I went to my first fetish convention not long ago. A fetish convention is where vendors, teachers, and kinksters come together to share skills, buy and sell fetish gear, and discuss issues in our community. They are, generally speaking, not spaces where people come to actually do kink or have sex.

I would say that I had a positive experience at the convention overall, but it could have had greater inclusiveness and diversity of opinion. Here are some concrete steps that I think kink conventions could take to become safer and more welcoming.

1. Train instructors on how to include everyone in their workshops.

The instructors at the workshops I attended varied a lot in their awareness of gender and sexuality issues. There were some instructors who always referred to genders as “male, female, or other,” and others who assumed the gender and pronouns of their students without asking first. There were some instructors who used examples of all kinds of gender combinations when they talked about kink scenes, and others who used only examples of heterosexual couples, and yet others who only referred to scenes with male tops.

This kind of awareness isn’t just about language, but also about who the instructors chose as their demo bottoms – the people on whom they performed the skills they were trying to teach. All of the workshops I attended that were led by male tops had demo bottoms who were cisgender, conventionally attractive white women.

To have a more inclusive kink convention, organizers should have a training for all instructors about how to talk about gender and sexuality, how to respect the genders and sexualities of workshop participants, and considerations for choosing a demo bottom.

2. Reach out to marginalized communities for organizers, vendors, and instructors.

You’ll never get diversity in any institution if you just sit back and wait for marginalized people to appear. The whole point is that there are barriers to inclusion that make it hard for them to join. It’s the responsibility of people in power to break down those barriers by reaching out.

There were definitely workshops geared specifically toward discussing issues like queer and trans* participation in kink communities, and those were headed up by people with those identities. But when I went to workshops about flogging or caning or anything not specifically about these issues, all of the instructors were heterosexual and cisgender – not to mention white. (And make no mistake; racism is a serious problem in the kink community.)

It’s not enough to recruit marginalized people to educate the powerful about their own issues. You have to recruit them to be a part of everything. That’s the only way to truly integrate a variety of perspectives.

3. Hold instructors accountable.

My most negative experience from the convention was when I was at a rope class practicing a tie, and one of the instructors stepped in and started redoing my knots without asking me or my demo bottom for permission. I was appalled, and I wanted to report his behavior, but he didn’t have a prominently featured name badge, so I had no idea how to identify him in my complaint.

Any instructor at a kink workshop should have a prominently placed name badge and state their name when they come and interact with you. There should be suggestions & complaints boxes everywhere with slips for general suggestions and for complaints about bad behavior, where you can write down the name of the offender. There should be clearly designated people whose job it is to help you in general and to handle complaints of bad behavior in specific. These people should be trained in how to handle cases of assault.

The more potentially dangerous an activity becomes, the more important it is to put safeguards in place, especially in the context of rape culture. I am a woman, my demo bottom was genderqueer, and the person who violated our boundaries was a man. Considerations of how to handle misconduct at kink events must take these dynamics into account.

4. Host critical dialogue.

I went to a couple of panels specifically aimed at female dominants, who are substantially more rare, or at the least less visible, than male dominants. But these panels turned out to be more like “how-to” guides for how women can navigate the kink scene and play as dominants. What I really wanted was a panel that discussed
issues like why most kinky photography features male dominants and female submissives, how women new to the kink scene get steered toward and groomed for a submissive role. In short, I wanted to discuss structural inequality in the kink community.

I think there’s a lot of resistance to this kind of critical dialogue in the scene because we get such bad press in the mainstream. Most people think of us as twisted, sick, emotionally damaged, and predatory. We want to have a space where we can celebrate everything that is good and beautiful about us. But celebration without
self-examination is nothing but empty chest-beating. Kink conventions should be a space where we can have critical conversations about our community.