In conversation: an activist and pervert talk politics

Play!Fight! project facilitator and activist Nor is in conversation here with London Faerie, organiser of the After Pandora club, which hosts 'private pervy arty parties' in London. They discuss the cultural gaps between kinksters and anarchists, and how bridges might be built between these two communities.


Nor: So Faerie, I was interested in the question you contributed to the Play!Fight! conversation starters: “What is the world you dream of and do you think your activism is taking us there?" I think it's a good one, quite a difficult one. It's interesting that the question sets up a distance between the here and now, and some future world that we are attempting to move towards. As an anarchist, I think my approach to social change is informed partly by a rejection of that model. I think it's a mistake to imagine that after some historical watershed everything will be great, like “after the revolution...”.


London Faerie: That's really interesting, yes I agree wholeheartedly. I think that's there in my thinking, if not exactly in my question. I suppose for me, dreaming, imagination, visioning are the words I prefer to use. Trying to imagine things better, and feeling into that, into what makes me feel excited about it and how I can start living it now, in the moment, is my idea of making change. And so what you said makes a lot of sense to me.


N: I think one big reason why that revolution-based way of thinking is problematic is that historically it has tended to neglect things like gender and sexuality – subsuming everything to the class struggle, for example, and relegating the personal to the sidelines.


LF: Absolutely. And alongside that there's the "by any means necessary" aspect, which I find hugely problematic, because building a new world means living it, every day. I think that one of the things that happens is that the depiction of "anarchists", which as we know is incredibly biased, tends to focus on the simple act of violence. And this creates a perception, at least in the minds of people like me, that anarchists advocate the "by any means necessary" approach. Whereas in talking to you and others I understand that this isn't the case, and the "how" is as important as the "what".


To tie that in with BDSM: I think that the public perception of both, fuelled by fear and ignorance, and the press' manipulations, totally fails to get that. For me BDSM is just the same – it's all about the intent. Because the same scene, in different hands, can be loving or abusive, beautiful or awful. The perception of BDSM outside of the community is that a little bit is OK (that it's just a bit of "harmless kinky fun"), but if you, for example, enjoy beating someone until they cry and they are bruised for a week, then there's probably something wrong with you. I think in a way the perception of radicals is similar: a bit of protesting – good; trying to deeply change things – bad.


N: Yes, and I think the hypocrisy is similar in both cases. We are supposed to be sexually experimental and try things that will help us connect deeply, but it shouldn't be really intense or scary or ugly. And similarly, activists are expected to carry out the moral good within the hopeless confines of legal, media-friendly action. There is a similar invisible bind, a kind of discouragement from going "too deep", in whatever field. Though there are big differences in the ways activists and kinksters express these things. And there's a temptation to say, “we all mean the same things, we just use different words". But I think that conclusion is a bit reactionary, and risks papering over real differences in our approaches to change.


LF: When I think about these differences, what keeps coming to mind is a question about making the new vs challenging the old. To use BDSM as an example: do we stand and fight for our rights, or do we say "fuck it, there's no point trying to change minds so closed" and just build our own corner of the world where we are free to do our thing?


N: I think it's a tricky balance. I mean, some of the activism that's most inspired me (for example, the early Climate Camps) has strived for a balance between creating what we want, and challenging the things that prevent it existing on a wider scale. I think one without the other is inadequate and unsustainable.


LF: It's interesting for me to think about [kinky queer community] Black Leather Wings, which is the most radical community I belong to. It's a struggle for me, how much we attempt to change the core structures that are destroying the world and alienating us from each other. At BLW we spend amazing time connecting, being in catharsis, healing ourselves, opening up to each other, so that by the end of the week you know exactly what the world "could" be like. But I think it's a fantasy, and it's certainly unsustainable. Increasingly I'm feeling the urge, not to fight exactly, but to “do something” - but I'm always wondering if it'll be enough.


N: At Climate Camp last year I heard someone saying, “the problem is that there are no edges”. Meaning, no edges to the problems at hand – and I would add, no edges to our desires. So it is never “enough”.


LF: You said something a while ago about multiple approaches being needed, and I agree with that. I want to think that creating space for radical sexuality is my contribution to something bigger. But there is still so much mistrust and enmity between these communities [activists and kinksters] and I wonder how that can be healed. So that someone who wants to shut down a power station can be supported by someone who wants to open up a space for radical healing sexualities. Because for me it's also so important to do what sings to you. Not in a shit, selfish way, but because then you'll do it beautifully, with love, with honour, with passion, with care for the world and the people around you.


N: To “pick your battles” is, I think, a valuable approach to take. Not just in terms of which ones are winnable, but which ones will nourish you. Though for me, there's a really difficult question about focussing on things like sexual liberation (unless we're talking about things like abortion rights and so on, which impact disproportionately on poor and marginalised people): is it just benefitting people who are already very privileged, and is that justifiable?


LF: That's certainly a very difficult question, yes. What I'm interested in - and it's about sexuality, but so much more – is that I think you need to convince those privileged people on a really deep level that they are responsible for themselves but also for others. And one of the ways in which you do that is by opening them up to more love; less greed, less fear, so they give up their power, little by little.


N: This is why the “how” as well as “what” approach is so important – modelling new forms of social relationships based on more love, as you put it. Or solidarity (a more activisty way of phrasing things).


LF: When you say "solidarity" I immediately react; that kind of politicised language is problematic for me. I do have a kind of liberal reactiveness to what I perceive to be "militant" ways of expressing oneself. I wonder if we can unpick that...


N: One thing I've learnt while facilitating this project is just how different people's cultural languages are.


LF: I think what this conversation is pointing us to is this mistrust between the two communities. So I'm wondering, how can we build those bridges?


N: You're right, that mistrust is definitely there. Because as an activist, I do look at the fetish scene and think, that's great for people who are wealthy enough to participate - but is it, as you said earlier, just creating your own little corner and turning your back on things? It makes it hard to see where the bridges could be.


LF: Yes I can really see that. There is, I'm lead to believe, an anarcho-pervy scene. But it's interesting that I, for example, wouldn't have felt comfortable there before I met you. I would've assumed that people would judge me for the way I look, and just assume I worked in an office. Also, how do you access those spaces? The fetish scene is quite easy to "find".


N: Both communities are insular in their own ways. I am, for example, extremely put off by the public face of the fetish scene. It is very shiny, very young, focussed on appearances and expensive costumes. Very straight, even sexist...


LF: Fuck yeah - lots of hot girls with fake boobs in latex. It's difficult, because for example when marketing After Pandora, we try to find a middle ground. I know that if I said "After Pandora is a non-sexist, feminist, queer space that is safe and unthreatening" I would have fewer people coming to parties, even though that may be what the space really is. I know that for me, that language is EXTREMELY offputting. It says to me that I'll be surrounded by worthy dull people who talk about politics the whole night, whereas I want to make magic, which is something that requires flow, energy, excitement, connection... and sex! Let's not forget about sex!


N: Yes, whereas for me sex and magic are impossible to get to, if you have to wade through sexism and shiny advertising to get there. I think there is a “front end” design problem, if you'll excuse the phrase, in both activist and kinky communities.


LF: I think your phrase is spot on. So far we haven't found a middle ground. For me it's important to look at what might say both. So, for example, could you market the same event differently for different groups? It sounds quite cheeky in a way, but when people actually meet, and meet around their shared interests and excitement, cool stuff can happen and those walls and barriers can melt a bit.


N: I guess what is interesting to me is how much we should pay attention to language; how much we should attempt to “cater” to different groups. Because anarchist culture has a real aversion to the concept of advertising – meaning, to bullshit designed to appeal to people. There is an emphasis on being very honest and up-front, which is perhaps why you find its language offputting. The language you use will determine the type of people you attract, which isn't necessarily bad...


LF: But aren't we talking about the fact tha these two communities, that potentially have links and bonds to make, mistrust each other? Because for me, language is a big chunk of the problem here. But I really do believe, when we all get together, things are easier. The distance melts, at least to a degree, when we can share space together (if the space is right of course).


N: Sharing space, but respecting difference. Because anarchism is also about accepting that different communities will come up with their own unique styles of resistance. Paul Kingsnorth calls this "One No, Many Yeses". In other words, we all propose different solutions to the same problem, and that's ok.


LF: Yes, that's great. And I'm wondering from there whether you're concluding, at least to an extent, that these two communities have to carry on doing their own thing and not coming together?


N: But to be in dialogue, at least, because I think solidarity is still possible between very different groups. For example, I think most anarchists would be shocked at the way a lot of S/M activity is criminalized, and would be prepared to help fight those repressive laws, but they don't even know about them!


LF: It's also nice, to pick up on the word solidarity, to know that communities support each other by being aware and maybe offering shared resources, or whatever is needed, because they know they are basically facing the same opponent - even if they are facing different "bits" of it. I think if we coulod really get there, to be fighting different bits together, that would be such an achievement.


N: I'd like to see kinky people and anarchists (except those who identify as both, of course) able to talk to each other without feeling that they have to end the conversation agreeing on everything.


LF: I think what you are saying is that we should be able to meet and talk in our own language, acknowledge and recognise differences, and also be OK with those differences staying and sitting between us, and not attempt to reach harmony or accord (which almost always equates with blandness and mediocrity). I think that we need to "unlearn" a deep human tendency to seek agreement. There's nothing wrong with that tendency, but I think it can be quite limiting. It can result in a resolution that's false.


N: ...or secured coercively.


LF: Whereas when people say “yes” from their hearts, they don't need any coercion or persuasion.



Conversation took place on 22 April 2010.

Nice one

I really like the way this convo is going. More please!