Thankfully, this is my personal blog, and while I do still have to abide by certain legal constraints, I can at least speak somewhat more freely. It is my intent that this post will answer many questions about why I’ve chosen not to support Shibaricon in any way until concerns are addressed in a publicly transparent way. It is not my intention to convince you, the reader, of anything. I am simply presenting the evidence as I see it so that you may understand why I felt it necessary to express my concerns along with my peers in a public forum.
I do ask that you do me the courtesy of reading the entire post, rather than focusing on just what shade of orange the flame seems to be. This is entirely a reflection of my OWN beliefs, not those of anyone else on or off of the Shibaricon Concerns document.
I have been concerned about the management and operations of Shibaricon for many years – since the first one, actually, working as a volunteer to add my small part (putting together a lot of pipe & drape, as I recall) to make the event work. Over the years I was given more and more responsibilities which I always did my best to meet. This included teaching, serving as master of ceremonies, various social media and marketing duties, and in the last two years being asked to create an Open Space segment of the convention (“Ropenspace”).
In short, I have “worked from the inside to effect change.” However, a change I was not able to effect was improving the stress level in “Con Ops”, where Diana masterminded the entire event. That is a position of no little stress, and she has managed to pull it off for many years in a way that has more than satisfied most convention attendees. I applaud her for her work and efforts.
At the same time, I have become more and more upset with the way I’ve witnessed her treat the staff and volunteers, either directly (with raised voice and psychological abuse) or talking about them when they are not present. I have seen them literally tip-toeing around the “con-ops” suite, working in an atmosphere of fear and constant self-monitoring. I’ve read Diana justify this as being simply the way offices are run – in fact, she has publicly stated that she has “never worked in an office” that wasn’t run with this kind of setup.
I can readily believe that, because it would explain why she has been hostile to any suggestion that there might be other ways. That there are conventions as big or bigger than Shibaricon where things are run by teams, by leaders who delegate, and that doesn’t burn through volunteers and staff members. I am only the most recent of several other staff who not only have resigned but feel unable to even return to Shibaricon due to the stress level.
However, this in and of itself would not have been enough to cause the action that we took in composing and publishing the “Shibaricon Concerns.” It would simply be enough for me to recommend that people not volunteer for the event or to be aware, as staff, that it is an incredibly toxic management style and environment that I feel has become worse over the years. Some people choose that kind of thing voluntarily; I knew before Shibaricon started this year that I’d had all I could take, and planned to simply resign after the second RopenSpace was done and my fourth successful Cabaret. On a high note, and as I said publicly at the time, happy to hand off both the joy of serving and the stress to whoever wanted it next.
Unfortunately, there was another problem, the extent of which is even now becoming more and more evident. Specifically, after two “big-name” presenters cancelled (Dr. Phil and Zamil), there was a behind-the-scenes shuffle to try and come up with other people to fill the slots. I was one of those asked by Diana if I could think of anyone to fill the slot – and I did, suggesting that DoNotGoGently’s rough body play class would be a good fit, especially as she had already applied, been vetted and accepted by the con to teach another class. Diana reached out to DoNotGoGently via the presenter liaison (following protocol) and asked her to teach. Lochai, another teacher who had been through the application and vetting process, was also asked to teach a class.
When I talk about the “application and vetting” process, I would like to stress that one of the things that Shibaricon has put an immense amount of time and effort and money into is their application process. Among all of the conventions out there, it is the most rigorous in terms of asking for clear class requirements, descriptions, references, past teaching venues, and more. This is intended to make sure that all of the teachers presented are of the highest quality and integrity that can be found, and for the most part I believe it usually succeeds. All of these applications are evaluated by the Planning Advisory Board along with Diana, who then has final say on the presenters, as she is the owner of the event. However, as she has stated, she is not able to travel to many events, so the Board and the opinions of staff members like me have helped shape her decisions.
This is why I was astonished when, hours after DoNotGoGently and Lochai had been asked to fill in, I suddenly learned that they had been told by Diana they were no longer needed, that the class gaps had been “taken care of.” Moments later she announced via social media that she had invited Mark Yu to teach four classes at the con – the most a presenter could be asked to teach, in fact.
I was troubled by this, because based on my conversations with him in 2011 and with my former partner CircleOfLight, I believe that the allegations described in “Diary of a Rope Slut: the Disgrace” and “My Side of the Story” are likely to be true. I also believe that his similar behaviors described by another of his play partners in the comments of “Diary” and her experience attempting to report it to the police are likely to be true. Please take the time to read all three of those links, and then understand that even with those I wanted to believe that it was somehow all a mistake – that a man who I’d learned from, befriended, and supported couldn’t possibly be doing these kinds of things. Unfortunately these were not the only two incidents – they were simply the only two (that I know of) which were actually brought to the police and District Attorney’s office. If you’ve read the posts (and, disgusting as they are, I hope you did) you know how that turned out. Lochai is one of several others who knows of similar situations with Mr. Yu; in my mind, this sets up a pattern of behavior.
While it is true that in a legal sense “innocent until proven guilty” is the law, Shibaricon is not the legal system, and a defense of “Well, he wasn’t convicted” isn’t enough in my opinion to ensure that a safe, sane, and consensual learning and playing environment is created there. I speculated that perhaps Diana was not aware of the history of consent violations surrounding Mark Yu, and that she was going on his reputation as an excellent rigger and an experienced acupuncturist. I learned that DoNotGoGently had emailed Diana with those very concerns before the convention, and I was about to do the same.
Then I learned from a former member of the Planning Advisory Board that in 2011 Mark Yu had applied to teach in 2012, and that after extensive deliberation about a report of a consent violation of a 2011 Shibaricon attendee (reported to two members of the Planning Advisory Board just after it happened), they had decided that he should not be invited to teach. He did not submit an application to teach in 2013.
Diana had circumvented the protocols that she had set in place to ensure quality presenters and brought in a presenter with known issues around consent violations. I cannot speculate as to her motivations for doing so, but I do know that it is impossible to provide a safe environment for attendees when the teachers invited (and therefore endorsed) by Shibaricon do not go through the system put in place to vet them.
When I tendered my letter of resignation to Diana, it was much sadder than I’d expected it to be. Instead of simply thanking her for the opportunity to serve the event, I felt it necessary to bring up my concerns about the treatment of staff, the circumvention of the vetting process, and some logistical problems. This resignation letter was circulated to her staff via email, but no reply was sent. I learned that DoNotGoGently’s email had also never been replied to; similar letters of concern from others such as Lochai were likewise circulated internally but never addressed. In short, there was an attempt to establish a dialogue privately, but it was completely one-sided; no response was given by Diana.
I was contacted by security staff regarding the logistical problems (which involved the radios) and I am not surprised that they evaluated and established a plan to fix things with a high degree of professionalism.
There was another incident at Shibaricon where a staff member didn’t follow protocol, specifically the protocol for calling 911 via the hotel as opposed to directly from the EMT’s phone. It was a life-threatening situation, and the protocols set in place broke down, and tempers ran high online as people seemed to blame each other. Eventually the security staff worked out that it had been a failure of the protocols around the radios, and they took steps to ensure that it would never happen again. However, the EMT volunteer was still “fired” by Diana for not following the protocols.
I see this as being an inconsistent and arbitrary mode of running a convention. I see it as being dangerous for the attendees when the presenter vetting process can be completely circumvented and traumatic for many of the staff and volunteers. It is Diana’s property; she can run it any way she likes. As Jimi Tatu put it online, it is her playground; we are only invited to play on it.
That is a good metaphor. Like any playground with unsafe equipment, I am simply saying: until it’s fixed, I don’t recommend you play on it. Because someone is likely to get hurt again. This is why the only thing the Shibaricon Concerns states is that the signers will not support or endorse the event until these concerns are publicly addressed.
In this post, as in the Concerns, there are no statements of intent to take over anything. There are no demands, there is no request for a place at the table. There is no intention of convincing anyone of anything; this is simply an explanation of what I believe, and what led me to sign, along with many others, the Shibaricon Concerns document. I encourage everyone to do the research and draw their own conclusions.
Many people have speculated – either in gentle or rude terms – as to what I hope to gain from this. It has been suggested that I am going after a specific individual, or trying to destroy Shibaricon, or just that I’m looking for attention. It makes me sad (well, to be honest, the last one amuses me; I’m pretty sure that I’ve proven that when I want attention, I have much more creative and positive ways to get it). I certainly don’t expect to be invited to teach at or work with Shibaricon again.
What I hope to gain is to hear, in about a year, that the volunteers and staff had a positive and mutually-supportive experience. I hope to hear that Diana had the best Shibaricon ever. I hope to hear that all of the attendees were completely confident that their teachers were the best in the world, selected through the rigorous evaluation of the Planning Advisory Board. I hope to hear that the playspaces rocked but rocked safely, that people were moved to tears by beautiful experiences in the classes, and that there was something even more amazing than the cabaret on Saturday night.
I hope to hear, in short, that things are better. I hope to regain the ability to tell everyone I know, everyone I meet, that Shibaricon is the best event I’ve ever attended.
That is what I hope to gain, and that is all.