control. That’s what has happened here, in Philadelphia. You are all amazing, talented, smart people who have made yourselves into bullies. I know you don’t see it that way. Bullies never do. Remember; how you see yourself is how Donald Trump, and his fans, see Donald Trump.
- Control: At bottom, some people just want power. They get drunk on it, and that power breeds righteousness and a large megaphone (in Trump’s case, a MAGAphone?). A very few of you just like the power it gives you. Most of you are trying to do the right thing and are making mistakes. But those who seek power and attention often find it.
There are others, but that’s enough to make my point.
It’s all for vanity. People being human, all too human.
And, in the end, those in control of the narrative, who have the masses on their side because they are charismatic and have a good story to tell, are equivalent to the GOP right now, in relation to the impeachment and Senate “trial” we just watched implode. You stick together, you vilify dissent, you remove people from your organizations for vastly inflated or made-up reasons (I’m not the only one), when (some of) you are guilty of the same things. And then you think of yourselves as defending the safety of the group. Good intentions, very poor execution. You are failing at the one thing you are screaming about. You are making the community toxic, and calling it social justice. It’s not justice, it’s tribalistic in-fighting. Youa re failing at justice because you are as unjust as those you vilify. You are human, and you’re fucking up. We all do it, but some of us know we are doing it and try to do better. You need to do that too.
You have done corrupt and unjust things and spun narratives which benefit you. The politics of the poly world are no different than the politics of the US government. And the people defending the “safety” of polydelphia, as well as other groups throughout the poly world, are acting just like the Senate Republicans. You have, are, and will likely continue to hurt people all the while screaming about “safety” (“what about the children!”). It’s a distraction. Clean your own friend-group first.
I hope that those you have hurt decide to finally rise up and speak out against you. Many of them are terrified, traumatized, and beaten down. You’ve stolen control of a group with your self-righteous bullshit. So, retaliate, against me, if you like. Become the Donald Trump of the poly world. It will hurt me, it will continue to traumatize me, and it definitely will cause me sleepless nights and anxiety (I’ve barely slept this week), but someone needs to call you out. Since I’m already a pariah and boogeyman, fuck it. Have at me, hypocrites.
I’ve made my mistakes. I’ve hurt people. I’ve been abusive, manipulative, and I’ve ruined relationships with good people who I cared about. I’ve struggled with mental health issues (there has been therapy and growth) which exacerbated problems in relationships and compelled problematic behavior . I have allowed my temper to terrify people, I’ve manipulated people (it was never intentional, but I’m still responsible), and I have acted irrationally in ways that chased many people away. I understand why many of you are former friends, and I do not blame you for distancing yourselves; you made rational decisions, in many cases (though, not all). I have allowed my mental health issues (recent therapists don’t consider me diagnosable as a Borderline anymore) to cause likely irreparable harm to many many people in my life, and I am so very very sorry for all the hurt I have caused. To anyone who has been hurt by me who hears of this, I offer my sincere apology. I was awful at times, and those moments have haunted me for many years. If any of you want to reach out to me, I will extend the offer to talk. Otherwise , I will leave you alone.
But the irony is that some of the people who hurt me, and people I’m allied with, the most are the ones vilifying me the most. Many of them likely don’t even know that there are people out there for whom they are the abuser. It’s frustrating to me because they talk publicly as if they are the pinnacle of moral behavior and victimhood, but have done awful things themselves.* The accusation is enough, right? Well, then it is the case that either:
- You are also an abuser who should be banned from the community, like all the people you point finger at. or…
- Your algorithm for who should be banned is self-defeating and ridiculous, because nearly everyone would have to be banned, and then there is no community.
Your “community standards” for safety are broken, toxic, and are the very foundation of the problems in the community as much as any Shaun McGonigal is. You all have, at some point, hurt, been abusive to, or manipulated people (myself included). Clean that log out of your eye before you bring out that ban hammer again.
I’ve done the work. I’ve improved myself. I’m healthier. I don’t know what work you have done, some of us have never felt as if you even acknowledge that you did anything wrong. I know you can do better, because you are all also intelligent and amazing people in other moments. We don’t want you banned or prevented from speaking, writing, or leading. We, the pariahs, the dismissed, and the banned just want you to stop pretending you are innocent when you aren’t. If you want safety, start with yourselves.
Much of what you have been doing in recent years is toxic and unhealthy, in my opinion (not that you care about my opinion, of course). I know you are better because I’ve seen all of you be amazing. Absolutely, brilliantly amazing. I loved all of you, I saw you all shine, and you are not doing so as well as you could now because you’re caught up in creating and maintaining a culture which also toxic, even if it’s not as toxic as that which you fight.
“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”
You’re likely laughing at me and my arrogance, right? How dare I criticize you, right? I get it. I’m not expecting to convince you any more than I’d convince someone cheering for Trump at his rallies. I expect to be ignored, dismissed, and retaliated against. I know that’s what you do.
I, however, will not back down from you. Not because you are wrong and I’m right, but because we are both wrong and both right in different respects, and we’ll never know in what respects by dismissing each other. I’m not dismissing your opinions of me. I’ve, in fact, spent many a therapy session, sleepless night, and personal writing in order to work out what I can learn from you and what, I think, you are getting wrong. I know you are right that I have done many bad things and hurt people, and yet I have grown and done the work. If you actually believe in restorative justice, and I know many of you do (in the community in general, I mean here), then actually practice it. Many of you have no idea who I am now or what I have done in the last few years. I know you think you do (which is not to say I haven’t made mistakes and hurt people in those years, but–again–I’m human I we all fuck up), but you have blocked me and dismissed me at every intersection so your information is old and your intel colored by a lenses of your tribe. If you insist upon continuing to do so without actually finding out what I’ve done in the intervening time, then your opinion must be considered suspect and factionally biased.
People who fuck up, do the work, learn, and get better is the goal of restorative justice. What you seem to want is punishment, banishment, and to crystallize an image of our worst moments into a definition of who we, pariahs, are. That’s not justice. I did, am doing, and will continue to do the work. I still have more to learn and to master, but I’m working every day to be better than I was the day before. Isn’t that what I was supposed to do? You have every right to ignore me, but if you come at me still, then you best be sure you know of what the fuck you speak.
We will never be friends again. That’s not my goal. So, I’m not asking you to do it for my sake, though I think you might want to consider doing it for the people you might continue to hurt, as I decided to do for my own life. Goodbye, my former dear friends. I have missed you from time to time. Take care.
So, to the poly community in general, and Polydelphia in particular, I’m leaving you behind because you have failed to create a safe, fair, and healthy community. Not for a lack of stringent enough rules or number of ban hammers, but because you fail to realize that safety is not achieved through fear, banishment, or mere demonization of people who fuck up, disagree with you, or who you just don’t like. All you have done is create an environment of fear in which anyone who has fucked up (and you all have done so) must say the right things in support for the goal of “safety,” keep quiet and hope nobody considers them important enough to out them, or preemptively attacks their “enemies” by labeling such people as problematic in order to define the narrative before those “enemies” can do it first. Maybe a few of you are actually without fault, in this regard. Cool. But are all of the people you defend also innocent? Would you react differently to an accusation against your friend than you would someone you don’t especially know or like?
There is a culture of fear in much of the poly community, and in our culture in general (shout out to ContraPoints). If you don’t see this phenomenon around you then consider that in this case it might be you who is in the position of privilege and power and are oppressing people around you without seeing it. Take it from a cishet white dude; it’s really easy to miss, even if you think you are seeing it. Those structure are, indeed, real, but they can act in communities by anyone of any background, no matter their place in the larger systems of oppression. Access to control over systems of power and oppression within communities is available to anyone if they reject the possibility that they have the ability to be blind to it. And we are all, at times, blind to our own power and control over people. Everyone. No exceptions.
Many of you are blind to your own power in this community, right now. One of you is about to give a keynote address at Poly Living 2020. Taking responsibility, indeed. Will you, really?
I’m seeing this all over the polyamorous community, and it will lead to ruin of the entire enterprise. I hope you are able to fix this going forward, while you still can.
I no longer have any hope for the polyamorous community to thrive. I know you are capable of it. Many of you are fucking it up right now, despite your good intentions, but you are also (all of you) smart, talented, and beautiful people who have the power to make the world a better place if you have the courage to do so. But you have to start with yourselves, your friends, and your tribes. Just like all of us as a species, nations, etc, we have to fix our own houses first before we start offering advice for how to build a bigger house for us all to live in a happy poly commune of love.
I wish you all the best. You’re going to have to do it without me. I’m sure you are relieved that this “abuser” is gone (wasn’t he gone like a year ago? Who is this nobody, anyway?). Now, you just have to deal with the ones in power in your community, doing lip service to safety.
-Shaun McGonigal, former abusive partner, current pariah, future unknown (but optimistic)
*I was very close to publicly outing some very bad behavior of some former very close friends and lovers, here. I believe I have every moral right to, given what that have done to me, but have decided it’s wiser to leave that aside, for now. Sorry for the disappointment, drama-lurkers.