"A serious and civil conversation about community self-policing."

Originally posted May 17, 2017:


I want to have a serious and civil, without reference to particular individuals by name, conversation about community self-policing. I know there is a broader conversation going on about the relative privileges of different groups of people within our communities and how we engage in oppressive horizontal violence against one another, but that isn't exactly what I want to talk about, although the behaviors that I am concerned with stem directly from some of the attitudes that enable horizontal violence to occur, perpetuate and go rewarded/unpunished.


As an initial point, I have to admit that I don't really consider all of us a single "community." I think "unity" within a single "community" is an impossible and perhaps affirmatively damaging goal. What I do see us as is a federation of loosely affiliating geographic or affinity communities, some of which exist permanently in some form or another and some of which exist only temporarily (i.e. I think when we do it right and come together for a particular event weekend, we're creating a temporary community within that space and time).


As a second, and probably much more controversial point, I will firmly say that I think that we have individuals who profess to be part of our "community," whatever that means in any particular time or place, but who are here to engage in predatory or non-consensual behaviors or activities. They do not "get it," in the sense of understanding that everything that we do is based on a radical understanding of personal bodily autonomy and freedom. They are here because they think it's hot, but haven't put in the emotional and mental work to untangle their views about what we do from the dominant social narratives about sex, violence, race, patriarchy and consent. Closely related, I do not think "inclusivity" means that each individual needs to be welcomed and allowed in -- it means that no one should ever feel excluded on the basis of their inherent characteristics. It's not discriminatory to forbid someone from an event for engaging in objectionable behaviors.


Additionally, we have no Council of Elders and no governing bodies and many of us (myself included) take pride in being a fairly self-organizing and anarchist subculture. We do not typically have recourse to the kinds of entities that ensure social regulation in the broader society (police, courts, etc.), by choice or by necessity. So it falls to us as individuals to decide how we want to handle the people I'm talking about in my second point above.


So? What do we do? We have serial consent violators who move from one city to another when they burn too many bridges in an attempt to find a "fresh start." We have folks with back-patches engaging in racialized horizontal verbal violence. We have folks professing to be community leaders and holding themselves out as experienced educators who are literally physically damaging their demo bottoms or new folks that they play with. We have folks who repeatedly steal money and again, move on to a new community when they get caught in the first one. You all know we have these folks and I feel like most of you think we need to do something about them.


But we have a very laissez-faire attitude or actively hostile attitude towards things like 'gossip' -- I have been guilty of this in the past, where I have walked away from conversations because I didn't want to hear what I considered to be gossip -- where there is a fine line between spreading someone's business around for lascivious purposes versus spreading the factual news around about consent violators so that other affected individuals feel able to come forward about their own experiences. We often ask for "references" but I have rarely heard of references actually being checked, and question their usefulness, since everyone is inclined to self-report references who will be positive about them. Many of us tend to be passive in confronting individuals in the name of smoothing over disputes and ensuring that enough people come to our particular events rather than aggressive in confronting unacceptable behaviors. I have seen consent violations against men being treated with much less regard or seriousness than consent violations against women, which enrages me on many different levels.


And this has resulted in a world in which we have a woman-identified international titleholder of color who was threatened with a non-consensual flogging to "put her in her place," because we have people who have literally no understanding of how this subculture demands a respect and acceptance of our radical bodily autonomy and think that racialized violence is an appropriate response to your power being challenged. 


Weeds sprout up from deeply hidden roots, in all sorts of unexpected ways and places. We are doing an extremely poor job of letting the flowers flourish. We can do better. I would like concrete and particular brain-storming about how we can do better.

Lynn Starnes