The one about dynamic consent; The Black Pomegranate at CatalystCon Midwest

On an unseasonably warm March morning, well before sunrise, Ms.Pomegranate and I embarked on a journey to Chicago to attend and present at CatalystCon Midwest. For Ms.P, the trip marked a return to CatalystCon, the event which inspired her to share her kink and sexual health knowledge as a sex educator. For me, it was my first experience with CCon, a convention which proved to be different than the kink centric events I’ve grown accustomed to attending. It turned out to be a weekend of ideas, some pushback from our peers, a sushi buffet and rope. Here’s our CatalystCon experience and what it means to me.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect attending CatalystCon. I viewed it more as an academic conference, an opportunity to exchange ideas about sex positivity. My mindset in attending was more cerebral, definitely not the headspace I inhabit when I know I’ll be scening heavily or co teaching the physical skills of BDSM. The one nod to kink I included in my packing was a small bag rope, four pieces wrapped with a single pair of safety scissors. Now, a note about me. I tend to analyze everything. When it comes to rope or kink, being so fastidious is a good thing. When presenting, it can tend to turn me into a nervous ball of energy,  checking every detail. Ms.Pomegranate has a wonderful quality, that calms me down. She said one time that we balance each other. So the nerves I had about our presentation fell away. By the time we reached the airport, I was ready for the adventure.

Thursday 

At the airport, we caught up with a friend of ours, Sexinbmore. She’s a fellow sex blogger Baltimore who also was presenting. After a short flight, we landed at O’Hare. Traveling west always tweaks your sleep schedule, so after checking into the hotel Ms.P and I opted for some sleep, which turned out to be a welcome gift, some downtime. The rest of Thursday was filled with workouts and sushi buffets, until it was time for the CCon a Go-Go, hosted by Lola, Katie Mack and Zyra Lee.

If I hold with the analogy of CatalystCon being an academic event, then CCon a Go-Go was the orientation hosted by friendly resident assistants. The hosts answered questions about CCon and what we could expect for the weekend. The attendance was moderate, enough people to fill the room yet not so many that it was a crowd. My takeaway from CCon a Go-Go was, the CatalystCon experience would be solely what I made of it. For me, that meant engaging people, and taking the time to share what The Black Pomegranate was all about.

Friday 

Friday offered Ms.Pomegranate and I a good bit of downtime, as we were waiting for the business networking event later that evening. When that event finally came, it was a lively affair hosted by Reid Mihalko. Ms.P was familiar with Reid’s style of teaching since she’s taken his classes before. We had several exercises that were designed to facilitate networking and making connections amongst those with similar interests.

There was a pragmatism to all of the exercises, because it framed the business of being a sex educator as…well as a business. Many sex educators spend a lot of time on their content, yet spend little time perfecting how to disseminate that information. Presentation counts, because sex educators can have the greatest content in the world and it won’t matter if no one ever bothers to look at it.

Later Friday evening was the opening keynote address which will remain with me as one of the most powerful parts of the weekend. At the keynote, we learned about the Upstairs Lounge Arson, the single largest mass murder of homosexuals in the nation’s history. The story was recanted by Lilith Grey, whose grandmother was a mainstay of the lounge and fortunately passed on the oral history of what it’s legacy was.

As a person of color, the Upstairs Lounge resonated with me. Part of oppression is the realization that neither your life nor death really matters. Another realization is that you aren’t physically safe or that violence perpetrated against you will pass unremarked. In a room of highly educated, well read people, most of them had never heard of the Upstairs Lounge. That, in essence is what hatred does. It invalidates your pain and humanity.

There were other remarkable things about the opening keynote. Joan Price speaking about older populations and sex. Robin WB addressing disability and making mention of caregivers (a group that is so often overlooked). The audience was lively and engaged. If being a catalyst is about creating change, then this was a crowd fully invested in being that catalyst.

Saturday

On Saturday morning Ms.Pomegranate and I presented “What does consent look like? Practicing consent in BDSM”. In our presentation, we explored many topics, such as dynamic consent, how contract based consent can fall short and actionable methods of practicing consent in kink relationships.

We painted a broad picture, tying together how consent has consistently been arrived at in BDSM and how those older models are falling short

Any time you’re presenting something new, there is going to be a mixed reaction, ranging from curiosity to outright doubt. For me personally, it was interesting to see just how much pushback we did receive, especially from those who consider themselves consent educators. In the rope community, there  a trope of “you’re doing it wrong”, which means you aren’t doing rope the way someone else is. It doesn’t in theory mean that you’re actually wrong, but people are reluctant to embrace new ideas that may mean they have to rethink their convictions. Hence the pushback I mentioned.

For our first academic presentation on consent, I was extremely pleased of what we accomplished. We set out on our goal to elevate the conversation regarding consent. Yes, that ruffled some feathers and we were knocked more than I would have preferred, but we also had the opportunity to engage our critics and to prompt people to think differently. It’s  impossible to be a catalyst without (amicable) conflict.

Later on Saturday, we attended another panel on consent, and received an example why the conversation needs to be elevated. The content on consent was largely from the the perspectives of hetero male dominants and female submissives. There was no mention of the diversity in sex positive communities and the need to address consent issues across all facets of a community.

After Saturday evening dinner came the night’s entertainment, Queeroke, a gloriously bawdy karaoke. It was cool to literally see people let their hair down, pick up their boas and completely let loose.

There was an impromptu play party, which gave Ms.Pomegranate and I a chance to engage is a quick, fun rope scene. The party hit a sour note because it wasn’t vetted properly by the hotel and a noise complaint came close to getting everyone thrown out. This concerned me, especially the presence of law enforcement. As a black male, running afoul of the law and the subsequent problems it could cause for me and loved ones is a very real, legitimate fear. As a sex educator, it troubled me to see a collection of bright, progressive sexual minds sulking about like a group of teens sneaking into a house party. If we’re going to talk about creating safe spaces, well we actually need to do it.

Sunday

Sunday morning we attended a panel on online hassasment, presented by Sexinbmore. She recounted some of the harassment she endured from an online predator and the challenges she faced keeping herself safe. Men and allies should do themselves a favor and learn about the blatant abuse women face on a daily basis.

Often, when women talk about abuse, people will exclaim, “did you go to the police?” Well Sexinbmore did go to the police and experienced an utter lack of assistance from a female officer. Sexinbmore also presented some practical tips people can use to aid themselves in the face of online harassment.

Sunday went quickly with more engagement, until it was time to attend the last event, the closing keynote. The keynote featured a talk between Jackie Strano and Bryanna Jenkins. Black people have a euphemism of “going to church”. This was absolutely the case of the closing keynote, which was surprisingly, wonderfully affirming to the heart and soul.

We learned about Bryanna’s journey as a transsexual woman. She’s from Baltimore, like I am. Baltimore is a beautiful place, but it can be brutal at times for young people of color. Now imagine that against the backdrop of a young woman in transition, finding her place in the world. That describes Bryanna. She made it with the grace of God, her strong mother and her own resolve.

What CCon meant to me

All too quickly, CatalystCon came to a close and it was time to make the journey home. It took a few days for me to process everything and write down my thoughts about what CatalystCon meant to me. After some thought and a couple deleted posts, here is my takeaway.

The purpose of being a catalyst is to initiate change. Sometimes, the process is chaotic and incomplete and catalytic conversations will often be met with disagreement. All the more reason to have these conversations and gracious arguments.

There are important, life altering issues that affect anyone who considers themselves sex positive. The first step is to not only address these issues, but to work toward better solutions. We presented something new, a different way to define and implement consent. I’m proud that we were able to add something to the discourse, to offer a new solution.

I don’t think anyone would assume that every sex positive issue would be solved over the course of a three day conference. But ideally, everyone used the time and space to create, to develop new solutions. Build something and take it out into the world and make address what’s important to you. Apply your solution and make something better.

Attending something like CatalystCon means at some point affirming why you want to be a sex educator. For us, Our CCon presentation affirmed our commitment to literally talking the taboos, to elevating the sex positive conversation and creating solutions.

Personally, CatalystCon was a good experience. It solidified my commitment to being a sex educator. It showed me the value of speaking about issues like inclusion, consent and safety. It demonstrated to me that by words and examples I can display all the nutritive parts of the kink lifestyle.

None of this would have been possible without the support of my partner, Ms.Pomegranate. At times throughout the trip she was my co-teacher, sounding board and guide. For numerous reasons I’ll remember this trip as yet another one of the quirky, wonderful adventures I’ve been blessed to have with her.

Be a catalyst. Speak truth to power. Create with purpose. Innovate. Effect change. Talk about the taboos, even when everyone doesn’t understand. Work to make something better. And wherever the path takes you, always keep it kinky.

MrBLK

Author: MrBLK

MrBLK is a blogger, writer, bondage rigger, dominant and certified geek. I've been an event promoter, dungeon monitor and founded the B'more Munch, one of the longest running meetups in the Baltimore area. I draw on disparate experiences as a caregiver, martial artist and fitness trainer to craft scenes that are innovative and fun. When not crafting diabolical plans, I relax by reading comics or swinging kettlebells.

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