EDITORIAL NOTE: The following is a rush transcript of my Arse Elektronika 2011: Screw the System talk. The conference, which focused on the intersection between sex, technology, and class, and which has been thought-provoking every year I’ve attended, did not disappoint. I was posting updates through most of the conference with the #Arse2011 hashtag, and all of the talks got audio recorded. They will eventually be available from Monochrom.

I wanted to start by pointing out this quote by Antonio Negri:

Nothing is richer or finer than to be able to connect the immediate needs of individuals to the political needs of the class.

On that note, thank you to Johannes for putting this conference together.

[Applause.]

And also to Robert and Carol for hosting this space. I want to make sure I give them honor and homage, too, for allowing us to do this here. So this year’s Arse Elektronika is “Screw the System.” And, on that note I also want to thank the previous speakers who came before me, particularly the ones who were talking about the various perceptions of social constructs.

You guys are a group of people whose minds are irrepressible. You people present ideas at places like this, and hopefully in the work you do elsewhere as well, that help create a kind of psychological liberty—a kind of space for possibility in the mind. This is really, really important. You guys are rebels of today and possible prophets of the future.

Now, in contrast to that, we have “The Man.” We have “The System.” The System wishes to maintain the status quo; they encourage stagnation. And how does that work? Class. Okay, so, class generally. What is class? That’s what we’re here to talk about.

High class. Low class. What class are you in? What is your first class? When was your second class? Do you like your class mates? Can you mate cross-class? What makes you feel like a second-class citizen? Are you working class? Are you working in class? Did you even go to class today? Classy.

So, when I come to talk about this topic, you’ll have to forgive me because this is not a topic I can talk about dispassionately. And so I’m going to change the tone a little bit.

When I began to think about it, I went first to the mathematics definition, which is a set of things that are kept separate from another set of things. Now, in social contexts, social classes are also very intricately intertwined with the idea of social power. When I started thinking about that, I started to look at the work of Max Weber, who was a German sociologist and political economist in the very early 1900’s.

And he thought of class—he created this theory academically called the “three component-theory of stratification” or more commonly known as Weberian Stratification—that was founded upon these two different positions of power. On the one hand you have the possession of power, and this depends on the control of certain social resources. And [on the other], you have the exercise of power, or the ability to get one’s way, often regardless of potential opposition. So, together, the possession and exercise of power—again, social resources—conflagrate this ability to get what one wants.

So now when we talk about the sphere of sexuality, we often talk about the idea of sexual empowerment. And I think no one put this better than Kristen Stubbs, actually, when she talked about sexual empowerment from making toys. She said,

I don’t believe that off-the-shelf sex toys or equipment can meet everyone’s needs. Commercial products also tend to be very expensive, so DIY alternatives can help to make toys more accessible. Promoting technological empowerment for sexuality and pleasure is about enabling people to build and modify objects around them so they can have the kinds of experiences that they want to have.

It’s a pretty basic idea, right? You should get to have the kind of experiences you want to have. So, sexual empowerment is the ability to have the sexual experiences that one wants. Kitty [Stryker] talked about this very eloquently just recently.

Now let’s talk about that in the context of the BDSM Scene.

Now, when I say “The Scene,” I have to be very specific. I’m saying capital-T, capital-S, “The Scene.” Specifically, I’m talking about the semipublic, pansexual, often middle-class and privileged “public” BDSM Scene. In her paper, Working at Play: BDSM Sexuality in the San Francisco Bay Area, Margot Weiss defines that as such:

“Pansexual” is a term used by the SM community to describe organizations, spaces and scenes that are open to, used by, or include people of various sexual and gender orientations. In practice, the “pansexual community” in San Francisco usually means the community of practitioners who join and participate in organizations like Society of Janus and SM Odyssey, take classes and workshops in places like QSM, attend munches, and semipublic play parties, and otherwise participate in the formally organized scene[…]. In general, the men are, in the majority, heterosexual, the women are bisexual and heterosexual, and there are a fair number of transgendered practitioners and professional dominants of various orientations.

Now, [Weiss wrote] an ethnography, so she interviewed a bunch of individuals. And what I want to call out here is:

In total, I interviewed 51 practitioners: 27 men and 24 women (including two transgendered women). Their average age was 41, they were 87% white and most were involved in long-term relationships: 25% were married, and 38% were partnered. Of my female interviewees, 50% were bisexual, 29% were lesbian, and 15% were heterosexual[…]. Of my male interviewees, 59% were heterosexual, 26% were bisexual, and 15% were gay. Almost all of my interviewees would be considered middle class, based on education, profession, and income; 26% worked in the computer or tech industry, more than any other category of employment, including “other.”

So, before we get too much further it’s really key to understand this particular distinction. That when I talk about The Scene I’m specifically talking about this community of people whether they are in San Francisco or elsewhere. They have formalized structures, which I call the capital-S Scene. You can think of this—you can ask yourself some questions to see how closely associated you are with this particular group. For example:

  • How many hours a week do you spend on, say FetLife and/or in BDSM email lists (discussion lists about the topic)?
  • How many and which BDSM, Leather, or Scene organizations are you involved with? Do you belong to?
  • What percentage of your social life would you consider to be connected to that community, to The Scene?
  • How much money do you estimate do you regularly spend on BDSM-related events, or equipment, or things like that: toys, services, etc.?

It is okay if you do or do not. :)

Another way to look at it is to look around right now. Who do you not see here? I don’t see a lot of dark-skinned people, Black people. Some—only two. Disproportionately few. I don’t see a lot of people with disabilities. I don’t see a lot of “poor” people. People who could not come because this [conference] has a price tag. It’s a low price tag, which is worth congratulating you [Johannes] for but it still has a monetary cost. I know people who couldn’t be here today because they could not afford the $25 to get in the door.

Now, I’m going to talk specifically about—well, let’s mention this: look at my skin color, look at my gender presentation, which is worth noting also, that I’m not in those categories, that I’m able-bodied, etc.—but let’s put all that aside. Instead, I’m going to talk about submissive masculinity and the submissive masculine, because that’s what I most know.

In The Scene, there is a shared culture, shared news outlets, shared informational outlets, and harkening back to Adam’s talk yesterday for those who were there, this is very much like a nation-state. The collection of people for whom that realm comprises the majority of their social existence live in that particular kind of nation-state. I call this The Scene-State. Capital-S, capital-S.

The Scene-State. It is an imagined community. And like any other modern society, it enforces social control on its citizens in particular ways. And that’s what I’m really interested in.

When we think about how that happens, we can again look to Max Weber and his theory of Weberian Stratification. In it, he also discusses three individual components that comprise that kind of social control. He talks about “wealth,” which is the access to material resources, typically thought of as financial. Now, confusingly, he calls this “Class,” which is unfortunate terminology. He talks about power, more formally, political power. He calls this “Party.” And he talks about “Stande”, or Status—social status—and these things are like, “What is your gender presentation? How does that affect you socially?” We talked a lot about that already earlier [in this conference], I’m not going to go over it again.

But this can be mapped almost directly, I think, to the BDSM Scene where “wealth,” for example, is big toybags. Or leathers; the right boots. Power and Party is your Scene affiliation. How many organizations are you a part of? Are you on the Boards of any organizations? What decision making power do you have in those organizations? What political clout does that give you?

And Status? Role orientation. Top? Dom? Sub? Bottom? Femme? Masculine presenting? Now, that’s what I want to focus on because this is, of course, a class analysis of social status in the BDSM Scene. This gets very complicated because of the intersectionalities that are affected by it but the most salient way to talk about it is talk about something called domism, which is the prejudicing against submissive-identified individuals or bottom-identified individuals and towards the normalizing experiences of dominants. And Thomas Millar over at Yes Means Yes is probably the most eloquent on the topic.

He calls this “role essentialism and sexism intersectionality in the BDSM Scene.” (It’s a highly, highly recommended read.) And, basically, he calls it [out as]:

[S]ocial structures within a sexual community that privilege dominants and devalue submissives outside of explicitly negotiated power exchanges. This takes a lot of forms, among them the pathologizing of bottoms and subs; and non-play role-policing and presumption. […] What these prejudices amount to is a normalizing and centering of the experience of the dominant in The Scene.

And this is not just his say-so, it’s not just my say-so, there are numerous ethnographies, like Playing on the Edge by Staci Newmahr (a really, really good book) that talk about exactly this. And people have experienced these kinds of prejudices on an extraordinarily regular basis. In this book, Newmahr writes on page 79:

The most ubiquitous example posits assertiveness as inconsistent with submission. Once, when I articulated a point in a heated conceptual debate, a member of the group asked me whether I was sure I was a submissive. Another time I asked a companion (a top-identified man) to order my coffee while I went to the restroom, prompting another person at the table to exclaim, “Hey, I thought you were a sub!”

So, this is—this can be taken as a bunch of anecdotes from an individual perspective, but if we zoom out to the perspective of the “nation-state,” to see how the nation-state “sees” things, right, how the Scene-State views this, you can see this mirrored in a lot of ways. One of the biggest intersections is the privileging of the dominant experience as an expression of masculinity, so that masculinity itself becomes the way to express dominance, which is obviously frustrating for submissive men like me—and for dominant women, and for anyone who doesn’t match into these boxes. There’s an enormous number of cultural scripts and tropes that we can ascribe to in order to get that kind of presentation to be acknowledged.

But what I want to show you is a prototypical example of how this relates to [social class dynamics]. I run a website called MaleSubmissionArt.com. And here’s a picture that I posted on it—looks pretty tame. And I saw this as a very loving and sensuous photograph. And […] I said here, “tame photo…young couple…struck a chord in me.” […] I saw love.

And here’s what someone else said. Same exact image, pixel for fucking pixel. And here’s their interpretation of the image: “Silly boy. I may let you serve me but I’ll never love you. Is that enough?” And he says, “Yes, Mistress.”

It’s the contrast in these two things, it’s the contrast in the context, not the image, but in the surrounding marketing material in this that pisses me off. Because this is all I get most of the time when I look at porn, or when I look at sexual expression of any kind that tries to present itself as for—and made—made for me.

One of the interesting things about Male Submission Art was that it was specifically an online project. It allowed me to disentangle my embodiment with my expressions. I didn’t look a certain way, I didn’t act a certain way, and I “always pass on the Internet.” And I was able […] essentially to treat the Internet like a way to get that kind of idea and get that different presentation and that different context out into the minds of other people. It was like—to appropriate some technological terminology—it was like “impregnating The Scene’s spaces with cybernetic replication where other people’s minds,” I wrote in a post very angry about this very topic, “other people’s minds offered pre-sequenced cultural genetic material, instruments to engineer a more humane culture.”

So what I did was project my persona so thoroughly up there, on the Internet, that I forgot about being a corporeal being. To get the fucking ideas out there, to make the space in people’s minds where something like that was possible and acceptable.

This does not just affect men, or submissives, it affects pretty much everybody in various ways. Here’s a great post by Adele Haze talking about Kink, Inc.’s marketing phraseology. And one of the things she wrote about here was just taking a bunch of examples of the porn-maker’s way of selling their material:

“Sexy MILF is bound, stripped, and made to carry a mattress through the city so everyone can see what a huge whore she is!”

And then she makes some very, very poignantly sarcastic [and] quite funny remarks about that, for example:

“Tea Blondie gets fucked on the street by BIG BLACK COCK!!!” (OMG, disembodied enthnically-specific cock!)

The thing that was very good about this post, I thought, is that she called out the community of people who support this as being surprised that in their latest incarnation, a particular incident with Niki Blue’s “virginity” press release, as being surprised that this kind of stuff went on! From Kink, Inc.! Oh my god! As if it was some kind of shock. As if they hadn’t been reading this and consuming this all the goddamn time already. Every day that is the presentation. It would only shock somebody, right, if they were surprised that that could be possible. Why don’t people notice that more fully? Didn’t shock me. And it didn’t shock a lot of other people either. But few people in the community, in the Scene-State, had much to say about it.

So this presents women, for the most part, or submissive men on the other part, as worthless people. But we are not worthless individuals, we are very valuable people and the sexualities that we have are also important and valuable and highly subversive and very, very useful. We’re not “poor” people, we are rich people. And so that’s why a lot of people are very angry—very angry—at this constant refrain.

Now if you ask Scene people to fix this, they won’t, because they benefit from the rotten status quo. The fundamental issue to recognize is that people who are community leaders—and I use Kink, Inc. as an example but there are many; we can use the TES Board of Directors or any of the other organizations as well—the thing to recognize is that these Scene-State figureheads, these so-called leaders of the community, are plutocratic vampires. They are vampires because they suck the emotional vitality out of the people. They’re a phalanx of dishonest and untrustworthy people who use the instruments of Scene-State power specifically to enrich themselves—they are cronies—and exclude everybody else. Where do they get these riches? By creating wealth and social opportunities? By creating these sexual opportunities? No. They rake it off the backs of individuals like Mr. Cellophane, who you will never see: people whose only pattern for BDSM play is the fetishizing of lovelessness and exploitation that I showed you in that prototypical example. That’s not wealth creation. That’s wealth redistribution—up, towards them, towards the higher classes.

Any positive representation including simply representations, i.e., visibility, not invisibility—existing representations—is a valuable resource. It’s made scarce specifically to the most intersectionally underprivileged populace. I mentioned some of them earlier: people with disabilities, people of colour, submissive men, in this particular example. Where is fat-positive imagery? Look around you! Look here!

The Center for Sex and Culture is pretty good, generally. But still, where are the fat-positive imagery? Pictures like this: Wheelchair Worship. Where’s that? It’s never gonna be in FetLife’s Kinky & Popular feed.

[…]

So, to understand resources you have to understand poverty. Poverty: in her seminal work, Ruby K. Payne wrote—”A Framework for Understanding Poverty”—she wrote, “poverty is an extent to which an individual does without resources.” And specifically, she wrote that resources are typically thought of as financial resources but that’s just one kind of resource that people have. It’s the very obvious one, but there are also emotional resources; being able to choose and control emotional responses, especially responses to negative things. Mental resources. Spiritual resources. Physical resources. Support systems—whether institutional, or social. Knowledge of hidden rules is a resource that she notes. Knowledge of hidden rules is like the customs of a particular group of people. How do you pass in a social group? You have to have an understanding of how to work the iPad if you’re gonna pretend to be a businessman [in the middle-upper class]. But also things like, what’s the level of noise you’re used to? Poor spaces are typically very noisy and crowded. And one needs solitude and quiet to think, says Chris Hedges. It’s an important thing because the higher class you go, the more space you have, more mental and physical space you have.

And then she also talks about relationships and role models as a resource. Now, on relationships and role models, she says, “All individuals have role models.” I showed you a role model for a submissive guy—that I hated.

All individuals have role models. The question is the extent to which the role model is nurturing or appropriate. Can the role model parent? Work successfully? Provide a gender role for the individual? It is largely from role models that a person learns how to live life emotionally.

Dominant men have role models, too. Many of them talk a lot about that to me. One guy […] a 38-year-old self-identified dominant man goes to a lot of Kink [Inc.] parties, has lots of good memories there, and he says that Kink was wonderful for him, the company, because he:

…saw manifested what was always going on in my own head, which I was ashamed and scared of, and I saw that it could be done in an ethical and consensual manner.

Which is awesome.

I didn’t even recognize that I was dominant or sadistic until I saw James Mogul patterning a way to do that. Once I did, I could avail myself of the great educational opportunities that are all around us here [the Bay Area], but without it, I would likely have remained someone who thought BDSM was for people who inexplicably needed props for sex.

And then he says:

…and in true trickle-down fashion, that is why we champion it to others.

It: the education, The Scene. All sounds good. It is good that he has role models. Where are mine? Where are yours? For the most part, our iconography, the thing that is supposed to represent people like me are primarily objects of ridicule or scorn or derision—in both the overculture and the Scene-State. If we exist at all, of course.

Every time I walk into spaces I take little tallies of the images. Mission Control, June 11th: 22 women to 1 man. September 3rd: 29 women to 3 men. Image tally, SF Citadel, September 27th: 24 women, 1 man. Image tally, Wicked Grounds, July 13th: 17 women to 5 men. August 15th: 10 women to 1 man (the full numbers were 20 to 2). We are literally invisible for the most part, and it kind of reminds me of this: a comic about an “invisibility cloak”.

One could ask, “Well, what’s going on here? Why is that happening?” And, one way to think about this is not just the matter of what makes us invisible, but also what keeps us invisible? So, imagine, for example, marketing a cell phone to a homeless mom. How would you go about doing that? There’s no market for that because they’re not going to have any money to pay for your cell phone so you’re not going to figure out how to build the best homeless phone. And so, I’m gonna borrow from Alisa, actually, when she says:

This idea is interesting to me because it turns the tables on access. As much as the under served population doesn’t have access to helpful tools, designers, researchers and business people don’t have access to those populations.

How does a researcher go to a homeless mom and ask about what the best cell phone is? Where do they find those people? They’re living on the margins already so they’re difficult to see. An analogy, for example, could be food deserts: if rich people only build markets where they are, where are poor people gonna eat? (See also: Food deserts.) If only engineers who drive cars build highways, where are people who don’t drive cars gonna cross the fucking highway?

Okay, bringing this back to sex. In her article, “Perverting Visual Pleasure: Representing Sadomasochism,” Eleanor Wilksinson wrote on what she calls the “Paradox of Visibility.” On the one hand, it’s good to be visible, we want visibility, representation, etcetera. On the other hand, she writes:

Queer politics has often assumed that increased publicity automatically leads to increased acceptance, that to make a change to the ‘hetero-normative’ world order we need to take to the streets, to make our sexual practices visible[…]. However, this equation is often overly simplistic[…]; with increased visibility comes the risk of increased hostility too[…].

Fistandantilus, for example, that dominant guy, was very angry at me, ultimately. He asked why I didn’t kill myself.

We must be constantly aware that there is a very real danger of a parallel ‘SM-normativity’, in which certain (capitalist and consumerized) conceptions of SM become the norm. Already the mainstreaming of SM has led to a heteropatriarchal version of SM becoming dominant. With increased visibility there is also a danger we can begin to mistake the representation of SM for SM itself – that this is how it should and always will be. What is therefore needed is a space in which to make public a number of continuously contrasting and conflicting SM stories.

[…]

Without any publicity, minoritized sexual cultures cannot challenge and change mainstream stereotypes.

Now, Wilkinson was talking about The Scene in contrast to the vanilla world, right, the over-arching hegemony. But the same holds true for inside the Scene-State itself. Exactly the same thing holds true, again. It’s a fractal boundary. It works in very much the same way.

And it’s not just me, in fact. Here’s an example that I found really, really, really recently about people calling themselves D and M. Just two bloggers that I found, and their coming out story to BDSM is very interesting. D writes—sorry, M writes:

D’s little post about facesitting reminded me of how all this first started about two and a half years ago. We’d been dating for over a year, and we’d just started getting into male-dominated kink. Looking back, that was kind of… silly. I was still in denial about being bisexual, and about being dominant, so that combined with a week of erotic dreams after reading the Story of O made me think I wanted to be dominated. Like I said, silly.

By the way, Story of O poster, right there [on the wall in this room].

The thing was that I spent most of the time topping from the bottom. D was a sub just playing at being dominant and basically that meant I got exactly what I wanted with a pair of handcuffs and some dirty talk. Which, at the time, suited me just fine.

What set me off was the one night we were having a little playtime with an old Halloween costume of mine, and I was desperate to have my pussy eaten. D, however, was just plain horny, and wasn’t going to. At the time, I was wearing a leash and collar…

That’s right. I’m gonna let that sink in. She was wearing a leash and collar.

…and I surprised us both when I bound his hands with the leash and sat on his face until I was satisfied. Very suddenly a regular Friday night for us turned into my first dominant encounter. It was thrilling and exciting and deeply satisfying.

I’d like to say I never looked back, but I am still working on getting through all the baggage that blocked my dominant aspect in the first place. It’s complicated, but my little slut makes it soooo worth it.

Good for them.

The point here is that they were patterning what they saw first, which is totally acceptable and fine and not a bad thing in and of itself. But when it didn’t work for them, thank god they found ways to actually find something that did. And what if they didn’t? Who gets left out when there are no representations that work? They’re lucky and that is a difficult hurdle for many people to overcome.

As an example, I entered The Scene when I was 18 in New York City as a switch. And I do, sometimes, have a feeling like I would have fun topping, and I have so thoroughly felt disrespected for being a bottom, and a submissive that I said, fuck topping, I’m gonna do this. Maybe I’m a contrarian to some n-th degree, I don’t know. But it was so important for me—now, it is so important for me now to accept this for who I am today, that topping is not even in my head. And that fact also pisses me off. Because I should be able to be free enough—maybe I have to make myself free enough in some woo-woo way—to want and have that, too. And I can’t get over that, yet. Cuz, y’know, no one’s perfect; I’m not perfect.

There’s an interesting point about representation. When I was given pre-publication access to a post a friend of mine was writing about representation, she had given—who’s also here—she had given me access to take a look at the post. And one of the dominant-identified, heterosexual cismale tops who she had also given access to for his perspective, said, “I don’t know if this really makes sense. Y’know, I can name a dozen prominent submissive men in The Scene, and only, like, y’know, four or five in the inner circles of the Kink, Inc. sanctums.” And so I challenged him and I said, “Well, please name these prominent submissive men.” And he came back and he named four, one of which was “maymay”—he didn’t realize he was talking to me—

[Audience laughter.]

One of which “wasn’t around anymore,” his words. And the remaining two both [actually] self-identify as switches. So, this is not a surprise, I said, “Okay, that is 1 actually, not twelve. So, you’re either counting wrong, or what you thought of was ‘non-dominant’ men.” Which is a valid thing to think about but not the same. And what’s interesting to me about the not the same is that we have so many specializations now, right, this continued specialization of sexuality, as Ella was talking about earlier [today], created these incredibly segmented populaces which for some reason we’ve taken on to an n-th degree of essentialism as though that’s what’s important to be. And I suffer from that now, too. See also ‘used to identify as a switch.’

So with no role models, how do submissive men play? How do we learn to play? When children grow, and when animals in their little nests are biting one another’s ears, they’re not actually biting one another’s ears, they’re gonna figure out how to hunt. Well, what is our version of that without role models? What is the Ludic circle in which this can be safe for us?

So, back to the ethnographies, cuz these are really good. On social status, as an overview, Newmahr writes:

Through the acquisition and demonstration of specialized skills, the members of this community achieve social and interpersonal status. The paths to status, moreover, are clear and unambiguous; if members play well and get involved, they are all but guaranteed a high status in the community. In turn, this status confers desirability as a play partner, which is experienced by some as sexual romantic desirability.

[…]

Framing SM as a serious leisure pursuit shifts the focus away from the ultimately unhelpful questions about whether SM is or is not deviant sex, and allows us to understand SM as, most fundamentally, social behavior.

That’s really important. […] Play kinda becomes both labour in the capitalist sense, and capital, in the capitalist sense. It kinda looks like this: there’s an economy that goes on in The Scene, and it sort of looks like this. And I apologize, again, for not having the best presentation of this here. […] This is very crude. So what I call the BDSM Scene-State work-play economy looks something like this. And again, it’s reductive, all frameworks are.

We have, at A, playing or scening. Now, we’ll dig into this more in just a bit. Weiss in 2006, again, in “Working at Play” discusses this concept very, very articulately, how labour is a kind of play in The Scene. If you play, you earn status, or what Weber called Stande, as a player, if the play is good. Newmahr talks a little about this. Playing confers social capital, but you can also get social capital by volunteering at local events, hosting play parties, teaching workshops, being recognized, being notable. I should point myself out as someone who has social capital by being upset about all this.

[Audience laughter.]

That earns you access to play, which is its own capital. Right? You can get, for example—these things can be tangible—like invitations to parties, discounts to events and things like that, access to conferences, especially if you’re speaking at them. And that, of course, leads to more play, which leads to the attainment of more status, and on and on and on the cycle goes.

Now, you can enter this cycle in one of two main ways. You can sort of start at point A. You’re more likely to start at point A, by playing, if you’re conventionally attractive, if you’re female-identified, and if you’re a bottom, and especially if those things all line up. And you’re more likely to start at C if you’re less conventionally attractive, male-identified or presenting, or a top.

Let’s go into play a little bit, because play is widely misunderstood from this sort of class perspective, but it’s really important, especially when it comes to social classes. Play itself is classed in The Scene. Right? Different kinds of play are “heavier” or “harder,” more expert, and there are some valid reasons for this. It can be harder to do, technically, and so technical skill becomes a kind of very specific capital resource. And by capital resource I specifically mean social capital resource.

Again, Weiss is really articulate around this, and she writes, on the notion of play as capital:

As BDSM has become more mainstream, more organizationally focussed and more middle-class, practitioners work on their SM in self-conscious ways, mobilizing American discourses of self-improvement, actualization and education.

See also techniques and skills and classes and workshops and all that stuff. But it’s also re-combinative, play is also not just a way to enjoy oneself recreationally but it’s also re-creating the kinds of social contracts that we’re able to have with one another. And, again, Ella talked about this really well earlier. And as such, it becomes its own kind of alibi for power exchanges. Because you’ve created that particular kind of Ludic circle that you can actually enjoy, in a safe way, that kind of relationship with somebody else.

Access to play, on the other hand, is a form of capital. And Newmahr is particularly poignant about this. On, I’m sorry, on playing first:

[M]uch of the appeal of topping is the sense of efficacy, the observable and immediate response of a bottom contributes significantly to the enjoyment of play by tops. Most tops consider themselves “reaction junkies.” A bottom who moans, yelps, screams, laughs, wriggles, and writhes, is thus more desirable than one who is stoic during play, all else being equal.

And just for a moment, I’m gonna tangent into: and why are men who bottom specifically supposed to be stoic, then? What is with the silent men? They’re taught that, as a pattern, even to their own detriment. Fuckers.

Secondly, bottoms with a high pain tolerance allow for more creativity and less tentativeness on the part of the top. […B]ottoms who are edgy or extreme in their SM activity tend to have higher social status than those who are not. For the same reason as outlined above, bottoms who have fewer limits provide their partners with more possibilities, and often the opportunity to engage in play in which most others are uninterested.

So, tops achieve status through skills, techniques, etcetera.

On access to play, this comes back to the volunteerism, over on that side. Status as a volunteer, to enter the Scene’s work-play economy that way:

[It’s] particular advantageous for people who top. Because of safety concerns, novices who bottom have less difficulty finding play partners than those who top. This results in faster access to status through play for bottoms, but also serves to track tops as volunteers. Volunteerism can result in increased access to play, which helps to mitigate the disadvantage tops face on the path to status in the community. It also contributes to an imbalance between tops and bottoms at the level of community leadership. Because most participants want to play soon after they enter the scene, and because bottoms do not need to become involved in order to obtain play, the result is the cultivation of tops as community leaders far more frequently than bottoms.

When was the last time you saw a presentation by a bottom for a bottom? And, in comparison, how many presentations by tops for tops (for those of you who are in such spaces)?

Okay, so, when we think about Weberian Stratification as a way to segment a populace within The Scene, we can see people who have access to lots of play, equipment, etc., have one component of high status. People who are dominants and tops tend to have another [component of] status, their Stande, their role orientation, and of course their Party or political affiliations, that’s another. So, then, people like the ones who are at—the ones who have, when coupled to the volunteerism and tracking tops as community leaders, you have typically (in so-called “pansexual” communities) dominant men who are white and able-bodied and community leaders and they have decision making roles in roles like [being on] the TES Board, at places like the Society of Janus, and Kink, Inc. as well. James Mogul was dominant guy yet ran Men In Pain for god knows how many years. So these are high-class individuals. […] High-class, also called the bourgeois if you wanna go all academic.

Then you have the proletariat, the working class, these are Scene regulars and so forth. And then this question comes up: who’s left back? Who’s wearing the invisible cloak? So, okay, examples of this, right?

Let’s look at how this play economy works in The Scene. And again, I’m using Kink, Inc. as an example but there are many others. Kink, Inc. is just very visible and also a good example because people like talking about them and then I get a lot of attention for having talked about them, which is really important for getting this fucking idea out there.

As an example, Kink, Inc.’s parties, especially The Upper Floor parties have free entry to community members. They syphon the community itself to play, generating labour, which then literally transforms into capital. Literally! And if you’re not getting paid, you’re not the customer, you’re a product. It kind of reminds me of Facebook. Like, really like Facebook. Like, that Facebook.

Now, I should clarify, it’s not “wrong” to do that. You have an opportunity to play? Good! Go! Have a blast! I’m talking about the systemics here. I’m not talking about your individual experience. I’m not talking about your particular experience. I’m talking about the way this reinforces itself, the way this system reinforces itself. It’s very fucking capitalist.

It’s also corrupt.

Now, you don’t really have to take my word on all of this. I wanna show you this example by Fleur De Li who wrote about her experience at a Kink, Inc. gangbang:

All of the guests began to ascend the stairs towards the Upper Floor. […] We were told to help ourselves to Red Wine, White Wine or Champagne. […] Shelly said that it was her understanding that the guests could participate if they so chose. She said that she had no interest in joining in, she just wanted to watch. Suddenly, I became very aware that this was an actual porn shoot and we were all extras.

Oh! Right! We’re at a porn company!

People were not really interested in the food, they were interested in the torture part. Peter [Ackworth] our handsome host told us all that since her hands were free we should feel free to fill them with a cock or a vagina.

Blah blah blah blah blah. This is all the sex part that I don’t really care about right now.

I noticed that these events fall into the category of mob mentality after awhile. Most people on their own would probably not be able to just jump right in, but when you have a table full of people all doing it suddenly you feel brave.

[…]

The guests were getting more and more into the physical torture. […] We took a short break[…].

What I want to highlight is:

First of all we were all pretty fucking drunk, which always makes things a bit more comfortable.

[…]

It all escalated so quickly.

[…]

I realized that my entire participation in this event was when I smacked Chloe a couple of times with a riding crop. Mind you I did this with the husband of the pianist[…]

Blah blah, more sex.

At this point I realized just how drunk I was, just how late it was and that I needed to scoot. I missed out on the money shot as they say in the industry. I slipped out of the room quickly and quietly without disrupting the scene. I put my coat on descended the stairs and headed out into the San Francisco night.

Now, this is a particularly telling example because the alcohol here highlights an incredible disconnect between the so-called high class and all the rest of us. It also highlights how the distinction between the corporatism part of this economy goes against and has a tension with the community aspects of it.

I heard some of you earlier going, “Really, booze comfortable on porn sets?” Yeah, that’s ’cause that’s not allowed in the community spaces. Right? Alcohol is not supposed to be part of BDSM play, and again, as someone who does play with alcohol, that’s not a problem. The problem here is not walking your talk. Kink, Inc. likes to think of itself as great for the community and the community likes to welcome them as wonderfully representative. Are they?

Alcohol in the community is not just sort of against the community norms. It’s very against the community norms. Not to bring up old shit unnecessarily, here’s an entry from someone who discussed someone who entered the SF Citadel not just sort of drunk but shit-faced drunk, staggering drunk. And he was let in, and I guess I won’t name names but he’s the founder of a very important BDSM website that starts with the name of “Fet” and ends with “Life.”

[Audience laughter.]

And, again, the individual incident isn’t important here, but this kind of shit happens all the time. He was let in because he has Stande, he has social status, because he has access to social resources. Now, of course, this particular incident, everyone apologized, it blows over, but that shit happens all the time. There is no due process at all in these communities—not for any, like, malicious, necessarily, reason; it hasn’t been developed yet, it’s new—I get it. Maybe we should be thinking about that more.

I mean, how often does this happen elsewhere?

[Audience: “All the time.”]

There ya go.

So, this is simple to solve on a philosophical level: either the community recognize Kink, Inc. as not part of it, or Kink, Inc. changes its ways to match community norms. Or, secret option C, everyone keeps believing in this polite fiction. ‘Cause that’s just easier. ‘Cause then you have the invisibility cloak.

These rules about alcohol, for example (there are others), police Scene class more than they police safety, more than they have a way to keep people safe. All rules about sex police class as well as sex. And the community, for their part, are not just okay with this, but practically fucking sycophantic to these people because they have access to social resources. It’s very much like the way an aspirational voter votes for Republicans, right, like in the midwest. They’re coming for your fuckin’ Social Security money and you’re still voting for Republicans. “Because one day,” they think, “one day, I’ll be rich. One day, I’ll have access to social resources. If I’m just fucking brown-nose-y enough, they’ll like me. And then I’ll get to go and play.” I thought like that for a while. I know other people do, too.

And just like [for the] aspirational voter, it’s never gonna happen. It’s just not. Because it doesn’t serve them. There are actual, real examples of this.

How am I doing on time?

[Johannes: Maybe another 5 or 10 minutes?]

Okay, then I won’t go into too many specific examples of this but you’re welcome to look me up and I’ll be happy to name names then, too.

My favorite comment, also about that Kink, Inc. virginity thing, August Knight was at first very concerned—August Knight who owns the SF Citadel—was very concerned about what was happening, in response to a post that was posted on FetLife. Then Peter Ackworth responds, very placatingly, “No, no, everything’s fine.” [August’s] next take ends with:

Yay for a fantasy lived ! ahh if only I was young and cute and in my 20’s! [sic.]

Literally sycophantic. So, my sense on all this, is that the community’s response to things like this mirrors the way an abused person defends their abusers.

Now, this safety fetishization, this idea that there’s no alcohol in the dungeon, ever, no alcohol when you’re playing, all kinds of safety rules—this started…. Now, at the same time that this doesn’t actually work, the same time that it’s policing class, it also polices how people can get this kind of labour-capital, how people get access to play in the first place. Because the thing that you are most oftenly told when you’re not a part of the community, or you have an interest in BDSM but you don’t have an outlet to the community, is to go to the community to learn the skills to be—why?—safe. So you don’t hurt anybody, which is an important point, but the paths all wind back to “come to the community.” Go to a munch first, go to the educational workshops. What if you don’t have the money for educational workshops? What then?

So, mostly, in private groupings, that are not The Scene, people learn through peer exchanges, because there’s no formal structure. Now that there is a formal structure, now that there is a formal Scene—and Weiss also talks about this, of what she calls “the rise of the new scene”—most people were learning these scene skills from their own little peer groups. Now, with the Scene-State, it encourages classes, and skill itself has become salable, because you get to teach how to play with something.

And there’s a reason why education sucks in The Scene, especially for bottoms. Look at all those previous prejudices. And the people who don’t have to go that way—when I was at the Kink, Inc. Armory, everyone who I asked said they found The Scene through the company first, not the community. “How did you get involved in the BDSM community? How did you get involved in BDSM?” I asked. “Well, I joined the company,” [they said.]—so those are the people who are not part of this economic ladder.

But again, it’s not that people are out for you individually. No one cares about you. No one cares about me. People aren’t out to get you, or me. It’s that nobody seems to notice, nobody seems to care. And that reminds me, not only of the George Carlin quote that I just quoted, but also of this quote by Martin Luther King. He says:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.

It’s the middle class, right? That’s the systemic oppressors, they have numbers. Now why was the Scene-State thing created? Because of a population boom called the Internet. The Internet thrust mass amounts of new people to this kind of sexuality, this kind of understanding of what they want to do, giving them an outlet to express it, and as such created that exact kind of organizationally-induced resource scarcity.

And this is also very important for notions of the digital divide where increasingly expressions of sexuality are coming to the fore on the Internet, which not everyone has access to. Now, if you look this specifically from within the Scene-State context, you can think of the notion of, “Oh, you shouldn’t do BDSM, or you can’t do BDSM in a safe way unless you’re at a club, with DMs [dungeon monitors]”—basically lifeguards, it’s a little bit like hearing, “Print is dead,” which is the same as saying “Poor people don’t deserve to read.”

So, as Duncan, Laura Duncan was just talking about, is it about a right, or is it market participation? What is it that gets you this? What’s what gets you in here? And refusal to participate in the public BDSM Scene is tantamount to the heresy of rejecting a consumerism in which play is this kind of labour-capital. What do you do if you don’t want to be part of a capitalist world? You live like a hippie in the mountains, I guess. And the problem with that is, SM is fundamentally social behavior. So you can’t be on your own. It does not work.

So, okay, I’ll close out, I promise.

Things we need. That’s all really negative, really angry. We really do need equal representation. And not just in imagery, but also in presentations, and workshops, and organizational structure. We’re not going to get to a better place just by abandoning this. I might not want to save it if it were burning all down, but I do think it is actually—the Scene-State—is actually a very important thing and we do actually need to maintain and protect it legally and politically and for all sorts of reasons. It is the source of antiserums that will help make a sexually healthy society, if we can utilize it for that and not just worry about getting ourselves off all the time.

We need to fucking acknowledge that there’s a whole lost population out there, people who come to The Scene and then leave. Why? Not because it wasn’t the right place to for them, but because it has absolutely none of a structure that will actually work for them. There is no social safety net in The Scene.

What are, for example, the volume sales of BDSM-related sex toys, whips for example, which are presumably used with partners versus the number of people who attend play parties in those same zip [postal] codes? Where are they? You think they’re not playing? You think they come to the SF Citadel once, leave and then are just not kinky again?

And so, again, it is important to say. And all I want to leave you with is this idea that I got from Dr. Seuss. And he says, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, it’s not going to get better. It’s not.” That’s my presentation.

[Applause.]

[Johannes: Questions?]

[…]

So the question was—for the recording, I should repeat it—the question was whether or not a woman who was drunk would be allowed into community spaces. I don’t want to speak for community spaces, for what they would do. I don’t know what they would do, I don’t know the future, but I can tell you that one’s gender in The Scene is much less important than these other factors. It’s the intersection between gender and role orientation that makes a particular difference when you look at things from a social justice perspective. In The Scene, because it is a space that particularly problematizes these ideas of, “Well, only men are dominant, and only women are submissive,”—we have transgender individuals as well in The Scene, we have people who are women who top and men who bottom—so the salient characteristic of an individual is not their gender but their role orientation. Right?

The role orientation becomes the status. So in The Scene, whether you’re a top or a bottom is sort of almost more important. It’s kind of like The Scene’s version of whether you are a man or a woman, whether you privileged based on that characteristic.

And the other part that I’d want to highlight is that it depends on all the social resources that one has. It’s not just social capital, although that is, I think, the most important one in The Scene-State, specifically because it doesn’t have a formal economy as such—like, a currency economy. Reputation is currency in The Scene. You get a bad reputation, you’re not going to have access to play, right? So it’s much more important to say good things about other people. It’s almost actually a social requirement when you’re in The Scene—people in The Scene talk about other people’s play like they’re grooming one another, because that’s what it is. So it depends on the various kinds of—y’know—it’s the matrix of Weber’s three-component theory. That’s the way I see it.

[Audience member: “A question and a comment in two parts. First, where does switches fit into this whole mess that you’re talking about. Because there are a great many people who are very invested in those stereotypes. At the same time, there are a great many people who switch to one degree or another. And how does that interact within the constructions of power that you’re talking about?”]

That’s a really, really good question. I like to, often, relate it to the notion of bisexuality. It is less the case now, thank god—this is one of the things I’m very optimistic about with The Scene’s younger generations because they are putting a lot more fluidity into everything. So the question was where do switches fit into all of this. And the answer is that they often get read as either top or bottom depending on what they are currently doing in much the same way that if you’re bi, if you identify as a bisexual and you’re with a guy and you are a guy, you will be read as gay. And if you are with someone who’s seen as the opposite sex you will be read as straight, even though we all, or many of us in this room, are very frustrated with the whole fucking gender binary to begin with.

You can get, for example, you can pass as a top if you’re a switch. So you get a kind of Scene version of passing privilege. And if you wanna take that, great, use it and do something good with your privilege. That is what I would imagine—it is an ethical obligation to do so if you have privilege, to do something good. Don’t just be good, be good for something.

[Audience: “Would you consider—have you considered starting a new Scene or a new website for people who are not focused on social capital, that are more intelligent and socially aware…?”]

That sounds like a very, very energy-intensive project.

[Audience laughter. Audience member: “Have you considered it?”]

So, the question is have you ever considered starting a new Scene, etcetera. Um, have I considered it? Yes, a lot. Have I actually acted on it? No. I sort of tried, but, I’m angry. And people don’t necessarily—I would probably be the nihilist, and that is not good for the creation of new things.

[Johannes: “It could be worse! You could be the angry prophet!”]

[Audience laughter.]

I could do that. But it’s important, I think, for people to first—there is nothing wrong with also being part of The Scene. Right? This is a good place for a lot of people. The question that I’m asking is who is it good for, who does it serve more than others, and do people care? If the answer is no, they don’t care, then fine, don’t care. I’m trying to find people who do. And so, not having had much of another way to do so, I simply got very loud about this particular thing. And it has attracted, like I said, a kind of social capital where I got known for this.

I get play offers for being angry about this. Male Submission Art was one of the best things I could have done to get people who are the other side of the coin to me to be interested in me and the thing that I’m frustrated about is that the people who tend to then have that, stop. Because their needs are met. Well, good for fucking you. But where’s the rest? So that’s where I see [them fall short of] that ethical obligation I mentioned.

But I’d be interested in talking with you more about that, if you want to.

[Applause.]

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