So, there was this space, full of happy, noisy, brash, confident women – playing, talking about kink, discussing stuff and teaching each other, and there totally weren’t even any annoying men there. I’ve just come back from the S/M Dykes conference in Manchester, and I had the most wonderful time.
Somehow, it completely passed me by for several years that the UK might have a kink conference – and at that, a queer-and-female-focused one. I’m so glad to have finally gone along.
The full conference can run for four days, with four nights of partying, two days of workshops, an auction, a cabaret and a brunch. Having no lovers coming along with me, and not knowing anyone there, I decided to just attend the workshops – I’m glad I took that approach, and I may well check out the parties and socialising next year.
On arriving, I was given a programme and was delighted to be offered a choice of a service-based gift – a manicure set, or a shoe-shine kit. Thoughtfully, the polish in the shoe-shine kit was neutral – great for those of us with boots in many colours. There were three streams of workshops, and I started off with a crowded and noisy speed-friending session.
First, we were asked to team up with two strangers and plan a hypothetical house of pleasures – I sat down with two women, who immediately asked, ‘so, what are you into?’ Even at BiCon, I’m not used to conversations being quite as open as that! Then, the entire room recombined to take turns deciding to answer a kink-related question or act out a mini-scene. I watched, amazed, as loads of the women there cheerfully played with clothespins, candle wax, canes and kicks – several played more than once, and I realised there were a lot of switches in the house. Having hidden shyly for most of the session, I was eventually called up and decided to answer a question – my musings on giving pain received quite a few smiles and nods, and I was applauded as I hurried back to my seat. It was surprising, and challenging, to be in a space where I was brand new, and felt shyer than most people there, but the group was affable and friendly, and I quickly felt welcomed.
After lunch, I went to a workshop on life in D/s relationships – I was pleased to see that there were quite a few workshops on D/s scheduled over the weekend, as it’s not something I’ve had a chance to discuss much at events like BiCon or in most kink 101 sessions. We talked about challenges, and what struck me the most was that both submissives and dominants talked about feeling pressure to be psychic, to be some idea of ‘perfect’, to never need an off day and to always be up for all sorts of play. It was reassuring to hear that other people, many more experienced, also struggled with self-doubt and the desire to live up to an unrealistic expectation sometimes. We reassured each other, shared stories and discussed practicalities, and it was brilliant.
Saturday’s last session was on cultivating dominant and submissive body language – most of the conference seemed to have packed into the workshop room, and I was beside myself with excitement to realise halfway through that the facilitator was Andrea Zanin, or Sex Geek: the writer of a blog I’ve been following for a while, and one of my huge activist crushes. She was a brilliant facilitator, too – great as a public speaker, positive and affirming when others shared their anecdotes, and gave entertaining and educational demonstrations. I left beaming, and with a few new ideas about protocols.
Other workshops available over the weekend included discussions on edgeplay, playing with anger, first aid, face bondage, and mental health. This was big, involved stuff: this wasn’t kink 101, or a bit of rope and spanking (what I think of as being normative kink), or endless sessions on impact toys. At another recent conference, I’d sat silently through the facilitators of a kink workshop slating 24/7 dynamics – it was great to be able to actually talk openly about the complicated, difficult stuff with experienced, knowledgeable and positive people.
I arrived on Sunday morning to a much smaller crowd than I’d seen the previous day (most had been to last night’s party), and went again to speed-friending: a far more intimate affair this time. In one game, I teamed up with two women to plan a scene: we shared our interests, orientations and kinks, and were able to build up quite an elaborate story that I itched to be able to run off and try! In another, we were asked to write down our top three fetishes on paper, and were then teamed up with a stranger. The facilitator asked us to cross off the first item, and then the second… and we were to talk about the third item, uninterrupted and receiving no feedback, for five minutes. Naturally, I’d written down the thing I was the most shy and embarrassed about third, and this exercise was excruciating – very challenging, and also, once again, really safe and affirming by the end. My partner in this session had no problem at all talking openly about her fetish, and nor it seemed did the other people around the room – that openness, that owning of one’s own tastes and talking about them with an easy smile, was contagious.
At lunchtime, I had my boots polished. It was fab, and I got to chat with three boot-polishin’ subs while they worked, listening to them explain what they liked about service. I found this throughout the weekend – people were very open and happy to chat about their likes and opinions, they were affable and friendly and extremely matter-of-fact.
The next workshop was more new and challenging stuff for me, this time on punishment. I explained that I was here to challenge my preconceptions and that I, as a fluffy, loving dominant, couldn’t quite understand why someone would want to punish their submissive. Over an hour of listening to the experiences of both dominants and submissives, and again sharing stories, experiences and insecurities, changed my mind: I left feeling more open and understanding, and as though I’d learned a great deal.
Lastly, the majority of the conference again packed into a room to see Andrea talk about impact play. She started out by emphasising that all play should be much more about interaction and psychology than about shiny toys or flashy skills, and, having sat through too many situations emphasising flashiness over empathy, I was so pleased to hear her say that. As well as talking about techniques, she covered some practicalities of playing while physically impaired, and asked around: what do people like about giving or receiving impact? Why do you like the toys and tools you like? The demonstrations – four of them, on pre-negotiated volunteers – left the room in turns absolutely silent or full of giggles, and I again left turned on and full of new ideas.
The S/M Dykes conference is wonderful – I very much recommend checking it out, and I’ll definitely be going back next year.