Once more, I am participating in A Chronic Voice’s monthly linkup.
words: loving, affirming, waiting, parting, and persevering.
I hope you guys aren’t sick of hearing about BiRequest or my migraine yet. I promise as soon as the migraine breaks, I’ll be able to do more researched work, but for now, I’m still trying to minimize my screen time.
Having a loving and safe space
BiRequest has always been a loving and supportive space for me. When I first joined there were 8 regular members if that, and another 5 or 6 people that came on occasion. New people joined, long term members got busy with other things but every time I walked into a meeting I felt welcomed loved and safe.
I could be myself, accepted for who I am, and could comfortably chat with most everybody in the group. There may have been a person or two who I didn’t particularly want to know better, but people respected one another space close friendships were made and a strong sense of kinship existed between members of the group.
Over the years BiRequest has grown: instead of 8 to 20 members, we have 30 or more attendees on a regular basis and have had over 50 people in attendance in one meeting.
The meetings are less intimate and intense than they used to be, but BiRequest has remained a space where I felt safe and welcomed able to be friendly with everyone friends with many and had more people in the group on my ‘potential friends’ list than on my ‘smile nod and back away slowly’ list
It’s different now, as people who I viewed as friends or potential friends (and a few on the back away slowly list) were spreading stories about my friend Paul who had been leading the group, mostly on his own, for the past several years
I love Paul. He is my friend, he has never in any way betrayed my trust and he has also been an amazing facilitator in BiRequest
Unfortunately, he also has some kinks that are very much on the border of acceptable and border on violating consent.
He has open about being a nudist and an exhibitionist but appropriately, has never gone into details within the group setting. I know more details due to our long friendship and conversations we have had about nudity, and play around the possibility of being ‘caught’.
To me the fact that he set things up so he could generally hide his nudity, his lack of focus on targeting other people and the idea of the possibility of getting caught, rather than being caught was what excited him, recognized the behavior as a definite gray area but to me it did not take away from his ability to facilitate, his trustworthiness, or his ability to manage BiRequest.
To be clear, BiRequest has been my primary social outlet for much of the past 15 years, though I did spend most of 6 years not participating due to graduate school.
Affirming damaging beliefs: challenges of an echo chamber
People outside and inside the group found his videos and stills of his borderline behaviors and circulated those images and links to them among themselves.
I suspect the initial source, at least who suggested digging, was a woman uninvolved with BiRequest who apparently was jealous and angry about Paul having so much power as under his leadership the population of BiRequest exploded and he was very involved in the Queer Liberation March which apparently didn’t invite a group she was in to march with them.
Queer Liberation March didn’t invite anybody, they were, quite intentionally, by and for the people who chose to help make the event happen and anybody else who wanted to participate.
Most of the members of BiRequest who had the most extreme reaction were people who have been abused or sexually assaulted, given stories they have shared.
The information, labeled as proof of Paul’s ineligibility to lead was passed from person to person via email or facebook messenger and always described in terms of ‘consent violation’, ‘inappropriate sexual behavior’, and other pejorative dark interpretations.
The screenshots were often without context and all were selected specifically to convince viewers that Paul was a manipulative perverted individual who did not care about consent.
This was passed from victim to victim reminding them of previous pain, echoing their own abuse. They discussed all of this among themselves in an emotional echo chamber so they could affirm one another’s pain and anguish, reviewing the videos and images and convincing themselves that Paul’s borderline behavior was instead way over the line making him unsafe and putting themselves at risk.
I do not know how long these stories were spread, whispered about, and magnified but by the time Paul and the rest of us learned what was happening, their perspective was very very dark they were already distancing themselves from the group.
Paul, recognizing the severity of the situation stepped back and stopped facilitating and going to meetings until things could be resolved.
Waiting for the space to resolve the issues (meanwhile, things get worse)
So, starting the first Monday of August, the day of that first meeting of the month, when many of us, including Paul, first discovered how many people had seen and were upset by his images, BiRequest has continued functioning in a state of tension, without the active participation of Paul.
That Monday, I was verbally attacked by a person I had considered a friend – he effectively accused me of 1) being blinded to the wrongness of the situation by my long friendship with Paul and 2) of being morally deficient due to not agreeing with his perspective.
In all honesty, worse and weirder things have happened within the kink community with minimal repercussions and I knew that Paul’s explorations were not directed at others and he wasn’t looking to get caught.
I definitely have had moments of doubt about my interpretations of things, especially since some of the most hurt and upset people have experienced sexual abuse, and I love many of them too.
I do believe that their reactions are disproportionate to his actions and choices, but I am not by any means saying that there has been no harm done by his decisions either.
The next meeting on the third Thursday of the month, my migraine(which I still have, 7 weeks later) began, Kawa ended our relationship, and another member of our group, Bob, brought a member of BiNet, USA(whose VP appears to have instigated this whole mess) to the meeting.
Being on an emotional hair-trigger due to the shock of the breakup and the emotional tension in the room, when the man mentioned he was from BiNet, I lost control of my body, my feet started stamping, my arms flailing, and I generally made quite a scene for a few seconds before I could start to regain control over my body.
Bob’s response was to reprimand me to calm down, an exceptionally rude and ablist statement given my openness about how my Functional Neurological Disorder(FND) works.
I eventually regained some control over my body and was able to sit relatively quietly again, but Bob had just cemented my hurt and anger with him through his choices(bringing somebody from BiNet tot he meeting at this stressful time) and his actions(besides demanding I calm down, he also had accused me of harassing the former president of BiNet, had dumped a list of accusations and falsehoods on my through fb messenger in between the two meetings). I now shake uncontrollably when I see or hear Bob. It’s a pretty unpleasant experience to be affected like that.
Besides deciding who was facilitating what meeting and when, those of us who were both facilitators and willing to work together gathered online to try to plan a mediation session(or sessions) to try to manage the situation.
We agreed we needed a person unaffiliated with BiRequest or Paul to mediate, and we needed somebody who either was bi or was respectful to the bi identity and who was also kink-aware.
Finding the right person and arranging the meetings took over a month, so my(and everybody else’s) stress and tension continued without much of a break until the mediation sessions finally occurred on September 26th and 30th.
After the stress of that Thursday meeting, I wrote on facebook about my frustrations and fears related to losing Kawa, the stress within BiRequest, and the major mysteries surrounding Rorschach’s health.
The instigator felt it was appropriate to respond to this by text bombing me – while the initial message wasn’t horrible – basically a wish for me to feel loved – it was immediately followed by a string of emotional vomit that included accusations against Paul, and a pervading presumption that I wished her bodily harm(specifically she felt I wanted to punch her in the face).
The message and how she chose to send it left me feeling somewhat violated(we hadn’t exchanged texts in over a year), and even more unsafe.
After crying for a while, I had a very late lunch with Paul before facilitating the Brooklyn meeting, which restored my belief in why I am doing all of this, and my sense of the importance of BiRequest.
The first September meeting went well until the instigator appeared near the end of the meeting. I lost control of my body(I was able to keep from stamping on the floor, but barely), and was constantly symptomatic for the rest of the meeting.
We were a relatively small group that night, and once I got to dinner, I realized that there was nowhere I could sit where I wouldn’t see or hear her, so I limped out of the restaurant and went home to protect my mental and emotional health.
Finally, around then, I realized that my headache wasn’t just a headache but a migraine, so I talked to my neurologist.
Since then(so, for over the past month) I have been trying new treatments every 5 days or so, and have had basically a constant light and screen sensitivity.
So far nothing has broken the migraine, though the pain portion of it is low – I’m just so frustrated that the light sensitivity is still happening and reducing what I can do on the blog and to help BiRequest.
I chose not to go to the mediation planning meeting the next week to protect myself, and the instigator refused to go. Those who came did the best the could and were able to schedule the mediation at the end of the month.
Parting from the group-an unexpected response
At the most recent meeting – the third Thursday of September, the tension was high and it took a while for the discussion to flow. As I looked around, I realized that all of the folks that had bee so violently opposed to Paul were there.
At the midpoint of the meeting, we always pass the hat and make community announcements. A member who is among the most disappointed by Paul, and who I respect very much, stood up and announced a new group would be meeting on a different day and time.
Apparently, she and the others who were most vocally against Paul have decided to form their own bi group. The instigator has insisted that this meeting was her last BiRequest meeting ever.
So, for at least some of them, their solution was a create their own group before the mediation could even occur. Their first meeting will be the day after BiRequest’s next meeting.
I really do wish them the best.
More Bi groups in the city are a good thing.
More bi opportunities and connections in this space are good.
I just wish they hadn’t decided that was the appropriate response to their issues.
I wish they weren’t leaving because they feel attacked, angry, and hurt – and because some of them made decisions that destroyed their relationships with other members of BiRequest.
Persevering: BiRequest will continue
One of our main goals through all of this was to find a balance point, where participants in BiRequest felt respected and listened to, and we didn’t alienate the people who were most hurt(neither Paul, who never expected those images to be spread around BiRequest, nor our members who found those images indicative of consent violations).
This is a hard needle to thread, especially since BiRequest is entirely volunteer-run. We have no legal status or organization. We aren’t a 501(c)3, we aren’t a business, but we are just a group of people who choose to meet up twice a month and talk(and now we’ve expanded to other social activities as well).
There are no laws, bylaws, or paid anything. Paul was left the sole facilitator (when I got eaten alive by grad school in 2012) and kept it going on his own for over 6 years.
More people started being trained to facilitate and more interest was shown in leadership and we headed more and more in the direction of being what BiRequest had originally been: a group if bi folks a percentage of whom were willing and able to lead discussions.
We need to be a bit more than that now, with the picnics, drink nights, second meeting location, and marching in multiple marches/parades, but the facilitator role is the natural dividing line, meaning that all facilitators are going to need to step up a bit and take on more responsibilities.
I am a little angry that I have been pushed(by their actions) into taking on more active of a role than I ideally wanted, but I know that my loyalty and care for BiRequest as an organization makes managing it a top priority for me, now that Paul cannot.
The positive thing is, I am not alone in either the feelings nor the resolve, and most of my fellow facilitators are ready, willing, and able to shoulder the extra responsibilities, plan ahead to help create a stronger organization and better reporting system, as well as continue to do our best to provide a safe and supportive space for the bi community.
I just wish the whole process didn’t hurt so much.