Pagan Community

Pagan Elders and Abusive Dynamics

shutterstock_34345969Ironically, just hours after I sent in my quote to the Wild Hunt for their “Elders” post, I found myself in a position where I could either tacitly ignore a Pagan elder’s behavior, or I could confront it. I hadn’t quite scheduled a big confrontation into my day, but I found myself ethically obliged after someone messaged me to ask whether or not I supported that elder based upon that elder’s stance on something.

The words I had sent to the Wild Hunt in an email just hours before ended up being almost prophetic for at least four situations that hit my inbox and news feed, including “Big Name Pagans” like Z Budapest and Christian Day, or local Pagan community leaders behaving badly.

Let me see if I can sum up one situation I faced in a way that keeps names out of it, and yet describes a situation that you may have personally experienced.

There is a Pagan org that is fundraising for a good cause. However, their leader has a real temper. Now, I had initially made excuses for this leader because this leader–like me–is an activist. And I definitely understand that when you’ve been an activist for a long time, it can begin to feel like nobody listens to you unless you’re screaming.

This particular group (via this leader) has one particular stance on a community-related issue. I disagree with that stance, however, it’s in a gray area where I feel it’s a little beyond my pay grade. It’s part of a larger question of that gray area between inclusivity, civil rights, and a religious group’s sovereignty to decide who can join. I understand both sides of the issue from outside–meaning, it doesn’t personally affect me. My stance is different than this elder’s, and I had made that clear with this leader in the past. I believe that I had made my perspective clear in a polite way.

In retrospect, I realize that I had dropped the subject because this leader’s temper was getting riled up and I was a guest in their home, and I didn’t want to deal with a big fight.

What’s Stubborn and What’s Bullying?
Since that time, I had also come into private knowledge of more than one example of this particular leader engaging in a dynamic that could only be called bullying and abusive. The leader threw a temper tantrum, the leader used the excuse of past abuses they had suffered, the leader’s close followers soothed the leader, and the leader got their way. I’ve found that people walk on eggshells around this person.

I also had knowledge about an initiative that this leader had been involved in. Basically, this was a worthy initiative, and this leader had asked a separate Pagan group for assistance. What actually happened at that point is confusing. I’ve tried to gather information on both sides of the story but some of the information I have is vague. It sounds like the Pagan group did not offer assistance, possibly because of the temper/reputation of the Pagan leader I’ve been discussing.

(It’s worth mentioning that the other Pagan group also seems to have failed to effectively communicate at all, or apologize for failing to communicate, and that’s on them, not on this leader I’m speaking about.)

This leader claims to have asked several other notable Pagans for help and believes they were brushed off. I’m not clear on those details.

That particular situation was years ago, but the Pagan elder I mention has been going on and on and on about it–sometimes vaguebooking, sometimes directly attacking that other Pagan group. And it’s pertinent to their fundraising effort.

When Respect Gets Complicated
I had worked with this Pagan elder in the past; we haven’t known each other long but I respect the work they are doing and I’ve worked to find some ways to help them. Since we met in person, this leader and I have engaged in some really good conversations.

However, I’ve also witnessed this leader engaging in conversations on Facebook that get pretty tense/shouty when people disagreed with that leader.

Recently, the leader in question had posted something about their fundraising efforts and their anger at the Pagans/Pagan groups who had failed to support them or who had badmouthed them. Making a long story shorter, I have been asked by several people about the specifics of the ethical stance I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Now, I don’t feel comfortable lying and saying I agree with them, because I don’t. So I offered the information that I had and where I disagreed with them, but that I supported their fundraising. And then, because I value clarity and due diligence, I posted a polite comment on the referenced Facebook thread asking for clarification on their stance.

Lashing Out
The answer I got back was vague but angry at me for daring to question them. I reclarified that I was asking on behalf of others, and, I pointed out how I understood both sides. Specifically, I tried to point out how the “other side” on this issue might feel hurt and angry by this particular stance, and not be in the wrong about that.

More angry responses followed that were also rants to the point of being vague and unclear. Despite my having supported the org in the past and having a generally good relationship with the leader, I got the full temper tantrum.

The second in command of this group immediately private-messaged me to apologize for their leader’s actions.

I’m going to hit pause on the story here for a moment.

That right there is a significant red flag. If you are feeling the need to consistently apologize for the temper of your friend/lover/spouse/boss/leader, that’s a pretty good indicator of an abusive/codependent pattern.

Speaking Up About Abuse
Thus, to the second in command, I pointed out that everyone dancing around the leader and apologizing for them was 1. codependent and enabling abuse and 2. that their leader’s actions and temper were likely a significant cause of their inability to fundraise for the worthy cause. The second in command agreed especially with the latter, and said that they’d tried to talk to the leader about it and planned to again.

Moments later, the leader began messaging me. The writing was in an angry rant and talking about all the abuse they had personally suffered and essentially implied that that excused their stance on this particular issue. I took a breath, and realized that I’d already probably blown up my relationship with this elder, despite respecting their work.

I know that in a situation like this, confronting the person whose temper has gotten abusive isn’t likely to change anything. But, there’s that darned integrity thing, and I also at the core am an optimist. I always hold out that people might be able to recognize how their own actions are harming themselves and their group.

So I confronted the leader and pointed out that I was fine disagreeing with them and still supporting their org/worthy cause, but the temper tantrum and attack was something I had a real problem with. I went on to say that there were people who were afraid to speak up to the leader, and that the leader’s temper had caused them specific problems (I outlined those and the specific scenarios) and that I found their temper and behavior pattern to be abusive.

I pointed out that I had apologized for their behavior in the past, and others I knew had apologized for their behavior, and that this was not ok.

As you can imagine, that didn’t really go over well, though I did have a good conversation with the second in command of the organization.

Pagan Leader Shenanigans
I can’t often post about it when I go through something like this. I have rather a lot of days where I’m dealing with either someone coming to me with a story of abuse by a Pagan leader, or someone coming to me asking for help with how to deal with a group leader who is causing problems, or where I see a Pagan leader or elder acting in a way that is (I believe) harmful.

As I posted in my Whistleblowing article on Pagan Activist, people come to me with some heavy stuff. And, not having witnessed either side of what went on, it’s not like I can do much about it. It’s a rare circumstance where I feel that I can ethically post about a particular Pagan leader or group and something they’ve done that is harmful.

Even in this case, you’ll notice I’m not naming the organization or the elder in question.

Given that I have some direct experience of the poor behavior, wouldn’t it make sense to speak out about this leader? Honestly, I really ethically struggle with this one because I want this org’s fundraising to be successful as it’s for something important, but the leader tipped the scale into acting in a way that I absolutely can’t ethically support.

The sad thing is, many of the strong Pagan orgs out there have leaders with at least some emotionally abusive tendencies.

Strong Visionary Leaders are Stubborn
I have my theories on why this is. For some reason, only the strong or even bullying types seem to have a strong enough personality to create a lasting Pagan group. I think you have to be that strong to last through all the Pagan naysayers and people who will attack you for your success. But it sure isn’t the behavior we want to reward, and it’s not what I think any of us want in the long term.

I endured a situation like this for years when I was doing my training at Diana’s Grove. And I don’t really want to get into that in depth now, other than to say, I have experienced first hand a group that defers to the leader, and the leader is a charismatic visionary who is just dysfunctional enough that every once in a while they do something like throw a temper tantrum, fail to meet a crucial deadline, or engage in some emotionally abusive behavior.

And everyone on the leadership team would work to cover it up, to make it ok, to keep her on an even keel so she wouldn’t lash out.

Because, everyone on the leadership team knows the secret:
If we don’t make excuses for the leader, if we don’t calm everyone down and keep the peace, if we don’t keep the leader from blowing up in a temper, then we don’t get to have the group. Ultimately, Diana’s Grove sold their land and ceased to exist, and that leader’s dysfunction was a significant contributor to that.

Why Leadership is Important
Which leads me to why I write about these things with such passion. Because within myself I have the seeds of the ills of these leaders. I am the visionary who’s a bully enough to make the thing happen. I struggle with depression and I’m, at best, a moody artist. I have the long-term issues of self esteem that, when my ego gets poked, cause me to get defensive and lash out.

In short–I write about these things because I am petrified that this is what I will become. That I will continue that cycle of abusive behavior.

So when I write about these problems in our leadership, it’s not from my high horse. It’s not even from my soap box. It’s from a terrified place inside me. It’s from the part of me that has looked into my own dark mirror and seen what I could do, what I could become, if I don’t do ruthless personal growth work. If I don’t mitigate those behaviors.

Our communities deserve better than bully leaders. But, I don’t know what that model actually looks like, or how we get there. I get angry and frustrated that so many Pagan leaders doing good work also carry these seeds of egomaniacal, narcissistic, bullying, and abusive behavior.

And we reward it with our silence.

Consequences of Speaking Up
But, if we aren’t silent…if we speak up…there’s a consequence. Yes, we might stand in our integrity. Yes, we might stop one leader from abusing their group members. But–we also lose the asset of that group. And with so few Pagan community assets, most of us are unwilling to rock that boat.

And I have compassion for that. We’re in a precarious time with our first solid organizations that can really help Pagans.

Going a little further, we (Pagans) actually have no mechanism to remove a bad leader from power, except for the limited circumstances of Pagan leaders that are part of a hierarchical tradition where a leader above them can strip them of their title. And most of the hierarchical Pagan traditions take a hands off approach. Once a HP/HPS is initiated, they are on their own and their initiators/superiors will not take a hand in correcting their behavior.

There are really only a few mechanisms we have for removing a bad leader from power. One is if they’ve done something illegal that you can prove. That, too, is rare.

The rest of our options are pretty crummy and are based in mob justice. We can ignore the leader and shun them, and hope that they eventually give up. This usually becomes a popularity contest vs. any actual meting of justice.

In one scenario, it means that the other Pagan groups and group members in an area have to suffer through various ambient abuse from that abusive Pagan leader. And it’s a whole separate blog post to discuss the kinds of abuse that a Pagan leader–even one not involved in your group–can dish out to you and your group members. In short, that creates long-term trauma and that scenario alone can be the death of a group because they just can’t cope with the stress.

The other option that has been attempted at times but usually backfires is the full-frontal assault, wherein those who have been harmed by a particular group leader try to speak up. Except, usually there’s only one victim brave enough or angry enough to speak out, and they usually are shot down by an arsenal of victim blaming.

Because, the victim speaking up must be trying to stir the pot, right?

I’ll write an entirely separate post on mediation. Many people raise up the banner of, “Oh, but mediation, mediation!” And, when it works it’s beautiful. But, it typically doesn’t work with a leader who’s engaging in a repeat pattern of abuse.

Pagan Elders and Big Name Pagans

The connection between Christian Day, and Z Budapest, and the Frosts, and a few other situations of Pagan elders and leaders is that abusive behavior gets tolerated. Harassment gets tolerated. Bad things are said and it’s tolerated.Cognitive dissonance is the first line, it creates denial. “Oh, but ___ is a great teacher, they couldn’t have ____.” Or, “I’m sure they were just out of sorts.”It’s the same thing as the pattern of grooming. Nobody starts out being ok with being punched in the face. They keep making the verbal abuse “ok,” and then the light slap is excused, and then the punch.While this article specifically deals with abusive dynamics in relationships between men and women, try reading it from the perspective of the abuser as the coven or group leader. And you’ll start to get a sense of why people stay in an abusive group.

Perfection and Excellence
Here’s the thing–nobody’s perfect; gods know I’ve hurt people and made mistakes in my life. I try my hardest to learn from it, to do better. And I’ve worked with others who have made mistakes. I’m not saying, “Oh, you made a mistake, you are banished for life.” But–the consistent pattern of abuse, and the lack of intent to change that pattern, is a problem.

And when that’s happening, most people are still stuck in cognitive dissonance/denial/enabling land. I spent three years doing what I call the codependent shuffle with my own mentor at Diana’s Grove. Was she evil? Nope. She was brilliant, actually. And hardworking. And she built something beautiful. But, her dysfunction also led to the destruction of Diana’s Grove.

The economy was the trigger, but she laid the rotten foundation.

I watched a skilled, educated group of leaders dance around my mentor and make her dysfunction and dry-alcoholic abusive behavior “ok” for years. I stuck through it because I wanted the training. I knew the training was good, even if my mentor couldn’t live what she taught. And I’ve spent the years since that time trying to adapt the leadership training to make it actually viable.

We don’t need perfect leaders, but we do need leaders and elders who are working on their shit. We need leaders and elders who have ethics and integrity and are coming at things from a place of service. Not from a place of deep wounding and soothing their egos. Not from a place of severe and untreated mental illness. Not from a place of bullying to get the job done.

And that’s a tall order, but I’m an optimist.

Going Forward
As for the Pagan elder I mentioned at the beginning of this post, where am I at? Truthfully, I’m sad. I’d like to blow the trumpet and support their initiative, but given the way that elder is behaving, I have serious ethical qualms about it. I hope to sustain a good relationship with that organization, but I realize that in speaking up to the leader about their behavior I may not get to have that option.

I’ll be transparent. There are times that I will support a Pagan group or organization despite my ethical qualms about a leader’s behavior because I believe in what that organization can be and what it offers to the community

But, I also hold out hope that we can be better. That we one day won’t have to make those ethical compromises. That the Pagans out there joining groups will have the discernment to see their leaders not as being perfect, not as being up on a pedestal, but as real people. I want to see a community where we can forgive our leaders for their mistakes, but where our leaders are also held to a higher standard of responsibility and service. I want to see Pagan communities where we can speak up about abuse and be heard and not victim-blamed.

And–putting my big-time optimism hat on–I want to see Pagan leaders who can break through the cycle of their own bad behaviors to become more excellent leaders. After all, I believe that I can be better than I am…and so I believe each person out there can as well.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community

Reblog: The Curse of Pagan Niceness by Sable Aradia

Fantastic article by author Sable Aradia. I’ve been enjoying a number of her blog posts. Here are a few quotes from the article; check it out in its entirety.

“Many Wiccans, in my opinion, seem to use the Rede as a way to rationalize keeping their hands, noses, and consciences clean.  It strikes me as an excuse for cowardice, not as a genuine desire to not be “judgmental.”

I call it the Curse of Pagan Niceness.  We are terrible at delineating clear boundaries.  We want to be so accepting that we put up with all kinds of things we should not put up with.  And we can make our community dangerous for the vulnerable because, in our efforts to not be confrontational or judgmental, we let abusive people get away with it.”

“We saw things that worried us, but after we talked to them about it, asked questions and counselled them, we trusted that the high priestess and high priest of the coven, our initiates, were dealing with the situation, and at the very least they had their eye on it and were counselling the family and looking out for the safety of the girls.  We should have followed up and demanded to know what they were doing to intervene.  I especially was trying to be nice in that I didn’t want to step on the high priestess’ toes and undermine her authority.

Look at what all this “niceness” wrought.  A beautiful, intelligent young woman whom I greatly admire and respect was deeply harmed.  Our tradition, who should have protected her, failed her utterly.”

http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-culture-blogs/49-degrees/the-curse-of-pagan-niceness-trigger-warning.html

Here’s a brief author bio for those of you unfamiliar with Sable Aradia:

Sable Aradia (Diane Morrison) is a licensed Wiccan minister and a Third Degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions. A writer, musician and vlogger, she makes her living through writing, psychic readings, music, and by teaching workshops. Author of “The Witch’s Eight Paths of Power: A Complete Course in Magick and Witchcraft,” (Red Wheel/Weiser) she also writes a column called “Seekers and Guides” at Patheos’ Pagan channel. Her channel on YouTube features her music, instructional witchcraft videos, and her many projects in the world of geekdom. Born and raised in Vernon, BC, Canada, she has been actively involved in the Canadian Pagan community for a little more than 20 years.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community

Predators, Cheating, and Lying

20619462_xxlThis post is a tangent off of my series on Pagans and Predators. I want to talk a little bit about cheating, in other words, infidelity, and why cheating is 1. bad and 2. a red flag as far as the issue of predatory behavior in the Pagan community. Well–in any community, for that matter.

I hear a lot of Pagans prevaricate and tell me, “Cheating’s not so bad, you shouldn’t be so hard on people just for cheating. It’s not like it’s abuse or something like that.”

And in some cases they are right, and in some cases they are wrong.

So let’s look at what cheating is, and talk about different types of cheating. In any scenario I can think of, cheating is a lie. It’s breaking a promise. It’s breaking a contract you made with one (or more) partners.

So–I’m not talking about polyamory, swinging, or other forms of ethical non-monogamy. I’m talking about making a commitment to be with someone or someones, and then sneaking around and beginning a new relationship or having sex behind that person’s back and lying to your original partner(s) about it.

Before we go too much further into this, let me clarify that I’m not writing this as a sexual prude. I write erotic romance novels, I write articles about sexual pleasure, and I’ve been inn polyamorous relationships. I’m pretty comfortable with my sexuality.

Apparently, we first have to talk about why cheating is bad. For me it’s pretty obvious; you’re lying to someone you made a promise to. You’re lying to someone you are supposed to love. But, I hear from so many Pagans that cheating “isn’t that bad” so let’s talk about why it is.

Lying is bad. Breaking agreements is bad. Exposing your partner to STDs they don’t know they are getting exposed to is bad.

Cheating = Empowerment?
Perhaps important to first talk about why people think that cheating is somehow positive. I have heard more than one person use the phrase, “What happens at a festival stays at the festival,” or, “What my baby back home doesn’t know won’t hurt them.” I’ve heard people–usually women–talk about how sexually empowering it is to come to a festival and be able to be free and have sex with someone new, even though their husband back home doesn’t know about it.

I’ve heard people spout a lot of stuff that’s a mishmash of sex positive, empowerment, and sexual freedom. “Let’s not be constrained by what the dominant culture tells us. We have power over our own bodies.”

Yes…that’s true. But lying is still lying, and if you made an agreement to be monogamous, for instance, breaking that is still lying.

I’ve also had people try to convince me that if Partner A is cheating on Partner B, then that’s just a sign that that Partner B is failing to meet Partner A’s needs and it’s logical for Partner A to seek out someone new to meet those needs. In other words, implying that Partner A’s not at all in the wrong for breaking agreements and that it all falls on Partner B for some kind of relationship failure.

Gray Area
Now–as with just about anything that I write about, it’s not clean. It’s not easy. And there is a heck of a lot of gray area.

Sometimes, yes–Partner A is cheating on Partner B, and Partner B is incredibly abusive and Partner A is acting out.

Sometimes, Partner A cheats on Partner B and in doing so realizes that the relationship with Partner B is really in its death throes, and that gives them the clarity to formally break things off with Partner B. Sometimes we’ll just stay in a dying relationship until there’s a catalyst like that.

Sometimes, Partner A is discovering they have sexual needs that Partner B cannot meet. Perhaps Partner A realizes they are gay, or realizes that they have a specific fetish. Partner A and Partner B aren’t going to be happy with one another and again, sometimes it takes a catalyst to realize what’s going wrong in the relationship.

That’s Not Poly
There’s a particular type of cheating that I’ve unfortunately been party to. That’s where the person–usually male–who says, “Oh, yeah, I have a girlfriend/wife, but it’s ok, we’re poly.” I have been with a couple of men who pulled this one on me. My ex fiance did this to me.

The first time this happened to me, here’s how it went. I went out with a Pagan guy in another city. A couple of months later he was going to travel to Chicago for business and he asked if he could see me again and stay with me. I said sure. During his six hour drive to Chicago, his girlfriend messaged me on Yahoo messenger. She begged me not to sleep with her boyfriend. She’d broken into his computer and found my contact info; apparently this wasn’t the first time he’d cheated on her and she was suspicious.

She, like her boyfriend, was Pagan. She thought I was actively aware that he had a girlfriend, and that I was party to the cheating. She had gotten incredibly angry and thought I was a total hypocrite. I was already starting to teach leadership at that time. She had decided that any group I was a part of must also be hypocritical, and she had (in her anger over all this) decided to not go to any Pagan events because all Pagans were hypocrites and cheaters. Obviously she was really upset.

The truth was, I didn’t know that he was cheating; he’d told me he was polyamorous.

I talked to her for about five hours and tried to help calm her down. We discussed her fears about STDs (women in her family tend to get ovarian cancer, which is often caused by HPV, and condoms don’t protect from HPV). And we discussed how often he’d done this and I observed that if he’d done it that many times, he probably wasn’t going to stop cheating.

When he arrived at my place, I informed him that he was welcome to sleep on the couch and I wouldn’t kick him out on the street, but that we were going to have an unpleasant conversation.

Lying About Abuse
Sadly, that’s not the only time I’ve been duped by someone lying about the status of their relationship. My oft-mentioned ex fiance and I got together while he was still with his wife. He’d described his relationship with her as being “in name only” just for the sake of raising the kids. For reasons I won’t get into, it seemed realistic. Only later I realized it’s because he was really good at lying, and I was really good at falling for it, to my deep embarrassment.

After a week or two, I realized that his wife was not on the same page with him on this and I confronted him about that. He broke down crying and “revealed” how abusive his wife was, how crazy, and that she tried to attack him whenever he tried to break up with her, or she’d threaten suicide or threaten to take the kids.

And…I believed him.

I told him that I couldn’t be with him until they were clearly separated. Weeks later he was, and she vanished from the city with the kids. He made it sound like she’d all but kidnapped them. I’m ashamed to say I believed his lies. In truth, his wife was at the end of her rope from dealing with his abusive, insane behavior.

Years later, that was me. I was hearing from women he’d flirted with to the point of sexual harassment. I was hearing from women he’d had sex with; he had lied and told them that he and I were poly. Months after he left, I started hearing from his next girlfriend that he’d already cheated on her. Gods know what STDs he exposed me to. I remember waiting to get tested, dreading what I’d find out. And then I thought about his ex wife, and how she’d gone through all of that, and how I had believed him, believed his lies.

The problem with cheating is, it’s a lie. And repeat cheaters seem very comfortable with lying in order to get what they want.

Flirting as Sport
I was a guest presenter at a festival where there was a guy who later told me he was flirting with me. I didn’t notice because I can be generally clueless, but I also kind of shut off any “flirt engine” when I’m teaching. He began flirting with me online. I asked him if he had a girlfriend and he said yes, but implied that their relationship was ending or that it may already have ended. The flirtation dialed back a bit, and then I didn’t hear from him for a while.

I saw him at another festival and asked him what had happened. He said that he was incorrect, that his relationship was not ending. I said that I had a problem with him flirting like that when he wasn’t yet clear of another relationship. He said, “Oh, my girlfriend’s ok with flirting as long as it stops there.” He went on to say that he found flirting to be a high art form and he was determined to become a master of it.

I pointed out that I didn’t really find I was getting the benefit of an art form, I was just being jerked around, and for that matter, was his girlfriend aware he’d been flirting with me or had he lied about that too?

While this just brushes the borderlands of cheating, it sure didn’t feel right to me. I also have some issues with the idea of flirting as an art form, and I’m having trouble putting my finger on what creeps me out about it.

I want to give this guy the benefit of the doubt–he’s a nice guy, fun to talk to. But this whole scenario just felt off to me. Maybe I’m overreacting because I’ve been duped a few times.

Covering for a Cheater
I’ve heard people tell me that if they are seeing someone who’s cheating, it’s not their responsibility, it’s the cheater’s. And I’ve also heard people tell me that they knew a friend of theirs was cheating, and they not only didn’t say anything to that person’s partner, they helped cover for them.

If you do this, you are complicit. You are a part of the lie. Think about it this way; if you help a cheater cover things up, and that person’s original partner contracts HIV because of the cheating, you bear some responsibility for that. How would you feel?

We Didn’t Have Sex, it Wasn’t Cheating, Right?
Just because two people didn’t have sex, doesn’t mean that there isn’t cheating. The core of the cheating is the lying. It’s doing something outside of the scope of your agreements with your partner(s) and lying. And, I include omission as a lie in this circumstance. Starting a relationship with someone new, even if it’s “just” online, is still cheating.

Now–I’m not suggesting that people in a partnership can’t have friendships. But I think most of us know when things are shifting from “just friends” to “sexual tension.” And yes, of course, just because we fall for someone doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes get attracted to other people. But there’s a big difference between acknowledging we think someone’s hot, and acting on it in a way that’s outside our agreements with our current partner(s).

And as we’ve already covered, there are those times when some folks might begin to establish a relationship with someone new, and in doing so, realize that their original relationship isn’t working for them.

When Cheating is a Useful Sign
I have two friends. Woman A was in the middle of a divorce, Man B wanted to be in the middle of a divorce but hadn’t broken things off with his wife. Now…when I met Man B, he was kind of a gregarious, flirtatious guy. He had represented his wife as his “ex wife” but I later found out that she wasn’t aware that she was his ex. Woman A and Man B are both part of the same magical/spiritual group, and that group has guidelines about dating within the group.

Woman A and Man B started having sex. They lied about it to their spiritual group and to friends for about a month before they fessed up. However, it took them almost another two months before Man B came clean to his wife.

Ultimately, this seems to have led to good things. Man B was able to finally break things off with his wife and move into his own place, Woman A finalized her divorce, and the new couple is very happy together. This was definitely one of those situations where it became a catalyst. Sometimes, marriages are just unhappy but it’s hard to break up.

I had something similar happen; when I was married in my early 20’s, my husband and I opened up our marriage so he could explore some kinks and fetishes. We got more distant the more time he spent with his new friends, that catalyzed me to end things. Last I talked to him, his boyfriend was moving in with him and things were good. Sometimes a breakup is a win win, and sometimes it can take that attraction to someone new to make it clear that the old relationship is over.

When it’s a Red Flag for Predators
On the other hand, a consistent, repeat pattern of lying is a pretty solid red flag. If someone is pathologically lying to their partner about who they are having sex with, I can’t really trust them in to be honest about other things in a position of group leadership. In some cases, the problem is compulsive behavior.

The phrase that gets tossed around a lot with cheaters is “sex addiction.” I used to refer to that with my ex fiance, but what I’ve learned from a friend of mine who is a sex therapist is that the actual therapy professionals who specialize in sex therapy don’t recognize sex addiction.

The best way I can put it is that the behaviors associated with what’s called sex addiction are often symptoms of something like a personality disorder or some other mental illness. People with Borderline Personality Disorder, for instance, can have very poor impulse control. They go on shopping sprees, they have sex without protection, they cheat, they shoplift, they drink or do drugs, or they cut themselves…there are a number of behaviors that they will engage in that are related to impulse control problems. The sex and cheating is a symptom, not a diagnosis.

That being said, I’ve found that some of the criteria for sex addiction (which you can find online with a little googling) are a good indication of when the behavior is problematic. As I’ve written about in my sex and ethics pieces–sex isn’t bad. Wanting sex isn’t bad. Putting your partner in danger by having unprotected sex and not telling them is bad. Seeking out new relationships compulsively because without it you have no sense of self is bad.

In essence–sometimes, cheating is just a sign that a relationship is over. And other times, cheating (particularly repeat cheating) can be a red flag for certain mental illnesses, or just bad behavior.

Bad Leadership
My former partner cheated on me several times during the course of our relationship, and I’m ashamed to admit that I kept making it ok. I’d tell him I’d stay with him if he’d go and do therapy, and he’d be contrite and go…until he stopped. I fell into that old, old relationship trap, “If he’d only see that he’s hurting me, he’d stop. He’ll change, if I’m patient.”

Him lying to me and cheating on me hurt me emotionally. It had the potential to hurt me physically. And it hurt some of the women he was with (some were students/community members, some were women he was counseling as clergy) and it hurt some of the women he was flirting with to the point of harassment (they felt they couldn’t come out to Pagan events any more).

Someone who is lying and harming their partner by lying, and repeatedly engaging in this pattern, is probably eventually going to make some really bad leadership decisions. Someone who is a repeat cheater is going to put themselves and their needs first whether that’s because they have poor impulse control, or because they genuinely believe that the people they pursue somehow owe them sex, or if they are just a jerk.

Taking Responsibility
Cheating is a crappy thing to do to someone. If it’s the cosmic clue-by-four that your relationship is over, ok. Take that and run with it and do the decent thing and break up with the person you’re with. If you somehow think that cheating is ok, then I’ve got a real problem with that. And people who are compulsive, repeat cheaters have no business being in a position of leadership because they can’t be trusted.

These days, if I’m dating someone who identifies as polyamorous, I do my due diligence to be sure that they’re actually in a polyamorous relationship and not lying to me. Because if I’m sleeping with someone who’s cheating on their partner, guess what–I’m party to the lie. I’m harming that person by my actions.

Cheaters are harming their partners. In some cases, it becomes emotional abuse and duress for their partner. Let’s not sweep cheating under the rug and call it being sexually free and empowering, let’s call it for what it is. It’s a lie. It’s a failure of integrity. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes things shift in a relationship, but if it’s happening over and over, that’s a real leadership red flag. If it’s happening in a way where the leader is sexually harassing people, that’s a clear sign that this is a problem.

If that leader is pressuring newbies, students, or group members for sex, or if that person is not taking no for an answer, then we’ve started to cross over from bad behavior and lying into potential assault and rape.

I’m not saying every cheater is sexually assaulting people, however, I am pointing out that sometimes there are patterns. And what I’m always asking for is for each one of us to keep our eyes open. Don’t look away. Don’t sweep it under the rug. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Don’t look away.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Challenges with Personal Transformation

1979075_xlThere are some inherent challenges with the process of personal transformation. To put it into geek terms, you are hacking your own programming. And it’s going to impact your life. In other words, there are sometimes unintended consequences.

I think that facing the shadow tends to have repercussions–we’re hacking our self identity. We’re saying, “Yes, I identify that thing as bad, and yes, I do that thing, and I now have to accept that as part of my identity.”

Our ego doesn’t cope so well with that.

So very often the work I do comes down to recommending that people explore themselves, helping them to know themselves and do deeper personal work. And yet, I have to be crystal clear that there are consequences to this work. That when we change ourselves…things are going to change. It sounds obvious, but I know that for my own process it was a shock when things didn’t work the way they used to.

Things Will Get Worse Before They Get Better
In fact, there was a part of my personal growth work where I’m pretty sure that the work I was doing actually deepened my depression. I’ve written in the past about how, through my process, I cut myself off from a huge taproot of my own power and drive–my anger. At the Diana’s Grove retreat center, there was the subtle implication that anger like that was “bad.” Nothing anyone ever told me directly, but it was implied.

Before I intentionally worked to work “anger” out of my life, I used to get a lot of my “let’s plan an event guys” energy from my self-identity as an event planner. Specifically, I carried an old wound of rejection from my peers. And how it manifested was, “If I plan a really awesome event, then I’ll be giving the finger to all the people who told me I couldn’t, plus, all the kids that abused me in school.”

Of course that makes no rational sense, but the rage/showing off energy I pulled from that was pretty intense. When I cut that off, I lost a lot of my energy for doing things like that. I had to basically regrow a taproot.

Consequences
And in the years following that shift, as well as some others, I went deeper and deeper into a depression. And I managed to do a pretty good cover up of the severity of my depression, because it was embarrassing as hell. Or at least, I thought I was covering it well. There were a few folks that noticed how bad I was feeling, but I didn’t know that until later.

When my depression got bad enough that I was reaching for help, my (now) ex partner berated me for it. I felt pretty lost and alone and stuck.

It’s not to say that all personal growth work like this has such a wretched process. Sometimes things just work really well. But I think that any of us doing work, especially work that shifts our identity, and work that shifts how we relate to others, we have to realize that there will be some growing pains. We can’t pretend like doing this life-changing work isn’t going to change our lives.

And sometimes it’s going to cost us friends, relationships, jobs, and other pieces of our lives.

Boundaries
Boundaries are another core area where deep personal transformation work can lead to big changes in our lives that we aren’t expecting. A lot of boundaries work begins as just self awareness. We become aware of who we are, and who the other people are around us, and how we are not each other. My desire for you to join my event planning team does not mean that you will automatically do what I want, because we aren’t the same person. Similarly, a friend’s desire for me to be more extroverted and want to go to more social events with them doesn’t obligate me to do that, because we aren’t the same person.

Here are some of my previous posts on boundaries in case you want to learn more:
https://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/authenticity-boundaries-shadows/
https://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/assumptions-expectations-and-boundaries/
https://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/harassment-and-boundaries/

But, boundaries becomes an interpersonal train wreck when we start saying “no.” When I say no to my friend or boyfriend or mom who want me to come out to an event that I don’t want to attend because I’m working on writing my book…they get hurt feelings.

No: The Great Rejection
Just because I’ve worked on my boundaries, doesn’t mean you’ve worked on yours. And in our culture, “No” is a great offense. No means I reject you, that I don’t even like you. I’ve worked for years to get better at hearing “No.” It’s still not easy, but  I can at least process it.

Boundaries work is crucial; we transform when we realize how much we are pressuring others. Or, how much we let ourselves get pressured. You can’t negotiate until you realize how much pressuring is happening. But, my awareness of my own boundaries doesn’t suddenly make everyone else’s boundaries better. Your family, spouse, boss, kids, teachers, friends…just because you have boundaries doesn’t mean anyone else will respect those boundaries.

So the rub is, you do all this personal growth work, often with the intention of reducing conflict and stress in your life–and then you’re suddenly causing more stress. When you start saying “No” to people, particularly to people who are used to saying yes, watch their stress and anger start to pop up. They’ll get agitated. They’ll bargain with you and bully you. They’ll rail at you for changing.

You did all this personal growth work to have better relationships, and then people start walking out of your life because you’re not their “yes man” any longer.

When we learn how to say no, we get treated like a jerk, and if we have always identified as the nice, helpful person, we have to rectify that with the new identity. We have to identify how much other people’s opinions of us matter, and decide how much of that we want to remain in our identity programming.

But when we remove that, there’s a backlash.

Boundaries and Betrayal
Sometimes it goes south really fast. “You betrayed me and did not live up to my expectations of you” can swiftly become, “You have always been evil and I hate you and will tear you down.” And all because we said “No” to someone who was used to us saying “Yes.”

Partly this is because most people are not very self reflective. And partly this is because people polarize really fast. While “splitting” is a term for people with Borderline personality’s tendency to see everyone around them as Good or Evil with no gray area, I personally experience that most people have difficulty holding a gray area, or holding paradox.

I can hold the paradox that you did this thing that really pisses me off…but, that doesn’t mean you are “bad” just because of that. I can hold both–that you pissed me off but you are still a basically good person. You pissing me off doesn’t require me to identify you as bad, forever and ever henceforth.

But gray areas are hard to maintain. People want boxes, a clear and final solution. Yes, no. Good, bad. We want to know what the right answer is, even if it’s an answer we don’t like. There’s also the challenge of cognitive dissonance–when we have an established belief, our brain literally fights us in challenging that belief.

So while we can work to shift our identity, and we can talk to our friends and family and other folks we know about how we are shifting our identity, that doesn’t mean that they will understand it or be able to support it.

What Now?
In the end, we can only continue to do our work, to become the best we can be. Sometimes the shifts we make will have an impact. And sometimes it might cost us in ways we aren’t expecting. I find that it’s better to be a little bit prepared for the reactions we might get from people. It gives me a little more patience with them–of course they are going to feel betrayed because I’m not doing what they want any more, or because my identity is shifting and I’m acting differently. And sometimes, if I can keep more calm while talking through things, it’s easier to find a solution.

But there also comes a point where I realize, even though I wanted a relationship to stay where it was at, if someone can’t respect who I am becoming, then I may indeed need to cut ties.

For anyone doing intensive transformation work–whether you call it personal work or spiritual work–I recommend having someone you can talk to, especially a trained counselor or therapist. I wish that I’d had that when I was doing some of the most grueling transformative work of my process, when I was stuck in that pit of depression. Having at least one person you can deeply trust to check in with about your process can really help.

This work is challenging, but that’s not going to stop me. This work is too important. I think about the world we could have together if we all worked to be more self reflective. If we worked to transform ourselves into our best selves…not denying our shadows but instead integrating them.

But that is the alchemical work of a lifetime.


Filed under: Leadership, Magic, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Reblog: Squid Eye and Sexual Exploitation

I’m reblogging this very excellent post by Lydia MN Crabtree. It was written in March and it continues to be relevant as I see the Frosts are still out there teaching, and many Pagan groups and organizations still need better policies and processes regarding abuse, harassment, and other issues.

The Fish Rots from the Head Down: Squid Eye and Sexual Exploitation

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2014/03/the-fish-rots-from-the-head-down-squid-eye-and-sexual-exploitation/


Filed under: Activism, Leadership, Pagan Community

Roundup: Sex, Ethics, Predators, #YesAllWomen

9046129_xxlSo there’s more that needs to be discussed on the sex, ethics, harassment, predators, abuse, and consent front. There’s the #yesallwomen movement, and there are a lot of conversations happening. I’ve written more blog posts on the topic–but I’ll be honest, I haven’t published them. Why?

Well…I know I tend to go raw with my posts, but the posts I wrote may be too raw. I’m not sure if I want to go there. Maybe I’m not sure I want to reveal that much, or be that much of a bummer. Maybe I’m sick of triggering people.

And yet, if we don’t talk about these things, how can we heal them? How can we build healthier community? How can we build a better world?

I admit, when I hear about people doing horrible things, I can get pretty depressed. I think, what’s the point if all these people are going to do these terrible things? But then my optimist rears its head and insists, we can be better. We must be better.

While I work out whether or not to post some further blogs in my Pagans and Predators series, here’s a roundup of a lot of other great posts on these topics. If you read all the source posts here (I’ve pulled some pithy quotes from each) I think you’ll have a pretty good idea of the core issues not just in the Pagan community, but in our broader culture, that contribute to making this a self-perpetuating cycle.

http://www.mudandmagic.com/the-value-of-consent/

“At a drumming workshop, the instructor asked each person to individually play back a rhythm. I decided to pass on that particular exercise, being self-conscious about my sense of rhythm. When it came to my turn, I told the instructor that I would prefer not to and he was fine with that, but someone else in the class said “we’re allowed to not do it?”. It shocked me that those around me didn’t know that they were allowed to say “no” to something.

If we value consent as individuals and as a community, we will all develop the ability to lovingly enforce boundaries and respectfully step back if requested.”

 

http://blog.dianarajchel.com/2014/04/24/how-perfectly-nice-people-contribute-to-rape-and-molestation-triggerpalooza-kids/

“We failed his victims. It is an aching, glaring reality in the hordes of blog posts out there: there’s lots of talk about how we had warnings about Klein, but only the victims talk about how they were (mis)treated along the way. Call it rape culture, call it Peter Pan syndrome, call it Pagan fantasy culture at its worst – but also, call it our fault for not listening, for not paying attention, for dismissing instead of investigating.”

“But then real life happens: a woman tells you she’s been raped by someone you know – a guy you just had drinks with, a guy who’s on your trivia team, a guy who just helped you move.

Then believing her is a very different story.

Even after she gets the rape kit and the DNA proves something happened, you dredge up anything  that can make this not be so – even blaming her – to convince yourself you’re not the kind of person that would befriend a rapist.

Maybe she’s just trying to get revenge in a bad breakup, you tell yourself. You look for every fault she has. Something has to be wrong with her – because there’s no way you’d just let this happen, that you might have been a passive party to someone else’s violation….Or: look at how she wears baggy clothes and no makeup – why would anyone even want to rape her?

This train of thought is wrong – beyond wrong. It’s a complete moral failure.”

 

http://romanyrivers.com/2014/06/03/yesallwomen/

“Because if a woman says no she is a prude, but if she says yes she is a slut

Because when I worked as a waitress and a bar maid I was repeatedly slapped on the ass, pinched, groped, physically pulled, and cornered by male customers who thought it was ‘just a bit of fun’

Because body shaming and victim blaming are so common that women are told to just ‘get over it’”

 

 http://wildhunt.org/2014/06/marion-zimmer-bradley-abuse-and-cautionary-tales.html

“When allegations and discussions came up before, they were often isolated. Either by geography, fear, or by the nature of the early Internet, where different groups tended to circulate in a limited number of forums.”

 

http://www.jimchines.com/2014/06/rape-abuse-and-mzb/

“There’s more out there, including people defending MZB, as well as people insisting we must “separate the art from the artist” and not let MZB’s “alleged” crimes detract from the good she’s done. And there’s the argument that since MZB died fifteen years ago, there’s no point to bringing up all of this ugliness and smearing the name of a celebrated author.”

 

http://quietmike.org/2014/05/31/says-yesallwomen/

“Every woman I know has a story where, if she wasn’t assaulted, then was nearly assaulted. All have been stalked, at least once. My wife, my mother, my female friends, all have been subjected to fear in a way I can’t relate to. Every woman I know has a story where they didn’t feel safe because of something a man said or did to them. And no, not all men are bad. We’re not all “like that.” But how is anyone supposed to know that just by looking?

A major point of the #YesAllWomen trend was to show how women have to frequently deal with situations they aren’t in control of. This is lost by those opposing it. Some of them ironically say that these women are “out of control.” And that’s exactly what theyfear.

This also ties in to how people (men) think false accusations of rape happen frequently. The notion being that the woman is in control. All she needs to do is say it, right? “He raped me!” These men simply assume that this is easy to do, so it must happen all the time. Therefore, women are clearly lying about rapes.”

 

http://jezebel.com/dudes-stop-putting-women-in-the-girlfriendzone-1508177054

“Friend zoning, is, in broader terms, something bad that a guy who is not getting laid decides that the woman won’t fuck him is doing. It’s an incredibly self centered and self-pitying way to externalize one’s own mistakes or shortcomings, to blame the complex mystery of fickle human attraction on a woman’s agency, and makes about as much emotional sense as showing up to pick up your dry cleaning at 3 am and becoming so enraged that they’re not open that you throw a brick through the window.

But should something that originates 100% in the feelings of a man (note: women can be “friendzoned” too, but, according to The Internet, this happens much less often) perception be attributed to a woman? Probably not. That’s why, months ago, the ladies of Reddit came up with “girlfriendzoning” in the first place — it’s when guys “only see a girl as a potential girlfriend and not as a friend (or a human, really, in my opinion).”

Girlfriendzoning is not when a man is interested in a woman and is disappointed when her interest is not reciprocated; that’s a normal human way to respond to rejection. It’s the word for the pining blame men place on women for their own unrequited feelings, or for how some men completely lose interest in women as people once it’s clear she’s not interested in them sexually. It’s something done by a man who was never interested in anything but a sexual relationship in the first place, and tried to use faux friendship as a way to achieve sexual ends.”

 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/28/yesallwomen-barage-sexism-elliot-rodger

“Associating misogyny with a mass murder would mean having to recognize just how dangerous misogyny really is and – if you’re partaking – giving it up. Some men want to believe that they can continue to call women “sluts” and make rape jokes without being part of a broader cultural impact. But they can’t: sexism, from everyday harassment to inequality enshrined in policy, pollutes our society as a whole and limits our ability to create real justice for women.”

 

https://medium.com/human-parts/a-gentlemens-guide-to-rape-culture-7fc86c50dc4c

You may think it’s unfair that we have to counteract and adjust ourselves for the ill behavior of other men. You know what? You’re right. It is unfair. Is that the fault of women? Or is it the fault of the men who act abysmally and make the rest of us look bad? If issues of fairness bother you, get mad at the men who make you and your actions appear questionable.

Here’s a bullet-point list of examples of rape culture.

· Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)

· Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)

· Sexually explicit jokes

· Tolerance of sexual harassment

· Inflating false rape report statistics

· Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history

· Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television

· Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive

· Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive

· Pressure on men to “score”

· Pressure on women to not appear “cold”

· Assuming only promiscuous women get raped

· Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped

· Refusing to take rape accusations seriously

· Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape”

More blog posts certainly to follow on this topic. Thank you for reading, and thank you for working to be a part of the solution.

 


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: #yesallwomen, abuse, community, consent, ethics, harassment, healing, leadership, sex

Harassment and Boundaries

3481712_xlTechnically this is part of my Pagans and Predators series, but in this case, I’m largely not talking about intentional predators. I’m talking about the ambient harassment and physical boundary-pushing that happens at every Pagan event out there, to a certain extent.

It’s worse at some events than at others.

I’m going to describe a few situations I’ve found myself in at Pagan events, and at some science fiction and fantasy conventions, that I would consider to be in violation of my physical boundaries. In other words, harassment, or even the mild side of physical assault.

And at the time, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t speak up. In some of these cases, I didn’t even realize it was harassment until later.

As more women have started coming forward to speak out about being raped or harassed, I notice that there’s this cultural idea that women wake up the next day after having sex and suddenly, arbitrarily decide, “No, I didn’t want that. I didn’t really consent, I’m going to accuse this guy of rape.” There’s even ads out there, “Don’t be that girl.”

As I’ve posted in past articles on sex and ethics, the idea of being sex positive is a complicated one. Women, for instance, are simultaneously pressured by the dominant culture to be sexualized and sex objects, and pressured to not have sex because it’s “wrong” or “sinful.” And then the pressures of the sex positive movement is that sex isn’t “wrong” or “sinful” and women should enjoy sex…but, there’s a pressuring in that too.

And it’s not just women facing these pressures.

At Pagan events like conferences and festivals, and at other subculture events I’ve attended like science fiction and fantasy conventions, there’s varying levels of pressure to be ok with sex. The idea that being sex positive means that casual touch is ok.

Or, the more insidious side of the supposedly sex-positive culture is, “If you don’t like sex you’re a prude, you’re bad.”

Looking back, I’ve put up with a lot of touching and inappropriate comments under the auspices of not wanting to be “that girl.” Not wanting to be the party pooper, the prude, the person who was no fun. That’s a label I’ve held in my life and it’s one I’ve avoided getting stuck with.

But when I review certain situations, I see where I really wanted to say, “I’m not ok with this,” and I didn’t because I was afraid of offending people and being labeled the party pooper.

And that’s the communal problem we have–it’s the peer pressuring that we don’t even realize we’re engaging in that makes someone allow touching and other behavior that they aren’t ok with, for fear of being labeled (and thusly, rejected) for being “the party pooper.”

Boundaries
And as long as we see holding boundaries as someone who is ruining the group’s fun, we’re going to keep running into these problems.

If you want a quick review of what I mean by boundaries, and particularly the difficulty with poor boundaries in terms of people pleasing, one of my past blog posts might help. In the second half of the article I especially talk about the issues of boundaries and people pleasing. In other words–we are afraid to say “no” because it will offend someone.
https://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/authenticity-boundaries-shadows/

What would happen if we, instead, honored and respected someone’s boundaries? If we asked them if it was ok before trying to hug them, if we respected someone’s desire to not drink alcohol or smoke without teasing them. What if instead of complaining about all the nasty jokes we can’t tell because then someone will complain, what if instead of worrying about how all these boundaries are going to spoil our fun, we look at the community we keep saying we want to be part of?

If we want a sex positive community and culture, that means we have to respect people’s boundaries.

Touching people without their consent is not sex positive. Telling people they are ruining the group’s fun and that they are ashamed of their sexuality because they don’t want to be groped in public is not sex positive.

Examples:

Hugging
Yes, there’s that axiom; “Pagans hug, you’ll get use to it.” And, I have. I just kind of freeze over my body when people I don’t know come up and hug me without asking me. Truthfully, I don’t mind a short hug. I don’t like a long hug with someone I don’t know well. In fact, I don’t generally like much physical contact with people I don’t know well. People who genuinely like hugging don’t get this about people who don’t like hugging. How can you not like hugging?

Thing is–it’s an issue of consent. At the very least, offer someone the chance to decline the hug without any major drama. I always appreciate it when someone asks if I’m ok with a hug, particularly if I’m at a Pagan festival and my shoulders are sunburned. Generally I’m fine with a quick hug. Some folks I know really  find it uncomfortable to be hugged. For instance, some folks on the autism spectrum find physical touch to be extremely distressing.

The reason doesn’t matter, and you don’t need to know if someone’s triggered by touch because of sexual assault or if they just don’t like to be touched. People who don’t like physical touch don’t need to be “fixed.”

If I’m being really truthful, I’d probably decline more hugs at events if I weren’t concerned that I’d offend people. However, I’m in that gray area where, while I don’t prefer random hugs, I can also be generally ok with them. But I’m a lot more ok with them if someone asks first.

Hug from Behind
This past year at a Pagan conference Michigan, I was standing at one of the registration tables getting my badge holder set up. Someone ran up to me from behind and said, “Shauna!” and wrapped their arms around me. I was kind of half standing up by then, but I had no idea who was behind me. I had to keep myself from my body’s automatic reflex which was to turn and shove.

It turned out to be someone that I know, but, let me just articulate that this is several degrees worse than an unasked-for hug from the front. It doesn’t matter if you know me…if you come running at me from behind and touch me, and I don’t know who you are, some of us find that to be really threatening or at least unnerving.

There’s a list of maybe five people where I’d be ok with them wrapping their arms around me when I can’t see them, and in all of those cases, I’d need to know who it was ahead of time. In other words–that type of physical intimacy is really not ok with me in a public place where it could be anyone.

I talked to a friend who had the same thing happen at a convention. She was in the vendors room when someone came up to her from behind to hug her. She was talking to a vendor at that time. She stood up straight and said, “That better be my husband.” The vendor smirked and said, “Or someone really cute.”

My friend put it really succinctly. How is it–in any way–ok just because the person doing it is cute?

You might see this as just innocent hijinks. Just someone teasing someone else. That if someone is saying no, that they aren’t ok with being touched like that, that they are a spoil-sport. I would say that someone unknown to me touching me in a way that I didn’t consent to is getting pretty close to assault.

And yet, we make exceptions. It’s just a convention, it’s just a festival, it’s just Pagans…

Let’s rewind. It’s not ok. Just because you want it to be ok for you to touch someone without asking, doesn’t make it ok. Ask before you touch. Always.

Cleavage is not Consent
So here’s another thing that happened to me at a Pagan convention. I was hanging out with some friends who like to drink and party. I don’t really drink, but, I wanted to spend time with my friends. They were a little more rowdy than I was, but I was basically all right with that. I’m not really a party animal, but this was the only way I’d get to hang out with these particular people.

One of the alcoholic substances in their ensemble was that they had some spray whipped cream cans with chocolate liquor whipped cream.

That particular evening, I was wearing something that showed off my cleavage. At some point as things got rowdier and the laughing went up a few decibels, after I’d declined yet another offer of a drink, my friends reached over and sprayed chocolate whipped cream on my cleavage and told their friend to lick it off.

Now–let’s hit pause for a moment. One of the things I hear a lot when people are denouncing victims of harassment is, “Well, why didn’t you say no?”

In this particular instance, everything happened so fast, there wasn’t time to say no. By the time I had even taken a breath to speak, their friend was already doing what they had told him to do. Let me describe one of the least sexy moments of my life. I felt like I was watching my own body from far away. I couldn’t even really feel what the guy was doing because I just completely disassociated from the physical sensation in shock.

By the time I’d even wrapped my brain around what was happening, it was done.

Speaking Up
In neither of these cases did I speak up and say, “I’m not ok with what you did, you violated my physical boundaries.” In neither of these cases did I complain to the staff or security. Why? Well–because these were my friends, right? They didn’t mean any harm, I was just taking it the wrong way, I was just oversensitive, I was just a stick in the mud and they were more party animals, right?

We have to stop raising up on a pedestal this idea that people who speak up about their boundaries are spoiling people’s fun and thus, deserving of victim blaming and derision.

I didn’t say anything because I knew they’d just roll their eyes and think I was overreacting. And it never occurred to me to talk to security. Thing is, I know that these folks didn’t mean any harm by their actions. But this is a form of sexual harassment nonetheless.

I want to point your attention to this fine article addressing harassment policies from scifi conventions that could be adapted for Pagan events.  http://wildhunt.org/2014/04/addressing-safety-at-pagan-conventions-and-festivals.html

The article addresses different types of inappropriate behavior and a potential range of consequences.

The article outlines the “Costume is not Consent” campaign at CONvergence, a scifi/fantasy convention. And while most harassment complaints come from women, I’m pleased that this article references the “kilt checks” that happen at events. If you’re unfamiliar with a kilt check, it’s where a woman (or group of women) will go up to a man or men dressed in kilts and, often without their permission, reach up under their kilt to grope them to see if they have underwear on under the kilt or if they are going “regimental style.”

All in good fun, most people would say…except, again we’re looking at totally violating someone’s physical boundaries without consent.

Kissing/Flirting/Groping
Here’s another example from my distant past. And, until talking about harassment with others in the past weeks, I never thought of this as harassment. I never would have labeled it as such, and yet I have to now acknowledge it for what it was.

And once again–this wasn’t someone with malicious intent. It was someone who really wasn’t good at respecting physical boundaries.

I was 18, and I was attending my first Scifi/Fantasy convention. As it happens–this particular convention happened at the same hotel that CONvergence (the scifi/fantasy convention referenced above) is located at. This was the conference that predated CONvergence.

Anyhoo. A friend of mine told me about this event and I met up with her at the hotel. It was my first year of college in Minneapolis. After going through the registration line, my friend was introducing me to some other friends of hers, including a very flirty guy she knew from the Renaissance Faire.

I’m not entirely sure how this all happened so fast, but we went from him admiring my necklace, to him kissing me in front of the whole registration line.

This was the first time I’d ever been kissed. In fact, this was the first time anyone had really flirted with me. So, I was really conflicted and confused. I had terrible self esteem at the time. I’d always been the fat kid, the social reject. So I figured it was some kind of freaking miracle that a guy was actually interested in me. And yet, I also was wondering where the fireworks were, and why I wasn’t enjoying what was going on.

Hours after, I was still frowning and mulling on the encounter. Being who I am, I wrote about it. I kept wondering over and over why it hadn’t been hot.

During the rest of the convention, whenever this particular guy saw me, he would find excuses to touch me, to try and make out with me. And every time, I kept thinking, gosh, I should be grateful that this guy is interested. In fact, I seriously considered having sex with him just because he was the only guy who had ever shown any physical interest in me.

But something felt wrong about it. I kept thinking over and over, why isn’t this hot? Shouldn’t this be hot? What’s wrong with me that this isn’t sexy?

It’s been almost 20 years since this happened, and I only have just been able to wrap my mind around why this entire series of experiences troubled me.

I didn’t consent to any of it.

I wasn’t interested in this guy, and his continued attempts to get me to agree to more physical intimacy had me kind of squicked out. I thought there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t interested. It never occurred to me that I wasn’t interested and that him pressing me for more touching and making out was turning me off.

Now–let me also take a step back. I’m fully aware that I did not verbally, directly tell this man to stop during most of these episodes. And–when he did start to go to far and I said it was time to stop, he did. However, during the course of this weekend, this man continued pressuring me for more physical intimacy, and I’m really clear that I was not giving him the physical signals of enthusiastic consent. I was probably giving the signals of “nervous/confused/shy/overwhelmed.”

While I don’t think this guy meant me any harm, I also think that he, and many people like him, unconsciously go for the shy, nervous folks who are afraid to say no.

Shy, Nervous–Predatory
Now, I get it. If you’re a geek or otherwise shy, nervous, and not really very confident in your physical appeal, there’s a tendency to go for others who are shy or nervous. Trust me, I understand–I’m a geeky mess of shyness and awkwardness.

However, there’s a point where targeting the shy/nervous/low-self-confident person in the room can start to veer into predatory behavior.

I have several times hosted Pagan events where there was someone (typically a man) who was hitting on the shyest, youngest, or most vulnerable woman at the event. At one event in particular there was a man who already had a track record of having broken a few hearts by misrepresenting himself (he identified as polyamorous but didn’t bother to tell that to the women he was with, so they thought they were dating, and he was just playing the field). He was hanging around a young woman who had just experienced her first ecstatic ritual. She was a little out of it. We made sure she got home safely, but with that event, I finally noticed his pattern.

He went for the young, pretty, shy girls with low self esteem.

My own ex, similarly, has gone for students in classes of his or people who attended events and festivals where they met him in context as a teacher/leader. There are a number of times when he was with–or he hit on–women who were shy, or who had low self confidence.

And ultimately, this is why boundaries and consent are really important–because, if we have a culture of consent, if we know what physical boundary-pushing is very much not ok, then participants are more empowered to say that. To say, “I’m not ok with this.” And if the behavior continues, to be empowered to talk to one of the event staff for help.

When we have confusing physical boundaries, when we’re afraid of speaking up for fear of offending someone, that’s what opens the door for the worse predatory behavior. The boundary pushing I mentioned above is what I’d call naive or unintentional harassment.

For instance, I have a few friends that are really touchy feely. They like to take your hand or grip your shoulder or lean in for a big long hug. They don’t mean anything by it. But, if we don’t talk about these things, if we don’t begin to respect each other’s physical boundaries, we’re making a lot more room for the genuine creepers to slip through the cracks.

Another fine blog post, this one on negotiating boundaries.
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2014/04/consent-culture-101-basic-practices-and-teaching-games/

While the primary exercise listed is geared for children to explore boundaries, I’d offer that a similar exercise for adults would be excellent work. In fact, in some of the sex magic intensives that friends of mine have experienced, 75% of the workshop was negotiating trust and boundaries. Before any physical touch happened, they did a more adult-adapted version of the boundaries exercises in the above blog post.

In some ways, it’s really simple. And sometimes, the simplest work is the hardest. We have to learn to say no. And, we have to know that our “no” is going to be respected. That we won’t be teased for it. That people won’t roll their eyes or tell us we’re overreacting. Our “no” must be respected.

Only if “no” is respected does “yes” have any meaning.

 

 

 


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Harassment and Boundaries

3481712_xlTechnically this is part of my Pagans and Predators series, but in this case, I’m largely not talking about intentional predators. I’m talking about the ambient harassment and physical boundary-pushing that happens at every Pagan event out there, to a certain extent.

It’s worse at some events than at others.

I’m going to describe a few situations I’ve found myself in at Pagan events, and at some science fiction and fantasy conventions, that I would consider to be in violation of my physical boundaries. In other words, harassment, or even the mild side of physical assault.

And at the time, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t speak up. In some of these cases, I didn’t even realize it was harassment until later.

As more women have started coming forward to speak out about being raped or harassed, I notice that there’s this cultural idea that women wake up the next day after having sex and suddenly, arbitrarily decide, “No, I didn’t want that. I didn’t really consent, I’m going to accuse this guy of rape.” There’s even ads out there, “Don’t be that girl.”

As I’ve posted in past articles on sex and ethics, the idea of being sex positive is a complicated one. Women, for instance, are simultaneously pressured by the dominant culture to be sexualized and sex objects, and pressured to not have sex because it’s “wrong” or “sinful.” And then the pressures of the sex positive movement is that sex isn’t “wrong” or “sinful” and women should enjoy sex…but, there’s a pressuring in that too.

And it’s not just women facing these pressures.

At Pagan events like conferences and festivals, and at other subculture events I’ve attended like science fiction and fantasy conventions, there’s varying levels of pressure to be ok with sex. The idea that being sex positive means that casual touch is ok.

Or, the more insidious side of the supposedly sex-positive culture is, “If you don’t like sex you’re a prude, you’re bad.”

Looking back, I’ve put up with a lot of touching and inappropriate comments under the auspices of not wanting to be “that girl.” Not wanting to be the party pooper, the prude, the person who was no fun. That’s a label I’ve held in my life and it’s one I’ve avoided getting stuck with.

But when I review certain situations, I see where I really wanted to say, “I’m not ok with this,” and I didn’t because I was afraid of offending people and being labeled the party pooper.

And that’s the communal problem we have–it’s the peer pressuring that we don’t even realize we’re engaging in that makes someone allow touching and other behavior that they aren’t ok with, for fear of being labeled (and thusly, rejected) for being “the party pooper.”

Boundaries
And as long as we see holding boundaries as someone who is ruining the group’s fun, we’re going to keep running into these problems.

If you want a quick review of what I mean by boundaries, and particularly the difficulty with poor boundaries in terms of people pleasing, one of my past blog posts might help. In the second half of the article I especially talk about the issues of boundaries and people pleasing. In other words–we are afraid to say “no” because it will offend someone.
http://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/authenticity-boundaries-shadows/

What would happen if we, instead, honored and respected someone’s boundaries? If we asked them if it was ok before trying to hug them, if we respected someone’s desire to not drink alcohol or smoke without teasing them. What if instead of complaining about all the nasty jokes we can’t tell because then someone will complain, what if instead of worrying about how all these boundaries are going to spoil our fun, we look at the community we keep saying we want to be part of?

If we want a sex positive community and culture, that means we have to respect people’s boundaries.

Touching people without their consent is not sex positive. Telling people they are ruining the group’s fun and that they are ashamed of their sexuality because they don’t want to be groped in public is not sex positive.

Examples:

Hugging
Yes, there’s that axiom; “Pagans hug, you’ll get use to it.” And, I have. I just kind of freeze over my body when people I don’t know come up and hug me without asking me. Truthfully, I don’t mind a short hug. I don’t like a long hug with someone I don’t know well. In fact, I don’t generally like much physical contact with people I don’t know well. People who genuinely like hugging don’t get this about people who don’t like hugging. How can you not like hugging?

Thing is–it’s an issue of consent. At the very least, offer someone the chance to decline the hug without any major drama. I always appreciate it when someone asks if I’m ok with a hug, particularly if I’m at a Pagan festival and my shoulders are sunburned. Generally I’m fine with a quick hug. Some folks I know really  find it uncomfortable to be hugged. For instance, some folks on the autism spectrum find physical touch to be extremely distressing.

The reason doesn’t matter, and you don’t need to know if someone’s triggered by touch because of sexual assault or if they just don’t like to be touched. People who don’t like physical touch don’t need to be “fixed.”

If I’m being really truthful, I’d probably decline more hugs at events if I weren’t concerned that I’d offend people. However, I’m in that gray area where, while I don’t prefer random hugs, I can also be generally ok with them. But I’m a lot more ok with them if someone asks first.

Hug from Behind
This past year at a Pagan conference Michigan, I was standing at one of the registration tables getting my badge holder set up. Someone ran up to me from behind and said, “Shauna!” and wrapped their arms around me. I was kind of half standing up by then, but I had no idea who was behind me. I had to keep myself from my body’s automatic reflex which was to turn and shove.

It turned out to be someone that I know, but, let me just articulate that this is several degrees worse than an unasked-for hug from the front. It doesn’t matter if you know me…if you come running at me from behind and touch me, and I don’t know who you are, some of us find that to be really threatening or at least unnerving.

There’s a list of maybe five people where I’d be ok with them wrapping their arms around me when I can’t see them, and in all of those cases, I’d need to know who it was ahead of time. In other words–that type of physical intimacy is really not ok with me in a public place where it could be anyone.

I talked to a friend who had the same thing happen at a convention. She was in the vendors room when someone came up to her from behind to hug her. She was talking to a vendor at that time. She stood up straight and said, “That better be my husband.” The vendor smirked and said, “Or someone really cute.”

My friend put it really succinctly. How is it–in any way–ok just because the person doing it is cute?

You might see this as just innocent hijinks. Just someone teasing someone else. That if someone is saying no, that they aren’t ok with being touched like that, that they are a spoil-sport. I would say that someone unknown to me touching me in a way that I didn’t consent to is getting pretty close to assault.

And yet, we make exceptions. It’s just a convention, it’s just a festival, it’s just Pagans…

Let’s rewind. It’s not ok. Just because you want it to be ok for you to touch someone without asking, doesn’t make it ok. Ask before you touch. Always.

Cleavage is not Consent
So here’s another thing that happened to me at a Pagan convention. I was hanging out with some friends who like to drink and party. I don’t really drink, but, I wanted to spend time with my friends. They were a little more rowdy than I was, but I was basically all right with that. I’m not really a party animal, but this was the only way I’d get to hang out with these particular people.

One of the alcoholic substances in their ensemble was that they had some spray whipped cream cans with chocolate liquor whipped cream.

That particular evening, I was wearing something that showed off my cleavage. At some point as things got rowdier and the laughing went up a few decibels, after I’d declined yet another offer of a drink, my friends reached over and sprayed chocolate whipped cream on my cleavage and told their friend to lick it off.

Now–let’s hit pause for a moment. One of the things I hear a lot when people are denouncing victims of harassment is, “Well, why didn’t you say no?”

In this particular instance, everything happened so fast, there wasn’t time to say no. By the time I had even taken a breath to speak, their friend was already doing what they had told him to do. Let me describe one of the least sexy moments of my life. I felt like I was watching my own body from far away. I couldn’t even really feel what the guy was doing because I just completely disassociated from the physical sensation in shock.

By the time I’d even wrapped my brain around what was happening, it was done.

Speaking Up
In neither of these cases did I speak up and say, “I’m not ok with what you did, you violated my physical boundaries.” In neither of these cases did I complain to the staff or security. Why? Well–because these were my friends, right? They didn’t mean any harm, I was just taking it the wrong way, I was just oversensitive, I was just a stick in the mud and they were more party animals, right?

We have to stop raising up on a pedestal this idea that people who speak up about their boundaries are spoiling people’s fun and thus, deserving of victim blaming and derision.

I didn’t say anything because I knew they’d just roll their eyes and think I was overreacting. And it never occurred to me to talk to security. Thing is, I know that these folks didn’t mean any harm by their actions. But this is a form of sexual harassment nonetheless.

I want to point your attention to this fine article addressing harassment policies from scifi conventions that could be adapted for Pagan events.  http://wildhunt.org/2014/04/addressing-safety-at-pagan-conventions-and-festivals.html

The article addresses different types of inappropriate behavior and a potential range of consequences.

The article outlines the “Costume is not Consent” campaign at CONvergence, a scifi/fantasy convention. And while most harassment complaints come from women, I’m pleased that this article references the “kilt checks” that happen at events. If you’re unfamiliar with a kilt check, it’s where a woman (or group of women) will go up to a man or men dressed in kilts and, often without their permission, reach up under their kilt to grope them to see if they have underwear on under the kilt or if they are going “regimental style.”

All in good fun, most people would say…except, again we’re looking at totally violating someone’s physical boundaries without consent.

Kissing/Flirting/Groping
Here’s another example from my distant past. And, until talking about harassment with others in the past weeks, I never thought of this as harassment. I never would have labeled it as such, and yet I have to now acknowledge it for what it was.

And once again–this wasn’t someone with malicious intent. It was someone who really wasn’t good at respecting physical boundaries.

I was 18, and I was attending my first Scifi/Fantasy convention. As it happens–this particular convention happened at the same hotel that CONvergence (the scifi/fantasy convention referenced above) is located at. This was the conference that predated CONvergence.

Anyhoo. A friend of mine told me about this event and I met up with her at the hotel. It was my first year of college in Minneapolis. After going through the registration line, my friend was introducing me to some other friends of hers, including a very flirty guy she knew from the Renaissance Faire.

I’m not entirely sure how this all happened so fast, but we went from him admiring my necklace, to him kissing me in front of the whole registration line.

This was the first time I’d ever been kissed. In fact, this was the first time anyone had really flirted with me. So, I was really conflicted and confused. I had terrible self esteem at the time. I’d always been the fat kid, the social reject. So I figured it was some kind of freaking miracle that a guy was actually interested in me. And yet, I also was wondering where the fireworks were, and why I wasn’t enjoying what was going on.

Hours after, I was still frowning and mulling on the encounter. Being who I am, I wrote about it. I kept wondering over and over why it hadn’t been hot.

During the rest of the convention, whenever this particular guy saw me, he would find excuses to touch me, to try and make out with me. And every time, I kept thinking, gosh, I should be grateful that this guy is interested. In fact, I seriously considered having sex with him just because he was the only guy who had ever shown any physical interest in me.

But something felt wrong about it. I kept thinking over and over, why isn’t this hot? Shouldn’t this be hot? What’s wrong with me that this isn’t sexy?

It’s been almost 20 years since this happened, and I only have just been able to wrap my mind around why this entire series of experiences troubled me.

I didn’t consent to any of it.

I wasn’t interested in this guy, and his continued attempts to get me to agree to more physical intimacy had me kind of squicked out. I thought there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t interested. It never occurred to me that I wasn’t interested and that him pressing me for more touching and making out was turning me off.

Now–let me also take a step back. I’m fully aware that I did not verbally, directly tell this man to stop during most of these episodes. And–when he did start to go to far and I said it was time to stop, he did. However, during the course of this weekend, this man continued pressuring me for more physical intimacy, and I’m really clear that I was not giving him the physical signals of enthusiastic consent. I was probably giving the signals of “nervous/confused/shy/overwhelmed.”

While I don’t think this guy meant me any harm, I also think that he, and many people like him, unconsciously go for the shy, nervous folks who are afraid to say no.

Shy, Nervous–Predatory
Now, I get it. If you’re a geek or otherwise shy, nervous, and not really very confident in your physical appeal, there’s a tendency to go for others who are shy or nervous. Trust me, I understand–I’m a geeky mess of shyness and awkwardness.

However, there’s a point where targeting the shy/nervous/low-self-confident person in the room can start to veer into predatory behavior.

I have several times hosted Pagan events where there was someone (typically a man) who was hitting on the shyest, youngest, or most vulnerable woman at the event. At one event in particular there was a man who already had a track record of having broken a few hearts by misrepresenting himself (he identified as polyamorous but didn’t bother to tell that to the women he was with, so they thought they were dating, and he was just playing the field). He was hanging around a young woman who had just experienced her first ecstatic ritual. She was a little out of it. We made sure she got home safely, but with that event, I finally noticed his pattern.

He went for the young, pretty, shy girls with low self esteem.

My own ex, similarly, has gone for students in classes of his or people who attended events and festivals where they met him in context as a teacher/leader. There are a number of times when he was with–or he hit on–women who were shy, or who had low self confidence.

And ultimately, this is why boundaries and consent are really important–because, if we have a culture of consent, if we know what physical boundary-pushing is very much not ok, then participants are more empowered to say that. To say, “I’m not ok with this.” And if the behavior continues, to be empowered to talk to one of the event staff for help.

When we have confusing physical boundaries, when we’re afraid of speaking up for fear of offending someone, that’s what opens the door for the worse predatory behavior. The boundary pushing I mentioned above is what I’d call naive or unintentional harassment.

For instance, I have a few friends that are really touchy feely. They like to take your hand or grip your shoulder or lean in for a big long hug. They don’t mean anything by it. But, if we don’t talk about these things, if we don’t begin to respect each other’s physical boundaries, we’re making a lot more room for the genuine creepers to slip through the cracks.

Another fine blog post, this one on negotiating boundaries.
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2014/04/consent-culture-101-basic-practices-and-teaching-games/

While the primary exercise listed is geared for children to explore boundaries, I’d offer that a similar exercise for adults would be excellent work. In fact, in some of the sex magic intensives that friends of mine have experienced, 75% of the workshop was negotiating trust and boundaries. Before any physical touch happened, they did a more adult-adapted version of the boundaries exercises in the above blog post.

In some ways, it’s really simple. And sometimes, the simplest work is the hardest. We have to learn to say no. And, we have to know that our “no” is going to be respected. That we won’t be teased for it. That people won’t roll their eyes or tell us we’re overreacting. Our “no” must be respected.

Only if “no” is respected does “yes” have any meaning.

 

 

 


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Predators 4: Amputate

551251_16701146_notifyWinterdoveWhen we’re talking true predators, we’re talking about a cancer. In most cases, there is no fixing them, no healing them. Or at least–the likelihood is so tiny, it’s not worth trying. If we’re talking about people who sexually molest children, their rate of recidivism is so high that they are generally considered incurable. And there’s a host of other issues that play into addiction and personality disorders.

I hope that some day there are ways to help these people, because for some of them, it’s just how their brains formed. It wasn’t their fault, but now they are stuck with it. For others, their own systematic abuse as children may have made them, in turn, an abuser.

The point is–once you’ve identified a predator in your community, you need to take an action. You need to amputate them from your community, from their hunting ground.

And in the Pagan community (or rather, overlapping communities) this is pretty difficult to do. The “easiest” scenario (and it’s in no way easy) is if you observe directly predatory behavior in a member of your group, you have a group policy for what to do, and you tell that person they are no longer welcome.

Let’s be clear; most Pagan groups out there can’t even do that. Most Pagan groups aren’t willing to kick someone out, even for incredibly bad behavior.

But let’s assume that your group has that policy and you’ve witnessed this behavior and it’s a pretty cut and dried thing. Maybe someone was clearly not respecting an adult woman’s firmly stated “No” and touched her inappropriately. You talk about it, you remove the person from the group. But then you face the next step, which is that you really want to communicate to other local group leaders about this person so that they are aware. Except, even though you’ve worked out this great process for what to do with predators, the other group leaders shame you for spreading malicious gossip.

Now let’s work with a worse case scenario. Let’s say the predator is a coven leader or other group leader, or a big name Pagan author.

I’ve written at length how you can’t really “make” a Pagan group leader stop running a group. And, how standing up and speaking out against them is more likely to make you look like a jerk. The same thing for speaking out against a Pagan presenter or author. In fact, sometimes moreso. Many predators are charismatic, and any charismatic leader gains a following that gets stuck in that cognitive dissonance.

“Because ____ is awesome, this person must be lying about being abused.” Basic brain process.

Even if you manage to convince people that this person did something, many will be convinced that this person can get better, they can change.

Who Can Change?
I’m certainly an advocate of personal growth. Ten years ago I’d never have had the public speaking skills to teach workshops. Heck, I could barely attend events I was so shy. People can change, but as we talked about in the last post, sometimes they are pretty much unlikely to. I was recently “victim blamed” by my ex’s (Mark) fiance. She went on about how if I’d just hung in there, if I’d just worked harder to help him heal…

And I hear from people who tell me that he says he’s healed, that he’s done all this personal work. Well–and I know this will be a shock to you–but I’ve heard that before.

I put up with 3 years of “baby I’ll be better.” I put up with him going to therapy and trying to get help, only to backslide into worse behavior. In fact, that’s basically the pattern of every domestic abuse situation out there. I don’t mean to be a fatalist, only a realist. And I won that realism clawing my way up until my fingers bled from it.

Mark–like many abusers–may feel like he’s “healed” now, but I’m reasonably sure he’ll screw up again. The problem is, his screw ups are always just on the side of “we can brush that under the rug, it’s just stuff within the privacy of his relationships.” Or, “Cheating isn’t being a predator.” Or, “Flirting isn’t being a predator.”

In fact, Mark, like many abusers, is made all the more dangerous because of his periods of reasonableness. There are moments where he gets centered, where he realizes what he’s done, when he apologizes. Where he makes the grandiose gesture.

And–let’s face it. Most of us want people to be healed. We like this person, otherwise we wouldn’t have put up with the abuse in the first place. We want to believe that this time it worked. But what this does is give them yet another opportunity to hurt more people. When people see the “sane, grounded” version of an abuser, they soften. “Well, he’s getting help, so….”

And thus we enable.

I am nauseated by how I fell for this, how I enabled Mark to continue to hurt others, how I put my own community at risk. My own terror of being alone forever was something I placed above the good of the community, and I can’t take that back. All I can do is move forward and try to help build healthier communities, and own where I made my mistakes.

To be fair, I stayed with Mark and worked to help him because I thought, if he just got some help, what an amazing leader he could be. I had the hubris of, “I can help fix him.”

I no longer have such hubris. And so we come back to why abusers need to be excised, amputated, and cut off.

Festivals and Conferences
A month ago, I was at Convocation in Detroit. Mark was there presenting with his fiance. Now, to be fair, I have never complained about Mark being a presenter to the Convocation staff. I never felt like that would be a useful thing to do. I knew that the con staff was aware of him and keeping an eye on him, but I never made a formal complaint.

However, that will change. Mark’s fiance offered a women’s trance dance that was intended to get women into such a vulnerable state that they were encouraged to bring someone with them to hold them and care for them after. Can we count the thousand ways how this is inappropriate, to give someone like Mark–who has a history of targeting vulnerable women–access to this? THIS IS NOT OK.

And, once I wrap my brain around what to say, I’ll be messaging the folks who organize Convocation to address the issue. I think they–like many event organizers–do a great job, but all of us–group leaders, event organizers, everyone–we need to take a hard look at the predatory behavior and be willing to cut it off. Yes, it means we’ll lose some amazing teachers. Yes, we’ll lose some resources.

But what are the alternatives?

Amputate
In theory, the amputation process is fairly straightforward. Identify problem person, kick them out of a group, and alert other local groups. Or, if it’s a local group leader, gather together other local leaders to discuss, and agree to cut that leader off. Or, if it’s a Pagan teacher, agree that this teacher’s inappropriate behavior is grounds for them to not teach at events, and/or not attend future events.

There’s a more specific process outlined on this blog http://saltyourbones.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/on-outing-abusers/ that references a process outlined by TheGeekyBlonde on a  video about how communities should deal with abuse.

I’ll quote some from the above blog:
“Step 1 – Amputate:
 Cut offending members off from the community in all forms so that they cannot continue to influence them, abuse or manipulate members, etc. Don’t attempt to rationalize their behavior. Don’t attempt to “separate the man from the material” because both have proven to be problematic and dangerous in one regard or another. Cut him off from the community….

Step 2 – Vaccinate: Let the rest of the community know that these types of people, behaviors, and actions should not (and will not) be tolerated and are detrimental to our community in all forms. Educate as to why they are harmful and problematic and why they cannot be acceptable in a healthy community.”

Amputating Kenny Klein
Even if he isn’t sent to jail for a thousand years, Kenny Klein is finished in the Pagan community. He admitted to possession of child pornography, though he has not yet been convicted, and many people have come forward to speak about how he abused them as teenagers. The cat is out of the bag.

However, he’s still got books out, and CDs out. Taylor Ellwood and Immanion Press pulled Kenny’s book “The Flowering Rod,” Green Egg pulled his work, and Witches and Pagans pulled his blog. Sacred Harvest Festival announced that Kenny would not be teaching there this summer. I think that that’s a great first step. Llewellyn has ceased selling copies of Kenny Klein’s books.

A number of folks have balked at this, saying that Kenny Klein is innocent until proven guilty. And in almost every case, I’d be with them on that. Except, in this case, there’s two factors. Factor one is, he admitted to it.

Factor two is, we have all these people coming forward speaking about how he abused them.

What is Guilty?
Now, let’s take a step back, and imagine that we’re trying to remove a Pagan teacher/author where there isn’t a legal case. Maybe we have some allegations of unwanted touch, but no witnesses. Or a series of other allegations that are basically unable to be proven.

Sometimes, an allegation is just that. Sometimes it’s a squabble from a breakup. And other times, there’s a documentable pattern. And maybe it’s not illegal, but isn’t there a point when this behavior becomes grounds for people to cut someone off?

At what point do Pagan bookstores, Pagan publishers, and Pagan festivals and conferences have the obligation to stop promoting a particular author/speaker’s work?

Pulling Books and Role Models
When Taylor Ellwood and I were on Pagan Musings Podcast, Taylor summed up his reasons for why he pulled Kenny’s book. I’ll paraphrase. He offered that Immanion Press is a community resource there to serve the Pagan community. And Kenny Klein’s book “The Flowering Rod” was a guide for, among other things, how men should ethically behave in the Pagan community, and Kenny’s actions do not support the values in the book. Taylor felt it would be hypocritical to carry that book. Taylor also pointed out that as he and I are currently editing an anthology on Pagan leadership for Immanion Press, it would be further hypocritical of Immanion to carry Kenny’s title.

I agree with something else Taylor said–that Pagan leaders and authors should be role models. Gods know I screw up, I’m human. But, I work hard to be that, to be a role model. And when I screw up, I work to be better.

There are presenters I’d never hire or recommend because of things I know that they’ve done, but I have no physical proof. There are leaders that I avoid, or actively dissuade people from working with, for the same reasons.

But there has to come a point when we can’t just bury our heads in the sand, when we have to be willing to cut someone off.

What is Abuse?
I’ve asked this before. What behavior constitutes abuse that is “enough?” What’s bad enough to get someone kicked out of an event or removed as a teacher? Where does it cross that fuzzy gray area into actionable? Sleeping with students (of age) isn’t illegal. And hitting on people til they are uncomfortable is not seen as a problem in the Pagan community under the sex positive excuse. Lying, emotional manipulation…none of these on their own seem like grounds to kick someone out.

And that’s why this is going to have to be part of a longer, ongoing conversation. Because, I do not think it is in any way reasonable to say, “That’s just domestic abuse.”

Standing Up: Silent Voices
That’s why I made the decision to speak out about my ex, Mark. That’s why I’m not backing down from his threat of a libel lawsuit. That’s why I’m not letting the victim blaming on my Facebook page stop me.

I’m a published author, I’m a public speaker, I’m somewhat well known in some circles of the Pagan community, and even with all of that, I’m still dealing with the worst aspects of speaking out against an abuser.

I cannot even imagine trying to do this if I were just an event attendee or a group member. Several women have told me, “I can’t post about this publicly, but Mark did…” And, I wish I could get them to post. To speak out. To lend their voices. But I understand their fear.

And so many women felt like it was nothing major, nothing they should bother reporting. “He was out at the conference/festival in the wee hours while you were sleeping, and he was hitting on me in a way that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t think you guys were polyamorous but he made it sound like you were. I didn’t want to mention it to you at the time, but I wish I had…”

I have found one of my greatest struggles these past years is finding the balance to acknowledge two simultaneous things. Yes, I have heard from many people who have experienced horrific abuse. Nauseating and violent abuse. Abuse they will never physically recover from. What Mark did to me was not that. I acknowledge that what he did, in the grand scheme of things, was not  as bad as that. And yet, I also acknowledge that what he did to me was still abuse. There are a number of people who have taken it upon themselves to tell me that what I experienced was not “real” abuse. That isn’t true. It wasn’t violent, and I have the deepest compassion for people who have gone through more horrific abuse than I did. But what I went through is still abuse, and his behavior towards women is still predatory.

And so for all those women that he hurt that I know of, and for all those that I don’t know of, that’s why I’m posting about these issues, and about the specifics with my ex.

So even if I sound like the crazy ex, I cannot not speak out about his actions. And maybe it’s “just” domestic abuse, but I don’t want to support that being in my community. People like Mark need to be amputated from the community and from their feeding ground.

I wish to the gods he could be healed, because he could be one of the most amazing Pagan leaders and teachers out there. But after 3 years of “Baby, I’m sorry, I’ll do better, don’t leave me” and all the other reasons I stayed and gave him another chance for those moments when he seemed like he was getting better–there’s a time to cut the tumor off.

 

 


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Predators 4: Amputate

551251_16701146_notifyWinterdoveWhen we’re talking true predators, we’re talking about a cancer. In most cases, there is no fixing them, no healing them. Or at least–the likelihood is so tiny, it’s not worth trying. If we’re talking about people who sexually molest children, their rate of recidivism is so high that they are generally considered incurable. And there’s a host of other issues that play into addiction and personality disorders.

I hope that some day there are ways to help these people, because for some of them, it’s just how their brains formed. It wasn’t their fault, but now they are stuck with it. For others, their own systematic abuse as children may have made them, in turn, an abuser.

The point is–once you’ve identified a predator in your community, you need to take an action. You need to amputate them from your community, from their hunting ground.

And in the Pagan community (or rather, overlapping communities) this is pretty difficult to do. The “easiest” scenario (and it’s in no way easy) is if you observe directly predatory behavior in a member of your group, you have a group policy for what to do, and you tell that person they are no longer welcome.

Let’s be clear; most Pagan groups out there can’t even do that. Most Pagan groups aren’t willing to kick someone out, even for incredibly bad behavior.

But let’s assume that your group has that policy and you’ve witnessed this behavior and it’s a pretty cut and dried thing. Maybe someone was clearly not respecting an adult woman’s firmly stated “No” and touched her inappropriately. You talk about it, you remove the person from the group. But then you face the next step, which is that you really want to communicate to other local group leaders about this person so that they are aware. Except, even though you’ve worked out this great process for what to do with predators, the other group leaders shame you for spreading malicious gossip.

Now let’s work with a worse case scenario. Let’s say the predator is a coven leader or other group leader, or a big name Pagan author.

I’ve written at length how you can’t really “make” a Pagan group leader stop running a group. And, how standing up and speaking out against them is more likely to make you look like a jerk. The same thing for speaking out against a Pagan presenter or author. In fact, sometimes moreso. Many predators are charismatic, and any charismatic leader gains a following that gets stuck in that cognitive dissonance.

“Because ____ is awesome, this person must be lying about being abused.” Basic brain process.

Even if you manage to convince people that this person did something, many will be convinced that this person can get better, they can change.

Who Can Change?
I’m certainly an advocate of personal growth. Ten years ago I’d never have had the public speaking skills to teach workshops. Heck, I could barely attend events I was so shy. People can change, but as we talked about in the last post, sometimes they are pretty much unlikely to. I was recently “victim blamed” by my ex’s (Mark) fiance. She went on about how if I’d just hung in there, if I’d just worked harder to help him heal…

And I hear from people who tell me that he says he’s healed, that he’s done all this personal work. Well–and I know this will be a shock to you–but I’ve heard that before.

I put up with 3 years of “baby I’ll be better.” I put up with him going to therapy and trying to get help, only to backslide into worse behavior. In fact, that’s basically the pattern of every domestic abuse situation out there. I don’t mean to be a fatalist, only a realist. And I won that realism clawing my way up until my fingers bled from it.

Mark–like many abusers–may feel like he’s “healed” now, but I’m reasonably sure he’ll screw up again. The problem is, his screw ups are always just on the side of “we can brush that under the rug, it’s just stuff within the privacy of his relationships.” Or, “Cheating isn’t being a predator.” Or, “Flirting isn’t being a predator.”

In fact, Mark, like many abusers, is made all the more dangerous because of his periods of reasonableness. There are moments where he gets centered, where he realizes what he’s done, when he apologizes. Where he makes the grandiose gesture.

And–let’s face it. Most of us want people to be healed. We like this person, otherwise we wouldn’t have put up with the abuse in the first place. We want to believe that this time it worked. But what this does is give them yet another opportunity to hurt more people. When people see the “sane, grounded” version of an abuser, they soften. “Well, he’s getting help, so….”

And thus we enable.

I am nauseated by how I fell for this, how I enabled Mark to continue to hurt others, how I put my own community at risk. My own terror of being alone forever was something I placed above the good of the community, and I can’t take that back. All I can do is move forward and try to help build healthier communities, and own where I made my mistakes.

To be fair, I stayed with Mark and worked to help him because I thought, if he just got some help, what an amazing leader he could be. I had the hubris of, “I can help fix him.”

I no longer have such hubris. And so we come back to why abusers need to be excised, amputated, and cut off.

Festivals and Conferences
A month ago, I was at Convocation in Detroit. Mark was there presenting with his fiance. Now, to be fair, I have never complained about Mark being a presenter to the Convocation staff. I never felt like that would be a useful thing to do. I knew that the con staff was aware of him and keeping an eye on him, but I never made a formal complaint.

However, that will change. Mark’s fiance offered a women’s trance dance that was intended to get women into such a vulnerable state that they were encouraged to bring someone with them to hold them and care for them after. Can we count the thousand ways how this is inappropriate, to give someone like Mark–who has a history of targeting vulnerable women–access to this? THIS IS NOT OK.

And, once I wrap my brain around what to say, I’ll be messaging the folks who organize Convocation to address the issue. I think they–like many event organizers–do a great job, but all of us–group leaders, event organizers, everyone–we need to take a hard look at the predatory behavior and be willing to cut it off. Yes, it means we’ll lose some amazing teachers. Yes, we’ll lose some resources.

But what are the alternatives?

Amputate
In theory, the amputation process is fairly straightforward. Identify problem person, kick them out of a group, and alert other local groups. Or, if it’s a local group leader, gather together other local leaders to discuss, and agree to cut that leader off. Or, if it’s a Pagan teacher, agree that this teacher’s inappropriate behavior is grounds for them to not teach at events, and/or not attend future events.

There’s a more specific process outlined on this blog http://saltyourbones.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/on-outing-abusers/ that references a process outlined by TheGeekyBlonde on a  video about how communities should deal with abuse.

I’ll quote some from the above blog:
“Step 1 – Amputate:
 Cut offending members off from the community in all forms so that they cannot continue to influence them, abuse or manipulate members, etc. Don’t attempt to rationalize their behavior. Don’t attempt to “separate the man from the material” because both have proven to be problematic and dangerous in one regard or another. Cut him off from the community….

Step 2 – Vaccinate: Let the rest of the community know that these types of people, behaviors, and actions should not (and will not) be tolerated and are detrimental to our community in all forms. Educate as to why they are harmful and problematic and why they cannot be acceptable in a healthy community.”

Amputating Kenny Klein
Even if he isn’t sent to jail for a thousand years, Kenny Klein is finished in the Pagan community. He admitted to possession of child pornography, though he has not yet been convicted, and many people have come forward to speak about how he abused them as teenagers. The cat is out of the bag.

However, he’s still got books out, and CDs out. Taylor Ellwood and Immanion Press pulled Kenny’s book “The Flowering Rod,” Green Egg pulled his work, and Witches and Pagans pulled his blog. Sacred Harvest Festival announced that Kenny would not be teaching there this summer. I think that that’s a great first step. Llewellyn has ceased selling copies of Kenny Klein’s books.

A number of folks have balked at this, saying that Kenny Klein is innocent until proven guilty. And in almost every case, I’d be with them on that. Except, in this case, there’s two factors. Factor one is, he admitted to it.

Factor two is, we have all these people coming forward speaking about how he abused them.

What is Guilty?
Now, let’s take a step back, and imagine that we’re trying to remove a Pagan teacher/author where there isn’t a legal case. Maybe we have some allegations of unwanted touch, but no witnesses. Or a series of other allegations that are basically unable to be proven.

Sometimes, an allegation is just that. Sometimes it’s a squabble from a breakup. And other times, there’s a documentable pattern. And maybe it’s not illegal, but isn’t there a point when this behavior becomes grounds for people to cut someone off?

At what point do Pagan bookstores, Pagan publishers, and Pagan festivals and conferences have the obligation to stop promoting a particular author/speaker’s work?

Pulling Books and Role Models
When Taylor Ellwood and I were on Pagan Musings Podcast, Taylor summed up his reasons for why he pulled Kenny’s book. I’ll paraphrase. He offered that Immanion Press is a community resource there to serve the Pagan community. And Kenny Klein’s book “The Flowering Rod” was a guide for, among other things, how men should ethically behave in the Pagan community, and Kenny’s actions do not support the values in the book. Taylor felt it would be hypocritical to carry that book. Taylor also pointed out that as he and I are currently editing an anthology on Pagan leadership for Immanion Press, it would be further hypocritical of Immanion to carry Kenny’s title.

I agree with something else Taylor said–that Pagan leaders and authors should be role models. Gods know I screw up, I’m human. But, I work hard to be that, to be a role model. And when I screw up, I work to be better.

There are presenters I’d never hire or recommend because of things I know that they’ve done, but I have no physical proof. There are leaders that I avoid, or actively dissuade people from working with, for the same reasons.

But there has to come a point when we can’t just bury our heads in the sand, when we have to be willing to cut someone off.

What is Abuse?
I’ve asked this before. What behavior constitutes abuse that is “enough?” What’s bad enough to get someone kicked out of an event or removed as a teacher? Where does it cross that fuzzy gray area into actionable? Sleeping with students (of age) isn’t illegal. And hitting on people til they are uncomfortable is not seen as a problem in the Pagan community under the sex positive excuse. Lying, emotional manipulation…none of these on their own seem like grounds to kick someone out.

And that’s why this is going to have to be part of a longer, ongoing conversation. Because, I do not think it is in any way reasonable to say, “That’s just domestic abuse.”

Standing Up: Silent Voices
That’s why I made the decision to speak out about my ex, Mark. That’s why I’m not backing down from his threat of a libel lawsuit. That’s why I’m not letting the victim blaming on my Facebook page stop me.

I’m a published author, I’m a public speaker, I’m somewhat well known in some circles of the Pagan community, and even with all of that, I’m still dealing with the worst aspects of speaking out against an abuser.

I cannot even imagine trying to do this if I were just an event attendee or a group member. Several women have told me, “I can’t post about this publicly, but Mark did…” And, I wish I could get them to post. To speak out. To lend their voices. But I understand their fear.

And so many women felt like it was nothing major, nothing they should bother reporting. “He was out at the conference/festival in the wee hours while you were sleeping, and he was hitting on me in a way that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t think you guys were polyamorous but he made it sound like you were. I didn’t want to mention it to you at the time, but I wish I had…”

I have found one of my greatest struggles these past years is finding the balance to acknowledge two simultaneous things. Yes, I have heard from many people who have experienced horrific abuse. Nauseating and violent abuse. Abuse they will never physically recover from. What Mark did to me was not that. I acknowledge that what he did, in the grand scheme of things, was not  as bad as that. And yet, I also acknowledge that what he did to me was still abuse. There are a number of people who have taken it upon themselves to tell me that what I experienced was not “real” abuse. That isn’t true. It wasn’t violent, and I have the deepest compassion for people who have gone through more horrific abuse than I did. But what I went through is still abuse, and his behavior towards women is still predatory.

And so for all those women that he hurt that I know of, and for all those that I don’t know of, that’s why I’m posting about these issues, and about the specifics with my ex.

So even if I sound like the crazy ex, I cannot not speak out about his actions. And maybe it’s “just” domestic abuse, but I don’t want to support that being in my community. People like Mark need to be amputated from the community and from their feeding ground.

I wish to the gods he could be healed, because he could be one of the most amazing Pagan leaders and teachers out there. But after 3 years of “Baby, I’m sorry, I’ll do better, don’t leave me” and all the other reasons I stayed and gave him another chance for those moments when he seemed like he was getting better–there’s a time to cut the tumor off.

 

 


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Of Pagans and Predators: Part 3

2539113_xlSo in the midst of writing this series, my ex’s fiance posted on my Facebook, and a comment on Part 1, basically doing a textbook codependent dance of enabling. And it was painful to read, because I realize, that was me. Years ago, I was making excuses for Mark. I was the one defending him, because he would say, “If I do it, nobody will listen to me, but if a woman does it, that’ll carry some weight.” I bought it. I drank the Kool-Aid.

And I hear that he’s looking to sue me for libel for what I wrote about him. I heard this via some people who messaged me (this was unsolicited on my part) copied and pasted text of what Mark is posting on his wall.

What does all this bullshit drama mean? It means that I’m becoming a living example of why no victim wants to come forward.

Because this is what you’ll have to put up with. And gods help any victim who isn’t coming from a position of power. I’m an author, I’m a teacher, I have a public voice in the Pagan community. If you’re a newbie, an attendee at an event? I can’t see any way that someone in a power-under position like that would ever risk coming forward.

That being said, we’ve talked a lot about some of the problems. Here are a few beginnings of solutions. Now–none of this is earth shattering. But it’s a start. And it’s hard work and it’s going to take a long time, but if we don’t start, we’ll never get there.

Healthy Boundaries and Self Esteem
I know, I already said this. But as a community, we need healthier boundaries. And I’m not just talking about teaching what’s good touch or bad touch or what’s consent. I’m talking about boundaries and ego from the ground up. That’s big work. Huge work.

But if we each do not do that work–and trust me, this is work I’ve been working on with myself for years–we’re just going to keep spinning our wheels.

I can honestly say that poor boundaries and an unhealthy ego/poor self esteem are probably the grounds for a majority of conflicts that I see in the Pagan community. If each person out there works to get healthy boundaries and training in what consent is, we’ve solved a lot of potential problems right there.

Working With Socially Awkward People
While we’re doing all this personal growth work around boundaries and behaviors, this also offers us the opportunity to help those socially awkward folks who don’t understand that they are crossing other people’s boundaries.

Trust me, as one of those socially awkward folks, I really resonate with this difficulty. While my own behavior probably couldn’t have been described as predatory, I certainly was pretty annoying before I learned more about how to behave socially. And I’ve known people who were genuinely well-meaning who had no idea that they were being offensive or creepy.

I’ve worked with people who had no idea that they were coming across as creepy. Most folks when they find this out will work to adapt their behavior but sometimes need help. However, this type of work does require some discernment, in that

  1. You don’t want to spin your wheels working with someone who isn’t going to change,
  2. You need to be somewhat aware of things such as Aspergers and people who are not neuro-typical. There are ways that Aspergers folks can learn to engage, but that is often a more extensive process of therapy. However, you may be able to help connect them to a resource. You just have to understand that this is different from someone being just awkward; someone with Aspergers actually may not recognize facial cues or body language, and
  3. You don’t want to get into the position of enabling someone to be a predator who is using the excuse of socially awkward.

It’s a fine balance on the edge of a knife to discern some of the differences. However, working with some of our more socially awkward community members can perhaps make the genuinely predatory behavior more clear.

Training in Spotting Predators
One clear solution to protect our children at community events is for each adult to have basic training in how to identify a pedophile. Keep in mind that a number of professionals in the field of therapy and psychology–even therapists who work specifically with sex offenders–will talk about how you can’t always “tell.” However, there are some behaviors that are a pretty solid red flag.

http://www.wikihow.com/Identify-a-Pedophile

Identifying the Unacceptable Behavior
When I teach Pagan leadership, I often talk about basic group agreements as the circle or cauldron that holds your group. What’s ok? What isn’t ok?

Apparently what we really need to do–collectively, to a certain extent, but also within our individual sovereign groups–is identify what behavior is acceptable, and what isn’t. When the behaviors are “fuzzy,” we can’t necessarily agree on whether or not what is happening is wrong, much less what to do about it. 

There are some things that are probably pretty clear–sexually molesting a child is pretty clearly grounds for not only being kicked out of a group but for calling the police. But what about the gray area? What if one of your group members and their partner are consistently getting into screaming fights and you’re worried about one or both parties being in an abusive dynamic? What if a presenter you’ve hired for a festival is really flirtatious at your event, but you’re not really sure if they are respecting boundaries or not?

What if your coven has a tradition of sexual initiation?

A sex temple or group with sexual initiatory practices is probably going to have a different spectrum of acceptable behaviors than a small coven or a group putting on a public festival or conference. Skyclad can work for some groups, and in others it can feel like pressuring people to be oversexualized. Sexual initiation can be totally appropriate in some circumstances. In other circumstances where people feel pressured into it, this can be an abuse of power.

In almost any group without a tradition of sexual initiation, I would say that a pretty good general guideline is that teachers should not be sleeping with students because of the heavily unequal power dynamic. There are exceptions when a peer dynamic has been achieved, but that’s a whole separate post on how to figure that out.

Fuzzy Gray Area
You have to look at what behaviors start to hit that zone in the gray area where it starts to become a red flag, and possibly grounds for someone to be removed from a group or event, or even legal action being taken.

Here’s an example. If someone on my leadership team got arrested for smoking pot, they would not be kicked off my team. Yes, in most states it’s illegal. But, it’s not a behavior that is in itself harmful to others, and states are beginning to decriminalize this.

On the other hand, I don’t allow pot or other illegal drugs at my public events. Why? Well, that should be pretty obvious–it puts all of us at legal risk. One of my leaders who breaks that rule is going to get a stern warning from me, and repeat offenses are probably grounds for asking them to leave. (Plus, I’m allergic to the smoke, so I’ll be cranky because if I smell that I’m going to get a migraine.)

Someone getting into a (verbal) fight with their partner at an event is not in itself grounds to get kicked out, though I might intercede and take them to a private room. However, if that’s happening every time, that’s a red flag.

In one case, I found out that a guy who had some “creepy” tendencies was physically abusing his partner. His creepy behaviors weren’t enough for me to kick him out of the group (yet), but once I found out what was happening with his partner, he is no longer welcome at my events.

Document Those Agreements
Once you and your group members have made agreements around what behavior is a red flag, and what’s grounds for dismissal, it’s time to document that and disseminate it to your group.

Several groups and events out there have policies specifically around consent and sexual abuse, and I hope to get some of those policies together to help other groups craft some “best practices.” But–go ahead and reach out to more established groups and festivals, they may have documents like this that are a place to start. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Process for Complaints
Your agreements need teeth. Part of that is giving people a clear process for how they complain about another group member, a group organizer, or a presenter at your event. If people don’t have a clear way to bring up a complaint, then your agreements are sort of null and void.

Now–just because someone complains doesn’t mean instant guilt. But people do need a way to complain.

I’ll give you three guesses why nobody complained to me about what my ex, Mark, was doing. Because…I was the group leader, he was the other core leader, and we were a couple. None of those women was ever going to feel safe complaining to me about my fiance, not until he was gone. And I shudder to think of how many were too nervous to come forward, or who just left the community in disgust.

In fact, in the time since I posted Part 1, I’ve already heard from another two women who felt that he was making unwelcome sexual advances on them when we were teaching at events.

Document the Complaint
Whatever has gone on, documenting the complaint is a good first step. And I am chagrined to admit that this isn’t something that occurred to me. I’m used to keeping a lot of data in my head, like Person A’s story about Person X, and Person B’s story, and Person C’s story. By the time I have that much data, I don’t need documentation, I know what to do with Person X.

When we were on the Pagan Musings Podcast, Taylor Ellwood brought up the idea of documenting the behaviors witnessed and the complaints received. I’m sure there are formats to do this, and in the coming days and weeks I’ll be working to gather some resources for best practices in that. You can listen to the Podcast here, as it it offered a lot of discussion of many of these issues. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pagan-musings/2014/03/31/pmp-sex-ethics-abuse-in-the-magickal-world

I think documenting a complaint is good for multiple reasons. One is that if something happens in the future with that person, you’ve got some documentation around it. Also, especially in groups with rotating leadership, one single person won’t always have all the information.

It’s also worth pointing out that if there’s one person who’s always complaining about others, that is also good information to have. While I don’t advocate blaming the victim, sometimes there are people who make it their life’s work to being a professional victim. Still other folks have untreated mental illness such as one of the Paranoid personality disorders. And, you may also just have someone who has an axe to grind. This is why this whole process requires rather a lot of discernment.

Documenting takes a complaint from being just a social thing or gossip into something a little more formal and actionable. It lets your group members know that you are listening seriously to their concerns, even if there’s not enough information to take an action at that time.

It also captures information that you could forward on to other regional group leaders about the actions of a particular group member, and this moves it from the category of “gossip” and “rumormongering” into “sharing a formal complaint.”

Decisions
With most complaints, there probably isn’t going to be enough information to take an action. However, documenting the facts of what has happened–or at least, the nature of the alleged abuse–makes it far easier to take an action if another person complains about the same person.

Taking Action
Sometimes it’s pretty clear that something skeevy is going on. Assuming it’s illegal behavior, such as abuse of a minor, your group also needs a policy for how to report things to the police. There are several books out there about Pagans negotiating with police, and specifically I’m thinking of Kerr Cuchulain’s book but if you aren’t sure how to approach the police, you might consider Circle Sanctuary and the Lady Liberty League as a resource.

Community and Judgement
Many of the actions that your group identifies will not necessarily be grounds for getting someone arrested, but may require you to ask someone to leave your group whether as a participant or as a leader. Or may require you to decline hosting a particular presenter.

What this basically means is that yes–you will need a judicial process for your group. However it functions–whether it’s one leader or a council or consensus–you will need to take the information from people who have come to you to tell you about an abusive or harmful situation…and you will need to determine, “Person B did this and I must remove them from the group,” or, “There isn’t enough data to determine if Person B did this but I will keep an eye out.”

So yeah–someone has to make a decision. Even if that decision as, “I don’t know. I don’t know enough to feel comfortable kicking out Person B yet.” That’s still a decision, it’s still a judgment.

Sometimes, an appropriate judgment might be that Person B can remain in the group if they consent to getting some form of help. However, be very cautious in this approach. Many people benefit from therapy, the right medications, or from AA or another program.

However, if you’re dealing with one of the major personality disorders, or someone who consistently goes off their bipolar medications, or with a sex offender…or any of the big abusive behaviors…these folks are very likely not going to respond to any treatment. In fact, many of these are considered untreatable.

Can People Change?
I believe that almost anyone can change. By my experience of people is, most won’t. This is what I mean when I say I’m an optimist with a broken heart. I want to believe that every single person can become better. But my dealings with Mark, and with others, helped me to understand that there are people way beyond my pay grade.

And when you find someone in your group who is a repeat abuser or any kind of predator, there’s only one real solution–amputate them from the group. Like a cancer, you have to remove them.

Yes–that means they will just go somewhere else. But, that’s a blog post for another day. We’ll talk more on what it means to remove someone from a group.

Meanwhile, here’s that statement on religious sexual abuse for the Pagan community that was crafted out of a call from the Wild Hunt news blog. It’s worth a look.

http://www.brendanmyers.net/wickedrabbit/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33%3Afinished-the-community-statement-on-religious-sexual-abuse&catid=11%3Anewscategory&showall=1

 


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth, Uncategorized

Of Pagans and Predators: Part 3

2539113_xlSo in the midst of writing this series, my ex’s fiance posted on my Facebook, and a comment on Part 1, basically doing a textbook codependent dance of enabling. And it was painful to read, because I realize, that was me. Years ago, I was making excuses for Mark. I was the one defending him, because he would say, “If I do it, nobody will listen to me, but if a woman does it, that’ll carry some weight.” I bought it. I drank the Kool-Aid.

And I hear that he’s looking to sue me for libel for what I wrote about him. I heard this via some people who messaged me (this was unsolicited on my part) copied and pasted text of what Mark is posting on his wall.

What does all this bullshit drama mean? It means that I’m becoming a living example of why no victim wants to come forward.

Because this is what you’ll have to put up with. And gods help any victim who isn’t coming from a position of power. I’m an author, I’m a teacher, I have a public voice in the Pagan community. If you’re a newbie, an attendee at an event? I can’t see any way that someone in a power-under position like that would ever risk coming forward.

That being said, we’ve talked a lot about some of the problems. Here are a few beginnings of solutions. Now–none of this is earth shattering. But it’s a start. And it’s hard work and it’s going to take a long time, but if we don’t start, we’ll never get there.

Healthy Boundaries and Self Esteem
I know, I already said this. But as a community, we need healthier boundaries. And I’m not just talking about teaching what’s good touch or bad touch or what’s consent. I’m talking about boundaries and ego from the ground up. That’s big work. Huge work.

But if we each do not do that work–and trust me, this is work I’ve been working on with myself for years–we’re just going to keep spinning our wheels.

I can honestly say that poor boundaries and an unhealthy ego/poor self esteem are probably the grounds for a majority of conflicts that I see in the Pagan community. If each person out there works to get healthy boundaries and training in what consent is, we’ve solved a lot of potential problems right there.

Working With Socially Awkward People
While we’re doing all this personal growth work around boundaries and behaviors, this also offers us the opportunity to help those socially awkward folks who don’t understand that they are crossing other people’s boundaries.

Trust me, as one of those socially awkward folks, I really resonate with this difficulty. While my own behavior probably couldn’t have been described as predatory, I certainly was pretty annoying before I learned more about how to behave socially. And I’ve known people who were genuinely well-meaning who had no idea that they were being offensive or creepy.

I’ve worked with people who had no idea that they were coming across as creepy. Most folks when they find this out will work to adapt their behavior but sometimes need help. However, this type of work does require some discernment, in that

  1. You don’t want to spin your wheels working with someone who isn’t going to change,
  2. You need to be somewhat aware of things such as Aspergers and people who are not neuro-typical. There are ways that Aspergers folks can learn to engage, but that is often a more extensive process of therapy. However, you may be able to help connect them to a resource. You just have to understand that this is different from someone being just awkward; someone with Aspergers actually may not recognize facial cues or body language, and
  3. You don’t want to get into the position of enabling someone to be a predator who is using the excuse of socially awkward.

It’s a fine balance on the edge of a knife to discern some of the differences. However, working with some of our more socially awkward community members can perhaps make the genuinely predatory behavior more clear.

Training in Spotting Predators
One clear solution to protect our children at community events is for each adult to have basic training in how to identify a pedophile. Keep in mind that a number of professionals in the field of therapy and psychology–even therapists who work specifically with sex offenders–will talk about how you can’t always “tell.” However, there are some behaviors that are a pretty solid red flag.

http://www.wikihow.com/Identify-a-Pedophile

Identifying the Unacceptable Behavior
When I teach Pagan leadership, I often talk about basic group agreements as the circle or cauldron that holds your group. What’s ok? What isn’t ok?

Apparently what we really need to do–collectively, to a certain extent, but also within our individual sovereign groups–is identify what behavior is acceptable, and what isn’t. When the behaviors are “fuzzy,” we can’t necessarily agree on whether or not what is happening is wrong, much less what to do about it. 

There are some things that are probably pretty clear–sexually molesting a child is pretty clearly grounds for not only being kicked out of a group but for calling the police. But what about the gray area? What if one of your group members and their partner are consistently getting into screaming fights and you’re worried about one or both parties being in an abusive dynamic? What if a presenter you’ve hired for a festival is really flirtatious at your event, but you’re not really sure if they are respecting boundaries or not?

What if your coven has a tradition of sexual initiation?

A sex temple or group with sexual initiatory practices is probably going to have a different spectrum of acceptable behaviors than a small coven or a group putting on a public festival or conference. Skyclad can work for some groups, and in others it can feel like pressuring people to be oversexualized. Sexual initiation can be totally appropriate in some circumstances. In other circumstances where people feel pressured into it, this can be an abuse of power.

In almost any group without a tradition of sexual initiation, I would say that a pretty good general guideline is that teachers should not be sleeping with students because of the heavily unequal power dynamic. There are exceptions when a peer dynamic has been achieved, but that’s a whole separate post on how to figure that out.

Fuzzy Gray Area
You have to look at what behaviors start to hit that zone in the gray area where it starts to become a red flag, and possibly grounds for someone to be removed from a group or event, or even legal action being taken.

Here’s an example. If someone on my leadership team got arrested for smoking pot, they would not be kicked off my team. Yes, in most states it’s illegal. But, it’s not a behavior that is in itself harmful to others, and states are beginning to decriminalize this.

On the other hand, I don’t allow pot or other illegal drugs at my public events. Why? Well, that should be pretty obvious–it puts all of us at legal risk. One of my leaders who breaks that rule is going to get a stern warning from me, and repeat offenses are probably grounds for asking them to leave. (Plus, I’m allergic to the smoke, so I’ll be cranky because if I smell that I’m going to get a migraine.)

Someone getting into a (verbal) fight with their partner at an event is not in itself grounds to get kicked out, though I might intercede and take them to a private room. However, if that’s happening every time, that’s a red flag.

In one case, I found out that a guy who had some “creepy” tendencies was physically abusing his partner. His creepy behaviors weren’t enough for me to kick him out of the group (yet), but once I found out what was happening with his partner, he is no longer welcome at my events.

Document Those Agreements
Once you and your group members have made agreements around what behavior is a red flag, and what’s grounds for dismissal, it’s time to document that and disseminate it to your group.

Several groups and events out there have policies specifically around consent and sexual abuse, and I hope to get some of those policies together to help other groups craft some “best practices.” But–go ahead and reach out to more established groups and festivals, they may have documents like this that are a place to start. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Process for Complaints
Your agreements need teeth. Part of that is giving people a clear process for how they complain about another group member, a group organizer, or a presenter at your event. If people don’t have a clear way to bring up a complaint, then your agreements are sort of null and void.

Now–just because someone complains doesn’t mean instant guilt. But people do need a way to complain.

I’ll give you three guesses why nobody complained to me about what my ex, Mark, was doing. Because…I was the group leader, he was the other core leader, and we were a couple. None of those women was ever going to feel safe complaining to me about my fiance, not until he was gone. And I shudder to think of how many were too nervous to come forward, or who just left the community in disgust.

In fact, in the time since I posted Part 1, I’ve already heard from another two women who felt that he was making unwelcome sexual advances on them when we were teaching at events.

Document the Complaint
Whatever has gone on, documenting the complaint is a good first step. And I am chagrined to admit that this isn’t something that occurred to me. I’m used to keeping a lot of data in my head, like Person A’s story about Person X, and Person B’s story, and Person C’s story. By the time I have that much data, I don’t need documentation, I know what to do with Person X.

When we were on the Pagan Musings Podcast, Taylor Ellwood brought up the idea of documenting the behaviors witnessed and the complaints received. I’m sure there are formats to do this, and in the coming days and weeks I’ll be working to gather some resources for best practices in that. You can listen to the Podcast here, as it it offered a lot of discussion of many of these issues. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pagan-musings/2014/03/31/pmp-sex-ethics-abuse-in-the-magickal-world

I think documenting a complaint is good for multiple reasons. One is that if something happens in the future with that person, you’ve got some documentation around it. Also, especially in groups with rotating leadership, one single person won’t always have all the information.

It’s also worth pointing out that if there’s one person who’s always complaining about others, that is also good information to have. While I don’t advocate blaming the victim, sometimes there are people who make it their life’s work to being a professional victim. Still other folks have untreated mental illness such as one of the Paranoid personality disorders. And, you may also just have someone who has an axe to grind. This is why this whole process requires rather a lot of discernment.

Documenting takes a complaint from being just a social thing or gossip into something a little more formal and actionable. It lets your group members know that you are listening seriously to their concerns, even if there’s not enough information to take an action at that time.

It also captures information that you could forward on to other regional group leaders about the actions of a particular group member, and this moves it from the category of “gossip” and “rumormongering” into “sharing a formal complaint.”

Decisions
With most complaints, there probably isn’t going to be enough information to take an action. However, documenting the facts of what has happened–or at least, the nature of the alleged abuse–makes it far easier to take an action if another person complains about the same person.

Taking Action
Sometimes it’s pretty clear that something skeevy is going on. Assuming it’s illegal behavior, such as abuse of a minor, your group also needs a policy for how to report things to the police. There are several books out there about Pagans negotiating with police, and specifically I’m thinking of Kerr Cuchulain’s book but if you aren’t sure how to approach the police, you might consider Circle Sanctuary and the Lady Liberty League as a resource.

Community and Judgement
Many of the actions that your group identifies will not necessarily be grounds for getting someone arrested, but may require you to ask someone to leave your group whether as a participant or as a leader. Or may require you to decline hosting a particular presenter.

What this basically means is that yes–you will need a judicial process for your group. However it functions–whether it’s one leader or a council or consensus–you will need to take the information from people who have come to you to tell you about an abusive or harmful situation…and you will need to determine, “Person B did this and I must remove them from the group,” or, “There isn’t enough data to determine if Person B did this but I will keep an eye out.”

So yeah–someone has to make a decision. Even if that decision as, “I don’t know. I don’t know enough to feel comfortable kicking out Person B yet.” That’s still a decision, it’s still a judgment.

Sometimes, an appropriate judgment might be that Person B can remain in the group if they consent to getting some form of help. However, be very cautious in this approach. Many people benefit from therapy, the right medications, or from AA or another program.

However, if you’re dealing with one of the major personality disorders, or someone who consistently goes off their bipolar medications, or with a sex offender…or any of the big abusive behaviors…these folks are very likely not going to respond to any treatment. In fact, many of these are considered untreatable.

Can People Change?
I believe that almost anyone can change. By my experience of people is, most won’t. This is what I mean when I say I’m an optimist with a broken heart. I want to believe that every single person can become better. But my dealings with Mark, and with others, helped me to understand that there are people way beyond my pay grade.

And when you find someone in your group who is a repeat abuser or any kind of predator, there’s only one real solution–amputate them from the group. Like a cancer, you have to remove them.

Yes–that means they will just go somewhere else. But, that’s a blog post for another day. We’ll talk more on what it means to remove someone from a group.

Meanwhile, here’s that statement on religious sexual abuse for the Pagan community that was crafted out of a call from the Wild Hunt news blog. It’s worth a look.

http://www.brendanmyers.net/wickedrabbit/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33%3Afinished-the-community-statement-on-religious-sexual-abuse&catid=11%3Anewscategory&showall=1

 


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth, Uncategorized

Of Pagans and Predators: Part 2

5071876_xxlI see this conversation happen on TV shows. “Did you talk to your teachers?” “No, we can’t do that, the other kids will just hate us even more.”

This is why bullying works. And this is what sets us up for a whole suite of victim-blaming behaviors. The whistleblower is sometimes shown as the hero of the story–but the truth is, people who speak out about how they’ve been harmed, bullied, and abused are mmore often blamed and shamed and bullied even more. Thus, we learn to shut up and not speak up, because speaking up makes it worse.

And yet, if we can understand some of these behaviors, we can begin to look at what the unhealthy dynamics are so that we can build something better. And quite simply–we must.

To understand how to move forward, we have to understand the problem. There’s an axiom in the field of strategic design that the solution is inherent within the problem. But, this first requires a real understanding of the problem.

And that means we have to look at a lot of uncomfortable stuff. 

Here’s a place to start. I encourage you to the following blog posts now, or when you have some time to devote to it. And read the comments. Yes, there are a lot of comments. Yes, they may trigger you. Yes, it’s worth it to read them if you want to be part of the solution.

http://www.thorncoyle.com/blog/2014/03/28/predators-paganism-trigger-warning/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2014/03/silence-equals-death/

http://www.incitingariot.com/2014/03/kenny-klein-arrested-for-child-porn.html

I don’t agree with everything that’s written in these posts, but, it’s a place to begin to understand some of the patterns. And see that there is a consistent pattern of enabling abuse.

He’s Just a Lech
I have seen the abuse/cover-up of abuse be a problem for a long while now…I just didn’t realize how much of a problem it was. Namely–I knew that touchy-feely guys were excused as “Oh, that’s just ____, he’s a lech.” (And–it’s not just men, though statistically, it’s more likely to be.)

I think that people do this in general; I wrote about it in my Sex/Ethics post on Pagan Activist. When there’s a leader or boss–like that editor from Scientific American who was harassing interns and other women he had power over–the folks who like that leader cannot possibly believe that they would do something like that. That’s where “You must be mistaken” comes from. “They’d never do that.” It’s cognitive dissonance.

So we have that baseline behavior–we tend to defend someone because we can’t, or don’t want to, believe that someone we like could do that.

In fact–read this quick blog post. It’s really an apt explanation of how we get used to making excuses for bad behavior. http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2012/06/missing-stair.html

Ego Annex and Boundaries
Ultimately, I think this is probably yet another issue of ego annex and poor boundaries at work. Our ego’s big job is giving us a sense of our self identity. Ideally a positive one. In fact, ego doesn’t cope well with anything that tells us we might be “bad.” So if I like Person A and trusted them, and someone says that they did a bad thing, then by extension, because I like Person A, if Person A did something bad, then I must be bad because I like that person.

That’s not in every case, but I sure have seen it be a factor in someone digging their heels in to defend Person A, even when Person A has clearly harmed someone. What it usually means is that the person defending Person A has poor boundaries and has mistaken Person A’s actions with their own self identity and sense of self.

Standing Up and Saying No is Hard
Again, poor boundaries. We are taught–over and over by experience–that saying NO has dire consequences. Saying No to someone will be perceived as rejection and hurt. Women especially are culturally prone to this people-pleasing, however, I see it in all genders.

I’m sure there’s science around this, but if you watch people when there’s something uncomfortable going on, they will look away. They will look down. They will shrink into their bodies, visually try to disappear. It’s almost a herd behavior. And it’s passive aggressive. Most people would far rather just ignore the bad thing happening and make it go away, than stand up and be the asshole/bitch/jerk who addresses it. Nobody wants to be that guy. Except–this is what allows for abuse to happen.

Sex Positive
What perhaps exacerbates the above tendencies in human nature is the (sometimes extreme) pressure in the Pagan community to be sex positive and accepting of free love and alternative romantic lifestyles. We’re sex positive, right? So we’re not supposed to judge people for being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender, or for being into BDSM or for being polyamorous. All of that is supposed to be cool, right? And, if an older person hits on a younger person that’s supposed to be ok, it’s empowering, because we’re not bound by the rules of the dominant culture…and it’s ok when someone gropes someone else, right?

Hold up there. We’ve hit the slippery slope. There is a gulf of difference between being at a gathering where I respect someone’s sexual openness and where they can hit on me and I can offer a polite no and that’s respected….and a gathering where people are given a free pass to flirt with people to the point of harassment, or touch them without their permission.

In a so-called sex positive culture, nobody wants to be the asshole who calls out someone for groping them, because they’ll be seen as a prude, right?

There’s a pressure to laugh off creepy lecherous handsy behavior and just be ok with it because we’re sex positive.

Boundaries and Flirting
And thus we come back to boundaries. Wouldn’t all this be easier if everyone had good boundaries? Then Person A can flirt with Person B, and Person B can feel totally comfortable saying, “Thank you, but no thanks,” and Person A isn’t offended by the turn-down, and Person B isn’t offended by being flirted with.

Let’s be clear. Flirting isn’t immoral or unethical (in most cases). Invading someone’s space without permission is not ok. Touching people without their permission is not ok. Flirting with someone until it becomes harassment is not ok.

I think in this area, we can work as individuals to grow healthier boundaries. What are boundaries? Well…I’ve written a few posts on the topic, and there’s a book called “Where you End and I Begin” that I recommend. But basically, it’s knowing that your sovereign right to your body ends at your skin. Meaning, you don’t have a sovereign right to touch me. Nor do your own ideas, thoughts, or desires belong in my sovereign space.

You might want something for someone else, but you aren’t that person, and what you want for them ends at the boundary of your skin. They, in turn, have their own sovereignty over their skin, their thoughts and ideas.

Just because you want to hook up with someone doesn’t mean they want that. And–trust me on this one, I’m way familiar with that one. It’s my romantic super power.

I might have the hots for someone, but it doesn’t mean I get to go pressure them to have sex with me. I might make my interest known, and I have to be ok with hearing No. That’s boundaries.

The Problem of Calling Out Leaders
I know of Pagan community leaders who make some really poor decisions, including verbally and emotionally abusing their group members. And these leaders continue because–as I’ve written about at length on my blog–there’s no real way to “make” a group leader stop leading, because Pagans have no overarching body, no governing people in power who can say, “You shall no longer be a coven leader, you are excommunicated.”

But it turns out that even when we do have people in positions of power who could kick someone out of a group or a festival…and even when the offenses were not in the slippery slope of “I’m not sure this warrants kicking someone out of my event,” even when it’s children coming forward to do what the adults told them to do and saying, “That person touched me in a way that made me uncomfortable,” these victims weren’t listened to.

And there’s a host of reasons. Dozens of them. One is that all the intercommunity witch wars and strife have made every person I know gun shy about taking a stand. “If I speak out against XYZ leader, I’ll just be starting a witch war.” And they aren’t wrong about that. Speaking out against someone is bound to start up a conflict

We Don’t Want to Take Sides
More often I’ve seen the “We don’t have enough evidence” thing, or the “You’re blowing that out of proportion, what they did wasn’t that bad” thing. Or as I’ve been told numerous times about my experiences with my ex, Mark, “That was just domestic abuse.”

There’s a very small Pagan leadership FB group that I’m on where there was a frustrating conversation several weeks ago. We were talking about what to do about local Pagan leaders who were acting in a harmful way. Some folks brought up the idea that the only time you could take a stand against someone is if they had done something illegal that could be prosecuted.

I brought up the issue of how it’s not always about legal evidence, but sometimes it’s about a pattern of behavior. What my ex did to me and to others isn’t really something he can be prosecuted for. Sleeping with students isn’t illegal. It sure as heck isn’t ok to target students and newbies though.

I do sometimes make my decisions about a person on hearsay. It’s the type of hearsay that matters. Who it comes from, how many people, what they have to gain.

I think that people who always say, “We don’t want to take sides,” sometimes are (unintentionally) siding with the perpetrator. Yes, I know…we don’t want to cause a witch war. We don’t want to make the conflict worse.

But what would have happened if any Pagan leader or festival organizer had taken the complaints against Kenny Klein seriously 10 or 20 years ago?

Scorched Earth
I have seen some people take a stand against their abusers, and ultimately the community conflict that ensued blew up any Pagan community work in that region for years afterword because people were so hurt by the he said/she said conflict.

So–while I’m no longer prepared to say, “Speaking out against your abusers won’t get you what you want, you can’t take a group leader down,” I’m also not prepared to say “Cry havoc and hop to it” because it’s going to end up being a scorched earth thing.

If Person A attempts to bring to light Person B’s abusive behaviors and the conflict ends up literally exploding their local community so that no public events are happening to serve local Pagans, that isn’t really a viable either.

When it’s a group leader, you can’t force them to stop leading a group, other than getting them arrested. All you can really do is leave the group and maybe tell other people. Many people will stay in the group because that’s the only community in their area. But, people who complain about abusive behavior from a Pagan group leader often get victim blamed as “trying to start a witch war.”

Giving Pagans a Bad Name
This one’s been cited a lot in other areas so I won’t go into it much here, but it’s an excuse that’s been used for why Pagans don’t call the authorities for some situations that really warrant the involvement of law enforcement.

How do We Go Forward?
That’s been keeping me up at night for years. The more I teach leadership, the more shitty behavior I hear about and the more despondent I get. I see all forms of abuse by Pagans and Pagan leaders getting swept under the rug. I mean, I seriously could probably write an entire blog post just about different leaders and the crap I’ve heard about them and that I’ve done enough verification on to satisfy myself that it’s the truth, even though there isn’t concrete proof. But, what does that solve?

Another blog post coming soon.

 


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Of Pagans and Predators: Part 2

5071876_xxlI see this conversation happen on TV shows. “Did you talk to your teachers?” “No, we can’t do that, the other kids will just hate us even more.”

This is why bullying works. And this is what sets us up for a whole suite of victim-blaming behaviors. The whistleblower is sometimes shown as the hero of the story–but the truth is, people who speak out about how they’ve been harmed, bullied, and abused are mmore often blamed and shamed and bullied even more. Thus, we learn to shut up and not speak up, because speaking up makes it worse.

And yet, if we can understand some of these behaviors, we can begin to look at what the unhealthy dynamics are so that we can build something better. And quite simply–we must.

To understand how to move forward, we have to understand the problem. There’s an axiom in the field of strategic design that the solution is inherent within the problem. But, this first requires a real understanding of the problem.

And that means we have to look at a lot of uncomfortable stuff. 

Here’s a place to start. I encourage you to the following blog posts now, or when you have some time to devote to it. And read the comments. Yes, there are a lot of comments. Yes, they may trigger you. Yes, it’s worth it to read them if you want to be part of the solution.

http://www.thorncoyle.com/blog/2014/03/28/predators-paganism-trigger-warning/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2014/03/silence-equals-death/

http://www.incitingariot.com/2014/03/kenny-klein-arrested-for-child-porn.html

I don’t agree with everything that’s written in these posts, but, it’s a place to begin to understand some of the patterns. And see that there is a consistent pattern of enabling abuse.

He’s Just a Lech
I have seen the abuse/cover-up of abuse be a problem for a long while now…I just didn’t realize how much of a problem it was. Namely–I knew that touchy-feely guys were excused as “Oh, that’s just ____, he’s a lech.” (And–it’s not just men, though statistically, it’s more likely to be.)

I think that people do this in general; I wrote about it in my Sex/Ethics post on Pagan Activist. When there’s a leader or boss–like that editor from Scientific American who was harassing interns and other women he had power over–the folks who like that leader cannot possibly believe that they would do something like that. That’s where “You must be mistaken” comes from. “They’d never do that.” It’s cognitive dissonance.

So we have that baseline behavior–we tend to defend someone because we can’t, or don’t want to, believe that someone we like could do that.

In fact–read this quick blog post. It’s really an apt explanation of how we get used to making excuses for bad behavior. http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2012/06/missing-stair.html

Ego Annex and Boundaries
Ultimately, I think this is probably yet another issue of ego annex and poor boundaries at work. Our ego’s big job is giving us a sense of our self identity. Ideally a positive one. In fact, ego doesn’t cope well with anything that tells us we might be “bad.” So if I like Person A and trusted them, and someone says that they did a bad thing, then by extension, because I like Person A, if Person A did something bad, then I must be bad because I like that person.

That’s not in every case, but I sure have seen it be a factor in someone digging their heels in to defend Person A, even when Person A has clearly harmed someone. What it usually means is that the person defending Person A has poor boundaries and has mistaken Person A’s actions with their own self identity and sense of self.

Standing Up and Saying No is Hard
Again, poor boundaries. We are taught–over and over by experience–that saying NO has dire consequences. Saying No to someone will be perceived as rejection and hurt. Women especially are culturally prone to this people-pleasing, however, I see it in all genders.

I’m sure there’s science around this, but if you watch people when there’s something uncomfortable going on, they will look away. They will look down. They will shrink into their bodies, visually try to disappear. It’s almost a herd behavior. And it’s passive aggressive. Most people would far rather just ignore the bad thing happening and make it go away, than stand up and be the asshole/bitch/jerk who addresses it. Nobody wants to be that guy. Except–this is what allows for abuse to happen.

Sex Positive
What perhaps exacerbates the above tendencies in human nature is the (sometimes extreme) pressure in the Pagan community to be sex positive and accepting of free love and alternative romantic lifestyles. We’re sex positive, right? So we’re not supposed to judge people for being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender, or for being into BDSM or for being polyamorous. All of that is supposed to be cool, right? And, if an older person hits on a younger person that’s supposed to be ok, it’s empowering, because we’re not bound by the rules of the dominant culture…and it’s ok when someone gropes someone else, right?

Hold up there. We’ve hit the slippery slope. There is a gulf of difference between being at a gathering where I respect someone’s sexual openness and where they can hit on me and I can offer a polite no and that’s respected….and a gathering where people are given a free pass to flirt with people to the point of harassment, or touch them without their permission.

In a so-called sex positive culture, nobody wants to be the asshole who calls out someone for groping them, because they’ll be seen as a prude, right?

There’s a pressure to laugh off creepy lecherous handsy behavior and just be ok with it because we’re sex positive.

Boundaries and Flirting
And thus we come back to boundaries. Wouldn’t all this be easier if everyone had good boundaries? Then Person A can flirt with Person B, and Person B can feel totally comfortable saying, “Thank you, but no thanks,” and Person A isn’t offended by the turn-down, and Person B isn’t offended by being flirted with.

Let’s be clear. Flirting isn’t immoral or unethical (in most cases). Invading someone’s space without permission is not ok. Touching people without their permission is not ok. Flirting with someone until it becomes harassment is not ok.

I think in this area, we can work as individuals to grow healthier boundaries. What are boundaries? Well…I’ve written a few posts on the topic, and there’s a book called “Where you End and I Begin” that I recommend. But basically, it’s knowing that your sovereign right to your body ends at your skin. Meaning, you don’t have a sovereign right to touch me. Nor do your own ideas, thoughts, or desires belong in my sovereign space.

You might want something for someone else, but you aren’t that person, and what you want for them ends at the boundary of your skin. They, in turn, have their own sovereignty over their skin, their thoughts and ideas.

Just because you want to hook up with someone doesn’t mean they want that. And–trust me on this one, I’m way familiar with that one. It’s my romantic super power.

I might have the hots for someone, but it doesn’t mean I get to go pressure them to have sex with me. I might make my interest known, and I have to be ok with hearing No. That’s boundaries.

The Problem of Calling Out Leaders
I know of Pagan community leaders who make some really poor decisions, including verbally and emotionally abusing their group members. And these leaders continue because–as I’ve written about at length on my blog–there’s no real way to “make” a group leader stop leading, because Pagans have no overarching body, no governing people in power who can say, “You shall no longer be a coven leader, you are excommunicated.”

But it turns out that even when we do have people in positions of power who could kick someone out of a group or a festival…and even when the offenses were not in the slippery slope of “I’m not sure this warrants kicking someone out of my event,” even when it’s children coming forward to do what the adults told them to do and saying, “That person touched me in a way that made me uncomfortable,” these victims weren’t listened to.

And there’s a host of reasons. Dozens of them. One is that all the intercommunity witch wars and strife have made every person I know gun shy about taking a stand. “If I speak out against XYZ leader, I’ll just be starting a witch war.” And they aren’t wrong about that. Speaking out against someone is bound to start up a conflict

We Don’t Want to Take Sides
More often I’ve seen the “We don’t have enough evidence” thing, or the “You’re blowing that out of proportion, what they did wasn’t that bad” thing. Or as I’ve been told numerous times about my experiences with my ex, Mark, “That was just domestic abuse.”

There’s a very small Pagan leadership FB group that I’m on where there was a frustrating conversation several weeks ago. We were talking about what to do about local Pagan leaders who were acting in a harmful way. Some folks brought up the idea that the only time you could take a stand against someone is if they had done something illegal that could be prosecuted.

I brought up the issue of how it’s not always about legal evidence, but sometimes it’s about a pattern of behavior. What my ex did to me and to others isn’t really something he can be prosecuted for. Sleeping with students isn’t illegal. It sure as heck isn’t ok to target students and newbies though.

I do sometimes make my decisions about a person on hearsay. It’s the type of hearsay that matters. Who it comes from, how many people, what they have to gain.

I think that people who always say, “We don’t want to take sides,” sometimes are (unintentionally) siding with the perpetrator. Yes, I know…we don’t want to cause a witch war. We don’t want to make the conflict worse.

But what would have happened if any Pagan leader or festival organizer had taken the complaints against Kenny Klein seriously 10 or 20 years ago?

Scorched Earth
I have seen some people take a stand against their abusers, and ultimately the community conflict that ensued blew up any Pagan community work in that region for years afterword because people were so hurt by the he said/she said conflict.

So–while I’m no longer prepared to say, “Speaking out against your abusers won’t get you what you want, you can’t take a group leader down,” I’m also not prepared to say “Cry havoc and hop to it” because it’s going to end up being a scorched earth thing.

If Person A attempts to bring to light Person B’s abusive behaviors and the conflict ends up literally exploding their local community so that no public events are happening to serve local Pagans, that isn’t really a viable either.

When it’s a group leader, you can’t force them to stop leading a group, other than getting them arrested. All you can really do is leave the group and maybe tell other people. Many people will stay in the group because that’s the only community in their area. But, people who complain about abusive behavior from a Pagan group leader often get victim blamed as “trying to start a witch war.”

Giving Pagans a Bad Name
This one’s been cited a lot in other areas so I won’t go into it much here, but it’s an excuse that’s been used for why Pagans don’t call the authorities for some situations that really warrant the involvement of law enforcement.

How do We Go Forward?
That’s been keeping me up at night for years. The more I teach leadership, the more shitty behavior I hear about and the more despondent I get. I see all forms of abuse by Pagans and Pagan leaders getting swept under the rug. I mean, I seriously could probably write an entire blog post just about different leaders and the crap I’ve heard about them and that I’ve done enough verification on to satisfy myself that it’s the truth, even though there isn’t concrete proof. But, what does that solve?

Another blog post coming soon.

 


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Of Pagans and Predators: Part 1

5683209_xxlI’ve been trying to wrap my brain around what to write on this topic. There are predators in our community–this isn’t new. Predators go where they can easily gain access to their prey, and small subculture communities like the Pagan community are ripe for this for so many reasons.

I want Kenny Klein’s arrest (and presumed conviction, since he confessed) to be a lightning rod for change. I want this incident to catalyze our community to work toward being better.

Because in the fallout of the announcement of the arrest, people started coming forward. People who saw Kenny interacting with teens, and teenagers that he had inappropriately touched. This has been going on for decades and though these people complained to Pagan leaders and festival organizers, nothing was done.

Before I go into some of the steps I think we need to take to address this systemic problem within our community, I first want to reflect on how–and why–this has affected me personally.

A while back Kenny Klein wrote an article admonishing Pagans for what’s often referred to as “Pagan Standard Time.” I used that particular quote from Kenny in a longer post on leadership I wrote.

“Get over it! You represent the Pagan community! Pull yourself together! I know, it is a hallmark of our culture in general that people are rude, late, and self-centered. But as Pagans, shouldn’t we be above that? As people who, after considerable thought, gave up the status quo to pursue our true selves, shouldn’t we be the shining example, not the common problem? I think we should.” - Kenny Klein

(Witches and Pagans has suspended Kenny Klein’s blog pending his investigation or I’d link to the full article.)

So I read this, and I experience cognitive dissonance. I sit there and wonder, “What was Kenny thinking when he wrote this?” 

Was he thinking that what he was doing was ok? Had he somehow ethically justified it in the way some pedophiles do, that the age of consent is too high and that teenagers and children should be allowed to be sexually active? Or was he in that zone where he just wasn’t even thinking about the wrongness of what he’d done?

See, sometimes I’ll start writing a blog post about an issue of Pagan leadership ethics or things leaders should or shouldn’t do, and then I’ll reread what I wrote and I have to laugh and say, “Yeah, I totally do that. I’m going to have to fess up to that.” I have always tried be up front about the places where I fuck up as a leader. I’m particularly ashamed of the times when I committed to doing something and then failed a commitment I made to someone.

But I suppose I’ve worked to try and find that balance of, not getting stuck in the spiral of shame, but also, not minimizing my mistake so that I can work to ensure I don’t do it again.

Leaders are human beings. We’re going to make mistakes.

But then I reread some of what Kenny Klein has written and my mind starts hamsterwheeling again. What was he thinking when he wrote that? Was he really in total denial about how he was (it now seems clear) sexually abusing children? Or was he one of those abusers that keeps falling off the wagon and then he climbs back on and says, “I can do this, I can be better, I can stop abusing children,” or was it something else entirely.

I’ve wondered a lot in the past about what goes through an abuser’s head, because I’ve been abused before.

My Abuse
I was not sexually abused as a child, though I know many people who were. I’ve written in the past about the abuse I suffered from my peers throughout school, and while I’ve done a hell of a lot of personal work, the shadows are still there. And it’s those issues in my own past that are probably why I’ve ended up in a few not-so-healthy romantic relationships.

I’ve written in the past about my ex-fiance and former working partner, but in light of what’s going on, I’m going to go ahead and name him. He’s gone by Mark Mandrake, but he seems to have switched back to his given name of Mark Robert Necamp. When I met Mark, he was married, and he lied about the status of his relationship. In fact, he compulsively lied throughout our relationship, and I had to learn something important about myself–I’m pretty easily duped.

I don’t like admitting that. But once I trust someone, I believe the lies.

Some day I’ll write about my whole decline with him, because understanding how I got into that headspace has helped me to heal–somewhat–from what he did, and how I enabled it. I still have a hard time rectifying my own image of myself as someone who is strong and independent with the creature I became when partnered with Mark. Sad, depressed, angry, exhausted, and easily manipulated. 

Mark isn’t (to my knowledge) a pedophile. Nor is Mark (to my knowledge) a rapist. Though, I have personally experienced that sex with him was sometimes on the border of what I call consensual. He often pressured me into sex when I wasn’t in the mood. Making things even more screwed up in my own head, sometimes I initiated sex with him not because I wanted to, but because I was afraid he’d cheat on me if I didn’t.

He cheated on me several times during our relationship, though it wasn’t until well after he left me in November of 2011 that I learned the scope of his cheating–and that other women he was with also felt confused around whether or not they’d really consented or not. They didn’t feel that they’d been raped, but they did feel manipulated into sex. Women came forward that he’d had sex with, and other women came forward that he’d sexually harassed to the extent that they stopped coming to my events in Chicago.

Mark engaged in a pretty clear pattern of emotional abuse, if you know the signs. Isolate and confuse. He would tell me that people in our group didn’t like me or had problems with me. I’d tell him that he should engage them in talking to me directly. “Oh, they don’t want to do that.” Or, “They are too afraid.” Or, “It’s confidential, I can’t tell you who.”

I have pretty good boundaries these days and I have developed a far healthier sense of self esteem than in years past, but over time this wore on me. It ate at me. It played to every fear I had creeping around in my chest from Middle School. My secret belief deep inside that EVERYONE SECRETLY HATES ME. 

Depression
I’m already an introvert, but this fed my spiral of depression, which made it even harder for me to want to go out to various Pagan social events. I’d frequently just tell Mark to go on without me.

And what, do you imagine, Mark did at those gathering? If you’ve read the abuser handbook, you know that he was complaining about me. How antisocial I was, how depressed, how hard I was to live with.

So then the next time I saw those folks, there was an undefined tension and it reinforced the crap he’d been feeding me. People really did dislike me. Like acid, it ate away at my sense of self. If everyone disliked me, and I was as difficult as Mark told me I was, maybe I was just inherently unlikeable.

 

Which is part of what leads into the really important part of this spiral–that paradoxically, I cling more to my abuser. “He’s the only one who will ever stick by me. Nobody else will ever put up with me.”

I’m oversimplifying, but I hope I have made the enabling pattern a little clearer.

Grooming
Abuse happens by inches. It’s called Grooming and I’ve written about it before. The behavior I put up with from Mark in the end, I never would have in the beginning. But by the end, it was invisible to me, like the air around me.

When he left me in 2011 and I discovered he’d been stealing money and planning his abandonment for months, there were a few days where I just wanted to die. I just wanted it all to end. I could not imagine that I could pull myself up by my bootstraps yet again.

What drove my mind into spinning circles of confusion was asking that question. How could he do this? Wasn’t he thinking of the consequences? How could someone hurt someone else like that?

See, Mark and I taught together. We taught Leadership workshops together. Mark would talk about sex and ethics, about abuse, about what behavior was appropriate for a leader and what behavior wasn’t. I knew that he knew that stuff.

So when I reread Kenny Klein’s post, I found myself asking those questions again. How could Kenny–who, by his writing, knew what was right and what was wrong–do those things? How could Mark?

Many Kinds of Mental Illness
What finally saved me from spinning in my brain after Mark left was when several mutual friends with a background in psychology spoke with me about Mark’s behavior. All of them were very clear that–with Mark not being their client– they could absolutely not diagnose him, but, that some of his symptoms were red flags for Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

When I began to read more about Borderline PD, things began to make sense. And–I myself am not a psychologist or therapist, so I can only speak in terms of his behavior that I witnessed, and what I’ve read about, and what I’ve observed in others.

With many of the major personalities or other mental illnesses, there are compulsive behaviors. I certainly witnessed these in Mark. Compulsive cheating…compulsive spending. He even shoplifted a few times when I was with him. One time it was just a bottle of tobasco sauce, and we got to the car when he revealed what he’d done, and he giggled. He also destroyed property in front of younger members of our local group, or acted in other ways that just didn’t make sense.

Later I’d ask him, “What were you thinking?”

And ultimately that dynamic became our relationship. He’d do crazy, destructive things, and I’d berate him like a nagging shrew. I became his mom, not his partner. The more I got on his case about his behavior, ultimately the worse he’d act out. And I kept wanting him to just be logical and make sense and realize what he was doing was wrong, and he wouldn’t.

It’s Not Going to be Logical
And I suppose that’s where I start to come to one of the cruxes of the difficulties with abusive behavior.  A lot of Pagans are talking (via blogs and Facebook) about teaching people what consent means. And that’s great–it is important for each attendee at an event to know they can say No. And it’s important for each attendee to know to respect a No, and in fact, that they need to wait for an enthusiastic Yes.

But none of that fixes the problem of the predators. The predators out there are:

  1. Convinced that they deserve this and are morally in the right, and are deliberately hunting, or
  2. They are in compulsive mode. They aren’t thinking about right and wrong because they are mentally ill. They are not in a headspace where consequence will stop them.

There’s certainly more than those options, but I think those are two big ones.

Temporary Insanity and Consequences
Have you ever actually experienced what’s known as temporary insanity? If you’ve met me, you probably know that I’m about as calm and collected as it gets, particularly when there’s a disaster. Ritual altar on fire? No problem. I can put out the fire and re-center the group without a blip in my blood pressure.

My mom throughout my life has jokingly called me “Mr. Spock” because I can be so calm and logical in the face of complicated disasters. I’m the person who can apply pressure to a wound while calling 9-11 and keeping everyone else calm.

So whenever I read about temporary insanity, I thought it was bullshit. I thought, “There’s never a time when I’m not thinking, when I’m not imagining consequences.”

I mentioned a bit about my mental health decline when I was with Mark, and there were a a couple of memorable moments where he did something so grievous that I did something totally out of character for me. Where I wasn’t thinking about consequence, I was just acting.

If you haven’t experienced that moment where consequence just disappears, I can’t explain it to you. And for myself, I’ve only experienced it in the briefest moments and even then, I’ve usually taken that step back and said, whoa. That’s nuts. I can’t do that.

However, I think it’s important to understand the idea that there are people–at least in certain moments–who are not bound by consequences or logic. To understand that when we’re talking about pedophiles, sociopaths, alcoholics, abusers, or people with other specific mental illnesses, we’re often talking about folks who are not thinking about what they are doing, or they don’t care.

I’m not talking about, “I was drunk, it wasn’t my fault.”

Compulsive
I’m talking about compulsive behavior where–in that moment–the person is going to seek to meet their need even if it harms someone. It might be an addiction to a substance, like alcohol. It might be a particular behavior. And it might be the compulsion to flirt with someone until it gets harassing, because they are so desperate to be wanted and loved. And that compulsion might also include sexual abuse of minors. Some people–for a variety of reasons–have specific compulsive tendencies.

Particularly sex offenders against children, who have a ruthlessly high rate of recidivism (return to the behavior.)

Please don’t read what I’m writing as an apology for their behavior. What I’m trying to do is offer some context for why it happens–because, people often shake their heads and ask that. Why? How can someone hurt someone else like that? How can someone abuse their spouse, their child?

Logical People
I experience that sane, rational, logical people expect other people to behave like themselves. So on the various comments on blogs and Facebook posts when people are talking about the Kenny Klein issue, they are talking about a number of strategies that are useful for sane, rational people.

There are folks who are socially awkward, and we can work with them to say, “No, that’s not appropriate.” We can work with folks to explain consent culture, and I think that’s all worthwhile.

However, that still doesn’t protect us from the predators who either believe that there’s nothing wrong with what they are doing, or, who are acting in a compulsive way.

The Pendulum Swing, or, “Baby I’m Sorry, I’ll Change
Raise your hand if you’ve heard that one before. “Baby, I’ll get better. I’ll go to therapy.” “I’ll go to ____ anonymous.” “I’ll never do it again, I swear.” “I got you some flowers.”

Often an abuser goes in and out of the bad behavior, which is what keeps their partner in the destructive cycle. I’ve been there, I have a one hell of a t-shirt. With Mark, he would promise to be better. He’d go to therapy, or to sex addicts anonymous. For a while it would be better…and then he’s start cheating again. Or other things.

There were the times that I really should have left him. (Should is such a damning word.)

But I caught enough self awareness from him that I stayed. He was aware he’d screwed up. He hated himself for it. He’d break down crying, he’d promise to be better, I’d promise to help him.

And this, ultimately, is what breaks my heart. Mark would be an amazing resource for the Pagan community, if he didn’t ultimately always swing back to the damaging behavior. I watched him do it with me, I watched him do it with women he dated after me. And, as the stories trickled in, I realized he’d been preying on a lot more women than I ever expected.

Enabling
My own shame around this is that I enabled his behavior. I bought into his “I’ll get better” and kept bringing him along to the hunting grounds for his predatory behavior. I helped him get his first teaching gigs; I’d bring him along when I was invited to teach out of town. I helped him to run a group in Chicago, and later, empowered him as a leader of my group Ringing Anvil.

At the end, I can honestly say I was not right in the head. I was stuck in the headspace of, “If I break up with Mark, I’ll be alone forever.” And those words don’t really do justice to the state of depression I was in. I literally couldn’t imagine how I’d go on if I was alone.

I made his behavior ok by continuing to run events with him, by continuing to co-teach with him.

Literally the night before he and I were scheduled to drive down to Louisville to be headliners at a festival, he introduced me to the woman he had started a relationship with and demanded that I agree to polyamory.

I spilled coffee in his lap and went home (one of those temporary insanity moments). He didn’t come back that night but the other girl dumped him when she found out she’d been lied to. In the morning, he came home, and I agreed to bring him with me to Louisville.

At the time, I thought I was putting on my professional hat. I thought that a professional should suck it up and go do a good job and not let personal stuff get in the way. And largely that’s true. In this case, if I’d been looking at his behavior from the angle of “Mark is a predator,” I would have perhaps more clearly seen that I was just bringing him to the hunting grounds and keeping him in a position of power that he could use to exploit others.

In fact–and I couldn’t even make this stuff up if I tried–after he left me, Mark began a relationship with the woman who coordinated that particular festival, among other people. He also began a relationship with a woman he’d met when we taught at a Pagan student conference, and then dumped her after revealing that he’d been cheating on her with another Pagan in Michigan that he met under the auspices of her being his student.

So, it’s not just me making this stuff up. There really is a pattern to his behavior.

What’s Abuse? What Do We Do With Abusers?
When Mark left, I opted to just make a public announcement on my Facebook about what had happened. There wasn’t any way around Facebook not announcing “Shauna is now Single,” and I thought, I’m going to be telling this story anyways, I should just be public about it, particularly as I began to understand the full scope of his abuse and his theft.

After he left, I discovered that Mark had arranged for several teaching engagements with various festivals. Some were festivals where I originally had introduced him to the organizers. And I was torn. Do I contact them and “warn” them? 

In my experience, nobody listens to that, and I’d just get branded as “the crazy ex with sour grapes.” I tried to take a stance of being very public about what Mark did to me–and later as things came out, about what he did to other women–but I only opted to contact one festival organizer whom I knew well to let her know what had happened before.

In her case, she’d been duped by another Pagan/Occult teacher and it broke her group apart in the past. Though, ironically, not only did she not ban Mark as a teacher, she let him live with her for a time, though I understand he’s currently banned from her land and events for something he did.

Organizers Turn a Blind Eye
One or two festival organizers reached out to me to ask for details on what Mark had done and promised to keep an eye on him, but that was it.

Ultimately, Mark is reflective of the problem in our community that created a hunting ground for Kenny Klein.

I’ve heard over and over the excuses that what Mark did is just he said/she said, or, it’s “just” domestic abuse. Or what several festival organizers have told me, “If I kick him out then I’m taking sides in your domestic squabble.”

And here’s where we start to run into some real gray area, because we have to ask, what is abuse? What behavior is acceptable in our leaders?

When you hire a Pagan teacher, publish a Pagan author, what are you promoting? What behavior are you making ok? If you know about things they have done and hire them anyways, what are you enabling?

Abusive Leaders and Victim Blaming
I know of tons of Pagan leaders who are verbally and emotionally abusive. They aren’t predators, aren’t rapists, but they sure are assholes, and we sure do keep empowering them to lead groups or sell books. Some are a shade more dangerous than that. Still others use their position as teachers to get laid. And to be sure, there are more child molesters out there waiting to be found. 

We have a culture in the Pagan community of wanting everything to be free. Sex is cool, sex should be fun for everyone, we should all be free. We are all seekers of spiritual truth, we shouldn’t kick anyone out. Except…we are a breeding ground for bad behavior.

We don’t listen to our victims. We dismiss it as, “Surely you are overreacting.” “You must have been mistaken.” Kenny Klein’s victims have been coming forward in the form of people who were teenagers at the time at festivals he was at, his ex wife, and his children. Not only were his ex wife and children not believed by local festival and community organizers–they were basically excommunicated.

We need to start listening to our victims and taking their complaints seriously.

But Not Pagan Homeland Security
Nor do I advocate that we kick every person out for every single complaint. To be quite frank, those of us who travel and teach acquire our own set of stalkers and weirdos. I’ve had to block a few people on Facebook who wanted me to come out and live with them or other weird creepy stuff, and when you cut off a stalker, there’s pushback. I hear this from many Pagan authors, and from a number of group leaders–people make up some crazy accusations when you turn them down.

And there’s this other problem we have in the Pagan community. I won’t go into the complexities of why, but we do have a lot of professional victims out there who, when they don’t get what they want, accuse a group leader of sexually assaulting them or of being a pedophile or other various accusations.

Having heard about and witnessed (or been involved in) a number of Pagan disputes, let me just sum it up by saying, it can get really fucked up. And determining who the actual victim is can be like sorting a ball of yarn after a cat got at it.

What Next?
What is clear is that we have some real problems in the Pagan community around abusive behavior. And, they aren’t easy problems to solve, which is–I think–part of why we often give up. It’s also a really uncomfortable set of topics, because it basically means that victims have to come forward and share their stories and relive what they went through. 

I’ve been going through it myself, particularly since my own abuser, Mark, opted to contact me and tell me he was sorry I felt the need to keep talking about what happened. And that he forgave me.

While that still has me wanting to vomit, I am reading stories online or hearing people share with me one-on-one from other people sharing their stories of molestation, rape, and other abuse. So yeah…we have a problem.

As always, I am an optimist. I believe we can be better. And in part 2 (because this got far longer than I planned on) I’ll outline a few thoughts on what might help us, as a community, to build a healthier community for the future.

 

 


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community

Of Pagans and Predators: Part 1

5683209_xxlI’ve been trying to wrap my brain around what to write on this topic. There are predators in our community–this isn’t new. Predators go where they can easily gain access to their prey, and small subculture communities like the Pagan community are ripe for this for so many reasons.

I want Kenny Klein’s arrest (and presumed conviction, since he confessed) to be a lightning rod for change. I want this incident to catalyze our community to work toward being better.

Because in the fallout of the announcement of the arrest, people started coming forward. People who saw Kenny interacting with teens, and teenagers that he had inappropriately touched. This has been going on for decades and though these people complained to Pagan leaders and festival organizers, nothing was done.

Before I go into some of the steps I think we need to take to address this systemic problem within our community, I first want to reflect on how–and why–this has affected me personally.

A while back Kenny Klein wrote an article admonishing Pagans for what’s often referred to as “Pagan Standard Time.” I used that particular quote from Kenny in a longer post on leadership I wrote.

“Get over it! You represent the Pagan community! Pull yourself together! I know, it is a hallmark of our culture in general that people are rude, late, and self-centered. But as Pagans, shouldn’t we be above that? As people who, after considerable thought, gave up the status quo to pursue our true selves, shouldn’t we be the shining example, not the common problem? I think we should.” - Kenny Klein

(Witches and Pagans has suspended Kenny Klein’s blog pending his investigation or I’d link to the full article.)

So I read this, and I experience cognitive dissonance. I sit there and wonder, “What was Kenny thinking when he wrote this?” 

Was he thinking that what he was doing was ok? Had he somehow ethically justified it in the way some pedophiles do, that the age of consent is too high and that teenagers and children should be allowed to be sexually active? Or was he in that zone where he just wasn’t even thinking about the wrongness of what he’d done?

See, sometimes I’ll start writing a blog post about an issue of Pagan leadership ethics or things leaders should or shouldn’t do, and then I’ll reread what I wrote and I have to laugh and say, “Yeah, I totally do that. I’m going to have to fess up to that.” I have always tried be up front about the places where I fuck up as a leader. I’m particularly ashamed of the times when I committed to doing something and then failed a commitment I made to someone.

But I suppose I’ve worked to try and find that balance of, not getting stuck in the spiral of shame, but also, not minimizing my mistake so that I can work to ensure I don’t do it again.

Leaders are human beings. We’re going to make mistakes.

But then I reread some of what Kenny Klein has written and my mind starts hamsterwheeling again. What was he thinking when he wrote that? Was he really in total denial about how he was (it now seems clear) sexually abusing children? Or was he one of those abusers that keeps falling off the wagon and then he climbs back on and says, “I can do this, I can be better, I can stop abusing children,” or was it something else entirely.

I’ve wondered a lot in the past about what goes through an abuser’s head, because I’ve been abused before.

My Abuse
I was not sexually abused as a child, though I know many people who were. I’ve written in the past about the abuse I suffered from my peers throughout school, and while I’ve done a hell of a lot of personal work, the shadows are still there. And it’s those issues in my own past that are probably why I’ve ended up in a few not-so-healthy romantic relationships.

I’ve written in the past about my ex-fiance and former working partner, but in light of what’s going on, I’m going to go ahead and name him. He’s gone by Mark Mandrake, but he seems to have switched back to his given name of Mark Robert Necamp. When I met Mark, he was married, and he lied about the status of his relationship. In fact, he compulsively lied throughout our relationship, and I had to learn something important about myself–I’m pretty easily duped.

I don’t like admitting that. But once I trust someone, I believe the lies.

Some day I’ll write about my whole decline with him, because understanding how I got into that headspace has helped me to heal–somewhat–from what he did, and how I enabled it. I still have a hard time rectifying my own image of myself as someone who is strong and independent with the creature I became when partnered with Mark. Sad, depressed, angry, exhausted, and easily manipulated. 

Mark isn’t (to my knowledge) a pedophile. Nor is Mark (to my knowledge) a rapist. Though, I have personally experienced that sex with him was sometimes on the border of what I call consensual. He often pressured me into sex when I wasn’t in the mood. Making things even more screwed up in my own head, sometimes I initiated sex with him not because I wanted to, but because I was afraid he’d cheat on me if I didn’t.

He cheated on me several times during our relationship, though it wasn’t until well after he left me in November of 2011 that I learned the scope of his cheating–and that other women he was with also felt confused around whether or not they’d really consented or not. They didn’t feel that they’d been raped, but they did feel manipulated into sex. Women came forward that he’d had sex with, and other women came forward that he’d sexually harassed to the extent that they stopped coming to my events in Chicago.

Mark engaged in a pretty clear pattern of emotional abuse, if you know the signs. Isolate and confuse. He would tell me that people in our group didn’t like me or had problems with me. I’d tell him that he should engage them in talking to me directly. “Oh, they don’t want to do that.” Or, “They are too afraid.” Or, “It’s confidential, I can’t tell you who.”

I have pretty good boundaries these days and I have developed a far healthier sense of self esteem than in years past, but over time this wore on me. It ate at me. It played to every fear I had creeping around in my chest from Middle School. My secret belief deep inside that EVERYONE SECRETLY HATES ME. 

Depression
I’m already an introvert, but this fed my spiral of depression, which made it even harder for me to want to go out to various Pagan social events. I’d frequently just tell Mark to go on without me.

And what, do you imagine, Mark did at those gathering? If you’ve read the abuser handbook, you know that he was complaining about me. How antisocial I was, how depressed, how hard I was to live with.

So then the next time I saw those folks, there was an undefined tension and it reinforced the crap he’d been feeding me. People really did dislike me. Like acid, it ate away at my sense of self. If everyone disliked me, and I was as difficult as Mark told me I was, maybe I was just inherently unlikeable.

 

Which is part of what leads into the really important part of this spiral–that paradoxically, I cling more to my abuser. “He’s the only one who will ever stick by me. Nobody else will ever put up with me.”

I’m oversimplifying, but I hope I have made the enabling pattern a little clearer.

Grooming
Abuse happens by inches. It’s called Grooming and I’ve written about it before. The behavior I put up with from Mark in the end, I never would have in the beginning. But by the end, it was invisible to me, like the air around me.

When he left me in 2011 and I discovered he’d been stealing money and planning his abandonment for months, there were a few days where I just wanted to die. I just wanted it all to end. I could not imagine that I could pull myself up by my bootstraps yet again.

What drove my mind into spinning circles of confusion was asking that question. How could he do this? Wasn’t he thinking of the consequences? How could someone hurt someone else like that?

See, Mark and I taught together. We taught Leadership workshops together. Mark would talk about sex and ethics, about abuse, about what behavior was appropriate for a leader and what behavior wasn’t. I knew that he knew that stuff.

So when I reread Kenny Klein’s post, I found myself asking those questions again. How could Kenny–who, by his writing, knew what was right and what was wrong–do those things? How could Mark?

Many Kinds of Mental Illness
What finally saved me from spinning in my brain after Mark left was when several mutual friends with a background in psychology spoke with me about Mark’s behavior. All of them were very clear that–with Mark not being their client– they could absolutely not diagnose him, but, that some of his symptoms were red flags for Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

When I began to read more about Borderline PD, things began to make sense. And–I myself am not a psychologist or therapist, so I can only speak in terms of his behavior that I witnessed, and what I’ve read about, and what I’ve observed in others.

With many of the major personalities or other mental illnesses, there are compulsive behaviors. I certainly witnessed these in Mark. Compulsive cheating…compulsive spending. He even shoplifted a few times when I was with him. One time it was just a bottle of tobasco sauce, and we got to the car when he revealed what he’d done, and he giggled. He also destroyed property in front of younger members of our local group, or acted in other ways that just didn’t make sense.

Later I’d ask him, “What were you thinking?”

And ultimately that dynamic became our relationship. He’d do crazy, destructive things, and I’d berate him like a nagging shrew. I became his mom, not his partner. The more I got on his case about his behavior, ultimately the worse he’d act out. And I kept wanting him to just be logical and make sense and realize what he was doing was wrong, and he wouldn’t.

It’s Not Going to be Logical
And I suppose that’s where I start to come to one of the cruxes of the difficulties with abusive behavior.  A lot of Pagans are talking (via blogs and Facebook) about teaching people what consent means. And that’s great–it is important for each attendee at an event to know they can say No. And it’s important for each attendee to know to respect a No, and in fact, that they need to wait for an enthusiastic Yes.

But none of that fixes the problem of the predators. The predators out there are:

  1. Convinced that they deserve this and are morally in the right, and are deliberately hunting, or
  2. They are in compulsive mode. They aren’t thinking about right and wrong because they are mentally ill. They are not in a headspace where consequence will stop them.

There’s certainly more than those options, but I think those are two big ones.

Temporary Insanity and Consequences
Have you ever actually experienced what’s known as temporary insanity? If you’ve met me, you probably know that I’m about as calm and collected as it gets, particularly when there’s a disaster. Ritual altar on fire? No problem. I can put out the fire and re-center the group without a blip in my blood pressure.

My mom throughout my life has jokingly called me “Mr. Spock” because I can be so calm and logical in the face of complicated disasters. I’m the person who can apply pressure to a wound while calling 9-11 and keeping everyone else calm.

So whenever I read about temporary insanity, I thought it was bullshit. I thought, “There’s never a time when I’m not thinking, when I’m not imagining consequences.”

I mentioned a bit about my mental health decline when I was with Mark, and there were a a couple of memorable moments where he did something so grievous that I did something totally out of character for me. Where I wasn’t thinking about consequence, I was just acting.

If you haven’t experienced that moment where consequence just disappears, I can’t explain it to you. And for myself, I’ve only experienced it in the briefest moments and even then, I’ve usually taken that step back and said, whoa. That’s nuts. I can’t do that.

However, I think it’s important to understand the idea that there are people–at least in certain moments–who are not bound by consequences or logic. To understand that when we’re talking about pedophiles, sociopaths, alcoholics, abusers, or people with other specific mental illnesses, we’re often talking about folks who are not thinking about what they are doing, or they don’t care.

I’m not talking about, “I was drunk, it wasn’t my fault.”

Compulsive
I’m talking about compulsive behavior where–in that moment–the person is going to seek to meet their need even if it harms someone. It might be an addiction to a substance, like alcohol. It might be a particular behavior. And it might be the compulsion to flirt with someone until it gets harassing, because they are so desperate to be wanted and loved. And that compulsion might also include sexual abuse of minors. Some people–for a variety of reasons–have specific compulsive tendencies.

Particularly sex offenders against children, who have a ruthlessly high rate of recidivism (return to the behavior.)

Please don’t read what I’m writing as an apology for their behavior. What I’m trying to do is offer some context for why it happens–because, people often shake their heads and ask that. Why? How can someone hurt someone else like that? How can someone abuse their spouse, their child?

Logical People
I experience that sane, rational, logical people expect other people to behave like themselves. So on the various comments on blogs and Facebook posts when people are talking about the Kenny Klein issue, they are talking about a number of strategies that are useful for sane, rational people.

There are folks who are socially awkward, and we can work with them to say, “No, that’s not appropriate.” We can work with folks to explain consent culture, and I think that’s all worthwhile.

However, that still doesn’t protect us from the predators who either believe that there’s nothing wrong with what they are doing, or, who are acting in a compulsive way.

The Pendulum Swing, or, “Baby I’m Sorry, I’ll Change
Raise your hand if you’ve heard that one before. “Baby, I’ll get better. I’ll go to therapy.” “I’ll go to ____ anonymous.” “I’ll never do it again, I swear.” “I got you some flowers.”

Often an abuser goes in and out of the bad behavior, which is what keeps their partner in the destructive cycle. I’ve been there, I have a one hell of a t-shirt. With Mark, he would promise to be better. He’d go to therapy, or to sex addicts anonymous. For a while it would be better…and then he’s start cheating again. Or other things.

There were the times that I really should have left him. (Should is such a damning word.)

But I caught enough self awareness from him that I stayed. He was aware he’d screwed up. He hated himself for it. He’d break down crying, he’d promise to be better, I’d promise to help him.

And this, ultimately, is what breaks my heart. Mark would be an amazing resource for the Pagan community, if he didn’t ultimately always swing back to the damaging behavior. I watched him do it with me, I watched him do it with women he dated after me. And, as the stories trickled in, I realized he’d been preying on a lot more women than I ever expected.

Enabling
My own shame around this is that I enabled his behavior. I bought into his “I’ll get better” and kept bringing him along to the hunting grounds for his predatory behavior. I helped him get his first teaching gigs; I’d bring him along when I was invited to teach out of town. I helped him to run a group in Chicago, and later, empowered him as a leader of my group Ringing Anvil.

At the end, I can honestly say I was not right in the head. I was stuck in the headspace of, “If I break up with Mark, I’ll be alone forever.” And those words don’t really do justice to the state of depression I was in. I literally couldn’t imagine how I’d go on if I was alone.

I made his behavior ok by continuing to run events with him, by continuing to co-teach with him.

Literally the night before he and I were scheduled to drive down to Louisville to be headliners at a festival, he introduced me to the woman he had started a relationship with and demanded that I agree to polyamory.

I spilled coffee in his lap and went home (one of those temporary insanity moments). He didn’t come back that night but the other girl dumped him when she found out she’d been lied to. In the morning, he came home, and I agreed to bring him with me to Louisville.

At the time, I thought I was putting on my professional hat. I thought that a professional should suck it up and go do a good job and not let personal stuff get in the way. And largely that’s true. In this case, if I’d been looking at his behavior from the angle of “Mark is a predator,” I would have perhaps more clearly seen that I was just bringing him to the hunting grounds and keeping him in a position of power that he could use to exploit others.

In fact–and I couldn’t even make this stuff up if I tried–after he left me, Mark began a relationship with the woman who coordinated that particular festival, among other people. He also began a relationship with a woman he’d met when we taught at a Pagan student conference, and then dumped her after revealing that he’d been cheating on her with another Pagan in Michigan that he met under the auspices of her being his student.

So, it’s not just me making this stuff up. There really is a pattern to his behavior.

What’s Abuse? What Do We Do With Abusers?
When Mark left, I opted to just make a public announcement on my Facebook about what had happened. There wasn’t any way around Facebook not announcing “Shauna is now Single,” and I thought, I’m going to be telling this story anyways, I should just be public about it, particularly as I began to understand the full scope of his abuse and his theft.

After he left, I discovered that Mark had arranged for several teaching engagements with various festivals. Some were festivals where I originally had introduced him to the organizers. And I was torn. Do I contact them and “warn” them? 

In my experience, nobody listens to that, and I’d just get branded as “the crazy ex with sour grapes.” I tried to take a stance of being very public about what Mark did to me–and later as things came out, about what he did to other women–but I only opted to contact one festival organizer whom I knew well to let her know what had happened before.

In her case, she’d been duped by another Pagan/Occult teacher and it broke her group apart in the past. Though, ironically, not only did she not ban Mark as a teacher, she let him live with her for a time, though I understand he’s currently banned from her land and events for something he did.

Organizers Turn a Blind Eye
One or two festival organizers reached out to me to ask for details on what Mark had done and promised to keep an eye on him, but that was it.

Ultimately, Mark is reflective of the problem in our community that created a hunting ground for Kenny Klein.

I’ve heard over and over the excuses that what Mark did is just he said/she said, or, it’s “just” domestic abuse. Or what several festival organizers have told me, “If I kick him out then I’m taking sides in your domestic squabble.”

And here’s where we start to run into some real gray area, because we have to ask, what is abuse? What behavior is acceptable in our leaders?

When you hire a Pagan teacher, publish a Pagan author, what are you promoting? What behavior are you making ok? If you know about things they have done and hire them anyways, what are you enabling?

Abusive Leaders and Victim Blaming
I know of tons of Pagan leaders who are verbally and emotionally abusive. They aren’t predators, aren’t rapists, but they sure are assholes, and we sure do keep empowering them to lead groups or sell books. Some are a shade more dangerous than that. Still others use their position as teachers to get laid. And to be sure, there are more child molesters out there waiting to be found. 

We have a culture in the Pagan community of wanting everything to be free. Sex is cool, sex should be fun for everyone, we should all be free. We are all seekers of spiritual truth, we shouldn’t kick anyone out. Except…we are a breeding ground for bad behavior.

We don’t listen to our victims. We dismiss it as, “Surely you are overreacting.” “You must have been mistaken.” Kenny Klein’s victims have been coming forward in the form of people who were teenagers at the time at festivals he was at, his ex wife, and his children. Not only were his ex wife and children not believed by local festival and community organizers–they were basically excommunicated.

We need to start listening to our victims and taking their complaints seriously.

But Not Pagan Homeland Security
Nor do I advocate that we kick every person out for every single complaint. To be quite frank, those of us who travel and teach acquire our own set of stalkers and weirdos. I’ve had to block a few people on Facebook who wanted me to come out and live with them or other weird creepy stuff, and when you cut off a stalker, there’s pushback. I hear this from many Pagan authors, and from a number of group leaders–people make up some crazy accusations when you turn them down.

And there’s this other problem we have in the Pagan community. I won’t go into the complexities of why, but we do have a lot of professional victims out there who, when they don’t get what they want, accuse a group leader of sexually assaulting them or of being a pedophile or other various accusations.

Having heard about and witnessed (or been involved in) a number of Pagan disputes, let me just sum it up by saying, it can get really fucked up. And determining who the actual victim is can be like sorting a ball of yarn after a cat got at it.

What Next?
What is clear is that we have some real problems in the Pagan community around abusive behavior. And, they aren’t easy problems to solve, which is–I think–part of why we often give up. It’s also a really uncomfortable set of topics, because it basically means that victims have to come forward and share their stories and relive what they went through. 

I’ve been going through it myself, particularly since my own abuser, Mark, opted to contact me and tell me he was sorry I felt the need to keep talking about what happened. And that he forgave me.

While that still has me wanting to vomit, I am reading stories online or hearing people share with me one-on-one from other people sharing their stories of molestation, rape, and other abuse. So yeah…we have a problem.

As always, I am an optimist. I believe we can be better. And in part 2 (because this got far longer than I planned on) I’ll outline a few thoughts on what might help us, as a community, to build a healthier community for the future.

 

 


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community

Announcing Pagan Leadership Anthology through Immanion Press

3398838_xlI’m very excited to announce that I will be editing an anthology for Immanion Press with Taylor Ellwood on Pagan Leadership. Below is the call for writers.

Call for papers for Pagan Leadership: An Anthology on Group Dynamics, Healthy Boundaries, and Community Activism.

 

Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press (Stafford, U.K./Portland, OR, U.S.A) is seeking submissions for Pagan Leadership: An anthology on Group Dynamics, Healthy Boundaries, and Community Activism

 

Deadline for submissions: September 1 2014.

The words “Pagan Leadership” are often met with scorn and tales of failed groups and so-called Witch Wars. And yet, as our communities grow and mature, we find ourselves in dire need of healthy, ethical leaders. Anyone who has been in a group that said, “Let’s just not have any leaders or power issues,” has seen what doesn’t work. But what does?

This anthology will explore leadership for real Pagans and real groups. We’re looking for essays and articles that detail leadership success stories, best practices, and ways you have worked through challenges and obstacles. Our specific focus is on techniques to help Pagans build healthier, stronger, and more sustainable groups and communities. We’d like to see a combination of hands-on how-to, personally-inspired, and academic pieces that will offer readers tools they can use in their own groups.

What resources do you have now that you wish you’d had when you stepped into leadership? What problems have you faced and overcome? How have you faced the unique difficulties of grassroots Pagan leadership? What are tools and techniques that have worked? Essays and articles should be 1500-4,000 words.

We’re also looking for brief (500-1000 words) personal stories of what we might call leadership disasters—community blow-ups that you’ve personally witnessed or even mistakes you’ve made as a leader. With few exceptions, these would be published anonymously (not naming names/locations) in order to illustrate, through the personal voice of storytelling, the need for leadership education through the power of storytelling. These stories do not need to be formally written; they should simply tell a story about problems you experienced that caused a group to blow up. Note: We prefer shorter pieces for this, but up to 2,000 words might work.

What we are not looking for:

We are not looking for spells or rituals. We’d also prefer to not see generalized advice, like “leaders should delegate,” but rather, “Here’s how I learned to delegate in my group” or “here’s how a team I was part of successfully handled delegation.”

Here are some suggested topics to give you an idea of the focus of this anthology:

  • Planning a successful Pagan event, or running a successful coven or circle, or—how those involve different leadership processes
  • Skills to build community from the ground up, and skills to sustain a community long-term
  • Organizational leadership techniques
  • Transformational leadership and servant leadership
  • Experiences with Pagan unity councils or other collaborative work between groups
  • Dealing with local Pagan politics, including dealing with difficult, mentally ill, or abusive local leaders
  • Dealing with difficult and disruptive group members, spotting predatory practices, red flags
  • Gossip, bickering, rumors, and triangulation, ego and egotism, conflict resolution and personality conflicts
  • Communication skills and techniques
  • Personal work and self transformation required to be a leader, boundaries, dealing with personal burnout
  • Administrative aspects of leadership, leadership structures like bylaws, mission statements
  • Handling money in your group
  • Ethics of leadership
  • Delegation and dealing with volunteers dropping the ball
  • Keeping people motivated, empowering group members and new leaders, passing on the reigns of leadership
  • Creating a safe space
  • Different leadership models (consensus, hierarchy, rotating leadership, democracy)
  • Facing a leadership disaster/crisis

Submission Deadline is September 1st. Articles should be 1500-4000 words, although if your work falls outside those limits, do submit it – we can discuss this during the editing process. Personal experience essays should be 300-2,000 words. Drop us an email if you are unsure whether your idea fits into the content. The sooner you start the communication process the better, as after the deadline we won’t be considering additional ideas.

Do write in your voice! If you’re academically inclined or trained, feel free to be as intelligent and technical as you like, and writing in the first person is fine as well. These drafts will be edited in a back-and-forth process with the editor. If your essay is not accepted for the anthology, we will tell you after the first round of edits.

E-mail for inquiries and submissions: ShaunaAura@gmail.com
Please put “Immanion Press Leadership Anthology Submission” in your subject line.

Essay requirements:

Compensation:

Accepted contributors will receive a free copy of the anthology when it is published and additional copies sold at 40% off the cover price to contributors. All contributors will be provided with a contract upon final acceptance of their essays.

Rights:

This anthology will take nonexclusive first world rights for 6 months.

Editors: The anthology will be edited by Shauna Aura Knight and Taylor Ellwood:

Shauna Aura Knight is an artist, author, community leader, presenter, and spiritual seeker who travels nationally speaking on the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. She is the author of several books including The Leader Within and Ritual Facilitation. She’s a columnist on ritual techniques for Circle Magazine and writes frequent articles and blogs on the topic of Pagan leadership, and her writing also appears in several Pagan anthologies. You can find her site at: http://www.shaunaauraknight.com/books  and her leadership blog at: https://shaunaaura.wordpress.com and her email address for this anthology is ShaunaAura@gmail.com

Taylor Ellwood is the author of Pop Culture Magick, Magical Identity, and other books on magic. He is also the managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press. He can be found online at http://www.magicalexperiments.com

Immanion Press is a small independent press based in the United Kingdom. Founded by author Storm Constantine, it expanded into occult nonfiction in 2004 with the publication of Taylor Ellwood’s Pop Culture Magick. Today, Immanion’s nonfiction line, under the Megalithica Books imprint, has a growing reputation for edgy, experimental texts on primarily intermediate and advanced pagan and occult topics. Find out more at http://www.immanion-press.com.

- See more at: http://www.magicalexperiments.com/blog/#sthash.RiBZEQGi.dpuf


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Announcing Pagan Leadership Anthology through Immanion Press

3398838_xlI’m very excited to announce that I will be editing an anthology for Immanion Press with Taylor Ellwood on Pagan Leadership. Below is the call for writers.

Call for papers for Pagan Leadership: An Anthology on Group Dynamics, Healthy Boundaries, and Community Activism.

 

Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press (Stafford, U.K./Portland, OR, U.S.A) is seeking submissions for Pagan Leadership: An anthology on Group Dynamics, Healthy Boundaries, and Community Activism

 

Deadline for submissions: September 1 2014.

The words “Pagan Leadership” are often met with scorn and tales of failed groups and so-called Witch Wars. And yet, as our communities grow and mature, we find ourselves in dire need of healthy, ethical leaders. Anyone who has been in a group that said, “Let’s just not have any leaders or power issues,” has seen what doesn’t work. But what does?

This anthology will explore leadership for real Pagans and real groups. We’re looking for essays and articles that detail leadership success stories, best practices, and ways you have worked through challenges and obstacles. Our specific focus is on techniques to help Pagans build healthier, stronger, and more sustainable groups and communities. We’d like to see a combination of hands-on how-to, personally-inspired, and academic pieces that will offer readers tools they can use in their own groups.

What resources do you have now that you wish you’d had when you stepped into leadership? What problems have you faced and overcome? How have you faced the unique difficulties of grassroots Pagan leadership? What are tools and techniques that have worked? Essays and articles should be 1500-4,000 words.

We’re also looking for brief (500-1000 words) personal stories of what we might call leadership disasters—community blow-ups that you’ve personally witnessed or even mistakes you’ve made as a leader. With few exceptions, these would be published anonymously (not naming names/locations) in order to illustrate, through the personal voice of storytelling, the need for leadership education through the power of storytelling. These stories do not need to be formally written; they should simply tell a story about problems you experienced that caused a group to blow up. Note: We prefer shorter pieces for this, but up to 2,000 words might work.

What we are not looking for:

We are not looking for spells or rituals. We’d also prefer to not see generalized advice, like “leaders should delegate,” but rather, “Here’s how I learned to delegate in my group” or “here’s how a team I was part of successfully handled delegation.”

Here are some suggested topics to give you an idea of the focus of this anthology:

  • Planning a successful Pagan event, or running a successful coven or circle, or—how those involve different leadership processes
  • Skills to build community from the ground up, and skills to sustain a community long-term
  • Organizational leadership techniques
  • Transformational leadership and servant leadership
  • Experiences with Pagan unity councils or other collaborative work between groups
  • Dealing with local Pagan politics, including dealing with difficult, mentally ill, or abusive local leaders
  • Dealing with difficult and disruptive group members, spotting predatory practices, red flags
  • Gossip, bickering, rumors, and triangulation, ego and egotism, conflict resolution and personality conflicts
  • Communication skills and techniques
  • Personal work and self transformation required to be a leader, boundaries, dealing with personal burnout
  • Administrative aspects of leadership, leadership structures like bylaws, mission statements
  • Handling money in your group
  • Ethics of leadership
  • Delegation and dealing with volunteers dropping the ball
  • Keeping people motivated, empowering group members and new leaders, passing on the reigns of leadership
  • Creating a safe space
  • Different leadership models (consensus, hierarchy, rotating leadership, democracy)
  • Facing a leadership disaster/crisis

Submission Deadline is September 1st. Articles should be 1500-4000 words, although if your work falls outside those limits, do submit it – we can discuss this during the editing process. Personal experience essays should be 300-2,000 words. Drop us an email if you are unsure whether your idea fits into the content. The sooner you start the communication process the better, as after the deadline we won’t be considering additional ideas.

Do write in your voice! If you’re academically inclined or trained, feel free to be as intelligent and technical as you like, and writing in the first person is fine as well. These drafts will be edited in a back-and-forth process with the editor. If your essay is not accepted for the anthology, we will tell you after the first round of edits.

E-mail for inquiries and submissions: ShaunaAura@gmail.com
Please put “Immanion Press Leadership Anthology Submission” in your subject line.

Essay requirements:

Compensation:

Accepted contributors will receive a free copy of the anthology when it is published and additional copies sold at 40% off the cover price to contributors. All contributors will be provided with a contract upon final acceptance of their essays.

Rights:

This anthology will take nonexclusive first world rights for 6 months.

Editors: The anthology will be edited by Shauna Aura Knight and Taylor Ellwood:

Shauna Aura Knight is an artist, author, community leader, presenter, and spiritual seeker who travels nationally speaking on the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. She is the author of several books including The Leader Within and Ritual Facilitation. She’s a columnist on ritual techniques for Circle Magazine and writes frequent articles and blogs on the topic of Pagan leadership, and her writing also appears in several Pagan anthologies. You can find her site at: http://www.shaunaauraknight.com/books  and her leadership blog at: http://shaunaaura.wordpress.com and her email address for this anthology is ShaunaAura@gmail.com

Taylor Ellwood is the author of Pop Culture Magick, Magical Identity, and other books on magic. He is also the managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press. He can be found online at http://www.magicalexperiments.com

Immanion Press is a small independent press based in the United Kingdom. Founded by author Storm Constantine, it expanded into occult nonfiction in 2004 with the publication of Taylor Ellwood’s Pop Culture Magick. Today, Immanion’s nonfiction line, under the Megalithica Books imprint, has a growing reputation for edgy, experimental texts on primarily intermediate and advanced pagan and occult topics. Find out more at http://www.immanion-press.com.

- See more at: http://www.magicalexperiments.com/blog/#sthash.RiBZEQGi.dpuf


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Pagan Infrastructure: Fundraising Challenges We Face

4502486_xlIt’s probably pretty obvious that I’m in support of Pagan infrastructure, whether that’s seminary/clergy training, leadership training, physical sacred land, or other Pagan organizations.

My own 5-10-year plan is to have land of my own outside of Chicago; a seminary/monastery/temple/farm/cooperative living space. I want to help offer leadership training to Pagans who are looking for that, as well as have self-sustaining land.

But there’s a few challenges to building that infrastructure, and to fundraising for that. Some challenges are easier to overcome than others.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sustainability in the past years as I’ve worked to create an organization focused on offering Pagan leadership training to bring forward what I learned at Diana’s Grove and other places.

As I post this, I’m in the final hours of my fundraiser on Indiegogo. I’ve become aware in the past months that I can’t keep going traveling and teaching the way that I have. It’s not financially sustainable for me. And yet, I feel strongly that Pagans need the infrastructure of more leadership training, Pagans need access to it, but therein lies one of the conundrums. There are many infrastructures that I think Pagans really want–and that our communities really need as we move forward–but there’s a few things in our way.

————————————————————

First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

——————————————————————–

I’ve worked to observe the Pagan community and try to deconstruct some of the less-useful statements like “All Pagans are broke” and look at what’s going on beneath the surface. Here are some of the challenges in the way of building infrastructures for the Pagan community, and thus, challenges to fundraising.

  1. Pagans are often anti-establishment and resistant to donating money, especially Pagans who converted from one of the dominant religions. (Though, Pagans are just as susceptible to capitalism as anyone else and will pay for “shiny” things/events.)
  2. Pagans are often counterculture and creative types  which seems to result in less Pagans having higher-paying jobs, or, Pagans who are more adversely affected by the crappy economy. We have a lot of artists, creatives, and dreamers, and typically folks like this take lower-paying jobs or are more adversely affected by an economic downturn.
  3. A lot of Pagan leaders and groups out there have screwed up with money in the past, making it difficult for Pagans to want to donate to them, or to other groups. A group in Michigan dissolved after decades of work raising 25K for land which was embezzled by a board member with catastrophic medical expenses.
  4. Many Pagan leaders don’t have the business/not-for-profit management skills to manage an organization and make it financially sound. In fact those skills take money to gain, so it’s a catch-22. I’ll tell you this–if I had the money to go back to school, I’d finish up my bachelors and get a certificate in NFP management.
  5. Numbers. We’re perhap 1/2 of 1% of the population or less. So the population size that many of the dominant religions pull get tithes/donations from for tithes isn’t feasible for a Pagan group just because of numbers.
  6. Diverse traditions. Just because there are maybe a few thousand Pagans in all of Chicagoland, doesn’t mean all of them follow my tradition or your tradition or any of the traditions represented by a local group. In fact, there are dozens and dozens if not hundreds of specific traditions–someone might be the only Hellenic or Celtic Reconstructionist in a hundred miles.

All of these factors–and more–add up to why it’s difficult to build Pagan infrastructure. Not impossible, just an uphill struggle.

We can do it by solving problems on both ends of the spectrum–the problematic leadership issues, and, the Pagans who feel they shouldn’t have to pay for anything. I think there are a number of factors that could shift the balance in fundraising:

  1. Strong, healthy organizations that are vocal–we need some organizations that don’t have a back history of disgruntlement to step forward and do great work and have clear, clean books. And, perhaps as well, longer-term orgs who may have made mistakes but who have worked to correct those, and there’s a few orgs that could fall into that category. Basically, we need some “poster” organizations, some flagships, to say, “See, an ethically-run NFP can do a good job with your money, and here’s how they did it.”
  2. Continue developing Pagan interest in philanthropy. This one’s harder, and requires Pagans to see the value in donating to the orgs out there doing work. But, #1 helps with this. Focusing on the needs of Pagans is another way–ie, making a strong connection between, this is your money, and this is what your money buys in terms of Pagan services.

What does the future look like?
There are some really amazing possibilities and resources out there. There are some Pagans doing things that are already providing resources for our communities, like Circle Sanctuary, that does a lot of Pagan advocacy. Cherry Hill, that is a non-tradition-specific Pagan seminary providing tools and skills including pastoral counseling, among other things. There’s the new organization, the Pantheon Foundation, that launched at PantheaCon this year, that will offer fiscal sponsorship to smaller Pagan groups that don’t have the resources to get a 501C3 designation on their own, among other things. There’s The Wild Hunt blog, which is a news outlet for Pagans about news within the community, as well as an aggregator about Pagans in the news.

There are a lot of other resources out there. There are success stories and there are failures. There are many Pagans who have tried to create a local Pagan community center, or who have bought Pagan land. Some have been successful, some have not. Any group out there that organized a Pagan Pride event or other small festival probably had to raise money somehow to make that happen, or at least marshall volunteer forces.

The one thing that is consistent in all of this, however, is that these organizations need money to do the work they do. And that’s for various reasons and doesn’t at all have to do with largesse and mismanagement of resources. It takes money to build infrastructure. It takes volunteers to build infrastructure. It takes professionals to build infrastructure. 

We can have some amazing resources as a community if we work together. Some of the problems we face don’t have easy solutions, but if there is one strength to the Pagan community, it’s that we’ve always done a lot with a little. We know how to stretch our resources. We know how to be creative.

I’m an optimist. I’m excited for what we can do together. On Wednesday, I’ll be announcing a call for writing submissions on an anthology for Pagan leadership through Immanion Press, and I’d love to hear of some of the success stories out there. I’d love to be able to talk about the things we’ve done, and what we can do together if we put our collective brilliance to it.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: community, community building, impact, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, pagans, structure, sustainability, sustainable

Pagan Infrastructure: Fundraising Challenges We Face

4502486_xlIt’s probably pretty obvious that I’m in support of Pagan infrastructure, whether that’s seminary/clergy training, leadership training, physical sacred land, or other Pagan organizations.

My own 5-10-year plan is to have land of my own outside of Chicago; a seminary/monastery/temple/farm/cooperative living space. I want to help offer leadership training to Pagans who are looking for that, as well as have self-sustaining land.

But there’s a few challenges to building that infrastructure, and to fundraising for that. Some challenges are easier to overcome than others.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sustainability in the past years as I’ve worked to create an organization focused on offering Pagan leadership training to bring forward what I learned at Diana’s Grove and other places.

As I post this, I’m in the final hours of my fundraiser on Indiegogo. I’ve become aware in the past months that I can’t keep going traveling and teaching the way that I have. It’s not financially sustainable for me. And yet, I feel strongly that Pagans need the infrastructure of more leadership training, Pagans need access to it, but therein lies one of the conundrums. There are many infrastructures that I think Pagans really want–and that our communities really need as we move forward–but there’s a few things in our way.

————————————————————

First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work.  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/

——————————————————————–

I’ve worked to observe the Pagan community and try to deconstruct some of the less-useful statements like “All Pagans are broke” and look at what’s going on beneath the surface. Here are some of the challenges in the way of building infrastructures for the Pagan community, and thus, challenges to fundraising.

  1. Pagans are often anti-establishment and resistant to donating money, especially Pagans who converted from one of the dominant religions. (Though, Pagans are just as susceptible to capitalism as anyone else and will pay for “shiny” things/events.)
  2. Pagans are often counterculture and creative types  which seems to result in less Pagans having higher-paying jobs, or, Pagans who are more adversely affected by the crappy economy. We have a lot of artists, creatives, and dreamers, and typically folks like this take lower-paying jobs or are more adversely affected by an economic downturn.
  3. A lot of Pagan leaders and groups out there have screwed up with money in the past, making it difficult for Pagans to want to donate to them, or to other groups. A group in Michigan dissolved after decades of work raising 25K for land which was embezzled by a board member with catastrophic medical expenses.
  4. Many Pagan leaders don’t have the business/not-for-profit management skills to manage an organization and make it financially sound. In fact those skills take money to gain, so it’s a catch-22. I’ll tell you this–if I had the money to go back to school, I’d finish up my bachelors and get a certificate in NFP management.
  5. Numbers. We’re perhap 1/2 of 1% of the population or less. So the population size that many of the dominant religions pull get tithes/donations from for tithes isn’t feasible for a Pagan group just because of numbers.
  6. Diverse traditions. Just because there are maybe a few thousand Pagans in all of Chicagoland, doesn’t mean all of them follow my tradition or your tradition or any of the traditions represented by a local group. In fact, there are dozens and dozens if not hundreds of specific traditions–someone might be the only Hellenic or Celtic Reconstructionist in a hundred miles.

All of these factors–and more–add up to why it’s difficult to build Pagan infrastructure. Not impossible, just an uphill struggle.

We can do it by solving problems on both ends of the spectrum–the problematic leadership issues, and, the Pagans who feel they shouldn’t have to pay for anything. I think there are a number of factors that could shift the balance in fundraising:

  1. Strong, healthy organizations that are vocal–we need some organizations that don’t have a back history of disgruntlement to step forward and do great work and have clear, clean books. And, perhaps as well, longer-term orgs who may have made mistakes but who have worked to correct those, and there’s a few orgs that could fall into that category. Basically, we need some “poster” organizations, some flagships, to say, “See, an ethically-run NFP can do a good job with your money, and here’s how they did it.”
  2. Continue developing Pagan interest in philanthropy. This one’s harder, and requires Pagans to see the value in donating to the orgs out there doing work. But, #1 helps with this. Focusing on the needs of Pagans is another way–ie, making a strong connection between, this is your money, and this is what your money buys in terms of Pagan services.

What does the future look like?
There are some really amazing possibilities and resources out there. There are some Pagans doing things that are already providing resources for our communities, like Circle Sanctuary, that does a lot of Pagan advocacy. Cherry Hill, that is a non-tradition-specific Pagan seminary providing tools and skills including pastoral counseling, among other things. There’s the new organization, the Pantheon Foundation, that launched at PantheaCon this year, that will offer fiscal sponsorship to smaller Pagan groups that don’t have the resources to get a 501C3 designation on their own, among other things. There’s The Wild Hunt blog, which is a news outlet for Pagans about news within the community, as well as an aggregator about Pagans in the news.

There are a lot of other resources out there. There are success stories and there are failures. There are many Pagans who have tried to create a local Pagan community center, or who have bought Pagan land. Some have been successful, some have not. Any group out there that organized a Pagan Pride event or other small festival probably had to raise money somehow to make that happen, or at least marshall volunteer forces.

The one thing that is consistent in all of this, however, is that these organizations need money to do the work they do. And that’s for various reasons and doesn’t at all have to do with largesse and mismanagement of resources. It takes money to build infrastructure. It takes volunteers to build infrastructure. It takes professionals to build infrastructure. 

We can have some amazing resources as a community if we work together. Some of the problems we face don’t have easy solutions, but if there is one strength to the Pagan community, it’s that we’ve always done a lot with a little. We know how to stretch our resources. We know how to be creative.

I’m an optimist. I’m excited for what we can do together. On Wednesday, I’ll be announcing a call for writing submissions on an anthology for Pagan leadership through Immanion Press, and I’d love to hear of some of the success stories out there. I’d love to be able to talk about the things we’ve done, and what we can do together if we put our collective brilliance to it.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: community, community building, impact, leadership, Pagan community, Paganism, pagans, structure, sustainability, sustainable