Posts Tagged ‘pro-sex outreach’

2009 9 Mar

Various thoughts post-KinkForAll

KinkForAll was great. There were a variety of amazing presenters and discussions, and I wish I could do them all justice. I loved the conference model — highly flexible and very easily implemented — and I hope to see many more conferences along the same lines.

I gave two talks — one on strategies for BDSM outreach, and one on the Leather Archives and Museum. (Support the LA&M, everyone! They’re having a membership drive starting this month! You can also check out my entries about stuff I’ve found at the LA&M by clicking here.) I hope to distill the outreach talk into a blog post one of these days; I’ll tag it KFANYC when I do. [edit] Done — the post is here! [end of edit]

There was a KinkForAll liveblog done over Twitter. If you’re like me and aren’t much for the Twitter format, there’s also an aggregate of KinkForAll blog posts over on Technorati.

I wrote down a lot of thoughts, and I think KinkForAll will influence my blog for some time to come. Here’s some quick ones:

+ There were some discussions about coming out BDSM — and dragging people out of the closet, that is, telling the world about someone else’s BDSM life even if they’re trying to keep it a secret. I’ve written on this before, but I’ve never talked about how I feel about outing other people. Often, people will say that closeted people who work against alternative sexuality causes — for instance, secretly gay politicians who work against gay marriage — should be dragged out of the closet. By working against their own community, they sacrifice the protection of that community. I can understand that, but what bothered me about the discussion at KinkForAll was that I felt there was an uncomfortable emphasis on outing the family members of anti-sex-positive politicians. For instance, one person stated that if she knew for sure that Donald Rumsfeld’s son was gay, she’d have no problem telling the world.

If Donald Rumsfeld’s son is gay, then granted — he’s related to an antigay politician — but what if he’s not doing antigay work himself? Just because he’s related to a sex-negative politician doesn’t mean that he sacrifices his own right to privacy and understanding. In fact, his relationship to a sex-negative politician probably means that he stands to lose an awful lot if he is outed. He could, for example, be entirely disowned. I don’t think it’s remotely okay for us to drag some poor kid out of the closet — to force him to risk his relationship with his father — just because we disagree with the father. I do think it’s okay for us to talk to the kid in private: “Hey Donald-Rumsfeld’s-son, when are you gonna come out to your dad?” But if we force the issue, then we may not only cause serious problems for someone who doesn’t deserve them … we may alienate that person as well. Why should Donald Rumsfeld’s son help our cause in the future if we create serious personal problems for him now?

+ A presenter talked about the biggest pitfalls of play piercing. One of the biggest risks is probably double-sticks — that is, if you pierce someone and then accidentally stick yourself with the needle. Be careful, folks! The presenter also noted that rubbing alcohol is not a great disinfectant, and recommended a product called Technicare. Plus, everyone keep in mind that if iodine is used as a disinfectant, it requires three minutes to work.

For anyone interested in play piercing, I strongly recommend the book Play Piercing by Deborah Addington (Amazon page).

+ Tilda gave a gorgeous BDSM and culture slideshow. Her kink+culture blog is here. People who want to track BDSM in popular culture should definitely also check in on Peter Tupper’s incredible blog Beauty in Darkness: the History of BDSM.

+ A discussion on youth organizing basically emphasized how important it is that young people get involved in sex-positive activism. Go for it, folks! Actually I should probably say, “Go for it, everyone including me,” since I myself am only 24 … the founder of Polyamorous NYC talked about how he started it when he was only 26. Never underestimate yourself because of your age, my friends.

I’ve been thinking about this question since Trinity posted about it a while back. Those of us whose sexuality is very focused on BDSM will usually practice it if we can, and if we can’t find a safe space to learn how to do that, then we’ll simply do it without enough information … or become vulnerable to predators who offer that information unsafely. Unfortunately, the legal situation in Chicago makes it hard for the clubs to make themselves accessible to people under 21, but there is at least TNGC to provide an environment for 18+-year-olds to learn.

I was hoping that there would be more discussion on how to get BDSM information to people under 18, but there wasn’t really. We’re risking too much legal crap if we attempt to instruct those under the age of consent. I don’t really know how to get around this problem, except for posting as much how-to information to the Internet as possible — I’m really glad KinkForAll posted so much information to the Internet for that reason. And referring younger people to existing awesome kink-positive, pleasure-positive sex education sites like Scarleteen.

+ Maymay gave a talk on gender and technology making the fantastic point that we really need to be communicating with web designers, because they are encoding so much of how we think about gender and sexuality. As a simple example, the people who create social networking sites are influencing our ideas about sex and gender because they are making the drop-down menus we use to express that: for instance, compare your average social networking site — where you can pick “Straight”, “Gay” or if you’re lucky “Bisexual” — to FetLife, which offers many more options — “Straight”, “Heteroflexible”, “Bisexual”, “Gay”, “Lesbian”, “Queer”, “Pansexual”, and “Fluctuating/Evolving”. You can find the slides and links from Maymay’s presentation here.

+ Audacia Ray gave an awesome talk on “How To Be a Public Sex Intellectual Without Getting Hurt”. I think my favorite point that she made was her first: “This might be a really bad idea for you, and you need to consider that before you take the plunge.” Going public is not an act that you can take back and you must, must be sure that it’s what you want — it will affect your entire life. I hope that she recreates that talk as a blog post that I can link to, because I couldn’t possibly sum it up here, and it was awesome. In the meantime, check out her post on when and why to turn down media appearances.

+ Someone who spoke about gender told the story of a transperson he knows who identifies more strongly as BDSM than trans. That person apparently said that if ze had to choose between transitioning genders and being in the BDSM community, ze would rather be in the BDSM community. BDSM is a stronger aspect of hir sexual identity than trans! What an amazing anecdote.

+ Lastly, Boymeat presented on Old Guard leather culture. There was a lot of vilifying of the Old Guard and much of it struck me as, frankly, unfair. Yes, the Old Guard was more closed off to the public … but BDSM was far more stigmatized. The reason our current BDSM communities can afford to be so open is that the stigma against BDSM has been drastically reduced. Boymeat also talked about how rigidly etiquette-driven the Old Guard was as compared to today’s BDSM scene, and while this is true, I think it’s worth considering where that etiquette came from and how it functioned.

The etiquette that surrounded the Old Guard was in place because it helped those people communicate the scene standards. Yes, some of that etiquette was clearly intended to create an “in-group” … for instance, there were rigid ideas of what was acceptable clothing (sweaters were not okay!), and that’s easy to dislike. But having specific maxims and rules helped encode some really important things — as a very basic example, it’s not a bad thing for people to be emphasizing the maxim “discipline, honor, brotherhood, and respect”. Also, let’s keep in mind that the society surrounding Old Guard leather culture emphasized etiquette far more than ours does today: Old Guard leather culture took ideas that were current in America back then and used them to create a safe BDSM scene. Our BDSM scene talks less about etiquette because we young Americans talk less about etiquette.

I’m not saying that those maxims and rules were better than the BDSM scene we have today; I think the BDSM scene we have today is just fine. But let’s not criticize Old Guard ideas so much that we lose track of what was great and important about them.

I think I’ll end this post with two quotations about Old Guard leather culture that I use in my BDSM overview lecture:

It is more useful to understand than to criticize. And perhaps most importantly, what the Old Guard did for the development and expansion of kinky life and butch gay male sexuality can best be appreciated against the backdrop of what had existed earlier — not much of anything!
~ Guy Baldwin, “The Old Guard”

From a larger perspective, it is clear that many of the differences between “Old Guard” and “New Guard” are the differences between life in the US in the 1950s and life in the 1990s. These differences are common to many groups, not just leather/SM.
~ Gayle Rubin, “Old Guard, New Guard”

2009 2 Feb

“There is no ‘should'” and the sex-positive “agenda”

What does it mean to be a “pro-S&M activist”? What’s my “agenda”? These are questions I’ve thought about a lot. But here’s the one that preoccupies me the most: What action can I take in the real world to help create a powerful, energetic pro-BDSM movement? I’m trying to think pragmatically and concretely. Sure, I love discussing highly theoretical questions like, “What are the roots of stigma against certain sexual identities?” But what I really want is to have a larger cultural impact, not just worry ineffectually at these mysteries like a dog worrying at a bone.

The first concrete step I took, towards the end of 2008, was creating a slide presentation that I called my “BDSM Overview”. The first slide shouts CONSENT IS KEY! in all-caps, and from there I dive into a whole bunch of stuff. I start with definitions — not just the words bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism, but noting that BDSM is classified as a “paraphilia” and that some people see it as our “sexual orientation”. I go into statistics — the few available ones, anyway. Then I’ve got a slide headed, “Why would anyone do this?”; a discussion of consent, what consent means, and BDSM communication tactics that assist us in figuring out consent (such as safewords, check-ins, journal-keeping, and checklists); and advice on how to tell consensual BDSM from abuse. A rundown of emotional-cultural role issues follows, like those experienced by many feminist kinksters or African-American bottoms; and that makes a good springboard for stereotypes, pop culture, and history. Lastly comes legal issues and BDSM-related scandals, like the infamous Operation Spanner and Jason Fortuny’s disgusting Craigslist “experiment”.

There, I thought when I finished it. If anything can destigmatize BDSM, this can … at which point I started seeking places to present it around Chicago. Which was way harder than just making the damn thing. Some places loved it, but others found it too edgy — like the head of one university’s wellness center, who said that authorizing my presentation would be “just impossible”.

And yet my conversation with her was a blessing in disguise: over our half-hour talk, she became visibly excited and scrawled a page full of notes. When we followed up by email, she started her message by writing: “Just this morning I was thinking about how our talk really opened up some new ways to think about old concepts. For example, I will never again think about consent as simply being yes or no. So thank you for that.” She apologized for being unable to allow me to lecture on BDSM …. But was there any way I could develop a new workshop? A vanilla workshop, on the topic of sexual communication? “Of course!” I cried without hesitation.

I could have worried about “compromising my message”, but that would have been ridiculous. Sure, I want to destigmatize BDSM. But it’s far more important to get people pondering the best ways to talk about sex, what it means to have awesome sex — what it means to have a fully consenting partner who enjoys that awesome sex with you.

* * *

A month or so after I started developing the BDSM Overview, I went to the movies with my favorite feminist friend Lisa Junkin. It was a documentary called “Passion and Power”, covering the history of vibrators and the female orgasm, and we walked out of the cinema feeling deep joy and contentment. “That was great,” I said. “We should have a regular sexuality film night.”

“You know, people besides us might come to see that,” said Lisa ….

From this humble moment was born my most successful project ever: the Sex+++ Documentary Film Series. Lisa is Education Coordinator at Chicago’s own Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, and she had me create a proposal for her boss. I started by writing out some guiding principles:

Q. “What is being sex-positive?”
A. “Defining sex on my own terms.”
A. “Understanding my own sexual needs.”
A. “Being in charge of my own sexual experiences.”

… and the whole thing exploded from there. The series was approved after a few emails and one meeting, and I researched documentaries about everything from bisexuality, to polyamory, to swinging, to trans people, to homosexuality — I even included heterosexuality … and BDSM! Before I knew it, we were standing outside the screening room on the first night of Sex+++: January 27, 2009. There were sixty people in there, eating pizza and eager to watch “Kinsey”, and I was deciding how to address them.

We’d advertised all over the city, with posters and universities and bloggers and e-newsletters; the audience members could have come from anywhere. I had to define “sex-positive”, but knew the audience would have a wide variance in exposure to integral concepts like third-wave feminism and non-abstinence sex education. What I came up with was this:

“It’s really hard, maybe impossible, to sum up the sex-positive movement in a sentence. But if I had to, I’d say it this way: Among consenting adults, there is no ’should’. The whole idea behind being sex-positive is that we don’t want people to be having — or not having — sex because they feel like they should.”

The audience applauded; I grinned like a pumpkin. That night, I went home nigh-drunk with joy. And it was just the beginning.

* * *

While running around promoting Sex+++, I attended a meetup for Chicago Bloggers organized by a political commentator named Arvan Reese. I kept quiet at first, unsure how the group would react to a sexual deviant in their midst — but eventually I had to bite the bullet and introduce myself. “I go by Clarisse Thorn,” I began, described why I’m a BDSM blogger, and distributed fliers for Sex+++.

Arvan got in touch a month or two later. “You inspired me,” he told me. “I’m going to start a sex-positive community blog. Will you help?” SexGenderBody.com developed swiftly and went live on May 1, 2009. When I asked about the site’s tagline over coffee, Arvan smiled. “I was hoping to use ‘There is no should,'” he said. “That is, if it’s okay with you?”

To this day I’ve only given my BDSM overview presentation a few times — fewer times than, say, my sexual communication workshop. Sex+++ is now in its second year; SexGenderBody has swept the Internet; both encourage kinksters to speak out — but when I look back on it, my effect as an activist seems remarkably unfocused on BDSM. Still, BDSM centers everything I’ve done.

If we’re thinking politically, we kinksters can’t just focus on kink. We’ve got to expand the agenda to cover all consensual sexuality. Lisa’s pretty much straight and vanilla, and so is Arvan, but they’re the best BDSM allies a girl could ask for. And then there are the amazing sex workers, swingers, polyfolk, queer kids and trans people who have supported these projects, become my friends, even occasionally attended some of Chicago’s kinky parties ….

So here is my agenda: Consent is everything. Here is my agenda: There is no “should”. My agenda is this: if someone wants to have sex with men, or sex with women, or sex outside marriage, or sex within marriage, or sex with multiple people, or crazy kinky sex, or sex for money, or sex on videotape, or no sex at all … that’s all totally fine, as long as everyone involved feels good about it. My agenda is to frame good sex as something everyone deserves, that everyone can be taught about and trained in, and — more importantly — to convince the rest of the world to see it that way too.

* * *

This piece was edited and expanded for the sake of clarity on August 3, 2010.

2009 19 Jan

Liberal, sex-positive sex education: what’s missing

It’s been a while since I posted something substantive; I’m so busy with my awesome upcoming sex-positive film series and discussion group (please attend!), it’s hard to find time! So, I’ll make up for that with a really long post.

I am fortunate. I was born in the eighties and I received a great sex-positive upbringing. The public school I attended taught students how to use condoms; middle school health education included a section on sexually transmitted diseases. My parents didn’t throw their sexuality in my face — but they were almost always matter-of-fact, understanding and accepting when they talked about sex. (I’ll never forget how, at age 12 or so, Mom sat me down and gave me a long speech about how it would be totally okay if I were gay.) I was raised Unitarian, and the Unitarian Sunday School teen program included a wonderful sex education curriculum called About Your Sexuality. (I understand that the sex-ed curriculum has been changed and updated, and is now called Our Whole Lives. I haven’t delved deeply into the Our Whole Lives program — maybe it addresses some of the issues I’m about to describe.)

So I think I’m in a good position to describe the problematic signals we face in liberal sexual education. Yes, I’ve experienced the overall sex-negative messages that drench America, and they’re terrible — but so much is already being said about those. I also received lots of sex-positive messages that are incomplete, or problematic, or don’t quite go the distance in helping us navigate sexuality — and I think the sex-positive movement must focus on fixing them.

I’m so grateful for my relatively liberal, relatively sex-positive upbringing. I think it did me a world of good. But here are my five biggest problems with the way I learned about sexuality:

1. I wish that I hadn’t gotten this message: “Sex is easy, light-hearted — and if it’s not, you’re doing it wrong.”

Do I believe sex can be easy? Sure. Do I think it can be light-hearted? Absolutely! But do I think it’s always those things? No, and I don’t think it “ought to” be.

I think we need to teach that sex can be incredibly difficult. It can be hard to communicate with your partner. It can be hard to learn and come to terms with your own sexual desires. It can be hard to understand or accept all your partner’s sexual desires. And just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean that you’re with the wrong partner — or that you’re missing some vital piece of information that everyone else has — or that you’re doing it wrong.

And as for light-hearted, well — sure, sex can be “happy rainbows joy joy!”, but it can also be serious … or dark. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

I recently talked to a friend, who also identifies as a BDSMer, about our stories of coming into BDSM. Both of us had sadomasochistic fantasies from a very early age (mine, for instance, started in grade school — seriously, I actually did tie up my Barbie dolls). I told my friend about how I’d always had these intense, dark, violent feelings — but when I made it to middle school, I remember a change. I had a series of vivid BDSM-ish dreams, and I freaked out. I closed it all away, I stopped thinking about it, I repressed it all as savagely as I could.

Before that, I had also started thinking about sex. I imagined sex at great length; I read about sex. I had long since filched my parents’ copy of The Joy of Sex and examined it, cover to cover — not to mention many other fine sexuality works, like Nancy Friday’s compilation of female sexual fantasies My Secret Garden. I was totally fascinated by sex. I talked about it so much that one of my friends specifically searched out a vibrator as a birthday present for me. I actually pressured my first major boyfriend into any number of sexual acts before he was ready, which I suppose is an interesting reversal of stereotype. As I started having sex, I found that I liked it okay, but knew a lot was missing — and couldn’t figure out what.

It took me years and years to connect sex to BDSM — to figure out that the biggest thing I was missing, was BDSM. Why? Because BDSM was horrible and wrong, and I’d shut it away; BDSM (I thought) couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the bright, shiny, happy horizon of sex! Coming into BDSM was a crisis for me partly because — although I knew other people practiced it, and had never thought much about that — my own need for those dark feelings totally shocked me. This wasn’t me. This wasn’t healthy sex. Sex was light-hearted, happy rainbows joy joy! … wasn’t it?

In contrast, my friend — who had an extremely sexually repressed upbringing — never had any trouble integrating BDSM into his sex life. Sex, for him, was already wrong and bad … so as he got in touch with his sexuality and began having sex, BDSM was involved from the start. After all, there was no reason for it not to be.

As glad as I am that my upbringing was not stereotypically sexually repressed, I have to say that I envy my friend his easy personal integration of BDSM.

2. I wish this point had been made, over and over: “You might consider being careful with sex.”

Edit: 1/20/09 — A really great comment from PAS led me to pull back and rethink a few of the things I said here. I edited this point a bit, to reflect that I’ve been trying to think through the biases he called me out on.

I recently read an excellent “New Yorker” article that reviews the new version of The Joy of Sex. It talks about the time when The Joy of Sex came out, as well as a similar contemporary feminist book, Our Bodies, Ourselves, and it points out that “both books espoused the (distinctly seventies) notion that sex could be a value-neutral experience, as natural as eating”.

“Value-neutral”: that’s a great way to describe the overall attitude about sex that I absorbed. As if sex were something I could do as an amusing diversion, with anyone, at any time, and it would always be fun fun fun! As if there was no need to be overly careful or sensitive — sex was just a game I could play, like a sport — where the worst that would happen if I screwed up might be a skinned knee.

I wish that there had been an emphasis on how emotions can really matter, when it comes to sex. I wish that there had been acknowledgment of the fact that we can really hurt ourselves, and others, when we’re cavalier about sex. (Not that we always do — but we can.) I wish I had understood sooner that sex is not always value-neutral; that everyone has all manner of different sexual needs and hangups, anxieties and strong emotions. I think maybe there are people out there who can have “value-neutral” sex — where it’s totally about physicality and nothing more — but I am not like that, and I suspect that most people are not.

Which isn’t to say that I think there’s anything wrong with people who can have sex that’s “value-neutral”. (And maybe “value-neutral” is not a great term for it; I worry that I sound like I’m judging, when I use that term.) I just don’t think it’s a good model for everyone, and yet I think that it has somewhat been promoted as if everyone “ought to” be that way.

I think that there are lots of people out there who feel as though the sexual liberation movement “failed” or “betrayed them”, because they convinced themselves that sex is value-neutral and then got hurt. You see a lot of assertions along these lines in the conservative media — for instance, here’s a quotation from a synopsis of the book Modern Sex:

::::::::::
The 1960s sexual revolution made a big promise: if we just let go of our inhibitions, we’ll be happy and fulfilled. Yet sexual liberation has made us no happier and, if anything, less fulfilled. Why? … sex today is increasingly mechanical and without commitment—a department of plumbing, hygiene, or athletics rather than a private sphere for the creation of human meaning. The result: legions of unhappy adults and confused teenagers deprived of their innocence, on their way not to maturity but to disillusionment. … These beautifully written essays — on subjects ranging from the TV show Sex and the City to teen sex to the eclipse of the manly ideal to the benefits of marriage — add up to the deepest, most informative appraisal we have of how and why the sexual revolution has failed.
::::::::::

I disagree with most of their attitude. We don’t need innocence. We don’t need sexual mystery. We don’t need to eliminate teen sex. We don’t need to re-establish some limiting, patriarchal “manly ideal”. But they’ve got one thing right: we do need to start talking about sex as something that is not mostly mechanical — as something that, yes, can be “a private sphere for the creation of human meaning”.

3. I wish I’d learned this: “Good sex doesn’t just require two (or more) people who like sex. It requires desire — and desire simply doesn’t work the same way for everyone.”

I’ve said before that I went through a period — back when I was first becoming sexually active — where I simply could not figure out why sexual acts with people I didn’t care about, didn’t seem to turn me on. Or rather — they turned me on a little, but not … much. It took me a while to understand that sex requires more than just two eager people. It requires attraction and desire.

When I was fifteen or so, and at summer camp, I remember making out with a boy. I didn’t really want to make out with him, but I wasn’t sure how to reject him (more on this under point 5). And I figured: he seems nice enough, so I might as well make out with him. Afterwards, I felt angry at myself, and I felt like I’d wasted my time — and I felt confused. I’d been bored at best and repulsed at worst, and I wasn’t sure why I felt that way, or why I’d done something that made me feel that way.

So why had I done it? Because I’d thought: “Sex is value-neutral.” Because I’d thought: “Making out is fun, right? — that means I ought to do it when I get the chance!” Because I’d thought: “My preference not to make out with him is probably just some silly repression that I need to get over.” Because I didn’t understand that desire is complicated, that you can’t just make yourself feel desire when it’s convenient, and that you don’t need a reason for your attractions — or lack of attraction. This situation was to reprise itself in various forms over the next years, until I finally learned that sometimes you simply want or don’t want things, and that you aren’t required to justify your desires.

4. I wish I’d gotten a list of suggestions: “Here are some places you might go to start figuring out what turns you on.”

I was told that sex was fun. I was even told to explore! But I still spent years with very little actual idea of what I wanted. No one ever told me how or where I might be able to learn more about my needs, or what exploring my needs might look like. And no one ever explained that people are turned on by different things, that some people like some sex acts and don’t like others, and that’s okay.

I went into sex with a buffet-style attitude, thinking that I must naturally enjoy sex equally in all ways. I was so surprised when I found out that I like some positions better than others! I remember how confused I was when I dated a guy who didn’t like fellatio, and how hurt I felt — like his lack of enjoyment meant that I must be doing it wrong, because everyone likes oral sex, right?

And of course, while I had a pretty comprehensive idea of the vanilla sex acts I could experiment with, I had very little idea of what else was out there. In retrospect I find this hilarious, but I remember — back in my vanilla days — I had two boyfriends who tied me up. They tied me up and were nice to me, and I suppose it was amusing enough, but didn’t drive me crazy with lust or anything. And — this is the kicker — because I did not understand that there’s a lot more to BDSM than light bondage, because I did not understand that there are many separate BDSM acts that people can enjoy and many ways to flavor them, I assumed from this experience that I didn’t like BDSM. I went through my old journal entries the other day and uncovered one in which I, confused, am speculating about what’s missing from my sex life: I write, “I’ve tried S&M, so it can’t be that.”

What a learning curve I had ahead of me, eh?

I wish someone had showed me Katherine Gates’ fetish map (though, as I understand it, the map was first created in the early 2000s, so it didn’t exist when I was getting my sex education — anyway, I wish someone had tried to explain to me the vast cornucopia of human fetishes out there!). I wish someone had explained that erotica and pornography are both actually really good ways to learn about your turn-ons, and — more importantly — had told me that not all erotica and pornography are the same, so the fact that I wasn’t into mainstream stuff didn’t mean I automatically wasn’t interested in all erotica or porn. I’ve mentioned that I had lots of conversations with friends about sex, but — until recent years — those conversations were never framed as “This is what I like,” or “I’ve found something new that turns me on,” and I wish I’d realized sooner what a great resource conversations like that might be.

5. And I wish I’d gotten a list of ideas: “Here are some ways you can try communicating with your partner about sex.”

Lastly, but certainly not least — I was never taught how to communicate about sex. No one ever gave me even the first idea. In all my sex-positive, liberal sexual upbringing, I was told over and over that “relationships require communication”, but no one ever said: “And here’s some ways in which you might communicate sexually with your partner.”

One big benefit of teaching sexual communication strategies will be that it will help people learn to say “no” when they don’t want to do something. Teaching people how to set boundaries is massively important, and I think a lot about ways to do it. I saw this adorable video about cuddle parties recently that really struck me — these people create parties where everyone basically just cuddles, but everyone also specifically has the power to say “no” to any given person or act. The reporter who made the video talks at the end about how she found the whole experience to be empowering — how she felt like it gave her space to say “no” that she hadn’t had before. Perhaps these could be used to teach people to set boundaries?

But you can’t really use cuddle parties in a school or workshop setting, more’s the pity. If I ever create a sex education curriculum, I want to describe a bunch of good communication strategies. I’ll list questions that all sex partners should ask each other, including “What do you like?” and “What do you fantasize about?” and “Is there anything you really don’t want me to do?” (Edit 7/2/10: As it happens, I later did exactly that. end of edit)

And I’ll talk about ways that you can make communication easier, if the two partners are uncomfortable having this conversation. I’ll take a page from the BDSM community by creating checklists of all kinds of sexual acts and weird fetishes and gender-bending craziness, and I’ll put it all on a 1-5 scale (with 1 being “not at all interested” and 5 being “I’d love to try this”), and I’ll tell people that they should fill out those checklists and give them to their partners. I’ll suggest that partners write out their fantasies and email them to each other, if they feel uncomfortable talking. I’ll suggest that partners write out descriptions of their mutual sexual experiences — long accounts, describing how they felt about everything and what sticks out in their minds — and send those to each other, too, so they can get each others’ perspectives on what they’ve done.

God, it’s so hard to talk about what we want. It’s even hard to talk about talking about what we want. I mean, it’s hard enough to figure out what we want in the first place — but communicating it … eeek! And it’s worth noting that this is not just a problem of having good sex. As was pointed out recently on the blog for the book Yes Means Yes! (a book of sex-positive essays that I still haven’t read, but really really want to):

::::::::::
[There is a] need to demystify and destigmatize communication about sex. If we can’t talk about what we like and what we want, we will always have problems making clear what it is we’re consenting to. If we can’t be frank about what we do want, we put a lot of weight on the need to communicate what we don’t.
::::::::::

Giving everyone great sexual communication skills doesn’t just give us all better sex — it fights rape. There’s a noble cause for you!

… So, that’s my five-pointed analysis. And that’s what I’m pushing for. My goals are not just to get people thinking that sex is awesome and sexual freedom is important. It’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be an uphill battle, but I’m hoping that I can not only help out with sexual liberation — I’m hoping to improve it.

2009 15 Jan

For Immediate Release: New Sex-Positive Documentary Film Series

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PLEASE DISTRIBUTE FAR AND WIDE!

SEX POSITIVE
pro-SEX, pro-QUEER, pro-KINK

a free documentary film series for people who like sex
curated by Clarisse Thorn

* * *

+ Q. “What is being sex-positive?”
+ A. “Defining sex on my terms.”
+ A. “Understanding my sexual needs.”
+ A. “Being in charge of my sexual experiences.”

Explore sexuality in a new way by joining us for a series of films about positive sexuality and sexual identity. This free documentary series will create a new space to discuss sex, culture, and sexual fun! Each film will be accompanied by delicious snacks and followed by relevant conversation. The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum is pleased to host this series as a new expression of the Hull-House Settlement’s historic advocacy for sex education.

We spice up every second and fourth Tuesday by screening another documentary with a positive, informative spin on human sexuality. The series will showcase diverse experiences, orientations, and choices. Planned films cover:

+ bisexuality,
+ S&M,
+ polyamory,
+ swinging,
+ trans,
+ homosexuality,
+ heterosexuality,
+ the history of sex,
+ and so much more!

The 2009 film list is available here, and the 2011-2012 list is available here.

We want you to come to these screenings — whether you’re

+ a free speech advocate,
+ an AIDS worker,
+ a progressive pastor,
+ a sexuality activist,
+ a radical feminist,
+ a sex worker,
+ a pornographer,
+ a student,
+ not at all studious,
+ skeptical about our politics and aims,
+ or just someone who likes talking about sex!

All are welcome. Sexy prizes will be given for regular attendance!

Please note that cameras and other recording devices are not allowed at these screenings.

+ Join our Google Groups mailing list to receive updates!
+ Join our Facebook group, and invite all your friends!
+ Want to volunteer to help out? Join our volunteer mailing list!

* * *

This series is supported by …

CHICAGO SPONSORS:
+ Early to Bed Feminist Sex Toys
+ Women and Children First Feminist Bookstore
+ Galleria Domain Two: The Center for Expressive Roleplay
+ Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health
+ Polyamory Weekly Podcast
+ Comstock Films: Real People, Real Life, Real Sex
+ EdenFantasys SexIs Online Magazine
+ We’re seeking more Chicago sponsors — please get in touch if you’re interested!

CHICAGO PARTNERS:
+ Center on Halsted: Chicago’s LGBT Community Center
+ Sex Workers Outreach Project, Chicago Chapter
+ SexGenderBody.com
+ Creativefilth.com

FILMMAKERS AND FILM RESOURCES:
+ Picture This Productions
+ Erin Palmquist, filmmaker
+ Seventh Art Releasing
+ Sensory Image Pty, Ltd.
+ Cinema Libre Studio
+ Women Make Movies
+ Sam Feder, filmmaker
+ Beyondmedia Education
+ Regent Releasing
+ Indie Pictures
+ Marianna Beck, filmmaker
+ Comstock Films
+ Becky Goldberg, filmmaker
+ Frameline Distribution
+ Accord Alliance

SEX +++ FILM SERIES
2nd & 4th Tuesdays at 7PM

beginning January 27, 2009

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
800 South Halsted
312.413.5353
FREE
All are welcome!
Hull-House Museum is wheelchair accessible. To request accessibility accommodations, please call the museum two weeks prior to the event.

For more information, contact Clarisse Thorn: clarisse dot thorn at gmail dot com.

UPDATE: There is now a Sex+++ FAQ! It will hopefully answer any questions you might have. Also, it will help you start your own sex-positive film series, should you be so inclined!

2009 15 Jan

The Sex-Positive Documentary Film List … finally here!

SEX POSITIVE
pro-SEX, pro-QUEER, pro-KINK

a free documentary film series for people who like sex
curated by Clarisse Thorn

+ Read the Press Release for a description of the film series and discussion group!
+ Join our Google Groups mailing list to receive updates!
+ Join our Facebook group, and invite all your friends!
+ Want to volunteer to help out? Join our volunteer mailing list!

* * *

OFFICIAL FILM LIST

YOU ARE ENCOURAGED TO RSVP BY PHONE TO HULL-HOUSE MUSEUM FOR EACH FILM: 312.413.5353. If you RSVP, we’ll save you a seat — and if the venue fills up, you’ll definitely be able to attend! In other words, RSVPs are not required, but they’re in your interest. Please note that we unsave seats at 7PM.

* * *

JANUARY 27: “Kinsey” (2005)
Assesses famous sexologist Alfred Kinsey’s remarkable achievements, while examining how his personal life shaped his career.
+ Read the followup blog post!

FEBRUARY 10: “Sex Positive” (2008)
Starting in the 1970s, unflinchingly tracks the progress of gay activist Richard Berkowitz as he went from cocky S&M hustler, to angry AIDS activist, to broken but proud harbinger of a message too volatile, scary and true to be heard.
+ Read the followup blog post — including a comment from Berkowitz himself!
+ Read my interview with Richard Berkowitz!

FEBRUARY 24: “When Two Won’t Do” (2002)
Made by a polyamorous filmmaker, this film explores the alternatives — illicit affairs, swinging and polyamory — to a traditional monogamous relationship.
+ Read the followup blog post!

MARCH 10: “BDSM: It’s Not What You Think!” (2008) + “Leather” (1995) + “Cut & Paste” (2007)
#1: Confronts the stigma and stereotypes surrounding kink and fetish play through leading voices within the BDSM community.
#2: Members of the leather community discuss the freedom that surrender can provide, the trust implicit in the activity, and the quasi-religious ritual it can attain.
#3: Personal documentary that explores the historical contexts of race, gender identity and sexual agency.
+ Read the followup blog post!

MARCH 24: “Doin’ It: Sex, Disability & Videotape” (2008) + “Orgasmic Women: 13 Selfloving Divas” (2005)
#1: Tags along on a date between a woman with a disability and her able-bodied boyfriend, exploring their relationship issues over a candle-lit dinner.
#2: A rare gift of intimacy, a spirited sharing of erotic practices and a document of women’s authentic orgasms.
+ Read the followup blog post!

APRIL 14: “Bi The Way” (2008)
Attacks bisexuality from several angles: wondering if anyone is actually equally attracted to both sexes, if bisexuality even means that you’re equally attracted to both sexes, and asking ourselves … is everyone bi?
+ Read the followup blog post!

APRIL 28: “It’s Still Elementary” (2008)
Examines the incredible impact of the 1996 film “It’s Elementary”, which aimed to teach kids about LGBTQ issues. Follows up with teachers and students featured in the first film to see how those lessons changed their lives.
+ Read the followup blog post!

MAY 12: “Private Dicks: Men Exposed” (1999) + “Forever Bottom” (1999)
#1: Interspersed with clips from vintage sex education films and humorous cartoons, men — young and old, gay and straight, large and small, virgin and porn star — offer personal revelations that are honest, humorous and often poignant. Discussion ranges over puberty, power, impotence, circumcision, sexuality, myths and perceptions, growing old, and, of course, size.
#2: A clever look at the stigma attached to being on the receiving end in gay male relationships.
+ Read the followup blog post!

MAY 26: “The Aggressives” (2005)
Butcher than butch, these dykes of color have coined a new term to define their identity: Aggressive. Identifying as women, but looking and acting like men, from their haircuts to their suits to their swaggering behavior, the Aggressives have powerful personalities that buck traditional societal restrictions on women’s roles.
+ Read the followup blog post!

JUNE 9: “Boy I Am” (2006)
A look at the experiences of three young Female-to-Male transpeople addresses the way conversations about trans issues can run into resistance from the many queer women who view transitioning as a “trend” or as an anti-feminist act that taps into male privilege.
+ Read the followup blog post!

JUNE 23: “On The Downlow” (2007)
Creates a portrait of Cleveland’s underground black gay scene including coming out to one’s parents; black homophobia; and the persisting rumor that only gay people spread AIDS.
+ Guest facilitator: Lisa Junkin, Education Coordinator at Hull-House Museum

JULY 14: “Filming Desire” (2000)
Female directors talk about the reality of an explicit women’s point of view, the desire in their films to “fantasize and dream a new image of themselves”, and how their depictions of sexuality and relationships are correctives.
+ Guest facilitator: Aspasia Bonasera, blogger at La Libertine’s Salon

JULY 28: “Hot & Bothered: Feminist Pornography” (2003) + “Bill and Desiree: Love is Timeless” (2008)
#1: A rare and empowering look into the pornography industry and feminist community to see how they intertwine within the politics and poetics of female sexuality.
#2: One of Comstock Films’ award-winning erotic documentary films about real couples having real sex. Bill and Desiree’s story starts in the second half of life: a chance meeting, a powerful attraction, a carnal connection, and a deep, sensual love. Pleasure is ageless, and love is indeed timeless!
+ Guest facilitator: Serpent Libertine, vlogger at Red Light District: Chicago

AUGUST 11: “Liberty In Restraint” (2005)
Profiling the life of fetish photographer Noel Graydon, this film gives Graydon’s perspective on the BDSM community, describes some BDSM practices, and shows how he creates his photographs.
+ Guest facilitator: Balthasaar

AUGUST 25: “Equality U” (2008)
Follows a group of 33 young activists on the Soulforce Equality Ride, a first of its kind, two-month, cross-country tour to confront antigay discrimination policies at 19 conservative religious and military colleges. While most of the young Riders identify as Christian, not all of them do so in the same way, if at all.
+ Guest facilitator: David M.

SEPTEMBER 8: “Yellow for Hermaphrodites: Mani’s Story” (2003)
Intersex activist Mani Bruce Mitchell tells her poignant story of growing up in rural New Zealand. Subjected to genital surgeries at an early age, Mani takes viewers through her life, discussing both the difficult times she considered suicide and her path to healing, reconciliations, and service.
+ Guest facilitator: Ben Graham

SEPTEMBER 22: “Queens of Heart” (2006) + “All Women Are Equal” (1971)
#1: The first psychological study of drag performance, set in the oldest surviving female impersonation club in the United States, shows how the work of drag requires a deep understanding of human psychology.
#2: We see Paula, an early 1970s transperson, fixing her make-up and discussing the difficulty of living as a woman and meeting other transpeople. Offers incredible insights into both the time and Paula’s individual psyche.
+ Guest facilitator: Rae Wright, from the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health

OCTOBER 13: “We Are Dad” (2005)
Two white HIV-negative gay men have a family of five kids. Four of the kids have AIDS, three are black, two come from a backwater cult in Oregon, and one of the children has been in the middle of one of the most hotly debated issues in this country: gay adoption.
+ Guest facilitator: Steve C.

CONTINUED: Amazingly, the film series was continued!
Clarisse initially programmed only 9 months of films, and went to Africa in the middle of the series. After she left, though, a group of community members who had been regular attendees volunteered to continue Sex+++! So, the film series was run by this committee for over a year, and films were scheduled month by month. When Clarisse returned in late 2010, she and the committee created new themes and a whole new film list.

* * *

SEX +++ FILM SERIES
2nd & 4th Tuesdays at 7PM

beginning January 27, 2009

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
800 South Halsted
312.413.5353
FREE
All are welcome!
Hull-House Museum is wheelchair accessible. To request accessibility accommodations, please call the museum two weeks prior to the event.

* * *

This series is supported by …

CHICAGO SPONSORS:
+ Early to Bed Feminist Sex Toys
+ Women and Children First Feminist Bookstore
+ Galleria Domain Two: The Center for Expressive Roleplay
+ Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health
+ Polyamory Weekly Podcast
+ Comstock Films: Real People, Real Life, Real Sex
+ EdenFantasys SexIs Online Magazine
+ We’re seeking more Chicago sponsors — please get in touch if you’re interested!

CHICAGO PARTNERS:
+ Center on Halsted: Chicago’s LGBT Community Center
+ Sex Workers Outreach Project, Chicago Chapter
+ SexGenderBody.com
+ Creativefilth.com

FILMMAKERS AND FILM RESOURCES:
+ Picture This Productions
+ Erin Palmquist, filmmaker
+ Seventh Art Releasing
+ Sensory Image Pty, Ltd.
+ Cinema Libre Studio
+ Women Make Movies
+ Sam Feder, filmmaker
+ Beyondmedia Education
+ Regent Releasing
+ Indie Pictures
+ Marianna Beck, filmmaker
+ Comstock Films
+ Becky Goldberg, filmmaker
+ Frameline Distribution
+ Accord Alliance

* * *

For more information, contact Clarisse Thorn: clarisse dot thorn at gmail dot com.

UPDATE: There is now a Sex+++ FAQ! It will hopefully answer any questions you might have. Also, it will help you start your own sex-positive film series, should you be so inclined!

2009 5 Jan

Upcoming kink events and publications

I’ll post more about these as the specific times approach —

Awesome upcoming kink events:

Ongoing: Threat Level Queer Shorts, Chicago
A sex-positive series of queer shorts — explicitly kink-friendly. I heard about these folks while researching the Chicago queer film scene, since I’m curating a new sex-positive documentary film series myself (more on that soon!). I hope to share audience with them and promote each other’s work!

February: CineKink, New York City
“Cutting across orientations, topics covered at CineKink have included — but are by no means limited to — BDSM, leather and fetish, swinging, non-monogamy and polyamory, roleplay and gender bending. Or, frankly, given the current moral climate, as long as it involves consenting adults, just about anything celebrating sex as a right of self expression is fair game. (Far be it from us to define “kink” — if you think your work might make sense in this context, please send it along!)” With luck, I’ll be able to catch the tail end of CineKink on my next New York visit.

March: KinkForAll, New York City
Based on the quasi-anarchist, user-generated, very flexible BarCamp conference model, KinkForAlls are intended to be — well — quasi-anarchist, user-generated, very flexible sex-positive conferences. The idea is that they’ll hopefully start popping up all over the country … and be open to all orientations and kinks, not just BDSMers! I heard about this from BDSM blogger Maymay while emailing around the New York scene, last time I was in that fine city; I’ll most likely present on a variety of topics at the event in March.

May: Bash Back! Radical Queer Convergence, Chicago
A weekend of debauchery, mischief, workshops, games and more! I met a member of Bash Back through my friend Sex, Art and Politics, and they’ve got a lot of interesting things to say. There’s a chance that I won’t be around in May, but I really hope to be here to attend Convergence! If I am, I’ll probably run a BDSM Outreach workshop and sit on a BDSM discussion panel.

And I’ll post more about these as I read them —
Awesome upcoming kink publications:

Ongoing: Bound to Struggle Zine — Where Kink and Radical Politics Meet
“Does radical politics inform how you do kink? Has kink taught you ways to be a better activist or political thinker? Can the non-physical mechanics of kink (notions of consent, etc.) effect the nitty-gritty mechanics of an action bloc or campaign fight? Do conscientious ideas of environmentalism, anti-sexism, racism, able-ism, classism, gender-ism, etc. figure into the negotiating process of your scenes or relationships? How do you talk about power? Where do these ideas meet action and how do they affect our lives?” Editor Simon Strikeback is one of the great people who run Threat Level Queer Shorts! I’m hoping to contribute to future issues.

Available Now: Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape
I just found out that my new friend Hazel/Cedar has an essay in this anthology, and I’m a little starstruck — the book just looks so fantastic! Just one example of the coolness therein was recently linked by Sex, Art and Politics: a wonderful (very basic, very clear) essay on feminism and BDSM, which will probably feature heavily in one or two of my own later blog entries.

2009 2 Jan

BDSM-related relationship screwups

Bloody Laughter has recently started a fantastic series of posts about BDSM screwups, and how it would be helpful if the BDSM community were more willing to talk about the encounters we’ve had that went wrong. You know: the encounters where we miscommunicated — felt confused — felt like we were pushed into things before we were ready — pushed our partners into things they weren’t ready for ….

Miscommunications happen even in committed, loving relationships. (They even happen in totally “normal”, heterosexual, vanilla relationships — imagine that!) Sometimes those miscommunications are overall positive, because they help partners figure out where their boundaries are. Sometimes they’re overall negative: they strain the relationship, they cause fights, someone ends up feeling violated, someone else feels misunderstood. But either way, talking about these things is one of the best ways to figure out how to avoid them in the future. We cannot create a truly safe, consensual BDSM community unless we’re willing to articulate and describe what it means to be unsafe and unconsensual.

Obviously, I agree with Bloody Laughter. And I’ve got some ideas for posts about some of the problems that have come up, the mistakes I’ve made in my BDSM relationships. But I’m also terrified of posting them. I identify primarily as a bottom — a mostly heterosexual one to boot … so I’m a woman who likes being hurt and dominated by male partners. (Though I’ll admit to a couple of toppish screwups in my time, too.) And that means that the average audience could map all kinds of scary, incorrect abuse images onto my stories. I mean, even I — when I was coming into BDSM — even I was afraid that my desires meant I “wanted” to be assaulted, that I “wanted” to be raped, that I was participating in something deeply warped and abusive.

Of course I don’t want to be assaulted, I don’t want to be raped — of course I am not participating in abuse. But. If even I had these thoughts, once … then how can I expect an audience containing vanilla people to look at my desires, my fantasies, my consensual experiences without flinching in horror? In this particular case, how do I talk about BDSM experiences that went wrong? If I discuss my less-than-perfect moments here, I think I’m mostly telling them to a BDSM-friendly audience: an audience that will get something constructive out of what I’m saying, and might use my experiences as a guide to avoid screwups themselves. But then again, this is the wide world of the Internet, where the audience potentially contains everyone. And the last thing I want is for Concerned Women for America to pick up one of my blog posts and quote me out of context and tell the world about Clarisse Thorn’s abusive BDSM lifestyle.

Arguably, this is a particularly important problem for me, because I am specifically trying to do BDSM outreach right now. I am trying to let the world know that kinksters are not scary. Do I have more “responsibility” in my self-representation? Is it more dangerous for me to talk about problematic BDSM experiences, than it would be for other people?

So. I’ve got some stuff written out, that I’m scared to post. If I post, am I damaging the BDSM community image? If I don’t post, am I allowing anti-BDSMers to silence me?

(Never mind that every vanilla person ever born has had sexual experiences that crossed boundaries — sexual experiences that were poorly negotiated. That’s understood and expected, goddamnit. For so many people out there, their standards for sexual communication are so low, they don’t even notice screwups that the BDSM community usually recognizes as major. Not that I think the BDSM community is perfect, not that I think every kinkster is a brilliant communicator … but we train sexual communication in ways the outside world simply doesn’t.

For instance, there are so many people out there — girls and guys — who are being pressured into sexual acts they’re not comfortable with. Here’s just one example: How many people don’t understand that it’s unacceptable for their boyfriend/girlfriend to demand — say — that they perform sexual acts at times when they’re not in the mood? How many people don’t feel empowered to tell their partner, “I’m not up for that right now, sweetheart”? There’s a lot of them.

Everyone knows that people are sometimes pressured into heterosexual vanilla sex, and yet no one uses that as an argument against heterosexual vanilla sex in itself.

The contrast just kills me. Sure, there were a few problematic miscommunications with — for example — some of my recent BDSM partners. But my slight frustration when I think of those moments pales in comparison to the rage and resentment I feel against my first real boyfriend, whom I dated on and off for six years. My relationship with Boyfriend #1 was entirely vanilla — it was the most vanilla relationship I’ve ever had; we only indulged in genital and oral sex — and he managed to screw me up way past anything anyone else ever did to me. Just thinking about him makes me feel used.

And it just seems totally unfair that I can talk about anything he said to me and people won’t be shocked; but if I mention some of the things my most recent ex-boyfriend said to me, people could be horrified and use it as ammunition for anti-BDSM rhetoric.)

You know, maybe what I should do is write a series of posts in which half the post is about a totally vanilla relationship screwup I’ve experienced, and half of the post is about a BDSM-related screwup. Just to put it all in perspective.

* * *

Check out my later post, Communication Screwup Post 1: Isn’t Tickling Cuuute?

2008 18 Dec

BDSM Outreach: My Overview Lecture

To better promote the sex-positive activism I’m seeking to do in person, it seems clear that I need a strong online presence. Also, it’ll be nice to have a place to write out my thoughts on the issues I think about all the time … but can’t talk about all the time. So: Welcome to Clarisse’s blog! I’m still working on my blogroll — if you have a BDSM-relevant or otherwise alternative sexuality / sex-positive blog, please leave a comment and I’ll add you!

For my first entry, I’d like to see if I can get input on my BDSM Outreach Overview Presentation.

The intended audience of my BDSM Overview is not BDSM-identified folks (though I daresay that kinksters who don’t know much about past scandals, history, etc. could learn something from it). Furthermore, I’m certainly not seeking to “recruit” people into the scene with this presentation (though people in the audience who already have BDSM desires will find out where to learn more).

Rather, I want to reach outside the BDSM community and work against some of the stigma and stereotypes — the distrust and fear — with which BDSM is viewed by society at large. I want to work towards reducing problems like kinksters sent to jail for assault when our activities were totally consensual, having our children taken away without cause, and all the other harassment our community has dealt with. Just as importantly, it seems clear to me that — while anti-BDSM activists are quick to point out that BDSM can be used as a mask for real coercion and abuse — it would be much harder for that to happen if more people had an understanding of the differences between BDSM and abuse, or if kinksters felt comfortable identifying themselves and joining the BDSM community that helps keep us safe.

On a broader level, I truly believe that the BDSM community has developed many techniques for negotiating sexual consent that the rest of the world could learn a lot from. And I further believe that as I promote BDSM acceptance, I promote sex-positivity in general. As we teach people to accept that consent is all-important and sexual choice is paramount, we simultaneously promote the acceptance of all forms of healthy sexuality; we encourage society to respect sex workers; we even combat rape!

Here’s the basic description of my presentation that I’ve been sending out:
“Imagery deriving from bondage, discipline and sadomasochism (BDSM) is becoming commonplace — and we all know (or think we know) what a dominatrix is — but most people don’t have much idea of what BDSM actually involves. Although it is increasingly accepted as an alternative sexual orientation, BDSM remains surrounded by stigma, scandal and occasional legal action. This lecture will describe the basics of BDSM (however, it’s not a how-to lecture — you aren’t going to learn how to use a whip, though you’ll learn where to go if you want to find out!). It will also cover BDSM history, cultural landmarks, and current issues.”

Now, here’s the hard part. I don’t want to be arrogant and say that no one’s ever done this before, but uh … I’m not sure anyone’s ever done this before. At least not this exact thing — this in-person, quasi-academic, blatant outreach approach. I know about the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, of course, and I know they have a media team, but I get the impression that they are more focused on reacting to incidents and less on actively creating pro-BDSM education for vanilla folks. (Maybe I’ll find out more once I successfully get in touch with the NCSF Media volunteer coordinator — I’m working on it.) I’ve heard about a neat-sounding documentary called “BDSM: It’s Not What You Think!”, which appears to come close to what I’m doing.

So … at the least, this is unusual. And being an unusual project makes it harder, not only to “market” this presentation to audiences outside the BDSM scene, but to explain what I’m trying to do. I have found, for instance, that potential queer audiences often react to my pitch by directing me to the nearest BDSM support group. It sometimes takes me a while to successfully communicate that I am actually looking to deliver the lecture to their group — that I specifically want to talk to the LGBTQ community. Does anyone have any ideas on how to make this clear — perhaps including ways to clarify my basic description?

Other advice I could particularly use: ideas for organizations and venues that might help me present this lecture. I’ve found some places that might help me out in New York; I’ve got occasional cause to visit New York (for instance, I’m in the city right now for the holidays), so maybe I’ll be putting it on here within the next few months.

I live in Chicago, though, so that city is a bigger concern. I’ve got some leads on queer groups and student groups. I plan to call around to some feminist, BDSM-friendly sex toy stores (for instance, Early to Bed). I also intend to reach out to Chicago academia (tomorrow I’ll call the Center for Gender Studies at the University of Chicago, among other places). Feminist health groups and harm reduction advocates will hopefully prove to be a rich mine of inquiry (Planned Parenthood may not want to sully its image with the likes of me, but it’s worth a shot; I’ll also call the Chicago Women’s Health Center). Further ideas are requested!

If you’re interested in getting more details on the presentation itself, don’t hesitate to email me — clarisse dot thorn at gmail dot com. I’ve also created a Delicious.com account, really for whatever awesome BDSM links I remember to put in there, but which I am specifically using to list things I cite in the Overview lecture. Going through my overview-tagged links should give a decent idea of how I structure the presentation.