Charlie’s Patterns (Part 1 of 2)

Charlie’s Patterns Part 1

A Table of Contents for all posts by Charlie’s pod, including the dates each article was published and a brief description of the contents of each post, can be found here.

(This post was written by the accountability pod members and primary consultant in collaboration with a ghost writer. This is the first part of the post, and you can read the second part in Charlie’s Patterns Part 2.)

Through our narrative collection form, reports from community members, and observations by pod members and the consultant (here referred to as the “team” for brevity), the team has identified and addressed — to varying degrees of success — several problematic patterns in Charlie’s behavior. Some of the at-length examples given here are focused on more recent instances of the patterns and what we have consent to share. For more details about the original harms that prompted this process and accounts from those harmed parties, please read Narrative Collection — Summary of Harms.

Here, we will describe:

  • What patterns have been identified
  • Some examples — note, this is not an exhaustive list — of how these patterns have come up in the reports of those harmed by Charlie and in his accountability process
  • How we’ve worked with him to practice better behaviors
  • Where he is with this work now*
  • And how others in his community can better detect and address these patterns**

*For where Charlie is at now, we can only speak to what we have seen and experienced, and we acknowledge that change and healing are not linear. Charlie’s patterns have shown up in professional settings, his social circles, his intimate relationships, and the accountability work itself, and it’s possible that Charlie’s changes will vary or be harder to uphold in different settings. This is why we explicitly encourage ongoing attention to this document and community engagement around support and reducing harm.

**None of these suggestions for the community should be interpreted as absolving Charlie of responsibility or putting the onus on others. These suggestions come from the knowledge that we all have duties to help create safe communities and that there are always multiple points of possible intervention. We would also like to note that in no way are we suggesting community members are obligated to follow the suggestions for interacting with Charlie. We encourage individuals to take stock of their capacities for this kind of engagement and their level of investment in the relationship with Charlie.

Content Warning: While all identifying details have been omitted, the following post includes examples of inappropriate, manipulative, abusive behaviors, as well as themes of sexual manipulation.

Pattern 1: Boundary violations

Behaviors: Blatantly disregarding boundaries, repeatedly demanding that others justify their boundaries to an undefined level of specificity before honoring asks, exploiting loopholes in others’ boundaries, assuming actions are OK based solely on the absence of a “no,” exhibiting poor professional boundaries around sexual contact, making unreasonable demands of others.

How this pattern has shown up: Harmed individuals have reported Charlie ignoring requests not to contact them, going so far as to triangulate others to contact folks on his behalf (see here for a definition of triangulation) or get personal email information from organizations to contact those who blocked him on social media. People have also described him propositioning, flirting with, and hitting on colleagues and students, disregarding or failing to attend to the boundaries of people he works with, sharing personal information about others, and using his and others’ previous sexual relationships with colleagues to justify his boundary violations.

Charlie’s difficulties with respecting boundaries have also shown up in his accountability work. For example, after the team has asked Charlie to refrain from editing or commenting in certain shared Google docs, he has done so anyway. He has also sent emails with a demanding tone and followed up on those emails to pod members within short time frames, creating unnecessary urgency without regard for the needs and communication norms of the team. This also connects to patterns of overloading others with information discussed under Pattern 2.

Work done around this pattern: In January 2018, before he started to recruit his accountability pod, Charlie stepped back from all sexual interactions with anyone other than his primary partner. While he was initially motivated by self-protection, Charlie was eventually able to view this decision as an opportunity to focus his attention on his accountability work, which included identifying and addressing the underlying reasons for his past boundary violations. In Charlie’s own reflections on this matter, he writes, “Since my motivation was to slow my system down, I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of removing myself from situations in which I was harming folks. I was doing it to protect myself. … It took me a bit to shift my lens for this. I needed to move from looking at it as a question of self-regulation and my window of tolerance so that I could also see it as an issue of leadership and privilege.” During this time, he maintained an emotional and relational connection with two of his prior partners, and they resumed their sexual dynamics in April 2019. He has committed to not engage with any new partners until after his accountability process is complete.

The team has spoken to Charlie at length about the power dynamics that come with leadership, making him aware of (or challenging his preexisting understandings of) factors such as his professional standing, gender, race, age, and socioeconomic class that give him power and/or feelings of entitlement over others and complicate sexual and professional interactions. We also discussed his downplaying of certain power imbalances when they benefited his aims and evasive definitions of teaching and speaking (described under Pattern 3 in Part 2). Lastly, we helped him understand how to better uphold others’ autonomy and level the playing field when there is such a power imbalance.

As a result of this work, Charlie wrote up personal and professional consent guidelines; the professional policy can be read here and will be updated on a regular basis and shared with clients during his onboarding process. Team members have also pointed out when Charlie has been pushy in his communications and invited him to pause, examine the needs and motivations underlying his urgency, and demonstrate respect for others’ boundaries and timelines. This is a place where Charlie’s personal somatic and therapy work was also referenced by both him and the team, so he could use pre-existing tools (and ones he gained while in this process) to better regulate his own agitation and urgency.

Where he is now: Charlie’s accountability work has improved his ability to put himself in others’ shoes and understand (or at least be curious about instead of assuming) what boundaries they may have and why, rather than centering himself in his interactions. To get to this point, he has learned to better recognize his own defensiveness when it comes up and better refrain from knee-jerk acting from that place.

In his communications with the team, he has demonstrated an improved ability to reflect on and, when appropriate, articulate his underlying needs, instead of imposing a climate of reactive urgency. We have also seen him intervene after reacting with urgency and, with less lag-time than before, acknowledge what was happening and walk it back. That said, while all this work relates to boundaries as a whole, we acknowledge we haven’t as a team been able to witness or evaluate as much in the arena of inappropriate flirting/hitting on colleagues — especially during a pandemic that has reduced availability of spaces where this would otherwise be a concern. Additionally, it’s noteworthy that Charlie’s gains in this arena are challenged or strained at times when he is moving on autopilot and isn’t engaging as mindfully, because these newer healthy behaviors are less entrenched.

In an effort to disrupt these patterns of boundary violation, Charlie has committed to evaluating his levels of activation and excitement when he’s attracted to someone, keeping his own power, privilege, and influence — and the other person’s social standing and experience level — in mind, asking questions, and addressing power dynamics, whether overt or nuanced.

His stated plan (as described in the Consent Policy published on Medium and his website) is to not initiate or engage in any sexual interaction (including flirting) with anyone who attends or acts as a demo model for any of his workshops or presentations for at least three months post-event. At the end of that time, if they both agree that they want to pursue a personal relationship, there will be a collaborative conversation about power dynamics and navigating the possibility of transition from the teacher/student or professional relationship to a personal one. This policy applies to workshops, conference presentations, professional trainings, webinars, and all other online and in-person teaching environments. However, it does not apply if someone with whom he has a pre-existing relationship attends one of his workshops or serves as a demo model.

If Charlie makes a connection with someone outside of his professional role and confirms there’s a mutual expression of interest with the person he meets, he has committed to putting any escalation on pause for at least a week. Giving a week allows Charlie and the other person to process and examine any feelings and/or motivations for seeking connection and clarify boundaries before coming back to decide if they collectively want to pursue a sexual relationship.

How the community can address this pattern: Charlie is responsible for learning and respecting others’ boundaries, being aware of power differentials, and naming them. If he’s remiss in doing that, it may be helpful for the person impacted to immediately disengage and/or invite a conversation if they feel able. (To be clear: if the latter does not happen, it doesn’t excuse Charlie disrespecting people’s needs.) This is also where people’s supportive personal connections and community members can step in to name, mediate, or assist. This is also why we support Charlie making the above commitments public and available: so that people can know what to expect from him and so that if/when there are breaches, community members can cite his own commitments back to him and name issues more clearly as well as intervene. We encourage community members to bookmark Charlie’s policies and/or keep personal copies as needed, especially if there are concerns about websites going offline or late additions that may be hard to track.

At its core, the community at large still struggles with naming boundaries and respecting those of others. We suggest that people in contact with Charlie clearly assert their boundaries when possible, which may involve things like using a different communication medium to ensure the boundaries come across safely and clearly, or using the “broken record” technique of repeating a boundary rather than changing it or being compelled to soften it. It may also be helpful to preemptively talk through anything that might complicate consent and boundary negotiation.

Addressing this pattern also falls directly on the leadership within the sex-positive community. We encourage organizations hosting sex-positive events, particularly those involving demonstrations, to have clear policies in place around consent, articulation of boundaries, behavior at post-event get-togethers, and emotional support for those who experience boundary violations, as well as concrete accountability procedures or frameworks for individuals who may have violated boundaries. (The team has cautioned Charlie against working with organizations that don’t have such guidelines and procedures.) Leaders in the sex-positive community will ideally create space to normalize open conversations about boundaries. Charlie has gotten away with what he has, in part, because other leaders have enabled him to disregard or dismiss others’ grievances and reports of harm, so community action is imperative.

This is also where building a better culture of checking in with each other is imperative. When we notice friends, colleagues, or others acting out of alignment with their values, we can practice directly addressing this rather than ignoring or dismissing it. Explicit “buddy systems” in and outside of event settings can also help to encourage more shared responsibility rather than an “everyone-is-an-island” perspective. An individualistic mindset is ableist and ends up causing and enabling more harm, so disrupting that is part of creating safer communities.

The book “Making Spaces Safer” by Shawna Potter has some helpful resources and even draft policies around some of these topics, especially in a broader organizational way, and we encourage people to take a look at it as well.

Finally, awareness, open discussion, and action are key. People in the sex-positive community with social capital, professional standing, and/or privileged social identities have a responsibility to learn about and be more aware of the dynamics of power and oppression that exist within their interactions. That awareness ideally is coupled with open discussions about how these dynamics may impact relationships. Community members with power and social capital can take action to, whenever possible, name and create opportunities to “pass the mic” and prioritize the needs, boundaries, and experiences of marginalized community members.

Pattern 2: Attempts to control the narrative

Behaviors: Trying to define others’ experiences for them, omitting details and providing irrelevant information when discussing his harms, pushing those harmed by his actions toward “closure,” trying to control or influence how he is represented within the team’s public reporting.

How this pattern has shown up: On his blog, Charlie wrote about a former partner’s assault in a way that asserted his interpretation over that person’s own words in naming their experience of assault and the harms they suffered. On social media, he has defended himself in long, detailed posts containing overwhelming amounts of information that make it difficult for people to understand the core issues. He has also demonstrated this pattern in his speech, going on tangents that detract from accusations against him and calls for his accountability. He has at times requested video calls instead of written exchanges, which has, whether unconsciously or intentionally, been a tactic to enable this pattern; people have reported feeling validated by him while on video calls, then getting off the call to realize their issue wasn’t addressed. This is particularly notable because while he provides an abundance of text on his own and uses it a lot to self-process, when it’s a “discussion,” he mentions that it’s hard to stay regulated if he doesn’t have audiovisual cues. This ends up providing him more channels for manipulation and reducing others’ ability to take space or pause. Using calls rather than writing also allows him to avoid having a record of abusive patterns of gaslighting and deflection.

When discussing the behaviors of those who have critiqued him, he has at times done the opposite, over-simplifying or misrepresenting their position in order to bolster his own. For example, Charlie described a colleague’s post, which requested organizational accountability regarding Charlie presenting at a conference, as a “call to boycott” the event and implied it had a wider impact on the conference than it did. In conflicts with others, Charlie sometimes focused on others’ lack of communication (perceived or otherwise) or emotional state, or even his own motivations and reactions, rather than acknowledging the harm he had caused. Through the narrative collection form, we received reports of him gaslighting harmed individuals, ignoring and shutting down calls for accountability, denying abusive behaviors of his until the evidence was irrefutable, deleting digital communications, fabricating details of events, citing his positive relationships with coaching clients to defend himself and dismiss others, and actively working to get others to side with him, which led to the silencing of his former partner.

Within the accountability process itself, he has made requests of the team to delay publicly posting about his harmful behaviors and our efforts to address them. He has also used deflection tactics to avoid informing current and prospective clients of his accountability process. Before difficult conversations about accountability with the team, he has scanned documents in an attempt to plan what to say. When he’s been prompted to explore his intentions behind these behaviors, he uncovered that his motivations were, in large part, self-protective.

Work done around this pattern: The team has reminded Charlie of his own philosophy as a sex educator — to teach in a way people can understand — and urged him to apply this to his own behavior and be transparent with others. We have directly named points of hypocrisy, values misalignment, and double standards in his behavior around these issues. This includes Charlie downplaying his prior knowledge or published work about topics such as trauma, abuse, and gender privilege to make his more recent actions seem more borne from ignorance than intentional control or malice. It also includes Charlie playing up “epiphanies” about his own behavior (more on this and “convenient forgetting” later in the document).

In May 2020, he did reflection work specifically on identifying when his own history with trauma is being triggered or strong emotions are coming up so that he can approach challenging situations mindfully rather than reactively. He became aware that the discomfort of challenging feedback led to a flooding of his nervous system, which in turn led to defensive reactions. We helped him to recognize this emotional discomfort before it snowballs so that he can take a step back. The team created scenarios where Charlie would go into meetings without viewing relevant documents beforehand so that he could learn to respond to difficult information and feedback in the moment and build his resiliency. We also helped him become more aware of how his past experiences of trauma led to a perceived need to control interactions and relationships.

We have challenged Charlie when he has invoked his history of trauma as a way to avoid responsibility for his behavior, and this has been an important throughline in our work. While his own history and traumas are super important and we have explored them at length (and encouraged him to do it in therapy), how important they are in any given situation varies. We named his pattern of derailing conversations about accountability by focusing on his own triggers, rather than others’ experiences, as harmful. Finally, we also named directly and repeatedly that trauma on its own is not to blame for behaviors, and that many of his control strategies were not just about self-protection, but also related to entitlement and desire for outcomes that were favorable to him.

Where he is now: One important skill Charlie learned during this accountability work is how to let people know if he is too emotionally activated to respond properly to feedback and to take space until he can have a mindfully present conversation. The team is seeing fewer attempts on Charlie’s part to control the narrative around his accountability, but there is still work to be done in the way he works with pod members on outward reporting. We are continuing to work with him on questioning his own investment in his ‘rightness’ and challenging his belief in the superiority of his views. However, we have noticed him making more space for feedback without immediately trying to sway someone or convince them that he’s a good person. He is better able to handle the duality of believing that he can be both a good person and a person who has done something harmful. He has also shown a greater ability to communicate in various channels without immediately pushing people toward his own comfort zones, though this remains to be tested in other settings or relationships where there may be less trust or rapport. Much of Charlie’s work in this area came through somatic (i.e. body-based) therapy and healing modalities, with an emphasis on building his internal awareness and learning to regulate his emotions.

How the community can address this pattern: Charlie has worked with the pod and our consultant to identify a team of point-people to support his continued accountability work after our process concludes. The role of these individuals is to connect with community members who have concerns about Charlie’s behaviors and support his continuing work on this and other harmful patterns. Once this team is assembled, we will publish a list of these people and how to contact them.

If a member of Charlie’s community notices him engaging in this pattern, it may be helpful to seek out one of these people — or someone else who has a positive rapport with Charlie — to help bring him into accountability on this issue. At its core, Charlie’s pattern of controlling how other people perceive him connects to his need to create an internal sense of safety. Therefore, offering challenging feedback tends to have the most transformative impact if it’s done within a relationship that already has a solid foundation of trust and safety.

This post is continued in Charlie’s Patterns Part 2.