After the huge number of consent revelations last year, I befriended one of the consent violators. I've decided to hide their identity. Let's call her Vivian.
Vivian was a well known and generally respected person in the kink scene, and when the revelations happened, she was accused of some very bad things. At the same time, Vivian had been a friend to me, so I reached out to her. I asked about the accusations but never weighed in. Vivian had taken herself out of the scene voluntarily. My concern was about Vivian herself. The accusations and storm around them had affected her relationships. She lost many friends and even her primary partner. Between the stress and the general situation, the situation also impacted her job, and she was let go. As a crisis counselor, I knew that being jobless and emotionally isolated puts you at high risk for depression and suicide, so I would meet with Vivian every month or so, just to check up on her.
We rarely discussed the accusations head-on. I knew that if we did, I would have to weigh in, but as long as she was out of the scene and in therapy, this was a non-issue. I could focus on just being there for someone in need.
Which brings us to today...
The last time I saw Vivian, she was looking better. She was getting herself back on her feet emotionally and financially. She looked better than I'd seen her looking in months. At lunch she told me her intent to re-join the kink scene.
We talked about how much her situation reminded me of the situation that others have gone through, of powerful men in the US, such as Matt Lauer, Louie CK and Al Franken, and the fact that right now, we have not created a path for atonement. I discussed my own religious background and the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana, a holiday in which we are meant to reflect on the year and atone for our sins.
What atonement, I asked, had she done and what would she talk about to those who might ask. She said there was no accepted forgiveness process in society or in the scene right now. She would come back in the scene without an explicit apology and people could choose to accept her or not.
I told her then as I'm telling all of you now- this is a bad idea.
There's a part to the Louie CK story that Sarah Silverman told recently in an interview. As peers, when they were younger, Sarah Silverman and Louie CK would travel together as they toured as young comedians. On these tours, Louie would ask Sarah if she would mind if he masturbated in front of her. In the interview, Sarah said that sometimes her answer was "Hell yeah! Take it out!" as she finds male masturbation fascinating. Other times she would say no, and Louie respectfully accepted the rejection and they would go out for dinner instead.
She continued that she feels that one aspect of the Louie CK story is that he may have stayed the same while the dynamics around him changed. That is, as a rich and powerful man, a question that was entirely acceptable between peers was not with the power discrepancy that existed.
While this didn't explain all the accusations around Louie CK, it explained an aspect of the situation, and Silverman's astute observation about the power dynamics involved and how they've changed are very useful in understanding. As part of his atonement, Louie CK will need to understand those dynamics in more depth and demonstrate his understanding if he wants to be accepted.
None of us is perfect. I know I've made mistakes in my life, in all aspects of my life. I've made mistakes in kink and in my personal life. I've said things and done things that I wish I could take back or have done differently. There are people who were once in my life and who aren't there any longer. There are people who I miss that may never forgive me.
Atonement is difficult and painful. Seeing yourself as a person who does bad things is excruciating. None of us likes to think about ourselves as a person who does bad things, and confronting that is scary and vulnerable. It's being naked and cold, exposed to the world. It's opening up ourselves to the harshest of accusations from outside, and also from those voices inside that tell us the very worst things about ourselves.
The fact is very few people do bad things on purpose. We are not Disney villains, wringing our hands together in order to destroy the lives of those around us. We make mistakes because we are thoughtless, afraid or unaware. Our judgments become clouded because we want to be liked, loved, accepted or understood. Unless we are pathological, we do bad things unintentionally and as adults, we must do the incredibly difficult, painful work of atonement and change- both for ourselves and those around us.
Similarly, Vivian will need to understand the dynamics around her accusations as well and accept what she's done. As she believes, some accusations may be false or exaggerated, but there is always something to be learned and internal work to be done.
I want Vivian to be happy, fulfilled and I want to welcome her back to the kink community. I will be her friend regardless of her decision to work on herself or not, but only once she does the work will I support her decision to re-join the community.
Not having a clearly defined path for atonement and forgiveness doesn't absolve one of doing the work, it means you need to forge your own.