Following Marie’s example, let’s all take a deep breath.

Even though I feel defamed by Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks, I want to address the crux of their concerns about KinkForAll unconferences and ask for their advice. Discreetly tucked away at the end of a 6 page personal assault, they wrote:

The open and unstructured format of a KinkforAll event is dangerous because it encourages outsiders to attend, mingle, and speak anonymously with young people about unhealthy sex and violent sexual practices. These conditions offer an open invitation for sex offenders to attend, potentially placing both participants and the entire local community, especially children, at risk.

First, let’s remove the insinuations that participants at KinkForAll are specifically talking about unhealthy and violent sexual practices. Those judgements have no place in a rational discussion, so let’s read the sentence thusly:

The open and unstructured format of a KinkforAll event is dangerous because it encourages outsiders to attend, mingle, and speak anonymously with young people about sex and sexual practices.

Next, let’s remove the assertions like the one that “a KinkForAll event is dangerous” and approach the issue from a more open-minded perspective. Once again, such assertions preclude discussion because the conclusions are already determined and, following the KinkForAll motto itself, I prefer to inspire conversation, not shut it down. Therefore, I’m going to read Donna M. Hughes’ and Margaret Brooks’ writing like this:

The open and unstructured format of a KinkforAll event could be dangerous because it encourages outsiders to attend, mingle, and speak with other participants about sex and sexual practices. These conditions might offer an open invitation for sex offenders to attend, potentially placing both participants and the entire local community, especially children, at risk.

Well! Okay then. There’s a valid concern. So now that we’ve uncovered an actual concern underneath the corrosive insinuations, let’s talk about it.

I pose this question to Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks, and I invite their responses in the comments: How can you help make a KinkForAll unconference a safer place for the local community and for all participants, including young people?

Here’s some of the things that other unorganizers and I have done at previous events. Tell me if you think any of this was inappropriate.

At KinkForAll Washington DC, in accordance with the venue contract, participants paid for the presence of a security guard who, as I understand it (I wasn’t actually the organizer of this event, as both Margaret Brooks and Donna M. Hughes seem to believe), was instructed to refuse entry to the event to any person who did not abide by our venue contract. This venue contract included explicit clauses that anyone who had ever been convicted of “a misdemeanor involving sexual misconduct or a felony” would not be permitted to participate. This was also clearly stated on the sign-up table.

Here’s the full formal language, posted on the KFADC sign up table, among other places:

Note: As part of our agreement to use the facilities, we can not allow people to attend who have been convicted of or pleaded (1) guilty, (2) “no contest” or (3) nolo contendere to a misdemeanor involving sexual misconduct or a felony (whether or not resulting in a conviction).

Actually, that’s still on the sign up table. Donna, Margaret, did you just, I don’t know, overlook this? There’s also a video recording of Nikolas, the leading unorganizer of KinkForAll Washington DC, reciting this during KFADC’s opening. It’s pretty short. Skip to 1 minute and 14 seconds into the video to hear the specific quotations.

Obeying venue contracts is a very big deal to KinkForAll unorganizers, myself included. At each KinkForAll unconference that I’ve attended, one of the unorganizers stands up during Opening Essential Communications (the first timeslot of every day) and enumerates any venue rules on top of the global KinkForAll rules. One of these rules that every KinkForAll event must enact is that no sex shall occur during the event because the unconference is about talking with one another, not playing with one another.

At KinkForAll Providence, as I understand it (because, again, I didn’t actually organize that event either) the venue policies required that minors be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, according to Aida Manduley, the Chair of the Sexual Health Education and Empowerment Council, who was principally responsible for liaising with the Brown University venue and made these arrangements. As an aside, it is frustrating that Aida seems consistently under-credited for her work by Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks. Nevertheless, why they fail to give her credit where credit is due is a matter for another time.

Beyond adhering to specific venue rules, local laws, and global KinkForAll rules (each designed to create de-sexualized and educationally-focused environments), individual participants are encouraged to bring their friends when they attend rather than show up alone. This effectively arms newcomers with the protection of their social circle at the events themselves. As most women will no doubt understand, it is safer to go to places where you have never been when you go with your friends.

In this way, the highly social atmosphere of a KinkForAll unconference also acts as a self-policing safeguard against abuse. This is very similar to the way that many other organizations protect their membership. The difference is that by creating highly participatory and engaging learning environments, KinkForAll participants don’t need “membership” or some other prior bond in order to act with respect towards one another. Just like any other social group, those who fail to be friendly towards others in the group are ostracized by the group.

This design was rather intentional, but it was not my invention. It is, in fact, a model of social educational gatherings well-known in the technology world and popularized by a phenomenon known as BarCamp. The concepts of “open space” that KinkForAll uses are directly, wholly mimicking the incredible BarCamp model of event organizing. And it works.

However, when I started KinkForAll with my then-partner, neither of us thought this was enough. We wanted more protections, particularly to protect people’s personal privacy. So we instituted some minor changes to the BarCamp “open space” model.

Specifically, we added the concept of a (perhaps crudely termed) no-photography signal, a bright red circle or stripe on one’s name tag that indicated to others a desire not to be photographed or video recorded. Combined with the freedom to use a pseudonym on one’s name tag and reminding participants to use others’ chosen names when referring to one another at events, we felt we’d provided enough of a framework for people to easily and simply protect their personal details, such as contact information or google-findability, if they wanted to.

Now, Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks would have us worry that this fact means malicious people could attend and we wouldn’t know about it. That’s certainly a possibility. It also means that young people, not to mention anyone else who has some reason to value their privacy, such as school teachers or librarians, doctors or lawyers, or anyone in a conservative industry such as banking, could also attend and we wouldn’t know about it. That’s the tricky thing about self-empowerment; when you provide tools to empower people, they can do “good things” or “bad things.”

The point, in case you missed it, is that providing tools, or making a conference framework unstructured, is not itself inherently “good” or “bad,” “dangerous” or “safe.” I think Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks have a valid concern, but, ladies, I think you’ve let your fears get the better of you, at least in this instance.

Since you’re clearly very passionate about protecting young people, as I am, I therefore invite you to brainstorm with me. Beyond all the things that I’ve described above, what else can we do to protect all the participants at KinkForAll events from potentially malicious people? Tell me what you think.

Better yet, join the mailing list and share your ideas with the people who are organizing these unconferences directly. Remember, just getting your ideas to me isn’t going to necessarily get them to the people who actually implement these events in all cases. (I’ll do my best to help you liaise with everyone if you offer some constructive feedback, though. Promise. :)

So, Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks, what do you think we can do to better protect all the participants at KinkForAll unconferences and the local communities where they happen? If you’ve got suggestions, we’re waiting to hear them. And you know what, I don’t care that you insinuated evil things about me. If I think your suggestions are good and aligned with the KinkForAll principles of freedom and education, I’ll support them.

And just in case it isn’t clear, you don’t have to insinuate that I’m an evil person to get my support for good ideas. You just need to have rationally thought-out, non-judgemental ideas. So if you do, even if you’re not Donna M. Hughes or Margaret Brooks, you’re invited to participate in this discussion as well.

Update: In order to inform Margaret Brooks and Donna M. Hughes of my interest in their advice for how KinkForAll unconferences can be improved, I’ve sent them the following email, republished below:

Subject: 	I invite you to help me address your concerns over KinkForAll  unconferences
From: 	maymay <[email protected]>
Date: 	March 27, 2010 4:20:52 PM PDT
To: 	[email protected], [email protected]
Cc: 	[email protected]
[…some email headers clipped…]

Dear Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks,

I recently learned that you published a bulletin on a website[0] that raises concerns about the KinkForAll unconferences of which I advocate in support. Many of the statements you present as fact are simply not true.

Since I understand that you have concerns about KinkForAll unconferences, I invite you to help me and the rest of the KinkForAll participant community address them. I’ve composed an initial description of some of the things KinkForAll unconference planners (“unorganizers”) have done to protect the participants at local events, as well as the communities where events are held. If you feel you can do so, it would be my privilege to work with you to further the safety of individuals, both young and old, at KinkForAll unconferences, while simultaneously improving the available educational resources about sexuality as well as all of the things that sexuality affects in people’s lives.

To work with me on this, I invite you to speak up on the KinkForAll mailing list,[1] which I know you follow quite closely, or to reply to my recent blog post discussing your concerns,[2] which I also know you follow quite closely. :)

In point of fact, I am deeply hurt by your statements, but I also recognize that you seem to share my passion for keeping people safe and self-empowered to lead happy lives. Therefore, if you have a good suggestion for how I and other KinkForAll participants can keep ourselves safe and improve the quality of our lives and the lives of our friends, neighbors, fellow citizens, and peers, I don’t really care that you insinuated evil things about me in the past. If I think your suggestions are sound, I’ll support them.

I am looking forward to hearing your suggestions for improving KinkForAll unconferences.

-Meitar “maymay” Moscovitz

[…redundant external references removed; read my previous entry for more information…]