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 firstname.lastname@example.org.