There’s nothing ‘radical’ about abolitionist approaches to sex education

A less-colourful version of this piece can be found in Archer Magazine.  It’s in part a response to this Archer piece, and in part a response to the cancellation of my BDSM101 workshop at Monash University Rad Sex & Consent week in April 2015, which I also wrote about here.

I was to be the facilitator of the BDSM101 workshop which was cancelled at Monash RSC Week. I’ve run BDSM101 at Melbourne Uni RSC for the last two years, and it’s gone off with no conflict with students who’ve had a variety of perspectives on and experiences with BDSM and kink philosophy and practice.  Admittedly, I was quite shocked to hear about how this played out at Monash, and the flimsy and presumptuous rhetoric upon which the objections were based.

I also feel regret for those students whose education and perhaps identities as kinky, queer, or simply curious people were effectively shut down by the course of events that played out here.  This is the sort of situation in which someone will always end up being silenced.  In my personal experience with radical feminism, it’s usually everyone else’s voices but theirs that get silenced and / or denied, and this is a pretty classic example of that – I suppose I just expected an environment like RSC not to attract such behaviour.

I understand and have respect for the position the Women’s Department rep and RSC organiser was placed in by her peers, and whilst I don’t believe that the decision she made was optimal for offering ‘the sex ed you didn’t get in high school’, I do think that it took to heart people’s personal experiences of BDSM-related abuse and / or trauma, which is also an important aspect of creating a safer space.  She takes her role seriously and was put under a lot of pressure at the last minute (the workshop was cancelled late in the week before it was intended to run), and I don’t condemn the decision she made.

It is my understanding that the students in opposition to BDSM intended to picket the workshop, which would have created an environment in which students who were curious about or interested in kink would be outed and publicly shamed for crossing the picket line.  While I find the idea of picketing something like this to be politically ineffective, and feel that the workshop was actually a very appropriate space to discuss the very concerns raised by some of the students, I also care about constructing a safe container for education to happen, and that would have been compromised had the workshop been picketed.

Radical feminism is a social determinist philosophy.  There is simply no space in the scope of its teachings for individual agency of any kind, which makes it a really unsatisfying feminism for a really large percentage of the population, including queers, people of color, gender diverse people, kinky people, and so on.  It deals in binaries.  For those of us who fall on so many other parts of social and cultural spectra, it is a feminism of erasure and denial.  Whilst I certainly encourage debate around its tenets, I must also acknowledge that there is a point at which that debate will necessarily circle back onto itself.  I have engaged in enough of these in my experience as a queer, sexworking, kinky, sex-positive feminist to know that they will always end in the same empirical fallout of agency-denial.  So instead of engaging any further with that condition of the discussion, I’m simply going to offer a few key points about BDSM that I intended to include in the workshop, and can answer to some of the concerns raised.

Education in and communication about sexuality in general, and BDSM in particular is absolutely essential, especially in light of its current popular-cultural mainstreaming, which gives more people access to superficial representations.  The greatest ‘unsafety’ that’s present here is the fact that people have had their access to that education cut off.  This can result in things like unsafe play, poor communication and boundaries, unchecked presumptions about what actually happens in a BDSM exchange, and the like.  I would suggest that the key to healthy sexuality, kinky or otherwise, is about access to education, self-awareness, a complex understanding of consent, healthy relationships, the construction of one’s boundaries, and one’s relationship to pleasure.  The work we do in BDSM101 discusses all of this at an introductory level, and provides resources for further research.

Abuses of BDSM negotiations and dynamics occur when people either choose not to receive and integrate education about these topics, or when they don’t have access to it at all.  And even then, sometimes it still happens, just like it happens in all sorts of other relationships.  However: if the only understanding of BDSM you ever got was from reading ‘Dworkin-critiques-de Sade’, or from or 50 Shades of Grey, it’s my opinion that you should neither be practicing nor condemning it.  This is why I do the work that I do – because none of those perspectives are enough, and all of them oversimplify.

I am not particularly interested in ‘promoting’ BDSM.  I don’t really need to – its got plenty of promo dollars behind it already, ones that reach much further than I do.  Which aspects of sexuality people choose to engage with is absolutely their choice, and I concern myself with helping people to make those choices consciously.  What I’m interested in is providing some information about what BDSM is – and is not – so that people can make their own decisions about it.  I’m sure that those who have opposed its discussion at Monash RSC feel the same way, which is unfortunate and perhaps a little premature (much of the opposition seems to be academic, which is only one of many ways to engage with the topic).

The rhetoric used to campaign against the workshop illustrated, for me, the precise reasons this workshop was needed in the first place.   Simply: abolitionist perspectives on sex education put people in danger.  I can liken what’s happened at Monash to the idea that we shouldn’t teach children about things like condom use, because it encourages them to have sex.  The fact is that they’re having it anyway, and that there are students in reach of the MSA who are practicing kink anyway.  To deny them education on how to do that in a risk-aware, consensual way is to fall into a position of negligence.

For those in the Monash student body who would have attended the workshop, I’d like to say the following:

BDSM does not equal abuse.  It’s ok to be curious about your own sexuality and to venture into some of its more nuanced spaces.  It’s GREAT to question the philosophy and the practice.  It’s also ok to question ‘the scene’ (whether that’s on-campus feminism, BDSM, tantra, sex-positivity, etc).  All of this helps you to figure out exactly what it is that YOU want from your sexuality, your embodiment, and your health and wellbeing.  Ask questions.  Be intrepid.  Get some education and then play, experiment, try things on.  Not everything will fit.  What doesn’t fit, you can leave behind.  What does fit, you can wear fabulously.  And no one has the right to deny your experience – it is yours, you own it, and you can find spaces in which you can be proud of it.  And learn to care for yourself in the process.

When I was an undergraduate with ill-informed anarcho-feminist politics, it was simply impossible for me to make space for something like BDSM, because anything existing within a power structure was something I wanted to dismantle.  You can see how this would quickly become unsustainable, because that means opposing everything – a joyless and exhausting task.  But I did what any decent liberal-arts education should encourage you to do: I stayed open to other arguments and possibilities, and it didn’t take long for me to make some rhetorical and personal evolutions toward embracing things like nuance, queerness, non-binary-ness, subjectivity, and the like.

So my suggestion is that the effects of this degree of backlash will pass.  Sure, there will always be someone who wants to deny your experience – it’s an easy rhetorical roadblock and ‘radical’ politics love a blockade.  But the more experienced you become and the more you integrate into reality outside of campus dramas like this one, the more possibility there is for your experience to be owned, cherished and celebrated, if you so choose.

If you’re looking for some basic discussions of BDSM outside of a radfem viewpoint, or looking for some practical skills, I am more than happy to be a resource to you where possible.  I can point you towards some great workshops, books, podcasts, and other educational and social resources, and you can make your own decisions and ask your own questions.  The resource guide I created for the workshop is here.  And it’s very easy to get in touch with me should you be seeking any further resources.

I regret that the workshop wasn’t able to occur in this venue, and deeply question the political discourse which has made it so, but hope you’ll all look out for other opportunities provided on and off campus for education and discussion.

All the best,


Goodness.  The last few months have really made the word ‘occupation’ feel very full for me.  Occupied.  In addition to the muchness I’ve had happening in Melbourne, I’ve also been spending an uncharateristic amount of time in airports getting liminal and trying to sneak really heavy bags in as hand luggage.

I have always moved with sex.  When I go through my history of travels and transversings along the earth, I find I have very often moved around the place by the vehicle of my existence in the field of sexuality.  In this way my connection with sex has created a lot of space in my life, has allowed me to repeatedly bust my geographies with a dildo-handled mallet and touch my feet to new grounds.  Travel and sex are both pretty trippy.  Journeymaking, life-altering, self-constructing, horizon-bending.  They are ways in which we feel into new territory and shine light on elements of ourselves and our surroundings.  Other bodies, other lands, other modalities of being.  I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to combine these two things.  They’re an intense but revelatory match.  Sometimes I am jumping off of corporeal cliffs when I’m far away from home.  This can be completely disorienting / rupturing.  But sometimes that’s necessary.

While the roaming I’ve done recently has often been saturated with labour and frenzy and general exhaust, I’ve tried to hang on to some of the rituals that I associate with travel and becoming acquainted with place.  The networks and webs I’ve grown into continue to provide me with little perks that still allow me to explore within the constraints of extremely long days, that call me to slowness when I’m feeling the absence of the deceleration mechanisms I employ at home.  I’m currently tearing up Sydney’s hills on a friend’s single-speed, looking for the green blocks on the map and gravitating towards them, making sure I walk around with headphones on, cooking my own food.  I try to cultivate some sense of my daily normativities and domesticities in these places, to carry my homeness around with me.  Like a turtle.  Self-contained.

For someone who is personally shifting intensely into a desire for roots, for foundational work, to ground deeply, this movement does shake me a little, and I attempt to respond by just allowing that and being grateful that I have access to this motion and the meditative qualities that can offer.  Being out of your element can make you quite focussed, and I think I require that mental training at this moment when the breadth of my labour has become a little more broad than can be comfortably reached.


With a few exceptions, at this stage I make my own promo images, time-consuming as it may be.  Things feel a lot more specific when I do them myself.  This was an outtake from a little session today trying to get a profile picture for webcam work.  It’s technically better than the one I went with, but 5 out of 6 friendlies say it just doesn’t have enough ‘come hither’.

kink of calibre

It’s becoming clear to me that I’ve been blessed with some pretty incredible mentors, teachers, and other cohorts in my time in the sex industry.  I’m sure that this is in no small part because much of my current work is quite focussed on BDSM, which thrives on peer education, and where the quality of the information and tutelage you receive does really determine the quality of your play / execution.  I’m currently reading John D. Weal’s The Leatherman’s Protocol Handbook, and as someone who’s lived through about half a century of leather culture, he’s got a damned good grasp on the value of passing the right information in the right way.  This is basically what I’ve been receiving since I began my BDSM practice, and I’m beginning to realise how very cushy I’ve had it, in both commercial and private play.

Recently I was taken on as an apprentice by Mistress Electra Amore, whose reputation precedes her, but please feel free to check her credentials.  At Barbara Carrellas’ Urban Tantra training in 2011, I ended up ditching my cabin and spending my nights talking shit by the fire in the main hall with her and Lady Ambrosia.  At the time I didn’t really have much sense of the calibre of women I was surrounded by.  But as I’ve seen them in their contexts since then, I cannot believe my good fortune in being at the right place at the right time.  The first professional BDSM session I ever witnessed was in Ambrosia’s dungeon, and that set the bar pretty high for what I expect from myself as a professional player.  The first person who ever tied me up was Phillip Gordon, and the first to suspend me was Erin Kyan (via another keen rigger who had commissioned Erin for an intensive lesson).  I couldn’t have asked for better guides into restraint.  And now, as I begin the first assignments in Mz Electra’s kink curriculum and realising how very thorough and heartfelt and engaged this experience is going to be, I’m feeling pretty honoured to have such incredible guides into this realm.  Never have I felt so empowered and worthy in my work.  Enough, now, to call it a ‘career’.

The Leather tradition emphasizes homage to those players of the past and an acknowledgement that each person you connect with in the Leatherworld becomes a part of your identity as a player.  If these folks are my foundation, I feel like I’m going to stand on some pretty solid ground by the time I’m able to pass my knowledge on to others.  And for that I am most grateful.

I, Gala Vanting, have an Amazon Wishlist

Queer porn empress Courtney Trouble wrote this post last week about dusting off her Amazon wishlist as a means of crowd-funding her work, and it kicked me into gear on creating one of my own.  I’ve been thinking about doing this for, oh, years, and I can’t say with any certainty what’s blocked me from doing so.  I think there are a few challenge-worthy fears at play.  The fear of being seen as greedy or needy.  Of being regarded as having such inflated self-worth that I might suggest you buy me a present.  Of outing myself as a broke ho.

But the time has come to address these things and I, Gala Vanting, have an Amazon Wishlist.

Call me a nay-sayer, but I suspect I’d have limited success launching a Kickstarter for kink gear, or a Pozible campaign to make a feature-length film about my cunt (though I could, and probably will, spend a lot of time thinking about what I’d title said campaign).  But I do see the value of utilising the crowd-funding concept for those of us who don’t have access to the outlandish amounts of capital often associated with both the porn and fetish industries (we shall work together to unpack that assumption at a later date).  Titter if you must, but I think that what I do does have a grassroots sort of quality to it.  I’m starting from nothing, from the bottom.  And I’m doing what I do in no small part because I’m trying to make the world a better place for sex.  I’m sure that riches await me at some point down the line, but now is not my time; trainees in pro BDSM don’t make money.  As I’ve only recently re-entered the industry after a couple of years off, I don’t have the smutmaking momentum re-built to be raking in the middle-class salary I once made as a niche market porn producer / persona.  When you are not a mainstream concern, you do not make mainstream money.

This is where my fans and friends come in.  I know you exist – I’ve got an email archive to prove it, and several sex threats.  Tiny things make a difference for me right now.  Not having to buy a $30 book to continue my pro BDSM training means that I’ve got food money for the week.  Stockings are essential, and highly fragile / disposable.  It’s like that, yanno?  Let’s not even talk about latex outfits yet.  Unless you want to.  In which case, email me.  This is the first of several attempts I’ll be making to keep myself above water while I womanifest a living wage.  Financial slaves: you know where to find me.

porn, youth sex ed, and piracy: a complication

Last week Australian broadcasting company SBS aired an episode of its program Insight called ‘Generation XXX‘, addressing youth & online pornography.  Standardised sex ed in Australia is a hot topic at the moment, and I found it refreshing to see youth representing themselves on the matter, as the popular discourse is generally led by adults.  While the program as a whole was disappointing for someone like me who is on the extreme left-of-centre on this issue, it did bring up some interesting questions for me as a pornographer.

I am of the opinion that porn is a useful educational tool.  I’ve worked on pornographic projects that I’ve also used in educational workshops, and have frequently received the feedback that my work and that of my colleagues has been used, at least in part, as learning material.  We need to see diverse representations of pleasure in order to map out our own.  We learn by watching, and then by doing.  Tell me how you learned to cook.  Tell me how you learned to ride a bike.  You saw it done, and then you did it.  Not always well.  But so it goes.  I’m happy to further discuss whether or not porn is a viable educational tool in the comments, but for the purposes of this piece, I’m taking it for granted that it is.

Youth can’t pay for porn.  Their options are what’s shared between them, on and offline, and what they can find on the web for free.  The tube sites (RedTube, YouPorn, and the like) run the whole gamut in terms of quality and content, from the sacred to the profane, and it’s no simple matter to screen for that which has value as a representation of real sexuality, and that which does not.  Especially if you’re of an age at which you haven’t had enough experience to separate one from the other.

For those of us who make some or all of our living peddling smut, tube sites have become the bane of our existence.  Well, that and government regulating bodies.  And the ‘standards of the community’.  And the shitty American dollar.  But I digress.  While I wish it weren’t so and I’d rather not advertise it, it’s fairly simple to find my content for free with a Google search.  On one hand, I’m enraged that my image can be so freely dispersed and consumed with no compensation for my level of personal exposure, my labour, my vulnerability.  On the other, what I make is a hell of a lot better than what a lot of other people make in terms of its ethics, its politics, and its aesthetics.  It’s been made with attention to detail, with a value on aesthetics, with a personal agenda of raw self-exposure of my goddess-given body, and with an explicitly sex-positivist perspective.  Not all of that is immediately visible when you control-click save-link-as, but it does show if you look closely enough.  And I do think youth are looking closely.

I want my work to be used in an educational context.  I’d like you to share it with your children when you and they have agreed that they’re ready to see explicit sexual imagery.  I’d have loved to have something like what I make 10, 15 years ago.  You know where I went for explicit images when I was first web-enabled?  Remember that one?  Yeah.  Not exactly a great standard to start with.  And had I known better, I would have seen better.  I would have done better.  And I would have felt a lot more ‘normal’.  But that was all I knew, and Google wasn’t yet a thing.

So: my content is 1) valuable educational material, and 2) freely accessible to youth if they know how / where to look.  And of course this is the clincher – we need to guide them to the stuff that’s going to give them a positive experience, the stuff that’s going to foster a good body image, an understanding of the diversity of available acts / genders / styles / safer-sex practices, and an attitude of self-acceptance in regards to sexuality.  But: I’m also broke.  I’m the brokest ho I know (I should note that I know a very particular demographic of ho – the white middle-class sort).  I have something to gain from combatting piracy, however theoretical that combat may be.  I have a financial investment in being able to sell my smut.  But that potentially removes it from the tubosphere, and thereby from accessibility to the folks who might actually need it.  There’s no way for me to control the use of my pirated content, but if it has the potential to show some 14-year-old girl that squirting is different from pissing and a totally ‘normal’ and satisfying thing to do, do I really want to?

holy fucking april

April was a huge month.  Between Xplore and Sex Camp 2012, followed by an intense week producing a film that I hope to enter in the Berlin Porn Film Festival, I feel completely saturated with possibility, pride, new contacts and energies, and education.  There is so fucking much to do.  And so many incredible folks to do it with.  I had to sleep for two days and then roll around between two gritty walls of dub in an old bank vault to not feel completely buried in that, but I’ve come out the other side now and am starting to actualise.

As someone with relatively diverse modalities of working in this industry, I often find it hard to focus my efforts and energies, and the events of the last month have given me more and more options.  Doors are constantly opening and the number of truly quality folks who appear in my sphere just continues to grow.  And to this I say fuck yeah.

So in May you’re going to see a big push from me towards marketing and branding Gala.  And you may get some spam.  It’s been a very long road to deciding do this.  I know very little about marketing and the term ‘branding’ makes my little anarcho-grrl heart clench all up.  I’m not a fucking capitalist, which is one of the things I like most about myself.  But I’ve given a hell of a lot of myself to my work over the last 6 or so years, and ain’t no dollar value assignable to that.  I’m the brokest ho I know (also a great topic I hope to address at some point), and it really gets me down.  So I’m putting my mind to developing more and more ways in which the folks who enjoy what I offer can help to support me to keep offering it.  We’re all starving artists, I know it, but I can’t help but think that if my cunt is making that art I should be able to afford to look after it a little better.  You should know that I’ll be spending my first million on a permanent vajazzling.

el nombre

I really, really struggle with sex work names / personae.  If it wasn’t such a total disregard for my safety and privacy, I’d use my legal name, which is quite nice, and also a convenient bedroom pun.  One of the things that I feel characterises my work in the industry is that it comes from a very personal place, it’s very ‘me’, it’s relatively stripped of mainstream expectations of a sex worker, it’s not a performance (and I do hope to complicate all of those statements in my writing).  So it is strange to try to name this person-who-does, to characterise her with a moniker.  My domme name came from a plea on Facebook – that’s how much I dread this stuff, and how little competence I feel I have.

When I chose ‘Gala’ as my name for the Feck sites, I didn’t really envision it (her?) becoming what it (she?) is now.  When I resigned from the Feck staff in 2010, I planned to retire the name and appear elsewhere under another name.  But here I am, 7 years down the track from my first contribution, and Gala has built some momentum and, if the tube sites are any evidence, a following of some description.  Now does not seem like the time to abandon Gala.

I also chose the surname ‘Vanting’ a long time ago, not expecting to use it.  I liked the sound, I liked the rudimentary textual play, and mostly I just didn’t think I’d use it.  The time has come to brand Gala a little, to sign up for twitter and facebook accounts, to put my name to things, and I’m trying to work out whether to drop the surname or to change it.  I don’t think Gala stands alone (and I don’t know many four-letter usernames available anywhere these days).  The idea of trying to come up with a new surname makes my head explode.  So, I’m asking for your input.  If you like Gala Vanting, tell me why.  Is it ‘sexy enough’?  Does it need to be?  Is it acceptable as the name of someone who is, perhaps, a sex educator or a presenter or a credible writer or performer or multi-ho?

And if not: got any other ideas?

hit to heal

I’m coming down from Xplore 2012, which did even more in its last 3 hours than it did in its prior 3 days.  I’m not really one for play parties, generally – too much of the general public to negotiate and not quite my style of play – but the space created by Xplore (and definitely the free ticket as my reward for volunteering) made me feel that if ever there was a time, it was probably then.  It was.

You walk away from these sorts of gatherings with a fair bit to sift through, more of it personal than professional (though often for those who work with something this intimate, those things are hard to distinguish from one another).  I had a beautiful 10-hour drive to do some of that yesterday, and carrying all of that stuff down the Hume with me was pretty intense.  This was trips inside of trips inside of trips, this thing, and a couple of those occurred in the wee hours in a dinky bar in industrial Marrickville.  Before they disappear from the forefront of my consciousness, I want to put them to text.

When you navigate other people’s sexualities for three solid days, you absorb a hell of a lot.  Not all of it is yours.  Some people’s energies are harder to interface with than others.  Let alone trying to work out what to do with your own.  I almost got back on the road that night, planning to skip out on the party, but as Sunday afternoon went on and I started to hit the wall and break open a little, it became very un-sensible to stuff it into the car with me and take it flying down the highway at midnight.  So I went to the play party with the intention to let some of that out.

When you ask for what you want, you are more likely to get it.  I made it clear to as many people as would listen that I’d consider it a good night if I left with a few marks.  They came as bruises and scratches in one of the most nurturing BDSM experiences I’ve had.  Every woman involved was queer, feminist, and a couple also are or have been sex workers.  There was something very valuable in that, for me.  Something very safe.  Like I knew exactly with whom I was negotiating and that their top priority was my care.  They each hit me as if it were so.


Red rope binds my wrists and tethers me to a ceiling beam.  There is enough space in front of me to fit a person, and never am I without someone to hold space with me, to be a real point of human contact, to hold my hands, to reflect my experience back at me, to bear witness.  The process of tying is accompanied by very clear negotiations: I will rate the intensity of the strokes to their giver on a scale of one to eleven.  I will safeword with red, yellow, green.  I will be asked regularly about how I am feeling.  I will receive strokes of the flogger from multiple people.  I will become a puddle, and when I have reformed I will fall at the feet of the leader of this scene and worship the boots they stood in as they did so.  I understand exactly what is going to happen and I consent wholly.  I possibly welcome an extra bit of umph behind every swing with the smile that often accompanies me into a scene.  She’s smiling?  Let’s tell her how beautiful it is, and then beat it out of her. 

The first stroke is hard.  My threshold will need to be high, so I move it there.  I grin through the opening blows with that excited feeling you get when you feel like you might have to squeal.  I harness that, focus it, close my eyes and allow the peace of each stroke to pass through me.  The rhythm is slow, and there is a lot of time to spend with each sting.  The effort of moving that impact through my body becomes something I have to concentrate on, and that’s where I begin to enter that meditative, hyper-vulnerable space.

I carry all of my weight in my shoulders.  Often they knot and curl around my heartspace and I have to bring a lot of awareness to them in order to open up my heart.  This is sometimes a painful process.  Strong blows to my shoulders are a good way to bring me to tears.  Salt water healing. 

The flogger changes hands and I am told how incredible I am and how pleasing it is to hit me.  The woman at the other end of the whip now is ancient, is deeply connected with history, with the earth, with the alchemic, the mythic, the esoteric.  I can feel that in her strokes, some of which don’t even reach out to my flesh but are felt just as sincerely.  Behind my closed eyes now is the image of a timeline stretching back into forever, and I remember that it is her tradition that’s being passed onto me as I train as a pro domme.  All of this engages me deeply, connects me to these women around me and the wisdom we share.  The sobs are in my shoulders and I breathe into them.  My breath is a channel now, through which I am allowing tears and blood and neurochemicals to flow.  It keeps me conscious of my boots on the ground.  I need this now.

I close my eyes and let it leak out over my skin.  One woman, a woman who knows, is so pleased to see my tears.  She wants to see them fall to earth.  She knows what a healing space this is, she’s been there herself.  Shared wisdom. Another tells me how beautiful I am, how very strong, powerful.  Every word and every whip is an affirmation.  You are so beautiful.  You are so strong.  I am so loved.

And on it goes, and I dive into that reservoir from which the warm salt water comes, and I connect with everything there is to be sad about, to be grateful for, to feel alive with.  I love the intention with which each of these women cares for me, draws from within me, brings blood to the surface of my skin.  I do not know where I go, for a time, but it is dark in there, a velvet dark that I could fall into like a k-hole.  I return to find that blood to have been drawn out, and that means the trip is over.  No blood on the whip, yanno?  I know.  And I am brought down (up?) from this do-not-know-where-i-go and I begin to pick up the various pieces of my bodily experience – snot, tears, breath, sense of the skin.  I am embraced, I am buried in the scents and warmth and heartbeats of these women who heal, and when I have been appropriately nuzzled I bring myself to the ground to give thanks with lips on leather and fingertips over buckles and my breath on the blackness of those boots.

Thanks to XI, Ana, EL, and Zahra for this.