On Stepping Away From M/s Language

Content: Discussion of the uses of the words master and slave in a consensual kink context, the politics of using them in community, and the harm they cause.

A few weeks ago, I put this note out on social media:

“Hi everyone; some of you may know that with my boy we are the International Master/slave 2020 and Northwest Master/slave 2019 titleholders in the leather community. We have been planning a conversation about the impact of the words master and slave for a long time, and we want to dive into it more now. We understand that when used by non-Black people, these words cause harm. Personally, we are stepping away from using the words. I’m sorry for the harm they’ve caused, and I’m sorry it’s taken us so long. I’ll detail more about what we’re going to do in a full statement forthcoming; I’m taking some time to consult with community and figure out the way forward. We will have a full statement out within the next week.”

rife and I then published this note on the Facebook page for our leather title:

Running for and winning this title has been an incredible journey, and this is not the title year anyone expected. We’re heartbroken to see our events being cancelled or, at best, moving online. We miss you all and wish we could be having this conversation with you in person.

The changes we are making with our relationship titles reflect our personal journey; our relationship structure itself hasn’t changed. We still want to talk with you about all the nerdy power theory stuff. We’ve just decided that for us, as white folks living in the racist United States, we aren’t going to use the terms “Master” and “slave” any more.

This was a hard choice to make because it has been so valuable to find community around these words, and to be part of a lineage of people exploring conscious, consensual power exchange.

We recognize and affirm that Black leatherfolk have many different views on consensual ownership dynamics, and we honor Black leadership in the M/s community. There are Black people who have done the hard, beautiful work of reclaiming these words and as queers we understand the power behind that. We cannot and will never tell a Black person what to do — many Black folks have chosen to use these words for themselves. These are their words to reclaim. Everyone has a different journey with these words. There are many white folks in M/s community who are aware of the potential impact of these words and use them with care.

We are not judging others’ choices about their use of the words Master and slave. We affirm that your words are your choice. Total power exchange dynamics are psychological edgeplay, and everyone gets to decide for themselves what their comfort level is.

The words Master and slave helped us find this community — our people — where we are validated and seen. At the same time, there have been multiple Black people in our lives – dear friends and leather family- who have told us they are harmed by these terms. We can’t and would never speak for Black people, but we know some Black folks experience our use of those words as violent and triggering. Because they have told us so.

We apologize to the Black people we have harmed in the use of these terms. Whether it was intentional or not, it caused harm and we’re sorry. We know finding new language for our relationship will not solve racism, but it’s a small thing (among many others) that we can do to reduce harm.

In the past, we have been careful with usage when not at M/s events, because we want those around us to consent and opt into hearing M/s language. Just like I wouldn’t highlight my Daddy/boy fetish if I knew someone around me was a survivor of child abuse, our intention was to be respectful and cause less harm to those around us. We would try to cover our back patches when walking through hotel lobbies, and include content warnings on published essays. We didn’t do this perfectly.

Currently, we are:

1. Stepping away from using those words for ourselves and considering other options.
2. Apologizing for the harm we have caused in the past.
3. Creating more conversations about this, and researching and listening to better understand the changes that Black folks are calling for.
4. Supporting Black liberation movements in concrete ways, including financial donations, political action, and volunteer work.

We have many thoughts about using M/s language as white people — currently we have a 17 page document full of notes, and have had countless conversations about it. We want to talk about the intersection of power exchange and anti-racist work, and we want to find more folks who want to do that, too. If you want to be in this conversation with us, please like this post and let us know.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had an M/s community that everyone felt they could belong to? What would it be like if we knew that nobody was being left behind because of unintentional impacts of our words?

Most importantly, how can we, as white folks committed to both the M/s community and to racial justice, reconcile the awful history of these words with the beautiful relationships we have? We don’t have the answers, but I hope through conversation we can start to puzzle this together.

It’s not about the relationship structure; we love this way of building relationships and will fiercely defend our heart-soul calling towards it. We are Owner and owned with a total authority transfer dynamic, just like we have been. It’s not about the M/s community; finding y’all has been life changing for us and we love you dearly like the family we always needed. We are not trying to police anyone else’s language or tell you how you should identify. We just want to make sure our words are not harming the Black folks in our leather family (and beyond).

We are invested in the health and longevity of this community. We want to see our spaces thrive and grow for years to come, and will be here producing online events, workshops, and discussion groups for those committed to the path of structured relationships.

With love & in leather,
the Rooks

There is now elaborate conversation happening both on Facebook and where rife published the statement on his personal Fetlife.

If you want to talk to me or both of us about this, I am open to discussion and available. You can contact us both at [email protected] or me at [email protected]

I would love to talk to people who are particularly at the intersection of 24/7 authority exchange and anti-racist work, who are interested in engaging with ideas for supporting the M/s community and leather community in general to work to be a more accessible space for Black folks specifically and POC folks in general. If you’d like to collaborate and discuss, please reach out and let me know.

We are also now collecting other statements and quotes from folks discussing the impact of the words master and slave for them, and publishing them on our Facebook page here. They can be anonymous, with your name, or with a pseudonym. Send them to us at [email protected], or get in touch if you have questions about them.

What about here on Sugarbutch?

Here on Sugarbutch, I’ve taken down posts that use master/slave language. Some of them I’ll be editing and putting back up, but some will stay down because they were primarily about M/s and wouldn’t be the same to edit. I won’t be using M/s language in erotica or in posts about my relationship going forward.

I am however interested in writing about the many, many things which are coming up in response to this statement — things about reclaiming language, about what level of comfort different people have with using them, about other issues of racism in the M/s and leather communities, and more. I haven’t figured out if I can/should post that here, or if I will publish that on Medium or somewhere else — but either way, I will be putting content notes at the beginning of the pieces so people can opt in or out to what they are reading if they wish. Feel free to let me know your preference in the comments, and I will take that into account.

Last, but not least

It has taken me some time to come to not using these words.

We both had reservations about using those words when we started finding the M/s community, but the M/s community has many explanations for why those words are used and has done a lot of work reconciling their history. There are many Black leaders in the M/s community, and I have learned much from them. I hope it’s clear within the statement above, but we are not trying to make commentary of any kind about what it means for Black folks to use these words — only for US, personally, as white folks.

I needed the teachings about authority exchange relationships that the M/s community presents, and they have completely changed my life for the better. I would not have as strong and healthy of a relationship with rife as I do if it were not for that community. I’m incredibly grateful, and I do want to see that community thrive, grow, and continue. I also hope to have a conversation about the use of these words, who it leaves out, and the harm they cause — which is already happening.

I have many other things to share about this process, and I’m slowly gathering my resources to write more about it. I am talking to Black and non-Black leaders in the leather and M/s communities about next steps, following the guidance of what Black folks want. We’ve been having dozens of hours of conversations. I’m doing my best to listen.

I welcome folks to join me and rife in visioning, as we said in our statement, a leather community that is truly inclusive, where all feel safe to show up as their full authentic selves. If you’d like to join the conversation that is already happening, check out on the Facebook page for our title years and the statement on rife’s Fetlife (which has many more comments).

Breath as a Healing Tool During COVID-19 with M’kali-Hashiki

M’kali-Hashiki is an erotic breathwork facilitator whose work has been transformative for me personally. She is a leather dyke, polyamorous, and a BDSM practitioner, and, to quote, “I have personal experience achieving mystical states during sex.” She has many skills in many intersectional erotic realms.

Her work focuses on breath as a healing tool in an erotic context. What does that mean? “It’s a series of breathing techniques that allow you to access and circulate your erotic energy,” she says. But “erotic” is not a euphemism for “sexual” in this case — “Erotic energy is your life force, your creative energy. The purpose of erotic breathwork fundamentally is to deepen your embodiment: to strengthen your connection with your body.”

Doing erotic breathwork now, in the midst of both a pandemic and uprisings, is particularly important. “People use these techniques for many reasons: deal with stress, remediate chronic pain, enhance physical/energetic/emotional intimacy with partner(s), to deepen their meditation, to practice dying,” she said. “In these times we know that stress and pain and fear and panic can weaken the immune system. So having the space to process these emotions will help to strengthen our immune system. Also we need to a space for our grief. We will be grieving something, if not a person/people, then a way of life. Repressing grief also weakens our immune system. We need to feel all of our feelings instead of just swallowing or repressing them. Here in this circle we get to feel whatever and however we feel. And lastly we need to make space in our bodies for joy & pleasure. Erotic Breathwork is a great tool for that.”

She has two special community offerings through the end of August: community erotic breathwork, and BLM Protesters’ sessions.

BLM Protesters’ Community Erotic Breathwork Sessions

These sessions are for any Black folks involved in the recent protests (and any Black healers supporting them).

For all the Black folks who’ve been in the streets protesting our murders: I’m offering a virtual space to come commune with your body. To croon songs of love & thanks to it for allowing you to make your voice heard; to remind it of its sacredness at a time when the US wants to ram it’s lie that you are not of value down your throat; to purge the fear & adrenaline that your body sustained while you were out there; to strengthen your soul’s endurance. A space carved out of time to feel however the fuck you wanna feel, to let those emotions run through you and create a river connecting you with our Ancestors who protect you, and our Descendants who will benefit from the holy work you’ve done. To feel all of our heartbeats in the sound of your inhale & exhale. To just be.⠀

Fam. Words right now really fail to grasp the breadth of the situation we’re in, so I’m not even gonna try.

Our rage, our grief, our fear, all of it is valid. Let us come together and hold each other with our breath and feel whatever the fuck it is we want to feel, outside of the White Gaze, outside of the Media. Let us circle and remind ourselves how precious we are, how valid our emotions are, how much we have overcome, and how far we will go together. Let us gather together and find what comfort we can from one another. Give your body a space to purge all that adrenaline, to thank your body for making your voice heard. To remind your body that you have not & will not swallow the lie that it is of low value, To fall into our connection to the Ancestors who protect us and to our Descendants who will benefit from the holy work you’re doing. To feel all of our heartbeats in the sound of your inhale & exhale.

Starting June 6 at 4pm PDT—and then every following Saturday at 3pm PDT—join me in a cybercircle with other BLM Protestors (and the Black Healers supporting them).

Shelter In Place Community Erotic Breathwork Sessions

Times are scary right now. We don’t know for sure what the outcome of this pandemic will be. No matter where we are on the globe, our society will be transformed. And transformation can be chaotic, both outside and inside our bodies. Every day brings more frightening news, and if you live in the US, it’s clear that our federal government is not up to the challenge.

All of this turmoil & uncertainty causes anxiety, stress, and panic; which not only affect our ability to stay healthy, but also make it harder to hold to make & keep space in our lives for joy.

Starting March 22 until the end of California’s Shelter In Place, I’m offering Erotic Breathwork Drop-In Sessions twice a week (Sunday at 12:00pm PDT & Thursday at 6:30pm PDT). These sessions are “Pay What You WIsh”, and no-one turned away for lack of funds. These sessions are designed to take you on a journey of excavation, of renewal, of integration. They can provide you with a container to dump some of the panic, fear, and grief so you can go about your life as well as a regular opportunity to re/connect with your body and/or access joy in your physical and energetic body.

Panic & stress weakens our immune system, joy & community strengthen it!

“We’re in a chaotic time, and chaos just means change,” said M’kali-Hashiki. “We are poised to create the world of justice and beauty and love that we have been dreaming of. We need to get through this time, we need energetic stamina, but we also need to be ready for this new world, to divest ourselves of the stories and ways that have not served us, we need to welcome the body’s wisdom & erotic Breathwork helps us to hear what the body wants to tell us.”

Head over here to sign up for one of M’kali-Hashiki’s erotic breathwork sessions for BLM protestors or for community breathwork sessions.

Sign up for her mailing list, and follow her on Instagram to keep up with her work.

Things I, as a white sex educator, do to foster inclusivity in this community

On Facebook recently, Mollena asked: “White ‪#‎SexualityEducators‬: what are you doing to actively foster inclusivity? Diversify your audience? Support your Peers of Color?” [link.] I’ve been writing and writing and thinking about all of the things I’ve been reading and digesting around #blacklivesmatter and race and inclusion, and this question got me thinking hard, and answering with some clarity, and identifying some places I need to keep working.

1. Read, read, read.

And listen. And pay attention. And shut up. And witness. And try to learn, and unlearn.

2. Pay attention to whose voices I amplify.

I have a small reach, a small field of folks who read what I share, and I pay attention to what I put into that sphere and recommend. When I don’t pay attention, I tend to stay within my white privilege bubble and retweet, link to, and recommend other white folks. This is not because people of color are not saying things that are relevant to me (and to you all) or that they are not brilliant—because duh, they are. Rather, I think I do this because of my personal (and often invisible to me) bias of whiteness. It takes conscious work for me to not default to whiteness, but I want to change that. So I pay attention to who I share and follow and who I surround myself with.

3. Decline to participate in (unconsciously) all-white spaces and events and publications and projects.

To be fair, I’ve only declined a few times, and this is something I’m working on improving. I don’t always think to ask who else is in the book or on the panel before I say yes, especially if it’s something I know of and admire. But recently, a sex education book came out with twenty photos of the white faces of contributors on the back, and Aida Mandulay called it out and WOC Sexual Health Network followed up, it is incredible to me that nobody noticed that before publication, or that if they did, nobody worked to change it. However, I am sure I have been in anthologies that were all-white, but since most of my publications are erotica, photos of the authors are included very rarely. And the sexuality education field is incredibly dominated by white folks (because most fields are, because racism). Personally, I have noticed often recently that many of my small group collaborations are all-white, and I need to think about that more (and to keep noticing that most of my communities are white, and work on the underlying issues of why that is).

4. I pay attention to the language I use.

As a genderqueer non-binary person and a feminist queer, I know how much language matters. I pay deep attention when someone talks about racist language—mine or others—and I do my best to pay attention to the words I use, their origins, and their uses.

a) I love reclaimed language, but when there are words that have been used against a minoritized group, I recognize that I don’t have a claim to use them. I can reclaim words that have been used against me. As such, there are certain words I just don’t use, whose histories are too controversial, and whose communities I respect.

b) There are a lot of words that have snuck into our language which have oppressive and racially-based origins, and often I’ve just never thought about it or made the connection. Recently, with the protests in Oakland and Berkeley, my neighbors and I have watched a lot of the live feeds, and have seen the police show up with “paddy wagons,” and then we all had a brief chat about how that is a derogatory slur referring to Irish folks, and tried to figure out what else to call them instead. And when I hear folks use the word “gypped” to refer to being ripped off (which happens more often than I’d expect) I remind them that comes from the oppression of Roma people. Often, people reply with things like, “Oh yeah, right, I never really thought of that …”

c) Know the words I use and where they come from. The queer reading series I co-hosted and -produced with the late Cheryl B from 2010-2011 was called “Sideshow,” and once, a colleague pointed out that the “sideshow” has a pretty terrible history of showing off the “freaks,” and that they wouldn’t be participating. I liked the feel of it at the time, but I wouldn’t use that word again on a project. Especially because I recognize that as an able-bodied and generally mentally well person, it is not my word to reclaim (see 4A), it is my word to respect and stop using (see 4B). See also: Strange Fruit PR Firm [Changes Their Name] After Getting a History Lesson From Twitter.

d) Very deeply engrained in the english language is the dark/light dualistic binary and the use of the concepts of “shadow” and “dark” for bad, unknown, dangerous, and uncharted territory, and of “light” as all things good and holy. I would guess these concepts have more to do with the human psyche than race—however, when used in a racist culture, they reinforce racism subtly and intrinsically. I want to know more about this and do a bit more research on language and archetypes. Meanwhile, though, I am doing my best to avoid the dark/light dualism to stand in for bad/good, particularly when there are thousands of other more thoughtful and interesting metaphors to use.

Language is always changing, and I try to stay flexible in my relationships with words, even if I happen to love them (or have used or over-used them in the past, see 4D). Recently I’ve been discussing the usage of “minoritized” instead of “minority,” for example (still working on that distinction and curious about the reasonings). I’m curious how language changes and moves, how it both reflects and changes culture. This is some of my favorite language-nerdy stuff.

5. I call myself on my privileges.

When I talk about identities as concepts, and my own concepts, I don’t just give my marginalized positions (like queer, kinky, genderqueer, working class, survivor) but I also share the areas where I have privilege and am working to have more awareness (like white, able bodied, american, college educated).

6. When I’m up in front of a group or workshop, I listen when someone challenges my positions, and I call participants out.

I particularly listen when someone challenges me in areas where I am less expertise or have privilege and am less aware of how those oppressive dynamics work. I don’t always know I try to notice it when someone says something that expresses a bias or privilege, and to say something, to call them on it. That’s pretty hard for me and I’m not perfect at it, and I often freeze up or get caught in holding the space of the workshop, and I can’t think of what to say. So I’ve taken to at least saying exactly that: “I heard you just say ___ and I can’t really think of what to say, but I think you have some bias there.” Then I try to move on.

7. I call out (or call in) when I see something.

I do call out when someone I know and feel some closeness with has done something I think has some overlooked bias in it, but I mostly do that privately and offline. I don’t spend much time calling out in the general conversations online, or chiming in when someone else has been called out. I sometimes fear that I should and have some guilt that I should participate in that more, but I also know how I am deeply introverted and more witness is better than more conversations for my energetic ability. I witness other’s calling out constantly and I read read read and listen and try to learn what went wrong, what was going on, and to apply that to my own work. With some folks I’m close to, we have spent a lot of time digesting and thinking about the project and how to do better in the future. See also: Calling In: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable.

8. When I fuck up, I apologize, listen, fix it (if I can), and do better next time.

There’s a fine balance: I am trying to recognize that we’re all human (including me) and I fuck up sometimes, but not to dwell in the fucking up so much that it makes me paralyzed to keep trying, and to still do the best I can to make up for, apologize for, and understand for my mistakes. I am a creator and I want to make art and writing that reflects culture and my inner world, and a huge piece of that is my desire to make it better through social activism. And because I am making things, not just witnessing and critiquing, I have messed up before and I will mess up again. I am doing my best to be okay with that inevitability, and to know that messing up is a necessary part of the process of trying and improving. I have strategies to both protect myself (and my highly sensitive person / high reactive / intuitive empathetic poet self) but also to listen, learn, back up, integrate changes, apologize, and move forward.

I’m sure there’s more I could do.

I am always pondering the ‘more’ of activism and the new, previously unknown parts of my own privilege to which I am still blind. But for now, this is what I’m doing, and I see a lot of room for growth in just what I’ve laid out here and what I’m already doing.

It’s been very interesting to reflect on what I am doing, actually. Reading the original thread on Mollena’s Facebook page gave me lots of ideas and more insight into how I engage the way I do, and what is good for my particular personality and skills. I’d love to hear what you all are doing, too, if you feel like sharing.