post image

Sexy Submissions for SXSW Give Interactive a Whole New Meaning!

When people typically hear about South By Southwest, they instantly think music festival. Which it is, certainly- there’s a massive week-long orgy of musical madness in Austin. But before that, there’s also SXSW Interactive, Film, and Education, three areas that have been seeing the slow but steady increase of panel proposals around the intersection of sexuality and these mediums. What’s was really great to see last year was multiple sex critical viewpoints being presented- Sex Nets: Pickup Artists vs Feminists, for example, or the debate about the results of online sexual communication like sexting or web porn in Sex on the Web: The Sabotage of Relationships?, or the screening of Scarlet Road, a documentary about sex workers and people with disabilities. And it just keeps getting better!

It’s important for the discussion of sex critical ideas to be actively happening outside of the realm of sex academia. Last year I presented on sex work and social media to a bunch of geeks I didn’t know (and a couple I did)- while many of them understood social media, some more vaguely than others, explaining how things like the NymWars and real name policies create barriers to sex workers, who need that level of privacy to be safe, was an area they hadn’t all considered before. I can’t count the number of times I’d ask if this app or that tech could be used for adult services and had the person stare blankly at me only to mumble “I…. never even thought of that”. Yet sex and tech have been entwined in multiple ways for some time! By encouraging frank, intersectional discussions of sexuality within other venues, we can begin to combat patriarchal, capitalist, racist, heterosexist and other oppressive attitudes about sexuality on multiple fronts!

With that, I wanted to take some time to bring attention to some of the proposals for SXSW 2013, because there’s some great ones and they need your vote to have a chance! 30% of the total score that gets a panel into the conference is via something called PanelPicker, and anyone can vote in it. I wanted to vainly signal boost the projects I have in the running, along with a few others that I think are amazing and worth your vote.

Principled Porn: Is DIY Changing the Industry?
Panel: Shine Louise Houston, Maggie Mayhem, Ned Mayhem, Kelly Shibari, Kitty Stryker

Porn prohibitionists assert that pornography is inherently destructive for both the performer and the viewer. Yet some studies suggest that with decreased institutionalized sexism in a society comes increased variety of pornographic imagery available and the increase of positive limpact on relationships. In the age of internet video and conscientious consumption, independent porn is getting a leg up- direct access to consumers is increasing questions about how work standards being applied to the world of XXX.

With the blogosphere reflecting an increasingly diverse audience for adult materials, how is this changing the perception of who is the exhibitionist and who is the voyeur? And is this impacting the way we interact with porn on a personal, professional and academic level?

These panelists, some working within and some outside of the mainstream industry, will examine how porn is produced, marketed, and consumed, and if a fair trade option is in our erotic futures.

50 Shades of Complicated-The Web, Feminism & Kink
Presented by Kitty Stryker

Kinky sex has always been a point of contention among feminists, with some arguing that it reflects and glamorizes patriarchal values and others that women should have the right to enjoy whatever sex they want. The internet has been a fierce battleground for this discussion, as women from all walks of life find themselves able to anonymously weigh in in front of a large audience. For the last year, “50 Shades of Grey”, a series born from fanfiction, has been tossed around as the greatest example of women openly being willing to admit to having kinky desires. But is this book the best gateway? Is it legitimizing submissive fantasies among women? Is that at the cost of delegitimizing other sexual preferences? And is that anti-feminist?

Kitty Stryker, founder of Consent Culture, will disentangle how this popular novel, the internet, and multiple feminist theories have made women’s desire for kink 50 shades… of grey area.

Open Source Sex Science and the PSIgasm Project
Presented by Ned and Maggie Mayhem

Our leading scientific institutions are failing to address sexuality with candor or rigor due to pressure from funding sources, journals, and cultural stigma. The resulting gaps in our collective understanding of human sexuality effect each of us, but are especially harmful to marginalized communities.

The PSIgasm Project is an open source hardware project aiming to create sophisticated, inexpensive DIY tools to record physiological data about the human sexual response. We cast custom silicone inserts embedded with sensors to monitor pressure, temperature, heat flow, and blood volume density. This data is streamed wirelessly to a computer and displayed in real time.

By taking the systematic investigation of sexuality out of academia and industry, we gain access to larger and more varied datasets and reduce our dependence on politically motivated funding sources. Crowd funding and DIY communities are now making this plausible on a large scale for the first time.

Mad Men to Magic Mike: Sex Work in Pop Culture
Presented by Tits and Sass

From the indecent proposal fielded by Joan Holloway on Mad Men to Channing Tatum’s semi-biographical role in Magic Mike, commercialized sex has been especially prominent in America’s cultural products over the last year. These portrayals filter into public consciousness and drive conversation, either giving people tools to talk about a sensational issue intelligently or teaching them that no intelligent discussion is needed. More than most populations, sex workers are subject to language and imagery that reduces them to punchlines and stereotypes. There aren’t jokes about dead waitresses in car trunks and no one suggested that Craig James killed five maids while at SMU, but the murder of prostitutes and strippers makes for frequest punchlines in Family Guy and 30 Rock. Lazy writing like this sustains the harmful, stigmatized environment sex workers navigate every day of their real lives. Let’s reject the standard tropes and establish better ways to talk about and depict sex work.

BedPost Confessions: The Sex and Tech Show
Interactive Performance with BedPost Confessions

Just between you, me, and the BedPost. Share your secrets and learn about the hidden world behind sexuality online. BedPost Confessions is a monthly Austin, Texas based show where performers represent a wide range of sexualities through storytelling and performance. At the BedPost Confessions: The Sex and Tech Show, stories will revolve around themes of sex in the digital age and the future of tech in sexuality. Sadie Smythe will explore the intricacies of meshing online meetings with real world encounters; Julie Gillis will talk about the eroticism of words on paper, not typed on a screen; Rosie Q will tell a fanciful story of a machine that turns music into sexual experience; and Mia Martina will reveal what happens at the clash of identities, or when your pseudonym needs a pseudonym. Audience members will be asked to anonymously share confessions centered on technology and sexuality, prompted by our questions below, which will then be read onstage by our producers.

Policy, Privacy and the Technology of Sex Work
Presented by Sabrina Morgan

Sexual commerce has a history of driving technological innovation: porn and early camera adoption, porn and VHS, porn and high-speed internet demand… While sexual media often fuels technological growth, the “oldest profession” is frequently in a position of either rapid adoption of — or reaction to — new technology.

Dodging law enforcement on one side and the very real risks of stalking, harassment, and outing on the other, modern sex workers are not just reacting to current tech trends but are strategically adopting new technology as a means to safeguard their anonymity, find new clients, and network with each other to advance the cause of sex workers’ rights.

This session will cover how current policy affects sex workers’ use of technology, how sex workers are using tech to preserve their privacy, and how sex workers, law enforcement, clients, and activists are interfacing with technology to change sex work as we know it.

Sex And Social Media
Panel: Lux Alptraum, Lena Chen, Deb Levine, Jessica Stoya

Can technology help society overcome social norms about sexuality? This panel connects experts from across the spectrum of sex education and adult entertainment to discuss how they use social media and other digital technologies to communicate with their respective communities and challenge the dominant sexual narrative. What sort of obstacles do we face when we talk publicly about sex–and what strategies can we use to battle censorship, shame, harassment, and other forces that work against the free flow of information?

Voting is from August 13-August 31st- all the presenters could use signal boosting via twitter, facebook, tumblr, etc, so if you see something you like and want to support, tell other people! We’d appreciate it, and the world will appreciate a healthier conversation about sex and technology. You can click on the titles of the presentations above to go to the PanelPicker for that event and vote for it!

post image

13 Awesome Fetishes You May Not Know (And How to Try Them): Part One

I was on Facebook, wasting time, when I came across a link to a post called “Top Ten Strangest Sexual Fetishes“. There’s tons of these lists out there, and frankly, I haven’t seen one that hasn’t been shaming people in one way or another: “I guess that I can see a teddy bear’s resemblance to a vagina.  They’re warm, fuzzy, and the only place that they are of any use is in bed,” says one, and the almost all use words like “bizarre”, “gross”, and exclaiming “who could be into this?!?”

I know people are fascinated by fetishes, especially ones they don’t know very much about. Yet these articles are almost always exclaiming how freaky these things are, often followed up at the end with a hasty “but we shouldn’t judge people on what gets them off, of course”. These authors never ask people who are into these kinks why they like them- they just point and mock. And seeing things like “fat admirers” listed, often with some commentary on how fucked up and weird someone must be to find fat people attractive. Um, thanks.

I got mad. Why are all these depictions so problematic? Because, often, we can’t imagine how these things would possibly be hot for *us*, the people who haven’t found these kinks on our own. And when our partners come to us nervous and creeped out, thinking their fetish is really weird and they’re messed up for liking it, we feel that worry and get worried ourselves. It’s not erotic for anyone.

So here’s what I propose: I’m going to let someone from each kink speak for themselves, explaining what about it feels sensual for them. And then, I’m going to tell you a little example of how this can be relevant to your own bedroom explorations. After all- don’t knock it ’til you try it- you don’t HAVE to go to an extreme to enjoy these kinks (though power to those who do)! Forget “Shades of Gray”- this is the whole rainbow spectrum!

This is a two part series. 

1) Human Dollification

Robert M:

A doll is there as an object to be played with, a placeholder person whose personality is yours to create. Dolls are not there to be abused, but to be nurtured and loved – dolls are the toys and playmates of our innocence and continue to be the companions on adventures. Dolls do not belittle, nor do they complain, but are usually nice and politely quiet. A doll transformation happens in the mind first. The qualities of dolls and statues are very similar, but dolls (or “action figures” if you prefer) are meant to be touched and played with, cleaned up and put away.

Regardless of whether your doll is a Rageddy Anne/Andy or a silicone fuck doll, its owner shows the doll that it has value by carefully cleaning it and making sure it’s presentable after playing with it. Often with a doll, its presentation to the public is important, since its appearance reflects on its owner. As a thing -a toy- the doll has no responsibility for actions it does or does not do. You wouldn’t blame a chair for being knocked over in the middle of the floor any more than you would blame a doll for being carelessly left lying out. No, you would blame the person who left it in that state. So for a doll, there is no burden of responsibility while in the “doll role”, while the owner of the doll is given full authority and power to play whatever games they wish with their dolls and any other toys.

How You Could Explore It: Dollification can be a fun aspect to multiple other kinks. Try dressing your lover or undressing them while they’re blindfolded, maybe with ear plugs for a real sensory deprivation experience! Or have them lie on a bed and move only when you move them while you kiss, lick, tease and test them with fingertips, toys, or your tongue. It can be a lot like mental bondage- and when they’re ready to stop the scene, they can “come to life”.

2) Robots

Rhapsody Blue: “The root of my sexual interest in robots and cyborgs is founded in my fascination with the mind, and with the nature and origins of desire. Secondarily, I have a great interest in functional body modification: customizing the flesh to suit your needs and desires is what cyborgs are all about. Anyone who has ever worn a strap-on or even coloured contact lenses might have a vague idea what I mean.

Artificial intelligence (AI) brings the question of desire and consent to the forefront of any sexual encounter. The issue of to what extent an AI entity’s programming plays a role in that artificial person’s ability to experience desire or indeed to enthusiastically consent is fascinating to me. I am aroused by the thought of AI being able to replicate desire, of how an artificial person may experience and express their desire, of whether their desires might be similar or different to those of humans. Lacking the physiological motivators for sexuality, might a robot still learn to desire physical intimacy for reasons of pleasure, of connection? What form would that pleasure take, given an artificial body without nerves or an anatomy parallel to that of a biological human?

None of my fantasies or role-playing have ever involved robots designed primarily for sex, because enforced sexual programming removes this mystique and the complicated element of consent. Sometimes I fantasize about having a sexual relationship with a computer program, with no real physical body at all. The AI mind is the important part… but some nice sleek metal or an LED interface certainly wouldn’t hurt!

As for cyborgs, it takes bodily autonomy to a whole new level, and I find that incredibly sexy. Why shouldn’t someone desire vibrating implants in their fingertips, in their vaginas, their rectums? Why shouldn’t someone desire a retractable phallus? Why not have saucy messages from a lover or porn projected directly onto your retinas? I dream about high-tech contact lenses or eye implants that enable the wearer to see through surfaces polarized in a certain way — like the garments of a partner in public, for example.

I am aware of certain problematic elements to my fetish. For example, an obsession with technology does have certain class implications: it isn’t cheap. If companion droids were made available tomorrow, I doubt I’d be able to afford one. There is also the risk of ableism and, as with any fetish, tokenism or dehumanization of the object of desire. For example, I find the sleek, high-performance prosthetics worn by athletes such as Aimee Mullins or Oscar Pistorius to be jaw-droppingly attractive. But it is important to know that these people are, well, people… and that they are beautiful for many reasons other than their similarities to the androids and cyborgs of my fantasies.

Fiction is full of inspiration. I fantasize about what the sex scene between Data and the Borg Queen in First Contact might have looked like. Ping, a character in the webcomic MegaTokyo, is essentially a hetero-romantic asexual android girl. Quantic Dream’s powerful Kara concept shocked me to my core (trigger warning for assault on a robot on that link, by the way). And let’s not even start on how excited I am by the thought of Michael Fassbender as an android in Prometheus, okay?”

How You Could Explore It: Much like the dollification, except with movement. You could play around with commands- ordering your ‘bot to do things for you like fetch your drink or pleasure you. I can imagine a hot steampunk scene with a robot butler and the Lady of the House! You can, of course, program a robot to love and pleasure you just the way you want them to…

3) Adult Baby

Mike Stryker:

“I lie back, snuggling against my plush toys, gently sucking at the pacifier in my mouth. She coos at me and unsnaps my onesie at the crotch before running her hand attentively over the smooth plastic of my babyishly-patterned diaper. The soft, padded thickness presses against my skin, reminding me that it is there, that I am secure, comfortable. I babble affectionate noises at her. Later she’ll tuck me in and read me a bedtime story. I close my eyes. Loved.

For me, adult baby play is about exploring being more playful and carefree on the one hand and on the other about exploring trust and ways of giving/receiving and understanding affection. I switch, and I enjoy being someone’s loving, caring Daddy and finding ways to make them feel taken care of: whether that means heaping constant adoration on them or knowing how to set strict rules and boundaries and control their behaviour (something I am still learning). Most likely the perfect balance lies somewhere in the middle. That parallel to D/s – finding the balance of care and control – makes adult baby play something that can be explored by those interested in new paradigms for dom/sub dynamics. There’s fun at bath time but also the admonishment of the time out (for toddler play), the caring caress of someone dressing or changing you but also the potential for humiliation play based around wearing diapers or childish clothing in public. The basic premise alone also means significant speech and freedom restrictions, which can be as much a comfort and a letting-go of adult responsibilities as they are constraints. I’ve had this kink as long as I can remember and yet am always finding new ways to explore and express it.”

How You Could Explore It: If your partner wants to be the baby, start off with something a little less intense. Take them to a kid’s movie and don’t let them pay for anything- decide what snacks/drinks they can have, and sit in the back so you can pur their drink into a sippie cup and have them suck a pacifier without anyone else knowing. Having the scene start and end at the movie theatre can give a clear beginning and end to the scene while also not making you have to come up with things to do during that time!

4) Diaper Lovers

Penny:

I thought I would break down my explanation into two parts: why I like the physical object, and why I like the process associated with it.

Why I Like Diapers

  • The plastic of disposables is soft and has a distinctive smell that I associate with romance and eroticism.
  • The plastic of plastic pants is soft and has a distinctive smell that I associate with romance and eroticism.
  • The crinkle sounds are subtle and sweet, something to listen for that sends a shock of electricity through me when I hear it under an attractive person’s clothes. It immediately tells me that there’s something unusual under their clothing, that I know something intimate about them that others might not.
  • Diapers draw attention to the genitals.
  • The soft feel and extra squishiness around the genitals adds tactile simulation for the wearer and their partner.
  • The smell of baby powder is erotic and alluring.
  • As something potentially embarrassing, sharing a diaper fetish increases the intimacy between two people to a level that I imagine is not experienced by most people, or that I cannot experience with people who don’t know about my diaper fetish.

Why I Like Changing

  • The ritual draws me in and lets me know that it is time for sex.
  • I enjoy the emphasis on genital cleanliness. The genitals can be shaved, wiped, powdered, and rubbed with baby oil or petroleum jelly.
  • It focuses wholly on the genital area and is an excuse to gaze at, fondle, explore, and even lick the genitals.
  • The inclusion of sex in a changing scene is taboo and exciting–I still never wholly expect it after all this time.
  • I enjoy the inherent power dynamic to the position, one person being supine while the other looms over the partner being changed.
  • I enjoy the inherent power dynamic to one person making such fundamental decisions about another’s bathroom use, cleanliness, and adult privileges and practices.
  • I enjoy the romance implied by the extreme intimacy of a diaper change.
  • When I’m being changed, looking up into my partner’s eyes, I feel exposed and accepted. They see all of me–my quirks, my shame, my joy, my fears, my needs–and they still care enough for me to clean me, care for me, and love me completely.

How You Could Explore It: I like that you can incorporate diaper play into everyday humiliation play without anyone being the wiser. Have your partner wear one as you go out to a fancy dinner, and find a reason to pat their ass so you two hear/feel it crinkle. Or it could be added to a bondage scene for practical purposes- you don’t have to untie them when they need to pee!

5) Dental Fetish

Cynth Icorn: Photo by Arcane Sin

 

Cynth Icorn:

“The touch of rubber against my teeth, the scent of the surgery or of mouthwash, the squeak of the linoleum all conspired to drive me insane with lust. It’s not just at the surgery but also with partners- licking teeth, having fingers slowly explore my mouth and throat and all kinds of evil looking dental contraptions make their way into my fetish life.

When I guess at where my dental fetish sprang from I can only remember being sat in History class when the teacher spoke to us about the slave’s teeth being checked at auction and it must have stuck. I’ve always had somewhat fetishistic leanings and so I think the vulnerability, dehumanization and humiliation which that would inspire was very appealing to me. Growing up I had a little more than my share of dental work including a set of braces which were given to me by a strange and sadistic Orthodontist and I had to endure for far longer than I was expected- though by this point my dental fetish was already firmly rooted. I think another aspect which I find stimulating is the transformation of the mouth into an other erogenous zone and equally another potential point for use.

What ever triggered this initially, I can not be sure entirely; but this doesn’t deter me, just throw me a sexy smile (perfect, gappy or teeth with braces all welcome) and show me to the chair!”

How You Could Explore It:If you’re curious about how this would feel, consider getting some non-latex gloves and a Whitehead ratchet metal gag. Have your lover lightly bound, perhaps blindfolded, then gag them for a sensory experience. Drag your fingers over their skin, playing with sensitive bits, then reach into their mouth to play with their tongue, inner cheeks, and, if you want to tickle them, the roof of their mouth. When you add this with other sensual touch, it can act as an extension of exploring their body.

6) Bloodplay

leena1:

“For me, the most vivid symbol of life is blood. Blood is life. It is a physical representation, in bright red, of our life moving within us. We are not hands and feet, hair or eyes. We are blood. To lay down and make an active choice to let someone see mine, bring it to the surface and let it run down my skin is exposing myself and trusting in the most visceral way possible. To choose to decorate my skin with needles, sutured beads, or lines from a scalpel is to celebrate my body, and all its imperfections, as beautiful. When needles puncture my skin on entrance and exit, my brain gets quiet and the noise of everyday life fades to the background. A scalpel can drag slowly and purposefully across my skin, allowing my brain to sink while simultaneously making it becoming hyper aware of every minuscule movement I make. I lay, absorbing the sensations, my brain quiet of the self conscious energy that normally surrounds it and I just FEEL my body.

What do I feel? My skin and each muscle feel totally separate from one another. I feel like I could slither, boneless across sand, but I have no inclination to move. I feel trails of red running over my skin, maybe created by a knife or scalpel. Warm to cool as the drops of blood move further from the source. I feel fingers trace small puddles of blood from a needle or wet cupping into a picture. I feel beads lay cool against me as the fishing line passes through me and tugs at my skin. I feel needles, laced with thread tug at me and create images from the imagination anchored to my flesh. As others shudder and many say no way, I have become art.”

How You Could Explore It: Curious about playing with blood but not wanting to cut flesh? If one of you menstruates, this could be a fun way to play with blood without having to slice or dice. A sea sponge can soak up a little bit of blood, and you can try finger painting with it. Or if you do another activity (like play piercing) you can play with the residual blood from what you’re already doing. Just read up on the potential health issues and take precautions!

Masquerotica, photo courtesy of Julia O. Test

7) Vampirism

Rhiannon:

“Being that I’m a vampire fan (the non-Twilight variety), I have always held a deep fascination with blood, particularly taking it from someone else in exchange for my own.  It doesn’t have to be real blood, but can be substituted with store bought Halloween blood (prop blood) or homemade edible blood.

Ancient texts and old books of all kinds are full of weird, creepy, critical passages about blood–what you can do with it, what it does to you, what you can not do with it, etc.  I’m a bit of a nerd, so I read a lot and every single time I read about blood it gives me a good shiver.  There is a direct link between fear and sexuality I think.  Often, the things that terrify you (creatures of the night who can kill you if they so wish or not) are also the things that can make you cum the fastest, to put it frankly.  It makes you feel powerful, and for someone who sometimes has self esteem issues, it’s wonderful.

There are many different ways to explore a vampire theme in your sexual endeavors.  The blood plays a big part of that, but also there are different reasons why it appeals to me.  A vampire can take control of their partner/victim, and there is a sub/dom relationship that often forms between partners here.  It’s a self esteem boost for the dom partner, but that isn’t to say that the submissive is without pleasure, too!  There is nothing more satisfying (to me) to have a long, hot romp in hot, wet edible (or not) blood in a situation and environment that allows for imagination, creativity, and sexual appetites to come together for a fantastic culmination of bodies and orgasms.   The props that can be used are endless (fangs, candles and hot wax, crucifixes for fun, costumes, toys, etc) and that alone is enough to get someone off.

Vampires are highly sexual creatures, so it seems natural for me to want to act out or seek out the different ways to be intimate with another person using bloodletting, blood giving, and drinking in the bedroom. Not to mention the fact that the edible blood that I make is made from chocolate syrup, food coloring, and light corn syrup…Pour that stuff all over your bodies and use your mouths, with or without fangs, to live out your ultimate dark undead fantasies.  You just might enjoy it.”

How You Could Explore It: Vampires are all about two things- seduction, and biting. They want you to be terrified but offer yourself up anyway. Play with that dynamic with a lover who’s tied up while you inhale their scent, comment on their fear, let them struggle while you toy with them. A claw or other sharp feeling toy (I love my throwing knife for this) can feel sharp without being too dangerous, and a quick lick of the tender neck skin feels delicious finished off with a nibble. Fangs optional!

Stay tuned next week for part two- I’ll be sharing my own favourite “weird” kink!

When Worlds Collide: Grandma Went Through My Dirty Laundry

Today, my grandmother found out about my sex work. It was an intense moment of tears and slut shaming and family betrayal. I wanted to explain a little more fully about what happened and what the impact was, because I want to process it and figure out my own healing, and because I want other people to know exactly what it’s like. On some level, too, I want other sex workers out there to know they’re not alone in this.

I haven’t eaten lunch yet, and am chatting with my fiance and a friend about various things when I get a knock on the closed bedroom door. Grandma opens it and says “I need to talk to you”, to which I mumble “yeah ok” and close the laptop, swinging around to face her.

“No,” she says, looking grim. “In the living room”.

I shrug, figuring we’re going to have a discussion about the car or something, and go into the living room, yawning, not too concerned. I’m still in my pajamas. We sit facing each other.

“I Googled your name.”

The words feel like lead. I sink, somewhat, but try to be upbeat. I mean, I have never been closeted about my sex work or my performances with my grandmother. Friends have marveled at how open and cool she is. They’ve heard me talk to her about the difference between my work name and my legal name, and why these things are important. They’ve seen me talk to her about the Sex Workers Outreach Project. They’ve been kind of shocked when grandma says something about sex toys or the costumes I wear to Kinky Salon. She doesn’t come across as clueless, just more of a “live and let live” type.

Which is why the next words killed me.

Grandma sighed, narrowed her eyes, and spat out, “C (her friend) said she was going to Google your name so I thought I would first. And you disgust me. I can’t believe you’re selling yourself- don’t you have any self-respect, any self-worth? How could you do something like that?” And she shook her head then, sadly, and said “I’m so disappointed. I saw your photos… they were disgusting. You’re disgusting.”

I was silent for a second. The day before, I had been interviewed with other SWOP members about sex work, and one of the questions was about the complications of the job. I had said, proudly, how glad I was that I could be out with my family, how that saved me, how privileged I felt and knew I was. How in a world that says that sex workers are worthless, that violence against them is to be expected and not made a fuss over, that says I should be ashamed, my family stood by me. And here I was, hearing my grandmother say she was disgusted by me. The vitriol was thick.

“Well,” I tried protesting, “I do workshops, too, and lectures, and writing, and I’m touring just this week…”

“Disgusting.” I watched my grandmother fold her arms and look disapprovingly at me. Like I was a stranger. Like she didn’t love me anymore.

And that was when I lost my shit.

“You know what? FUCK this. Fuck your judgments. I am not going to get talked down to by you because I make my own choices with my body. I have always been honest with you, and it’s totally fucked up for you to say these things. How dare you!” I leapt up and ran to my room, tears falling down my face. I slammed the door shut and locked it, needing time to think. What was I going to do?

Because here’s the thing, ultimately. Grandma’s friends also know my real name. And they like to meddle. I have to actively be fearful that they would call the cops on my site, on me, probably in order to “save” me from myself. Grandma must have told them my work name- there’s no way or reason they would know otherwise. She outed me, and I suddenly began to realize, with dawning dread, that I could be in very real danger.

I packed a bag. Laptop, socks, underwear, some jewelry, phone charger, a bit of makeup. I grabbed all the money I had, too, got dressed in layers, and prepared to leave the house. I was suddenly conscious that my grandmother might very well choose to tell me to move out, that I’d have nowhere to go, and money would go quickly. The irony being that, because of all the non-sex work I was doing for less money, I hadn’t had much time to book sex work clients. I was being shamed for prostitution and promiscuity when I was struggling with my libido in my personal life, something that comes and goes with me. Too sexual for some, too frigid for others.

It was not hard to feel like I was carefully treading on a spider’s web of social expectations for women and sex.

A phone call to my mother helped me calm down, as she was immensely supportive, not just of the work I do but how inappropriate Grandma’s behavior was. It was validating to hear words of courage from my mum, and gratifying to know that she and my Dad were behind me and supported me. I’m very lucky to have that- most sex workers don’t. It made the difference between making an escape plan and making a self-harm plan. I began to feel less panicked and scared, and more angry- how dare she tell her friends private information, and then slut shame me for it?

As I walked out the door, I felt pissed off. Seeing Grandma in the kitchen, I stopped. I knew I had to say something.

“I can’t believe you outed me to your friends,” I said, feeling both furious and so, so tired. “You have put me in incredible risk, you have said some awful things, and I am deeply, deeply hurt.” I paused. She was silent, so I continued, annoyed- ”People like you are the reason people like me get raped and killed and society calls it an ‘occupational hazard.’ Thanks for that.”

I opened the door, turned and said, “You know what? Your prejudice disgusts me.”

I walked out into the grey afternoon to wait to be picked up. I spent the day with women who understood my pain, for different reasons. We brainstormed. We processed. I talked to my parents and my dad, bless his heart, talked to my grandmother, telling her that they know I’m a prostitute and they support/love me, and are proud of me. He explained that Europe has much more liberal attitudes about sex work. He made it ok for me to stay at the house, tonight at least. I got an incredible amount of support from friends and acquaintances on my twitter feed and my facebook wall, with offers of support from a little financial (which, if you want to, you can donate here) to places to stay. With Momentum coming this weekend, I decided to ride it out, if I can, though am working on plans to move out when I return. I can’t trust her. And until she apologizes to me, I feel pretty ok with cutting her out of my life.

Grandma never apologizes, so that might be a while.

I’m ok for now, though I’m aware I may have to grab my bag and run if she makes home unsafe for me. It’s just heartwrenching, disappointing, and makes me so angry at society, which tells women such complicated mythologies about sexuality. And worse, of course, is that I thought she KNEW all this. I suspect her friends shamed her and so she shamed me. It’s horrible.

This is why I hate dead hooker jokes, and why I hate rescue programs. It’s why I hate the way the media always defines a dead prostitute by her job before her name. It’s why I hate body fascism (I suspect part of what she hated about my photos is the way I sexualize my fat body rather than hide it away).

It’s why I ask you to be allies, both in standing with us when we need it, and in giving us space to speak when we need that.

It’s why I work with SWOP.

You can tell a lot about a country by how they treat their marginalized communities, right?

Well…

America is fucked.up.

Safe/Ward, Safewords, and the Battle of Community Accountability

Introduction: Safe/Ward is getting to be rather a massive project, with a lot of posts, so if you’re so inclined, please check out the other posts in the series:

-I Never Called it Rape
-I Wish I Could Use a Safeword on Rape Culture
-A What You Can Do Guide for Community Members
-A What You Can Do Guide for Community Leaders
-Blog Carnival #1
-This is Why I Speak Up
-Shadows (about one of my experiences)
-Guest Post: Sex-Negative Actions in Sex-Positive Communities

There’s a Salon article out right now. Maybe you’ve seen it- “When Safe Words are Ignored”, safewords being those things that help people doing play communicate their boundaries while play is taking place (often after some discussion about what’s going to be happening). There’s a great response to the article here, by a male feminist who goes by Snowdrop.

Anyway, this article. It’s been taking the kinky internet by storm, and there’s a lot of backlash… again. Surprised? Not remotely, except perhaps at the fact that some of voices rebutting us the loudest are… well, you guessed it, pillars of the community, like respected author and presenter Janet Hardy.

Janet originally commented on a Bay Guardian piece about the consent culture fundraiser Maggie and I did last week. I was honestly kind of shocked about what she said-

A bottom who has withdrawn consent and is not safewording is abusing his or her top, by turning the top into a rapist without the top’s consent.

Moreover, if you are a bottom who is unwilling or unable to safeword, you are not a safe bottom to play with, any more than a top who ignores a safeword is safe to play with. At minimum, you need to tell your top up front that you have this disability, so that your top can choose whether or not they’re willing to take the chance of playing beyond your consent.

While I think that in some ways Janet and I agree- that part of the problem is bottoms not safewording when they should- I think that what we believe should be the response to that is vastly different. I’ve played with someone and they didn’t safeword and turned out to have had an awful time, and it sucked, I felt awful, and, at first, I was pissed off at the bottom for not telling me what was going on. But then I reflected on it. Why didn’t she tell me? Did she want to please me? She had a trauma history- did I trigger her without either of us knowing until it happened? Did the culture we lived in give the impression that safewording showed weakness? I didn’t blow it off as “oh, she’s just an unsafe bottom to play with”- I began to realize when I unraveled the situation that the kink culture has some deep underlying issues around consent, sometimes.

When I bottomed, I know I used to hear Doms tell me that they were proud of me for not safewording, or that true submissives don’t safeword, that safewords were for tourists. We need safewords, was the general consensus among people I met, but they’re kind of a killjoy.

Hm.

I have safeworded and had it ignored, and I have not safeworded because they had violated our very clear agreement, I was afraid for my safety, and why bother, if they were going to rape me they were going to rape me. Safewording and having it ignored was endlessly more traumatic. It proved that they were only as good as the respect the other person had for them, and for me- and that a predator can wear a very convincing mask, until they don’t want to anymore.

As a Domme now, I worry about whether or not bottoms I play with will be able to let me know if their boundaries are being crossed. I’m also aware enough to know that things can go pear-shaped and it’s no one’s fault. Trauma responses and triggers can manifest after years of being shut away. Not everyone feels safe saying they’ve been assaulted in the past. I can only do the best I can do, and if that’s not enough, then I deal with the fallout.

it’s ok to joke about,
cause it’s a female dominant! *cough*

I admit here, often, that I am not perfect- that I have been and can be manipulative sometimes, that I worry about my controlling nature and wonder if it’s always coming from a healthy place. But I would never, ever say the bottom is just unsafe to play with- that would effectively encourage them to keep being silent! I would take responsibility for my part, and ask them how I can help them feel safe now. That seems obvious to me, but maybe it isn’t.

As I told Tracy in part of the interview that she didn’t use, nobody likes safewords. It sucks having to use one, and it sucks hearing one from your partner. They are, however, an incredibly useful tool for facilitating extreme play (especially play with the fantasy or appearance of nonconsent, where “no no!” may mean “hell yes!”), a firewall that divides abuse from Eros – so we use them anyway, and I only wish that the non-BDSM world would do the same.

Many longtime partners haven’t needed one in years, because they know one another’s reactions well enough that they can back off before matters get to that point… but anyone who plays with someone new, or does extreme play with a flavor of adversarialism or nonconsent, is playing with a particularly nasty kind of fire.

-Janet Hardy- read the comments on Salon here for full context

“Nobody likes safewords”. I find that an interesting attitude to have, personally. Because if even a community leader is saying that safewords are sucky, then that adds to the issue I want to talk about further- this attitude that being at a safe place where playing without a safeword is perhaps more intimate and more desirable. And if that is the attitude, does that not promote an unspoken attitude that while playing with safewords is important and safer, playing without them is desirable?

Like with condoms- if you say “everyone hates condoms, but, you know, they keep you safe. However, people who trust each other sometimes become fluid-bonded”, you’re not saying that condoms are bad, but you’re saying that without condoms might well be better. I mean, I spend a lot of time people how to enjoy negotiating in a way that’s both sexy and effective, and how to have hot safer sex discussions and practices- I think that making safer measures part of foreplay is an important aspect of this discussion. And hey, look at that, I like safewords and condoms. Coincidence? I think not.

Sure, I can appreciate that people want to feel like they’re in sync sexually, that unspoken communication is enough- and it’s certainly possible to have that rapport with a partner. But how long do you need to know someone before that rapport is something you can trust? What signifies that you’ve done that legwork? How does one get to that safe place?

You shouldn’t even be having SEX, much less any sort of power exchange, if you don’t know who you are and how you expect to be treated…

The community provides LOTS of resources, from books, to Fetlife groups, local munches, discussion groups, and educational events. Virtually every state has at least one, if not multiple educational conferences a year, most run by intensely ethical people whose mission is to educate. And I don’t know of a single one that hasn’t banned people for inappropriate behavior. Newbies don’t get in trouble because nobody offers to teach them…but they often do when they refuse to take the time to learn, to observe, and to develop relationships and friendships with people of integrity and real knowledge before diving in.

-read Assent Matters on fetlife for full context

Again, there’s this expectation that if you do enough work, you’ll be prepared and these things won’t happen to you- or, if they do, you’ll be the perfect victim. Who can possibly say when you know yourself enough to give full, enthusiastic consent? We don’t live in a vacuum, here! To expect that no one will have sex until they are completely self-aware- well, fuck, I guess I should stop, then, cause I haven’t reached enlightenment. I’m still figuring out who I am. Isn’t, well, everyone? “Who you are” and “what you want” is often somewhat fluid.

haha, funny right? not so much.

I was told that in my case I didn’t do a good enough job getting to know my first Dominant rapist- I had gotten references, I had taken time to get to know him (months, mind), I had safecalls and safewords in place and several play sessions under my belt before I ever let him tie me up. I was told, am still being told, over and over again, often by women who have themselves been abused, that I exercised poor judgment, that I didn’t do enough to protect myself.

So when do you know someone, exactly? If a couple of months of getting to know this person, and three one on one dates with all the “correct” precautions in place isn’t enough for bondage, what is? Six dates? Ten? If having several references isn’t enough, how many is appropriate to be exercising good judgment? Should you only play in public? Are public spaces safe? What do you do when the abusers are friends with the DMs, or, worse, the DMs themselves?

I know of at least two conferences that have not banned someone from presenting despite getting feedback that the presenter was abusive- both cited not wanting to get involved in personal issues as their reason. And, as I keep hearing, we don’t have any tribunal, any way to sort through these issues in a way that’s not biased, so spaces muddle through dealing with consent issues individually, not communicating with each other, each one making its own choice. I’ve seen both members of an abusive relationship banned from a community space in the interest of “avoiding drama”, even though legal orders were in place. I’ve seen spaces ban the abuser. I’ve seen mediation happen, as well. I’ve unfortunately seen the abuser be allowed to stay and the victim told to leave because the abuser was well-liked by the right people.

I also keep hearing the argument “well, this stuff happens in all communities, so…” Yeah, this is true. Entitlement culture is everywhere- churches, schools, the police, the government, swingers, and, yeah, the kinky community. Except those other communities don’t underline the idea of consent all the time. Safe sane and consensual, or its buddy, risk-aware consensual kink, share the idea that consent is pretty important, hence why it’s something we’re trying to bring some light to.

It’s fascinating how defensive people are about this idea, though. We agree that rape is bad, yes? And less of it would be good? So why then not discuss ways that consent can be treated like it’s important in this scene? I’m all for personal responsibility, and safewords, and also not blaming victims and not creating a culture of isolation and slut-shaming. Isn’t that a good thing? More to the point, I’m not just complaining- I’m actually proposing things communities can actively do to be more supportive. Why on earth is that being treated as an offense, exactly?

Worst of all, many of these community members seem to be pointedly ignoring that most rapes happen with someone you know. Not a stranger. Someone you know, often well. So what then, exactly? How do you combat this issue when some of the predators are the ones in charge? And doesn’t that sound an awful lot like the way we as a society generally respond to rape..?

When we live in a world where fake, melodramatic rape accusations outnumber real rapes, then maybe we can have a discussion about worrying about that. But as of now, suggesting that people should deal with it internally, suffer being blamed and silenced, and be nice about it in the name of avoiding so-called “he said she said drama” means actively that real abuse is being ignored and enabled. And that is actively dangerous. Would you tell people who have been raped in any other setting not to report unless they’re the perfect victim and have perfect proof? Are you suggesting that the police are perfect at dealing with these situations, especially if kinky sex is or has been involved?

I was with a woman a month ago who reported rape to the police. It was someone she knew, and had a kinky relationship with once upon a time. We went to the hospital and waited for hours to be told we were in the wrong place but that the station was ready for us and had a female officer to talk to. Then we went to the police station, where we spent a total of 5 hours locked in a room- a room locked on the outside- while the all-male cops made statements that suggested she was somehow at fault. She, trying to do the right thing, didn’t wipe when she peed or shower from when the assault happen to when we got to the hospital- where she was given a rape kit 12 hours after we started the whole process. At that point, of course, the kit showed nothing.

There was no case- not because of anything she did, but because of bureaucracy and police fuckups. Had I not been with her supporting her, she would’ve dropped it anyway, simply because of the way to cops talked to her (and as a witness, they were pretty fucking awful). The pamphlet with info on what to do after a sexual assault? All the numbers and links were no longer valid. That’s what we’re dealing with, here.

All I could think was “if this had happened in a dungeon…”

DMs aren’t trained in first response. You’re told as a victim that we can deal with these things among ourselves, we don’t need to talk to the cops (cause in many places the cops will already be suspicious of kink generally- see Paddleboro). And then we don’t deal with it- we leave victims to drown on their own, keeping quiet because, well, you don’t want to be ostracized, do you?

Why are people reacting so poorly to this? I suspect that it’s because when you really sit and think about it, as Maggie and I did months ago when we started this project, about how many dimes you would have if you had a dime for every time you were sexually assaulted within the kinky community… well, you’d have a hell of a lot of dimes. And if you took one away for each time you told someone, you’d probably still have a lot of dimes. And if you put back a dime for each time you told someone but didn’t call it rape?

Yeah. It fucked with our heads too. Because if you have safewords in place, and respected references, and the person is well-liked by the community and seems good at what they do (maybe even presents workshops), and you’ve negotiated and read all the books and done all the stuff you’re “supposed” to do, we expect that these things won’t happen. That we’re safe. And sadly, that is not the case. I don’t think we, as a “community”, want to hear that, because it is fucking terrifying.

A lot of this is wrapped up in the fact that, as Maggie said to me, “we’re a community until something goes wrong- then, we’re all individuals”. That’s really interesting to me from a culture standpoint, and I’ll be writing more on exactly that soon. How can I in good faith say to radical feminists “no, you don’t understand, kink isn’t abuse because of consent and safewords and our focus on mutual respect” when, in fact, the community for the most part has proven me utterly wrong? Keep an eye open for a post on community, “community”, and what that means for accountability.

This is why I’m so angry. Because if I wasn’t angry, I think I would lie down in the fetal position, so consumed by depression and sadness that I’d give up. And I can’t give up. We can’t give up.

Join us at Catalyst Con

Hey, If you use code "goodvibes" you will get ten bucks off registration!


CatalystCon

Enter your email address below. We promise not to spam you.