Consent, Community, and the Importance of Leadership


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Poly Living Philadelphia!
This weekend (if you’ve been following me on Twitter), you may have noticed that I was at Poly Living Philadelphia. PLP is a reasonably small con hosted by Loving More, a non-profit that focuses on poly activism and relationship choice. There were a number of amazing things to come out of the weekend. I shared some pretty spectacular kisses. I met some new friends, and some friends I had known in cyberspace. Meeting people in fleshspace is always a treat though, and I’m glad I was finally able to really see these folks in person! Beyond that, I got to meet (and embarrass myself in front of) Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert who are amazing human beings. I went to a few incredible sessions. The Poly Activism session was incredible, and gave me a lot of real suggestions for being an activist- not to mention connecting me with some incredible people. The first day of sessions, I went to Abuse in Polyamorous Relationships, lead by Franklin and Eve, and it was incredibly eye-opening. I highly recommend checking out their slideshow I linked, as it was incredibly intense, but very telling on what we should be doing as a community.

That being said, with every good thing, comes some bad. Before I really dig into this topic, I want to take a moment to discuss a few things in terms of why I am writing this post. At some point, someone decided that I was worth listening to. That I was worth their respect, and their trust. That I was in a place to be a leader, and I take that responsibility very seriously. If someone is going to put their faith and trust in what I am saying and doing, and look to me as an example of the poly community, I’m going to make sure the things I have to say are worth being listened to.

One of the things I pulled away from this weekend was that we as a community do not really know how to handle abusive relationships. We don’t know how to move forward in the community after someone is accused or even convicted of sexual assault or recurring abuse. After the events of this weekend, I can absolutely see the truth in that.

The Known Information

It is not my job to tell you how to live your life. It is not my job to tell you who to be friends or partners with. The reason I am giving this information is that I believe that people need to have all the information surrounding a given topic in order to make a fully informed decision. I believe that my personal opinion on the topic in this instance is not relevant, but that by not commenting, compiling on this (now public) information, I am doing my community a disservice. What I am going to give you now is the known information. Keep in mind that just because something is known, does not make it truth.

[EDITED to include followup information, that information is dated below]

A Community Divided

First things first. Let us talk about the last point. It is common that when someone in leadership is accused of any sort of misconduct, the first response is to question the accusations. It is incredibly hard for us to justify the fact that we have put our faith, trust, and sometimes even love in someone who could potentially be guilty of something horrible. I feel that it is an especially hard pill to swallow when it is someone who is speaking for a small or marginalized community. We are already fighting for equality and attention, we don’t need or want to have our movements destroyed because someone who is speaking for us is engaging in problematic behaviors.

When someone comes forward and accuses a leader of misconduct, the community tends to splinter into two groups. Those who believe the accusations, and those who do not. The community becomes fractured. Many times, those split communities can continue on their own, but they have now lost the support of the rest of their community. They have lost friends, potential partners, support networks, and more. Often, if the person who is accusing the leader is a newer member, they can be blacklisted, banished, and not believed because of their newness in the community. Because of that ability to isolate and remove a person from a community, if reports of abuse are true, it can be even easier to perpetuate abuse by choosing victims who can be easily isolated.

For instance, because the poly community is so interconnected, and yet so insulated, if someone is blacklisted or banished from the community for speaking out or speaking up about sexual assault or abuse, it is likely that a new person will not know that there were concerns in the first place. That ability to isolate someone who does not have all the information from other poly groups who are “doing it wrong”, is a bit frightening. Shea Emma Fett wrote an excellent article on abuse and identifying abuse in polyamorous relationships, and I wholeheartedly recommend reading it.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I believe in the power of restorative justice for a community. I believe that individuals should not have their lives ruined over one mistake. I believe that people can change, and that they can reconsider things. I also believe that the way you create justice for people is by finding out how to heal the wounds of the victims, especially in cases where it is hard to assign a value. In the case of theft, you can have the perpetrator pay back the victims, but it’s hard to assign a value on someone’s mental status after a sexual assault.

Well, let’s assume, for just one second that Wes *did* in fact do these things.

I feel that in the event that he did these things he should stop speaking publicly as a voice for the Poly community. He should be removed as a leader. He should be regarded with distrust until he publicly (or privately at the request of the victims) makes amends, and even then, it should be public knowledge that he did these things and made amends. He should also be given support through the entire process, and encouraged to know that just because he did bad things doesn’t make him a bad person.

At the end of the day, when the primary tenet of polyamory is informed consent (ie. ability to have an emotional relationship with more than one person, with the full consent of all parties involved.), violations are serious, and should be taken very seriously. We as polyamorous people, need to do better. We need to be better about standing up for loved ones, and those we see in our community who might be struggling. Shea Emma Fett has also written about the community response to abuse in poly, similarly, Franklin Veaux has expanded on those ideas in an incredibly thoughtful way (as usual). Please read both pieces if you can, as they’re both wonderful, well worded posts. In addition, I do want to note that the Poly Leadership Network has been wonderful in terms of supporting the people who have come forward, as well as noting that removal from the PLN is not necessarily permanent, once the appropriate amends have been made.

Being a Leader

Being a leader means you are held to a higher standard of accountability. You have this power, this respect, this trust from the community, and that means that you need to uphold their trust in you. If you have positioned yourself in such a way that you are taking on the role of being a leader (for instance, teaching workshops, writing blog posts, or speaking publicly on the topic), you have a responsibility. You have a responsibility when you are speaking as a voice and a face for your community-especially a marginalized community- to behave better. To be better.  It is unfortunate that even within a community that is so emphatic on consent and communication, that we even need to be having this conversation. It is unfortunate that we don’t know how to care for our own, or support our own. To put it simply, “With great power, comes great responsibility”.

If anyone questions my response to this, or my criticisms of the poly community or leaders therein, I have this to say: Being called a leader, means that I am looked at with respect by someone. It means that I have a responsibility to be open and fair and kind to the members of my community. In the event that I am put into a place where I am forced to behave or react a certain way at a disservice to my community, simply to continue to call myself a leader, I will no longer be called a leader, because I will choose my community every time.

Be kind to each other, and be kind to yourselves.

Until Next Time,
-The Frisky Fairy

 [Author’s Note: Comments will be moderated for this post, in the event of any bullying, harassment, or threats comments will be turned off, and all IP addresses involved will be blocked from this blog.]

 

9 Replies to “Consent, Community, and the Importance of Leadership”

  1. Rebecca,

    I appreciate you speaking about this openly and publicly. I encourage anyone with an opinion on this topic to comment. I would object to the statement that I haven’t acknowledged the claims against me. I’ve done so through the PLN leadership, as they are the only ones who have actually contacted me so far. I would note that there has not been a single person who has commented on this situation (including the PLN leadership), who has made any attempt to request my side of the story.

    One reason I have avoided commenting publicly so far is that I am not aware of exactly what I’m accused of doing. The PLN, and anyone else who knows, has refused to inform me. So I don’t really know how to comment, and any comment I make could risk violating someone’s privacy who isn’t involved. So for now, I have been keeping mum on relevant details until I know, at the very least, what I’m accused of and who is doing the accusing. The blog post you linked to above is at least peripherally involved, and is definitely an instance of wrongdoing on my part. However, I’m not sure if the woman involved is part of these accusations, and until I know she’s involved, I won’t comment with any details that could compromise her privacy. I wrote about it months ago, with as few details as possible, in an effort to make sure the community was aware of my imperfections (and also so people could learn from my mistakes). I definitely agree that leaders should be held to a higher standard, and I wanted to make sure that everyone was aware that I’d made mistakes in the past. I am also interested in making amends, but I’ve been told that the woman involved doesn’t wish to speak to me, so my only real option for making amends is leaving her alone, which I’ve been doing. Although I don’t see myself as a leader (I just advocate for what I think is right, but I figure most people disagree with me), I can see how other people might view me that way, and I definitely agree that, for that reason, my actions should be subject to a higher-than-normal level of scrutiny.

    I am very invested in avoiding any splintering of the community. I have made no efforts to enlist supporters or even tell my side of the story outside of a few close friends. The community has even less information that I do, and until all the facts come out, I don’t think there’s any reason to take sides about anything. Also, I’m not terribly popular or anything. My blog gets only about 10,000 hits a year, and while actual community leaders may know my name, I doubt anyone is going to come rushing to my defense. I will say that, of the 3 women who (I think) are making accusations, there is only one who I feel is being dishonest (RabbitDarling, linked above). The other two (assuming I’m correct about who is making the accusations) are merely giving their interpretation of events, which I feel is flawed, but I don’t suspect them of intentional dishonesty. More likely, they are subject to groupthink and confirmation bias due to the fact that the particular community has marked me as an enemy due to the circumstances in which they exited our lives.

    Those circumstances involve Shaun McGonigle, the author of Polyskeptic.com, committing horrible and undeniable abuse to my wife Gina, who wrote about her experience here (http://livingwithinreason.com/?s=for+the+record)last March. Gina’s experience with Shaun is the primary reason why abuse in poly relationships is such a visceral topic for me. Shaun has never made any attempt to make up for what he did, and even gaslighted Gina earlier this week, telling her that her claims of abuse were “a gigantic embellishment.” In the year since we kicked him and his wife out of our home, Shaun has been desperate to deflect blame for his behavior onto me, and he has been able to enlist a number of allies, almost all of whom were members of his romantic network at the time, and all of whom are now coordinating their attacks to cause maximum injury. As I’ve said, I believe that only RabbitDarling is being actively dishonest, but their interpretations of the situation are most definitely colored by Shaun’s (and to a lesser extent, his wife’s) successful attempts to turn his entire romantic network against us.

    Anyway, I’m hopeful that all the facts will be able to come out shortly, and that the community will have the information it needs for individuals to make their own decisions about right, wrong, and who should be listened to. I thank you for drawing attention to this issue, as I think it is critically important for the poly community to develop healthy strategies for dealing with abuse. I know from Gina’s experience that the community is pretty poorly-equipped to deal with abuse victims and abusers, so I’m hopeful that we can all develop those skills together.

  2. I read Gina, Shuan, and Ginny’s blog posts about what happened, and there is something that I’d really like to gently ask about Gina’s post.

    Before I do, I would like to say that it sounds like everybody had a really horrible experience and my question isn’t meant to push blame onto anybody. I can absolutely feel how stressed Gina was about everything that happened (and FTR, I’m not willing, based on what I’ve read thus far, to make the assumption that anybody is absolutely at fault (or not at fault) for the things that transpired) – but although she frequently mentions how stressed she felt about things (like how clean the home was, interrupting Shaun while he was playing video games, how stressed she felt about not using condoms), I didn’t see anything specifically about all of you talking about those issues/how they were handled/why talking failed.

    The main reason I ask is because if everybody is now attempting to give factual accounts about where things went wrong, it seems like a large omission to not detail failed discussions about these things – was the level of cleanliness in the home discussed? How did that go? Did anybody talk to Shaun about his snappiness at times? What is snappishness? Was he nasty or grumpy? Apt to be unpleasant to someone who interrupted him for hours, or did he get over it quickly? Did Shaun and Gina have a conversation about her negative feelings about not using condoms (also FTR, I agree that Shaun’s non-condom use was a terribly, risky thing to do – something that he has, also FTR, admitted on his blog was a really shit thing to do).

    I’m asking in part because I resonate really strongly with a lot of what Gina wrote about having feelings of worthlessness or being afraid to assert what I want and what I need in a relationship. Before I gained self-confidence, I had a lot of relationships that were shitty in part because I never felt comfortable communicating what I wanted and needed. Hell, I recently had a relationship fail with my current partner, when we talked about something that happened a few months ago that I felt very horrible and upset about. He knew that I was unhappy, because I did express that, but I hadn’t expressed how unhappy I was, in part because I was afraid that expressing my unhappiness would have caused conflict and arguments with my metamour, and I was feeling emotionally fragile enough that I deemed swallowing my unhappiness and not dealing with further conflict would be better than being open about it and risking more conflict. So I swallowed my feelings on the subject until they came out organically in a tangential conversation recently. My partner was very distressed to learn how upset I’d been, but he also understood that I had reached the limit of my ability to handle emotional conflict and distress, and I was doing the best I could with the energy I had to make sure the situation didn’t get beyond my ability to cope with.

    Anyways, my point is that if Gina wasn’t open about the level of her stress and nerves about those things, and there wasn’t a conversation about how to change/rework/improve them, then I’m not sure how they could have been fixed or improved. I’m also chary of assigning blame or culpability towards another person in these kinds of examples, if they were never discussed with that person.

    Lastly, something I’d like to address with you, directly, Wes. I saw a blog post among the “for the record” posts that talks about the “Kerkeslager Effect”. It took about five minutes of googling to find a person who appears to have the last name, and be Gina’s previous partner.

    I’m certainly not The Arbiter of All Things – just a poly person trying to figure out my own best way to be a respectful human being. But if you are using the (very distinct) last name of a private individual who committed relationship wrongs in that manner, at the least, it seems in very poor taste. At the most, it seems disrespectful and mocking. Is it something that you find acceptable to name something like after someone who is currently living (and I can hope) committed to changing and improving? Even if this person has no interesting in changing, I’m taken aback by the idea that someone (in such a small community) may be branded by yourself and your friends by that kind of moniker. Which is why I’m asking –are you using someone’s actual last name, and why are you comfortable doing that?

  3. Gia,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree that Gina’s post is a little light on facts. It was never intended to be used as evidence in a dispute, but was meant more as a way of expression for her and a way to warn current or future partners of Shaun’s to watch out for certain behavior patterns. I completely agree that, when there is a dispute about who did what to whom, it’s important to focus on facts. In private correspondence (which was shown publicly after Shaun’s public attacks last July), I sent Ginny (and copied Shaun) a list of 37 facts that I had either observed myself or heard from other people. You can view the list here: (http://bit.ly/1DWl66w). Included are several references to Shaun being asked to stop his behavior or told that his behavior was causing damage, and Shaun ignoring all such communications. Shaun never addressed his behavior identified or sought in any way to make amends or start a constructive dialogue. This would actually have been everyone’s preferred solution if he had simply withdrawn and not bothered us any further. Sadly, that is not what happened.

    I’m sure Gina wasn’t perfect about it, and she let a lot of things slide without speaking up (and I do think that people share that responsibility in a relationship), so I’m sure that some of what Shaun did was done without knowing it hurt, which isn’t his fault. But there were plenty of times that she did speak up and was ignored. And there are also a number of things that Shaun did (threats of violence, throwing chairs, passive-aggression) that people ought to know unreasonably hurts people without being told.

    Re: The Kirkeslagher Effect. I was worried about that, so I checked Google before I posted it. I was unable to find him, and nobody sharing his first name comes up in the first five pages of Google results. However, as you were apparently able to find him, I’ve gone back and changed the spelling on the blog to make it harder for people to link it to him. I think a bit of gentle teasing is appropriate, given how, really, he treated Gina pretty poorly, but I certainly don’t want to harm his reputation or make people think he’s a jerk or anything. So far as I know, nobody in his social circle reads my blog (he doesn’t identify as polyamorous, and doesn’t spend any time in the poly community), and if I got any indication from him that he was aware of the post and it bothered him, I would change the name to something else. Likewise, if that post starts getting an inordinate level of traffic (it’s gotten under 1,000 hits in the past year, my blog really isn’t very popular!), I would probably contact him and ask for permission.

    Do you feel that’s reasonable, or do you think I ought to just not use anything that sounds like his name? I’m sure it’s still possible to link to him if someone puts in the necessary effort.

  4. I don’t really belong here. I no longer really identify as poly (rather, it applied to me when it was a broader term, but as it has gotten more popular and allowed for more nuance in the movement, no longer applies to me), and haven’t been part of the “poly community” for nearly 15 years. I’ve never met Wes IRL (nor any of his alleged victims, to my knowledge), and only briefly met Gina, when she was introduced to me by Shaun at a chance encounter during their relationship and I opted to swallow my bile and make nice. I regret that now. I wonder if I hadn’t considered it “not-my-place” to share what I knew about him, I could have saved her so much pain. That’s why I am somewhat following this situation now, and that’s why I’m posting here. Because I do hold some relevant pieces of information from Shaun’s past (things he claims he acknowledges and is working on and should not continue to have held against him, a claim I disagree with). And I hope by now speaking out, perhaps I will help save somebody else in the future (much like Shaun’s own purported motives in this latest round of drama).

    I saw Shaun admit to a shocking account of physical abuse toward a romantic partner. I also saw him frequently go back-and-forth on whether this was his own failing, or whether it was her fault (generally depending on whether or not she was in the room). I saw him lie. I saw him seek out multiple romantic partners in order to create situations where he played them against each other, compelled them to “compete” for him, and used one’s boundary lines as a way of changing the other’s. I saw him talk a good game about lack-of-jealousy about other’s partners, but when confronted with the reality of such people, horrifically malign their character, and hurtfully storm out of important events, later explained as ‘what he had to do in order to avoid reacting with violence’. This threat of violence, incidentally, was based on no provocation other than being in the same room with someone who Shaun perceived himself as having “lost” a romantic partner to.

    All that said, as I mentioned, I have NO IDEA if Wes actually did the things he’s accused of. I have no idea who is doing the accusing. I am generally inclined to believe the victim, and see the value of that in all cases, including this one. But the fact that the person with the loudest voice beating a constant drumbeat decrying Wes’s actions (the only reason I first heard of Wes) is Shaun, gives me pause. It seems highly possible that Shaun’s skill with manipulation and appearance of being such a good guy, combined with his endless vendetta against Wes (again, the only reason I came to know of Wes), and need for control over Gina, could be coloring people’s memories. I do hope that those close to him proceed with caution, and I wish them all the luck in the future.

    1. Given that I am a content provider at times at both Polyskeptic and at my own blog, I can assure you I am the loudest voice here. My account, linked above, has received over 4,000 views, with an additional 600 since yesterday’s post detailing Wes’ somewhat problematic correspondence with me, with over 7,000 views, RT’s and tweets in thread on Twitter. I came to identify my relationship with my former polycule as abusive /several months/ before I reconnected with Shaun, and your insinuation that I am being manipulated by him into putting my neck on the line to speak my truth, or amplify the accounts of persons involved who prefer to stay anonymous for (I might mention) demonstrably sound reasons, given Wes’ past and current behavior is indicative of a pretty problematic view of my agency and autonomy.

      Shaun, in this case, is merely acting as my signal boost, since we share experiences in common and he is active in communities where I am not.

    2. Rachel,

      You and I were in a poly relationship with someone else (who I will not name here) less than 8 years ago. And while my relationship with that other person was pretty awful (on both sides), and I certainly was abusive to her at times, the stories I have been hearing about what I did to her are an exaggeration. (I’ve heard, through a partner of mine, that she is telling Wes that I put her in the hospital. That never happened, nothing even remotely close to it happened).

      You are obviously very angry with me. But I believe you are attributing malice to me where I simply was less mature, emotionally and in terms of experience, than I am today.

      “I saw Shaun admit to a shocking account of physical abuse toward a romantic partner. I also saw him frequently go back-and-forth on whether this was his own failing, or whether it was her fault”

      This is almost certainly true. In my opinion, any amount of physical abuse is shocking. And while the amount of physical abuse that happened was actually quite small, it is something that I still have nightmares about, occasionally, today. At that time, I certainly did slough a lot of my own responsibility. I am deeply embarrassed by this, even still.

      “I saw him lie. I saw him seek out multiple romantic partners in order to create situations where he played them against each other, compelled them to “compete” for him, and used one’s boundary lines as a way of changing the other’s. ”

      Here, you lose me. You are attributing internal motives to me that I do not remember having, or being part of what my mind is like, even at it’s worst (which has been pretty bad, I’ll admit).

      “I saw him talk a good game about lack-of-jealousy about other’s partners, but when confronted with the reality of such people, horrifically malign their character, and hurtfully storm out of important events, later explained as ‘what he had to do in order to avoid reacting with violence’. This threat of violence, incidentally, was based on no provocation other than being in the same room with someone who Shaun perceived himself as having “lost” a romantic partner to.”

      Yup, I was jealous and insecure as fuck. I don’t deny it. You broke up with me because your ex, who wanted to give it another try, had a rule against you dating other men. That made me really jealous and insecure, plus I really cared about you, so knowing that it meant our relationship was ending hurt like hell.

      I was sucked into a narrative by another ex of mine who knew that ex of yours a little, and because it fit my jealousy and anger, I believed her views. But I didn’t leave that party of yours to avoid doing any violence. I left because the amount of jealousy and pain I had was too great, and I would only have said something mean or just been an ass. I left because I didn’t want to ruin your party. After re-reading the emails from back then, I can see why you thought I was saying that I’d use violence, but I was just afraid of making an ass out of myself.

      As for the rest, I don’t know what to say. The man you knew back then was not such a good guy, even though I very much wanted to be. I did manipulate (not intentionally, but that doesn’t make much of a difference). The fact is that aside from that one time we bumped into one another at that event, we have not spoken in many years. I do not have a vendetta against Wes, but I have spoken out against a person who hurt myself and others. You have heard mostly me because up until recently, we were facebook friends. So what else would you have heard, in regards to this?

      And yes, I did hurt Gina. But I never raised my hand to her, never hit her, and the fact is that her stories of abuse only even came about after we started pointing out the problematic behavior of Wes. I’m the one who first cut off contact with her. Before that, we were talking and actually considering whether we might get back together in the future. Now, it turns out that she felt abused. I believe her, and I am almost certainly responsible for that.

      But you, Rachel, are many years removed from me, and what happened many years ago is very far removed from all of this. I am not the same man you knew then.

  5. Fair enough. When I attributed the “loudest voice” to Shaun, that was decidedly coming from my own perspective as a distant outsider. I’ve known some really good people who were manipulated by Shaun (as I too have been), so please do not take the fact that I consider such a thing to be possible to be intended as a slight on you or your agency. That said, I intend this to be my final comment on this issue, and I am only making it to apologize for incorrectly labeling Shaun’s voice as loudest. That is how it seems to me, but I have no reason to believe that makes it objectively true. I felt I had a valuable piece to contribute to the puzzle, largely in response to a questioning comment made in this thread. But I am not trying to say I have any knowledge of the entire picture. Hence why I’m shutting up now.

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