Update (03.21.09): Follow-up dialogue with Julian Real available here.
I was sentenced today in Buena Vista County to six months in county jail, which will be followed by a lengthy period of probation and parole. I am pleased that the victim had an opportunity to describe in her own words the effects of my hurtful and abusive actions – her words have given me a lot to think about, and I hope the experience, as well as the outcome of the hearing, helps her continue on a path toward healing.
As I am still processing the significance of this day and what meaning I can draw from it personally – and more to the point, I’m completely exhausted – I will simply share a few excerpts of a statement I prepared for today’s hearing but did not give:
(To the victim). I am very deeply sorry for what I have done to you. For hurting you, for betraying your trust, and for treating you as if your feelings, your wishes, and your right to privacy simply did not matter. You did not deserve what I did to you, nor would anyone else. While I cannot take back what I have done and the effects it has had on your life, I want you to know that I am committed to making amends for my actions and, to whatever extent possible, alleviating the suffering I have caused.
Despite the fact that I have spoken out regularly in the past about the pervasiveness of the “rape culture” in our society, and pointed out various ways men are socialized to objectify, degrade, and in a host of other ways, harm women, I failed to recognize and confront my own identification with sexism and male dominance. I forgot what should have been overwhelmingly clear from my involvement with feminism – that all men living in a patriarchal system, even those who struggle against it, act in ways that are sexist and benefit from these actions. But, even though no man is ever cured of his allegiance to sexism, he can consciously and consistently alter his behavior to reflect a more enlightened and loving way of life. Doing so requires a level of vigilance and self-criticism that I was clearly not applying in my life when this incident occurred.
Please know that I take what I did very seriously and will do everything I can to make sure nothing like this happens again. This case has provided an extremely necessary wake-up call as I learn how to make responsible decisions, how to hold myself accountable for wrongdoings, and most importantly, how to act in accordance with my own professed values and beliefs. I sincerely appreciate everyone who has participated in this process to ensure that this act of male dominance does not, like so many others, go overlooked and unchallenged.
I would like to clarify that my interest in describing mental health concerns in this post, in relation to my experiences as a survivor of sexual abuse and my involvement with feminism, was not to deflect responsibility for my actions. I violated a woman, abused a position of authority, and betrayed the trust of many people. No carefully constructed interpretation of the situation could change that.
Given the obvious discrepancies between my demonstrated commitment to feminism, particularly anti-rape and anti-pornography work, and my actions, I felt it was important to explain, as best as I can, what factors contributed to what happened. Without this context, it seems reasonable to speculate, as many bloggers have, that my involvement with feminism was rooted strictly in predatory interests (i.e. to obtain sexual access to women in vulnerable positions). While I recognize that there are no “pure” motives for justice work, I know that there was absolutely nothing predatory about my advocacy for survivors of sexual violence or my involvement with feminist activism and research.
Regaining trust as a pro-feminist ally – something I must earn, not something to which I am simply entitled – demands that I openly and honestly address discrepancies between my professed values and my actions. I have sought to do this, in part, through speaking out publicly in this post. If I was interested in dismissing the harm I have caused as insignificant, or if I wanted to pass the buck, there are much more effective ways I could have done so.
Original Post (08.02.08):
We rarely change when we are simply cruising along, insulated from the world. It is only when we drop the barriers that separate us from other human beings, admit that we don’t know all the answers, and listen closely to others and to the world around us that we can truly promote personal transformation. I write this letter in the interest of dropping barriers, sharing openly and honestly a story that is very difficult to talk about, in hopes that doing so may bring peace, understanding, and hope to the lives of others. I also write this letter out of respect for an international community of citizens working for social justice, one that has deeply inspired me to envision a better world and empowered me to work for change. I have committed a terrible act, one that contradicts my own personal values and my politics, and through this letter, I wish to explain (not justify) my actions and their effects. I also will describe what I am currently doing, and what I will continue to do, in an effort to promote justice and personal transformation. I wholeheartedly welcome your feedback and questions. You may contact me at email@example.com.
On Monday, June 30, 2008, I pleaded guilty to criminal charges in Buena Vista County in Iowa, specifically one count of attempted burglary and two counts of invasion of privacy. On January 3, 2007, I was invited to assist an intoxicated female student at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. Following my responsibilities as a resident advisor, I looked after this student in her dorm room to ensure her safety and evaluated whether or not medical attention was necessary. Fortunately, medical attention was not necessary. However, as I will explain, some of my actions while assisting the student were harmful and inappropriate.
While caring for the female student, I felt a sudden impulse to expose her breast. Not knowing how to deal with this feeling at the time – and to put it more clearly, not knowing how to make sense of such an urge, given my personal values and my politics – I acted upon it. With a digital camera I kept with me regularly, I briefly photographed and took a few seconds of video of the woman’s breast. She did not consent to this act, nor did she have any knowledge of it at the time. This event ended as quickly as it began, leaving me in a state of disbelief at what I had done.
As I have been instructed not to make contact with the victim, I have no way of knowing how she is doing or what effect my actions have had on her life. I feel it is likely, however, that my actions have, at the very least, left her feeling less safe in the company of men. I hope she is doing well, and I hope she knows, with the utmost certainty, that she did not deserve to be treated in this way. No one does. I am very deeply sorry for what I have done. In a matter of moments, I committed a terrible act, abusing a position of authority and betraying a sacred trust shared with me as a resident advisor. I owe my humblest apologies to the victim and her family, to the campus community at BVU, to my own family, and to many others who put their faith in me as a person of good moral character. I owe a special apology as well to the many women who have sought my assistance as a rape crisis advocate and who, upon learning about my actions, may have experienced re-victimization. I believe my actions warrant everyone’s questioning of my character and of my ability and willingness to act in accordance with my own professed values. I will either earn trust back, or I won’t. That is not for me to decide. But I take this as an opportunity to speak openly and honestly and be held accountable for my actions.
Many people have been understandably shocked and angry upon hearing about the criminal charges. Since I started college, I have developed a strong reputation as a pro-feminist activist and advocate for survivors of sexual violence. Feminism, in fact, has been at the heart of virtually every major endeavor I have pursued in the last several years, including my work in residence life, student government, campus media, community service, wellness education, and of course, supporting the women’s studies program. Why would someone so passionate about working to stop violence against women commit such an act? At this point in time, I cannot give a complete answer to that question. The act itself is not something with which I identify, nor are the interests behind it. Indeed, for some time following the incident, I could not believe what had actually taken place. This may seem confusing, but I hope this letter can begin to shed light on what happened and my experience of it.
As I have undergone a full psychological evaluation and begun a treatment program for various mental health issues, I am learning more and more each day about what factors led me to commit the act I have described. My experiences of child sexual abuse have produced a great deal of unresolved anger, primarily because I was unable to obtain necessary support during that period and have since worked very hard to repress those memories. That unresolved anger at the injustice and violation done to me is what led me initially to anti-rape work as a rape crisis advocate when I started college. I felt that helping others might allow me to find some sort of peace with what happened to me. Being an advocate did help me to better understand the socio-political context of my experiences of abuse, particularly as I began reading feminist theory. However, because I concentrated my energy solely on an advocacy role for others, rather than addressing my own experiences of abuse, nothing got better. In fact, things got much worse.
Serving as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence and hearing their stories of violence, cruelty, and degradation re-introduced me to my own pain and humiliation via flashbacks, panic attacks, insomnia, bouts of depression, and chronic anxiety. Believing that further justice work, in the absence of appropriate psychological treatment, would help me resolve these issues, I dove headlong into feminist anti-pornography activism, academic research on pornography, and working closely with abusive college men as a resident advisor. I feel very pleased that this involvement allowed me to make a real difference in other people’s lives. But due to serious neglect and denial on my part, my involvement in anti-rape work only distanced me from resolving the effects of being victimized at a very young age. Through further psychological treatment and careful meditation on this history, it is my primary goal to reach a healthy balance in my life and minimize the risk of hurting anyone in the future.
I still struggle to understand what was going through my mind during the incident last January, and more importantly, what prompted me to disrespect and truly dehumanize another person. Given what I have experienced as a survivor of sexual abuse, my failure to obtain proper treatment, and my obsessive attention toward the harm of the rape culture, it seems likely that I neglected to fully investigate and confront the influence of patriarchal conditioning on my own sexuality. In fact, as my involvement in anti-rape work, and feminism in general, has constantly stigmatized any form of sexualized domination, there would be obvious incentives, psychologically speaking, to repress any (conscious or unconscious) identification with these behaviors. Accordingly, I have insisted that my psychological treatment assist me in a sexual development rooted in feminist thought, while also addressing the developmental challenges and political entitlements of being male in a male-supremacist society.
I have faced a great deal of serious consequences of my criminal and unethical actions, all of them just and appropriate. I lost my job in residence life at a major research university, my university-owned apartment, in addition to my acceptance at an excellent graduate program in student affairs. I was unable to attend graduation at BVU, and since pleading guilty, I have been banned from campus for life. My reputation as a pro-feminist activist and an advocate for survivors has been seriously, and quite possibly irrevocably, compromised. I have been forced to leave several activist groups, including those for which I was a leader or founding member. I have also been the subject of intense scrutiny at BVU, in my hometown, in my professional and social networks, and all over the internet. With a criminal record, I will face serious limitations on my career prospects, as well as on my involvement with various social organizations and in personal relationships.
The consequences of my actions are well-deserved. No act of men’s exploitation of women ought to be excused or overlooked, regardless of a man’s history of good deeds (even if, in fact, those deeds have been feminist in nature) or a history of trauma related to sexual abuse and other exposure to violence. For a man to identify as an ally to feminism, as I understand it, is to agree to practice, as Pearl Cleage discusses in her writings, a “posture of listening.” Being in such a posture means to me that I must hold myself accountable to a community of feminists, answering openly and honestly any challenge or question that women bring to me regarding my actions and my words. As such, I share with you some of the consequences of my actions, not to draw sympathy, but to embrace these consequences and provide some context for one of the most important lessons I have learned.
I have lost a great deal over the last several months. Chief among them, at least during particularly difficult times, has been a willingness to wait and see what the next day had to bring. Without the trust that other survivors and other activists had shared with me, a trust that had sustained me and helped me clearly see that there was good in the world, I felt that there was nothing left. I wanted to die. Fortunately, it was a select few of those compassionate souls who helped me remember what real hope is all about. In the words of Vaclav Havel,
Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.
I may not regain that sacred trust I described. My hurtful actions ought never be completely forgotten or left behind. And the guilt and remorse I feel for what I have done will never leave. But rather than simply fading away myself, I need to have the courage to own what I have done, to open myself to criticism, and to continue living more responsibly than I have in the past. And in whatever ways possible, I need to continue working for the common good.
I am currently living with my parents, who have been very supportive and compassionate throughout this long and difficult process. I am employed full-time in the assembly department at a manufacturing company. And I am also a full-time graduate student and will soon finish a graduate degree in adult education. With my degree, I hope to obtain employment in training and development or producing educational media, in addition to freelance writing. Wherever the future leads, I plan to remain actively involved with community service and civic engagement. Until treatment has resolved my mental health concerns, however, I am halting any involvement with research, activism, or advocacy related to pornography or sexual violence. I am also setting aside my interest in employment in student affairs, particularly residence life. In the last few days, I have sent letters to over seventy friends, family members, and other relations explaining my actions in detail, expressing my remorse for these actions, and asking for forgiveness and understanding. I have specifically asked for these loved ones to share their questions and concerns, not to treat this matter as something to “sweep under the rug.”
As I mentioned previously, I have faced a great deal of criticism through the internet. Since November 2007, I have maintained a personal blog through wordpress.com entitled “The Road Less Traveled” (kylepayne.wordpress.com). Through this blog, I have spoken out in support of feminism and other social justice movements, particularly against different forms of violence (e.g. physical, sexual, military). In the days following my guilty plea, a pro-pornography blogger picked up the story, and having identified obvious discrepancies between the “public face” on my blog and my criminal actions, began an online smear campaign. This effort, which has garnered support from over fifty prominent bloggers from around the world, as well as at least one official trade publication of the pornography industry, has raised considerable public attention toward my actions, and it has alerted me to the larger political consequences of those actions. While many of the criticisms online are based on inaccurate or incomplete information about my case, the feelings and concerns behind them are highly appropriate.
My actions have been terrible and tremendously hypocritical, and they have caused harm not only to the victim, but to women generally, who deserve nothing less than an end to rape and all other forms of male domination. Recognizing what I feel to be my responsibility as a male ally to feminism, as well as a decent human being, I ask that any women reading this letter who wish to share their responses contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your questions, concerns, feelings, and anything else you would like to share. And I would especially welcome your thoughts on how I might move forward in my life with respect and compassion toward women. As I mentioned, practicing this posture of listening is vital to any notion of justice, and furthermore, it represents, I feel, a way forward through which some good can come of this situation.
While I still wholeheartedly identify with feminism – and in fact, started a personal blog as an attempt to become more in touch with feminist principles – there is no question that my actions have grossly contradicted these principles. Furthermore, by failing to address these contradictions openly, while presenting myself as any sort of ally to women, I have been dishonest. There was no malicious intent to withholding this explanation – for legal and psychological reasons, I was not prepared to address these matters publicly. As part of my attempts to make amends, however, I will not post any new material on my blog until such time that I have re-established a relationship of trust and mutual support with a community of feminists.