How long have you been teaching
That’s kind of a loaded question – I’ve been teaching in some capacity or other for pretty much since childhood, from Sunday school to Marine Corps Practical Knowledge to music lessons to dance & technology workshops at the University Level. But I started working in the Kink field around 2002-2003, first just as a volunteer at various conferences and then gradually as a presenter.
When did you start to identify as an educator? Was it the same time, or was it later?
I honestly don’t remember my first “presentation”, but I remember very clearly the moment when I walked out of an “Intro to Kink” workshop thinking “I could do that…”
How did you get started in sex/kink education?
See above – I was at a conference, doing A/V support for a BDSM presenter, and while he was good, I felt that there were definitely gaps in what was being presented, and I wanted to fill in those gaps. At the time I was in a very supportive relationship with my wife and my slave, and they both helped me as demo-bottoms and co-presenters. I owe a lot to their willingness to try out new techniques and quite often use not only our bodies but our relationships as models to help teach.
Are there any topics that you consider your specialty?
The topics I most enjoy presenting on focus on passion – on first identifying what kind of kink turns people on, and then figuring out how to get the most out of that kink. Classes I’ve developed around that theme are things like cigar play, using language as a BDSM implement (“Beating in Tongues”), rope as a means of connection, and finding intimacy in Dominant/submissive relationships. There was a time when I was very identified with rope (due in large part to my podcast) and lately people have started to think I’m all about cigars, but the truth is that I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into one fetish. If I had to, I would say my fetish is connection – I just find that rope and cigars and words help me reach the places I want to go.
Have you seen any changes in the BDSM community education over the years?
I came into the community just as the internet was changing the way people were able to exchange ideas, so I can’t say I saw the “big” change – from pre-internet person-to-person instruction to bondage books in the malls and tremendously deep resources such as Kink Academy. But I’ve seen a few big ones – most notably FetLife, which changed the way kinksters relate completely. I also have seen an explosion of events and resources – it’s gone from occasional weekend events and munches to where you can do some kind of kink community engagement every day – if not live, then online in some discussion group or video broadcast.
While that has led to a lot of opportunities for more people to teach, it’s also led to a lot of people mistaking the ability to do as the ability to teach. The latter is much harder, and takes a different skillset. We’re finding out the hard way, as a community, that there is more to presenting than just imitating your high school teachers.
You run a very popular unconference called a GRUE, can you talk about why you started those and what your experience running them has been
I started the GRUE- “Graydancer’s Ropetastic Unconference Extravaganza” – for two reasons. One, Lee Harrington sat across the table from me and said “Gray, you really need to have an event with your name on it.” When Lee says you should do something, it’s a good idea to do it.
Two, at the time I was working for a school district and I encountered the concept of the “Open Space” (and its relation, the “Unconference”) from the work of Harrison Owen. As I read about the process, I found myself wondering “I wonder if this would work with kinky people?”
Now, with 36 GRUEs under my belt, six more in the next couple of months on two continents (and an island or two), apparently the answer was “yes, kinky people will love it!” I have been surprised by a couple of things – one, I thought that the event would be more localized, but people have been known to travel from overseas just to be at GRUEs. At the same time, I’ve also been surprised (and gratified) to see many of my fellow educators who have been burned out by the usual kinky con system get “recharged” by GRUEs when they see how passionate people can be about their kink.
You also have a popular podcast “Ropecast” do you consider that part of your educational outreach?
Yes, though I’ve been somewhat negligent with it the past few months. I did the podcast for 7 years, and it’s now a body of work that provides both education and a cultural snapshot – an oral history, if you will – of the rope community during that period of time. There are a couple of people I’ve interviewed who have since died, and having their voices heard is, I feel, possibly the most important work I’ve ever done.
Do you have any pet peeves about sex educators?
Damn, that would be a much easier question if you asked if I had pet peeves about the sex education system. So much wrong there…as for sex educators themselves, there is such a wide variety that it’s hard to pick out one thing that applies to the whole group. I think the biggest problem I run into is when people come from some traditional pedagogical method – such as corporations, or public schools, or academia – and try to simply replicate that in a sexuality context. It’s not that there aren’t valuable tools and lessons to be learned from those methods – but sexuality and kink occupy different cultural niches, and so even those methodologies that do work from those systems may need to be changed, adjusted, or adapted to teach sex ed. There’s also a great deal of evidence that the traditional lecture-hall method is one of the worst ways to convey knowledge, especially knowledge that has a hands-on component.
I guess that would be my pet peeve: any educator who stands at the front of the class, dispensing knowledge to the masses without realizing how much we all have to learn from each other. That drives me nuts.
What advice would you give aspiring sex/kink educators?
- Don’t stand at the front of the class dispensing knowledge to the masses without realizing how much we all have to learn from each other.
- Unless you’ve read the work of Gar Williams and watched a few Apple Keynotes (or the Al Gore environmental movie), forget about using PowerPoint.
- Handouts are at best overrated and at worst a wasteful distraction. Have a PDF on your website and trust that people who need to take notes will take the notes they need.
- If you’re in it for the money, get out. Not because we don’t need you, I just would hate to see you disappointed.
- Get all the money you can. You’re worth it, and the community can afford it, even if they don’t know it yet.
- Present on the things you’re passionate about, forget the rest (especially things you think will make you “popular” or “the people want”). Presenting about things that you don’t especially care about makes for boring presentations, and takes away the opportunity for someone else who is passionate to present.
- Get the audience moving, engaging, contributing. If they’re just sitting there, they probably aren’t thinking about you.
- Give lots of credit to those who taught you – even if what they taught you was how not to teach.
- Give your demo bottoms credit. For instance, stop calling them “demo bottoms” and call them co-presenters, by name, in the program.
- The key to a good sex education presentation: boobies, cock, or both.
- Everything I’ve told you could be wrong. Figure it out yourself.
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