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Join me in Love

Safety is Harder than I thought

Published by hartmans on 2018-11-18
Last Month, a former convention chair of Arisia
wrote
that she would not be attending the convention, because her rapist
was president of the organization yet again. Crystal showed amazing
courage and vulnerability as she told her story.

This was hard for me because I know the people involved. I
am reasonably sure that I've been introduced to Crystal a number of
times. I worked on a project with Noel a few years ago. I have been at
parties hosted by some of the Arisia board members who were involved in
the incident. That makes the event more viscerally real for me. Arisia
is not my primary community: I have gone in the past
sometimes, but I’ve never been on a panel or staff. However, I feel I
need to learn what I can to try to create a safer world and to try and
avoid these mistakes myself.
Because I know the people involved, I keep wondering whether I will end
up in one of these roles.

We need Safe Space


First, Arisia had been regarded as one of the better conventions for
handling incidents and consent issues. I have been in multiple
conversations where people suggested that parts of the kink community
struggling with consent could learn in positive ways from Arisia. The
training staff received in incident handling was held up as a
particularly good thing about Arisia’s approach.
We must treat people better than Crystal is treated in order to create
safe space. I am disappointed, because I thought Arisia was a relatively
bright spot in the bleak landscape of our rape
culture
. It’s just that much harder to hope that we will find a way to
create truly safe spaces for intimacy and vulnerability.

Will I wake up a Rapist?


As consent has become something we talk more about, I'm aware of
ever more situations where people I know are accused of violating
consent. Where I have information on the specifics, it supports the
claim that there is a consent problem. Yet most of these people are
people I would have trusted. In at least one case I learned a lot about
consent from a member of my community who was later excluded because of
consent violations.

I keep coming back to this because I don’t understand how this abuse
happens. Because I only know about the problems after the fact, it
seems like people I know and trust are suddenly turning abusive. So I
worry that I’ll somehow snap and start hurting people.
I've concluded that at least as far as snapping and becoming a rapist
the fear is irrational. For example, I cannot see myself making the
mistakes Noel made. I cannot see myself disregarding a written
agreement on boundaries, especially on barrier protection. If I did
somehow disregard that, I cannot see myself blowing past a response of
“what the fuck!” No matter what, I would not stalk someone who had
ended a relationship. So, no, no series of mistakes that I could see
myself actually making would lead me to hurt someone this way.

Yet because I don’t understand how abuse happens, it is harder to
convince myself that I am different. For me, I think this is the root
of hearing about a situation and wondering whether there’s some
misunderstanding at play even when the facts point to clear abuse.

Sadly, I have been the Arisia Board


This brings back memories of the first time I was asked to deal with an
incident. It was late in the academic year in 1998 or 1999, and I was
on the executive committee of a student organization. An issue about
safety and consent came up. None of us had any training, and we were
entirely out of our depth. We sought help from the school. The advice
might have been good. The delivery lacked any empathy for our position;
we were unable to hear it.

We asked all the wrong questions. “Why do we have to decide this? If
you have a problem go to the campus police or press charges.” We
quibbled over the nature of the alleged violation. The person had made
contributions; we did not want to drive them away.
The world conversation on consent has advanced since 1998. I regretted
our behavior at the time: people were clearly getting hurt. I regret it
now. I wished we had done more to create a safe community.

At one level I can empathize with the Arisia board. As I discussed, the
abusers are members of our community who make positive contributions.
Until we learn of the abuse, we have no reason to think anything is
wrong. We want to give people the benefit of the doubt. We want to
find compromise. We want to solve the problem. My empathy does not
make their behavior (or my behavior at MIT) acceptable.

At another level, I can also empathize with the expressions of harm from
victims facing these processes. The one time
I reported an incident, I was ignored and then later told that I had
contacted the wrong person.

I am growing increasingly disheartened when I think about consent
incidents. It seems like no matter how much we read, even if we go to
training, we are unprepared to handle these incidents until we gain
significant experience ourselves. I guess that’s not surprising: most
things work that way. We need to find a better way: real people are
getting hurt as we gain that experience. I suspect several members of
the Arisia board will be better prepared for the next big consent
problem. The price for them to learn is too high.

Even now, I don’t think I’m prepared to handle a significant consent
incident. That’s not a requirement for my roles in the events I
attend. Yet all of us could face a problem like this if we host parties
in our homes. Thinking about this issue, I realize I need to learn
more.

I will Wake up and hurt Someone


My irrational fear of being someone’s rapist is not my only fear about
hurting someone. I know that I have hurt people I cared about, and I
suspect I will again. Crystal’s incident is one where the consent
violation is clear. That’s not always the case. Sometimes boundaries
are unclear. Sometimes we realize our boundaries are more restrictive
than we thought. That’s one of the many ways we hurt each other as we
approach intimacy.

Some of the work I do is explicitly about pushing limits. You will get
hurt some of the time doing that work.
Often when we hurt each other, we can work through the pain and become
stronger. Sometimes that doesn’t work. I hope this never rises to the
level of a reported incident, but I realize that’s a real possibility.

I’ve certainly been uncomfortable around people I used to work with;
they have been uncomfortable around me.
If communities are bad at the clear-cut cases, I have no reason to
believe they are good at the cases that are actually complex.

I want to be in communities that will help me be safe if I am hurt. I
want to be in communities that will respect my contributions over the
years. I expect to be held accountable for my actions. However, I also
expect to be valued and not tossed aside at the first sign something
might be wrong without any real consideration of the circumstances.

That’s a tall order and I know we’re not there. It’s frightening to
choose to be vulnerable and to pursue intimacy work realizing that when
I need it most, support might not be available.

No Real Solution


Finally, back to Crystal’s post. After her post, Noel resigned as
president and the Arisia board permanently banned him from the
convention.
Great, I guess. We now know that under public pressure, Arisia will act
to save their community. Sadly, only future actions will tell us
whether Arisia genuinely learned it had made a mistake or whether Arisia
is blown by the whim of public opinion.

At least in the immediate term, my trust in Arisia is actually decreased
by the prompt action. That’s irrational too. They had the information
to decide their code of conduct was violated all along. It shouldn’t
decrease my trust that they finally acted. Yet if the motivation is
really to do the right thing not to pacify an angry public and
presenters, why take so long to act? Not rational, but it is what it
is.

Conclusions


We have a hard battle ahead of us to create safe spaces and safe
communities. I admire Crystal for her openness and for sharing her
story. Stories both of successes and failures are essential to us
improving. I will honor her story by learning what I can and working to
be prepared if I’m ever called to handle an incident.
It’s not even clear we know what a good answer would look like yet.
Let’s go find out.

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