Consent, Kink and Community

♦ I mentioned recently that I’d been to the Bristol Alternative and Burlesque Fair and had a few qualms with the compering of the event. Now (especially as the compère himself left a comment and seems like a really nice guy), I don’t want to badmouth what must be a very hard job that I likely couldn’t do, but I want to set out what it was I had a problem with and why.

Because (although I didn’t like his style anyway) it isn’t about personal taste, though it may be about personal ethics. It’s about something which I feel has big implications for the kink community and the people, whether part of that community or not, who were there. And because, though not everyone may agree with me, hopefully raising these qualms might get people to examine these issues.

The compère had what seemed like a pretty tough job to get the crowd going (I myself am practically allergic to audience participation), but I wasn’t that impressed. I mentioned “cheap “saucy” humour, being patronising, and displaying a seeming ignorance of informed consent” in my earlier post and it seems I even cleverly put them in order of importance too!

Though I didn’t like the humour and tone, that’s just my taste. Just because I don’t really like the “Phwoar! I love a bit of cock!” sort of attitude to sex, doesn’t mean much (though I do wonder to what extent the “saucy postcard” mentality might hold back wider acceptance of sexuality, but that’s a topic for another time) and no-one need pander to me more than anyone else. I also personally don’t think than audience really needs to be told to applaud when a woman takes her clothes off. Isn’t that second nature? But again, it’s likely a rhetorical trick that just didn’t land well with me.

No, it’s the consent stuff that really bothers me.

The early parts involved saying hello to people you didn’t know next to you and paying them a forced compliment (already too un-British for me). The problems, though, started with getting everyone to stand up (I was hovering near the seating area at the time) and turn to face to their right. Then the compère instructed the audience to give the person in front of them a small spank. Now, from my poor vantage point (and the fact I was quite busy cringing), I couldn’t tell you how many people did this, but that’s not the point. Did anyone know what they were getting into when they stood up?

Look, I’m not trying to sound the prude here. Nothing wrong with spanking, nothing wrong with public spanking. I like both myself (and got a twinge just writing the latter). But none of these people consented (or rather communicated consent: for all I know they were fine with it, but consent has to be communicated somehow) to even being touched, let alone being spanked. As I said to Crush at the time, my response to the person behind me would have been “You fucking touch me…”.

Later (by this time my friends and I were at a table), we were told that each table should get someone up onto it on hands and knees. No-one at our table, even the hardened kinksters, were having any of it and it’s at least good to see that, general cajoling to everyone aside, when only about three tables produced participants, no issue was made of it. We were then told that the aim was to spank the volunteers as a table and whichever table produced the most moaning (oh, so hard to fake) would get a prize.  Again, none of the volunteers OR the people supposed to spank them knew this when they were called to be involved. Sure, I suspect no fuss would have been made of anyone backing out, but that’s not really how healthy consent works.

Now, this might not seem like a lot to get angry about, but consent is paramount in all things, especially in the realm of kink. And consent isn’t just volunteering. No. To be true consent, consent must be informed. To be good kink, kink must be negotiated. It doesn’t have to be long and involved and stuffy, but people (whether being done to or doing to or both) should know what they’re getting into, boundaries should be made clear and consent should be given enthusiastically with clear ways to withdraw that consent (such as safe words).

A hypothetical person in that line of unknowing spankees had no way in the circumstances to be informed, give enthusiastic consent to what could be a complete stranger, or indeed withdraw that consent in the time between the instruction and the incoming spank. Am I the only one that thinks this dodgy?

Not only this, but this was a mixed fetish and non-fetish event. They carefully made sure to split the fetish stalls off from the alternative/burlesque ones, so some concern for the muggles must have been in the planning somewhere. But there was no mention of any fetish play, no matter how light and innocent, in the programme of events as far as I saw. Surely it’s people’s right to decide what they see and don’t see?

What sort of message are we giving off to non-kinksters, who thanks to bad press and bad books might have a warped idea of BDSM anyway, of public play among complete strangers with no communication and no consent? These spaces are a perhaps rare opportunity for our kinky community to speak for itself to people who might otherwise not get to hear us (and to teach good kink practice), shouldn’t we be a little more careful about how we use that voice?

I’d certainly love to know your thoughts on this, kinky or not. ♦

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