Content note: discussions of emotional abuse and sexual assault (the assault section has its own note and is self-contained, for any who want to read the rest but not that)
This blog has always been intended to be semi-private; accessible to the public, but not linked in any obvious way with my name, and not published on social media that people like my family may read. I began it as a place to discuss my sex life. Last year, I came back to it in order to have a place to vent some of the hurt and rage I was feeling due to the behavior of my former polycule. I’ve now put those posts behind a password, as they were intended for personal processing, and not meant to be linked to the names of myself or any of the people involved, or seen by the people I was feeling hurt and angry toward.
Now, this seems to be the appropriate place to put the details of my abuse and sexual assault — details that I don’t want to have embedded in my permanent public image the way they would be if I post directly on my regular blog. My reasons for deciding to make these details public will unfold as I go. The below is an expanded version of what I have sent to several community leaders at their request. Some of it has also appeared in a document that was written last year and made available upon request to mutual friends and acquaintances. The response to that document is itself part of the story; more on that below.
Overview of the relationship
I met Wes Fenza in 2011; we dated for about four months, then I broke up with him because I wasn’t feeling attracted to or in love with him any more. After a couple of weeks I got back together with him, and we continued dating for another few months, when we broke up for good. Throughout this time my then-fiancé Shaun was dating Wes’s wife Gina, and our households continued to spend a lot of time together.
In the summer of 2012 Shaun and I moved in with Wes’s household. Although I was not romantically involved with anybody except Shaun, the five of us (Shaun, myself, Wes, Gina, and Jessie) operated closely in a familial way. We lived there for a year and a half, and then in December 2013, they asked us to move out because of some troubling behavior on Shaun’s part. Although we had all initially expressed the intention of remaining friends and continuing to work together on our various collaborative projects, in the months after we moved out relations between the two households became increasingly hostile and publicly nasty. At the same time, I began re-evaluating some of the things that happened within Wes’s and my relationship, in the light of his behavior after we left and of things that other people who had once been close with him began sharing with me. We now have no contact with each other, and my friends know not to invite me to any parties where he will be present, and vice versa. It is my strong desire never to be in his presence again.
Problematic things in my relationship with Wes
While I was dating Wes, we had several disagreements that left me feeling browbeaten and dominated, although I could not at the time point to anything he was saying that was overtly manipulative, controlling, or abusive. On one occasion I expressed that I wanted to limit the frequency with which I spent the night at his place without Shaun also being there. (Since Shaun was also dating Gina, it was common for both of us to go together for a date overnight.) Wes argued with me about this for hours, both in online chats and in person, insisting that my account of my motivations was dishonest and warning me of the damage it would do to our relationship if I insisted on setting that boundary. He insisted that I was only doing this to protect Shaun’s feelings or to coddle Shaun’s jealousy, while I tried to maintain that I had a number of reasons, my own comfort and preferred social configurations included. At the end of the night, after nearly an entire day arguing off and on, I gave in and told him that his account of my motivations was correct, just so I could end the argument and sleep. When I later told him that that’s what I’d done, he got angry with me for lying to him, without taking any responsibility for the fact that over twelve hours of badgering and disbelieving my honest accounts had left me feeling like I had no choice.
When I broke up with Wes in November of 2011, it was deeply upsetting to all of us. We’d had this dream of a cozy little family unit, and I was the one ruining that. I felt pretty guilty about it and my reluctance to mess up the nice thing we had going was a big part of why I waited as long as I did. I knew I was going to hurt people, so I went in apologizing hard. Back then, I thought that if I took as much blame as possible onto myself everything would be better. Mostly, I apologized for not being up-front about my waning interest in dating Wes the minute I felt it. Instead, I waited around for several weeks hoping that it was just a phase and that my interest would be rekindled, and I blamed myself for not speaking up about it sooner. (I had spoken to Gina about it, and she had strongly urged me to try to give him more time, because he was the best person she knew, etc. I was also dating Gina at this time, and was among other things fearful of the effect that breaking up with Wes might have on my relationship with her.)
What I wasn’t expecting to be blamed for was the feelings themselves. But Wes immediately started telling me that I should have done more, should have worked harder to get close to him, should have tried harder to cultivate feelings for him. He insisted again that I was lying about my motivations, that there must be some deep-rooted personal issue rather than just an absence of physical and romantic attraction. He demanded to know what it was that I disliked him for and judged him unworthy of dating for. I tried to tell him that I didn’t know, I just wasn’t feeling it, and he insisted I was being dishonest. I told him I was very uncomfortable with the idea of having a conversation about every little thing I disliked about him — I didn’t think it would be helpful to either of us. He pushed for such a conversation anyway.
I felt very strongly that I didn’t want to have that conversation, but Gina was also urging me toward it, and said that the reason he and another ex were no longer friends was that she’d refused to do the same thing. I didn’t want to lose any friendship with him that was possible, and I didn’t want to jeopardize the other relationships that were involved, so I gave in, even though I had a lot of misgivings. I started to list things, and he responded to every one with defensiveness, with “you’ve got me all wrong” and assertions that if I’d only paid more attention I’d have seen that those things weren’t accurate expressions of who he was. He insisted that these protests weren’t attempts to get me to change my mind about breaking up with him, but they certainly felt like it to me. I felt like I was being maneuvered into a position where I had to justify my reasons for breaking up, and then all my reasons were being shot down.
Whether it was intentional or not, I feel now that I was manipulated into feeling that I had done something wrong in not wanting to be with him. That, plus some ill-timed parental abandonment that left my defenses low, sent me begging him to take me back a couple of weeks later, which he did after a consultation with Gina and Jessie in which they agreed that I could have a second chance. It all seemed fine at the time, but looking back on it I recognize it as a horribly toxic episode that left me feeling emotionally shredded (again, whether intentionally or not), and triggered a period of depression and some suicidal ideation. When I realized that I was still not attracted to or in love with him, I felt it was impossible to say so. I felt convinced that I was a terrible person for feeling this way, for changing my mind again after they’d given me a second chance. I lived in a fog of self-hatred and imprisoned misery, until several months later Wes noted that I’d been very withdrawn, and when I confessed that I didn’t really want to be dating him, let me go this time without a fight, saying that he felt I’d given him enough of a chance now. I felt dimly outraged that he had felt it was on him to decide how much of a chance he should get, but I was too relieved to try to discuss it.
From this point, and throughout my living with them, I kept a certain emotional distance from Wes. I couldn’t point to anything explicit that he had done or said that I could prove was wrong or toxic or abusive, but I felt unsafe and uncomfortable with any level of vulnerability with him. Conflicts and conversations that we did have left me feeling overwhelmed and sick, and I frequently had panicky flashbacks to conflicts from earlier in our relationship.
Sexual assault (trigger or TMI warning: graphic descriptions)
I discuss this completely separately because at the time I had compartmentalized it. Twice while we were dating, Wes anally penetrated me without permission or preparation. The first time, I was frozen and had difficulty processing what was happening. I desperately did not want to conceptualize it as a rape, so instead I spent the panicked and painful seconds as my entire body went stiff thinking maybe this was normal. Maybe fucking your girlfriend in the ass without consent, warning, or lubrication was just a thing people did. I knew that wasn’t true, but that’s where my mind went to try to make it okay, to make this not be a rape in progress. I don’t remember if he said anything after my body went stiff and he pulled out and we lay down. If he did, it wasn’t much, because I lay there terrified and shaking and still in pain and trying to get up the courage to suggest that maybe he should ask next time.
I finally did bring myself to say that, at which point he said, “Oh, it was an accident.” Until that moment, the possibility hadn’t even occurred to me. I chose to believe him because I didn’t want to deal with the possibility that it had been deliberate, and “accident” was a much more viable solution than the one I’d tried to provide. So I squashed down my own feelings and suspicions that it had been deliberate. Even when his immediate follow-up to “it was an accident” was “…but is that something you’d be into?”
It happened again some weeks later. This time he just said “Sorry” and we moved on. I was outraged that he hadn’t been more careful, after what had happened the first time, but I didn’t say anything about it. I just wondered a lot, privately, obsessively, about whether that was really a mistake that a person was likely to make. Twice. I didn’t tell anybody about it until over a year later, and I didn’t start to process it as a rape until I read his response to another victim and realized that I no longer had any difficulty believing him capable of that.
Conflict and fallout
Around the time our household fell apart, there were (quite valid) concerns being raised about Shaun’s anger problems and his treatment of Gina. I attempted to both recognize those concerns as legitimate, and also raise my own concerns about Wes’s behavior and his treatment of me. I never wanted to make it an issue of “Shaun vs. Wes” — I wanted to be having a conversation about the multiple toxic dynamics that were operative in the household, and to hold both Shaun and Wes accountable. Any attempt of mine to bring up problems with Wes, though, were deflected, ignored, or treated as evidence of personality flaws in myself. I didn’t try very hard to push these dialogues — I had already learned from experience that conflicts with Wes sucked up huge amounts of time and emotional energy, and rarely led to any positive outcome.
I am not here to write about Shaun. Wes has argued (here, and I’m sure in other places) that my motivation for accusing him is to deflect blame from Shaun over Shaun’s treatment of Gina. So let me be quite clear here: Shaun is no saint. I believe Gina has every right to identify as an abuse victim at Shaun’s hands. Although I did not witness any abusive dynamics directly, I have no difficulty believing that such dynamics occurred in their private interactions. When Shaun and I were still together, I did a lot of encouraging him to self-examine and change the patterns that I saw in him as most likely to lead to emotional abuse. Shaun and I are no longer together, and while I have hopes for his continued personal growth and our ability to have a friendship again in the future, I have zero interest in protecting his reputation. I have spoken my experiences with Wes, privately to community leaders and now publicly, because I was hurt by Wes, and because I want to see him held accountable for his actions. I am frankly furious (and at the same time completely unsurprised) that my motives in doing this are being spun and my agency being denied.
Feeling frustrated, silenced, and invalidated by the continued narrative that the Fenzorselli household was spinning, that Wes was blameless in our household’s breakup, I added some of my own words (many of which appear above) to an account that Shaun was writing of his own mistreatment at Wes’s hands. This account was made available to anyone who asked for it, in the summer of 2014. Wes read it, and wrote his own lengthy response which was likewise made publicly available. I am copying below the part of it that pertained to me:
Ginny is a much more sympathetic character than Shaun. She is affable, friendly, intelligent, and is often kind and compassionate. However, she also has some serious mental health issues for which she refuses to seek treatment. Most of her issues are related to her relationship with her father. According to Ginny, her father is confident, outgoing, and strong- willed, and so (she admits) she projects a lot of her issues with him onto me. Her father is also a strict conservative Christian, and raised Ginny in a very oppressive household, from which she has many issues that will require decades of therapy.
Ginny often describes herself as not feeling any emotions most of the time. According to her, the majority of the time, her emotional existence is simply blank. I’ve heard some credible speculation that she perhaps has a dissociative disorder. Because of this, she admits, she has trouble understanding others’ emotions or motivations, and gets anxious when it seems like she is causing emotions that she didn’t intend. She also regularly admits that she doesn’t understand her own emotions. Apparently, pointing out this (undisputed) fact made her feel like “an emotional infant.” I cannot say that I completely disagree with that characterization.
Ginny is also truly committed, in a very deep part of herself, to Guess Culture. Ginny is terrified of making anyone angry or upset, and so neurotically monitors her own behavior to avoid conflict. Conflict of any sort petrifies her. As a result, she displays all of the behaviors of a socially adept Guess Person referenced above. She will constantly project an image of calm, or even enjoyment, when on the inside she is in turmoil. She will use everything at her disposal to hide the way she is feeling when she thinks that her feelings might lead to conflict or make someone upset with her. She does this unapologetically. It makes her a pleasant person to have around socially, but in any sort of close relationship, it’s a disaster.
I was astounded and enraged by the level of invasive speculation about my mental health and its roots, from somebody whom I had described feeling victimized by, and from whom I’d withdrawn trust and intimacy well over a year before. Fortunately, by this time I had recovered a lot of emotional resilience and built a support network, so that the effect of reading this was to make me feel validated in my observations that he was controlling, manipulative, and had no respect for my wellbeing or my privacy. I’m copying it here for that reason, and in anticipation of similar messages being written and spread around in the aftermath of this post.
In the same document, he saw fit to publish as an appendix a number of private emails and chats between him and myself. Needless to say, I never consented to this. He also suggested that my descriptions of depression and suicidal ideation at the time we were dating were just attempts to manipulate and falsely paint myself as a victim. Fearing that accusation was exactly what had prevented me from talking about them at the time, so again, I felt validated even through my anger.
Current events and public accusations
Since that time in mid-summer, I have remained largely silent about my former polycule, both in public and with common acquaintances. I have continued to process the trauma I felt, and made the decision to avoid going to any events or joining any groups where I was likely to encounter them. At the same time, I couldn’t completely avoid becoming aware that Wes was beginning to write and speak frequently on the subject of consent. At one social gathering, somebody (who had no reason to guess how triggering it would be for me) brought up an article about consent Wes had posted to social media. I had to leave the room and spent the next little while crying outside. Every time something like this came up, I was sickened and hurt and torn over whether I ought to speak out about my experiences.
A few weeks ago, I was contacted and invited to share my story with the Poly Leadership Network, as Wes had been given a leading voice in discussions of abuse and consent in the poly community. I did so, fully aware that it was likely to unleash a storm, but grateful to finally have an opportunity to discuss what had happened to me and perhaps see some accountability for him.
As things have unfolded, other community leaders have requested my story, and I have shared it with anybody who’s asked. In response to this, I’ve seen the following collection of behaviors from Wes:
– continuing to write on his blog and twitter about abuse and consent, without any acknowledgement that he currently stands accused by a number of people
– responding to The Frisky Fairy’s outlining of events, wherein he again suggests that all the accusations coming toward him are due to Shaun’s anger with him and desire to deflect blame
– emailing Rabbit Darling, the only person who has so far publicly spoken about her experiences with him, with both an apology and request that she apologize to him (the full content of those messages, with her response, is here)
– privately contacting people; I have no idea the extent or detailed content of these messages, but I know that he has written some people to claim that the accusations are a result of a personal vendetta by angry exes, and others to demand that they denounce Rabbit Darling’s claims. He has also apparently circulated some kind of more general response in which he hints at legal action against Rabbit Darling.
– [Update 03/17/2015] Wes has written a long (74 pages, I am told, I didn’t count) response to all his accusers and to the poly community at large. It is accessible from his blog; I won’t link to it here. I read the sections that appeared to pertain to me and to events that I was involved in. There are some truths, a lot of distortions, and many outright lies. It also, consistent with his previous actions, includes revelations of personal sexual encounters and private conversations, without the consent of the people involved. It contains the particularly egregious assumption that when one of his victims consented to have her story told by a trusted friend, she was also consenting to have her story discussed by her rapist. I won’t be responding publicly to it beyond this post, but if anybody reads it and has questions for me, I will be happy to answer them in one-on-one conversation.
I may continue to update this list as events warrant.
I am now writing publicly, for a number of reasons.
1) I’m tired of being silent, and I don’t believe my silence is serving the truth or our community.
2) After Rabbit Darling posted her account, other people (of whose identities I am unaware) have felt empowered to come forward and communicate privately to community leaders about their experiences with Wes.
3) If Rabbit Darling is going to come under fire, either by character assassination or by legal action (although I don’t take that threat terribly seriously), I don’t want her to stand alone.
4) I believe that it is safe for me to come forward, in the grand scheme of things. I believe that the community will, by and large, have my back. And it is my hope that if this happens, other survivors of abuse and assault (at any hands) will feel empowered to speak clearly and publicly about their experiences, if that is what they feel will serve them. Silence has been the default response to being victimized for too long; if I can help change that, I want to.
And one final note, on the assumption that Wes and his family will read this:
I am not asking for an apology. I do not want or welcome direct communication from Wes Fenza in any form. At this time, I am convinced that any such communication, even if couched in the form of an apology, will have the primary goal of defending his own reputation and self-image, rather than of repairing my hurt. I may reassess this belief if, over time, I see a new level of humility and self-examination in his public discussions of these events, but until that time I request that he not try to initiate direct contact with me for any reason.