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Counterfeit Kink Communities: Surprise, It's All A Power Trip

In my article about how to master consent like a Kinkster, I mentioned that I worried for "Vanillas" (non-kinksters) because there was no one there to circle the wagons when someone was playing dangerously with the lives of others.

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It’s true. I do worry about people experimenting who are not connected to a supportive network. But my concern doesn’t end with the kink-curious who have yet to make their way to a munch. I worry about our kink communities. In fact, I worry that we call them communities at all.

I’m not alone in this. Kinksters have been rattling this cage almost since the beginning. We create these gathering places so that we can commune with Others Like Us. We pass the hours on the clock in intimate interactions with each other. We share our knowledge, our skills, our bodies with each other. We seek each other out among vanilla crowds, and when we find each other, it's like finding someone who speaks your native tongue in a foreign land.

But we fail to be more than a collective of people with similar interests and goals. We fail to hold each other accountable, we fail in supporting each other, and in creating an environment where people feel safe enough to be authentic. 

There is a longing for connectedness among people of alternative sexuality, including Kinksters. But this longingness is overpowered by an intense fear. Fear of discrimination is so great among Kinksters that we hide in plain sight, even from each other. We give each other made up “scene” names, we conceal our jobs, our families, our lives from each other. Because of this, any ability to connect on a meaningful level with anyone is almost impossible. Ironically, many times you have to spend time with a person outside the kink collective in order to gain their trust.

Without the ability to build meaningful relationships inside the kink collective, it fails to be an authentic community. The counterfeit community that stands masquerading as authentic community fails to meet the real emotional needs of its members. Even worse, it perpetuates itself based on the gain of its most influential members. And what they have to gain by perpetuating the myth of community without actually being one is the same in Kink collectives as it is any other counterfeit community. It’s about political power.

Why do we maintain counterfeit communities? 

It's not enough to theoretically debate in our insular circles whether or not we can call ourselves a collective or a community. It should be something that we are continuously working toward, making sure that the buckets of values we share are not just words, but action items on our to-do list. 

We want our Community to be a safe-haven. We need it to be a sanctuary for the intense communion we require with OthersLikeUs. But the Community is counterfeit. A simulacra. A faulty facade - two-dimensional, and as easily broken as the a reflection in the water.

Instead of a network of support, counterfeit communities only exist “to exploit people for more sinister purposes, usually economical or political gain” (Nancy 5). When you have something to offer the members of the collective that they can’t easily get elsewhere - whether that is 20 years of whip throwing skills, access to public space, those will take priority over protecting other members. The “leader” will keep teaching workshops at conventions, keep facilitating wildly popular play parties in their homes, and keep holding the pride flag in the parade every spring. They will maintain all of those positions of influence because there is actually nothing the “community” can do about it. We need them too much.

Instead, we protect the cohesion of our delusion by exiling the member of lesser value to the collective. Where public space exists, and where a violation of consent has been made known in that space, someone must be punished. Either the accused must be punished as an attacker, or the victim must be punished as a liar. There is no room in the collective for both once the accusation is publically known. One will be exiled.

Effectively, we kill them. Forcing someone to live outside of their commune has always meant, either metaphorically, spiritually, or physically - to condemn them to certain death. 

How do we create authentic communities? 

Some of our communities have recognized this issue and have begun utilizing tools like Restorative Justice Models to re-educate and rehabilitate consent violators within the community in attempt to keep them from repeating the same offenses, or just moving on to the next city when they are called out (or called in) on their behavior. However, that has presented its own issues. One community designed a workshop for consent violators called the "Gentlemen's Club," which is horrifyingly gender biased, and sexist. Completely ignoring the fact that consent violators and survivors can be any gender, and alienating large portions of the community. 

Other communities have enacted mandatory primer courses in affirmative consent to be able to access public spaces. However, the question here is, how to get them to attend the workshop, and not just retreat to private spaces where abuse is more easily hidden. 

There has also been discussion among notable sex activists and educators to find members to serve as a board of overseers who can check-in with local leaders to discuss and problem solve safety and consent issues, and to communicate across cities to prevent violators from moving their abuse from one city to the next. This quickly becomes an Inception of watchdogs, as the first question usually is, "Who is going to watch the watchmen's watchmen's watchmen?" 

Although all these attempts to circle the wagons have their issues, they are steps in the right direction. Our footing may not be solid in this new dance, but we are quickly learning how to recover from our falls, and we have a goal-box in plain sight. We know what we need to do in order to create authentic community: 

Access to public space

Freedom to self actualize without discrimination

A web of deep, interrelated relationships

Embedded consent culture 

We are starting to communicate on a broader, more intimate scale. We are working to protect our play spaces and provide safe space for education and restorative justice. We are thinking about how to teach affirmative consent to our new members, and how to provide continuous education to the entire population, including leaders who have been serving our communities for 30 years or more. We are working to empower the most vulnerable members of our communities, the submissives, bottoms, and slaves,

We're moving in the right direction. 

But the progress seems achingly slow. It's like watching a child change, feature by feature, over the course of time to become the human they always were - growing into themselves. I wrote about keeping our leaders accountable a year ago, and first brought the issue up to a panel on abuse awareness 6 months ago at CatalystCon West 2015. April 2016 was my first chance to speak on a panel about these issues at CatalystCon Midwest. I was surprised how many people wanted to talk about abuse on a Saturday afternoon. There were so many people in the small conference room that the overflow sat on the floor. Our audience engaged us with questions and ideas. But when it came to giving real answers for solutions - we had to admit we didn't have all the answers. All we could do was give some tips on how to be an ally to survivors, and some red-flags to watch for when playing with anyone new. 

In the pit of my stomach, I feel it's not enough. We need more. We need a way to distribute resources so that people who might otherwise be in dangerous situations have options. We need a system of accountability in our leadership. We need a systematic and incentivised way to engage people in self-education on affirmative consent. 

Luckily, I am mouthy and I don't shut up when I'm on the side of Right. I'm going to keep beating this war drum until our communities align to protect us against our attackers. Until we earn the right to call ourselves community at all. 

UPDATE: I was so honored to be asked back to The People of Kink Podcast to talk about this issue more.  Check out the podcast here: 

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Read more of our conversation at CatalystCon Midwest about Abuse Awareness and Affirmative Consent by searching #ccon and #cconabuse on Twitter.

Works Referenced

Freie, John F. Counterfeit Community: The Exploitation of Our Longings for Connectedness. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998.

Nancy, Jean. The Inoperative Community. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.