[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, anyway — there are 5 others whose identities are unknown to me, at their choosing), I believe that publishing this serves not only me, but also the two parties redacted below, and our community at large for two reasons.
First, I think it’s important for us to consider our model of restorative justice. Establishing common vocabulary and practices as we respond to wrong-doing in our community is a strong first step in responding to survivors and also to providing a support network for the people who have harmed them, which, I cannot stress enough, is a fundamental pre-requisite to healing both parties, and encouraging a culture where accountability can flourish and thrive. I won’t speak to Wes’ intentions in his communication with me, because I cannot know them — a theme that will be repeated below. However, I think it’s important to acknowledge that apology is neither desired nor helpful when it takes place under the circumstances under which he and I find ourselves. I plan to write more about restorative justice once I have had time (and some recuperation from a pretty harrowing week) to reflect, and look forward to others in the community joining me in that reflection.
Second, I am currently one of only two (now) persons speaking against Wes’ actions publicly. The other individuals who have reported him have done so anonymously, and to speak up on their own behalves would reveal their identities before they feel ready and properly supported to do so. Since two of those individuals are known to me and have given their approval for my limited defense of their positions below, I feel that amplifying their voices insofar as I can is necessary.
I hope that anyone reading this will approach it constructively, and that I can find the energy and resources to continue in this dialogue in full view of the public with the transparency and honesty the conversation warrants. My words appear in italics below, and engrossed comments are indented to aid in clarity.
PART THE FIRST
Subject: I’m Sorry
Note to [Hilary’s Partner]: it’s my understanding that these emails go to you. I’ve sent this to the 3 email addresses I have for Hilary. I’m not sure which one she uses now, if any. Please use your best judgment about whether to show her.
Hilary: if you’re reading this and it somehow didn’t get caught in your filter, please forward it to [Hilary’s Partner] for his review and delete it. I’ve left some space below so that you will hopefully not see any writing that you don’t want to see.
I read your blog post today, and you identified a few things that I would like to apologize for. Most significantly, I am sorry for slapping your backside without your consent. I don’t recall the details of the situation or what caused me to believe that it was appropriate at the time, but in any case that is not something that’s ok to do without explicit consent. I will not be trusting any intuitions I have regarding that sort of thing in the future. If you can think of a way that I can make amends, I welcome your suggestions.
Thank you for acknowledging that you struck me without my permission. While this does not undo this assault on my person, I am glad you are willing to be honest that you engaged in this behavior.
More broadly, I’m sorry that I was so bad at interpreting our communications. Throughout our friendship, I was confident that, while we sometimes had disagreements, we were also comfortable with showing vulnerability, expressing our emotions to each other, and letting each other know when something was bothersome or unwelcome. I shouldn’t have been confident about that because, based on what you are saying, it appears that I was totally incorrect and we did not have the relationship I thought. I’m not sure how to guard against that in the future, but I will think about it and I welcome any suggestions that you have.
My thoughts and suggestions for this will appear engrossed near the end of your second email, regarding the importance of cultivating a culture that encourages uncoerced consent practices around you, rather than simply consent-positive language. I hope you will take those suggestions seriously, and in the spirit of generosity and charity in which I offer them. It was not an easy thing for me to draft.
My plan now is just to ask people if I’m correct about what I think in that regard, but I am worried that will not be enough. Likewise, if you can think of anything beyond an apology that will help make amends, I am open to suggestions.
I am sorry that I did these things, and you ended up hurt because of it. I am not interested in having any kind of relationship with you (nor, I’m sure, are you with me), but I feel that an apology is called for regardless, as you identified some things that I did wrong. I hope that in time, you can forgive, but it is not something I expect.
I think, perhaps, that forgiveness is not the most relevant consideration in circumstances like these. I have a great deal to say on that score. I am going to be dedicating some time over the next few weeks to do some research and reading before I pen my thoughts. If you would like my reading list, it contains the following titles:
My financial resources are (as anyone who reads this blog knows) pretty thin, but I am hoping to acquire copies of those three volumes and spend some of my lengthy commutes dedicated to developing some guidelines and suggestions for how the poly community can move forward, invest themselves in a culture that promotes primary prevention, and to augment my own thoughts and feelings as I recover from the events of 2014.
PART THE SECOND
Subject: Request for An Apology
Header [Identical to above header]
My responses are engrossed below. – hn
I am writing this separately from my apology to you for two reasons. One, because my apology stands by itself and is not contingent upon any sort of apology from you. Two, so [Hilary’s Partner] has the option of showing you one of them, but not the other. As you probably know, I wrote a post on how to ask for apologies today, and in that spirit, I am attempting to do this in the most constructive way possible.
As you likely know from my previous email, I read your blog today, and I feel that you have wronged me. In your blog, you said that I raped two of your friends. I assume you’re talking about Ginny [who has given me, Hilary, permission to reveal her identity in this post] and [REDACTED].
This is interesting, as you are publicly claiming you don’t know the source or content of the reports against you, and have openly accused me of dishonesty. An accusation which casts your above apology to me in somewhat confusing light. That you have, above and elsewhere stated I am being purposefully dishonest in my account is also a disservice to the seven other people who have come forward anonymously to the Poly Leadership Network and Relationship Equality Foundation to name you for a variety of behaviors that constitute misconduct and violation of autonomy.
You know that the situation with Ginny was merely an accident,
There are elements of responding to this I must, out of respect for Ginny, not say. She will be posting her account under a nom de plume later today, and that account will be linked here so that her voice can be the voice that tells her story, rather than mine. However, I can say the following: As you know, I don’t believe any act of sexual violation occurs accidentally. It happens as a result of negligence at its absolute lowest degree. As I’m sure you know, intention is not required in the legal definition of rape. You don’t need to intend to rape someone to have raped them. This was an incident of rape. Moreover, the perpetrator of a rape is absolutely never the person who gets to decide or define what happened to their victim. Your swiftness to do so tips the hand of your entitlement to name, redescribe, and co-opt the experiences of others. This behavior merely reinforces the likelihood that you have done this with others, and will likely continue in this behavior. This is not what accountability looks like. Until you take accountability for your actions, your portion of the journey to apologies, forgiveness, or restorative justice is incomplete. For the survivors reading this, I cannot stress this emphatically enough: The person or people who hurt you are not the people who decide the content of your experience, or your right to name it. You decide those things.
and that the situation with [REDACTED] was a misunderstanding.
I have read the email exchange between you and [partner of REDACTED], and at times Gina. There is no part of this that reads to me as a misunderstanding. I am not at liberty to disclose specifics of that text, or of the things that [REDACTED] has related to me about the event in question. I have promised her my confidence, and I will not break that confidence merely to argue with you. It is again, not up to you to name [REDACTED]’s experiences. You violated her egregiously. I will note here, that you assert in your “apology” to [REDACTED] that she was the aggressor, which was firstly false, and secondly a highly questionable tactic in anything one might call an apology, given what we know about victim-blaming behavior. I will also add that [REDACTED] in no way believes that her experience was a misunderstanding, and has explicitly requested I echo her sentiments here, verbatim. I am proud of her.
Particularly, your treatment of the situation with [REDACTED] leaves me feeling gaslit and invalidated. As you know from reading my response to [partner of REDACTED] when he first told me how [REDACTED] felt, that was a situation wherein both parties (yes, including me) consented to sexual activity that we didn’t actually want to be having.
[REDACTED]’s silence was not a yes. I don’t feel that both parties consented, because they didn’t. It is possible neither party consented, but that does not remove your accountability for your actions. If you feel traumatized by the experience you had with [REDACTED], I will extend the same resources I would extend to any person in that position. The crisis hotline can be reached at 1800273TALK and the therapist finder at psychologytoday.com is an excellent resource. Under other circumstances I would offer you guidance in that search, but we are not under other circumstances. I am sure that the other supports in your life (or frankly, [NAME OF THERAPIST], she’s an excellent resource and would almost certainly agree to see you) can aid you in that search should you require it. I hope if you are hurting because of that experience, you seek the help and support anyone with trauma requires.
Your description of the event says that really, I wanted it, and invalidates my internal experience, about which you couldn’t possibly know.
I have never stated anything about what you wanted. I said you raped two of my friends, which you did. That your internal state was conflicted at the time is something I can neither know nor falsify. I cannot speak for your experience. But I do know that regretting your actions or letting things get out of hand does not absolve you of, or alter the content your actions.
You talk all the time about how it’s important to believe people when they say they didn’t want the sex they had, yet when it’s me, you call me a liar and a rapist.
You have raped, intentionally or not, as I’ve established. You are also now denying it, and state misleading details, and omit pertinent information. While perhaps “lying” is too close to a statement of your intentions, your words are not what I would call Truthful. Nowhere, in the account on my blog, does the word “lie” or “Liar” occur. The only use of the word “dishonest” is a charge you leveled against me, not me against you. I do note moments of deliberate micromanagement, but that it was deliberate was made clear when I compared what actually happened to what was reported to me by you and Gina what was happening. Moreover, that deliberate micromanagement occurred at Gina’s hands, not yours. Even in this email, I have not said you are lying. But your words, based on the information I have, are not truthful. It is entirely possible that your perceptions are simply subject to groupthink and confirmation bias.
That is wrong. You could have acknowledged that the experience was different for [REDACTED] without invalidating my experience.
I never spoke about your experience. I spoke of your actions. I have been truthful and as impartial as possible regarding your actions, and have also chosen carefully what I shared and what I omitted out of the remaining respect I am capable of harboring for you as a fellow human being, and also out of respect for the experiences of the people you have hurt.
I wish you would have referenced the situation as something [REDACTED] experienced as an assault, and not referenced the situation as a rape, which has a particular state-of-mind associated with it that I did not possess.
The definition of rape vs. sexual assault is not a distinction that relies on intent. You had unlawful sexual contact. Intention and state-of-mind are immaterial. Moreover, your response, upon being called to accountability for both instances has been not the response I would expect of someone who valued consent or an atmosphere conducive to people feeling free to tell you no.
The same applies to the situation with Ginny, although invalidating my experience there is significantly less harmful, as it was merely a clumsy mistake on my part, and not a situation in which I felt I had no meaningful choice but to consent to sex that I didn’t want to have.
It is not my job, nor my inclination to validate your experiences.
I also feel wronged by the way you used my vulnerability against me. Throughout our friendship, I opened up to you completely, because I felt that you welcomed it. I talked to you about my insecurities and fears in ways that I have not been able to do to other people. In your blog, you used my communications regarding my vulnerabilities about sex and weight to suggest that I was intentionally pressuring you or propositioning you, or to suggest that I was using my legitimate concerns to try to talk you into bed. I do not dispute that you may have felt pressured, but any time I was aware of you feeling pressured, I made efforts to keep any pressure as low as possible while still being honest.
So, you were aware you were pressuring me, and instead of removing that pressure, you privileged your own desire to disclose over my repeatedly expressed desires to be free from sexual pressure from you. That is not emotional intimacy; that is emotional exploitation. You want me to apologize for sharing my report against you, which you have publicly asked the PLN and your victims to do, as have your partners, because I related things you actually said and did that eroded my boundaries and my belief in my own worth in your efforts to either have sexual contact with me, or simply to express your desire to have sexual contact with me. I might counter with the following, why did you, Wes, use /my/ vulnerabilities against me in an effort to touch me sexually, ask for my account, and then request an apology that I complied with that request?
I exposed those vulnerabilities to you because I thought it was safe to do so. I thought you were one of the only people who wouldn’t judge me for them, and who wouldn’t use them against me. I thought you welcomed the emotional intimacy I showed you, and that (I thought) you showed me back.
I believe it is important to emphasize the difference between emotional intimacy and emotional exploitation. You have admitted, just now, to emotionally exploiting me, above. You placed your own desires for emotional validation (and seem to continue to have the expectation I will provide that validation) in priority over my explicit requests that you leave the ball in my court and let me come to you if my feelings for you changed, which they did not. Moreover, your other behaviors toward me, specifically the occasion on which you struck me, and your ongoing prying into the progression of intimacy with Gina, indicated a willingness to place me in sexual situations you knew at the time I did not desire with you, and an overall disrespect for my sexual boundaries and autonomy. I do welcome emotional intimacy. I do not welcome emotional exploitation, which is what was happening here. My willingness to voice that is not something for which I will apologize.
I trusted you, and you have abused and weaponized that trust in a hyperbolic effort to damage me.
Just as I can’t know your intentions, you cannot know mine. Though I do state them, explicitly in my blog. I will repeat them, here. “It appears that the small steps take recently to alert the community that abusive dynamics were taking place in their midst, and facilitate the kind of support that people who abuse others require to change their behavior have backfired, and I am now being obliquely targeted on social media as a result.” I am doing nothing here with you that you have not actively encouraged others to do in our community. Please do not tell me how I am feeling, or what my goals are. I have extended that courtesy to you, and fully expect it in return. If you do this again, dialogue between us will close.
I wish that you had found a way to make the point you wanted without misrepresenting my feelings or intentions.
Again I will note that I am completely mute on the topic of your feelings or intentions. I say not one word about what I believe you intended or felt. It was hard to write what I wrote, in part because I had to focus solely on actions and facts, on what people actually said, wrote, and did, rather than my speculations about their feelings and actions. I don’t even relate that the things you or your family have done or put me through (in my blog) were intentional. They could easily, easily be the product of very unwell, unhealthy relationship expectations and dynamics. I don’t comment on that, because I can’t know that, and I’m not qualified to comment on it. All I did in my blog was name my experiences, and state a small collection Your (plural) actions and words. I am not misrepresenting anything, nor did I weaponize your trust. I related my experience, and here, you try to co-opt, redescribe, and leverage those experiences in your favor once again.
You could easily have made the point that I did things that resulted in you being pressured without saying that it was on purpose or some kind of deliberate attempt at manipulation.
I am not sure you are aware of this, so I will state it clearly: The price of conflict with you, in my wide experience, is too high. It is too high because you do not consistently hear a report of someone’s feelings and reactions at face value and say, “I respect that.” You in fact, create an atmosphere in which every disagreement from the very small to the very substantial, requires preamble, a full defense of one’s feelings and experiences, and a level of emotional bandwidth and time availability I don’ t think many human beings can sustain. Your behavior when someone relates that you have hurt them actively discourages them from relating that you have hurt them in the future, because the cost of that hurt is /lower/ than the cost of the conflict.
This is why it is difficult when you frame relationships in terms of what people “want” because often, calculated into those wants is “can I withstand the way this person engages in conflict” and often, the answer is “very little is worth the price of that conflict.” You saw me tag out of conflict with you on numerous occasions stating exhaustion, depletion of emotional resources, frustration, and disappointment. Why, based on this pattern, would you place the expectation on others to come to you first? The atmosphere you create discourages open discourse, and raises the stakes of any communication wherein a boundary is placed far above the price of that boundary being violated. You create circumstances where people tell you Yes, because they just can’t argue anymore. This means that you cannot trust the Yes in your life, because people are too exhausted to tell you No. This is not the fault of the people not saying No. The burden of that failure rests on your shoulders for creating an environment in which No costs too much. This is why you are suddenly flooded with reports for consent infractions. You simply don’t accept “No” as a response to the things you want, and a lot of the time, you don’t even ask first. You do things, like pull girls on to your lap or initiate physical contact without asking, perhaps unaware that people feel that your company is hostile to them saying “No.” So while you often rely on people’s honest and contemporaneous statement of No, you are (perhaps unknowingly) discouraging them from saying that No.
One need not intend to be manipulative to manipulate others. It is very often the case that manipulative dynamics are not purposeful, but are rather the byproduct of maladaptive communication models. I am open to that possibility, here. However that it may or may not have been purposeful does not change the fact that manipulation occurred. Whether it was an unintentional mistake to get covert needs met or a calculated campaign to erode my boundaries is immaterial, and really would only speak to the severity of the transgression, not its facticity.
I would like an apology from you. In the spirit of my blog post, I am open to dialogue on any of these points, and I am not certain that my interpretations of your actions are correct. I am open to correction or further explanation on any of these points.
I have tried to be as kind, concise, and open as I possibly can be with someone who has violated me and others so terribly. While I remain open to respectful dialogue, I will not tolerate further sloughing of responsibility for your choices. If that behavior continues, dialogue between us will close. I will not consider return communication that is respectful and accountable as a violation of APW’s requests, as I have given my permission for you to contact me only in reference to these items. If you feel you cannot comply with these conditions, I urge you to consider the APW’s requests from you, and perhaps workshop your feelings with someone qualified.
I did not include this bit in my apology email:
There were times, when Gina and I made steps toward intimacy that it was clear he was on the other side of the door, occasionally cracking jokes. I reiterated to him consistently how I felt about this disruptive behavior, and he would often play it off like I was being too serious.
I don’t recall this. If you are willing to provide more details, it may help my recollection. In any case, if it happened the way you recall, I am sorry, as that behavior, the way you describe it, sounds inappropriate.
I will not embarrass myself (or Gina) by relating these circumstances at the request of the person who left me feeling sexually violated. To have asked this at all is wildly inappropriate, and I will not have the details of any sexual experience of mine related to you upon your request privately or publicly, ever. If an investigative third party would like those details, I will provide them. It is not appropriate for someone reported for sexual violation to take on an investigative role with the person who feels victimized.
I consent to you publishing any of my written communications that you wish, with the only caveat that the full exchange be published, not just cherry-picked lines. If you wish to publish something in one of our several-hundred-line text exchanges, just please include a reasonable amount of messages on both sides of the referenced one to give context.
Duly noted. – HN