“Ask First” campaign educates BDSM kinksters about consent at Folsom Street Fair

Dressed in black and gold ruffled panties, thigh-high stockings and pink sequined nipple pasties, Maxine Holloway said she was tingling with excitement at the thought of being surrounded by thousands of Bay Area fetish enthusiasts during the 2013 Folsom Street Fair. As Holloway walked through the sea of BDSM performers and spectators, selling her lace, satin and silk intimates fresh off her body to the panty-sniffing enthusiasts, she said she quickly went from feeling like “best dressed pervert” to violated and unsafe.

“I think a lot of the time in these sexual environments there is this misunderstanding that everything is really a free for all, and it’s not,” Holloway said. “Consent needs to happen, even at kinky events.”

Holloway earned her master’s in public health at SF State last spring and works as a sex worker, activist and sexual health educator. She has attended the historic Folsom Street Fair for the past nine years, but says the amount of nonconsensual touching she received at the fair two years ago was startling and lead her to initiate the “Ask First” campaign.

“This year I’m ready to take the campaign to the next level,” Holloway said. “The Folsom Street Fair events team has generously donated an entire booth to asking first. Over 400,000 Bay Area kinksters, pervy visitors and some cats attend Folsom every year – lets cover them with consent.”

Instead of boycotting the world’s largest leather event that is near and dear to Holloway’s heart, she launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $2,475 for “Ask First.” Holloway said that the campaign’s goal is to create awareness about consent in public spaces and to remind the kink community and other attendees that consent is always necessary. The money raised went toward purchasing supplies needed for the Ask First booth at this years event, including Ask First stickers, wages for performs and printed content tips.  The campaign was $5 short of their goal by the day of the event.

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“I’m ready to inform and illustrate just how good consent can feel and provide tangible information about how the BDSM community can stop perpetuating rape culture,” Holloway said.

Marisol Gutierrez, second-time festival goer, said that while she has never personally had her privacy trespassed at Folsom, she can see how Holloway’s experience led her to launch Ask First.

“In these events there’s almost like this liberty, this unspoken permission to just go ahead and grab and spank someone,” Gutierrez said, “so it makes sense to want someone to ask first, to ask for your consent.”

Andre Shakti, a live webcam model, burlesque performer and volunteer at this year’s Ask First booth, helped Holloway pass out stickers for the campaign last year. Shakti said she noticed the campaign’s impact on increasing the number of times she was approached for consent prior to being touched, compared to previous years.

“(The kink community likes) to think of ourselves as being more articulate around consent and negotiation politics because we’re doing it in our private lives because, you know, we’re kinky and we’re sometimes playing with stuff that hurts,” Shakti said. “But it’s actually kind of amazing how we can disconnect between like, ‘I’m practicing really great consent in a scene,’ and ‘I’m practicing really great consent when I’m walking down the street in a public space.'”

Holloway said that while she has received a lot of positive feedback for her efforts to make Folsom Street Fair a consensual space, not everyone in the BDSM and kink community was on board with her plans.

“I’ve received private messages on Facebook from people telling me that I’m trying to ruin the experience, that I’m trying to change the culture of the Folsom Street Fair, but I’m not,” she said. ” I hope this year is the most disgusting, perverted festival yet. I just want it to be consensual.”

Entertainer Cinnamon Maxxine is a self-described sex worker, slut and warrior diva who performed at this years Folsom Street Fair. Maxxine said that while although they do not directly work with Ask First, they’ve spoken to Holloway about their experience with consent as a person of color.

“It’s so easy to fetishize a person of color in a way that doesn’t feel good for us,” Maxxine said. “Some people are into that; I’m particularly not into that. I don’t want to be at Folsom and have you tell me you couldn’t help but slap my ass because I had a Beyoncé booty.”

Holloway said the need for Ask First is a reflection of where we are at socially and it isn’t necessarily specific to the kink community.

Holloway said that, with Ask First, she is simply encouraging people to ask for what they want and communicate what they don’t want.

“I’m really grateful for all the community’s support. We have consent issues and I recognize that and I want to do something about it,” she said. “I’m hoping (Ask First) continues to be a part of the Folsom Street Fair and that I hear fewer and fewer people saying they don’t feel safe at Folsom.”

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  • If only this campaign had limited to what was really important at Folsom – asking before TOUCHING.

    Instead it’s now been twisted into requiring – and demanding – that permission be sought before you can even take someone’s picture there.

    That’s a destruction of the very things which what made Folsom so great, so healthy, and so good for our community. Well intentioned though the photography restriction demands may be, it’s destroying Folsom.