Guest Post: Sex-Negative Actions in Sex-Positive Communities

The Consent Culture Logo,
by Tom Ker-Oldfield

Introduction: Safe/Ward is incredibly close to my heart, and there are quite a few posts on my blog in the series- here's a list:

-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)

It will continue to be discussed here, for sure, under the tag "safeward". And I've started a Fetlife group for announcements and resources around consent culture in the Bay Area, along with an invite-only Google group to discuss how we're going to step up as a community and create standards we can live by. I welcome you to join either.

But today, I want to offer for you all a call to arms guest post by Nadia West, blogger over at Diary of a Kinky Librarian. It's the original piece posted on Good Vibrations Magazine a couple days ago, where she talks bluntly (and without identifying the perp) about an abusive experience she had.

When her abuser commented on the post (outing himself, may I add), protesting that she was lying, that he was a "a published writer and sex educator who may justifiably be considered an expert in the subjects I teach" and who has presented many places (I guess to add weight that because he "is someone" he must not be abusive..?) GV initially approved his comment. Why, I have no idea, and I'd be curious to hear how they justified that, particularly as her post had no identifying information. He went on to add smugly that the second conference leaders "concluded that she described a consensual act, not assault"- like anyone but the survivor can conclude that. Sound disappointingly familiar?

Anyway, GV removed that post, and instead posted an edited version with this disclaimer:

Editor’s note: Per our company policy, Good Vibrations made an internal executive decision to remove the original blog post. This is the updated version. We apologize for any discomfort this caused.

Discomfort for whom, I ask?

I should add that I care about Good Vibes. They sponsored the Boston Safe/Ward workshop (notes to be up soon) and they've published all the Safe/Ward stuff I've sent them. But as I said in my community leaders post- don't be afraid to put your foot down. I'm sure GV didn't mean to be silencing, but by trying to... avoid drama? stay neutral, maybe? they ended up silencing Nadia, even though she didn't name names.

Here is Nadia's post, because I feel holding community leaders responsible for their responses, and discussing what we can do without silencing survivors, is important. 

And dude (you know who you are)- if you try to comment here, you will be ignored. Just FYI. This isn't safe space for your justifications.

Next March, I'll be participating in a panel discussion at Momentum, a conference dedicated to "making waves in sexuality, feminism and relationships." The discussion is titled: "Being the Change you Want to See: Helping Stem the Tide of Silence about Sexual Abuse in Sex-Positive Communities." I'll be joined by some fantastic women on the panel with varying experiences, including Kitty Stryker, who wrote about this topic a short while back here on GV magazine.

Like far too many women (and I'm sure some men as well) I have firsthand experience with not only sexual assault, but also having to face one's assailant at sex positive or kink events. For years I was mostly silent about what happened, only blogging on my personal blog as a way to get the feelings out. But earlier this year I was approached by organizers from an east coast kink conference after I sent out a rather passive-aggressive tweet about my assailant presenting at that conference.

Let me tell you, this was the first time in six years someone in a position of leadership approached me with respect, discretion and a willingness to listen in regards to this sort of situation. I sent information, and they clearly spent time going through the many links provided, ultimately finding an offensive comment left by my assailant on someone else's blog. They thanked me for coming forward, decided to ban this guy from presenting, and assured me that with his own offensive comment they had enough reason to ban him without ever mentioning me.

I was bowled over. But the usual narrative in dealing with this sort of thing occurred when I tried to bring this information to the attention of the organizers of another east coast event I was attending later in the year where the man who assaulted me was presenting - they weren't sure what to do, so ultimately they did nothing. It's not an easy thing to listen to one person's story and choose to accept it as truth, particularly if you don't know either of the persons involved. I had a mutual friend present the information to them, along with a testimonial of my character, hoping it would be particularly helpful. No dice.

I'm not specifically angry with the organizers of the event. A framework for dealing with this sort of thing has not been created in the sex positive community. But by ignoring assault (or abuse or rape), we basically support the perpetrator as their behavior has no consequences whatsoever. This man is being given legitimacy by being allowed to teach. Do we really want the newbies in the kink scene to think this sort of person is knowledgeable and trustworthy? What does it say about a con that would let this man present? Are speakers vetted at all?

At the Momentum panel, I hope that we'll be able to find ways to approach accusations in a more respectful way. I hope we can come up with suggestions for organizers on how to deal with something like this if a survivor comes forward. I understand the complexity of this issue as I've spoken to men who are afraid that an unintentional mistake would get them branded an abuser. Certainly, we don't want to persecute in case the accuser is lying (however, this has been shown to be a rare occurrence with sexual crimes) - but perhaps an accusation would be time to pull the presenter and look more into their character before allowing them to present at the next con. Good people who do something accidentally take responsibility for it and try to repair any damage they did. It's the ones who think that consent is not important and their behavior is acceptable that we have to watch out for.

While at the second event, I spent a couple of hours dealing with triggered post-traumatic stress disorder from running into my assailant in the hotel where I was staying. Just seeing him made all the fear of that moment when I was a victim come flooding back. I know I'm not alone in this sort of experience. How could I enjoy myself in a kink situation when I felt so unsafe? I wouldn't feel comfortable getting naked in a dungeon if I knew he was in that room.

So tell me, what are your suggestions for dealing with this in a way that acknowledges the reality of assault, listens to the survivor, and keeps people with no sense of boundaries from teaching classes at events? Should an accused person be banned from a con all together? (I'm not so supportive of that, even if it meant running into my assailant. We can't police everyone's behavior in the community, but we can keep questionable sorts from appearing to be experts to naive newbies.) How do we stop shrugging our shoulders saying "it's a he said/she said thing" and actually take action?

We're overdue to start a dialogue about this subject. And hopefully by discussion we can come up with ways to better handle what amounts to intensely negative acts happening unnoticed in supposedly sex-positive communities. I hope that suggestions will be left in the comments here.

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