The Anarchist Township

Fight the war, fuck the norm!

The Revolution Starts at Home (Book Review)

The Revolution Starts at Home…and it involves all of us playing Donkey Kong 64 while supporting trans rights!

Introduction: Past, Present and Future Tense

(CW: This review makes references to sexual violence, suicidal ideation, abusive relationships and other triggering shit, take care friends)

This’ll be my last book review for a bit. I still have The Broken Teapot but that’s more of a collection of essays online than a formal book. I want to get that review out before the end of January, but don’t expect it. I just started school back up and am really jazzed about some of my upcoming classes. However, I feel this series is important self-accountability (though it could just be intellectual posturing BS, who knows? tell me what you think!) work and I want to at least do this review before I put my focus on papers for school. We’ll see how it shakes out.

Expect for me to continue this series in the summer with books on self-forgiveness, shame, regret and other more psychological and psycho-political things of that nature. None of that means I am ready to forgive myself for the harms I’ve perpetuated. But I at least want to look into the subject and see if there’s some way I can hold space for the harm I’ve perpetuated and also the good I’ve done in the world. I don’t do so as a way to excuse or “move on” from the shitty things I’ve done, but rather as a way to stabilize my mental health so I can continue to do better and be better in a healthier and more consistent manner.

I do so for my friends, my family, my co-workers, my classmates, my professors, the people I interact with on a daily basis, strangers online, acquaintances online, and anyone else I come into contact with. I’m serious about the harm I’ve perpetuated and trying to take some measure of self-accountability. And so far reading books, compilations and experiences about sexual violence and listening to survivors and aggressors (with a greater emphasis on the former) has been the biggest form of help to me so far. I don’t claim it’s made me a betterperson (although that’s possible) or that it guarantees I will never fuck up again, but I do think it makes those possibilities less likely and more manageable if they do.

I know none of this is likely a solace to the people who I’ve already harmed and I’m sorry for that. All I can do is strive to do better and make sure that I change my rules around romantic and sexual interactions. To that end I’ve largely stopped flirting or even complimenting online, I don’t have sex with people who drink (period) and I try to always explicitly check in with my current partner about their boundaries and how they’re feeling in the moment. And yes, if you’re new, my partner knows all about my history and I’m lucky to have their support.

I think that covers my bases. I hope you enjoy this review and make sure to take care of each other. Trans rights are human rights and Donkey Kong 64 saved us all from transphobia in 2019, thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

The Revolution Starts at Home (And Goddamn is it Tough)

Do you ever have the experience where you’ve had a really shitty day and you come back home and your surprised to learn a show you love got a new season? Or maybe you just took a shower after a really sweaty workout? Or perhaps after what feels like an eternity of a year (looking at you 2018) we start 2019 off right with a 57 hour live-stream that showcases how much Donkey Kong supports trans folks.

Whatever your preferred analogy that’s what The Revolution Starts at Home was for me after reading Conflict is Not Abuse. Granted, I only got through the introduction and most of chapter 1 on that book. I plan to go back and read a few sections of the book that people said were good, but not for a while.

But back to The Revolution Starts at Home: It’s amazing and go read it please.

This is perhaps one of the best compilations/books I’ve read on sexual violence thus far, and though I don’t claim to be an aficionado on the subject, I’ve read more than a handful of writings on sexual violence from radical perspectives and this book has to be one of the most challenging, warm, exciting and theoretically invigorating reads I’ve had in a while. There were a few slow moments towards the end but overall this is an excellent read for either folks who have perpetuated harm or those folks who have supported it. And as this book points out, everyone who has done both. Because survivorship and not being an abuser are not necessarily mutually exclusive in the ways many folks within radical communities always think.

In trying to survive the violence that many of us, especially women, people of color, gender non-conforming sorts, and any combination therein, it is very possible for folks to use violence themselves. This doesn’t have to mean some liberal conclusion that makes survivors as bad as their abusers, but it does have to mean that we keep relationships in their proper context. We don’t just see the violence that people commit against each other and against themselves as isolated or without cause and effect. It’s easy to see survivors as angels and it’s even easier to see abusers as monsters, especially when they’ve been abusive more than once.

However, abstracting either of these groups of people makes for an awkward experience when we realize that all of us have the capacity to harm. In millions of small and subtle ways that we would never even think of or never mean. But all of that can add up to terrible effects and as we all know (or should know) a good intent doesn’t negate a terrible impact and vice versa. You cannot wish away the harm you’ve done with statements like, “oh it was just an accident!”

Believe me, I’ve tried.

But none of that makes the process easy. It doesn’t mean that we can simplify survivors and their roles or the role of the abuser/rapist/perpetrator of harm/aggressor. But those roles are, in of themselves, simplified to allow for easy lines to be read aloud your local social justice teleprompter without much forethought in doing so. One of the byproducts of that is “cancel culture” as well as call-out culture which aren’t the same but often overlap in various ways.

Take the DK 64 Stream I keep praising. It was put on by a Youtuber named HBomberGuy and it was an amazing outpouring of support towards trans people. But HBomb himself isn’t trans, he’s bisexual and cis and white. That’s part of why so many folks felt safe to flock to the stream to begin with. But that’s not even the problem because apparently, in the recent past, HBomb (real name Harris or Harry) had defended a friend of his who was known to be creepy and may have attempted to rape someone, awful shit, right?

On the other hand, this happens so often in leftist spaces. Someone calls out someone else and their friends say, “I’ve known them forever and they would never do this. They were always good with consent around me/towards me/towards me and people I know!” etc. This response is understandable (I’ve literally had friends say this about me, for one thing) but predictable and toxic and ultimately undermines survivor’s trying to come forward with their stories.

So how do I make sense of this claim against Harris? Should I cancel him? Is HBomberGuy now canceled after raising over $300,000 for trans rights in the UK and having countless videos educating people about good ol’ leftist politics like Don’t Be a Gigantic Dickhead and Perpetuate Racism? As Harris himself in the stream said, he’s not necessarily an amazing person, it’s just that the bar has been lowered so far in the discourse that saying, “hey maybe racism exists and is bad?” can sometimes be a radical statement these days. And I don’t bring up the amazing things Harris has done recently to undermine the harms I’ve mentioned but to raise a point that I raised earlier: Can we hold harms and goods together?

Is it necessary? Is it a worthwhile cause to begin with? I legitimately don’t know because this is such a context dependent situation. But it’s one I struggle with and I know it’s one that many of us in leftist circles struggle with.

Heck, everyone struggles with loving art when their favorite artists turn out to be shitheads. What should I do about Pirates of the Caribbean (especially the first two movies) now that I know Johnny Depp is an abuser? Should I stop watching his films, stop going to new films he stars in, should I speak out against him and the studios that support him? Should I call out people who are supporting him?

How far does this go and why?

I’m not posing these questions because I have the answer, here’s a spoiler: I don’t have the answer and anyone who says they does needs to check in with themselves once in a while. Not because they’re wrong but because this is such a big ethical choice to make, at least in my eyes. So it’s at least worth thinking about from time to time. I struggled with these two situations, less so with Depp and more with Harris and ultimately decided to forgive the latter and diminish the role of the former in my life. I don’t watch Depp’s old movies anymore and if anyone brings him up I mention he’s a shithead and I don’t support movies he’s cast in if I can help it.

At least I can rest easy knowing Depp isn’t in Kingdom Hearts 3, right?

But that likely wasn’t for those reasons, sadly.

A Joy so Secret, Waldo is Impressed

There’s an essay in this compilation called, The Secret Joy of Accountability and it’s the essay I took that “angels” and “monsters” labels for survivors and perpetrators of harm, respectively. It’s a terrific essay that discusses how, for instance, relationships can be so immersive and abusive at the same time that they become this thing you can’t find your way out of anymore. Like a dog trapped under some blankets or getting a paper bag on your head, or a fish not knowing its in water. Abuse becomes the air you breathe and the water you drink and all of the notes you wrote to your partner to “clear the air” or make things better just either brings things back to “normal” or makes it worse. Speaking from experience.

But Jesus, that title. Look, if there’s some fucking joy to be found in this process of writing long protracted reviews about books that involve sexual violence, I’ll let you know, but so far, not a whole lot of luck. I enjoy writing these reviews, I enjoy confronting my presumptions and biases about sexual violence and what it means to heal from it as well as cause it. But I wouldn’t call even the deepest revelations I’ve figured out about myself or society at large joys, at best they’re like little tidbits that keep me going through this process. And I don’t want to spend this review just complaining about how hard it is to be me, because fuck that.

This process isn’t really about me or for me, even though it objectively is and is at the same time. It’s confusing, right? But anyways, the joy in being accountable to myself, or at least the closest thing to it I’ve found, is feeling like maybe I’ve made some progress and as a result can do better in my everyday interactions with the people who matter to me the most and even those who don’t matter to me at all on a friendship, family or lover level. The real “joy” comes from realizing I’ve changed a behavior here or there or minimized it for the comfort of others.

These aren’t big steps or changes but the path of a thousand steps begins with a single clichéd step. And one of the biggest things I took from this collection, this wonderful collection of writings, is that changing your behavior isn’t supposed to feel comfortable! That’s not how habits are broken! If you enjoyed these habits so much that they are habits then it’s likely because they give you satisfaction, happiness or whatever else on some microscopic level. And trying to actually break that process of micro-happiness through repetitive behavior, thoughts, etc. isn’t fun and is not necessarily full of joy either. It’s hard, it sucks and it often requires a lot of staring in a mirror, but it’s still worth it.

I can’t help but think about Marie Kondo and the recent craze around her “does it bring joy to you?”as a way to de-clutter your personal belongings. This, being applied to books in particular, led to a backlash which then led to a much better backlash against the backlash (though I found both backlashes overblown and unfunny most of the time, ooh, look at my centrism and implied rationality!)

Would self-accountability be kept with Kondo’s method? And what exactly does “joy” mean anyways? At first, I thought a helpful response might go something like this, “That’s a good guideline but some things bring us a lot of pain, they challenge us and make us re-think long established routines and beliefs. That shit can be really painful and could even lead to losing friends. So how can I call such books that do things like that joyful? But Kondo herself and her defenders have pointed out that the term “joy” is a pretty complicated word and doesn’t just narrowly mean happiness in an extreme way.

Joy can come from challenging materials, joy can come from sadness and even sorrow. I wouldn’t have been able to feel the absolutely joy I did today in my first class of social and political philosophy if I hadn’t gone through other sorrows first. That doesn’t mean those sorrows were OK, I have to be alright with them or I wouldn’t take them back if I could or try to undo the things that got me to those feelings. But ultimately everything has a cause and effect to it. Contrary to some folks beliefs, I didn’t just randomly start being shitty to a previous partner.

It stemmed from months and months of neglect from them which doesn’t excuse my behavior or actions, but it does partly explain them. It doesn’t make it OK or right or the other person’s fault, but it is important to realize so it doesn’t just look like I’m some hapless monster who likes hurting people. Because I’m not.

Obviously a lot of this draws us into murky territory with survivors. At what point is their taking responsibility for what happened in an abusive relationship just victimizing themselves? Is it ever fair to tell a survivor that they should take more “responsibility” for a situation they didn’t have a lot of agency in? But then consider my situation where I was poor, isolated, didn’t have a car, didn’t have steady income for a long time and had a hard time connecting and making friends.

None of that excuses anything either, but it does help illustrate why I didn’t just leave or move out when things got too much. In fact, my previous partner and I tried many times for me to find somewhere else to live (that wasn’t my grandmother’s) but it never worked out despite my repeated attempts to get away. Does that help or hinder our analysis of my shitty behavior towards that individual?

A lot of this book is asking ourselves to come to terms with the violence we do to ourselves as well as the violence we do to others in the process of trying to be who we want to be. Sometimes we discover our coping mechanisms sucked and then we try to do better, that’s what I did and am still doing almost 5 years later.

But this process never stops and for it to be a sustainable process there must be some joy or at least satisfaction in these processes. There has to be some sense of accomplishment in the ways we find ourselves trying to improve. Otherwise, what’s the point? What’s the point of trying to be better if we’re just going to feel shit about ourselves after and forever more? I’m not saying it’s got to be all smiles and sunshine and rainbows after a long hearty essay or introspection, but damn.

There’s got to be something we can get from these attempts at owning our shit and trying to do better then just, “Fuck, I guess it’s just another day where I fucked up and I’m scum.” Because look, that’s not helping the people you hurt and it’s likely not even making their lives better. All it’s doing is reinforcing to yourself that you are a bad person and you deserve to suffer. How is that going to help your life or the people around you? Even if you don’t have a lot of friends, what is this attitude going to do for the strangers you meet or the people you talk to online?

The answer is it’s not and it’s just going to make you more likely to repeat the same mistakes, maybe just in different ways, if you’re lucky. That’s what happened to me and I’m sick of it. I want to do better and be better and it’s tough to do that when you think all you deserve is to be thrown away in the trash. Other folks can feel that way about me, that’s real and valid and I get it, but it’s not for me.

Conclusion: Confronting The Violence Within Ourselves

I was looking for that quote that goes, “we all have the capacity for great good and great evil” (by William Faulkner? I’m not sure.) but I like this one better:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.

And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, observed in The Gulag Archipelago

(I have a snarky Kingdom Hearts based remark, but I’ll restrain myself)

Sometimes, I wish the harm I’ve perpetuated is simply because I’m evil, that would make things so much easier! And maybe that’s a solace for some people out there who think that about me. But I’m not a monster, I’m just a regular person who has made some terrible mistakes that she’d rather not live with sometimes.

That’s too much for some people and I totally get that, but after finishing a 3 hour conversation with a friend (former friend?) not long after I was accused of being a serial rapist (the serial part is wrong and was based on incorrect presumptions about me, but I digress), they concluded that while what I did was wrong and incredibly irresponsible, I wasn’t a monster and clearly felt remorse.

This book helped me further deal with those emotions, which are the ones I really want to start focusing after my next reading. My self-hatred spirals a lot and recently after a particularly brief but unpleasant Twitter conversation about this, I had to call a suicide hotline for the first time since late 2017. I was having a mental crisis and wondering if I’ll ever do this accountability shit right. And you know what? Maybe I won’t ever fully get it, but I’ll keep trying to do better at it.

And I’m going to keep reading books like The Revolution Starts at Home.

There’s so much more to say about this book but my notes were sparse and my biggest note has already been said to death already: Buy this book!

Take care.

Trans rights are human rights, so says Donkey Kong.

A Brief Note on Sara Schulman’s “Conflict is Not Abuse”

Note: I can’t call this a review, cause I couldn’t finish the book, even 1/4th of it!

This book is giving me a conflict, I’ll tell you that!

This will go to show me that you need to read more book reviews before you order something. I thought Schulman’s book would be an insightful, nuanced and carefully crafted book about the dangers of call-out culture (which are real and important to talk about!) but instead, almost 50 pages in, I’m exhausted. Exhausted with Schulman’s lack of self-awareness, lack of cogent writing, with her lack of ability to make any particular argument enticing, much less not maddening. I’m exhausted with her petty examples from life that strike me as diminishing real abuse and conflict for that matter. I’m just exhausted with this book.

Schulman’s thesis is a fairly simple one and almost inane in how non-controversial it is: People in today’s world tend to overstate the nature of harm when it’s really just normal conflict, people resisting injustice or they’re just doing nothing at all. Her examples leave a lot to be desired however as they get us into some very big discussions of politics through the cases of Michael Brown, domestic abuse and weirdly, the violence at the Gaza Strip between Palestine and Israel.

Warning: I am very uncultured when it comes to this particular topic and I’ve done that rather intentionally. I have no real stake in the question (I’m not Jewish) and the issue constantly perplexes me with its terms and sides and so forth. Suffice it to say, I’m against nation-states and violence against peaceful people, which nation-states tend to perpetuate. That should be enough, hopefully.

All these issues are (as you might notice) wildly different in terms of scope, content and the sorts of discussions they might engender. Yet Schulman is convinced that they are all connected because of one simple thing: The conflation between conflict and abuse. In making their her central thesis she horribly (and offensively) waters down these situations by leaving out systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, and, Jesus, just the whole history of Israel and that whole mess. It’s complicated as fuck.

But no, these situations can all be reduced to Schulman’s thesis. You know what else can? Schulman seems to think the AIDS crisis is also comparable to the horrors on the Gaza Strip because of similar reasons. You can (hopefully) see the issues starting to pile up in this book already: Namely that Schulman has no sense of scale.

She has no sense of how to compare one thing to another without going from 0 to 100 in a minute flat. It’s amazing how she can start talking about emails and how awful they are and “artificial” but then rant and rave about how great phone calls are (aren’t they “artificial” too?). And then she shames people for not picking up her phone calls because what reason could there be? God forbid people have phone anxiety right? Or maybe they just don’t like your sense of entitlement?

There’s also a gross section about a woman talking about her g-spot and it’s not gross because of that but because Schulman decides it’s necessary to fill my head with thoughts of her penetrating this same woman. Why did I, as the reader, need to explicitly know about this emotion? It’s not gross because it’s queer, it’s gross because it’s inappropriate in this book. I don’t need to know about your unfulfilled sex life, this book is (supposedly) about the intricacies of conflict.

One of the running themes I noticed in the start quotes is that they all mention some sort of “facing” or “confronting”, which, as far as I’m concerned, just reinforces this patriarchal notion that all emotions must be dealt with. You have to be a man and face your emotions and you need to get a hold of them/yourself. There’s no living with your emotions or trying to work through them, there’s only “facing” or having the “will” to keep them in check or make them disappear.

The larger problem with Schulman’s book is that she presumes just because we can make peace with our friends online, over email or in our day to day interactions, that somehow the situation in Gaza or between a rich football player and the wife he beat in an elevator are even remotely similar. She takes the “starting from smallest principles” thing to its logical (fallacious) conclusion and presumes since the tiniest drop of oppression makes up the largest, the same tools must apply!

But solving a conflict with a friend is not necessary for establishing larger efforts for peace. Although working at the small scale is assuredly helpful for getting started, neither guarantees the success of the other. Trying to solve a conflict between a friend and between a cop and a friend are, by themselves, very different. Forget about the Gaza strip or the power struggles of a wealthy football player and their wife, the small scale and the large scale are not the same thing.

These are not even remotely similar cases. And while we need small-scale repairing skills to help with the larger social context, they are again very different circumstances. The tools we need to fix the conflict between our friends and a bad email and the tools we need to solve things like domestic violence among the wealthy, police brutality and violence on the Gaza strip may appear similar and in some ways they have core things in common such as dispute resolution.

But they are on such different scales that the tools we used for one are not likely to be effective in the bigger scale. We’ll need new and better and more refined tools, not just the ones we keep for personal and small-scale community use. Solving an entire nation’s dispute with another nation that dates back hundreds of years, requires a very different strategy than dealing with an errant email between friends.

More than anything, this book is just exhausting and the worst part is I’m not even 1/4 of the way through the book. I haven’t even mentioned Schulman’s comparison to slavery, her little note on “people of the wrong age” and her comparisons of white folks falsely accusing black men of harassing white women with her desire of another woman. We haven’t even touched on her entitlement that runs throughout so much of the book that at even 1/4th in I’m sick of it.

So nope, I’m done.

I don’t owe anyone anything and I doubt many people read these blogs anyways. I did my best to slog through this book and I wanted to finish it, but I just don’t have it in me to finish a book that constantly minimizes conflict and abuse.

I’m doing these reviews as bibliotherapy and it’s not especially therapeutic to constantly read a book that makes me want to tear out its pages and yell at the author for their nonsense. I’m doing this series because I want to try to be a better person and, less than 50 pages in, I’m convinced this book won’t do that for me.

Lastly, on the book, it’s not always possible to communicate or repair (as Schulman herself has admitted ) relationships once they are broken. Sometimes the best thing you can do to someone who is seemingly unwilling to do better or be better is to kick them out of the community. Is it a total solution? No. Is it always the most helpful thing to do for everyone? Also no. But sometimes it’s the necessary thing to do for the survivors. And that’s enough of a reason (often enough) to do it.

Apparently there’s a “way” to read this according to one GoodReads reviewer, but  if your book can’t stand up to the way it was meant to be read, then you’ve got bigger problems (c.f. The Machete Order for Star Wars which tries to grapple with the fact that the prequels exist). Here’s a handful of reviews I like that I feel would sum up my attitude (had I finished), 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Up next is The Revolution Starts at Home!

(CW: Long and detailed discussions of sexual violence including rape and assault)

Not my picture.

Introduction: What about me?

In my continuing series of self-accountability so I can better deal with my shit I read the interesting and engaging collection called what about the rapists? which I ordered from AK press. In addition, I bought a book on intimate violence and another on conflict resolution within social justice communities, so expect a book review of these books before my winter break is over.

What about the rapists? is separated into two parts, with the first considering the method of transformative justice (TJ) and the second talks about retributive justice; for example, survivor-led physical confrontations with rapists.

There’s also a conclusion about getting beyond this dichotomy of revenge and reconciliation that makes for a nice overview. The collection was published by Active Distribution in 2017 and acts as part of the Dysophia series.

This collection was challenging at times for me to process, being a rapist myself, and someone who has sexually assaulted a previous partner on multiple occasions (according to the definitions from the Chrysalis collective).

But it was also necessary for me so I could get a better idea of how to feel and label myself. Am I a perpetrator? An aggressor? A serial abuser? Am I just a shitty person? This collection has various opinions on the utility of labels.

Politically and ideologically I can’t say this collection had much of an impact on me. I still consider TJ a better alternative to revenge and I wish I hadn’t handled my call-out so poorly (not to mention harmed people to begin with) that TJ ended up being unrealistic.

Honestly, if you’re an anarchist and have been for a while (like me, bad at it though I am) then this collection may not do much for you. Most of the essays in this collection are pretty light on the details and while the challenges towards TJ are refreshing to see, the collection had a pretty narrow scope overall and a 101 vibe throughout with only Accounting for Ourselves doing more 201 stuff.

Which, yeah, that makes sense. The question what about the rapists? is a 101 question that we as anarchists get asked early and often. And the collection is right to point out early that “…[anarchists] have neglected to engage meaningfully with the issue in favour [sic] of idealized notions of a post-capitalist, anarchic future.” (4)

Personally though, I can say I benefited from this book. It brought me to terms with a previous relationship I had mulled over for a long time. Was masturbating around them or bringing their hand to my boxers half-asleep, sexual assault (SA)? I was never sure and many friends and a few therapists said it wasn’t.

But at least by the definitions I’ve mentioned via Chrysalis, any violation of sexual boundaries is considered SA. So by that definition, it definitely was SA and I can’t say the definition doesn’t make sense to me. There were a few (former) friends who said it was SA but since they were always such a minority, I felt as though they couldn’t be right; I’m good at denial and defensiveness.

Though as this collection and other articles have pointed out we all are. None of us want to admit we’ve been the bad person this whole time. We want to believe that we’re good people who may make mistakes, but we’re doing our best.

Well, it turns out that my best wasn’t good enough.

So I better start doing better.

Part One: Transformative Justice

What it is, what it is, what is it?

This book review will be split into two parts but I’ll come back to look at an overview of this book in my conclusion. I want to start negatively with TJ because I prefer it as a method of dismantling rape culture and patriarchy and start positively with retributive justice, because I (largely) don’t prefer it in that same context.

TJ can be an arduous process that leaves survivors more exhausted than when they first started. It can also divert into a process whereby the aggressor gets most of the time and energy of the community, not the survivor. And more to the point, TJ processes can require a lot of time and energy from the community. This can lead to fractures within the community and people dropping out from the stress.

There can be unclear standards of success or failure, we often lack the resources as a community (anarchists that is) to handle the process adequately. On top of that it’s depressing as fuck and not always reconcilable with sustained passion.

A lot of those criticisms are taken from Accounting for Ourselves by Crimethinc which has many great criticisms of TJ. The author is quick to note that, “Some of these pitfalls aren’t inherent to these processes, but are simply mistakes commonly made by people who undertake them.” (38)

And none of these pitfalls are bad ones to point out. I don’t have any personal experience with TJ myself, I’ve mostly read first-hand accounts from other collectives and individuals who tried to make it work. And within those accounts there are varying degrees of success and failure, both easy and hard.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, what exactly is TJ?

TJ has its origins in some indigenous practices, mediation work … Like [Restorative Justice or RJ], it strongly opposes punitive responses to crime, places the parties in conflict at the center of the process, and is (in theory at least), voluntary.

Like RJ, it facilitates understanding between individuals and allows them to agree steps to ‘repair’ the harm caused.

[Accountability processes] ideally assume the following form: a person makes an allegation; a handful of people form a support group for that individual; the support group convenes a process and organizes a similar support group for the ‘perpetrator’, who will be asked to broach the issue with this individual; the ‘perpetrator’ agrees to participate in a process; the two groups gather in a session run by a ‘neutral’ facilitator, during which both sides are given time to discuss their feelings; the ‘perpetrator’ acknowledges responsibility and an agreement is reached on steps they will take to repair the harm, such as informing future partners about what happened, or attending counseling; the ‘perpetrator’ abides by the agreement and is regularly checked in on by their support group, as is the ‘survivor’.

(12)

So, for example, because I failed in apologizing in any sincere or accountable way, I took matters into my own hands. I’ve re-doubled my efforts in counseling (at one point quite literally, I had two therapists at once talking about my mistakes), acknowledged my actions here and elsewhere and told my current partner about everything. Is that good enough? Probably not.

Sadly, I don’t really know what to do to hold myself accountable for what I’ve done. I’ve tried to take responsibility, acknowledge how I could have done better, etc. But how the heck do you make up for years of harm? I honestly have no idea.

This “bibliotherapy” is my best idea so far, I’ve tried looking into groups that focus on people who have been aggressors, but there’s almost none locally. The closest is group counseling about domestic violence, which is irrelevant to me as long as it means physical violence. But even if it didn’t, it’s too expensive and I’m concerned about going to a local place and being recognized, perhaps that’s cowardice.

And besides that those groups are made for men. As a non-binary person I don’t feel comfortable (much less safe) in those sorts of spaces. So what should I do then? Most organizations near me that focus on issues of sexual violence only serve survivors (which isn’t bad! survivors should obviously be the focus of this shit, not me), so I can’t seek help there either. What should I do? Where should I go?

Until I figure it out, I’ve got bibliotherapy, counseling, talking to friends, journaling, meditation, exercise and more. But maybe none of that’s good enough, in which case, realistically, what can I do? The past is gone and I can’t change what I’ve done, I can only strive to do better and make sure I never repeat those mistakes.

None of that is me trying to elicit  sympathy.

I’ve been bad at being a decent human being in a lot of ways and that’s on me. But it’s also an example of how, when TJ doesn’t happen, accountability becomes your responsibility more than ever. I need to handle myself better, somehow, someway.

But OK, let’s get back to basics.

On Crime

The first article On Crime takes us there with a prolonged discussion of whether what anarchists oppose within crime that involves violence (such as rape). Is it best described as a transgression, violence, or domination?

The collective (a)legal maintains that domination is the best among the three, though that does not mean its a perfect definition. I agree with most of this article, transgression is only the violation of a social norm and we as anarchists do this all of the time, does that make us wrong? And while violence is often a negative for an anarchist, anarchists also advocate revolutionary violence, so violence in of itself can’t be the thing that anarchists are opposing when it comes to rape.

Instead, (a)legal contends that domination, defined by Foucault as relationships that are “…fixed in such a way that they are perpetually asymmetrical and allow and extremely limited margin of freedom.” (9) This is an excellent definition and perfectly captures what I’m against as an anarchist.

That doesn’t mean my theory has matched my practice, it hasn’t in many ways. But ideally, these are the sorts of relationships I and other anarchists would work against. Unfortunately, not everything is a perpetual relationship. What about the one-off times we harm each other? What about rape in one-night stands (which is essentially what happened last year)? These kinds of temporary relationships are not around long enough to constitute a basis for domination to take hold.

Luckily (a)legal accounts for this by including that “abuses of power” is what anarchists are really after in these cases. We’re not against power existing (self-empowerment is a plus after all) but rather a misuse of that power over others.

So instead of looking at issues of rape through the lens of crime, we should be treating it as issues of abuses of power that perpetuate domination. And within longer lasting relationships, domination itself.

I think that’s all well said and argued. I think getting mired in statist conceptions of law and justice to explain why we oppose rape is likely a self-defeating venture. In addition, anarchists are clearly okay with some violence and transgression.

So what really bothers us about rape, specifically as anarchists, is domination, that asymmetrical relationship that springs from momentary abuses of power.

Sure, that makes sense. It doesn’t really get me anywhere I wasn’t before, but it’s a solid framing for issues that anarchists might regard as “crime”. I admit, I may have called rape a “crime” in an anarchist society, but that was convenient shorthand.

Still, now I can just say it would be referred to as an abuse of power (though perhaps this is too weak of a phrase for the situation?) in an anarchist society which helps perpetuate patterns of domination.

But OK, if that’s the case, what do we as anarchists do about it?

Beautiful, Difficult, Powerful: ending sexual assault through transformative justice

The Chrysalis Collective thinks they have an answer, though right off the bat, I take issue with their title. As much as we all may want to end it, (yes, including some of us who have committed it) sexual assault will likely never go completely away.

I think that it can be reduced to astonishing lows relative to what we have today and it definitely should be. But completely eliminating intimate violence isn’t realistic anymore than completely eliminating unjust authority or hierarchy.

But then what’s the point? The point should be to minimize aggression (sexual or otherwise) as much as possible. That doesn’t mean we’re okay with whatever happens if we get it to a certain point, but we should also hold realistic standards.

Coincidentally, this is something the Crimethinc article I mentioned earlier criticized TJ for. So, we’re not off to a good start for this essay.

That said, the rest of the essay is an interesting account of two individuals (“Diane” and “Tom”) and Diane’s experience of acquaintance rape. Tom was your typical well-to-do white dude who was generally loved and respected by the community.

Diane felt manipulated by Tom into sexual situations she did not feel comfortable with. And so their friendship abruptly ended, with Diane eventually realizing that she had been raped by Tom. Diane decided to, with the help of her close friends, form the Chrysalis Collective, so that Tom could be held accountable.

Most of the article details the process, mainly making a survivor support team and an accountability team, one for Diane and one for Tom. The article talks about how they did what they did and why they did it…but little about the actual results.

That’s disappointing, not to mention confusing, given I figure you would want to write this article only after the initial accountability process is done.

But it’s at least noted that “…healing and transformation is clearly, slowly, steadily happening for everyone involved. This experience has connected each of us in unexpected and powerful ways that reaffirm our collective commitments to transforming ourselves and our communities.” (28)

But Jesus, that’s after two years.

It’s not surprising then that some survivors just turn to…

Part Two: Retribution

Accounting for Ourselves: Retribution Edition

It’s noted in the Chrysalis essay that Tom’s general demeanor was expected to consist of the following upon being told how Diane experienced their situation:

  • Denial
  • Outrage
  • Remorse
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Defensiveness
  • Betrayal
  • Overwhelmed
  • Ganged up on

With the exception of the last one, I realized reading this that I fit all of these to a T. Look at my second attempt at “apologizing” (which I linked previously) and tell me it’s not full of denial, outrage, shame, fear, defensiveness and most of all, a sense of feeling overwhelmed with the call-out.

I was ill-prepared for being called out on a night that I thought was (at worst) “weird” but wasn’t me taking advantage of a drunk friend. I really and truly thought that they were tipsy (which is what they told me) but none of this really matters.

I didn’t understand that this isn’t what you should do if you actually feel genuine remorse for what happened. It’s OK to talk about how your experience may differ from the accuser, but I went further than that and dipped my toes into silencing.

I tried to say I wasn’t doing that, but people weren’t having it. Instead, of doing my research on how to apologize and take accountability for myself, I just wrote what came to mind and had a few people (my best friend, my therapist at the time) look it over and let me know what they thought. My best friend said it needed work but I ignored her and my therapist said it was great and advised what turned out to be a disastrous change, which is still my responsibility, of course.

So, all in all, I really fucked the whole thing up.

How can you blame someone like my accuser then for just wanting to be done with me, even before I attempted to apologize? They knew how I would react and what would happen. I didn’t have the tools to deal with it in any meaningful way, and instead of developing those tools for myself I panicked and responded within two weeks, completely unaware of what the heck I was doing.

Honestly, I can’t blame my accuser or my previous partner for wanting to take a swing at me. In fact, in reading this section I realized that if doing so made either of them feel even a little better (just for a day or a moment) I’d be okay with it.

No hospital trips, but otherwise, you know, I can’t say I don’t have it coming to me in some way or another. Desert ethics being as bad as they are, I’m not sure what I “deserve” or don’t., but I’m OK with a punch or two, if anyone’s curious.

I think there’s some great catharsis in punching someone or intimidating someone who did a lot of harm to you. To an extent, I can understand  why this would be an attractive offer. It doesn’t “solve” patriarchy (you can’t punch a social relationship) but it does give some personal sense of empowerment and that’s important too.

Heck, what if it empowers other survivors to punch their rapists or abusers? Wouldn’t this be a good thing in some way? It’s hard to argue that people, especially folks who just don’t hecking get it (like me) couldn’t use a mark on the face.

With me being so negative about TJ and the somewhat weak article supporting TJ in this collection, as well as my sympathetic (at worst) feelings towards retribution, it seems like I should want a more revenge-driven society, right?

Nah, not really.

There are so many problems with retribution as a model of justice that TJ tends to win by TKO, more than anything else. I don’t support TJ over retribution (generally) because of my personal biases (though they are there, AKA not wanting to get my books wrecked or my face smashed in) but because there are so many better alternatives to beating up shitty people.

There’s a lot of discussion about “intent vs impact” when it comes to harm and I don’t think retribution is much different. The intent is good, but the impact is muddled for me. I’m not quite sure what’s gotten out of it besides an immediate sense of empowerment and while that can be important, it’s not enough.

It’s not enough to give healing to just about anyone I can think of. I can’t imagine that all of your problems are solved (or even a few important ones) just by punching someone who was (to say the least) shitty to you.

But then again, maybe that’s not the intent, right?

I’m not even clear what the intent is because it can be so individual. Is it about immediate empowerment? Inspiring fear in rapists and abusers? Preventing further harm? Undoing the harm that’s already done? A few of the authors in this book complain of TJ and how it can be unaccountable itself and vague on its goals.

But there seems to be even less idea of what retribution is exactly supposed to do. If it’s only supposed to give immediate empowerment to the survivors, then I can get that on an emotional level. But I can see a lot of the ways this can backfire no matter the intent and this is where impact comes in.

As Crimethinc puts it:

Choosing to escalate the situation brings serious risks, both legally and physically. Cops are more likely to bring charges for a group physical assault on a man than an “alleged ” sexual assault.

Beyond the immediate risks, you can’t beat up a social relationship, as they say; throttling an individual scumbag doesn’t do much to make anyone safer or end systematic rape culture, however satisfying it may feel to a vindicated survivor. (50)

This isn’t to cherry pick the Crimethinc article (Accounting for Ourselves), there’s a lot of positive points they make in favor of vigilantism as well. But most of those are points I’ve already said in vigilantism’s favor. So it’s time to get critical of it.

For example, the Crimethinc article quotes from Safety is an Illusion, “There is no safety after an SA, but there can be consequences.” (48)

And sure, but what consequences are the best? Losing the support of the friends and family would likely prove much more devastating for example. Calling their workplace could deprive them of temporary income, threatening potential homelessness. How much is too much? When is it not enough?

I lost many friends because of my actions as well as access to the anarchist community I had been around for about 8 years. Is this enough of a consequence (punishment?) or should I have been attacked as well? I don’t ask this in jest or to make the idea seem ridiculous. I’m curious when punitive ends are satisfied.

On the other hand, I question the effectiveness of physical harm. Yes, it can dissuade further violence but it can also repeat the cycle. It can also lead to them (the aggressor) wanting revenge so it has to be done carefully if it’s done at all. Are there better ways to end these cycles of violence besides more violence?

I don’t say this because of some liberal concern of moral impurity or “you’re as bad as them!”, I’m mostly talking from a utility perspective here. Is it effective? What have the results been for both perpetrators and survivors alike? Or do the results not matter? Is the process the end in of itself?

Crimethinc notes that this method mostly comes out of desperation and frustration with other methods. While that’s understandable, it also doesn’t make for the best mindset to be eliminating patriarchy or fighting against rape culture.

On the other (other) hand, it can feel fulfilling and powerful as heck for the people (usually women) involved. There’s a sense of satisfaction they’ll likely get from that they may never get from an abstract process of accountability.

Then again, are we just talking short-run and long-run benefits here? How long does this sense of empowerment last for these women? Does it effectively address their own trauma or does it just stir up new ones? And while it can build collective power concretely, how long does that last typically? Does it remain stable and carry on to other actions against rape culture?

We need sustained activism as much as we need quick and get-the-job-done styles of activism. Both are good! I’m not saying the latter isn’t, but I question its efficacy.

Beyond Revenge and Reconciliation: demolishing the straw men

There’s a point made in here that the benefit of retribution over TJ is that, dammit, at least revenge is an action. But hold on, dialogue is a form of action, the two are not necessarily separate from each other. This essay also mentions how opponents of retribution miss out on the fact that it gives power back to survivors.

I can’t speak for others, but at least my issues with revenge has less to do with having power in the hands of the oppressed, what it does to them, or whether it makes them as bad as the people they take revenge upon, but its efficacy.

Does it provoke more long-term organizing around this subject? Does it stop the rapist/abuser from being an asshole in the future? Does it send a clear message to communities or does it divide them further? If division occurs, is this division helpful or a hindrance? Not all divides are bad after all.

And while it’s true that sometimes violence can be justified in all sorts of ways such as self-defense, that doesn’t make it always the best choice. After all, any action can be justified, if you try hard enough. The real question (at least for me, in this present discussion) is whether it accomplishes anything past immediate sense of empowerment. And if it doesn’t (and I’m not knocking immediate feelings of empowerment) is that enough to make those actions worth it?

This is obviously not up to me.

It’s up to those survivor-led groups and the communities surround them. So what did they conclude? I’m genuinely curious and I wish there was more discussion about results, not just about how the rapists and survivors felt, but how it affected the community at large. What did it do, what happened after?

I know I’m asking a lot of questions and not making statements but that’s because I want to emphasize my curiosity and desire to learn. I’m not trying to condemn these survivors or violence per se’ and it’s really not my place either way.

And though retribution is a form of direct action it’s not like TJ can’t possibly involve direct action and anyways direct action isn’t inherently good anyways.

Some direct action is not tactically efficient in the context or is more likely to backfire, publicity wise. I don’t claim that’s necessarily the case for survivor-led groups doing vigilantism, but it could be and it’s worth asking these sorts of questions instead of only tackling responses from folks we might assert are falling prey to a “liberal” bias or are pacifists, etc.

And although there are many issues with TJ, at least with these “roleplays and powerpoint slides” (68) we can often know what the results were in some documented way. I can’t say the same sort of satisfaction has come to me through the stories of survivor-led groups attacking rapists. That doesn’t make them bad or wrong necessarily, but it seems to me an obvious drawback that’s worth exploring.

Obviously, the action itself is illegal so documentation can be tricky, but it’s clear people can do it and talk about it fairly publicly (there are two examples from the book that even name some names), as long as they keep it anon.

Lastly, to a previous point I discussed and one which this article mentions, survivor-led resistance could inspire other women to resist, that’s very possible.

But then there have been many forms of resistance throughout history that influenced people. You could just as easily say MLK’s demonstrations or Gandhi’s demonstrations inspired many people. But at the same time we’d take issue with their personal lives or tactics, right?

In the same vein, while these types of tactics could result in a “…realization and affirmation of the collective power of the oppressed” (68) as Fanon put it, that doesn’t in of itself make it worth doing. Plenty of things can lead to this type of realization and they never have to involve violence to do so. Again, I’m not against violence especially in cases like this, not wholesale, anyways. But the reasoning here seems flawed to me and that’s worth commenting on.

Another type of punitive type of response strikes me as far more effective, which I’ve already mentioned: Shame.

Shaming as a way of retaliation is, in my opinion, way stronger and much more likely to severely harm people. If you really want to leave people hurting, tell their friends and family, tell their job, go around the communities they frequent. The survivors I’ve harmed did only a few of these things this to great effect and they never had to lay a finger on me to make me want to never harm anyone again.

It didn’t guarantee that I never hurt anyone ever again, but I did learn to be more careful and try to minimize the harm if it ever happened again. To be honest though, it clearly didn’t work the first time around. Though to be extra fair, I was barely called-out, it was mostly me outing myself to the larger community privately.

It’s also interesting how we as anarchists often recognize that emotional harm can be just as harmful as physical harm, if not worse, with our criticisms of “it’s just a joke!” style trolling. But when it comes to redistribution of violence towards rapists, some of us seem to think that what will make them the most afraid and give them the greatest mark is necessarily violence. That seems wrong to me.

Speaking from personal experience, not to mention years of therapy and multiple calls to suicide hotlines, I know that’s wrong. You can do some serious damage to people just by fucking with their social lives.

Now, I don’t think shame is a helpful way to get people to change. But shit, if you just wanna hurt someone and don’t give a fuck about them changing or not? Yeah, it’s an amazingly powerful weapon and I’d take a punch in the face over it any day.

Conclusion: Alternatives to being a Prick and Punching Pricks

There’s a lot I’ve skipped over, but this is already too long and I suspect most folks won’t bother to read this anyways (though if you’re reading this, thank you!).

I think there’s a lot to love about TJ and I mostly want to talk about that now, to balance the pessimism from earlier. Here’s a “brief” list:

  • It can be empowering for survivors
  • Can bring communities together in beautiful ways
  • There can be a lot of affirmation towards the survivor
  • Although a long process, it can give some measure of healing
  • It can help the perpetrator become a better person
  • It’s all voluntary
  • There’s no physical violence
  • There are many ways to model it (for example the Chrysalis collective had the Accountability group made up of mostly white dudes so Tom would feel more at ease and not as threatened)
  • It can dissuade future abusers and empower other survivors
  • It will likely never involve legal processes

There’s a bunch of positives but also these positives are dependent on the TJ process going smoothly. As I’ve discussed throughout this book review there’s many potential pitfalls (via the Accounting for Ourselves essay, which is great!) but as the essay itself says, these aren’t inherent to the process.

I know all too well that processes between survivors and perpetrators can go south. With a former partner of mine, they practically forced my hand when they told a current partner about the harms I perpetuated in our relationship (I was struggling at the time to come forward with my mistakes) and I had nothing left to lose.

And even after acquiescing, they still weren’t satisfied. Giving money to an organization that supports survivors, taking full responsibility (as I had done previously) and apologizing were all part of the process, for full context.

But the process ended up leaving them dissatisfied. It’s hard to blame them, as much as I look back on this experience with a mix of anger at myself and them. Anger at myself because I should have done better for them and anger at them for not discussing it with me before breaking up my relationship.

So I know processes can fall apart because of unclear guidelines. But I also know it can be done so much better from the experiences discussed in this collection. Not to mention the experiences I’ve read otherwise via South of Forgiveness.

Obviously that’s an extreme example, but I still think it’s informative to look at. Not to mention there are essays, like this one that discuss the viability of the method.

And to be honest, I think this collection is stacked against TJ as a method.

There’s hardly any articles positive about it (save for one) and the only other one about TJ is one that brings up its pitfalls. That’s balanced in a way (one positive, one negative) but then you add the fact that most of the rest of the articles are hard-lined against it/arguing something very different and the collection makes TJ seem a difficult option to imagine. Not to mention the one positive example is light on the results of how it ended up playing out which makes for a poorly done positive.

And unfortunately, this is the least of the problems with the collection.

Their alternatives to TJ or revenge are pretty lean on the details. And when they are more detailed they’re generally pretty underwhelming. This goes for Accounting for Ourselves as well as Beyond Revenge and Reconciliation, perhaps even more so.

Let’s start with the former.

Accounting for Ourselves (and Our Alternatives)

The first idea is “gender-based organizing” which is supposed to be a more preventative way of making sure sexual violence doesn’t happen. Crimethinc smartly notes that a lot of the strategies noted in anarchist discourse is after-the-fact methods to diminish harm that has already occurred.

But if we could prevent it before it ever happened? Well, that sounds like a terrific idea to me and I think, if implemented well, it could perhaps lead to fruitful results. It just sucks that this suggestion lacks a bit of imagination and the before-the-fact organizing is difficult for many reasons (though I won’t tackle them here).

Some of the ideas aren’t bad, Crimethinc posits that men get rape education and women take self-defense classes. But wait, aren’t men in anarchist spaces already seeing a lot of rape education from other anarcha-feminists? Aren’t women who are anarchists already prone to taking self-defense classes?

I could be wrong about both of these things, of course. But I remember thinking I was a guy and being an anarchist years ago and seeing plenty of material about rape culture, patriarchy and how I contributed to it. Maybe my experience was unique, but I doubt that. Nevertheless, I still ended up inadvertently taking advantage of a friend last year when they were drunk. Clearly the education failed (or I failed it).

And it’s not like the education didn’t involve alcohol. I even read Learning Good Consent months before that incident happened last year.

But maybe some of us (even if we’re not men) are just thicker than others.

And if anyone is going to value self-defense it’d be anarchists who aren’t men. It’s tough enough to not be a dude in this world (especially if you’re non-white) but if you’re also an anarchist you’ve got the whole system often working against you.

Still, I don’t really know if any of this actually decreases the amount of intimate or acquaintance violence between anarchists. But that’s not a point against rape education or self-defense classes, obviously. Both of those are great ideas, I’m just not clear if these aren’t things we’ve been trying forever anyways.

One of my main problem with gender-based organizing is the gender part. Crimethinc kind of addresses this, but not really. It mostly hand-waves concerns about trans folks by saying intimate violence typically falls along certain gendered lines. Okay, that’s true, but what about when it doesn’t?

I’m not a guy (despite being assigned as one at birth) and having men segregated from women so they can lean to not be assholes just seems, as Crimethinc itself points out, to give men a bigger platform they don’t need. Plus, the men who likely need it the most won’t use it. Who wants to admit they need that shit?

The next alternative is conflict resolution and seems much more promising, especially given this quote:

Rather than extending the identity politics of survivor and perpetrator, we could create more nuanced language that neither idealizes nor demonizes people, but asks all of us to remain engaged in lifelong processes of self-transformation. This requires empathy towards folk who have done harm, to create space for them to own up to their behaviors and heal. (55)

I don’t particularly like this negative focus on “identity politics” (it made me side-eye this article a few times) but besides this, I respect the intention and think it sounds like a great idea. …But how do we do it?

This is what I mean, even when the ideas are cool, there’s very little detail presented on how we are to do it. I’m not looking for a full set of directions but something more substantive would be nice. How do we do the above without ceding too much space to aggressors? How do we balance survivor concerns effectively?

More commitments to self-accountability and conflict resolution sounds nice but how do we get folks to do this? Write more? Do more presentations? Call for some community meetings? Maybe Crimethinc just wants us to come up with this shit on our own and if so, that’s fine (and the anarchist thing to do). But make that explicit.

Not to mention that conflict resolution strikes me as fairly close to TJ just in a smaller way. There’s just two people and a “neutral” facilitator, just less involvement from the surrounding community. And that sounds like a bad thing, especially when conflict resolution “…is not appropriate for many cases of partner abuse.” (56) to begin with.

I hate to be so negative and it’s not like I think TJ is the only way to go (I don’t) but the alternatives listed in this essay are either great but highly underdeveloped or just not good. The next one, concentric circles of affinity is another idea that sounds super interesting but also goes underdeveloped.

The idea is to, within each of our circles of friends, explicitly list what makes a community for us and how to move forward. How do we define rape and sexual violence more generally? My affinity model would include my partner and my best friend as well as another close friend. The next level up would be some sort of shared community space, but I don’t have many of those. I guess their the few libertarian hangouts I go to once in a blue moon, though they barely count.

Affinity groups are awesome and sound like a great way of organizing communities from the bottom up! But there’s just a lack of detail here to get me fully into it.

Beyond Revenge and Reconciliation (and Bad/Redundant Alternatives)

One thing this section made me realize was how stacked against me the prospect of TJ ever happening between me and my accuser last year was. While some folks in the community still had affinity for me, most did not have love. The harm I caused my accuser was through ignorance, not malice, though that does not excuse it, of course. But the way I expressed remorse was poorly done and that soured it.

Even without that though my accuser wanted me to leave the community and not much was going to outweigh that need of theirs. Besides that, the harm to them was \severe and I had a pattern of being shitty to people. It was a no-brainer.

And it didn’t help that I fucked up my “apology” but hey, I was likely done for anyways. Even if  I hadn’t fucked it up, I still would never have come back anyways, especially not to a community I was feeling increasingly detached from.

Not just cause of my mistakes but more generally I was burnt out on politics. But that’s another conversation for another time.

That’s where the revelations started and stopped for me in this one. The alternative approaches are…largely redundant. Mediation, Self-help groups, exclusion and retribution have all been discussed before, but I guess they’re included again?

And the new ones are…a mixed bag.

There’s a very brief passage on internal resolution but it’s pretty unclear what the authors even mean by it. And while survivor self-help group and oppression awareness groups (which aren’t gendered!) sound like awesome ideas they are still (say it with me!) underdeveloped and with no examples to cite.

At least there’s this nice quote about survivor self-help groups:

In this way both survivors and perpetrators can move from being disempowered and constrained by these labels, to having the strength and knowledge to feedback into the community. (76)

Besides that though, there are some much needed notes on a lack of resources for communities to have some of these groups, except maybe online and regionally. That would make sense to me as a good start and I hope that happened.

But also the most important point I concluded the most from this section was that, we don’t have an obligation to save everyone, especially folks who have patterns of abuse and seemingly have little desire to change their ways.

It may be passing the problem elsewhere, but communities can only take so much before they disintegrate because of stuff like this. Communities must have a limit before they push serial abusers (such as myself) out.

I don’t know if “serial abuser” is the right word. But I’m definitely a serial fuck-up when it comes to relationships and sexual intimacy, I can’t deny that. I’m doing better with my current partner of a year now, but I still have my problems.

Conclusion to a Concluding Conclusion:

Phew. This was way too long, but I guess all of my previous reviews were pretty short for me, so maybe this “makes up” for that. I was thinking about it yesterday and the reason why I spent so much more time on this than the last three books was because it had so much politically to say that I wanted to argue and engage with.

I had a lot of thoughts on TJ and retribution already and I’ve never really shared them. Partly because I was nervous about sharing my opinion about “shooting your local rapist” and whatnot. But now that I have very little to lose, I guess in a way it’s comforting and I can just say how I feel and not worry as much.

Don’t worry, it’s as liberating as it is depressing.

Anyways, as a “…sensitive anarcha-feminist sexual assaulter…”(38) there’s probably not much here people would take seriously, even if they were to read it. But I don’t really care about that. I’m not writing 7,000+ words because I hope to change minds, but because this is therapeutic for me. I’m still trying to process my bullshit and writing all of this helps and hopefully can help me be a better person.

Because that’s all I really want to get out of this series: Being a better person.

I know I’ve failed at that so far in a lot of important ways. So this reading, note-taking and finally writing this shit out is me trying to take some shred of accountability for my mistakes over the years. It’s not so any community will take me back, the survivor(s) will forgive me or I can get some “likes”.

I just want to be a better person.

Oh, and this collection reminded me that I should re-read and review Safety as an Illusion: Reflections on Accountability which this collection cites every 10 pages or so (an exaggeration, but not much of one).

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading.

I hope you’ll join me for the next book review.


Next up is Conflict is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair by Sarah Schulman. I also recommend reading this great article on ways to be accountable when you’re called out for being abusive.

Building Accountable Communities (Barnard Center for Research on Women)

I watched some interesting videos about self-accountability for both people who have perpetuated harm (like myself) and survivors (which sounds way more victim-blaming then I think it actually is; judge for yourself though!).

In trying to do more research I came across this article on self-accountability and bought a few things (also this). I also checked out resources suggested by the videos from the NW Network, Creative Interventions, Bay Area Transformative Justice, and Just Practice from Shira Hassan.

None of this will make up for the harms I’ve perpetuated, but it will hopefully prevent future harms from happening, if nothing else.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (Book Review)

Point point point

Something I’m realizing more and more about myself this month is my defensiveness. I’m not great at responding to criticisms or even to people  informing me of an issue because I tend to feel singled out and attacked.

Basically, my fight or flight mode sucks and I wish I could turn it off. Because before I know it I’ve said a few words more than “Ok” and it’s turned into a huge fiasco that’s threatening those around me in one way or another.

This defensiveness is part of what informed my beyond lackluster response to the accusations made against me last year. I was surprised, exhausted and more importantly I was incensed at the accusations that had driven so many away.

Of course, it wasn’t the accusations, it was my actions. But good luck to 2017 me seeing that and responding appropriately. I felt targeted in the worst way and responded accordingly. I take responsibility for my poor responses/apologies.

There’s however some solace in reading a book like So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson then. Some of the people in here (especially John Leher) have “beyond lackluster” responses to being called out for their actions as well.

And while I knew prior that not everyone responds to accusations appropriately it still felt reassuring to see it so carefully documented and written about by Ronson, The book in general is very thoughtfully written by Ronson and must be given the intense and sensitive subject matter of the book.

Ronson’s aim in this book is to establish the place that shame has in incentivizing a moral order from other individuals. How successful is it? Does it have too many downsides? Do most people become better people afterwards?

There’s many questions Ronson goes out to try to answer and he does them through the personal stories of some folks who have been shamed online. Many of them simply dropped their internet personas after a brief apology and cried a lot.

When it comes to my own story I’ve decided to loosen my internet presence a little, e.g. I don’t post personally as much on social media anymore, mostly shared links.

But my original apology wasn’t brief and while I have spent many hours in many different corners of my brain crying, wanting to die, thinking that there’s nothing I can do to be a better person than who I’ve been, I’m trying to get out of that space.

Ultimately, that space isn’t helpful for fostering change. Who would have thought it huh? Trying to soak in your misery and thinking it’s hopeless doesn’t actually make the prospect of changing for the better any more likely! Weird!

Jokes aside, the people in the book aren’t all like that. Some aren’t affected at all by the shaming such as one that involved a number of men who are on a prostitute list in a small Maine town. The only one shamed is, of course, the single woman client.

Perhaps one of the more affecting stories to me was the one about John Leher who was publicly shamed online for his blatant plagiarism. Not only did Leher plagiarize his own writings but he also made up quotes and as a result…well it’s hard to say.

In some ways Leher lost a lot of credibility but in others he’s still invited to conferences, still was able to come out with a new book and I doubt he lost all of his money and status. But personally he talks about how much it changed him. Or, supposedly. Some people think he’s a psychopath and doubt his remorse.

So maybe in that way, I also related to it. My statements about the accusations were thought to be the words of a narcissist or psychopath as well. It wasn’t the first time I’d been called some variant of the selfish label though to quote a friend, I’m not narcissistic I’m “fucking autistic” which seems accurate.

More oblivious than intentionally malicious or deviant.

For myself, I found the matter interesting and even more complicated than others were giving it credit for in the book. While Leher was lying and that’s wrong, it seemed like plagiarizing himself and misquoting were minor compared to the shaming that ended up happening. Then again, it was a persistent pattern.

In other cases it’s quite clear to me (such as in DongleGate) where the massive punishment against the offenders doesn’t seem to fit the crime. This book takes note of some interesting incidents that I had all but forgot about or never knew.

Besides discussion about online shaming there’s also discussions about the chances of people becoming rehabilitated. I particularly enjoyed the commentary on when people retrospectively looked at their shaming.

For Leher, Ronson says, “His worst days were when he allowed himself hope … the best …when he accepted his destruction was necessary for the deterrent of others.”

I can relate to that given my own mistakes and relationship for hope. But on the other hand, with a new job that I actually enjoy most of, moving forward with my legal name, a handful of really solid friends, I’ve got hope and want to keep it.

Another interesting thing about Leher was that the note of narcissism and psychopathy often came from outside academics and journalists with little to no experience in the mental health field (at least according to Ronson).

So is it fair to diagnose people from afar like this? Without really knowing or having a professional grip on what makes psychopaths tick or not tick? On the third hand, wouldn’t it be weird to seclude those sorts of judgements to only professionals?

Moving on, one of my other favorite parts of the book concerned how we could move past shame and who is trying to do it. Ronson looks at the pornography world that helps people consensually face their fears in a sexual way.

Interestingly, Ronson also talked about the movement (cult?) of radical honesty, which was interesting enough for me to spend a few hours of research on. My conclusion was that it had some nice ideas but the inner group is best avoided.

As we get to the end of the book Ronson discusses that there are reputation firms that can make Google search results go away. They work very subtly and are hard for Google to notice (at least as of writing the book) but are expensive.

I thought about this for myself and quickly decided that I wouldn’t want to deal with the shame, especially when I already deal with so much self-hatred anyways. But funnily enough, while reading this chapter of the book I found out that my name had nothing  associated with it that was negative anymore.

Previously there was a Tweet that had a screenshot of someone posting about a credible accusation of sexual assault (nothing I haven’t talked about beforer) and I was mortified. Could I legally change my name to Doreen Cleyre now?

Suffice it to say I dedicated myself to doing it anyways, whatever the cost. Even if I’m constantly shamed throughout my life for being who I was and who I am, that’s going to happen either way. And besides, I’ve done enough hiding of myself.

The last three chapters of the book pull back bit by bit but there’s some interesting bits about how the internalization of shame leads us to become violent. Even a pimp who had murdered many was able to find solace in helping a mentally disabled kid.

How did he get there? By those around him treating him with respect and allowing him a place to speak is mind and connect with others, albeit in a very limited way. I don’t know if the answer to all crime is to root out the inner shame criminals feel.

But I do know that shame is often a great place to start and that trying to understand the role it has in our world and communities is a great step towards trying to make it a better world for all of us, including those shamed.

Speaking as someone who has been publicly shamed, I recommend Ronson’s book.

It’d be a shame if you didn’t read it.


See what reviews are next, here.

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Book Review)

Content Warning: Brief mentions of rape, extended discussions of mental health

I remember when the accusations against me were first made. All I wanted to do was run away. I wanted to get out of my mind and never come back. I wanted to crawl into the nearest ditch and die, and worse, I felt like that’s what I deserved.

Another part of my mind was angry: How dare my accuser not even try to talk to me first? I thought we were friends, what happened? Why did this all happen? Why am I such a horrible person? I was angry not at them, but really, myself.

I had failed a friend in such a monumental way that my mind had very few places to go other than to die in a ditch or blame others. I tried to take my mind off of it by leaving social media for a few weeks. I tried to run away by only talking about it when absolutely necessary and even then making sure those situations were short.

Still, I thought about the allegations a lot. In fact, the intensity surrounding them was equivalent to some of the worst intrusive thoughts I’d ever had. I felt like my whole life was coming apart and all I wanted to do was die or fade away.

Since then, I haven’t necessarily gotten better. I still try to avoid the subject in my head, I try not to dwell on it, but I also do self-talk. I reassure myself that I did the best I could in the situation I was in and failed. And that this failure is an important lesson moving forward so I never commit this sort egregious harm on anyone again.

And while I’ve come to the conclusion that the base of the allegation is false, I am not a serial rapist, the crux of the matter is true: My issues with consent have been long-standing and not as well-addressed by myself or others as I had thought.

And instead of trying to be compassionate towards those I harmed, I was very defensive and afraid. I was defensive because I felt like my reputation had been annihilated and that left me afraid because who would love me now?

With what people have said about me, who could ever love me? A person who has made several critical mistakes in her life. Sure, I say I want to get better but do my actions really show that? It was hard to give a ready-made answer, let alone a yes.

Thankfully I did have people who stuck around.

Some because they don’t believe I could ever rape someone (sorry, but having sex with someone when they’re intoxicated, whether I knew it or not, is rape) and some because they believed my accuser but also believed in my sincerity to do better (these are the best sorts of people and I wish I had more of them in my life).

Given all of this it’s easy to say my life had fallen apart.

And not just because of my own actions but also because of the consequences of my actions on others. I let many friends (and many now former friends) down and I’ve hurt many people (in small ways and big) trying to be “romantic” or “loving”.

My understanding of boundaries was hampered by my need to feel appreciated by others. I’m a needy person who just wants to feel important to the world around her and I used that underlying need as a justification for aimless flirtation online.

This “annihilation” of my reputation is important, according to Buddhist philosophy. And according to one author in particular, Pema Chödrön, a painful death is often necessary for a rebirth. What a difficult way to learn this lesson.

I read When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön with few expectations. I am not a Buddhist and have little prior knowledge of Buddhism besides what I learned from popular culture, Nietzsche’s critiques of Buddhism and the anarchist Dyer D Lum’s understanding of Buddhism.

Chödrön didn’t convince me to become a Buddhist through this book but she did inspire me to think more about this philosophy. After all, a philosophy that urges us to give up on hope is a philosophy I find fascinating, at least.

The reason behind this startling claim is that hope never allows us to be content with where we are in life. We’re all so busy caught up in trying to get to a better place or be a better person that we’re never happy and we increase our suffering.

Buddhism teaches us that suffering is inevitable and trying to create shields around ourselves is not only pointless but also harmful. It harms others because it leads us to be less gentle and compassionate with others (big armor can make us feel like we do anything, such as harm) but also less compassionate with ourselves.

The main theme of this book is that compassion for others starts with us. It starts with recognizing our underlying goodness (or attempts to get there) and then face the things we feel that get in the way of that inherent goodness, the scary things.

Chödrön constantly tells us in this powerful book to confront our fears and to lean into the scary places within ourselves. I can say from my own personal experiences with meditation, trying to fall asleep at night and talking to my therapist and close friends about the allegations that leaning into my feelings has been helpful.

Understanding myself better has allowed me to better understand the harm I’ve caused towards other and as a result, have more compassion for everyone involved.

That’s not to say that after reading this book  I am some sort of enlightened Buddhist, not in the least.

But I do think many of the lessons in this book are very important for anyone and at any time in their lives, emotionally speaking. Yes, I bought this book because I felt my life was falling apart for me. But I also bought it because in many ways I was trying to rebuild this same life and make it better as I move forwards.

Do I think hope is worth giving up on? No. I’m not convinced all forms of hope are inherently toxic and I think there’s a sort of contentedness we can cultivate for our present while still acknowledging we can be better people despite our past.

Free people are ultimately not subjugated by our pasts.

They are influenced by them, informed by them and take inspiration from them so they can try to do better. But it would also be a mistake to say any of us are defined by our present or future either. Time is always changing and moving forward and as such referring to any of these periods as “defining” for our character is unrealistic.

My biggest criticism of the book is, while it teaches you many lessons that I cherish and needed to hear, it repeats them far too often. A little over half-way through the book and I noticed I started taking fewer notes on what Chödrön was saying.

Chödrön has excellent lessons to teach us, but I think she could have done so in 100 pages (or less) instead of the nearly 200 she gives herself.

That said, I highly recommend this book. I don’t know about shaving my head and believing in the dharma wholeheartedly anytime soon, but I can say with utter sincerity that this book helped me on my path to becoming a better person.

And as Chödrön says: The Path Is The Goal.


See what reviews are next, here.

South of Forgiveness: A True Story of Rape and Responsibility (Book Review)

Content Warning: Discussion of rape, abuse, difficult emotions

South of Forgiveness is a project by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger and one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read. It follows the story of Elva and Stranger meeting almost 20 years (2013) after Stranger raped Elva.

The circumstances were “bare bones” if a rape could possibly be such. Elva and Stranger were dating in college at the time (1996) and Elva had gotten herself drunk, having not drank much in her life up until that point. Elva was heavily intoxicated, to the point that the security on their campus asked if she was OK as Tom brought her out and back to her dorm with him.

As he brought her back into her dorm room and on her bad he began undressing her. Stranger then got on top of Elva and one of the most painful memories for Elva was born. The book picks up with these two having gotten back in touch through email in 2005 and are now planning on meeting in person, in 2013.

It’s an emotionally heavy book and there’s no way around that. But it’s also a testament to how much abuse and trauma we as humans can go through. We can be changed so much by just a single moment or series of moments from decades ago.

I bought this book not to punish myself but as a way to think about what forgiveness means. Not only for people who have perpetuated sexual violence (as I have) but for people who want to forgive those people and what that can look like.

To clarify, I don’t think everyone needs to be or should be forgiven. As toxic as I think things like bitterness, hatred, regret, shame, etc. can be for the human spirit I absolutely understand on an emotional and biological level why folks have it.

It makes sense to hate your rapist and especially if you think there’s no hope for them. For a long time Elva didn’t think there was any point of contacting Tom and held off for almost 5 years before seeing him at an event and telling him what he did. And it wasn’t another 5 years or so until she emailed for more understanding.

The biggest part of this book for me was Stranger’s self-hatred. I empathized a great deal with his lack of personal identity, his crisis of who he was as a person after what he did to Elva and how he could become a better person. Is it possible?

The book argues that it is possible. Or, I should say, Elva and Stranger jointly argue that it’s possible for people who have made horrible mistakes to not only become better people but to forgive themselves for those horrible mistakes.

That second part is what scares me more than anything.

Having to take responsibility for sexual violence and committing to being better is a herculean task in of itself for some. But forgiving ourselves for our egregious violations of other people’s bodies seems like another matter entirely.

On this point Stranger speaks eloquently and often about his regrets and the way his interaction with Elva made him distance himself from the world around him. How he kept finding himself “happy” in relationships but ultimately trying to sabotage them so he wouldn’t hurt anyone anymore.

Elva is an amazing writer and an incredibly strong person. She’s strong in ways that I think are so important when it comes to feelings and critical thinking. Her willingness to forgive, however, doesn’t come from some superpower. It comes from nearly a decade of online communication and a final dedication to resolve things.

Although I find some solace in the old Buddhist saying, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” and applying that to hatred, anger can be a real motivator.

As Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine once said, “Anger is a gift.” Anger can be a powerful motivating force that leaves other emotions in the dust when it comes to getting things done for yourself.

But that dust is to be handled carefully. The way you kick up the dust with your anger, people often get that same dust stuck in their throats until they can’t breathe.

What does handling anger carefully look like though? For me, I don’t think there’s an objective standard. Should Elva still be angry with Stranger even after she (spoilers?) forgives Stranger for his sexual violation when they were younger?

In some cases it makes sense to let go of anger: When there’s nothing more to be done, when there’s bigger priorities, when it’s time to move on, when you’d rather be angry at something else, when your emotions change to sadness.

There’s too many variables here to name.

But the point being that anger, like hatred, like sadness, like sorrow, are all emotions that we have some degree of control over.

Some of us have less than we may want, but that doesn’t make us not responsible for our actions. I’m still responsible for being reckless, greedy, irresponsible and many other things even if I had good intentions at the time.

As Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES sings, “Good intentions/Never good enough”

I read this book to realize that I can forgive myself for my mistakes. I’m not there, not even close. I’ve been asked by multiple people what I would feel or say if the people I’ve harmed would do for me. Honestly, I don’t think it would change much.

I would cry, I would feel like maybe self-forgiveness is a more viable option. But ultimately their forgiveness can never erase the harm I’ve caused them.

Furthermore matters of justice are never that simple and South of Forgiveness proves that with a beautiful story of betrayal and mutual redemption. Forgiveness is a two-way street and as Elva argues, isn’t a purely selfless act. Most of all, Elva does this for herself and I can’t think of a more beautiful or convincing reason to forgive.

But for what it’s worth, I’m glad Stranger gets Elva’s forgiveness.

I’m certain he deserved it.


See what books will be reviewed next, here.

A New Project for Personal Accountability

In order to better make sense of the last few years and trying to move forward with my life I’ve decided to buy the following four books:

  • South of Forgiveness: A True Story About Rape and Responsibility
  • When Things Fall Apart
  • So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
  • The Worm at the Core: On The Role of Death in Life

I shall dedicate myself to writing book reviews of each and writing some notes down for each book. I will be doing one book a month and trying to get each book review done before the month is over.

I bought the first book because although the accusations against me were partially untrue, I also know that I have not done my best with issues of consent and boundaries in these past few years or so. I want to do better and I think this book can help convince me that I can still be a good or better person even after making terrible mistakes in my life.

I bought the second book on the recommendation of Emmi Bevensee and their wonderful series on autonomy and consent over on C4SS. Specifically their most recent article on Whisper Networks. I’ve been enjoying their series, however difficult it can be to read at times.

I bought the third book to see how others have dealt with accusations and what to make of shame in my life. This book has a more cursory role to do with me bettering myself but I want to see how I can react better in the future, help others in the future and just get me to think about shame with regards to its role in social activism communities.

I bought the fourth book so I can think about the role of death in my own life. Especially as someone who deals with chronic depression, anxiety, existential crises and feels as if they can’t do any better at times, I want to re-examine how death motivates and demotivates. I also find terror management theory fascinating and want to learn more about it.

In addition to these books I’ve been discussing issues as varied as my anger problems, my past issues with consent, my problems dealing with existence itself and how I can be a better person. I’ve had similar discussions with my group of close friends to good results.

Lastly, I’ve been journaling for a few months now and recently reached entry 100 on it. In those entries I talk about what I am thankful for, what I am feeling and what solutions I can do to improve myself.

I contemplated posting a 6 month retrospective and update on what I’ve been up to but this seems shorter and hopefully speaks for itself.

Looking forward to working on myself in the coming months.

Take care and thanks for reading.

Accountability

My first attempt at accountability failed because I engaged in gaslighting and a violation of privacy in order to discount the fact that I made a mistake. It reeked of excuse-making instead of remorse. I’m sorry for that.

The second version lacked those elements but my mistakes were poorly framed as one recent issue when that is not the case, nor did I believe that to be the case.

I genuinely want to do better, so I want to try again. This time I want to explicitly name the actions I feel responsible for and the issues I have had these past years and what I’m doing to try to avoid them in the future.

Recently, I took advantage of a situation I should not have. When someone is drinking, regardless of how they seem or what they say, the responsible  thing to do is to not have sex with them. I did not do the responsible thing and I’m sorry.

When you’re in an abusive relationship and needs are not being met, the responsible thing to do would be to take a break. It would be to move out and get some much needed space before things gets worse. I didn’t and I’m sorry. I took advantage of this person multiple times before I got help and I’m sorry for that too.

When multiple people tell you online that you make them feel uncomfortable the responsible thing would be to stop the thing in question, e.g “compliments”. Instead, I blamed other people for not being direct enough (when they often were doing just that) and made “accountability” statements online that, at times, were not even pretending to be anything but purely defensive and I’m sorry.

I’m willing to elaborate on any of these issues as needed.

If there’s something more I can do within the framework of transformative, restorative, or other forms of justice, I’m interested in listening.

Concretely speaking: I’m going to avoid sexual relationships that have anything to do with alcohol, develop and maintain solid boundaries about I want in a relationship and cease most online flirting with the exception of partners, people who are flirting with me or people I have an established history with.

More abstractly: I’m going to continue to reflect on the harm I’ve caused, speak openly and honestly to my pod, talk to my new therapist and think about how I can do better and be better with regards to communication and accountability itself.

I’m sorry to those I’ve harmed.

Concerning the Allegations Against Me

Edit: I originally wrote something else out, but this was my original statement and I think it’s much less problematic than my former. I appreciate the perspectives of those who have commented and this is my attempt to take those under consideration.

Recently, I went to visit a friend.

We had been talking off and on and had met in person once. I knew them through the anarchist scene and became friends with them because of how smart, compassionate and nuanced I felt they were as a person. I thought they were this beautiful person who I really wanted to get to know and meet up with again, so I did that.

We talked about boundaries and what we wanted out of the experience a month beforehand, I used my “things I think about when it comes to cuddling list” to explicitly communicate what we would both be interested in.

We had both agreed we were not interested in sexual or romantic interaction. I stand by that I was never interested in that happening. I had not had sex with anyone in over a year. Sex is an anxiety-provoking, high-sensory and ultimately dissatisfying experience for me and I had only faint (if any) interest in having it happen with this person.

As far as romance, it became complicated because we had different notions of what it means to cuddle and how often it should happen between friends. My cuddling/affection towards friends is intended to be platonic but the line can be tricky and I recognize that I overdid it at times. When they later told me they were uncomfortable with touch in general, I stopped.

When I got to the airport, I texted them and told them that I was there. They said they’d order pizza but that they needed to concentrate on their work for a little bit before we could hang out. I said that was fine and that I’d need some time to decompress anyways.

We also had a brief discussion about whether I drank. I told them that I didn’t and when it came to touch, I prefer not to touch people when they’re under the influence of alcohol. Knowing this, they told me that they’d take it easy that weekend. This was a loose rule of mine. I have a person in my life who at one point was drunk and wanted to have sex with me and said it would be 100% fine but I felt uncomfortable because they were exercising impairing judgement.

And so much to my chagrin I’ve been in a similar situation and made a better choice than I did this time around. As you’ll soon (hopefully) see, it’s because I underestimated their similarity.

When I got to this person’s apartment a series of things happened involving food that showed the person who was hosting me had communication, anger and alcohol issues. I am not judging this person for their issues but I mention them because they contributed to our misunderstandings (emphasis on our, not just theirs) about sex and touching more generally. Later in the trip my host would agree that my visit showed them they need to work on communication, which I think speaks to these issues being apparent.

In order to cope with these frustrations and their anger issues (which I don’t remember being told about/knowing about) they decided to start drinking. At that point we had begun talking and discussing things about our lives and relating to each other heavily. The bottle they were drinking out of made me weary but it seemed like a large wine bottle at the time and that there wasn’t a lot left in it.

I looked at the bottle and it said 11% alcohol content which didn’t sound like a lot to me, but I do not know a lot about alcohol. I should have done more research but as it turns out it’s a fairly weak to normal drink. There was around ¼ of the bottle left when my host began to drink it and generally speaking they were acting relatively normal (if perhaps a bit happier/friendlier) so I presumed things were okay.

And then things began to get flirtatious between us. They were acting very gregarious and friendly towards me all of the sudden. I knew it was the alcohol to some extent but they also seemed to be genuinely feeling these emotions too so, with their verbal permission, I started reciprocating.

I asked them if they were okay with touch, at all. Then as things got more physical I would ask as time went along whether they were comfortable and aware of what was going on. As I remember it, they repeatedly stressed things were fine and that they were just tipsy. Eventually I just took them at their word and decided that they seemed cognizant and aware. I concluded that through their actions, their ability to communicate and what I said previously of the alcohol itself.

I now know I should not have taken them at their word and that the responsible thing to do would be to not have had sex with them. They have since claimed they were a) scared b) blackout drunk and I do not remember them acting like either. That said, I am not an expert on that level of drunk (or any level) or reading emotions but I know what fear looks like and I’ve seen folks that level of drunk before from people in real life and in media.

And to the best of my knowledge, they never looked, sounded or generally came off as afraid or blackout drunk. If they had and I had seen it, nothing would have happened. Instead, they seemed very confident and happy with what was going on. It’s of course possible (and this is the case according to them) I misread the situation but that was my reading at the time and it’s my memory currently.

After we had sex we talked about it for the next few days off and on. We mutually agreed it was problematic (though not morally, that was never an area of discussion) and we shouldn’t do it again. I felt bad because of my own self-esteem issues but those things had nothing to do with them and I regret that I couldn’t just let it go and move on at first.

I made a mistake in not saying, “No, let’s wait until you’re a little more sober.” but I did not rape them and I am not a serial rapist. I was irresponsible and will not be having sex with anyone who even touches a drop of alcohol in the future.

I recognize that this situation is (at best) a gray area and one that I actively had a hand in. This gray area ended up making this person feel sexually traumatized and violated and I’m sorry for that.

I deeply regret that this person now experiences what seemed to be a good time for both of us (if misguided) as rape. I don’t know what to say about that except that I did the best I could to make sure they felt comfortable and OK with what was happening. I failed in that and I am very sorry.

I’m not writing this out to refute anyone’s story or claim that anyone is lying. I just want to tell my side of the story to the best of my ability so it’s out there and known.

If there’s anything more I can do to make things right besides changing my personal behaviors surrounding alcohol, speaking about my side of events, feel free to contact me. Again, I’m very sorry for what happened and I’m doing the best I can to take personal stock of myself.

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