Currently the community has been riled by some vicious debates over whether we can tolerate the behavior of some of the more extreme members. First there was Paul Addis, who prematurely burnt down the Man. Paul currently resides in the psych wing at San Francisco's jail after a dramatic arrest at Grace Cathedral on potential arson charges. I was amused no end at Paul's stunt, which drew me quite a bit of criticism from friends, who huffed, "Don't you know people were right there who could have been killed? There were people who inhaled a lot of smoke."
Even before he burnt down the Man, Paul's behavior was problematic. I've known Paul socially (and casually) since 1996, and during all that time, Paul was intense and sometimes scary. He is also smart, funny, creative, and energetic, unfortunately suffering from bipolar disorder. Paul puts a face to the problem of dealing with the mentally ill, a face with garish yet artful paint on it. How fair is it to judge someone for behavior which is a symptom of a brain disorder? Shouldn't there be compassion for one struggling with a serious illness? On the other hand, most people don't want someone like Paul about any more because he's, well, crazy.
Paul is now yesterday's news. The latest Burning Man figure of controversy is Matty Nash.
Tall, handsome, charismatic, and oh so alternative, 36 year-old Matty was the frontman for the Mutaytor, a huge and bizarre musical ensemble based in LA. He seemed to have it all, including a gorgeous wife who was the self-professed "den mom" for the band. The Mutaytor had professional representation and plenty of gigs. Then Dateline aired a "To Catch A Predator" episode, and there was Matty. A predator. He'd driven an hour to meet up with a putative thirteen year-old girl, with condoms, lubricant, and a vibrator in hand. Online he'd been trolling for sex under the screenname "sugardavis."
It turns out Matty had been arrested ages ago but kept it a secret from his bandmates and friends. In the end, he pleaded no contest to the criminal charges, accepted registration as a sex offender as part of his plea bargain, and posted a whiny pseudo-apology online.
The overall reaction seems to be "awww, he said he's sorry, and the decoy was really twenty years old, and those shows are so sleazy, and haven't you ever done anything bad? How can you be so judgmental?"
One of Matty's supporters wrote online:
"We are one body. If you skin your knee with a bad decision you don't cut off your leg to fix the wound. You acknowledge the misjudgement on your part, make changes, hopefully with the shared wisdom of your tribes experience and wisdom, and learn so as to be able to share the next time a mistake is made.Another wrote that he "honors Matty" for "showing us the dark."
The Tribe quickly dwindles if you just keep dropping the fuck ups.
What's that whole "cast the first stone" bit?"
I don't honor Matty. When he was arrested, he admitted to the arresting officer he'd been in counseling with his wife because of his "sex addiction" and "meeting people off the internet for sex." (I don't believe sex is an addiction. It belittles the heroic struggles of alcoholics and true addicts to call sleaziness an "addiction").
In his letter to the community, Matty apologized for "having sex with people he met online" -- "people", not minors. He stressed that the decoy was 20 several times... as though to make it out that he went there with the intent of hooking up with a 20 year old. He never copped to having sex with minors or trying to have sex with a minor.
"Having sex with people from online" is a nothing, in my opinion. Although I'm off being monogamous with my husband, I have single friends who have used the Craigslist casual encounters section to hook up with strangers, strangers whom we might say quickly became new friends (and special friends at that). Whatever one might think of that, to me it's fine if everyone involved is a consenting adult. There's a difference between trolling for strange online and chatting for months with someone who is supposedly thirteen years old. The judge who sentenced Matty reportedly observed that he was disturbed by Matty's "grooming" of the decoy (who wrote in authentic kid IMese), which was classic pedophilic behavior.
If Matty had written in his open letter something like, "Oh my god, I was going after a 13 year-old. I can't believe I did that, but I did. Thank God they caught me", I'd feel differently about Matty's letter and about Matty. Instead, he downplayed his situation by talking about having an open marriage. He talked about how he didn't have enough money to hire good enough lawyers to get himself off.
It's also telling to me that all this came out after Dateline aired the footage of Matty being caught --- NOT after Matty was arrested. I wonder if Matty was hoping that footage would never be aired, and he'd be able to go about his life with no one (other than his wife, who seems to have kept his secret) knowing. His band mates were blindsided. One told a reporter that his phone started ringing off the hook the moment the Dateline episode was over, and then the band's booking agency summarily fired them. Gigs were canceled as promoters didn't wish to have a nationally-exposed pedophile performing. Matty whined in his letter that he was just trying to keep the focus off his friends and family by keeping all this secret, but if he had just left the band at the time of his arrest, the band could have had a calm transition and avoided the panic and stress it suffered later.
Like those motherfucking sparrows who always return to Capistrano, once again I was going through that tedious annual ritual of discussing my purported return to Burning Man this year. This time, though, it's a lot less tempting. I don't want to be part of a community which "honors" Matty Nash. I don't want someone like him around my beautiful daughters, and I feel sad for any young girls he preyed upon. Beyond that, I'm sickened by the "radical tolerance." Some things are worth judging.