Naming My Harms
Note from pod: Though it was our original intention to publish this writeup after the reports of harm were summarized and public (and the people who had been harmed were notified), since the latter process has taken longer than initially estimated, we have chosen to publish this first in order to be transparent, outwardly report some of these harms, and offer the public a catalogue of actions to watch for. This post was written by Charlie, and has been reviewed by the members of the pod.
As part of my accountability process, I am naming the specific ways in which I harmed the people and communities I engaged with during 2014–2017, with some additions and updates through 2021 since some of these themes and patterns are still active. I am also describing my defensive reactions. In order to safeguard the confidentiality of the people who I harmed, I am not naming anyone specifically in this document.
Please note that this is an inventory of my actions and is not meant to be an apology to any of the people, communities, or organizations who I harmed or were impacted by what I did. My accountability pod is in communication with the people who reached out to them, as well as the people we identified as having been harmed. Any apologies to the people who want them will be part of a future step.
While I do describe some of the impact of my actions in this post, this is not a full statement about the effects that my behavior had on the people and communities around me. That will be part of a future step in this process. The purpose of this document is to own and name what I did, and to acknowledge them as things for me, my pod, and my communities to be aware of.
My accountability pod has reviewed, commented on, and edited this document. I began writing it in December 2019, and we posted it in March 2021.
CN: descriptions of abuse. Please note that reading this document might be upsetting or triggering for some people.
Ways in Which I Harmed Others
Harms to Individuals
- I gaslit and emotionally abused one of my partners when they were trying to heal from a traumatic consent violation by someone else. I overrode and violated their boundaries. I shared private information about them, and I made up stories to convince other people to agree with my version of events.
- After the relationship ended, I continued to cross my former partner’s boundaries over a span of several months by repeatedly trying to contact them, even though they had told me not to. I also asked others to contact them on my behalf, and I did not inform these people about my former partner’s stated boundary.
- When people tried to talk with me about what I was doing, I interrupted them and used criticism, blame, and verbal attacks to try to limit, control, and manipulate them, in order to avoid hearing what they were saying.
- I presented myself as a victim and I created a version of events that was filtered and curated to support that. I shared it in conversations, online, and in blog posts as if it was an accurate description of my actions and experiences, as well as my former partner’s actions and experiences.
- I triangulated by giving filtered and/or conflicting versions of my actions and the situation to different people.
- I used social media (primarily, my blog and Facebook) to justify and explain away my abusive actions, and to try to garner support.
- I excused and tried to justify my abusive actions, and tried to control the narrative around them.
- I explained away and justified my behavior as trauma reactions without taking responsibility for what I did or the impact it had on other people.
- I deflected attention from the effects of what I did by focusing on how much I was hurting.
- I implicitly and explicitly demanded that the people I harmed attend to my needs, rather than the other way around.
- I asked for and demanded emotional labor and soothing from others, whether or not it was appropriate for the relationship or the situation, sometimes to the point of disrespecting boundaries.
- I made excuses for my behavior and explained my actions away to minimize them and try to make them seem “not so bad.”
- I tone policed people in person, on the phone, and online.
- I used the passive voice, euphemisms, indirect language, and other linguistic dodges, rather than directly naming what I did. For example, I represented my behavior as “acting out” or as “being out of my integrity,” without describing the specifics of my actions.
- I used misdirection and gaslighting to shift attention, and in some conversations, I apologized for something different than what people brought to me as issues. As part of that, I told people that I heard what they were saying, while I actually responded to something else.
- I used my professional standing and experience as a sexuality educator and coach to bolster, justify, and reinforce my defensive positions and claims, both in my public conflicts with my former partner and in my interactions with people and communities online.
- As part of that, I wrote in a Facebook post that I would survey my then-current and past coaching clients to determine whether I had engaged in harmful behavior towards any of them. While I did not follow through on that, I did approach a colleague to ask them to serve as the confidential recipient of any survey responses, I developed the questions that I intended to ask, and I posted them on Facebook in order to “demonstrate” that I was taking the situation seriously.
- These actions had a negative impact on people’s ability to trust my ethical and professional boundaries, and it was an abuse of power because it took advantage of my professional standing to try to make a point.
- I disregarded the power dynamics that come with my privilege and my professional position, and I flirted with colleagues and new professionals who did not feel safe to say no to me. I also used peer pressure to push against people’s boundaries.
- On several occasions, I offered apologies to people who I had harmed, and instead of following through with a genuine apology, I made excuses, gave justifications, and/or apologized for something else.
- After the launch of this accountability process, I did not create a clear and transparent method for informing potential coaching clients about it until a former client contacted my pod to tell them about that omission. By not fully disclosing the extent of my actions, I eroded this person’s trust in me and in the coaching relationship, emotionally harmed them, and hindered their healing.
Harms To My Communities
Since much of this happened online and I had a wide-reaching presence, my actions rippled out into my personal and professional communities.
- When people took sides or defended me, either in person or online, it diminished the trust and created fear among sexuality professionals, organizations, and communities. That damaged and fractured many of the relationships between folks.
- When individuals and groups took my side (often, as the result of my justifications and control of the narrative), it created a harmful and divisive binary within communities. This included victim-blaming, tone-policing, and the silencing of people who were calling for my accountability.
- Some of the people who reported my behavior and/or called for personal and organizational accountability experienced professional repercussions, including loss of connections and blacklisting.
- Many of the people who were attempting to address my actions, either publicly or privately, experienced increased personal stress. For some people, that took time and energy that they could have given to other work and other projects, and/or added to their being burnt out.
- My blog post Consent Accidents and Consent Violations (published 3/10/2016) had an impact on many people, both within sex-positive communities and elsewhere.
- While I did not create the flowchart that I used in my post, I used it to control the narrative about my former partner’s consent violation. One of the primary reasons I wrote that piece was to claim that the consent violation that my former partner experienced was not as bad as it was. My post made it easier to frame it as an accident and shift responsibility for it off of the person who committed it.
- My actions made it difficult or impossible for people and organizations to talk about the topic of consent accidents. Since a lot of people associated the flowchart with me, it became a much less useful tool for people to use when exploring this issue. There are several organizations that actively avoid using the term “consent accident” for those reasons.
- Since that post was widely shared, especially among sexuality communities, it harmed my former partner, both by casting doubt on their experience and by popping up in their social media feeds.
- I submitted a proposal for a panel presentation for the 2017 Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit on the topic of men’s emotional labor, which was accepted. When people saw me on the conference schedule, and particularly speaking about a topic so clearly connected to the ways in which I gaslit my former partner and others in the community, a call to boycott the event was announced by a community member. The Woodhull Board of Directors convened an emergency meeting to figure out how to proceed, and while they did not cancel the panel, the Board and I mutually agreed that it was best if I canceled it. After that decision the conference sent out an announcement to inform the attendees and interested communities.
- The folks at Woodhull have shared with me that a major sponsor backed out of supporting the conference because they didn’t agree with what they perceived as the Board’s decision to cancel the panel. The loss of a significant sponsor was a big financial hit for the conference.
- In addition to taking up the time and energy of the Board and the conference organizers, I caused significant stress for people who knew about my abusive actions and felt unsafe attending an event that I would present at.
- The people calling for the boycott were also impacted by the time and energy they put into the situation.
- While the panelists who I had invited to join me were welcome to attend the conference, they lost the opportunity to speak on a topic that was relevant to their professional interests and promote their work.
I developed this list based on discussions with my pod and their direct feedback, from the information that people shared with my pod during this process, and from my own reflections and personal work. This process is an ongoing collaboration, and if there is anything that is missing from this, you are welcome to contact my pod at this confidential email: CGStoryCollection@gmail.com. I will not see any messages that are sent to that address without your express and clear consent. If we receive further information, we will update this document accordingly.