Consent violation accusation, 1 month later
Last month I heard the following rumor about myself from a bay area acquaintance:
"[a friend who runs a camp at a large event] let me know that someone had complained to him that you were insufficiently respectful of sexual consent boundaries [and that's why you aren't welcome to join his camp]"
He later said that this was a close if not perfect recounting of what he was told, that his source said they had no further information to give, and that their information was further than second-hand. That left at least two, possibly many more, further degrees of separation between me and the original source, in what amounts to a game of telephone with significant real world consequences. While his phrasing could mean a lot of things, it seems obvious that most people would interpret it as an accusation of engaging in some non-consensual sexual activities, and that interpretation is the one that I chose to proceed with.
At the time, I thought this rumor must have started in the bay area. I followed up with the most likely source in the bay area, opening with an apology, and they said everything was fine between us and it wasn't them. My ongoing friendly and sexual relations with most of my other bay area partners made them seem unlikely, and the last was someone who had asked for a demo of a sex toy at a convention which also seemed unlikely as a source and I had no way to follow up on. Shortly thereafter, feeling stymied, I found out that the same rumor had reached Chicago last year and my camp leads there had ignored it because they trust me. I guess I'm glad they trust me, but I was and am annoyed that they didn't tell me. This, and a few other factors, led me to the conclusion that the rumor came from Boston.
I made the previous post linked above, as well as some other posts about more specific topics. I made numerous inquiries to friends and acquaintances, particularly those in positions of authority or social standing in my Boston communities, some online, many in person including a poll of ~50 people at Firefly 2016. My side of that poll went something like this: "Can I ask you a serious question?", sometimes followed up with some combination of "It's important." "It will take 30 seconds." "It's a yes/no question.", then "Other than from me, have you ever heard, even third-hand, that I have been accused of a sexual consent violation?". The vast majority of people denied ever having heard the rumor at all, including a lot of people whose social and organization roles include community protection. Most of those people also volunteered that they would have told me proactively if they had heard the rumor, and I want to believe them. Prior to this situation, I would have thought that went without saying. I was, apparently, wrong.
Since I believe in honesty and transparency in matters like this, here is what I've found in this investigation of myself:
1) In my polling, I found out from one person I had considered a friend that they heard this (or an indistinguishable other) rumor, in July 2015, in a mostly-Boston community. I asked and they refused to provide additional information. They did not tell me in 2015, nor did they warn my intimate partners who were also their friends. I am still contemplating the appropriate follow-up on that situation; I consider that latter part to be substantially dangerous social misbehavior. Some other friends and acquaintances in that same social circle refused to answer the question, which could be related. That date narrows the window down to about three years, and around a dozen intimate/play/sexual partners. I have not yet reached out to any of them that I am not still/regularly involved with, but plan to do so, hopefully after I narrow it down further.
2) Also during my polling, one other person told me about hearing a first or second-hand accusation from a mutual acquaintance. They said she had described a person/situation that seemed so strongly unlike me that they interpreted it as mistaken identity and told her as much at the time, and this apparent mistake is why they did not tell me about it. They did not provide me details of the situation, other than to mention that it may have involved criminal charges, but did name her. I don't think I've ever done anything with her that would come close to the category of "sexual consent", and I am not aware of any criminal charges ever having been brought against me by anyone. My recent follow-up with her was both good and bad. I opened with an apology. She thanked me for the apology, said the violation "wasn't serious and is long under the bridge", and that she was "impressed and happy to see you still working on these things". She did not, however, give me any information about what happened. I do not think this person is connected to the friend in #1, so this is unlikely to be the origin of the rumor that friend #1 heard. I hope to eventually find more information about the nature of this potential violation and the extent of its retelling.
3) In response to a Facebook post, a friend from Atlanta (where I lived approx 4-8 years ago) told me that another friend from Atlanta had said that we had engaged in sexual play while she was inebriated. I reached out to a few women for whom I thought this could possibly have been the case and apologized, all of whom responded in a friendly fashion and said that it was not them. Later I found out who the woman in question was. Although I do not remember it happening, I want to offer my apology to her for any violation she experienced. The friend who told me about this suggested that I should not contact her, that she had put the issue behind her and bringing it up again would be painful. I am putting this message out there publicly, so that if any of our other mutual friends know about this situation, are still in touch with her, and think it would do good for her to hear it, it might be passed on. That said, I do not think this information reached more than a few people in Atlanta, and it is very unlikely to have been the source of a rumor in Boston and later.
4) Two people gave me their second and third hand retellings of a few other people being uncomfortable when engaging in public rope play with me. Specifically that the placement of some ropes were experienced as unwelcome or uninvited. I try not to surprise people with ropes in intimate areas, and to avoid sexual stimulation that wasn't negotiated. I try to make sure that I have the person's attention and proceed slowly and deliberately when putting ropes in places that might be unexpected. I try to take a TSA-like approach to touching in those areas, maneuvering so that my actions won't be interpreted as a poke or grab anywhere inappropriate. I'm going to give further thought to this feedback to determine if it should lead to me changing my approach.
In light of all of that, I'm giving more thought and effort to a possibility I originally considered not worth following up on:
2-3 years ago, I was engaged in a lot of semi-public online discussion, debate, and argument with people in the Boston burner/dance/alt community about the subject of consent, particularly handling of consent violations and accusations. This happened on the Boston Burners and Firefly Blink mailing lists, and in the Firefly and Boston Bureau of Erotic Discourse and Serious Talk for Boston Burners groups on Facebook. In the course of those arguments, due to my positions and my style/approach, I was banned from a number of event venues in the Boston area, and that's part of why I left town. Along the way to those bannings, and closely related in at least one case, something happened that I usually don't expect to see outside of twitter (which I generally avoid for just such reason). Two women in that community called me "rapist", in semi-public group discussions, based solely on our philosophical disagreements, not any action I had taken or was accused of taking. (one of those women interjected themselves to say "no" to my poll at Firefly, despite my not having asked them, which I found very puzzling at the time)
It is possible, and seems increasingly plausible, that those statements were the beginning of a terrible game of "telephone". Someone might have read them, possibly misinterpreted them, and repeated them without context, leading to further repetitions and paraphrasings:
"Sparr, that's a very rape-y thing to say"
"Sparr, you sound like a rapist"
"Sparr, you're a rapist" (It got this far where I could see it)
"Sparr is a rapist"
"Sparr raped someone"
"Sparr was accused of raping someone"
"Sparr is insufficiently respectful of sexual consent boundaries" (The rumor as I heard it)
I still don't have enough information to confidently say what I think has happened. I continue to seek information on all of these fronts. This line of inquiry has spawned numerous side quests, all of which I hope to follow to completion in order to make amends, better myself, help others better themselves, or help others make informed decisions about me. Posting this, and following those leads, means I can never again know if an accusation is new or based on the same thing as this round of rumors or even just based on someone having read this post. I can live with that, if it means doing something good with this information.
(cross posted to Facebook, Livejournal, Google+, Fetlife)