I’m a Quora Top Writer?

I’ve been answering questions on Quora (and much more rarely asking them) for about five years now. Quora has been one of my go-to sites for research (one of the reasons I rarely ask questions is most of the time someone else already did!) as well as a fun place to share my thoughts and opinions on things that I have experience in. But I’m was rather surprised to log into Quora last week and find a message telling me I’d been named a Quora Top Writer for 2018.

I never wanted to be a Quora Top Writer

When I first learned about Quora’s Top Writer’s program I spent maybe 5 minutes wondering if I should try to become one. And quickly decided no. The topics I was interested in answering questions for were too niche and I wasn’t interested in answering tons and tons of questions. In fact, after five years on Quora, I’ve answered 631 questions. A respectable number, it averages to about one question every three days. But nowhere near the thousands of answers some folks have.

I didn’t see any real benefit to being a Top Writer, I wasn’t interested in making Quora a major time sink, and while I have a competitive streak and like taking on challenges for the sake of challenges, I’m not one of those people who can’t pass up a dare.

So I’m still surprised and kind of bemused that the feather in my cap (or quill on my profile) I was never interested in getting is now mine.

So What Have I Been Doing on Quora?

Unsurprisingly, given my focus the past several years, most of my answers (over 100) have been in the topic of Polyamory.

I’ve also done a lot of writing on Religion, LGBTQ+ and various related topics  and various topics related to mental illness.

In the past few months, I’ve been very active on the Autism topic.

Like with Polyamory on Purpose, some of my answers from years ago don’t necessarily reflect my opinions now. But if you are interested you can check out the topics I’ve been following on Quora here.

I Really Like Quora

I think the reason I ended up a Quora Top Writer is that I like the site so I spend a lot of time there. And when I’m on there reading what other people have to say, I almost always find one or two questions I’d like to answer too.

One thing I love about Quora is it is a place I can give free rein to my long-windedness. Folks on quora not only accept but often appreciate long, in-depth answers. Especially on complex topics. Which isn’t to say all my answers go on forever. One of my early answers on Quora was to a question about if someone should shave their girlfriend’s eyebrows while she was sleeping. My answer was a single sentence:

Only if you don’t want to have a girlfriend when she wakes up.

Quora is also one of the few places on the intenet that you actually should read the comments. Quora’s Be Nice Be Respectful policy has a lot of problems. (I mean a LOT of problems.) But it has done a good job of keeping trolls, harassment, and ad hominem attacks to a minimum. So MOST comments are either a useful discussion of the answer or adding additional information to a good answer.

A VERY Different Kind of Family

This started as a kind of stream of conscious riffing on family and society. It ended up being a long-ass essay about how a society could develop around multi-generational households and group marriages. If you like anthropology, fictional societies or “how stuff works”, read on!

A while back on Quora I was asked to answer “They say that polyamorous families (group marriages) are happier and provide more role models for children than traditional nuclear families, what do you think about it?”

(Un)fortunately, because of Quora’s “Be nice, be respectful” policy, I couldn’t say what I REALLY think about it.

The same day, I also realized that all my old posts about my current WIP (working title: Building Family) are gone now. So I should maybe start talking about it again so folks know what I’m doing!

And I ALSO did some work on the conlang for Building Family, creating the words for different family relationships.

So let’s talk family.

Every society has their own idea of an ideal family. And whatever that “ideal” is, it’s going to have benefits that support that society’s values and beliefs. In modern America the ideal is the so-called “nuclear family” — two parents and their kids living together. While it isn’t usually part of the definition of a nuclear family, I’d argue that the ideal also includes extended family — grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins — who maintain a connect with the nuclear family through family holiday celebrations, reunions and other occasional interactions.

In Building Family, there are several closely related societies who all share similar ideas about what the “ideal” family looks like. Specifically, they all favor multi-generational households built around group marriages.

Some Family History

The groups who are known as “far-walkers” and the fisherfolk created the family culture in Building Family. The fisherfolk are the cultural descendants of the people who first came to this small continent. They were family groups who lived on their boats and traveled together. The far-walkers are hunter-gatherers who also travel in family groups, coming together for larger gatherings once a year.

Unlike in our world, people in the world of Building Family have a serious incentive to build secure, permanent shelters. Without giving away too much I’ll say in tropical and semi-tropical regions, being out in the sun on a bright summer day, even for a minute or two, can be a REALLY bad idea.

So far-walkers and fisherfolk started building homes where they would spend the summer under roofs. But it never occurred to them to build multiple buildings for a family group. One big building for everyone in the family. Children, parents, grandparents, the occasional great-grandparent all living together.

Overtime, some of these families developed a more sedentary lifestyle. Only the young adults go on the long boat trips and season-long hunting/gathering journeys. The older adults (grandparents and great-grandparents) and children stay in the family home all year. And eventually some become fully sedentary. The boats come into dock every night, or a far-walker family decides to specialize in leatherwork They stay in one place and far-walking families pay them to turn skins and furs into well-tanned leathers. Of course, there are advantages to setting up your permanent residence near other people. And if this goes on long enough, eventually you have a village, a town, or even a city.

And you have a culture that idealizes a family where multiple generations live together under one roof.

But what about marriage? How does that work? Does it work even?

Well, with all property belonging to the family, there’s little incentive for many of the patriarchal practices and attitudes that developed in many real world bronze age cultures. Controlling “your” woman to ensure that you have children to leave your property to is much less of an issue when you don’t have any property. And women needing to stay home and take care of the kids is less of a thing when the grandparents are living right there and expected to take care of the kids while the parents work.

So I decided what the hell. To the best of our knowledge it never happened in the real world, but I’m going to go ahead and make a culture where gender roles don’t exist.

Of course, families still needed to ensure they would have kids to pass their property on to. The continuity of property ownership is kinda a critical thing to any and all societies that have significant property ownership. This right away interferes with “no concept of gender” because families need to be sure that they have a het pairing to have kids, right?

Well, not if group marriage is the norm. And this goes back to those far-walkers and fisherfolk.

Let’s Not Ration Sex

In at least some real world hunter-gather societies, sex was pretty much an open thing between members of the same band. In Building Family, there is no reason for that to change once they started spending time in houses.

With no concern about tracing paternity for the sake of inheritance, there was nothing stopping these folks from developing a custom of group marriages.

Okay, so that’s the structure of the families in this society: multi-generational households and group marriages.

How Do Multi-Generational Households and Group Marriages WORK

We all know the logistics of a nuclear family —

Kids grow up in their parent’s home. The move out, meet someone, fall in love, and start a new home where they raise their own kids. Rinse and repeat.

In a society with a multi-generational household set up, kids don’t automatically leave the family home when they grow up. Some leave, to marry into other families, and some remain in  family home. Adding group marriages to the set up complicates things a bit, but not too badly

The Birds and the Bees

First off, several children will need to remain with the family as part of the new generation. However, this means that children born to the same family will be part of the same marriage group. While incest as a cultural issue is defined differently around the world, the biological issues of close relatives marrying remain an issue.

We have evidence that even paleolithic societies were aware of the danger of inbreeding. So these societies are probably aware of them as well and have adopted customs to address them. The simplest would be a taboo against children of the same mother having sexual relationships.

However biology will also help keep the problems to a minimum. As a general rule sexual attraction decreases as familiarity increases. Since people you grow up with tend to be VERY familiar, I doubt inbreeding is a serious issue. Finally, with a large enough group of parents, chances of children who remain with the family being close biological relatives is pretty low.

May and December

The next problem is age span within generations. Even in monogamous marriages, children can be born over a span of up to twenty years. An aunt or uncle can be the same age as or even younger than their niece or nephew. This will be even more true of group marriages.

Not only will this hugely complicate any society set up along generational lines, but it really complicates the issue of how long people will be joining a group marriage. Any society that doesn’t have modern technology is living one disaster away from starvation. And that means stability is the holy grail of family life. As any person whose been in a polyamorous relationship can tell you, when someone new joins the network, everything shifts and adjusts a bit. At some point, most marriage groups in a bronze age society are going to want to say “Enough, we’re done.”

So the oldest and youngest members of a generation are encouraged to marry-out into other families, keeping the members of a given marriage group all around the same age. And each marriage group decides how many people they want in their group. Has the family grown a bit to big to support? Smaller marriage group this generation. Is the family doing well and ready to expand a bit? Bigger marriage group this generation.

The average is probably around 10 people to a marriage group. Thirty people would be a good sized group for a boat-based family or a hunter-gather band, and that’s the template these societies was built on.

Let’s Follow One Generation And See How It Works

Every Generation Starts as Children

Kids are mostly raised by grandparents while the parents focus on working to support the family, be it on a farm, on a fishing boat, or at a trade.

When the kids are old enough to run around without direct adult supervision, their families encourage them to spend time with kids from other families. The oldest and youngest kids try to find another family they would like to marry-out to. Kids in the middle of the age range try to find kids from other families they’d like to marry-in to their family.

During this time they also start learning trades, either from their birth family or from the families they are interested in marrying-out to.

Children, of course, Grow Up

If all goes well, the oldest and youngest kids (now young adults) find other families to marry-out to. Ideally families where they feel comfortable with their spouses, with the family traditions/culture, and are able to contribute to the family trade. In reality, a prospective spouse’s skill at the family trade is often the deciding factor. More than one family has had some frowned-upon age discrepancies in their marriage groups when the kids with the most skill in the family trade were the oldest and youngest, so the middle kids ended up marrying-out!

While their older and younger siblings are looking for a place to belong, the middle kids are finding kids from other families they want as part of their marriage-group-to-be.

From the time a marriage group starts forming until the first child is born, the marriage group settles. Different members will take roles within the family, usually unofficial but still very real. This roles can be based in specializing in a certain area of the family trade (ie, a fisherfolk family might have one person who focuses on learning navigation and another who specializes in keeping the boat in good repair). Or they can be based in social roles (leader, in charge of dealings with other families, etc). Or any other set up that works for the given family.

At the same time the prospective marriage group is settling into their relationships, they continue learning the family trade from their parents. This is usually the most profitable time for a family. Two generations are working the trade at the same time with no young children to care for. Many families use this time to stockpile resources against the possibly-lean years ahead.

And Become Parents (Hail the New Generation!)

Ideally (there’s that word again) the first child of the new marriage group is born only after the marriage group is complete. With the birth of the first child, the parents of the new marriage group, now grandparents, retire. They are now responsible for the children and home.

The group marriage practice addresses one reason many pre-industrial societies expected large numbers of children: to work the farm. Whether a literal farm or a smithy, one adult simply couldn’t do all the work to ensure survival. So people had kids to help with the work. With multiple adults available to do the work, the family doesn’t need to rely on child labor. As a result adults who are able to become pregnant do not face the same pressure to have a child as often as possible that was common in many pre-modern societies.

However infant and child mortality is still an issue. The family will need an average of 4-6 children from each parent who can give birth. Death in child birth is also a frequent occurrence, though not AS frequent as many people might assume. (Childbed fever is much less of a factor when the “midwife” is a family member who only attends one birth at a time and not a doctor who goes from birth to birth, not bothering to wash his hands in between.)

The lower expectations re: pregnancies allows pregnancies to be spaced further apart. The result is health benefits for parents and children. And all parents can remain active in the family trade (to varying extents).

Some marriage groups set a specific goal for how many children they want to have. When the family has enough children over the age of five, they stop trying to have more kids. This is considered a somewhat risky choice–plagues and disasters happen. But it frees the entire marriage group to focus on trade and increasing the families resources, ensuring the survival of the family in a different way. As a bonus, it keeps the age range for the next generation down to a more manageable level.

Parents Become Grandparents

Eventually, the marriage group’s children form a new marriage group. Then the marriage group “retires” to become the stay-at-home grandparents and caretakers for the family home. They keep the equivalent of “kitchen gardens”, teach the children the basics of the family trade, and represent the family in whatever the local political set up is.

And Great-Grandparents

You get the idea by now. Any of a marriage group that survive to become great-grandparents are revered elders. They are cared for by the younger generations and valued for the wisdom they have learned over their long lives.

If you are interested in unusual families and fictional societies, check out my fantasy novel The Bargain.

To get exclusive info on this world and some excerpts from the work in progress, join Jess’ Pack

#BuJo Update

I’ve made the my first major bujo update of the year. For all I know it may be my last major update of the year (I only made one major update last year, adding a goal tracker).

Here is it:

Yup, I added that pocket on the front cover of my bujo.

Why a BuJo Pocket?

I’ve seen other bujo setups that add a similar pocket and always kind of wondered why. Until I walked out of my doctor’s office a couple weeks ago with five different papers and no good place to put them. (My purse is the smallest purse I’ve ever used and STILL turns into a bottomless pit where things get lost forever and a day.)

So I grabbed a regular sheet of printer paper, folded it in half, then folded the sides in. I taped it down from the inside (which was tricky, but not as tricky as it sounds). Because of the folded sides it’s got a bit of “stretch” to hold several things at once, which has already been helpful.

How’s It Work?

So far I’ve stuck a business card, an appointment reminder, a self care check list, and a few other things in there. Each day I go through what’s in there when I do my bujo review. The appointment reminders get the appointment written down and the cards tossed. Stuff that I need to do something with and can be done immediately gets done at the same time. Other stuff gets added to the to-do list and tucked back in.

I admit I’m still trying to figure out what to do with the self care check list. I’ve thought of copying it over into the bujo, but at this point it’ll be far enough into the bujo that it will be a pain to find when I need it. I suppose I could copy it onto the back page of the bujo. I don’t like using pages out of order, but it’s something I can live with as an occasional thing. And this would definitely be a good cause.

Something to think about.

For now, that checklist is staying in that pocket where I can pull it out quickly whenever I need it.

Anyway, there it is.

Honestly I hope it’s the last major update for the year. I don’t like changing stuff. Doesn’t mean I won’t change it if I have a good reason too, but I really prefer to find something that works and stick with it. And so far, the current set up is working pretty well.

(So it’s apparently V-Day again? I mean, if you’re like me and not big on romance, maybe kick back with a new book instead?)

What’s Going on With This Blog

Updates have been really irregular and erratic lately, and I’m afraid it’s going to stay that way. After thinking about it, I’ve decided that updating the blog is going to be the lowest priority on my work list.

Building Family

My top priority is getting the next book ready. Right now the “next” book is a novel with the working title “Building Family” (yea, I suck at titles). It’s set in a bronze age society where group marriages and generational families are the norm. The story follows a group of people who come together to create a new family. It’s debatably fantasy–it’s an original world that has magic, but no one has figured out how to control the magic yet. So magic this weird natural phenomenon that people mostly try to avoid bc random uncontrolled bursts of magic tend to end badly. Future books in the series, if I get around to writing them, will be more stereotypically fantasy with all the magic users and such.

No matter what else, I try to put half an hour / 450 words into the book first thing in the morning.

Cuil Press

My next priority is my Cuil Press work. After I’ve done my writing for the morning, I pull out the business stuff. We’re in a downtime at the Press right now. (‘Downtime’ is code for ‘not under deadline crunch’, not ‘we don’t have much work to do’.) Our next book, Granny Chosen One and Other Twisted Fantasy Tales, isn’t scheduled for release until May. So I have time to deal with stuff like sorting out the budget for the year (which I should have done LAST year, but then we WERE in a deadline crunch. Plus we have very few expenses yet, so one month doesn’t make much difference). Also filing various legal stuff with the state and feds and generally getting all the admin shit I let slide during deadline crunch sorted out.

It’s work that I enjoy. I know that sounds a bit strange, but I like getting stuff organized and everything in its place. Which is a large chunk of what administration is. So I got that going. I generally try to put 2 hrs into Cuil Press each day.

Life Shit

Mixed in with these two is personal life stuff–making sure everyone has food, that the kids have clean clothes, various appointments, school stuff, etc. If nothing else gets done, this gets done. But if I have energy to do more stuff, writing gets done first, then this and Press work get done.

Everything Else

If I have any energy left when I’m done with all that (and I usually don’t), that’s when I work on blog posts, or the next installment in the web serial, How NOT to Save the World, or my short stories, or all the other “little” projects that are getting perpetually back burnered.

Right now, this is where Polyamory on Purpose is going to fit in (I think). Since I’m still getting over the burnout, PoP is definitely gong to be a “when I feel like it” deal for a while. We’ll see what happens when I’m fully past the burnout.

Summing Up

So that’s where I’m at right now and why this blog is updating so erratically.

The good news is my doc thinks I may have a b12 deficiency. This is GOOD news because if he’s right, then part of my constant exhaust has a cause that is treatable. Which will help with having the energy to do ALL THE THINGS. Planning to get relevant blood work done today (the day I’m writing this post). Fingers crossed!


Looking for something to read while waiting for the next blog post? Don’t forget my fantasy novel The Bargain is now available!

Polyamory on Purpose: Getting Over Burnout

It took a while, and for a while, I wasn’t sure it would happen, but I’m starting to want to work on my Polyamory on Purpose stuff again.

I’m NOT going back to the old set up, where PoP was my main focus and I spent two hours a day on it between blog and books. My fiction and other writing were afterthoughts. That’s HOW I got burnt out in the first place.

So What Am I Doing?

I’m not sure what exactly I am going to do, whether I’m going to figure out a schedule for what projects I work on when, including Polyamory on Purpose, just work on what I feel like when I feel like it except when I have a deadline, whether I’m going to start blogging PoP regularly again or just blog occasionally or not blog PoP at all and just stick with writing the books.

Right now I’m leaning towards only updating the old blogs and working on Polyamory on Purpose books*, not writing any new blogs. It rubs me the wrong way to leave several blog series unfinished, but it was the blog, more than anything, that burnt me out. But beyond that, I don’t know what I’ll be doing.

One thing I WON’T be doing is pushing myself. That’ll send me right back into burn out territory and create even more delay.

So the good news is: More Polyamory on Purpose!

The bad news is: It’s Coming (Unknown)!

Thanks to everyone who has stuck with me through all the change and upheavals the last few months. The changes aren’t going away, but it turns out, neither is Polyamory on Purpose.

I’ll keep you updated as I figure out what’s going on. Until next time!

*If you’re curious what I’ve got coming in PoP books, I have Safer Sex for the Non-Monogamous drafted but needing major revision. I have Polyamory and Kink outlined.

Get exclusive access to draft sections of Safer Sex by joining Jess’ Pack on Mighty Networks.

I’m Not a Femdom (Anymore?)

I can’t call myself a femdom anymore.

I’ve been slowly coming to (and fighting) this realization for over a year now.

I’m not a woman, I’m ay’lonit, enby, non-binary. And it wasn’t long after I first came out about my gender that I started feeling uncomfortable calling myself a femdom. But I continued to do so because… well, because what else was there?

Femdom has been a part of my identity–a pretty big part of my identity–for nearly 10 years now. I’ve learned about kink and my own sexual and relationship needs and preferences through the lens of that identity. My closest friendships and connections with other kinky people are based on that identity (either as a shared identity or subs who prefer to serve femdoms).

Separate from the label “femdom,” I don’t “fit” in kink. My experiences, from harassing CollarSpace messages to no-show subs to fighting against the stereotype of the leather clad dominatrix to learning to recognize and accept my preference for being on the left side of the slash have all mirrored those of so many femdoms I have spoken with.

I could simply call myself a “dom” as I did when I first entered the scene. In fact, for a while I was pretty fierce in my insistence that I shouldn’t need to hang “fem” on the front, I’m a dom, period.

But I found that doing so brought it’s own set of assumptions. A dom is assumed to be a man in the scene. And a woman is assumed to be a submissive. And so I gradually started using femdom, which connected me with others like me and made it easier to find subs who were interested in me.

In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be divisions based on gender. It would just be “dom” and “sub” and none of the bullshit stereotypes.

Years ago, in order to find the section of the kink community that I fit in, I had to accept and eventually own and learn to take pride in “femdom.”

Now, for the same reason, I need to walk away from that same label.

I am not femme, not a woman, not a femdom.

But in walking away from the label I am walking away from so much more than just a label.

All the femdom representations that I lovingly collected over the years, they don’t represent me. I thought they did, and I still love them for their better-than-average portrayal of a kink dynamic that is far too stereotyped. But they don’t reflect me.

Nothing does. Even my own book, which I wrote in large part because at the time I couldn’t find any good femdom rep in the novels I read. It’s still a good femdom rep. I’m damn proud of the work I did on it.

But it isn’t the rep for me and my identity that I had intended it to be.

So many communities I have been part of, from Fetlife groups to CS chatrooms to a few Discord chats, they aren’t made for me. I thought they were, because I thought I was a femdom. And maybe I was before I came to terms with the reality of my gender. But I don’t belong there now.

If I simply call myself a dom, a dominant, then I go back to the communities that are dominated by maledoms and femsubs. But the assumption that anyone who presents as or is read as a woman is submissive. I don’t want to wade through that bullshit again. I don’t want to read more kink “representation” that paints women as inherenty submissive and in need a big strong man to take care of them. Leaving aside any philosophical issues, I spent most of my life identifying as and thinking of myself as a woman. I am STILL closer to being a woman than a man. I don’t the mental stress that wading through that bullshit puts on me.

So what am I? Where do I fit in kink? Or, better, how can I make kink fit me?

I’m an enbydom. A non-binary dominant. For all I know it’s a term I made up. I’ve never seen it before, and Google thinks I’m looking up a word in Welsh.

But it fits. It’s me.

And if I need to create communities and representation and place in kink for enbies (dom and sub) with my own two hands, I’ll do it. Maybe only in a small way. But someway.

I’m stubborn like that.

The Bargain by Jess Mahler is Now Available!

When I started writing The Bargain, I wanted a story with polyamory and kink (especially kink!) that I could relate to. All the femdom fiction I could find at the time was either straight pron or man-hating bitches or just flat out unrealistic and icky.

A lot has changed since then, and while femdom* still isn’t widely written, there’s a decent amount of it that I can read and enjoy.

The funny thing is that while I was actively trying to create a story with polyamory and kink, I unintentionally built my story around much more universal themes.

The kink is there, don’t get me wrong, and I think I did a good job with it. But the story… the story is about family. About what it means to be family. It’s about love and the different forms love can take. It’s about life after trauma, when you think the past is behind you but somehow it still manages to dog you around years after it’s “over.”

Most of all, I think it’s about choice. The most pivotal moments in the story all hinge on someone making a choice. Some of those choices are good ones. Some… not so good. But they all have consequences that ripple through the story. Including, of course, the choice to make a bargain…

The Bargain by Jess Mahler

It was supposed to be a straightforward sacrifice. After their mother was killed by Lord Oeloff, Mattin swore to do anything to protect his sister. When the fae lord came for her, Mattin traded his life and freedom to Oeloff’s enemy for the promise of his sister’s safety. He thought he was prepared for anything. Anything except what he actually

It was supposed to be a political gambit. Struggling against Oeloff’s latest ploy, Jahlene found an unforeseen opening in the arrival of the bitter Mattin. Bringing the stranger into her household was a risk. Trusting him was a bigger one. To protect her family, Jahlene bargained with him. She never guessed how it would end…

Sometimes, what starts as a bargain, becomes something more.

The Bargain is a fantasy thriller exploring themes of family, betrayal, trauma, and sacrifice. It is an “own voices” book for polyamory, kink, and PTSD.

The Bargain by Jess Mahler

The Bargain is now available on Amazon

*Check back tomorrow for more on why my writing this for more femdom rep turned out to be somewhat ironic…

Nalbinding: #Yarnuary Week 3 1/2

Last week I was sick and got fuck-all done for #yarnuary. But the last couple of days I’ve been feeling better and buckled down to work on nalbinding.

Nalbinding is type of yarncrafting that even many crafters aren’t familiar with. It’d done with a single needle which looks rather like an over-sized sewing need. And you pretty much literally “sew” the yarn around itself to make the knots that form the fabric. The result looks a lot like knitting to someone who isn’t familiar with the difference.

Like knitting (and unlike crochet) nalbinding leaves a stretchy fabric that works well for clothing, hats, mittens, socks, etc. In fact, it may work better for socks than knitting because nalbinding stitches are flatter than knitting.

I’m in the early days of learning nalbinding and one of the main reasons I’m learning it is it is going to feature in the novel I’m currently working on (working title: Building Family). If you’re interested, you can learn more about the connection between nalbinding and Building Family here.

Anyway, one of my projects for #yarnuary was a bracelet made with nalbinding. Mainly because I made one kind-of by accident the first time I practiced nalbinding, and my partner liked it so much he wanted me to make one for him.

I don’t think he expected it to be purple though…

nalbinding(It’s a much darker purple IRL, not sure why it came out looking so bright. But you get the idea.)

That’s two yarnuary projects done. I’ll honestly be a bit surprised if I manage to finish any of the others, but I’m gonna try!

Jess Mahler’s Unified Theory of Rape and Sexual Assault Allegations

Okay, I want to tackle some hard stuff today, so pull up a chair and grab your thing. Like the title says, this is my unified theory of rape and sexual assault allegations. If I don’t piss at least half the people reading this off at least once, I’m doing it wrong. But stick it out, I don’t think you’ll be expecting where I take this.

Before I get into this, let me note that I’m writing this for private individuals. I am NOT advocating that anything I say here replace real investigation of accusations or that anyone is not entitled to legal presumption of innocence. But individuals are confronted every day with a need to decide who to believe when accusations come to light. This is my take.

There is No Single, Usable Theory of Rape and Sexual Assault Allegations

Remember #MeToo that was going around a while back? Well, a lot of people got kinda worked up about false accusations when it was going. And while by and large those concerns were dismissed by folks trying to bring light to the problem of sexual assault and harassment, I kept remembering Emmett Till. I know someone who has lived all his life knowing that he could be the next Emmett Till. He was understandably reluctant to offer a blanket #Ibelieveher to allegations from white women. And because of that, I saw him hounded and harassed by a feminist we both knew until he was nearly driven out of our mutual social group.

Full disclosure? When it comes to sexual assault and harassment, I’m generally on the “believe the victim” bandwagon. (Accusations of ongoing abuse within a romantic relationship are a lot more complicated and we’ll be examining that another day.)

But while I (generally) believe the victim I am well aware that other people may have legit reasons to withhold judgment. So as long as other people aren’t attacking the victim I don’t take issue with their stance.

If you start attacking the victim, instead of just suspending judgment pending more information, we’re gonna have issues you and I. (You can defend the accused, if you so wish, without attacking the victim.)

He Was the Boss

I read an article last month about the many news-making accusations which brought down a number of high profile men over the summer. It made a point that I hadn’t seen made anywhere else at the time:

All of the accusations that were making waves in the media weren’t JUST accusations of sexual assault. They were allegations of workplace harassment and specifically situations where the accused had power over the accuser’s career.

The old saying about rape being about power is not only cliché but generally pretty well disproven. However power is definitely a factor in rape. You can’t rape someone you don’t have power over, whether that power is physical, emotional, financial, or otherwise.

So Let’s Talk Power

Now, power dynamics are a hobby horse of mine. If you follow this blog, you’ll hear more about them. But for our purposes today you need to know two things:

Power dynamics are always in play. There is never a situation where two people (much less a group of people) are completely equal in relative power.

Power dynamics are complex shit. My nesting partner is both physically and financially more powerful than I am, but I am the driving force in our family because I hold more social power. I have societal power (different from social power) over many people who are physically stronger than me. Yet I have less financial power than almost anyone who isn’t living on the street. And that’s just looking at part of one person’s relative power. I didn’t even touch on political power, career power, power in a specific hierarchy, etc. Get a group together? Fuck that shit.

So when someone starts talking about how all the high profile cases of sexual assault and harassment are also cases of workplace harassment, that grabs my attention. Now, we are talking about a pattern in the power dynamics between accused and accuser.

Powerless? #MeToo

At the time of the assaults, the accused had power over their accusers. And that power dynamic is critical to how this plays out. It is the power that the accused had that let them get away with their harassment. If they didn’t have that power the accusers would have told them to fuck off as soon as the assaults started. If they didn’t have that power their victims would have come forward a lot fucking sooner.

Take those same people, and flipped the power dynamic in their work relationships, those assaults would never have happened. At worst the accused would have tried something, been slapped down, and never tried it again.

However I’ve gotten a bit of afield of where I started didn’t I?

I started with #metoo, false accusations and Emmett Till.

There’s a connection. Bear with me a bit longer, okay?

But False Rape Accusations!

In the wake of all the highly publicized accusations, many men discussed how to prevent rape allegations. Apparently a lot of men are really worried 1) about being next to be accused and 2) about being accused when they were acting with good intentions. For some reason, none of the various articles, blog posts, and forum discussions by people who had these concerns advised that the way to not be accused of rape is to, ya know, not rape. Cause while false accusations are 100% a thing, I promise that will work for well over 95% of folks.

But false accusations are a thing, and as Emmett Till’s story graphically demonstrates, they aren’t harmless. The harm they can do varies.

In aggregate the harm to the many, many, many people sexually assaulted every day is far worse than the harm to the relatively few people false accused. But harm doesn’t happen in aggregate, it happens individually. And in some cases the harm of false accusations is life destroying.

The usual response to worries about false accusations is to point out that false accusations are really rare. Very few people are going to make false accusations. Why? Because the accuser in cases of sexual assault almost always gets put through a gauntlet. An accuser needs to prove not just the validity of the accusation but that they are righteous enough for their accusation to be worth paying attention to.

I agree 100% that those responses are accurate most of the time.

When the Gauntlet is a Cakewalk…

Just how much of that gauntlet did Bryant get dragged through when she accused Emmett Till of making lewd advances? None. (Oh, after Till was dead she may have gotten dragged quite a bit. But when she made the accusation no one even stopped to question her.)

A rape victim on the witness stand may have their sexual habits and style of dress dissected. But Do you really think the school board–who are elected by the parents of the students–is going to sit through the same being done to a student who accuses a teacher? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

Why do you think that is?

Because power dynamics.

A young white woman had enormous societal power over a black boy 50 years ago. And while the power differential isn’t as bad today, it still exists.

In schools, power looks like it is in the hands of the teachers. And in the classroom it is. Beyond the classroom, the parents hold power over the teacher’s careers. Which means the students, through their parents, can have power over their teachers.

These aren’t universals. Bill Cosby reached a level of financial, career, and social power that is extremely rare for a black man in America. So the power imbalance between Cosby and the average white woman was in Cosby’s favor. A very rare situation for a black man in America. Though it is perhaps notable that the accusations against Cosby started coming out years before the accusations against white men with similar career positions.

And the Sandusky case definitely proved that not all teachers are created equal.

So let’s pull it all together:

Rape and sexual assault can only happen when there is at least one power imbalance favoring the assailant.

People making rape allegations go through a harrowing gauntlet both medically, legally, and socially, when they come forward–unless they have significantly more power than the person they are accusing.

Certain situations are more likely to be generate false rape and assault allegations. These are situations where on average the accuser has significant power over the accused. White women accusing black men, teachers being accused by students are two examples of these situations.

Jess Mahler’s Unified Theory of Rape and Sexual Assault Allegations

Believe the person the power imbalance doesn’t favor. Believe the person who is fighting an uphill battle to get their side of the story heard, never mind believed. Usually, that’s going to be the accuser. Because usually the accuser is going to get put through that gauntlet. Usually people are going to rally around the accused. But not always.

People talking about how the accused’s life shouldn’t be ruined because of one mistake is a clear sign of where the power lies. So are public dissection of the accuser’s sexual habits. Similarly, publishing mugshots of the accused instead of school photos, dissecting their past mistakes and wrong doings, while everyone paints the accuser as a shining innocent victim are also clear tipoffs as to who has more power.

And of course, if the accused can literally make or break the accusers career, cost them their job, or otherwise has direct power over the accusers well being… it’s pretty obvious who has more power, right?

And if none of this is happening? If there is no clear power imbalance or the power dynamic is a mixed bag where each has some power over the other and neither has a clear advantage? That’s when you hope the folks investigating the accusations and allegations are actually capable of doing their goddamn jobs. Something I personally have little faith in, but we can always hope.

A Few Last Thoughts

So here it is. My unified theory of rape and assault allegations, in 2000 words of less. It isn’t perfect. Even if the theory is 100% accurate, we’ll still make mistakes applying it because there will be things you don’t know. For instance, it may be that the secretary is blackmailing the exec over some indiscretion. Then the secretary holds the power even though as far as all of us can tell, the power is with the exec.

But I think this is a step in the right direction. A theory that both has solid utility and can give folks on both sides of this issue a way to recognize and address the legitimate concerns of both sides.

Comments are open, but ban hammer will be wielded liberally. Keep it clean, people.

(Did you learn something? Please help support my work.)

A Week in Crochet — #Yarnuary

For the rest of January I’m going to be using Monday blog posts to share my #yarnuary updates.

If you missed it last week, #yarnuary is a community-building thing for yarn crafters on Mastodon.

I’ve got several projects I’m working on for #yarnuary and this week I’ve made progress on three of them.

First off, the snood.

I made this for my partner, Michael and have actually been working on it since last Spring. Well, theoretically working on it. This past summer was not a good time for me crafting wise and I got pretty much nothing done from May through November. Then I lost my elastic so i couldn’t finish the snood until I got to the store to pick some up.

Anyway, it’s done now. And it will be a damn long time before I do another project that uses elastic. (The snood I usually wear ties with string, thank-you-very-much. 😉 )

Here’s a pick of Michael wearing it.

week in crochet

I haven’t had the spoons to get pics of the projects (and this blog post was supposed to go up Monday), but here’s updates anyway:

Next up is my blue-striped cowl. Progress has been made, about 3 more rows. I don’t know if I’m going to finish this during #yarnuary. I definitely would if it was my only project, but as it is I’m not sure. Either way, progress is good.

Of course, whether I finish in #yarnuary or not, the worst of the cold weather will be over by the time I’m done. But I’ll still have it for next year, so I guess that works, right?

Last bit of progress this week was a few rows on the surprise amigurumi. In fact, I finished the head.

Like the cowl, if this was the only project, it would be done by the end of the month easily, but I think I have a decent chance of finishing both of these if I just keep working on them.

The two projects I didn’t work on this week are the nalbinding bracelet and the parrot amigurumi. Having seen the pace I’m able to manage currently, I actually doubt I’ll get much, if anything, done on the parrot this month. It’s lowest priority for me which means it’ll only be worked on if everything else is done.

The nalbinding bracelet I should be able to finish in one sitting (I finished the first on in a single sitting and it was my first time nalbinding.) I’m still tempted to try a new stitch for the second bracelet, but common sense is asserting itself and I’m going to keep going with the Oslo stitch until I can stitch-while-watching something the way I can with basic crochet stuff. That way I’ll KNOW what I’m doing in my fingers. Then I’ll pick up another stitch.

My fantasy thriller novel The Bargain is now available for pre-order on Amazon. It doesn’t have anything to do with #yarnuary, but check it out anyway!