An open letter to Kyle Payne

I was one of several bloggers who got an email yesterday from Ren at Renegade Evolution, noting that Kyle Payne is apparently out of jail and back to blogging as a feminist voice in the ‘sphere. Kyle was sentenced to jail last August following a plea bargain in a case of sexual assault against a young woman at Buena Vista University in Iowa. At the time of the attack, Payne was working as a dormitory advisor and a very public anti-rape feminist activist at the university. Throughout the period between his arrest and his sentence, Payne continued to blog as a feminist — and his mea culpa, when it came, was rightly dismissed as self-involved and narcissistic.

Kyle has served the jail portion of his sentence, though he still has nearly ten years on parole. Though I won’t link to his blog, it appears he has begun blogging again about gender and justice issues as if nothing has happened; Ren apparently learned of him because he links (or linked) to a number of feminist blogs. Though a valid argument can be made for ignoring Kyle’s return, Ren and Natalia and Outis have all made the case that that tack is too dangerous. People encounter feminist bloggers in a variety of ways, frequently through search engines. Having a young budding feminist read Kyle’s blog, and perhaps contact Kyle, without some awareness of his background — that’s too great a risk to take.

I wrote to Kyle yesterday, asking him to remove a link to this site from his blog. I’m following that up with a few more thoughts today.

I’m deeply disappointed and angered that Kyle has returned to blogging so soon. I’m frustrated that his time in prison, however brief, does not seem to have resulted in any greater insight into the gravity of what he did.

To address Kyle openly: to work as a pro-feminist man and residence adviser on a college campus, advocating for an end to violence against women — and then to engage in an act of sexualized violence against a woman who was relying upon you for care — is an odious act of betrayal. Your motives for what you did may have been unclear even to you, but your lack of self-awareness is not and never was a mitigating factor. If you’re going to talk the talk of feminism publicly, awareness of your private demons (whatever they might be) is a sine qua non of the kind of work you’ve tried to do. I see no evidence that you have engaged in serious work to transform yourself, no evidence that you understand the magnitude of what you did, no evidence that you are a different man today than you were on the night you assaulted a vulnerable woman.

Kyle, I am a great believer that men can change, that people can transform themselves. Though I’ve never done anything remotely similar to what you did, I’ve certainly got much in my history of which I am not proud and for which I did everything I could to make amends. And here’s the most vital thing I want to say to you, Kyle, right now: any chance you have at redemption in the future is dependent upon you taking a long, hard, journey of penitence and reflection starting now. It will not be a short journey, it will not be an easy one.

It will be, if it’s the right sort of journey, a humiliating one. The word humiliating, you may know, comes from the Latin word “humus” — earth. You need to be brought down to earth, down to the humble ground, down from your self-denial and lofty self-concept. Trust me, it will hurt — but it will also feel good. No man can lead a double life, as you have done, and not feel intense shame. I see no sign that your shame has been lifted from you; if it had, you would not be so eager to ingratiate yourself once again with a progressive community you betrayed. That potent cocktail of righteous indignation, self-loathing, and a desperate desire to please is a dangerous one indeed — but it cannot blind you, or it should not blind you, to the reality of your own moral bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is a good image: right now, you’re massively in debt with no resources with which to pay off what you owe, nothing with which to make right what you’ve done.

Getting out of bankruptcy and becoming solvent again takes many years. The judge in your case gave you ten years of parole; I assume those ten years began the day you were released from custody. Your way out from moral and psychological bankruptcy, Kyle, is to take those ten years of parole seriously. Start by changing your old behavior. Start by committing not to blog or write publicly; you used your blog to reinforce a lie. You get to the truth and the healing by giving up those strategies you used to maintain that lie. Volunteer, yes, but volunteer far away from feminist organizations or those that serve the survivors of sexual violence. Committing to volunteering and to not writing for an audience for the duration of your parole are two excellent ways to begin your journey out of bankruptcy.

You need to get into therapy, Kyle, if you aren’t already — with a therapist savvy enough not be manipulated by you. I suggest you do men’s work as well; most communities have groups for paroled sex offenders trying to reintegrate themselves into society. If you think for a moment that you are better than these predators, your recovery can’t take place. After all, most of the men you are likely to meet in these groups didn’t pose as feminist allies; their crimes were not exacerbated by that particularly heinous betrayal. You are just like them, and along with a good therapist, they are the only people who can help you now. Get honest with them; they’ll smell your bullshit before anyone else does. Work to uncover and discover and, at last, discard, all that darkness that led you to that one moment (if it really was just one moment, and not a pattern) which led to your unmasking.

And even after years and years of work, Kyle, some people just aren’t going to forgive you. And that’s going to have to be okay. Your goal is not to be loved by everyone; your goal is to pay a debt, to make amends, and to become a better human being. If your denial is as great as it appears to be, that’s going to take a long time. And even after your parole ends, even after a decade is up, you’re not going to be welcomed back as a feminist blogger. As I said at Ren’s place, that horse done left the barn and it ain’t comin’ back. That doesn’t mean you can’t still do important work, but it does mean that you have permanently forfeited the right to be accepted into this particular community.

Kyle, you’re probably surrounded by people who minimize what you did. Well-meaning friends and family, co-dependent as fuck, will tell you that you’ve “paid your debt” and that “that’s all in the past.” They love you and want you to have a good life; they love you and want to believe you are different now; they love you and want to believe that what happened was a one-time anomaly rather than a reflection of who Kyle Payne really is. (Trust me, I get co-dependency.) Kyle, you need people in your life who are willing to believe you can transform, but who are utterly unwilling to buy what you’re selling; you need people whose love and concern doesn’t blind them to the reality of how much work you need to do. If you want to get rid of the shame, Kyle, seek them out.

Honestly, I hope you transform. I hope you take some years in the proverbial wilderness and go down what Robert Bly calls the “road of ashes”. But understand this: the feminist blogosphere isn’t here to encourage and enable your transformation. The feminist blogosphere is not here to dialogue with you as you process through your issues and your past. You are not welcome in the feminist blogosphere now, and likely never will be again. The next right thing for you to do is delete your blog and, to the best of your ability, your archives online. You’ve forfeited your right to be part of this community, and a few months in jail with no apparent effort at real change do not earn you the right to sneak back in.

With more than a little chutzpah, you call your blog “The Road Less Traveled”. Well, Kyle, you’re coming to a fork in the road right now. Most sex offenders choose the well-traveled path of lies and denial and recidivism, oscillating between pleas for self-pity and grandiose claims about being misunderstood. Very few people really change. You want to take the less-traveled path, understand that it’s the one of radical honesty, radical penance, and a radical willingness to give up everything. And that starts with the blogging.

You are not welcome to comment on this blog, but you are free to contact me via email at

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged

34 thoughts on “An open letter to Kyle Payne

  1. YES, he makes me think of Mark Foley too.

    The thing about Kyle Payne that has always bothered me so much is that it plants the seed in my mind that no matter how much a man claims to “get” it, there is still a desire to molest/rape deep in his heart. I don’t actually believe this intellectually, but it adds fear and anxiety that knowing better cannot really fix. I have seen the darkest side of misogyny (my best friend from high school was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a guy who was obsessed with her and my grandfather molested my favorite cousin) and it’s absolutely terrifying and can destroy your life.

    The lesson I learned is that life is too short and fragile to bother with coddling the feelings of creeps. The consequences are just too dire.

    This post is comforting to me somehow though, so thank you, Hugo.

  2. Excellent advice – but unfortunately he won’t take it. He’s a narcissist and unable to process any kind of real criticism or make any real change.

  3. I feel exactly like you do, ElleDee.

    On a non-intellectual plane, I really don’t trust men. In fact, perceived virtue makes something in me more suspicious, like “what are they hiding with all that show of goodness and understanding.”

    Among the bad decisions I’ve made struggling into adulthood, I dated a pedophile for two years. He wasn’t exclusively pedo, and as far as I knew and he said he’d never been inappropriate with a child, but the point was he was a pedophile. My T once suggested that I was willing to deal with that because it felt like at least I knew what he was hiding and I wouldn’t have to deal with not knowing, as I assume every man is hiding something horrible.

    People who abused me as a child were pillars of their community. The stepfather of a friend who hurt me had received community awards for working with Habitat for Humanity and he and his wife kept foster children. He abused me and two of his stepdaughters before he was caught. Another guy, younger, was cherished at our church. Before he was fired, he was working with mentally ill adolescents as an RN in a mental hospital while going to school to become a Nurse Practitioner. He was and is very vocal about social justice, feminist aspects included. However, I knew what he was like when he didn’t think he’d be caught. This guy sounds like that. He has this philosophy he thinks makes him virtuous and enjoys that attention from others, maybe even believes in it on a deluded level, but none of that applies to them when they think they won’t get caught.

    There’s a guy that’s head of RE at my church and he’s one of the most wonderful, encouraging and self-sacrificing people I know. However, I am always somewhat uncomfortable and suspicious with him because I always wonder what that’s hiding. This does not make my life very conducive to getting close to people, which makes me very sad.

    Hugo’s has said before that he believes part of why I sought him out as a kind of mentor is because he is so far away (I’m near the east coast). That very well may be true. I might be scared of someone that cool in RL.

  4. Great post, thanks for blogging on this in a way that is much more coherent and structured then I can (especially the second to last paragraph).

  5. Great post, Huges. I like it when you get obviously angry.

    jennyfields, Hugo has been my mentor for years. And I don’t trust many men.

    But it has taken me a long time to trust him, and every once in a while, I wonder about him too. Not because of anything he does, but because like you, I have this sense deep down that all men are predatory. guilty until proven innocent.

    I’m very curious to find out if he emails you, Huges. Keep us posted, even if you don’t share everything.

  6. That was excellent, Hugo – and, speaking personally, everything that I’m too pissed off to even begin articulating. I also doubt that he’s going to take it to heart, his narcissism is *stunning*, but you never know – maybe hell will freeze over this one time.

  7. “I wrote to Kyle yesterday, asking him to remove a link to this site from his blog.”


    “I was one of several bloggers who got an email yesterday from Ren at Renegade Evolution, noting that Kyle Payne is apparently out of jail and back to blogging as a feminist voice in the ’sphere.”

    Hugo, I find it interesting that you have joined with other members of the feminist blogosphere to publicly shame Kyle Payne for blogging about feminist issues. What other behaviors are you willing to publicly shame people about?

  8. How in the world did he get caught if the girl/woman was out cold? Was he stupid enough to steal something or show his video? The whole story does not make sense. When I was in grad school, my suite mate got drunk, passed out and was very proud that her friend (male) undressed her and put her to bed without looking. She told this story to me and a group of females. When she left, we all said to each other: “He looked and she is lucky if that is all he did.” We went on talking about how a woman must be super careful to never get drunk, etc., etc. Times certainly have changed when people are shocked that a young man might be tempted in that situation. I am surprised he handled her himself and not with a witness. That was his first mistake.

  9. How in the world did he get caught if the girl/woman was out cold?

    Photographic evidence. Yes, he was that stupid.

    Times certainly have changed when people are shocked that a young man might be tempted in that situation.

    If “times have changed” when people are shocked about a passed out woman being raped by a man who’s working as her dormitory advisor, then I, for one, am glad of the change.

  10. but how was the photographic evidence obtained. As an RA was his camera and computer subject to periodic scans? You can’t just grab his camera, 4th amendment et al. Or did he volunteer when he realized he was wrong. I need not see anywhere in the reports or blogs that there was any accusation of rape. Many women go through rape or attempted rape sober and let us not minimize a serious reality. This was an assault not a rape. There is a difference.

  11. but how was the photographic evidence obtained. As an RA was his camera and computer subject to periodic scans? You can’t just grab his camera, 4th amendment et al. Or did he volunteer when he realized he was wrong? I did not see anywhere in the reports or blogs that there was any accusation of rape. Many women go through rape or attempted rape sober and let us not minimize a serious reality. This was an assault not a rape. There is a difference.

  12. Rainbow: that’s some great victim-blaming you have going on. I’m impressed. Normally on feminist blogs you don’t get a vintage that pure.

    How is rape any less serious if the woman was drunk or unconscious? Especially since we’re not talking explicitly here about the victim’s trauma, we’re talking about the actions of the man involved. He performed sexual actions on a woman who clearly could not consent–this would be wrong even if he WASN’T a public anti-rape activist. (Dithering about the use of the word “rape” vs. “sexual assault” seems meaningless to me here)

  13. IIRC, he assaulted her in some way short of rape, and took pictures. I’m sure that how he was caught is a matter of public record, Rainbow – I don’t really see the relevance. And while I agree that being touched inappropriately while unconscious is probably, on average, not as traumatic as being raped while conscious, it is still something one human being should not do to another, and exacerbated by his position of trust.

    And, honestly, despite not being clueless of the ways of the world, I would not expect a professor/advisor/RA/whatever to sexually molest a student under his care. I mean, for instance, if I were with a passed-out drunk student, I wouldn’t hesitate to leave her alone with a professor.

    I have all kinds of impulses myself, so I can see how sexually touching someone who was unconscious could arise as an idea, but I don’t see how you let yourself actually do it, much less take photos. It’s utterly reprehensible.

  14. Hugo’s outrage is duly noted. The crime really WAS outrageous. However, I have enough experience as an educator to know that public shaming rarely affects change. I find that it tends to actually work against change, and there is nothing that can be done to stop someone from blogging. Hugo is not the pope of feminism, anybody with a triple digit IQ can get around an IP block, and it is a free country.

    Example: I’m a Christian. I can’t proclaim to someone who has murdered another that they can’t be a Christian or that they will never be accepted by the Christian community online or IRL. I’d be full of myself to think that I could.

  15. Pingback: Response to Julian « The Road Less Traveled

  16. This is not about “shaming” anyone. Read the damn post. It’s about taking responsibility, it’s about a road forward, it’s about the how of genuine redemption, not the cheap grace of a quick apology and a short stint in county. Shame is about staying stuck in one’s own self-loathing and denial. We overcome shame by being accountable for what we did as a result of our shame, and that’s what I’m asking Kyle to do.

    Kyle can blog all he wants. And I can’t stop him from linking to me. He will do what he wants to do. And I don’t speak for the feminist blogosphere, but do speak as a feminist blogger — and Kyle Payne has forfeited the right to be considered a colleague within that ‘sphere because of his actions. And I agree with Ren’s argument that to ignore him is dangerous.

    Dave, Christianity is about redemption, too. Anyone can be a Christian; anyone can be a feminist. But not everyone gets to call themselves a feminist blogger without being called to account by other feminist bloggers. (A better analogy would be to someone who called himself a Christian writer and mentor. If he committed a murder, I’d still call him a Christian, but I damn sure would want him to take a good long time before he wrote anything on Christianity.)

    And any further hints of rape apology, or attempts to minimize the nature of the crime here, will be deleted.

  17. For what it’s worth, I’m really glad you blogged on this. As someone who was unaware of Kyle and his criminal history, I’m just glad I know about it now and won’t stumble on his site wthout forewarning. So I thank you and Ren for that.

    Also, I really don’t think you can measure any trauma, as in this trauma is worse than that trauma. Pain doesn’t come in neat litre sized packs. Another also: I think there IS good shame – which is closely related to remorse – and if Hugo is trying to encourage remorse for these actions and similar, publicly, than that’s a good thing by me.

  18. Because he linked to this post, there’s now a link to his post responding to the feminist blogosphere’s reaction to his return. Out of the morbid curiosity I have for SA issues, I went and read it. A lot of snarky indignation against Hugo for someone who says they’re trying to be responsible for their actions. There was one aspect I saw running through the whole thing that bothered me especially, though.

    “I welcome your suggestions as to how I might ensure that visitors to my blog are well aware of my wrongdoings while not judging me based purely on that miniscule snapshot of my life.”

    There’s the continual insistence on the assault being an isolated incident, and so forth. Minimizing language and compartmentalization. Sometimes I’ve wondered about the abuses I’m aware of where an abuser has had such a profoundly negative impact on a victim’s life, where the abuse was something they’ll never be able to forget or neatly compartmentalize. What impact did that abuse have on the abuser? Do they forget or minimize it? It is very hurtful to think of how a reality can exist in two very different ways, effecting the different parties in such different manners. You can’t change the way someone else remembers something, all you can do is try to cope with your own reality.

    I have to say, though, that many important points were raised, though I don’t think it an appropriate discussion to be raised by a rapist freshly out of jail. (I don’t care about legal definitions, it’s rape.) I don’t think that in this case the issues are being raised for the right reasons. I guess that’s why I’m saying something here, because it is not something I would discuss with the person who raised it. This is about to get long.

    I was talking to my boyfriend the other day and told him how I sit in class sometimes and look around me and think “someone in this room is a rapist.” That’s likely true. A lot of people have committed acts that are rape that they don’t count as such, not to mention the people who don’t care or minimize things. This is a rape culture after all. I try to think of what that means to me, what implications that has in my life. I talked about some of the abusers that have been in my life in an earlier post, and how they had such stellar reputations in others areas of their lives. Does the gravity of certain heinous acts negate the good of other acts? Is there some imaginary line between a good person and a bad person? I don’t think there is, but that’s what makes the problem so infernal. I remember one of the advocates at the Sexual Assault Crisis Center telling the story of how she had helped a woman in a court case after she had come forward about being badly beaten by her husband in their marriage. A couple years later the advocate had been rushed to the hospital after a medical emergency, and when she woke up she saw that the person who had resuscitated her at the hospital was the same man. Sexual violence isn’t something that only effects one little part of your life, yet people still have the capacity to contribute in positive ways at the same time, so what should be done with the people who act on sexual violence?

    Rehabilitation is one of the thorniest issues in criminal and social justice. How do we know if change is real, if a person can be salvaged to live in a society without re-offending? I used to be involved in a group online when I was a minor that put me in contact with a man who turned out to be Jon Schillaci, a man on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted who was captured in the summer of 2008. He went to prison when he was 19 for abusing two boys and trying to sell the tape to an adult store. While inside, he got two Masters degrees, published poetry, and developed a relationship with a family who thought he was rehabilitated and agreed to take him in after his release. They had a five year old son and within months Schillaci abused him and fled across the border, which is how he got on the 10 Most Wanted List. This man was articulate; I knew him online. How can we ever really peer into someone else’s soul and know if change is real? Where does giving someone another chance end and the responsibility to the rest of society begin?

    Another issue I ponder is whether imposed rehabilitation is possible and if not what can really come from punitive measures? My ex went to jail for four months for a misdemeanor computer crime. I met him at the end of his three year probation where he was mandated to attend a sex addicts group. He lied in that group every week for three years because he was worried he’d be forced to serve the rest of his sentence if he talked about his problems with pornography. I may not have known him before, but I know he came out worse in his mind than before he went in. It almost edified him in his addiction and minimizing/compartmentalizing attitude because he felt he had been done so wrong. If was ironic, because his father and grandfather had actually physical abused minors and had never been caught or punished. It is usually the stupid and repressed ones that get do caught, not that one type is better or worse than the other, it is just a weakness in the system. All this makes me feel like efforts currently in place to curtail abuse in a legal sense are grasping at straws in terms of solving the problem as opposed to punishing it. The value of punishment is a whole different conversation. I don’t have an answer here.

    There’s also the issue of the cycle of abuse. I’ve had people try to excuse the actions of my own abusers by bring up that they were abused themselves, as some of them were, so I know how these sentiments can be used in secondary wounding. I remember one of my own abusers saying to me “you make me feel like a pedophile.” He was the same age as his abuser when he had abused him. These things are true, but they certainly didn’t ease my pain, or the pain of anyone else caught in a cycle of abuse. On some level seven years ago he acknowledged his place in the cycle. I thought maybe he had learned from what he did to me when he went into geriatrics instead of continuing to try to work with children, but years later I found he was back trying to work with children and had sexually assaulted a co-worker. Knowing doesn’t equal growth.

    Abusers don’t have a market on the continuation of the cycle, either. My extended family has a man in it who has abused two to three generations. One of my cousins was abused at six because her mom sent her to stay with my aunt and this man. When confronted about it years later, she told my cousin “I thought you were big enough to tell him no.” Because they were unable to cope with what happen to them, they became part of the cycle.

    I bring up these images in a stream of consciousness, not implying equality or even judgment. I’m just placing them in a sequence of events that spawn from one terrible outgrowth somewhere in history.

    What does it all mean? We try to deal with individual people as they crop up, but what can we really do to stop the epidemic as it is woven into our society? I don’t accept that there’s nothing to be done, but the problem is a whole hell of a lot more complex than any one person or generation can fully appreciate. We do need to figure out a way to talk about it, and that’s what I appreciate about the feminist blogosphere. Just, sometimes it seems like the more I think about it the less certain I become about where to start.

  19. Hi Jennyfields, thanks for your post. I, personally have a zero tollerance for abusers – no amount of viruous living or chritable works could ever compensate. In fact I think these ‘good’ qualities in abusers are often used as smoke screens. As you have made clear in your ost this problem is absolutely rife in our world and finds tollerance and encouragement in almost every area of life. Hitler was said to have been a very gentle man and he was a vegetarian, but no way does that make up for the holocaust.

  20. Matey: I think sometimes an awareness of complications of incest can show how difficult the problem is. The view a lot of people want to take is that someone rapes/abuses someone, then they are an abuser, period, that’s all they are now. However, it becomes complicated when someone pops up and says your dad/uncle/grandfather etc abused them. It is often the same scenario in situations where someone was a close friend of the family, or in a position of authority over a lot of people that had required a lot of initial trust. It’s hard for people to just erase who they thought someone was in light of accusations of abuse. That’s also why a lot of victims don’t say anything when they’ve been abused, because they don’t want to hurt the people they love by revealing such a truth about someone close to them or in their own family. Since the vast majority (I think the last number I heard was 80%) of SA happens with someone the victim knows, and that children are in more danger within their family than from strangers, accepting the reality of abuse threatens the very fabric of our relationships. Doing so would require more than many people willing to give. I’ve read criticism that suggests that the disproportionate media focus on things like “stranger danger” and “internet predators” despite far more CSA happening within the family or close relationships functions as a means to deflect the more prevalent threat posed by those you already trust.

    Not saying this reaction is right, it’s just what I’ve observed.

  21. Thanks for the trivia, but it doesn’t change my opinion about zero tolerance, no matter what the good deads carried out outside of evil. Or my opinion that the impression of a virtuous personality is often used by abusers as a cover.

  22. Thanks for the trivia, but it doesn’t change my opinion about zero tolerance, no matter what the good deads carried out outside of evil. Or my opinion that the impression of a virtuous personality is often used by abusers as a cover.

  23. Jennyfields: yes, I very much understand what you are saying, from personal experience. I especially understand what you are saying about attachment – I suffered from this – my abuser had engratiated himself with my family and is now a local and national celebrity. And for me, zero tolerance and waking from the spell, as I think of it has been a major breakthrough in my healing. I do understand that you can never stop loving your parents/family, no matter what they have done to you. My parents are not supportive of my recovery, but I will love them until I die. But I CANNOT make excuses for, firstly and most importantly, my abuser’s behaviour, and secondly – way down the line, the inability of my parents to recognise the evil that these abuses represent. My own zero tolerance is motivated by a loyalty to myself – it honors the crimes commited against me, and my wish to live in a world which has no tolerance for these abuses. In my experience, loving someone is totally different to approving of or liking them. Yes, dealing with abuse by a parent or other previously trusted relative is very, very tricky. But I think Kyle’s case is far more cut and dried and zero tolerance is appropriate – there are NEVER any valid excuses.

  24. Pingback: Kyle Payne is back — and as big of a douche as ever « Editorializing the Editors

  25. Yes, yes they should. Question is, will they? Will we all, and what can we do as a society to make people more willing to see themselves and others clearly and act appropriately? And what are the actions required of us? That’s all I mean. Questions need to be answered and changes made on numerous levels in order to address the complex reality of sexual violence, how it effects different people and how the cycle perpetuates itself.

  26. Pingback: links for 2009-03-25 « Shut Up, Sit Down

  27. Pingback: One-Time Pro-Feminist College Blogger, Jailed for Sex Assault, Is Online Again «

  28. Pingback: Why do some feminist spaces tolerate male abusers?

Comments are closed.