Consent Culture Briefs

-Twitter was swarmed with the hashtag #rapecultureiswhen, with many people expressing their thoughts on the subject. It started off really well:
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Until of course the MRA types entered the hashtag to prove the points being made by making rape jokes and “angry feminist” accusations.

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Thankfully there were some men in the tag who demonstrated an understanding of what rape culture is, and why it was a problem.
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As one woman put it:
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-Dr. Nerdlove posted an article called “Socially Awkward Isn’t an Excuse” and in doing so explains how in creeper situations, being socially awkward is not an excuse for violating boundaries. He points out that the “socially awkward” situation is raised as a form of justifying the creeper behaviour, and often of blaming the person receiving the creepy attention. A quote:

But being anxious or socially clumsy or inexperienced isn’t the same as being creepy. Someone who is socially awkward will occasionally trip over somebody else’s boundaries by accident because they may not necessarily understand where the line is in the first place. A creeper on the other hand knows exactly where those boundaries are… he just doesn’t care. A socially awkward person frequently realize that they fucked up almost as soon as the words are out of their mouth and will often freeze up or try to verbally backpedal; a creeper who is using “socially awkward” as an excuse on the other hand, will wield their supposed infraction against the other person as proof that they didn’t do anything wrong… or rely on others to do their defending for them.

It’s a great article, and a useful one.

-I heard recently about the analogy of Ask Culture Vs Guess Culture when explaining why some people get upset by others asking for help and favours, while others get annoyed at someone’s wishing for help but never making it clear. I think this is going to be a useful distinction in setting expectations of each other, and may help in friend circles and communities that struggle around who gets heard and who gets the resources. Captain Awkward has an excellent rundown/analysis here.

-Interesting art/performance piece happening in Phoenix, Arizona with the Consent Project by Chelsea Pace. She seeks to put people in situations where a victim is often blamed for their assaults (for example, a room filled with televisions and trees made of alcohol bottle trunks and red Solo cup foliage to represent “too much to drink”) to confront if it is, really, deserved.

-A police officer in San Jose stands accused of raping a woman… who called 911 for a domestic violence situation. He brought the woman (believed to be an illegal immigrant and therefore even less likely to fight back) to a hotel, waited for the other officer to leave, and then raped her. Obviously this brings into question *even more* the idea that rape victims should talk to the police, particularly if they are POC, queer, trans*, or sex workers. He is on paid administrative leave, which is fucking shocking.

-A gang rape victim with MS says that when she tried to report her assault, police accused her of being a drug addict and a sex worker (as if those are reasons to not take a rape seriously). She and her mother both say the police acted ”like it was a big joke and a waste of time.”

-Upsetting Rape Culture is still fantastic with their direct action and their quilt of survivor’s stories. Check them out if you haven’t, because their sense of humour and critical analysis of consumerism and sexuality is pretty damn good.

Guest Post: A Little Ditty on Consent (or Rule #1 in How Not to Be an A**hole)

One of the greatest things we’re now doing more often is asking for more guest authors to come in and speak. If you’re interested in being one of them, please contact us! 

This piece comes to us from Sailor :)

I recently had the pleasure of being invited to join a newly formed BDSM organization for queers of all sorts and our allies and one of the first things I was introduced to was the all important “No A**hole” rule. “What exactly does that rule mean?”, you may ask. To me, not being an a**hole means conducting oneself in a way that’s respectful to the people around, to the place where they’re at, and to people’s belongings. When we’re talking about not being an a**hole, and when we’re talking about respect, one of the more important things that comes up for me is the importance of CONSENT.

I consider the importance of consent to be a pillar among the principles that make the things we do as safe as they can be; it is what separates S/M and abuse; and I believe in a lot of cases it’s what helps us as a community maintain a solid enough reputation to not be (majorly) harassed by law enforcement. I think what sometimes can keep people from talking about consent is that it can be mistakenly overlooked for being “basic”, like it’s something we all ought to already and not need to to rehash. There may also be people who may not want to deal with the topic of consent because it can be complicated and can be messy. Both these potential reasons are troubling to me because not all groups of people establish or maintain consent the same way. Some people have a very solid list of things that they’ll consent to or not consent to; some people are likely to be more flexible with the things they’ll consent to when among their partners, play partners, or close friends; still, some people may consent to something at one point, then change their mind some time later. Ultimately, I think it’s important to remember that until we agree otherwise, we are all entitled to the ways we make decisions about our own bodies. No one should get to dictate what happens to our body unless we let them. That’s it! To lessen the risk of consent violation, I offer the following suggestions:

* Unless you’re in an established relationship (romantic or sexual), or you have a previous agreed upon scene dynamic, it is recommended that everyone enters scene negotiations as equal parties.
* If what’s negotiated was a PUNCHING ONLY scene (for example), do only that until you’re told you can go further AND NOT BEFORE!
* If you’re not sure whether someone’s consented to am activity, don’t just assume that they have and proceed anyway. When in doubt, it is always better to stop and to see if there’s clear consent than to proceed with confusion.
* If someone withdraws their consent to an activity they’ve previously consented to, don’t make that person feel bad for doing that. Respect their request and make sure that they’re okay. It’s common for the person who withdrew their consent to feel bad for doing so. Let them know that it’s okay and that it’s both good that they’re taking care of themselves, and that they’ve communicated their needs. It’s not easy for someone to go back on something that’s been agreed upon. Letting that person know that it’s okay can make the person feel better about their decision.

It is important to remember that as human beings, we constantly change and how we feel one hour and how we feel the next can vary greatly. Even if there was a previous agreement to do something with someone, if something happened before that makes doing what’s agreed upon a bad idea, no one should be put in a difficult position because of that. Regardless of what relationship dynamic a person may be in, no one should ever be made to feel bad for taking care of themself.

It is true that consent can be complicated. But I think that doing our best to maintain and respect consent is a key to keeping our community together and can lessen the possibility of things going wrong and relationships being negatively effected.

This Ain’t Typhoid Mary, XXX

Nude woman in beaked plague doctor mask

Art by Nicole Dement

I had to think for a hot second about whether it made sense for me to write about the topic or porn stars escorting and how that related to health and safety on my personal blog, because I’ve been a porn star who also escorted, or on the consent culture blog, because it reflects a social and cultural judgment around physical autonomy, consent, and agency. I decided that ultimately it made sense to cross post it, because I feel strongly enough about the topic of stigma and how it affects self care, personal health, and financial stability. So please bear with me if you follow both blogs and see it twice.

The Salon article “When porn stars become escorts: Lucrative new trend could also be risky” came to my attention via XBiz, actually. As I haven’t been a mainstream porn performer, or ever had a taste for LA, most of the news of XBiz doesn’t usually snag me but when it comes to sex workers spanning multiple areas of the business, I tend to perk up my ears a bit more.

I’ve certainly heard fellow porn performers question whether they should supplement their income with other types of work, considering porn jobs aren’t consistent and the industry can be feast or famine. Stripping is a classic choice for many, though the hours can be long, the shoes killer and the stage fees often exorbitant. Others might choose private cam shows if they have a space available, though at least in my experience with camming a lot of time is spent being politely flirtatious to men who don’t want to pay for your time but want to try to get you naked anyway.  Some become sex coaches, which can also offer another type of dvd opportunity and in-person work that can be particularly helpful when you no longer want to work in porn itself. And some become escorts, because at the end of the day, sex for money is sex for money. I figured this article was going to talk to a few performers about the pros and cons about that decision making process, probably discuss the various disease transmission cases that had happened over the past few years, and maybe ask the question if porn stars who escorted were, actually, a greater risk than those who didn’t.

But no, that’s not really what I found. Instead, I found it to be pretty problematic, and likely something that’s going to get picked up and waved around by people who want to show that porn stars are, in fact, reckless secret sexual lepers who will end up infecting us all.

The issues I have with the premise of this article are countless. First, this is not a new trend. Porn performers have supplemented their income with other types of sex work, including “working private”, as long as porn has existed. In fact, if I recall correctly, many of the original pornographic performers in the first films were prostitutes- I mean hell, the WORD itself was coined to mean a depiction of a prostitute or of prostitution, even if that’s not the popular usage today. So porn performers escorting or escorts performing in porn, not really a new thing. Being open about escorting? I don’t know, maybe that is new compared to, say, fifteen years ago. But I think that more likely, the ability to Google such information to find out if a performer escorts, or to trace a photo, means that it’s a hell of a lot easier to find out if a porn star is escorting now than when most adult ads were in print. I think it’s as common as it ever was, but like with everything else, we hear more about it now, because we hear more about everything now.

Actually, on that point, I think it’s also worth mentioning that because of that access to so much intimate information (which you have to provide, because it’s marketing when your body is your business), it’s also pretty impossible to erase a porn career once you’ve had one, which means that you might not have many other options if the porn jobs aren’t paying what they used to. I just saw a story about a guy being refused to perform boylesque because he worked in porn (I mean are you fucking kidding???) never mind the ongoing stories of kids being kicked out of school, women losing their jobs, their kids, their families, their lives, etc. I mean, newsflash, we are living in some damn hard economic times. But that’s not really what this blog post is about. ::deep breath::

I have a problem with the people they spoke to, particularly the two prominent voices in the article- Michael Whiteacre (I can only find direct links to him, which I refuse to do) and Mike South, both men who pen their own porn “news”/gossip sites and both of whom have, at various times, been actively emotionally abusive to sex workers. Why on earth Salon would consider these two men authorities on this topic, I have no fucking idea, but it really pisses me off. Whiteacre is the sort of man who finds it perfectly acceptable to post private conversation screencaps to gaslight abused women, and South’s attitude of “better for you to confess your sins to me before I expose you” is no better than the assholes the two of them fought to hard to shut down years ago, Porn WikiLeaks. I’m really disappointed at the laziness of this research and the overwhelming potential for harm it can do, particularly when these two men make their careers off of fostering gossip, fear, and shame.

Additionally, I want to confront this idea right now that porn stars who escort are greater health and safety risks. I have not seen any data to support this claim, and as far as I can tell, none of the porn moratoriums were sparked because of a porn performer escorting on the side. As far as I know, Mr. Marcus? Not an escort. Cameron Bay? Got it with her lover. Derrick Burts? Got it on set. So I’m confused (and if you have some info, please comment below, I’m happy to update this!).

I mean… there is risk inherent in having sex. I get that. And yes, I think that a porn set should be a safe workplace- frankly if I had my way, the way the mainstream would work is that porn performers would feel free to ask for whatever safer sex supplies they wanted to use on set, and everyone would get an STI panel paid for by the company, rather than out of pocket, because I think pay-to-work models are shitty. But it sounds like, as far as I am aware, people are not actually in real life being infected because of porn star escorts.

Though, I mean, we all know how prostitutes never use safer sex or get tested and are totally reckless while people having sex for reasons that aren’t direct cash exchange are always monogamous couples who are sober and using all the safer sex techniques all the time properly 100%. /sarcasm

To be fair, Salon does link to this article on Forbes where Susannah Breslin breaks down what porn performers do when the porn industry shuts down, which I think actually details many more voices and is in many ways more informative. Adahlia says it perfectly:

“In my escorting work, I have always felt much safer and protected because I am able to choose what kinds of safer sex practices I wish to utilize, and I don’t lose business by choosing to be safe.”

I think she speaks to a greater issue – losing business by choosing to be safe. Let’s be real, money is fucking TIGHT, especially for people on the edges who are already struggling. Shit, I’m barely scraping by, I just found out our rent is going up another $50, and there is not a job to be found. I want to acknowledge that when financial stress is high, this is often survival sex we’re talking about here. So compromises get made that wouldn’t otherwise get made- faking an STI report, working with a company that doesn’t have as stringent policies, doing types of sex acts you’re not comfortable with, doing bareback escorting, whatever it might be. Because rent has to be paid, food needs to be bought, the car needs to keep running and god help you if you have any medical bills or debt.

But ultimately, even that desperation and those choices-that-aren’t-really-choices are not really about the porn industry. That’s working under capitalistic patriarchy (an argument I actually make here in the New Internationalist).

And what I saw resonating throughout that article was “this is why we need better worker representation, and why we need sex worker rights”.

Basically, I don’t want porn performers to read that damn article and freak out that they aren’t booking enough shoots and they were considering other types of sex work but maybe they’d be shunned for life or instantly drop dead. It is OK to do what you need to do. That mainstream porn industry is floundering because it’s not adaptable, it’s scared of change. But us sex workers? We’re chameleons, baby. We’re survivors. We’re fierce.

And Salon, next time, can you at least try to talk to current sex workers about sex worker issues?

This article was brought to you by my kind sponsors – sign up and help make “Consent Culture: the Anthology” a reality! 

Guest Post: Rape Culture at Uni Isn’t A Victorian Issue

There’s so many things to write about when it comes to rape culture in the media. It can be hard for me to keep up, but thankfully, I now have guest posters who are happy to step in! Today I’m bringing a piece by Brendan P Bartholomew, who kindly penned a response to Joanna Williams’ claim that rape culture doesn’t exist at British universities- despite evidence to the contrary


Not rape culture, obviously. Just marketing!

The Web site spiked recently posted an opinion piece by one Joanna Williams, entitled “THERE IS NO ‘RAPE CULTURE’ AT BRITISH UNIVERSITIES.” I am not a woman, sexual abuse survivor, or UK college student, and cannot speak for those groups, but I can speak to the utter wrongness of that opinion.

Williams’ premise is that by discussing rape culture on university campuses, modern feminists are behaving like Victorian era sexists who used horror stories of spinsterhood and predatory males to discourage women from attending college. She claims British universities don’t have a rape culture problem, and cites various rape statistics to support this claim.

Sigh. Where to begin? Let’s start with that juxtaposition of feminists with Victorian sexists. Williams writes:

“But there’s one big difference from a century ago: today’s panics over rape ‘epidemics’ are not promoted by Victorian fathers but by female students.”

And that right there should have ended the discussion, because she admits that the very women in harm’s way, the actual women out there experiencing the “ground truth” of rape culture on college campuses, are telling us there’s a problem. I don’t know about you, but when I hear from a woman that she doesn’t feel safe, I assume she’s right, and allow that to inform the conversation. If you say, “This school has a climate that fosters rape,” you’re only guilty of fear mongering if it’s not true. Williams needs it to not be true, and I’m tempted to wonder why. Spiked identifies her as an “Education Editor,” and “a lecturer in higher education at the University of Kent.”

I could speculate about the personal stake Williams may have in this, but any student of logic would call that an ad hominem fallacy. Therefore, I’ll focus on her logic, and her fallacies. She writes:

“Being a feminist on campus in 2014 seems to mean calling for university managers to intervene in intimate relationships and to curtail free speech in the name of protecting delicate women from sexual threats.”

So, in other words, if it happens within the context of an “intimate relationship,” it’s not legitimate rape, but a simple misunderstanding, or a case of morning-after regret? Is that the logic here? As to this subject of free speech, there have been incidents of men handing out “how to rape” pamphlets on college campuses. Would that be an example of speech that should not be curtailed? And why are we speaking in terms of “delicate” women, as opposed to just women? Should women feel demeaned because other women seek to protect them from sexual threats?

When Williams goes on to cite rape statistics in order to support her argument, she ignores the fact that there is widespread agreement that rape is one of the most notoriously under-reported crimes, due to the enormous pressure survivors feel to not come forward. So when she writes…

This would equate to just over four recorded rapes at a typical university.”

I say no, that equates to just over four rapes per campus that we know about. But don’t take my word for it. The American Medical Association has said as much, and you’ll find confirmation on Wikipedia:

According to the American Medical Association (1995), sexual violence, and rape in particular, is considered the most under-reported violent crime.

The most common reasons given by victims for not reporting rapes are the belief that it is a personal or private matter, and that they fear reprisal from the assailant. A 2007 British government report says “Estimates from research suggest that between 75 and 95 percent of rape crimes are never reported to the police.”

Continuing to build her argument on a foundation of rape statistics, Williams writes:

“Rape Crisis, a UK charity that supports women and girls who have suffered from sexual violence, claims that in 90 per cent of rape cases women know their attackers, and that 52 per cent of women suffering serious sexual violence were attacked by their partners. The validity of applying such national statistics to a student population, which is generally young and living away from old networks of family and friends, needs to be questioned.”

Williams seems to be suggesting that national statistics on the prevalence of rape can’t possibly be relevant to university life because those statistics indicate that rape is overwhelmingly acquaintance rape, and there are no acquaintances, only strangers, on college campuses. What a bizarre assertion.

She continues:

Of these, 48 per cent [SIC] say the perpetrator was not a student (challenging the notion of a university rape culture)…”

Um, unless I’m misunderstanding that statement, doesn’t that leave 52 percent who say the perpetrator was a student, thus confirming the fact that campus rape is a huge problem?

Williams also writes:

“…and only 17 per cent of the victims reported the attack to the police or university staff because ‘they did not feel what had happened was serious enough’.”

Such a statement betrays a lack of understanding about the internal debate a survivor might have when deciding whether an incident was “serious enough” to report. Reporting a rape means exposing oneself to the possibility of being re-traumatized by school officials, police, and the community at large. It’s not a decision easily made. Williams ignores the fact that keeping victims quiet is a part of rape culture. Citing a low instance of reported rapes to cast doubt on rape culture’s presence is like claiming the lack of dissenting speech in North Korea proves North Korea doesn’t suppress dissidents.

Furthermore, Williams never defines for us exactly what she thinks rape culture is. Given that her argument hinges on low instances of reported rape, it appears she’s conflating rape with rape culture, and working from the assumption that reported rape is the only symptom –and the only consequence—of rape culture. Is it possible, or even likely, that campus rape culture creates a stressful environment in which people who feel unsafe are less likely to excel in their studies, finish school, and earn degrees? I would hope that, as an educator, Williams might be interested in rape culture’s possible effects on student outcomes.

I am reminded of an experience I had many years ago, when I was called for jury duty. Because the case involved a violent crime, each potential juror was asked whether they knew anybody who’d ever been the victim of a violent crime. I will never forget the response from one potential juror, who happened to be a university student. Her response started with, “Well, I know girls on campus who get raped, but other than that, I don’t really know any crime victims.” Meaning that in her world, it was so commonplace for her fellow students to be survivors of campus rape, that it was hardly noteworthy, and probably didn’t rise to the level of “violent crime” the question had implied. This was years ago, and I still find the memory jarring. On that day, I got all the confirmation I needed that campus rape culture exists. It is ironic and sad that Williams’ denial of this problem makes her complicit in perpetuating it.

What Dylan Farrow Teaches Us About Rape Cuture

I’ve spent the last few days entrenched in debates about Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen, and childhood sexual abuse. As pretty much everyone knows, Dylan wrote a letter stating Woody Allen, her father, sexually abused her. It’s not been pleasant, or easy, and I’ve found myself disappointed if not surprised by the responses I’ve seen. As Dylan herself says, “sexual abuse claims against the powerful stall more easily”, and it’s made even more obvious by the reaction to her letter.

The most famous, of course, would be the one in the Daily Beast, where Robert Weide, someone on Woody Allen’s payroll, casts doubt on Dylan’s story. His piece, I think, is a sad but important example of a typical response when coming out about abuse. It casts Mia as manipulative and hysterical, and Dylan as a naive pawn, with Woody as the poor man wrapped in this web of crazy lady lies. It says a lot to me that rather than feeling concerned about Dylan, or questioning what happened, he just trusts Woody and doesn’t “fret over Mia”. Because, you know, talking about sexual assault is just “fretting”.

God knows I’ve heard plenty of “but he’s such a nice guy, he couldn’t possibly _________”.

Being a decent guy in multiple ways doesn’t mean you can’t be a rapist. If my work with the BDSM community is anything to go by, the more social status someone has, and the more privilege, the more likely that there are multiple reports of them crossing boundaries. And the less likely there will be consequences- we see it over and over again in the news.

Aaron Bady responds to the criticism of Dylan’s letter (or, mostly, of Mia) incredibly well, in my opinion:

“The damnably difficult thing about all of this, of course, is that you can’t presume that both are innocent at the same time. One of them must be saying something that is not true. But “he said, she said” doesn’t resolve to “let’s start by assume she’s lying,” except in a rape culture, and if you are presuming his innocence by presuming her mendacity, you are rape cultured. It works both ways, or should: if one of them has to be lying for the other to be telling the truth, then presuming the innocence of one produces a presumption of the other’s guilt. And Woody Allen cannot be presumed to be innocent of molesting a child unless she is presumed to be lying to us. His presumption of innocence can only be built on the presumption that her words have no credibility, independent of other (real) evidence, which is to say, the presumption that her words are not evidence. If you want to vigorously claim ignorance–to assert that we can never know what happened, in that attic–then you must ground that lack of knowledge in the presumption that what she has said doesn’t count, and we cannot believe her story.”

It leads to an interesting question, and one that’s far beyond Dylan and Woody. If someone you know, perhaps a potential employer, someone influential to your life in some way, is accused of abusive behaviour… how should you respond? What should you do? Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin, named in Dylan’s letter, seem to believe that it’s only the business of the family, not something thats their problem. It’s something abuse survivors hear all too often when trying to get support for themselves and boundaries around their abuser. I know I heard it too when I asked my friends to give me space-  ”well, I don’t know what *really* happened”,  ”was he convicted?”, “what proof is there?”

I admire Dylan’s decision to call out people who continue to associate with Woody Allen as being complicit. And I think about this when I think about other famous men who have even been CONVICTED of crimes (Roman Polanski, R. Kelly, Chris Brown, Charlie Sheen to name a few) and yet Hollywood still celebrates them. I doubt it would be any different with Woody Allen, even if Dylan had been the ideal victim, because people like Woody and don’t want to believe he’s capable of child abuse. It would cause us, as a society, to acknowledge that we’ve praised this man for years while he’s escaped justice and his victim has to see him deified.

Jessica Valenti sums it well here:

“I believe, as Roxane Gay does, that people are skeptical of abuse victims because “the truth and pervasiveness of sexual violence around the world is overwhelming. Why would anyone want to face such truth?” I also believe that deep down people know that once we start to believe victims en masse—once we take their pain and experience seriously—that everything will have to change. Recognizing the truth about sexual assault and abuse will mean giving up too many sports and movies and songs and artists. It will mean rethinking institutions and families and power dynamics and the way we interact with each other every day. It will be a lot.”

This isn’t just about Dylan. This is about our entire society and what our values are. We as a culture have a lot invested in turning a blind eye to sexual assault, especially when the perpetrator is white, male, and wealthy.

And that’s terrifying.

Consent Thoughts from Lecture: Part 2

I talked a bit about my experiences at University of Birmingham, and their weekend about consent, in this post, focusing on explaining my presentation’s first two parts (on mainstream depictions of kink, as well as the construct of “drama” and how it gets in the way of consent culture in these spaces). Here I’ll finish the job by discussing desire, both within kink and in culture at large.


One thing that stands in the way of good communication is the way our culture idealizes desire. We’re taught via Disney movies that we’ll “just know” when we meet someone compatible, that we won’t need to talk about anything or negotiate, we’ll just read each other’s minds. That’s very romantic, but also a fairy tale. Understanding someone’s cues and body language comes, not through magic, but through knowing that person, their likes and dislikes. It also comes with a lot of mistakes, and hopefully a willingness to admit you’re wrong when you misjudge. These practicalities, however, don’t tend to weigh into the actual heartfelt desire to find someone with whom you have that mystical “chemistry” that just can’t be put into words.

Because of this longing, I suspect the whole fantasy of moving “beyond safewords”, beyond negotiation, and/or beyond a contract, is fairly prominent within the BDSM community. I hear a lot doing Consent Culture work (and on the radio, as you can hear on this show “Edge of Insanity” I did this weekend with Betty Blac) the declaration “we don’t need safewords!” and “safewords aren’t sexy!” I feel that when erotica, movies, porn and even our own dungeon behaviour look on the safeword as something that “ruins” a scene, we’re creating a dangerous dynamic where people won’t say “stop” or “no” when they want to, because that’s not part of their fantasy. It may not be part of your wet dreams, but then, neither is a court case, is my opinion on the topic. We need to have methods to stop BDSM behaviour when it crosses the line, while also acknowledging that people may struggle to safeword when there’s so much pressure to be a “good” submissive or a “tough” dominant… often which involves this “no limits” construct.

Now, this isn’t something that’s just an issue among kinky communities. I’ve noticed this with people I’ve dated, too. As someone who isn’t a touchy-feely person, I tend to need someone to let me know through flirting and physical touch that they’re interested in sexytimes. If that doesn’t happen, I tend to assume we’re still at the casually flirting stage. One ex partner would become furious that I didn’t know when she wanted us to sleep together, while I was trying to take a step back and leave space for her personal needs, expecting (and asking) her to communicate what she was interested in and when. Instead, she wanted me to read her mind, and, I guess, try to initiate sex at random, taking the responsibility if I was wrong for her being upset. Talking to other people, this doesn’t seem to be all that rare, but it’s incredibly frustrating.

Even though this is common in vanilla couples, there is a certain concern for BDSM couples. I’ve noticed that bottoms/submissives who make themselves available for the most varied amount of play have more social currency and get more attention. Therefore, there’s a reward for saying you have “no limits”. On the opposite side, Dominants who communicate that they “take what they want” are seemingly desirable, with some profiles coming across as downright sociopathic… and yet they seemingly are actively engaged in local communities and no one looks askance at this behaviour. I do notice male Doms get away with this significantly more- unless you’re a professional, female Dommes are expected to be caring with their submissives at a much higher standard. Now, I’m all about fantasy (I have some seriously dark ones myself), but I feel it’s important to critique the ways in which these social norms end up being formed, how that impacts on kink in the media, and how it creates an ideal of what a “valuable” Dom or sub is and how they behave that might actually be damaging in the real world.

I don’t really have answers for all of this except more honesty in blogs and profiles, and rewarding that honesty. I think it’s important to deconstruct how gender norms impact our sexual spaces. I think it’s important to examine the impact of racism, ableism and classism in our spaces, as well.

I also said to the room that I felt we in the BDSM community need to really work out what we’re going to do in terms of addressing assault and domestic violence among ourselves if the police are not an option. I really want to see us figuring out some standards of accountability that would make us a cohesive community. I’d like for us to decide what sort of responses we’d support seeing from someone who has crossed boundaries for us to feel like they understood what damage they had caused, and what support we, as a community, should have for that boundary-crosser and the person/people whose boundaries had been crossed. I suspect that until we do this work, our use of the term “community” will be casual, not uniting.

I want to close with a bit from a piece Mollena Williams wrote on community, leadership, and trust. I recommend you read the whole thing, because it’s right on.

I have seen, over the years, people take “reputation” and “community standing” as carte blanche to entrust themselves into the hands of those who are not worthy of trust.

I have questioned friends who work with those who have questionable histories, who have shadowy pasts, who have seen others stand up to say “That person violated me and my trust.” and had those friends shrug and say “Well, it isn’t my job to police the community.”

I have seen people endorse, by word and deed, people they KNOW to have problematic histories and shrug it off with “Well, I have never had a problem with them, so it isn’t my problem.”

I have seen people who are “leaders” in the community duped, swindled, ripped-off by people who, after the shallowest of digging, were revealed to be liars and thieves.

I have been sexually harassed and treated dismissively by men entrusted with instructing people about BDSM.

I’ve watched people who are bullies and liars intimidate and swindle their way into positions of (relative) power and trust, and surround themselves with the weak-minded who thoughtlessly protect and bleat the chant they’ve been taught in order to support those unworthy of their trust.

I have had handshake promises breached by people who will then turn around and evoke “Leather Values” and “community pride.”

I have been lied to by people who smile in my face and in the same breath trash talk and belittle me to others.

I have had people to whom I appealed for help in taking a public stand against injustices instead opt to remain silent against racism, against rape, against consent violations.

And ALL of these examples involve The People You…We…embrace as “Leaders.”

Guest Post: Truth Against Humanity

When I initially played Cards Against Humanity with a mixed group, I was actually horrified by the ableism, racism, rape culture and sexism (among other things) set out as humourous by the game developers. I posted on Tumblr about how repulsed I was by “chunks of a dead prostitute”, which is a card I still burn in every deck I come across. However, playing with my parents, my closer friends, and my partner made me realize that really playing Cards Against Humanity can be a way to really get to know the people around you- what do they find funny, what do they apologize for, and how to they use their cleverness to twist the cards into jokes that punch upwards, not down. 

When I came across this piece by Dr. Pamela L. Gay, I felt it was succinct at expressing this experience in one particular gameplay. It’s been reprinted with permission: read more of her excellent writing at her blog, Star Stryder. You can also follow her Twitter here.

This rambling essay attempts to give voice to my struggles with #RipplesOfDoubt, and with the realities I’ve faced as a woman in science and skepticism. This is a piece written with too much honesty and not a lot of poetry. It is written because there are men out their throwing around phrases like, “I can’t be a misogynist – look how I intervened when that guy was about to grab that chicks boobs! Sure, I didn’t report it or anything, but I stopped it, and that is enough.”

No, it’s not enough.

I used to think it was. I used to have among my closest male friends people who thought it was enough to tell me, “Don’t feel bad about how that good thing X didn’t happen. It wasn’t that you weren’t good enough, it was just that you are a girl.” I used to think that’s what it meant for a man to be a good mentor or advocate for women – all he had to do was help her understand where the glass ceiling was and make sure its crushing weight wasn’t misidentified as actual failings of competency. I thought that was enough. But it wasn’t.

How many of us women comfort ourselves with this form of “it’s enough” over and over and over?

If you’ve ever played Cards Against Humanity, you know that sometimes the cards really need trigger warning. With cards like “Overpowering your father” and “Coat Hanger Abortions”, this game leaves no line uncrossed, and I’m not sure I’ve gotten through a game without at least once saying, “I am a terrible human being,” because of the totally over-the-top sentence I had just constructed. But sometimes… there is truth hidden in the cards. While playing with several friends on Saturday, I got the black card “Why don’t I sleep at night?” As a joke I said, “I wonder if any of you will come up with the truth?” 6 white cards came slamming down, and after a bit of shuffling I got ready to giggle.

But there was no laughter.

Black card:
Why don’t I sleep at night?

White card 1:
The Glass Ceiling.

Suddenly it stopped being Cards Against Humanity, and became truth against humanity.

Nicole hugged me. I didn’t read the rest of the white cards, I’d found that truth in 1 flip. We quickly shuffled around to the next round and moved on.

With ever increasing difficulty I’ve been dealing with issues of gender related to my career. Right now, I am struggling with hearing that an event I categorized as “A drunk ass  tried to grab my boobs,” is now being discussed by witnesses as, “He tried to sexually assault her in a bar while intoxicated.” I had created a euphemism for myself, and having that euphemism striped away is making me realize that I have been hiding from myself the true degree to which I have been harmed.

I have previously tried to confront and to give voice to the harm that sexual harassment and gender discrimination can do. I don’t think I’ve ever allowed myself to be totally vulnerable in my words, but during my July 2012 talk at The Amazing Meeting (script I vaguely followed and video here) I came close. My goal was to focus on inspiring people to do good, but I briefly addressed many of the issues that hold women like me back: Issues of being inappropriately touched, issues of hearing workplace banter about our boobs, and the effects all this and more has on our self-esteem. I made the following point as clearly as I could: “I know as I say this that it sounds unbelievable – and how can we report the unbelievable and expect to be believed?

I did not give this talk lightly. I suspected I’d experience backlash for daring to admit that I too am one of those women who has been touched, who has been held back, who has suffered self-doubt related to my gender. What shocked me was the form and degree of backlash. As a result of this talk I faced threat of professional reprimand. Let me state this more clearly, because I admitted that gender related comments hurt my self esteem, there were authority figures who demanded I be punished. While my direct supervisor and the dean we report to have always made me feel respected and have supported me, there were others within my profession who demanded I publicly apologize; that I be formally punished for what I said. I was asked to justify my speech and name names in confidential written documents. For one nearly fatal moment, I believed that if the people in authority knew the truth, perhaps people in power would undertake meaningful actions to make my profession better for women. And I did name names and I did use specifics … and my words were distributed widely enough that word of what was happening got back to me nearly a dozen timezones away. When I learned what was happening, I spontaneously (and thankfully silently) burst into tears. I hid behind long hair as I exited the audience of the conference session I was attending, and I hid in a foreign bathroom thinking my career was over. Three people wrote documents against me, and they named a forth complainant. No one else came forward to back me up in writing, even though for years there were those who felt fine telling me it was my gender that held me back and that when they had power they’d help me. I felt I had to get a lawyer in order to make sure my career wouldn’t be ruined – someone to find ways to use the existing guidelines to protect me. I exhausted my (admittedly small) savings. I started working more and more in isolation. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I tried to hide in my work, and that alone may have kept me going.

More than 300 days after this entire mess started, I received notice that I should be allowed to tell what happened to me without fear of reprimand, but that I have no legal case. Here I’d like to note that the statute of limitations on the relevant laws is 300 days, so it is literally true that I had no case at the time of this decision.

But it was a decision.

After almost a year, I though all the fallout from the talk I gave was over. I thought I could move on. I started moving out of isolation, and I started trying to return to my prior output levels. I went on a mini sabbatical-like trip to the EU to work with collaborators. I submitted a paper to CAPJournal and applied for two grants.

And then last week, the fading scars of what happened were cut open with a rusty blade.

I learned that a witnesses to an event that occurred in 2008 is discussing that event and naming names. During the event in question, a man in power who I’d previously never met made a lunge at my breasts. This is one of the events that weighed on me when I wrote my TAM talk. It weighed on me when I said, “As an astronomer, at conferences, I’ve randomly had my tits and ass grabbed and slapped by men in positions of power and by creeps who drank too much. This is part of what it means to be a woman in science and skepticism.”

I’ve been warned this may all hit the internet. I’ve been warned the social media maybe about to explode. I’ve been warned this could be devastating to my career. Let me put this more clearly: Because someone witnessed a man in power attempt to grab my boobs, I have been warned that I need to worry about my career being actively destroyed by others.

And that is fucked up. I run a program that works to spread science education, to generate science results – we are doing good – and I have to be worried that my ability to do good is going to be limited because I have boobs someone thought would be fun to grab at.

And then that man with power – the one who staggered at my breasts at the moment of our introduction – emailed me out of the blue on Halloween, denying anything happened between us because he’s never done anything like that, and if he has never… then he never did with me. He went on to ask why I never confronted him later, why I never did many things, and I found myself explaining, “There is absolutely no way for a woman to walk up to any man, let alone a prominent man they don’t really know, and say, ‘Pardon me, while you seemed to be drunk, you did this inappropriate thing.’ Inappropriate physical contact is so common at these events as to be just part of being a woman in science and skepticism. People drink. Inappropriate things happen, remembered or not, and for the most part we just move on as though it had never happened because otherwise we could never work.”  I told him he should get help, and I dug out my own prescription for dealing with the PTSD that had me shaking. He promised he would share with no one our communications and I told him I didn’t want to communicate with him at all.

This exchange left me broken – it broke me on my favorite holiday of the year.

I am still broken.

And I hate myself for wishing this would all just go away, instead of wishing that there could be justice. But I guess I fear that justice has a price I don’t have the life blood to pay for.

Over and over, I have made the choice, “what happened isn’t worth raising a stink about. Don’t ruin everyone’s [fun/con/career]“. Over and over, I’ve made the choice, “Yeah, that guy (but he was drunk!) slapped my butt in passing, but he is a leader at what he does, so I need to just get over myself and work with him.”

I hate myself for this.

I hate myself because I made the choice that not raising a fuss was more important than my self worth.

Read that again. It’s fucked up. But it’s who I am, … and when I read the hashtag #RipplesOfDoubt a few weeks ago, I realized how often we women make that decision. I’m fucked up, but I’m not alone. Too many of us fill our heads with euphemisms and excuses. It’s so much easier to think, “It’s a drunk guy being a drunk ass.” It hurts so much more to say, “I had someone try and sexually assault me.”

I am a survivor. And I am the worst kind of survivor – I am someone who never really fought back, and who never demanded justice. All I ever asked was to be allowed to try and do good things.

It’s going to take me a while to come to terms with all of this, and I’d ask your patience and support.

And I’d ask you all to teach your kids this: be honest, keep your hands to yourself, don’t create drama, and leave the world better than you found it.

I am a survivor. And I just want to be allowed to try and do good things.

Consent Thoughts from Lecture: Part 1

I just got home from a weekend of discussions and critiques of “consent” as a construct out at University of Birmingham. It was a fascinating selection of topics, from rape culture in humour, to teaching consent to sex offenders, to queering concepts of consent, to questions about vulnerability. There were practitioners and academics from the US, the UK and Europe represented, so some array of approaches.

I was asked to speak on consent in BDSM, and focused my discussion on three particular areas: mainstream depictions of kink and nonconsent (and the gendering of that), the construct of “drama” and how that is used to shame and silence, and desire, the strain between contracts and negotiation and the heartfelt lust for someone who “can just read your mind”. I’ve talked about all these things at least in brief before, but figured I could take another shot at them now. Keep in mind, these were more meant as beginning talking places rather than definitive answers. I’m going to have a part one covering media and drama, and then another part addressing desire and the complications with that, so bear with me!

Mainstream Depictions of Kink

I find that many depictions of kink in the media fall into two main camps. If you’re a woman with a man (9 1/2 Weeks, Secretary, 50 Shades) your submission is assumed, and boundary pushing/nonconsent is eroticized, the danger being part of the thrill. However, if you’re a man submitting to a woman (Eurotrip, Whitest Kids You Know) two things will happen. A) the Domme will be a professional, rather than doing this for her own desires, and B) boundary pushing or nonconsent will be portrayed as hilarious. I questioned if perhaps this kind of depiction being the dominant (har de har) one might add to difficulty identifying what is nonconsent and what is sexy BDSM practice.

For example, I didn’t identify some of the things that happened to me as sexual assault , because in my mind they were just miscommunications, or something gone wrong. I wasn’t traumatized, which was, in my mind, the difference between a mistake and an assault, even though the same behaviours outside of the kink community would have felt very different. I asked if this created a cultural standard where boundaries being crossed is seen, particularly for submissive women, as simply “part of the experience”. If that’s the case, then how do we begin to address these issues and create, consciously, new cultural norms?


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (I’m saying it again now)- drama is a term often used to invalidate other people’s feelings and experiences. I mostly hear it used for situations that the person using it are not personally affected by. I have many critiques of Jezebel, but they go into some of my complaints about the term here, and as I deleted my Fetlife account wherein I wrote on deconstructing “drama” as a term, that’ll have to do.

Within kink, there’s an idea that you need to do certain things in order to be deemed “safe” by the community. Now, I disagree that what’s called “the kinky/BDSM community” is, in fact, a community, as there’s no sense of standards that are reinforced, and no overarching accountability or responsibility to each other which is part of what makes a community- but I digress.

One of the things you “should” do is ask for references before you play with someone. We don’t do this, mind, for other kinds of sex (can you imagine? actually that might not be a terrible idea) except for in sex work. However, if you don’t ask for references, you can automatically get blamed for not taking enough care in BDSM play. This expectation, however, ignores that even if you *do* ask for references, people will vouch for others- until *after* an assault, when you become safe to talk to more honestly. Why do they do this? Because if you warn someone against another kinkster for being abusive, you can be and often are labelled as a creator of drama. That can lead to victim blaming, retraumatizing community discussion/debate, up to community expulsion. How, then, can you trust a recommendation when there’s a fear of saying anything but complimentary things?

There’s also of course these gendered concepts of what’s appropriate behaviour for kinky people. I notice that some dominant men proudly declare themselves as doing whatever they want to their partner, not feeling empathy, really underlining these sociopathic behaviours as being desirable. And they seem to be, these men aren’t exactly outliers but active in their local groups. Women don’t seem to feel like they can embody this without critique, however, unless they’re pro-dommes. This suggests how performative these roles are, and how much social worth each type of archetype seems to command. Embodying your BDSM role in a way deemed “appropriate” is important if you want to have power among your kinky peers. The less social currency someone had coming forward about abuse, the more they would be ridiculed, so this had real life effects.

Ok, that’s part one- what do you think? What have you experienced?

Guest Post: Give Women Stability and Pickup Artists Lose

This guest post is brought to you by Amy Roberts, writer, performer, and general rad person, who posted about it on Facebook. I asked her to write an intro for us and she was gracious enough to accept!

Many assume that economic coercion is only a problem for sex workers, but a recent article by Katie J.M. Baker highlights how this isn’t true. She tells the story of a pickup artist and his virulent reaction to Denmark, where ”pussy literally goes into hibernation” because of abundant social services:

He concludes that the typical fetching Nordic lady doesn’t need a man “because the government will take care of her and her cats, whether she is successful at dating or not.”

It turns out that when women aren’t forced to suck up to men to survive, we’re less likely to accept abuse. While representation in male-dominated fields is an important goal, without addressing poverty through the social safety net we leave impoverished women with no recourse.

Unlike in America, where bestsellers goad already overworked and underpaid women to Lean In even further, the assumption in Denmark is that feminism is a collective goal, not an individual pursuit. Danish women are less likely to be financially dependent on men and therefore feel less pressure to ”settle” or change their behavior.

To our pickup artist, this is a tragedy. To feminists—especially in the US—this should be a wake-up call. Check out Dissent Magazine for the full article.

Radical Entitlement- Rape Culture at Burning Man

rsz_img_4007I’ve been to That Thing Out In The Desert, otherwise known as Burning Man, for 4 years. In theory, I love it, and I love what it stands for. I love art, and freedom, and creation, and silly costumes. I love community building, and trading supplies, and being in the moment.

But I’ve also worked with the Bureau of Erotic Discourse teaching about sexual assault and consent at Burning Man. It’s a problem. BED was founded because Burning Man as an organization didn’t really do enough to teach people about sexual assault, sex and substance use, and consent- so a grassroots effort was created. I’m still baffled that BED isn’t a formal art of the infrastructure of the BORG, considering how sexual assault seems to be a pretty consistent issue.

(Correction from Russell Atkinson from BED:

“In 2013 BED became an official part of ESD, the Emergency Services Department of the Burning Man organization. We had more presence than ever, and we had substantial support from the Org. We had a full sheet on BED given to every participant at Greeters.

The downside is that with all of the material out there we still had significant problems with sexual assault and harassment. The sleazy groping photographer is only one of the examples”.

I’m glad to hear this, especially as I remember that there was initially some concern with the way ticket sales have been working that BED core members might not make it out there).

Which brings me to exhibit one, the “photo project”, “Man Grabs 100 Boobs at Burning Man“, that went viral. This was defended strongly, mostly by men, as “art”, often silencing women who spoke up to say how the photographer didn’t give them the opportunity for informed consent and sometimes didn’t respect their consent for the photo to begin with. One woman said “This guy walked up to a friend at Nexus and was like “Can I take a picture of you.” She replied okay and he put his hand out and said for her to pretend like she’s coming at him or fighting him off, so she did and it APPEARS like he’s grabbing her boob, but isn’t. He never mentioned anything about a project. She’s in the pics. What a slimy douche.” Another woman said, “I regret to say that I am one of the hundred. The picture was taken on the second day at BM and I was so filled with a sense of generousity and euphoria of being at BM, when an Asian photographer approached me and my friend and asked if he could take a photo we said “sure”. The initial photograph was just a pretext to the second one where he asked if he could put his hand in front of the camera for an art project. This seemed a bit weird but I didn’t think it would be harmful so agreed. He did the same to my friend but cupped her breast – she was topless. I then realised that he was some perverted guy who clearly had little success with women and was using this project as an opportunity to grope women and that he had only approached us because my friend was topless. We didn’t sign any consent form for this to be distributed publicly and we are really upset that the images are circulating round the internet.”

One of the things that was really ignored in the original discussion is that there are totally different social consequences for being a topless man in public vs being a topless woman in public that really has a lot more to do with our ideas of female purity, female nudity, male entitlement, nudity as sexualized, catcalling, body shaming, etc. Women have lost their jobs and access to their children for blogging about sex, never mind getting rape and death threats. For these photos to be ethical, the women in them need to be in a space to give informed consent, knowing where the photos are going to end up, and preferably signing a release. And then, there’s the fact he specifically asked at least one woman to look like she was fighting him off while he grabbed her- to me, that encourages rape culture (and if you’re unclear the difference between rape culture and rape, read up here). Never mind his lack of model releases means he can’t know for sure if the women are over 18- when I brought this up, men told me that touching breasts wasn’t sexual enough to worry about the person being 18. That worries me too, tbh, not just because of age of consent issues, but sobriety issues. Who decides what’s “sexual” in these situations? Who should?

The photographer spoke to one group of Burners to defend his “art project”, saying “The core concept of burning man is “radical self-expression”. Apparently, in the pictures, ladies are all cool, confidence and relax (Some of them might look frightened but that’s just because they would like to present it in a different way)”. When asked why he didn’t take photos with men if it wasn’t about groping women’s breasts, he replied “I personally don’t consider grabbing male’s chests as an inspiring and attractive project”. Not really surprising, is it?

There were Burners within the thread who weren’t slutshaming/victim blaming, though. I particularly want to highlighy one excellent response:

“Regardless of what it is they choose to do, respect is the key to Burning Man. You should respect peoples’ expression, their space, their emotions, their experience, their resources, etc., and part of respecting them is acknowledging them as people with agency; in this case, the agency to choose to or not to wear clothes, or to be groped or not groped by whomever approaches them. By taking pictures of people being groped and posting it on the internet, it’s kind of taking away their humanity and agency, and portraying them as objects to be vicariously groped by anyone who views them. At that point, they no longer get to control when they are no longer comfortable with the way they are being observed, they no longer get to choose who they are comfortable with sharing their presence, and they no longer have the agency to challenge conventions. Their image has been fixed right back into the conventional space where boobs are meant to be groped, naked time equals sexy time, and it’s all a big, spectacular deal. The net result is not a challenge to convention or an advancement of respect, but, if anything, the opposite.”

Then, I have Exhibit 2, “Early Crime States from Burning Man 2013“. I was horrified to read this, which says how crime stats are going down at BM before saying “The only concerning standout crimes were sexual assaults, one of which was a rape that occurred on the open desert, the victim was held at gun point and abused by two others”. This article finishes with a chirpy “To the future of fancy-free partying!” which I feel is completely ignorant and inappropriate. Last year there was a big discussion about rape at Burning Man, and time and time again, we see that the community is going to have to step up to make this a safer space. If we want to create a consent culture, too, we need the cooperation of the police, who need to focus less on arresting people for drugs and more on helping people who are victims of crimes. We need to talk more about date rape, and take that seriously, as well as violent rape. A more serious article points out “If you can build a city in the desert for 70,000 people in a month, with extremely experienced medical personnel, you can find a way to get rape kits on the Playa. What are you afraid of, BMOrg? The rapists, or the statistics?”

I agree.

We have, among all the good things, a Burner culture where women feel unsafe because they’re being sexually assaulted, roofied and raped, mind, and where “oh, rape kits are too complicated to have on Playa” is just accepted… this isn’t exactly happening in a vacuum- one where people of colour feel disgusted by the way their cultures are appropriated and white people say “we’re just expressing ourselves, get over it!”- one where artists struggle to afford to get in while the upper middle classes use it as a networking place- have at it. People will fight tooth and nail to “freely express” racism and misogyny at Burning Man because they feel they have a right to their “art”. It’s really sad that people would rather defend their right to do things that are painful and potentially harmful to others than to support a culture of intersectional awareness. That’s not the Burning Man I fell in love with. That’s not the artistic community I want to be in.

We’re able to set bones on the playa, put 18 wheelers on top of each other and set them on fire, and create/destroy a city of 60,000 in a couple weeks. I’m pretty sure we can find a way to provide rape kits on the playa at this point, and it’s past time for Burning Man to take it seriously. We need to show that our theme camps are safe spaces for people in trouble to come and get support rather than ridiculed and blamed. We built this city on better values than the world at large- let’s make it better, rather than a mirror in the dust.