Tuesday, July 27, 2010


This is about Joe Biel and Microcosm.
A number of years ago I read Alex's zine Brainscan 21. Alex was Joe's long-term partner and wife and worked with Microcosm. It was about how she came to realize, with the help of her therapist, that he was emotionally abusive and manipulative in their relationship and business. It wasn't a big surprise to me, because when I had seen them together, they really reminded me of me and my former emotionally abusive partner. After I read the zine, I wrote to Alex and asked if she thought I should remove my stuff from Microcosm, and she said she didn't really think I should have to do that. In retrospect, I wish I had.

I believed Alex's zine. I wanted to believe that Joe might change, or that his behavior could possibly be situational and not show up as abusive in other relationships. I also said to myself "all publishers and record store guys are scumbags." I saw that Microcosm had more members than in the past, and was being collectively run, and I hoped that this meant Joe was stepping aside and giving up power in order to deal with his control issues. I had heard he was in therapy.

The truth was, I benefited from being published and distributed by Microcosm. I was overwhelmed by dealing with abuse in my immediate community, and didn't want to look too closely at my complacency regarding Microcosm.

Early this year, I got involved in trying to set up an accountabiliy process for Joe. He had said that he had done all that was requested of him and that he didn't know how to stop rumors or how to communicate with Alex that he had changed, since she didn't want contact.

Attached below is the final statement of the attempted accountability process.

I am trying to figure out what to do about Microcosm and distributing my zines with them. Below the statement from the accountability process is a letter I wrote to Microcosm a few weeks ago.

Microcosm is collectively run by like 8 people or something, and Joe does not have final say in things, however, as I say in my letter, I think collectives have to stand up and confront abuse by members within their collectives. Microcosm as a collective, does not do this.

I don't want people within the Microcosm collective who do believe Alex, and who know that Joe does have abusive and manipulative behaviors, to suffer, however, I can no longer support a collective that will not stand up against abuse.

I won't be publishing my next book with Microcosm. I am going to give them until the end of the year to come up with a collective statement confronting/admitting Joe's abuse and manipulation, and/or for Joe to legally remove himself from the collective. If by the end of the year, this isn't done, I will be removing my zines from Microcosm. I will also be reprinting Support and Learning Good Consent on my own.

Statement from the Athens Support Network:

In January, 2010, we convened to help with the accountability process of Joe Biel. We had been given the understanding, from Joe, that he was in therapy, had met Alex's demands, and didn't know how to proceed since she did not want contact. We confirmed that Joe had met most or all of Alex's logistical/legal demands, but in order to confirm whether or not he had identified and changed his behavior, we set about some written excercises. Our process was straightforward and formal, working on identifying behavior and making amends. Joe cooperated with the "identifying behavior" exercises - vacilating between what we perceived as willingness and defensiveness. We did not make it past the "identifying behavior" section of the process, as it became clear that a much deeper conversation/process needed to happen and we were unable to commit to the time and energy it would take. We think that if another process was to take place, it would need to be face to face and would need to have people in his immediate community actively involved. We believe that these people would need to have professional training and experience, and have a large amount of time to commit to the process. We do not believe it is the community's responsibility to sacrifice themselves for this. We do think that it is the responsibility of Joe's friends and other people who benefit from acquaintance with Joe to recognize that the accusations concerning his abusive behavior are valid, that he still has problems with control and manipulation that he is working on, and to point out to him when he is behaving in these manners, even if it is not negatively affecting them. We also belive it is up to Joe to actively encourage and support this type of dialogue with his friends, co-workers and acquaintances.
Joe is in therapy, and we feel that he is making progress through therapy. He has identifed a large number of behavior issues and has done work and continues to do work to change them. He believes that he honors Alex's experience. We, however, feel that he still has extreme problems with control, manipulation, defensiveness, and portraing himself as the victim. We feel that he often minimizes and belittles Alex's experience, and sometimes seeks to redefine it as communication problems rather than emotional abuse (see blog response post, Feb 5). In Brainscan, Alex's counselor identifed Joe as "using classic examples of distraction while arguing like some sort of sleight of hand trick with words". We also noticed this in our working with him.
Joe has a number of counter-charges against Alex. While we were unable to explore all these charges, they are consistent with the actions of someone trying to regain power when their power has been taken away from them due to emotional abuse.
We do believe Joe is working to understand and change his behaviors. We do not believe this gives him a clean slate.

letter I sent to Microcosm before I got the statement from the accountability team
Dear Microcosm,
I'm sorry about the confusing request for Joe to change the legal ownership to the collective. I guess I was just looking for a simple answer to a complicated question.
I believe that Joe was emotionally abusive controling and manipulative to Alex. I also believe that he still has these problems, even if they do not show up in his current intimate relationship. I believe that he is working on these issues in therapy. I also believe that he doesn't take as much responsibility as I think he should.
I beleive that collectives, even when they are just collective businesses, are responsible for confronting issues of patriarchy (and other forms of domination) within their collectives, and working on change and transparency with their members. I believe that Joe's behavior stems from patriarchy, even if he is not really sexist - the communication/manipulation models he uses are, in my view, patriarchtical.
In order to feel comfortable continuing to be published by Microcosm, I would need to know either from each collective member or from the collective as a whole (with a minority disenting opinion) that they don't think Alex was crazy or that the attempts to deal with the situation are a witchhunt. I would need to know from each member, or the collective as a whole (with a minority disenting opinion) that the collective recognizes that Joe still has issues with control and manipulation.
I would need to understand better what the collective structure is - like who has the ability to hire and fire.
I would like it if the collective members got involved in a new accountability process or some kind of process where people who are close to Joe can point out, in a constructive way, where they see these issues arising.
I need to feel like the collective takes this seriously and does not put the burden of instigating change on the survivor/s, or on people negatively affected by Joe's behavior.

For the most part, I enjoyed working with Joe at Microcosm. When Brainscan came out, I wanted to ignore it because I liked working with Microcosm. I know that sometimes a person can be abusive in a relationship, and the same behavior can be ok in another relationship, and I just wanted to hope for the best. However, I did have an incident with Joe, back then, that made me doubt that it was an isolated problem. I can't remember the exact specifics, but I think I had been to Portland and SF and had been around to stores, none of which had Doris stuff, so I sold it to them. I think it was right before the SF zine fest, and when Joe went to the Bay Area and found my zines/books in the stores, he got upset (I'm not sure if that's exactly when it was, that's just my vague memory). I do remember clearly having a tense phone conversation, where I felt like he was extremely defensive, and although he probably wasn't actually raising his voice, it felt like he was yelling at me. We made an agreement about where I could/could not sell books, and I decided to never talk to him on the phone again if I had a potentially conflicting issue.

As I'm sure you all probably know, a number of months ago, I got involved in an accountabiliy process with Joe. I'd like you to know how that came about.
Two people had contacted me, expressing concerns over Joe's past behavior. One of these emails had been from someone who was part of an organizaiton that was about to make a public statement about Joe's behavior. I read a blog by Ciara that was very inflamitory. I wrote a blog about how upset I was that Joe was continuing this behavior, then the next morning removed the blog because I realized I didn't know exactly where Ciara had gotten her info. Joe wrote to me and said he was sad about my blog, he explained that he'd been in therapy, that he took responsibility for his actions, and that he didn't know how to resolve things with Alex since there was no accoutability process that could facilitate closure.
I felt that it was important to get an accountability process going imediately. I tried to find people in Portland to do it, and couldn't. I offered to help head of a new accountability process. We were working on the assumption that the behaviors were in the past and resolution would be basic communicating with all parties involved. I know there were problems with the communication between the accountability people and Microcosm, and I apologize.

Early in the accountability process, I sent Joe a personal statement - it was a very personal account of my own experience with an abusive/controling relationship and how I didn't want my experience to color the accountability process, but would like it if my experience could lend understanding, it ended like this:This statement doesn't need a response (and please don't respond telling me how my experience is different from what you are being held accountable for. I know that), but if you have questions that are in a spirit of deeper understanding, feel free to ask.
Joe didn't notice this part of the statement. He went though my statement, adding in where he felt like it was or wasn't what his experience was, and also talking about his own understanding of abuse, with a link to an article he thought I should read, and he wrote about his own experiences in general.

Another instance of disregarding boundries/not noticing boundries happened when we were discussing the cover for the Doris Anthology - he had forwarded me the internal discussion of what people did/didn't like about the cover. I asked him not to forward the internal discussion, because it sucked to have to read everyone not liking something, and would be nicer if he could just sum it up. He said since everyone thought different things, he didn't have any other way to do it except to forward me the whole dialogue.
It is funny because when someone else in the collective said they heard I was having problems with something about it, I explained it to them, and they said they would never send a whole dialoge like that.
This wasn't the hugest deal in the world at all, but is just a continuation and example of how these ignoring/not seeing personal boundrys are still a problem.

I believe that Joe is capable of addressing these issues and changing his behavior. I believe that it is going to take the work of people around him bringing to attention the small and large examples of these behaviors, as well as Joe's willingness to be open to criticism, constructive or angry.

I don't have any smooth conclusion for this. If the collective could let me know how/if they want to address these issues and who will be the point person for talking with me about it, I would appreciate it.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Cindy,
I am a part of Left Bank Books in Seattle, Wa, and I was hoping I could get a more direct email address for you so that I can send you a proposal for a letter to Microcosm regarding Joe Biel? We wanted to be in touch with you regarding how the accountability process is going (or not going), whether you have heard back from Microcosm, etc., and also to be transparent about what we are doing to support both you and Alex Wrekk. Thanks!