2009 9 Mar
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.  Done — the post is here! [end of edit]
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”