Caveat: this addresses a couple components of the idea of accessibility as I hear it discussed; obviously, there are many, many other ways in which this idea comes up that I do not feel qualified to speak about. That being said, those discussion are also happening and should happen, and I am always into listening as those who deal with different kinds of accessibility concerns speak about their experiences.
Accessibility, like everything else in the world, is not actually a simple concept (though we really, really want it to be).
Accessibility (n): (1) the quality of being able to be reached or entered; (2) the quality of being easy to obtain or use; (3) the quality of being easily understood or appreciated.
I see these conversations come up all the time: conversations about physical accessibility, bathroom accessibility, financial accessibility, rope accessibility, education accessibility, you name it. If there is a thing, there are conversations about whether it is an accessible thing, and the conclusions usually fall on a spectrum from “not at all accessible to people outside of a specific demographic” to “reasonable measures have been taken to make this as accessible as possible” to “pretty much anyone can utilize this thing if they want to.” And from the basic definition, we can see that there are a variety of ways to tackle accessibility concerns: being able to be reached, entered, easily obtained, used, understood, and/or appreciated.
My perspective on accessibility is nuanced and complex, and I don’t think there is an easy answer to make spaces, events, resources, etc. more accessible in general. But I’m tired of solutions that only tackle one facet of the accessibility and inevitably either (a) become exploitative; (b) feed into a sense of entitlement; and/or (c) make other aspects LESS accessible.
Let’s talk about entitlement and rope. Yes, rope should be accessible to anyone who wants to be in it. Yes, this is 100% harder for some folks than it is for others. If you are a petite, young, usually white bottom who can sustain a box tie and likes pain, chances are, you won’t have any trouble finding someone to tie you. If you are partnered with someone who likes to do rope, then same. The more you deviate from those things, the smaller the pool of riggers who will tie you.
This is frustrating. As someone who deviates from those things in several ways, I viscerally understand how frustrating it is not to be in rope. I want more people who genuinely want to tie me, and that is sometimes a struggle.
As much as I believe rope should be accessible, I do not feel entitled to anyone’s rope. I do not feel like someone SHOULD tie me just to prove that they will. I don’t want someone to tie me out of a sense of pity, obligation, or because I’ll do in a pinch. As a rigger, I feel the same way. As much as I want rope to be accessible, I do not feel like it is my responsibility to tie with everyone who asks me to just for the sake of accessibility.
Accessibility =/= entitlement. One is about the ease at which someone can access the things they want and/or need; the other is about feeling like you deserve to get something by virtue of wanting it. No one is a fetish dispenser machine.
Should we work toward culture shifts around beauty standards, whiteness, and internal bias and racism and how that impacts visibility for POC in rope? Yes. Should we have more conversations about different kinds of ties and different body shapes and smaller riggers tying larger bottoms? Yes. Should we have more conversations in general? Fuck, yes.
And still, some things will always be more accessible to some people than to others. Work to not feed into that, not by guilting (or being guilted) into tying with people out of a sense of obligation, but through elevating those who are already doing that and helping to create more visibility, which often translates into more access (more on that here)
Let’s talk about exploitation and presenters. In an effort to make events cost less for attendees (thus making it possible that more people can go), one easy solution is to cut ticket prices. Problem with this being we often will cut ticket prices so much that we are not able to compensate educators. Anyone who has taught anything knows, there is a lot more to education than showing up and giving a class. It’s hours of preparation, time lost taking off work, often physically and emotionally laborious.
When we cut prices so much that we cannot compensate educators, what we are saying is this: “We want you to do more work to manage more attendees with no compensation for the time, effort, and impact that has on you or your class.” Or put another way: “We value other people being able to access you more than we value and appreciate YOU and the work and effort you have done.”
Seasoned presenters learn to advocate for their needs; newer presenters (or presenters who are from marginalized populations and consistently undervalue their own worth) often don’t know how to (or don’t feel empowered to) and are then asked to do an immense amount of labor at little-to-no compensation and, when they speak up about it, are demonized for making their education “inaccessible.”
Accessibility is also about appreciation. When you make something accessible in one way that limits accessibility elsewhere, that’s not a solution; that’s asking people to do free labor on your behalf. It might look accessible, but in reality, it can be incredibly exploitative (depending on the circumstance. Large conventions, for example, are very different than intensives which are very different than one-hour educational classes before a play party).
Let’s talk more about how we compensate educators. Let’s talk more about financial structures, value systems, and help give good guidelines for evaluating costs and compensation. Let’s stop demonizing people who ask for compensation for their time and start thinking about how we can balance community needs with recognizing, appreciating, and supporting people’s labor.
We really like to treat issues that come in up in the scene as separate, unrelated issues when, in reality, everything is interconnected. If you shift something in one place, that causes a chain reaction that can be felt elsewhere. No one is ever going to do this perfectly, and I don’t think that’s a reasonable expectation. But I think that we are much more likely to fail if we treat issues as one-dimensional (see: consent, accessibility, gender, celebrity culture, education…)
Don’t go for the quick fix on the complicated issues. These things require cultural shifts, not one-off policy changes- slapping a gender neutral sign on the bathroom does nothing if you’re going to turn around and mispronoun people constantly. Dropping ticket prices at the expense of the presenter doesn’t make an event accessible; it makes the presenters feel this complicated sense of “you value me enough to want people to come out to this class, but not enough to actually compensate me for giving it.” Tying people out of a sense of guilt or obligation doesn’t make rope more accessible; it buys into the idea that people are fetish dispensers. These are just examples, symptoms of a much bigger, systematic issue.
These things aren’t simple. They are deeply engrained cultural issues that we need to have conversations about. Yes, they are complicated. Yes, they are nuanced. No, we won’t always agree on where we end up. But the conversations matter. The discussions matter. The different perspectives and points of view matter. Can we please stop trying so hard to arrive at a solution that we completely bypass the whole point, which is to actually have the conversations?