Posted at 21:07 on 15 Aug 2011 by Pandora / Blake
The main reason I was in Germany was to speak at BDSMtag, the first ever public conference hosted by the BVSM, a national German lobby group on behalf of fetishists and sadomasochists. Dirk Sands, the ringmaster of SM Circus, was also instrumental in bringing the conference about, and he invited me to speak. The pet play shoot was almost an afterthought, since I was visiting anyway.
On the train to Cologne I was working on my talk on my netbook, despite the fact that I was pretty sure the chap sitting next to me spoke English. He glanced over occasionally, but didn't seem to be paying too much attention. As we approached our destination, however, he kept trying to engage me in conversation. Eventually he came straight out and asked what a native English speaker was doing travelling from Paris to Cologne. I told him I was here for work, and he asked what sort of work I did. I laughed.
"Do you want the honest answer?"
He said yes (of course - people always do, but I feel it's polite to give them some warning) and I replied that I was a BDSM performer and activist, and I was here to speak at a conference.
"BDSM?" he asked, not understanding. I knew that "kink" wasn't a European word and "fetisch" didn't occur to me, so after racking my brains, and convinced that the whole carriage was listening in, I borrowed MayMay's phrasing, and told him I was a sexual freedom campaigner. It felt a bit overstated, but he got it - and didn't seem embarrassed at all. He did seem surprised that I got paid for this, and I had to explain that the conference bit was unpaid, but that I was also doing a paid performance. Luckily we pulled into the station just then, saving me from having to go into further detail.
The BVSM have been active for some years and have over 350 members, but this was their first conference which was open to the wider public. The transition was not a straightforward one. Many members had reservations about public visibility, and were concerned about being outed. Dirk Sands and others, however, felt that outreach was essential. Alongside their political campaigning, the BVSM aims to be the organisation which journalists consult on stories related to kink and fetish, and for this they need to be widely known. There is also a strong interest in educating the public and dispelling myths about BDSM - all of which requires publicity and accessibility.
The conference covered topics ranging from ICD-10, the classification of diseases which lists sadism and masochism as mental disorders, to SM and Christianity, and the relationship between the BDSM community and the wider public. I was asked to speak on the political situation regarding BDSM in the UK, and Director Sands suggested that perhaps the format could be question and answer, with Ludwig conducting the interview. It was a nice laid-back way to do it, and relieved the pressure on me considerably - the opportunity for dialogue made the whole thing more relaxed, and being prompted by questions saved me from having to use notecards.
It was a little odd giving the only English presentation of the day, and I'm not sure how well people were able to follow. But we decided against attempting simultaneous translation - instead a subtitled video will be released online in due course. I'll make the English text of my talk available online when it's up, along with a link to the video.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a new conference, the audience was not huge. I think there were 60 attendees in total, including the BVSM members - a fraction of their total membership - but also including some non-members, and a couple of journalists.
I found the language barrier a bit tricky, particularly after Ludwig and Kaelah left (the other SM Circus folk have more English than I have German, but not enough for easy conversation). While I'm sure there were other people I could have talked to, I struggled with uncharacteristic shyness - feeling as if it was horribly arrogant to expect people to speak my language - and so only brought myself to ask a couple of times. On Sunday morning things got easier as a couple of lovely people with good English approached me and struck up conversations, and I ended up having brilliant long chats with a political, bisexual, polyamorous lady switch, with whom I discovered fair amounts in common.
I also had less trouble with my fellow pet girl Jane: we both spoke cat better than the other's language, and spent most of the weekend communicating in miaows.
I didn't mind not being able to be wildly sociable - it gave me an excuse to revel in the privacy of my hotel room, having long showers and lazing around with a book, which was a rare treat. The only time I found myself really craving company was on Saturday night, after buying a couple of new implements from one of the stalls. I picked up a soft leather flogger with broad thongs and a clear perspex handle, just because I don't own my own flogger yet and it was pretty, and an interestingly shaped, thick leather strap shaped like a spearhead, because I suspected it might feel rather nice. I wouldn't have minded finding someone to help me try them out on Saturday, but the general ambience wasn't geared towards play and, sadly, Anglophone tops weren't listed on room service. I've brought them home instead, and between Tom, D and shooting I'm sure they'll see some use sooner or later.
Thanks for reading - now be careful; don't click here.