Now, I know that the tone of this blog is one of being chipper, but this does have a happy element in that there is lots of debate happening and therefore the chance of change 🙂
When I was at Sleaze Ball on the long weekend I experienced a lot of harrassment and groping from certain punters. It was very unpleasant, and really impacted on the enjoyment of my night, and so I decided to encourage some discussion of appropriate behaviour in the community. First, I did my usual Facebook posting, then I contacted New Mardi Gras (who run the party), and sent this letter to the Sydney Star Observer:
‘I attended Sleaze, a party I have not been to for some years now.
It was roughly what I expected — some fantastic shows, amazing dress-ups from the punters, ordinary lighting and mostly mediocre music (though Sveta was great, ditto Baby Bear).
So far, so-so.
The security seemed extreme, with people’s hairspray, essential oils, spirit gum, etc being confiscated at the door, and a very noticeable police presence.
Yet for all that I didn’t feel like I was in a safe space, that is, a space where I was safe to be who I am, however this was expressed.
Let me explain — I have tits, some would say large ones, and they were painted up and on display.
For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that this would be a problem at all. Noticeable, yes, but with a gold birdcage perched on my head I didn’t really mind being looked at anyway.
I have danced about near-naked many, many times at queer/leather events without encountering much in the way of sleazy (i.e. bad sleazy) behaviour, so I didn’t factor in the possibility of constant groping when considering my outfit for a GLBTQ etc party. Silly me.
“Boobies!” I would hear, as some random man hurled himself at my chest, at least one hand grabbing at whatever flesh he could get hold of before I pried his fingers away. “Great tits!” and another attack. Believe me, it was constant.
“You can’t just molest people,” I would point out, to the usual response of “But I’m gay”. Oh, I see. You are gay, so you can molest women.
How the bleep does that equation work? Sexual assault laws don’t apply to you? You have a free pass that allows you to pinch any nipple you like, even when the person it belongs to a) hasn’t consented in any way (not even a wink, a smile, a nod), and b) is asking you not to, and moving your hand away?
And to the one “I’m a lesbian and I love breasts” lady out the back — how wonderful for you, but that doesn’t mean you can assault mine. Really, it doesn’t.
Unfortunately, such incidents are not isolated. I posted my experiences on my Facebook wall, and was met with (public and private) responses from many women in the community who will no longer attend such events due to the constant harassment and groping should they wear anything at all revealing. I don’t blame them a bit. I go to dance parties to dance.
Of course I love to flirt and have the odd dancefloor pash or ‘cuddle’ too, but these are consensual.
So, where to from here? There is a bunch of women who do not feel safe or comfortable attending large ‘community’ events, and I would not be surprised at all if it was not only women who were subject to unwanted attention (but perhaps boys are not as likely to feel at ease complaining about being touched up inappropriately — everyone knows all gay boys want all the sexual contact they can get, if I have my myths right?).
Are we supposed to just grin and bear it as the price we pay for being at these parties? Do we need to find a security person every time someone manhandles us on the dancefloor so we can report it, thereby ending up spending half the night engaged with the authorities?
Should we tip the offenders’ drinks over them? Slap their faces (yes, that would be assault, I know)?
Are we just supposed to not go to big events, or be very careful in our choice of outfits when we do? Do we need to bring our own bodyguards?
I think a community education campaign is in order, perhaps run by one or more of the big organisations such as NMG or ACON.
It would be of benefit if clubs and events could promote the idea that, no, even if your chemicals are really good and you love everybody, even if you are gay, lesbian, really pissed, the person is wearing a corset, chaps, jockstrap or whatever you think is sexy — even then it is not okay to violate people’s boundaries and sexually molest anyone you please.
Consent is required, and if you don’t think you know what this looks like, then all you have to do is ask (and respect the answer).
It’s a big enough and ugly enough world out there without having to be on guard at all times when in spaces that belong to the community too.’
You can read the letter (published almost in full despite being lengthy– thanks Editor Scott!) and the responses from members of the public here on the SSO site. Would much appreciate it if anyone who supports the sentiment could take a few minutes to leave a comment on that page too — would like to show that I am not the only one out there who is sick of being harassed and who considers this behaviour unnacceptable.
Would also appreciate any advice on how to go about combat it, particularly from people who have had experience running anti-violence campaigns, safer space projects etc etc. What is a good way to approach it? A community education campaign — posters, flyers, GLTBQetc press advertisements and such? Get clubs and organisers on board, including their security, so that people know that something will be done if they go too far? Have been considering some sort of collection of people’s accounts of this kind of thing too, perhaps setting up a survey or some sort of forum so that there is some sort of evidence (even if sort of ‘unofficial’) to present to parties that might be able to help with campaigns?
Thanks in advance for your support and advice!