Uncategorized

Kinktrepreneurship and Social Media, Boston USA 2017

In April I travelled to Boston, USA for the AAG annual meeting to deliver my research paper: Kinktrepreneurship and social media: debates, rights and female subjectivity. The paper was part of the panel session (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance I: Porn, Pleasure & Performance (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group). Before going to the conference the paper’s abstract received positive responses on Twitter (see @gemcommane), but also reactions that highlighted continued stigma against sex workers (whorephobia), hatred towards women (i.e. taking away agency and voice) and the devaluation of important work that academics are doing to help support the rights of marginalised groups and communities. The paper explored the concept of ‘kinktrepreneurship’ (Commane 2016) and how this offers space to develop critical debate into the use of social media by women within creative kinky industries. I coined the word ‘kinktrepreneurship’ as an umbrella term for professional women in the BDSM fetish scene who identify as a FemDom or Pro-Domme. Kinktrepreneurship as a critical frame is new and is a term I intend to develop, specifically through obtaining a research grant and directly involving the voices and experiences of Professional Dominatrixes. The paper presented is actually part of a proposed project that I am currently writing a bid for funding (AHRC Early Career Research Grant). The title of the research project is: Kinktrepreneurship, Sex Work and Social Media. The research approach is sex-positive, intersectional, interdisciplinary, and feminist. Importantly the research is led by women and will actively include women’s voices (Pro-Dommes, kinktreprenuers) throughout the research process. The research intends to develop a critical frame and terminology that can be used by Pro-Dommes, researchers and the wider public to recognise and valorise kinktrepreneures and their contribution to sexual economies, the creative industries and entrepreneurship. Kinktrepreneurship is a frame which recognises the practice of kink and BDSM in professional contexts, but also as a lifestyle that identifies kinktrepreneurs and upholds their subjectivity, especially as their working practices are part of their self-identity.

In order to examine the gendered and political significances of online kinky entrepreneurship (‘kinktrepreneurship’), the paper drew upon virtual ethnography and case studies to challenge negative attitudes about female entrepreneurs, particularly women in the kink and sex industries. While academics have explored work of women in the creative industries in the field of cultural studies (e.g. Naudin, forthcoming); sex workers and Kinktrepreneurs are not readily included, despite being successful in managing their own careers. Critical discussions on Kinktrepreneurship and Social Media are absent from established scholarship on entrepreneurship within business and media studies. The paper therefore addressed the significance of recognising sex workers’ use of social media as an indicator of their entrepreneurial skills, particularly as a means to carve out alternative routes to employment. The topics of discussion in the paper included: Entrepreneurship (i.e. themes, theories, (in)visibilities), Alternative Income Streams (i.e. porn entrepreneurs and marketing strategies); Kinktrepreneurship and social media (debates, rights and female subjectivity); FemDom, Fetish and Kinktrepreneurship and finally: Kinktrepreneurship and the Politics of Resistance (sexual activism, fetish and gynocracy).

The word ‘kinktrepreneur’ is not really widely used or recognised (i.e. in academia specifically, but also beyond this too); although the paper and proposed research I want to undertake does have credence as the word has been used (but not framed) by Princess Kali. Princess Kali is the founder of Erotication.com and she states that she is: ‘a pioneer of the “kinktrepreneur” business model, creating sites such as Kink Academy, Passionate U, and Fearless Press for easy access to adult sex and BDSM education. Her work continues to inspire and support many other kink educators, writers, and enthusiasts’ (see: http://www.enoughtomakeyoublush.com/about/). As a term and a critical frame beyond this mention, there is nothing else out there that really takes kinktrepreneurship further. The paper and the proposed research address this. The paper argued – through case study example’s – that the terms ‘Kinktrepreneurship’ and ‘kinktrepreneur’ can be a potential frames, where a politics of resistance emerges from the very interactions (sexual, digital, exchanged on/off-line, business) Pro-Dommes have with users, fans, clients and slaves. The paper contended that the frame of kinktrepreneurship can include the multiple contexts that manifest through the various platforms and settings used, which constitute new ways to consider what the ‘workplace’ is; but also women taking or retaking control of their social, sexual and private spheres that activate other possibilities. This generates an active and embodied resistance that challenges representations in wider culture and within the media that try and construct subjectivities in ways that uphold cis-normative, heterocentric, whorephobic and anti-kink worldviews. Kinktrepreneurs actively challenge ways in which women ‘do’ work, but also demonstrate reciprocal pleasure, resiliency to multiple barriers and possibilities for opening accessible space supported by networks to critically drive social change for all women, but particularly women at the cutting edge of pro-sex, pro-kink and pro-women activism.
For more information about the papers at the session, please see Dr Emily Cooper’s (UCLAN) blog: https://ecooper2site.wordpress.com/category/aag2017/ and https://ecooper2site.wordpress.com/2017/04/03/aag2017-destigmatising-sexscapes-politics-policy-and-performance-boston-usa/ (her reflection of the session is forthcoming and will be accessible on her blog).

This blog post was originally posted here

‘Against Erasure’ Plenary Lecture at The Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities

The Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities at Durham University (https://www.dur.ac.uk/csgs/) is one of the leading centres in the country for research into gender, LGBTQ sexualities, sex and sex work. For the past four years the Centre has run a Summer School for postgraduates and early career researchers. The Summer School and, indeed the Centre, is inclusive of all disciplines. The Summer School usually runs for two days, and includes plenary lectures by leading National and International scholars, and presentations from postgraduate researchers (MA and Doctoral students). It was a privilege to be invited by Professor Maggie O’Neill (https://www.york.ac.uk/sociology/our-staff/academic/maggie-oneill/ and https://twitter.com/maggieoneill9) to deliver a plenary lecture at the Annual Summer School. Maggie asked me to talk specifically about the work I have done on researcher positionality and reflexivity (see the following chapters on Academia.Edu https://bcu.academia.edu/GemmaCommane/Book-Chapters-and-Journal-Articles: Double Reflexivity by Professor Shane Blackman and Dr Gemma Commane 2012 and Temporary Reflexive Disempowerment by Dr Gemma Commane 2016). Researcher positionality in ethnographic research has always intrigued me, especially when I have experienced a range of emotions, roles and positions when conducting immersive research with people and groups. For a while, I have argued (in conference papers, classes and publications) that ethnographic research is part of your own history and development.
 My plenary session ‘Against Erasure: reflections on researcher positionality, sexuality and stigma in ethnographic research,’ explored the multiple subject positions occupied by the researcher, and what disclosure about intimacies and emotions experienced in the process of research may mean in the production of knowledge. The plenary focused on ethnographic research examining gender, sexuality and the erotic. Although there have been developments in cultural theory, gender studies and sociology in valuing the presence of researcher positionality and affect (see Brewer 2000, Lather 2009, Perrone 2013, etc.); disclosure of the emotional and sexual spheres can still be seen as too intimate for the researcher to reveal about themselves. Revelations may feel comfortable or even liberating in the field, but when we start writing these up in formal academic writing, we may feel that the meaningful layers of emotion and intimacies start to disappear. This may be due to presumed expectations from our disciplines (i.e. how to write and what is important to research), fear of outing ourselves, negative judgements by close personal relationships (i.e. questioning your presence, but also the validity and purpose of research), or what we feel ethical codes and conventional academic practice should look like in a piece of academic writing. The researcher’s hesitancy not to disclose their sexuality, the erotic and other emotions experienced can be due to fear of stigma, personal safety and people questioning the validity of research, especially if you are at the start of your academic career (Deutsch 2004, Eccles et al 2013, Glasziou 2004, Halse 2011, Kasper and Landolt 2014, Poole et al 2004, Toellner 1994). The plenary explored what is at stake for the researcher, as well as research participants, if the lens of analysis is not turned directly onto the experience and emotions of the researcher throughout the process of research. Consequently, I addressed how explicit embodied accounts and self-reflexivity can provide a means of deepening our understanding of taboo, sexualised and erotic field-sites (Commane 2016). Thus, it is clear that sexuality, the erotic and other emotions experienced by the researcher are valid forms of knowledge (Blackman and Commane 2012, Commane 2016), and these should never be erased or seen as insignificant. This is especially important in developing advocacy, reflexivity and deep meaningful empathic relations with communities or individuals that may be politically, culturally and socially stigmatised.
Originally published here: Interactive Cultures BCMCR

RubberDoll and the Queer art of Failure, AAG 2016, San Francisco

In March I travelled to San Francisco to present my research paper ‘RubberDoll and the Queer art of Failure’ at the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting. My paper was part of the panel sessions called Sex in the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt (#geosex16). There were five sessions over two days covering a range of topics relating to sex work, sexuality, identity and policy, all informed by (human) geography and cultural studies. Importantly sex workers were actively part of the panel sessions and discussions. The sessions brought together early career researchers, sex workers, sex worker academics, PhD researchers and established academics. The range of papers and the inclusivity of topics, people and themes made the whole Geosex16 experience extremely lively, immersive and politically significant. I really enjoyed hearing critical perspectives on sex work experiences, the political ramifications of censorship, and the importance of carving out space for a range of sexualities, identities and experiences to exist. These accounts have added to my commitment to supporting sex workers rights, but also in developing debates, theory and methods around identity politics, alternative sexualities and women’s entrepreneurship in the kink, porn and sex industries.

At the AAG, my paper examined RubberDoll, who is a fetish model, performer and dancer based in Florida. Through exploring RubberDoll (her performance repertoire, self-management and her sexual desires), the paper argued that alternative femininities should be valued as socially and politically significant, because women like RubberDoll are actively producing alternative routes to success. This idea of success connects to employment, creativity and the carving out of space for her femininity and sexual identity to exist in her own terms. This is particularly important as women like RubberDoll are often dismissed as dangerous and failing femininity, but also seen as lacking value because of their life choices and sexual identity. The paper drew upon aspects of The Queer Art of Failure (2011) by Jack Halberstam, and artistic gendered activism to critique RubberDoll, specifically what can be learnt from RubberDoll’s own words, her entrepreneurial empire and performance art. The paper argued that RubberDoll’s entrepreneurial skills and self-management of her own kinky-latex empire, are important factors to consider when re-examining the gendered and political significance of alternative femininities. The paper explored how entrepreneurship – in this context – is not just a positive and creative means to support alternative pathways to employment, but it can also be considered as counter public.

The response to the paper was fantastic, and this has led to an application for a BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grant for a symposium on Kinktrepenureship, a term that I have devised and want to explore, as it is an area that is underdeveloped in entrepreneurship literature. ‘Kink’ is a term that can be used to describe some alternative or unconventional sexualities and desires, but is specifically applied to practices within the BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism) and fetish community (i.e. preference for wearing rubber / latex, domination and submission, rope bondage, and breath play, etc.).

The AAG we saw a keynote delivered by Professor Judith Butler, who has been influential in gender studies, gender research, and queer and literary theory. Butler discussed ‘Demography in the Ethics of Non-Violence,’ which is really apt and timely in the context of #BlackLivesMatter and the problematic socio-political rhetoric’s around race, terrorism and Othering. During the conference the Geosex16 group also went on a trip to the Kink.com porn studios (Armory Studios) which is based in San Francisco. As Kink.com’s mission is to demystify and celebrate alternative sexualities (i.e. BDSM, kink, queer porn, etc.) the tour of the sets and building also opened space for discussions around sex work and sexuality. Our tour guide was Ruckus, one of the adult models and performer at Kink.com. We explored the facilities, sets and storage areas, for a chance to see ‘behind the scenes’ of a working porn studio. One of the buildings attached to the facility is rented out by Kink.com to farmers markets, roller derby bouts, for New Year’s parties, and other non-kink / non-porn events. The diversity and open ethos found in San Francisco is really quite special and is tied to a specific socio-political history that not many cities offer, as outlined in the GLBT History Museum in the Castro area of San Francisco. The city still offers a space for acceptance, particularly for alternative sexualities and lifestyles that can still be stigmatised and marginalized.

To read more about the papers presented at the Geosex16 sessions at the conference, please visit Dr Emily Coopers blog. There are five posts overall detailing all sessions and papers: https://ecooper2site.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/sex-in-the-city-reactionism-resistance-and-revolt-aag-geosex16-sessions-in-san-francisco-marchapril-2016-post-15-session-i/. You can also explore themes and responses on Twitter via the hashtags #geosex16 #geosex2016.

 

This post was featured on the BCMCR Interactive Cultures website.