So I just got back Tuesday night from a wonderful trip to San Francisco, where I was able to present at the 6th Annual CARAS conference, hang out with good friends, make new ones, and even oogle sexy queer leather women at Folsom. Total win!
CARAS stands for Center to Advance Research on Alternative Sexualities. It is a mostly academic conference geared at academics, clinicians, and community members – mostly within poly & kink issues, but on a variety of topics. At the conference, I presented my workshop on Narratives of Sexual Assault in the BDSM Community. In laymen’s terms, I was giving my presentation on the history of how kinksters have discussed sexual violence with each other. I began with the identity-based feminist activism of the 1970’s, then moved forward through the Sex Wars, the advent of AIDS, online discussion forums (primarily via Usenet) and landed in our present day amongst the likes of Cliff Pervocracy and the Fetlife TOU debates. Kali from Kink Academy has, awesomely, taped my presentation, and sometime in the next month or so it will be online for your viewing pleasure. I’ll be sure to link to it!
So what else went on at the conference? Well … Snarksy did not do a very good job of taking notes (lesson learned!) so my thoughts are more emotive than they will be academically rigorous. (In my defence, I was pretty doped up on dayquil! Colds have a habit of hitting at the worst times…)
But! Aside from the fact that the likes of Charles Moser, Amy Stone, and newcomers like Jill Weinberg all put on wonderful presentations (which will also be featured on Kink Academy!) here were some of my major take-aways:
Progressive, academic, altsex types need more dedicated spaces—people were so relieved to be here this weekend. I especially think it would be good if conference spaces like this were able to take place more regularly. CARAS was amazing, but the next conference is not until May 2015. While many attendees knew each other from other networks, many were experiencing this as one of their only opportunities to regularly engage with this kind of crowd. Yet, only about 70 people attended CARAS this year—in San Francisco—so I can imagine getting a crowd together outside of urban hotspots known for strong BDSM or Leather communities would be hard. It does need to happen though—I’d love to see a dedicated, IRL forum for these kinds of groups in the south, and here in New England, all over the place.
TNG folks would definitely benefit from more time spent learning with more experienced kinksters. A large part of my presentation dealt with the history of how kinksters have used social networking and online forums. And talking with wonderful folks like TrinSF, who were part of Usenet and older scenes when I was just a wee little thing, it became very clear to me how cut off TNG is from the history of the kink community. I am totally supportive of TNG and think that the under 35 crowd absolutely does need our own space to socialize and define what kinky gatherings mean to us. But I also wish that built into this model was the chance to meet older kinksters. I am sad about the loss of potential inherited knowledge, or it only being passed on through more formal Leather communities, which while significant, don’t necessarily represent the majority of younger kinksters.
Conference was amazing, but very expensive to attend. Wondering how many interesting voices were not represented this weekend. If you weren’t a volunteer, just attending the conference ranged from between $50 to $70 some dollars, for a single day. That doesn’t count the transportation and lodging costs for out of towners. I feel extremely lucky that I was able to afford the airfare, that I have friends in the Bay I was able to stay with, and that I had the time to shlep it over for a visit to San Fran in the first place. But how many people can’t do of those things? Probably most. I know I couldn’t have even two years ago. So I have been left really pondering how many interesting voices are not being represented in these kinds of spaces. I understand what CARAS needs to charge, and how expensive it is to run a conference, and how hard it is for marginalized subjects/communities to get the funding they need for these kinds of events. But something is permanently missing when the low-income of our community can’t be represented in these spaces. Talking to TheDeviantE we both agreed things like travel grants, stipends for presenters, scholarship for low-income attendees need to be made part of CARAS’ conferences.
Talking to travelers, it’s clear that many kinksters don’t have a clear idea of what life is like in other scenes. I met people from England, San Diego, Indiana and a variety of other places while at CARAS this weekend. And from chatting with the native Bay Area folks it seemed clear that some of them live in a little bit of a bubble. It is a wonderful, supportive bubble where the kink/leather/bdsm scene is vibrant and you are able to be out about your polyamory while providing clinical services. But it is a bubble nonetheless. With the Internet, the ability of kinksters to learn about each other’s scene’s is greatly enhanced, but even with the likes of Fetlife and kinky blogs, it seems that many people are in the dark about how the scene functions in other locals.
Being around intellectual kinksters with a penchant for feminism and history is utterly amazing, and must be repeated. This is a lot like my first bullet point—but it is worth repeating. The atmosphere around CARAS was wonderful, and ought be replicated. Someone, somewhere should make an online conference, or something, where folks can gather like this more often. (Do online conferences actually work? Have never been to one … would be interested in your thoughts.) Not sure what the next steps are on this yet—but do know there need to be some.
Okay, I think that is quite a lot of thoughts for now. Please message or email if you have any questions, thoughts to add, or conference reflections of your own you’d like to share!