To shine light into corners of the internet which have harboured traces of harm and hurt for over two decades, would be fascinating—if only it didn’t involve real people. I don’t believe many could work to archive survivor accounts of trauma and remain unaffected. Yet the work must be done, if we are to transform structures and communities into the consensual paradigms we’ve already stated, in many cases, they are. For the last three months, I have collected the testimonies of women who have experienced harm from well-known polyamorous author Franklin Veaux. This work has consumed me—and drowned me. I am the receptacle for others’ pain, and responsible for the safety of their stories. It is an honour, but a heavy one.
It has revealed to me that I am far stronger, yet at the same time far less healed from my old wounds, than I thought. Not far into the process, I cut myself off from the survivor pod for around three days, a lifetime to be in isolation with heavy secrets thumping in my heart, because after the things I’d learned, I trusted no-one, even those who were holding my hands. They were people, and that was enough for me to suspect them of anything. Of everything. I ramped up my web security. I disconnected my dropbox. And went silent.
But there was no way around it.
In order to protect those who had trusted me with their stories, I had to investigate more. I had to go deeper into the pain. At first it had to be done undercover, especially because we hoped that Franklin would respond to the call-in letter in private. I studied the press codex of ethics, which stipulated that undercover investigation was permitted, if the information was of public interest and couldn’t be gained through any other means. Yet this didn’t strictly address my circumstances.
The fact was, I didn’t know who could be trusted and who couldn’t be. I didn’t know if I would put the survivors at risk if I went with the whole truth. Many of the emails I wrote in the beginning proposed that I was exploring the truth behind the evolution of the modern polyamory movement. This was true in that my research thesis is to examine the evolution of the community and the underlying principles of polyamory through the lens of media theory. It wasn’t true in that my other, more important objective was to protect the stories that had been told to me, by cross-checking them. I don’t know whether this reasoning is valid, but I would do it again. I invite your opinions on this matter and have opened the comments section below.
The more testimonies I received, the more corroboration I had from third-party accounts, and the more public material I documented, the more certain I felt of the picture I was creating. It’s like a jigsaw. Only there are no edges, and it’s never one layer.
But questions have already been asked about my research, and it is absolutely fair that it should be scrutinized (even if it makes me quake in my boots). Clearly I am subjective, but then every single individual is. My research is qualitative, and it supports conclusions derived from interpretation and context. Does it stack up in terms of credibility?
- Although my own non-monogamous life gives me plenty of subjective bias, it also means I have been immersed in the field of consensual non-monogamy for twelve years now. I am familiar with the subject matter, which is necessary in this case. Yet I rarely participate in polyamory meet-ups or conferences (three kids will do that to you). I have some distance whilst still being well-informed about the context.
- As a memoir writer, I’ve trodden the fine line of selective truth telling and fact… Both A World in Us and Necessary to Life were signed off by the other “characters” before publication. Some Never Awaken, which I published myself, was not signed off—because I no longer have contact with the people involved. Certainly not my abuser, who figures in that book. I invite your opinions on this, too.
- My hard drive now contains hours and hours of testimony, recorded from survivors now reaching into double figures. I have still more from witnesses, whose relationships with those involved have been verified. I have cross-checked timelines with other accounts, blogs, books and IMs from multiple perspectives. The testimonies are rich and robust. The events fit, and where they don’t, I have either discarded them completely or presented them clearly stating the caveat.
- Every survivor I’ve spoken with has signed off, or will sign off, on the transcript of the recording, the narrative I have created from it and the audio podcast which will be released for each of them with their consent, in due course to the audience that feels safe to them. They agree on the truth of their stories as I have written them.
- I have used the word abuse in referring to the harm and trauma inflicted by Franklin Veaux. It is a damning word, and I am not a psychologist, albeit a survivor several times over myself (another bias, but one that gives me insight). Luckily for me, there is a therapist on our pod who is qualified to name or confirm behaviours, and no shortage of academic literature to reference in regards to specifically described patterns. These patterns of abuse are not specific to polyamory and are easily identifiable.
- In many cases history has been revised (the gatekeeping theory in practice!) as web pages and comments have over time either been erased or fallen thrall to the 404 curse. Social media makes my work easier in this respect, and internet archive services have been a godsend. They have snapshotted versions of events at the time, which makes them reliable and relevant.
- All members of the survivor pod have or will audit my work (Edit: their stories and my notes) before it is released. No doubt the wider community will jump on it like a ton of bricks. I can’t say I’m prepared for this, but I commit now to any accountability that will ensue from it. I will be grateful to do it, both to improve myself and my work as well as the world we live in.
- I have had a consultation with transformative justice practitioner Aida Manduley, and will have more, to make sure this work supports the values of transformative justice. I have had my doubts about whether the stories and documented actions, in themselves, would undermine Franklin’s dignity. But they are his actions, and transformative justice is about holding contradictions and complexity. Abuse is part of our humanity –as is compassion.
- 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. Every reference has been scrupulously maintained, dated and stored. I had mentioned in a previous post that this work would not be published. I certainly did not intend to publish at the time. But now I don’t know. If my efforts are also to dismantle a system, then this work about “how it happened,” supported by academic literature, is valuable. I invite your opinions on this.
To take accountability for a legacy of harm must undoubtedly sound like a threat, whether one has acted recklessly through ignorance, or irresponsibly on purpose. It must feel like vilification, and may look this way from the outside, too. Transformative justice above all heralds the dismantling of the collective survival mechanisms which have enabled harm, even though our minds cling tenaciously to the ways that have served us so well in the past. It is indeed momentous work.
I believe Franklin Veaux has the hardest task he has ever faced in front of him. I believe it will hurt. I believe he will fall along the way, as we all do. And that it’s the job of his accountability pod to help him stand again. But let’s be clear. Many people, especially non-white, non-cis people, do not have the chance to have an accountability pod. In a weird twist of fate, he has not only profited from privilege to harm women in plain sight, but he also benefits from it now in order to build his future and try to repair what he has done.
To find out more about this developing situation, visit some of the links here.