50 States of Education

About 5 years ago, I was attending a class by Dr. Wayne Dyer when visiting Ming Destiny in Maui. In the front of the room, he got on stage and asked everyone to celebrate with him… he was teaching at his 50th and final state. I looked over at Ming and said that I wanted to be able to say that. Last week I made that happen. A pet project has taken me on adventures large and small around the country, ranging from conferences to libraries, weekend intensives to university lectures… and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on a presentation I did in each state. Not necessarily the first time I visited the state, it’s simply a moment in a life. Part reflection, part celebration, let’s take off on this adventure of teaching over the past 15 years!

Alabama

During a whirlwind trip around the south, I got to visit a private dungeon/kink/temple space outside of Mobile. Teaching on decorative ropework, the play party afterwards included a beautiful 3-scene wave of rope in the temple area of the play space. Decorated with altars, the music was spun in that area just for sensual rope, and the initial couple inspired another pair to play and do deep connection, which lead to me doing self-bondage… and as I untied, the second part began to unwind, and finally the wave took us back to the initial pair. But what struck me the most that evening was talking to an African American woman about living in rural Alabama, and that she had driven for hours to get to see me teach. Discussing the issues of assumptions from people in her area that if she was a black woman she must be submissive was powerful, and getting a chance to talk with her about powerful dominant black women in the scene like Lady Kona made it feel like the trip was worth it.

Alaska

My first trip to the frozen north was on winter solstice, a 3-day power exchange intensive called “Delving Into Power” that I love teaching. The group was passionate and a very mixed set of backgrounds and experience level. Though the day after the event was when I met Butterfly, what I remember from the weekend itself was an evening with Jim Anderson, discussing life with him and a wrestling match that I still reflect on from time to time. It was also great to see in the class old gamer crew from Oregon who had, since I’d known them, dove into a D/s dynamic. And of course, it will be hard to forget discussions on the validity of relationship value for power exchange dynamics that had only ever taken place online.

Arizona

bathroomWhile holding the Arizona Leather Sir title in 2010, I taught a series of classes called “(L)Earning your Leathers” as a fundraiser for Camp Ten Trees. Many of the classes took place at Fascinations who generously donated their space and the class profit. It was the first time I did my impact/spanking/paddling class that involved everyone receiving a paint stirrer, to practice rhythm, understand pressure distribution, and look at surface area impact. Seeing a room full of people beat their own thighs to a rhythm was awesome.

Arkansas

Little Rock was a bit crazy. We were late getting there having stopped at the Japanese Internment Camp that George Takei had been held at in WW2… but that needed to happen. We were, in fact, *perfectly* on time, which for me feels late. My mom trained me to always be 15 minutes early to everything. The class had everyone down in the front row on bean bag chairs, and discussing power exchange rituals in the context of WalMart was a trip, as was seeing a play partner (and meeting his wife finally) I had not seem since I lived in London.

California

The “Sacred Kink Initiatory Intensive” was full of moments that shall not leave that sacred space, that dedicated space of memory. But, I will say, having Drumspyder live DJ our play parties, spinning based on the work he saw around him, complete with playing dumbek as his own live accompaniment was breathtaking.

DenverStarColorado

DenverBound used to be a really wonderful event, lots of rich dialogue and skill sharing. It led to some great connections, and some awesome photo shoots too! Hangs on rope, hearts on rope, dialogue… about so much more than rope.

Connecticut

Though I could say The Society or Queer PlayCon or many other memories, I’m actually reflecting on teaching at the Hartford Gay, Lesbian Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. Seeing adults and teens alike share on their own reflections during the Power of Gender and Identity Labels class/facilitated discussion was beautiful, powerful, and was one of the seeds that led to me writing Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Realities years later.

Delaware

Just over a week ago I got to do a class at a restaurant on rituals for consensual non-egalitarian relationships. For those who were there though, you’ll remember the amazing waitress, who loved getting to hop in and out of the class, flip through my books, and she and the other woman working that room having side discussions about their own relationships. Subtle activism and education for all!

Florida

Circles of Kink in Ft. Meyers will always hold a dear place in my heart. You can listen to the podcast here. The classes were good dialogues around intimacy, roleplaying, relationship rituals… but he ritual circle was what stuck with me, lines bound to lines, hearts bound to hearts. Such a beautiful weekend.

Georgia

Fantasm in 2005 baby! Before there was Frolicon, there was Fantasm, complete with the ink track, kink track, think track… and drink track. I didn’t do the last one, but will never forget suspending Ruberella in the understanding aerial rope class, and working with Scott from Bighead Studios to found the International Pudding Wrestling Federation as a fundraiser for NCSF. Pudding wrestling federation? Oh yes – in one hand, a scoop of pudding. The other palm is open. Give a dollar, and this pudding is not on you, and it goes on a wrestler instead. The conference even provided a pudding liaison. 13 industrial cans of chocolate pudding, and 1 can of vanilla for “our brothers and sisters on the outside.” Students laughing at me as Boymeat tortured my feet with a cattle prod and single tail, before a boyfriend of a pudding wrestler stole his fresh baked cookies, and of course being provided with my choice of sex slaves (it’s okay, it was all consensual) … yes, jam-packed weekend of memories.

IMG_2363Hawaii

At Spirit of the Islands at Kalani on the big island, there had been some challenges with registration and attendance. An event slated for 300 attendees had 15 or so. But all expenses had already been paid, so the event went forward. Friday night, everyone worked together to build a new schedule (the joy joy of knowing how to do so, compiling votes, canceling class slots, and making magic happen). We had a time slot simply called “Presenters at the Pool” where it was just that – all the presenters at the pool. Seeing Fifth Angel walk someone through a hook suspension was an educational experience for everyone who held space, and led to me being inspired to go back 8 years later to the same point and suspend myself off that same spot – a tree that dropped the suspendee out over the ocean above the rolling waves and sharp rocks.

Idaho

Erotic hypnosis in a VFW hall. Absolutely! Having students from Idaho, across Washington, and even a few from British Columbia gave us a surprisingly packed house too. Who knew that just across the border, Spokane, had become so LGBT friendly too? Okay, Idaho it was all stealth, but 4 classes in 2 days was a really good gathering from across the region.

Illinois

Shibaricon. 9 times. It was fascinating to see the event evolve over the years, starting in 2004. At the first one, I taught a class on self-bondage that led to all of us rolling around on the ground immobilizing and even hog-tying ourselves. I was told later by Walt, an east coast bondage photographer, that it was a surreal sight to walk in on. There was one open room that had us opposite Midori, so folks would peek in at both… I think she was teaching about “Pink Japan.” Quite the discordant experience for viewers who saw both.

Indiana

I continue to adore Twisted Tryst, and their “south” location is so beautiful, in both location and spirit. Owned by a group of gay boys, this is their one week a year they let a pansexual population on site. In a big tent I did a class on “Dark” roleplaying. The complacency around Nazi role playing, compared to people loosing their shit about the idea of animal euthanasia role playing was a fascinating juxtaposition that reminds me of the fact that shows on TV can have very bloody battles and violence between people and be considered PG-13 sometimes, but people get really upset about nudity or a dog dying. The culture in this country is interesting.

Kansas

Lawrence, Kansas has a space that is used by both the pagan and alt sex communities. The space has a pentacle made out of chain near one end of the room where people can be tied up, with the venue having been converted from a christian retreat. My human animal role playing class was full of people already in costume, kitty girls rolling on their back and rubbing themselves against people. Great smiles all around.

Kentucky

Back in 2003 I came out to Louisville for KUFS to do a bondage demo. For some reason people kept being convinced I was dating Rigger Mortis, just because we were at the same con three or four times in a row. We were cool sharing a room, but it was amusing/annoying depending on the event.I mostly remember bidding on a jock strap and leather rose at the auction that came with a 4-coure meal for up to 6 prepped by a Master and his Boy. I never did get that dinner, but seeing a great mix of people was wonderful, learning across the sexuality spectrum.

Louisiana

Teaching “Sacred Kink” in the south was inspiring. It is important to me in that class to include cross-faith examples, including a variety of monotheistic experiences and traditions. A couple came up to me afterwards having been touched. They had been being questioned, and even shamed, by other kinky people in their area for being kinky and Christian. That somehow they were lying to themselves about being Christian, because good Christians wouldn’t do this sort of stuff. I am sick of faith-shaming personally, and I see it a lot of places – they are not alone. But we talked about being at the play party that night and going to church with their kids the next morning. Their experience that using the bodies they have for deeper connections within their vows is clearly a gift from their experience of divinity. It made me truly glad I could be there.

Maine

My 50th and final state, I was really lucky to get to connect with Marilyn, the lovely owner of eSensuals just outside of Portland. Teaching both Sacred Kink and 50 Shades of rope, in-between I finally got to see Portland rather than just passing through. 50 Shades of Rope was a hoot, people laughing and practicing all kinds of ties and touching their skin and that of others with the sensual breeze of their desire. So lovely, truly.

IMG_4419Maryland

My heart echoes for Ramblewood. Depending on the year I have spent anywhere from a few days to a month at this amazing land that clings to the northern edge on Maryland, caressing the Susquehanna river. 200 acres of memory. Once I did a storytelling piece about time traveling at Ramblewood at the upper field. I close my eyes and open them, I said, and here I was a human pony. Here I taught in a field. Here I forged love into vows. Here I am embedded. Maryland I will always hold you dear, whether it is evading hurricane Sandy as we flee teaching in Baltimore, or it is gathering year after year for closing ritual at Fusion… this state holds me tight.

Massachusetts

Back before the Fetish Fair Fleamarket moved to Rhode Island, it took place outside of Boston. I went out for it one year, and will always remember performing with Duncan and Ayem Willing in a multi-part instillation. Duncan read poetry while I wrote free-verse work along strips of linen. This hung from the ceiling and suspension frame for the night, and the next day Duncan read my free verse work, before handing the strips to me, one at a time. I bound Ayem in them, suspending him in the words. He flipped around in the air under my firm hand, and to cut him free, I sliced the free verse. The audience was then invited forward to read the line poetry that had been left behind, and the scraps of line scattered across the floor.

ayemboston031Michigan

Detroit. OMG, this was where I learned to double check schedules. I hadn’t realized that the Leather Leadership Conference and Beat Me in St. Louis were the same weekend, and had agreed to teach at both. This led to Goddess Lakshimi and I hopping on a 6am flight Sunday morning up to Detroit to both teach at LLC – a conference room held a packed room of people discussing age-based population sub-groups in alternative sexuality populations, such as TNG (The Next Generation, 18-35) or KOBRAS (Kinky Old Bastrards/Bitches Really Are Sexy, 50+) that was popular to some, believed to divide community by others. Such great perspectives from everyone.

Minnesota

At ASKEW at the University of Minnesota, I remember discussing people’s authentic sexuality rather than living out the cookie-cutter erotic paths that kinky people are told to take up when they cast “vanilla” aside. That afternoon, I helped facilitate an ordeal for someone where they were sat down at a chair and told the amazing things about themselves. Hanging on hooks is far less of a challenge than this for many people.

Mississippi

Buloxi was a crazy packed house, folks sitting on the floor, standing in back, sitting on each others’ laps. Folks had traveled down hours to the gulf coast for my class on protocols in power exchange relationships… I don’t think anyone expected that many folks. I certainly didn’t. Such a dynamic group of folks, and respectful, loving, and connected. I wish we could have had the space all day! And, on the way to Slidel that night, we stopped for sushi… leading to the permanent image of hardcore bikers singing “Let It Go” at full volume to the Chinese language cover… um, yeah. The world is strange.

Missouri

At Washington University, I had a chance to do a presentation on “Cutting and Kink: Examining Self Injury, Body Modification and BDSM” at my second appearance at Sex Week. A small room, small and dedicated attendees, hard stories to tell, such an important topic. The similarities, differences, and intersections of these issues, but more than that, tools for therapists, social workers et al to discuss these three issues in a healthy, and know which is happening. Mind you, this was the second year I’d gone there – year one they chose to fund my trip instead of Bristol Palin… I’m glad teaching rope bondage and filling a lecture hall for “Humor and Sex” out-won abstinence lectures. Really glad.

Montana

Billings? Power exchange relationships in the context of culture and desire? At the Billings Public Library? OH YES. Totally worth it for one student in the front row nodding his head as I discussed issues around disenfranchised populations and awareness and mindfulness about how it affects relationships that play with power. Yeah, finally a white guy at the front of the room talking about it, and his community was finally listening. I feel so blessed when I get to use my privilege to help, rather than when I’ve accidentally stepped on things and made it worse. We each try to learn, a bit each day.

Nebraska

Breath and Bondage was was not attended compared to what was hoped for by the organizer. HOWEVER, I love small classes because everyone gets personal attention and their needs discussed and/or met. Getting to work with each person or pair about body realities, ways to connect, practicing the skills rather than talking… so worth it.

Nevada

Head bondage is a hilarious class sometimes… when people get silly with adapting ties. How can you adapt a head cage into a unicorn? With a dildo, clearly. Rozy was a hoot as my demo model, running around with her strap-on head cage. It was great surreality as it was all set in the Erotic Heritage Museum which was displaying a House of Gord exhibition at the time, and I’d recently shot with Gord. Delightfully surreal.

New Hampshire

Back in 2005, it was my pleasure to come out to Darkstone. In an intimate gathering, I threw around rope, demo’d ideas, and had other people in the room pick up rope to create some magic together. I have the itch to go back some day – I hear great things about KinkyCon.

New Jersey

At the Geeky Kink Event it was a hoot to host “Cupcakes With Sex Nerds,” where we discussed the validity of various sexological research studies. This was not just about how the research was done, but their practical application in use of the study, and how it had been repeated in the media. When the “cupcakes” arrived it was undecided as to whether they were dense, less flavored cupcakes, or muffins with frosting… and thus the event became “Non-self-identified Glutenous Objects With Sex Nerds.” Having statistical researchers arguing the variables for the equations used for computing the numbers generated, and dissecting that there must have been a single male individual in rural Illinois who did not believe that penile to genital penetration without a condom was “sex” (but thought that if there was a condom that it was “sex”) was well worth the weekend.

DSC09778New Mexico

I really do enjoy teaching at sex shops. One of the things I am big on is taking a few supplies from the shop and using them in class so that people can support their local shop, and not have to go hunting. At Self Serve in Albuquerque, during the move, I taught “Rope for Sex,” which is always a joy. The “tech” is simple – speed wrist cuffs, two-column ties, and crotch ropes that can be transformed into strap-on harnesses. We passed out dildos from the dildo display for folks to play with. I love just getting to say “dildo display.” Seeing people giggle, get turned on, flirt, get embarrassed (then get through the feeling into having fun); they are all so fueling!

New York

At TESFest back in 2004, I taught my first class on understanding suspension bondage. 12 years ago it was really hard to find people teaching about the topic. The ballroom was packed, and I made a rule that only experienced riggers and rope bottoms were allowed in the first 3 rows. I also made the rule that if anyone asked “how did you tie that knot” they would be asked to leave. Why? I wasn’t being rude, but it was like teaching a calculus class but being stopped to explain algebra. It is why you’ll see classes on bondage that have pre-requisites, because stopping constantly to explain the basics distracts advanced students from doing advanced work. Can I teach a small group of folks to go from basic ties up to doing mid-air transitions between three different poses in a long afternoon? Absolutely. But a room with 100 people? No way. People see the class and think they know what is going on, which can be really dangerous.

North Carolina

I have a fondness for the triangle area especially- on an educational level, friendship level, and mead level 🙂 I’ve done two weekends of classes for the Triangle Munch Group at this great space with an outdoor area out back to wander around in. The space inside is a bit sterile, but when you get students to share their stories and use them to decorate the walls with giant post-it notes covered in tools for relationship expansion, it was great!

North Dakota

Who knew that Fargo had a vegetarian/vegan friendly cafe and wine bar? More than that, it has amazing students who transformed Scotty‘s class during my teaching-day into a dialogue on legalities on sexual activities in North Dakota. This, after a delicious discourse in my class on Leather Identity… I SO want to go back! Amazing humans.

Ohio

Winter Wickedness. Kinko De Mayo. Pheerfest. House Kheperu Gathering. Ohio has tons of amazing conference memories, not including one-off classes and intensive weekends. However, my most recent trip to Ohio found me teaching at Kent State University. In one of the big lecture halls, the type with stadium-style seating, I did a class on power exchange relationships, the same one I did in Billings. But what was different was the sheer level of academia I got to haul into the room due to the audience and setting. Such richness. I adore teaching classes about power exchange and culture is that there are academic students who write before they realize what they heard. Pure laughter when a student realizes they just wrote “power exchange is imbued in our every interaction in culture and is thus important to understand on a racial, socio-economic, and other points of privilege to better understand the triggers present for people’s hard cocks.” Watching those academic students who were clearly told to attend by a professor do a double take first at the words then look up at me with wide eyes realizing that yes, the lecturer just said “hard cocks” is priceless.

Oklahoma

On a whirlwind trip through, it was a nice late-night class. But more than the class I remember Master Malik saying he wanted to take us out to his favorite diner for breakfast. The diner was Denny’s, and he was not being ironic. Master Malik is Sufi, and in the middle of looking at the bacon-specials menu he suddenly made us laugh as he said “your baconism is trying to destroy my Islam.” Truer words are hard to find.

Oregon

My first real class that I taught was at RCDC, co-taught with Galeogirl and Boojum. Punching, Kicking, and Deep Bruising. Throwing Boojum around on the ground, suffering and laughing under our fists and feet, Galeogirl and I bonding in advance as we made up body-sketches of where to hit and not to hit. A way for us all to heal and re-connect, because sometimes teaching heals the teachers.

BootsPennsylvania

Though I’d taught before in PA, it was a blast to teach at EPIC last month, complete with sitting in the social area watching the hands-on water bondage class someone was doing. My favorite moment was the class/discussion about exploring leather identity through the context of understanding leather as an identity. Circled around the fire in the bar, it was a mixed group of experience and history. There was someone who shared their history of buying their first leather bdsm gear through the ad in the back of a magazine, nervously waiting for them to arrive. The experience of conferences, websites… people sometimes forget how far sexual revolution and cultural evolution has come in 30 years.

Rhode Island

Helping teach vaginal and anal fisting with Friday DV8 at the Fetish Flea, through a series of random events, found me on the floor in a hotel room that had been converted to a classroom. Surrounded by folks on three sides, our space was about 4ft in a circle. My genitals up in the air, she was wrist deep as I gave feedback in a clinical voice about physiology and sensation as she added more lube. Looking back I am fascinated at the wackiness my life has been part of.

South Carolina

I have a deep fondness for leather clubs, motorcycle clubs, and formality mixed with sweaty memories. Teaching for Low County Leather was just such a gathering, with bonus cupcakes. Because… cupcakes. Somewhere there is a video of that class, I really should track it down.

South Dakota

Meeting everyone at the Pizza Barn, we got nervous when they said that once we were at the venue, our GPS wouldn’t work. Everyone gathered at the hotel’s convention center area, and the caravan began. Drive out of town, turn left into a corn field. Drive for a while, turn left into a corn field. The corn field was tall… far taller than us. Take another left, and Scott looks at me. They could kill us and no one would know. Fun class itself though, and me writing this is proof that we made it out, a smile on our face.

Tennessee

Memphis mid-week at IMPACT, what might be the best-appointed dungeon I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in quite a number over the years. A huge, expansive, warehouse-type building. Set up in the big open space, in front of a chain spider-web with my beverage set on a spanking bench, I got to help people explore their personal internal lexicon for evoking emotions. When you think of “sensual,” what color triggers that for you? Angry? Sad? Everyone’s lexicon is different, and learning yours (as well as your partner’s) can be a great first step for looking at erotic roleplaying. Same with touch, taste, scent, types of facial expression. Using those tools to shape-shift. Types of things to shapeshift into.

Texas

I’ve been to Austin so many wonderful times, but my memory is in Houston. I facilitated a discussion on being authentically kinky, in the face of stereotypes, inter-community bigotry, and our internal biases of what types of erotic expression are acceptable. Seeing this huge room of folks at Lyon’s Den expose their hearts and dive into themselves was powerful, and I feel blessed to get to provide a space for that exploration.

Utah

UPEX is a cool group, and I loved teaching my 2-day Kink Odyssey intensive for them. Great connections that I still have, having an attendee there whose biological sister, brother, and mother I have had as students over time, and of course learning that in Utah it is legal to consensualy hit someone, legal to wear a costume, but not legal to do both at the same time. Oh Utah.

Vermont

At a secluded space in what felt like the middle of nowhere, the snow was following heavily. The driveway down to the beautiful multi-story home had to be planned out as to who could park in what order, and inside people slipped into their elegant and sensual clothing for the evening. A private gathering, truly private, I felt honored to be invited out to their venue that was heavily vetted for a variety of reasons. Hands-on rope and practice, followed by a play party and discussion time, while the snow fell in a blanket over us.

Virginia

Loud/echoing goth bars are not conducive to teaching. However, getting to re-connect with someone I’d met a decade+ earlier during a snow storm caravan, was worth it. As was getting to sleep at an amazing bed and breakfast that I will never forget. Amazing service, amazing people, stunning location – GO.

Washington

Winter Fetish hosted a really wonderful 3 hour class and experience on Effective Presenting and Speaking Skills that I had designed with  as part of the ALPSEC (Alternative Lifestyle Presenters Skills Education Conference) event Chicago the year before. Having 15 folks who were both known and new presenters in various sexuality populations gather together to learn about and practice through small presentations was delicious. Since then, I have seen some of those folks flourish and even become nationally touring speakers. It feels really gratifying.

West Virginia

CampOUT is a transman and their allies event that takes place on a men’s nudist property. I did a class on breath play, one that I rarely do any more, especially for mixed audiences or events where anyone can enter late. It’s an important topic though, to look at physiology, desire, and why people are drawn to these issues. Having a group of transmen open up about their shadow desires and how we can reduce harm was a great time, especially as a transman who was early on his transition at the time.

Wisconsin

Toolshed Toys holds a very dear place in my heart, with their class space involving moving around displays of sex toys, kinky gear, and other joyous tools of relationship investigation and erotic exploration. Back in the corner I lay out my rope in a corner, and request that everyone return my rope to me afterwards if they borrow anything (a request learned after I had rope walk away). Seeing faces light up as I taught GenderQueer Rope, people feeling truly “seen” as their authentic selves, is so truly satisfying. Helping riggers understand that not everyone will want to be nude. That binders and gaffs affect how you tie. That desires for being roped is cross-gender. That we can break gender mythologies of what is masculine or feminine in our ties. Figuring out how to modify ties to create forms we desire. Yum.

Wyoming

Hands on rope bondage in a senior center dining hall. Oh yes. Me tying up a hot guy in a room full of people who, I believe, in most cases had never seen in person a pair of men being sexual/sensual together. But I will always remember the passion, the smiles, and a wild fairy woman with a huge smile who couldn’t control her enthusiasm for each tie. So much joy, bundled in a small package. A beautiful comparison to the more formal rope students in the front row, truly.

*

50 states. These memories and so many more. I feel so blessed to have so many people share their lives, loves, and stories with me. I breathe deep, a soft smile across my face. Here’s a toast to the next 15 years of teaching, and all of the states I have also explored.

A state of Awe.

A state of Uncertainty.

A state of Grace.

A state of Dissaray.

A state of Wonder.

A state of Confusion.

A state of Bliss.

… and so much more.

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Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.

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