Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Radical Profeminist Analysis of Kyle Payne's "Because you deserve to know" blog statement

In Kyle Payne's August 2nd, 2008 blogpost I see some patterns of male supremacist behavior that warrant pointing out, by another man. The link above is to the entirety of his text. What follows is discussion about portions of that text. All comments in brackets is mine.

* Trigger Warning * [What is the trigger warning for? Who are you concerned about? Those who have been similarly violated? As you'll see, I think there's much more that's potentially triggering below than your description of what you did that was horrendously violative of a woman. Is that also what the warning is here for?]

We rarely change when we are simply cruising along [privileges in tact], insulated from the world [of meaningful accountability]. It is only when we drop the barriers that separate us from other human beings [be honest], admit that we don’t know all the answers [pretend we don't know what we are doing, or how we did it], and listen closely to others and to the world around us [if and when there are people empowered to accurately call us out] that we can truly promote personal transformation [say, without certainty, we will do better in the future]. [...]

I have committed a terrible act [Kyle has committed several terrible acts, not just one], one [at least four] that contradicts my own [professed] personal values and my [professed] politics, and through this letter, I wish to explain (not justify) [well, maybe some of each] my actions and their effects. [At least there he acknowledges there was more than one act.] 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 will not let you know what I am doing to evade personal responsibility and accountability.] I wholeheartedly welcome your feedback and questions [but not in such a way that others can see them, because that would allow us to know you are not alone in your assessments of my actions]. You may contact me at

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. [This plea, however, doesn't really describe the actions at all, and, in fact, minimizes and obscures them.] On January 3, 2007, I was invited [by whom exactly?] to assist [what does "assist" mean: if she's intoxicated, in what ways are you being asked to assist her: holding her head while she vomits at the toilet, and handing her a towel to wipe her mouth? Making sure she is sitting up and sipping water? Those would be acts of assistance to...] an intoxicated female student at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. [How intoxicated was she: was she unconscious, was she drifting in and out of consciousness; was she aware of your presence when you entered her room?] 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. [What specific training do you have in order to make such determinations? Were you instructed to check her pulse and movement in her pupils? Were you instructed, in other words, to touch her?] Fortunately, medical attention was not necessary. [Or unfortunately, depending on how this event plays out: had she been brought to an emergency room--as an act of not taking any chances, she would not have later been violated in several ways; why wasn't she brought to an emergency room by at least two staffpeople, one of them female?] However, as I will explain, some of my actions while assisting the student were harmful and inappropriate. {Agreed.]

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. [This doesn't hold water: you have a sudden impulse to do something that you are registering as inconsistent with your professed values and politics; how does moment of confusion jump to acting upon it in a violative manner? With a digital camera I kept with me regularly [how convenient: this is central to the story, and is not sufficiently explained], I briefly photographed and took a few seconds of video of the woman’s breast[which was or was not already exposed? If it was exposed, why didn't you cover her up earlier on, prior to the impulse that led to you further violating her? If her breast was not already exposed, how did it become so?]. She did not consent to this act, nor did she have any knowledge of it at the time. [OK: so what is being established is that she was not conscious; was she or wasn't she unconscious?] This event ended as quickly as it began, leaving me in a state of disbelief at what I had done. [This is consistent with Western male socialization: to profess one thing and do another. This state of disbelief is a necessity in order to behave in atrocious ways and think of oneself also as a good person; ask any upstanding male citizen who is also an incest perpetrator or child molester who is capable of being honest about this; I realize this drops the pool of available respondents down to almost zero: few men will be honest about what we do and the ways we don't self-intervene to stop ourselves from doing what we desire to do.]

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. [That's a safe bet; it may also make her feel less safe any time she falls asleep, or when in bed resting and someone enters the room; it may also make her feel like her body belongs to her less than it once did; you have done rape crisis counseling: what else does the violation of a woman by a man cause; what does it do to women in your experience?] 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. [I hope so too, but most people who are victimized interpersonally, blame themselves or hold themselves responsible for what male perpetrators do.] No one does. I am very deeply sorry for what I have done. [You haven't fully established that you know all of what you did, unless you believe the following sentence sums up the harm.] 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. [That's one dimension of the harm, which leaves out the gendered nature of the violation and how male privileges and entitlements are glaringly present throughout your acts of violation of her, but are not owned or seen as such by you; that you do not own or see these, weakens any apogoly, or renders it politically meaningless, even if it is emotionally sincere.] 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 [or awareness of your privileges and entitlements, and how being a man in a male supremacist society predicated on the violation and subordination of women factors into what you did, so much so that had those not been in place, you simply would not have been able to do what you did. Period.] 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 [as openly and honestly as a man who wishes to keep hidden, from others, if not also from himself, the degree to which this series of violating acts depended entirely on factors you don't name or own.] and be held accountable for my actions. [What do you think that should look like? What do you think appropriate actions by others would be to what you have done?]

Many people have been understandably shocked and angry upon hearing about the criminal charges. [Personally, I am also angry about what the charges leave out, and what you leave out of the story.] Since I started college, I have developed a strong reputation as a pro-feminist activist and advocate for survivors of sexual violence [this is but one of many available strategies for gaining intimate access to women; to be clear: I cannot know whether, deep down, there was a desire to violate women and this move into profeminism and advocacy of abuse survivors was an effort to stifle it and prevent it from surfacing, or if it was more egregiously an effort to hide it]. 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. [This question is easily answered in terms of male privileges and entitlements. A more traditionally--and patriarchally--psychoanalytic perspective is not necessary to understand why you did what you did.] The act itself is not something with which I identify, [again, this is common among predators who seek to be viewed as good people: clergy, doctors, fathers, etc.] nor are the interests behind it. [I believe women would be safeer if you did identify with them, and own them, and be responsible with them.] 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. [So far this letter does little to illuminate how male supremacy was at work in your actions.]

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. [I doubt it. I do not believe traditional psychological evaluation will go near a radical feminist or radical profeminist understanding of what you did, and how you could do it.] My experiences of child sexual abuse have produced a great deal of unresolved anger, [understandably] primarily because I was unable to obtain necessary support during that period [which is awful, and, sadly, common] and have since worked very hard to repress those memories. [This working on repressing any experiences to which anger or rage is attached, is one thing that men can do to facilitate becoming dangerous to women or children. By harboring unresolved rage from personal historical circumstances, in a male supremacist society, men have fuel to burn: this tends to be misdirected at women; childhood-generated fuel isn't a requirement for men to harm women, however: male privileges and entitlements are. They are, in fact, the only requirement.]

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. [This makes sense to me.] I felt that helping others might allow me to find some sort of peace with what happened to me. [As you are discovering, it doesn't work that way: by avoiding dealing with your feelings from the past that are active in your present life, you facilitate a process of dangerous psychic splitting common among men, which makes it far more likely you will behave in ways that are not consistent with your professed values.] 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. [This makes sense and is tragic, especially for your victim.]

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 can well understand how this approach to not dealing with the past was not helpful to you; but it is being offered here as the foundation of an explanation of why it is you violated a woman, and there is no meaningful political link here and to pretend there is to keep yourself and possibly others in denial about why we men do what we do that, disproportionately, violates women.] I feel very pleased that this involvement allowed me to make a real difference in other people’s lives. [I think you should be pleased at work you have done that is helpful to others, but not if the doing of that work was, according to you, not me, central in creating the situation you detailed above involving a female student who you were charged with keeping safe.] 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. {I follow this. But don't agree with your premise that it is relevant to what you did to that female student.] 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. [The plan you have laid out for yourself, in my view, will do little to make you safer to women who you have access to.]

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. [Your focus on the psychology of the actions, rather than on the politics of them, will, I believe, only serve to keep you ignorant about why men, including you, commit misogynist acts.] 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. [This would be one important area to focus on, if you are to become a sexually non-predatory man.] 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. [I would hope feminist studies and your own work on yourself would reveal to you precisely how it is that you did what you did, and that your personal history has little to do with it. As much feminist literature reveals, it is male privilege that is central to any oppressive and otherwise harmful act against a woman by a man. It is our privilegs that make such behavior easily accomplished, by men, in a male supremacist society such as the one you live in; the feminist literature I have read clearly states why we do what we do; Andrea Dworkin, for one, is especially clear about this: what of her work had you read before committing these acts of violation? Are you saying that the feminism you have been exposed to did not clue you into the politics of your own behavior?] Accordingly, I have insisted that my psychological treatment assist me in a sexual development rooted in feminist thought [whose exactly?], while also addressing the developmental challenges and political entitlements of being male in a male-supremacist society. [I agree that would be good work to do.]

I have faced a great deal of serious consequences of my criminal and unethical actions, all of them just and appropriate. [If they are seen by you as appropriate, what is the male supremacist function of you listing them so specifically?] 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. [To me, this functions as one of two "I am the victim here" portions of your statement, which is both inappropriate and male supremacist. The mention of being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse is the other. As you know, proportionally, far more women than men were abused as children, sexually. Far more men than women abuse women and children: clearly the key factor in why and how men abuse others is not sexual trauma that occurred in some of our early lives. The combination of mentioning that history of abuse here, and detailing what consequences there have been for what you did, undermine the political value, if not also the sincerity, of much of the rest of your statement.]

The consequences of my actions are well-deserved. [Then just say there have been significant and appropriate consequences, and leave it at that. There is a split here, in this statement, that is indicative of the split in many men: a split that is in our interests, as men in a male supremacist society, by the way: a split that serves our political interests at the expense of women's safety and dignity.] No act of men’s exploitation of women ought to be excused [you have, whether you own it or not, been making excuses here, Kyle. It's important that you see that.] or overlooked, regardless of a man’s history of good deeds (even if, in fact, those deeds have been feminist in nature) [Agreed.]or a history of trauma related to sexual abuse and other exposure to violence [the repetition of this sad and no doubt deeply harmful fact of you past undermines and contradicts the opening of this sentence of yours, and much of the tone and content of the whole piece.] 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.” [Yes. That would be one among many other behaviors men ought to do to be an ally to feminists. Her section on how women ought to best take care of themselves around men reveals a lot more about what it means to be an ally to women, from a feminist point of view.] Being in such a posture means to me that I must hold myself accountable to a community of feminists, [Agreed.] 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, [I don't buy this, Kyle: it functions almost soley to draw out sympathy in the reader, or anger at the audacity of you doing so.] but to embrace these consequences [again, no need for us to know exactly what those were, in my view] and provide some context for one of the most important lessons I have learned. {I don't see you providing the political context at all, actually. I see you being very evasive about this matter, and being manipulative, intentionally or not, in the structure and content of this statement.]

I have lost a great deal over the last several months. [Have you not already established this?] 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. [This would be the third portion of your statement that makes you the victim here; this section is particularly egregious, as it nullifies, by effect, the degree to which survivors of abuse feel suicidal, and sometimes are, successfully. This is highly inappropriate content for a letter of accountability, in my view.] 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.

[For me, this statement of yours is not demonstrating, sufficiently, an ability to work for something because it is good; it is demonstrating a high level of self-unawareness, a glaring need to be self-serving here, a serious attempt to cover your political tracks, an evasion of responsibility, and, possibly, an effective form of denying others a means of holding you accountable.]

I may not regain that sacred trust I described. [At this point, it would be foolish to trust you, in my view.] My hurtful actions ought never be completely forgotten or left behind. [Don't worry: the women I know who have been sexually violated tend not to forget, or leave it behind, no matter how hard they try. From what women have told me, and from what I have seen, among communities of women who have been deeply harmed by men, it follows them, too often in self-destructive ways that interfere with their process of trying to become more fully empowered.] And the guilt and remorse I feel for what I have done will never leave. [As Audre Lorde and Andrea Dworkin have stated, very clearly, the oppressed don't need the knowledge of the oppressor's guilty feelings; but do keep the remorse in tact and very visible to yourself.] But rather than simply fading away myself, [yet another allusion to your alleged victimhood: demonstrating an unwillingness to hold the one most victimized here in a human light.] 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. [Yes, but this statement offers me little in the way of hope that you'll achieve this greater level of responsibility.]And in whatever ways possible, I need to continue working for the common good. [This is a given, and comes across as grandiose here.]

I am currently living with my parents, who have been very supportive and compassionate throughout this long and difficult process. [There is more victimization implied here: who, primarily, needs compassion when someone is harmed: the victim or the perpetrator. We might answer "both." But there's no mention of their compassion for the woman you harmed. Why is that not mentioned? The effect of a lot of this statement is that "It's still all about Kyle": there is a dangerous level of self-absorbtion here, in my view, not atypical self-absorbtion, not "clinical" self-absorbtion, but rather the self-centeredness that comes with being a man in a male supremacist society. And, still reflecting now on what you say you have received at home: that is only partly good news to me; it would serve you well to have people close to you who are also capable of politically calling you out on what you have done, people who will make sure you understand that perspective, a radically profeminist one.] 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. [I am thinking now of the women whose lives are permanently derailed after an assault, and the privileges you have to continue on as you are in school and work.] 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. [I would be wary of working with you, unless or until you "get it" about why you did what you did.] 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. [As well you should, but not because you're not done with treatment, but rather because you don't own what you did, politically, responsibly.] I am also setting aside my interest in employment in student affairs, particularly residence life. [You state this as something you are setting aside--once again echoing a "look what I have had to sacrifice" or less honestly, "look what I am choosing to give up"; I think the truth of the matter is there's no way in hell anyone would, or should, allow you to be working in the field of residence life: I would hope that a background check would pull up your conviction rather quickly. But I'm glad to hear that, just the same.] 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 do not believe it is appropriate for you to ask for forgiveness and understanding, when you do not sufficiently understand what you have done, nor why, from a radically profeminist point of view: the view you say you care most deeply about and is the center of your world. Forgiveness, if it is to be offered at all, is appropriate to ask for only when a perpetrator has demonstrated that he knows what he did, what the full effect is on the harmed victim, and what one has to do to not repeat it.] 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 you know, and state, it will not only be loved ones who will need to share concerns and feelings with you. You have also violated a trust in the feminist blogosphere, from what I can see.]

As I mentioned previously, I have faced a great deal of criticism through the internet. [You have not shown that you have done much more than face it; you remain clueless about the politics of your actions.] Since November 2007, I have maintained a personal blog through entitled “The Road Less Traveled” ( 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. [The smear campaign isn't against you: it's against anti-pornographer/anti-pimp feminism.] This effort, which has garnered support from over fifty prominent bloggers from around the world, [this also carries the echo of "Kyle-as-victim"] 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. [This whole section is deeply duplicitous, in my view.]

My actions have been terrible and tremendously hypocritical, [I agree.] 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. {I agree.] 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 [what about profeminist men? Do you welcome me contacting you as well?] reading this letter who wish to share their responses contact me via email at 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. [I think you have to move forward towards integrity.] 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. [I don't think in this case listening is nearly enough.]

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. [Agreed.] Furthermore, by failing to address these contradictions openly, while presenting myself as any sort of ally to women, I have not been completely honest. {No, Kyle: this incorrectly states the case; you have been deceptive, deeply and profoundly deceptive and manipulative and self-serving. That's different than not "completely honest." Do you see that?] There was no malicious intent to withholding this explanation – [in matters such as these, intent matters less than effect] for legal and psychological reasons, I was not prepared to address them. [I can believe that, and it has also served your interests as a man to be out of contact for this amount of time. It has served male supremacy, more generally.] 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 been welcomed back into a community of feminists. [That makes sense.]

Respectfully yours,

Kyle Payne

[Kyle: You need to understand all the entitlements and privileges that were in place that made what you did possible, and that you availed yourself of. You chose to be in a position where you'd have intimate access to women, some of whom might sometimes be drunk. You chose to buy a camera and keep it with you at all times, with which you could violate a woman. You chose to act "out" your confusion, in an aggressive and hostile way, rather than be with your feelings of confusion in a private, internal way: that is your entitlement and privilege as a man; that is not due to your history of childhood abuse. There is more to say. I will stop for now, until you welcome me to share more with you, hopefully publicly, on your blog, not privately, in email. Please also post, on your blog, the original comments that Nikki Craft and I made to your blogpost "A Different Kind of Payne" and explain why you didn't accept them at the time. Please also post the comments that are welcomed to be public by those who write to you privately. Thank you.]