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

An Open Letter to xoJane

Dear xoJane:

I think this is it, for us.  I wish I could say that it’s not you, it’s me; but that would be a lie deployed to spare your feelings.  I don’t do that anymore, so you’ll be getting the unvarnished truth.

When we first met, there was a lot about you I just didn’t see.  In the last few months, though, I’ve come to see how mercenary you are.  You present yourself as a fun, real-life forum for women* (and occasionally men*) to share their experiences, tricks for how to get around in the world, and enjoy a good dose of humor.  That content comes from your writers, but you select what gets run, what gets publicized, and what happens next.

And what happens next, is this: Sometimes, nothing.  The articles run, they get some comments.  Some of them are amazing, insightful, and lead to productive and healthy dialogue.  There’s usually some girl in the thread who’s like, “Ew you wore what for that picture” and the rest of us peer over our glasses at her and click our tongues in disapproval.  But sometimes, you run pieces that you know quite well are going to provoke more of a response.  Sometimes, that response is threatening, abusive, or dangerous. Articles about rape, abuse, discrimination, and harassment seem to have picked up some additional unintended cargo lately.  When women* speak about fear or anger lately, they’ve been met with dismissal, condescension, harassment, shame, doxxing, and death threats.

It is my belief that you, xoJane, have a responsibility to the women* who provide your tougher content.  You need moderators.  You need a base-line set of expectations for how people behave when they walk into the party you’re hosting.  You need some standards for how people treat the amazing, incredible, brave women* who write for you, justifying your existence and generating your clickable content, and therefore, revenue.  Giving women* a voice isn’t a gift — we already have voices.  What you provide is a venue for conversation, like a hostess.  But attending your parties is a lot like showing up with a few bottles of wine and your party shoes on, to find out that this house is full of strangers, and a couple of your besties (Hey Esprit de L’Escalier!) and the hostess has left the building.  And there’s someone top decking her toilet in the upstairs bathroom.  Someone may, or may not, be dismantling the garbage disposal.  Some dude just took my wine, drank it all, and brandished a bottle at me, calling me names.  Calling the women with whom I claim solidarity against things like gendered violence, institutional violence, racism, and a culture that is hostile to consent and self-determination, names.  Treating them like things.  Treating them like unloved children.

I think that they, that we, deserve more.  For the fifty bucks you throw at a writer for original content, we deserve your support when we do things like, disclose our status as assault and abuse survivors, and find the courage to write about that.  Not too long ago, it was stated to me in very man-splain-y terms that writing about my assault in a public forum constituted an invitation to be criticized and abused further.  By not providing your writers with support and artful comment moderation, it seems like tacitly, you agree.  At the very least, you don’t object.  And moreover, you profit from it.  Those outrage-shares, those rage-clicks, those comments.  They generate revenue for you.  Yes, we can flag inappropriate comments.  But nowhere on xoJane.com is there a clearly stated policy for what counts, for you, as inappropriate.

I just spent a large portion of two days trying to ad hoc moderate several of your recent offerings.  Keeping an eye out for people disclosing their status as survivors, trying to curtail abusive victim blaming and revictimization.  Trying to be an educator and a champion for the people at your party who are still trying to find their voices, and speak their truths.  And I noticed: I don’t ever feel the need to do that for the other sites for whom I’ve written.  Because those sites Back Our Play.  They’re here for US.  They have teams of moderators, and robust policies governing the conversations they host.  They make explicit their expectations for people at their parties.  They demand better of their readership, and challenge their readers to voice concern, critique, and counter-argument with civility and decorum.

I stopped going to parties like yours when I was nineteen.  I don’t know why I stayed so long at this one.  I keep trying to do your dishes, refill glasses, take out the garbage, and call cabs for the drunk assh*les who can’t seem to stop wrecking everyone’s good time.  And I’m not even doing it for you.  I’m doing it for us.  Because we’re all at this party where we expected to be challenged and  exchange ideas, to be heard, and to listen, and you’re nowhere to be found.

It feels awful, and I’m not going to do it anymore.  I feel sad, because I’ll miss the pockets of awesome people.  It’s just that no one’s company is worth feeling like you’ve thrown my brothers* and sisters* to the wolves.  I trust them.  I trust them to run if the wolves get too fierce, too dangerous.  I trust them to know what is best for them, and to seek support in the appropriate places.  I have to trust them, because I cannot protect them all the time forever.  Because as much as I want to be able to do that, I can’t do it at my own expense.  And it’s pretty clear you’re not going to do it.

So you know.  Don’t call me or anything, okay?

Best,
RD

An Open Letter to xoJane

Sloughing

slough2
sləf/
verb
gerund or present participle: sloughing
  1. shed or remove (a layer of dead skin).
    “a snake sloughs off its old skin”
    • get rid of (something undesirable or no longer required).
      “he is concerned to slough off the country’s bad environmental image”
    • (of dead skin) drop off; be shed.
    • (of soil or rock) collapse or slide into a hole or depression.
Origin
Middle English
(as a noun denoting a skin, especially the outer skin shed by a snake): perhaps related to Low German slu(we ) ‘husk, peel.’ The verb dates from the early 18th century.
Sloughing is, first and foremost, a gross word.

I’ve come to use it as a figurative term for a gross habit some people seem to have — shedding responsibility.

I’m sure you’ve witnessed someone slough (ew).  It can sound a lot like this:
“There was a miscommunication…”

“Things were said…”
In each of these cases (and other similar cases), what happens here is that the locus of influence (and therefore, accountability) is placed on a non-human, impersonal set of forces or events, rather than on the shoulders of people who do things.  It’s commonly taught in communications courses as a way to distance oneself from culpability and present sh*tty news in a neutral way so as to avoid conflict, disagreement, or explicit placement of accountability.

It is also, for the people harmed by the culpable party, dehumanizing, belittling, and disempowering.  I’ve learned, over the last thirty-two years, that the more impersonal, distant, and blameless-sounding the sloughing, the more egregious the actions of the slough-er tend to be.  We see it a lot in public faux-pologies and it’s usually followed by a statement of the slough-er’s own harm (“I lost something, too!”) or back-pedaling (“but here’s why this is okay!”), or re-branding (“but really this is a lesson for all of us about ____!”).

Can I just say, let us all stop doing this.  Let it be known that sometimes, we are all assh*les.  Sometimes, we are assh*les at each other.  It happens.  We are human.  Sometimes, someone will be an assh*le to you, and you’ll be an assh*le to them back, and it devolves into a mess and there are irreparable consequences.  I’m not saying dish the dirty details to anyone who will listen.  But like, express some agency.

Sloughing

A Rambling Narrative about Decisions and Being Myself.

As I settle in to my morning coffee, I have a lot on my mind this morning.  A recent conversation with my mom has me oriented in a new and different direction.  We both have whatever plague is going around, and made some time on our mutually agreed upon sick day earlier this week to hang out and talk about life, plans, desires, and hopes.  My mom (as an ENFP/advocate type) is more of a problem-solver than I am, but sometimes, I (an INFJ/Confidant type) do need that.  This past week was one of those times, and talking with her helped tremendously.  She challenges me in ways other people don’t to consider what makes me happy, what I need, and of what I need to rid myself in order to flourish.  Our relationship is complex, and our life experiences are dramatically different, but my mom has done a tremendous amount of work to learn how to best relate to me, her strange and wonderful daughter.  I, for my part, am so grateful to have her as my mom and my friend, even when things feel scary, high-stakes, or difficult.

One of the things we talked about (because I’m often talking about this) was decision.  It started off as a meditation on the fact that, come December or January, I have some important choices to make that will impact the next few years (if not the remainder of) my professional life.  Those choices involve a non-trivial investment, and while choosing one path does not permanently close the door of the other choice, I know myself.  It is unlikely I will turn back in the near term.  To make this less vague: I’m considering transitioning into IT rather than education.  Over the course of our conversation, I realized that I may be setting a trap for myself going into teaching, without realizing it.  Coming to terms with who I actually am (instead of who I might wish I was or who other people see when they look at me), and the (unconventional) things I want from a career and accepting that about myself is an ongoing process, and one my mom is pretty uniquely suited to facilitate, having known me for you know.  Thirty-two years.  I’m leaning more and more towards honoring the pantologist I am, and entering a field in which substantive career changes can be regular, encouraged, welcome occurrences, and in which advancement relies more on enthusiastic skill acquisition and mastery than it does on formal (expensive, exhausting) graduate education.

There are, of course, other practical benefits to that branch in my decision tree.  The pay is more attractive, as is the ability to work remotely.  I would be likely to receive some preferential treatment because of my gender, which would be nice for a damn change.  I really (really) like solving systematic technical problems, thinking about process improvement, and I like breaking things ( marks of an excellent analyst).  I like environments where a desire to continue learning is rewarded, rather than required.  I love communicating with people about their needs.  I thrive in environments in which learning is self-directed and open-ended.   I love having my work be comprised of highly varied, constantly changing, short-term goals rather than long, sloggy, monotonous tasks.  I love when my intelligence and creativity are considered assets, rather than things that need to be ‘managed,’ or worse, ‘stifled.’  I also have a background in software testing and test design, and can do technical writing with the best of them.  I hate feeling impotent, stagnant, or bored.  I like a framework of stability that is internally flexible.  I’m honestly kind of a whimsical creature; I like having the freedom to let the winds of my passion change my course.  I hate feeling like I need to save the world.  I like leaving work at work.  I don’t think I would have known any of that as explicitly as I do now, or have reached the conclusions I have reached if my mom hadn’t made time for me, heard me as I am rather than what she might wish or expect me to be, and given me honest and un-self-interested suggestions, insight, and feedback.  Thanks, Mumma.

It got me thinking about other sorts of decisions — the kind I am wont to discuss with Kira and Amanda — about lyfecrap, typically of the Person Variety.  I’ve had the occasion (and will likely continue to do) to make firm, permanent choices about who stays and who leaves the hub and primary support strands of my social web.  Right now, I’m fairly happy with my collection of crazy wonderful weirdos, but there is some behavior surfacing for a few people that fails to acknowledge or accept the kind of person I am and choose to be.  If there is one thing I’m really crap at, it’s prioritizing how I make time for myself and others.  Even as I say that, I know: That’s False.  Here’s what I actually mean: There are not many people I want to see every day.  There are, in fact, not many people I want to see more than once every two weeks.  There are very few people I would rather talk to than read, cook, or knit.  This is not so much an issue with those people, because, as stated, my people are wonderful amazing crazy weirdos who I love.  It is more an acknowledgment that “myself” is often the person who needs my company the most.

Some of my closest, most cherished friendships are with people I talk to once a week, and see once every month to six weeks — sometimes, even less than that.  Those friendships are rewarding for me in part because they are comprised of people who are a lot like me: striving, busy, cerebral, and communicative.  These are people who know me well enough to carve out space for me to be like, “Actually, most nights I want to hang with my boyfriend or a book and my cats,” and who often echo those (or similar) desires.  We all know the steps to the “OMG HOUSE TO MYSELF AND NOTHING TO DO” dance by heart.  These are people who know that I’m so there for them that I need to be reminded to be there for myself.  These are people who greet my weird existence with enthusiasm and affirmation rather than expectation and disappointment.  They are also people who tend to have a strong support network of their own, in which I am merely a beloved, quirky cog.  They are people with active, compelling, and entertaining internal lives.  All of them, to the last, love to read, and in fact probably prefer it to most other activities.  They are also people who recognize that the solution to most of life’s problems involves making a decision, standing by our choices, and requiring solutions of ourselves.  They are people who seek me out because I’m hilarious and thoughtful — not because I’m supportive and caring.  And when my care is what they need, they each have ways of balancing the content of conversation without my ever asking.  In short, they are people for whom I am enough.

There are also people in my life for whom I am not enough, as I am.  In these friendships, I am often making tacit judgment calls about boundaries, limits, costs, and benefits.  This person would like xyz from me — do I want what I want for myself (an evening alone, one on one time with someone else I haven’t seen (or the occasion where someone would like one-on-one time with me rather than a group setting), a hot bath and a book, time with my Monster) more than I want for this person to feel loved by me today?  Sometimes, the answer is “No,” and I prioritize wanting the people I love to feel loved over me wanting to do the “OMG HOUSE TO MYSELF AND NOTHING TO DO” dance.  Sometimes, the answer is “Yes,” and I do my best to gently place a limit or decline an invitation.  These are friends with whom I am far less compatible, and those friendships require a lot more maintenance energy than I’m often naturally inclined to give sentient beings who do not actually rely on me to continue their existence (my cats, Huginn and Muninn). Combine all of that with the fact that I have a tortuously wonderfully active social and gaming calendar, a gorgeous romantic relationship in which I am deeply, joyfully invested, and like, laundry to do and groceries to get, and lunches to pack (augh haaaate), and it’s like: okay, dudes.  Sometimes, you gotta cut me some slack.  I do my level best to challenge myself to express love in a myriad of ways, even when that expression is not the expression that comes most naturally to me, such that the love is felt and meaningful for its recipients.

Most of that is pretty unproblematic the vast majority of the time.  I’ve been an introvert my whole life, and I’ve been navigating the waters of leading a charmed, beloved, busy existence that entire time with growing rates of success and satisfaction. If my friendship as I give it is unsuitable for someone, I trust them to either change their expectations or exit in favor of friendships that do a better job of meeting their needs.  Them being grown-ups and all.  However.  When the tone of someone’s desires or requests takes a negative turn, when the weight of their unspoken expectations (rather than requests) that I prioritize them hangs in the air, or when I feel I’m being asked to fill roles that are inappropriate or unhealthy, I have a tendency to balk.  It’s a one way, non-refundable, no return trip ticket to a swift and healthy creation and enforcement of emotional distance.  And as I’ve talked with Ginny, I’ve realized that as I develop, age, and refine the things I want and things I don’t, I realize, I want to shift as she has shifted: to expect more and absorb less from people.  And if there is one thing I don’t have room to absorb it is that the friend I am is insufficient.  Because hey, adults: If you don’t like it, it’s cool!  Go elsewhere! The universe is full of people with whom you could be more compatible!  Go find them, and no hard feelings.  There are only hard feelings on my end when instead, people cling to a friendship with me expecting that I will change who I am, what I need, and what I want in order to be more available to them.  Because you know, lookit: If I did that, I would lose my self, and probably my damn mind.  It’s not that the people I love aren’t worth whatever whatever.  It’s that no one is worth me trying to force myself to be things I am not.  Where you might perceive a shortcoming, I perceive a thing I love about myself that just serves, you know, me, instead of Other People.  Where you might see a failure to reciprocate, I see that the ways I naturally express love and care are simply not identical to yours.  I am perceptive enough to pick up on when someone’s primary interaction with me involves a measure of disappointment.  For the first time in my life, my response to that is no longer Just Try Harder, Rabbit.  I’m going to distance myself from that disappointment, and adjust my own expectations such that absorbing that disappointment is not something I require of myself.

Basically, most of this week has involved trying to honor the woman I am, and want to continue to choose to be, rather than the woman people wish I could be for them.  I trust, quite firmly, that as that process continues, the people and opportunities who also honor who I truly am, my talents, my skills, and my abilities will rise to the top and affirm that choice.

A Rambling Narrative about Decisions and Being Myself.

Musing

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about contact I’ve had with a collection of faux-feminists and false allies, and the risks they pose to communities I value.  I’ve come forward in another venue, and spoken in story-form a bit about those troubling feelings, with full awareness that doing so is likely to inject discord into my life.  I abide in the knowledge that there is an army at my back, ready to mobilize if I am in jeopardy.  This army knows the value of the person I am, even in imperfect and deeply flawed moments, and I rest in the knowledge that they will rise with me if need be.

Trolls and bullies aside, this is a conversation that skepticism requires.  That one’s values and beliefs can be publicly mirrored and privately disregarded is not something that should go without mention. It is painful and exhausting, and undermines the kind of change I want to see take place in the world.  Appearances and practices are distinct means by which to measure a person or group of people.  Both matter.  Both deserve consideration. And I find them most problematic when taken in tandem and found unharmonious.

I’m tired.  This feels like the final word in a much longer tale.  The journey is exhausting, and I simply want my words to stand as they are, and to retreat to being present for the people I value.  I’d like to remove this armor I’ve been wearing — the armor of silence, of caution.  Of politely declining to answer questions about other people’s behavior.  Of avoiding or re-directing conversation so people don’t have to feel compromised, despite the fact that maybe, they should.  These plates and chains and straps have grown heavy with the knowledge that with my silence and evasion, perhaps I protect the wrong things.  Perhaps more radical honesty is required, now that I have some clarity and reflection under my belt.

I think this signifies moving away from the facticity of transgressions and events transpired, and towards lessons learnt and ground gained.  I’m scanning the horizon for wonderful places to land, and I’m struck with the knowledge that:

  • I don’t need someone else to tell me what should make me feel empowered or loved.  I already know the answers to those questions.  In fact, the only reason you should be using “empowered” is in the form of a question (e.g. How can I empower you to ______?”) because what empowers me is not up to you.
  • I can rely on myself to know when I am being treated well or poorly.
  • When someone identifies that what is most valuable about me is my capacity to feel with and for others, caution is warranted.
  • The way people treat me without prompt or instruction says volumes about them.  It shows how they are naturally disposed to treat others, and is worthy of a great deal of scrutiny and attention.  It is okay to test people before you trust them with your wishes, desires, or needs.  And by “okay,” I mean, “It is probably a good idea.”
  • When a request or boundary is hard for another person and they respect it anyway, without complaint or protest, they are likely a friend.
  • The people who love me will affirm me even in the face of my faults.  One of which is putting off paying parking tickets and making doctor’s appointments.  (Sorry, guys.)
  • Loving me means extending consideration and care to the people I love.  Full stop.
  • It remains perfectly alright to curate a social life based on what energizes me, makes me happy, and fills me with strength and peace.  Discontinuing relationships that don’t meet those criteria does not have to be personal or fraught.  It is okay to say, “I have outgrown this relationship,” and leave.  People are not entitled to explanations or ongoing contact simply because they desire it.

Those are some pretty decent conclusions at which to arrive.  Despite the fact that there are some thunderheads in the sky, my feet are on the ground, and the storm will pass.  I have spoken my truth, and it is time to move forward.

Musing

Le sigh.

I have now written and deleted three versions of the same post, because I have too much to say, and a lot of it feels like negative content with no real firm place to land.  It’s complicated because I know it is coming from a place of vigilance about a collection of people who are so full of sh*t that it’s actually harmful  proliferating rhetoric and ideology that is both incorrect and damaging in both the abstract/community sense and in the personal/individual crazy-making way with that individual being, you know, me.

I think I’m going to focus on a topic I’ve touched on before: the use of ambiguity in language as a form of narrative control.

I’m collecting my thoughts about that, and also giving my emotions a chance to calm the f*ck down because guys, today has been a DAY.  But I want to sort of leave myself a note so I can get at the material floating in my brain pain in a cogent way once the waters go still again, and I can hear my truest voice.

I studied philosophy for a long time.  There are people who have less than encouraging or positive things to say about my discipline, or devoting one’s life in some manner to revering it.  However, it taught me a number of skills and values I would never sacrifice for anything — probably even a debt-free existence.  Probably.  Good thing no one is putting that option on offer, I guess.  One of the things that rigorous philosophical study teaches you is to pay very close attention to words.  Precision in language is always something that I have valued, because I adore both clarity and Poïesis.  I consider language use to be both utilitarian and also as bildung — that is, as self formation through creative efforts.  In fact, that reminds me: one of the things philosophers will do is borrow words that map onto very precise meanings and concepts, using them persistently to make fine distinctions through a sort of sedimentation process in the canon of their works and conversations.  Goodman and my personal intellectual hero, Richard Rorty were both excellent at this, and I admire their work tremendously because they illustrate on a small scale how changing the words we use and the precision with which we use them can affect social and ideological change.  The TL;DR on that is: the words we use matter, and have ethical force.

As a result, I have a low threshold of tolerance for people using words in a sloppy way, and an even lower one for people using words that carry ethical import in such a way that they deliberately take advantage of colloquial ambiguity to either excuse their own behavior or get the things they want from people.  Doing so can read as revolutionary to the less precise.  An oft cited example is Ayn Rand’s supposed reclamation of the word “selfish”.  Specious equivocation  and the deliberate manhandling of the ambiguity of a word (this is sometimes called amphibology) in colloquial use  can form a nexus of narrative control through verbal sleight of hand, especially within communities where the written word is backed up by things like cults of personality (often with a blind eye turned away from practical enactment of character over time).  A less pedantic way of stating all of that is that there are people in communities whose proliferation of rhetoric is valued in lieu of how they actually behave.  Some of those people use language and precision in ways that benefit that community.  Some people use the venue of a virtual audience to garner things like support and admiration, and still others have a specific personal agenda.  Others still are engaged in some combination of those three or other acts.

I was until recently acquainted with one such person, and the verbal sleight of hand in which that person engages is … troubling.  In fairness, I should probably disengage from expending mental and emotional effort reading this person’s writing, but hyper-vigilance is a thing, y’all.  This is a person who has hurt me and also people for whom I care, and has engaged in horrifying smear campaigns, responsibility sloughing, victim-blaming, and you know, blackmail.  There are other things about which I’m not at liberty to share, because they are not mine, that make me taste bile.  Part of me remains a bit morbid about all that, and I know that part of me is waiting for the next shoe on this monstrous beast with so many feet to drop.  I think that response is to be expected, given the content of Galactic Collision 2014; but I might be hanging on to that vigilance longer than it will serve me or the others with whom I’m frothing at the mouth to protect, shelter, and phalanx, should it be necessary.

Perhaps I can take some of that protective energy and dismantle the tools and tricks that disguise people who intend to hurt.  Perhaps by picking apart the gears that make that sort of rhetoric function, I can discover new ways to discern when toxic people are in our midst.  I want there to be some concrete lessons here, and I aim to find them.

Le sigh.