Fear of the Geeky Teen
Lurking in the shadows are a group of intellectuals, plotting to seduce our young into their big-worded ways. You may think your teens are safe, sitting at home getting stoned, playing Rock Band, and expressing themselves in one hundred forty characters or less. But beware! They may be seduced by older people, people with degrees, and with … blogs! Who talk at great length about gender theory and sex education and sex work policy!
If the alarmist call to action by Professors Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks had to stick to the facts and not insinuation or poorly founded speculation, that’s about what it would look like. The cornerstone of their personal attack on maymay, the co-founder of the KinkForAll series of open conferences, is their criticism that the conferences allow all ages.
(Even that’s a bit misleading, as (1) the conferences are all supposed to follow local laws; and (2) the one they got particularly wound up about, in Providence on some Brown University property, required minors to come, if at all, with a parent or guardian.)
I’ve said before and I maintain that this is a flag of convenience for the opponents of the conference; that this concern is insincere and raised tactically as a smear. And I’ve said that there is a lot of conversation to be had about what information in appropriate for minors. I’m in the process of raising a bunch of minors myself, and I have ideas about that. I’ve said that Professors Hughes and Brooks are not interested in actually having that discussion, and nothing they’ve done since Maymay has called them out to dialogue has changed my view of that.
But to even engage in that discourse (and Maymay has taken the substantive discussion head-on), I think it is important to sweep away layers of supposition and fear and talk about what actually goes on at a KinkForAll conference. I’ve never attended KinkForAll, though I know folks who have, but I’ve been to sexuality conferences before. The first thing to know is this:
It is not play space. There are BDSM events where people meet, and play, and meet to play. KinkForAll is not that. In fact, the conference rules prohibit any sexual activities in the conference space. Hughes and Brooks allege that at the Providence KinkForAll, one woman did one thing on one occasion that was sexual conduct. Which meant someone broke the rules. If that’s the best they’ve got, they should probably also look for instances of littering by conference participants, because it will take more than that for them to convince anyone that does not already agree with them.
The second thing to know is that the conversation of a lot of sexuality conferences will not pull horny teens away from their computers and get them out to some conference. Maymay has some video from actual KFA events available. Here is one, defining “Kink” for purposes of the conference. Now, watch this hot, seductive video! The screen shows a powerpoint full of *gasp* black text on a white screen, with things like dictionary definitions. The presenter is wearing *shock* streetclothes. Watch if you can bear it:
[If the video is a problem, there's a transcript here]
So here’s what it does include: a lot of talk about how people talk about sexuality; what words mean and how they relate to what people do. Here’s what it doesn’t include: anything that would tell a teen how to do something they hadn’t already thought of, except talk about the language used to describe human sexuality.
Here’s another example of what goes on:
I don’t have a transcript for this. Fifteen minutes of Taoism and sexuality. Some stuff about frequency of intercourse and ejaculation. There is actually some discussion about ritualized touching practices (and I have no idea if his information is accurate or not), so … one could argue that this video could give teens ideas! One could argue that if one were a right wing fringe member of the Texas schoolbook committee. But let’s face it, if you can get through the whole thing and not lose interest, you’re a geek. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
So KFA is not a play space, and any horny (rather than geeky) teens who attended these presentations are likely be bored to tears and very disappointed. The teens who are likely to want to listen to this stuff are the teens in the gay-lesbian-straight alliance groups who want to talk in meta-terms about sexuality and sexual culture and their lives; and those who are already budding sex nerds, who really really want to talk Foucault or Taoism or Butler or the difficulty of being a cissexual ally to trans and genderqueer folks.
Any idea that kinky people could recruit young people in such an environment by plying them with lurid stimulation will not survive contact with the facts of the matter; not in a world where porn is more accessible to teens than theory.
So what are the critics really afraid of? I’ve already said they’re not, and they’re just looking for an excuse to make it tougher for kinky people to gather and share. But I’ll admit of another possibility. The other possibility is that they’re afraid that sixteen-year-old me will meet thirty-something me. (Might as well personalize it; Donna M. Hughes already went there.)
Not because me-now would play with me-then — not gonna happen. But because me-now would have sent a message to teen-me that all the fearmongering that kinky sexuality was a path to depravity and ruin was just bullshit. Teen-me would have met a soccer dad with 2.7 kids and a house in the burbs, a stable marriage and a great career, who was also kinky. No horns, no tail, no criminal record, no downward spiral of isolation and desperation. Really, just an ordinary person with an ordinary life.
For those who try to demonize BDSM, that’s the reality with which the propaganda cannot survive contact.