Bite your tongue: How we need to level up our scene ethics right now

It’s supposed to be the season of goodwill and love for all. But there is a snake in the grass in our embryonic utopia. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it. Let’s make 2024 the year we do better with our scene ethics.

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How can we be better people with better scene ethics?

We largely try to be good people. People who look out for others. Seek to protect our friends. Seek to share information that will save them from pain. Make the scene safer. Level us all up with our expectations and experiences. But we need to be careful. In a world where we say ‘believe every victim’ what are we actually doing? Do our scene ethics need a rethink?

We are removing the need for accountability for the things we actually say. Because we mean well, and want to assume the best of everyone, we skip the details and share ‘information’ we don’t know to be true. And this actually hurts us all.

Where there is smoke there is fire?

Anyone who has been on the sharp end of a wild rumour knows this isn’t really true. Good stories, exciting stories, run like wildfire. At High School this might be who makes out behind the bike sheds. In this world? Where all consensual things are embraced and encouraged? What is a wild rumour? An unsafe event. A problematic person. A consent violator. A predator.

Of course, we hear a thing and want to protect others. Our friends. Unwitting strangers. Newbies. We hope to shelter them from pain we have experienced. Because we heard a bad thing. We all want to protect others (and proxies for our more innocent former selves) from the trauma that we feel damaged us as people. And that is noble. Yet we need to be much more careful about this. Because not everything you hear is true. Not every story is quite how it sounds by the time it reaches you. And not every person you hear a story about is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, tricking the whole world with an act, waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting fresh victim. We need to be accountable for the harm we do by spreading gossip we can’t verify as true. We need to revamp our scene ethics.

I’m going to tell you a true (and very recent) story about me. At an event.

Here is the headline:

‘I went to Lionel’s private party and Damien jumped on me’

Sounds very unsafe, right? This would probably be the distilled version you would hear by the time it worked its way around the grapevine.

But here is what actually happened:

(For a start, Lionel and Damien are made up names) I went to Lionel’s private house party as a group of selected close friends of his. It was a great party. Friendly, inclusive, really fun, full of frolics and nonsense. It was well planned, really safe, everyone was well known to the host and the organisation was impeccable. We had a kinky treasure hunt. There were house rules in place. The host made sure everyone was having a great time and it was full of gorgeous, really lovely kinky people who made everyone feel really at home.

Around 6am my advanced age and 24 hours awake kicked in and I really needed to catch some Z’s. Because the bedroom was in use I decided it would be a great idea to go behind the sofa, out of the way, and go to sleep (pounding music doesn’t bother me). So there I was for a while, lying on my back, sound asleep.

I am suddenly awakened by pain and pressure to my belly. Damien, a lovely well-built guy with a ton of 6am energy (and clearly more party stamina than me) had decided to vault the sofa and landed feet first onto my sleeping abdomen. Talk about a bad way to wake up. He was mortified, I was worried I had internal injuries, everyone was super nice and caring but I was hurt. I recovered next day. I’m not traumatised. Nor do I blame Damien. Or the organiser.

Who’s fault was this? It was clearly an accident. The organiser had a sofa in place, which we both used in a way not intended. Neither of us had thought through the mindset of others and this possibility. I was tired. He was exuberant. We both ignored a small bit of common sense and expected usage of the equipment provided and the result was a collision. It could easily have been worse for either of us. Does this mean Damien is an unsafe person? That Lionel is an unsafe organiser? Absolutely not. I just made a thoughtless decision based on my needs at the time and didn’t think through all the ways it could go wrong.

three people with chains in a night club for the rumour post bite your tongue scene ethics

How many judgements have you made based on what someone told you? What are your scene ethics?

We all want to make sure we have a good time and feel safe, celebrated and have fun. As they saying goes, you can’t please all the people all the time. On the one hand, an event with really forward people can seem creepy and harassing. On the other hand, an event with very reserved people can leave you feeling alienated, ostracised or left out. Your comfort zone is just that: yours.

I have known people to project their interpretation onto events – i.e. ‘ I (M) felt the men were really harassing the women, so I just hung back alone at the wall and said nothing. I don’t like the event’ – I was at this event. I (F) didn’t feel remotely harassed. But people hanging back against the wall would creep people out. So, perspective, right?

I have known people to say they felt ‘unsafe’ because they were mis-gendered conversationally by guests. Because they were invited to play by people they weren’t attracted to. Because they had a negative verbal interaction with one person at an event with thousands of people. When I hear ‘unsafe’ I’m thinking a really serious and violent encounter that puts you in mortal danger. So let’s be really clear what we mean before we decide to dish the dirt. Because details matter. Are your scene ethics in need of a review so you aren’t doing harm with the vague intention of doing good?

At what point do we need to take personal accountability?

How much stock should we put in the rumour mill? Do scene ethics mean you need to be accountable for the words you share?

Anyone, everyone, who has been active on the scene for a while will have people who don’t like them, people who feel their interaction was negative or hurtful. If you think this isn’t you as well, you either haven’t been around long or you are blind to it. Doesn’t matter your gender. Fact is, not everyone is going to like you, however hard you try. Rather than relating an accurate account as to why, you’ll be the victim of hyperbole, summary and ‘I heard this multiple places’. Strap in, it doesn’t stop.

asian woman in black leather with long dark hair in the middle of a crowd fighting and pushing around her. rumours scene ethics

I have had interactions with people. Online. In person. Sometimes I block them. Sometimes I think ‘Oh god, not this person here again’. Yet when I have actually spent some more time with them, known a little more, I have more perspective. Sometimes, hurt people hurt people. They feel hurt and it needs to be someone else’s fault. But that’s just one side of the story.

Sometimes a business competitor trash talks someone and it gets out of hand. The person from the dating app I blocked (for reasons I cant remember) and heard was a complete misogynist from a friend, to the point I was hesitant to attend a private party they were at? Absolutely lovely. Charming. Friendly. Never even made a move on me. A delightful person. Seen them many times at things. Absolutely no issue in reality. That woman I thought was very aggressive and hard work? Turns out she has AuDHD and really struggles to be her authentic self in an accepted way in social situations. I can sympathise with that.

You just don’t really know until you know a bit more.

Surely every bad statement means a bad person? Do your scene ethics need a brush up?

We all think we are good people. Rather than highlight any of the very good people I know who have been at the sharp end of rumours, gossip, or straight out slander, let’s look at me.

I started the blog to be helpful to people. It’s free. I was giving back. I wanted to save people from pains, struggles, senses of isolation or trying desperately to figure things out in this world of ours. I wanted to rescue my younger self from unhealed trauma, with everyone as my proxy for this. I wanted to celebrate the people who make the scene great. I wanted to help the small underground parties be known to the right people. I wanted to help people sooth the injuries they receive along the way. I wanted to help people know how to do things in a way that makes everyone feel celebrated, empowered and collectively up our game. I don’t make any money from doing this.

Not everyone likes me. Not everyone likes anyone. To my mind, I’m your standard late Gen X nerdy bisexual girl who is probably an undiagnosed neuro-divergent and learned a lot of masking and step by step ways to deal with people (which I have tried to share). Yet I have stuck my neck out for the chop by saying anything and being seen. Here are the things, if we believe all rumours and statements I have seen, had posted about me publicly, to me, said to my face or shown to me by friends, that we must SIMULTANEOUSLY believe about me. Me. A female writer just trying to live her best life on the swing and kink scene. Some of these are jokes that landed wrong. Or someone who took things a way I did not anticipate. Some are just really weird. Buckle up:

Things people say about me

-I am a predator. I’m a groomer. I am a psycho. I’m a sociopath. I’m an emotionless robot who needs to intellectualise everything. I’m the embodiment of a scorned women. I’m bitter. I need therapy.

-I’m a lesbian. I’m biphobic. I’ve upset men by sleeping with more women than they have. I’ve never slept with any women.

-I’m transphobic, I’m too pro-trans, I’m using too many woke terms. My language is too archaic and offensive (blame the SEO)

-I’m racist, I’m a (term removed by myself) lover

-I don’t acknowledge gender non-binary terms enough. I refer to gender non-binary people too much. I shouldn’t talk about a gender identity I’m not out as. I’m a ‘genital essentialist’. I’m encouraging a fad. I’m not progressive enough.

-I’m a rapist. I’m a rape apologist. I’m a misogynist. I have a victim mentality. I’m a man pretending to be a woman. I’m a catfish. I make people feel unsafe to share their truth. I’m too vocal in the defence of others.

-I’m destroying family values. I’m spreading disease and encouraging others to do the same. I’m a polygamist. I need Jesus. I’m too old fashioned. My posts are an affront to the teachings on Maoism.

I’m their mum. Their gran. Or their kid’s art teacher. I’m 55. I’m a BBW. I’m destroying people’s self esteem by not being BBW. I’m destroying men’s self esteem by giving advice on pick up.

-I’m a slut. I’m a tease. I’m a prude. I’m a know it all. I’m an idiot.

What do we do with this?

Sticks and stones, right? But my stuff is free. I’m trying to do a nice thing. It’s not perfect. I don’t have a team of spin doctors to examine each sentence for each way someone might take a thing. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. It’s non-commercial. Love me, hate me, the reality is if you ever exchange more than a few sentences with me it will be neither. I’m just a person in this world trying to do a thing and figure things out on the way the same as everyone else.

How much worse if I was a male event organiser? I have seen so many male event organisers taken down by, or barely survive the random rumour mill. I’ve been to great parties that felt very safe who shut down because someone labelled the organiser a predator. It seems like to declare someone a predator or consent violator is enough. There needs be no further detail. You can’t question what someone means, because otherwise you are ‘adding to their trauma’ and ‘making them feel unsafe’ and ‘further victimising them’.

As someone who has seen and been part of every end of this spectrum (the spectrum of receiving predation and non-consent, rather than committing it, but who knows the perspective of others?) I have to say, the details really matter. ‘Predator’ and ‘consent-violator’ is up there with paedophile and rapist in terms of harsh character definitions. So what do you really mean? Before we ultimately dismiss someone as a reprehensible individual to be shunned by all, should we not bring some detail to these kangaroo courts?

What can we do?

It takes some brass balls, because you will be shot down as unsympathetic, but when someone publicly or privately ‘shares a rumour’ you need to ask for the details. A summary judgement is not enough. WHY was the event unsafe. WHY is the person problematic? WHAT actually happened? Were they there? Where did their friend of a friend hear this? And when someone gives you feedback to contradict it, don’t just dismiss it. Are they really happy to stand up and prove this allegation in court when they get prosecuted for libel? YES people can be lovely with everyone else and a predator or abuser to just one person.

That does not mean every accusation is fully justified. We all get hurt sometimes. It is not always someone else’s fault. We need to be accountable for making ourselves safe and creating a safe space for others to be themselves, learn, grow and make mistakes along the way. We need to make sure we don’t become the villain of the story in trying to blindly support ‘all victims‘.

If you think you’ve never, ever made an error of judgement or upset someone, then just wait until the rumour mill decides otherwise….

Feel free to send me your love and hate in the comments below XXX

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