Lately I’ve been feeling as though I am a bit of a broken record. One of the things I am saying time and time again is that one of the goals I’d like to accomplish with KinkForAll is broadening the topics that the sexuality communities I’m a part of talk about. Since I happen to come from a BDSM background, the KinkForAll idea is spreading most quickly within the BDSM communities.

However, I am very concerned that the purposes of KinkForAll are not spreading nearly as quickly as the idea is. Specifically, the impetus behind KinkForAll has nothing to do with BDSM. Instead, it was about providing a space to talk about sexuality as it relates to and in the context of the broader themes of life: daily work, politics, legal issues, academic learning, technology, business development, interpersonal relationships, religion, and so on.

At KinkForAll New York City, currently the one and only event of its kind, I was heartened to see just how many presentation slots were filled with topics that were in no way directly related to the mechanics of how humans have physical sex. As I mentioned on the public mailing list,

In fact, one of the motivations behind the whole 20-minute presentations thing is to actively discourage demos, especially the typical “here’s how to hit someone” ones I see all over the place. KinkForAll as a venue can be utilized to much greater effect than most (if not all) demos can dream of doing by engaging participants cerebrally, with discussion or multimedia presentations on a variety of other, broader topics.

I encourage all KinkForAll participants regardless of locale to think outside the very narrow we-like-to-hit-people-with-stuff box.

Of course, the important question remains unanswered: why is talking within the “narrow we-like-to-hit-people-with-stuff box” such a problem? There are a few things all tangled up in this issue, so I’ll try to unravel them one at a time here (and probably in a number of upcoming blog posts). First, though, you must acknowledge that the exhibitionism with which the BDSM community still advocates for its own acceptance is totally out of whack with today’s realities. As the inimitable Gloria Brame writes in her Leather Leadership Conference 2009 keynote address,

In our push to be candid and guilt-free, have we come out a little too far? By emphasizing play at parties, or focusing on skills with toys, are we really providing education about the reality of being a BDSMer? Honestly, I love a good play party, and am not saying we should stop having fun. But beyond the people you play with, how many others need to know that you prefer a whip to a paddle or that humiliation makes you wet? At age 53, I would now much rather be known as a sadomasochist than as a dominatrix, precisely for this reason: I don’t think the straight world DESERVES to know what role I play in the bedroom. No more so, anyway, than I am entitled to know whether my mayor performs cunnilingus or my mail-carrier likes it doggie style.

One of the largest problems I see with such exhibitionistic advocacy is the “us versus them” mentality that focusing on activity rather than intentionality (for instance) traps people into. Putting it bluntly, and as Gloria Brame implied more diplomatically than I can ever do, nobody but your sex partner cares how you fuck so why does the BDSM community think that their myopic view of the world is what will garner us “tolerance” in the rest of it?

Ever since KinkForAll New York City, I’ve been doing a bit of research into the history of previous social justice movements, notably the GLBT rights movement. I think the BDSM community is currently doing a piss-poor job of steering the public discourse around what-it-is-that-we-do to our advantage. It may sound cold, but the fact of the matter is that the BDSM community has a gigantic image problem, and it is negatively affecting the way we live our daily lives.

It frustrates me when I look around my community and I don’t see anybody talking about that. And for what? Yet another boring flogging demo from your mile-long “class” list? Are you shitting me?

As she is wont to do, Emily Rutherford’s analysis of this phenomenon seems far less emotionally driven and far more academically thorough than my own:

Much as there was a time when the gay community was criticized for being overly focused simply on sexual practice, and not on larger, more abstract or theoretical questions about identity and community, so too (from what I’ve heard; I can’t speak as an insider) does the BDSM community seem to struggle with this problem. KinkForAll is addressing that, and here I think the word “kink” is actually key: I’ve come to see this word as encompassing any non-mainstream sexuality, maybe a further broadening or development or evolution of “queer.” I think we can use it that way; it’s not as if it’s a word that actually connotes a specific sexual desire or practice in the way that the B, D, S, and M of that acronym do.

Naturally, she is spot on. The B, D, S, and M of BDSM are wonderful (any regular reader of this blog knows just how much they are an intrinsic part of me), but they are a narrow, near-sighted view of sexuality that it behooves the BDSM community itself to break out of. And I mean now.

As KinkForAll New York City showed, the KinkForAll format and method has the power to radically reframe the public discourse around sex, gender, and sexuality away from the notion that people who practice BDSM or any non-mainstream sexuality are not normal, that we are fundamentally different from vanilla people, and towards an ideal of sexual equality regardless of activity. It should not matter that some men like to tie girls up or that I like to be tied up when I get fucked because nobody fucking cares except my sex partners, which is exactly how it should be.

It’s certainly important that there are people, like me, who openly, honestly, and publicly make ourselves and our sex lives visible to other people. I am in no way discounting the work of countless sex-positive advocates in prior generations who worked towards the appropriate representation of the kind of sex we want to have and distinction from the kind of sex other people have. As Sascha wrote recently,

it’s natural to want to feel different or special. I know that I’ve been guilty of using kink as a way to establish my otherness, to create a separation between me and the “vanilla” world.

But as Sascha also notes, creating an opaque separation between us and “the ‘vanilla’ world” is to be trapped in a ridiculous and unhelpful “us versus them” mentality that only serves to distance (consensual) BDSM activities away from the mantle of human rights.

I can’t help but be reminded of one of my favorite Little Britain characters, Daffyd Thomas, the only gay in the village. He goes around declaring his otherness and creating his own persecution, even though it seems that the rest of the village is bi-curious at the very least.

This is why it is not only helpful, but critically vital that KinkForAll does not become a BDSM-centric space, why sexuality-neutral venues (such as universities and local community centers) are far superior for KinkForAll events over dungeons and swinger clubs. This is why the whole thing is called KinkForAll and not BDSMForAll in the first place! Not that there’s anything wrong with adapting the KinkForAll model and creating a smaller, more BDSM-centric additional space. I’d go to that, too, I just don’t want to lose the broader diversity.

As I said on the netcast audio about KinkForAll that I recorded with Axe on his MasoCast, people who are not a part of sexuality communities and who do not have an awareness of the intricacies of our vocabulary use “kink” and “kinky” to apply to any non-mainstream sexual idea. We therefore must broaden the discussion and our use of the word so that we stop training people who’ll listen to respond with reactions like, “It’s all whips and chains and I’m not into any of that!”

The BDSM community is so focused on these, like, extreme sports-style skill sets that we forget, often, that’s not necessarily the most important thing… especially for people who need to know more about the world in which we live in [in order] to come out to our world.

This is why I want to see lawyers present on obscenity law at KinkForAll. This is why I want to see gender studies students debate gender theory at KinkForAll. This is why I want to see artists discuss sexuality in art at KinkForAll. This is why I want to see hackers showcase awesome technologies at KinkForAll. This is why I want to see community leaders leading by example at KinkForAll. This is why I want to see sex workers teaching skills for self-protection at KinkForAll.

Having all of this other stuff, this stuff-that-has-nothing-to-do-with-hitting-people-as-part-of-sex, does not negate the usefulness of having a Spanking 101 presentation (for example), but I can guarantee that not having all this other stuff will make a Spanking 101 presentation totally fucking useless.

So please, not just when you unorganize local KinkForAll events, but also when you go to local group meetings, talk to your friends, family, and peers, please remember to engage with them rather than separate yourself from them. The people in the rest of the world are not our enemies, unless we fail to make them our allies.

Donate Bitcoin

flattr this!