Coming to back CatalystCon felt a lot like coming home. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed this space until I came back; finding people who share so many similar beliefs as you is simply astounding. Being at a place that emphasizes consent culture, and models it so very well is fabulous. There is a genuine feeling of safety here; that you can be who you are, however that may be. You can express your gender, sexuality, how monogamous you are (or aren’t), and so many other personality traits about you. It’s okay to be shy. It's okay to be out there. It’s okay to be yourself. It feels like home in a way that nowhere else would.
I had a fantastic time at CatalystCon this year. I learned so much there, both in and out of the classroom. I found out things about myself that surprised me, and things about the world and the other wonderful people in it that surprised me even more. To start, I would love to focus on what I learned “in the classroom”, at the various panels and sessions. Three really stick out to me: Living with an STI, Consent: It takes a Village, and Promiscuity: Virtue or Vice.
Living with an STI was, hands down, the class with the most emotional impact I’ve ever been to bar none, even topping last year’s circumcision session which had quite an impact. The class was started with a roleplaying exercise, one nearly everyone volunteered for. It may not be well known on here, but in my personal life I’m an avid roleplayer. It is arguably one of my biggest hobbies, and so I know how to get into that mindset of being “in character.” In this exercise, they had us disclose having an STI with our partner who we were in the middle of a lovely date with, another participant in the audience. Feeling the nervousness, the shame, the fear of rejection, the many nights of desire not obtained and the opportunity lying just over this hurdle… Well, let’s just say I was nearly shaking. And what was absolutely phenomenal was that there were people in the room ACTUALLY disclosing their current STI status, and later sharing that with the class. Some for the first or second time only in their lives! Hearing their stories, their fears, their vulnerabilities, and being there with them in a moment of breaking through some of that was astounding. It drove home just how important it is to change the world view on STIs, to wash away that stigma with knowledge. I haven’t decided how, but I want to bring this up, front and center, in my local sex positive community.
Consent: It takes a Village was another very interesting session. It was done by Carol Queen and Robert Lawrence. If you don’t know who they are, go find them. Bing. Google. Whatever. Go do it. Read their Wikipedia page. Come back. I’ll be waiting. Are we good now? Know who they are? Okay, good. So, they are interesting educators to hear talk in person. Their wealth of knowledge is beyond words. Saying “a lifetime of experience,” and literally meaning it, doesn’t do them justice. Their knowledge of consent, and how the paradigm surrounding it in our culture in their lifetime, and their ability to boil that down, was nothing short of amazing. One of my favorite takeaways from that talk was about how someone's boundaries may change during the course of an encounter, and that it is perfectly fine to say “You're moving faster than my turn on.”
One of the other major things they talked about was a story from their past of how they had someone in their community who had on multiple occasions egregiously violated someone’s consent, and they had worked to black ball them from their community. The had contacted all of their fellow community leaders and warned them of this person, and their predatory behavior. They also brought up how, recently, this sometimes proves harder to do. They also shared a story of trying to do this more recently, and how it backfired, with the other leaders balking at them for trying to “tell them how to run their events.”
One of the other audience members brought up with them about how a presenter at a major kink conference, ShibariCon, was someone who that community knew had taken advantage of someone who was compromised, and grossly violated their consent. Yet, they still invited that person to present, something my fellow audience member found appalling, and rightly so. She was wondering how you handle that situation, and the answer actually came from me. I shared a story about my local community, how one of our local members who had a bit of a leadership role had violated someone’s consent by outing that person through acts of incredible carelessness. I shared how that person was declared “persona non-grata” at almost all local events, and that new members are warned about them. And I shared that this was primarily made possible by the fact that the majority of our leaders foster a community and a culture based on consent. Should those leaders, the ones who have fostered that atmosphere, end up leaving, I truly believe that the culture they left will stay. And when you have a culture of consent, from the top to the bottom, the community members will rouse to oust a leader who has violated that culture, as our community has done.
However, it was during Promiscuity: Virtue or Vice, that a paradigm shift began to stir within me. Something that has changed my outlook on relationships. I’ve always enjoyed forming close emotional bonds with people, even if it’s someone who I may not ever see again. Sharing with someone their stories, their growths, and their triumphs and failures has given me a different perspective on which I can view my own life. However, while I truly appreciate sharing myself with other people like that emotionally, I have classically had a much harder time doing so physically. I wrestled with beliefs that I’m not worthy of that kind of physical connection, as well as general underlying feelings of shame. However, in this session, the aforementioned Carol Queen (who taught this as well) talked about how, really, a casual encounter can still be very intimate, even if it is brief. Not every physically intimate connection needs an emotionally intimate connection to share it. You can share that with a close lover, sure, but you can also share that with a close friend, or even someone who you may only see once. That intimacy, regardless of whether it comes from a physical or emotional connection, is just as real. And if one is fine, why isn’t the other? Both can bring harm, but they are also far more likely to bring happiness, warmth, and healing. This simple idea put the last piece into place for me, setting in motion the basis for a full on paradigm shift about more casual relationships. I’d long since laid the ground work for this lesson, in all its basic sensibility. I simply hadn’t put the last bit there. But it was the events that took place outside of the classroom drove that message home.
Unfortunately, there is just too much story left to tell, and my time here is running out. So, I will be back with a part two (much sooner, I promise!), with the remainder of this guy from the cornfield’s trip back to the big city.