Boundaries are to protect life, not to limit pleasures.
March 24, 2012 4:55 PM   Subscribe

My group of friends is having trouble with one member and are completely baffled as to how to handle this.

I have a very tight knit group of friends (7 of us) that have bonded quite strongly over the past year. Most of us met by forming a D&D group in April 2011 (we added two other members in June or July). Our linch pin was my friend Ken.

Skip ahead a year and our group is experiencing a lot of friction around Ken.

1. Ken's characters are extremely flat and experience no character growth.

This is admittedly the weakest complaint we have by far but it really hampers our gaming. He thinks his characters are perfect: they're unapologetic badasses who hit people without question, get in your face and yell at you all the time, and have flaws that he considers strengths. One of his characters is a one-eyed alcoholic but he refuses to have any penalties for this. Another of his characters has been part of every organization he can think of and is very (overly) sexual.

Our campaign is very character-focused. We don't roll dice for damage. We don't have loot tables. Often, the majority of our campaign focuses on character interaction and character arcs. Naturally, this makes flat characters even more annoying. Our DM has tried everything to provoke some kind of character growth: giving his character penalties on rolls because he has one eye and is always drunk, knocking up his overly sexual character, having everyone be warned about his sexual character beforehand... none of it sticks. He just starts whining that it's unfair.

2. He is a complete control freak.

In the game, this manifests as him being a huge jerk. He was our DM for one campaign, which was supposed to last 4-6 weeks. Instead, he drew it out to last 4 months. He didn't let us make any choices. He didn't give us anything fun to do. We overrode him one day and insisted our characters went to a bar; this then became his default action whenever our characters had free time. He routinely asked the others with DM experience (Neil and Devon) for suggestions and then implemented none. He didn't read any of the lore we'd established of our world and kept trying to make huge changes to it without asking anybody else.

He also used his position of DM to bully one of our group members (Dan) relentlessly; he later blamed Dan for the failure of his campaign and suggested that we should kick him out of the group. His girlfriend also plays with us (Gabby) and she cannot sit next to him while we game because he annoys her so much while we play.

Needless to say, we aren't too excited for him to DM again. He, however, thinks his campaign was the best and keeps telling us that he'll "make us pay next time [he] DM[s]".

Out of game, this manifests as him being... kind of a jerk as well. We have to play on his schedule even though we established that Tuesday works best for everyone. He routinely schedules things on Tuesdays and then gets mad that we play without him if he's the only one missing. We have to eat what he wants to eat. We have to drink when he wants to drink. You can't say no to him or he, again, whines and insists that you explain why. If he doesn't like your answer, he dismisses your concern. ("I don't want pizza." "But why?" "We had pizza the past three weeks." "Well I don't think that's fair. I want pizza.")

He also needs to be the center of attention all the time. If someone makes a joke and everyone laughs, he attempts to build on that joke in order to redirect the attention. If we move to the kitchen to eat, he'll stay in the other room and laugh really loudly over something completely irrelevant in an effort to get us to ask him what it is or go back. If everyone else is interested in Thing X and he isn't (such as when Skyrim or Mass Effect 3 came out), he bans that thing from discussion for the duration of our hangout (seriously. he tries to enforce this by making us buy a shot for everyone every time we say it).

3. He routinely touches people inappropriately. I'm pretty sure this qualifies as sexual harassment if not sexual assault.

He routinely grabs people's butts, grinds up against people, straddles them "jokingly" if he needs to sidle past, slaps people's butts, runs his hands up people's inner thighs beyond where you really should stop or ask, and forcibly hugs people even if they're visibly scowling/pushing him away. He thinks it's funny because he only does it to men. We think it's ridiculously fucked up that he doesn't listen to us saying no (as above, his response to being told "No. Get off of me." is to whine "Why?" and then dismiss your concern). This is especially fucked up because he's tried to use his groping of me as a validation of my identity throughout my transition from female to male (ie. "but i touch you because i think you're a man, isn't that good?").

It's reached the point where we don't want to take him out to bars, don't want to go to parties with him, and nobody wants to sit next to him anywhere. Neil (also one of his roommates) will often insist that overnight guests take his bed instead of sleeping in the living room as Ken has come into the living room and spooned guests while they are sleeping (he then says really creepy things when they wake up and freak out).

Ken is also 6'5" tall and very much in shape, making him physically imposing.

4. He will not listen to us when we tell him to stop. Ever.

We've tried being nice, being firm, being angry, shoving him, using examples, avoiding him, cutting him off... pretty much every tactic we can think of. I've had more than one shouting match of "dude that's not OK, stop touching me. it's sexual assault". He just laughs and brushes it off.

Even Gabby (his gf) can't get through to him and they've been dating 2.5 years.

5. He treats his girlfriend like crap.

Since we're all good friends and hang out at least once a week, if not more, seeing him treat Gabby like crap drives us nuts. Gabby attends almost all of our non-gaming hangouts whereas Ken attends none, so arguably we're closer to her than we are to him.

They have an open relationship and their agreement is to tell each other BEFORE anything happens. However, Ken has a history of bailing on games to go out and then not contacting Gabby after 9 PM even though she's sleeping at his house that night. She stays up all night wondering if he's OK, where he is, and so forth only to find out the next morning around 10 AM that he was too busy having sex to tell her he wasn't coming home.

He will not support her when she is having a bad week (to the point where she's called me crying) and seems generally oblivious to it but he will bail on dinner with her grandparents that same week to go console a mutual friend.

I'll admit that this is likely none of my business but it's upsetting to watch one of my closest friends be treated so poorly by their partner of 2.5 years.


If you've made it this far, thank you! Here are my questions:

a. Am I completely overreacting?
b. Any suggestions on how to deal with his behaviour, especially behaviour that violates our boundaries, in a way that he might actually get it and stop it?
c. If we can't get him to stop it, how do we deal with his shitty behaviour? I would love to just sever, but he lives with Neil (until August), he's dating Gabby and he's the reason 5/6 of us know each other.

And before anyone asks, YES, we have told him all of this before. None of these are new grievances. They've all been mentioned directly to him at least once or twice in the past year.
posted by buteo to Human Relations (55 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You're not overreacting.

And honestly, I would strike him if he pulled that "touchy-feely" shit on me. And I'm a pacifist.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:00 PM on March 24, 2012 [12 favorites]

You stop hanging out with him.
posted by LarryC at 5:00 PM on March 24, 2012 [41 favorites]

a. Am I completely overreacting?

Jesus Christ, no.

b. Any suggestions on how to deal with his behaviour, especially behaviour that violates our boundaries, in a way that he might actually get it and stop it?

Tell him the next time he crosses boundaries - especially the unwanted touching stuff - he's kicked out of the hangout and not invited back. Then do that. If the hanging out is happening at his place, you all get up and leave. If it's at a place where he doesn't live, pack up the game and end the evening.
posted by rtha at 5:01 PM on March 24, 2012 [12 favorites]

If he's jerk don't play with him.

The conversation could go along the lines of 'Hey Ken, the last few games haven't been fun, and this is completely down to you. We feel that (enumerate through points 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and we've decided that until you can address these issues we won't be playing with you.'

You don't have to put up with it so don't.
posted by mattoxic at 5:01 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Not much you can do about his treatment of Gabby, expect perhaps encourage her to dump the jerk.

As for the rest: no, you most definately are NOT over-reacting! Three solutions present themselves: punch him whenever he does that groping; or what the heck, call the cops and charge him with sexual assault! And finally, ditch him from the group.
posted by easily confused at 5:03 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't fall victim to the Geek Social Fallacies.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:05 PM on March 24, 2012 [47 favorites]

The guy's a childish asshole and, it seems, possibly dangerous. Don't "deal with it." Kick him out. He's no longer invited to hang out. If that's something he can't handle, you call the cops if he shows up anyway. It's that simple.

As for Gabby let her know beforehand that this is what you plan to do. Make sure she realizes that it's HIM you're kicking out and not HER and discuss whatever that entails for you.
posted by cmoj at 5:06 PM on March 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

Ken's behavior is unacceptable. Period.

It might not be an easy conversation to have, but you have to tell him that his behavior is not welcome in your group and he needs to stop or you will not allow him to be a part of your group.

Then when he inevitably acts like a gropy jerk-wad, you actually have to tell him he is not welcome at your games anymore.

Also, seconding cmoj re: Gabby.
posted by too bad you're not me at 5:09 PM on March 24, 2012

Actually, you know what? It sounds like, on a re-read, you've already told him to stop with his creepy behaviors.

He's already had his warning. He's done now. Outski.
posted by too bad you're not me at 5:09 PM on March 24, 2012 [11 favorites]

Wow, this guy scares me. When he acts like a jerk I think everyone in the group has to say loudly, "stop it!" As for gaming with you, if he is not going to play the way you want him to, then you have to dump him. As for his girlfriend, she needs to dump him on her own. Good luck.
posted by fifilaru at 5:16 PM on March 24, 2012

Best answer: I would not hang out with this person. He's a molester. (Oh, HAHA, he only molests men? Still molestation!) He's a jerk. He's ruins your fun. You have no reason to deal with this guy. Dump him. Get your whole group to dump him.

You do point out why this will be difficult:

If we can't get him to stop it, how do we deal with his shitty behaviour? I would love to just sever, but he lives with Neil (until August), he's dating Gabby and he's the reason 5/6 of us know each other.

Three different problems here.

1 He lives with Neil. Poor Neil. Can Neil move out early? If not, this seems like a matter that Neil either should take charge of, or something that should wait until August. I wouldn't want to hang out with this guy until August, but... Well, maybe Neil's worth it.

2. He's dating Gabby. Poor Gabby. Here is what I think you need to say to her: "Gabby, I love you, and you're awesome, but I do not want to hang out with Ken any more. I won't play with him. I'm really sorry if this hurts our friendship, because I care about you dearly. I want nothing more than to be good friends with you still."

3. He's kind of the hub keeping all you folks together. Or, at least, he started out that way. But you don't need him anymore! It sounds like Ken really helped you guys all connect, but now he's being a total pain for everyone. He needs to get kicked out of the group. I think you need to talk to the rest of the group (particularly Neil, particularly not Gabby) and see if you guys can come to a consensus about inviting Ken to your roleplaying games. Hopefully, everyone will agree, and you guys can have more fun without it. Hopefully, also, seeing Ken dumped by all of you will help Gabby realize how horrible he is.
posted by meese at 5:16 PM on March 24, 2012 [17 favorites]

This guy is an asshole. Kick him out of the group. You DON'T HAVE TO TELL HIM WHY. Just tell him you are done.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 5:19 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wow. I think you should disband this d&d getup, and then restart it without ken. That would be the easiest, most non-confrontational solution. Or have a police escort during games.
posted by karathrace at 5:19 PM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

The weak point here is Neil. As a member of the gaming group AND Ken's roommate, he'll receive the brunt of the fallout if you kick him from the group.

If you can wait until August, put all your groups concerns together and spell them out to him. Explain that Ken is on probation until August. If he doesn't improve by then, when Neil goes, he goes.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:20 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Move the game to Tuesdays in a new location and cut. him. dead. He's a nightmare and the fact that you're still dealing with him means you're totally under-reacting, not overreacting.

Fuck's sake.
posted by Space Kitty at 5:23 PM on March 24, 2012 [12 favorites]

c. If we can't get him to stop it, how do we deal with his shitty behaviour? I would love to just sever, but he lives with Neil (until August), he's dating Gabby and he's the reason 5/6 of us know each other.

You sever anyway. You just have to be blunter about it, since you'll all be excluding him even though you can't always avoid him. I'd give an ultimatum first though, and following through on failure of that, so that conversation can be shut down, because he had a chance.
You'll need everyone on board though. Gabby is allowed to do things without him, and those things will include time hanging out with you guys. Give her the freedom to pass the buck (she's not enforcing your exclusion or justifying, just abiding by it because she's not going to choose one over the other). And if things go bad between them, well, they're already bad.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:24 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

c. If we can't get him to stop it, how do we deal with his shitty behaviour? I would love to just sever, but he lives with Neil (until August), he's dating Gabby and he's the reason 5/6 of us know each other.

A lot of times, shitty self-involved narcissists get into positions of minor social power like this because when everything is nebulous and up in the air they Get. Shit. Done. Then, they stay in those positions while making everyone else miserable because nice people who didn't want to form their own D&D group feel beholden to them because, well, he DID marshall everyone for the first couple of months...

No. You hung out with him for a year and in that year he has treated you all atrociously. You have spoken directly to him about his atrocious behavior and he has declined to modify it. You owe him nothing at this point, if you ever owed him anything. You have a great group of friends. Cut him out and move on.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:27 PM on March 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

Actually, I'm going to cut that back to simply saying:

Life is too short to spend it in misery. Take the bull by the horns. Let the chips fall where they may.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:27 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If we can't get him to stop it, how do we deal with his shitty behaviour? I would love to just sever, but he lives with Neil (until August), he's dating Gabby and he's the reason 5/6 of us know each other.

I guarantee you that whatever social fallout there is from kicking him out of your D&D game will be nothing compared to actually having to play with him.

"Sorry dude, you've been kind of a jerk recently and we don't want to play with you anymore". He will whine and complain. You will not care. The end.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 5:40 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I imagine that you may be more intertangled.

I'd try to do this a bit slowly.

- Make him Limited Profile on social networking sites.
- Don't invite to him to any social events.
- Communicate with Gabby what Meese said "Gabby, I love you, and you're awesome, but I do not want to hang out with Ken any more. I won't play with him. I'm really sorry if this hurts our friendship, because I care about you dearly. I want nothing more than to be good friends with you still."

This may mean that you don't invite Gabby anymore.

- Communicate with Neil that he is welcome to attend, but that he needs to not tell Ken where he is going.

- Then stop telling Ken where you are meeting. Unsubscribe him from the Google group or whatever you all use to communicate.

I don't think that you owe it to him to tell him that he's not invited. But I'm passive aggressive like that.

And no, you're not overreacting. This guy sounds like a total asshole.
posted by k8t at 5:46 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Move your D&D sessions to someone else's house. Tell him he is not invited. Do not tell him where the sessions are. If he turns up uninvited, I'd seriously consider calling the police to have him removed for trespassing. That sexual stuff is Not Okay.

Do not feel sorry for him. Do not feel like you have no options. That guy sounds like a terrible person.
posted by lollusc at 7:10 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Next episode of inappropriate touching, I'd recommend mace, and not the kind that does 1d8 bludgeoning damage.
posted by radwolf76 at 7:13 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your perspective has become skewed by the small group drama. It's so obvious that you should all just break up with him. End if story.
posted by Vaike at 7:24 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Wow, the first few points sounded like maybe he could be reasoned with, but sexual harassment? No. If the rest of the group does hate him unanimously, then decide, and tell him as a group, that the next time he touches you inappropriately you will all leave the party and/or call the cops. If he continues to invite himself, then "leak" the info that the gaming starts at 7, but everyone else shows up at 6 and you lock the door.

You don't owe him any kind of polite intervention. He is a bully. Geeky bullies will sometimes hide behind claiming they're just socially awkward/inept, and maybe that's part of it, but they have to be willing to listen and change their behavior, or they're just a bully.

If you can't cut him off, then at least decide with the rest of the group that you are going to stand up as a group to his whining about what to eat, etc. A simple repeated "5 out of 6 people want this, so we'll meet back up afterwards if you want to go get pizza for yourself" will work eventually. If his DMing sucks, then tell him you're not coming next week unless the arc changes.

You will have to put up with him trying to whine extra-hard to get his way for awhile, but he'll either stop doing it once it stops working, or he'll stop coming once he doesn't get his way.

All this only works if ALL THE REST of you are willing to do it together. I would try to have a group meeting (perhaps on Tuesday?). Bring this thread & comments. Discuss what tactics you are all willing to get behind.

It will suck and you will have to put up with ramped-up whining and juvenile BS as he tries to re-assert authority, but your current situation sounds so miserable anyway. (Also, poor Neal - maybe you can also as a group figure out how to get him out of the house as much as possible).
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:29 PM on March 24, 2012

*I should be clearer: if he continues to invite himself or seems like he will show up at your door on game night AFTER being disinvited, that's when you can try leaking the wrong day or time. I only suggest this because it sounds like your group is close enough that it might be difficult to completely hide your meetings from him.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:39 PM on March 24, 2012

Best answer: Here's another perspective on this situation: By continuing to play with him, by letting his behavior slide after you've talked to him, all you're doing is encouraging him.

What Ken has learned from your past behavior is, "It's okay to ignore people when they tell me to stop doing X. They don't really mean it." Ken is only like this because people LET him be like this. The lesson Ken has learned from his life to date is, "My actions do not have consequences."

This is doing a huge disservice to him in the long run. And to everyone he will come in contact with. Also, it's making you and your friends miserable.

You may want to leave Neil out of it for now, since he has to live with the guy. Let Neil know that you (collectively) understand his situation, and won't think less of him for acting as a neutral party.

But the rest of you need to draw a line with Ken, and you have to hold that line. The rest of humanity will thank you for it.

I sense you're looking for specifics.

If I were in your group, I would wait until Ken did one of his obnoxious things and then I would say, "Ken, I can't take your crap anymore. If you do that one more time, we are going to stop this gaming session, and there will never be another."

Inevitably Ken will attempt to test this boundary. Most likely within the hour. At which point, everyone (quietly and without drama) packs up their things and leaves. The end. No big blowout, no final raging argument, just a quiet and polite exit with a minimum of fuss.

If it feels anticlimactic, then you've done it right.
posted by ErikaB at 8:05 PM on March 24, 2012 [24 favorites]

And Gabby should understand that you can't hang out with her if there's a possibility Ken will be there.

It will be tough for Gabby to be without you for a while. That is a good thing, because it emphasizes the fact that A) Ken's behavior is problematic, and B) she should be free of him as well. Think of yourself as modeling the behavior (leaving Ken) that you want Gabby to adopt.

Your job here is to be the distant (yet welcoming and supportive) safe harbor for her to land, once she musters up the courage to leave Ken.

Ken is obviously one of those people who doesn't listen to words. Which is scary, because a lot of his behavior sounds date-rape-y at best. I hope you're all free of him soon.
posted by ErikaB at 8:10 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not a D&D gamer, but I used to host board and strategy games at my house. We once had a new person show up who was extremely unpleasant to deal with: She would argue about the rules of games even when we had the rules in writing or when ALL other players told her she was wrong; she would pick up and move other player's pieces the way she thought they should be moved; she refused to take her shoes off despite my house rule that was clearly stated to her beforehand and despite the fact that it was rainy and muddy outside. No matter how mildly I worded objections to this or that behavior, she would blow up at the mere suggestion that she could be anything other than perfect.

It got old really quickly, and after consulting with the rest of the group between gaming sessions, I sent her a very strongly worded email stating in no uncertain terms what the GROUP had decided her behavior would have to be in order to continue. I wrote very specifically that A behavior = X penalty, up to and including expulsion from the group. She opted never to come back, but she started haunting other area groups and was kicked out of several of those, too, having done such heinous things as KICK one host's child under the table.

Bottom line: one unpleasant group member can ruin a gaming session. It sounds like this guy is already ruining yours, and has been for some months. I think that some of his behavior is heinous enough to warrant immediate expulsion, but if you want to give him ONE more chance: Get together (or do it over email) with all of the group members other than Ken, and decide as a unified front specifically what behavior you want changed, and what the consequences will be if it's not.

Then take him aside (do it BEFORE a group gaming meeting, so he has time to think about it and cool off) and tell him, gently but firmly, what needs to happen and what the consequences will be if it doesn't. Example: "Ken, we have decided that you will not be the dungeon master again, period. If you argue with us over this, you will be asked not to return to our games for one month. If you touch one more person without their consent, you will be asked not to return to our games ever." You can do this in person, but if so, also write an email so there is an undebatable written record of what was decided. This is key, so he can't say he wasn't warned, and so people don't have different recollections of what was said.
posted by parrot_person at 8:11 PM on March 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

nthing rtha. I CANNOT believe that you can re-read what you have written & not realize you are dealing with a sexual mollester. If you guys were still 13 he'd be in jail by now, assuming someone told on him. There is a tendency in groups, like D&D groups, that are dominated by people who identify as social misfits, to assume that because their group identity is that of "misfit," that all "misfit" behaviors within the group should be given some slack. Do not delude yourself: This is not innocent, harmless, or any misunderstanding on his part. He is "getting off" on you and your friends' unconsenting bodies. Maybe it doesn't make his pants drip, but it clearly floats his boat.
posted by Ys at 8:45 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've gamed with a guy like Ken, although not as bad. The group I gamed with had a boiling frog situation where they didn't realize how bad it had gotten and how our Ken's behavior was keeping newbies from hanging around with the group. And our Ken was not a creepy toucher, just an in-character rapist wannabe. He used his "friendship" with the group to enforce putting up with shitty behavior and we were all So. Much. Happier. when he got the boot.

Nthing that you need to disentangle (with gentle consideration for Neil and Gabby) and kick this guy out of your group.
posted by immlass at 8:50 PM on March 24, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far, everyone! I just wanted to check in with some clarification.

Neil won't be moving out early. I tried to encourage him to move out early with their other two roommates (who also don't get along well with Ken) but was rebuffed because "that would be so mean!!" even if they got subletters. He also doesn't trust Ken with his stuff so he refuses to spend any more time out of the house than necessary (Ken often goes into Neil's room and uses his stuff - consoles, books, TV - without permission).

I guess I could add a further d) how do I convince other group members that no, really, this isn't acceptable behaviour and we need to stop complaining behind his back and do something about it? It's been mentioned ad nauseum but whenever I try to convince people to do anything I'm met with a chorus of "that's too mean" or "we've known him so long".
posted by buteo at 9:00 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

This guy is a hideously freaky creeper and you are in no way overreacting. Actually, if you'd kneed him in the groin when he touched you, you would not be overreacting. Tell him in no uncertain terms to fuck directly off - it really does not sound like you need to bother with any kind of politeness or holding back here.
posted by elizardbits at 9:41 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

You are allowed to decide that you don't want to go anymore, regardless of the group's decision to confront Ken or not. Stop going and make plans outside of gaming with the people that you care about, such as Gabby.
posted by cabingirl at 9:45 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

You can't control anyone's behavior other than your own, unfortunately. It sounds like your group is in a bit of a codependent mindset. They're so caught up on Ken's feelings that they've lost sight of what really does count as "mean" or unacceptable.

Here's what you say, if they tell you you're being mean for wanting to kick Ken out: "Ken's an adult, and so am I. This means that we get to choose what we do. Ken's choice is to behave as he does; my choice is to avoid contact with someone who behaves as Ken does. We've tried to get Ken to change his behavior, but he won't. Another part of being an adult is facing the repercussions for one's behavior. In this case, the repercussion is that he won't get to hang around me anymore. I'm hoping that the repercussion for my actions won't be that I lose out on all of your friendships, because all of you mean so much to me. But this is where I stand: I find Ken's behavior intolerable, and I will not put up with it anymore."

Notice what happens in this little speech.. The whole idea of being mean or being nice gets sidestepped. Because this isn't a matter of being mean or nice. No one has a responsibility for being friends with someone who is rude, offensive, and flagrantly disrespectful. There's no reason to get caught up on how nice you should be to Ken, because niceness vs. meanness doesn't enter the equation. So, try to keep the conversation structured around what matters: holding Ken responsible for his actions; taking responsibility for your own actions.

If you want a shorthand for it, it may be this: "Ken never cares if he's being mean to us. I don't see myself owing him something he never gives me."
posted by meese at 10:02 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Neil should put a lock on his door. Just patch the holes when moving out. Problem solved.
posted by barnone at 11:12 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

*taps fingers delicately*
Not to give suggestion to make a situation worse, but elizardbits has it right in my opinion.

He wants to get physical with you? Touches you anywhere after you tell him no?
He's a whiny passive-aggressive coward, so I'd be highly surprised if he knew how to or was inclined to fight back, muscles and height acknowledged.
Knee him in the groin. Elbow him (not the point but the broad surface) in the face or throat over and over. Use the heel of your hand on his face. Stomp on his feet if they're unshod. Yell, "NO! NO! NO!" at the top of your lungs. Alternate with feral cornered bobcat screaming. If you know how to snarl or growl, do it.

Don't let him wave it off, or let it go quietly. Make a scene, if not for yourself than for your friends who are just as bullied but perhaps need some help in their conviction.

It might seem insane (especially the animal noises) and you may feel ridiculous, but I promise that he'll at least think twice before doing it again. You want to send the message:
"You wanna touch? Fine, let's touch VIOLENTLY motherfucker."
posted by DisreputableDog at 11:48 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Btw, that was a small part of my military guard training. The elbows, the hand heel, as well as how to "spartan" and side kick someone as best we could. The "NO!" and "GET BACK!" was what we had to yell the 60 or 70 times we practiced each move (it's also taught to self defense classes).

The crazy animal sounds are my own addition, because people already think I'm fucking bug nuts anyway. :-D In any case, I highly recommend.
posted by DisreputableDog at 11:53 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with meese. It sounds like it might be time for you to take your discomfort with Ken into your own two hands and lose the hope that you can deal with him as part of a group. This means that you need to get comfortable with standing up for yourself and protecting your boundaries on your own rather than have them reinforced as part of a group effort – always more difficult, uncomfortable and exposed. It also means that you might lose this group of gamers and have to build up another one.

So you’ll need to be OK with having the boundaries which you sense you have (and which led you to ask this question), you’ll have to be OK to go it alone on announcing/reinforcing them (and, given that the group is so very shy about confronting Ken that they actually end up enabling him, it is possible that the group will end up supporting Ken and turning against you in this situation, so this adds yet another layer of discomfort to the probably inevitable confrontation), you have to be OK with (potentially) losing your closeness with all the people involved, then you’ll have to take initiative and organize a new group if you want to continue your playing.

It’s going to be quite tough, but once you do it, you will have single-handedly learned one of the most important skills for adult interaction: know your boundaries, signal them to others and reinforce them when people trespass against them. No more bullying, no more abuse (emotional, sexual or physical) that you unintentionally collude with, no more undermined self-esteem, no more need to seek safety (and inaction) in numbers, and a lot of heart-ache, angst, stress and distress, self-abasement and self-loathing, and passive-aggressive strategies avoided.

The tough moments you need to weather are as follows:

1. Let your friends know that you plan on taking a stand if Ken does not stop with the horribleness, whilst emphasizing that you care for them and really want to continue your friendship with them. I think meese’s wording here is perfect. Nonetheless, you will probably again be told that this is mean – and this is the toughest point for you. Know that it is not mean – it is absolutely high time someone in your group put a stop to Ken’s behavior. Or, if this is not possible (as seems to be the case here), extricate themselves from this. His behavior is utterly unhealthy, putting up with it is unhealthy too. Maybe let them know that you don’t consider it mean to withstand someone’s bullying and harassment, and that, whilst everyone else has the right to deal with the circumstances according to their own needs/desire/assessment of the situation, you have realized that you can no longer put up with his behavior and still maintain your self-respect, your equanimity and your enjoyment of the time you spend together and of life in general. And know this too – if they do not respect your decision, if they insist on attacking you for it and giving you grief for your “meanness”, THEY are now being mean in that they are trying to undermine your autonomy and your well-being. No biggie necessarily (after all, they’re being just as mean to themselves!), but also not OK.

2. Let Ken know that you are no longer able to deal with the harassment and other aggravations, and that they need to stop. Maybe tell him this when it’s just the two of you, so that he doesn’t lose face because you confront him in front of all the others. Tell him you feel really uncomfortable and disrespected and stressed out all the time, and that you have no choice but to leave if touching etc. happens again. To be honest, judging by your post I personally would consider this step a bit of a waste of energy, he sounds well beyond reason, and there is such a litany of bad behavior that, well, if he stopped one the other ones would still be enough to make peaceful and unstressed co-existence with him impossible. But if you feel like it’s worth giving it one more try, and that you will not back down in spite of the difficulty of confronting a bully (and a big and strong one at that!), it might not be a bad idea – at least you will know you have done all that could be done in such a difficult situation.

3. If he ignores this, next time you are together and he does aggravating thing you talked about, stand up, say “I can’t deal with this any more/I’m really uncomfortable with this” or some such, and leave. This is gonna be really tough, cause you will feel like you’re in the spotlight, but once you’re out the door and half an hour has passed, your agitation/discomfort will subside. For any other lingering negative emotions, try to prepare some support in advance to help you through the fall-out – maybe a friend who is unconnected to this group, family, maybe line up some activity that will take your mind off things. Etc. If you decide to skip step 2 and 3 as obviously pointless, either just let Ken know that you can no longer deal with him, or disengage altogether.

4. This step is maybe even more difficult than the others, cause it requires application, but why not try to initiate your own group? Or join another existing one? Are you still in touch with any of the people who left because of Ken? Can you form a new group with them?

It sounds like you cannot get the people in the group to join you in standing up to Ken, and thus you might have to take all of the heat from the fall-out. But in doing so you will be doing a great service to yourself, possibly model self-respecting behavior for others in your group (who may or may not follow your example at a later point) in a way which remains respectful of all involved (even Ken, too bad if he and/or the others aren’t able to recognize this), and possibly build up another small community for other members of the Ken-community to join when/if they realize that they have to take some ownership of their lives, thus making it easier for them to disengage from these pernicious patterns. Not to mention that there might be a teensy weensy sliver of a chance that Ken might reflect on at least some of his behavior and mellow down a smidgen.

Also, someone up-thread linked to the 5 geek social fallacies - make sure you read them, maybe pass them on to your friends.
posted by miorita at 2:55 AM on March 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

While I agree with the general sentiment of all the above responses, I think this situation should probably be approached carefully.

I don't think that you're over reacting. I'm fairly awkward with social things, so when I started reading this, I was prepared to sort of put in a word for letting him know what's wrong, giving him a warning, etc. But after reading the whole thing, it definitely sounds like he's been warned several times that his social behavior is inappropriate. And as for the physical harassment...well, no one should have to put up with that. His behavior in that respect is definitely super creepy. People shouldn't invade other people's personal space without good reason, like the other person being their girl/boyfriend. On that note, it's kind of odd that he does it to guys only when he has a girlfriend. (repressed gay tendencies, maybe...? is he republican? haha)

At any rate, the reason I say that you should be cautious is that moving aggressively to expel an offensive person from a group primarily comprised of passive nerd people can very easily end up in your own expulsion instead. Tread carefully. Transitioning can be a very delicate time for trans people as they adjust to their new bodies/appearance/hormonal balances, and it would be really awful to lose your friends' support at a time when you need it the most.
posted by Estraven at 3:05 AM on March 25, 2012

That said, you may have to weigh whether or not their friendship and support is worth being actively molested and generally treated so poorly. Please don't let him touch you anymore. If he does, I don't think that some sort of physically violent response would be unjustified at all. (knee to the groin, etc...)
posted by Estraven at 3:09 AM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe is there a way of discussing this behavior without talking about Ken? It's a little passive-aggressive, but can you talk about a "co-worker" or a "personal friend" who's crossing the line without tipping your hand that you're talking about Ken? The stumbling block here seems to be the group loyalty to Ken. Do you think they would be able to see the wrongness of the behaviour if they thought they were talking about someone else?

It's relatively easy to recognize wrongs done to someone else; it can be very hard to acknowledge, for some people, wrongs done to oneself. I do think you're fighting an uphill battle, though: With a rommate & a girlfriend in the group, you've automatically got one-third of your audience as people with something to lose by admitting you're right. That's a hard vote to rock.

You may have to find another group [because of Ken]. At the minimum, you can set personal boundaries with Ken & enforce them. Make sure you don't get arrested for assault when enforcing them. I think the issue of how he treats his girlfriend MUST be left out of any discussion of why you want Ken gone; it's just a distraction from the core complaint, however much it bothers you. You might also want to look at a divide-and-conquer approach: Approach members individually with your concerns before you address it as a group issue. Not as a gripe session, but as a one-on-one power meeting based on "there is a problem, is it a problem for you?"

All things considered, you might not even want to think global, at first. It would be much easier to open the conversation with, "I have this problem with Ken, I want him to keep his fucking hands off me, this is not a joke to me, can you support me in this," and see how it goes from there. If individuals won't support you in your personal quest for respect from Ken, you've got all the answer you need on the group picture.
posted by Ys at 6:04 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and advice I got from my boss once regarding setting boundaries with a serial hugger at the post office: When you set your boundaries with Ken, look him dead in the eye, do not smile even a little bit, and do not allow any humor or sympathy into your statement. Same for any response you may give to his response, although overall being drawn in to a conversation with him about it is a losing strategy. This is a laying down of the law, there is no room for anything but definitiveness.
posted by Ys at 6:10 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

His behavior is unconscionable. No question.

I can't help but notice that your question is framed as "here's a bunch of stuff we don't like about Ken," and I suspect that y'all have talked about this issue a fair amount when he's not around.

Ken knows that the group doesn't like him anymore, they talk about him behind his back, and he's upset. He's acting out. That doesn't make his behavior ok, but it helps explain it, especially if it started really ramping up after he was DM and didn't do the best job. He figured out that you were talking about him behind his back, and that was upsetting.

I'm saying this because I think it helps with a solution. Stop talking about him behind his back. That helped you get in this position (well, that, and his awful behavior). You have to tell him how you feel - not the group, but you. This can't be a group thing, because your friends have demonstrated that nothing will be done because its too mean to do anything (it's not mean, by the way). You need to tell him NO when he gropes you, say "That's offensive" when he says that groping you is ok because he only gropes men and you're transitioning, and be firm but polite in your interactions with him. Leave the game if he keeps bullying you - calmly, stand up and say that you won't take this treatment anymore, and walk out, without drama. Look him in the eye when you tell him that you won't take it.

Someone above said it very well: being an adult is learning your boundaries, setting them, and enforcing them. You might have to stop gaming with this group in order to do that, but I think you can definitely hang out with them outside of the game. That experience sounds so unpleasant now anyhow that, although you'll miss gaming with that group, you'll feel relieved. Your actions may spur others to follow, and maybe they'll all take a stand with Ken, but don't count on it.

The group dynamic is part of what is tripping you up. Take the situation into your own hands. If they follow your lead, you can keep gaming with them. If not, you can still hang out with them. Just don't talk about Men when you do. Life is too short to spend more time or energy on this guy.
posted by k8lin at 7:05 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ugh, don't talk about Ken when you hang out, Ken. Not men. Autocorrect!
posted by k8lin at 7:08 AM on March 25, 2012

Coming back to add that one of the things that made a huge difference in my understanding of the situation with the Ken-type in my old gaming group was to keep reminding myself and saying to others that "People who treat me that way [disrespecting physical boundaries, etc.] are not my friends. Friends don't treat their friends that way.".

That's a huge thing to say but it puts the focus where it needs to be: on how Ken's behavior is the problem. Not yours in pointing out that you don't want to be touched inappropriately.
posted by immlass at 7:20 AM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Did you read the Geek Social Fallacies article linked above? Because seriously, read it, and then send it to the rest of your group, especially Neil.

The reason Ken can and will continue to be a part of your group without ever modifying his behavior is because you let him. As long as you let him, he will continue to act the way he is acting.

I am guessing all of you are or have a history of being tremendously socially awkward. A side-effect of social awkwardness is not realizing where boundaries are. In Ken's case it leads to him tramping all over boundaries. In your case, it leads to you not setting any, or saying something when your boundaries are shat on. Boundaries are totally awesome and allow society to exist. Learn to love and use them.
posted by schroedinger at 9:26 AM on March 25, 2012

Ban Ken from your group and deny him access to information about it.

I think Ken's roommate would best move out no matter what the cost because living with an aggressive six foot five inch male who has sexually assaulted all of his friends multiple times is not my idea of a safe roommate. But that's easy for me to say.
posted by tel3path at 12:32 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: After rereading the Geek Social Fallacies article, I can't believe how spot on it is. I'll send that to Neil first and see what he says after he reads it. (Neil also does have a lock on his door but I believe it's the kind that only locks from the inside.)

I have tried using the "people who disrespect me/treat me this way aren't my friend" logic and it's worked for me, but the others usually grimace and avoid that train of thought.

As for leaving and forming a group without him: I really don't care about playing D&D outside of this group. Playing with these people, to me, is something we do when we hang out. It's not the reason we hang out. Naturally this complicates the process of leaving because I can't compartmentalize it as just leaving the D&D group when nobody perceives it as just a D&D group.

We haven't had anybody leave because of Ken. The only person who left was our original DM, who gave us an ultimatum (kick Dan out because he made me chip in for gas or no D&D) ; we opted to continue without him and there is still talk of bringing him back a year later. Despite his toxic behaviour and shitty attitude (he has bullied Dan for years and every time he hangs out with Neil, they fight), I am the ONLY person who 100% refuses to have him back and actually vocalizes this.

Oh and our group is very queer friendly/has a few non-straight people and characters. I wouldn't chalk up Ken's behaviour to "latent homosexuality" or him being a closet gay, he's open about his slightly bisexual interests. It does freak out the straight guys in the group but they refuse to say anything lest they appear homophobic.

I think that covers most of the major assumptions. Thanks for the help so far everyone. You've given me a lot to think about.
posted by buteo at 1:47 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

After reading your post and follow-ups, you are either going to have to go nuclear all on your own or buy your friends some spines.

Maybe the next group night you have, you can make it a time to "make some rules".

Buy a big piece of white poster board, and in BIG RED PRINTED LETTERS have it spell out what is expected from all. (See? Not mean! Inclusive, even!)

3) CHARACTERS MUST GROW (or whatever, I don't know how to phrase that)

If you all are in agreement that these are the major problems (Gabby stuff is out of your hands, pretty much), then establishing some written rules should not be viewed as mean, but more like, OK, we are serious about what we are doing, so some ground rules should be no biggie.

Also, your friends are being weenies, and you should find the smartest, strongest, most annoyed one in the group to do this with you, or else they aren't going to say jack shit until this guy ends up raping one of you.

I wouldn't deal with it, but I'm a big mouthed bitch. You will probably have to go nuclear all on your own, unfortunately, but you know this is bullshit. Sometimes you just have to take a stand, even if you're all alone. My sympathies, this guy sounds horrible.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 2:21 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd be sending the rest of your group this thread.

I had a Ken in my group. I kicked him out. My games are much, much better now - no harrassment, no rules lawyering, actual character development, the works. It's worth the drama.
posted by Jilder at 2:35 PM on March 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Whatever efforts you make to sway 'the group', I'd start removing yourself from this situation. If that means you can't hang out with 'the group', you can still make plans one on one with your friends.
posted by bq at 8:25 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is a really unpleasant truth, and I hope it doesn't happen in your situation, but sometimes horrible bullies "win" short-term (by continuing to be able to act that way witewdehout seeming to suffer any ill effects) until enough people stand up to them. Unfortunately, if everyone else thinks they can continue to tolerate it, they will continue to be part of the problem, and you may only be able to control your own role in it. But it will still be worth doing that for yourself, if for nothing else.

Eventually, it will get better, even if that means everybody has to do this individually. But it will happen unless he changes, I'm sure of that.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:34 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've kicked people out of my games for any of the first two. I've kicked people out of my life for any of the other things. All of them together is crazy.

I hope very much that it doesn't come to this, but if your group of friends is set on protecting or excusing Ken's behavior, you may have to break up with more than just Ken. I think you should prepare for that possibility and perhaps make that ultimatum explicit if you think it necessary. But what you should absolutely not do is suffer this relationship to continue because you don't want to leave other people in the shitty situation. Your first responsibility here is to protect yourself.
posted by Errant at 3:39 AM on March 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah, this is seriously messed up. I know these people are your friends, but if they're going to be complicit in physical, emotional and psychological abuse it may be time to consider cutting your losses. He's a bully and he's manipulating everyone's good will. By all means spend some more time trying to get through to them, but if that doesn't work you need to consistently stick up for yourself every time Ken is inappropriate and/or make it clear that you are not interested in being in social situations where Ken is present. Either way I'd find some new friends to hang out with if I were you so you don't feel trapped with this group that enables this (seriously!!) messed up behavior.
posted by Kimberly at 12:12 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Honestly, the problem seems to come down to the rest of the group not wanting to offend or upset Ken, because that would be "mean"..... Neil and the other roommates don't want to be mean by telling Ken to keep out of their stuff or hurt his feelings by moving out early; Gabby doesn't want to offend him by telling him to treat her decently or else take a long walk off a short pier; the group doesn't want to offend him by refusing to go along when he pulls his shit in your games; nobody wants to hurt his feelings when he sexually assaults them. (And yes, the way he keeps touching you is sexual assault, and personally I'd slug the jerk and/or call the cops on his ass.)

Look, Ken --- like most bullies --- is taking extreme advantage of the fact that the rest of your group are polite, well-mannered and civilized people: when dealing with a bully, that works against you. Holding Ken to the same level of behavior as the rest of you is not "mean"!

Where does your group currently meet? Try changing the location: if it's a public place like a bar or a coffee shop, move to another bar or coffee shop, but do not tell Ken where the game will be. If it's in someone's home, flat-out do not let him in the door --- and call the cops to arrest him for trespassing if he forces his way in.
posted by easily confused at 8:34 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

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