Sometimes You Just Gotta Open Your Mouth

It’s been a harrowing summer-into-autumn for me. Things great and small happened, from teaching on the West Coast for the first time to being diagnosed with congestive heart failure. I now have the responsibility of running a brand new Northern Tradition Kindred named Wardenheart, which both excites and scares the hell out of me. But every time I sit down and think “You know, you haven’t written anything publicly for quite a while there, kiddo”, my brain freezes up and demands more stupid reality television. On more than one occasion when faced with complete writer’s block, Loki has given me the same advice – “Just open your mouth and see what happens.” So as I write this entry, I have no great plan, no secret outline, not even sure where it will go or if it will be worth reading – but I will publish it, because at this point anything is better than silence.

A big part of my spiritual journey these past few months has been experiencing the stark reality of a prediction/oracular message I was given four years ago. It has become almost commonplace parlance for me and my friends/lovers/family to talk about the fact that I don’t have much longer on this side of the veil. Even in starting the Kindred, a big portion of what I feel is my responsibility is to do everything within my power to make each and every member as proficient as they want to be, so that at no time does the group’s vitality rest solely on my shoulders. I have much practice at this, having to simultaneously make real plans for the future while leaving enough wiggle room that should I fall ill, the world will not end. But now, knowing that I have stage three of a four stage disease, that sense that I won’t be around for much longer feels much more real. The prognosis for someone like me with CHF is right around 50% after five years; I have enough co-morbidities that my doctors have been pretty frank with me which side of the coin my destiny likely is.

To be super clear, I am not chucking in any proverbial towels. If anything, I am spending a great deal of time thinking very seriously about what things I feel I must accomplish, or at least try to accomplish, with a limited amount of time and even more limited amount of energy. One of the most crippling symptoms I am dealing with is fatigue; I honestly can sleep 18 hours a day and be ready for a nap shortly after waking. It’s a kind of tired that you can’t really understand until you’re in it. I’ve actually started falling asleep sitting up and then falling or bonking my head when I go cataplectic.

But as Hel reminds me more and more these days, this is the year of Dedication. (I know that some of you don’t read my other blog, in which I detail my work with Hel more often. Starting with 2013, which was the year of Contemplation, I have been given a different “activity” with which I am to frame how I spend my time.) It means that I still have to get up and put on my big shaman pants and do The Work. I can’t just close up shop and spend the rest of my days keeping comfortable – if that was the plan, I would have just checked out when I was given the chance. But I chose to stick it out, and I don’t regret that decision.

The “easier” part of Dedication was just looking at the different commitments I have been running on autopilot – events I have been going to for years, hosting parties for certain events or rituals for holidays, traveling to see friends and loved ones – and start culling those that don’t fit into whatever Grand Plan I’m still trying to figure out. Some of those decisions were made for me – I became persona non grata at Dark Odyssey events, for example, which has disappointed many folks who depended on those events as times they could do deep work in person. I also decided not to force Free Spirit Gathering into my schedule this year, for both personal and professional reasons. I don’t know what the future holds for these or any of the other time/energy investments; I just know that skipping them this year was good for me.


But at the same time, there are commitments I did make that I have dropped the ball on. I owe a few people readings. There is a lot of email unanswered or unsent or plain ol’ unwritten. I started out some client relationships that didn’t blossom the way I had hoped – one leaving because I was too unavailable, another for disappointing them in some way they didn’t really explain. I am still working on essays for the subscription service, essays that have sat half composed since June or July. I try to make a pilgrimage to Cauldron Farm every year, and this year it just wasn’t in the cards.

I have likely written about this before, but it has come up ever so strongly as part of my lessons in Dedication – that sometimes the Work doesn’t care if I’m in pain, or exhausted, or even in the hospital. I conceptually understood that by choosing to Work on this side of the veil meant that even mundane parts of the Job were going to get more difficult as my body betrays my intentions at almost every turn. A night when I was in incredible pain did not change that I promised to be there when my friend passed away, and so I went to his bedside when it was clear he didn’t have much time left. (He died about an hour after I arrived.) There have been many times when my home became a refuge, a psychic hospital, a temporary landing pad, an occult school, an overnight orgy, a ritual space for Gods to speak: and none of these were on my calendar until they were happening.

Because really – if I stopped doing the Work, what the fuck else would I be doing?


The lack of a romantic relationship, and really any kind of intimate connection beyond Rave, has been a bitter pill to swallow now and again. I am still verboten from even the mere appearance of looking for love or even just a fuck (a theory I tested twice and was rightfully smacked). Please don’t think I am devaluing Rave’s role in my life – she damn well knows how important she is to me – but a big part of why I am poly is because it isn’t fair to expect one person to be all the things you want or need in your life. I know I still have lessons to learn in this arena, so I assume the prohibition is likely to stick around. (I’m not quite celibate. It’s just that I can’t spend time finding or nurturing any kind of relationship. If someone shows up and wants to play, I am certainly allowed to do that within limits.) It doesn’t help that my physical challenges have made it very difficult to love my body in the ways it needs, nor has it given me any sort of self-esteem I rely on to turn on the red light, so to speak. I have hopes – little ones, for now – but I have a strong sense that this is one of those things that will not happen on my timeline, so I might as well just surrender and keep my head down until I hear the All Clear siren.

Samhain approaches. It’s my favorite time of the year. Heck, I just celebrated my 40th birthday (in the hospital, alas. But Rave brought decorations and secret cupcakes and did it up as much as we could). In a strange way, I have been looking forward to speaking with my beloved Dead this year. I have specifically not reached out for my mother more than once or twice for my own reasons, but I do plan on making her offerings and catching her up on how my life is going. And I get to eat macaroni and cheese with cut up hotdogs, which has become part of my tradition in honor of Jon. This year, I get to spend the holiday with the new Kindred, which feels right and good. (It is, however, open to non-members. It’s this Sunday, starting at 5pm, in Hagerstown MD. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to awesome.del at gmail dot com by Friday.)

I am planning on doing some personal ritual over the weekend to help clarify my vision and re-engage my spirit. Things have been so rooted in the earthly plain as I learn to modify my life around my illness, that I have been lacking in even the merest upkeep of my own spirituality. I can’t be a good Godhi/Priest/Shaman if I neglect my astral health and spiritual growth, and my Kindred deserves the best I can give them.

So there is what came out when I opened my mouth. I have a lot more to share, but not today.


Why Internet Pseudonyms Are Important and Necessary (And Legal!)

From the moment I stumbled onto the Internet, back when it was an information dirt road, I did not use my legal name. Back then, it was considered dangerous to do so, as it might allow a stranger online to find out who you really were and possibly do scary and/or illegal things.

I mean, how many people used their birth name as their AIM handle?

Their Livejournal user name?

Their Geocities URL?

In fact, one of the arguments in favor of allowing pseudonym usage on social media is that for some of us, our online handle has been connected to our identity for so long people don’t even remember (if they ever knew) your real name. Or some, like me, decided to change their name legally because their user name became a more personal statement of personage than the name I was given as a child.

I am also willing to wager that celebrities like Ice-T and Madonna are NOT being kickbanned from social media for using what is clearly not their natally assigned identity. So is this a class issue, wherein there is an imaginary line where your pseudonym becomes acceptable once you’ve reached a certain level of fame, or once you’ve made a certain level of wealth?

For example, a well-known tattoo artist who has been using the name Mulysa Mayhem as her professional name for more than a decade was recently hammered by Facebook for not using the legal name listed on her driver’s license. And the only reason Facebook even knew about it was that a disgruntled person ratted her out. Here is her community page focused on changing Facebook’s policy. She has even contacted the ACLU on the matter, so it might be interesting to see where it goes. There is also a petition that you can sign.

I think the piece that Facebook is actively avoiding is that for some people, using an online pseudonym is a professional necessity. Many of my fellow sex/kink educators have monikers that range from the “obviously invented” such as “Master So-n-So” (one of my favorites), to the “completely under the radar” names that sound like natally assigned names but are not the person’s legal identity. There have been many debates over whether using a more traditional sounding nom de plume nets you better gigs (what college professor is ready to introduce “Shadow Song*” to their comparative religions class?) or having a sexy sounding nickname will attract more students (I’d certainly go to an oral sex class taught by someone named “Deep Throat”!).

Some people make the choice of juggling multiple social media accounts so they can safely stay in touch with both their alternative lifestyle friends as well as their family. As someone who tried to do this, it was a lot of work for very little return. My family complained that I was “never on Facebook”, and there were times I forgot which account I was signed into. I made the (radical?) decision to be up front with my family about who I am and what I post and gave them the opt in/out decision.

On the other hand, some social media accounts these days are little more than linkdumps and meme posts. Does it really matter if Jane Smith or Dragon Moonbeam posts the video of the piano cat?

But like most divisive topics, in the end I can only support the side that allows for the most freedom. After all, Google+ went through the same bullshit only to give in and allow pseudonyms as long as they weren’t profane. And my FB friends list is chock full of people using names that range from “pretty obviously not on their bank account” to “could only be something a mother would choose” and in between.

I faced a similar dilemma before I changed my name, only in a different arena. Many events require you to share your legal name with them on their paperwork, even if you have a different name on your namebadge and other materials. It is 100% legal** to use a pseudonym in most situations unless you are specifically using it to commit fraud. Yes, this means I signed many event forms as “Del Tashlin” or earlier versions thereof, before my driver’s license reflected that name. I have a co-worker early in my working life who received paychecks in a different name for personal reasons, and although everyone in the office unofficially knew she was using a fake name we never brought it up.

I encourage you to support those fighting Facebook’s policy if for no other reason than the knowledge that one day, you or someone you know will rely on the safety of a moniker for one of a dozen reasons.

(As always, I leave footnote markers and forget the actual footnotes.)

*Shadow Song was a name I went by briefly. Yes, you may laugh at me now.
**I am obviously not a lawyer, but I have done quite a bit of reading on laws applying to pseudonym use. However, your mileage may vary due to the laws of your city, state, country, etc.

Teaching Adults About Sensitive Topics: Tips and Pits

Many of you reading this blog are doing so because you attended a class I taught at one point in time. It is a major part of my shamanic work, which to some can be confusing. Why would Loki want me to teach adults about sex, gender identity, leather history, and kinky stuff? Without going into a long explanation, here are a few reasons:

  • Because I don’t look like a porn star. I have no issues with porn stars who want to teach, and if they use their looks as a gimmick to get people in the seats, more power to them. For me, I want to be a startling visual that there is no appearance-based barrier for entry when it comes to things like sex magic or fucking in public. In fact, my gateway into sex-positive demographics was because I couldn’t find porn with people who looked like me (unless they were being degraded for their size). Even though I only teach one class that specifically relates to being fat (BDSM For Bigger Bodies), I feel that I teach about fat sex, as well as trans* sex and disabled sex (etc) just by teaching anything at all in that realm.
  • Because I’ve been there. I’m teaching the classes I do because in one way or another, I have gone from knowing very little about something other than the fact that it turns me on or that it intrigues me; to having studied how people do it; to people seeing me do it and asking me to show them how. I’ve made terrible mistakes and had accidental success. And I don’t pretend I am the be-all, end-all; I’m not afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I haven’t tried that” and I usually share stories about my fuck-ups as much as my glories.
  • Because I talk about subjects that few others are. I tell a lot of people who are interested in becoming a presenter like me, the best advice I have to give is this – look at the classes being taught at a few events. Then look for the topics no one else is addressing, especially if it’s a topic you feel passionate about. Now go fill that hole! My “Adaptive Kink” class was born after I had attended too many Disability and Kink classes that were focused on different kinds of disabilities one may encounter in the scene, or focused on access issues that PWDs face. But in the five minutes at the end of the class, all of the questions would be from PWDs asking how they can do their kind of sex/play without the disability getting in the way! So the rest of my classes’ title is “What We Do What It Is That We Do With What We Have To Do It With”.

But what I really want to talk about, and get real contributions and comments about, is techniques, gimmicks, pedagogy, or strategies that you have found to work well when teaching sensitive subjects to adults. You don’t need to be a presenter or teacher to play, either; maybe you attended a class that did something to hook your attention or really answer your questions. I’ve studied books on everything from adult teaching techniques to how our brains learn and taken collegiate level classes on these sorts of things. But I’m always looking for new and different ways to make my classes fun and engaging, but also memorable enough that people actually learn something, rather than just being entertained for 90 minutes.

I’ll go first. I don’t make any claims that I came up with these things on my own; these are just techniques I have found useful and/or have received compliments about.

  • How To Handle Handouts. Handouts are actually a very divisive topic among presenters. Some swear by them, and compile 20 page workbooks that carry most of the factual information and use the class time to discuss specific issues and answer questions. Others hate them, citing that nothing is more demoralizing than looking out upon a sea of “page face”, where everyone is reading the handout and no one is listening or watching the teacher. I used to be one of them, but I’ve learned that for some people it is vital to have something to read along with or they won’t retain any information. My tip: I print out a very small number of handouts – maybe 5. These are formatted to be “fill in the blank”, so they have my major points but none of the details. Before class starts, I explain that I have only 5 handouts in hard copy, but if you give my assistant your email address, she will send you an electronic copy. This saves trees, increases the chances the student will keep the handout, gives you a place to add your URL or social media information, and eliminates “page face”. (I’m actually experimenting with follow-alongs that are cloud-based, kinda like powerpoint slides that the student reads on their mobile device and can access whenever they want to reference it.)
  • How To Talk About Potentially Triggery Subjects. For some, their biggest kink is something they feel a lot of shame about. Or it may be something they’re trying to heal from their past through framing it as “play”. Whatever the reason, it’s not impossible to teach a class that takes those sorts of concerns into play. For example, I teach a class called “Non Parental Age Play”, which includes role-play from the overindulging babysitter to the malintentioned kidnapper. In order to go as deep as I feel is necessary without freaking people out, I present the class in three sections. The first is mostly about lighthearted stuff like Sibling Pillow Fights or when a Little Tops a Nanny. Then I announce that the next section includes more sexual content, and therefore we’re taking a “get water and pee” break. When the class goes into adding BDSM into the mix, there’s another short break. That way, people can leave when they’ve reached their comfort zone without feeling like they’re being rude by walking out, or worse, feeling pressured to stay even though it isn’t a good idea. I announce this structure at the top of the class, and I’ve even had people go get friends who were reticent because now they could stay for what they wanted.
  • When ❤ is not a heart. I know very few presenters who have never encountered the “small group” phenomenon – where less than 3 people arrive for your class. It could be because you got a bad time slot (like 9am on Saturday, or opposed to a very popular or famous presenter), because your topic has a specific audience, or because it’s raining and few people braved the walk to your space. It messes with most presenter’s plans, because when we write a class and class activities, we’re usually assuming we’ll get somewhere between 10-20 people (depending on the subject matter). This problem can sometimes be compounded when the people who show up are peers or even someone who knows more about the subject than you! (like the time I was asked to teach Leather Traditions to two title holders! Sheesh!) So what do you do? I usually start the same, introducing me and my qualifications, but then I turn it into a coaching session of sorts. I ask questions about the people, what they were interested in and what they want to learn. I might even do an impromptu demo if that’s what someone would like. I basically throw out my structure and talk about why I wanted to teach the class, tell stories about my experiences, and then at the end give my outline (hard or electronic) so they can glean from that too. I almost always give out my email address and tell them they can ask me questions whenever.

And then there are the things that I have learned to avoid. Sometimes I learned the hard and painy way.

  • “Ask Me Anything” is for Reddit only. Whether it’s a room full of people or a single client, you’d think that sharing where your expertise lies and what you have to share would encourage people to ask all sorts of questions. More so when you’re regarded as a well-respected presenter in that field. But alas and alack, this has always led to failure. In fact, my most spectacular failure of a class was a combination of a totally unresponsive and ineloquent demo bottom, trying to teach in a large warehouse-type space where people were playing (and in specific, long whips were being cracked), and I was running on empty mentally and physically because of the frantic pace of the event. I literally begged people to ask questions, because my brain was totally fried and I felt terrible. This is also what used to happen with the ‘less than three’ problem; I’d encourage them to ask questions but without structure or guidance they feel lost.
  • Don’t assume you’re the only expert in the room. And especiallydon’t ACT like you’re the only expert in the room. This was something I learned early on from attending someone else’s classes. I was really excited about a particular class, but felt deflated when the presenter in question (really) kept repeating “I don’t know how anyone couldn’t figure this out on their own”. They had also brought a cheerleading section of either fans or lovers (or both, who knows) that she would “ask questions” to, only so they could slobber on about how smart she was and how well she was able to handle the subject in question. It was one of those times I reminded myself, “You always learn something. It just might not be what you had hoped or expected.” I am always interested if others in the room have different experiences or points of view to share. I also believe that this is a key difference between teaching children and adults. You should always remember that people attending your classes have decades of life experience to draw from. In a way, it also makes it easier to teach, because if you can relate a point to another life experience (like needing different kinds of aftercare depending on the situation, like the difference between how friends can help after a surgery, versus how they can help after a divorce.)
  • Be subtle if you’re using the class to promote other work, like books.. Because events pay a pittance to presenters (if they pay at all), many of us are finding ways to turn our classes into a gateway to other potential income sources. The most well known is writing a book – in fact, if you have a book on the subject, sometimes that’s all it takes to get an event to pay you more! But don’t turn your class into a 90 minute infomercial about your other products. A story I tell often to new presenters: I once attended a class that touted itself to be about alternative forms of energy healing for intermediate students. I was excited because it specifically said it wasn’t about reiki (I am allergic), and it wasn’t a 101 class. But after ten minutes, it became all too clear I had been hoodwinked – he would ask us to do an exercise, and then report back to the class. After we shared what we observed, he would tell us which page in his new book that would explain what it meant. And we did this over and over again, for an hour. There are subtle ways of doing this, from leaving a few copies of your book on a table in your space, or mentioning that if people want more information they can find your book at X booth in the vendor’s hall.
  • Don’t practice medicine, law, or any other illegal things. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a mistake I have made personally. Here’s the story: I really wanted to teach a class about power dynamics and mental illness. I knew I had a lot to say on the subject, and I was frequently sought out for my opinions and advice. So I started doing a class about submission and mental illness. All three times I taught it, no matter what I did or didn’t do, it turned into group therapy. Not only was that not my intent, but it usually ended badly because someone shared something sensitive and another attendee would share a very harsh opinion or assumption about them. After the third time, I realized I had come very close to posing as a therapist (which I am not), so I took the class off my list. Nowadays, when a professional topic like medicine or law is brought up, I make sure to give the “I am not a lawyer, but” disclaimer, and I also make sure that the discussion is kept short and sweet.

So there. I’ve shared some tips and pits about teaching adults. What works for you? Was there ever a teacher that really got you excited or interested in the material? What was your biggest screw-up? Please don’t be afraid to share – I really would like this essay to become a resource for up and coming presenters. It doesn’t matter what subjects you teach, unless you have suggestions that specifically relate to teaching sensitive subjects like spirituality, sex, or psychology. If you want to post anonymously, you can email me at awesome.del at and I will post it for you.

I’ll Just Go Next Year!

I’m seeing a lot of really great events wither and dry up, and it pains me.

People on the Internet are often taken to pining for real-world experiences. It’s all good and fine to write and chat and read Wikipedia, but actually meeting meaty people and singing, laughing, dancing, and sharing fellowship together is something you absolutely cannot get via the Internet. However, you can’t really convince netizens of this, until you can drag them away from their flickering screens and sit them down in front of a campfire.

This also wanders into my frustration with Pagans who think/expect that anything a shaman/spirit worker can do, they should be able to do remotely and for free. I can’t count how many emails I’ve received from potential pastoral care clients who absolutely refuse to even meet via Skype, much less meet me in person. There are some things I cannot teach, or do, unless the person is right in front of me.

It sticks in my craw because I paid my dues by spending money and traveling. I am not well off; I don’t even come close to the poverty line. I have a ton of physical issues that make traveling difficult. But I do it, and I don’t complain about it. Sure, there are some events I can’t afford: if I feel very strongly that I want to attend, I will contact the organizer and see if we can’t come to an agreement. That’s the secret reason I started teaching classes at events – I would never, ever be able to afford to go to the events I do if I didn’t get a work exchange. And this negotiation doesn’t have only be with the event staff – if an event can’t offer you a comp in exchange for volunteering, ask the people attending if someone might need a service person who will pay your way in exchange for your help. (As a note from someone who hires these sorts of people: It’s good to know what you’re good at and what you’re able to do, and be honest up front about what you can and can’t do. And once you’re at the event, you better live up to your end of the bargain if you ever want this sort of arrangement again!) You might be able to do a quick fundraiser: “I want to go to LokiCon, so for the next two weeks I’m offering [skill or craft] for [wacky reduced price].” Heck, I’ve had organizations pay my way to events in exchange for me placing fliers on tables for the organization and talking up what the org does to the attendees!

Travel can be tricky, but I frequently take on carpoolers on longer trips and ask them to pay a portion of my gas. Sometimes, everyone in my car will pay for the gas, and my contribution is the miles I’m putting on my car. When I’m riding with someone else, the fact I have a handicap parking placard has been a bargaining chit.

Obviously, there are ways you can make the trip more affordable, too. You can share a hotel room, or check out a couch surfing site and see if you can’t find a couch to crash on within walking or driving distance of the event. You can sleep in your car. You can bring all your own food, which is usually cheaper than relying on fast food all weekend. You can ask other attendees if someone is willing to rent floor space in their accommodations for either money or service. (I know someone who got free floor space in a hotel if they made sure coffee was ready for their roomies every morning!) See if you have any friends or relatives who live nearby you can crash with – or even friends-of-friends. Heck, I’ve seen gamers at big gaming cons bring a sleeping bag and find a secluded spot and rock the homeless experience.

Anyway, my point is that there are billions of ways to attend an event if you really want to – too many people only see the obvious – “I can’t afford a hotel room to myself and the entry fee, so therefore I can’t go”.

The other refrain I hear a lot is “I really want to go to that event. I will go next year!”

This makes an erroneous assumption: people tend to assume that, unless otherwise blatantly stated, all events are annual. The truth is, I’ve seen many events die because they couldn’t get enough attendance in their first year. As much as it might seem to make sense to stay home and hear stories about how it went before deciding to go, people like owners of campgrounds/convention centers, staff, presenters, etc are willing to take a risk on a first-time event. However, if the first year tanks, few of them will listen to the cries of “Oh, but 8,000 people on the Internet said they’d come next year!”

The biggest wound of the first-year flop goes to the organizer. They’ve taken a dream from raw thought to fruition, likely with a ton of support from Internet people who really want to see the thought become a real thing. They ride on the enthusiasm and spend a ton of money on things you’d never notice unless they weren’t there – nametags, copies of the program, a moving van to get all the decorations/furniture, etc – and they sign a bunch of contracts. Many take out bank loans. They stress all of their close friends and lovers, usually conscripting them into non-consensual service when they realize the job is too big for one person.

And the biggest secret of all: Very few, if any, come into the black when the day is done. Most count themselves lucky if they break even. If they wanted to make a profit, they’d have to raise the ticket price; thus, less people would come and they’d still be in the weeds.

The other song and dance about events that I’m pretty tired of? I wish someone would come to East Bumblefuck and do something like this there! It makes me shake my head for many reasons:

1. Do you know for certain that if such an event came to the Bumblefuckians, the attendee list would have more than one name (you)? Do you have a grasp on whether or not the other Bumblefuckians (From South Bumblefuck) would find out Honeycomb Hideout (wherever you’d want to host the event) and beat us up, burn us, bring the media, tell the hotel we’re hosting secret gay bdsm orgies?

2. Have you thought about asking the person who is running the event in a well-considered, centrally located, metropolitan location with access to worldwide transport, to come to East Bumblefuck and run the event there? Since it was your idea, you do understand that means the organizer will likely have tapped out all of their funds running the first one, so the implication is that you will foot at least part of the bill?

3. Because it is very unlikely that the organizer lives within a reasonable distance of Bumblefuck, do you know someone who is able to find and secure a venue, and take care of the bigger picture logistics?

Now, I could go on, but there’s really a summation coming, so I’m jumping ahead.

8,264. Or you could just ask the organizer if it is cool with them if you organize a similar event in Bumblefuck, and whether it would be officially recognized as connected to the first con or a rogue event with an understated agreement?

Here’s the thing: In the communities I inhabit, I am seeing a trend. Many of the gung-ho event organizers are reaching their mid-40s or early 50s, which, according to Merriam Webster, is “too fucking old for this shit.” Lacking serious, committed younger members who seem not only interested but capable of taking the mantel, the events make the only other choice available to them – to stop.

Here’s a micro-example of what I’m seeing:

Etinmoot is a small gathering at Cauldron Farm. It is an ritual event for person who worship and work for the Jotun-blooded Gods of the Northern Tradition. It has been running since 2007. Part of the reason the event is in limbo is because the people who planned and executed most of the rituals, were also in charge of running the event logistics. After this year’s event, the gythia (Priestess) stepped down so she could work on other projects. If no one steps up in the next few weeks, the event dies.

Part of the reason the event dies is because it is an awful lot of work to plan and execute, and the people who have run it in the past don’t have the energy or drive to keep going. One thing that will kill an organizer’s enthusiasm needed to push through all the stress and work to get an event off the ground is apathy. People aren’t excited enough to tell their friends about it. They make FB posts that say, “I don’t really know if I want to go CockCon this year…” People don’t get involved in the pre-event chit chat or planning. They may not even look at the online schedule to see what awesome classes there were and when (so they could make a mini Google calender to remind you where you want to be…or is that only me?) And of course, the big honker, is a) they just don’t come at all, or b) they cancel at the last minute and demand a refund.

So now that I’ve gotten my bitchiness off of my chest, let’s talk about positives – ways you can encourage event organizers to start or keep running events that matter to you, how you can support events even if you can’t attend, and stuff like that:

1. Just effing go. Even if you pick one event every year, instead of going to the same one all the time, try going to a fledgling event instead. Don’t let strange people or uncomfortable circumstances get in the way. Remember, your life is made up of stories you leave behind, and “They stayed at home and watched “My Strange Addiction” all weekend.”

2. Be creative about the money. Some events have scholarship funds, and few advertise them so they don’t get every cheap-o asking for handouts. Come up with a brief, honest paragraph on why you want or need to attend this event; follow it with what you are willing to offer in exchange for entry. It should be noted that sometimes the event can’t scholarship someone, but an attendee might out of the goodness of their heart. Ask the attendees if they would like a service person/assistant, luggage lugger, personal chaffeur, companion/date, gopher, or whatever other service you have to barter. (Currently, I could really use the services of a graphic artist…) And if you really can’t go, maybe you can toss $20 to someone who needs help- and ask them to write up a report/make a presentation when they get home.

3. Don’t assume all events are annual. Especially these days; the market is a little glutted with adult retreats in general (at least on the Eastern Seaboard of the US), so it takes a lot for a first-time event to stand out and get the kind of attendance that will make it abundantly clear that the event needs to be repeated. It’s actually a better bet to assume all events are one-time-only; that way, you’re sure to have the experience you want. If it turns out to repeat itself, then you can decide leisurely if you want to go a second time.

4.The least you can do is tell your friends. It doesn’t cost you a thing to make some posts on social media talking about how cool the event is. You may even find a gaggle of friends/chosen family to get together and donate towards a ticket or two, and then have a blind drawing to see who gets them. But at the very least, if you support the event, there’s a better chance it will be back next year.

Catalyst Con East: An Event Review (Of Sorts)

This past weekend, I attended Catalyst Con East, a sex and sexuality event in Northern Virginia. I was very excited, having been recruited to speak on a panel about Transgender Sex and Sexuality, a topic I don’t ordinarily present on (except as a side topic when teaching other things).

I was flabbergasted (in a good way) at the quality of the sessions offered; I opted out of the pre-conference workshops because a) One less night at the hotel and b) they were an additional charge. But there were nationally known presenters and educators – Tristan Taormino, Charlie Glickman, Carol Queen, Cunning Minx, and more – teaching on some incredibly important and interesting subjects. I was very disappointed that the session I was speaking in conflicted with both the panel on Body Size/Fat and Sexuality, and the one on Sex and Disability. But it’s common, when attending events, to find several scheduled for the same time slot and being forced to choose.

Rave and I arrived early Saturday morning, to register and be on time to attend Rev. Rebecca Turner’s session, “Spiritual Sexuality: Ending the War Between Religion And Sex”. Long time readers of Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars will obviously know why I was so keen to attend. I share with you her session’s description, quoted from the website:

Opposition to same-sex relationships, sex without marriage, contraception, and abortion all fuel the so-called “Values Votes” in national elections. Research shows that the most religious people in America are the least likely to engage in “non-coital” sex. Do religion and sex have to be at war? Which faith teachings support fulfilling sexual lives? Can sex be a spiritual exercise? Can religious faith support women during an abortion? We will address the intersections of faith, gender, and sexuality in American culture. Participants will be encouraged to construct their own spiritual understanding of healthy sexuality and to create sex-positive spiritual messages to use in activism.

So there were undertones that she might be speaking more about Christianity’s views on sex and religion, but it was never stated outright. In fact, I (and others, as I later learned) was expecting her to speak to the fact that not all religions see sex as unholy thing. But unfortunately, Rev. Turner’s point of view was squarely from her own experiences as a Southern Baptist, and then United Church of Christ, minister. I almost sorta wished Galina were there, as it might have been at least more entertaining, knowing Galina’s thoughts on how monotheism has destroyed our culture (not that I agree with her entirely, but it would have been fun to watch.) I made sure, in the beginning, when she asked why were attending, to point out that I often represent minority religions (not just Paganism, either) in places where “spirituality” was discussed. I could write tomes about how this session ended up being both problematic and inaccurate, but lets just leave it as I was sorely disappointed. Luckily, I had high hopes that the other sessions I planned to attend would be more inclusive and interesting.

And I was right. I attended Darcy Allder and Quetzal Francois’s session called “Making Comprehensive Sex Education into Inclusive Sex Education”. Although it was definitely focused on sex education for school-aged children and teenagers, since I am starting to branch out into teaching teenagers about LGBTQI stuff, I found stuff that was both applicable for that as well as in my work teaching adults about kinky sex. They were incredibly engaging and interesting speakers, and I ended up having lunch with them on Sunday to try to come up with information they could use when addressing disabled and overweight kids in regards to their sexuality. (I hope I helped in some way, although I felt like I was floundering a lot.) The very best thing I heard from them was a way to discuss trans-ness without using the word “trans”, like “If your penis is pole-shaped, you can use a condom, if your penis is more flat or closer to your body, you can use a dental dam or saran wrap.” That way, if a FAAB child thinks of their clitoris as a penis, they are still getting safer sex education without having to think of themselves as transgender, or without having to name as such in order to get it. I think, in general, that was the eye opener for me, and something I will definitely try to use more – language that is inclusive of trans* experience/anatomy, without necessarily calling it such. I may even come up with a class on that all on its own for future events. The other thing they talked about that I wanted to share was how to avoid personal disclosure when teaching about sex – like when someone asks “Are you a boy or a girl” or “Well, do *you* do it that way?” – by coming up with a pat answer that drives them back to the subject at hand. Also, the use of the terms “Some”, “Many” and “Most” when describing sexual stuff that is common or uncommon – that way, you avoid saying “Nobody does it that way” or “Everyone enjoys sexual stimulation”, which can distance people who do or don’t feel the same. I love it when someone sparks that sort of thinking in me. Much redemption after the disappointing first session.

After that, I attended Charlie Glickman’s session, “How to Be a Top Presenter”. And he specifically used the word “Top”, as in “one who runs the scene”, because he sees teaching sexuality to a group of adults as “topping them” – providing a safe space for them to go from point A to point B. It gave me some reminders of educational tools I used to use more often, that have fallen by the wayside; mostly, making sure to create a “container” for the class – setting group agreements, talking about confidentiality, and articulating goals for the class. And he even called me on my excuse – that it takes time away from the actual subject matter – but he reminded me that if people are too nervous to learn/share/experiment, then more material won’t help them any. After years of fighting the idea of using Power Point in my classes, he finally won me over; so I’m going to start experimenting with it in some of my upcoming gigs. I took copious notes, and am finally excited to revisit some of my more popular classes and see how I can revamp them to make them even better.

I took a break for most of the rest of the afternoon, having gotten up very early and not having a lot of sleep the night before. I did catch lunch with my friend Mako, and got to meet some of the other people who have been on his podcast, which was a lot of fun. (Also, seeing Rave try tapas for the first time. She is so sheltered when it comes to food!)

That night, we attempted to attend the “Sexy Soiree”, but it was in a very small room and we couldn’t maneuver around at all. I am very unused to being a wallflower at parties, but it was really the only place where the chair would fit without being in everyone’s way. So we opted to go down to Sexy Bingo, which was not at all what I expected – I assumed it would be yet another awkward ice breaker where you had to walk up to people in order to fill out your card. No Siree! This was a raucous, actual Bingo Game with cards and beans and prizes! It was hosted by Ducky Doolittle, who was just the right mix of sexy, silly, and engaging; and the rep from Sportsheets kept coming in with more and more prizes. I came away with a lovely purple silicone cock ring. Now I just need to find someone to use it with!

Sunday was full of great stuff, too. I was late to Reid Mihalko‘s talk about how to make money as a sex educator and presenter, but I was still able to get some stellar ideas. I also had a huge revelation in his class – the way to make money as a presenter does not lie in asking events to pay more money for your classes! Reid’s mantra throughout the class was “The information I am giving away is priceless!” Instead, he filled my head with a million ideas on how to monetize my work, both as a shaman and as a sex educator. You’ll very likely see a lot of these ideas manifest here on Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars in the future, so I won’t ruin the surprise! He even gave me really good advice personally, on how to stand out in a glutted field; I have frequently bemoaned that although many people see me as an expert on Needle and Blood Play, I am never, ever asked to teach these subjects; there are just too many people doing so, and I have so many other classes to choose from, events tend to choose people who have less diversity to teach them. But that shouldn’t be the reason you choose someone to teach something as dangerous and complicated as blood play; you should be choosing people based on their ability. So I have some work to do to make sure more event organizers and programming director understand this and start booking me for those classes as much as any other.

The next session I attended, I wasn’t so sure about. I almost chose it just because nothing else in the slot looked interesting or applied directly to what I do, but in the end I’m really glad I went. It was called, “What’s So Special About Sex?”, led by Ava Mir-Ausziehen. Her thesis was basically that if we, as sex educators, make sex out to be a “special” thing, and not a mundane, human activity, it has some harmful consequences. I thought it was a daring tack to take at such an event, and it turns out that’s why she wrote it. We talked about how treating sex as “special” affects obscenity laws, sex workers, and even just the perception of those who have fulfilling sex lives. I added some comments about how sex is listed on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a “physiological need” – something as important as clothing, shelter, and food; but many homeless shelters and other resources for the poor and disadvantaged see sex as something nice to have – many shelters ban sexual activity altogether, and homeless and other street residents rarely have private places to engage in sexual activity, and anything done in public is subject to decency laws. The session also discussed how if we see sexual proclivities (such as homosexuality and non-monogamy) as biological, we’re saying that they are less than human, but animalistic drives we cannot ignore, which may work against us, and not for us, in legal and moral acceptance. (It makes things like monogamy seem like a civilized way of being, and homosexuality as something that can be overcome, similar to other bestial behavior, such as murder). It was like a palate refresher, to be having this discussion at a sexuality event.

Finally, it was time for the panel of which I was a part. Moderated by Harper Jean Tobin, and featuring Yosenio Lewis (who I’ve meant to meet for a while), Avory Faucette, Tobi Hill-Meyer, and myself. I was happy to see a good distribution of trans*masculine and trans*feminine people, as well as third-gendered and non-op trans* people. I think a lot of good things were said and shared, and it met the mark of not being a “This is Trans* 101” class. I quoted my friend Aiden’s now-infamous pick up line, “Whatever you’ve got, I’ll suck it”, which went viral on Twitter as soon as I said it, as well as my terminology “factory installed” vs. “after market”. I also declared myself the Trans* Pope, as I now have a habit of declaring myself the Pope of things to make declarations. It was a fun panel that spoke to a myriad of topics including medical professionals, women’s and men’s only spaces, terminology, and even a short demonstration by Tobi on how to make a “cape” – a barrier for people for whom condoms are too large/long, but dental dams are too unwieldy. I will be spreading this far and wide, as well.

It was finally time to go home; there was a closing plenary and “afternoon tea”, but I was pretty beat (as was Rave) so we opted to have lunch with some new friends and then tottle towards Hagerstown. Overall, I was very enthused and excited by much that happened at Catalyst Con, both in the sessions and outside of them. I had a talk with a psychiatrist from CA about setting up Skype classes to teach mental health professionals about how to treat transgender patients without pathologizing (or focusing on) their transgender status; I also spoke with more than a few people about future teaching gigs; and I got more than one come-on. Overall, a splendid way to spend a weekend.

The one last thing I wanted to comment on: it was really nice to go to a sex and sexuality event that was not focused on “how to” or instructional classes. I really feel that our local area is glutted with events that focus on that sort of thing, and sorely in need of more educational conferences that talk about sex and sexuality related topics from an academic or intellectual place. Not only did it give a much needed range of new and interesting topics to choose from, but the atmosphere was much less sexually-charged (although it had its moments), and was much less threatening from a standpoint of feeling overwhelmed by the sexual energy and possible expectations from other attendees. I mean, this was held in a hotel at the same time as some sort of Muslim event, and nary a problem was had (that I’m aware of, at least). It was nice to have programming end before midnight, with no pressure to appear or perform in a public play space that evening. I wonder if some of the local sex events that are lagging in attendance might not try adding some of these sorts of sessions and reducing the amount of instructional and hands-on workshops, and see if they can’t pull in a different set of attendees. I would also suggest that events who are trying to cater to newbies, think about the same thing.

I would highly, highly recommend future Catalyst Cons (which happen on both the East and West Coasts) to fellow sex and kink educators, sex geeks, and academics who are studying sex or sexuality in all its forms. It might be a little too “thinky thinky” for your average kinkster, but if you like geeking out about sex and things related, you would love this event.