Sexuality communities need to evolve or they’ll die. You probably don’t need me to remind you of how hard a time fetish shops, nightclubs, non-profit activist groups, community centers, sex-ed funds, and other sexuality-based initiatives are having right now. Venues are expensive, a cultural war on sex rages fiercely with targeted attacks against sexual freedom, and sexuality community groups are having increasing difficulty engaging younger generations. And that’s not the half of it.

When I think about the world around us and the role of marginalized sexualities such as BDSM, polyamory, transsexuality, gender queerness, and others, I’m reminded of Professor Charles Xavier’s opening lines to the original X-Men movie:

Mutation: it is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, and normally taking thousands and thousands of years. But every few hundred millennia, evolution leaps forward.

So, evolve or die. But evolve into what? Unconferences like KinkForAll are the next evolutionary leap forward with regards to how people will learn and talk about what-it-is-that-we-do.

Admittedly, that’s a bold statement. “Evolutionary leap forward” sounds like something ripe either for stereotypical hollywood films or esoteric scientific white papers. Thing is, our lives and our sex is filled to the brim with influences from many disparate sources, such as blockbuster motion pictures and scientific white papers. However, despite having a venerable Horn of Plenty for our sexuality palettes, traditional sexuality conferences and community organizations have remained stalwartly segregated from these influences and—worse—even from each other.

There are problems—deep-seated, gigantic, and incredibly frustrating problems—with the way we as a community and a culture present sex and sexuality to one another and to the next generation. These things need to change, because the world around us is changing. Somehow, despite all this upheaval, our sexuality communities are trapped inside aristocratic institutions that more often act with an interest in risk-avoidance instead of value-creation. Perhaps these organizations’ timid, closeted behavior used to exist for a good reason; membership meant association and building social walls kept the predators on the other side, but that system is feudalism and those days are over.

KinkForAll offers a new, much-needed outlet that can not only radically transform sex education for both mainstream and niche communities, but also revitalize many grass-roots community organizations themselves. By making it possible to bring together influences from all corners of life into a melting pot of sexuality discussion, we unlock the as-yet-untapped value that the sex communities have failed to harness.

The current structure of sexuality organizations is institutionalized to the point of ego-centric gridlock. This can be illustrated by examining the principles on which KinkForAll is founded, since they highlight some weaknesses in these other structures:

  • At a KinkForAll, there are no spectators, only participants. Attendees must give a talk or presentation, or help with one. This is called sharing and we like it.

    For far too long, information about sex has been under one kind of stranglehold or another. Even within sexuality subcultures, who can present, where, and why, has focused very strongly on the currency of the day. Most recently, that currency was reputation, and it created an elitist aristocracy who unwittingly monopolized the very thing they claimed to want to make free: having sex, and how we do that. When reputation becomes more valuable than results, egos prevent progress.

  • At a KinkForAll, anyone can present, on any topic related to sexuality. You do not necessarily have to teach a new skill or idea. You might share an experience, review a product, or read a poem. The goal is to start a discussion, make connections, and exchange knowledge.

    All such activities are valuable, yet too long sidelined or actively discouraged in sexuality circles. Our reasons to wall our sex away from the rest of our life are disappearing one after the other, and we should do what we can to live un-closeted lives in every way we can. Moreover, the amazing potential within inter-community spaces is astonishingly under-appreciated. In fact, I argue such potential is way more valuable than any single organization can ever become.

  • KinkForAll is free (as in beer) and free (as in libre). One of the things I’ve been frustrated with for a long time is the utter lack of accessibility to young people when it comes to topics of sexuality. If a young person (or any person of any age) wishes to engage the wider sex-positive community in the places where it has its discussions, this comes with a terribly high price tag.

    Sexuality conferences run by the sex communities are typically large, expensive, and very intimidating. Many people, not just young people, simply don’t have several hundred dollars and a week’s time to dish out going to sexuality events. This extremely high monetary cost creates insurmountable socioeconomic barriers to many people’s pursuit of sexual freedom because it bars them from obtaining the technical information and the social connections they need. Freedom isn’t just about principles, it’s about actions; enabling people to involve themselves (what we know of as “volunteering,” though I strongly prefer participating) isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s the entire point.

None of this negates the fact that older, larger, and more rigid organizations and events have their place. When done well, they can provide spaces for in-depth exploration. That said, there are many places where they will continue to fail to do what newer ideas like KinkForAll will succeed in doing. Audacia Ray summarized this as well, saying:

[KinkForAll] is the perfect event to go to if you’ve always wanted to check out a sex/kink related conference but are afraid that you’ll be swarmed by naked people who are not aesthetically to your liking. It’s the perfect event to go to if you’ve always wanted to check out a sex/kink event but think you don’t know anything or won’t be part of the in crowd. It’s the perfect event to go to if you are in [the area] but have no money and are curious about this kind of event. There are lots of reasons I’m going, but the clothes-on, free, open reasons are my main ones.

The evolution of our sexuality communities from walled gardens to freely and safely traversable pathways like this is hard because it threatens the status-quo, perhaps especially if they are struggling just to survive. Sadly, if their heads are indeed placed firmly in the sand and their heels dug into their risk-avoidance behavior, they will continue to struggle. Of course, they’re struggling for a reason: as Boymeat points out, I love that [KinkForAll] is doing something new and unique in NYC, because I have to say, most of the stuff [the scene’s] been doing isn’t working. (Sic.)

KinkForAll is new, and very young, but—and there’s no doubt about this—it’s here to stay. The response to the first-ever KinkForAll unconference, KinkForAll New York City wildly surpassed the expectations that my other unorganizers and I had. As Sara Eileen said,

I have to say how gleeful I am over the entire thing, conceived and brought to being as it was, in less than 3 months and with us on the other side of the world.

[…]

[Maymay] and I expected perhaps 40 attendees. There were over 100.

I had worried that we wouldn’t fill the schedule grid. There were 45 different presentations.

We started with no money and figured we would pay for what we needed ourselves. Over $1000 dollars were donated.

I wasn’t sure we’d have everything we needed. In the end, we were overly resourced; extra projectors, kosher and vegetarian and gluten-free food, gallons of drinking water that appeared seemingly from nowhere.

As I said at the end of the day when I stood on the stage, “our cup overflows.”

My analysis of this is simple:

There’s no question that this kind of event is something the sexuality communities at large really need. It’s not just BDSM people, but poly people, transfolk, queers, butches and femmes, and everyone else who takes part in public, social sexuality-related spaces obviously want to see happen. I’ve personally already heard from folks in Washington DC and Toronto who are interested in replicating similar events, and through several other channels multiple people in San Francisco have also expressed interest.

To borrow from Sascha’s analysis, unconferences like KinkForAll create a new, less intimidating platform for new generations:

I think that the unconference trend signifies something greater—an evolution in the sex and kink positive communities in how we come together and how we exchange information. Don’t get me wrong, I think that more structured events such as TESFest and Dark Odyssey still have their place. But these spaces provide a new, less intimidating platform for new generations of sex geeks, kinksters, activists, educators, and aspiring educators.

More specifically and perhaps even more powerfully, the platform itself is what is being created. It’s a platform for education, for friendship, and for activism the likes of which has never been available to sexuality outlets before. Emily Rutherford describes it similarly, emphasizing KinkForAll’s ability to bring disperse communities together:

Basically, KFANYC was a conference—a vehicle for members of the various sexuality communities in New York to come together, talk, and learn from each other.

Emily also highlights the fact that KinkForAll is engaging the participation of communities and academics of all stripes, even from outside the walled gardens of sociosexual circles:

I think that a lot of what was exciting about [KinkForAll] is the way that the format combines academic and non-academic modes of talking about sex and sexuality. The “conference” is an academic model in a way that many existing modes of social interaction for sexuality groups aren’t, but this conference didn’t presume any academic background or qualifications and didn’t have the same standards of format and presentation that academic conferences do. I, as a first-year college student, was able to participate, but so were people who didn’t finish high school and people with graduate degrees. KFANYC very nearly, I think it’s safe to say, made academia accessible to everyone, which is an important thing that those of us entrenched in the ivory tower should be doing. Academic modes are a sort of subculture of analyzing and presenting information, but that doesn’t mean they have to be elitist—just different from, say, journalism, or casual conversation. I think that as much as KFANYC bridged gaps between disparate sexuality communities, it bridged gaps between different registers of discussion, taking academese down a peg while applying a theoretical and philosophical level to more casual conversations.

(Emphasis mine.)

Time and again the same themes crop up. As Axe wrote a while ago,
there will be presentations on topics that you may not find at other events. New platforms bring new ideas in new ways, which in turn bring new people, who are needed to keep moving us to where we want to go. StacyCat commented on her experience, saying It got me really excited about the scene and education and life again.

So, an old idea was reborn: make free events for the sexuality communities, and use them to effect a paradigm shift in the way we present marginalized sexuality issues like BDSM, transsexuality, gender queerness, asexuality, and others to the world at large. The rebirth freed us from the constraints of current systems and organizations. With the knowledge that such rebirth is healthy and risk-avoidance is itself inherently risky, to use Boymeat’s words again, the structure has been built entirely to prevent any power plays, and is focused on autonomy and transparency.

We gave the idea a name, KinkForAll, and then we gave it massive amounts of our time and effort. I made a web site for KinkForAll, Sara Eileen started talking about the idea with our friends, who (with our encouragement) started talking about it with their friends, and on and on the cycle went until we had people we didn’t know wanting—and instantly able—to participate.

So where do we go now? We’re continuing to put recordings of the presentations given at the event online so that anyone with an Internet connection can freely get some of that value. Our goal has always been to make an easily-digestible packet that we can give to others to help them recreate the positive energy and value that came from KinkForAll New York City. To that end, I’ve been working on writing a KinkForAll unorganizer’s guide.

Of course, nothing is as supportive as actual participation, and so I’m talking with people who have shown interest and initiative to run KinkForAll events in Washington DC as I hope to also do for Toronto and San Francisco soon after that. Suddenly, there’s grass-roots momentum around making such content available on a global scale, for free, because the infrastructure already exists in the form of the Internet.

But, as Sara said, It’s out in the world now. Anyone can take it on, and up. Many participants at KinkForAll New York City travel frequently to DC and elsewhere, and I encourage those uniquely experienced people to spread the idea with their actions. And that’s the ultimate take-away point: Sexual freedom is for everyone. But you have to take it and run with it yourself.

Interested? Learn more about KinkForAll at http://KinkForAll.org, our Frequently Asked Questions page, or our public mailing list.

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