ICYMI I proposed, we’re eloping, also life is great.

So Thomthulhu and I have been discussing marrying this coming winter for the better part of the last five or six months.  Shortly after moving to Philadelphia, we planned our elopement in seven minutes in the freezing cold, waiting for the 42 bus.

A proposal was something of an afterthought, especially given how T and I feel about betrothal in general.  Once you decide you’d both like to get married, that’s it.  You’re affianced.  I did want to do something to give us a reason to celebrate our choice, so I bought myself a ring I like, and asked him to be the extraordinary human who would replace the Self-Marriage (a story for another day, perhaps?) bands I’ve worn consistently on my right hand for the better part of three or four years.  He was pleasantly surprised, and this happened: Engaged!

We called a few friends and family members first, then announced it on social media, to the resounding support, pleasure, and happiness of the folks who love us.  My ring was hand made in Scotland by Sarah Brown and is significant to Thomthulhu and I for a wide variety of reasons.  So.  He is my extraordinary human.  There are also other relationships in my life that are central, important, and irreplaceable that are likely to continue to grow, but Thomthulhu brings out my best self, and I cannot help but to orbit him.  Nor do I want anything different.  He also encourages me to seek out the human contact I desire with whomever I choose, and values my ability to establish deep and lasting relationships with people, without reservation.  I have learned more recently to listen more closely and more heavily weight his instincts about people in my life.  He is rarely incorrect, I’ve found.

As friends of ours slog through the difficult initial stages of a likely closed triad, he and I have had occasion to revisit aspects and events in our own relationship as we try to generate helpful insight for our loved ones.  It’s been daunting, but ultimately good for everyone involved.  One of those friends will be joining our household a week from now, and we are thrilled to make our home her home as well.  Good thing she likes cats and doesn’t object to nudity.  Though Thom did say, “I love her so much I’d wear pants in the house.”  A glowing bit of praise, that.  Those three beautiful friends plus Our Dearest Sam will be the entirety of the guest list for our impending Philadelphian faux-lopement this Winter.  Our photographs will be taken with Instagram and Instax Minis by ourselves and our four guests. The rest of those plans are a complete secret, and won’t be public knowledge until after the thing is done and I do a re-cap.

New Job is completely excellent.  One-tenth the stress for a third more take-home pay is… that’s some good math. I’m also using my brain on hard problems every day.  I make my own schedule, and I’m preparing to negotiate down to three days in the office during the Autumn, and down to two days on site starting this Winter.  The commute is honestly the worst part of the job, and that’s saying a lot considering how some folks feel about what they do five days a week for money and to whom they report for the same.  I keep screwing up our finances, because I need a digital babysitter, so I’m taking a page from Ginny’s book and signing up for Mvelopes.

I’m due to watch their budgeting boot camp videos this week to feel more adulty, and to feel better about my upcoming tattoo as a responsible but fun choice.  It’s a full sleeve and then some (likely extending from my left breast  or shoulder blade to eventually the back of my left hand probably omitting my underarm because no part of me is into that), so it’s going to be at least 4 or 5 sessions with Jasmine at Spirited Tattooing Coalition.  I also have like, a wee wedding to take care of by mid-December?  What.

ICYMI I proposed, we’re eloping, also life is great.

No one ever listens / This wallpaper glistens / Don’t let them see what goes down in the kitchen

[CW: fallout, manipulation, the usual, me basically not giving a shit anymore]

So I’ve been working more on choreography for a burlesque number to Melanie Martinez’ Dollhouse. (The song is great, please do give it a listen, it’s hot sh*t and right up my alley). The number is meant to express what it feels like waking up to the fact that you’re eyeballs deep in some f*cked up manipulative and exploitative relationship dynamics and realizing right then that you have to GTFO with a quickness.  I’m finding that it is effecting me a lot more than I expected it to, emotionally.  It’s funny how music and movement can dredge the floor of my heart in ways that dialogue and thought can’t.

Everyone thinks that we’re perfect / Please don’t let them look through the curtains…
There was, and is, such a culture of this weird mix of secrecy and transparency in my former polycule.  The expectation was that all communication was either potentially or actually shared communication.  An email to my partner nearly always ended up in the hands of everyone else in the family, as well as my metamours.  It was often confusing, because I wondered at the time (being new to polyamory) if I wasn’t seeing some sort of primacy privilege in action.  After all — My partner was never included, even though my metamours, sometimes even more remote metamours, were, and usually without asking first.  Meanwhile, vital information was often kept from me.  I was told provably false things were true.  I was left to discover it after I exited those relationships.  Meanwhile, I was expected to voice conflict and difficult feelings and boundaries often long before I was able to articulate them clearly.  Waiting until I had the words to express myself was labeled as “dishonest” and an affront to “intimacy.” (I’ll revisit that last bit in a second)

This was hard for me, because that’s typically not how I begin my problem solving process.  I often need to talk and feel through my first iteration of a conflict or set of responses with someone (usually not the person who has hurt or upset me) before I have a good handle on what’s bothering me, why, and what I would like to happen with it.  It was made extra hard for me because the double standard was so glaring and I was trying so hard to believe it wasn’t there.  I was an emotional resource to the entire household.  Not a day went by where I wasn’t fielding W’s worries/concerns/anger with G re: S, G’s frustrations/resentment/criticisms about J/A, and constantly, constantly processing and absorbing Everyone’s Feelings about S, even after I finally said: “This is hurting me and isn’t healthy for me and I need it to please stop.”  I filled this role for everyone, and that was okay, sorta — I’m often that person for people.  But when I needed breaks or had limits, when I needed my first pass to take place in safe space, that was “wrong/secretive/dishonest,” because I hadn’t gone directly to the person with whom I was having conflict or problems.  It was expected and desired that I would be safe space for everyone, but I was admonished constantly for wanting or expecting safe space of my own.  I was instructed to go to them first about /everything/.  This was destabilizing for pretty obvious reasons, and made me worry what other things I might need or want could be wrong or dishonest or unacceptable.  I never used to have problems asking for safe space to field my feelings.  I do, now.

My current support network knows this has become problematic for me in ways it didn’t used to be and is doing their best to reinforce that I deserve that space, and that how I process things is fine and good, and that conflict doesn’t have to occur on just one person’s set of terms.  I’m allowed to slow down.  I’m allowed to wait until I feel good about what I want to say.  I’m allowed to talk it out with friends first.  I’m allowed to set time limits on the amount of emotionally heavy content I can handle.  I’ve come to recognize that my former polycule leveraged my lack of experience with polyamory as a tool to shape me into the emotional support they desired and needed without the cost of reciprocity, or respect for my individuality.  The unacknowledged power  differential here served to isolate me from people “outside” of the family — often including my own partner, and also to undermine my belief that the things that made me different (and me) were things to be celebrated and embraced, and instead required correction and training.

D-O-L-L-HOU-S-E / I see things that nobody else sees…

One time, I was looking at moving.  I had dreamy eyes set on Northwest Philadelphia (which in retrospect I am so glad I didn’t pursue because HOLY COMMUTE PLUS FAR AWAY FROM EVERYTHING) and also Downtown Wilmington which was closer to all of my respective partners and loved ones at the time, but also within walking distance of my job.  My resources were limited, and it was the very initial stages of looking.  W suggested that I get an apartment with A (one of his partners) and that we should get an apartment around the corner from the house in Collingswood.  This struck me as really odd at the time — I had met A maybe once or twice.  We had never had a personal conversation.  She worked part time at a drug store, and seemed to have a lot of limitations with financial resources.  I thought she was pretty okay, but she seemed exhausted all the time, and was just leaving a living situation that involved a lot of financial dependence on one side and a lot of exploitative behavior on the other.  I did the math and realized that even adjusting for the differences in rent, living in NJ would also cost me an additional $120 a month, just in tolls getting to work every day.  Combine that with a suggested housemate who was dating a partner of a partner who likely wouldn’t be able to contribute equally to the household, and it was like: that doesn’t work for me.  I told W pretty casually I didn’t want to live in NJ, between the traffic patterns (I had fairly recently been in a pretty serious car accident, wherein a transit bus t-boned my car, totaling it and landing me in the hospital) and driving with the different set up of divided highways in Jersey was pretty stressful.  I also had been pretty clear that I wanted to try living alone, if I could.  It didn’t strike me as a big deal at that moment because me moving was about me meeting my needs for living space.

What ensued was a twenty minute argument.  I was accused of being unfair and inconsiderate.  I was irrationally biased against New Jersey (which is odd, because like, my whole extended family lives there? also newsflash: the entire East Coast is Irrationally Biased Against New Jersey).  I was not being reasonable.

I suggested pretty gently that maybe meeting W’s needs and desires and standards didn’t need to be my first priority in selecting a living situation.  He continued to push the issue.  He offered to pay my tolls, if that was the barrier.  I needed to give good reasonable reasons.  I needed to be ‘rational’ about this.  I wasn’t upholding the values of skepticism.  I was making an emotional choice.

This was honestly, pretty normal.  

I was very accustomed to being told that my priorities, desires, and needs were not worthy of respect or space unless I had defended them to the hilt using only arguments W deemed as reasonable.  The valid, well-considered, sound reasons I did have were viewed as “excuses.”  I wasn’t being “honest.”  I believed these things.  I did not see the strangeness of why the husband of my girlfriend would be so attached to the outcome that I live within walking distance of his home, in the company of his new girlfriend, conveniently without my boyfriend/primary partner.  This seemed like (and frankly, was) the Worst Idea in Human History. Between “paying taxes in two states when I don’t have to,”  “what about breakups?” and “uh, your own choices about appropriate living situations haven’t really worked out for you, bro,” and “OMG what if A lost her job or her hours got cut,” and “I don’t even know this person,” and “A might also date G at some point” and “Maybe I need space and time away from my polycule?” and “Are you trying to control me now?”… it was you guys.  THE WORST IDEA IN HISTORY.  WHAT IF I HAD DONE THAT OMG.  I would have just been caught in a lease I couldn’t afford on my own, living with a former partner’s partner, and living a block or two away from, oh my g*ds I can’t even finish.  It was the worst idea.

I couldn’t understand why he acted as though I had rejected not his suggestion, but him and everything he stood for and valued.  I assumed, as I often did, that he was right, and I was wrong, and I had said something deeply offensive to him.  I apologized a lot about “insulting New Jersey” (what, even?) and hurting him.  I then quietly and without ceremony found a decent, affordable apartment 4 blocks from my job in Wilmington and was careful to almost always make sure that I visited W in his own territory or half way, unless he was already in Wilmington for work so that he wouldn’t use my choice of cities against me when he brought up what I’ve loosely labeled “barriers to control intimacy.”  Remember how I said I’d get back to that?  I’m getting there.
The fallout of this, and most arguments like it (there were, friends, SO MANY ALL THE TIME) is that I anticipate conflict over the things I need and want in all corners, even when my dataset shows that I’m unlikely to be placed in that position, and that my people desire to see me feeling empowered, and that the belief is that I know how to run my own sh*t.  For someone that has struggled with appropriate conflict behavior her entire life, seeing it lurking any time I have a preference or make a choice is… not the best outcome for me.  I have some work to do, dismantling that pretty little present my polycule gave me.  I mostly want to smash it with a hammer.  Instead, the people I love are armed with archaeologists’ tools.  They pick and pick and pick, and brush, and carefully excavate me out of this collapsed building.  No cave-ins.  No rock slides.  I’m digging from my side, too.  It’s slow going.  I’m impatient to see the sun.

Hey girl, look at my mom / She’s got it going on — HA! / You’re blinded by her jewelry…

I have lost any meaningful sense of what the word “closeness” means.  I now hear that word as a weapon.  I don’t use it.  I also avoid the word “intimacy”.  Both of them squick me right the f*ck out, and I’m probably irrationally suspicious of people who use them, with /very few and well established exceptions/.

Phrases like, “I don’t foresee an ongoing close relationship if you _____,” and “I can see you don’t desire closeness with me,” and “I feel this is a barrier to intimacy” were like the electric outlets in the walls of my emotional house.  They were so ubiquitous, powered so many things, and used so frequently that I essentially stopped even noticing that they were present or had actual content or form.  Both W and G employed this phrase and ones related to it (“I desire closeness with you,” etc) pretty regularly with me, and often with others in my hearing.  I had never encountered this prior to embarking into polyamory.  I assumed this was part of the new vocabulary I was supposed to be learning.  To this day, I still don’t really know what it meant the way they used it.  I heard it a lot when I tried to place boundaries, or expressed preferences.  It also seemed like a placeholder for the work of problem-solving and trust-building?  I don’t even know.  I haven’t heard those phrases since I left my polycule in June, and I hope to never hear them again.  One of the reasons I find that whole business completely nauseating is that the background assumption is that closeness (oh god blech) with another person (W or G, in my case) was assumed at the gate as more desirable to me than whatever it was I was expressing or asking.  Sure, it’s phrased as simply an outcome of a boundary or preference; but the implication is that it’s an option for me to deprioritize something I’ve stated as necessary in order to continue “closeness” (whatever that meant with my interlocutor).

The two occasions I basically said, “well then that’s fine, I guess, because these things are non-negotiable at this point” I was told that my words were, I’m not kidding, devastating, and that I was a disappointment and owed apologies.  This from people who didn’t believe in obligation or effort, who professed that all relationships were at will, and that we should never do things we don’t want to in service of the people we love.  With all the dialogue about empowering relationships, and empowering the people you love to stand up for the things they want and need as core values — the expectation was that I would continue to suppress my needs and limitations in order to have “closeness” — a concept that had zero content for me.  I would also always communicate perfectly the first time, even when hurt and angry, and never make mistakes.

Places, Places / Get in your Places….

So now, I perfect clockwork and marionette gestures to the beat of my heart in front of a narrow mirror in the Grand Library of Sarnath.  I practice the shibari wraps that show how confining, how limiting, and how controlling this version of polyamory was for me.  As the rope coils around and cuts into my skin and muscle, I remember.  This is how it felt.  Every wrap marks you with tiny spirals from nowhere, long after the rope is gone.  Throw on your dress.  Put on your doll faces.

Hey girl.  Hey Girl.  Girl.  Hey Girl.  Open the walls.  Play with your dolls.  We’ll be a perfect family.  

I will undo this.  We can undo this.  I am finding myself again.  It’s been a long time, but I have a lot of help.

No one ever listens / This wallpaper glistens / Don’t let them see what goes down in the kitchen

Follow-up, Response, and a Call for Restorative Justice

[Content Warnings: Direct contact with Involved Party, references to manipulation, gaslighting, trauma, shared trauma, misdirection, victim-blaming.  Take care of yourselves, friends]

Preamble
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
Header:

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.

[line breaks]

Hilary,

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:

 

The Psychology of Emotion in Restorative Practice 

The Little Book of Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice Dialogue: An Essential Guide for Research and Practice

 

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.  

-Hilary

Wes


PART THE SECOND 


Subject: Request for An Apology

Header [Identical to above header]

My responses are engrossed below. – hn

Hilary,

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.  
H.

 

Addendum 1:

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.  

Addendum 2:

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

Wes

Follow-up, Response, and a Call for Restorative Justice

Abuse, Exploitation, and Narrative Control in Polyamory

[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 immersed in abusive and exploitative relationship dynamics.  You find yourself in a nice, hot bath.  Imagine that the bathtub is deep — deep enough to cover your knees and shoulders comfortably in a half-reclined position.  The water turns on when you lie down in the tub, and turns off automatically when the tub is full.  The water is two shades shy of hot.  At first, it pools at the bottom of the vessel, underneath your body.  It feels a bit strange at first.  It might even sting a little.  But as the water level rises, you adjust to the sensation.  You stop noticing it.  You feel your body becoming buoyant as the water rises, and softly sink to sleep.  Time becomes strange.  You slip in and out of a half-waking state, aware of the rising warmth around you.  Then, suddenly, you fully wake.  Time has passed.  The water is no longer running.  You’re disoriented.  You move, displacing the water close to your skin that your body has kept warm, and realize: your bath has cooled.  You are freezing.  It has been an hour or more, and you’re shaking with cold.

This is what abuse and exploitation can feel like, especially in situations where power differentials are operative, but not acknowledged.  The slow rising of nearly imperceptible change, boundary erosion, vocabulary shift.  I remember the moment that I felt sleep overtake me, the moment that I realized and accepted that nothing made sense and that was just fine.  I also remember the moment I woke up in an ice bath, wondering what the f*ck just happened.

My name is Hilary Nunes.  I come from a background where abuse was operant.  I joined a polycule that consisted of my former girlfriend, Gina Martinelli, her husband, Wesley “Wes” Fenza, and Wes’ other wife, Jessica Orsini.  I left that polycule under extreme duress in June of 2014.  Since that time, Wes has continued to present himself as an authority on predation, abuse, relationship anarchy, and consent in the polyamory community.  He raped two of my friends.  My relationship with Gina can only be described in terms that reflect unacknowledged exploitation.  Jessie has recently publicly admitted that for months after my egress, she failed to comply with requests to remove my image and contact information from public sites relevant to their theater troupe, expressly violating my consent, and also recently named me against my will in a vitriolic post trying to co-opt and malign my experiences.  Wes’ partners have both explicitly and publicly asked me to publish my account of my relationship with their family.  I suspect their motives are not pure.  Their response to other efforts to call their household to accountability for toxic dynamics, bullying, narrative control, and exploitation have been met with the sorts of responses you’d expect from people engaged in toxic dynamics, bullying, narrative control, and exploitation.  I am sharing my story because it has become clear that Wes, Gina, and Jessie are relying on my silence to amplify the message that the reports against them have been fabricated out of bitterness and resentment.

They shame survivors everywhere with these tactics, and I will not, as a survivor myself, a crisis counselor, a former rape crisis advocate, peer educator on sexual and intimate partner violence and control, and primary prevention advocate, countenance this affront to a community that purports to value ethics, consent, and love.

I am about to share a lot of uncomfortable truth and experience.


A great deal of this feels extremely personal and potentially damaging to share in such a public forum.  However, it has come to my attention that my silence is being relied upon to amplify the narrative of people I identify as dangerous.  I write today to tell an abbreviated but far fuller version of the events of 2014.  My hope in doing so is that by speaking my own truth, others with similar experiences will come forward in ways that make sense for them, corroborating the danger and galvanized by my story.  I also hope that organizations will begin to look more closely at who they permit into their ranks, and to act as spokespeople for the poly community. It appears that the small steps taken 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.  It is clear to me that my continued silence only serves the individuals in question, and that they are banking on that silence continuing because of their beliefs about my agency and courage.   I have no desire to remain in conflict with my former polycule.  My policy from the beginning has been that I would only share the details and identities behind the troubling events if asked directly, and even then, have done so as quietly and gently as I could.

As it turns out, I was recently asked directly because of a potential vector of grooming and abuse by several nexuses of leadership, event organization, and conference curators, and could not in good conscience remain silent.  I shared only what I was asked to share, and that narrative did not leave out the points of my own culpability, mistake, and accountability in what transpired.  Most of that narrative appears here, verbatim. Additions have now been made, since a “full account” is required by Wes, Gina, and Jessie, in order for them to consider accountability or amends to their community, let alone to me or the other victims. I have made a heavily edited version of this particular draft available to anyone who asked for my account of what has transpired, and what is now transpiring, in an effort to provide transparency to the loved ones who have questions, the networks to which I belong and am accountable, and in solidarity with the other people who have been touched by this situation.

I will say, briefly, that yes, I was deeply hurt by the way and circumstances under which my relationship with Gina ended.  However, anyone who knows me knows that I have always been fair about relationships ending.  I have never poisoned the well, gone on a public or invasive tirade, or otherwise spoken out of turn about anyone I have dated, even if there was a great deal of hurt.  I do not have a reputation for things like vendettas or smear campaigns. I don’t slash tires, spread rumors… in fact, the opposite is often true.  There were times when it may have been wiser and more kind to myself to speak my own truths sooner, but didn’t out of a desire to protect what was once valuable to me about a relationship.  It is also quite rare for me to sever ties permanently with anyone I once loved.  In fact, it has happened only on two other occasions in my life — both of which were abusive situations, one of which terminated in criminal charges and a conviction.  I’m aware of the rhetoric being used on the other side of this narrative, and I trust in the strength of my reputation and the testament of my character to act as the rock upon which I stand to speak my truth.  For those who find that insufficient, I suggest you mosey; I gat nathin far ya, as my Nan was wont to say.  Harsh ye naught my shine.

The things I am about to share are frightening, both in terms of their rawness, and their ability to expose me to risk, judgment, and frankly, disappointment and further harm.  I took steps this fall to limit Jessica Orsini, Gina Martinelli and Wes Fenza’s ability to contact me directly — my phone number has changed, I’ve moved and kept my new address hidden from public view, and emails from them filter directly to my partner rather than coming to me, with copies saved to an archive folder in my inbox without notifying me.  I have an extensive archive of messages and communications that show a pattern of harassment, exploitation, gaslighting, and manipulation.  I am also not the only one with a copy of those communications, and the people who hold copies have explicit instructions about what to do if anything happens to me. The last time Wes and I had contact, I was threatening legal action to issue a cease and desist to him and his theater company, of which I was once an instrumental member, to have my images and contact information removed from their promotional materials.  That battle was three harrowing months long, and when I threatened to contact a lawyer and the police, he did back down.  I remain pretty confident that he is aware that contact with me is likely to result in harassment charges.  One of his partners was placed in the role of primary contact on that matter, but he remained the website administrator, and there was quite a bit of back and forth on when my image would actually be removed once I threatened legal action.

However, his bullying had a much longer, and I feel a bit darker, history. Honestly, so did Gina’s.  Jessie was a late addition to the party, but her choices to violate my consent after I exited these relationships cemented in my mind that the toxicity of the culture that surrounds the Fenzorsellis encompasses all members, and that my egress should have occurred far sooner.  But I had fallen asleep in the bath tub, in the dark, with no map.  I’ll get to that part, shortly.


While I was dating Wes’ wife Gina, he showed an interest in our journey toward intimacy in a way that felt unhealthy and invasive.  At that time, I valued Wes as a dear friend and ally.  When I mentioned to him that Gina and I both had a lot to unpack before we could both feel good about being sexual with one another and that his pressure and questioning and impatience felt like an added barrier for me, he became manipulative.  He started to label me his Queer Platonic Primary Partner, and stressed to me that anything apart from complete openness and transparency was an affront to the importance and gravity of his relationship with me.  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 also feel strongly that even without my insistence, that behavior alone shows a pathological approach to the autonomous sexuality of other humans.

Wes regularly solicited me for sex, especially during a period when my own partner was struggling with a breakup and felt less than sexual in general.  I had expressed to Wes that he was not a person with whom I desired sexual intimacy every time he brought it up, and it sometimes resulted in conversations that he would say did not feel fraught for him, but for me felt as though I was being undervalued, pressured, and judged for being the highly selective sapiosexual I am.  I could not understand why he would not simply leave the ball in my court, and give me the space to approach him if I ever changed my mind about that — especially since that was what I asked him to do.  Looking back on these communications, the deliberate cultivation of cognitive dissonance is painfully apparent; I wish I had possessed the clarity at the time to identify it.  Wes was aware of my status as a survivor of sexual assault and would still do things like blame my male partner (calling him, as he is famous for doing, a “highlander”) for my lack of sexual interest in Wes, claiming that it was Tom’s desire that I only select female sexual partners out of jealousy.
In point of fact I iterated every time that I was just not sexually attracted to Wes. He undermined my agency in my ability and willingness to select sexual partners that made sense for me, attributing it in, I now see, a very telling way, to the important man in my life. He got coercive on a few occasions, saying that it was because of his weight (I’ve dated people all over the weight spectrum, and he knew my feelings about body acceptance for both myself and those partners) in an effort to shame me into sexual activity with him. He also insisted and pressured me for concrete reasons; despite the fact that “No, Thank you,” is a complete sentence and requires no explanation. He claimed that failure to provide reasons was “dishonest” and an affront to friendship.   Each time this came up, I reiterated how important it was to me to only have sex with people to whom I had a pretty deep and primal chemical as well as intellectual connection, how rare that was for me, and that I valued him as a friend but the answer was no.  All the while, I read his blogs and heard his speech about consent, its importance, and how deeply he valued it.

This is when someone turned out the lights on my bath.  I thought I was losing my mind.  The signal to noise ratio was deafening.  The volume of speech, of writing, of pontificating, on the importance and value of consent.  Wes spoke publicly about consent and polyamory.  All the time!  His partners!  They were feminists.  Feminists who claimed to love and value me!  This is what value looks like.  Boundaries were overstepped constantly.  My journey towards intimacy with Gina was a joke.  A joke she didn’t protest.  It was not lost on me that all of Gina’s other partners also chose to be sexual with Wes.  I was deficient, because I was not attracted to her husband.  I deserved to be treated differently, worse, because I was denying my family the things they wanted, deserved from me.  I was selfish.  I was prudish.  I was broken.  I no longer saw myself.  Wes often expressed that sex was “just one activity to do with friends, among others.” I recalled my toxic use of my own sexuality when I was recovering from a violent assault that took place in my twenties — the sex that I had on purpose, not wanting to, hoping, praying someone would see me, stop me, rescue me.  My eyes glazed.
On one occasion, during a rehearsal, without warning, negotiation, or permission, he struck me on the backside hard enough to frighten his two partners.  Jessie actually yelled at him, not because of the inappropriateness of his choice, but because the sound of him striking me hurt her ears.  I was startled, and it stung (physically).  He left a decent bruise.  I identify as a submissive who enjoys (pre-negotiated, consent-positive) impact play on occasion, typically within a maintenance and therapy setting with my partner who is my loving dominant other half. Wes knew this, and struck me anyway, placing me deliberately in a context that is sexual without my permission.  

It was at that moment, I fell asleep in the bath tub.  I realized at that moment that my body was a thing.  My desires were a thing.  I was a thing.  The warm, sleepiness of acceptance slipped over me like a blanket I’ve known my whole life — just accept it.  Arguing would only cause more strife.  I’d have to explain every feeling, every objection.  He’d make me cry, question myself.  The girls would side with him.  Just let it take over.  Accept that the people who love you think this is what you deserve.  They’re probably right.  I have been known to be playful with people and to accept an occasional pinch or swat (usually invited by me, or at the hands of friends with whom we have a history of loving physical contact) and I was so shocked, I played it off.  It always struck me as strange, though, given how highly he speaks of enthusiastic and robust consent culture.  I felt like there must have been something wrong with me, since he felt so many people deserved that, but I didn’t.  I never brought it up.  I let it happen again.  This was what I deserved.  I was worth no more than this.  This is what love, what polyamory looks like.  I began to withdraw.  I placed boundaries less frequently.  I stopped believing that my desires mattered.  I dreaded seeing the people I loved.  This felt normal.  


Gina chose to end the romantic aspect of our relationship over a number of conflicting priorities and needs, and did so rather suddenly, immediately following me placing a hard limit on one aspect of our interactions: I would no longer participate in discussions about her former partner Shaun.  I had suggested, asked, and pleaded that we spend less of our time together engaged in dialogue about her (completely legitimate, well articulated, and deserving of care and concern — but also completely personally exhausting, devaluing, and increasingly toxic) feelings regarding her former partner. I had expressed that I felt over-used as a resource, unimportant outside of my context as emotional support, unloved, unwanted, undesirable.  I stated these things several times over the course of our relationship.  I placed the explicit boundary with the belief that it would jeopardize our relationship.  I was right.  She accused me of withholding information I now see from our email history, I had been telling her all along.  And yet, I believed her over my own experience.  Because that is what she and her family had trained me to do.  That boundary, and another.  During a fragile and hard time in my primary relationship, I was ambushed with a performance with my former metamour’s partner. While I am now on excellent terms with both individuals, performing burlesque with them present was hard for both my partner and for me. I had expressed this on numerous occasions, and was told after four glasses of wine, that we would be sharing a stage in 2 days. When I stated that if that were the case, I’d prefer to cancel my performance, conflict erupted. My primary relationship was attacked, as was my capacity as a poly person, and a loving family member. It was Jessie’s birthday show, and I was putting my own “insecurities” (or, you know, previously expressed boundaries regarding burlesque performance) ahead of her happiness and prior, totally unannounced plans.   When I expressed anger, betrayal, and disappointment at my polycule’s disregard for my prior boundaries, the tables were spun. Why was I so angry at former metamour and her partner? I wasn’t. I was angry at my polycule for putting me in an untenable position; but they would not hear me.


This is when I woke up in the freezing cold bathwater.  I was hurt when Gina ended our relationship, opening her email to me by attacking my primary partner.  I expressed to her that this was inappropriate, and that the behavior she attributed to my partner was actually behavior in which she was engaging, and I had explicitly asked her to discontinue or curtail.  I understood that she still desired my friendship; but that I would require a fairly significant amount of time to reorient and heal.  I felt that my trust had been broken by the way she approached that conversation, and made some suggestions for what we could do to heal that trust and make a friendship between us feel happy, healthy, and safe for me down the road. I did this, because it was what she and Wes talked about all the time:  trust being broken doesn’t mean a relationship ends — it means, I thought it meant, they said it meant, that you adjust your expectations, make them explicit, and generate ways to secure new data upon which the future expectations you have are reality and data-based.  I was doing what they said to do in cases of broken trust.  I did the thing!  She rejected the validity of those suggestions, and the boundaries they were meant to support, stating that my new limitations and expectations demonstrated that I no longer desired closeness with her.

As is their wont, my conversation was shared with Wes who again grew very manipulative.  I wanted to speak with Gina and he insisted that Gina could not handle or internalize my feelings or words, and that I should go through him instead.  As we talked, he undermined my concerns, misdirected my points of contention, and engaged in a lot of blaming behavior.  He insisted that he and I meet up, as I felt that he also violated my trust during this period, and when I made the decision to simply cut ties with everyone for a few months, lick my wounds, and learn to love myself as I was again, he exploded with rage.  I canceled my meeting with him, requested a cease and desist of all contact, and his last text message to me was, “I overestimated my importance to you, and I regret that.  The next time you try to speak with me, it had better start with an apology.”  The fact that he identified his own importance as the problem, here, was not lost on me even at the time.

Gina engaged in some further bullying and manipulation of her own before I cut contact permanently with the entire household and most of their close associates, and in the months following, I fought to have my pictures removed from their websites and facebook for our burlesque troupe.  That conversation looked like this:

7/2/14: Email to WesI’ve removed my posts from Living within Reason.  Kindly remove me from the authorized poster’s list.  Thank you.

7/2/14: Email to Wes: Please also remove my photo from the Busts & Trunks brown paper ticket site.

Thank you.

7/3/14: Email to Wes, Gina, Jessie: I am copying everyone at this point, because I’m not sure who runs which accounts, and do not desire to put the wrong responsibilities on the wrong shoulders.

Please remove my image from the brown paper tickets site.  And, apparently, the website, the facebook profile, and any other media I am not naming here of which I might be unaware.
I hereby explicitly revoke my consent for my image, name, or body to be used in connection or for promotional purposes for Busts & Trunks, Ocelot on a Leash, Fringe, or any future ventures.  
Also, I am getting phone calls to my mobile phone about the show and fringe, because my contact information is still listed as the primary on the brown paper tickets site.  I have thus far answered the questions I have been asked, but will not do so after this email has been sent.
No response necessary or desired, apart from compliance with my request to no longer have my body used against my will to promote an endeavor of which I am no longer a willing participant.  I understand that this was likely not purposeful; however I do require that it cease as immediately as possible.
Thank you.

8/13/14: Email to Jessie and WesAs a heads up, I’ve just received 3 phone calls in the last hour or so about the show this evening.   I’m not sure if there’s some sort of confusion on your end or not, but people seem to be under the impression that the show is sold out or cancelled.  

Perhaps a facebook status update or a brown paper tickets announcement would be warranted, at this point.  

 8/13/14: Email responding to Jessie and Wes, who asked if I could do the leg work for themI haven’t any idea where my number could be.  Given that it still appears for all intents and purposes that I am still associated with the show, I assume they were repeat customers who saved my number from previous calls or questions. Several of the names sounded familiar.

This is one of the reasons I had asked for my image to be removed entirely from facebook and from the ocelot website. I know you’re all on that or whatever, but so far, it’s been every second Wednesday of the month, I’m somehow still fielding busts and trunks questions, being asked about my place in the show on social media, etc., and frankly, getting angrier about it.
I’m completely uninterested in fighting about that at this point, but I will continue to ask, in writing, that my request be honored.

8/14/14: Email to Wes and JessieThis email is to notify you that I’ve reported the images on the Busts & Trunks facebook page to the administrators at Facebook.com with documentation of my previous requests, and also filed a note to Busts & Trunks documenting my requests that they be removed on 7/2, 7/21, 8/1, and now 8/14.  

This email is also an additional formal request that my image be removed from the Ocelot website.  
I will permit a week to pass, and if my very reasonable, very patient requests are not satisfied, I will consider retaining counsel. You will find the things due to be returned to the Fenzorselli Household sometime tonight, on the porch. 
This failure to act is in direct violation of my consent.  I did not desire further adversarial communication, but I feel that my hand is now being forced.  

I don’t think that this exchange requires much commentary.  I only include my portion of the conversation because I do not have my interlocutors’ permission to print their communications.  None of the messages that were to Wes exclusively were given any answer.  I took this, rightly, as purposeful microaggression and hoovering.  I also took Jessie’s obstinate refusal to prioritize my requests until legal action was threatened, rightly, as purposeful microaggression and hoovering.  Her excuses for her failure to do so, and Wes’ complete failure to respond at all have been documented elsewhere in my blog, and I stand by them.

Three entire days later, I received a deeply invasive, deeply troubling and frankly, squicky as all f*ck email from Gina.  Three days after threatening the troupe with legal action, and just barely a month since I had asked her for no contact, with space and time to heal and reorient.  I will not print her email here, because I do not have her permission.  My response to that email appears in an earlier post of mine, located here.  There is a different draft of my response that neither she nor her partners will see, because it serves only me.  It serves as a reminder that from start to finish, I was groomed to accept boundary violation, gaslighting, lovebombing, aggressive over-communciation, and narrative control, and that that expectation continued for my former polycule even after a cease contact request.  The water was freezing and there were bees in the house.  


Shortly after Gina’s violation of my no contact request, I reestablished connections with people the Fenzorsellis had forsworn and maligned.  With the toxic influences gone from both of our lives, we shared our stories, and found the space to carve out meaningful friendships.  There was a period of stress, when I was dating Gina (wherein Wes was called to task on sexual violation and consent infractions by a third party, unbeknownst to me) and it became apparent that my perceptions and access to information, and feelings in general were being deliberately micromanaged, and frankly, weaponized.  After hearing accounts from other women who had been ejected from or voluntarily fled the inner circle of the Fenzorselli household, I realized that I wasn’t alone in feeling that Wes’ behavior was invasive, problematic, bizarre, and hazardous, or that Gina was his willing and knowing accomplice.  I’m so sad about what happened to the other women to whom I’ve spoken, the communications of theirs I have read, and the underhanded and cruel way they were treated, and sometimes fret that by failing to see what was happening, I was somehow complicit in their harm.  It was recently stated that Wes apologized for this behavior, both via email and a (totally inappropriate) blog post (wrestling narrative control back into his own hands, without the permission of his victims).  It was asked, by Jessie echoing my own question, how we account for accountability?

Having read that email, can I begin with, Maybe, just maybe don’t tweet about #abuseinpoly when you’ve been reported for Abuse In Poly.  Maybe don’t say things like, “I have a right to be in your home without your permission, because I’ve chosen to label your experiences of assault and violation as ‘lies and innuendo'”.  Maybe, you know, people don’t have to explain or justify why they don’t want you around.  Maybe just say, “I respect your space, I will see your housemates outside of your home out of respect for your pain.” After all, consent is important. Maybe put your money where your feminist and consent-positive rhetoric spewing mouth is, even when it doesn’t benefit you.  Maybe don’t require your victims to eviscerate themselves publicly sharing the embarrassing experiences over which they feel great shame just so you can be sure you’ve only apologized for things you actually feel you (or your partners) are obligated (by your own estimation) to apologize.  Perhaps, have some integrity, and respect people when they report you have hurt them.

I have now been cast by Gina and Jessie as a member of a “League of Evil Exes” for coming forward to the PLN with my story and its implications.  My experiences have been trivialized and cast in dubious and insidious colors.  My well-founded, evidence based claims of manipulation, micromanagement, and harassment have been reduced to the responses of a scorned woman with a vendetta against her former family’s happiness.  If it were just about me, I’d likely remain silent.  However, I believe I have a responsibility to the other people in exploitative and controlling relationships in the poly community, and society at large to stand with courage against the claim that what was done to me was Just Fine and I should STFU about it.  It seems likely to me that if every relationship a person has ended has ended under circumstances in which one or both parties have felt abused, exploited, gaslit, transgressed upon, and violated that perhaps it is not something that should go quietly into the darkness of Impolite Conversation.  It certainly isn’t what I look for in a leader, speaker, or advocate on relationships or their structure.

So we’ve covered how abuse and exploitation in plural relationships felt like falling asleep in the bathtub in the dark.  But what’s this nonsense about a map?

Looking back on everything I just wrote — the emotional process of dissecting my experiences, naming them, recalling them, reliving them — It’s like looking at a map of your own stumbling path through a dark forest.  When you’re in the forest, all you have is the territory.  Things are dark, frightening.  You misidentify threats.  You mistake one sound for another.  You talk to yourself, and double back on labyrinthine paths you’ve already traversed.  You try to pick out landmarks, and follow the sounds of water, walk in the direction the sun travels — all the things you’ve ever heard about getting out of a sticky situation.  And then you emerge, gasping.

You let the helicopters come.  You let EMTs cradle you in blankets and choke down energy bars, drink water like your life is ending.  You let your rescuers cradle you.  You let them be proud.  You feel and internalize their pride.  And then, later.  A cold, sobering moment.  Someone traces your path on a real map.  And you see every mis-step.  Every mistake.  Every landmark you should have seen.  Every sound you should have heard.  The stream you missed, the five mile detour in the wrong direction.  A narrow escape from a jutting cliff.  A rockslide you missed by an hour.  From here, the path looks easy.  You have the topography!  There’s the clear path, why didn’t I just take it?


But the map is not the territory.  And the territory can consume you.  The terrible thing about abuse and exploitation is you often can’t see it until you’ve fully extricated yourself.  This can take months.  Years.


This is my story, and I encourage you to share it.  I’m safe.  I am happy.  I have found myself.  And I will not be silent as the people who have hurt me claim ignorance of their actions, and position themselves to groom and harm others.

Abuse, Exploitation, and Narrative Control in Polyamory

That Magic Moment…

When someone who was an instrumental but woefully blind part of building a culture around you that was hostile to consent, tore you down, engaged in months of willful microaggression, bullying, misdirection, and gaslighting publicly admits, “I was the one who did that, so stop holding my knowing, willing partner and accomplice accountable for the other things they’ve done!”  It’s like someone lit a fire in my heart, y’all.  If nothing else has come out of this sh*tstorm, it’s that I am now more convinced than ever that my final egress from that household was timely as F*CK.

I always suspected that it was a group effort.  It always felt like a group effort.  I never felt safe communicating my needs to any of my former polycule.  They were always met by uninvited sharing, or attempts to salvage relationships instead of, you know, the people in them.  Me, notably.  But others, as well.

What people don’t understand about #abuseinpoly is that it’s not an event, a lot of the time.  It’s a campaign.  It’s a campaign to gradually shift meaning and vocabulary for a person subtly over time, so that they will learn to accept they can’t make their own meaning, don’t trust their own instincts, won’t protect their own interests.  They’ll put “family first”. They’ll assimilate to the One True Path to loving more.

I’ve been asked to put some thoughts together about what, in my own experience, in retrospect, could serve as an early warning sign that one has entered a manipulative relationship dynamic, and how to test that hypothesis early enough that one can escape and avoid unnecessary harm.  I think a lot of it is related my recent talk on Carnalcopia regarding #boundaries but has some new content as well.  For example:

Here are some red flags, though this list is not exhaustive — I’m more spitballing:

If someone requires (not just requests, though requesting is just impolite) reasons you don’t desire them sexually;

If it is presented that there is only one correct path to the kind of relationship you’re in;

If shaming the uninitiated or differently minded is a habitual occurrence;

If disagreement is not tolerated;

If there is a power differential that is being wielded irresponsibly (this can be income/financial, experience in kink/alternative relationship structure, social connection, or other resources), and worse yet, if it is not being acknowledged;

If you suspect covert needs are operative;

If you keep being asked to re-define your terms be they boundaries or actual relationship vocabulary;

If your values are regularly interrogated;

If you are routinely shamed for your feelings;

If contact takes place at a frequency (high or low) that you’ve expressed is stressful for you, and your boundary is rejected as an affront to closeness or intimacy;

If the signal (actions, behavior) to noise (verbal/written message) ratio does not approach or approximate 1;

If someone habitually sets verbal goals for their relationship with you but does not develop or show interest in an actual plan for action;

If expressing harm, hurt, or damage is met with argument instead of problem-solving;

If you find yourself afraid, frequently, even when your partner or partners are not around, of judgment or recrimination;

If the exchange of emotional energy and unpaid emotional labor seems to consistently rest on your shoulders;

If there is regular misdirection of control (this can take many forms, and is its own post — disordered thinking with regard to food, finances, employment, resources, motivation, emotional state, or intellectual positions — these are all indicators that your para/metamours may not have the freedom to act autonomously and they may feel monitored, judged, or contingent on their abilities to meet expectations);

If you normally hold a neutral to high estimation of your worth, yet with New Partner/s, you feel you are not able to internalize their verbal expressions of love or admiration;

If doing things, discussing things, or having conflict are not taking place on shared and mutually agreed upon terms;

I could go on for days.  I missed so many signs along the way.  One of the things that’s so scary is that it doesn’t make sense when it’s happening.  You’re trained, along the way to simply adapt to fluctuating expectations and dogma.  You become accustomed to the idea that disappointing someone else is far, far worse than voicing your needs.  You realize, gradually, that your needs are irrelevant.  You find that voicing them is met with argumentation, rhetoric, dismissal, misdirection.  You begin to believe that you’re crazy and undeserving of real love or affection, because the Noise (verbal/written expression) so completely drowns out the Signal (action/behavior).

“This person values consent and reciprocity so vocally — what have I done not to deserve these things?”
“This person requires total and extemporaneous honesty of me, and won’t give me time to consider my feelings; but regularly hides things from me.”
“This person’s partner shares my communications with my partner, even when it does not serve our relationship to do so.”
“This person waits until I have consumed alcohol to bring up difficult topics or voice complaints.”
“I drink more than I usually do when I am with this person, and I don’t like how it makes me feel.”

My wake-up call was, “I dread seeing this person I love,” and “I want to flush my phone down the toilet.”
These road signs get lost in the lovebombing.  The regular verbal message about HOW IMPORTANT AND IRREPLACEABLE YOU ARE.  The naming of relationships to give them special, but imaginary status: Queer platonic primary partner, Emotional primary, Best Friend, Sister, Family.  Especially for people who have been denied love, or made to feel contingent in the past… it’s a siren song.  It works.  You go all in, chasing the signal through the noise, ignoring evidence, drowning out counter-narrative.

I want to show people how to see it.  How to stop.

That Magic Moment…

Speaking of the Shades and Shadows,

I know you’re reading this.

I know you probably can’t help yourself.  I don’t color my truth any differently than I normally would, for knowing you visit me here; though I’ve done my best to protect your identity, the things you’ve said and done.  I’m not even sure why, anymore, as all the love I once had for you has turned to so much cold ash.

I hope the truth breaks over you like a slow sunrise, as kindly as it can. I hope the day that comes after that dawn is a good one for you, and that you breathe freely, perhaps for the first time in your life.  I hope it doesn’t come at too high a price, and that the people who fall by the wayside in the meantime find the healing, support, and answers they need.  I hope when this happens, you still have people in your life that will gather to take care of you, to catch you after the freefall.  But for any of those things to happen, you will need to look at yourself and your relationships with rigor, honesty, and courage.

But in the meantime, I think you should go.  You’re not doing yourself any favors by comin’ ’round here.  All you will find is a woman far happier, freer, and full of wonder than you ever could have loved.

Speaking of the Shades and Shadows,

Your Wardrobe is Your Friend. That’s Only Sort of Just a Metaphor

For my gorgeous “Punky”  —

In the last year, I’ve lost a net of forty-five pounds.  People have lots to say about that, sometimes.  I’m sort of uninterested in most of that dialogue, because I was pretty happy with my body and how it works, looks, and moves before and after that change.  While I wasn’t really focused on changing my body, I did change a lot of my habits and also the emotional backdrop of my life, and I think the body change is a consequence of that, combined with the fact that I have eliminated a major allergen/irritant from my food choices and my guts are healing and functioning better.

So gross medical crap and weird body discussions aside, one of the things that this big change has necessitated is some major adjustments to my wardrobe.  Yes, I’m going to talk about clothes.  With enthusiasm.  If that’s not your thing, I’ll get you next post with something more your speed.  It’s cool.  You don’t have to love everything I love.  Have a cuppa and go look at baby marmosets or something.

I’m going to skip a lot of the over-arching commentary I have on Issues with Women’s Clothes for a hot second, because frankly, this post would be of Epic Length if I went there.  Instead, I’m going to stick with talking about clothes the way I talk about friends.  Friends, in the general sense — not my friends individually or specifically.

I’m an introvert. We’ve discussed this.  You’re aware.  Hi.  Part of that introversion means that I curate my friend circle pretty ruthlessly.  I’m the same with my closet.  My general rule for closet cleaning (I’m available, if you need help with that) and clothes purging is this:

Step One: Put the thing on your body.  Preferably with other things with which you typically wear it.

Step Two: Is it comfortable?  Does it button/zip?  Can you sit down in it?  Can you move your arms? If No, pitch it.  If Yes, proceed to Step Three.

Step Three: Is it wearable?  Is it free of stains, holes, tears, missing buttons?  If No, pitch it.  If Yes, proceed to Step Four.

Step Four: Look in the mirror.  Is your immediate reaction something along the lines of, “Oh hell yeah”?  If No, pitch it.  If Yes, proceed to Step Five.

Step Five: Do you like it?  This step also includes things like, will you actually in real life wear it?  Does it have at least two or three other playmates in your closet?  Can you layer it, or is it a one season item?  Do you look forward to putting it on your body and wearing it in public?  If these are mostly either positive answers, or answers like, “I’d wear this more if I had a ____ to go with it,” where _____ is a broad category of item like “cardigan” or “pencil skirt” then keep it.  If it’s something mega specific like “purple and green striped blazer from Anthropologie that ran last season and is on eBay for $400” pull an Elsa and Let it Go.

[Step Five is why I only own one pair of jeans.  I don’t wear them.  Every once in a while, you need a pair of jeans, sure.  I wear jeans maybe, MAYBE once a month, even in the winter.  In the winter, it is mostly to put over long johns so I can shovel snow.  Don’t get me wrong!  There’s not anything wrong with jeans.  They’re comfortable, I look great, you can wear them year ’round, they go with everything… jeans are great.  They’re just not a strong part of my personal style, and I’m okay with that. I’m just not a denim girl. Plus, jeans take up hella bureau space and I hate that.  I also don’t own any shorts, unless you count a pair of compression shorts for dance classes, which I don’t because they’re not clothes I can actually wear on the street without getting arrested, probably.]

Just as I curate my social group using specific, pragmatic criteria (that’s another blog post, though) I keep a tidy, smokin’ hot wardrobe by being as unsentimental, decisive, and parsimonious as I can.  If a piece of clothing doesn’t jive with the other stuff I wear (more on that in a second), or fails to make me look or feel awesome?  It goes.  Period.

Okay, exception: I have a tee shirt from Tori Amos’ Dew Drop Inn ’97 Tour, and that is literally the only article of clothing I own that is worn out, super comfortable, and is three sizes too big for me.  I wear it with yoga pants for dance class and cleaning days and I will never, ever get rid of it because that concert was amazing and Ears with Feet for lyfe, y’all.  We all have that tee shirt, and we all have that friend.  To be fair, I also don’t own a lot of tee shirts.  It’s like, that one, one from PM Press, a True Blood tee-shirt from 2010, and a black one featuring Death from Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novel, because of course I have that, and one with an octopus on it that my friend Michelle gave me because I like octopodes.  Again.  Nothing wrong with tee-shirts!  I just don’t wear a ton of them.

Part of the reason I’m this unforgiving with clothes that get to live with me is I’ve moved A LOT, and moving clothes is The Total Worst Augh.  I try to keep my wardrobe under the following limitations: excluding undergarments, 3 dresser drawers; fewer than fifteen hangers (with allowance for skirts to double up on pinch hangers), one winter coat, one rain/spring/fall coat, and fewer than 5 pairs of shoes, not including a pair of athletic shoes and a pair of snow boots because Mid-Atlantic Region.  Ideally, that’s my whole wardrobe for all seasons.  That rarely obtains, because sweaters can be bulky, and everyone has that hoodie they love (I do), etc.  However, I hate having too many clothes, because too many clothes means too much d*mn laundry which is the only thing worse than having to move with too many clothes.  It’s a maintenance bandwidth issue (just like it is in social circles).

The other reason I’m unforgiving with clothes that get to live with me is that I’ve developed a very distinctive way of looking, dressing, and presenting myself to the world.  I worked on that, because it’s something I like, I love looking and feeling like my best self, and it also helps me curtail spending money on clothes and shoes I have to store, launder, and move twice annually it feels like periodically, to my annoyance and chagrin.

Another way I limit the number of clothes I permit myself to possess is that everything in my wardrobe needs to play nicely.  I build my wardrobe the way I used to build Magic: the Gathering decks: by color.  This means that if you look in my closet, you will see only shades of the following colors: white, black/grey, brown, purple, pink, burgandy, and navy.  That’s it. Those are the colors of clothes I purchase.

That probably sounds insane, but hear me out.  Since I don’t wear trousers often, and jeans even less so, I rely on layering basics.  To stay under my self-imposed limit, every article of clothing needs to be relevant for at least three seasons, and in at least two or three outfits.  The secret to that is to make sure you can put that burgundy blazer with a pair of burgundy tights, to pair with that lilac sleeveless dress, the black cowl neck sweater and pencil skirt, and those navy skinny trousers and white button-up blouse.  As long as your pairings are purposeful and mindful, you feel put together and polished. Plus, those are the colors I like wearing.

I am also like this with my social group, which sounds weird.  I don’t like single-task relationships.  I prefer rich relationships that span interests, values, and virtues to someone I can connect with over, I dunno, Twin Peaks, and nothing else.  Having limited time and energy (maintenance bandwidth) to devote to people, I like social interactions that run the gamut of laughter/goofiness, emotional connection, deep abiding care, and reliable support.  I have a pretty specific range of needs and desires, and like when I am close to people who can speak to an amalgamation of those needs and desires, and for whom I may do the same.  I don’t pursue relationships (or clothing purchases) that are not purposeful and mindful in this way.  Friendships don’t just blossom for me, I select them.  Mine are diverse, varied, rich, and personal — I value and love my friends, deeply.

So, to draw a parallel, the Keep/Purge decision tree is comparable to what I consider basic requirements to associate with me.  This includes things like, does it fit/do you advocate for gender equality; does it look good/do you know how to love people well; is it comfortable/do you respect boundaries, and so forth.  The aesthetic decision tree is comparable to a sliding scale of shared and diverse values and skills between my friends and I: the things we share in common, and the things that make us different but well suited for one another.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is twofold: first, I need to clean out my closet and dresser, like whoa, and have been investing (about $50 a paycheck) in filling out my wardrobe in a purposeful fashion (get it?!).  Modcloth’s been a huge help with that; second, a friend of mine recently discussed with me her desire to fully and explicitly develop criteria for herself regarding dating partners.  I think the parallels are strong because lookit: life, time, and closet space are all limited things, and we all have a particular vision of the kind of life (or style) we want to achieve.  We all have really different needs (I don’t need a lot of knocking around clothes, some people do!, I don’t need bras, some people do or like them!) and should address those needs as valid.

We should also interrogate our tastes.  I’d always wanted to be that girl who gets up early and does something cute to her hair.  Reality: HAVE YOU MET ME I AM NOT THAT GIRL, and that’s okay.  I throw it in a french braid, or run a brush through it and go, most days.  The thing is, I felt this pressure to be a certain kind of woman who did certain kinds of things and that pressure was not coming from inside of me.  This is obvious because I was not willing to do the work to be that sort of woman.  I wanted to HAVE ALWAYS BEEN that girl, because that’s how women “should” be.  Or whatever.  What even.  We’re the same way with our desires.  There’s this pressure to have “a lot” of friends and a busy social calendar to be seen as sociable and successful.  There’s this pressure to pursue romantic relationships with people who meet criteria that have nothing to do with what helps us to flourish.  There’s this pressure to look really good in empire waist dresses, because that’s what’s on the rack.  There’s this expectation to wear jeans when you prefer wool tights and dresses. These pressures and “shoulds” can be especially intense for women who are whip smart, ambitious, successful, accomplished, educated, etc.  Some of them come from our families of origin, from movies or books or magazines, from our well-meaning friends, or from the culture and geography in which we find ourselves.

But really, the shoulds we ought concern ourselves with are the ones that we already know best, but sometime need to excavate from the avalanche of cultural concerns.  For this friend of mine, we’ve talked a bit and  I have my suspicions.  I suspect she needs someone who deeply (and independently) values and advocates for consent, bodily autonomy, and gender equality; someone who acts as a grounding point for her electrifying presence and energy; someone who values her ferocity and her gentleness in equal measure and has the strength to help her temper their raw edges…  These are not needs you can find talked about “on the rack”  — you have to go looking for these tweeds and suedes and velvets off the beaten path.  If you clear the closet of the stuff other people keep telling you to wear, you make room for the things you really want.

And that is what I want most for you, Punky.  *clinks champagne glass, and tosses a pair of red wool tights your way*

Your Wardrobe is Your Friend. That’s Only Sort of Just a Metaphor