Over at the Washington City Paper, Amanda Hess wrote about her experiences at KinkForAll Washington DC 2 and Dr. Gail Dines’ Stop Porn Culture anti-porn activist briefing on The Hill last Tuesday. Her column is well worth a read, and exposes the should-be-obvious blatant hypocrisy with which fear-mongering anti-porn crusaders conduct themselves on a regular basis:

When it comes to anti-porn activism, sex sells. At the briefing, Wheelock College professor Gail Dines becomes perhaps the first person to utter the words “cum dumpster” at a Capitol Hill press event. Over the past 20 years, Dines has made a living observing such degradations. As the crowd picks at fruit plates, she rattles off a selection of titles she’s researched, such as Anally Ripped Whores and Gag on My Cock.

Where Maymay displays spreadsheets, the porn critics on Capitol Hill show pictures.

I encourage you to read the whole thing. It’s very succinct, and all told I think quite fair.

Last week, Amanda contacted me and asked me some questions for her story in an email. I want to share that email here because I think comparing and contrasting the published article with the email interview is illustrative for anyone who finds themselves in a spotlight.

OK, here are my questions for you:

1. First off, are you comfortable with me printing your full name?

Yes, but I’d strongly prefer you to use my more well-known pseudonym, ‘maymay.’ I’m not asking this because my real name is hidden or because I’m not “out” in any way, but you and I both know how much work online reputation management is, and I’d appreciate your assistance in helping me keep the quality of life online I currently have.

2. How about your age?

Go for it. I’m 25.

3. Donna M. Hughes’ and Margaret Brooks’ bulletin suggested that some people had warned you that your ideas on Kink-for-All being open to the public could get you labeled as a “pedophile.” Had you ever been labeled a “pedophile” before that bulletin was sent out?

No. The first instance of those accusations was a direct result of Donna M. Hughes’ and Margaret Brooks’ bulletin.

4. Some background on the first KFADC: What inspired the relocation from Bethesda Chevy-Chase high school to the Montgomery County Executive Office Building?

First off, let me say I’m no more privy to those conversations than anyone else is. The relocation is well-documented in the KinkForAll mailing list archives, where it was announced—that’s how I learned about the relocation. The KinkForAll mailing list and its archives are intentionally public in an effort to keep KinkForAll as a community as transparent, accessible, and accountable as possible.

Anyway, for the nitty-gritty about the relocation, see this thread: http://groups.google.com/group/kinkforall/browse_thread/thread/22853a9dc1f73131/d4ba9972d600038e

Quoting from Nikolas, Basically, the school board is prepared to make a big deal [legally and politically] about KinkForAll being at the school. […] One part of their argument is that there’s an increased chance of sex offenders being present on school grounds […] They are also invoking the school’s responsibility to shield children from material they deem inappropriate.

Obviously, I feel that the school board’s concerns are misguided, and I find it interesting that the concerns they cited are exactly the same concerns Donna M. Hughes, Margaret Brooks and other critics of KinkForAll cite in an unsuccessful attempt to paint the event as “obscene” and “a danger to the community” in which it is held. The similarity of the concerns showcase the necessity for a more judicious attitude not merely about KinkForAll, but sexuality as a whole. I spoke about the first KinkForAll Washington DC’s relocation and its wider implications on the perception of youth sexuality at that event. The video of my presentation is available online, and has received more than 3,000 views in a matter of months:

http://vimeo.com/7783159

I think it’s unfortunate that some people jump to horrific conclusions about our community-based sexuality education initiative without doing basic research such as attending one of the events themselves. I mean, the unconferences are designed to be very accessible; they’re totally free.

5. In Boston, what inspired the move from the University of Massachusetts-Boston to Boston University?

Once again, I don’t have any special knowledge here. All of the information I have is publicly available on the mailing list. In this case, the thread you should read is here: http://groups.google.com/group/kinkforall/browse_thread/thread/d90859b29f491e1d/0409ff624bc21cca

I asked for this information in the thread: It would also be beneficial if Trish or whoever else has details about what *exactly* happened and also *why* UMass Boston is pulling out could share that information in writing[…].

The person who secured the original venue in the first place, Trish, said this in another email in the same thread: “There was a regime change in administration/coordination over the summer, and the commitments to give space to the old regime were not honored by the new regime.”

That’s all the information I have because that’s all the information on the mailing list. I again stress that I rely on the same sources that the public does for information about KinkForAll because those sources are one and the same. This is why KinkForAll is so transparent and so honest—the processes we use for producing unconferences are the exact same ones we use to document our activities and share them with the world. For more details on this venue change, you’ll have to ask UMass directly, or at least ask Trish.

Despite the fact that KinkForAll Boston lost its confirmed venue 8 days before the unconference was to be held, the unconference received no less than 3 alternative offers within a matter of days. Boston University was the venue ultimately chosen and the event was a wonderful success.

I think that this instance was a remarkable example of how KinkForAll really shines: the agility of the unconference model coupled with the passion of the unorganizers empowered the community to handle this major unforeseen hurdle with grace and speed. The host of KinkForAll Boston was the Women’s Resource Center at Boston University, the leader of which personally commented to me about how inspired she was and asked if future KinkForAll unconferences would be held at Boston University. I told her what I tell everyone who asks me that: KinkForAll happens whenever you want it to happen. If you want to have one, join the KinkForAll mailing list and ask for help unorganizing one yourself. :)

6. You’ve blogged about attempting to contact Hughes and Brooks about the bulletin. Did they ever respond to your requests?

A few days after Donna M. Hughes’ and Margaret Brooks’ bulletin was distributed by the Salvation Army’s Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking listserve, I wrote a blog post directly addressing their concerns about KinkForAll unconferences, but I have yet to hear any response from them despite numerous personal invitations to dialogue. Go figure. That blog post is here:

http://maybemaimed.com/2010/03/27/addressing-donna-m-hughes-and-margaret-brooks-concerns-over-kinkforall-unconferences/

I even personally invited both Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks to join the KinkForAll mailing list so that they could air their concerns to the community directly. I promised to help them liaise with the KinkForAll community at large and also reminded them that approaching our community as though it and I were one and the same devalued the contributions of the many committed unorganizers who actually produced most of the events. To date, I never saw a response either to my inbox or to the KinkForAll mailing list.

My correspondence to (and frustratingly not with) them are public, on my blog and on the KinkForAll mailing list, linked above and here: http://groups.google.com/group/kinkforall/browse_thread/thread/4020d397e88241ed/d129d5809c3a34d5#msg_0a2e3a25e924124a

Moreover, I think it’s worth pointing out that several other KinkForAll participants, notably KinkForAll Providence unorganizer Aida Manduley, also emailed Margaret Brooks, Donna M. Hughes, and their collaborator Melanie Shapiro personally. In addition to KinkForAll Providence, Aida organized a panel discussion at Brown University and invited all three academics to attend, but none of them did. Aida gave me permission to reprint her email to them, which I blogged about (along with information about the panel event, at which I spoke), here:

http://maybemaimed.com/2010/04/23/panel-at-brown-university-when-educators-are-censors/

Naturally, I recorded the panel session in case Donna M. Hughes, Margaret Brooks, or Melanie Shapiro might want to refer to the event after-the-fact, as they’d done to other events I’ve participated in previously. You can watch that video here:

http://maybemaimed.com/2010/05/08/certain-unalienable-rights/

As far as I’m aware, not one KinkForAll participant who has attempted to engage with these academics has received so much as an email reply. However, Donna M. Hughes and her colleagues have continued to publish misleading information about me, personally and by name, in more of their bulletins.

7. How do you feel about the anti-porn conferences recently held in Boston and D.C.? Can KFA attendees and anti-porn attendees find common ground somewhere?

If what anti-porn activists say can be believed, then I think KinkForAll participants and anti-porn conference attendees have the same goals. Dr. Gail Dines, who addressed Congress this past Tuesday, plainly said that porn has become the main source of sex education for boys and girls (and, presumably, differently-gendered young people who, y’know, also need sex education). This is one of the many problems that KinkForAll was carefully designed to address. Both KinkForAll participants and anti-porn activists want to see a world in which erotica intended to titillate rather than educate is NOT the primary source of sex education for anyone, young or old, because both groups fiercely believe that such material is not well-suited for the task of education.

Interestingly, KinkForAll Washington DC 2 was held the same day as Gail Dines’ Stop Porn Culture (SPC) conference, on June 12th, 2010. Several KinkForAll participants, including KinkForAll Providence unorganizer Aida Manduley and presenter Megan Andelloux, attended the SPC event where Donna M. Hughes was a prominent speaker. This resulted in some remarkable conversation on Twitter as the events’ hashtags intermingled, and I was heartened by Megan’s and Aida’s outreach. Their relentlessly respectful behavior in the face of what I can only describe as sheer contempt for their beliefs (Aida tweeted that Donna M. Hughes refused even to shake her hand) served to highlight the differences in KinkForAll participants’ mindsets versus those of anti-porn activists, and I hope I’ll continue to see positive change come from Aida and Megan’s efforts on that day.

8. Why do you think KFA scares some people?

KinkForAll acknowledges personal agency and engenders personal empowerment, two things that frighten every group that forces victimhood onto people, as anti-trafficking activists (such as Donna M. Hughes) often do to sex workers, and that anti-porn activists (such as Gail Dines) often do to men and women at large.

Moreover, KinkForAll’s principles, which presume everyone who participates regardless of race, creed, religion, age, (dis)ability, economic standing, sexual orientation, or gender has something of value to contribute, and its prioritizing of accessibility and serendipity by doing away with things like registration tickets and scheduling approval is a radical departure from more traditional conference and learning styles that many people, especially academics, are comfortable with. And we’ve all seen people fear what they find uncomfortable. So, I think KinkForAll scares the people mired in their fears rather than reaching for their dreams, and I think it appeals to optimistic people more likely to see possibility and diversity in uncertainty, rather than seeing persecution and disempowerment wherever they look.

I hope that one day, the people scared of KinkForAll—and possibly even me by association—will feel intrigued and safe enough to attend one of the unconferences, where they’ll be greeted with a smile and a handshake.

9. Why is it important to broadcast as much info about the KFA proceedings online as possible?

First and foremost, KinkForAll offers an unprecedented opportunity to improve sexuality resources of all kinds, especially educational ones. Recording media such as videos and audio and publishing them online free for the world creates a distributed yet well-organized library of discussions, presentations, lectures, online workshops, and more about all kinds of sexuality-related issues ranging from technology to health and beyond.

When people like Wisconsin DA Scott Southworth can threaten schoolteachers with imprisonment merely for following laws about sex education, I think broadcasting the crowd-sourced and novel discussions that happen at KinkForAll unconferences is more important than ever! Self-righteous morality crusaders actively undermine the efforts of accredited sex educators like Megan Andelloux (similarly targeted by Donna M. Hughes as I was) who are trying to help people overcome horrific social stigmas and devastating legal, medical, or other battles just to live free of oppression. I think supporting a grass-roots, public-domain infrastructure for inspiring conversations about the intersection of sexuality and the rest of life, as KinkForAll does, is vital to keep fear and intolerance about our sexual selves at bay.

Also, quite plainly, recording and broadcasting or documenting not just the unconference proceedings but everything else involved with it is useful when someone like you asks me about what happened, when, and why. This transparency has been an incredibly powerful shield of protection because being able to call up relevant information from a publicly archived space, and knowing that it’s accurate as it can be corroborated by anyone at any time, makes it ridiculously easy to fight claims of wrongdoing. Such accusations simply can not stand up to the facts, which everyone has equal and easy insight into. :)

Of course, not everyone feels safe being video recorded because, in society’s fevered fear of sexuality, they might lose a job or custody of their children just for being seen at a KinkForAll unconference. That’s why KinkForAll participants pay careful attention to issues of personal privacy and, among other things, supply a simple red (or sometimes bright orange) sticker that can be worn to signal one’s preference not to be photographed or video recorded. I’m saddened that the cultural fear of sex that activists and academics like Donna M. Hughes, Margaret Brooks, Gail Dines and numerous others closely associated with the anti-porn movement perpetuate still causes so much suffering. Many people worry about their safety and wellbeing, just because they’re kinky, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or intersex, or because they have any fetish at all, or because they sometimes watch porn, or because someone thinks they’re “addicted” to sex or masturbation, or, in the case of young people especially, because they’re merely trying to learn about their body.

Nevertheless, I’m hopeful that once enough media is out there, its ripple effect will make being and celebrating who we are safer than hiding who we are. Because in reality, as I learned first hand, the closet is not a safe place to be, no matter how much more uncomfortable coming out might feel at first.

And anything else you’d like to say about either KFA or the anti-porn initiatives: I’m all ears.

Amanda

I think anti-porn initiatives are a smoke-screen for real issues that affect society, real issues such as the stigmas of STIs like herpes, paranoia over youth sexuality, and legal, personal and political implications of sex blogging—real issues that KinkForAll participants are addressing in increasingly creative and empowering ways both at the unconferences themselves and in their daily lives. None of these problems will disappear with the disappearance of pornography, even if pornography were their root cause, an anti-porn activists’ claim for which there is absolutely no evidence despite decades upon decades of religiously-backed drum-banging.

I think we all need to be careful not to get distracted from the important work of making the world a more sexually healthy place by red-herring rhetoric and faulty research such as that of Stop Porn Culture. Gail Dines, her organization, and her colleagues blatantly misdirect conversation and use language and visuals calculated to trigger an emotional response of fear and anger in her audience, just as Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks did in their bulletins about me. These people consistently (and I dare say deliberately) ignore the diversity of both erotic imagery and real encounters—Gail Dines made no mention of pornography that does not include women, of which there is plenty in the form of gay male erotica for instance, in her speech on Tuesday—and disingenuously claim to speak for the women who they work so hard to silence, such as the countless sex workers whose lives are devastated by unwanted “rescues”.

So I think that people and feminists in particular need to be ever-vigilant not to let the language of feminism and gender equality be co-opted in order to support anti-women policies, to justify discrimination or censorship, or to enable the imposition of self-righteous moral or religious doctrine on anyone, ever.

Moreover, I think that the information age has made it more critical than ever that people develop information literacy and critical thinking skills. We’re all just people with websites. Go make up your own mind.

Cheers,
-maymay

Two things struck me as I was preparing my reply to Amanda.

First, her questions were incredibly pointed, and it was difficult for me to come up with short answers. I grew increasingly impressed with Amanda’s obvious intellect the more I analyzed the questions. Although she offered to speak with me on the phone in addition to sending me an email with her questions, I chose the email because I knew I’d be busy at my day job.

Looking back on our exchange, I’m glad I asked for an email instead of a phone call because I’m far more eloquent in writing than I am in speech, as regular listeners to Kink On Tap surely know. I had the opportunity to ask for some input from people close to me, including Aida and Emma, who were a great help in getting my thoughts organized enough to make my points clearly.

Second, I noticed that the column Amanda wrote included no content directly from our email exchange. This reifies what I already knew: you do not get to tell the story you want to tell when you speak to news outlets of any sort, whether large and well-known or small and self-published. Instead, you only get to influence it. If you want to tell your story, you damn well better tell it yourself.

It should be noted that Amanda was surely working under both time and length constraints, among others. I thank her for writing her piece, and for being the only journalist I know of to do so after attending a KinkForAll unconference and experiencing it in person, albeit for only a portion of the day. If only KinkForAll’s detractors would show us that courtesy…. (You know who you are.)

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