Back in March, I attended a sex-positive unconference in New York City called KinkForAll; it was mostly slanted towards BDSM, but there was a lot of generally sex-positive talk as well. (You can read my post-KinkForAll followup thoughts by clicking here!) Part of the deal at KinkForAll was that everyone contributed in some way to the event, many of us by doing 20-minute presentations. I loved the loose, quasi-anarchist conference model. It worked very effectively (and if you’re interested in that kind of thing, I encourage you to read more at the KinkForAll website about how such events are organized).
At KinkForAll New York City (KFANYC), event organizer Maymay felt strongly that he wanted all the available information made further available to the general public, so he recorded all the presentations to be posted on the Internet. I don’t post images of myself, so he just took an audio recording of my quick talk on BDSM outreach strategies. You can download the recording by clicking here.
I had less than 20 minutes, and I didn’t have much time that week to prepare for KFANYC … to my ear, my talk sounds rushed and disorganized. I guess that’s how it goes. Certainly, expect it to be informal when you listen to it!
Now let me give some references and clarify some points:
+ Most importantly, check out my sex-positive documentary film series at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum!
+ Here’s the interview I did with Daniel Bergner, who wrote a “New York Times Magazine” article on female sexual desire as well as The Other Side of Desire, a book profiling four sexual fetishists.
+ I describe Pleasure Salon NYC during the recording, and there’s an interchange with Selina Fire. A month after that presentation, I got a committee together to start a Chicago version of Pleasure Salon, and it was awesome! If you’re in Chicago, come out to the next Chicago Pleasure Salon — they’re on first Tuesdays, 6-10, at Villains (649 S. Clark).
+ On the recording I quickly note that I attended a Chicago Bloggers Meetup, but I don’t mention the coolest thing that came out of that meetup: Arvan Reese, who organizes the thing, was inspired to start a new community blog on Sex / Gender / Body! One of my favorite things about doing this sex-positive outreach activism has been seeing my message inspire other people to go out and do similar projects. This movement is gaining some serious traction, people. The Sex / Gender / Body community blog goes live next month, and I’m psyched.
Followup Thoughts and Clarifications
+ I think I was a bit disingenuous about tactics on getting out a diverse audience — because that’s not something at which I am succeeding very well. That is, I think I’ve definitely succeeded at getting people with a huge range of sexual experience out to the Sex+++ Film Series, though the crowd is still a bit slanted towards the BDSM community (of course, that’s the community I’m most personally involved in, so this makes sense). But I have not succeeded at getting out — say — lower-income people. In other words: I’m doing well at some kinds of inclusiveness and outreach, badly at others.
Maymay wrote a great followup KFANYC post, and in the comments I talked about how I think these events are awesome but I really want to see more efforts to get different kinds of participants in on the mix. The sex-positive movement is overwhelmingly white and middle- to upper-middle-class; how can we make the information we offer accessible to other demographics? After I left my comment on Maymay’s post, there were a bunch of really great comments. My favorite was one from subversivesub:
To me, the solution is neither outreach nor (necessarily) changing one’s project but identifying what the absent demographic groups are already doing, or considering if there’s a good reason why those groups aren’t presently part of your group — and may not want to be. I think the question is not so much “how can we get more people involved” but “how can we act in solidarity with people who may not want to organize/act with us but with whom we share some sort of affinity.”
… to which I responded:
I think that the way we develop our communities is, or at least can be, separate from the way we choose to spread information. I also think that we can expand the audience to which we make our information accessible, without changing our community. Indeed, for me, it’s not really a question of getting more people into our community (though that does frequently seem to be a collateral effect of my approach). It’s more a question of ensuring that more people (a) know our community exists in the first place, (b) are not under false impressions regarding our community, and (c) can easily access the information we have to offer.
Of course KFA is a community-building event as well as an information-spreading event. But I am under the strong impression that it is designed and intended mostly an an information-spreading event. This is certainly how I would promote it if I had time to organize one in Chicago.
I think that the approach you suggest — “How can we act in solidarity with people who may not want to organize/act with us but with whom we share some sort of affinity?” — is not actually very different from the approach I am suggesting, which might be summarized as: “How can we frame the information we’re offering such that it is accessible to people who may not want to organize/act with us but with whom we share some sort of affinity?”
So my answer to this question is: I don’t know, and I’m always open to suggestions and conversations about it. In fact, I’m due to have lunch soon with someone who wants to start a kink group for people of color … hopefully I’ll have time to blog about that when it happens, though the list of topics I want to blog on is already as long as my arm ….
I don’t necessarily want everyone to agree with me about everything regarding sex, although I must admit I think it would be super awesome if everyone agreed there is no “should”. But I do, at the least, want everyone to have access to information that can help form healthy, safe, consensual sexuality. I want everyone to know where they can go for that information, and to feel welcome if they seek it out.
+ Another thing I may have been disingenuous about: my immense privilege. I try to be as aware as I can of the incredible privilege I carry through my life: I’m white, upper-middle-class, well-educated, mostly heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, naturally slender, with live parents … there’s probably others I’m forgetting. The reason I bring this up is that I think privilege was a hugely important factor in my ability to start the Sex+++ Film Series, and I didn’t acknowledge that enough.
For instance, the most obvious factor: I am privileged to have the familial and personal financial support that enables me to work at an extremely flexible part-time job; I would never have been able to do this free series if I didn’t have a huge amount of spare time. The same goes for a lot of my other activism.
But I still think there’s a lot that everyone can do, even if they don’t have a ton of time or resources! Support local sex-positive events and groups. Write letters to the editor opposing sex-negative press coverage. Try to be frank, open and tolerant about all forms of consensual sexuality in your everyday life — for instance, don’t insult furries at the local BDSM meetup. Outreach and activism aren’t just the domain of dedicated activists: they’re attitudes; they include small habits everyone can get into, small actions anyone can take.
+ Lastly: I stand by my comments on “the orientation model” of sexuality. I still think that our biggest message should not be, “I can’t help my sexuality!” but should rather be, “Whether or not my sexuality is ‘built in’ or a choice, I have the right to do whatever I want with my body and with other consenting adults!”
But we probably shouldn’t entirely abandon the orientation model, because it’s got a lot of legal and cultural power. For instance, check out this recent British Columbia case that could determine whether BDSM becomes a legally protected sexual orientation … i.e., whether it becomes illegal in British Columbia to discriminate against people based on their BDSM choices. My favorite part of that article is the end, which quotes sexologist Charles Moser as he lays out a very clear, eloquent case for BDSM as a sexual orientation.
I’m unwilling to outright reject a powerful potential tool for social acceptance. So on that level, I think it’s cool to talk about BDSM (and all types of alternative sexuality) as an orientation. I just also think that a good priority for the sex-positive movement would be shifting the discourse so that it’s less about whether or not we choose our sexuality, and more about the fact that we have the right to make whatever sexual choices we want.