At least two people may have committed suicide following the hacking of the Ashley Madison cheating website, Toronto police said on Monday, warning of a ripple effect that includes scams and extortion of clients desperate to stop the exposure of their infidelity... Police declined to provide any more details on the apparent suicides, saying they received unconfirmed reports on Monday morning. "The social impact behind this (hacking)—we're talking about families. We're talking about their children, we're talking about their wives, we're talking about their male partners," Evans told reporters. "It's going to have impacts on their lives. We're now going to have hate crimes that are a result of this. There are so many things that are happening. The reality is... this is not the fun and games that has been portrayed."
Glenn Greenwald, who has condemned the hack and defended the victims in a series of blistering articles, posted a letter today that he received from a woman who had an account on Ashley Madison:
I am female, hold a job with a lot of responsibility, have three kids, one with special needs, and a husband with whom I have not been intimate for several years due to his cancer treatments.... Mine is a loveless, sexless, parenting marriage. I will care for my husband if his cancer spreads, we manage good will for the sake of the children, but we cannot talk about my emotional or sexual needs without him fixating on his death and crying. I went on AM out of loneliness and despair, and found friendship, both male and female, with others trapped in terrible marriages trying to do right by their children.
As I argued last week, even for the most simplistic, worst-case-scenario, cartoon-villain depictions of the Ashley Madison user—a spouse who selfishly seeks hedonistic pleasure with indifference toward his or her own marital vows and by deceiving the spouse—that’s nobody’s business other than those who are parties to that marriage or, perhaps, their family members and close friends. But as the fallout begins from this leak, as people’s careers and reputations begin to be ruined, as unconfirmed reports emerge that some users have committed suicide, it’s worth remembering that the reality is often far more complex than the smug moralizers suggest.
A detail that may complicate your feelings of sympathy for the anonymous (for the moment) letter writer (it certainly complicated mine): The author of that letter to Greenwald, the woman whose marriage is effectively sexless due to her husband's long illness, apparently works for some sort of conservative/religious think tank; she "used to write about marriage law policy, encouraging traditional marriage for the good of children." Her contract includes a morality clause; if she winds up being exposed, she's likely to be out of a job. And she's prominent enough that she anticipates facing ridicule from both the right and the left when she's outed.
Greenwald believes that some people deserve to be outed. People who crusade "for legally enforced morality, holding themselves out as beacons of virtues they in fact violate, and harming others through that advocacy" are legit targets for outing, says Greenwald (and I completely agree), and he suggests that this woman may fall into that category. Like Josh Duggar, she may be someone who has it coming. Her public and political moralizing—her politically damaging moralizing (traditional marriage? Think of the children? We all know who she was paid to attack)—may be so in conflict with her private conduct that she deserves to be outed. [UPDATE: A calm and rational person on Twitter points out that Glenn Greenwald does not actually endorse outing in the piece I linked to. Rather Greenwald "acknowledged... an arguably valid case for such outing," and adds, "It’s possible this emailer falls within that category."]
But Greenwald asks...
Even if you interpret what she’s done in the most ungenerous light possible—even if you conclude that she’s the most extreme case where it’s clear she’s guilty of hypocrisy—are her actions evil and really deserving of full-scale reputational ruin and worse?
I interpret this woman's actions in the most generous light possible: She was doing what she needed to do to stay married and stay sane. I'm a cultural outlier in that I believe a person can demonstrate loyalty to a spouse with something other than their genitals. This woman stayed in a loveless, sexless, low-conflict marriage for the good of her ailing husband and the good of the children they're parenting together—for that she should be praised, not condemned. Ashley Madison brought her together with other men and women in similar circumstances (it helped her find support) and the solace she found via the site helped her to stay in her marriage—for this Ashley Madison should be praised, not condemned.
Nevertheless... and while I don't want to see this woman lose her job... the public discourse around infidelity will benefit once this woman and others like her (high-profile, legitimately outed hypocrites) start to share their stories publicly. In the same way that HIV/AIDS forced many closeted gay men to come out of the closet and fight for their lives in the 1980s (the illness outed many, fighting to save the sick radicalized and outed a great many more), the Ashley Madison hack is going to force outed adulterers to fight for their personal and professional lives. So what we're seeing now—the puritanical glee, the glib condemnations, the self-recrimination (how sad to see Josh Duggar double down on the religious hang-ups that got him into this mess)—will soon be followed by interviews, articles, and books that explore this issue in more depth. And the outed Ashley Madison users, with nothing left to lose, will speak for themselves—and not all of them are going to cave, a la Josh Duggar, and blame Satan or pornography or sex addiction. What seems so black and white now is going to seem a whole lot grayer once Ashley Madison clients stop hanging their heads in shame and start fighting back—e.g., telling their truths and defending themselves.
As I've said a million times: We hear about the infidelities that destroy marriages—the ones that lead to messy divorces—but we rarely hear about the infidelities that save marriages. Our skewed sample reinforces our ridiculously simplistic views on infidelity. The outing of 37,000,000 adulterers (and wannabe adulterers) all at once means we will soon be hearing different stories about different kinds of infidelities, i.e., the kinds of infidelities that saved marriages, the kinds of infidelities that were mutually agreed to within marriages, the kinds of infidelities where there was no easily identifiable victim or the victimization was mutual.
"My experiences have led me to soften my views of marriage as my own marriage is a deeply humbling, painful longterm commitment," the woman says in her letter to Greenwald.
This woman's more nuanced understanding of marriage, an understanding informed by her own painful experience, is not something she's written about publicly. I have no desire to read what this woman used to write about marriage and family—we're all familiar with the arguments made by the losing side during the fight for marriage equality—but I'm very much looking forward to reading what this woman has to say about marriage and family in the future.
The smug moralizers won't listen to me. Maybe they'll listen to her.