I will not tolerate abusive or harassing behavior on my site. My site, my rules. Don’t like it? GTFO.
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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]
- Wesley Fenza (of Living Within Reason) has been accused of various consent violations ranging from minor (unwanted touching) to major (unwanted sex), in addition to emotional abuse and harassment.
- Shaunphilly of PolySkeptic has spoken publicly of his experience with Wes, the comments of that post include comments from Wesley’s family.
- Wes has been removed from the Poly Leadership Network after multiple people have come forward to give their account of their experiences with him.
- RabbitDarling has released her story and events that lead to her accusations.
- Wes has, acknowledged a consent violation as a result of mis-communication and relying on non-verbal cues (2014).
- Wes is no longer listed as a speaker on the Atlanta Poly Weekend Website [2.25.2015]
- Wes has not, at this time, acknowledged the claims against him.[AN: Wesley has commented on the claims in the comments below [2.25.2015.]] [AN: Wesley has released a 73 page, 10 part document detailing his account here [3.15.2015].]
- RabbitDarling has released an email exchange between herself and Wes that occurred since the initial accusations [2.26.2015].
- IrenaRowley has released her account of her accusations here (MASSIVE content notice) [2.26.2015].
- Wesley Fenza has been a noted resource and speaker on polyamory, consent, and other issues within the poly community.
- Wes’s partner Amber has expressed her account of the story here. (Content Notice) [3.7.2015]
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