"What is punishment? If I were to ensure that you could never again make a living to support yourself and your family, that would be punishment. If I were to take your liberty, that's punishment. If I were to kill you, that's punishment. A powerful person losing [their] powerful position because [they] abused that power is not a punishment."
Mariame Kaba, American Activist & Organizer (pg4)
All quotes in this post are from Turn this World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture by Nora Samaran unless otherwise stated
To support those harmed by misogynistic abuse always seemed to me like a worthy pursuit. But as a survivor of rape, incest, intimate partner abuse and maternal narcissism, I cannot deny that among all the altruistic motivations which are undoubtedly present, my work documenting and corroborating the stories of those who experienced harm at the hands of Franklin Veaux––currently at the centre of the polyamory #metoo crisis––is also partly selfish, partly vengeful. There is also id. I want all those responsible for abusive behaviours to be called out. It makes me angry that those who abused have gotten away with it for so fucking long. Anger has blocked my ability to empathize, and no doubt this has been detectable by those reading my work. I cannot wholly extract myself from my own experience.
So I’ve struggled to find my compassion for Franklin Veaux, as the women came forward with stories in varying degrees of harm––some in the realm of 'shittiness,' others in the realm of *holy shit.* Yet compassion, or at least respect and dignity for each person involved, including those who have harmed, are the foundations of transformative justice. Through this work, an advance reader copy of Turn This World Inside Out, The Emergence of Nurturance Culture by Nora Samaran found its way into my hands. And although at 140 pages it’s only little, its impact on me has been disproportionately large. It has helped me find compassion; it has helped me connect fragments of ideas which existed in my brain already, but floated untethered in abstract (where they were of no use at all). Specifically, Nora’s book has helped me by providing three core frames.
I am, whether I like it or not, connected to every person in this world. Franklin Veaux (see Polyamory #metoo)and I are both “inherently part of a larger unbreakable web of connectedness”––the”deeply interwoven ecological” system of humanity (pg 6).
And I am closer to him than I am to many of my unknown webmates. I have interviewed him twice, on intimate subject matter. I have used my own influence to get him published, as my co-author, in Huffington Post. I have skyped privately with him on the nature of abuse. I have had dinner with him and Eve before we all walked around Munich together, and we met again at their event in Berlin. He’s co-owner of my publishing company. He wrote the foreword to one of my books, goddammit. And designed the covers for them all.
So I am connected to him within the community web that supports us both, and therefore also connected to the harm he has done. Our choice as a community might be to fling him out to the lions, or together try to mend “any rip or fray in the social fabric [which] is a threat to the well-being of the whole.” (pg 15)
We are the richer for Veaux’s body of work, I feel. Yet the harm he has done cannot be allowed to proliferate as it has done. His acts must have consequences if our community is to regard itself as ethical at all. So the work we are doing, to bring to light the women’s stories, will address many of the holes which have seemingly passed unnoticed by the majority of us, who have been fooled by or bought into the word “ethical” for any other reason.
As the FV survivor pod stated in their March update, “it’s not good enough to have communities that claim to be focused on ‘ethical’ relationships that are leaving behind trails of traumatized people. It’s not good enough to elevate spokespeople who tell us things that make us feel good while looking away from their actual effects on the people they’re in relationship and community with.” The women’s stories offer us the potential to identify the rips and frays, to show exactly where Veaux's work and his relationships have been lacking, in areas “such as the need for trust, reliability, availability, closeness, responsiveness, attunement.” (pg 33)
“If the impact on the other person is literally to lead them to doubt their sanity, at a certain point we have to talk about what is happening without getting mired in ‘But I didn't mean it!’ Effects matter more than intent.”In my post “Ways I fucked up (so far)”, I mentioned that I had been part of dynamic which gaslit. To admit to an abusive behaviour such as this one in public is not an easy thing. After all, the term gaslighting was coined for the harmful behaviour of an abusive motherfucker who intentionally manipulated his wife into going insane.
Yet (and also if it makes you feel better) gaslighting can be both intentional and unintentional. It can spring out of a wish to do good, or to do harm. But most people, when told that they have gaslit someone else, automatically jump to the conclusion that you are in actual fact accusing them of being an intentionally malicious, abusive motherfucker.
“If the impact on the other person is literally to lead them to doubt their sanity, at a certain point we have to talk about what is happening without getting mired in ‘But I didn't mean it!’ Effects matter more than intent.” (emphasis mine, pg 63)
Gaslighting is simply a way in which people undermine each other’s reality, but due to the nature of structural violence, it tends to operate upon “the perceptions of those who have less social power, for a variety of understandable reasons.” (p61) So if you are told by a person who is supposedly an expert in polyamorous relationships that your feelings and perceptions are lying to you (or that they’re not even the feelings you say they are), especially if he himself believes this to be fundamentally true, then you are more likely to accept his words and distrust your reality.
Condescension, superiority, entitlement, “rational” over “emotional” (which tends to be associated with a perceived male/female binary)––all of these things and so many more society-wide conditionings feed into it. And it has the potential to drive those affected by it insane.
“It is poking a hole in someone’s fundamental capacity to engage with reality.” (pg 60)
Nora Samaran recounts a story of what happened when a man close to her was called in for being psychologically abusive. He became hurt and angry that others told him he had been abusive. And after pretending to participate in accountability for a while, he then shut down and went on the attack, threatening legal action. His self-created identity of a feminist ally was at risk, and preserving it was more important to him than stopping the harm. Nora says, “if a guy has not realized that women are doing this emotional management for him, I no longer feel safe alone with him.”
Ditto. Ditto. Ditto.
But how is anyone supposed to get through such defense mechanisms, which we all have to a greater or lesser extent? After all, the death of an identity can feel like the death of the self. Five months of riding this #metoo train has so far left me unconvinced that Franklin feels anything but inflated anger and defensiveness, as partner after partner has come forward, and will come forward, to say that their experiences with him have left a legacy of harm and trauma.
Among all the other small, organic, clarifications suitable for a candle lighting the way in the dark, Nora offers a glimmer of hope for any individual who has an insatiable thirst for knowledge:
“Imagine replacing guilt with curiosity. Imagine saying…’Wow, it is so cool to recognise what I did. I’m excited I can hear you and grow. I did this, I did that, here is why it is fucked up. I'm so excited to learn how to come back into integrity with you.’”
I want this to happen for us as a community. I want ours to be the kind of community who can accept, that as humans we do some fucked up shit, but acknowledging and repairing it, is demonstrably workable. On the back of the book, Nora offers the kind of resolution I long for and the kind of community many of us aspire to already:
“When communities are able to speak up about systemic violence, prioritize the needs of those harmed and hold a circle of belonging that humanizes everyone, they create a revolutionary foundation that can begin to repair the harms inflicted by gender, racial and economic injustices.”
If we want to be ethical, Turn This World Inside Out provides a first baby step towards a brighter future.