If you’ve never read Michael Suileabhain-Wilson’s fantastic article on Geek Social Fallacies, go do that right now. It’s extremely relevant if you spend any time with large groups of nerds, such as the in-person kink scene. The question of why the scene is so full of nerds needs it’s own separate blog post, so I’m going to skip that for now.
The social fallacy I see doing the most harm in the kink community is the first one listed – Ostracizers Are Evil. To quote the article:
GSF1 is one of the most common fallacies, and one of the most deeply held. Many geeks have had horrible, humiliating, and formative experiences with ostracism, and the notion of being on the other side of the transaction is repugnant to them.
In its non-pathological form, GSF1 is benign, and even commendable: it is long past time we all grew up and stopped with the junior high popularity games. However, in its pathological form, GSF1 prevents its carrier from participating in — or tolerating — the exclusion of anyone from anything, be it a party, a comic book store, or a web forum, and no matter how obnoxious, offensive, or aromatic the prospective excludee may be.
For me, one of the most frustrating things about this fallacy is that at its core it’s a good idea, it’s just been taken way too far. Of course it’s evil to ostracize harmless people who happen to be a little bit strange just for the sake of being an asshole. However, it should be obvious that there’s a difference between excluding people just because you can, and excluding people because they make everyone else miserable.
I know it’s hard for the lonely teenaged outcast inside so many of us to accept (and to be clear, I was almost a total outcast between my inability to catch, painfully unfashionable clothes, and intense shyness), but there is such a thing as a good enough reason to tell someone not to come to any more kink events until their behavior improves. Such reasons include the inability to take no for an answer, touching people inappropriately (particularly young female-assigned people. Creeping on the demographic least likely to feel able to tell you to fuck off gets you extra asshole points), following people around when the conversation is clearly over, trying to dominate anyone who hasn’t already agreed to be submissive to them, and otherwise failing to respect people’s boundaries.
In some cases people do trample on other people’s boundaries by accident. Not all of us are terribly socially adept. However, the kink scene is not the right place to hone your basic social skills. If you don’t know not to touch without an invitation or not to follow someone who told you it was nice meeting you but she needs to go to say hi to her friend over there, you need to get that sorted out before you come to in-person events. Your desire to come hang out with other kinky people is simply not as important as my right to have my boundaries respected. In the long run I think it’s kinder to explain to someone what they’re doing wrong and tell them not to come back until they’ve fixed it than it is to grudgingly tolerate them while they wonder why everyone avoids them. Some people really do need a good excluding.
No one is asking for everyone who enters the scene to know the correct salutation to use in a letter to the Prime Minister. All I want is for people to respect each other’s boundaries and be willing to learn. I’m willing to give people a chance to improve and clear guidelines on how to do that, but I need them to meet me halfway with honest remorse for whatever they’ve done and a sincere interest in doing better next time. I do not owe people a pass because they’re lonely, or they’ve already been kicked out of every other group they’ve been a part of, or they just really, really want to be part of the local scene.
The refusal to exclude anyone is bad enough in a non-kinky context like a comic book store or a gaming convention, but it’s even worse in a kinky context. When terrible, boundary-crossing behavior is tolerated by community organizers, new people naturally assume that’s normal and accepted behavior. Then they either decide that kink just isn’t for them and never come back, or they get abused and never report it to anyone because it’s already been made clear that their needs don’t really matter.
This is why abuse is such a problem in the kink community. We tolerate people ignoring other people’s boundaries, then act surprised when they pay even less attention to those boundaries when no one is looking. That’s just fucking stupid. If we want an abuse-free scene, we need to step up and create it.
I realize that it won’t be easy. No one wants to have to make the decision to exclude someone from the local scene, or to deliver the news, or to enforce the decision when the jerk shows up anyway, but if we don’t step up we’re telling everyone else that the creeper’s comfort is more important than their boundaries being respected. Is that really the kind of scene we want?