(PM, Feb 1)
“We have been very brave, we have wanted to know
the worst, wanted the curtain to be lifted from our eyes.
This dream going on with all of us in it. Penciling in
the bighearted slob. Penciling in his outstretched arms.
Our father who art in Heaven. Our father who art buried
in the yard. Someone is digging your grave right now.
Someone is drawing a bath to wash you clean, he said,
so think of the wind, so happy, so warm. It’s a fairy tale,
the story underneath the story, sliding down the polished
halls, lightning here and gone. We make these
ridiculous idols so we can pray to what’s behind them,
but what happens after we get up the ladder?
Do we simply stare at what’s horrible and forgive it?”
- Richard Siken, “Snow and Dirty Rain”
“You know, it’s funny. “When you look at someone with rose-coloured glasses, all the red flags look just like... flags.” - BoJack Horseman
I see a lot of patterns emerge in reading accounts of JM’s actions and behavior.
This pattern repeated itself over and over in all the time I knew him. I was a sophomore in college, he was 11 years older. I’d never explored kink or polyamory, despite reading a lot about both and thinking I knew what’s what. In the first months of meeting him he brought me to a ritual and introduced me to the NJ pagans participating; one who’d known him for several years looked me up and down and said, “Oh, another J--- girl.” I fit the mold, certainly, for the objects of most of his pursuits. When JM’s existing relationships were going through some trouble, he’d seek out play partners and offer himself as a mentor and experienced dominant. He would be clear that that’s what he was looking for and no more. Then time and again those boundaries would shift and change to something more, then more still. He kept widening the possibilities, encouraging the changes. This inconsistency and shifting destabilized and ultimately contributed to the dissolution of many of his relationships in the past decade. While relationships do grow and deepen naturally my issue is with JM continuously changing the clearly stated boundaries he imposed himself.
His behavior and focus on event promotion at the expense of everything else created an unstable starvation economy in which his partners were encouraged and inconsistently rewarded for prioritizing his needs and work while ignoring their own needs. When approaching him about a need or request I would be met with anguish and sadness, JM telling me he was a bad partner and that I shouldn’t be with him, which led to me stowing what I wanted to discuss for the time being to tend to his sadness. Or he would offer something entirely unrelated but that he could give easily, like going out to eat at a restaurant. After a while I began referring to this as “too much purple.” I might have asked for, say, more verbal reassurance and affirmation and been offered something so unrelated that it may as well have been an abstract concept of a color. I don’t know what to do with any purple, let alone too much of it.
While he insisted that his partners were not obligated to help with events, with the way JM ran his life it was not put into actionable practice. When those relationships ended, and they mostly ended badly, he blamed them and nursed his hurts. By and large all of them felt cut off from the events he ran, whether by his banning them or not wanting to see him. They were cut off from the people they befriended as attendees and staff, from support structures and communities. The man who presented himself as a safe, knowledgeable, trustworthy pillar of the community turned out to be tragically incapable of not doing harm.
Those who knew JM well and closely, either from talking weekly as coworkers or socializing together had an inversely proportional relationship in their esteem of him compared to those on the periphery who enjoyed his events and saw him rush past with a clipboard, waving and giving fist bumps. The closer you got the less favorable your impression. From the outside, further out viewpoint he looked so much better. The closer you were the more you saw the latter part of him being a woke misogynist and the more insistently he declared his sincerity to you personally.
Former coworkers he gaslit and pushed out were out to get him, they were the problem, or so he said. Meanwhile, former staff would discuss their experiences together and realize what happened to one happened to another. A wave of enthusiastic fresh faces turned over, were blamed for past mistakes, and a new round of bright young things picked up the mantle to battle the same systemic problems and some new ones, too. Lather, rinse, repeat. Read the list of toxic workplace symptoms and check off box after box.
He mixed work and relationships a lot, such that all his partners were at least somewhat involved in the events he ran, doing everything from cleaning out a mice-infested storage locker at night to promotional material and posting his ads online, flyering, and helping at events. Again, the problem here is scale and intentional mixing of work and personal life. If any of his younger partners could choose whether to enter into a relationship with him knowing what they knew by the time they left I highly doubt they’d decide to stick around. So much of this only came into focus with hindsight.
JM offered controlled medications to his partners, varying from mild suggestions to pressure. He offered them to me when I was going to family gatherings or anxiety-provoking occasions. JM’s drinking increased, too, and he would push us to drink together on the days we saw each other. As his addiction to sleeping pills worsened so did this behavior. He insisted I take a sleeping pill and I insisted I would rather not, but ultimately felt unable to refuse. I slept for about twelve hours and was so groggy I spent the next day and a half shaking off the effects in a stupor. I joked that he drugged me, uncomfortable with feeling coerced to take it but still thinking that what mattered was his good intentions and that in all previous times it was meant to help. My accepting this led to him assuming the same was okay in his subsequent relationships.
As other partners confirmed, he did not trust safewords. JM would say that he’d stop anything at any time for any reason as long as I gave a reason. I insisted on a safeword, jokingly, “Unsubscribe.” I don’t remember using it more than a handful of times together. He and I relied on intuition, reading body language and our familiarity with each other to know when to stop. In theory this worked somewhat well for longterm partners. In practice his beliefs around safewords contributed to pushing his partners into enduring more pain in scenes than they wanted. He punched me in the solar plexus hard enough to knock me down when we played once. At no point ever was this something we’d negotiated or discussed. At no point before then did we do anything close. It was out of left field for me. Struggling to breathe and crying on the floor I didn’t know how to reconcile what just happened with my understanding of him. He responded by taking me out for ice cream later that day and refusing to apologize, saying it seemed like the right thing to do in the moment. It was a brief and painful glimpse into the disjoint between reality and the supposedly bumbling but well-intentioned man I thought I knew. Then I read posts of his other former partners who also described such instances and see how that puzzle piece clicks into place among their accounts. Back then the red flags I saw just looked like flags.
I, personally, waved away troubling aspects of JM’s behavior when he explained his misunderstood intentions and wanted to believe the best version of himself was real. He explained to me about Asperger's and learning social cues, things like going up to strangers and inviting them to events by saying, “Fuck me if I’m wrong but don’t you want to go to ___?” or introducing friends and platonic staff members to waitstaff, frequently women servers, as, collectively, his wives. JM was told time and again, in public and in private, to stop. People took time to explain why, to tell him they were upset by it, to call him on it, and he continued doing so. He presented himself as someone really trying to do good, to speak for the underdog, and I wanted to believe that wanting that to be true made it so. He wasn’t like those men. There’s a Fetlife fetish, “Jeff Mach being my sexy matchmaker” and on the obverse side of that you get the complaints about JM volunteering people, whether partners or friends or staff, to have sex with others, sometimes in their presence, sometimes unbeknownst to them. So many behaviors and memories I have of him are worse for putting them in the context of the accusations and accounts posted recently. Hell yes, I believe them. And I am accountable for how long I took JM’s words as gospel, how long I acknowledged dear friends of mine who were deeply hurt and betrayed by JM while staying in a relationship with him. That’s on me. I enabled him, told myself and my friends that he was trustworthy, and made excuses for clearly shitty, hurtful behavior.
I read the article about the myth of the male bumbler and it is spot on. He had years of advantages given to him: starry eyed volunteers to clean his apartment for free, countless hours of emotional labor in educating him about social issues when he had time to learn (more often than not he deferred in favor of working on event promotion). And he tried, at least somewhat, at least some of the time. It just wasn’t ever enough to bridge the gap between his actions and who he hoped to ever resemble. Even as I’m writing this now, having looked through scores of chat logs and emails, I can’t easily see the double vision melding into one, the man I trusted and loved and his actions which deserve nothing but scorn. I can believe for some of it that he truly thought he was helping or doing something good. For others, not at all. And, with intention not being magic, the end result is still him doing harm. JM operated on a ‘means justify the ends’ approach with work. Whether that conflicted with whatever best intentions he may have had or not doesn’t matter when the end result remains that he hurt people. He burnt out his business partners, friends, volunteers, staff, and partners.
It’s time to say again to him, to his events, to his presence in the communities I cherish: unsubscribe.