Radical Honesty: My Previous Sexy Plans, and My Change of Mind About Sexual Conduct and Power Dynamics
A for-insiders post on the Radical Honesty community's culture & my recent changes of mind regarding sexual conduct and power dynamics within the organization.
From several conversations I’ve had over the last few months, I’ve concluded that RHI (the Radical Honesty Institute) has an opaque history of thwarting complaints. Some of my complaints that I thought were new, I realized people brought up 15 years ago. Some fights I thought I was just starting, I found out people had already had time to give up on.
I do think RHI is trying to do better. I’ve seen some signs that the official language is changing, that some workshops are more consent-oriented.
But there may be something flawed at the core of Radical Honesty. Something about having been built by a coercive control freak (link) whose intentions I no longer trust. (Note that there are several other similar stories confirming that such bullying behavior was routine for Brad).
On the current organization, I haven’t made my mind up yet.
To name a few more aspects of the potentially flawed core: blanket agreements to be coached; blanket agreements not to leave; ‘say this sentence’ style of coaching, hyperspecific nonrealistic language; ‘trust me’ atmosphere; disconnect from science…
Has this practice been fucking me up more than it’s helped? Have I been bullying people with RH thinking I was helping myself? I am full of doubts and questions.
So, I’m emailing this to the community, and I’m also blogging it.
I want that, if someone asks themselves the same troubling questions in the future, they can find my posts and consider whether a change has been made or not.
Hello, RH community 👋🏻
I’m a guy. A pretty horny, attraction-focused guy. When I discovered RH, I was fascinated by all the stories of Brad fucking participants. Reading Brad say you can heal someone with some good fuckin and lovin. I was excitedly creating rationalizations, intellectual excuses why I, as a trainer, could have sex with participants and it’d be OK.
When I heard of the new sexual code of conduct, 2-3 years ago, I was revolted!!! My impossible-to-admit desire was challenged.
I kept my fantasy private because I had a hunch it wouldn’t be received very well. And I appreciate the new rules. Now that they are making it very hard for trainers and trainer candidates (TCs) to be intimate with participants, the message is clear: If you want to be a trainer, fulfill your intimacy needs somewhere else!
Being given the concept of power dynamics enabled me to notice it firsthand, where previously I would’ve just felt confusion and not known what that was. For instance, I’m now significantly more aware of how easily I can lose myself in my trust of a trainer. Now that I see how invisible and pernicious my willingness to please is, my capacity to fawn and make myself smaller, I totally believe that allowing intimacy between trainers and participants is net, a bad thing.
I don’t see myself fawning to TCs very much and the attraction I see between participants and TCs seems OK to me.
However, by allowing participants-TCs relationships, you create an enabling culture that’s attractive to people who will use their TC status as an attractor, as I planned on doing.
TCs definitely fawn to trainers, seek their approval for various reasons, and know that trainers matter to their certification. In return, trainers are likely to groom TCs for various reasons: validation, doing future work for cheap or for free, being a source of income over the next several years…
On the whole, I’d say: don’t allow TC intimacy with trainers or participants. It’s just too much of a power dynamics shit show, with all parties having too many incentives to deceive, even though we’re all good people and radically honest etc, etc, etc.
Then I think: oh wait, but my friends X1 and Y are dating and they’re in a great relationship! She’s a TC, he’s a trainer!
And I don’t know what to do. I want to allow beautiful relationships.
But would they be single and miserable, if intimacy between trainers and TCs wasn’t allowed, and they had to fill their intimacy needs elsewhere?
I don’t think so. There are other good people to date outside. The world is large.
And for one good relationship, I can think of at least another one that ended up in a shit show, Z and W.
So I don’t think the overall value of allowing relationships between people on different power levels is high. That’s my reasoning.
A friend recently pointed out that, if we had a competent support circle, then we could possibly re-introduce the possibility of dating between trainers, TCs, and participants.
That is, if instead of semi-randomly appointed trainers + a board member (none of which are trained for it), we looked to hire outside of RH. Trained professionals who know how to deal with attractions at work, power dynamics, etc, and have access to feedback forms on trainers. For instance, they’d know if a trainer is getting negative feedback from participants when it comes to sexual/intimacy matters.
I would make a similar “hire outside” suggestion for feedback collection. Saying “Tell me what you don’t like about me” when you’re a power-holder is not a credible sign of goodwill. It’s evidence you’d rather not the outside world knew about it.
I’d like us to collectively lean on a motto I like: “Why trust what you can verify?”
Normalizing “just trust me” attitudes breeds cultishness and herd behavior. The worst that can happen with “verify” is way better than the worst that can happen with “trust me”.
What is a credible sign of goodwill? Using or hiring a third party that will make public all feedback, even the worst, about you. That is a credible commitment to participant well-being.
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On power dynamics: if you haven’t noticed yourself fawning etc, I’d suggest you’re not aware, rather than suggest you’re wired differently. Our minds are made for survival and we are great at adapting ourselves from even subtle cues that someone has power over us. Which very often happens under the consciousness radar.
As an experiment: take a trainer you like and admire. How willing would you be to tell them to their face: what you did was wrong and needs to change? How about doing that publicly?
A call-out example of my power blindness, because I do want to name things and people right now. One day during a [anonymized] retreat, [a trainer whose name I’m hiding online] came to me and said “You said you want to be a trainer but you never came and talked to me.” I was confused. What is he saying? He replied something like- “Well, I’m a trainer, and you’re not asking me any questions…” and some more words basically strongly hinting I should be seeking his advice? I felt confused, which I think is often a sign of power dynamics (not sufficient proof of a power trip, but still evidence pointing in that direction, so worth noticing in oneself). I thought OK, bit weird, a new feeling of “I must’ve done something wrong”. He was smiling the whole time. I trusted that he knew better. So hop I went, the next day asking him and [the other trainer] for private conversations to learn more about RH.
Now that I know what feeling I was experiencing, if I remove the auto-gaslight “trainer knows better than me, so let’s ignore my feelings on this one”, I’ll call a cat a cat: he was power tripping, not-saying-it-clearly but shoulding me into a “learn from me because I’m important” instead of owning “I want you to come to me and ask me questions” (and possibly “and I want to control you”), which is both more explicitly aggressive and more vulnerable.
I feel tension in my stomach. I’m angry at him. And I imagine this is 1% of what some gaslit participants, TCs and trainers have gone through.
It’s easy to find excuses why he didn’t mean it, had good intentions, etc.
But I’m not claiming he’s bad or had bad intentions.
I think this trainer, and most trainers, and all of the trainers I know, are good people and have good intentions. But they’re also power-holders, humans who feel defensive, and are prone to normal human biases like maintaining the status quo, liking the current system in which they’re powerful, etc.
I think that a culture of enabling “you did something wrong” call-outs is saner than a culture where people never get called out and never improve their behavior.
But not only do we not have a culture of call-outs; we mostly don’t have a culture of apologizing, we mostly don’t have a culture of acknowledging some things are wrong. Instead we say ‘’it’s your shit’’ and ‘’you should process that’’. We also lack a culture where trainers are competent to admit to their own defensiveness and angry coaching. (Commitment to doing ≠ doing).
On one hand, I’m afraid to be overly antagonistic and create a fear-based culture. On the other, I don’t want to enable an opaque power structure.
My current MO (mode of operation) for facing power trips is this: do not follow the usual RH protocol. Do not first share your resentment and get over it, because you are (potentially, not definitely) not safe and not dealing with an equal. In fact, do the opposite of RH protocol: work from your confusion up to indignation. From there, use your best judgment: is the power-holder owning up to it? Apologizing? Defending? Attacking you?
Stay with your noticing. Seek allies. Bring this up to the whole group if you’re in a workshop. Bring it up to someone external if not. Don’t by default assume that the power structure has your best interest in mind.
What makes me believe that?
In the case of the RHI, it has a poor track record of bringing victims to light.
This, by the way, is in part why I judge a lot of men in the community are wrongly scared of being accused by women2. Nobody is telling you what it is that the abusers have done. Your fear is, in part, a result of the board’s incompetence and opacity.
Every name hidden here is given in the email I’ve sent to the community.
Another element of that equation is that several of us, myself included, naturally side with abusers. I think it’s because I relate to their behaviors more than to that of the victims. I am (much like the trainers I’m criticizing) naturally defensive against things I perceive as reducing my freedom, even if they, upon reflection, appear to be both legitimate and trying to reduce my freedom to hurt.