Earlier this month, I was forced to deal with a frightening attack on my personal integrity and one of my sex-positivity projects. Thankfully, no serious damage to anyone or anything was done, but the attack helped me see that these experiences have now become a pattern. In other words, as it’s already happened several times over the course of the last year, I realize they’re probably not going to stop soon.
It’s no surprise, really. I’ve gone through an incredible transformation from a disgruntled youth to what I believe I can safely describe as a sexual freedom community organizer this year. Merging my passions for technology and sexual freedom has meant I’ve become a spokesperson for the intersection of tech and sex, founding KinkForAll put me at odds with some of the more traditional sexuality community leaders, and the louder I get and the more I do with media projects like Kink On Tap and SexEdEverywhere, the more obvious a target for opposition I become.
This change has provided some invaluable experiences from which I’ve learned a lot. However, not all of these lessons have been fun, or easy. Some of them, like what happened a few weeks ago, have been downright enraging, deeply hurtful, and very scary.
Now, I could get upset about attacks on me and my work (and I did, especially since the nastiest ones came from people who call themselves educators), but I could also see opposition to what I do as a sort of unsolicited advice. Detractors can help me figure out what more I need to do to make the world a better place. Some of the people holding uninformed beliefs that I’m recklessly endangering people’s lives rather than improving them are the very ones I need to find a way to reach more than any other group.
And that brings me to my question for all of you:
In your attempts to share knowledge, how do you deal with certified educators who try to prevent you from speaking up, who want to silence your voice? What do you do if you disagree with them about what education itself means?
This is the question that’s been challenging me for weeks now. Despite mulling it over in my head, I haven’t come up with answers. I have, however, learned some lessons about what to do in tough situations that I’d like to share with you now. In so doing, I hope to start a conversation with you and the wider education community about educators and education itself, particularly education about controversial topics like sex, because I think this is a conversation that needs to be had and from which I can learn a lot.
1. Don’t let “stop energy” distract you from your work.
Time and again, the first thing I hear when I propose an idea to a group of people is the word “no.” It’s like an omnipotent monster, always there everywhere you go, never backing down. This monster can also come in the form of “can’t,” “don’t,” and perhaps most tellingly, “shouldn’t.” All of these are the same: a form of opposition that Dave Winer calls stop energy. Dave describes stop energy as
reasons why [one] can’t or shouldn’t be allowed to do what [one] proposes.
Sometimes stop energy is unintentional, coming from friends who want to help you avoid pitfalls but fail to express themselves supportively. Other times, stop energy can be dangerous, coming from people who will actively try to prevent you from accomplishing your goal. In my experience, these are often people who feel threatened by you or your work because you’re changing the status quo in some way. These are also the people most likely to viciously criticize and undermine you in any number of subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
As I mentioned in my KinkForAll Providence presentation,
For those that don’t know, when Sara Eileen and I co-founded KinkForAll, we took some very heavy criticism from people who believed that the essentially open and public nature of KinkForAll events were “recklessly endangering” participants, that we would be “outing” people. I believe this criticism was spawned from a belief in [a] false dichotomy: that to be public is to be out, that in order to have adequate privacy, people of sexuality minorities must be closeted.
Most often, however, stop energy can simply be distracting. The larger the group you’re speaking to, the more distracting stop energy you’re likely to encounter. Like waves in a giant pool, I encountered torrents of this form of stop energy when I started MaleSubmissionArt.com from people who were disapproving of my use of imagery I didn’t know the source of, who questioned the need for the site’s existence, or who simply didn’t understand my goal. If I had taken the time to respond to most of these people, the site would never have survived because all my time would’ve been sucked up by the distraction they created.
Stop energy is deadly to projects and ideas. Regardless of whether it is active opposition or simply a passive decoy, I learned that you must absolutely never let negative attention keep you from doing your work. You must constantly, consistently, relentlessly keep pushing forward. Stop for just a moment before you reach your tipping point—a kind of stop energy escape velocity, if you will—and your success is in question.
2. Win-win is more possible than you think; never settle.
I don’t believe in compromise, in splitting the difference, or in zero-sum games. That doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore people or force my will on others. What it means is that given two diametrically opposed resolutions to a problem, I always seek a third option.
Sometimes finding win-win situations involves changing the rules of the game. Despite what many people might say, changing the rules of the game is okay because if you prioritize a system’s bureaucracy over the value it was (ostensibly) intended to provide, you’ll lock yourself into a cage called stagnation. Giving in to a compromise is the antithesis of win-win situations (scenarios in which everyone benefits and no one’s desires are sacrificed) and, I promise you, win-win situations are more possible than you think.
Case in point, despite the stop energy people threw at me for MaleSubmissionArt.com about its use of images, many artists whose work I feature are very happy to have their photographs displayed on the site. What I find horribly ignorant is not the desire of some artists to protect their work by restricting who can republish it, but the notion that because they don’t want to participate in the site, they have some right to prevent me from involving others. That’s the kind of approach guaranteed to preclude even the possibility of a win-win situation from emerging, and that’s just bad for everyone.
For a more personal example, in the two months or so since I quit my day job, I was able to find a new job that takes up less of my time. When I quit my day job, I wrote:
I’m not willing to merely survive, because I demand excellence and happiness. I demand it of myself, and so I demand it of you. […] I believe there is more value in doing, being, and getting what I want than in sacrificing it. I believe that there is more richness in the world than can be measured with all the world’s riches.
If I was ever willing to compromise the full realization of my dreams, I would never have been able to make the opportunities I have now.
3. Engage opponents in constructive dialogue.
Sadly, despite your best intentions, some people are just going to dig their heels in and fight against everything you do. At KinkForAll Providence, Megan Andelloux gave a talk called Sex Panic in Pawtucket where she discussed her experience dealing with just such a situation:
When Megan Andelloux wanted to open The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health in Pawtucket, RI, “freaked out” residents barricaded her opening for 5 months and the local police threatened to arrest her. At KinkForAll Providence, 1 week after Megan’s education center opened, she gives a talk about the “sex panic” that swept the state and captured national headlines. Megan tells of a University of Rhode Island professor who waged a “war” to stop her from educating adults about sex, how locals demanded that “we should outlaw sex!” and how she fought for your sexual freedoms—and won!
(Emphasis mine. )
Megan’s talk is well worth listening to, but what I found most interesting about it is that she had to fight back against educators who were trying to stop efforts to educate. This is interesting because the slanderous attacks against me have often come from educators, too.
In one case, the person in question runs classes about various sexuality topics and accused me of attempting to get KinkForAll attendees registered as sex offenders because of my insistence that the unconferences place no age-based restriction on who can participate. In another case, the person is a professor at a university (much like Megan’s experience), who tried to stop KinkForAll events by trying to build a case to show how I’m supposedly intentionally crafting dangerous environments and luring young people there, among other things.
I think these people are afraid. So afraid, I think, that they let paranoia overcome their reason. I think educators more than any other group should be people who empower, not censor. As I said during my presentation at KinkForAll Washington DC:
If you truly want to protect our children from sexual abuse, then education is far and away the best protection you can give them. And yet, sadly, even in otherwise unbiased communities, many people are extremely uncomfortable with the idea that young people might want to participate, almost always citing fears that access to sexuality information could be traumatic. Tragically, projecting such sexual paranoia onto young people is actually killing many of them.
Sadly, because of the social constructions of power with which sex and age are so inextricably intertwined, the people in power—the adults—often choose censorship to restrict the availability of sexuality information to young people instead of education, all under the guise of protection. But censorship and oppressive information restrictions are not protection, only education is.
In these and other instances, attempting to engage constructively with these individuals has proven enormously difficult. In one case, I was forced to disengage when I realized that the discussion itself was a stalling tactic; the person in question was determined to turn any engagement whatsoever into pure stop energy. In other cases, people refused to engage me directly and instead went behind my back in order to sabotage my work and the work of my collaborators by making outrageous and slanderous claims about us and our intentions.
Thankfully, these sorts of people have a fundamental weakness: they don’t listen. In one case, the person in question actually used my own words about education’s importance (the ones I quoted above, in fact) in order to attempt to convince others that I was trying not to educate. Nonsensical, I know, but that’s how twisted these people’s perceptions of me are.
After KinkForAll Washington DC was ousted from our original venue, we were concerned that the negative press it got would mean detractors would show up to the unconference itself. We were concerned about the same thing at KinkForAll Providence. That didn’t happen, but what if it did? What could we do?
As part of the public discussion about the concerns, “Chris!” made the suggestion on the KinkForAll mailing list that we could actually invite these people to voice their opinions in the same manner that we are voicing ours: by encouraging them to lead a session at KinkForAll! I think this could be exactly the right move.
This doesn’t merely sound diplomatic and effective as a show of integrity if not actual discussion. (I don’t know if any people who might show up as protesters to a KinkForAll would actually take us up on such an offer.) More than that, I think it would engage the opposition in the very process of constructive conversation they wish to destroy. Because, as I’m beginning to realize more and more, opposition is not inherently incorrect, nor is it inherently less informed (although it certainly is less informed relatively often).
Opposition is just that: difference. And difference is required for the very thing I want to promote: diversity. Because diversity is unity.
What opposition doesn’t have to be is violent, restrictive, or oppressive. It doesn’t have to impinge on anyone’s rights or freedoms. There can be opposition to a thing and that thing can still harmlessly exist at the same time. That’s the kind of opposition I have to church groups, for instance. I’m certainly not interested in going to any, but I don’t feel any compulsion to stop them from meeting in public places or from letting them pray in those places or in private.
Live and let live—freely, diversely, and without restriction. Again, quoting from my KinkForAll Washington DC presentation:
The more afraid we are, the more arbitrary rules—like age-based oversimplifications—we try to impose on each other. That’s not a solution—that’s unacceptable.
I think people who oppose education oppose humanity itself. Our innate human drive to learn, to know things we didn’t know before, to explore the strange, new worlds of uncertainty is among the most fundamental parts of our existence. It’s the driving force behind the pursuit of happiness. Because if knowledge is power, learning is self-empowerment. In fact, the root of the word educate is educe, a word that means “to draw out potential.”
To me, it seems treasonous to our species that educators like the ones who attacked Megan Andelloux would so unashamedly oppose others’ attempts to educate. Since I can’t fathom why anyone would want to do that, I want to learn more about what these and other people are thinking.
And if you’re someone who’s attacked me in the past, I also invite your comments, especially if you’re one of the people who have previously avoided speaking with me directly. Now’s your chance; I don’t like you right now, but I’m willing to hear you out and learn from you.
What strategies have you used to protect yourself or resolve attacks on your work, your personal life, and your friends from people who are in positions of authority, especially traditional educators? I’m looking forward to hearing about your thoughts and learning from your lessons. Thank you.