WLAMF

“She only hit me once:” Why I stayed as long as I did

As I write this, it’s been three years and sixteen days since I escaped my relationship with Eve Rickert, the woman I thought I would be with for the rest of my life. It simultaneously feels like it happened a lifetime ago and just yesterday.


When I stepped into my therapist’s office for the first time, the very first thing I said to her, before we even did any paperwork or introduced ourselves, was “I’m not okay.” Months had gone by since I’d left, and I was slowly dragging myself, step by step, nightmare by nightmare, from my state of shell-shocked disbelief. It was only just starting to hit me how poisonous and abusive my relationship with Eve had become.


Had been from the beginning, if I’m honest with myself. And god, that was so, so hard to admit.


By the time I left, I’d ceded so much control over my life I barely knew who I was any more. Inch by inch, I’d allowed Eve to assert control over everything I did: what I wore, what I bought, what I ate, when I saw my other partners. She’d inserted herself into every aspect of my life, taking control of things I’d done long before I ever met her. Midway through our relationship, she demanded that I turn control of my long-running polyamory website More Than Two over to her company, that I let her redesign the site, and even that I changed the software it was running on. She even changed the Amazon affiliate links to her links.


I knew something was wrong early on, but I stayed. I didn’t assert boundaries. I don’t think I even realised I was allowed. Bit by bit, I backed away from my own choices, and yielded myself to her. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of therapy to begin unpacking why I did that, and I’m still not finished. Eve manipulated those tendencies in me, but she didn’t create them.


A lot of people who’ve never experienced abuse will ask survivors, “why did you stay?” I ask myself that every day. Even now, in spite of what I know, I blame myself for staying for so long.


Back in the Before Times, whenever someone emailed me or asked me at a conference why people stay in relationships after they turn emotionally or physically violent, I’d repeat the standard narratives: abuse is about power and control; the abuser isolates the survivor from family and friends, leaving them no sources of support; the survivor can internalize responsibility for and shame about the abuse; the abuser can control the survivor financially; the survivor can fear retaliation if they leave; the survivor may not recognize the abuse...all the things you read in every book on abuse.


But I didn’t really understand it. I didn’t feel it. I couldn’t see it when it was happening to me.


I think...I think I didn’t want to. The problems started early—minor boundary violations that became angry outbursts that became physical violence—but every time, I convinced myself that it wasn’t real. She didn’t mean it. It was an accident. I must have caused it somehow, I deserved this, it was my fault.


It became very, very easy to tell myself it was my fault.


I didn’t see the pattern because I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to believe that this wonderful, smart, creative person I loved so much was also the angry, violent person prone to outbursts of jealousy and rage. The standard abuse narrative says “the survivor may not recognize the abuse,” but every time I saw that, I imagined it meant it was because they weren’t capable of seeing it. Not like me. I was much too smart for that. I’d never fall into a trap like that.


Turns out I wasn’t too smart for that. The truth, at least for me, is I didn’t want to see it.


I convinced myself, over and over and over again, that this outburst, this consent violation, this time she broke things, was an aberration. She’s not like that. This isn’t her. I just need to hang on until it’s over.


I know why I did it. I did it because the image I had—the image society taught me—of “people who abuse” is wrong. We make them out to be caricatures of demonic evil, all grotesque features and malevolent cackling. They aren’t. It would be so much easier if they were,


Most of the time, my relationship with Eve was wonderful. And I refused to see the toxic elements—the control, the emotional and verbal abuse, the steadily escalating violence—because I didn’t want to lose her.


When she stormed from the room screaming and rammed her fist into my stuff over and over because I got a text message from another partner, I called it an aberration and let it go.


When she erupted into screaming at me in the middle of a conference because the speaker was talking about WordPress and she thought I should have raised my hand to speak, then followed me down the road screaming at me when I walked out of the conference, I called it an aberration and let it go.


Each time she kept me up until 2AM yelling at me and hitting the wall next to me, I called it an aberration and let it go.


When she told me—on many occasions—I wasn’t allowed to spend time with my other partners, and tore them down in front of me, I called it an aberration and let it go.


When she had a screaming, crying fit and demanded I stop messaging a fellow poly organizer and activist, I called it an aberration and let it go.


So many incidents, so many aberrations. I let them all go.


I called each one an aberration and let it go because after these episodes, the other Eve, the Eve I adored, always came back. She always told me she was sorry. She always told me how ashamed she was. And I didn’t want to lose that Eve.


That’s the thing I didn’t see described in the books I read, and the thing I didn’t resonate with in the standard narrative about abuse—that overwhelming desire to keep the parts of our relationship that were wonderful.


And they really were wonderful. There was so much good and amazing in my relationship with Eve, so much that was incredible and joyful, it became easy to focus on that and let the rages and the violence slide. I convinced myself that if I could just be the right person, make myself small enough, do what she told me to do, be better, I’d get to keep the wonderful Eve, the Eve I loved.


And I mean, it wasn’t like I was really being abused, right? I’ve met abuse survivors. I’ve talked to survivors. The things they talk about always sounded so much worse than what I experienced. They had bruises, scars, broken limbs. I didn’t. How dare I even think about calling myself an abuse survivor, when other people need—and deserve—the support so much more?


Yes, I know exactly how cliched that sounds. Sitting here now, looking at what I just wrote, I realize that I never understood it before. Not emotionally. Not as lived experience. Not as a gut punch and the crack of my heart breaking all over again.


I always believed her when she said she was sorry. I always thought, it really won’t happen again.


I kept doing that even after the night she hit me.


That night is branded on my memory. It was August 11, 2017. It happened near the end of a blissful week with my wife and all my partners except Eve, who’d been invited but declined to come. We were on our way back from a wedding ceremony at my wife’s parents home in California to do a handfasting at a dance retreat in Washington. Eve drove down from Vancouver to the retreat, and that night, as we sat in the back of her van, I confessed that I’d screwed up the schedule and my partner M would be staying in the US a day longer than I thought. I told her I wanted to spend the extra day with M, as we normally lived a 14 hour journey apart.


She screamed and yelled and, finally, hit me. She picked up her laptop and slammed me with it.


I froze. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it had happened. I felt the world drop out from under me. That didn’t just happen. She didn’t just do that. She didn’t mean it. She was trying to hit the wall beside me, she does that all the time. She was trying to hit the bed next to me, she does that all the time. She couldn’t have done that. She wouldn’t. She loves me. This isn’t real.


The instant she did it, she burst into tears. She said “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over again. And the weird thing about that, the thing that really got inside my head and twisted me up, is I felt bad for her.


She cried and she yelled and she told me she couldn’t breathe, and I felt bad for her. My first reaction was to reach out to her, to try to make sure she was okay.


My therapist calls this a “fawn response.” I’d always heard about the “three Fs” of fear—fight, flight, or freeze—but some people placate their abuser, trying to please them, hoping to fend off more attacks.


I just wrote “some people.” I keep catching myself doing that. Me. I am those “some people”. I do that.


She left me there that night. We’d planned to stay in her van together for the dance retreat. Instead, she dropped me off at the hotel room of E, a long-term friend, at four o’clock in the morning and drove away.


I walked through the retreat in a daze the next day. My wife and I had a handfasting ceremony, but all through it, even as I smiled to hide the panic, I kept thinking, What just happened? What did I do wrong? How do I make it up to her?


I talked to my wife and my other partners and I said “I think Eve and I just broke up.” It didn’t seem real. Everything was confusing and uncertain.


And yet…


When I returned to Vancouver, everything was fine. The Eve I loved was back. We went on a trip ourselves, just the two of us, to watch the solar eclipse, and it was as if all the bad had fallen away like it never happened. She blamed the smoke in the air from forest fires around the dance retreat and I...I wanted to believe her. I wanted to believe her so badly. Having something else to blame made that easy, even the flimsiest of excuses would do. Oh, it was the smoke, it gave her an anxiety attack, it wasn’t her, she would never do that.


It was always wonderful when it was just the two of us. The first book tour with her was one of the happiest times of my life. Eve spoke about these times often, about how we created a ‘bubble’ that was just the two of us, separate from the world; about how she felt the most safe and secure in that bubble.


Her other partners were invited into the bubble. Mine weren’t. She invited another lover with us on our European book tour, but when I wanted to invite one of my lovers to join us for part of the tour, that provoked a huge fight.


Well, I say fight. It really wasn’t. It was Eve demanding that I absolutely under no circumstances bring my partner with us, and me quietly acceding. Looking back now, I can see the pattern: when my other partners made their presence felt, that was when the cycle of rage would start again. She isolated me from them, to alienate me, telling me how bad they were for me, how she didn’t see why I wanted them in my life. When I left her, I downloaded the history of my chat logs and Facebook Messenger with Eve and going back through it is like waking from a dream...I keep asking myself, How did I let her talk to me this way about people I loved? How did I not see this?


Later, of course, she would claim I turn my partners against each other.


E came and stayed with Eve and I for three weeks, some months after that. Later, when she returned home, she told me she felt that she had to make herself small, contained, around Eve. Nothing overt, nothing aggressive...but Eve made it clear to her they weren’t friends. She was my guest, not Eve’s.


She also raised, in her gentle way, some questions about the things she observed about Eve’s level of control over me. My long-term partner M had done the same thing much sooner, and much more directly. Weirdly—and I realize this sounds completely backward and mystifying—the fact that M was so much more blunt—‘Franklin, this level of control she has, this isn’t really healthy, she’s telling you what to wear for God’s sake’—was easier to dismiss than E’s ‘I don’t understand these things I saw, what’s happening here?’


I’ve spent a lot of time unpacking this with my therapist. Why didn’t I pay attention to M (and others!) who were expressing that they thought Eve’s behavior was problematic? I’m not sure I really understand the answer, even now. Part of it, I think, was that wilful blindness, that desire not to believe this wonderful woman I loved so much was controlling me, manipulating me, abusing me. Couldn’t they see? Couldn’t they see how awesome she is? Couldn’t they see how amazing she is? Eve, this wonderful person I love so much, controlling me? That can’t be right!


I rejected their attempts, I think, because I believed that they didn’t see her virtues, didn’t see her the way I saw her. I was, I thought, the only person to see her truly. They were biased, they were misunderstanding her, she was a passionate person but creative people often are! That’s not her fault, they were just being too harsh on her.


If she was abusive then clearly she couldn’t also be wonderful. And I knew that couldn’t be true.


E’s gentle interrogation left room, I think, for both realities: Eve was an amazing, smart, creative, wonderful person who also became controlling, angry, violent, and abusive when she felt jealous. Often, we caricature abusers, constructing slaving monsters that lurk in the closet, cartoonishly evil villains without redeeming features. I think maybe that black-or-white thinking comes from a desire to feel safe: the abuser is a Bad Person, and if we can just get rid of all the Bad People, we can make our communities safe. Our loved ones can be safe. We can be safe. Problem is, this all-or-nothing, black-or-white thinking makes it easy for abusive people to hide in plain sight.


People are rarely only one thing.


The questions E asked, the room she left for both sides of Eve, were the start of the long and painful process that finally led to me climbing on a bus with everything I could carry packed into my suitcase and pulling away from Vancouver on that day. I knew, when I stepped on that bus, it was over.


It still took everything I had to take that first, tentative, shaking step.


That was three years and sixteen days ago. I still don’t completely understand how I let it get so bad. But inch by inch, one step at a time, I’m getting there. I’m getting me back.

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WLAMF

Opening up

My hands are shaking as I write this.

I still have nightmares, multiple times a week.

I’ve struggled to get these words out of my head for more than a year now. I thought I was ready a while back to talk about all this, but I guess I wasn’t. Maybe I’m still not. This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever written, but I can’t stay silent anymore.


On one of my first dates with my ex Eve Rickert, as we walked down a road that would later inspire the name of our publishing company Thorntree Press, Eve told me, “I am not a compassionate person. When I get angry, I get mean. I do everything I can to destroy the other person. It’s like I’m standing outside myself watching myself do it, but I can’t stop.”


I didn’t understand, then, what she meant.


A few weeks ago, I signed a legal settlement agreement with Eve. We’ve been involved in a legal dispute for more than two years over ownership of the businesses we co-founded and the books we co-authored. Shortly after I left my relationship with her in 2018, Eve demanded that I give her my shares of the company, and hired a lawyer to threaten to sue me for them. When I refused and hired my own lawyer, Eve went on the attack with a scorched-earth social media campaign that rewrote our relationship into an inside-out, upside-down mirror world that I didn’t recognize at all.


Many people believed her. Even I started to after a while.


I tried to get my memories out about a dozen times or so. I talked very little about my experiences. I told myself it was because my lawyer advised me not to, which is true. She did. But that isn’t the whole truth. Even now, after we’ve signed a settlement, it’s still almost impossible for me to talk about this. I am still, after all this time, struggling to say the things I have to say. This will probably be disjointed, and I may not say everything perfectly. I’m still trying to piece it all together. I can only work on this essay for twenty or thirty minutes at a time before I feel myself start to shake. My therapist has diagnosed me with C-PTSD. “Textbook symptoms,” she says.


I’ve been in therapy since I escaped my relationship with Eve. I’ve spent a lot of the last two years trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not. In this weird, up-is-down narrative, there are supposedly eleven of my “exes” who have “come forward” with stories of how I’ve abused them. The head-bending thing about this is, I don’t have eleven exes.


There are “survivor stories” from people I’ve never been in a relationship with, never had sex with, never had any sexual or romantic contact with. How do you respond to something like that? There have been moments I seriously thought I was going insane. I remember talking to my therapist about this: am I delusional? Did I manufacture an entire history that doesn’t exist?

And always, always, underneath the terror and confusion: Were they right? Am I a monster?


The stories that come from people I have been involved with are just as surreal. One of my exes, “Amber,” claims I abused her because she “couldn’t properly consent to BDSM,” she was too young and inexperienced to consent to BDSM, and she won’t have anything to do with BDSM now..


I remember reading that story with a stomach-churning sense of horror, like I was completely losing my mind. The way I remembered it, early in our dating she showed me her collection of expensive high-end BDSM gear she’d bought when she was with her ex-husband, long before the first time we’d ever met or talked. She brought part of her collection of leather bondge gear to my place and asked me to use it on her.


When I read that she felt like I’d been the one to “get her into BDSM,” I felt like I’d fallen through a hole into an alternative world. I thought, could I really have been that wrong? I even unearthed my old digital archives to search through our conversations—I’ve saved nearly every email I’ve exchanged since 1992—and asking myself, with ever-heightening panic, did I imagine it? Did I invent false memories of her showing me her bondage gear collection from before I ever knew she existed?


Recently I found some of her old boxes from when she’d planned to move in with Zaiah and me to finish her Ph.D. One of them was filled with old DVDs belonging to her...and some of her bondage gear. I sat down right there on the floor in the basement, clutching a spreader bar that had been part of her collection, and I cried. I shook, and I cried, and all the time I remember thinking “this is real, I’m not delusional, she really is gaslighting me.”


Sometimes, where there’s smoke there’s fire. And sometimes, there’s just smoke and mirrors. But it turns out you can still choke on that smoke, all the same.


I haven’t talked much about this experience. I honestly don’t think anyone will believe me. And the narrative that was spun about me is just so absolutely relentlessly bizarre, so utterly divorced from the reality I recall, that it doesn’t make sense. I seriously thought I must be losing my mind.


If I can’t trust my own mind, my own memories, why on earth would anyone else?


And honestly, I’m scared. I’m terrified of how Eve will react. After the numerous heavy legal letters: threatening to sue me into releasing her and anyone who’s ever written a “survivor story” about me from all future liability for defamation or slander, and threatening to sue me over a nonexistent verbal “non-compete agreement,” I find myself shrinking, shriveling up, retreating from connections to other people. I flinch in ways I never used to. I second-guess myself in ways that don’t feel like me.


And I’m physically afraid of her. Our relationship was one of steadily escalating physical violence. She screamed at me. She smashed my stuff. Time and time again I was kept awake into the wee hours of the morning for arguments, prevented from sleeping, from taking a break, from escaping. I never really understood how breaking stuff and punching walls were acts of violence towards people until I experienced this for myself.


Finally, she hit me.


I didn’t—I still don’t—think people will believe me. I talked about this with my therapist, back in 2019. She was quite upfront with me: she said quite plainly that the poly scene, for all its talk of ‘egalitarianism’ and ‘empowerment,’ still holds tightly to sexist ideas that abuse is something that is only done to women by men. She told me I could have video of Eve hitting me and there would still be people who didn’t believe it. There was a time in my life when I would have assumed that was hyperbole.


Somehow, we’ve also figured out that if a woman gives in to sex after saying “no” ten times, that’s not consent, but we haven’t applied that lesson to anything else. For my entire life, I have kept my distance from recreational drugs. I have always been firm that I did not want to use them. But despite repeatedly, directly saying “no” to drugs, the pressure to use them with Eve was too great, and at the age of 46 I caved. Eve coerced me to use street drugs with her.I even enjoyed some of those experiences. But I was always aware that there would be a consequence for saying no.


My experience of our relationship was a story some people might find all too familiar. I’ve read it in other people’s accounts before, but it always seemed like a literary device to me—the kind of thing that inspires dramatic operas and novellas. Until I lived with, ate with, lay in bed at night beside a lover who seemed like two people at the same time.


One of those people was someone I was so absolutely head over heels for that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. The other was dark, angry, prone to violence. The one who destroyed my wedding portrait in a self-described fit of jealousy. The one who raged at me without provocation. The one who screamed at me in the middle of an editor’s conference, following me down the street yelling at me when I tried to leave.


I didn’t recognise that one.


So I tiptoed around. I savored each moment when it seemed like the smart, creative, wonderful person I adored was there, basking in the joy of her presence, but constantly fearing when she would go away again, when I did something—I must have done something, right?—to make her invite the other one back.


When she enrolled in anger management classes, I was awash in feelings of relief and hope and adoration. This was it! This time would be different! She was actively getting help, and I could prove my love for her by supporting her through it and then I would get to spend the rest of our time together with the amazing person I fell in love with.


But it didn’t seem to help. The mask fooled a lot of people—even me, for a long time—but the mask always came back off when we were alone again.


So I made myself small. I squeezed myself down tight to fit inside her idea of me. I tried not to antagonize her. I tried not to contradict her. When she abused my other partners, I did nothing. I kept thinking, if I can just survive this storm, it will blow over, and the other Eve, the one I love, will be back. And maybe this time she’d stay a bit longer.


The problem always got worse when I left town, especially if I was visiting another partner. After a couple of days away, like clockwork, Eve and I would fight over text or IM. She told me after one of these fights that there was a version of me that lived in her head, and whenever she was angry or I wasn’t around, that version of me would change, morph into something else, something ugly that would replace her memories of who I am in her head. Then the real me would be on the receiving end of her anger toward the made-up version of me in her mind. She even bought me a stuffed hedgehog—to remind me, she said, that when she was prickly at me it was only because she couldn’t remember who I was. So I needed to be kind to her, to remind her.


And the weird thing is, that felt normal. It felt right.


I believed, I really believed, that all I needed to do was accept this is how she was. Nobody is perfect, right? Everyone is flawed. We don’t give up on people we love just because they’re imperfect, right?


Even when other people close to me expressed concern about the unhealthy level of control Eve exerted over me in nearly every aspect of my personal and professional life—control that extended to her telling me who I could and could not talk to, who I should invite on dates—I didn’t see it. I didn’t want to see it.


So inch by inch, I ceded my boundaries and my control over my own life. By the time I left, I was no longer allowed to choose what food to eat, what shoes to buy, what clothes to wear. Things that, when I look back now, I would have described as major red flags if they were happening to anyone else, I simply dismissed as little quirks.


When I left, the only thought in my mind was “escape”. I didn’t just leave, I fled—not just our home, but the whole country. I hid. I curled myself into a tiny ball in the back of a corner and hoped it was enough to just be left alone. But I kept getting pulled back. Every time I thought I found enough distance, she tried to drag me back into the darkness, confusion, terror and pain. Then the nightmares followed for a few more weeks before I could start to relax again.


We went through a mediation process to unwrap our business connections. At that mediation, she demanded I sign new coauthorship contracts. I was shocked to learn that I was expected to hand over my shares of our publishing company without payment. I was dumbfounded when she said she intended to block my Canadian immigration as long as I remained married to my wife. Her exact words were “unless I see a certificate of divorce, I will make sure you never get in.”


I disengaged. I retreated. She accused me of abusing her. She demanded I take part in a “transformative justice” process. I said no, partly because my lawyer made it very clear in no uncertain terms that I should avoid any contact (this happened just as Eve issued the first of many threats to sue me), and partly because she claimed I did things that just never happened and “transformative justice” is not equipped to handle situations where the facts are disputed. But mostly I said no because I was terrified of her. I am terrified of her.


I finally understood what she meant when she first told me she will do anything in her power to destroy someone who makes her angry.


Of course, that ended up being retold as “Franklin doesn’t want to be accountable for his sins.” When your abuser is skilled in the language of social justice, this spin is easy. It’s easy to wear someone down, then when you leave them running away in fear, claim that they are “avoiding justice.” When all you want to do is flee and lick your wounds somewhere safe, and the last thing you want to do is re-engage with the person who hurt you, the only narrative that’s out there ends up being a story of “lack of accountability,” rather than avoidance of pain.


And the thing is, it’s not like I didn’t do anything wrong. We’re all born of frailty and error. If there’s anything good that’s come from two years of harassment on social media, it’s that I’ve worked with my therapist to unpack all the things I did do wrong and the ways I have fucked up in my relationships.


And I have genuinely done some really shitty things. They simply aren’t the things I’m accused of. There’s too much to get into in this post—it’s already longer than I intended, and you deserve more detail than just a paragraph or two—but I’ll be addressing it in another essay. Probably a few.


I am profoundly grateful to be surrounded by friends and lovers who have helped keep me sane through this. Some of them have been part of my life for decades, and they’ve been able to help give me reality checks: “no, I was there for that thing that person claims happened and it didn’t happen that way at all. You aren’t going insane and you aren’t deluded.” I honestly don’t know what I’d have done if I hadn’t been able to find old emails, talk to long-time friends, and hold tangible objects that showed me that yes, my reality is real. My memories are real.


That’s the thing about gaslighting: it makes you question your own reality.


I am also deeply grateful for the strangers—some of them with many years of experience in surviving abuse of their own— who have messaged me to tell me they’ve read the survivor stories and ended up feeling they didn’t recognise the voices of abuse survivors in those narratives. I’ve had many people tell me they also don’t feel safe saying so in public. When Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, who initially agreed to be part of my accountability pod, released a statement that, in her professional opinion, the “survivor stories” failed to rise to the level of abuse, she was attacked and had her professional standing threatened online. A lot of folks got the message loud and clear.


I am still terrified of Eve. I still wake from nightmares every week, my heart pounding and my hands shaking. I still remember the night she hit me, the disbelief, the attempt to justify it to myself as acceptable. I know this essay is disjointed and fragmented, because whenever I try to write about my experiences, I have anxiety flashes and panic attacks. I couldn’t even sit through it long enough to write it all out; it’s taken me many sessions to get through each part, and a lot of work with my therapist just to get to the point of being able to start. I’ve never truly understood what it means to be “triggered” before all this.


For the past two years I’ve done nothing. Eve Rickert published baseless stories about me and I did nothing. She fabricated a narrative about me and I did nothing. I withdrew from communities I’ve been part of for decades. I wanted nothing more than to get away from her. I’ve kept my head down and tried to build a new life away from her, even though that meant losing my community, losing people who meant something to me, losing people’s trust and faith in me. I walked away from spaces I’d spent literal decades building. I risked my livelihood. If that’s what I had to do to get away, to get a little peace and calm to heal, it was worth it to try to reclaim my sanity.


I expect that by publishing this, I will likely be attacked again.


I’ve started to write about my experiences several times; I even set up a website to do that. I wrote a little bit, and then panicked, chickened out and didn’t tell anyone about it. I’ve tried different approaches, different angles, different mediums, and still I’m afraid to show the world anything I write.


I keep thinking I’m ready to share what happened, then slamming into the barriers of my own trauma. I’m not ready. I may never be ready.


But I can’t sit by and keep doing nothing. Eve is now representing herself as an “abuse expert.” The woman who verbally, emotionally, physically, financially abused me—who smashed my stuff, screamed at me, controlled my life, gaslighted me, suppressed survivor stories from her previous exes, and hit me—is presenting at conferences about abuse.


I know there will be many people who don’t believe me. I expect more legal threats, more attacks on social media. I know there will be more online harrassment—more personal abuse, more detailed death threats, more viscerally explicit rape threats. I know I’ll keep having panic attacks and nightmares.


These are incredibly painful, but they don’t change the truth. I know what happened. I know who I am now. And I know I can’t  be silent any more.

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fulloftupid

What is the Hunter Biden story?

Note: I originally wrote this as an answer on Quora

The Hunter Biden story is a fascinating piece of disinformation and agitprop.

I’ve been following it closely, partly because it’s an interesting political story and partly because I’m an avid infosec enthusiast and I actually know how emails work.

I was, to be honest, surprised when the “Hunter laptop” scam first began that anyone actually believed it. If you know even a little bit about how email works, it’s plain as snow in December that the story was fake. The supposed “Hunter Biden emails” that were released were released as PDFs, with no headers, from email domains that do not exist. I was like “Really? People are falling for this? God damn conservatives sure are gullible.”

But in the time I’ve been in Florida helping to care for my mother, I’ve realized that isn’t fair.

My dad is older (he’s 82), he uses email every single day, but he has not the slightest clue how it works and he cannot define the word “domain,” much less explain what a domain is or spot an invalid email domain.

And honestly, a lot of people, on the left and right, are that way. It’s not that conservatives are stupid, it’s that to most people, email is magic. And they don’t ever see email headers, so it doesn’t look suspicious if someone shows them a fake email with no headers. And, like my dad, they don’t know what a domain is, so if you show them an email with a clearly bogus “from” address they don’t even blink.

In that sense, what looks like a crude, hamfisted attempt at second-rate disinformation is actually pretty savvy. It’s propaganda aimed at a very specific audience: an audience that is not technically savvy, but—and this is the important part—has also been indoctrinated to distrust “elitist experts” who think they know better. So this audience (1) doesn’t have the technical skill to see through even a very crude, simplistic scam and (2) will automatically respond to anyone who points out the scam with “neener neener I don’t believe you!!!”

It’s been a very interesting lesson in 21st-century propaganda. Forging a real email is hard. Email is trackable and traceable. It passes through many computers and it leaves traces in every one. You can not easily forge a realistic, believable email even if you have nearly unlimited resources…

…but you don’t have to.

If the target of your propaganda is people with the limited technical knowledge of my father who have also been told to distrust experts, it’s not necessary.




Now, having said that, parts of the scam are very sophisticated.

This is Martin Aspen.



Martin Aspen wrote a 64-page dossier documenting corruption in Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China, which was released by security firm Typhoon Investigations.

Martin Aspen does not exist.

Typhoon Investigations does not exist.

The photograph of the person you see here is not a picture of a person. It was created by a GAN—a type of deepfake machine learning computer program.

If you’re not familiar with these, I recommend you visit the site This Person Does Not Exist.

Every time you refresh the browser, you will see a photograph of a different person. None of the photographs are real. None of the people exist. The photographs are all created by machine learning deepfake programs.

Anyway, back to Martin Aspen.

Martin Aspen does not exist. His photo is a computer-generated deepfake. His resume lists companies he’s never worked for, universities that have no record of him, and security firms that don’t exist. The entire dossier was faked.

Fifteen, twenty, thirty years ago, this level of fakery would require the concerted effort of a nation-state’s intelligence team to do. Today, a single reasonably skilled person can do it. I can do it. You can do it.

How a fake persona laid the groundwork for a Hunter Biden conspiracy deluge

And the thing that’s most fascinating about all of this, besides the fact it shows how fragile and easily manipulated the public perception is? Proving that the document was fake will not change a single mind.

The Hunter Biden saga has revealed two things:


  1. Small groups of individuals, even a single person sitting in a bedroom, can create agitprop and disinformation campaigns that would only a short time ago have been the envy of entire government intelligence teams.

  2. People want to believe. They’re simply looking for an excuse. Modern propaganda does not need to be subtle. It doesn’t need to be well-done. It doesn’t need to stand up to any scrutiny. It merely needs to give people an excuse to believe what they already want to believe.

WLAMF

A frantic flight

A bit over three weeks ago, I got a frantic call from my dad. My mom had been hospitalized after she complained of a headache and then collapsed. The doctors, he said, were investigating, but didn't yet know what was wrong.

A few hours later, he called back choked up. "You better get down here," he said. The doctors had found an aneurysm and rushed her into emergency surgery. The surgeon was unable to repair the aneurysm because her arteries were too fragile. She was not expected to survive.

I made the fastest plane reservation I could find. A day and a half later, I was in the air, headed to Florida. I met my wife at the airport and we went to my parents' house in Cape Coral, where I'd lived from the time I was in high school until I moved out for good, nearly 40 years ago.

Florida is, I'm told, the world's #5 hotspot for COVID-19. Southwest Florida is deep, deep Trump territory: pickups with enormous "TRUMP 2020" flags, huge "Trump!" signs along the side of the road, and not a mask in sight. These people believe, I mean really believe, that COVID-19 is a Democrat hoax and masks are a ommunist plot.

And they're dying for that belief. Visiting my mom in the hospital was like stepping into the set of a disaster movie, or maybe a developing nation. So many patients, the hospital was parking people on stretchers in the halls.

By the time I got to the hospital to see her, my mom had been moved out of the ICU, because, they said, they had 30 people in line for that bed behind her. When I visited, she was awake and alert, and her mind was still as sharp as always. (She had some scorching things to say about late-stage capitalism vis-à-vis American healthcare, in fact.)

She improved rapidly over the next few days. When her doctor was convinced she was no longer bleeding internally, he sent her home--not because she was ready to come home, but because they needed the bed.

My mom has two gorgeous Tonkinese cats.



Her cats were overjoyed to see her, even though she was weak AF.



My sister, my wife, my dad, and I all helped care for her. The doctors had told us to expect the worst--"She could go to sleep and never wake up," her surgeon said--but my mom is a resilient woman and she doesn't follow anyone's script. I went down to Florida believing I would never see her again, but it turns out it's dangerous to count her out of anything.

five days after being released from the hospital, she was already up and around, reading and cuddling with her cats.





Two weeks after she was released from the hospital, you'd never know there'd been anything wrong with her.

Health care professionals are still visiting her at home--they did release her from the hospital way before they should have, after all--but man, I gotta say, my mom is awesome.

Her cats decided my jacket was theirs.



The entire time I've been down here, we played a game called "Franklin moves his jacket somewhere the cats can't get to it and the cats find it and sleep on it."

The kitchen in my parents' house has recessed, indirect lighting in the ceiling. Whenever I went to cook, one of her cats, Thelma (they're called Thelma and Louise, for reasons that are obvious when you meet them), would jump from floor to chair to counter to refrigerator to lightwell and sit in the lightwell watching me. Silently judging me. Inspecting all that I did, which clearly did not rise to her standards.






I am not very good at handling grief. My girlfriend Zaiah says I share emotions like joy and excitement easily, but I have very little experience with things like sadness and grief.

I've been incredibly fortunate. I've never lost someone close to me. I've never attended a funeral. I think few people my age have been so fortunate.

My parents are both in their 80s. There will come a time when they are no longer here. The older I get, the more grateful I am to them; they did a bang-up job raising me. Even though I only see them once every few years or so, I'm still not sure I'm ready for a world without them.

Right now I'm in Orlando with my wife, working on an RV we hope to drive cross country late this year, stopping at abandoned amusement parks to do photography along the way. Next week I fly back to Portland.

I am so incredibly relieved that my mom is doing well that I can't even express it in words. I am profoundly grateful for the time I've been able to spend with her.

Mom, you're awesome. Thank you. For everything.
WLAMF

When big tech gets careless: Google Forms spam

So lately, I've seen a thing in my inbox. Well, I mean, I see a lot of things in my inbox, but this is an annoying thing: 419 scams inside Google Forms invites.

I'm getting a ton of these:

Google forms spam

In spam fighting communities, these are called "419 scams," from Section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code. Most of them originate from Nigeria, and they’re a form of scam called “advance fee fraud,” where the scammer promises to give you a lot of money if you just pay these fees (bank certification fees, wire transfer fees, blah blah blah whatever) in advance. You pay all the fees and then you get…nothing. That’s it. That’s the whole scam.

I’ve noticed an absolutely enormous uptick in 419 scam emails using Google Forms as well. In fact, I’ve spent the past few weeks collecting examples and figuring out what’s happening, and I think I have a handle on what’s going on.

419 scams are a large, bulk-market business. Maybe 1 person in 10,000 is dumb enough to fall for these scams. (Fun fact, the scammers use the slang term “maga” to refer to the dupes fooled by these scams; in a pidgin of English and Yorùbá often used by these scammers in Nigeria, “maga” means “fool.”) That means a 419 scammer has to send a lot of emails to succeed.

But spam filters, especially Bayesian filters, have become really, really good at detecting 419 scams. In fact, many spam filters actually have “probably 419” as one of their identifiers for spam email.

Enter Google.

Google lets people send emails for free using Gmail. However, Gmail mail gets passed through normal spam filters, which flags the bulk of 419 scams.

However, Google has a service where you can create a Google Form and then invite people to visit your Google Form. And for some reason I don’t understand, outgoing invitations from Google servers for a Google Form don’t pass through Google’s spam filters—don’t ask me why.

Furthermore, the Google Form header or HTML wrapper or something seems to prevent client-side or email-host-side spam filters from identifying the emails as 419 scams, too. Why? ¯\_ಠ_ಠ_/¯

For whatever reason, 419 scams that appear within the body of a Google Form invitation fly right past spam filters. As soon as the 419 scammers discovered this, they were all over it like flies on cowshit. At the moment, I’m receiving several of these emails an hour.

It started a few weeks ago and shows no sign of letting up. I’ve emailed Google’s abuse team multiple times about it but so far no reply.
WLAMF

Check out my new book!

2020 has been a bit shit, no question about it. However, it's also been the most creative year of my entire life, in no small measure because I've been spending all my time at home away from people.

I'm pleased to announce that one of the many projects I've been working on, a new novel with the delightful Eunice Hung, is now coming to fruition.

We have written the first in a series of far-future, post-scarcity erotic science fiction theocracy novels called The Passionate Pantheon. May I present: The Brazen Altar.



The book doesn't publish until May 1, 2021, but you can get a copy before then and also help show there's a market for smart, literate erotica with nuanced characters and rich worldbuilding! The book is live now on Indiegogo, and you can get it early for less than cover price!

The followup novel, Divine Burdens, publishes Fall 2021. Want to find out more about the world of The Passionate Pantheon? The Web site for the series is live! I guarantee you've never seen erotica anything like this before.
WLAMF

Apple Silicon and losing our legacy

I am concerned about Apple's move to its own home-grown processors.

It's not because I'm worried about the new silicon, or Apple's ability to make high-performance CPUs, or even because I am worried about changing architectures. I survived the move from Motorola 68K processors to PowerPC, and PowerPC to Intel.

I’m still using High Sierra on my 2016 MacBook Pro. I still have legacy 32-bit software I use professionally, and I also boot this computer into Windows with Boot Camp to play games like Fallout 4 and Witcher 3 that won’t run in Parallels.

I am concerned about the switch to Apple Silicon because I'm worried about what it means to archivists and historians.

I understand why Apple is doing it. I get it, I do. But I’m really worried about what it means to the legacy of the late 20th century.

Desktop publishing revolutionized human communication. It’s hard to overstate what a Big Deal desktop publishing was. It arguably democratized communication more than any other invention since the printing press. It fueled an explosion of creativity and led to a boom in the underground ‘zine scene.

PageMaker, the first DTP software, revolutionized entire industries…plural. Overnight the entire publishing community moved to it.

And, of course, mergers and acquisitions happened as the disruption shook itself out. Aldus, the startup that created PageMaker, got swallowed by Adobe. Quark arose to compete, and a lot of the industry jumped ship, since QuarkXPress was objectively better. Then Adobe created a new program, InDesign, which was objectively better than QuarkXPress, and the industry moved on. That’s how capitalism is supposed to work, right?

But here’s the thing:

A vast chunk of the history of desktop publishing, including countless underground ’zines of significant cultural and historical value, are still tied up in old files. Old files that can still be accessed, albeit with difficulty.

InDesign CS6 can open PageMaker and QuarkXPress documents. Later versions dropped the ability to open PageMaker files.

Old Mac emulators like SheepShaver can open even older files, by running ancient PowerPC apps directly. I recently rescued a bunch of old ‘zines I published in the early 90s this way.





But a window is closing.

It’s starting to close even without the move to Apple Silicon. When I set up a SheepShaver PowerPC Mac emulator to install the software to rescue these files, one of the pieces of software tried to contact activation servers that went offline in 1999. I had to do a bit of hacking to get the software to install.

I opened PageMaker 4 files in PageMaker 6, opened the PageMaker 6 files in InDesign CS6, and opened the InDesign CS6 files in InDesign 2020.

I opened Macromedia Freehand files in Freehand, saved them as EPS, opened the EPS files in Illustrator 6, saved them, and opened them in Illustrator 2020.

Now here it gets tricky.

InDesign CS6, the last modern app that can read a PageMaker file, won’t run on new versions of macOS because it’s 32-bit only.

It won’t run in emulators like SheepShaver because it’s OS X only.

SheepShaver and InDesign CS6 both won’t run on Apple Silicon.

We are on the cusp of losing the ability to open PageMaker files completely.

In a perfect world, someone would write a Mac emulator that lets you emulate a High Sierra Mac on Apple Silicon hardware, just like SheepShaver lets you emulate a PowerPC Mac on Intel hardware. If you can bring old software and old emulators with you, those people—historians, digital archivists, and the like—can, with enough faffing, still recover the rich legacy of information from the early days of desktop publishing.

But for various arcane technical reasons, writing an emulator for x86–64 on ARM is a huge undertaking, something beyond what an open source project is likely to do. I honestly don’t see the open source community writing a Mac emulator that will run High Sierra on Apple Silicon. Emulating x86 on ARM is an enormous project, one that requires a well-resources company to do.

A company like…Apple.

It turns out Apple has done this. It’s called Rosetta 2 and it’s built into Big Sur.

What I’d like to see is Apple donate code to emulate an Intel processor on ARM to the open source community, so they can build an emulator for Intel Macs. This would permit access to ancient files and legacy software—albeit with rather a lot of faffing—and permit access to apps and files all the way back to the PowerPC (and 68K, since the PowerPC system 9 has a 68K emulator). This would, I feel, show corporate responsibility on Apple’s part, without really costing them anything. The Intel emulation is already done.

But without that? I really do feel we as a society are, in the relentless march of late-stage capitalism, destroying part of our own history simply because there’s no profit in keeping it.

And that worries me.
WLAMF

Breaking my silence

"If you are being abused, there is a very high chance that you will be accused of being abusive or of otherwise causing the abuse. That’s because this accusation is devastatingly effective at shutting you down and obtaining control in a dispute. It’s important to be able to distinguish abuse from other things that may happen in relationships that are hurtful, or may even be toxic or unhealthy, but are not fundamentally about entitlement and control."
—Shea Emma Fett


I fled Vancouver, and my relationship with Eve, on March 19, 2018. I crammed everything I could fit into a suitcase, and put everything else I had left in Canada that Eve hadn't destroyed in her fits of rage into a rented storage locker, then climbed on a bus for the eight-hour journey to Portland.

When I sat down, I saw this written on the window:



It was the longest bus ride of my life. I was numb. I was blindsided. I was still trying to process what had happened, and understand what had gone so wrong. In many ways I still am.

How did I get here? Who am I without someone telling me how to be? Other people certainly seem to know who I am. The internet has some very strong opinions on who I am. My social media profiles say ‘Part mad scientist, part gonzo journalist.’ My website says that I am a writer, computer consultant, polyamory and BDSM activist, sex educator, and sometimes amateur photographer. But that’s what I do. I don’t know who I am. I’m not entirely sure I ever knew.

I still can't talk about my experience with Eve without centering or referencing her. Our relationship revolved around her: her experiences, her feelings, her desires. I have been trying for over a year now to work out how to talk about my experiences, and it just keeps coming out as a story about Eve and what she did and what she wanted from me. Everything about me was lost. She controlled my clothing, my diet, my hair style, my activities, my friends, my other potential dating partners. Even my general physician could not be my own choice; when I chose a doctor, Eve said no, and demanded I go to the one she chose for me. I was a mirror, reflecting back Eve’s wants.

Part of this was my fault. I have always allowed other people to write over me. This is a wide open door for abuse. In all my years of watching other people go through it, it never occurred to me that I had opened this door myself and invited controlling partner after controlling partner into my domain, because I never even saw it as my space. It's humbling and painful to write words like this, after spending so many years telling other people to have better boundaries, as if it’s that easy or that simple to do.

Knowing, deep down, that this was my fault for opening the door—that's just one more tool to keep that door open. I deserve this. This is my fault. I am the bad one here. Clearly I need someone to take charge, because I obviously can't manage myself. And the spiral continues down.

When I was barely into adulthood, I believed that I would never find anyone who would be like me and that I was lucky to have found even one person to put up with who I was. So I got into relationships with people who didn’t seem to really like me, exactly, but seemed to like what they could shape me into.

I didn’t know this at the time, but when I was still married to Celeste, my current wife was rather put off by some things she saw in my relationship with Celeste. When The Game Changer came out, and she learned about what my relationship with Celeste was like before she had come along, she said that she would never have dated that Franklin. My current wife waited until Celeste and I had separated before she started dating me, thinking that I would be out from under a controlling relationship and be better able to become a whole person.

I never saw my first marriage as “controlling.” I do now. I have a lot of things to unpack still. There were things in my relationship with my ex-wife that made my current wife uncomfortable, even after Amber came along and shook everything up.

When I didn’t magically become a whole person after my divorce, my current wife kept her distance, emotionally, even though we had started dating by then. She and Amber had several arguments over me after my relationship with Celeste ended and I moved in with Amber. This is one of the things I did that invited abuse into my relationships. I was largely absent in my own relationships.



I have often said that grown adults should be free to decide who they associate with. I’ve never believed that one of my partners has to like the others. We’re all adults, right? Every adult should sort out their relationships on their own, right?

I was blind to the effect that condoning bad behavior might have on the people I love, and to the sheer amount of work I was expecting them to do in maintaining those peaceful relations around me. My current wife tried to explain this to me a long time ago, but we were both much younger then. She says that she didn’t have the right words, and I didn’t have the context to understand.

My partners were left to their own devices to work out their conflicts without my presence. My wife and Amber fought for the better part of two or three years before finally learning how to work together. I could have solved some of those conflicts by simply participating in the relationship, since they were all about me and how I was or was not relating to each of them. All I had to do was show up and say “I want this” or “I don’t want that”, and the conflict might have been over. Because my consent was relevant. It should have been vital.

But I didn’t do that. I didn’t really know who I was, let alone what I wanted or didn’t want. I had to go along with whatever my partners wanted, even if that resulted in conflicting wants from different people, because I didn’t have wants of my own. Not really, other than larger, generalized, overarching wants, such as being non-monogamous. So my wife and Amber fought in long phone calls and email chains over a couple of years, and I wasn’t present for any of it. They brought their conclusions to me, and I went along with whatever their resolution ended up being.

These arguments all boiled down to me not being a whole person and Amber taking on too much responsibility for managing my other relationships. I don’t know why Amber did this, but it was probably related to the socialization pressure she felt to “care for her man”. And I let her. Because I could, and because it was less work than developing skills that I had never been pressured to learn (in fact, that Celeste had actively encouraged me not to learn) in the first place. They don’t come naturally to me.

Someone had always taken care of me. I am only just now getting a peek into how big a problem this was, thanks to my current partners, painstakingly, in excruciating detail and with the help of my therapist, explaining my privilege to me. Even this is a symptom of my privilege - that I have people who have been socialized as women around me, taking the time and energy to chip away at my blindness—even as they receive social penalties for continuing to associate with me.

What neither I nor my current wife knew at the time was just how this pattern of accommodating my privilege could leave the door wide open for abusive partners, starting with Celeste and culminating in the nuclear fallout that was my relationship with Eve.

It can’t happen to me

I always assumed I was too 'rational' and 'logical' to be taken in by an abuser. But when your abuser manages to turn your own brain against you....you will twist yourself into all sorts of painful shapes to fit with their image of you. And when I inevitably failed—every time I couldn't twist or cram or break myself into small enough pieces to satisfy her—then she would blame me. She would lay out my flaws and explain how I had failed her this time. And I would agree with her, because I had already accepted that I needed to be improved, to be retrained, and she was doing this all selflessly, for my own good.

This even happened on the day I was getting handfasted to my current wife. I spent hours just trying to console her, appease her, understand what I had done wrong this time, on a day when I was supposed to be joyously celebrating with my new wife and my polyfamily around me. Even when she abruptly left the night before, taking both my tuxedo and the van I was supposed to be sleeping in, I still believed it was my fault, that my own failures meant I deserved that treatment. That all her demands for attention—the long, intense, angry messages, the absolute refusal to allow me any time or space to focus on my wife or our handfasting later that day—were all reasonable behaviour, and that if only I could find the right combination of words she wouldn’t be angry at me anymore. That I wouldn’t flinch every time my phone dinged. That being curled, silent and shaking, in a fetal position in the back of the van on my handfasting night with my new wife holding me was just what I deserved for having made a simple scheduling mistake.

Early warning signs

Very early in our relationship, in October of 2012, Eve decided she wanted nothing at all to do with my live-in partner Zaiah. She mailed Zaiah a letter telling her that Eve wanted no contact with her whatsoever, then or in the future, under any circumstances. There was no argument, no fight, no clash; Eve simply didn’t like her.

Zaiah was so hurt and devastated by the nastiness in Eve’s letter, she got together with some of her friends and burned it.

Later, Eve would gaslight me about it. She told me that I discourage communication among my partners. I encourage my partners not to talk to each other, she said. I keep them apart. And, as I later discovered, she didn’t just tell me that, she told everyone who would listen that I kept them apart.

And the thing was, she was so convincing. She was so absolutely certain that her estrangement from Zaiah was my fault that she had me believing it. How on earth did I just forget that nasty letter? How on earth did I allow Eve’s funhouse-mirror reality to overwrite my own?

It’s fucked up and deeply violating to have someone you love replace your reality with something else. I doubted my own mind. Do I keep my partners apart? Did I just make up this whole episode where Eve didn’t want to talk to Zaiah? Did I just imagine all the things Eve did to my partner Maxine?

I fell so far down the rabbit hole that even when Zaiah and Maxine and my wife were telling me about their experiences and perceptions of being violently pushed away by Eve, I still accepted Eve’s narrative that it was somehow my fault she wasn’t talking to them.

During my handfasting, when I was curled up in the van, disassociating from everyone, my loved ones sat outside trying to figure out what was going on, it all came out. My partners, the ones who I supposedly “kept apart” from each other, physically sat in a circle and talked. Listening from inside the van, I was reminded that they all had troubling experiences with Eve over the years, and they all had memories of conversations where Eve instilled doubt and distrust about each of them to the other.

Before I started dating Eve, each of my partners had a long-standing relationship with each other, independent of me. They had all met each other through other venues before I started dating each of them. They all also strongly believed in good metamour communications. So, as I so often do, I absented myself from the relationship and I let them all work themselves out. They each considered each other friends, separate from me.

As my relationship with Eve grew, their friendships all got strained. It started with that letter to Zaiah. Eve went to each of my other partners to complain about Zaiah, telling her “truth” in a way that was believable, but not accurate. This left Zaiah without her support system when she got the letter from Eve, effectively isolating her in the way a good abuser does, because my other partners pulled away, thinking that Zaiah was the instigator because of how Eve framed their conflict.

But at the handfasting, their natural caring and compassion for each other overrode all the seeds of mistrust that had been sown. And they talked again, like they used to. Because, for them, their relationships with each other were always more present than their relationships with me, since I wasn’t really there. It’s strange, now, to hear other people describe my network as all the women centering me in their lives and being estranged from each other, whilst the women in my network tell me that one of their biggest criticisms of our relationship is that I’m mostly not really in it and that they have a stronger relationship with each other than with me.

Listening to them talk to each other that day while I was, once again, absent and in my own space in the van, the veil was lifted. I had no idea all of the not-exactly-untruths Eve had been spreading or how each of my partners felt about Eve. Even though they had all, separately, told me their feelings, I still did not hear it until that day, when I was forced to hear it all echoed by each of them, one after the other.

But I was in pain. I was in denial. Eve and I had a brilliant, creative relationship. We accomplished extraordinary things together: we wrote a fantastic book, we traveled the world, we founded two companies together. I loved her. I trusted her. So when I left our family space, filled with people who see from different perspectives and who share their perspectives and who respect each other’s agency, and who respect mine, I went back to Eve alone. The veil got pulled down again. Without my own sense of self, and without my loved ones’ handles on their own identities and on my agency to shield me, I lost my reality again to Eve’s and it took another 6 months for things to finally fall apart for good.

My abuser is woke

I’ve spent a lot of time with my therapist unpacking how I could allow another person to so distort my sense of reality. Part of it is that Eve is extremely gifted with manipulating the language of social justice—she was able to take me to a place where I believed things that weren’t true without technically lying. (I’ve since learned there’s a word for lying without uttering a technical falsehood; it’s called “paltering.”) She wove facts into tapestries that made me believe up was down and left was right. I’m still working to untangle it. My feet still aren’t steady beneath me. I don't yet know when or if they will be.

Every time she publishes another article or does another podcast interview, the world underneath me shifts. I go to my partners and close friends and ask “did that happen? Did I really say that? I don’t remember that. Am I going crazy?” I was never very good at the details. I’m more a big-picture person. I grasp larger concepts, but I tend to forget the details of how we got there. This leads to the opening of more doors for people to abuse me and my partners.

Nothing is as it seems. Everything about who I am - what I want, what I’ve done, what I’ve said - everything is nebulous. I feel misty, amorphous, intangible. How can anyone get a sense of who they are, when who they are can so easily be overwritten? How do you all do it? How do you know who you are without someone telling you who you ought to be? How do you know who you are, underneath what other people want you to be? That's the question I'm still trying to answer for myself. Maybe someday I'll find out.

Why am I speaking out now?

I have not spoken publicly because my lawyer has told me not to. There’s a legal dispute going on over ownership of the companies Eve and I cofounded. When I left, I was told to give up my share of our publishing company with no compensation. I was also made starkly aware of just how little control I had over my own life.

For such a long time, my employment, my living situation, the majority of my income, the likelihood of my Canadian citizenship application being rejected (with the associated risk of losing my access to Canadian healthcare) was not under my control. “Unless I see a certificate of divorce,” Eve told me, “I will make sure you never get Canadian residency.”

When I finally managed to extract myself, I risked losing all of these things by refusing to just hand over my part of our publishing company. That risk increased when I refused to divorce my wife. I would lose everything I had poured so much of my time and energy and love into.

The legal fight is still ongoing. But I am exhausted, weary of the constant battle of trying to find reality in a world of funhouse mirrors. My lawyer no longer believes that Eve is, or ever was, acting in good faith in our legal dispute. When there's nothing left, when even that small hope of being able to rescue something of value from that time is burned out...when there's no longer anything left but the sure knowledge that my part in all those beautiful, glorious, creative projects I was so proud to have been involved in has been gradually, intentionally, ruthlessly stripped away...

The constant anxiety, that repeated raising and crushing of hope, the ongoing stress of the last year and a half, has burned out all the energy I had left to fear loss. I'm done. There's nothing left for me to lose. So I'm choosing truth. I'm choosing vulnerability. I'm choosing openness, and courage, and hope. I'm choosing to reach out to my community.

I'm choosing not to be silent any more.

I haven't dared take that risk before now.
WLAMF

Fake social media profiles

I woke this morning to a bunch of angry, confused texts, messages, and emails. Someone is creating phony social media profiles that look exactly like mine and use the same avatars/userpics, and is using these fake profiles to send abusive, harassing messages to large numbers of my friends.

This person is also posting abusive social media messages in public.

If you receive a message that seems to be from me on any social media, please check it carefully before you assume I've gone off the deep end and started abusing you.
WLAMF

Fragments of SquiggleCon: Two mottes one bailey

If you've read my blog for any length of time, or for that matter been on the Internet for any length of time, you've probably encountered the phrase "motte and bailey argument" or "motte and bailey doctrine" before.

A motte and bailey argument is an argument in which you believe something, but you don't really have a good justification for it. So when you're attacked, you retreat into a different, much more specific belief, for which you do have a good argument. When the attack is over, you come back out to your original, more general belief, the one that's harder to justify.

An example of a motte and bailey argument I hear in polyamory circles all the damn time is this one:

"You need to have a veto in your relationship if you want your primary relationships to stay healthy."

"Veto doesn't necessarily keep relationships healthy. In fact, using a veto on someone your partner loves can break your partner's heart, and if you break your partner's hert then you are going to damage your relationship."

"But a veto just means you can discuss your concerns with your partner! It means you can talk about problems you see in their other relationships! You favor open communication in your relationships, right?"

"Yes."

"So you agree, all poly relationships need veto."


In this argument, the bailey is a need for veto, usualy understood to mean the unilateral and unquestioned ability to end a lover's other relationship. This is a difficult position to defend, so when called, a person may retreat into the motte ("When I say 'veto,' I'm only talking about open communication!"), then, when the argument is over, go back to advocating for unilateral and unquestioned ability to end a lover's other relationship.

The Motte and Bailey argument comes from a style of fortification called a "motte and bailey," which is a place where an area of land that's difficult to defend (the bailey) is overlooked by an easily defensible structure (the motte). If raiders or an enemy army or whatever show up, you evacuate the bailey, bringing all the people into the motte. The he motte can be defended from attack. When the attached tack is over, everyone goes back out into the bailey.

Okay, so now that you're up to speed...

The town of Lincoln in northern Britain is home to a motte and bailey castle, called, appropriately enough, Lincoln Castle. Naturally, I had to visit.




Lincoln Castle was built somewhere around 1068 or so, and has been in use continuously ever since. It's an unusual motte and bailey structure in that it actually has two baileys. The motte is a smooth, round valley between two hills. Naturally, since if one is good, two must be better, William the Conquerer built two baileys, one on each hill, and there you have it.

Originally, the motte was completely enclosed by a wood fence, and both baileys were built of wood. It was replaced over the years centuries with beefier fortifications of stone. Today, nothing remains of the original wood structures.

Lincoln Castle is still in use today--the castle is now the courthouse and, from what I gather, capitol building for Lincoln. The rest is an open-air museum. We had a blast running around the place.



Here's a view from one of the two mottes, looking down into the bailey. The round structure on the left is the fortified gate through the outer wall. The red brick structure to the right is an old Victorian-era prison. The round tower in the background is the second motte, because you know what they say about mottes: you can never stop at just one.



Here's what's left of the second motte, seen from the middle of the bailey.

As soon as I found out that Lincoln Castle has two mottes, I immediately, on that very spot, registered the domain name twomottesonebailey.com -- though I have absolutely no idea what I will use it for. Suggestions?



The second motte, which is in much better shape than the first. The tower still exists, though most of the rest of it is now a broken, hollowed-out shell in which it would be tremendous fun to film a cheesy low-budget movie.



See what I mean? This place is just screaming for orcs or spectral knights or some sort of special effect where mist flows through the windows before congealing into an undead sorceror or something.



The fortification has two gates, one on each side. Breaking in through one of these gates would be a nontrivial undertaking for sure. In the background, between the two trees, is a place where the wall widens into a large round structure that contains cells where prisoners due to be executed were chained up prior to being hanged--more on that in a minute.





Here's the actual "castle" bit of Lincoln castle. It has been the administrative center and courthouse for Lincoln for...oh, for longer than the country I live in has been a country, honestly. It's still used today, which is why I have no photos of the inside. Tourists aren't allowed in, being that it's a functional courthouse and all.



The Victorian prison. Touring this was interesting. Whenever I see something like this, I always wonder how many innocent people were sentenced here, and how many people ended up here for political rather than criminal justice reasons.

The inside had rather more windows than I expected, though I suppose in an age without electric lights, that makes sense.





Prisoners were kept in cells lining both sides of the stacked corridors. The building is divided into two halves, one for male and one for female prisoners. More on that in a minute, too.

Some of the cells were used by the prisoners to do tasks like washing laundry, making bedrolls, or stamping license plates.



This left fewer cells for actual housing of prisoners, so they were stacked in like cordwood.



Though to be fair, I have stayed in a hostel whose accommodations were roughly similar.

This being Victorian times, God was kind of a big deal (those Victorians were quite the bunch of God-botherers, even as they did the most ungodly of things), so of course the prison had a chapel, and of course, attendance was mandatory.



Each pew was a separate room, divided from its neighbors by a little door, presumably to make it more difficult for the prisoners to shank each other during services, that being considered rather uncouth and all. The prisoners could not see each other, but the person delivering the sermon could see all the prisoners, cleverly combining the functions of a chapel and a panopticon into one (a Chapelopticon? Panchapelcon? I don't know). Thus do we see religion reflected in architecture. God sees you, so stop doing that thing you do with your private parts ands that feather duster, you pervert.

I was, while we toured the prison, engaging in cybersex with a lovely woman who lives in Waterloo, Ontario, which was a bit freaky. I have now imprinted on Victorian prisons as arousal triggers. There's no way that can go wrong.

So yeah, executions. The Victorians were big on 'em. They'd kill you just as soon as look at you. Steal something? Say something bad about the king? Poke a badger with a spoon? You're a dead man walking.

Or women. They were remarkably egalitarian in the judicial application of death.

They had special cells in that bulge in the wall I mentioned earlier. They look like this:



Each one had a steel ring set in the wall, to which they would literally chain the condemned.



On the appointed day, after the crowds had gathered, they'd unchain the people, lead them out into the bailey, and kill them for the entertainment of the guests justice and peace of the land.

And yes, there were crowds. Big ones. People who lived in houses near the walls would rent out second-story rooms with a view at exorbitant rates to folks who wanted a good view. Apparently, there was a full-on riot on execution day when the star of the show had ruined everyone's entertainment by committing suicide earlier on--the people demanded to see someone be killed, but the prison didn't have anyone else to kill that day, and it was all a hell of a mess.

I guess that's what happens before the age of Marvel superhero movies.

So anyway, one of the Victorian prison wardens was a man of Science, who installed a telescope in one of the mottes so he could look at the stars. Err, yeah, that's right, the stars. To look at. In the sky. Stars.

Remember how I said the prison was divided into a male and a female wing? Female prisoners were kept in the back, and allowed into an outdoor courtyard behind the motte.



Here's a view from the observatory the warden built for his telescope.



...yeah. Apparently, from what our tour guide said, he had sevral illegitimate children with several different female prisoners.

Those whacky Victorians, amirite?




There is one other bit I don't have photos of, because photos aren't allowed in the super special room where it's kept: the Magna Carta.

Yes, the Magna Carta, one of the original handwritten copies. It's here, in a climate controlled room with the text of the thing up on the wall.

And there, right at eye level smack dab in the middle of this enormous wall of text, is Clause 54:

No one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman for the death of any person except her husband.


Even back then, women's voices were never taken seriously.