I'm skirting the subject of SEX! KINKY SEX! SEXY KINKY SEX! so turn back now if that sort of thing bothers you terribly.

Over the weekend I attended a Fetish event, an immersive three-day retreat, which draws people from all corners of the US. This is the biggest fetish event in the area and also the longest running.

I’m big on getting into places for free, and mooching free food, and turns out, if you volunteer at this shin-dig, you get those things, PLUS a T-shirt. So filling crates and loading pallets with merchandise for vendors sounded pretty safe, we’d both done it in past years. This year though, my honey’s back didn’t agree. A new ‘scrip and a day of bedrest later, he was back in action, thankfully.

People seem curious, but perhaps a little embarrassed about asking what goes on at a BDSM convention. I hesitate to compare it to a sci-fi/fantasy convention, only because I think perceptions thereof may be similarly skewed. Truth is, to start with, there is a lot of overlap between the Kinky scene, the Poly scene, the Ren Faire, and the Goth scene. There are plenty of other little scenes, I’m sure, seems like everyone identifies with a scene nowadays. In fact, at another convention I saw an advertisement for a support group for “monogamous and/or non-kinky couples.” The outcome is that people all dress and behave very differently. No one is allowed in under the age of 18, and there are many in this “college-age” group, but I’ve met people in their late 70’s, so it’s really all-(adult)-ages.

This is a walk-in event, people are admitted from the street, which means that indoors, activities are strictly street-legal. No nudity(all genitals and nipples covered and no g-strings), no exhibitionism(no sex or public play), no soliciting and no harassment. Public areas are restricted to socialization, vending, and special entertainment/exhibits such as the (PG-13) fashion show and art exhibit. All sex, play, and nudity is restricted to behind a closed hotel room door, or private parties later on. A token admission price is charged, mainly to weed out trolls and instigators who’ve heard of us and are looking for trouble. We usually have enough bored cops detailing that any trouble is headed off before it gets to the registration booth.

Some leeway is given to instructors of the seminars that take place, they are allowed to use a willing model to gently demonstrate their subject matter. Seminars range from a guest lecturer to group discussions to hands on instruction. I always attend bondage classes, whether I know the subject matter or not, because a new instructor inevitably has advice I haven’t heard before, and even instructors familiar to me never give away all their tips at one time, or how would they sell any books?

There are also designated themed play-spaces available- bondage lounge and whips lounge, for gentle play and experimentation. Seminars are commonly held detailing the differences between BDSM and abuse, which is quite more complicated than it may seem at its face.

Alcohol is allowed for those of legal age, and the hotel is only too willing to provide, although drinking is frowned on, if not outright forbidden during any encounter involving power exchange. There is a lot of shopping, and it’s easy to get carried away.

There’s always a dance, which is a great excuse to get all tarted up and stand around, and of the 4 times I’ve attended this event, I’ve never shelled out the extra $20 for a ticket. The “Masquerade” remains a mystery to me, and I like it that way.

The unifying characteristic that brings us together to fill three hotels is controversial, for good or for bad. We migrate, because although the hotels normally love the revenue and are pleasantly surprised by our politeness, town governments get very twitchy about becoming host to such an abomination, and especially about becoming known for it. This year, our gracious host hotel was divided precisely in half by a town line. Town A was pretty cool with adult entertainment, while Town B was all shakes of nervous and started citing zoning ordinances. So we had two flavors of police detail one on each side of the line - happy cops enjoying themselves and stern cops (presumably) enjoying themselves, but pretending not to. This also meant that not only the fashion show, but the art show needed to be rated something milder than NC-17. So all the nipples and coochies and danglies had to be hidden up with tape.

If you’ve read this far (you naughty little minx), you might be curious about the BDSM scene in general, or just love my exquisite writing. Either way, if you msg me, I can jabber more at you about the “scene” in my area, or how you can find more information on playing it safe, sane and consensual, or whatever else you might be concerned with.

I’ve purposefully left out most details about this convention because I really do wish that it remains a safe space for people, whether they like to copulate in latex suits hanging upside down from barn rafters, or engage in perfectly normal vanilla type sex. I fear that naming it could attract negative attention. I think it’s a good thing to be able to come to a place where everyone is as strange as yourself, but where most everyone has put aside their issues for a few days to just be decent to each other and enjoy the view.

Part 1 | here | next?

Shift House, Alicia II
Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology - Unknown Shiftek, North One, Shift House

The door opened into an antechamber where the appropriate paraphernalia were stowed in the shelves lining the walls floor to ceiling. Through the transparent membrane into the barbershop beyond, Alicia could see a somewhat familiar setting, made incongruous by the shimmer of the seawater filling it, and the wavy, grassy floor. Well, seawater was a misnomer, but it was close enough to H2O with a bit of salt in it to rate that name. Or so the explanatory note on the wall dropbox claimed. Alicia sighed with relief; she wouldn't have to bother with full bodywork this time. She pulled the note out from the dropbox and read the rest of it.

The fishmen of Rolei are humanoid in shape. The lower halves of their body consist of a powerful tail however, and their torsos and heads are sleek and rounded to enable less drag in the water. Their bodies also exude a thin film, similar to human oils but considerably thicker, that prevents heat loss and enables them to thrive in temperatures an unshielded human would find unendurable; however their world is mostly temperate and never reaches extremes that humans can endure with proper equipment. For the impact of this on Rolei culture, see Theophilus' Rolei Treatises; such discussion is beyond the scope of this Shift House pamphlet. Rolei taboo/tolerance variants include a rigid invisible class system, avoidance of physical contact especially within castes, complete lack of nudity taboo and full equality of the sexes. For the purpose of contact with Shift House, non-Rolei are class-less. As such, they can be talked to and touched freely.

The School is one of the few organizations within which a low class Rolei may aspire to improve their lot, even if it means completely submerging their desires and wishes for an unspecified length of time. It is completely hierarchical, and any promotion is up to the discretion of the higher ranks; upon promotion, the promotee's past as lower-rank is immediately "forgotten". Every higher rank is always surrounded by several courtiers, acting as messengers, pages or secretaries. A member of Shift House should never
(this part was underline three times in red) speak to a subordinate if their superior is present! The visual distinction between subordinate and superior is simple - the Rolei use whisker length as determinant of status. Some subordinates of the School trim their whiskers entirely to indicate their surrender of rights for the duration of their service, but up to an inch is acceptable. Naturally this is a very touchy issue, as dealing with such a personal service always requires a lesser caste - but the Lorei getting trimmed is, symbolically and by virtue of the Shearing, becoming an even lesser caste than that of the Lorei cutting! Thus it was with great relief that the School has hired the services of the Shift House to sidestep the question entirely.

The rest of the text dealt with a bit of a tangent as Theo tended to get overly enthusiastic about racial peccadilloes, but Alicia was getting the gist of her mostly ceremonial task now. She put the note down and pondered how to approach the problem in a manner best chosen to avoid a social snafu. She started by pulling off her shirt and shorts, smiling inwardly about the wise choice of wardrobe. Turning to the right she chose a small one-piece suit, a set of thin gloves and a cap, all in fleshtone colors. Tucking the last errant strand of hair under the cap she turned around, inspecting herself in the mirror attached to the door she came in through. She was looking at a shiny, mostly sexless humanoid mold, with matte limbs. Only her blue eyes stood out, staring seriously out from the mirror. Turning to the left where the various tools were placed she grabbed a human-aspected AA (aquatic/ambulatory) charm off the wall and slipped it over her neck, activating it by tracing the universal symbol for active with her finger - a simple circle. It awoke, squirmed briefly and tightened around her neck, flattening against her skin. In moments the thin band had lightened to match her skin and nearly vanished from sight.

She checked herself again in the mirror, took a deep breath and stepped through the membrane and into the water. A brief flash of heat around her neck signaled the charm activating as the water surrounded her. The brief touch of the cool water on her skin faded to a pleasant warmth, her vision focused, lightened and sharpened, her ears began to pick up the subtle hum of House North working all around her and the feel of the water impedance lessened. She forced herself to take another breath, and then the next; this was the part she could never get used to, despite having used the charm a few times before. She gave herself a minute to adjust to breathing normally and considered her surroundings. Apart from the addition of a small water vacuum to keep the cutting area clean the place looked remarkably normal, by Earth standards anyway. Admittedly the chairs were merely upright padded benches with straps to keep the buoyant Lorei in place during their trim, but the wall-to-wall mirrors, partitioned hairdresser stations and handy counters for assorted product and implements hinted that this room was used in a similar fashion previously.

She barely had time to register this fact when the door chimed gently. She smoothed her features, made sure any errant hair was tucked away and turned towards the opening portal.

The mad wind blows on.

Still no sign of winter in the normal sense. Next to no frost, let alone snow - just months of endless gales.

Clouds scud by like they have a date they just mustn't miss; rubbish careens through the streets, dancing free while the city's giant wheelie bins roar their anguish to the skies.

At night the wind resonates in a thousand screaming nooks on every street, bangs and rattles a hundred windows. This town is being played like a vast, ill-tuned instrument.

Again I'm up at four a.m., and I can't even tell if I'm an insomniac or just a light sleeper.

I came across the below snippet while skimming a Yahoo! forum with the topic "Do smoking Bans Work? Will You quit on July 1st?":

I don't have the habit but would like to kick those who now smoke in every entrance to every no smoking facility!! We now have to breath in smoke when entering and leaving buildings. It stinks!!

Why are smokers devoid of consideration for others? It is a strange phenomenon but smokers really don't seem to care about what they are doing to themselves or others.

(All spelling and punctuation is the original author's)

Now, you might think that this response to the forum is somewhat off-topic, as it fails to address either of the questions posed directly. I, however, would hasten to the respondent's defense, and claim that their opinion most concisely and elegantly provides a pre-emptive answer to the hypothetical question of whether next summer's English smoking ban will have, in the long term, worked, or not:

Smoking bans don't work: smokers are still smokers, and anti-smokers are still wankers.


I must have made my point badly here, because a fair few friends glided past it without grabbing hold of the crux of the matter. It's not that I want smoking bans the world over to be repealed, or not enacted. I have no strong position on the smoking ban as such (except in cases such as New York, where there was very little consultation and the ban, which is one of the most severe in the world, was enacted all at once in the face of sensible public opposition - and even then, my position is not that smoking should be allowed, but that the process should have been undertaken differently).

No, what I'm objecting to is the fact that no matter how much smoking is hedged about with restrictions, no matter how badly the freedoms of smokers are curtailed, there will always be those who feel a moral need to be disgusted and outraged that they were not curtailed further. It's a prohibition-by-the-back-door kind of creep: from smoking everywhere, to smoking everywhere except smoke-free zones, to smoking nowhere except designated smoking areas, to smoking nowhere indoors, to smoking nowhere outdoors that is public, to no smoking in your car, to no smoking in your apartment if other apartments have their windows open, to not smoking in your garden if the neighbours complain, to not smoking in your living room if you have pets. If you're going to prohibit smoking absolutey everywhere one could conceivably light up, then why not just criminalise it outright?

The fact is, as long as smoking is not an illegal activity, then people are within their rights to smoke. But the fact also is that there will always be some idiot on his soapbox prating on about how smokers "smell" and "have no basic human decency" and are "inconsiderate". In the current climate, I don't see what other consideration smokers can offer their non-smoking persecutors, other than maybe public humiliation along the lines of a scarlet letter "S". Except of course to just do as we're told and stop smoking, saving all those nice politicians from having to enact actual laws to regulate our behaviour.

Ok, I'm about to name-drop in a big way. Today has been an e2 odyssey.

Step 1: Riding my bicycle up to the Sackler Library from Folly Bridge, I put episode 10 of The Everything2 Podcast on the old ipod in an attempt to block out the ominous sound of double-decker London-bound buses roaring past me. Episode 10 is the best I have heard thus far (they seem to get better with every episode!). So get out there and listen, e2! One of the nodes read out on it is the first of sam512's wonderful Ed stories, which can be found in visual form at March 9, 2003.

Step 2: I left the Sackler and came over to the MCR after many hours of studying/falling asleep atop books. Our college's MCR has a computer lab in the basement of what used to be an octagonal 14th century chapel. When I look out the window in front of me, I can see the Bodleian Library, and, to my left the Radcliffe Camera. They're doing some sort of construction work on the Bod and there are huge pieces of scaffolding obscuring most of my view of its yellow walls.

So here I logged onto e2 and started to read the Ed Stories. First was first, March 9, 2003; fantastic and funny (though I seem to recall more exposition at the beginning from the podcast), but on the way down the daylog I found myself pausing to read BrianShader's w/u there, about constructing his first CV. Posting it the way he did was such an open, vulnerable position -- not that it was a bad CV, in fact I bet that it has done him quite well in the intervening four years, but still to post it out there made him seem naked before us. I wondered where he was now, what he'd needed the CV for and if he'd gotten it; and I wondered about my own, certainly not the first iteration but in its fifth or sixth, and I'm only 23 and struggling to make it look different, more professional, more like I belong here.

Reader, I cooled him.

Step 3:And finally I clicked on the next of the Ed stories and the magic of e2 took me to the node for March 21, 2003. I scrolled down the page, scanning the other nodes, looking for the second story, and nearly skipped right over the 18thcandidate's record of the news for the day -- when I realised what exactly had been happening in late March of 2003.

Our splendid little war for the 21st century. The President kicking it up a notch on those terrorists' asses.

I remember that March quite well. I was a sophomore attending American University in Washington, D.C.. I came back from being out with my roommate and somehow wound up in the room across the hall watching the glowing nightvision goggles bombing of Baghdad. Huge fucking buildings lighting up, burning out the range of the cameras' vision, the phrase 'shock and awe' over and over again ringing in our ears. And though I was appalled, I was also very detached. And even though I marched in quite a few of the anti-war protests, I was still very detached. And when he got re-elected, I remember being in London, walking through St James Park with my forlorn 'Kerry/Edwards' pin stuck on my bag and a man coming up to me and saying he was very sorry, but I didn't know if I was.

Anyway. March 21, 2003: the news.

Polls Indicate Growing Bush Support

About two-thirds of Americans approve of President Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq and think he did enough diplomatically before invading, according to a new poll released yesterday. An ABC-Washington Post poll found the president's job approval rating at 67 percent, up from pre-war polls that showed his approval level ranging from the mid 50s to about 60 percent. The public rallying around the president is typical in wartime. But the public is viewing the administration's actions in Iraq less enthusiastically than the actions in the Persian Gulf war by President George H.W. Bush a dozen years ago, in which the senior Bush's approval rating reached as high as 90%.

and, lest we forget:

Senate Unanimously Supports Bush

The Senate voted 99 to 0 yesterday for a resolution that "commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the President, as Commander in Chief, in the conflict against Iraq" and praised the troops "who are participating in the military operations in the Persian Gulf region, for their professional excellence, dedicated patriotism and exemplary bravery." The House of Representatives also passed a similar act with an even stronger pro-Bush wording 392-11, in which it was stated that Iraq was in "material breach" of United Nations resolutions. The debate in the House, however, was quite intense, with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi arguing strongly for a toned-down endorsement of the military action.

Seems a long time ago, doesn't it? But I think it would do all of us a lot of good to remember that it wasn't. All of the finger-pointing currently going on seems to have forgotten those heady days of March 2003. Let's all just remember what America's mood was then.

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