This past weekend, I had a fantastic time participating in KinkForAll Boston, the first KinkForAll event held outside of New York City. By far, my favorite part about it was the incredibly astute discussions everyone was having about diversity and the importance of building bridges between sexuality-centric information and other kinds of information. I believe this topic to be so important that I changed gears from my planned presentation of “The Internet, Porn, Minors, and You,” in which I intended to discuss making sexuality safe and accessible to young people, to dedicate my presentation to the topic of spreading sexuality information for free. (I paid the price for this in lack of sleep the night before….)
Obviously, since I think this topic is so important, I want to share it with you here. The video below is a recording of my presentation, which I titled “Freeing Sexuality Information: Why you can change the world by talking about yourself.” All of the materials used in the presentation are Creative Commons licensed, so you can also redistribute the presentation by downloading and republishing it—and I strongly encourage you to do so.
Download the presentation files here:
- Freeing Sexuality Information keynote presentation as a ZIP archive
- Freeing Sexuality Information presentation as PDF document.
- Freeing Sexuality Information transcript in plain text.
Anyway, for an ill-publicized and ill-fated event, having lost our venue only 8 days prior to the unconference, KinkForAll Boston was a remarkable success. Some of my favorite moments included:
- Late in the day, a participant who originally wore an orange “do not photograph me” sticker on his name tag removed it because, and I quote, he said “I think [doing this is] very important.” That, right there, blew me away.
- Our amazing venue heroes, Liz of the Boston University Women’s Resource Center (BUWRC) came up to me after the event was over and said, “This was amazing. I learned so much.” She then told me she’d love to have some of the speakers at the BUWRC to give hour-long talks because “there was so much more we couldn’t get at in just 20 minutes.” I encouraged her to reach out to any speaker she found interesting by emailing them; everyone who’s willing to be emailed has already posted their email address on the KinkForAll Boston event homepage.
- Discussions during lunch time focused on the differences and mis-uses of the language of our sexuality, which reminded me of an extension of KinkForAll New York City 2‘s presentation by Seth called “Language In The Kinky Community”. At one point during the discussion, someone said, “Wow, this is so interesting. There should be a presentation about this!” And low-and-behold, Heliotrope had already signed up on the schedule grid to do a presentation on that very topic! (Video of her presentation is
- In the morning, Boston Boy gave a great presentation about the legalities of consensual sadomasochistic behavior called “Assault, Battery, and You” but he was uncomfortable with any recording so we never recorded it. Later, after he listened to me giving my presentation, he approached me and said that now that he’d thought about it more, he wished we had recorded his presentation after all. (I do too—it was fantastic.) It was very gratifying to see this motif of people becoming more and more comfortable—and more brave—about sharing what they know in public spheres after they see me doing exactly that.
- (There were many more moments like this, and I might update this list with the others as I recall them.)
My sincerest thanks go out to everyone who participated in KinkForAll Boston, regardless of whether you were there in person or simply joined the conversation on the Internet. And on that note, if you did participate in any way (either in-person or online), please take a moment to help the unorganizers out by filling out the KinkForAll Boston participant questionnaire.
Following is the full transcript of my presentation. Again, please feel free to republish this anywhere you like as long as you link back to this post.
Thank you all for coming to another KinkForAll unconference! Although this will be the 3rd event of its kind, it’s the 1st one that’s made it outside New York City, which I think is a bit of a milestone. I’m going to take the opportunity in my presentation to take a brief look at the current state of sexuality information in the world with you and encourage you to peer through the looking glass with me about where we might be going with such things in the future.
What does information about sexuality look like today? How do people get it, what does it contain–or exclude–and how do people share it? Today, we are interacting with two extremely different dimensions of sex information. In one dimension, a recent creation, huge amounts of information is freely available and ranges the gamut of different sexual activities, interests, and influences. In the other dimension, however, information about sex in any form is extremely restricted and is even dangerous to have, speak about, or reference.
What are these dimensions of “sex data”? There are a number of facets, but the most practical way to look at the situation is—unsurprisingly—through the lens of the Internet. On the Internet, many people do things with relatively little fear. In other realms, such as at in-person gatherings like this one, many of these people who might otherwise be willing to reach outside their comfort zone online are much more apprehensive, much more fearful. This invokes an obvious question: why? For the answer, let’s first look at mass-market sexuality information.
Arguably the mostinfluential sex educator in the history of the worldis Oprah Winfrey. Sadly, however, her pop-culture popularity belies her ignorance of sexuality, which so strongly focuses on female victimization that one of her recent TV shows warned of “graphic content that is suitable for mature audiences only” because of its depiction of a diagram from a high school biology textbook showing the anatomical location of the vagina. Evidently, according to Oprah, simply being told where the vagina is located on the human body is “graphic,” and requires warnings.
Oprah’s discomfort with the very basics of sexual anatomy is disturbing, but there are other, even more frightening examples of sexual unease in the American mainstream. In fact, some people participating in this event have been criticized on national television by these more evangelical fear mongers. It’s tempting to make things personal, but doing so is ultimately tangential to the point of this talk, which is about freeing “sex data.”
What all of these prominent people have in common is that they are widely regarded as experts. As experts, they have a certain amount of influence over many of the things they discuss, and they are using that influence to reinforce the set of standards for sexual data that exist today. Let’s look at these standards.
One such standard is the law. Recently, right here in Massachusetts, Kathi-Anne Reinstein (your state representative) hasintroduced a bill making it a crime for anyone over 60 to pose nude…for film or photo.Moreover,the law also criminalizes nude or sexual photography of the physically disabled…regardless of mental capacity. Apparently, in Massachusetts [if this bill passes,] you lose control over your sexuality when you lose control over your legs.Furthermore, as many of you are aware, in many states it’s illegal for two people who are recognized by the government as being of the same sex to marry. That’s a standard from which many of our society’s systems, both social and otherwise, draws data. Changing the law changes other systems.
Another such standard of sexual data (all data, really) is the dictionary. A common definition of the word “pretty” that most dictionaries publish is: “pleasing by delicacy or grace; not imposing; [such as] ‘pretty song'; ‘pretty room'; ‘pretty girl'”. Imagine what would change in our use of the English language in reference to “girl” and “boy” if the dictionary would have instead given, “pretty person” as one of its examples.
One final example I’d like to show you is the case of UK-based Filament Magazine who, by way of responding to reader feedback,planned to include a photo set of an aroused man in their second (September) issue. … [Their] printers, however, refusedto go along with the publication, forcing Filament to do business elsewhere. Amidst the plethora oftop-shelf magazines featuring scantily clad and open-legged women, the struggles faced by Filament highlight a deeply entrenched sexism: men can look at women but women cannot look at men.In other words, we are still being told what we are allowed to view, what we are allowed to think about, and what we are allowed to want.
This holds true even if the things we see aren’t the things we actually want. It turns out that our own notions of ideals aren’t what we’re told they are. In fact, in Britain, national polls show that men’s preferences for women’s bodies are several sizes larger than most think. The most profound truth, one Oprah consistently neglects to discuss, is that, human experience itself is diverse. In the age of the Internet, everyone gets a place to say what it is they want. No one can deny it, and no one can nay-say it: you are the only expert, and have the only reliable resource in knowing your own desires—yourself.
So what does all this have to do with freeing sexuality information? These standards, the law, mainstream publishing, and the Internet, all affect the availability not only of information about sexuality, but of information about every topic imaginable. Information is like a network, a web of connections from one topic to another. Like the Internet, it’s possible to get at any piece of information from any other piece of information near instantaneously. But we can’t just teleport there, we have to build the bridges, and make the links, ourselves.
Granted, that’s a big job, and we don’t have a whole lot of good, free resources to begin with. But it’s not impossible. Let me tell you a story: Tired and hungry after a long trek in the wilderness, a traveler approaches a village. She tries to barter for food, but the villagers don’t want to give any away because of the famine they’re suffering. So the traveler takes out her cookware, boils some water in a pot, and drops a stone in it. Curious, a villager asks what she is doing. “I’m cooking stone soup,” she says, “It’s delicious, but it would taste even better with a little bit of garnish.” Comfortable giving up only “a little bit of garnish” to help the hungry traveler out, the curious villager adds it to the soup. Another villager walks by inquiring about the pot, and the traveler again mentions her stone soup which hasn’t reached its full potential yet. So the second villager adds a little bit of seasoning to help. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing (not to mention large) pot of soup is enjoyed by all.
As you may have guessed, this old story is an analogy to the current state of sex information. You and I are hungry travelers—the outliers. We see a better world but don’t have the ingredients to make it a reality by ourselves. So we start talking—to ourselves, at first, in open, public online diaries (“blogs”). Then other people get curious about us and What It Is That We Do. We build a small community, one in which people are excellent to one another, where we can build tools to share what we know and to keep us safe, made possible because other curious people have brought their own information and pooled it with ours.
This is the future of sex information. Open, honest, and freely available. Non-commercial. Today,Human sexuality, and especially accurate nonjudgmental sex information has [been] commodified, locked down and made virtually inaccessible by interests ranging from politics to exclusivity agreements—sex ed DRM, if you will.So to build the bridges, to make the links, you, the experts, need to start sharing what you know. Not just about sex, but everything that has to do with your life. Everything that touches your life can also touch your sexuality, because information is a web of links.
I don’t know what we’ll be able to create with that kind of freedom. No one does. But one thing is certain: the only way to create it is to free sexuality information.
Thank you for listening. Thank you even more for creating.