Last night, I was having a discussion with a friend in my local community about consent violations. In the midst of our discussion, she encouraged me to do this writing, and while I have some trepidation about it, I think it’s good that we continue conversations about how to make our events, classes, playspaces, etc. safer for everyone, but particularly to folks who are newer to the scene.
I want to first say that yes, this conversation started because of recent things that came to light in the rope scene, but the reality is, there are consent issues across the scene, both in and out of rope. I’m not as ingrained in the rope scene as many of my friends, and I don’t want to restrict my discussion to just the rope community. My goal is to offer some thoughts on things we can do to make spaces safer in general, not just with respect to a specific subcommunity within the scene.
- At the beginning of your class/workshop/intensive, take 5-10 minutes to have a discussion about consent, particularly consent with respect to whatever you’re talking about. If you’re doing rope, address that “consent to tie =/= consent to fuck without explicit negotiation.” If you’re teaching impact, discuss consent around genital impact and that consent to, say, kick someone in the cunt is not the same as consent to stick things in there.
- Consider including your negotiation as part of your class. By all means, discuss and negotiate beforehand, but take a few minutes to model good negotiation practices in your classes, specifically for the thing you’re doing. First, this adds in a teaching component of “here’s how to talk about the risks of this activity and make sure your bottom has informed consent about what they are engaging in,” which is a useful thing to model anyway. But beyond that, I hear a lot of violations that happen in class settings, where someone doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up because they don’t want to “ruin the class,” etc. Doing your negotiation in front of a class allows for some accountability (if you publicly negotiated “no sexual interaction,” and then engage in a sexual way, there is a much better chance of that the bottom will feel empowered to speak up and/or a class participant will say, “didn’t they state that X was a boundary?”).
- Co-teach with your bottoms, rather than use them as a prop. It models behaviors where bottoms are encouraged to speak up and share their experiences- good and bad- rather than feel the pressure of “putting on a good show.” It allows bottoms in the audience to see that as a welcomed and encouraged thing, which helps facilitate bottoms to feel more empowered to speak up during scenes.
Vetting and References
- Vetting and references are a tricky thing. By all means, vet new play partners, but remember that the information is only as good as the process. References about a new play partner from someone you don’t know aren’t particularly helpful. Talk to people you know and trust.
- If your potential play partner provides a list of references, that’s fine, but look at mutual friends you may have outside of that. No one is going to provide references that make them look bad; people give reference names of people who speak highly of them. Look outside of that list; ask around to your friends and trusted people if anyone knows anything about this person.
- When you vet someone, ask if that person has ever been accused of violating someone’s consent and, if so, how they handled it. For me, the “how they handled it” matters more because the reality is, if you’ve been around the scene long enough, you have probably crossed someone’s boundaries at some point. We play with risky shit. It’s often not the thing itself, but how the person dealt with it that tells me whether I feel safe playing with that person.
- Tops can (and are encouraged to) vet bottoms. It’s not a one-sided thing. As a switch that tends to top a lot, I’m aware of the risks we take in some of the shit we do. Know who you’re playing with on both sides. I have also actively encouraged people to ask around about me as a bottom before they play with me. I want to know that someone knows what they are getting when they ask to top me.
- Negotiate your negotiation style. Is it inclusion or exclusion based? Are you negotiating a specific set of activities that you are doing (and need to stay within those parameters) or are you negotiating what is off-limits, but everything else is on the table? State that explicitly so that you’re both on the same page.
- Negotiation is context-specific. There are differences in single-night events versus multiday events. My negotiations with new people are very different on Sunday of a multiday event than they were on Wednesday because I’m dehydrated, sleep-deprived, have been doing scenes for the past several days, and starting to get that FOMO. I tend not to play with people for the first time on the last day of a multi-day event for these reasons. Know yourself and your body- both tops and bottoms. Understand how the different stressors could impact you (or your play partner) and your ability to play safely.
Know your resources
- When you go to a new space, event, play party, munch, whatever, know what their policies are and who to talk to in the event that something happens. Know what resources are available to you before you enter a space.
Party planners, space owners, event producers
- Make your policies easy to find. Greet people as they come in and make a point to state, “here is where you can find our consent policy. If you have any issues throughout the night, please talk to (point out persons) and they’ll/we’ll be happy to help.”
- Ask people if they have ever been to your space before, and if not, take a second to point out general rules and guidelines, but also reinforce basic consent- “No one has the right to touch you without your permission. If someone does something that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, please let us know.”
Finally, practice consent outside of the scene. I’ve written about this elsewhere, but when we are only consent-minded when play or sex is involved, we are much more likely to feel awkward or uncomfortable using good consent practices. Practice consent in daily, vanilla interactions- it makes consent in sex and scene interactions feels much more natural and normal and reframes our baseline for how we interact with other people.
These things are not, obviously, comprehensive, nor are they groundbreaking new ideas. But I think they are valuable tools and important to say, over and over again.
Please feel free to add thoughts and suggestions to this; like I said, this is not comprehensive and I believe more discussion is always beneficial, particularly with something as nuanced and important as consent.