Vir Cotto's BDSM Blog

Notes from the Neurodiversity Event at TES on March 26th

Last week, The Eulenspiegel Society invited me to run a discussion on the topic of neurodiversity and its intersection with the BDSM community at large, including experiences, challenges for both those with cognitive disabilities as well as event organizers, as well as accommodations.

As far as I know, this is the first time that this topic has been discussed in this way and I thank TES for hosting this event.

This post presents my notes from both before and during the discussion. In order to protect privacy, I have not included any attribution. I have also elaborated on the discussion here to hopefully begin a larger community-wide discussion between those who have cognitive disorders and event organizers who wish to be inclusive.

Diversity, Disability, and Kink

There is general agreement that the pan kink community strives not only to be a safe place for people who identify with BDSM/kink/leather but also be a welcoming place for other types of diversity such as sexual orientation, gender diversity, racial identity, religious identity, etc.

To that end, we (communally) have made accommodations in the past to help welcome more people such as affirming gender identity and the spectrum of gender diversity, creating groups for people of color and trying to not hold organizational business during religious holidays.

We also affirmed the community's desire to be open to people with disabilities, including consideration of space wheelchair accessibility, as well as low scent policies. In addition to these, we have an awareness of mental illness, including (but not limited to) depression, anxiety, and bi-polar. We take these issues seriously, discuss them openly and talk about how one can be safe to play despite the setbacks that these illnesses can cause. We also have books about them, such as "Broken Toys" and "Mastering Minds".

What we aren't discussing are neurological or cognitive disabilities and these invisible disabilities, much like mental illness, effects a significant portion of the BDSM community. This is born out in the (limited) research that shows a large percentage of people with gender dysphoria suffering from a cognitive disorder (specifically Autism), as well as those diagnosed with a cognitive disorder being at a higher risk for depression or anxiety than the population at large.


In order to facilitate the discussion, we discussed and defined a few terms that are not clear or are sometimes confused.

Neurotypical and Neurodivergent

A person who is neurotypical is a person who does not have signs of neuro-divergent patterns. This term originates with the Autism community referring to anyone who is not autistic. I am using this term to also refer to people who do not have other cognitive disorders such as ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Tourette's, etc.

Neurodivergent is the term for people whose neurology is not neurotypical.

These definitions come from Wikipedia's Article on Neurotypical


Neurodiversity is the term for desiring an inclusion of people who fall outside the standard neurological spectrum. It is akin to "Racial Diversity" in that it is a term about inclusion.

I've heard people say "I'm neurodiverse". They probably mean that their neurology is outside the norm, and therefore neurodivergent.

Definition from Wikipedia's article on Neurodiversity

Accommodations and The Curb Cut Effect

In order to help be an inclusive community, a community organizer may need to make accommodations to help create a more accessible space or event. Specific recommendations are mentioned towards the end of this post.

Curb Cuts are accessibility enhancements that have a secondary benefit to other people. The term comes from the creation of slopes at intersections where wheelchairs may more easily enter or exit the sidewalk. They are also useful for strollers, people carrying heavy bags, or anyone with a mobility issue.

Many accommodations for people with cognitive disabilities may be useful for other people simply by making things feel easier/friendlier.

Internalized and Externalized Shaming

At the event, people described feeling a great deal of shame around their disability, as well as being ostracized. Besides the immediate effect of shaming, this can lead to social anxiety, as well as general depression.

To this point, we want to create an environment in the kink community that does not add to this internalized shame. We discussed how some terms common in the kink community add to this problem, including terms like "crazy", "weirdo" and "creepy". Besides being judgemental and othering, these terms conflate disabilities with personality traits and add to people feeling unwelcome.

Being Welcoming, Being Accommodating and Being Safe

We discussed the push-pull nature of trying to create a space that feels safe for everyone while being inclusive. This requires a few shifts in thinking about our events. Firstly, the quote "You can be kicked out of my event at any time for any reason." is incompatible with being welcoming. Instead, people who are removed from an event should be done so because of a specific action or actions that they have taken.

Secondly, we discussed how discomfort at the presence of a person with a disability is distinct from that person has done something wrong or warranting removal. Someone with a verbal tic or who has difficulty regulating their volume may make someone uncomfortable, but that discomfort may be akin to being uncomfortable seeing someone whose gender identity does not match their gender assigned at birth or being uncomfortable due to the presence of someone of a certain race.

The person exhibiting these behaviors may be unaware of them, or in some cases, may be unable to stop them. At that point, it becomes the responsibility of the organizer to take actions that may include talking to the person about the behaviors or possibly asking them to leave if the behaviors are too disruptive. At the same time, it may be that the organizer may need to step in an educational role asserting that everyone is welcome.

In any case, just as certain terms for sexual orientation or gender are frowned upon in the kink community, it was generally agreed that terms about people's neurological condition should be similarly protected.

Should someone need to self identify?

An area of discussion at the event was the question of whether or not someone who is in need of accommodations should need to self-identify as neurodivergent. My answer to this is that they should not need to, for several reasons.

Firstly, many disabilities simply go undiagnosed. A person may be unaware that they have this kind of disability, and thus are unable to self-identify.

Secondly. there should be no need to out oneself as having a disability. The same level of accessibility should be available to everyone without either the need to self-identify or ask that event organizers provide an armchair diagnosis.

We can create an atmosphere of awareness without needing to be "othered".

Thirdly, those who have cognitive disorders are not asking for extraordinary accommodations or special treatment. Instead, we believe that the accommodations that would benefit us would benefit the community as a whole.

Specific Accomodations

Through a very brief discussion, we created a small, non-exhaustive list that we hope can be a start to a larger discussion about accommodations in the scene.

These include:

Designated Low Noise Spaces

For people who struggle with auditory processing, a lot of noise, or a noisy environment, can be a difficult place to be. This may be a party where the music is too loud or a munch where there is a large crowd. For some people, this can become physically painful.

As an alternative, we discussed how large events may wish to have designated play areas that are low-noise and low energy separate from those who want more high-intensity play with lots of music, moaning and screaming.

These low noise areas would have the secondary benefit to those wishing to practice more "quiet kinks" such as hypnosis, sensory or energy play.

More/Better Lighting

Just as too much noise can be a problem, too much visual distraction or not enough light can be an issue for someone with a disability. This may effect play spaces especially.

De-emphasizing Munches

Munches can be a great way to meet people, but in some communities, they are de-facto mandatory for involvement in the community. This is a problem for someone who may find a munch difficult due to sensory, anxiety or social reasons.

We should, therefore, be more accepting of different ways to meet people and interact.

Name Lanyards

For someone with a cognitive disorder such as facial blindness, it may be difficult to remember someone's name. Offering nametags is a way around this. It also provides the opportunity to place other identifiers on your name tag,a such as preferred pronouns, kink roles or whether someone would prefer (or not prefer) to be approached socially.

Event organizers may wish to display some examples for attendees to follow.

Since name tags can be difficult to see, one suggestion was to use lanyards instead.

Alternative Safety Signals

Safewords are great, but they're not the only option. For someone who has difficulty with hearing, or may in some other way miss a verbal signal, we can and should teach and recognize alternative safety signals and means of communication.

More Attention Paid to Required Wearing

Some kink events require wristbands. While this is good in theory, often these wristbands can create sensory issues. Instead, allowing someone to wear a badge with a lanyard is generally accepted as a better alternative.

More Classes on Soft Skills

For people who are new to the scene or who struggle with social interaction, it may be useful for event organizers to offer more soft skills on kink etiquette.

Classes for Event Organizers

Along with classes for people struggling, it was suggested that events for organizers would also be helpful in facilitating a welcoming atmosphere.

Facilitated Matchups During Classes

For people who struggle socially, it may be difficult to find a partner for a class activity. Event organizers may encourage matching people up who need a partner or encourage switching partners during activities in order to create a more egalitarian experience.

This needs to be balanced against people's individual desires to participate and not place people in a situation in which they feel pressured or uncomfortable.

A More Unified Justice System inside the Community

Many of the issues described in this post are about appearance or behaviors that may make someone feel uncomfortable. This has the unfortunate side effect of harming people whose presence may be someone feel uncomfortable but who may have done nothing wrong.

Because someone may be asked to leave one group, they may be branded as "banned" and then banned from other groups by nature of the first ban. Therefore it is suggested that any ban is made for a specific reason, other than "they are creepy". Instead, they need to be made for specific behavioral reasons, and when those reasons are not related to consent issues, that the individual is spoken with first.

In addition, if the behavior mentioned was not one which placed someone in harm, that ban should not be reciprocal to other groups and or it should be possible to return once it's shown that the person has gained the ability to curb the problematic behavior.

This is Just the Start of the Conversation

We cannot solve the problems of the scene in a day. It will take increased awareness and work by both those affected by cognitive issues as well as kink leadership to change the environment to be one that is more fair and welcoming to all.

I'll be thinking about this class and what some good next steps should be.

I welcome constructive feedback!