I am responding to the open letter posted recently in which objections are raised about the theme of the upcoming Pride party at the historic Armory. I write to you as the owner of the Armory, Kink.com, and as a one third partner in the event itself.
Firstly, let me say that I feel empathy for those who are offended. I have enormous respect for the battles that are being fought against incarceration and the statistics raised in your letter appaul me, as they should any reasonable person. I am someone who has long-since been deeply troubled by the minimum sentencing rules and the war on drugs that were started under the Reagan Administration.
I am proud to have a diverse staff and to support the LGBTQ community. If you were to visit The Armory and mingle with kink’s employee base, you would find that the LGBTQ communities are strongly represented and cherished at the core of our organization. The first thing I did when I purchased the Armory was fly the Pride Flag. We celebrate the LGBTQ community by flying their flags throughout the year.
I am at the same time, however, someone who believes in freedom of expression. I believe that my kink should be OK. I believe that if a group wants to organize a particular kind of party, they should be free to do so without shame. The purpose of this event is a celebration. It was certainly never intended to ‘trivialize incarceration’ nor ‘normalize oppression’, and I do not believe that a fantasy party could ever trivialize or normalize events in the larger world. I ask you to also consider the fact that sexual fantasy and BDSM have long been a tool used by those who have experienced real life trauma and oppression – including many members of the LGBTQ community – to reclaim the imagery and language of their experiences and alter the actual meanings of those words and images. Sexual fantasies may be catalyzed by real life events, but in no way do those fantasies represent or contain the same meaning as non-consensual, non-sexual real life power dynamics. In BDSM play, though players negotiate and consent to roles such as top and bottom, dominant and submissive – though they may request to be spanked, flogged, or shackled – this should in no way be interpreted as an actual loss of power on the part of the submissive or a gaining of power on the part of the dominant. Though players may wear a uniform or use language that is traditionally representative of cultural authority, they do so with the understanding that this play queers that representation and alters its meaning. The wearing of uniforms and the use of the tools of authority as sexual props has long been a means through which some members of the queer community have protested and reclaimed the symbols of oppression. I ask you to consider the idea that the use of the prison industrial complex as a party theme does not trivialize the experiences of the oppressed, but trivializes the assumed authority of the oppressor.
Having said that, the extent to which some groups find this theme offensive because the party is happening during the San Francisco Pride weekend has given me cause to reflect. I realize that Pride is both a celebration of LGBTQ identities and historically a time when serious issues that affect queer communities are highlighted. Had I thought that a prison fantasy party would detract from the very serious issue of the prison industrial complex in this country, I would have insisted on another theme. With the party just over two weeks away, it is not possible for us to change the theme, as we are contractually bound to WE, whose show we purchased and cannot change. Quite literally, the costumes, decor, backdrops etc, are already allocated and en route to The Armory.
We can, however, revamp the website and marketing materials to minimize the emphasis on prison language, to highlight the camp and fantasy aspects of this event and to raise awareness of the real life incarceration issues that we all find so troubling. As a 33% owner in the event, I am able to sway the course of the event to an extent, and I promise to do all I can so that Pride participants can both celebrate their sexual identities and make strides toward fighting the real life issues faced by LGBTQ people worldwide.
Update 12th June. The person able to change the website is in Tel-Aviv hosting another WE party. The prideatthearmory.com assets are at his home in NYC. He will update with new copy as soon as he returns to NYC this coming Tuesday.