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.