Undoubtedly, some of the moral panic over KinkForAll unconferences (and perhaps me by association) is the fact that the events, which are intentionally open to the public, welcome everyone’s participation. In numerous instances, because of this “anti-invite” and open-doors philosophy, people who would not otherwise have been able to access group discussions about sexuality-related issues have participated. Such participants have included people of color (who are dramatically under-represented in non-judgemental discussions of sexuality), straight people, and yes, “even” minors—who are also people, lest we forget that.
Since so much of the fearfulness bandied about has to do with minors, let me clarify my own opinions on the matter. Although I speak only for myself, I acknowledge that many people look to me for guidance, leadership, or simply information, perhaps because I helped originate the KinkForAll concept or perhaps merely because I am already vocal. I write this now as both an adult who was once a child and as a supporter of the principles of freedom and education for which KinkForAll unconferences stand and seek to promote.
Just as I hope every responsible citizen of humanity feels towards their fellows, I feel an obligation to promote the safety and well-being of the autonomous individuals, both young and old, who associate themselves with KinkForAll unconferences to the best of my ability. However, that feeling of responsibility does not give me the right to decree which people may or may not participate in any given community’s publicly accessible events. Especially in America, a country that defends its citizens’ right to free speech and to organize peacefully, I don’t believe anyone can claim such a right in good conscience.
So I decided to seek advice from many people—both those I was likely to agree with as well as others with whom I wasn’t, and I’ve even reached out to Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks, who incited all this moral panic to begin with—regarding how I can best do this. I thank everyone who has shared their thoughts and opinions with me, publicly and privately, and I hope that those who have yet to join the conversation, particularly Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks, will do so soon.
In light of these conversations, I’d like to make clear that I am of the opinion anyone under the age of consent should be requested to seek the permission of their parents or legal guardian before participating in a KinkForAll unconference. I remain convinced that it would be inappropriate and unnecessary for a specific age restriction to be imposed as a blanket rule for all KinkForAll unconferences. In part, this is because KinkForAll unconferences have already been held in multiple States where local laws vary and, moreover, everyone who has been to a KinkForAll unconference, including minors, has reported feeling safer there than in other spaces.
Further, recall that KinkForAll unconferences expressly disallow eroticized behavior, such as sex acts, because their aim is to inspire conversation about the intersection of sexuality with the rest of life. What they do feature are lectures or conversations that are about topics related to sexuality.
It is a fact that a 17-year-old teenager in the State of New York or Colorado, or a 16-year-old teenager in the States of Michigan, Alabama, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Mississippi, or the District of Columbia may legally consent to sex, but is nevertheless currently barred from many sexuality-related discussion groups until they turn 18 years old in some cases, 19 in others, and 21 in others still, depending on the group in question. It is deeply troubling to think that you would be allowed to do something, but not talk about it.
Young people who cannot legally consent should also have the right to converse in a public setting freely, provided they have their parents’ or legal guardians’ permission to be present. Personally, I do not think that participating in KinkForAll unconferences is appropriate for most younger adolescents, not because they would somehow be in more danger than they’d be hanging out at the mall, but rather because the verbal format as well as the often academic subject matter are unlikely to be meaningful or comprehensible to them. On the other hand, a young person who has the kind of relationship with their parents that’s necessary to ask for permission to participate in a public conference about the intersection of sexuality with the rest of life is arguably much more likely than their peers to be “ready” for and able to meaningfully participate in such an event in the first place.
Given this reality, it is deeply troubling to think that other people’s moral judgements would replace the rights of parents to be decision-makers in their own children’s lives. Obviously, fully-grown adults learn and present information differently than youth do, but this is not universally true. Who should know what is “best” for any individual young person other than that person’s parents, and so who better to be given the opportunity to restrict or permit their participation in public events? That decision should certainly not be mine, nor yours, but rather theirs.
Should I plan future KinkForAll unconferences myself, the above stance reflects the actions I will take. In order to create the safest environment for all involved, I encourage everyone else who wants to plan a KinkForAll unconference to consider adopting this stance, too. KinkForAll—and indeed, your life—is a “do-ocracy”: if you have an idea that promotes compassion, consideration, and our common humanity, then you can do it.
Some have already suggested that a new kind of unconference should be planned, one that is specifically age-appropriate for youth. I have always and will continue to always support efforts to provide venues for sexuality education, discussion, and learning. However, I’m an activist, not a “youth educator,” so I have no intention to organize a youth-focused unconference regarding the convergence of sexuality and other aspects of life. But I do think it’s a great idea, so as I said when this idea was first suggested, I would be thrilled to see someone make that happen.
The idea of BarCamp-like sexuality unconferences has already spread far beyond my co-founder and I. Of the 6 KinkForAll unconferences since March, 2009, I only lead the organization of 2. I’m immensely proud to have helped guide KinkForAll’s development in its first year, and I’m encouraged by the incredible speed with which others have taken it upon themselves to plan more events like the first. As with any good idea, KinkForAll does not belong to anyone because the idea no longer lives in my head, but rather in the world.
What you choose to do with this idea is up to you. If you like it, you can come to a KinkForAll unconference. If you don’t like it, you can choose not to participate. You can make something new of your own, copying what you like about KinkForAll and changing what you don’t. But as long as organizers produce conferences lawfully, respectfully, and in full compliance with whatever contractual obligations they have made, no one has the right to stop them from doing so, no one has the right to tell parents not to bring their families to public community events, and no one has the right to tell teenagers that they cannot speak freely, especially about the things they are legally permitted to do.
Those who wish to stop the spread of information they disagree with often choose to spread fear in its place. I think that’s an irresponsible and dangerous thing to do. It’s precisely because I am deeply invested in the safety, well-being, and education of everyone with whom I share this planet that I ardently support every individual’s fundamental human right to organize peacefully, to speak freely, and to access education that promotes peace and understanding among all people.
Even if you don’t agree with my opinion, I hope that at least now you understand it.