Kink-shaming

A programmer outed himself for a BDSM kink after a “whisper campaign”

Did Larry Garfield violate his software community’s code of conduct?

Kink-shaming

A programmer outed himself for a BDSM kink after a “whisper campaign”

Did Larry Garfield violate his software community’s code of conduct?
Kink-shaming

A programmer outed himself for a BDSM kink after a “whisper campaign”

Did Larry Garfield violate his software community’s code of conduct?

Last month Drupal, the open source platform and collaborative community, asked one of its popular, long-time members to withdraw from the community due to “views that are in opposition with the values of the Drupal project,” according to a blog post by Drupal founder Dries Buytaert.

Buytaert didn’t give a specific reason why Larry Garfield, a longtime volunteer, was asked to leave, but many in the tech community believe it had to do with Garfield’s private BDSM activities. Specifically, he recently outed himself as a member of the Gorean community, a role play subculture revolving around a sci-fi fantasy book series by John Norman, in which keeping female sex slaves is an inherent part of daily life. It's unclear if that's really why Garfield got booted, but it does raise some questions: At what point do code of conduct guidelines cease to protect the community, and start to exclude members for their private habits? And does harboring a kink that often subordinates women to men mean someone is essentially misogynistic?

Part of the problem is that Drupal refused to clarify what happened. Buytaert won’t say if Garfield’s sexual preferences motivated his decision. According to Garfield, he chose to write a blog post about his kinks due to “a whisper campaign going around the Drupal world.” He isn’t quite sure how it started, but he surmised that someone had stumbled across his profile on a kink website and screenshotted it. Those screenshots made their way to the Drupal Community Working Group, which, Garfield said, decided there was no code of conduct violation. However, one member of the working group excoriated Garfield and complained about him to Buytaert. Subsequently, Garfield was removed from a speaking slot at DrupalCon and asked to leave the community.

Which of Drupal's values, exactly, were potentially violated? Drupal isn't saying, but the platform’s code of conduct states that, “The Drupal community and its members treat one another with respect,” and “It's important to remember that a community where people feel uncomfortable or threatened is not a productive one.” It also says “We will not tolerate bullying or harassment of any member of the Drupal community.”

The Gor subculture is considered by some to be a misogynistic style of kink due to presumed ideas about gender hierarchy. In the books, free women are mostly kept behind walls and can only discover their sexuality through enslavement to men, according to Salon. Various Gor communities online espouse ideas about the “order of nature,” but Garfield says Gor is not misogynistic and “much of what is found online about it is utter crap.” He writes:

The Gorean subculture is inspired by a science-fiction book series written from the 1960s onward to today, and predicated on a strong sense of personal honor, integrity, and community. It also practices consensual Master/slave relationships, and has a strong gender bias toward male-Dom/female-sub relationships, but that is not the cornerstone of Gorean culture. There are other groups that are biased the other way, or have no gender bias. There are even groups in Chicago (where I live) that have regular "fem-dom" parties.

These days, the Gorean community is primarily online in games like Second Life, although one real-life cult came to light in 2006 in the U.K. when someone called the police about a woman being held against her will. It turned out she had entered into the sect voluntarily but later decided she wanted to leave. While the police found no evidence of crime at the time, the cult’s leader was later jailed for forcing a woman to have sex with men.

However, Garfield insisted that participating in Gor does not necessarily make someone sexist. “I have never, ever advocated for treating women, as a class, with anything other than dignity and respect,” he wrote.

Dr. David Ley, clinical psychologist and sex therapist, and author of Ethical Porn for Dicks: A Man's Guide to Responsible Viewing Pleasure, also said that there is no reason to believe a Gorean is a misogynist, or that their behavior in that community would seep into their interactions with people outside of it.

“There's no evidence that practicing BDSM or ‘Gor-style’ fantasy BDSM activities pose any risk to people or to a person's professional life,” Ley said. “These behaviors are kept secret, and shamed by society, from the mistaken belief that they are rare, and are signs of unhealthy personalities or sexual practices.”

Canadian researcher Christian Joyal published work last year that suggests as many as 50 percent of adults may hold secret sexual fantasies that were once considered to be rare, unhealthy kinks. This includes “rape fantasies,” which have recently been shown to be much more common than previously thought.

While “a very large percentages of both men and women have fantasies of rape, ravishment and rough sex,” it doesn’t mean this translates into real life rape prospects by misogynist men, Ley said.

According to Ley, women search for rough sex porn at three times the rate of men, which adds up to around 40-60 percent of men having fantasies of rape while up to 65 percent of women have fantasies of being forced into sex. He referenced a 1981 study from UCLA that said rape role play has only been known to lead to a small number of men engaging in real life rape via those fantasies. “Compared to the high rates of men who report a fantasy of it, far fewer are engaging in sexual violence,” he sid. “Roughly 50 percent versus an estimated 10-15 percent.”

In general, Ley feels that all kinks are healthy as long as they involve consenting adults when they enter the real world. Research has shown that people involved in BDSM communities tend to be “psychologically healthier, and are more adept at discussing consent than other people,” he said.

Still, some of the stuff written in the name of Gor is pretty nasty — and at least in the U.K. cult, it led to real abuses. Women in the open source community, who are already rare, might feel even less welcome if Goreans are rampant in the community (although, to be fair, Garfield says he didn't run around talking about it).

In fact, several women defended Garfield after his ouster, calling it kink-shaming. Kink-shaming, which involves devaluing a person for their particular kink or fetish, not only affects the subject’s personal and professional life negatively, but tends to perpetuate the stigma surrounding kinks in general.

Examples of the tech community’s intolerance toward kink have been written about before. Engineer Angelica Skywolf and tech manager Ava Ex Machina wrote that Garfield’s situation reflected a “troubling overreaction and misuse of codes of conduct.”

“A healthy kinky individual can and should be able to practice restraint in their everyday lives, just as anyone should be able to have dinner with a member of the opposite sex without engaging in coitus with them on the table between courses (looking at you Mike Pence),” she wrote. “Tech likes to think of itself as being ‘progressive,’ but the Drupal controversy shows that the industry is still not accepting of alternative lifestyles that fall outside the cishet vanilla white male experience.”

It's not really possible to talk about the attitudes toward kink, and balancing that with Drupal's values of diversity and inclusivity, however, unless the organization clarifies what happened.

Several women defended Garfield after his ouster, calling it kink-shaming

“By handling things the way they did, Drupal’s leadership has ensured that all we can ever do is speculate about why Garfield was removed from the community,” said Coraline Ada Ehmke, the purveyor of Contributor Covenant, a code of conduct that has been adopted by many communities in the open source world.

“Communities must have the freedom to enforce their values and protect their members, but they need to do so in a transparent manner,” Ehmke explained. “Secret tribunals are what every opponent of codes of conduct fears. Without a reason being given for his expulsion, and with no transparency in the process whatsoever, all we can do is assume that they learned about his kink and decided to ostracize him for that.”

And if that’s what happened, she said, that’s wrong.

“If this action was taken because of their preconceived notions about people who engage in BDSM, they are clearly in the wrong,” she explained. “If it's because they didn't want someone espousing a quintessentially sexist philosophy like Gor representing the project, it's very different.”

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