Earlier in June I attended an event in Atlanta where a roundtable discussion was held regarding women, leather communities, and how we (the women/feminine identified people) could bring about the futures we imagine for our local and distant communities.
Due to another engagement at the same time I missed the first 30 or so minutes of the talk however once I got there it quickly became obvious that tension and emotions were high due to recent incidents regarding community leaders and the groups/events they lead, but that isn't where our focus is for this article.
After sitting through the rest of the discussion the moderator put forth the question of "what are you taking from this room/discussion?" The answers ranged from single word answers like "hope" to statements like "we've got a lot of work to do." The most profound was (paraphrased) "now what? Where do we take these feelings and what do we do with them? Or do we let them die here, in this room?"
When it came to my turn to respond I had had the ability to sit and monitor the room for 45 minutes. In a room of roughly 35-40 people there 5-6 BIPOC Leatherwomen/Femme Leatherpeople, and roughly the same amount of people under the age of 35, many of whom were in the BIPOC group. Granted it involves a fair amount of assumptions to come up with those numbers without formally interviewing each person, but the low numbers were what influenced my response of "disappointment" to the moderator's question.
It's disappointing to travel to areas around the country only to find other young people who are interested in Leather or pursuing something more in the kink communities only to give up after older generations tell them they're doing it wrong, or to see an absence of BIPOC, disabled people, and so on because events and spaces aren't welcoming. When it comes to building communities and what Leather looks like for your community, intersectionality must be at it's core or all we're doing is continuing the systemic problems that spread and fracture our communities.
So why is this a problem? As "well-meaning" white people we're taught to look at a room of 40 with 5 people of color as a success in diversity because "hey, at least we have some!" In reality though, 5 people of color in a leadership discussion in F*CK'n Atlanta, is a gross under-representation; the same being true for lack of age representation. (Atlanta's racial demographics show Black Americans as 51.4% of Atlanta's population and the age brackets of 19-34 and 35-74 as 42% and 58% respectively. [Census.gov]) It became a bit more disappointing when someone else in the room said they'd be leaving with "hope" because they saw the room as incredibly diverse. I see this less as a reflection on them, and more as a reflection on just how easily even the most well-meaning white person confuses tokenism for diversity. That meeting should have had easily 10-15+ BIPOC and TNG age range people respectively. We've got to stop taking the presence of a few as something worth congratulating ourselves on and instead focus that energy on ensuring that EVERYONE feels welcome to those spaces.
As brought up by another powerful leader in the room: "now what?" How do we figure out how to be more aware of Tokenism vs Diversity, what do we do to create more equitable situations?
The best I can figure at the moment:
How else do you think you can help? Comment below!
PS: The event name, class name, and names of those involved were intentionally left out so we can focus on the issue at hand rather than the people. Please keep it that way unless absolutely necessary.
Ignixia is an international kink and alternative sexuality educator. The following blog entries range from educational information and resources from her classes to daily musings had on things occurring in the world.