At The Geeky Kink Event, Or: How Conventions Create Cultural Micro-Bubbles

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 12.06% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Conventions are culture.
Assemble a thousand like-minded people together in an semi-private space,  and it’s fascinating watching how quickly accepted behaviors change.  An hour after the doors open, things that would have been bizarre in the outside world – cosplay, public hacking events, consent negotiations, asking for pronouns – become everyday events, completely unremarkable.
This is why conventions can be addictive.  Sometimes, the outside culture can seem monolithic, unchangeable – and often, it largely is – but conventions are proof that if you can get everyone on the same page, everything can change instantly.  Conventions are a petri dish where the experiment is, “Is culture mutable?” and the answer is, “Under the right circumstances, anything can change dramatically.”
The wave-form collapses at the end of the weekend, of course, leading to a phenomenon called “con-drop,” where you’re sad and tired because you miss this culture you effortlessly code-switched into, and on some level would like to have back.
And when I go to the Geeky Kink Event – or any kink event, really, but GKE is the event I’d recommend most for novices – I’m always struck by how wildly different the culture is.  I don’t think a lot of people on my list have attended a kink convention (though more, doubtlessly, than the regular public), so I wanted to discuss some of the weird ways in which kink convention culture diverges from the norm.

Bruises are a badge of pride, and considered beautiful.
At a kink convention, acquiring pain is often the reason you’re there – this is BDSM, after all – and so most people walk around with skimpy outfits designed to show off the way their back or breasts have been beaten blue.  Particularly extensive marks will get appreciative “oohs.”  If you know someone, and you catch a glimpse of an injury underneath clothing, you can ask to see what happened with about the same cultural mores of asking to see someone’s tattoo.
This leads to an unfortunate side-effect of some people feeling bad about not marking easily, or not being able to endure enough pain to get the pretty bruises.  No culture is perfect, alas.

Breaking consent is one of the worst things you can do at a convention – but it’s not a law so much as an embarrassment.  It’s normal to hear, “Do you hug?”, and people who hug strangers (or even acquaintances) without asking are usually gently corrected at some point.
If you have a good friend who is not currently in a huggable mood and you hug them unasked, it’s awkward.  You know you did something wrong, and they forgive you, but you’ve been impolite and recognize the transgression.
That said, because so much micro-negotiations take place, you often field questions like “Can I kiss you?”  These aren’t spam-requests – that would be rude – but if you’re having a bright and happy conversation with someone, they may just ask to kiss as a goodbye, or a hello, without necessarily the expectation that kissing == makeout.  It took me by surprise the first few times it happened, but some people do kiss quite nicely.

One of the rudest things you can do at a kink event is to improperly manage your bodily fluids.
At the dungeons, yes, sex happens.  (Though at GKE, they had a “no-sex” rule on Friday so asexuals and graysexuals and newbies could feel comfortable.)  It’s not an all-out orgy – I’d say only 30% of any given play involves orgasm –
– but the proper disposal of bodily fluids in public spaces is a hazard.  There are cleanup supplies everywhere – you wipe down your station after using it thoroughly, and there are chucks and condoms and gloves for everything.  Nothing goes into an orifice without being covered, and the Dungeon Monitors are more like concierges – at one point during play, it looked like I might penetrate a partner, and the DM quietly placed a disposal chuck to absorb fluids, a set of gloves, and some lubricant by the side of our playspace.
This is not without good reason.  A squirter may have HSV, or HIV, so they’re vigilant for normal reasons of STI transmission.  But there’s also immunocompromised people there, and someone who’s particularly wet may have a cold they transmit to someone who can’t handle it, and so cleanliness is a major watchword.
A couple at GKE played hard enough that they soaked a mat, and then went to go use the water fountain with bare hands.  Both mat and the fountain had to be quarantined afterwards.  That was a major faux pas.
(Though whatever you do in your room is okay.  Though it’s presumed you’ll negotiate statuses before playing. And that you will heavily tip your maids.)

There’s a stunning amount of nakedness around, but it’s understood that the person possessing the naked gets to control it.   You can watch – that’s often why they dress that way – and even perhaps talk to them, but if you think the GKE is big on hug control, try touching someone’s naked flesh sans permission.

A fluid sexuality is the assumed norm.  There’s nothing wrong with being monogamous and heterosexual, of course, but here you’re likely to be in the minority.
Some monogamous hetero women express frustration in the kink scene, because everyone assumes they’re bisexual and polyamorous.   And naturally, idiotic poly and bisexual people ask them loaded questions like, “Well, have you tried it my way?”
It’s impolite, of course.  But culture doesn’t equal perfection, it merely tells you when someone’s put a foot wrong.

It’s the height of impoliteness to interrupt someone’s scene.  Even DMs, charged with safety, are reticent to barge in and go, “That rope isn’t tethered to a proper hard point” – though they do.
However, scenes get audiences.  If you play interesting enough, you may get twenty people watching you.  I’m generally enough into my scenes that I don’t notice, but if you’re bored, going around the dungeon and seeing who’s doing what is a thrill.
Naturally, some people are more fun to watch than others.  This leads to mini-celebrity bouts – “Have you seen Flicker play?  Oh my God, come see him!” – and some gather for showings of friends who they like to watch.  Gossip spreads about that amazing scene that happened last night, she did what, oh my God did you hear.
…which, in turn, leads to a penchant on some people’s parts for more creative scenes.  A friend of mine went after her lover with a fruit reamer.  There’s splashy stuff, like fire and rope (but not together), that always draws a crowd.
You don’t applaud afterwards.  But you might stop them afterwards to tell them how amazing that was to watch.
They blush.  It’s cute.

I’d like to tell you there aren’t creepers, of course, but there are.  The difference is that I have yet to hear a conversation about creepers where the overenthusiastic person’s overtures were excused.  Immediately the victim is believed, no matter how slight the transgression, and usually the DMs are called.
It’s not an axe-falling transgression to pressure someone – often, the staff will have a firm word that This Is Not How We Do Things Here, to course-correct.  But there is a list of names of people who’ve caused problems, and you will get on that list, and your behavior will be watched.  If you make enough people feel uncomfortable, the convention staff will wisely do some math that says, “We can keep one jerk in the room, or drive three people out,” and you will be escorted out.
That said, you have to work it to have that happen.  Asking generally isn’t considered offensive – maybe clumsy, if you’re asking, “HAY CAN WE HAVE SEX” three minutes after meeting, but some people are into that quickness.  But asking for hugs, and kisses, and sex, are normal.
Pressuring, however, with repeated questions, is rude, rude, rude.

It’s expected you’ll do odd things at conventions.  Experimentation is a high happiness.  If you can try something you’ve not done before, well, that’s significant.  Particularly at GKE, finding a new way to twist an old concept – taking a normal scene and adding GladOS from Portal, for example – is considered very cool.
Some people want their comfort scenes, of course.  And they get them.  But the buzz is always about new, new, new.

If you’ve been to a kink convention, I’ll ask: What was new to you there that you don’t see in the outside world?

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