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Why I Support (Some) Gatekeeping in Kink

I will get back to posts about developing your desires shortly. There is currently a developing issue in the kink education world I feel a need to weigh in on, so here it goes.

Gatekeeping in the BDSM communities is increasingly frowned upon, at least in public. There is pushback against folks define what is a “real dominant” or “real submissive” or “real man”, and so forth. I get that. There are as many ways to be a sub, or a Dom, or a man as there are people with those identities. Telling someone they are not enough of whatever to participate in the scene is as unnecessary as it is cruel.

We all entered the world of BDSM and kink as newbies. We all had to learn about the cultures, the roles, the unspoken rules just like the current noobs are doing now. There is nothing wrong with being new, with charting your own path, or with defining who you are. Gatekeeping in these areas is absolutely unnecessary.

When it comes to teaching and leadership in the community, that is a different story. Lately I’ve seen certain “educators” push back against gatekeeping when it comes to who is allowed to teach and where they are allowed to teach. I have seen repeated calls on Fetlife in other forum saying that certain educational spaces are “elitist” or “exclusionary” because a person who identifies as an educator or community leader was not allowed to teach in their space/conference/organization. I have received personal messages from educators trying to dissuade me from teaching at various locations because they (or a good buddy of theirs) was prevented from teaching in one of these spaces.

I strongly encourage this type of gatekeeping. Before you go off in a huff and write an extended comment against gatekeeping of educators and leaders, please hear me out.

Teaching is a Unique Set of Skills

Just because you ae really good at a specific kink skill does not mean you are ready to teach it. Doing and teaching are not the same thing. I say this as a professional educator for more than 20+ years both in and outside of the kink scene.

Teaching requires a deeper understanding of a skill than it does to be really good at it. We all learn differently. I can master a technique based on my style of learning. I bring to each new skill I learn my background knowledge of consent, negotiation, psychology, drive, and previously mastered skills. Not every student I have has this same knowledge. To teach a skill, then, I need to understand more than just how I came to master it.

Teaching someone a skill without them having prior foundational knowledge can be dangerous. For example, I teach a basic bondage class. Before I ever get to tying up or restraining a person, I spend a large percentage of the class going over physiology, enervation, psychology, and what nerve impingement feels like. I also discuss negation and consent with it specifically geared toward negotiation for bondage. To teach people some basic ties without covering the other stuff first is simply irresponsible.

To teach the precursor knowledge then means I must have enough of an understanding of psychology, physiology, enervation, and negotiation styles to explain it to other people. I was good at tying long before I developed the understanding of the other stuff.

Teaching also requires that I understand how people process new information. There are several predominate learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinetic being three main modalities. To teach a class, I have to be able to design a curriculum which speaks to different styles of learning.

Ethics of Teaching and Leadership

Beyond just being able to design a safe and effective curriculum, teachers and folks in leadership have a power differential they need to be aware of and know how to navigate. When you teach or lead a group, people assume you know more and are more experienced than themselves. Words of teachers and leaders have power. It is critical for folks to recognize this.

To teach effectively and ethically in our communities requires learning how to navigate this power differential. To take a position you are the person to learn from or know all about a topic exploits the folks who take your class. Recognizing your own limitations and acknowledging these to participants is a key skill people need to develop.

For example, I’ve been teaching about BDSM and mental health for a long time. A. long. Time. I have a deep (graduate level) knowledge of mental health and power structures. I do not know everything there is to know. Every individual has a different experience with mental health and relationships. To pretend otherwise would do a disservice to my students.

I try and mitigate this by providing resources which I did not create and recommendations for other teachers. I routinely stress the importance of learning for lots of people. I also acknowledge that my approach to any given topic may not be a person’s cup of tea. I continue to read and take classes from other educators to learn about their approach.

Don’t Fucking Steal Content

A huge, and I mean HUGE, issue with some educators is that they unabashedly steal content. I have had more than one set of slides and handouts taken, used, and then resold by other educators without my permission. Let me be clear: this is theft. Theft of intellectual property and monetary theft. I don’t sell my slides of handouts. If a person takes a class (usually, but not always) for a fee, I offer copies of my materials for free.

This is not to say I don’t use other people’s work to some extent. I rely on other educators to teach me about stuff and make me think about things I haven’t considered. However, when I use one of their ideas in my teaching, I cite them. I never use their content without permission or citation. I never resell their content without permission. This is just being a decent human.

Playing with Students

The boundaries between leaders/educators and the folks who take their classes or use their spaces is not as clear cut as it is in university. As a college profession, I never slept or even flirted with a student. This was always a clear boundary for me professionally.

As a kink educator in kink spaces, things can be a bit blurrier. For educators and leadership, our dating and play pool often contains folks who look up to us and take our classes. It is critical to be able to acknowledge and discuss the power differential between folks in these positions and community members. However, the power differential does not absolutely rule out playing or sleeping with community folks. After all, we are all adults and not reliant of passing one of these classes for a grade or professional development.

For me, I draw the line at using my classes to solicit or develop “prospects” to play with. My classes are here for folks to learn from and hopefully get some helpful tools for navigating their own life. They are not here to expand my dating pool. Not every educator will agree with this. Right now, there is no clear line or even much of a discussion about the role of educator/organization leader and community member dating. We need to explore this area more fully as a community.

AASECT and Certification

Currently, we do not have formal requirements for kink educators. Until the past five years or so, we haven’t really needed them. This is a hobby for most folks in the area. Only a few of us are lucky enough to work in kink education and writing full time.

We do have a few organizations which do offer certifications. AASECT (the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists) offers a number of different forms of certification. For some certifications, you must have graduate or professional licensing completed (MA’s or have an LCSW/MTF for example). For others, it is a matter of completing coursework through the organization.

Their offerings are very good. Midori (whom I have the deepest respect for) oversees the BDSM/Kink certification. I can’t think of anyone better to do this!

The drawback is, of course, expense. Most certification programs cost around $5,000. This is a significant amount for someone who is doing this as a hobby and/or is on a limited income (raises hand). While I am lucky to currently make an okay living from writing and educating folks, I don’t have enough expendable income to drop on (another) certificate or degree.

Let me be clear, I do not think they are overcharging folks. What people get in exchange for the cost of the programs are well worth it! If you choose to pursue teaching of kink coaching, I highly encourage folks to consider AASECT as a great option. If I had the extra $5,000 to spend, I would do it in a heartbeat. I just recognize that for some of us, this is a barrier to certification.

We need other options to guarantee our educators and some leadership roles are occupied by folks with the skills necessary to do this ethically and professionally. This is where the current form of gatekeeping comes into play.

Many educational groups will ask for references before allowing someone to teach. This is very reasonable! Some will offer options to teach a trial class (with or without pay) to test out an educator. Again, a very reasonable request. Finally, some groups will not accept certain educators because they carry with them a reputation of being unethical, a poor educator, or very problematic in the community. I say this with the full understanding that these gatekeepers can use any of this to keep me from teaching as well.

Where we go from here

The current gatekeeping process has not been great at keeping out abusive or dangerous folks from teaching or leading. I have witnessed a known consent violator stay in a lead role in a play space because he had enough money to fund parties and events, and nobody wanted to lose access to that cash. I have witnessed a few problematic educators coming together to form their own “education and outreach” group because they had been barred for local spaces. They are now using their new group to try and reach into other communities who are not aware of the more local issues with group leadership.

We need our educators to have a conversation about how we start instilling some professional standards for our community that address both professional and hobby educators.

When I was working in veterans issues in California, I worked with the junior college association to create a way to translate military experience into college credits. The goal was to give vets credit for what they learned and practiced while in service, save them some money, and identify what skills they still needed to develop. I think the kink world needs to do something similar.

We also need to create a tiered system of certification. If you happen to be teaching as a hobby, you shouldn’t have to drop a lot of cash for certification nor should you have to stop. We have some amazing educators who attend a conference or two a year and teach at munches or play spaces as a service to the community. We need to honor this tradition and not make things inaccessible to these folks.

However, we do need to figure out how to make sure educators have spent some time learning how to teach and thinking deeply about the ethics of teaching in our community. I don’t have the answer yet to this. However, I encourage my fellow kink educators, students, and community to start working toward a way to make sure we are educating and protecting our community.

Have a comment? Please drop it in the comments or DM me.

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