Response to Dr. Elisabeth Sheff (polyamory #metoo)

LouisaActivism, More Than Two, Relationship Fluidity & Beyond4 Comments

Dear Eli,

I believe we are working towards the same goal, which is to make sure our community is safe and one where abuse cannot flourish. With that in mind, I thank you for your unpaid labour and your acknowledgement of some of the harm Franklin Veaux has done over the course of decades. It is striking, to me at least, that you as a sociologist have noted many of the same things as me, even without researching further, simply by listening to and reading the women’s stories. And I consider this positive, both because you took their words alone as their truth and also because many who could not find it in themselves to believe the women can now rest assured that there is veracity to the women’s experience (although there is a downside to looking at the stories in isolation, which I shall address later).

Equally, I am grateful that you made your concerns public, as the pod requested, because whilst they are logical and compatible with your training and background, in my opinion they demonstrate some aspects of the establishment/the established way of thinking, which are part of a wider, more systemic problem, and one which favours abuse. This gives me the opportunity to address them.

A very important reason why I was chosen for this work is that I have personal and extensive experience of abuse, and it has left a legacy of trauma. As I'm sure you're aware, that means the mind establishes neural pathways and creates mental models in order to better recognise red flags and protect itself against future harms. I've found this is a double-edged sword when doing this work, because it means:

  1. I recognise red flags far more easily than many but
  2. I might recognise abusive behaviours even before the women themselves do.

Many people go through life unaware that they have experienced abuse, and this is especially true in the case of psychological abuse. Some survivors who have already started to ask questions and recognise the patterns themselves, as these women had, still need to do deep, emotional excavation work, or become more informed of abuse tactics and patterns, in order to bring their harms to the light so that they can heal from them. As healing is the ultimate goal of what I am doing, I consider it part of my remit to highlight these. I'm explaining this in advance because it partially goes towards addressing the first two of your three critiques (below).

My critiques are threefold.

  • First, the Louisa sought only one track of evidence. The call for narratives specified only people who had negative experiences with Franklin should respond, and the Louisa made no attempt to attain the kind of more balanced view that is characteristic of both academic research and investigative journalism.
  • Second, the Louisa asks leading questions (see examples below).
  • Third, the Louisa fails to ask critical follow-up questions in two areas: a) how respondents know the information they are reporting about other people’s experiences, and b) what the women’s motivations were making the choices they did.

[Sociological Analysis of Three Veaux Survivor Narratives]

Since my only job was to listen to and recreate the stories of the women who had been harmed by Franklin, I did precisely that. The existence of women whom Franklin has not harmed would not make these women any less harmed. However, mindful of Franklin's public reputation, his influence on the community, the skepticism with which I knew the women's experiences would be met, and as a journalist, I could not release the stories without corroboration, which is why I researched to ascertain whether they were grounded in fact.

Without doubting their experience, (which you indicated as proof that my work was not investigative journalism), I was open to the fact that the women may have misremembered or misinterpreted events or communications in a way which would have been unfair to Franklin. And I was prepared to bring such inconsistencies to light, if necessary, in the separate notes and supporting materials sections of my work, so that these observations would not taint their personal stories. But what I discovered was many more lies, red, flags and evidence of abusive behaviours by Franklin, which I then brought back to the women––either during our recorded discussions or via IM––so they could see what I'd uncovered, under the principle of not siloing information from them, since such siloing is part of the abuse they all experienced.

The pursuit of truths which have been ignored for decades was the driving force here, as I believe it is yours. As Franklin has already told his side of the story in public many times, this is where the balance comes in. My work provides the counter balance to the globally prevailing––his prevailing––narrative.

On Impartiality in Academic Research

Firstly, I need to reiterate what I thought I had stated more than once. This work is NOT my thesis. My thesis is on a separate but related topic, and the research I have done on social media of the evolution of More Than Two thinking (if I can term it that way), which has been signposted to me by these stories, is in support of it. The research and my thesis will be evaluated by my supervisors. But I understand the confusion; after all, when I began this work I did not know how it would be related, exactly, but as time has allowed, I have updated my thoughts accordingly. Doing a thesis, as you surely know, is a circular business where you revisit the research questions many times. So I first stated:

"In addition to this, my work will form part of a thesis which will examine how the growth of an unregulated movement via the internet and social media helped to disguise these behaviours for so long." [polyamory metoo page]

Notably, this says nothing about the women’s stories, but only about social media. I added an edit yesterday to my second statement, when your confusion became apparent to me:

"My masters’ thesis (Edit: which is not the testimonies but a separate piece of work on the evolution of polyamory via social media) will go through a rigorous examination by my supervisors." [Credibility of polyamory #metoo research post]

On Impartiality in Journalism

Secondly, I have declared (both in the bias section of my website and directly on my credibility regarding this research) that I am not impartial, nor do I believe that it is possible to be impartial. In any case, my experience of abuse and polyamory, and my personal connection to these matters, would make that impossible. Many of my professors come from the 'Voice of God' era of journalism, otherwise known as "empty vessel theory," where one is supposed to only let "the facts" pass through the reporting filter, because it is supposedly the most unbiased perspective. This “unbiased” perspective, especially in fields which often require privilege and higher education, such as those you and I work in, misses critical insights into marginalised folks' lived experience (for more info on this, see the link to Feminist Standpoint Theory I passed over to you yesterday).  This means that the “unbiased” perspective is very much biased, even more so because it lacks awareness that there even exists another perspective! My experience of abuse allows me insight that the so-called unbiased perspective does not.

Which also pertains to the second critique.

    But my notes and supporting material were also signed off by the survivors as true to their experience. And my understanding is that you chose not to read these, on the basis that these were not primary sources. You took the stories by themselves and made your own analysis. As I mentioned in the beginning, I think this has an upside and a downside. Here's the downside.

    In all academic research, a thorough review of all past literature should be performed before developing further analysis and conclusions.

    In this case, the notes and supporting material constitute past literature. Whilst I am not doing this work within an academic framework, I have read twenty years worth of livejournal entries in forums (which are also primary sources), and of several individuals, the More Than Two website (again--which contains primary source material), the More Than Two book (again and ditto), The Game Changer (again and ditto), yahoo mailing lists (ditto), blogs (ditto), personal correspondence and chat logs (ditto), books and academic journal articles about abuse (secondary sources), and much background info about transformative justice. The notes and supporting material synthesize much of this and has all been part of my due diligence. But it means that there is a lot of relevant material your analysis doesn't include, as well as a framing which is incompatible with the goals of transformative justice (as I understand them).

    I'm also new to transformative justice, but I've understood that the concept focuses on the survivors and healing, versus the criminal justice system, which focuses on the perpetrator and punishment (not to mention an impeccable procedure behind evidence collection, which can dismiss the truth through a technicality). The framing of your statement makes it more about me and my understandably imperfect work, rather than the survivors' experiences.

    I wanted you to make your concerns known publicly, so that I and we as a community could learn more. I saw your critique as a transformation opportunity for all of us. But I would like us to refocus on the survivors' experiences, and your recommendations ensuing from them (even if I disagree with some of your conclusions).

    As for me, I will continue to consult those who do this better than me, as well as continuing to highlight my own mistakes in this process.

    With respect and compassion,