Kink in exile

Notes from a kinky nomad

baby with the bath water

Ok, so my body seems to be not so much with the working well right now, nothing antibiotics can’t fix, but I’m down for the count at the moment.  I wanted to get a couple of thoughts out of my head, but if what follows is an incoherent rant, well, I apologize in advance.

First off, I am supper excited to be going to KinkForAll Denver in a couple of weeks.  I’ve been following the email list and various unorganizing efforts in part to get excited and inspired for the event, and in part because I am toying with the idea of bringing it to San Francisco later in the year.  (If that caught your attention please email me.) For those unfamiliar with the event, KinkForAll is “a serendipitous, ad-hoc unconference about the intersection of sexuality with the rest of life.” Maymay and Sara Eileen organized the first KFA in New York in 2009, I believe, and it has happened in several other cities around the US since.  It’s an awesome event with an interesting branding problem: it is very hard, it turns out, to be an event with the word “kink” in your title, and not be about BDSM.  I say this because I have been confused by this since 2009 despite maymay’s frequent and patient explanations, and from the chatter on the email list and the questions I get when I talk about KFA, I know I’m not alone.

The KFA wiki has this to say: “Kink” is an idea, not an activity, and ideas are free.” Following up with, “KinkForAll aims to inspire discussions relating to all sexualities as well as the intersections of sexuality and every other part of life; there are no bad topics, and no taboo conversations.”

Ok, great, so free (both as in speech and as in beer), open to any topic of discussion, and related to sexuality.  Except chatter on the mailing list has recently turned to the merit of BDSM related presentations at KFA, and it seems there are indeed bad topics.  Traditional BDSM topics aren’t being denounced as taboo, per se, but rather they are being called out as too readily available, too frequently represented, and not fitting well into the 20 minute presentation slot system of KFA.

Ok, I’ll buy that.  The world doesn’t need yet another flogging class.  Really, when we have the opportunity to come together as sex educators, activists, writers, and rabble rousers I don’t want to hear about how to flog someone.  the closest topic I’d be excited about is how the BDSM sex toy industry normalizes the landscape of taboo activity (because in a capitalistic country you know you’ve got power when the powers that be market at you).  Far more exciting would be learning how Black Cross Medics mobilize medical response with limited resources, how they address issues related to transgendered patients and what we can teach EMTs and ER staff about gender and sexual identity for triage.

But what I want to see isn’t the point.  No bad topics means just that.  There are topics I may not what to see.  There are topics I may be unable to see for various reasons, but just like I believe free speech isn’t about your right to talk it’s about the village idiot’s right to talk I believe that “no taboo conversations” means just that.  I’m seeing people on the mailing list arguing over the ubiquitous nature of the BDSM scene and whether BDSM centered presentations are within the realm of KinkForAll.  I don’t understand how they wouldn’t be.  The answer to bad speech is more speech, not censorship.  Always.  Not because bad speech doesn’t hurt me – it often does – but because the alternatives are terrifying.

Banning a certain type of workshop feels like throwing out the baby with the bath water, but there is an underlying point that’s more important.  Why are so many of our conversations dominated by traditional BDSM presentations?  How many people are still waiting to see their first “flogging 101” workshop, really?  And as that number approaches zero, why not use that time slot instead to talk about what we as a community are missing, what we want to see, and what the best modalities for presenting that might be?  More edgy perhaps, but since there are no taboo conversations, lets break open what it means to say “this is already well represented and we don’t want it here.” And I mean really break it open, without screaming reverse discrimination, without letting the pain caused by the status quo cloud our ability to respect our communities and the diversity of our backgrounds and our tactics.  What does it mean to live in a world where we are over saturated by “flogging 101.” Who is benefited by those classes?  Who is marginalized?

And if someone still wants to teach “flogging 101” at KinkForAll?  I don’t see why they shouldn’t be allowed.

Written by kinkinexile

February 5, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Posted in blogging, community

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11 Responses

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  1. Elaan and I were talking about this very topic earlier, not specifically in relation to KFADEN (although that’s what spurred it), but in relation to facilitation of communication in general. Very quick off-the-cuff response based on that conversation, and then sleep for me. 🙂

    We live in a hierarchical culture in which we are all very used to being told what to do rather than given information. We’re SO used to it that, sometimes, when we’re given information we just assume that we’re being told what to do. And then, if we don’t like the information we’ve been given, we might respond, “DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” (“How dare you tell me what to do?” “Who do you think you are, telling me what to do?” “Hey, you said I could do whatever I wanted here!” “You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not my real Dad!”)

    So, I think it’s important, when our gut response to something that feels uncomfortable is, “Hey! Don’t boss me around!” to stop and think about whether what they actually said was an edict: “You’re not allowed to do this,” or if what they said was information: “I’d prefer not to see this because I think it’s fucking boring.”

    As far as I’ve seen, nobody’s banning anything. But here’s the *information* I think is getting missed on the list – and in these kinds of conversations in general: Despite our best intentions, spaces labeled “Kink [Anything]” will be assumed to be BDSM-centric spaces. That means that people who want to talk about BDSM (especially people who are heavily involved in the scene and conversant with the lingo, social dynamics, community politics, etc) will automatically have more cultural capital in those spaces; their voices will be louder, their topics will be taken more seriously, their opinions will be given more weight.

    This means that, unless people with BDSM-Cultural Capital actively check the level of their own voices, it will be hard to hear other people whose voices are not so contextually-amplified.

    I have to admit that, when I say to someone, “Hey, I believe that what you’re saying is important, but you’re talking very loudly and it’s drowning out this other person who’s also saying important things that I’d like to hear,” I’d find it pretty petulant if their response was, “Don’t tell me what to do! I’m allowed to have an opinion! Freedom of speech! Freedom of speech!” Y’know?

    So, there are no bad topics. But there are certainly ways of talking about/presenting topics that take up a disproportionate amount of space, that draw significantly more participants than others. This isn’t “against the rules” per se but it’s inconsiderate. If you want to talk about BDSM in a space labeled “Kink”, your topic comes with an automatic Cultural Capital Handicap; one you didn’t earn by being especially interesting, one that’s simply an artifact of peoples misapprehension of the word “Kink”. And you thus have an advantage in drawing people away from other sessions, not because your session on Flogging 101 is necessarily more interesting or valuable than someone else’s on Google Calendar 101, but simply because yours is more sexualized and has more to do with BDSM.

    Even Isaac’s topic (“Sensual Dominance: Exploring the Prejudice in Education”), for example, which sounds great, has gotten WAY more play on the list partially because it’s about BDSM. If someone was going to talk about misogyny in trans narratives, or gendered scripts that damage folks in the swing community, or who does or doesn’t have privilege at CSPC parties, there probably wouldn’t have been nearly the flurry of discussion about it. This is because there are a number people on the list who take these issues in the BDSM scene extremely seriously, and who have enough cultural capital in that space to get other people to take it seriously too*.

    And this doesn’t mean those conversations shouldn’t happen. Some of them are REALLY important. I think the conversation happening on the list *is* really valuable. It’s just worth having them *consciously*, with an awareness of context. And it’s worth making other people conscious of context when they’re not – even though that might require pulling the rug out from under them. Because some of them are going to flail around defensively and shout, “Shut up! You’re not my Mom!” And others will say, “Oh, right. Sorry. I didn’t notice how loud my voice had gotten. Thanks!” And that gives me some *information* about whose sessions I want to participate in, because it gives me a sense of how likely it is that there will be space for me to actually *participate*. 😉

    * Obviously, this is especially true for maymay, because he has both huge BDSM-cultural capital *and* huge KinkForAll-cultural capital. I mean, basically, whatever maymay decides to talk about is what the list is gonna talk about – and I think that’s something he’s conscious of and making conscious decisions around. Like I said the other day, it’s important to me that KFADEN isn’t all about me and my agenda, but that’s tricky because, in a certain way, the whole reason KFADEN *exists* is all about me and my agenda. And I suspect something similar is true for maymay re: KinkForAll as a whole. That is to say, if people WEREN’T arguing about whether “Kink” = “BDSM” or what role BDSM-centrism ought to play in public sexual-discussion spaces, or society at large, there would be no reason for KinkForAll to exist anymore; it would have served its purpose and become obsolete. Which is why I totally want these conversations to happen – both on the list and at KFADEN. And why I also don’t want them to consume the whole damn listserv or event. 😉

    TL;DR: We’re sort of working on two fronts here: One is saying, “We really need to talk deeply about the parts of BDSM/sexysexy culture that are problematic” and the other is saying, “We really need to quit talking obsessively about the parts of BDSM/sexysexy culture that are boring.” That’s a hard balance to strike – especially balancing it with a third thing: “We need to make this only ONE of MANY conversations happening in this space,” – and it’s gonna be done clumsily at times and it’s gonna make a lot of people mad even when it’s done elegantly. That’s good. Discomfort is a really fertile place for growth.

    This was SO not quick, sorry. It might even be longer than your original post. And I think it went off on a complete tangent. But I’ve been kinda processing this stuff in my head all weekend, so thanks for letting me ramble here. 🙂

    P.S. I’m one of those non-zero people who has never been to a Flogging 101 class. 😉 And it’s something I do hope to learn something about one of these days – but I still wouldn’t be interested in it at something like KinkForAll or any other conference; especially not if I could be talking about gender politics or human centered design or learning new collaborative scheduling tricks instead. 😀


    February 7, 2012 at 5:42 am

  2. > If someone still wants to teach “flogging 101″ at KinkForAll? I don’t see why they
    > shouldn’t be allowed.

    Here’s what the short off-the-cuff response should’ve said: If someone wants to teach Flogging 101 at KinkForAll, it should absolutely be allowed – and is. (As long as they’re not flogging someone else – since no sex or play is allowed at KinkForAll.)

    I’d just ideally hope that there would be so many other interesting things going on and so many people who are interested in other things there, that nobody would show up and that then the presenter would be relieved because there was another discussion at that time they’d wanted to participate in way more than they wanted to teach Flogging 101. 😉

    And I think that it’s *totally* okay to encourage such a space by talking about what we personally hope for. And that this is not the same thing as “making rules”.


    February 7, 2012 at 6:00 am

  3. Amen to pretty much everything you both say here. I think we’re solving the wrong problem if we try to strike the right *balance* among different kinds of topics. It seems more productive to have conversations about (1) how can I make my talk welcoming and accessible to people who are very unlike myself? and (2) KFA is novel; maybe that novelty creates space for talks that I haven’t even imagined, but that it turns out I’d be really passionate about?

    I’d also urge everyone to remember that, for some of us, just volunteering to talk about some emotionally charged topic can feel awfully raw and tender. So let’s maybe be more gentle with each other than “that’s fucking boring”?

    Ben K

    February 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm

  4. First of all: Ben. Yes. To everything you said. Especially about gentleness around peoples’ rawness. I appreciate that reminder – and the embedded reminder that it’s okay for me to need gentleness around my own rawness, too. Thank you. 🙂

    Second: This is fairly unrelated to Alisa’s original post, but I’m posting it here because it’s been suggested on the list that this might be a good place to move these conversations. Hopefully that’s okay with you, Alisa? If not, apologies for filling up your comment thread with my speculative ramblings.

    So, I just put two-and-two together about why some of the conversations I’ve had over the past few days about this subject have left me so frustrated. I keep talking to people who seem like they should Get It – and, instead, they seem hurt and angry and confused about why myself or people who I support are “attacking” them.

    I’ve had this gut sense that it has something to do with a misframing of the conversation, but I couldn’t explain what exactly. It just clicked:

    The conversation worth having about privilege and the BDSM scene is not only about calling PEOPLE in the scene out for having OTHER privileges wrt e.g. race, class, etc. I mean, talking about those vectors of oppression and how they intersect with Scene-privilege is important too. But making it all about whether the scene is statistically dominated by rich white cis straight people or not, and what that means, is too simple. That rapidly turns it into an argument about Good Scenesters vs. Bad Scenesters, or Good Local Scenes vs Bad Local Scenes. It opens the door for Oppression Olympics A Go Go, and also gives people the “No, but I’m Special!” out, leaving them distractedly obsessing over how to prove their specialness – instead of noticing that the Scene is sneaking up behind them with a hammer.

    So, another *necessary* part of the conversation about privilege and the BDSM scene is about calling The Scene *itself* out for *being an institution*. I’ve been sort of starting to get this for a while – thanks in part to some of maymay’s writings giving voice to some “Danger! Danger!” gut instincts that I’ve been suppressing for a long time – but I hadn’t been able to state it quite that succinctly until now – although now it seems so “Holyshit, duh” obvious when I say it: The Scene isn’t “bad” simply because it reinscribes institutional oppressions from elsewhere. It does do that. But it also inscribes its own unique oppressions, because the Scene is an institution.

    One which, like any other institution, constrains and oppresses its participants in exchange for goodies that they supposedly can’t get elsewhere. One which, like any other institution, requires class consciousness and mass solidarity to change. And one that, as with all institutions, most participants are both complicit in sustaining (in ways they need more awareness around) *and* legitimately trapped in against their will (in ways they need support around).

    People who I’m used to being otherwise totally on the ball re: dynamics of oppression can’t seem get their heads around the idea that Scene-privilege is a thing, much less a thing that’s hurting them and other people, because they *don’t think of the Scene as an institution*. This makes sense. Sometimes, when it feels like one institution (e.g. the BDSM Scene) is protecting you from a bigger, meaner institution (e.g. BDSM-phobic sex-negative kyriarchical culture), it’s easy to slip into believing that your sub-culture is more-or-less benign. But it’s not. *Because it’s an institution*. And they’re all in cahootz with each other. All of them.

    Maybe I’m being polyanna, but there are so many people who are already acting powerfully toward social justice in other areas, who I feel would get the whole thing if they just…y’know, got *this*.

    But how do we shift the conversation?

    * And when I say “they” need more support and awareness…I really should be saying “we”. Because, as much as I hate admitting that I’m part of any Scenes, because of my own personal trauma and privileged bullshit both – the fact is that, insofar as Scenes are institutions, they touch my life and that means I’m part of them. And responsible for them. And being hurt by them. And benefiting from them. Whether I like it or not.

    (Someone once asked me in the wake of some Occupy actions whether I’m an anarchist. After a long, wandering, cagey conversation about how “anarchy” means different things to different people in different contexts, and the difference between having an anarchic philosophy vs an anarchist identity, etc. etc. etc. I finally said, “Okay. Yes. Yes, I’m an anarchist.”

    Then they asked me what anarchism means to ME. And, after some thought, I realized, “To me, it means: Hate all the systems; love all the people.” And it means understanding the ways in which those are the same thing. But that, for me, loving all the people is primary. I want to hate all the systems in ways that are loving toward the people who comprise them. That’s not an answer to my question about how we change the conversation, at all. But it’s a starting point for me to strategize from…)


    February 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    • I really like what you said, thirdxlucky, about how we are all simultaneously constrained by, and complicit in, institutions of power. But in terms of analyzing why this conversation right now is so painful, I think it might also be useful to keep in mind that there’s a long tradition, within feminist and LBGT activism, of allowing BDSMers to contribute volunteer work, but only on the condition that they keep quiet about their interest in BDSM. And so any inadvertent suggestion that you’re doing something similar here might be leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths.

      Ben K

      February 8, 2012 at 4:24 pm

      • Hey Ben. 🙂

        > there’s a long tradition, within feminist and LBGT activism, of allowing BDSMers
        > to contribute volunteer work, but only on the condition that they keep quiet about > their interest in BDSM.

        I just saw this and I wanted to acknowledge it. It’s not something I’ve been highly conscious of throughout this conversation – and that lack of awareness is an artifact of my privilege in a certain way that I’m not really sure how to talk about just yet. The way that I’m oriented toward the BDSM scene feels really complicated to me right now. ( I appreciate you pointing out that I haven’t been paying attention to that thread.

        I also appreciate you sharing that the conversation feels painful to you. Thank you. It feels painful to me, too, despite my attempts at academic analysis. I’m really glad that we got to hang out and talk last night. Obviously, I’m struggling with a lot of this stuff pretty hard right now. I think, more than any considered political discussion, what I’ve been needing more than anything was just someone to hold me while I cried. Thank you for that.


        February 10, 2012 at 7:47 am

  5. […] posting this on my own blog, too. It’s a comment from this thread on Alisa‘s blog – which is, itself, a response to this thread on the KinkForAll Denver […]

  6. […]  I had been following the organizational efforts via the email list and so I knew that there was a bit of political chatter, but politics rarely bother me.  When it comes to speaking about sexuality, activism, or frankly […]

  7. […] many ways, KinkForAll (“KFA”) faces illegibility problems: Maymay and Sara Eileen organized the first KFA in New York in 2009, I believe, and it has happened […]

  8. […] many ways, KinkForAll (“KFA”) faces illegibility problems: Maymay and Sara Eileen organized the first KFA in New York in 2009, I believe, and it has happened […]

  9. […] many ways, KinkForAll (“KFA”) faces illegibility problems: Maymay and Sara Eileen organized the first KFA in New York in 2009, I believe, and it has happened […]

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