When Rumors Kill

Did I get your attention yet? 

To be abundantly clear, as I tend to write about many different communities on this blog, this post was inspired from some events in the BDSM/kink community, not the Pagan/Polytheist community. Just so we get our rumor mongering straight, as it were.

Laura Antinou, If you don’t know her, is a wonderful author of a series of books called “The Marketplace Series”. They take place in a world where people who consensually choose a life of slavery and service are auctioned for real money to Owners. They are fun, sexy, interesting books, and some of the best M/s erotica I’ve ever read. 

About a week ago, Laura caught wind of a rumor going around about her. People were claiming that she charges “thousands of dollars” for appearances/readings at events. I can’t begin to tell you the eight different ways how misguided and unrealistic that rumor is. First of all, there’s a perception that BDSM events make hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit, and therefore can afford to give their presenters lucrative compensation for their time. The reality is, most events I’ve been able to peek into the backstage of are barely breaking even, and many lose money. Most presenters, regardless of how many books they’ve written or how much porn they’ve starred in, are lucky if they get enough to cover their travel and hotel expenses, much less something on top of that. A very few might get an honorarium, but that is few and far between.

But my point here isn’t that a rumor was farfetched and inaccurate. And that’s not why Laura was upset by that. The reason that “meaningless little rumor” has real-world consequences is because people are fucking gullible and are easy to buy into shit they don’t understand. They will take this rumor as “proof” that events make tons of cash profits and some presenters are living high on the hog. But other people will hear this rumor too. For example, event organizers may decide not to invite her to their event because they don’t have “thousands of dollars” to give her. Also,other presenters may feel (rightfully, in some cases) slighted that Ms. Antinou seems to be able to rock up to an event and read a paragraph from a book she wrote ten years ago and make “thousands” doing it while other presenters are running around teaching classes and volunteering in exchange for nothing more than a reduced-price or maybe free entry. In turn, those presenters might not submit to teach at whatever event(s) this outrageous disparity took place at, and may actively encourage others not to attend in “protest”. People may choose not to buy her books because she’s supposedly making so much money by touring, that it’s totally okay if they get a pirated e-book version. And so on.

Here’s a different example of a rumor that could potentially cause damage. A brand new event I’ve thrown my support behind, called Sacrenaila (Thanksgiving Day weekend in Atlanta, GA…see <a href=”http://www.sacrenalia.com/“>website </a> for more details!) has been struggling, like most first-time events do. There hasn’t been any events that combine spirituality and kink in the Atlanta region, or really in Georgia, and there’s a lot of people keen on attending one. Anyway, the rumor that got to me was that Sacrenalia wasn’t comping their presenters anything. Let me be crystal clear here: That is 100% false. The organizer is going into his own personal finances in some cases to make sure his presenters are compensated as fairly as he can provide. But this rumor means that presenters who might be thinking about throwing their hat into the ring will likely give it a pass, if they “know” that their time won’t be valued. It may also mean that attendees who feel that kink/spirituality educators get the short shift too often when it comes to these sorts of events, and they’ll stay home in protest too. It also means that people may choose to go to a different sacred sexuality/kink event, and in this case it wouldn’t surprise me if this rumor was started by someone from a rival organization who hosts similar events. 

In both of these cases, something that may seem like a juicy piece of gossip, something that confirms many misconceptions about how these sorts of events work, have actually damaging effects. Laura may have to make several public statements so event organizers know she does kinky book club events via Skype for free, and that she frequently volunteers at events for much much less than even one of those thousands of dollars. The organizer for Sacrenalia, especially as this rumor has hit while he’s making his final push to get some great presenters on board, is now going to have to spend at least some of his valuable time assuaging the public that presenters will be fairly compensated based on how much work they do at the event. (I can say that I am getting a better comp package from this event than I do for many of its rivals.) 

Something like this happened to me recently too. Although this does come from the Pagan community, and is a bit more sticky and less clear cut, it still has damaged me in a real-world way. I do this shaman thing as part of what I do for a living, which means that I offer spiritual services to my community and I am sometimes paid for my services. This is because I am good at what I do, I have lots of clients who will happily sing my praises, and I am very professional about my work. I show up on time, I do the job well, I will go to great lengths to help someone realize whatever it is they’re trying to do. So when the rumor reached my ears that I totally “faked” a recent possession, it really fucking bothered me. And although I will admit there was a bit of a blow to my ego, that’s not what upset me the most. I worked very hard, against many setbacks and challenges, to give that service to my God and my community. I hold myself to an extremely high level of honesty and forthrightness when it comes to possession – If I am asked to carry a Deity, and I don’t feel their presence, I will immediately announce this to whomever is gathered for such. 
This isn’t the first time (nor will it be the last, probably) that I have been accused of faking a possession. I almost think it’s a badge all possessory workers have to earn at some point if they’re going to go “legit”. But what really bothered me about this latest accusation was that this particular ritual was incredibly meaningful for people I care about, and they just happened to be people who were actually present at the ritual, unlike the person who supposedly made this accusation. (That’s a whole different story for another day, since it turns out that the supposed source of the rumor never said it, and I believe them, which means someone else is obfuscating their ownership of this comment by claiming they heard it from someone else.)
There have been times I have been at a possessory ritual and there has been a person who either acts as if or claims to be possessed and I just don’t feel it. But that doesn’t mean that the possession is faked. And even if it were, if someone got something meaningful out of the experience, it’s not my fucking job to rain on that person’s parade. I can go back to my dark little corner and try to suss out if I just wasn’t feeling it or if the person was actively being deceitful. But in the end, I am not the world’s arbiter on who is and is not actually practicing possession. If I had a negative experience at such a thing and I didn’t like what happened, I am free to write it off in any number of ways, including deciding that the possession wasn’t real. The difference is that I don’t have any obligation to the general public to advertise my opinion. If someone asks me if Joe SuchandSo is a good horse, I will give my honest opinion, in private, and make sure to be clear that this is just my point of view and others may feel differently.
To leave spirituality and go back to the fun sexy stuff, I will begin to make my point. When you hear a rumor from someone, regard the fucking source. If a person who works for a competing event tells you JerkOffACon is a terrible awful event full of skeevy perverts, they have something tangible to gain from sharing that point of view. If you’re honestly trying to find out how much it might cost to have your favorite presenter (you know, me) come talk to your Kinky Munch, the best person to ask is….me. Even if you’ve heard wild rumors about Green M&Ms and a harem of cabana boys, do yourself a favor and push through the drama and ask the source. Don’t rely on rumor to make decisions like what event to attend or which group has the most single females.
Because I’m a Libra and we are own our Devil’s Advocate, let me tell you a story that shows how to substantiate a rumor before you spread it. There was a big camp kink event not too long ago, where there was much physical destruction of property. One vendor who had lent equipment to the playspace had it returned in serious disrepair. But I didn’t take one person’s word on it. I asked people who were there. People who worked on staff. I sent an email to the vendor and asked if he had any pictures. This is an event that has asked me to present before, but I had a feeling in my gut it was a bad idea. So I was investigating this primarily because every year people ask me if I’m teaching there, and every year I get more and more tempted to go. However, this incident has given me a lot more pause, so if this event happens again I will likely take a pass. 
But I didn’t accept the first source. Nor the second. I kept asking around, looking for primary sources; that is, if you hear “Sannion called Del a flaming homo”, you ask Sannion, “Hey dude, why point out the obvious?” (Hi Sannion. No offense.) And you ask Del, “Did Sannion call you a burning pile of sticks?” (or a British slang for a cigarette?) If anyone else tells you what Sannion said, keep in mind who might gain (financially, emotionally, socially, etc) from such a thing. 

Do your homework. People can, and do, actually suffer real consequences from such behavior. I’m making a public promise here to be more circumspect about what opinions I share and with whom, and all I ask is you do the same.