Monday, May 27, 2013

The End of a Lovely Friendship

It's been nearly two months since I attended my last conference and I thought it was about time I wrote about some of the things I learned.

A little back story first, though.

When my friend wanted to create a conference for sex positive discussions, I was supportive of her goals, excited for her ambitions, and ready to stand by her during all of the crazy that would be sure to ensue. I thought I'd make myself perfectly clear that such a conference really wasn't my milieu, but that I'd do what I could to help her, support her, and be around for her to bounce ideas off of.  I wasn't (and I'm still not) interested in nearly any of the topics discussed at such a conference, and I really don't know many of the speakers who are "popular" in that area. I have my own interests and I learned really early on at my very first conference of this type that my particular interests have little place in that arena (other than to be 50 Shaded to Death and Back).

I'd actually not planned to attend the west coast conference, but she'd caught me in a moment of weakness and off I went. I met some really cool people, and had a somewhat interesting time. And I did learn a lot- just not in any session.

When the east coast conference came around, I also wasn't sure I was going to attend. My job is stressful, money was tight, and the timing was difficult. But I decided that I wanted to support my friend and so I made plans to go.

I hated every single moment of that conference. But I did learn (at least I read it on twitter) that it was my last.

I learned that in that milieu, I would be punished for something I didn't even know I'd done, and not be told about it until weeks later. Here's a clue- when someone is so totally out of their own scene- and they fuck something up- it might be a "learning experience" for everyone involved if - instead of giving the cold shoulder for three days- a person would just say something. Anything. A "that was really hurtful" at the time it happened, would have gone a long way. Spending three days mad at someone and not telling them why sounds a lot like one of the reasons I got divorced.

I learned that in that milieu, it's still about star fucking. I spent a lot of time that weekend watching people. Were there cliques? Absolutely. Were people discussing lofty topics and having intellectual discussions about the sessions they attended? No. What I saw for the most part was people hanging with their peer groups, with people they already knew, and talking about how awful it was that one of the sponsor tables was empty, that there was no coffee, and where the orgy room was located.  People were talking about sex alright- but not in the way that one might think.

I learned that none of the "rockstars" has a single minute to discuss something about their class with you without looking right the fuck through you searching for someone "more rockstarish" to talk with. I get it's also about networking, but hey- a moment to discuss something with someone you don't know? Isn't that what "teaching" is about?

I learned that once you reach a certain level of "rockstardom" in any field, including this one, you get a free pass to act like a total douchenozzle. Rules, personal space, self-control and accountability for actions all don't really matter when one is a presenter. I watched one person time and time and time and time again all weekend long, flaunt the rules, invade personal space, and ignore expressed no's.  And the resulting silence from the rest of the people made it worse.  I've no doubt this particular douchenozzle will continue on as before. But as a representative of your chosen field- he's a poor ambassador.

I learned that I should NEVER be in a situation where I say "I'll talk to someone" about something that happened and find out what's going on. There's no possible way that one won't bite me in the ass. I think next time I'll practice saying "if you can't talk about it yourself, then it's obviously not a problem".

But what I really learned is that despite my lack of savvy with this whole "sex positive" scene, despite my desire to be there for my friend, and despite my own best intentions to help her, my voice was ignored by someone I really cared for. I did not attend these conferences for me. But for the fact that she was my friend, I wouldn't have attended any but the very first. I wanted to help her. Be supportive of her, and hug her when things got nuts. Had I known that I'd be on the shit end of whatever stick was up everyone's ass that weekend, I'd have stayed home and read about the highlights on twitter.

After all, that's where I learned about the end of a really lovely friendship.

Monday, March 18, 2013

What Part of NO do you NOT Understand Reid Mihalko?

To say I'm livid is an understatement. I'm so incredibly angry that my hands are shaking.

If you follow me on twitter (since my account is now locked, if you don't already, don't bother to look), you'll get some idea of what happened this weekend when I attended a sexuality conference.  

One of the things I rely on as a kinkster is my ability to keep the parts of my life separate. I do not appear in public with my kids as SilverDreams, and I do not appear at kink/sex events under my real name. I have a scene name for a reason. It's my decision and even if you don't agree, you don't have to. I don't ask that you like it, I only ask that you respect my wishes.  

Because this particular conference was a very definite educational setting, and included others who absolutely cannot attend those events under their real names, and because the event had a clear, published and several times-reiterated photo policy, I felt pretty comfortable attending. Was there a chance my photo would be taken? Sure. With cell phones, you can't ever guarantee that someone won't take your photo. But it was a small risk, given that I was with some of the "elite" in sex education.  

To be perfectly clear, there was not one moment I was at the conference out of my room where I did not have my "NO PHOTOS" button on. Not a single moment. 

Reid Mihalko is a self-described "Sex Geek".  To me, he's more of a self-absorbed juvenile asshat, but that's just my opinion. Hey- you have yours, I have mine.  When I attended a conference on the West Coast last year, Reid took my picture in a crowd shot (also wearing a NO PHOTO button) and posted it to twitter. I started getting my twitter friends, who were following the conference tweets, asking me if I knew my photo was on the internet.  I saw the picture, and asked Reid to take it down. That he did so immediately made me feel at least he was responsive to my concerns and that it was just an honest mistake.

But this past weekend, Reid was taking pictures of everything (and by everything I mean, as long as he was in the shot). This time, among several other pictures of crowd shots (many people whom also had no photo buttons), he posted a picture of three people working the conference, ALL OF WHOM WERE CLEARLY WEARING NO PHOTOS BUTTONS. I was one of those people.

Reading comprehension should really be taught in school.  NO MEANS NO.

No means no whether it's in a bar, in a conference, or on the street. No means do not. Don't do it. Stop. Cut it out, and well, just plain NO. (if you're unclear on this concept, I really suggest that you not be around people until you can figure that out).

A couple of things are tweaking my ass right now. The first is that he, a self-professed Sex Educator (but really, read his CV sometime- cuddle parties? Tae Kwan Do? Speed Flirting?) disregarded my explicit NO.  That's right folks, he couldn't figure out consent if it bit him in the ass. And what happens in return? He posts to FaceBook in such a way to garner sympathy from his readers. (read this as "poor me, I fucked up", please cuddle with me?).  He apologizes to me on twitter, using a page from Charlie Glickman's "learn how to apologize" blog post and tells me that he'll give me space unless I tell him to contact me. That's right. A twitter apology. It's almost as bad as breaking up with someone via email.

Fat fucking chance. You deserve every ounce of venom I feel right now. Twice.

One of his readers even go so far on that post to imply that it's the "universe's way of saying EVERYONE should be outed".  (victim blame much?)

Yeah, well fuck you.

Which brings me to my second tweak right now.  You might imagine, I was wondering how the rest of the sex educators at the conference might be all over his ass for his appallingly bad judgment and taking him to task for his continual juvenile behavior when it comes to his definite lack of self-control.

The silence is deafening.

I'm done. There truly is no safe space to discuss ideas. I wish you all well with each other because by your silence, you're all condoning Mr. Mihalko's behavior this past weekend.

And I won't be part of it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A View From My Side

I'm frustrated. Although many people know that I'm involved in a local BDSM group (one of the longest running in our part of the country in fact), few know that I'm the education chair for that group.

As education chair, it's my mission to find qualified, interesting, and exciting people to present for our monthly class. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to book presenters for my group. I'm not really sure what all of the reasons for this are, but I think much of it has to do with something I call the "Mollena Effect" (ME).

ME happened several months ago when Mollena Williams (a national presenter at kink events) wrote a post about how she was pretty annoyed at event organizers who appear to be making shit tons of money off her appearing, while at the same time not paying her what she was worth. She talked about how presenting at kink events was her job; and that by insulting her by offering comped admission to the event in lieu of payment devalued her time, effort and skills. She talked about event organizers finding "sponsors" to cover the costs of her appearances, and she made a lot of todo about how it was wrong of people to ask her to present for free.

I'm not disagreeing with her point of view. If she wishes to be paid, then she should be. And she shouldn't accept those engagements which don't offer her exactly the remuneration she wishes, under the terms which are acceptable to her. I wouldn't take a job personally where I felt unvalued.

But the fallout from her post about this subject has hit smaller groups especially hard. The local groups who have under 200 members (many with less than 100); whose market won't support ticket prices of $50 or more for a few hour presentation. The local groups who have many kinksters who have to find babysitters, make travel arrangements, and travel for an hour or more, just to attend a presentation.  The local groups who have many more new members who have never heard of a Mollena Williams. The local groups with people whose first and sometimes only foray into kinkydom is that group. The people coming into the scene who have never heard of Dark Odyssey, Floating World or Shibaricon. The people finding their own version of the Fifty Shades of whatever floats them and need to learn to do this safely.

What the ME has done has created an "us vs. them" scenario. "Us" being the presenters; while "Them" being the event organizers.  The downside, is that even small event organizers are being lumped in with the national events, while every presenter now believes that he or she is "worth it".

My frustation comes from the short-sightedness of this attitude. And the fallout from it.

Every single presenter I've booked in the last several months has increased their fee to present almost beyond the point where we can afford to pay it. They're pricing themselves out of the small local markets, with the hope that they'll be able to translate their skills to a national market. The obvious problem is that even with the dozens of really large events that the kink world has going on in a year, there is still a pretty small market for those events.  Even local presenters, who would have happily presented for our group in the past for gas money, dinner and perhaps a membership to our group, now demand an ever increasing fee. Or worse- percentage of the door. Before expenses.

As a result, I've had to find other ways to fulfill my goal of providing a monthly class. I've tried to do it with sponsorships but I've run into two problems with this: first, there's not enough money to be had from kink-friendly companies to go around; and second, the presenters are more "well known" in their own small corner of kinkdom than they are to many of the companies.

I've tried to book local presenters. But these same people have read the threads on Fetlife and follow all of those top presenters, and instead of earning their chops by learning to present, they too have started asking for more.

And lest you think I'm a cheap bitch, I'll disclose here and say that we do pay our presenters. I'll also disclose here and tell you that I also have presented for various groups over the past few years. I've been on both sides now, and while I'm still very willing to present for any local group who might want me to, I don't expect to make my living from doing it.

I'll also tell you that every single class I booked last year, lost money. That's right. Every. Single. Class.  Even with those top presenters who assured us that they "would put butts in the chairs". Not a single one did. Top tier, brand new, it didn't matter. We lost money on every single class. Although I will say that the loss was much easier to take when the presenter was delivering what he/she promised.  Not many do. In fact, one presenter we'd lost a shit ton of money bringing in recently was bemoaning the fact that nobody was hiring him anymore.

My guess is here's why:

The cost for my venue at a local hotel willing to host our class is roughly $350.  My average attendee pays $10.00 per class. We've tried $20, but that dropped attendance too far. $10 for a two hour class, away from public transportation, is about what  this market will bear.  So, in order for me to break even, I have to fill 35 seats. Not unrealistic for the most part, right? We do that pretty regularly.

That presenter who complained about nobody hiring him anymore? Well he charged us 50% of the door. Before expenses. He assured us that he would bring in people, that he'd advertise for us. However, when the reality of the class came, he filled 36 seats. That's right. He brought one more person in. For that one person extra, we paid him $180.00 (1/2 of the door). We took in $360.00. We therefore netted minus $90.00.  That one extra person cost us $90.00.

Now, let's see about the presenter who presented last month for us. She cost us nothing. She did it for the price of her membership in our group for the year ($30). She is a relative no-name. She had 36 people in the class. We still technically lost money, but it wasn't nearly so hard losing $20 on a membership for the night as it was the $90 in cash. The other difference is is that she didn't make promises of putting butts in the chairs and she did advertise the class.

Who do you think I want to book the next time?

So why do we still do this you might ask.

Well, despite all of the aggravation we go through every single month to find a presenter, (notice I didn't say "educator"- that's another whole can of worms) I still think what we provide to the community is important.

We provide the gateway for all of those new people who will eventually find their way to the Floating Worlds, Shibaricons and Dark Odysseys.

We provide the means for people new to kink to "dip their toes" into the water without it becoming overwhelming at a three day conference with dozens and dozens of classes.

We provide the social, non-play, environment for people to get to know each other while learning something fun.

I would dearly love to bring many of the "name" presenters in to speak to our group. But I can't afford them, so I no longer ask. We've tried partnering with other groups to share the costs- but all that really does is increase the costs and therefore the loss (a class for each group costs more money- and really, there's few presenters people want to hear twice in a weekend, so attendance is split rather than doubled).  I no longer ask these people to present. I've found my way around that. I'm taking chances on brand new people. People who have energy, passion, and an interest in sharing a subject. People who are happy to cut their chops on a new group; people who want to try out new material; people who just want to share what they love. Instead of worrying that I'm losing money on top names, I'm grooming the next group of top names.

If there's one thing I can be absolutely sure about, it's that there's always someone else.

For another point of view- Sarah Sloane has written a great post here.