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Experience, bias, and precaution August 17, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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I have some experience, in my life, with people who are skilled at making themselves seem innocent when they are not, at directing a narrative which suits their needs, and cultivating followers who will stand up for them even when they act egregiously. Whether such people are sociopaths, narcissists, or just your common douchemonkeys is up for debate, but in any case such people will use small segments of truth to bend a narrative which will make them look like the victims.

And, I think, I found someone else who might–just might–fit into this mold. And what I have been asking myself, for the last couple of days, is whether I’m biased to see this pattern or if it’s actually what’s happening. So, dear reader, here’s a story about some of my weekend.

Resistance is NOT futile

Resistance is NOT futile

I play this GPS-based, augmented reality game called Ingress. In fact, I downloaded the game just over a year ago as you can see from this post. On Saturday evening, I got into my car with two other Resistance agents and went to take down a long set of level 8 Enlightened portals along Germantown Ave, starting in Mt. Airy all the way down near Broad street (which will make sense to other Philly folks). It’s a significant stretch of road, with dozens of portals, and it take a fair amount of effort to destroy them all.

As is natural, whenever any agents attack and destroy heavily upgraded and shielded areas, it’s an annoyance for the other faction. People will defend, and will ultimately rebuild their area, and sometimes it will lead to some complaining, personal (but generally harmless) animosity, and often retribution on your own areas where your faction holds more control.

It is, after all, a game.

Except some people take it way too seriously. About half way through our “booming” of Germantown Ave (AKA, destroying the virtual portals along the road, with our virtual bursters, which are virtually placed along the actual Germantown Ave), I received a few text messages.

text1OK, so I don’t have this number stored in my phone, and I don’t recognize it. So I ask who it is. Nothing abnormal here; every once in a while I get a strange text which someone has sent me by accident or from someone who I just recently gave my phone number.

I continue to boom Germanton, destroying portals and moving on to the next cluster, and my phone buzzes again, but I don’t read it immediately because I’m busy Ingressing.

And, I want to point out here, that it’s not uncommon for people to send messages, usually in game, to attackers. Sometimes it will amount to whining, playful taunting, and sometimes to actual annoyance.

Reaching out to agents of the other faction happens frequently, and in fact I’m in a Google hangout dedicated to cross-faction (X-faction) conversation and event planning (which I sometimes attend, because there are some very nice and fun people on both sides–and it’s a game which we play together).

But what happened next was beyond simple line-crossing.

text2

Yeah… So that happened.

In recent weeks, I had been hearing, through conversations with other players, that there has been some drama with some players who were cheating, harassing, etc other people in the game. One of these players, and possibly some of his friends/cronies, had been a nuisance to people I know, and the week prior (the last time I boomed Germantown Ave) I was actually followed, by a car, by two Enlightened agents as I did so. One of those agents was this same person who I had heard bad things about, recently.

Now, being followed, whether in a car or on foot, while playing Ingress is not unheard of, and it’s usually actually harmless. After all, the game is location-based. It might be considered obsessive to do so for long periods of time, but it is a relatively normal part of the game. But this car was right on my bumper, and I managed to lose them (twice) because my car has a better turning radius than theirs and because I’m secretly a government agent trained in advanced urban driving techniques.

That last part might not be true.

What I didn’t know, but suspected (as do leaders of both factions still suspect), is whether the person who texted me is the same person who has been responsible for some recent harassment, cheating, and who was recently kicked out of PIE (the local Philly Enlightened community, which has many wonderful and very friendly people, despite their poor choice in factions :P).

Yeah, don't bother with these...RESIST!

Yeah, don’t bother with these…RESIST!

(All I’m saying is that if you receive a cryptic message from an alien source which promises to help you transcend to the next level of human evolution, compare it to those promises of registry cleaners and other software that promise to make your computer run faster, and choose to not install the software (because it’s probably malware). In other words, resist the offer of infection. I’ll get off my Resistance soapbox, now.)

Anyway, I don’t know if they are the same person, but the coincidences seem too convenient for them to be purely random. This agent (who I will not name, publicly, until I’m sure) was the owner of many of the portals I was attacking, so he would have received notifications of my destroying them immediately. The last time I did so, he showed up within 15-20 minutes to follow me in my car (so he knows what me and my car look like). He has been accused of harassing other players as well. And, as I have found, he has previously been involved in a local NAZI skinhead organization (now, apparently, he’s associated himself with anti-fascist organization, become a vegan, and so seems to have turned around those aspects of his life). But he was also involved with a murder in 2000.

A murder.

Apparently, he got probation, possibly due to his cooperating with law enforcement, but he has a past with organizations and individuals capable of violence, and now he’s [potentially] writing me threatening text messages, which make reference to people to whom I have, or have had, close relationships. This is a person who spent some effort to find out who I am, who I’m close to, and how to contact me.

And then, yesterday, as I’m walking my neighborhood, I see him walk into a restaurant very close to where I live. And he looks right at me. And then he destroys the portal that the restaurant sits on (which is fine; that’s part of the game). But then that player, who may or may not be the same person who sent me the texts, messages me in game saying he wants to talk to me, face-to-face.

Screenshot_2015-08-16-19-04-57

Now, I’m reading this and I’m thinking a few things.

One, It’s possible that this man, nor any of his immediate friends, sent me that text message. It’s possible that he’s being falsely accused, and he’s trying to talk with me about it, perhaps to reassure me.

Two, it’s possible that he wants to beat the shit out of me, in broad daylight, in my neighborhood knowing he’ll be suspected and not care.

And three, (and this is the one that bothers me the most because it’s so familiar) He wants to talk really nice to me, face-to-face, because he knows he’s made a mistake and he wants to make himself look, especially to his friends, harmless and an innocent victim. In other words, he wants to massage his image to people around him as not a transgressor of common behavior and a person who threatens people’s health and possibly life over a game, but as a nice, misunderstood, reformed man.

That last possibility is scary to me because I have seen this behavior too many times in the last couple of years. Having lived with Wes Fenza, who is quite capable and willing to lie, manipulate, and twist the perceptions of the world around him to make himself look like the victim of everyone he harms, I have learned to recognize the signs of such behavior.

And then I start to self-doubt. I start to say “Am I priming myself to see this everywhere, now?”

Maybe. But what if I’m right? What is the price of trusting this man, and giving his friends, the community, etc more reason to think twice about a person who might be capable of harassment, assault, or even murder over a game is to risk my own safety? What if my willingness to trust him leads to his further harassing others because he’s able to make himself appear innocent, just like other people formerly in my life continue to do to this day?

My experience has taught me that some people simply do not care if they hurt people, so long as they can distract everyone to look the other direction, that they are the victim, etc. Hell, in some cases such people can apparently have their own partners change their mind about the severity of their own trauma when it’s exposed that their own husband did similar things to other people; gotta keep that cognitive dissonance in check after all, right? If the only way to keep your savior complex alive, after said savior has assaulted and traumatized several people, is to make that type of behavior not actually assault, in your mind, then that’s what you do. Hence, months of therapy, anger, and blame against other people who did the same to you must simply be washed away for the sake of the comfort of your soul.

But back to the question at hand; am I being overly-cautious? Am I biased to see manipulative behavior even when it’s not there? Maybe, but the simple fact is that I was told by other people I know that this person is manipulative in this way that I have seen so many times. I have been told to be careful with this person. And I have heard this from people from both factions, and that has to mean something.

Because, for example, much of last year was about making sure that the poly community knows that Wes Fenza is a dangerous predator, potentially a sociopath, and that he will not hesitate to fabricate, embellish, and seek out information which will make any of his accusers appear incredible, dangerous, or unstable rather than face his own mistakes. And this effort has paid off, as many people in the local and national community have distanced themselves from him (some simply don’t know, care, or are so dependent upon him that they ignore the claims against him). Others are complicate in his actions. Whats’ worst about it is that many of his cronies are people I’ve heard him shit-talk about several times. You know; before people started abandoning him and he had to hold onto like the pilot fish they are.

And it seems that some people have made similar efforts against this person with whom I interacted this past weekend. I want to say that where there is smoke there is fire. I do not want to simply dismiss the warnings from other people who have experience with this person, because the risk is too high. I will leave some small doubt that I might be wrong, but I will not risk my health and life to find out, so I’ll stay away.

Because even if I am biased (which I certainly am), I’ve decided to take the precautions necessary to keep me away from this person, just in case they were the person who sent me threatening texts. I have created a police report with all of the pertinent information, I have informed the local Ingress community, and I have told many people close to me about this so that they know that if I’m harassed, attacked, etc that there is someone to look into.

Because in the unlikely event that this person is who I suspect he is, he follows through with his threats, and the police catch him, then perhaps he won’t be able to weasel himself out of prison. Guilty people walk free in our communities all the time, unreformed, unrepentant, and they sleep well at night because they have convinced the world and themselves that they are innocent or they are incapable of the feelings of guilt or responsibility which most of us feel when he make mistakes.And since they keep getting away with it, they’ll be much more likely to keep harassing, threatening, and maybe even following through occasionally.

Such people need to be indicated, so that we all can know that there is reason to be cautious.

Because even if people can learn, change, grow, and rehabilitate, some simply do not want to. I’ve certainly made some mistakes myself (although, if you listen to some people those mistakes are much much worse than the truth, because some people have a casual relationship with the truth), and I have paid for those mistakes. The problem is that sometimes people don’t feel the need to learn, change, or grown because they never accepted their responsibility, and they will have no compunction about continuing to do what they want to do without the pang of conscience or remorse. And we should all make sure to be aware of such people, and keep ourselves safe.

Good luck, out there.

And if you decide to play Ingress, just remember that the Enlightenment want you to be brainwashed by aliens who claim to want to help us evolve. They’ll couch it in terms of transcending what we are now (which has some obvious Nietzsche-esque qualities), and creating something better for our future, but they probably also checked the box, when installing Flash Player, to include all the Yahoo crap. The Resistance simply want you to not accept this free gift of salvation, because most free gifts of salvation are bullshit.

And yet, there is that murderous AI ADA… Lesser of evils?

It’s just a game….

😉

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An Open Letter to Harassers: The Volatile Space Between Desire and Action August 9, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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This post is a combination of a confession as well as an angry rant about the phenomena of harassment.  If you have not been following, there is a summary here by Greta Christina.  I will say that this issue has been especially emotional for me, because I recognize many of the patterns of  behavior within myself, and they are attributes I have long tried to re-direct into healthy directions.  This is an attempt to show that there are many powerful feelings we must contend with, as humans, but that there is a better way than the traditional harass and hide behind the wall of silence and shame that harassment puts victims behind.  There are better ways to pursue what we want, and to get it some of the time, without hurting people.

—–

While I don’t really look to meet people much, sometimes it just happens.  Sometimes you meet people you like at a conference or at work, sometimes they read your blog and then start chatting you up, and sometimes there is just a person in your life who, after being around for some time, starts to become a person you really care about or desire strongly.  In some cases, they reciprocate your interest, and sometimes they don’t (or they do but perhaps not in all the ways you would like).  And when it works out, it’s great!  When you meet someone and have chemistry flowing both ways and both can fulfill desires together, it’s a great and beautiful thing.  We should pursue those things in those circumstances.

But then there are the times when you aren’t sure.  You are into them, they seem (logically) available, respond to you positively (or so it seems to you), and you want the relationship to go further.   Of course, you should communicate your interest (this is sometimes hard for me, being human and all) and you should be comfortable with a yes, a no, or a maybe.  Also, you should be comfortable with a “yes, but…”, because sometimes shit gets complicated.

Welcome to life among humans.

Today, I want to talk about what it is like to not be able to realize one’s desires.  More specifically, I want to talk about when your desires are not shared by the object of  said desires and yet the desire persists and you feel compelled to act on it.  This is a phenomena that occurs everywhere, to many people.  But even as a polyamorous person there are all sorts of reasons I might not be able to fulfill my needs or desires.  Whether it is because the person you desire is monogamous, too far away, or they just aren’t into you in the way that you want them to be (or at all).  Whatever the reason, there are ways to handle this situation well, and ways to seriously fuck it up (such as dick stumping).  And in the worst of situations you don’t stop pursuing your unrequited desires and you end up harassing people.  That shit needs to stop; like yesterday.

Yay for timely and topical content!

If you meet someone who compels you think some sexual things–for whom you have some deep, primal, natural urges for–it can sometimes be difficult to hold it all together around them if it’s not wanted or shared.  The feeling of wanting to act on it does not merely go away because it’s not reciprocated.  It would be great if it would, but for many people (including myself) it does not go away easily.  Wanting to act on it becomes a distraction, in some cases, and that distraction will often fade in time, but for some….

For some, this becomes a challenge or a goal to achieve rather than a place to re-direct one’s intentions and behavior.   I urge those people to reconsider this reaction because in many cases this impulse is the origin of some behavior–i.e. harassment–which will not be appreciated or appropriate.  I’m saying that if ze is not interested, this is not a cause to break out your charm, your powerful intellect to convince them otherwise, or your position of power to leverage their behavior.  I’m saying, find another way to interact with this person, if at all, if you can’t keep the unwanted thoughts at bay.

Clearly, many people don’t take this advice.

I understand that the emotions pushing you towards satisfying your desires are powerful, but those desires are not aimed at objects; they are aimed at subjects.  You must remember that these people have their own minds, goals, and desires that may not have anything to do with you.  If you are unwilling or unable to do so, then perhaps you should keep your distance and think about something else.  If you are a decent and respectful person, someone else may reciprocate to similar desires, or they may not.  Life is unfair sometimes.  If you keep pushing in a direction that isn’t working, you can only get short term inflated desires at the cost of hurting other people.

Some personal confessions here; for me, the anticipation of a fulfilled fantasy is a powerful motivation and even an aphrodisiac for me.  It’s related to the feeling of NRE, except that it can happen even with people I’ve known for years, and even with people with whom I’ve already fulfilled some desires with (hopefully two-way desires).  Thinking about someone for whom I have strong desires can be a powerful experience, and the idea of acting on that desire is exciting.  But I always am aware that this excitement might be solely mine, and so I tend to be cautious in trying to act on my desires if I am unsure about how it would be taken.  And with few exceptions, usually for the good*, I have succeeded in this caution.

I’m sure I’m not saying anything ground-shaking here.  I’m sure that much of this is shared by many people.  Human beings are complicated, and our desires sometimes seek to push us in many directions which are potentially inappropriate.  We need to be able to distinguish our desires, which are not a problem in themselves, from our actions, which can be problems.

Of course I’m polyamorous, which adds a layer of complexity to this issue.  With polyamory the desire for variety and new experiences is somewhat mitigated by the presence of the people we have relationships with, but not always.  Sometimes a different specific person, action, etc which you desire cannot be satisfied by just anyone.  Desires, needs, etc are not like a universal fuel that can fill you up by spending time with any person, at least not with all things.  Sometimes specific people evoke unique feelings and satisfy specialized desires that other people, even the people closest to you, simply cannot provide.  In healthy expressions, this can take the form of a specific kink that a specific person shares with you, a hobby or interest that you associate with a particular person, etc.  It can also be as simple as you have been fantasizing about a specific person and only that person can fulfill that desire.  Thus, being polyamorous is not a cure for this problem; harassment happens within polyamorous circles as well.  Being open is not automatic consent, after all.

Sometimes your specific desire will never be fulfilled.  No matter how hard you work, how much you try, or how long you wait.  Sometimes you must leave the desire aside, and do something else.  You cannot allow yourself to rationalize coercion as being acceptable because your desire is too strong (“I can’t help it, baby, you just turn me on so much”).  You cannot rationalize harassing people because you think you can hide it (“whose going to believe you, anyway?”).  You cannot do these things and expect to be a decent human being.  Your desires, no matter how intoxicating and compelling, are not excuses for bad behavior.  That is selfish thinking.

The object of your desire may never reciprocate, and you must be comfortable with that.  It is important to allow your fantasies to have some freedom to indulge themselves, but you must remember that if that fantasy involves another person it may not be possible to satisfy and so maybe you should indulge another fantasy.  If your fantasy is reciprocated and possible to act upon with consent, then that’s wonderful.  Fulfilled fantasies and anticipation rewarded are wonderful things which we should cherish, as they happen infrequently (unless you get really lucky).  But when it becomes clear–and we need to be watching for, and asking questions concerning about, this–that the desire is not reciprocated, we need to be prepared to shift our focus immediately and  appropriately.

These days, I find myself in a situation where I have some hopes, fantasies, and anticipations which may (or may not) come to fruition over the next few months.  I find that I am enjoying the hoping and imagining, but I also have to keep in mind that some of these hopes may never materialize because they may not be shared or possible.  And while that may disappoint me, I can survive this without emotional implosion (or dick stumping) because I have many kinds of desires.

The people I have sexual desires for are more than sex objects for me.  In addition to thinking about them sexually (and I do), I also try to also develop non-sexual desires which include them.  If they don’t want to get busy doin’ it, then we can be friends and allies.  Will that suck a little? sure.  But I must approach people for whom I have desires with the attitude that even if all my desires cannot become real, there are all sorts of ways that the people that I desire can be important parts of my life, short of my hopes.  And sometimes this may mean that we simply go our separate ways too.  That has to be OK as well.

If the only desire I have for someone is sexual, I better be damned sure I communicate that and be ready to hear a “no” before setting myself up for a situation I’d like to act on it.  If my hopes are multi-faceted, I can allow the relationship to just be what it is.  If they want to bone (yeah, I went there), then we can bone.  If they want to be be friends, close or not, then that is something I can appreciate as well.   But there is no room for coercion here.  There is no room in my life for pushing in a direction that is pushing back against me.  There is no room in my life for harassment.  There is no excuse for harassment, with all the varieties of people, interests, and things to do in the world.  There is a healthy way to pursue your desires, and harassment is not one of them.

I wish that all people felt the same.  Because while I share many of the desires and impulses which I imagine those who have been harassing also feel, I have enough compassion, respect, and consideration to not allow those desires to control my behavior (and I hope it stays that way).  That is, all the hardware and software for harassment exist within me, but somehow I have grown past that and learned to use those desires in healthier ways.  How unaware, how selfish, and how cowardly…how flawed and human…do these people have to be to have kept up the behavior for so long?

I will not allow myself to rationalize trying to “convince” or coerce people to fulfill my desires.  I will not convince myself that I’m just wearing down their uncertainty about what they really want (ugh).  That is a mistake I learned early, and which ended up hurting someone I cared about many years ago.  And so rather than having an awesome and interesting friend, I have a person who will not talk to me anymore.  I have acted in such a way that they no longer trust me, let alone consider me a friend anymore (let alone a lover).  What did my attempts accomplish? And what have the many people, now being named in the skeptic community, who have harassed people they worked with accomplish? At most, it gave them a power rush at pursuing, at the cost of another person’s happiness.

Worth it?

For these and many other reasons those people who have acted poorly have my sympathy, but not nearly as much sympathy as I have for those they mis-treated.  My anger is directed at you, harassers, but that anger is mostly fueled by the potential for the same that exists within me.  I am angry at our many human flaws, because they are what hurt us.  Knowing that had I had a different past, one where I was not exposed to introspection, compassion, and (yes) feminism early, I might have been more like you is humbling and terrifying.  I hope you will all take this as a learning experience, rather than as a time to dig deeper and make excuses through lawsuits and further lying and hiding behind a system that has protected you (and myself) for so long.

We need to keep challenging ourselves to be better as individuals, as skeptics, and as a culture.  I hope that those being named–and more importantly those not named or those just getting started or who somehow have avoided being called out–will take this as a moment of transformation, rather than rationalization and defensiveness.  After all, we have enough people out there rationalizing their poor behavior already.  We don’t need more swelling their numbers.

—–

A final word, about polyamory.

Polyamory is about more than romance and sex.  The fact is that the women in my life for whom I have hopes are people I genuinely like and want to be closer to, to varying degrees.  If that means we are friends and allies and not lovers, that is a positive things as well (if not a little sucky).  Polyamory is not merely about having more lovers.  It can also be about shifting the way we see desire and how fluid our desires and relationships can be.

There is no need for rush, no compelling anxiety, to pursue a desire now and here if one’s concept of relationship is based in allowing oneself to love, and be loved, by the people in your life as is shared with them.  There are many people that exist in my life, many of them for whom I have strong physical and emotional desires.  But there is no compelling reason to rush towards those desires if they are not reciprocated.  Yes, I feel an anxiety and need inside, but I don’t need to act upon it if it is not shared.  I allow the relationships to be what they are, when they are, because if they are not interested in sharing my desires my pushing will not change that (and if it does, it never brings us closer).  And if they are to change their mind, that will happen by earning their trust by being a decent person, rather than pushing them away through harassment or unwanted solicitations.

While swimming in the sea of the backlash of sexual harassment which has been plaguing the skeptic community of late (again, summary here), I can’t help but think how terrible it is that some people cannot see others around them to whom they are attracted as more than just fantasies to try and procure.  If the people who find themselves wanting what may not be possible would understand that there is more to the fantasy than just sex, especially when that is only possible through coercion, then sexual harassment would be vanishingly rare ( oh, what a nice world that would be!).  Of course, part of the problem, at least in some cases, is probably the desire to conquer, to have power, and to coerce is more powerful than basic empathy.  If that’s the case, then I don’t know what the solution is.

I fear that some people share many of the inner desires that I do, but do not share the capability for empathy that I have.  That is a truly scary thought.

*A point of honesty; I have times in my past crossed appropriate lines, and these acts haunt me from time to time.  The important thing here is that we learn from these actions and grow as people, rather than hide them and allow them to become a secret that we hide from, until they are exposed.  There are quite a few people in the Skeptic community who may wish they had considered that a long time ago, these days.

Harassment and sex-positivity June 19, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
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So, Wes put this post up about how honesty is hard a couple of days ago. And, as usual, people seem to get pissed off about what Wes says.  No news there.  It’s one of the things I like about Wes; while I don’t always agree with him, he does not sugar coat his opinions.  He has strong and often unpopular opinions and he does not veil them, and I find this attribute respectable.

Speaking of which, a commenter of that post embedded this video, which I shall put here because it is quite good, and creates a language to talk about communication in this context:

Speaking of comments; since Wes linked to a post by Jadehawk in his post, Jadehawk has subsequently posted a response to Wes.  I read it today, and my impression is that emotions are getting in the way of clear communication and understanding (it happens), and I posted this comment (currently awaiting moderation):

Jadehawk,

I think that there is a bit of misunderstanding occurring here.  I know Wes fairly well, and I think you may be misunderstanding the message intended in his post.  I cannot speak for him, but being around him frequently and sharing more than a few opinions with him, I can say that your representation of him here is at least partially in error.  Libertarian? lol….

In my view, lack of clear communication is indeed a form of dishonesty.  What seems clear to a communicator is not necessarily clear to the listener.  And while I personally try to be generous with interpretation, sometimes a follow-up direct question is relevant to make sure I am getting the intended message.  I didn’t see you asking for clarification above where ambiguities in language could have led to you understanding Wes’ intentions better.  I saw you running with less-than-ideal interpretations.  I don’t think you did so intentionally.

It is not a lack of impulse control that is at issue here, as I see it.  What is at issue here is that we need to be honest with ourselves with what we actually want, and if we are going to seek a desire that involves another person, we need to be unambiguous about it. That is, once we have decided that this is not a time to reign in an impulse we have (assuming, indeed, that we have free will), we need to be direct about it because veiling our intentions is a form of lying, even if it a common and socially accepted form of lying.  The question is whether this socially accepted form of lying is something we, as rational, skeptical, people, should perpetuate or not.  I think the answer is no, and you may or may not agree with me. That is a discussion worth having.

So, I think we all need to be direct and honest, to not veil our interest, and to learn (as a society) to get used to hearing and answering that honesty (Have you sen The Invention of Lying?).  And while this does not have to include cold hitting on, it may include that.  And I agree that a conference about atheism/skepticism is not be the best place for such cold approaches, if that is indeed what a person wants there is nothing disrespectful about doing it.  It just is unlikely to succeed, so a smart person may put off, temporally, that expressed desire  That is, they do not pretend to have another goal, they just might put off communicating it until introductions and other conversational things are established.  I personally would not coldly approach someone for sex, as my desires do include to get to know someone a bit better before asking for such a thing, but I certainly would not think less of a person for doing otherwise than what I personally want.  I find such directness refreshing, mature, and very respectable.

Some people’s boundaries exist elsewhere.  Some people WANT or even DEMAND direct and blunt questions, and others want some issues to be rarely if ever addressed.  The issue of whose boundaries we accept as the default is not so easy as you seem to argue above.  Why defer to a lower threshold of boundaries, which infringe on those with higher thresholds?  A case needs to be made for that (And I accept that such an argument may exist.  I just have not seen one I find convincing).

The issue is this.  There is a real tension between the important issue of harassment by disrespectful people and sex positivity.  The reason this tension exists is that there is a continuum that stretched from assault on one extreme and enthusiastic consent on the other.  In the middle are things like harassment, being extremely annoying, being amusingly annoying, finding the proposition interesting but not compelling, considering the proposition seriously, accepting it, etc.  The line between unwanted attention and wanted attention will differ, greatly, for different people.

For example, a person coming up to me and putting their arm around me, telling me they think I’m cute, and inviting me to their room for sex crosses no line for me.  It does not matter their gender (I’m heterosexual and male), attractiveness, etc.  I will either say no, perhaps (and discuss what we’re into to see if we’re compatible), perhaps some other time, or “yes! let me get my stuff and I’ll be right with you.”  (Yes, yes, I have privilege which makes this situation non-threatening to me, but I know many women who feel the same way).  For other people, this situation would be harassment.  That’s a problem.

Because leaving out extreme examples, there will be cases where what I find acceptable is considered unacceptable by others.  Clear, unambiguous, blunt questions and answers are the only way to be sure.  And because of our social values of politeness, this is, indeed, hard.

But I am not Wes, so I cannot speak for him.

And, indeed, I am not Wes.  I imagine that he would have a different answer than I would, and we may ultimately disagree about this issue. Disagreement is not bad, however.

My major concern here is that in this larger discussion about how to implement harassment policies (and I think that the OpenSF policies Greta linked to there are quite good), we may possibly run into a real tension between harassment and healthy sexuality.  For example, in the G+ hangout video from a few days ago, the question was raised about whether speakers at conferences should be encouraged or even barred from having sexual relationships with attendees:

You don’t have to watch he whole video, but you should if you are interested in this topic.  The relevant bit starts around 53:10 of the video, where Dan Finke raises the issue about Jen McCreight’s suggestion about having speakers be “out of bounds” (Dan’s wording) for sexual activity at conferences.  Watch the conversation for yourself, and you will see that some people agree with this suggestion.  I agree with Rebecca Watson’s view, that there should be no barrier between any adults at conferences about sexual activity, while others (namely PZ himself), seem to agree with Jen.

This demonstrates, for me, that there is a real tension in this conversation about where the practical and possibly ideal line between harassment and appropriate sexuality in the skeptical/atheist community exists.  This conversation is not just about dealing with harassment–although that issue is the primary and essential issue which needs to be addressed.  But this conversation is also about the line between appropriate and inappropriate sexual activity even where harassment does not exist, and we need to admit that this is part of the issue.

Do I have any certain answers? No.  Do I think that this discussion will lead towards a de-sexualization of conferences? No.  Do I think there will be continued issues about where the line between inappropriate/appropriate sexual activity is? Yes. Do I think sex negativity and sex positivity are relevant issues to discuss in relation to the larger issues? Yes.

Harassment needs to be dealt with unambiguously, swiftly, and as openly as possible without unnecessarily naming specific people.  If and when we successfully deal with implementing harassment policies, there should be more conversation about the problem of sexual activity, appropriate times and places for it, and the issue of differing boundaries and how to deal with them.

I think that the skeptic.atheist community is full of smart and capable people, but  I also think that our culture is rife with ideas about communication which are compatible with conservative (or at least out-dated) modes of sexuality.  We need to think about how the relationship between how we communicate and how we think about relationships affects us.  The conservative hetero-monogamous model of sex is steeped in polite, veiled communication which is quickly becoming obsolete, and I don’t think the atheist/skeptic community is fully aware of this.

One of the first things I learned about how to be polyamorous (which is true even if you are not), is that you need to communicate your needs and desires directly, and that you need to be able to say yes or no clearly, according to your desires. We need to practice saying no, saying yes, and asking for and hearing what is wanted.

Saying “no” can be hard for some people.  Saying “yes” can be hard for others.  Asking for a clear yes or no is hard for most people.  We need to get over this value of ambiguity as a society if we are to grow up, whether we are privileged or not.

As I keep saying, the atheist/skeptic community has a lot to learn from the polyamory community.