Consent Thoughts from Lecture: Part 2

I talked a bit about my experiences at University of Birmingham, and their weekend about consent, in this post, focusing on explaining my presentation’s first two parts (on mainstream depictions of kink, as well as the construct of “drama” and how it gets in the way of consent culture in these spaces). Here I’ll finish the job by discussing desire, both within kink and in culture at large.

Desire:

One thing that stands in the way of good communication is the way our culture idealizes desire. We’re taught via Disney movies that we’ll “just know” when we meet someone compatible, that we won’t need to talk about anything or negotiate, we’ll just read each other’s minds. That’s very romantic, but also a fairy tale. Understanding someone’s cues and body language comes, not through magic, but through knowing that person, their likes and dislikes. It also comes with a lot of mistakes, and hopefully a willingness to admit you’re wrong when you misjudge. These practicalities, however, don’t tend to weigh into the actual heartfelt desire to find someone with whom you have that mystical “chemistry” that just can’t be put into words.

Because of this longing, I suspect the whole fantasy of moving “beyond safewords”, beyond negotiation, and/or beyond a contract, is fairly prominent within the BDSM community. I hear a lot doing Consent Culture work (and on the radio, as you can hear on this show “Edge of Insanity” I did this weekend with Betty Blac) the declaration “we don’t need safewords!” and “safewords aren’t sexy!” I feel that when erotica, movies, porn and even our own dungeon behaviour look on the safeword as something that “ruins” a scene, we’re creating a dangerous dynamic where people won’t say “stop” or “no” when they want to, because that’s not part of their fantasy. It may not be part of your wet dreams, but then, neither is a court case, is my opinion on the topic. We need to have methods to stop BDSM behaviour when it crosses the line, while also acknowledging that people may struggle to safeword when there’s so much pressure to be a “good” submissive or a “tough” dominant… often which involves this “no limits” construct.

Now, this isn’t something that’s just an issue among kinky communities. I’ve noticed this with people I’ve dated, too. As someone who isn’t a touchy-feely person, I tend to need someone to let me know through flirting and physical touch that they’re interested in sexytimes. If that doesn’t happen, I tend to assume we’re still at the casually flirting stage. One ex partner would become furious that I didn’t know when she wanted us to sleep together, while I was trying to take a step back and leave space for her personal needs, expecting (and asking) her to communicate what she was interested in and when. Instead, she wanted me to read her mind, and, I guess, try to initiate sex at random, taking the responsibility if I was wrong for her being upset. Talking to other people, this doesn’t seem to be all that rare, but it’s incredibly frustrating.

Even though this is common in vanilla couples, there is a certain concern for BDSM couples. I’ve noticed that bottoms/submissives who make themselves available for the most varied amount of play have more social currency and get more attention. Therefore, there’s a reward for saying you have “no limits”. On the opposite side, Dominants who communicate that they “take what they want” are seemingly desirable, with some profiles coming across as downright sociopathic… and yet they seemingly are actively engaged in local communities and no one looks askance at this behaviour. I do notice male Doms get away with this significantly more- unless you’re a professional, female Dommes are expected to be caring with their submissives at a much higher standard. Now, I’m all about fantasy (I have some seriously dark ones myself), but I feel it’s important to critique the ways in which these social norms end up being formed, how that impacts on kink in the media, and how it creates an ideal of what a “valuable” Dom or sub is and how they behave that might actually be damaging in the real world.

I don’t really have answers for all of this except more honesty in blogs and profiles, and rewarding that honesty. I think it’s important to deconstruct how gender norms impact our sexual spaces. I think it’s important to examine the impact of racism, ableism and classism in our spaces, as well.

I also said to the room that I felt we in the BDSM community need to really work out what we’re going to do in terms of addressing assault and domestic violence among ourselves if the police are not an option. I really want to see us figuring out some standards of accountability that would make us a cohesive community. I’d like for us to decide what sort of responses we’d support seeing from someone who has crossed boundaries for us to feel like they understood what damage they had caused, and what support we, as a community, should have for that boundary-crosser and the person/people whose boundaries had been crossed. I suspect that until we do this work, our use of the term “community” will be casual, not uniting.

I want to close with a bit from a piece Mollena Williams wrote on community, leadership, and trust. I recommend you read the whole thing, because it’s right on.

I have seen, over the years, people take “reputation” and “community standing” as carte blanche to entrust themselves into the hands of those who are not worthy of trust.

I have questioned friends who work with those who have questionable histories, who have shadowy pasts, who have seen others stand up to say “That person violated me and my trust.” and had those friends shrug and say “Well, it isn’t my job to police the community.”

I have seen people endorse, by word and deed, people they KNOW to have problematic histories and shrug it off with “Well, I have never had a problem with them, so it isn’t my problem.”

I have seen people who are “leaders” in the community duped, swindled, ripped-off by people who, after the shallowest of digging, were revealed to be liars and thieves.

I have been sexually harassed and treated dismissively by men entrusted with instructing people about BDSM.

I’ve watched people who are bullies and liars intimidate and swindle their way into positions of (relative) power and trust, and surround themselves with the weak-minded who thoughtlessly protect and bleat the chant they’ve been taught in order to support those unworthy of their trust.

I have had handshake promises breached by people who will then turn around and evoke “Leather Values” and “community pride.”

I have been lied to by people who smile in my face and in the same breath trash talk and belittle me to others.

I have had people to whom I appealed for help in taking a public stand against injustices instead opt to remain silent against racism, against rape, against consent violations.

And ALL of these examples involve The People You…We…embrace as “Leaders.”

Guest Post: Truth Against Humanity

When I initially played Cards Against Humanity with a mixed group, I was actually horrified by the ableism, racism, rape culture and sexism (among other things) set out as humourous by the game developers. I posted on Tumblr about how repulsed I was by “chunks of a dead prostitute”, which is a card I still burn in every deck I come across. However, playing with my parents, my closer friends, and my partner made me realize that really playing Cards Against Humanity can be a way to really get to know the people around you- what do they find funny, what do they apologize for, and how to they use their cleverness to twist the cards into jokes that punch upwards, not down. 

When I came across this piece by Dr. Pamela L. Gay, I felt it was succinct at expressing this experience in one particular gameplay. It’s been reprinted with permission: read more of her excellent writing at her blog, Star Stryder. You can also follow her Twitter here.

This rambling essay attempts to give voice to my struggles with #RipplesOfDoubt, and with the realities I’ve faced as a woman in science and skepticism. This is a piece written with too much honesty and not a lot of poetry. It is written because there are men out their throwing around phrases like, “I can’t be a misogynist – look how I intervened when that guy was about to grab that chicks boobs! Sure, I didn’t report it or anything, but I stopped it, and that is enough.”

No, it’s not enough.

I used to think it was. I used to have among my closest male friends people who thought it was enough to tell me, “Don’t feel bad about how that good thing X didn’t happen. It wasn’t that you weren’t good enough, it was just that you are a girl.” I used to think that’s what it meant for a man to be a good mentor or advocate for women – all he had to do was help her understand where the glass ceiling was and make sure its crushing weight wasn’t misidentified as actual failings of competency. I thought that was enough. But it wasn’t.

How many of us women comfort ourselves with this form of “it’s enough” over and over and over?

If you’ve ever played Cards Against Humanity, you know that sometimes the cards really need trigger warning. With cards like “Overpowering your father” and “Coat Hanger Abortions”, this game leaves no line uncrossed, and I’m not sure I’ve gotten through a game without at least once saying, “I am a terrible human being,” because of the totally over-the-top sentence I had just constructed. But sometimes… there is truth hidden in the cards. While playing with several friends on Saturday, I got the black card “Why don’t I sleep at night?” As a joke I said, “I wonder if any of you will come up with the truth?” 6 white cards came slamming down, and after a bit of shuffling I got ready to giggle.

But there was no laughter.

Black card:
Why don’t I sleep at night?

White card 1:
The Glass Ceiling.

Suddenly it stopped being Cards Against Humanity, and became truth against humanity.

Nicole hugged me. I didn’t read the rest of the white cards, I’d found that truth in 1 flip. We quickly shuffled around to the next round and moved on.

With ever increasing difficulty I’ve been dealing with issues of gender related to my career. Right now, I am struggling with hearing that an event I categorized as “A drunk ass  tried to grab my boobs,” is now being discussed by witnesses as, “He tried to sexually assault her in a bar while intoxicated.” I had created a euphemism for myself, and having that euphemism striped away is making me realize that I have been hiding from myself the true degree to which I have been harmed.

I have previously tried to confront and to give voice to the harm that sexual harassment and gender discrimination can do. I don’t think I’ve ever allowed myself to be totally vulnerable in my words, but during my July 2012 talk at The Amazing Meeting (script I vaguely followed and video here) I came close. My goal was to focus on inspiring people to do good, but I briefly addressed many of the issues that hold women like me back: Issues of being inappropriately touched, issues of hearing workplace banter about our boobs, and the effects all this and more has on our self-esteem. I made the following point as clearly as I could: “I know as I say this that it sounds unbelievable – and how can we report the unbelievable and expect to be believed?

I did not give this talk lightly. I suspected I’d experience backlash for daring to admit that I too am one of those women who has been touched, who has been held back, who has suffered self-doubt related to my gender. What shocked me was the form and degree of backlash. As a result of this talk I faced threat of professional reprimand. Let me state this more clearly, because I admitted that gender related comments hurt my self esteem, there were authority figures who demanded I be punished. While my direct supervisor and the dean we report to have always made me feel respected and have supported me, there were others within my profession who demanded I publicly apologize; that I be formally punished for what I said. I was asked to justify my speech and name names in confidential written documents. For one nearly fatal moment, I believed that if the people in authority knew the truth, perhaps people in power would undertake meaningful actions to make my profession better for women. And I did name names and I did use specifics … and my words were distributed widely enough that word of what was happening got back to me nearly a dozen timezones away. When I learned what was happening, I spontaneously (and thankfully silently) burst into tears. I hid behind long hair as I exited the audience of the conference session I was attending, and I hid in a foreign bathroom thinking my career was over. Three people wrote documents against me, and they named a forth complainant. No one else came forward to back me up in writing, even though for years there were those who felt fine telling me it was my gender that held me back and that when they had power they’d help me. I felt I had to get a lawyer in order to make sure my career wouldn’t be ruined – someone to find ways to use the existing guidelines to protect me. I exhausted my (admittedly small) savings. I started working more and more in isolation. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I tried to hide in my work, and that alone may have kept me going.

More than 300 days after this entire mess started, I received notice that I should be allowed to tell what happened to me without fear of reprimand, but that I have no legal case. Here I’d like to note that the statute of limitations on the relevant laws is 300 days, so it is literally true that I had no case at the time of this decision.

But it was a decision.

After almost a year, I though all the fallout from the talk I gave was over. I thought I could move on. I started moving out of isolation, and I started trying to return to my prior output levels. I went on a mini sabbatical-like trip to the EU to work with collaborators. I submitted a paper to CAPJournal and applied for two grants.

And then last week, the fading scars of what happened were cut open with a rusty blade.

I learned that a witnesses to an event that occurred in 2008 is discussing that event and naming names. During the event in question, a man in power who I’d previously never met made a lunge at my breasts. This is one of the events that weighed on me when I wrote my TAM talk. It weighed on me when I said, “As an astronomer, at conferences, I’ve randomly had my tits and ass grabbed and slapped by men in positions of power and by creeps who drank too much. This is part of what it means to be a woman in science and skepticism.”

I’ve been warned this may all hit the internet. I’ve been warned the social media maybe about to explode. I’ve been warned this could be devastating to my career. Let me put this more clearly: Because someone witnessed a man in power attempt to grab my boobs, I have been warned that I need to worry about my career being actively destroyed by others.

And that is fucked up. I run a program that works to spread science education, to generate science results – we are doing good – and I have to be worried that my ability to do good is going to be limited because I have boobs someone thought would be fun to grab at.

And then that man with power – the one who staggered at my breasts at the moment of our introduction – emailed me out of the blue on Halloween, denying anything happened between us because he’s never done anything like that, and if he has never… then he never did with me. He went on to ask why I never confronted him later, why I never did many things, and I found myself explaining, “There is absolutely no way for a woman to walk up to any man, let alone a prominent man they don’t really know, and say, ‘Pardon me, while you seemed to be drunk, you did this inappropriate thing.’ Inappropriate physical contact is so common at these events as to be just part of being a woman in science and skepticism. People drink. Inappropriate things happen, remembered or not, and for the most part we just move on as though it had never happened because otherwise we could never work.”  I told him he should get help, and I dug out my own prescription for dealing with the PTSD that had me shaking. He promised he would share with no one our communications and I told him I didn’t want to communicate with him at all.

This exchange left me broken – it broke me on my favorite holiday of the year.

I am still broken.

And I hate myself for wishing this would all just go away, instead of wishing that there could be justice. But I guess I fear that justice has a price I don’t have the life blood to pay for.

Over and over, I have made the choice, “what happened isn’t worth raising a stink about. Don’t ruin everyone’s [fun/con/career]“. Over and over, I’ve made the choice, “Yeah, that guy (but he was drunk!) slapped my butt in passing, but he is a leader at what he does, so I need to just get over myself and work with him.”

I hate myself for this.

I hate myself because I made the choice that not raising a fuss was more important than my self worth.

Read that again. It’s fucked up. But it’s who I am, … and when I read the hashtag #RipplesOfDoubt a few weeks ago, I realized how often we women make that decision. I’m fucked up, but I’m not alone. Too many of us fill our heads with euphemisms and excuses. It’s so much easier to think, “It’s a drunk guy being a drunk ass.” It hurts so much more to say, “I had someone try and sexually assault me.”

I am a survivor. And I am the worst kind of survivor – I am someone who never really fought back, and who never demanded justice. All I ever asked was to be allowed to try and do good things.

It’s going to take me a while to come to terms with all of this, and I’d ask your patience and support.

And I’d ask you all to teach your kids this: be honest, keep your hands to yourself, don’t create drama, and leave the world better than you found it.

I am a survivor. And I just want to be allowed to try and do good things.

Consent Thoughts from Lecture: Part 1

I just got home from a weekend of discussions and critiques of “consent” as a construct out at University of Birmingham. It was a fascinating selection of topics, from rape culture in humour, to teaching consent to sex offenders, to queering concepts of consent, to questions about vulnerability. There were practitioners and academics from the US, the UK and Europe represented, so some array of approaches.

I was asked to speak on consent in BDSM, and focused my discussion on three particular areas: mainstream depictions of kink and nonconsent (and the gendering of that), the construct of “drama” and how that is used to shame and silence, and desire, the strain between contracts and negotiation and the heartfelt lust for someone who “can just read your mind”. I’ve talked about all these things at least in brief before, but figured I could take another shot at them now. Keep in mind, these were more meant as beginning talking places rather than definitive answers. I’m going to have a part one covering media and drama, and then another part addressing desire and the complications with that, so bear with me!

Mainstream Depictions of Kink

I find that many depictions of kink in the media fall into two main camps. If you’re a woman with a man (9 1/2 Weeks, Secretary, 50 Shades) your submission is assumed, and boundary pushing/nonconsent is eroticized, the danger being part of the thrill. However, if you’re a man submitting to a woman (Eurotrip, Whitest Kids You Know) two things will happen. A) the Domme will be a professional, rather than doing this for her own desires, and B) boundary pushing or nonconsent will be portrayed as hilarious. I questioned if perhaps this kind of depiction being the dominant (har de har) one might add to difficulty identifying what is nonconsent and what is sexy BDSM practice.

For example, I didn’t identify some of the things that happened to me as sexual assault , because in my mind they were just miscommunications, or something gone wrong. I wasn’t traumatized, which was, in my mind, the difference between a mistake and an assault, even though the same behaviours outside of the kink community would have felt very different. I asked if this created a cultural standard where boundaries being crossed is seen, particularly for submissive women, as simply “part of the experience”. If that’s the case, then how do we begin to address these issues and create, consciously, new cultural norms?

“Drama”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (I’m saying it again now)- drama is a term often used to invalidate other people’s feelings and experiences. I mostly hear it used for situations that the person using it are not personally affected by. I have many critiques of Jezebel, but they go into some of my complaints about the term here, and as I deleted my Fetlife account wherein I wrote on deconstructing “drama” as a term, that’ll have to do.

Within kink, there’s an idea that you need to do certain things in order to be deemed “safe” by the community. Now, I disagree that what’s called “the kinky/BDSM community” is, in fact, a community, as there’s no sense of standards that are reinforced, and no overarching accountability or responsibility to each other which is part of what makes a community- but I digress.

One of the things you “should” do is ask for references before you play with someone. We don’t do this, mind, for other kinds of sex (can you imagine? actually that might not be a terrible idea) except for in sex work. However, if you don’t ask for references, you can automatically get blamed for not taking enough care in BDSM play. This expectation, however, ignores that even if you *do* ask for references, people will vouch for others- until *after* an assault, when you become safe to talk to more honestly. Why do they do this? Because if you warn someone against another kinkster for being abusive, you can be and often are labelled as a creator of drama. That can lead to victim blaming, retraumatizing community discussion/debate, up to community expulsion. How, then, can you trust a recommendation when there’s a fear of saying anything but complimentary things?

There’s also of course these gendered concepts of what’s appropriate behaviour for kinky people. I notice that some dominant men proudly declare themselves as doing whatever they want to their partner, not feeling empathy, really underlining these sociopathic behaviours as being desirable. And they seem to be, these men aren’t exactly outliers but active in their local groups. Women don’t seem to feel like they can embody this without critique, however, unless they’re pro-dommes. This suggests how performative these roles are, and how much social worth each type of archetype seems to command. Embodying your BDSM role in a way deemed “appropriate” is important if you want to have power among your kinky peers. The less social currency someone had coming forward about abuse, the more they would be ridiculed, so this had real life effects.

Ok, that’s part one- what do you think? What have you experienced?

Guest Post: Give Women Stability and Pickup Artists Lose

This guest post is brought to you by Amy Roberts, writer, performer, and general rad person, who posted about it on Facebook. I asked her to write an intro for us and she was gracious enough to accept!

Many assume that economic coercion is only a problem for sex workers, but a recent article by Katie J.M. Baker highlights how this isn’t true. She tells the story of a pickup artist and his virulent reaction to Denmark, where “pussy literally goes into hibernation” because of abundant social services:

He concludes that the typical fetching Nordic lady doesn’t need a man “because the government will take care of her and her cats, whether she is successful at dating or not.”

It turns out that when women aren’t forced to suck up to men to survive, we’re less likely to accept abuse. While representation in male-dominated fields is an important goal, without addressing poverty through the social safety net we leave impoverished women with no recourse.

Unlike in America, where bestsellers goad already overworked and underpaid women to Lean In even further, the assumption in Denmark is that feminism is a collective goal, not an individual pursuit. Danish women are less likely to be financially dependent on men and therefore feel less pressure to “settle” or change their behavior.

To our pickup artist, this is a tragedy. To feminists—especially in the US—this should be a wake-up call. Check out Dissent Magazine for the full article.

Radical Entitlement- Rape Culture at Burning Man

rsz_img_4007I’ve been to That Thing Out In The Desert, otherwise known as Burning Man, for 4 years. In theory, I love it, and I love what it stands for. I love art, and freedom, and creation, and silly costumes. I love community building, and trading supplies, and being in the moment.

But I’ve also worked with the Bureau of Erotic Discourse teaching about sexual assault and consent at Burning Man. It’s a problem. BED was founded because Burning Man as an organization didn’t really do enough to teach people about sexual assault, sex and substance use, and consent- so a grassroots effort was created. I’m still baffled that BED isn’t a formal art of the infrastructure of the BORG, considering how sexual assault seems to be a pretty consistent issue.

(Correction from Russell Atkinson from BED:

“In 2013 BED became an official part of ESD, the Emergency Services Department of the Burning Man organization. We had more presence than ever, and we had substantial support from the Org. We had a full sheet on BED given to every participant at Greeters.

The downside is that with all of the material out there we still had significant problems with sexual assault and harassment. The sleazy groping photographer is only one of the examples”.

I’m glad to hear this, especially as I remember that there was initially some concern with the way ticket sales have been working that BED core members might not make it out there).

Which brings me to exhibit one, the “photo project”, “Man Grabs 100 Boobs at Burning Man“, that went viral. This was defended strongly, mostly by men, as “art”, often silencing women who spoke up to say how the photographer didn’t give them the opportunity for informed consent and sometimes didn’t respect their consent for the photo to begin with. One woman said “This guy walked up to a friend at Nexus and was like “Can I take a picture of you.” She replied okay and he put his hand out and said for her to pretend like she’s coming at him or fighting him off, so she did and it APPEARS like he’s grabbing her boob, but isn’t. He never mentioned anything about a project. She’s in the pics. What a slimy douche.” Another woman said, “I regret to say that I am one of the hundred. The picture was taken on the second day at BM and I was so filled with a sense of generousity and euphoria of being at BM, when an Asian photographer approached me and my friend and asked if he could take a photo we said “sure”. The initial photograph was just a pretext to the second one where he asked if he could put his hand in front of the camera for an art project. This seemed a bit weird but I didn’t think it would be harmful so agreed. He did the same to my friend but cupped her breast – she was topless. I then realised that he was some perverted guy who clearly had little success with women and was using this project as an opportunity to grope women and that he had only approached us because my friend was topless. We didn’t sign any consent form for this to be distributed publicly and we are really upset that the images are circulating round the internet.”

One of the things that was really ignored in the original discussion is that there are totally different social consequences for being a topless man in public vs being a topless woman in public that really has a lot more to do with our ideas of female purity, female nudity, male entitlement, nudity as sexualized, catcalling, body shaming, etc. Women have lost their jobs and access to their children for blogging about sex, never mind getting rape and death threats. For these photos to be ethical, the women in them need to be in a space to give informed consent, knowing where the photos are going to end up, and preferably signing a release. And then, there’s the fact he specifically asked at least one woman to look like she was fighting him off while he grabbed her- to me, that encourages rape culture (and if you’re unclear the difference between rape culture and rape, read up here). Never mind his lack of model releases means he can’t know for sure if the women are over 18- when I brought this up, men told me that touching breasts wasn’t sexual enough to worry about the person being 18. That worries me too, tbh, not just because of age of consent issues, but sobriety issues. Who decides what’s “sexual” in these situations? Who should?

The photographer spoke to one group of Burners to defend his “art project”, saying “The core concept of burning man is “radical self-expression”. Apparently, in the pictures, ladies are all cool, confidence and relax (Some of them might look frightened but that’s just because they would like to present it in a different way)”. When asked why he didn’t take photos with men if it wasn’t about groping women’s breasts, he replied “I personally don’t consider grabbing male’s chests as an inspiring and attractive project”. Not really surprising, is it?

There were Burners within the thread who weren’t slutshaming/victim blaming, though. I particularly want to highlighy one excellent response:

“Regardless of what it is they choose to do, respect is the key to Burning Man. You should respect peoples’ expression, their space, their emotions, their experience, their resources, etc., and part of respecting them is acknowledging them as people with agency; in this case, the agency to choose to or not to wear clothes, or to be groped or not groped by whomever approaches them. By taking pictures of people being groped and posting it on the internet, it’s kind of taking away their humanity and agency, and portraying them as objects to be vicariously groped by anyone who views them. At that point, they no longer get to control when they are no longer comfortable with the way they are being observed, they no longer get to choose who they are comfortable with sharing their presence, and they no longer have the agency to challenge conventions. Their image has been fixed right back into the conventional space where boobs are meant to be groped, naked time equals sexy time, and it’s all a big, spectacular deal. The net result is not a challenge to convention or an advancement of respect, but, if anything, the opposite.”

Then, I have Exhibit 2, “Early Crime States from Burning Man 2013“. I was horrified to read this, which says how crime stats are going down at BM before saying “The only concerning standout crimes were sexual assaults, one of which was a rape that occurred on the open desert, the victim was held at gun point and abused by two others”. This article finishes with a chirpy “To the future of fancy-free partying!” which I feel is completely ignorant and inappropriate. Last year there was a big discussion about rape at Burning Man, and time and time again, we see that the community is going to have to step up to make this a safer space. If we want to create a consent culture, too, we need the cooperation of the police, who need to focus less on arresting people for drugs and more on helping people who are victims of crimes. We need to talk more about date rape, and take that seriously, as well as violent rape. A more serious article points out “If you can build a city in the desert for 70,000 people in a month, with extremely experienced medical personnel, you can find a way to get rape kits on the Playa. What are you afraid of, BMOrg? The rapists, or the statistics?”

I agree.

We have, among all the good things, a Burner culture where women feel unsafe because they’re being sexually assaulted, roofied and raped, mind, and where “oh, rape kits are too complicated to have on Playa” is just accepted… this isn’t exactly happening in a vacuum- one where people of colour feel disgusted by the way their cultures are appropriated and white people say “we’re just expressing ourselves, get over it!”- one where artists struggle to afford to get in while the upper middle classes use it as a networking place- have at it. People will fight tooth and nail to “freely express” racism and misogyny at Burning Man because they feel they have a right to their “art”. It’s really sad that people would rather defend their right to do things that are painful and potentially harmful to others than to support a culture of intersectional awareness. That’s not the Burning Man I fell in love with. That’s not the artistic community I want to be in.

We’re able to set bones on the playa, put 18 wheelers on top of each other and set them on fire, and create/destroy a city of 60,000 in a couple weeks. I’m pretty sure we can find a way to provide rape kits on the playa at this point, and it’s past time for Burning Man to take it seriously. We need to show that our theme camps are safe spaces for people in trouble to come and get support rather than ridiculed and blamed. We built this city on better values than the world at large- let’s make it better, rather than a mirror in the dust.

Pickup Artists: Still Proving to be Scumbags

asshat1So this is going to be pretty brief.

Here’s a photo of three guys. They’ve been going around the University of Southern California sexually harassing women, including (sometimes especially) drunk women. This video in particular, where they creep up behind women and start massaging their shoulders, is really kind of… icky. It made my skin crawl. Many women don’t really know how to react in those situations.

“Jesse, Jason and Kong (no last names available) run a Youtube channel called “Simple Pickup” which supposedly instructs the viewer how to ‘pick up’ girls. In reality, the channel is a guide to street harassment.

They harass numerous girls in their videos and encourage their male viewers to do the same thing. They sexually humiliate women by ambushing them on the street and saying hideously inappropriate things, like “do you shave your vagina?” or “your nipples are obviously pierced” .

They touch girls without permission, even fondle their breasts without consent. In one video, a girl tries to get away from being touched, and then gets so scared, she calls to two other strangers for help.

They live in California. If you live in California, report them. It doesn’t matter whether or not you think it will ‘do’ anything these men have committed sex offenses and deserve to have their names dragged through the mud, not celebrated for their victimization of women.”

-Via Tumblr (trigger warning if you follow the link: I’ve removed a reference to immigration status, FYI, which I wasn’t sure was relevant and felt racist in a discussion about nonconsensual behaviour)

Want to let the university to keep an eye on them? Submit a form here with the USC Department of Public Safety.

Know of similar pickup artist type jackassery who are dumb enough to post video/photographic proof of their sexual harassment and assaults on the internet? Ping us and let us know so we can signal boost. So many pick up artist type douchecanoes depend on women not knowing how to react and smiling nervously to try to diffuse the situation, because we’re taught not to fight back, not to make things worse, just to be nice. They consider that passiveness a win. It’s fucking awful, and rape culture at work.

Nine Abuser Personality Types

I wanted to add this as a resource on Consent Culture, though I want to note that I find the language very binary gender-wise and very heterosexist. I think this is a good starting place for acknowledging where we ourselves can look at our behaviour and say to ourselves- does this look familiar? What can I do instead? In addition, I want to link to Pervocracy’s “Why Does She Stay With That Jerk?“, which is also good for a personal check in.

These are summaries from Lundy Bancroft’s book “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men“. 

The Demand Man–He has little sense of give and take. His demands for emotional support, caretaking, or sexual attention are well out of proportion to his contributions to the relationship; he constantly feels that you owe him things that he has done nothing to earn. When he doesn’t get what he feels is due him, he punishes you for letting him down.

Mr. Right–He considers himself the ultimate authority on every subject under the sun; you might want to call him “Mr. Always Right”. His superiority is a convenient way for him to get what he wants. When he is arguing with you about conflicting desires, he turns it into a clash between right and wrong or between intelligence and stupidity. He ridicules and discredits your perspective so that he can escape dealing with it.

The Water Torturer–He proves that anger doesn’t cause abuse. He can assault his partner psychologically without even raising his voice. He tends to stay calm in arguments, using his own evenness as a weapon to push you over the edge. In an argument you are the one who leaves the room crying, or yelling, and then he can accuse YOU of being the one with a problem.

The Drill Sergeant–He takes controlling behavior to its extreme, running his partner’s life in every way he can. He criticizes your clothing; tell you where you can go and how long you can be there, even to the grocery store. He doesn’t want you to develop relationships outside of him, not friends and in many cases no family contact. He accuses you of cheating because he can be very jealous. Getting away from him can be very difficult because he is watching your every move. This type often has some psychological problems, although mental health issues do not cause abusiveness.

Mr. Sensitive–He appears to be the diametric opposite of the Drill Sergeant. He is soft spoken, gentle and supportive – when he is not being abusive. He loves the language of feelings, openly sharing his insecurities, his fears and his emotional injuries. [I pull you in with words like developing closeness, working out our issues and facing up to hard things about myself.] He presents himself as an ally. With the passing of time he increasingly casts the blame onto you for anything he is dissatisfied with in his own life; he starts to exhibit a mean side that no one else ever sees.

The Player–The player is usually good looking and often sexy (sometimes he just thinks he is) in the beginning of the relationship he seems head over heels in love and want to spend as much time as possible with you. Then over time his attention starts to wane towards you and starts to focus on other women, even your friends. He knows how to make a woman feel that she’s the special one and yet at the same time keeps her off balance, so that she never feels quite sure of where she stands with him. Eventually you will start to view any women as a potential threat to you. Chronic infidelity is abusive in itself, but the player doesn’t stop there. He is irresponsible, callous and periodically verbally abusive. His abuse can escalate abruptly if he is confronted about his behavior and can turn physically, fighting if he is caught by his partner cheating.

The Victim–Life has not been fair to the victim, he is misunderstood. He is the one who had the awful ex-wife and he tried everything in his power to make the relationship work. When you accuse him of being abusive, you are joining the parade of people who have been cruel and unfair to him. This makes you just like the rest. He had it so hard he is not responsible for his actions. He knows how to look and sound so pathetic; you may find yourself feeling sorry for him.

The Terrorist–He tends to be both highly controlling and extremely demanding. His worst characteristic is that he frequently reminds his partner that he could physically harm her or even kill her. He doesn’t have to beat you to terrorize you. He seems to get enjoyment out of causing pain. His goal is to paralyze you with fear. He is the type who may stalk his partner if she leaves him.

-Lundy Bancroft

 

On “We’ve All Been Abused & We’ve All Been Abusers”

I tried to find a gender neutral one of these, but this was all I found.

Recently my attention was drawn to a piece, “Developing a Better Call-Out Culture“, that discusses call-out culture (which Consent Culture certainly champions), and critiques some directions it can take. While I agree with the fundamental principle that we need to consider multiple approaches and multiple experiences while developing our responses to abusive situations, I feel that many of the things discussed within the article point, to me, to a greater need for call-out culture rather than a lesser need. The scope of my critique is too broad for one article, however, so I’m going to break it down into a few, namely:

- “We’ve All Been Abused & We’ve All Been Abusers”
– Shunning- The Cons, and the Pros
– On Accountability and the “People Change” Approach
– Personal Ownership Within Consent Culture
– The Political Nature of Forgiveness Narratives

These will, of course, take a while to write, because they’re difficult subjects and pretty triggering, but I think that they all make up pieces of a whole that’re important to address (and really, I think it’s important to note that author of the original article, Queste Desmarais, is raising some great and important questions- she’s just summarized in one place so many arguments that end up used against *any* call-out culture that it’s a good launch point). I consider this a fluid piece, in that I am hoping to have a discussion and keep developing this as I go. I am not an expert, by any means, and I don’t have everything figured out! Critiques are welcome, and encouraged. Let’s keep developing this consent culture thing bigger, better, stronger. 

We live in a truly fucked up culture. It’s filled to the brim with institutionalized violence and abusive behaviour, and it normalizes both of these things to an extent that we often don’t even recognize the myriad, intersectional ways it’s going on. Our media normalizes microaggressions, encourages trolling, waxes poetic about online bullying while simultaneously riling up flame wars in comments sections.

So I can understand why someone would say “we’ve all been abused and we’ve all been abusers”, and feel that it’s an accurate statement. If, when we say “abuse”, we mean everything from insulting people to physical assault, there’s a lot of ground that gets covered. And yes, I agree that we are all exposed to abusive behaviour, even recipients of it, and we are all likely to have engaged in those abusive behaviours ourselves at some point. In fact I think it’s incredibly necessary for us as activists working towards a culture of consent to reflect on how we personally have been impacted by being on both sides of abusive behaviour, perhaps within the same interaction. It’s not simple, or binary, a good amount of the time.

But I have to critique the way that the “we’re all abused and all abusers” seems to come up as a response, often towards marginalized people as a way to silence their very real pain. We are not all abused, or abusers, at the same rate. Privilege, access, agency- these things lend a hand in who ends up enabled and who ends up blamed, in who feels like they can call the police and thus often be considered “legitimate” in their experience of abuse. Who gets to call abuse out, and who doesn’t, who gets away with being abusive and who doesn’t, this is entwined with systems of power and the dynamics within those systems. Race and abuse is one such example:

Another major concern connected to racism and domestic violence is the status of the African-American man within the United States. Unfortunately, African- American victims of abuse receive the message that to report abuse by an African-American man is to feed the stereotype of African-American men as violent. Research, which the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence relies on from 1998, concluded that an African-American woman was more likely to feel protective of her abuser than a white woman. The reason for this reaction is a manifestation of the effects of discrimination and the “hard times” the African-American male has faced in the United States. Some African-American women feel that incidents of violence against African-American women by African-American men should not be reported because “they would be putting another ‘brother’ in prison.” Furthermore, the image of the “strong black woman” is forced on African-American women by each other in an attempt to defend ignoring the violence, because this violence has happened before and they should just go on with life as women have before.

The African-American female feels an obligation to support and assist her male counterpart emotionally in order to preserve the family. The reality is that “police brutality and blatant racism in the criminal justice system” exist, and when an African-American victim reports the abuse she is not only reporting abuse, but she is subjecting the abuser to the biased system. The choice for African-American women is not just whether to stay with the abuser, but whether to make a decision that may, on the surface, look to others in the community as selfish. If she reports the abuse, and the batterer is arrested, she does take the chance that the batterer will experience racism by the police or within the legal system. The victim is forced to make a choice between the violence she experiences and the racism that her batterer may experience. Racism, when considered a more serious problem, can keep African-American women from trying to end the violence.

-The Effect of Racism on Domestic Violence Resources, Lisa M. Martinson

I could point to examples where one partner is a sex worker, or is queer, or is trans*, or has mental health issues. If one partner has institutionalized support in ways the other does not have access to, this can of course create an imbalance of power. Call-out culture can sometimes be a vital possibility when the justice system will be stacked against you.

I think back to another movement with a patriarchy problem — the local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society I joined as an undergraduate. While we mocked the old sexist slogan from the Vietnam War era — “Girls say yes to boys who say no” — implicitly congratulating ourselves on how far we had come, the group lacked a framework for examining gender dynamics. We were hindered by white male dominance; women felt their opinions were not valued. When we formed a women’s caucus, we discovered that one of the group’s most dominant and charismatic men had abused or sexually coerced several women in the group. Lacking another model to address his behavior — and prioritizing our own emotional safety — we asked him to leave.

One in three women in the United States in both queer and straight relationships reports domestic abuse in her lifetime (27). Activists are no different. Patriarchy and violence surface regularly among activists on the Left — even, and perhaps especially, among those who fancy themselves liberated from all oppressive tendencies. Abusive behavior among activists traumatizes individual survivors and, if left unchecked, can poison social movements. Those abused by fellow activists may find themselves with nowhere to turn if the community fails them by siding with their abuser…

…It was inspiring to see the commitment of the Chrysalis Collective and the other groups featured in the book to a process that, under the best of circumstances, supports the healing of a single survivor and changes the outlook of a single abuser. This is one vision for creating a world without abuse; if each survivor and each abuser is surrounded by friends and allies, with the support they need to heal and change, we may — slowly, steadily — build the framework for a better world. This and other stories in the book left me marveling at what a privilege it can be to have a community strong enough to support the profound processes of healing and accountability. The task of establishing these communities when so many survivors never even feel empowered to speak about their abuse is a daunting concept, but a beautiful one. I also wondered how this model could ever spread to survivors who are not members of activist communities, or to those who have been isolated by abuse, or by racial, class, immigrant or sexual identity, or other circumstances, and who do not have a community to support them. The issue of child abuse is also not addressed directly by this book, although at least one essay mentions abuse involving young people. Perhaps these are topics for future books.

One of this book’s many takeaway messages is about deconstructing the victim/abuser dichotomy, in part by acknowledging that those who are being abused may react abusively to their circumstances. While the mainstream domestic violence movement makes demons of abusers and heroes of survivors, embracing incarceration as the solution, contributor Shannon Perez-Darby in her essay “The Secret Joy of Accountability: Self-accountability as a Building Block for Change,” shows how this outlook renders abuse in activist communities invisible: “If survivors are perfect, then people who batter are evil monsters, barely human. This binary allows us to think of batterers as people who exist somewhere else, in fantasy and stories but not in our lives, communities, and homes” (101-102). Perez-Darby asks us to look inward and take responsibility for our decisions in order to begin the process of changing our communities (107). Examining our own abusive patterns may be one of the most difficult things we do as activists. It is also one of the most important.

-“Our Movements Suffer as We Do”: Ending Abuse in Activist Communities, The Revolution Starts at Home reviewed by Amy Littlefield- emphasis mine

Silence often reads as complacency, even if you don’t intend it to.

We can recognize, I think, that sometimes people who have histories of being abused then turn to abusing others, while still recognizing that abuse isn’t ok and deserves to be called out. We can recognize that sometimes people who have mental health issues abuse others and also recognize that people without mental health issues abuse others as well, and really while managing mental health may help stop abusive behaviour, it also might not be connected at all. We can recognize the way power dynamics empower some and disempower others while still believing in calling shit out. We can be imperfect, and humble, and still learning, and still not silent or complicit.

I’ve engaged in abusive behaviour, and I’ve been abused. I believe in call-out culture because without it I would have retreated entirely when my abusers didn’t acknowledge what they did as abuse. He would have succeeded in chasing me from my spaces simply through his denial, and other people’s support of that denial. And similarly, without a belief in call-out culture, I would not have any reason to discuss my own history of abusive behaviour, or any reason to confront it. I could just close my eyes and pretend it didn’t exist. That’s what society certainly seems to tell us to do, and I don’t see it helping- if we’re waiting for abusers to suddenly take accountability I suspect we’ll be waiting a long ass time. I refuse to wait years and have panic attacks in my own community in the meantime, continuing to make space for his self-discovery. We had a whole relationship of that.

I think that’s what my problem is, ultimately. When people have said to me “but we’re all abused and we’re all abusers”, it seems like it’s usually a silencing tactic (“so your experience is invalid, because you’ve probably been abusive before”), or it comes with a sense of hopelessness. Why do anything at all when we’re all caught in this struggle? Why call abuse out at all when we’ve all been abusive?

If anything, to me that speaks to *more* of a reason for call-out culture- if we are truly dedicated to accountability, to not silencing survivors, to taking a stand against violence, then we need to recognize it in ourselves, we need to name it in others, and we need to not be defensive when made aware of our own ownership that we’ve missed or ignored. I believe people can change, but I also believe that having other people know your history of red flags is one of the best ways to prevent you from repeating bad patterns. Yes, I think it’s worth asking if there are amends to be offered to those you’ve hurt, and understanding if the answer is that you can never be forgiven. Call-out culture doesn’t have to lack compassion, but it does have to embrace honesty in recognizing the problem and hard work to change it. I think the amusingly named “Ditch That Jerk” sums it up rather concisely- “(People) who don’t change are those who don’t assume any responsibility for who they are and what they do.”

One of the things I say a lot is that guilt is a wasted emotion. Either you’re changing the behaviour, in which case, why feel guilty, or you aren’t, in which case, why feel guilty? For me, this is about choices. We make uncomfortable choices all the time, ones that make us uncomfortable and ones that make other people uncomfortable. I wonder if we just try to pretend they aren’t choices we’re actively making, because god, that’s a lot nicer feeling. Ignorance certainly feels like bliss, even if it isn’t.

Guest Post: Guilty By Association

Kitty Stryker here, bringing you a guest post from BoldlyGo that I felt strongly should be hosted here on Consent Culture. It discusses the various complications of friends who stay friends with those who have hurt us… or our staying friends with those who we know have hurt others. Why might people do this? Why might people be upset by this? It’s certainly complicated. I’m personally thinking a lot about how it’s possible to be compassionate to those complications while also having strong boundaries, and will be bringing a piece soon about that.

I’ve got this huge post on accountability sitting my queue and right now I’m waiting to get a copy of Why Does He Do That so I can cite the references on steps abusers make to change their behaviour and how to tell the difference between a genuine effort at recovery and a false attempt to sway an audience. But right now, there’s something related to this type of thing that I want to talk about and that’s going on with a variety of my friend groups and me in particular. This is about “shunning”. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to talk in generalities about hurt, rather than “abuse”. Not only because I believe this is still applicable when we’re talking about “hurt”, but because I think it makes the discussion more accessible for people who get hung up on the definition of “abuse” and to decide to police that.

After we’ve done the long and hard work it takes to realise that someone has hurt us, and sometimes it takes a long time and a lot of work for you to not only realise but admit to yourself that someone is hurting you, we often have a lot of choices to make about how we’re going to use this information. Are we going to stay in the same environments with this person? Are we going to talk to this person? Initially, just for yourself, these decisions can be difficult, if not impossible, to make. For example, those of us who have disabilities where we require the care of those who hurt us to survive don’t have the luxury to exclude people. But if we do have that privilege, we wonder about exacting it. And sometimes we make this choice right away, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes the boundaries of that choice shift and we feel comfortable with them in our circle, and then we change our mind. But that’s one stage of the process.

 

I'm not the only one who's often wondered how Lily could befriend both Snape and the individuals who continued to bully him, by their own admission, purely for amusement. It would be understandable for Snape to feel abandoned by Lily's friendship with them (before he decided to throw a slur in her face, at least).

I’m not the only one who’s often wondered how Lily could befriend both Snape and the individuals who continued to bully him, by their own admission, purely for amusement. It would be understandable for Snape to feel abandoned by Lily’s friendship with them (before he decided to throw a slur in her face, at least).

Another process involves our friends and acquaintances. It’s perfectly understandable for us to believe that the people who love us or care about us also care about when we are hurt. It is understandable for us to feel disappointed when people make decisions that reflect to us that they don’t care about our feelings – or at the very least, our feelings are not among their top priorities. So sometimes we wonder about how we handle the situation with our friends. Do we tell our friends all about it? Do we stay silent because it’s easier? While no one wants to say, “Either you believe me, or you’re not my friend,” one cannot deny the emotional repercussions of what happens to a relationship when someone makes a choice that you don’t feel supported by. It’s inevitable, regardless of their intent or their true meaning, that feel abandoned in some way by them. While logically we may understand that friends may have very good reasons for the choices they make, it doesn’t erase the feelings you have.

To put it plainly, I’ve been involved in a lot of situations where people have expected me or I have expected others to not associate with someone anymore. Now, in my case, I’ve not always voiced this. I’ve just told people about the hurt I’ve been through and watched and waited. I’ve never actually gone to the point of expecting people to not associate with individuals who hurt me because in all honesty, I’ve either been uncomfortable being so public about things or I’ve just felt like I didn’t want to bear it if people just outright refused. That’s a different kind of hurt and a different kind of pain. But even though I’ve never asked outright, I have still felt incredibly unsupported and abandoned when people continue to associate with individuals who have hurt me, while KNOWING that those individuals did hurt me. Every single time it happens, it kind of kicks my morale down a peg. I’ve all but given up on the idea anyone would go through the awkwardness and trouble it sometimes takes to say, “Hey, so you did this thing to someone I care about and that makes me feel not so happy to be around you.” I just don’t think anyone’s going to do that any more, so I’ve kind of given up hope.

 

While Anakin's choice to turn to the Dark Side seems understandable in light of what we see him experience, likewise Padme's choice to not support Anakin in his decisions is also understandable.

While Anakin’s choice to turn to the Dark Side seems understandable in light of what we see him experience, likewise Padme’s choice to not support Anakin in his decisions is also understandable. 

On the flipside, I have been asked by friends of mine to stop associating with certain individuals. I’ve either been asked outright or it’s been heavily suggested. Sometimes, I have made the decision to not associate with that person. And there have been situations where, because I was concerned about the safety of other friends of mine, I have chosen to disregard those requests. Sometimes I made a choice about associating with someone, but then changed my mind when I gained new information. Sometimes I’ve waited to make my choice until I gained more information. And other times, I’ve only associated with a person because I’ve not had the energy and support to confront them just yet. But in all of these cases, I’d like to think that I own my choices and their consequences.

Likewise, I’ve also witnessed friends of mine being ignored or not talked to because they’ve chosen to associate with some people and I’ve been angry and frustrated by the isolation that creates for them, especially when I feel they are in vulnerable positions. When I choose my associations, I’d like to think I make my choices in the best way I can to ensure that if there’s someone at risk, they don’t feel as though I’m trying to hurt them and yet – I understand perfectly if they feel as though I do not actually support them.

One of the biggest issues with talk about “abuse” is the idea of “shunning”, which I do write about in my accountability article, is that I feel like people use the word and mean different things by it. There’s a huge difference, for instance, between someone making a public call to oust someone and someone making a decision to not associate with a person and also not associate with anyone who does associate with that person. If I choose to not associate with someone and decide that, actually, I don’t want to be friends with a person because they associate with someone, I don’t think that’s me calling for everyone to shun that person. That’s me making a choice about who I’m friends with. Now, if my friend feels I’m forcing them to make a choice, that’s unfortunate. But in the end, I get to decide the circle of friends I want to be around. And if that circle has to include people who aren’t also including someone who hurt me, than that’s my choice to make. Painting me as someone who’s trying to force people to choose isn’t fair, because if I had the choice in the matter, I wouldn’t want to force anyone out of my circle – including the person who hurt me. Very few individuals seek to bring this type of drama and pain into their lives.

 

Although it's more of benign example, Darla's decision to not be with Alfalfa when he tries to hide their relationship isn't necessarily about Darla forcing Alfafa to pick different friends, but more about her choice in how she wants her partner(s) to show that they value her.

Although it’s more of benign example, Darla’s decision to not be with Alfalfa when he tries to hide their relationship isn’t necessarily about Darla forcing Alfafa to pick different friends, but more about her choice in how she wants her partner(s) to show that they value her.

I personally make the choice of being friends with people, sometimes even partners, who continue to associate with people who hurt me. Others won’t make that choice because they don’t want to. I think both approaches are equally valid. I personally make the choice just because if I had to restrict my choices, I might end up having barely any friends at all. And since a lot of people who have hurt me are sort of popular and ubiquitous in my groups, there’s a lot of parties I don’t end up going to and a lot of places I avoid. To lose what little people I have on top of that would mean I’d lose what tiny social life I have. But I won’t deny that, for the most part, I feel very unsupported by a lot of my friends and partners. Because they continue to associate with people who hurt me, it does hurt. I often feel like no one cares and it’s a large part of why I feel hopeless about the situation.

The politics of these situations are nuanced and difficult, and I get that. Most people get that and understand that. But I feel like there’s a big taboo over the head of anyone who goes through pain who makes a request for friends to show their respect of that pain by not associating with certain people. I feel like that’s seen as manipulative and harsh. Maybe the fact that I can’t do that and honestly would like to in certain situations makes me re-think this, because it’s not actually that harsh. Because I think that there’s something understandable in wanting your friends and the people you associate to respect your pain enough to realise that they at the very least should show you that they respect it, even if they weren’t involved.

When you’re forced to make a choice about who you want to interact with and forced to defend why, it brings up a lot of defensiveness. I certainly understand that. I think people feel so defensive, guilty, and unsure about making the choice, that they fling those feelings back on the person who makes that request. So instead of them feeling bad that they continue to associate with someone who hurt someone, they make the request seem audacious and out of line. Now, I wouldn’t doubt there are people out there who request something like that and don’t respect the fact that we’re all dealing with certain issues that we can’t escape or avoid. If I associate with someone who has hurt my friend and they’re also a work colleague that I see constantly, it might be difficult or impossible for me to not associate with that someone. I think for the most part, when we’re making that request, we need to be understanding of people’s limitations.

 

Hermoine
 

One of the things I dislike about the treatment of Hermoine is the way that Harry and Ron constantly either rely on her to do their work or, especially when it comes to S.P.E.W., constantly put her down for what she thinks. In many cases I find myself asking why she’s friends with either of them when they disrespect her so much and the issue of S.P.E.W. really puts her in a difficult place. Should she befriend people with such polar opposite views? Practically no one supports S.P.E.W. with her. 

But also, I think we need to own our associations. If you make the choice that you are going to associate with someone, I think it’s only fair you realise the effect that choice has. It’s only fair to understand that the person who’s been hurt might feel more hurt, abandoned, or unsupported. For someone like me, who’s accepted it and doesn’t expect anyone to stop talking to people who have hurt me, it makes it much worse to have people expect me to be happy about associating with people who hurt me and to give that my blessing. I won’t give it my blessing. I will be unhappy when I see people associating with others that have hurt me. That’s how my feelings are. And I think it’s unfair to expect me to change my feelings or be happy about something like that. Ultimately, I get to define how people can best support me. And if people make choices, despite their best intentions and feelings, that I feel do not support me, I have the right to decide that and feel unsupported by it. I don’t have to operate by someone else’s definition of caring and support.

When it comes to who we decide to associate with, I think the most important thing for us to do is take ownership of it and to understand that, while we can’t control others’ feelings, we can at the very least understand the feelings others have about our choices.

Guest Post: Thoughts on Hugo Schwyzer & Mental Illness- Straight From His Sexting Partner

Kitty Stryker here. I normally wouldn’t get sucked into the discussion of Hugo Schwyzer, but I felt a draw to this piece by Christina Parriera, the sex worker who was outed by an abusive ex as Hugo’s sexting partner. I have seen mirrors of Hugo’s Male! Feminist! Ally! while being abusive and not taking ownership in his personal life in people in my own life, and I bet you might have seen it in your own circles.

I want to acknowledge that my privilege may be blinding me to stuff within this, so please do call me out if that’s the case!- but I do appreciate that it discusses mental illness, abusive behaviour, and accountability as not mutually exclusive.

Hyperbole and a Half Pain Database- also applicable to emotional pain? Discuss.

 

The past five days of my life have been an absolute clusterfuck. I live in Las Vegas, but flew to Boston for the weekend. Afterwards, I went to Providence to stay with friends, and now I’m back on a plane. I had hoped my weekend getaway would be stress free, and although it was pleasant, it was not without drama. This is likely the last piece I will write addressing the Huge Schwyzer issue. I think that many people want to move forward and begin to heal. There were positives that came from the situation, like the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen trend, and several discussions about race, class, gender, consent, and privilege. His meltdown got people talking about critical issues, and so I’d like to acknowledge the silver lining. It also got people talking about mental illness and culpability. This is what I want to address, and although I know many of you may disagree with what I have to say, I’m going to say it anyways. I’m hoping that at least a few people will see my point. At the very least, perhaps this can spur some interesting and respectful discussions.

First, I need to preface this. If you’re reading my blog, by now you probably already know that I’m the sex worker who got caught in the “sexting” scandal with Schwyzer. You can read my piece in Tits and Sass I’m The Sex Worker Who Was Outed As Hugo Schwyzer’s Sexting Partner to get a background of the situation, and of how those texts got leaked.

 

Second, I will once again clarify that I have never met Schwyzer. I have had several phone, email, and social media interactions with him, and was going to speak in his Navigating Pornography course last February, but that never happened. Third (and perhaps most important to the context of this article): I DO NOT CONDONE WHAT THIS MAN HAS DONE. He is an abuser. He is manipulative, attention seeking, selfish, and he has done unspeakable things to women in his past. Full stop. There is no excusing that, and if you read my article in Tits & Sass, you’ll see that he also betrayed my trust. So, given all that he’s done, I can understand why people’s immediate reaction to his mental illness is “that’s no excuse. He’s still an asshole,” and some even believe that he’s not mentally ill. I honestly cannot wrap my head around anyone who could possibly think Hugo Schwyzer is not mentally ill. Perhaps this has to do with a public lack of awareness about the different types of mental illness. I obtained a MA in clinical psychology and got through almost two years of doctoral study in the same discipline. I treated patients in various settings for almost 3 years, including at an intensive outpatient clinic that exclusively treated patients with borderline personality disorder (one of Hugo’s major diagnoses). There is more to mental illness than just anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADHD some of the most commonly talked about illnesses.
Many people are asserting that he’s not ill, but rather, that he’s a sociopath. Well, that statement makes no sense. The term “sociopath” is actually a way to describe individuals who have been diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder. This is a very real mental illness. It is difficult to treat, and characterized by abusive behavior, manipulation, and many of the other behaviors that Hugo presents with. Again, I am not making excuses. I am simply stating facts. He has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, a very serious Axis II personality disorder that is pervasive and difficult to treat. Signs of the disorder are usually present early on in life, and continue through adulthood. Common features include self-harm, suicidal tendencies, attention-seeking behavior, a pattern of unstable and volatile relationships, sexual promiscuity, identity crises, and extreme black & white thinking. Sound familiar? Yes of course it does. It sounds exactly like Hugo.
He’s also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features. This is perhaps the most severe aspect of his illness. I’ve seen people critique his constant manic episodes, saying that it’s not possible to swing that rapidly. However, there is a form of bipolar disorder that DOES rapid cycle, and it’s the biggest pain in the ass to treat. So, all three diagnoses are very severe and in my honest opinion, I believe they are accurate. Now let’s be clear- I have never met him, I am not qualified to diagnose him, and I am not his therapist. However, I am extremely familiar with the disorders, I used to diagnose patients in a healthcare setting, and from my interactions with Hugo, I think it’s likely that they’re spot on. Just my opinion.
So, what does this all mean? For starters, he should not be agreeing to interviews while he’s in this state. He’s on very heavy and sedating medications. He appears to be rapid cycling through mania. I think journalists should have waited to interview him. He’s not even remotely close to stable right now, as is clear by his frequent Twitter meltdowns despite his claim of “quitting the internet.” He should stay the hell OFF the internet. It’s not doing him any favors and it’s only upsetting to the people who he has hurt. But once again, he’s hardly in a place where he can think clearly. I messaged him yesterday and told him to GET THE FUCK OFF TWITTER. I’m not enabling his destructive behaviors, and once again, I hope everyone understands that the point of this article is not to enable him.
I am not an apologist for his bad behavior, but here is what I do want to stress: it is possible to be a complete asshole/abuser AND be mentally ill. When people make statements such as “he’s not sick, just an abuser,” I’m baffled. Why are we unable to hold the dialectic that both are possible? Is his illness an excuse for his behavior? Absolutely not. He must be held accountable, but we must also be savvy enough to consider the possible etiology of some of his behaviors. I think it’s much easier for people to just close their ears and say “I don’t care that he’s sick. He’s a jerk.” Well, that’s the easiest way to look at the situation, especially for his victims. It’s just not true though.

Perhaps people are quick to discount his illness because they fear that it will excuse his bad behavior. As a society, we need to get over that. It should not excuse his behavior. If a sociopath kills someone, he should go to jail. However, I think it’s interesting to explore the disorder and what led the sociopath to do such a heinous thing. It likely has to do with his disorder, right? Of course it does. Perhaps the only reason I’m intrigued is because of my background and mental health training. I’ve always been fascinated by disorders, etiologies, behaviors. I’ve also had my own struggles. My fascination does not translate into forgiveness. I’m just taking a balanced and fair assessment of the situation. As an aside, I did some crappy things that I’m not proud of when I was in an abusive relationship. That’s no excuse for some of my behaviors, but it is important to note that they were brought on as a result of being abused. That doesn’t mean I’m not taking responsibility.

 

Some say that he’s faking the whole thing and that he’s not ill. What? That man is sick as hell. Mentally healthy people don’t behave in the way that he has. On the other hand, not all mentally ill people do behave the way he did, and no one says they have to. I’ve seen a lot of people say “he’s making mentally ill people look bad.” That’s ridiculous. There are hundreds of different types of illnesses and thousands of ways that they can be co-morbid and manifest themselves. He doesn’t need to be a poster child for mental illness, but to discount the fact that he does have several of them isn’t helpful either.

Another point of interest- people saying that he’s white and privileged and can get treatment. They seem upset about this. If Hugo were a minority of low socioeconomic status, he wouldn’t be able to get the high level of care that he’s receiving. Yes, that’s absolutely true, and it’s terrible. But, what does that mean? Does it mean that Hugo shouldn’t get treatment? That’s also absurd. I wish that everyone could get the same level of care that he’s getting. It should be a basic human right, but just because some people get it and others don’t doesn’t mean that no one should. This man is destructive and has hurt MANY people, including me. Shouldn’t we ENCOURAGE him to be in treatment so that he can stop his abusive behavior? That’s the ideal outcome.

We should also be angry. We should express it, write about it, tweet about it, etc. Absolutely. People have a right to be pissed off. Women of color have a serious right to be pissed off. Again, my point is that all of these things are simultaneously possible. For some reason, people have a hard time accepting these many truths, and sometimes it’s not a neat and tidy presentation. A man can be abusive, manipulative, mentally ill, and deserving of care. All at the same time, even if some of us hate him. We also don’t (and should not) use his illness as a free pass for him. He’s gotten enough of those, and he should not be enabled right now. All I’m saying is to examine the possibility that his mental illness is a large part of what leads to his terrible behaviors. If you look up the symptoms of borderline personality disorder, it’s characterized by his exact behaviors, even the worst of his behaviors. So, that’s all I want people to take away from this. That it doesn’t need to be black and white. It doesn’t need to be either “he’s mentally healthy and just lying to all of us” or “he’s mentally ill and deserves a free pass.” It can be “he’s mentally ill and should be accountable for his actions.” These aren’t excuses. They’re truths, and we don’t have to place judgments and assumptions on them. They can simply be. Actually, this is a large premise of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, the only empirically supported treatment for those with borderline personality disorder. I worked at a DBT unit, and we used to teach our patients about mindfulness, non-judgmental stances, and radical acceptance.

 

By knowing his diagnoses, we can at least begin to understand WHY he did what he did. It doesn’t mean we have to forgive him, but at least we can be knowledgable. What’s so bad about that? Why are people so quick to assume he’s not sick? I don’t think many people would spend almost 2 weeks in a psychiatric facility if they were healthy. Doctors and psychiatrists would likely see through it after a thorough assessment. How did he get all of those prescriptions if he’s not ill? Or perhaps some of you think he’s also lying about that. Hell, maybe he is and maybe I’m totally wrong! That’s also a possibility but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and believing that he was in the hospital and that he was prescribed those medications. Is it possible that he’s exaggerating his symptoms and playing the “mentally ill role” for sympathy? Yes, and he probably is. That’s the sort of attention-seeking behavior that’s typical of borderline personality disorder. There’s a reason that most therapists don’t like to work with BPD patients. They’re difficult as hell. They’re a challenge, and one that I found exhilarating actually. It’s very complex.

 

Hugo needs to take responsibility for what he’s done, but we don’t need to accept his apology. Everyone has a right to feel the way that they do, and to react in a way that they can feel good about.
I feel good about acknowledging that many of his horrible actions are related to his diagnoses, that he’s screwing up, that he pissed me off, and that he still deserves proper mental health treatment.

 

Even if he is a one hundred percent sociopath, that still means he has a mental illness. Unfortunately, the prognosis isn’t great, but he claims to only have traits. I’m not sure how things will turn out for him, but I honestly wish him the best and hope he gets treatment.

 

Do I think he should teach again & be around students? No. Well, not unless he seriously goes through extensive treatment AND takes a LONG break. I doubt a short leave of absence will make a difference. Should feminists trust him again? Ha, fuck no. Should we recognize that he has an illness and it may have contributed to some of this. Yes. That’s ALL I’m saying.

 

I hope some of that made sense. It was written with good intentions.Yours truly amidst the chaos,
Christina Parreira