Published August 10, 2022
Written by: Jaime Chandra
Note: Full consent was obtained by the person victimized (HS in the story key) to publish this story and they very much WANTED this to be posted and for someone to finally stand up for them. They reviewed, edited, and approved this letter. They even considered posting on their own, but did not because of fear. Since racial topics are discussed, multiple BIOPIC burners read, review, and gave feedback with support.
To my fellow community members and foremost, the leadership of Transformus and Ignite aka The Transformus Family of Burns (Tfam), and the leadership of PUSH Durham,
Almost 14 years ago, I was introduced to the Transformus community in North Carolina, just a few years after learning about the regional burn while still living in Florida. I met a lot of my friend-family and created life-long connections thanks to Tfam. To say that Transformus changed my life is an understatement. The exact same goes for the BDSM/Kink communities.
I truly and deeply love this community. Over the years, the communities have transformed just as leadership members and Board of Directors (BOD) members have changed. Have the bylaws and policies evolved or stayed stagnant?
Unfortunately, some issues have stayed the same or worsened. I can no longer stay silent about the pervasive systemic issues that carry over despite the best efforts of myself and others to address problems and create change through official channels. We’ve tried to contact “leadership” thus no one has all the details but us and these memories can’t be lost for the community.
This open letter was prompted by the Transformus Family of Burns (tfam) Board of Directors (BOD) decision to keep CL in the lead role for the Ignite Consent team and the PUSH Durham Conduct Committee decision to keep CL in the consent class co-educator role.
A story is required to understand the problematic nature and harm to the community. Names are removed for privacy.
- CL – Consent Lead (Ignite / PUSH)
- HS – HouseSitter (Start before Party)
- HO – HomeOwner (On vacation)
CL asked to hold their birthday party at HO’s house on Saturday, Feb 8, 2020. HO had vacation plans and offered CL a paying position to house and dog sit. CL did not accept the position, but HO agreed to host the party regardless. HS accepted the house and dog sitting job. HO told HS before they left in no uncertain terms that HS was in charge and had final say in all house and property matters during the party.
CL asked HS for use of the HO’s en suite bedroom for the duration of the party. At first, HS didn’t want to move out of the room as they were living there as part of their job and also wanted a door to where they slept. After continued pressure and escalation by CL, including suggesting that HS sleeping in the dungeon was an “amenable” solution, HS, in a place of depleted emotional energy and wary of conflict, asked a neighbor for a place to stay during the party.
Before HS was able to tell CL that they could use the en suite for the party, CL escalated the situation by calling HO on vacation. HO stated to CL that HS was in charge and it was HS’s room to use while house- and dog sitting. HO called HS to relay what happened and instructed HS: under no circumstances should they allow CL to use the en suite during the party and if CL did not like it, cancel.
CL posted on the FB event page that partygoers should consult only their “Party Committee” with questions about the event, counter to the homeowner’s wishes and instructions. The HO, however, wanted it understood by everyone that HS was in charge and the only person to be consulted about the house and property and goings-on within.
- The following signs were made and posted there:
“By order of HO, HS has the final say on anything happening on the property”
“By order HO – Do Not Enter — Not a Party Room”
“By order HO – Please notify House Sitter about any questions or issues concerning the house and grounds”
HS, at this point, certainly had the discretion and justification to just cancel this self-thrown birthday party for someone now disrespecting the house rules. They did not, for fear of retaliation from CL and the community, but this did not save them from that massive retaliation and trauma.
HS kept the en suite during the party as instructed by HO, and avoided CL, but often hid next door due to persistent hostility from CL and various community members. CL claimed to friends and community members that HS was a racist, and had bullied them by not allowing them to use the en suite. CL did not disclose that they had called HO while on vacation and been denied the use of the en suite.
HS was honoring HO’s rules. Due to the false racism accusations, manipulation, and deliberate lies spread to the community by CL, HS became isolated from friends and the community as the pandemic began. This experience remains extraordinarily traumatizing and harmful to HS’s mental health.
Open Letter Continues
While the party situation and resulting smear campaign about HS is egregious, it is not an isolated incident. On June 1, 2020, CL commented on their own general post about racism in the burn community with a callout list that specifically named individual members and theme camps of the Tfam community. HS’s name was included as #3 in the list.
Later, in mid-October 2020, over 8 months after the party, HS’s name was included in a Facebook post made by CL regarding people that they determined were “racist, bigoted, and/or consent-violating burners.”
To date, CL has not taken any kind of accountability or corrected the record regarding their actions to slander and harm HS’s reputation.
At the time of writing this letter, HS still experiences anxiety and panic attacks from the trauma they experienced from CL’s actions. HS was not acting out of racism and ultimately was enforcing HO’s specifically declared house rules. CL never accused HO of racism, but the final decision was made by HO, not HS. Neither HO or HS were acting from a place of racism and CL characterizing the situation as racist from ONLY HS is incredibly disingenuous and calculated.
Transformus & Ignite (Tfam) Conduct Committee
HS contacted the Tfam Conduct Committee in November 2020 about the situation with CL. They provided names of several people to contact, including the HO, HO’s housemate, and a trusted longtime community member who witnessed the whole event.
To date, the Tfam BOD has never contacted any of these individuals to investigate on behalf of HS in a year and a few months before responding. On December 9, 2020, I also personally wrote Tfam BOD, TLC, IPA, and CC about CL’s behavior. *My letter to the BOD/TLC/IPA is published here and has been redacted to protect everyone’s privacy.
In January 2022, when HS did not hear back from the Conduct Committee, HS asked for an update. Again, HS did not hear back, so HS contacted again in March 2022, this time CCing the BOD. HS quickly received word from the Conduct Committee that CL was allowed to remain in leadership.
Despite multiple incident reports about CL and the length of time the bullying took place, the situation was determined to be personal drama and was “dealt with internally.” Apparently, Tfam leadership decided that removing CL from leadership would be choosing a side while minimizing the situation as personal drama.
Leadership & Bullies
I assert that keeping a bully who intentionally spread malicious lies in a leadership position—around Consent of all things—*is* choosing a side. In order to NOT take a side, Tfam would have to put all involved in this situation on equal footing.
With CL in a respected leadership position, the fox is guarding the henhouse and can use their elevated position to call out whomever they wish. Tfam should have found a new Consent Team Lead for Ignite, and not placed CL in a leadership position of any kind. That would have made everyone involved an equal participant at Tfam events.
People who hold leadership roles and titles in an organizational hierarchy have inherent power and are viewed as an authority. Leadership members have an elevated social status and are generally considered role models. Allowing CL to remain the Consent Lead for Ignite, when their pattern of behavior shows they don’t respect others’ boundaries or the gravity of very serious false allegations, sets a terrible example for the entire community while continuing the trauma for those victimized by CL.
CL remaining in leadership demonstrates to the entire community that it’s ok to be an ego-driven bully. In fact, you can intentionally harm someone’s reputation with false racism allegations and still remain in leadership — all without correcting the record, being held accountable, or engaging in transformative justice.
The Tfam CC offered HS an attempt to find a mediator, but no one should have to experience more abuse from their bully — it is literally abuse to expect a victim to mediate with their abuser. What we need is justice for the victim and restorative justice for the abuser, on their own time.
Statement on Transformus and Ignite Community Culture
Over the years, Tfam leadership devolved to a culture where if you do not toe the party line you are berated, belittled, and any contribution you ever made is diminished or invalidated. The general mentality seems to be “if you’re not 100% with us, then you are against us.”
I have both personally heard, been told and watched many others get berated with statements such as: “why are you even in this group?”, “you haven’t attended in a couple years—why do you care?”, “I guess you’re not coming” and “Oh you have criticisms? Where and when is the burn you’re hosting?” Radical inclusion is a pipe dream when people are consistently treated this way.
Statement about PUSH Durham
PUSH was also contacted about the role of CL as a consent educator for June 2022’s event with some of the details above. Their reply: “Our recommendation is that this incident, while serious, should not remove K from teaching this course at PUSH at this time. We do not feel the need to further investigate unless the parties let us know that there is more information that was not given in the initial report that is important. The incident does not seem to involve physical violence, non-consensual sex, or potentially dangerous kink/BDSM scenes. We hope that the parties involved are able to work through this incident and are able to find a mindset that helps them feel safe at PUSH events.”
Since when is physical or sexual assault required to cause *real* trauma? “Long-term bullying is associated with a variety of adverse consequences, including depression, anxiety, health complaints, and diminished academic achievement. Moreover, bullying can contribute to the risk of suicide and substance abuse.” (source) Additional information: The potential negative outcomes of bullying are VERY serious and real.
I am here to tell you — as a sexual assault and rape survivor — the mental anguish experienced from being bullied and ostensibly “canceled” matches that level of trauma. HS fully agrees and mentioned that in some ways it is worse because it is ongoing and perpetual. It makes you question your reality, it removes the support network around you, and makes you wonder if your life is worth it. It is more accurate to call what HS had experienced the past two years cyberbullying, emotional, or psychological abuse. At least physical assault has a definitive end.
Bullying and groupthink actively work against radical inclusion and diversity.
They have no place in the burn community. Tfam leadership needs to be actively working against their own tendencies to operate this way, as well as counseling community members when they engage in these behaviors. When community members consistently dogpile with harsh responses, it creates a hostile situation where the free exchange of ideas is thwarted.
Minimizing psychological trauma and acting like it’s not as bad physical assault is not the appropriate policy of a so-called and self-proclaimed “safe space” kink event that centers around consent, negotiation, boundaries, and autonomy. While they promote the cyberbully abuser to teach consent, of all things, which is a slap in the face to all bullying survivors in the community.
Racism, privilege, and oppression
We all absolutely need to acknowledge privilege and oppression. However, it is unproductive and harmful to recreationally classify people and actions as racist. Not only does the overuse of “racism” dilute the word, it creates an environment where people are scared to share thoughts and ideas.
Ego-filled, vacuous, and spurious racism accusations are disrespectful to racial justice movements like BLM and tragically destructive to communities that suffer racial injustice. Just because people don’t like or agree with someone or something a person says or does, that doesn’t make it inherently racist. In a community where radical self expression is one of the founding principles, we need to have more tolerance for reasonable discourse.
Clearly we should NOT allow obviously bigoted speech or behaviors in our communities, but we need to “call in” instead of “call out” when education is needed or mistakes are made. We all need to engage in anti-racist bystander intervention and the heop educate our friends to be better anti-racists.
To be human is to err; no one is perfect. We all make mistakes and the road to success is paved with failure. We should be helping each other be better and grow. Leveling up takes community support. When people are attacked for minor indiscretions or dragged through the mud for simply disagreeing, we create a culture of stagnation, fear, and resentment.
Truly, all this feels no different than the puritanical, patriarchal, and bigoted default world that we all sought to escape.
Your voice is needed
I implore the extended Tfam and PUSH communities to contact the Tfam BOD and/or Conduct Committee and/or PUSH committee to report their own negative experiences and to encourage leadership to actively work to change the culture.
Our community needs to begin the healing process and that can’t happen without accountability, learning, and intentional growth. Communal effort and civic responsibility demand that we are all active participants in cultivating positive momentum in our community. Change starts with each and every one of us.
Recommendations to move forward and heal:
- CL removed from Tfam leadership until CL corrects the record by writing a public apology to HS and the community for intentionally lying and bullying.
- Tfam leadership participates in call-in style anti-bullying training.
- Tfam publishes a written statement against bullying and callout culture.
- Tfam updates code of conduct to include bullying and online conduct, and creates specific policies regarding response to reports and violation consequences.
- Conduct Committee expanded, with new policies around investigations, response time and an accountability process.
- Create accountability within Tfam leadership by founding a third-party oversight committee
- Update the organizational by-laws to allow petitions. A threshold number of signatures from the community should function as a referendum and trigger leadership action.
- Hold community forums (online and in-person) to hear community member concerns and discuss changes needed in the community culture.
Further Reading & Resources:
- Transformative Justice: A Curriculum Guide by Project Nia (A curriculum designed to raise public awareness about transformative justice and to think critically about the prison industrial complex. Includes overview documents and activities with facilitation guides.) – Critical Resistance (Additional Resources)
- What are Community Accountability & Transformative Justice? By Generation 5, San Francisco based non-profit working to end child sexual abuse in 5 generations
- Fumbling Towards Repair: A Workbook for Community Accountability Facilitators by Mariame Kaba (Author); Shira Hassan (Author) – AK Press
- Mediator’s Toolkit: Formulating and Asking Questions for Successful Outcomes by Gerry O’Sullivan (Author) – AK Press
- Loretta J. Ross: What if we called people in, rather than calling them out? (VIDEO) – TED Radio hour on NPR
- What if Instead of Calling People Out, We Called Them In? Prof. Loretta J. Ross is combating cancel culture -and- I’m a Black Feminist. I Think Call-Out Culture Is Toxic. There are better ways of doing social justice work. (PDF) by Loretta Ross – NY Times
- 6 Signs Your Call-Out Is About Ego and Not Accountability by Maisha Z. Johnson – republished on The Body is Not an Apology
PS – This letter was written and published by Jaime Chandra. Sure, I had some help along these last 6 months, but these are my strong words. Dozens upon dozens of people I have talked to in person agree, but guess what — ARE AFRAID OF SPEAKING UP. If you have the urge to rage and hate at me, I invite you to unfriend me and/or block me right now. Saves everyone drama and wasted energy, right?? I won’t debate with people about this. You’re welcome to your feelings, but I do not have to read or hear them. No one has time for that kind of negativity in their life. I wrote this months ago, and something made the time now to post because of an abusive dogwhistle out there asking us “not to forget” while they engage in some new cyberbullying. It took me months to post because GUESS WHAT?!? I’ve been afraid to post this for fear of backlash. Well, I am done: unfriend me if you have a problem with what I’ve said here otherwise you will be blocked. Au revoir, felicia!!
Update 8/12/22 – As further proof of Tfam’s bullying, I was forced into having comments open on the Transformus group and was threatened to be banned for a rule that had not yet existed. Under the law, you can’t be punished for a law that didn’t exist yet — Nullum crimen sine lege is the principle in law that a person cannot or should not face criminal punishment except for an act that was criminalized by law before he/she performed the act. Ex post facto criminalization is also prohibited by Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 15(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 9 of the American Convention on Human Rights — but here’s transformus acting inconsistent with federal and international human rights law, changing the rules at will, and using that to bully me me at a new top tier level.