On Light and Shadow: Polyamory’s #metoo
“All of us are a mix of light and shadow, good and bad…If we were neatly sorted into piles marked ‘good people’ and ‘bad people,’ life would be much simpler. We could not, for example, be simultaneously easy to love and dangerous to love.”
— Franklin Veaux, The Game Changer
Franklin Veaux’s work has shed light. His writings about polyamory have been valuable resources that have helped countless people find their way to happier, more fulfilling polyamorous relationships.
Franklin Veaux’s life has also cast a shadow. This shadow stretches back decades, and its darkness has enveloped those who have been closest to him — especially, though not exclusively, those who tried to share their lives with him.
The light he has shed has made the shadow difficult to see. And so, the damage left in his wake, and the women who have borne that damage, have remained invisible.
It is time to bring these women and their stories into the light.
Six women have come forward with stories of experiences with Franklin that do not align with his public persona, his self-described stories of his relationships, or the values stated in his writing. These women include all three of his past nesting partners, as well as the women who have featured most prominently in his personal narratives.
Their stories demonstrate a pervasive and longstanding pattern of serious harm. They are specific and detailed, they are consistent with one another across decades, and they are supported by written documentation and witness accounts. Evidence in support of the women’s accounts can also be found in Franklin’s own writing.
The women’s experiences indicate that Franklin has patterns of manipulation, gaslighting, and lying; leverages his multiple partners against one another; tests or ignores boundaries; pathologizes his partners’ normal emotions and weaponizes their mental illnesses; exploits women financially; uses women’s ideas and experiences in his work without permission or credit; grooms significantly younger, less experienced, or vulnerable women; lacks awareness of power dynamics and consent; has involved women in group sex and other sexual activities that they experienced as coercive; and accepts no responsibility for the harm he causes by engaging in these behaviors — often blaming other women, or the harmed women themselves, for that harm.
These behaviors escalate when Franklin lives with a partner, and he becomes verbally abusive when his nesting relationships end. The severity of this pattern is illustrated by the fact that none of his former nesting partners will be alone with him. Two of them, over a decade apart, fled the homes they shared with him at the end of the relationships. Their written records from the time of leaving him show evidence of trauma.
The women who have told their stories describe effects on them that range from lingering confusion and self-doubt all the way to self-harm, suicidal ideation, lasting trauma requiring years or decades to repair, and long-lasting or permanent damage to their ability to trust others, enjoy intimacy, or enter into healthy romantic relationships.
A Call for Justice
“Cornel West says that ‘justice is what love looks like in public.’ I won’t experience the love of healing in a system that tears victims apart; you will not experience the love of accountability in a system that simply enacts more violence against those who have harmed others.” — Dr. Lucia Lorenzi
We have come together to support and advocate for the survivors. We come from many communities shared with Franklin and the women he has harmed, and many of the communities impacted by harm. We have varying relationships to and experiences with Franklin and with the harmed women. We include a licensed therapist who specializes in abuse and trauma, people with experience in anti-abuse work and transformative justice, scene organizers, and people with other necessary skills. We have been asked to come together to support the women and create space for their voices.
For survivors, healing comes from having harm witnessed. This is doubly true in a case like this, where harm was amplified by the public erasure of so many women and their stories. These women’s experiences are real, and they matter. They are as important as Franklin’s own stories. Our core work is to collect the women’s testimonies and find appropriate ways to share them, to make them a part of the historical record that already includes Franklin’s stories, and to work with our communities to protect the safety and boundaries of the women.
We ask for the support of our communities in this process. We ask for you to listen to the women, amplify their voices, protect their safety, and ask hard questions when you encounter narratives that appear to define or lay claim to their experiences, or where their voices are missing.
Many people throughout many polyamorous scenes — including every member of this group, and some of the harmed women themselves — have played a role in amplifying Franklin’s narrative and expanding his reach. Moreover, Franklin is far from the only person with social capital to have wielded it in harmful ways, nor are his former partners the only people to have experienced this particular kind of harm in polyamorous relationships. We have collective work to do in naming harm, healing from harm, and learning to do less harm to one another. We hope that this moment can be used to propel forward the hard conversations that will lead to collective healing, accountability and transformation.
Polyamory is not an organized movement. We have no governing body to which we can petition for a process of justice. We must rely on a loose network of organizers, spokespeople and other “leaders” to hear the women’s voices and take action that moves us all toward greater healing and safety. We therefore must ask our fellow activists, speakers, organizers and leaders, as individuals, to support our call for justice. We will make additional requests later, but below are some initial steps we are requesting of our communities:
- Share this statement and make clear your support for the survivors and this process.
- If you are not already in communication with the survivors about these issues, respect their privacy and boundaries and do not contact them directly about this process or the testimonies (theirs or Franklin’s). (Statements of solidarity or support may be submitted through the email listed below.)
- Educate yourself on abuse and transformative justice using reliable sources. (Some good places to start on accountability are 1, 2, 3, and on abuse, 1, 2, 3.)
- Do not give Franklin a platform to speak as an expert about abuse, accountability or transformative justice, or promote his work on these subjects.
- When booking speakers or interviewees on such sensitive topics as abuse, pay close attention to the specific qualifications and experience of the proposed resource, rather than public profile, “celebrity” status, or the certainty with which someone speaks.
- Pay attention: Ask questions and read the survivor statements when they are available. Closely examine the narrative of Franklin and his partners for statements that attempt to define the reality, experiences or feelings of the survivors. Confront narrative control and manipulation wherever you see it.
- Be aware that Franklin and some of his partners are using their platforms to continue to deflect responsibility and to gaslight and discredit the women who have come forward. Consider this when you make decisions about which of their work to share, or what you might book them to speak or be interviewed about, before they have completed their own work and fully acknowledged the harms done. Consider the message you are sending to survivors, and the kind of space you are offering, when you give them a platform.
- We do not want for Franklin, or any of his partners, to be excluded from their communities or severed from social support. However, we ask that the safety of survivors be prioritized at events, which may mean denying Franklin entry, upon request, to certain events or spaces that survivors wish to attend. We expect these instances to be rare and have only minimal impact on Franklin’s access to community.
- Respect the humanity of everyone involved and avoid reinforcing abusive beliefs by refraining from using, or tolerating, dehumanizing language to refer to Franklin, his enabling partners, or any of the survivors or suspected survivors.
We are not requesting a boycott of any of Franklin’s published work, and none of the survivors have asked for this. That said, do remain mindful of the fact that his stories about past relationships consistently differ from his past partners’ experiences, to a degree that goes beyond what can be explained by two people remembering the same events differently.
Franklin can be charming and kind. He has helped many people, and many people — especially people who have never been romantically involved with him, or who have spent only short periods of time with him — have had nothing but good experiences with him. Many of the women he’s harmed also experienced idyllic early relationships with him. Idyllic “vacation” relationships are especially easy to sustain over many years when a partner is long-distance. His long-distance partners, and partners who have not been through the end of an invested relationship with him, may never have experienced the kinds of harm from him experienced by those who became more entwined.
None of these other experiences diminish the weight of the harmed women’s stories. In fact, Franklin’s gentle, feminist public persona has amplified the harm the women have experienced, ensuring they will not be believed, privileging his story over theirs, and increasing their isolation. If the stories of these women contrast with your own experiences of Franklin, we invite you to consider that no one who is abusive is abusive to everyone, or even all the time to those people they abuse; no one who has not lived with Franklin can know what it is like to live with him; and no one who has not ended a relationship with him can know how he behaves at the end of a relationship. It is, as Franklin himself has written, possible for him to be simultaneously easy to love and dangerous to love.
An Offer of Accountability
“If he really truly believed that he was doing harm, and not just that his partner was experiencing harm in his vicinity, I think he would actually change his behavior.” — “Amber,” Franklin’s first “game changer”
Many people have tried many times over many years to explain to Franklin the harm he has caused and offer him a chance to change, with no effect. He has cut off partners, friends, communities and social groups as a result of having his harmful behaviors named. He has been offered, and refused, a community accountability process at least once. What we are doing here is not about reforming or changing Franklin or giving him a redemption arc. Our work is not focused on Franklin, nor does it rely on his participation; it is about centering the women he has left damaged in his wake and creating some community change. Nevertheless, we, and the women themselves, believe strongly that no one is disposable, and that a path to accountability — separate from the process of supporting the survivors — should be open to Franklin.
We make no assertions about Franklin’s motivations, his experiences, his innate character or his internal world. It is not our role to prescribe penalties or a process of change for Franklin, or to monitor such. None of the harmed women desires punishment for Franklin, and many still express compassion and care for him. We acknowledge that Franklin has also experienced suffering, and we believe it is possible to hold space for his own pain without minimizing, excusing or enabling his harmful actions.
Therefore, as a final gesture of goodwill, we have sent Franklin a call-in letter naming the harm done, asking that he initiate his own accountability process, and outlining what accountability would look like to the survivors. He has indicated via a public Quora post that he declines, but we stand ready to liaise with his accountability team should he change his mind.
We believe that the people who love and care for Franklin, and who have benefitted from his work, can learn to support him and hold him in community without enabling him to do further harm, or further amplifying the harm he has already done. For the people who choose that role, we ask that you read the call-in letter and lovingly but firmly hold him to its terms. Our own priority, however, is not Franklin. Our priority is the women harmed, their experiences, their safety and healing, and the restoration of their voices — and on the effects on our communities of the harm done, as well as the effects of the beliefs and behaviors that enabled that harm.
The Road Ahead
This statement is only the first step of an organic process that will take time. We do not have a strict game plan apart from supporting the survivors and correcting the record. Not all the answers will be available immediately, and some never will be. We believe that openness and free sharing of information are antidotes to abuse, and so we plan to be as transparent as possible. This is long, messy, difficult work, which will be carried forward into our communities with impacts far beyond this particular situation. To quote adrienne maree brown, “we will learn together the other strategies that will ultimately help us break these cycles, liberate future generations from the burden of our shared and private pain, leaving nothing unspeakable in our bones, no shame in our dirt.”
If you have any questions or feedback about this process, have skills or energy to offer, or have a story to share, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org . This account is monitored by Jakob Liljenwall, and messages may be shared with other members of the survivor advocacy team, denoted with asterisks below, unless requested otherwise. If you have been harmed or have witnessed harm, or otherwise have a story to share about an experience with Franklin, we have set up a Google form to submit anonymous or confidential stories.
In solidarity and hope for a better world,
Aida Manduley, LCSW **
Samantha Manewitz, LICSW CST*
*Signatories with an asterisk are members of the survivor advocacy team.
**Aida Manduley is working with the survivor advocacy team as a consultant in transformative justice processes.
***Louisa Leontiades is assisting the survivor advocacy team by documenting and verifying the stories of the survivors. She has published a statement about her role.