There is a brilliant blog post Cliff Pervocracy wrote in June 2012 about people in communities working around people instead of dealing with them. It’s not long and I HIGHLY recommend everyone in the polyamory, open, swinger, kink and sex communities read it. It’s called “The Missing Stair” and it’s found here.
He talks about people in our communities that we’ve learned to ignore and work around. He says…
“Have you ever been in a house that had something just egregiously wrong with it? Something massively unsafe and uncomfortable and against code, but everyone in the house had been there a long time and was used to it? ‘Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, there's a missing step on the unlit staircase with no railings. But it's okay because we all just remember to jump over it’”
“When I posted about a rapist in a community I belonged to, although I gave almost no details about the guy except ‘he's a rapist,’ I immediately got several emails from other members of that community saying “oh, you must mean X.” Everyone knew who he was! Tons of people, including several in the leadership, instantly knew who I meant. The reaction wasn't “there's a rapist among us!?!” but “oh hey, I bet you're talking about our local rapist.” Several of them expressed regret that I hadn't been warned about him beforehand, because they tried to discreetly tell new people about this guy. Others talked about how they tried to make sure there was someone keeping an eye on him at parties, because he was fine so long as someone remembered to assign him a Rape Babysitter.
People had gotten so used to working around this guy, to accommodating his “special requirements,” that they didn't feel like there was an urgent problem in their community. They did eventually expel him, but it was after months of it being widely shared knowledge that he was a rapist and had done other unethical sexual things as well.”
“Fixing” doesn't always mean throwing someone out. (Although in the case of sex groups I think people are way too timid about that. Being invited to sex parties should be a positive show of confidence in your character, not some sort of default human right.)”
I find myself wondering at times where the line is. I have two scenarios to posit.
The first concerns a man who had “undiscussed, unprotected, contextual but spontaneous penis-in-vagina” sex he perpetrated on more than one woman at events hosted by a local polyamorous group for nerdy people. In general I found the group to be very supportive of these women and desirous of them being supported in any and all ways they felt they would like to respond. I was touched that so many people in the community reached out to the women who had been violated and respected if they wanted to remain nameless. When one stepped forward and explained it was her and what had happened there was a HUGE supportive response. Honestly it was really cool of most of the people in the group.
There was however a lot of discussion about what the group should do about this “broken stair.” Apparently a number of the group knew exactly who the reported violator was before anyone named them. The group administrators were involved in discussion and a lot of strong opinions flew about. People brought up the idea that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. People asked if the group should just kick people out at the accusation of rape or if the accused deserved any sort of trial before they were “strung up”. (For the record, nobody started chanting about putting his head on a spike. People were suggesting that he maybe shouldn’t be allowed in the Facebook group and shouldn’t be invited to parties and sexy events. )
People worried about retribution and destroying someone’s reputation on hearsay and people wondered how many members would be violated before it was acceptable to “out” the accused or to oust him from the group. And it raised a lot of discussion, which is maybe the only good thing that could come out of a ratty situation like that. With things like un-consenting violations it’s maybe a little clearer what to do, even if it did raise a lot of good discussion. I was surprised honestly by how little clarity the situation actually had. So many questions came up.
So, how about smaller broken stairs?
I met a guy on OKCupid a while back who was really cagey. He was cute and kinda fun to flirt with, but like I said, cagey. I don’t know why exactly, but he set off my spidey senses. I googled him and found that he was listed on a bunch of cheater sites. On one site 3 separate women had made profiles about him and his cheating, talking about how he made ads on Craigslist saying he was gay and looking for his first female experience, and saying he’d told people his wife had been in an accident and was unable to have sex and he was trying to be a good guy and stick by her but he had needs. It wasn’t just that he was accused of being a cheater. It was HOW. I don’t get involved with cheaters. I like ETHICAL non-monogamy. So I confronted him. Yep. He was a cheater. He confessed and tried to state his case and I cut ties. Again, it’s not just that I don’t become involved with cheaters. It was this man’s rampant dishonesty and sort of slimey-ness that I recoiled from.
And now he just popped up in my nerdy Seattle polyamorous group. I googled him, thinking maybe he and his partner had come to an agreement. It has been a little while and more than a few people come to ethical non-monogamy by way of cheating. I told myself I don’t know for sure that they aren’t poly now. What I found instead was a lot of posts from a company he paid to clean up his reputation and dead links to the cheater sites he used to be on. This isn’t exactly damning evidence.
Do I have any responsibility to let anyone know in the poly group? I don’t know. I maybe think I don’t. I don’t know for absolutely sure that he hasn’t opened up for that matter and spreading the news of his past lies and such seems vindictive at best. What if he has cleaned up his act and I besmirched him for no reason? Do I owe anyone a heads up though? Do we look out for each other at all in our ethically non-monogamous circles? Should we? Where is the line between informing our friends of dangers and assaulting someone’s character? Do sexual lifestyle groups have any responsibility? Do we as a community have any responsibility? Or are we hiding broken stairs? I don’t know. What do YOU think?
Wow, that’s a tough one. I can see why you’d potentially be worried about saying unfounded things, but to be honest it also sounds like he’s done (and openly admitted to doing) some pretty shitty things in the past. Is it possible that you could confront him about it directly? He seemed to own up last time, and it may be that he’d do so again.
I’m wary of commenting on another’s situation without knowing much detail, but on the broader point of looking out for people, I think there’s definitely a responsibility there. The idea that people will have been assigned a ‘rape babysitter’ and that their awful behaviour is so well known that others watch out for it is incredibly worrying. I’ve known men before who have been problematic (not rapists, but liable to get drunk and piss people off with clingy/touchy behaviour) and in those situations I’ve usually said something directly to the dude. Along the lines of ‘hey, you know when you do this it actually makes people really upset?’ A decent person who’s made a mistake will be quick to correct their behaviour. Someone who is just a shithead will keep doing it, at which point there’s total justification in throwing them out, no matter what.
I don’t think this is a tough one at all (no offense, Girl). And I don’t mean to offend the author either when I say:
To not say anything is cowardly.
That’s right. We are a society of cowards so worried about violating someone’s rights, so worried about offending the wrong party, that when those we care about are in need of our protection and we have a chance to protect those we know and love at the possible expense of someone who is pretty damn shadey, we err on the side of the shadey person!
Discrimination and prejudice is bad, of course, but we are not politicians. We are people and if we don’t look out for those we care about, how will we feel when the tables are turned? When there is no one looking out for us?
In the case of your cagey guy gone poly, if you are concerned about violating his possible new identity, you should confront him directly. Tell him what you found, tell him what you know and tell him that you will give him the benefit of the doubt but that if does not respect you and your fellow poly people in spirit and in action then you will out him with your words and have him outed from the group.
Polyamory is about loving and trusting and honesty. You would be dishonest to your people if you did not warn them.
Thank you for your comments and thoughts. It’s excellent encouragement. At a minimum I think I WILL talk to the prior cagey guy. On the other situation, the man has already been outed from the group. It’s nice to have some feedback. Thank you.