On Perverts and Privilege
So I’ve been aware for a while about how many kink scenes, and specifically the SF area, while declaring themselves to be sex positive, absolutely resent being told that their party themes reflect their privilege. This might possibly be related to why these spaces are almost exclusively white, middle class, and often, cisgendered and straight. Of course, there are sometimes parties specifically with themes to cater to people who don’t fit those perimeters, and people are grateful for them, but it always struck me as being grateful for any effort, however small. There aren’t a lot of games in town after all, so you learn to shrug it off, or you become angry and bitter and don’t go out.
The “Pimps and Hos” party at one space was a good example, with the Sex Workers Outreach Project suggesting the venue donate to a sex worker rights org or even change the tagline to “Hos up, Pimps down”- what a great way to fuck with an established misogynistic anti-sex work theme, right? But no, the venue wanted nothing to do with it. They were offered several possible solutions that would make what was an offensive theme that glorifies abusive behaviour towards sex workers (who are part of their community, mind) but apparently putting those into action? Not worthwhile.
I see this a lot- venues and event organizers looking the other way, claiming ignorance, but without wanting to fix it through education and awareness of themselves and their community. And as a venue organizer who has been on the receiving end of that (we had a party theme in London that had major race fail) it is tempting to be defensive, to shoot back with “well, what do you want me to do about it?” It’s important, however, to consider- is it important to me that my community be representative and welcoming, and how can I work towards that? Sometimes, it’s important to accept you fucked up, and to vow to move forward and upward.
Yesterday there was a brilliant example of how not to deal with these things, with local kinkish Goth club Bondage-a-Go-Go.
Every year for 5 years, they’ve held a “White Trash Luau” around Christmastime. Event description is as follows:
On Wednesday the 21st, we revel in all that is cherished in Low-brow culture. Domestic beer. Bad Teeth. Cage Fighters & Teen Moms. This is the one night at BGG that you can bust out your bowling shirt, sweats and dress for (a complete lack of) success!
You can enjoy a (non) gourmet buffet of hot dogs, macaroni and cheese & jello from 11 “ 12, then find a place close to the stage for the Gothic Bikini Contest at Midnight!
I went and looked through the old announcements for these on tribe.net, and sure enough, no one said anything against this theme before. It’s all a bit of fun, right, and BaGG has been somewhat infamous for being snarky.
But this time, on Fetlife, a conversation was started about the privilege and racism implicit in such a theme. Several commenters said that this theme and language was not particularly inclusive, and that it made POC feel pretty wary about going to BaGG at all- note that every POC on the thread said they felt it was offensive and uncomfortable.
Other BaGGsters then responded defensively, going for the “you’re being too sensitive!”, “don’t you have better things to be upset about“, and “you just enjoy being offended!”derailing for dummies triple play. With a garnish of “I know someone from that group who disagrees” on top, like a ripe cherry. And, of course, there was the “no one’s complained before, so why are you complaining now?” defense… one I hear more and more as awareness and discussion around these issues become more prominent in my San Francisco friend feed.
Here is a great example of the defensive responses, emphasis mine:
Also: This is not the only event in the Bay Area with “White Trash” in the name. Campaigning against other events because of unrest due to the titles will not result in all of them being changed. It’s just not possible.
Cause why challenge these things, right? Why say when you’re offended? I mean, the kinky community does this shit all the time, and it’s fun! Do you just hate fun? A response which might be why we don’t tend to see a lot of politically conscious people (or POC esp) at these parties. Hmm. Ya think?
It’s also worth noting that most of the people saying that “overly PC people are killing the FUN” were… oh, right. White, cisgendered, straight men. Fancy that! I know, I know, you’re shocked.
I know this is a crazy thing to say, but- YOU DON’T GET TO DECIDE IF SOMETHING IS RACIST. As my friend Amber Hazard said so well on her tumblr–
When an oppressed individual says “that’s racist/ cissupremacist/ heterofascist/ misogynistic etc.
¦they are not inviting you to start a debate. They are saying “what you are saying/doing is oppressing me/others, and if you can’t just listen and respect that and acknowledge that they’re the best person in the world to gauge how oppressed they feel by your actions/statements¦ well, then you’re just an asshole.
I suggested the “How Not to Act Like a Doofus When Accused of Racism” post, too. While it’s arguable whether or not the term “white trash” is racist to white people, it’s certainly classist, and it’s worth reminding people of the actual history of the term “poor white trash”– a history that is very much enmeshed with racism and classism. Considering we’re living in a culture wherein half of all Americans are currently living and growing up within low income circumstances, it seems like it’d be a good time to rethink our willingness to talk shit about poor people, if you ask me. Finally I referenced an essay on racist jokes, which also relates very much to classist jokes. White trash, as a phrase, makes not only some of the people I know who grew up in poor rural environments feel uncomfortable and awkward, but most of the POC I know. Sounds, then, to me like it’s worth reflecting pretty seriously on, particularly in a community that prides itself on being “sex positive”.
It was lively argument, for sure. One of the venue organizers originally fanned the flames and told people to quit bitching, then thought better of it and apologized, suggesting people take their complaints to the main event organizer. Multiple people who are regulars there supported the event and told people calling out privilege to “shut their whore mouths” (dig that grave, baby, dig it!) There was a big divide between people who were saying “wow, that’s not cool, actually, BaGG” and people who were saying “look, obviously you can’t get a joke”- something I’ve heard when calling out dead hooker jokes, too.
Meanwhile, the original poster who made the first complaint said this:
To the powers that be at BAGG: Please just apologize. We’ve had a lot of fun at BAGG over the years, and we’d like to be able to have fun there again knowing that our community values who we are as much as we value our community. I know most people who go to BAGG have no bad intentions, but this really hurts the level of comfort and safety for a lot more people than will ever speak up about it. PLEASE just acknowledge that there has been an accident/incident, that perhaps the concept and wording of the event needs to be revisited and perhaps revised, and apologize.
That’s not particularly reactionary or mean, right? It’s even tempered, polite, and clear. It’s not super angry or militant. It’s pretty friendly. And a lot of people who go to BaGG (and therefore pay the organizers) agreed.
But here’s where this story gets a lot more messed up.
It seemed like maybe the organizers had seen the error of their ways– they cancelled the event, and I was so excited. I thought that wow, maybe my local community was ready to work on issues that have led to an incredibly white middle class privileged scene – at the expense of everyone else. I even commented saying how I was really glad this was being taken seriously. It made me want to go out more, because I felt like hey, maybe this can be safe space.
I obviously was out of my mind, because post apology, this was the “replacement” event listing:
Please join your Freak Family for a polite gathering of the gender neutral “People of the World!
Dress code is “Caucasian Casual” ** this one night only. T-shirts, flip-flops, sweats, white tennis shoes, Ambercrombie & Fitch, turquoise eye-shadow, “ make it absolutely Hideous!
“Caucasian Casual” applies to all Persons of color
Take a picture with the Holiday Neutral Character “Satan Claws from 10 “ 11.
Feast on our hot dog/macaroni & cheese buffet from 11-12. Nice and bland!
Sexy Sweater contest. $100 for the most alluring Holiday sweater (no pants or skirt “ contestants just wear shoes & a sweater). All genders are allowed to compete (though this is really an exhibition, not a contest because we are all winners!).
When you are done with the vanilla, strip down to the dungeon, dance til 2:30 and show your true colors!
I am Bondage A Go Go & I approved this message.
21 and up, you little Slut! (ID required)
All I can do is shake my head. It’s really sad to see that the SF kink community, including many people I consider(ed) friends, feel that people speaking up against oppressive behaviour should be tagged as being whiners who are ruining things rather than respected as having the guts to speak up.
What really upset me is that one of the people who apologized really well and then pulled a “haha fuck you suckas” move is someone who runs events at Kink.com, and who is considered a “pillar of the community”. But then, of course he is. Aren’t they usually?
Every year I feel less like I can ethically be a part of this “sex positive” community. I feel incredibly disgusted and betrayed by the response to this situation, more so because they pretended they were invested in thinking critically about these issues, and then turned out to be liars.
And it’s not the first time. It won’t be the last. I only illustrated this whole situation in the interest of sparking discussion about pushing the boundaries- I’ll be writing a more general piece on perverts and privilege generally with some tips in a week or so.
But for now?
I don’t think SF is sex positive. Entitlement culture is alive and well here- this event is one example, the issues around how female dominants and male submissives are portrayed even in our own spaces is another, the need for the Safe/Ward workshops on consent is yet another. The fact that so few event organizers bothered to come to a workshop on addressing abuse issues in kink and altsex is indicative of a serious issue that will end in flames. I think that some places in SF strive towards being more sex positive, but until complaints are treated publicly with the respect they deserve, and men are objectified as women are objectified, and images of POC, fat, and genderqueer people are on the walls of accessible kinky venues… well, then we’re still striving towards sex positivity. We’re not there yet. The sooner we admit that, the sooner we can actually do something about it. And I hope we do.