This is the second sequence of stories
...which are part of a three-part arc describing the experiences of women and nonbinary people who experienced or witnessed harm from polyamory author and speaker Franklin Veaux. This sequence includes four first-person accounts submitted by five women who encountered Veaux between 2006 and 2012. Two were in relationships with him. These six women ranged in age from 18 to 36 years old at the time they met him.
A sixth woman submitted testimony via the survivor pod email describing financial exploitation, nonconsensual BDSM including fisting and needle play, nonconsensual publicizing of sexual activities, breaking relationship agreements, gaslighting, and consequent suicidal ideation during a two-year relationship with Veaux that included a seven-year age gap and that ended with her departure from polyamorous and BDSM communities. Using public documentation, I have verified the existence of their relationship during the reported time period covered by these stories, and that she and Veaux engaged in the activities she described. Her testimony and notes were not approved before publication time, but may be included in a future update.
One additional woman submitted a short report via the survivor pod email stating only that she had experienced and witnessed harmful behaviors from Veaux when she was involved with him, again during this window of time. I have verified that she was connected to Veaux during the time period reported, and she has agreed to be included as a data point, but she has declined to offer further testimony.
The time period discussed in this instalment marks a new chapter in the development of Veaux's behavior in relationships, as he and Celeste had divorced and his influence was increasing within polyamory communities.
You can skip to the first testimony straight away or, if you prefer, you may continue below to read my research on how Veaux's public persona evolved as a newly "freed" man: he became an expert.
And the next testimonies show that this new status heavily influenced how he interacted with his partners, who were often less experienced than he was.
changes in Veaux's online persona 2001 vs. 2006
the way Veaux presented himself publicly before and after the ethical revelations he attributes to his relationship with Amber seemed different to me. Although I have no way of knowing his internal landscape, there is evidence to support a marked change in his public persona, which I've grouped under six sections. In summary:
A) how one might become an expert in theory, a narrative from Veaux's writing,
B) how that expertise played out in practice, in Celeste's reality vs. Veaux's reality,
C) how exposure contributed to perceptions of his expertise...
D) ...his use of tactical writing,
E) ...about sexually explicit subjects,
F) ...culminating in power and influence.
becoming an expert in theory
what makes an expert in the field of "how to practise polyamorous relationships successfully"?
I don't know the answer. There are of course ways of knowing or gaining knowledge in general—such as intuition, authority, rationalism, empiricism and the scientific method.1Have a look here for further details. If any reader was in doubt, Veaux favours the scientific method.
Does the scientific method have a track record of being the best way to understand the universe around us, producing unparalleled results in allowing us to model and predict the world? Yes it does.
Quora: Should we Trust the Scientific Method?" answered by Franklin Veaux, "part-time mad scientist," August 13, 2018
But the scientific method depends on empiricism: that is, observation and experience. And prior experience impacts perception. Those perceptions in turn influence the mental models we form about how the world works and how people work.
Veaux tells us that his first and formative mental models had, until around 14 years of age, been constructed out of his interactions with a computer and other electronics in an extremely miserable (his words) and isolated environment. He describes it in his livejournal entry "Origins," posted on February 19, 2008:
I survived the years in Nebraska by keeping to myself and by doing things that nobody else in the town could even understand, much less relate to. I built and flew model rockets (and occasionally lost them in the wheat fields surrounding the house), and I used antique bulletin board systems with a crude, slow 300-baud telephone modem that set my parents back some $600 (at the time, there were only a handful of such systems out there, CBBS Chicago and Magnetic Fantasies in California being the two I most strongly remember using). I read a lot, mostly science textbooks and fantasy novels.
And I developed a very strong, cast-iron case of don't-give-a-fuck-what-other-folks-think.
Of course we change over time, and Veaux, thank goodness, escaped that "benighted hellhole." Yet the mental models and narratives we build to navigate our lives are rarely discarded completely. Newer scripts are more often superimposed on older existing ones buried in our subsconcious, or at least they use foundations that we form at a younger age. The mental models I build at fifty will be extensions or revamps of the ones I had at forty, and so on. Traces of our past experiences are not usually so cleanly erased. Our brains are not impartial hard drives. As Veaux suggests below,
Thus, all human beings have their metaphorical blind spots, and we make sense of the world with the flawed mental models we develop over time.
Evidence of Veaux's childhood influences can be seen in his writing. One of Veaux's acknowledged strengths is a dispassionate, analytical mind, and he describes above how he trained it voraciously from a young age. He also describes how it was formed in the absence of social interaction and friendship. It indicates how he might have developed the "mechanistic" modelling he used to analyse life, where his own life and the lives around him were akin to the "test environment" which was then used to provide a platform for extrapolation, as per his entry below.
On May 16, 2005, he explains, "Some thoughts on information theory, complex systems, and love"
"So what does this have to do with love?
The same laws of information theory that apply to planets and solar systems apply to people as well. If you don't know someone and don't know a blasted thing about him, you probably can't predict his behavior very well. [...] Fact is, until you have a reasonably good mental model of that person, you just plain don't know what he'll do -- his behavior might as well be random."
This mechanistic methodology––where people are reduced to abstract concepts––is demonstrated linguistically from the analogies he makes. That information theory can be used to explain love and relationships. That character attributes are either bugs or features—sometimes both. That fixing jealousy is like fixing a broken refrigerator. Above all, bugs—such as insecurity—can be repaired, if only you have the right tools, if only you do the right thing. How appealing this is to those of us with relationship issues! Veaux has provided us with an instruction manual. How to eradicate those pesky "negative" emotions entirely.
becoming an expert in practice
in the three years which saw the decline of Celeste and Veaux's marriage, Veaux's "test" environment included both Elaine and Amber. The script he claims to have developed about insecurity and jealousy, as demonstrated from his lesson from Ruby, was projected upon Celeste. As you can read, she disagrees.
Here's a framing she does agree with (and has signed off on):
Celeste's mental models were different from Veaux's. Along with her own unique personality, she had cultural influences from her Sicilian roots: a society where more traditional gender roles prevailed and where rules and hierarchy were respected, including when it came to wives and mistresses. She was invested in the marriage for the long term, and she bent over backwards to try and make it work. She was also highly empathetic, and as part of a hierarchy that included responsibility, she ultimately viewed it as her duty to stop the pain that Veaux, her husband, was causing Elaine by lying, gaslighting, breaking agreements and, finally, ghosting her. And Celeste did not want Veaux to have any other primary partners, because for her, that wasn't what a marriage was about.
Yet Veaux insisted over and over again that Celeste was experiencing insecurity, which could be overcome if she just tried hard enough. It wasn't good enough for him at the time that Celeste was simply monogamous (but her style of monogamy allowed for other sexual partners on the side).
The script Veaux developed to solve this "illogical" insecurity and fear of loss (which he often identifies as the root cause of jealousy), is described in his LiveJournal on Christmas Eve 2001. It's the story about a woman who owned a lizard, and this story would eventually make its way into the book More Than Two.
"Every so often, she would take it out of its cage to play with it. Whenever she reached into its cage, the lizard would strike at her, and she would jump back; then she'd reach into its cage again and it would sit there calmly and allow her to take it out. One day, after they had played out this little ritual and she had jumped back, she turned to me and said "I wish it would hit me, just once, so I would know what it feels like, and I wouldn't be afraid of it any more."
That has always remained one of the most interesting things anyone has ever said to me, and in the years since then, some element of that idea has become a part of my personal philosophy. Knowing a thing--even a painful thing--tends to chase fear of that thing away." - Some Thoughts on Christmas Eve
Whether Veaux's actions were conscious or unconscious (or both), he operated—as we all do—according to his own mental models. But his writing style over the years indicates that to him, his own models are true for everyone.
Telling people how they operate has the potential to gaslight depending on circumstance. In an intimate setting, this potential increases greatly. Pushing others or manipulating them to cross their boundaries, even when their own instincts tell them "no," is abusive.
"It was important to him, he felt it was important to their relationship. It became not something he wanted but something he needed. I broke. I said OK."Celeste, LiveJournal recap on June 09, 2004
The chances of being abusive, even unconciously, increase as a person becomes more powerful, because that's the way undue influence works. It happens when someone does not take the responsibility necessary to manage their power. It happens when someone in a position of power enforces their experience of reality onto someone with less power.
And then once he starts to realize that you aren't what you 'should be', he will start trying to 'encourage' you to, you know, 'be your best self,' ie. the thing he thinks you could be. Amber
becoming an expert in public, through exposure
i've looked at Lj entries from two periods so far then: 2001-2004, which finished when he and Celeste divorced, and 2005-2006, which covers the period after he divorce and shows how his public persona evolved in the two years before he met the next survivor (in late 2006).
In the first period, his posts can be categorised into three types:
1. diary entries (the majority),
2. philosophical entries, which usually started with "Some Thoughts on...,"
3. marketing entries (which included links back to his own sites outside of LiveJournal).
Of course, it's not as clear cut as all that. Philosophy was occasionally included in some "Diary" type posts, and equally, some posts beginning "Some Thoughts on..." were not always philosophical. But this categorisation gave me some interesting insights.
In the period of time between 2001 and 2004, when Veaux was emerging as an expert, the number of posts increased drastically, including the number of longer, philosophical posts.
Veaux, a profligate writer, found the time to write in these years, I suspect, in large part thanks to Celeste, who complained of being a computer widow. The increasing number and frequency of posts over this period would have tapped into many readers' familiarity heuristic, a cognitive bias which allows us to avoid mental gymnastics to rely on familiarity to feel comfortable with a solution.
Whether Veaux intended this, I don't know. He may have just been intoxicated by connections he made online (as many of us are). However, at some point his study and knowledge of fallacies, heuristics and biases definitely indicates that he became aware that this was a good way to reinforce his point, as indicated by his Quora response on repetition, below.
becoming an expert in writing
the philosophical posts developed principles (which often seemed to refer to real-life incidents, but you really couldn't tell for sure). Below is an example of what I've categorised as a philosophical post, written by Veaux on July 15, 2004, entitled "Some Thoughts on Communication"––just at the point of his divorce.
ALICE*: Can you do me a favor and pass the sweeper?
BOB: Sweeper? What the hell is a sweeper?
ALICE: The thing that vacuums the rug. You know, the vacuum cleaner.
BOB: Oh! Right. okay, here you go.
ALICE (angry): You never help me out around the house! You expect me to do everything! I ask you to do one thing and you won't do it!
BOB (confused): Huh? You asked me to pass the sweeper, and I gave you the vacuum cleaner! It's what you wanted, right?
ALICE: No, I asked you to vacuum for me. 'Pass the sweeper' means 'vacuum the rug.'
BOB: You asked me to pass the vacuum cleaner. When you say 'pass the salt,' I hand you the salt. When you say 'pass the plate,' I hand you the plate. So when you said 'pass the vacuum cleaner,' I assumed you wanted me to hand you the vacuum cleaner.
It pays to be very careful about the way you use language, and to make sure, before you get angry or emotionally invested in something, to make sure that you did, in fact, communicate the idea you thought you communicated.
*For those who don't know, Alice and Bob are two placeholder names used commonly in cryptology.
This exchange, it is suggested, is a hypothetical example of a woman whose poor communication leads her to become unreasonably angry, because the male recipient (reasonably!) doesn't understand. In it, Veaux positions himself as an expert in communication. Yet this post, I found, not only served to demonstrate his expertise, but was also itself a form of passive communication.
Because the exchange isn't hypothetical: "Alice" is Celeste. And only she would have known that this message was to her.
In More Than Two, published ten years later, in the chapter "Communication Pitfalls" the name "Alice" is replaced by "Celeste," and "Celeste" has confirmed to me directly, via IM, that the exchange is one they had.
In his earlier blog post, Veaux was communicating via a tactic called "dog whistling"––defined in Merriam-Webster as "a coded message communicated through words or phrases commonly understood by a particular group of people [or person], but not by others." Dog-whistling as a term is usually understood to be an underhanded tactic used by politicians because it allows for plausible deniality. In relationships, it can be a tool of gaslighting, in that it communicates with a partner in a language only they can hear—thus allowing the dog-whistler to deny that they said what they said, and to claim to onlookers that the person reacting to the dog whistle is irrational, unstable or crazy. Over the collection of testimonies, there have been several instances like this. It seems to have been a tactic often employed by Veaux to communicate with his partners and ex-partners—one that he uses to this day.
These ideas would in turn make their way onto his polyamory pages, which many turned to for advice, whilst his sexual experiences, hobbies and crystalization of life philosophy were set up as other pages––as part of "Franklin Veaux's sprawling web empire."
becoming an expert in subject matter
the subject matter on which Veaux positioned himself as an expert during this time was: Polyamory, BDSM and Geek/Tech, which always feature in the top five. But the startling new and rapid focus for 2004 is the pursuit of immortality—a passion he shared with Amber.
Misogynistic abuse is usually rooted in some collection of beliefs about women. We tend to think of abusive men as "grooming" women by testing their boundaries, and applying pressure. However, I think from the perspective of a lot of these men, they are just looking for a woman that matches their internal image of what a woman should be. So at first, they are excited and hopeful—like "is she the woman that I've been looking for?"Amber
Amber seems to have been the woman Veaux was looking for. She was a woman who allowed him the freedom he desired. The woman who—he believed—enjoyed pushing the boundaries of sexual possibility. With Amber, Veaux would explore more BDSM, and write about it more publicly. Amber was also a woman who was as intellectual, if not more so, than he was, as well as equally profound and philosophical. Above all, she was someone who, like him, had seen the Void.
When I first met [Amber], we recognized each other immediately. There are many things the two of us share--not just common ideas about relationship, or shared values (though we do have those), but something else.
We both share the experience of seeing the Void--the inescapable realization that we are, each of us, mortal, and the understanding of what it means that we are going to die. - I am in love with a Dragonslayer, October 30th, 2006, LJ
In this post, he describes the process in which Amber finds her direction.
Two months after Veaux's divorce, he and Amber met Dr. Ralph Merkle, who was, among other roles, a nanotechnology theorist on the board of directors for the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. They would both sign up to be cryonically preserved after their deaths, but Amber would return to college almost immediately to study chemistry, with a view to pursuing a grad degree in nanotechnology. This would take up most of her time. Meanwhile, Veaux began work on a large website dedicated to the subject. Eventually, in October 2006, Veaux left Florida to pursue a job opportunity in Atlanta, and Amber, who had already moved the previous July to Gainesville for her studies, did not accompany him, although they remained partners.
Just a few months later, he would meet the person who submitted the next testimony. But as opposed to the Veaux who met Elaine and Amber (in 2001 and 2002, respectively), the Veaux in late 2006 was now an expert—with power.
becoming an expert with power
identifying where the power lies in a relationship is a tricky business. Sometimes there's an obvious hierarchy––as in the military. But often in interpersonal relationships, trying to figure out who has the most power is a minefield, because not only does power come in various forms, but individuals also have their own perception of where the power lies, which becomes a truth in itself. Excepting the obvious privilege hierarchy (white- cis- male- het-), I had a look at the LJ stats to see if there was any evidence that Veaux's sphere of influence was growing. I found the following:
A) Although the absolute number of posts on LiveJournal varies from year to year, the percentage of philosophical posts increases. These are the posts which demonstrate his "expertise" (from tables A & B).
B) The absolute number and the percentage of marketing posts, which presumably are intended to drive traffic back to his other ventures, increased over this period (from tables A & B).
C) The average number of comments per post increased for all post types apart from marketing, which remained stable in the last two years (from table D).
D) The number of polyamory and BDSM pages on his Xeromag site increased over the entire period (from table E).
E) An additional category of posts is started in 2006, which I have named "instructional" (for example, "how to make your own latex suit") (from all tables).
Moreover, I haven't included statistics on all web properties/outlets that he managed or was active on over these years, but a non-exhaustive list includes Onyx, Xero, Xero online forum, Symphony (computer-controlled sex toy), Symtoys (DIY sex toys), Poly Pages, BDSM Pages, Think Beyond Us (transhumanism), Villain Tees (t-shirts with slogans on like "Alpha Geek" or "Machiavelli was right"), CafePress (bumper stickers), Erotic Photography, Obsidian Fields (business), Doomsdaysex, Ask Agent Smith Advice Column, Whispers (an RSS feed of anonymous fantasies), Literotica (where he wrote non-consent fiction), HackerSluts (a sexblog feed), MacFixit, and his prolific LiveJournal (which, along with his own personal entries, included giving advice on at least four forums that I know of).
Taken together, I can safely conclude that Veaux's power and influence were increasing, which put him in the position of being a recognised "expert" in his subject areas. For partners to challenge him if they felt uncomfortable with anything in his realm of "expertise" therefore became a much bigger deal.