21 August, 2019

ALMA Presentation 2019 – A Personal Story

We recently did a spotlight on facebook of Hannah Sprod, one of our community members who is taking the initiative in the field of medicine to advocate and educate. Rather than write about what happened when she recently spoke to the ALMA about BDSM and KNOTbound, we asked her to tell you in her own words. Here is her story:

“What an insane experience presenting to the Australian Lesbian Medical Association about BDSM. I was so scared. I didn’t know how they would react. I didn’t know if I could do our people justice. I thought I wasn’t going to get any of my speech or slides done. Got there in the end. Sir’s support made all the difference. I made it to Katoomba with slides and at least some notes. I took my place at one of the tables.

Welcome to country was beautiful. Made me cry. Two beautiful people came to share their culture. With all the history. Aunty Carol talked about being bashed at school due to her skin colour. And yet she would come and share with us anyway. That is one thing with Aboriginal culture is despite the fact that they were conquered by our culture they still are willing to have open hands and hearts and try again.

After welcome to country and story from Aunty Carol everyone in the room introduced themselves and the land(s) they came from. Kiwi’s spoke Maori language. Really interesting to hear how they do identification – it is by mountain and river rather than by country. I gave my info at like a million miles an hour. Its scary talking in front of so many strangers.
Doctor Jack Ganbaatar, a gay man from Mongolia spoke about the challenges in his country and challenges for LGBTI people around the world. He had maps regarding consensual sex between homosexuals – where it was illegal, where it wasn’t mentioned and where there were specific protections for the LGBTI community. Made me think – how many laws are written to explicitly protect the rights of the BDSM community? To explicitly say we cannot be discriminated against? Whole other level.

Then it was me. Timekeeper got confused and cut off Jack 15 mins early, so I started early and he finished up and took questions after me. I was more settled to talk in front of the group reminding myself to speak slowly but terrified I was outing myself to a room full of strangers. Strangers who have been advocating and practicing medicine so much longer than me!
Kind of intimidating hearing my intro read out. I sound good on paper. Still feel like an imposter though.

I said I was nervous and thanked them for allowing me my first steps in advocacy in the safe environment. Didn’t even get all of the words out before they started clapping. Very supportive environment. It was a good way to break the ice. I had my numbers and the first part of my speech pretty good (over 400,000 Australians practice BDSM every year). Got a bit lost in the middle and towards the end because I hadn’t prepped and written it out as much but it was all good. I took my pauses. And at times ignored my notes and spoke from my heart. Did my best to connect to the audience. Felt my face getting redder and redder as the talk progressed.
My timing was perfect. 25 mins. I was so pleased with that. I have no idea how I pulled it off but I did!! And then I got questions. Questions about how doctors can show they are open to talk about BDSM, discussion about the evidence around strangulation, questions about mental health and trauma.

I went and sat down. So many people giving me the thumbs up and saying I did good. People coming up to me at lunch and saying thank you. So many people who knew absolutely nothing. Want me to come back next year and do 101 of BDSM language, culture and practices. Talk about consent and the basics. Many people came up and said they were sorry they missed my speech. They had stepped out for a nap and set an alarm especially for my speech but missed the start because I got started early. It was humbling and relieving. Everyone seemed really grateful. I had questions about KNOTbound and education for doctors. Questions about access to my slides. I really hope that at least some of the doctors asking about how to become kink-educated get in touch with Sir. It would be so good to expand the list of kink-educated providers.

Took me a few hours to calm down after my speech. Started feeling more normal around about 4. When I got back to the hotel at 6 and sat down I really got very tired and flat. Lots of energy put out today.

Being here has so much vibe of guide camp. Just a bunch of women relaxing and being comfortable together. It was interesting today when everyone was talking about their first time coming to ALMA and how nervous they were, how hard it was to be out as gay in medicine or medical in queer circles, even the medical students. They all talked about the sense of coming home at ALMA. As soon as they arrived it felt like their people and home.
I know that feeling. I have had it myself and heard it from so many of our people. That was my feeling at attending my first munch, my first party, going to the Australian Leatherman Contest. How many of us feel so alone before we find our people? Wonder if what we like or want to do is too weird?

There were so many, many conversations over the weekend. Conversations with doctors and students. Some were kinky – asking about events or just thanking me for broaching the subject. Another student was also in an age gap relationship – it was so cool to be able to talk to her about that. Hearing the hesitation in her voice and then the defiant statement of the age difference. Seeing the relief and sense of belonging when I told her my age gap. She had some experience with Leatherfolk so I actually told her I was a slave and that I was enjoying the opportunity to drink since usually I have to ask permission. Slavery isn’t really her thing and I think it might have been a little too far out for her but she took it in stride. Asked me why I slave. I really gotta find better words – any words – to describe that if I’m going to keep doing this advocacy thing. “Coz it makes me happy” or “Coz I want to” seems a bit simplistic.

Such a bummer being back in the real world this week. Still a lot of support from people for my speech but not consistently, not from everyone like I felt on the weekend. I felt so safe with the ALMAs. They might not know about our people and our culture but they care and were so willing to learn and accept me for me.

I woke up on the last day of conference and saw a post on facebook asking if we as kinksters should be “out”. There were the usual voices saying “it’s no one’s business but mine”. I wrote something about my presentation and the importance of our health being looked after. Didn’t think much of it. Not until later. The last thing at the conference was an informal chat reflecting on the weekend over lunch. The ALMAs talked about imposter syndrome and the importance of representation. You cannot be what you cannot see.

It made me cry. It hurt. It hurt because I don’t see that representation. Our voices aren’t out and proud. The value of a collar isn’t known. The respect behind titles. The work put in to earning Leathers. These things we share quietly behind closed doors. “Think of the children” they say. “What if the strangers feel uncomfortable or don’t consent to seeing your dynamic” they say. “Does Leather belong at Pride?” they ask.

My own mother told me not to do anything that I wouldn’t be comfortable standing up in front of my Girl Guides and talking about. Not to live in shame.

I’m not ashamed of my lifestyle. I don’t think I am doing anything wrong. My Sir means the whole fucking world to me. Our protocols, my rules, her collar around my neck. I don’t want to hide. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want any of our people left out in the cold.

I got up and spoke again at that discussion. I cried in front of those beautiful doctors and students who had made me feel so welcome. I spoke about the shame and stigma our people have. I spoke of sitting on the floor by my Sir’s feet at the airport the weekend before. And they supported me. I had a dozen tissues passed to me and the fiercest hugs from these beautiful strong women. Both kinky and vanilla. I am so grateful, so grateful, to the ALMAs for standing with me. For seeing my truth and adding their strength to mine. I’m still scared of where this advocacy path is going to take me. But I’m not alone.”

~ Hannah Sprod

20 August 2019