Dubious consent and gaslighting

tw:assault, dubious consent, gaslighting

I’m putting the warnings right up top. Practice self-care. Next, this is not a story that happened to a friend of a friend. This happened to people I know. I was there. It was involved. I am not, nor will I name names because that is not the point of this.

Several years ago I was working an event and two of my staff got into a conflict. They were both on duty, it was in the event space and one of them had a duty radio on them. The male identified person(A) made a pass at the female identified (B) person. B demurred and said no. A was in such a position in the room that B could not get past them to end the moment. Eventually, B (who was younger and smaller but well over the age of consent) was able to get out of the room but the A followed them for a while before breaking off and going elsewhere.

That’s not the point of this. The point is instead this: 45 minutes later B ended up with friends and said ‘wow, that was really odd. It made me uncomfortable.’ And about an hour after that they got pulled aside by a senior staffer (male) who said ‘Seriously, are you okay?’

‘Yeah. I knew if it got any worse I had a radio and I could call for help.’

‘Okay, but I know you and you’re probably downplaying it a bit because that’s what we’ve (US culture) have trained women to do. Are you sure you’re okay?’

Apparently, there was a long pause and then B responded. ‘Yeah, I’m okay but I had back up. I don’t know if other people would have that.’

‘Do you want to get other people involved?’

Another pause to consider. ‘Yeah, yeah I do.’

This still isn’t the point of the story.

This is where I got directly involved because both of those people worked for me. I’d been unaware of the issue. I got briefed. I met with A with a third party present (male) to listen so there would be no chance of favoritism or (hopefully) conflict as well as the solid idea that there is always a witness and an observer to interactions like that. It was clear to me as well as the observer that A didn’t understand what they’d done wrong. That they hadn’t heard a clear no, didn’t get the dynamics of the situation at all and were frankly a bit baffled as to why they were being questioned. I eventually made the call to have A removed from the event.

Here’s the point of the story: I got questioned, multiple times, post-event about why I’d done it. There was a whole lot of ‘A wouldn’t do that’ and ‘B should have done X’. I ended up having either three or four multiple hour-long conversations with people about the incident that none of them had been present for. Because A wouldn’t do that.

Think about that for a minute. I am, in theory, a responsible enough adult human to make judgments about managing people. I had a third party present who was male who made an assessment about the behavior of A. And yet when the time came, it was easier to question me and my judgement and the behavior of B, that to entertain the idea of A not understanding their behavior was problematic.

Tomorrow? I tell the story of when I got assaulted at a science fiction convention.


  1. This is an unfortunate theme lately, and yes, when women bring up or point out abuse, we always seem to be questioned most aggressively – even if someone has to work really hard and twist things to come up with an angle for those questions.

  2. I don’t find it shocking or even problematic that people would question your decision on the matter. That’s part and parcel of the leadership role. In large part, credibility and effectiveness as a leader turn on the ability to answer such questions with clarity and transparency. “Because I’m in charge and I said so” is technically correct, but it won’t get anywhere with most people in today’s world, and with Pagans in particular, it’s a non-starter. Simple appeals to authority are what initially turned most of us onto the spiritual road we now travel.

    The people questioning your decision were not there, but then again, neither were you (in the space of the alleged incident at the time it took place.) As manager, you had to make a decision with limited and largely unverifiable data, with fairly high stakes – the festival’s reputation, maybe financial liability, the safety of attendees, etc. It’s a tough spot to be in and it’s why so few people step up to leadership roles in the Pagan community and even fewer succeed.

    I have no firsthand knowledge or connections to anyone in this incident, as far as I know, but there are any number of questions which can reasonably be raised. In reading this account, I wonder a little bit how much of the decision to press a complaint was the idea of the alleged victim vs staffers. It sounded like she felt she handled the situation and (maybe) wanted to just move on. It’s critically important to let someone know in her position that it’s ok to press a complaint, and that they have no obligation to “just get over it.” At the same time, that should be truly their decision and not someone else even subtly pushing that. I get where that first male staffer’s concern comes from, but it almost feels like he questioned her agency to know how she felt about it. The presence of another person in questioning the man at the heart of the complaint is a good idea, but the fact that there’s a third party and that he’s male doesn’t inherently put the issue beyond question.

    For me, the core question would be ascertaining whether this man’s decisions had malevolent intent or whether he truly just didn’t grasp the optics of the situation in light of up-to-date consent culture. As a male in particular, you have to be aware of how you present yourself in someone else’s space, particularly when no others are present. But was he actively blocking her exit, or was he just a fat guy who naturally obstructed a hallway, etc.? Was this an isolated thing or was there a pattern of problematic behavior by this guy? For me, these sorts of questions would drive whether he had to be ejected from the event, or whether some other remedy was more appropriate. If someone’s not a true creeper but just “doesn’t get it”, there’s a teaching moment about what consent culture really means.

    The bottom line consideration has to be people’s safety, so whenever that is in doubt, I’d rather have someone removed and take the heat for it later. People who question the decision need to know how paramount that consideration is for leadership (or should be). They also need to know that their impressions that someone “would never do that” are unreliable at best. People assume that sexual harassers or predators must be outwardly anti-social and physically frightening at all times. That is rarely the case. The worst abusers, indeed many serial killers, are experts at presenting to most of the world as very affable.

    I’m glad we’re finally starting to engage with these serious problems in a serious way. Too many festivals and organizers have swept it under the rug for too long.

    1. I am going to assume good intentions in your response but you are literally re-litigating the issue. The questions you have are in fact the ones I faced down over and over in the aftermath of the event.

      To answer, however, your question about if he ‘got it’ or not? I spent 45 minutes talking to him in Ops being extremely clear about what problems I had with his described behavior (note this was my second meeting with him, the first was to get his side of the event), why it is seen as problematic, what rape culture is, etc. It was very clear to me and to the other people present that he didn’t understand nor did he have any clear desire to. He was very clear in his statements that to him he had done nothing wrong. I consulted with two other senior leaders at the con after he left that meeting. They agreed that he didn’t understand the boundary issues. At that point I had a reasonable presumption that the behavior could occur again and that was a risk I was unwilling to take on behalf of the attendees, especially so since he was a staffer and therefore had a bit more authority than just an attendee.

      FWIW, afterwards some of the people who approached me wanted to understand so they could teach him about consent culture. His friends took up the role of teaching which is far more appropriate for a long term change than myself in the role of someone who only saw them for the length of the event.

      But do be aware you are re-litigating the issue, the actions of the people involved that are not me, and that is not what I want the conversation to be about.

      1. I don’t mean to re-litigate the issue. I’m just pointing out the sorts of questions I would have asked and I think are reasonable for others to ask after the fact. Your reply greatly clarifies a key aspect of the matter for me. Not understanding the problem he created it one thing. Not caring to understand it is quite another, and in that instance I think I would have done the same thing.

        I’m not interested in trying to litigate this particular episode, but it’s an excellent lead into the bigger picture. I don’t think that has to be “litigated”, but it needs serious thinking. Simulations, post-game analysis and thought experiments are useful in that. Anything that promotes discussion is useful, because the existing pattern for the Pagan community has been to pretend it doesn’t exist, then kick the can into the weeds when it does arise.

        1. I think you are going down a different path here than I am meaning by the piece, which is fine. Death of the author is legit. The point of the piece, however, is that women and leaders, and women leaders are not believed. That instead the perpetrator of the problem is given the benefit of the doubt.

          Also, and I realize this is text so I’m going to again give you the benefit of the doubt, but to reduce this to a thought simulation, even in comments is a position of vast privilege. I strongly recommend you consider that this whole incident is one to be thought over and chewed over as a simulation, instead of an incident that happened to myself and people I know. Especially people I know well enough and trust enough to be my staff. Serious thinking is called for, yes. Turning it into post game analysis, where the victim of the event can see it, and other people who have been through similar events? Is tone deaf.

          You are treading into the territory of well-meaning here. Tread lightly.

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