I wasn’t going to post this. I’d hoped my feelings were just some sort of con drop or that the travel made me cranky. But the more I think on it, what I’m feeling is that I don’t like feeling stupid. And I certainly don’t like admitting to my friends that, despite my enthusiasm and interest in sex geekery, I think I’ve just about given up trying to make sense of anything.
I spent this past weekend at the second annual Momentumcon in DC. For those that don’t know what that is, it’s a weekend long conference of sex geeks. And by geeks, I mean educators, students, writers, industry workers, etc (for this post, I’m going to just lump them together and call them “sex geeks”). There were people who I admire speaking there like Megan Andelloux, Charlie Glickman, Logan Levkoff, and Carol Queen. And there were lots of others I’d never heard of. It’s not their fault though. I am not a sex geek.
My first impressions of this conference were much different from last years. At this one, I expected myself to be much more “sex geek” worthy. I’d had a year to read more, learn more, and question more, so I figured that I’d be able to find my place amongst the glitterati of the truly geeky. Instead, I felt even more like an outsider than I did before. It was made doubly worse by the feeling of “snobbery” that I couldn’t shake. One conversation in particular went like this:
SexGeek: So, what do you do?
Me: I'm a paralegal.
Me: But I'm really interested in learning, many of these subjects are difficult to understand.
SexGeek: oh. well, it was nice talking to you.
The kinder part of me gave the SexGeek a pass. It was a busy weekend, lots to see, lots to do. And I'm basically a nice person. The not-kinder part of me- well, let's just say wasn't so kind.
I was sorely disappointed that there were no “beginner” kind of classes. I think part of the problem with sex geeks is that they’re so used to talking to colleagues and people who have some background in geekery, that they often forget that there are many of us (yes, even older, white, monogomous women) who have never had the opportunity to learn. Many people are coming from places in our own lives, where in order to learn, we have to first unlearn our language, recognize our own societal and familial mores which have been unwittingly adopted, and then relearn how to think about language, mores, and sex. If I could voice one word for future conference organizers and educators it would be this: do you wish to only preach to the choir or do you really wish to increase your congregation?
I felt invisible.
My first indication that I was going to be an outsider was when I consistently heard the term “BDSM” mangled. I heard “bdm” I heard “b and m” (that one made me giggle), and I heard “dsm” (although that one could have been a mistake on my part). There were a few classes with a kink focus. Unfortunately 2 out of 3 were consent based classes (if you know me, you'll know why I didn't attend). There was no presentation geared towards balancing BDSM participation with sexuality, media, or feminism. BDSM gets a bad rap in the media nearly as often as pornography, but unlike pornography, you've got a lot more people participating in it rather than watching it. With books like "50 Shades" and primetime television portraying BDSM in very unrealistic ways, I’m still trying to figure out why BDSM is still the go-to gigglefest with sex geeks who don’t participate in those activities. The meme may be “whatever makes you happy and turned on”, but they still giggle over spankings.
I have to say that I wasn’t surprised by the feminist discussion of BDSM, because well, you know, one cannot BE a feminist if one is allowing a man to slap your face and call you a whore for fun].
For some reason, I still felt a lot like BDSM was still the "dirty secret" of sexuality. I felt that BDSM was thought of as just a little "side trip", but one that really didn't have much to do with sexuality, feminism or media. Apparently "alt lifestyle" is strictly on the GLBT scale. There's still a long way to go if we have to convince sex geeks that BDSM isn't just about the actions surrounding sex, but is in fact, an alt lifestyle for many. Sex geeks will talk about the merits of pornography until they're winded, but mention Dominance and Submission, and fairly often, most are quite as lost understanding that as I am discussing quantum physics. It often comes across as "whatever kinky shit you do in bed to each other is fine, but masters? slaves? seriously?"
The second thing that I noticed was that there were a lot of words being used to make me feel like an outsider. Heteronormative, cisgendered, and most especially- "privileged". I got the distinct impression that those were all “bad things” (thank gawd I actually have friends who have helped me with understanding the secret language of sex geeks or I'd really be upset). But the irony of being thought of as "privileged" this weekend was not lost on me.
I can’t really change any of those things about myself, making me feel badly about them isn’t exactly the best way to help me learn to be an understanding advocate. I know that sounds counterintuitive- I mean- if you marginalize someone then they'll better be able to understand you, right?, But I think I was really looking to learn how everyone could fit together in this space, support each other in the struggle for fairness, and celebrate each others joy. What I ended up with is feeling that because I’m not gay, not queer, don’t watch porn (I am not opposed, I just rarely watch any sort of television), or have a degree in sex geekery, my whitebread ass doesn't have a place to fit in.
So, here's a note to sex geeks- even though I'm kinky, I'm a white, cis gendered, heterosexual woman, in a monogamous relationship who is a professional in my field, employed full time, and who is a mother and grandmother. Other than the kinky part- I'm more in your "target audience" for advocacy than you realize, or that you paid attention to this weekend.
But, as I said, I wasn't going to post these thoughts because much of it is unfair. I could have pushed to be heard. I could have stood up in classes and said "I don't understand what you mean by XYZ". I could have demanded that educators teach me the basics and explain things so that I could understand them. I did none of those things so I share the blame for my failure to fit in this weekend.
But what I thought was sex geek snobbery looks entirely different now.