Vir Cotto's BDSM Blog

How we got here: Power and sex

The NYC kink scene is in a state that some have called chaos, others have called reformation, and I consider a raging tire fire.

Every week there is a blowup about a new consent violator- and for every big name, several smaller names go unnoticed. Event organizers have taken a variety of positions. A majority of the consent violators have been male identifying and most have been top/dom oriented.

How did we get here, to a place where we find ourselves questioning the safety of every event and so many people we once respected and looked up to?

I've had late night discussions about consent, about the complexities of negotiation, needs, domestic abuse, etc. As kinksters, we're inclined to think that there is something unique to our situation, but when you look at it, it's really just about power, and sex.

By power, I mean the authority that comes along with being a munch organizer, a party planner, a kink instructor, an organization's officer or in some other position in which you're given authority over others and the assumption of trust.

People go into these roles for different reasons, but we can't forget the simple thrill of power. As a dom, I feel it too- the desire to be seen as powerful and authoritative. It's one of the core tenants in my romantic relationships, so I understand this well.

The old adage is that that "Power corrupts", but that simplifies the situation. Almost no one goes into a situation corrupt. Corruption takes time. It often comes from believing that you are doing the right thing, or that "You deserve this".

And sex (or play) dovetails into this. No one in the scene comes into it with the illusion that they're going to get rich organizing a munch or teaching a class, but more than one organizer has had the idea that teaching a class can be a great way to meet new potential play or romantic partners. And it can be an effective. Some people meet their partners as they were teaching a class. But often it doesn't work out and leads to situations around organizations, one's role in the community, fear of "making waves", etc.

The whole thing is a mess. What can be done about it?

Difficult decisions need to made on the part of everyone in these positions of power. I am not prescribing any specific changes for others, but a few I have decided for myself:

  1. If I am either organizing an event or instructing at an event, I will not play with someone I met there at that same event.

If I've just taught a class, there can be some elevated emotional states on both my and the audience's part. And even by just being a presenter, I am "an authority figure" which can lead to me sounding like I'm vetted or endorsed in some way.

If someone wants to play with me, they can contact me after the event and we can arrange a time to meet which is less emotionally charged.

  1. If I am teaching a class, I will not solicit specific volunteers from the audience

There are generally two ways to run a kink workshop, with a co-presenter (often called a demo bottom) or by soliciting people from the audience. If I am presenting, I will not solicit a specific individual, ie "Susan, would you like to volunteer?". Instead, I will ask generally "Would anyone like to volunteer?"

This reduces the social pressure to volunteer.

  1. There will be no "comps"

One of the most toxic things I've seen in the scene is the idea of "comping". A friend wants to attend your event, and you provide him free tickets to do so. Or a community leader decides that they have done hard work on behalf of an organization and deserve the meal they're eating to be paid for by the organization. Or a person in a position of power decides to offer a meal to someone they like (perhaps a presenter), but does so out of the organization's funds.

Comping is dangerous on a number of levels. When I worked in government, government employees were not allowed to accept gifts, including meals, by any vendors because of the ethical issues around them. If I am organizing an event where there is an entrance fee, I will not comp friends, nor will I buy anyone a meal out of the organization's funds.

This will not affect things like volunteer discounts or scholarships, as those are organized through the official channels.

I am part of non-kink organizations which have presentations and volunteers and everyone pays full price to attend, including the event organizers and volunteers. It is possible to organize events this way- and while we may want to offer discounts for hardship through volunteering or scholarships, "comping" is often more about who you know than what you're doing for the community.