Count Your Blessings

In a few weeks I’m going to be the Keynote speaker at International Ms Leather 2017.  I’m still working on my speech and will post it here after I’ve given it.  I was looking at some old speeches I’ve made and I found the speech that I gave for International Ms Leather in 2010.  It’s hard to believe it’s been 7 years.  I’m going to share it with you today for several reasons.  One, I’m nostalgic and this brings back really good memories.  Two, no matter how shitty things are right now in the world around us, there are blessings to count.  And finally, I want to challenge all of you to look at what blessings you currently have.

Here it is, from 2010.

Good Morning everyone,

First, let me introduce myself.  I’m Allena Gabosch, the executive director of the Center for Sex Positive Culture in Seattle (also known by some as the Wet Spot).  I’ve been active in the BDSM/Leather community for 20 years.  I’m an educator and an activist and proud to be part of the Sex Positive Community

Sunday Keynotes always remind me of church and preaching at the pulpit.  In fact last Sunday I was at Leather leadership in Detroit and the amazing Goddess Lakshimi gave one hell of a sermon.    I’ve never liked speaking like this with podiums and mics. I’m more of a set on a table sort of speaker. Podiums make me nervous (I know, it’s hard to imagine much making me nervous.) But Sunday preaching? Well, I was raised a fundamentalist so I do know a bit about preaching. And since the Universal Life Church saw it in their wisdom to ordain me I guess this could be considered a Sunday sermon.  I promise to keep this short, no two hour sermons from me, however I may ask for an AMEN once and awhile.

I was honored when Glenda asked me to do the Keynote.  I asked her what I should speak about and she said “SEX”.  Which sounded like fun, but I’m poly which means I don’t have much sex I just “communicate” about it a lot. I had also considered talking about the Center for Sex Positive Culture and our insurance issues from March.    We lost our insurance and had to close for over a week as we scrambled to get new insurance. I thought I would title my keynote Insurance and Sex or “getting fucked and getting fucked”.   And then I thought about my Leather Leadership trip last week and the on-going conversation I seemed to have about “Policing our own” and I thought maybe I could talk seriously about whether we need community standards and what that would look like.  Then that led me to assumptions.  Assumptions that we have about you know, bisexuals, the pan community, whether we even have a community, yadda, yadda yadda.  All of this seemed a bit of a downer (except for the talking about sex part) and hey, today is Sunday and a celebration of our new International Ms Leather and I didn’t want to preach at you or pontificate.

And then I remembered my favorite Sunday sermons as a kid.  And they weren’t about hell-fire and brimstone (although sometimes those where oddly sexy) they were the “good news’ sermons; the ones that left me walking away alive and excited and ready to face the world and all that it could throw at me.  And that’s what I’m going to talk about today.

Oh I know, sometimes it seems that life has a way of throwing curve balls more than strikes.  We have a world of concerns.  Our government won’t get off their ass and repeal don’t ask, don’t tell.  We struggle with how our world looks at us and our kink. We worry about loosing our jobs, or even worse our children because of what it is that we do.  We complain about the tourists and the pretenders and the predators that seem to pop up from time to time.  As individuals we worry about the economy, our jobs, our health, the meaning of life (42 btw) and even death.  Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a lot to be optimistic about.  Well, I say “count your blessings”.

Both my telephone answering systems end with this sentence. “Leave a message and while you’re at it, tell me what you like about your life.”  You would be amazed at the responses I get.   The majority of the people who call my home phone are strangers and the majority of them leave me messages about what they like about their life.  I’m always thrilled when  telephone solicitors leaves me a message saying that what they like about their life is that they are a parent and that they are blessed to have a wonderful daughter

Messages like that remind me that no matter what my life is blessed.

Our government is being railed against by the Tea Baggers (btw, what is it with that name?  I can’t believe that they haven’t figured out what teabagging really is).  Even the progressives and liberals gripe because the Obama administration isn’t doing enough.

Well, just Friday I read that the White House announced rule changes, which will make it easier for gay men and lesbians to make medical decisions on behalf of their partners.   In a memorandum released Thursday night the president said the new rules would affect any hospital that participates in Medicare or Medicaid, the government programs that cover the elderly and the poor.

“Every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindness and caring of a loved one at their sides,” Mr. Obama said in the memorandum, adding that the rules could also help widows and widowers who rely on friends and members of religious orders who care for one another. But he says, gay men and lesbians are “uniquely affected” because they are often barred from visiting partners with whom they have spent decades.

When it comes to our government, I say Count Your Blessings. It could be worse; Sara Palin could be our vice president, or even our president.

While I know that some of you miss the days when our community was underground and you had to have a secret handshake and special codes just to attend a play party; in reality we’re richer and safer because we are no longer mysterious outlaws.  There has been an incredible shift in how society looks at sexuality, especially what many call alternative sexuality.  Sexuality is becoming more accessible, which I think is great.

I truly believe that we are in the midst of a Sexual Renaissance (some of you have heard me mention this before).  And like the Renaissance of the 14th century a small number of people are ultimately going to shape the way the world looks at sexuality.  This is not a populist movement, but it is growing and we see evidence of this in movies, TV, commercials, media and literature.

This is not to be confused with the Sexual Revolution of the 60’s (of which I was a very active part of).  The sexual revolution began in the 60’s and ended in the 70’s or at least early 80’s

The Sexual Renaissance is not about revolt and protest, but rather about creation and a bringing together of like-minded individuals.  The Medieval Renaissance was in response in many ways to the repressive Byzantine era that preceded it.  I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest that our current Sexual Renaissance is in response to the repressive backlash to the 60’s Sexual Revolution and the fear that the AIDS crises created in our world.   It is a natural response to what is really happening in the world of sexuality.  Sexuality is powerful and those in power want to keep the power to themselves.  It’s dangerous to allow the power to belong to the masses.  And we, the kinky, freaky BDMSers and others of the Sex Positive Movement are bringing sexual power to the masses.

And it’s apparent everywhere we look.  Sex is so much part of our culture that we don’t even notice it at times.  It’s pervasive and I dare say becoming mainstream–even our brand of sex

Let me give you two examples:

TV, the recent changes in how BDSM is depicted by television is amazing.  The studios are even turning to our community for advice in their quest to depict us as we really are.  The last CSI episode that had Madam Heather (for those of you who don’t watch CSI, shame on you, Madam Heather was a very sexy professional dominatrix who appeared in several episodes.).  Anyway, a good friend of mine who is a professional dominatrix in Seattle was hired to be a consultant on that last show.  How cool is that?

And I’m sure many  of you have seen my favorite on-line ad  from a few years ago the “dominate winter” advertising campaign for Austin Mini-Cooper on their Canadian Web site;  where a  PVC clad dominatrix dominates a poor little Austin mini.  I was curious about this campaign so I did some research and found a statement by the ad writers.  They said that when they were putting together this campaign that they felt that when most people thought of dominating they atomically thought of a dominatrix.  That sure wouldn’t have been the case 10-15 years ago.

So I say when it comes to media and society, “Count Your Blessings”.

As we become more “main stream” and I put quotes around mainstream btw we are less likely to be discriminated against and suffer for our kink.  However, we are still not 100% safe yet and that’s why we are blessed to have organizations like the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom.

NCSF has been around for 13 years, advocating for our rights, handling thousands of incident responses and educating and assisting our community on the legalities of what it is that we do.  Their hard work has resulted in changes in zoning laws, increased awareness and acceptance by law enforcement, medical professionals, hotels and others and recently it has even resulted in what looks to be a landmark change in the next DSMV.

Because of the hard work of NCSF and others, they are renaming the paraphilias (for example “Sexual Sadism” will be changed to “Sexual Sadism Disorder”, ) to make clearer that the paraphilias themselves ARE NOT disorders and bring their misleading names into alignment with the other behavioral disorders already in the DSM. (e.g. eating isn’t a disorder, but bulimia is eating disorder.)

And this has already brought positive results to our community in several court cases and the DSMV isn’t even published yet.

Count your Blessings for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom

While at Leather Leadership last week I heard a few comments in a workshop about “tourists” those people who allegedly attend our events to sight-see and gawk at the freaks.  Well, I say that those tourists are more likely hungry closeted kinky people who have finally gotten the courage to step outside of their comfort zone and take the first steps to embracing who they really are.   Over the last several years there has been huge increase in organizations, munch groups and community education (primarily because of the internet).  Every single state of the union has not just one but numerous ways for people to find the BDSM community.  That’s amazing!

The Center for Sex Positive Culture has had over 12,000 people join our organization in the last 10 years. Now, our active membership is only a couple thousand a as members come and go for many reasons, however over 12000 people had the courage and interest to take the first steps into finding some kind of sex positive community.  I’ve read that 10-15% of the population is kinky.  I say it’s even more.   There are a whole lot of closeted kinky folks out there.

Did you know that Romance novels are a 1.37 Billion dollar a year industry?  Many of these are erotic bodice ripper romances with a strong emphasis on sexual domination and ravishment which is just a fancy word for rape.  And these books are read by mostly women and women of all ages and interests.  Our mothers and grandmothers read these books and in many cases our mothers and grandmothers are kinky.

Those People just need permission to be the sexual beings they already are.  And our groups and organizations give them that permission.
And, our community makes a difference in the lives of others on a day by day basis.  The existence of our organizations, munch groups, etc are an invaluable asset to those people who are searching for something that they just can’t quite put their finger on.   I’m reminded about that constantly in the emails I get from members and prospective members.  One email that made the most impact for me was from a guy that said: “I am 45 years old and for the last 20 years I’ve been trying to find out what is wrong with me.  I’ve gone to numerous therapists.  Some of them even suggested I might be gay but NONE of them ever said I might be kinky.  And now I’ve found you and I know I’m not alone “That was five years ago and now that man is an active member or our community and has truly discovered himself.

And I’m sure that many of you who run organizations and groups have similar stories.

Count your Blessings for all the fresh meat, I mean, amazing people entering our community and that we are privileged to make a difference in their lives

Every day I am reminded about just how amazing our community is.  I mentioned earlier the insurance issues that we had.  Our insurance renews every March 1st.  Around the first of the year I received a letter from our insurance agency that our underwriters were not going to renew our liability insurance: ironically, not because we were a sex organization but because we were in the state of Washington.  It turns out that Washington has really good consumer protection for insurance consumers.   I wasn’t that worried, this had happened before and our agency had always found another underwriter. Well that wasn’t the case this time.

Our agent worked her ass off and yet, when it came down to it, none of their underwriters would cover us.  So, a week before our insurance expired our agent called and told me that she’d exhausted all of her options.  Well, that was a bit scary.  We have a local agent who covers our D&O insurance and our property insurance and I promptly called her.  They started working and she told me it might take 2-3 weeks to get a quote.  So when I sent out our weekly newsletter I told our members what had happened and that if we didn’t have insurance by the first of March we would have to suspend operations until we did.  Now that may not sound like that big of a deal, however we have a party every single day of the week.  So, being closed even on a Monday would impact our membership and us financially.  The outpouring of love and concern was amazing. I got emails from all over the country with suggestions of agencies to try and agents to call.  I also called NCSF and they referred me to a kinky insurance agent in Chicago.

Even with all of this assistance, we still didn’t get a quote before our insurance ended.  So we closed our doors.  And then an even more amazing thing happened.  A local sex positive performance space called The Little Red Studio offered us their space for our Thursday BDSM party and dance and our Sunday Bondage Party.  A local couple offered their huge house and dungeon for our Friday BDMS medical play party and another local sex positive space (where we hold our yearly kinky campouts) happened to have Saturday open so our Saturday BDSM party could happen.  I was dumbfounded.

And yes, we did finally get a few quotes.  The first (which I didn’t accept) was for $17,500 (last year we paid a little over $2300 for insurance) and then I got a quote for just under $2000 which we took.  I learned a lot about insurance that week and I still don’t understand it.  How companies can charge from $2000, to almost $18,000 for the same insurance is beyond me.

Well we got insurance after a week of being closed and   I fell in love with my community all over again after the outpouring of love and support we received from all of you.

The insurance crisis helped transform The Center for Sex Positive Culture into the COMMUNITY for Sex Positive Culture.  While you can shut down a Center it’s nearly impossible to shut down a community.

Count Your Blessings for our community, I sure do.

And then there is just life, not kinky, not always sexy  life  We lose jobs, our retirement plan is no longer worth as much as it was a few years ago (if we even have a retirement plan).  Our relationships fall apart.  As we age (I know I’m getting older and I’ve known some of you here for 20 years and while you all look great none of us are getting any younger) our health worsens, people die and sometimes all of that really sucks. In November I had three people in my life die in the span of three days.  Not much to feel blessed about is there?  However on one of those days, Jennifer one of my partners gave birth to an amazing little boy.  That was a reminder to me that even during the worst of times there are blessings that occur for us.

I’m blessed to have such an incredible Polycule (as I like to call my chosen poly family) and my life is rich and full and amazing no matter what kind of curve balls are thrown at me.

The Dali Lama said in an interview, talking about impact of the global financial meltdown:  “Yes money is important to them, after all without work, without money you can’t survive.  But for people who are full of love and compassion, whose values are based on family, neighbors and community, I think they’re much happier, even though they’re having the same difficult experiences.”

And that’s what I want to leave you with.  We are blessed, we have family (chosen and bio), neighbors and community, and if you doubt that, just look around you here today and Count Your Blessings.

Thank You


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