“Internet time” makes “dog years” look like they happen in evolutionary terms; slow. So it’s no surprise that barely 2 months later, Kink, Inc.’s “hymen-gate” fiasco, as it’s been christened, is probably well beyond the memory of most sex bloggers. I already said most of my piece, but it’s still very, very interesting and brought up some questions that are very, very worth deliberating.
On one of her many blogs, Clarisse Thorn commented on it and identified some of the right questions very quickly:
I thought the whole brouhaha was extremely interesting, and it’s impressive that Mr. Acworth wrote such a nice apology and redid all the marketing around the event. (Though I do agree with Maymay that it’s unclear how sincere and useful the apology is. I mean, the event has already received so much publicity, and so many people have reposted the press release, that it’s not like Kink, Inc is losing much by changing the marketing at this late juncture.) At the very least, Kink.com is doing its best to appear responsive to the concerns of the sex-positive and sex education community.
I still don’t think the most important questions about this were answered, though. In my opinion, here they are:
- What kind of art/porn do we expect a sex-positive porn company to produce? In constructive terms, what guidelines could we offer?
- How much latitude do we allow them to work within the fetishes of their users, which may occasionally sound politically incorrect — like “virginity” as defined by the presence of a hymen?
Following this public exchange on our blogs, Clarisse and I emailed privately. Shortly thereafter, I learned Clarisse was visiting San Francisco. Although I’m always excited to converse with her, I was even more excited to schedule a lunch date and dive even further into this thing.
So that’s exactly what we did! Best of all, we also recorded (part of) our conversation.
In this 1 hour long recording, Clarisse and I discuss both of the questions she articulated in her blog post. Notably, we also discussed sex-positive advocacy in general and even activism more generally. We debated the relative importance of “the long game” versus “the short game,” i.e., the balance between “what we want” and “when we (realistically) want it.” It was a pretty interesting conversation that I’m happy to be able to share. (As an aside, I don’t have the time to write up a transcript of this conversation; if you do and would like to help me make this conversation more accessible, please send me a transcript via email—my address is on the About page.)
For the impatient among you:
- The first five minutes or so has us setting up the discussion with context.
- We bring up the Kink, Inc. press release at about 5:50 into the recording.
- At about 9 minutes, I begin distinguishing the issues of “virginity” with issues of “corporate social responsibility.” That’s where it gets really juicy.
Of course, there were other questions “hymen-gate” raised, but we focused solely on the sex-positive advocacy perspective. We didn’t really touch on sex worker’s rights, either politically or personally. (If you’re interested in that, Mistress Matisse’s analysis of a sex worker’s emotional opportunity cost is worth a read.)
I want to say a big public thanks to Clarisse Thorn for being a good sport about my clearly unstoppable media-making compulsion. When I interrupted her at the café we were chatting at mid-sentence to say, “Hey, let’s record this conversation and put it online,” she graciously indulged me. For future reference, I absolutely love having conversations like this and if I’m ever in a great conversation with you with a recording device about, don’t be surprised if I pull out the same trick. And if I do, feel free to say, “No, thanks, I don’t want this recorded.” :)
Finally, there is one thing I wanted to say that I wish I had said when we were recording, but I didn’t.
It occurred to me some time ago that the “creepy, old, pathetic submissive men” in the scene—the ones that open conversation with pompous self-abasement such as, “May I rub your feet, Mistress?”—are the BDSM mirror-image of MRAs. Both groups of men are poisoned by a toxic hatred, but while the former seem to express it through an internalized self-loathing, the latter express it by projecting their hatred onto women.
The sad fact of the matter is that these “pathetic” men still comprise the apparent majority of the submissively-oriented men in the BDSM subculture. Their ignorant counterparts also comprise the majority of Kink, Inc.’s consumer base. Or, as Figleaf put it,
the vast, vast majority of their customers are the kind of asshats who believe virginity is something that’s ‘sacrificed.’
Those of us who are active in the sexuality education and advocacy bubbles that consist of parties and fundraisers and benefits, of activist blogs and the conference circuit, often seem to forget that our voices, while loud, are still rare. Time and again, I run into Kink, Inc. supporters—be they models, producers, or friends of employees, but rarely, of course, are these supporters merely consumers themselves—who insist that the overwhelming ignorance and misogyny apparent on the company’s forums are simply a matter of “appreciating fantasy.” Then, in practically the same breath, they also (appropriately) praise Kink, Inc. for scrubbing their forums and chat rooms of improper “decorum”—insults, put-downs, and other statements that cross whatever line they’ve drawn.
But here’s the wrinkle: if the majority of Kink, Inc.’s consumer base were so anti-sexist, why would the need to police their forums and chat rooms exist with such abundance as to necessitate this oft-repeated praise? To borrow an analogy this particular audience may better understand, if monogamous pair-bonding is so much a part of “human nature,” why do governments need to offer tax breaks as a buttress to encourage it? Surely there will be “bad apples” among any customer base and, hell, this is the Internet. But you are betraying naïvety at best and willful ignorance at worst if you discount the fact that Kink, Inc.’s self-policing is at least as much a matter of public relations as it is a matter of professed principle.
So, to those of you who would make such arguments: check your privilege. (In this case, that’s your insider-ness, your wealth of social contacts within “The Scene.”) At a minimum, your unthinking loyalty is showing.