So this isn’t a very cheerful post for Valentines Day (for that, see here and here), but it’s important, and it’s been on my mind. See, my sweeties and I are headed to a big kink conference this weekend. I expect it will be a lot of fun. It’s pretty much the perfect way to spend Valentine’s Day, as far as I’m concerned. But I am also painfully aware that there are people I care about who no longer feel safe going to such events. And that’s a huge problem. And yet it is often an invisible one. Regardless of the context, people tend not to keep track of those who leave their communities. People leave, and they just…disappear. Maybe you look around and everything seems okay with the people you meet. But what about the people who are no longer the room? Why did they leave? What can we learn from them?
It’s not always easy to answer, because when people leave a community, they tend not to talk about it. For starters, they may not want to or feel able to tell their friend in the community, because of fear of–or actual experiences of–being silenced or shamed or told “it just isn’t a big deal.” And they may not feel able to talk to people outside the community, especially if revealing their former membership could have negative social consequences–as is often true for kinksters. So maybe you have things that you want others to hear, but don’t know how to talk about it. And we so need to talk about it. There’s a battle going on in kink communities around consent (as I’ve written about a bunch). Yet some of the voices who have the most to contribute aren’t present.
Blogger and activist Motley Mayhem is out to change that, and I want to signal boost her work. She’s started a project to collect and aggregate stories from people who have left BDSM or kink communities, and their reasons for doing so. You can go fill out the survey form here. There is a FAQ post about it, and a follow-up here.
More thoughts on the survey, on scenes and communities, and my own experiences, below the fold.
The first time I saw one of the couples I live with sit in our shared living room and have a fight, I was shocked. Why didn’t they take it to their bedroom, to their private space? Why did they feel that it was okay to hash out the details of their relationship disagreements in public? It was so awkward.
In our culture, we tend to push conflict out of the way. We don’t want to see it. We don’t like conflict in our workplace, or in our home, and most especially in our intimate relationships.
But over time its grown on me, as I’ve realized there is value to conflict in plain sight. I’ve realized that living in a community with a “pro-conflict stance” (as a friend recently put it) can actually be healthier, even happier.
Hey, it’s been a while since I last wrote about consent+kink on this blog! I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about it though, and here’s where I’ve come out. This post follows the four others linked to above, but also stands quite well on its own.
Go to any BDSM conference or event, and you’ll find lots of workshops on concrete, observable, and often flashy technical skills. Like how to do particular rope bondage techniques, how to use electrical devices in play, how to use a cane, how to do fire play, etc. You’ll probably also workshops on more mental things like planning a ‘scene,’ issues in age-play, on humiliation, etc. These are the sort of things that are accorded social status in kink circles.
But you know what you won’t find much of? How to own your own mistakes. How to mess up, take responsibility, and restore trust. How to better avoid violating consent, and what to do if or when it happens. How to hold each other accountable for our actions. These are the tools we aren’t teaching. And yet, in a community where one-third of all participants have experienced a consent violation, these are the tools we need most badly.
After a lot of writing and thinking and many hours of conversations over the summer,* I’ve come the the conclusion that fighting rape culture in BDSM communities requires changing how we communicate about mistakes. Yes, better discussions around errors won’t end abuse. But they are essential to removing the Social License to Operate that predators too often enjoy. Because when we normalize responsible practices and lower the cost of vulnerability, we then expose the behavior of abusers as aberrant, so they can no longer hide. And that’s how things start to change.
How many bisexuals do you know? You know what? I bet you know more than you think! (Yes, even if you are yourself.) See, research shows that bisexuals make up a larger percentage of the total LGBT population than gays or lesbians! In June 2013, The Pew Research Center reported that bisexuals make up 40% of the total LGBT population, though they also found that many more women identified as bisexual than men–see graph at right. And in 2010, a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, found that among all American adults, 3.1% self-identified as bisexual, compared to 2.5% as gay/lesbian. Yet bisexuals are surprisingly closeted! While over 70% of gay men and lesbians said they are out to most or all the important people in their life, only 28% of bisexuals are!
The invisibility of bisexuality has lots of negative impacts on the health and welfare of bisexual people. The San Francisco Human Rights Commission published one of the better studies on the subject in 2011, which found, among other things, that bisexual people experience greater likelihood of depression, poor health, and risky drinking than the broader population. These impacts are a result in part, of the pain of being not accepted. And that’s a pain I know well.
So why are bisexuals not visible? A lot of it has to do with biphobia, which drives people into the closet. Lucy took down a lot of these problematic myths, so I won’t repeat them all here. But I want to focus in particular on the problems we run into in the “performance” model we apply to sexual orientation. People are expected to “perform’ their sexual orientation by dating someone of the orientation they’re attracted to. And bisexuals by this model are assumed to need “one of each.” But this isn’t true!
Discussions about consent often get really heavy. (I know I fall into that mode myself.) But do they have to be? How do you spread awareness of consent at a radical and playful event like Burning Man? And do we make a mistake when we keep the focus narrowly on sexual violence, without addressing all the ways, large and small, that our consent can be violated? This year at Transformus X, an new effort called the “11th Principle” set out to explore this, and in so doing not only did some really creative things, but also revealed tensions between consent culture and the principles of the Burn.
Transformus is one of the more popular regional Burning Man festivals, held every year near Asheville, NC. (Though at ~2,000 people, it’s still less than 5% of the size of the “Big Burn” in Nevada each August that is the official “Burning Man.”) In July, I went to Transformus with my house-family, including my sweetie Wonder and my dear friend Reyes. Reyes has already written on DDP about Transformus, and the post office we organized there, in her unique and captivating way. If you want a picture of how magical and transformative the event can be, go read her post. I’ll wait.
This post is less about my personal experience, and more about the efforts of the 11th principle to spread consent culture at the Burn, and the challenges they reveal. In the interest of full disclosure, I want to make clear I had no organizing role in the 11th principle effort. I was there an observer and a participant. This post draws on what I observed at Transformus, along with webpages, Facebook comment threads, talks with the friends I traveled with, and an interview with Lauren, one of the core organizers for the Transformus Consent Working Group, on August 18.
Make no mistake: Burning Man has a consent problem. Says Wonder on his experience at the Big Burn in 2011: “I went to the Burning Man with a friend who was very clear that she had basically been raped at Burning Man multiple times by men who locked her in an RV. This is the reality of the situation. People go to Burning Man and have their consent horribly violated…There’s less of that at Transformus in part because it’s so small, but it’s far from perfect.” In 2012 there were several rapes at Burning Man, including one of an underage girl, that garnered a fair bit of media attention. For an extremely well-researched, nuanced, and though-provoking discussion of what exactly happened in 2012, why, and how to make things better, I encourage you to read Clarise Thorn’s article on the Yes Means Yes Blog, “A Rape In Black Rock City.” In 2012, “after the rapes at Black Rock City, and people getting dosed [at Transformus], it was obvious that there was a massive need for getting consent culture into events like this.” And so the Transformus Consent Working Group was formed. But to capture people’s imagination, it needed a name.
Two weeks ago, I attended “Loud Love: Relationship Strategies to Change the World,” an ‘unconference’ on relationships in rural central Virginia. It was a really powerful and cool experience, and I want to share with you some of the tools I learned–including tools to increase knowledge of others and yourself, and to help sustain long-term relationships. I want to share these tools with you because I think they are really important and useful to everyone, in all manner of relationships–not just to the sort of people who go off to a weekend conference on polyamory organized by a bunch of hippies in the woods. I also want to share them with you because I really do think better interpersonal relationship skills can help change the world, and in the conclusion I’ll muse a little on how.
The first thing you need to realize is that we’re not only talking about romantic relationships. Yes, many-to-most of the attendees (including myself) are practicing or interested in polyamory (having more than one sexual & loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge, consent, and good will of all involved). However, one thing I’ve come to realize as I’ve dived deeper into polyamory over the past few years is that we make a mistake when we reserve the word “relationship” for a romantic partnership.
After all, a relationship is simply a relation between two things. You have relationships with your friends, your family members, your colleagues. You also have relationships with your job, your house, your environment. To go a little more meta, you even have a relationship with other people’s relationships with one another! (For example, if you have two friends who you think are both swell people but are terrible as a couple, then you have a good relationship with both of them but a bad relationship with their relationship.) All of these relationships need attention. I think Dean Spade put it really well:
One of my goals in thinking about redefining the way we view relationships is to try to treat the people I date more like I treat my friends—try to be respectful and thoughtful and have boundaries and reasonable expectations—and to try to treat my friends more like my dates—to give them special attention, honor my commitments to them, be consistent, and invest deeply in our futures together.
This is the fourth post in a series on abuse in BDSM communities. While topically linked, each post does stand on its own. Please refer to our glossary for definitions of a number of key BDSM terms.
As I have been writing about, kink communities have a lot of problems with abuse, and a culture that has mirrored, rather than rejected, mainstream rape culture. So what can we do? Making kink communities safer starts, in part, with making our spaces safer. Over the years of attending and hosting parties, and talking with other consent activists and friends, I’ve developed a number of theories about how to make play parties better and safer. So last week, I decided to put all those ideas into practice in a very intentional way when my group house threw a play party. In this post, I’m going to talk about what we did, why we did it, how it turned out, and what we want to do differently next time.
I think there are lessons from this post are applicable to people who aren’t kinksters, too! Lots of spaces have problem with boundary violations. Dance scenes, for example. And while many details differ, I think some of techniques may be applicable (such as posting rules on the wall, and clearly designating support people).
Content Note : This series discuses rape and rape culture in kink communities. This is the third post in a series on abuse in BDSM communities. While topically linked, each post does stand on its own. Perhaps especially this one. Please refer to our glossary for definitions of a number of key BDSM terms.
This post is all about FetLife.com, aka Facebook for kinky people, and how and why it stands against efforts to address safety and abuse in BDSM communities. The story of FetLife’s lack of respect of consent, privacy, and personal autonomy is an important one for all kinky people to know. But it also represents a fascinating case study for anyone interested in privacy, transparency, and rape culture on the Internet. However, while there are many articles talking about various parts of this problem, these discussions have been scattered and often assume a lot of prior knowledge. Moreover, the common threads of FetLife’s various problematic policies haven’t always been explicit. So in this post I’ve tried to weave these disperate threads together into one (obsessively hyperlinked) article. I will also level some new accusations at FetLife that, as far as I know, have not been voiced before.
Happy Earth Day!
Which is the day we all pat ourselves on the back for doing our little bit to increase sustainability and protect the planet, right? Only the planet ain’t doing so well.
Here’s a sobering thought: If you were born after March 1985, you have never experienced a colder-than-average month. Climate change isn’t “coming.” It’s here. And weather instability is the name of the game. It’s the new normal. Human civilization was fortunate to emerge during a period of unusual stability in the earth’s climate–global mean temperatures are estimated not to have moved more than one degree Celsius in either direction in he past 10,000 years. (Click for nifty infographic!) But that equilibrium has been ruptured, and even if greenhouse gas emissions stopped now, it could be hundreds if not thousands of years before the climate reaches a new stable state.
When the US Congress failed to pass a cap-and-trade bill to reduce carbon emissions in 2009, I commented to friends that it would take a hurricane hitting New York City to get this country to focus seriously on climate change. Well, that actually happened last fall.
And as people give up on effective action from the US government or the United Nations, people are increasingly talking about adaptation. When people talk about climate change, they speak of “adaptation” and “mitigation.” Mitigation is the actions we take to reduce our emissions so as to lessen the severity of climate change. Adaptation is the task of adapting social and natural systems to a changed climate the increasingly common and severe natural disasters that will result.
But let’s be real.
I have seen the devastation that nature can wreak first-hand, working on the front lines of relief and rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. And I’ve studied the topic extensively in graduate school and reported on it from the floor of the UNFCC conference in Copenhagen. But the ugly truth is that, absent serious and near-term reduction of emissions, “adaptation” is triage at best. It is fundamentally insufficient to protect the billions who are most vulnerable to climate impacts—impacts that will fall disproportionately on women. The idea that we could just adapt to a changing climate is a cruel joke. But with climate change upon us, adaptation is also needed. Lessening suffering is important, and it is important to bring a gender analysis to this area.