The complexities of consent

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I’m going to make some fairly contentious statements about consent in the next few paragraphs. Just so you know.

There’s this lovely little analogy that circulated a few months back. It talks about tea. Makes a neat comparison between consent and serving someone tea. It started as a blog post, then someone turned it into a cartoon, and then later someone turned it into an animated short. It’s gained a lot of ground in the year it’s been around.

And it’s great. Really it is. It argues that consent is straightforward and *just* like making a cup of tea for someone. Offering a cup of tea and having that offer accepted does not oblige the tea-accepter to actually drink the tea. And they are entirely within their right to take a few sips and change their minds. And if they’re passed out on your couch, don’t pour tea down their throat because when they were conscious they agreed to tea.

I am so down with this. It’s super cool and really important that people understand that consent can be withdrawn at any point. And that an unconscious person cannot consent.


And before I say anything else, let me say: I am a survivor. I believe survivors. I support survivors.


Consent is not tea. Sorry.

The analogy works insofar as it is pursued by the author. But it doesn’t cover all the bases, and it doesn’t really work for kinksters.

See, what do you do if the person whom you served that tea comes back to you afterward and says, “Remember that tea you gave me? Well, I didn’t want it. I was too scared to say no. I was trying to be a perfect guest, and being a perfect guest means not saying no to tea. But I really didn’t want it.” What do you do with that?

Again with the caveats. Dammit, no means no. Maybe means no. No thanks you means no. Being unconscious means no. Enthusiastic assent is the only way to go.

But I am a kinky fuck. We play with some fucked-up shit. We push boundaries. We tie people up and we ask to be tied up. We sometimes do things that mess with our heads or the heads of others. Rape fantasies. Consensual non-consent. Permanent marks. The list goes on and on.

There’s a lot of really important and healthy discourse around mental illness, disability and consent in our community. As a general rule, my experience is that kinksters (especially the queer ones) have a clearer understanding of and clearer language around these issues. We’re not by any stretch perfect or without blemish, but we’re maybe a little further down the road toward compassion and understanding. And one of the discussions has been around this later withdrawal of consent, this idea that you can retroactively withdraw your consent, because it was given from a place of fear, coercion or unwellness. I am struggling with this for the reasons given above.

But the view from the Top – and that of a popular top with a certain small celebrity status – is that there is still a lot of work to do.I can easily imagine how I would feel if a bottom I played with later told me she was only playing with me because my social status is such that she was afraid to say no. From a personal viewpoint, it would be a blow to the solar plexus. I don’t want people playing with me because I’m popular. I want them to play with me because they want to play with ME. I would feel utterly shitty.

I live in constant fear of crossing that line. If someone said this to me hours, days, weeks after playing with me, I am not sure I could ever play again. Seriously. At least not as a top. Getting that kind of feedback from someone I played with would destroy me.

So. We need a more rounded, subtler understanding of consent. How do we find that understanding? Is there in fact a perfect spot to be in which we absolutely support survivors and yet still hold space for the subtleties of dealing with consent that has been withdrawn retroactively?

I think the short answer is that perfect space is an ever-shifting mark. I don’t have a model of informed consent which features a flowchart that assures you have dotted all your Is and crossed your Ts. The negotiation of consent has an added element of risk because in the eyes of the law, what we do is perilously close to assault.

There are no answers. Not even tea-related ones. And we really, really need to keep asking the questions. And having the conversations. And taking the risks.


Top Tips for Party Planners Part Deux, Section B: Claiming it

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So, you’ve found a space or two that seems to fit the bill. Now comes the hard part: are you going to tell them what you want to do in it?

I recommend that you do. I know some party planners whose attitude is, “It is better to apologize after than ask before”. I do not agree with this philosophy. First off, if you don’t want the owner or property manager dropping by and having a coronary on the spot when they see their space decked out in St. Andrew’s crosses, you need to tell them what’s going to happen that night.

For my community – a marginalized community within a marginalized community – privacy to do what we do is pretty much a hard limit. Men ogling, security folks “passing through” and (I kid you not) cruise “staff” who just sit and watch are all of them GROSS.We fly our freak flags for each other, and the community is predicated on the freedom to fuck as we please, but that doesn’t mean we want to do it for gawkers. Unfortunately, it’s far more likely you won’t have to deal with that kind of bullshit if you disclose to your potential temporary landlord.

If you’re holding the party in your home, this is not an issue. But if you’re renting from a fellow kinkster, you will still need to state your limits up-front. Just because someone hails from the wider community does not mean they will necessarily understand that the party is absolutely invitees only. Be honest.

If you’ve found great space in the vanilla community, the disclosure bit is really important. And you know what else? The normies are going to FREAK. Not always, but well over 50% of the time. You can promise to be incredibly clean and respectful. You can come with enthusiastic recommendations from other venues you’ve used. It really doesn’t matter. The fact that what you’re planning is fully legal (in Canada anyway) and a private party and you’ve made it clear you don’t need their help makes no difference.

Prepare for the freakout. Prepare to be rejected. Prepare to be told, “We’re a *family* venue”. That last one’s my favourite. The implication that we don’t have families, that we live in the seedy underbelly of Respectable Society, that we eat our young, it stings. Stings me, anyway.

Venue hunts can be exhausting emotional work. Be ready.

Hopefully one of your venues has not recoiled in horror after the disclosure. Sign the rental agreement. Give em a deposit. Then you can really start planning.

Here’s the previous post from this series!

Taking up space

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I took a sick day today because I had a gastro yesterday that has left me weak and tired. But I woke up feeling somewhat better, so I went out for a coffee at my local hipster-coffee joint. I didn’t expect it to be so packed: there was one lonely table available, and it only had a single seat at it. The joint was jumping. I snagged the table for one and sat down to enjoy my latte.

I sat there a while nursing my latte, getting upset and uncomfortable. The latte was great, but I was stuck watching the ebb and flow of the tiny, narrow coffee shop. I watched the line grow and shrink, and realized there were folks sitting a couple of tables across who were two but had pulled a second table over to dump their stuff on. The place was packed, and these people had taken up a second table just for convenience. And it made me the kind of angry I associate with crotchety old ladies waving canes. I wanted to berate them for their lack of consideration, because in my head they *knew* what they had done.

It got me thinking about why I was reacting so strongly. It has to do with spending most of my life trying to take up as little space as humanly possible. As a fat kid and then a fat woman, I spend far too much time worrying about how much space I am taking. I am aware that I naturally take up more space than is allotted to a human being in North American society. As someone who moves through that space every day, I know full well that most people would really prefer I disappeared altogether. And I certainly know that the way I dress and act is a conscious way of claiming space much of the world I live in would prefer I don’t.

But it’s a delicate dance. And I still have the sub-routine running constantly, the one that whispers, “Step back, make yourself smaller, no, smaller still. Squeeze your big self into that space and maybe they’ll let you stay.” I spend a lot of time shouting that voice down. Space is a constant question for me.

I’d like to think I carry that awareness – that understanding of space and how much I take up or don’t – into the more abstract circles of how I relate to people and situations. Hopefully, this makes me a stronger ally and a better colleague. Maybe even friend.

This isn’t meant to be self-congratulatory: I am fully aware that I’m not perfect and my brain really enjoys replaying the little vignettes that point to my many failings. Times when I took up too much space and silenced someone else as a result. Times when I should have taken up more space and spoken up, but didn’t out of fear or indifference or stupidity.

But I do think that growing up painfully aware that everyone around me wanted me to literally take up less space has helped me be aware of how others take up space or don’t, or are not allowed to take up space.

Thus endeth the musings. I didn’t yell at that couple. The world continued to turn as before. I am not yet a crazy old lady berating unsuspecting coffee-sippers in tiny, cramped yet fashionable coffee shops. But I wanted to share my thoughts about space. Taking it, claiming it and giving it up. The need for constant vigilance no matter which way you tilt.

Day Of Pink? Nope. Some Follow-Up Thoughts to a Tweet

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Yes. This. This here.


So someone on Twitter asked who-all was going to attend this evening’s Day Of Pink Gala (hosted by the CCGSD, formerly Jer’s Vision), and I responded, this morning, with one word: Nope.
While the sentiment was definitely clear, I did feel like I was being a bit misleading. So, as is my wont, I wrote a blog post to talk about this a little bit more.

Look. The truth of the matter is that I’ve never gone to a Day of Pink Gala. Even though it’s a free (iirc) party, and even though there’s a good chance that there’s free food at said free party, and even though I am exactly the kind of broke artist who will show up at a stranger’s vernisage specifically to eat the free cheese while trying to get a modeling job… I never went to DoP. For Reasons. Put it down to my being…

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Top Tips for Party Planners Part Deux : space; finding it, making it, claiming it and cleaning it

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2. Space is really the final frontier. Once you’ve figured out the WHY of your party planning, you’re going to need to figure out the WHERE. Where isn’t necessarily the second step: it can be the first one. If you want to have a party in your home, then the intention (the why) can be figured out once you decide how many people can happily play in your home. If you have a group member or friend who’s offered you their loft, photo studio or pro dungeon, then this bit also falls into place easily.

A: Finding It

I really wish I could offer you a simple equation for figuring out how many square feet you’ll need, how many chairs, how many stations. I really do. I can’t. I’m sorry. Sometimes a simple clear space on a wall can be enough to keep a dozen tops (and one seriously happy bottom) occupied for hours. I guess if I had to offer one simple formula, I’d figure that I would use the rule of thirds. Enough seating for a third of your guests (at a minimum!) and enough equipment/space for a third of your guests to be playing at any time.  That obviously doesn’t mean you need three St. Andrew’s crosses for each six guests. First off, each station will keep at least two people occupied at any time. Second, a play space doesn’t need fancy furniture: it can be a simple wallspace, a nook, a bed, a cage.

The subtleties come in when you start thinking of who’s coming. Are they largely people who don’t know each other particularly well? You’ll need fewer stations, as most people will be standing and staring. Is it a group of old cronies getting together for a birthday party, people who have been playing together for years? Well, they may not particularly mind if there’s a lack of fancy equipment, but you’d better make sure you’ve got the space to accommodate a higher rate of actual play.

This kind of calculation can also be done the other way: if you know you’ve got X number of comfy spots from which to watch play, do aftercare and/or socialize, your guest list probably shouldn’t be more than three times that number.

If you’re not going to be in someone’s home, finding space can get complicated. In my town, the few spaces owned by professionals who might be willing to rent it out are really expensive. If you have the budget and the time, approaching local professionals or sex-toy stores might be a way to find a space that will let you fuck, but they will likely be more expensive, and possibly a bit shady from a legal perspective. Be risk-aware.

Yeah. Cos that’s the biggie. If you want to actually be able to let your guests have penetrative sex at your party, you need to be up-front about that when you’re renting. Here, the best bargains for renting a hall or other venue that can become a dungeon are all city properties, which means that penetrative sex is categorically not allowed on premises.  For some folks (and some kinds of parties), that’s not a big deal. It’s always been a big deal for me.

Often you’re going to end up (unless you live in a major city) with some kind of compromise. It’ll be a very private venue, large and cheap, but cold, empty and with a possible vermin issue. Or it’ll be a small, gorgeously appointed professional salon with several theme rooms, and you and your guests will have to pay through the nose for it. Or it’ll be a nice, open room with a few nooks and crannies, plenty of bathrooms, wheelchair-accessible and graced with a modest kitchen and you won’t be allowed to fuck in it.

So you’ll likely decide what’s really important for you and book the space that works. Check your guest list: will they fit? Will they be lost in the cavernous room? Is this really the room you want? So book it. Get a date. And then it’s time to start working on making it yours…

Here’s the next part of this series!

Top Tips for Play Party Planners


I went to a play party this past year that was a bit of a disaster. The next day, I actually spoke with the head of the group that had organized it and offered to speak with the folks who’d put it together. With somewhere in the region of 50 play parties under my belt, I’ve learned more than a few things about how to make them fun and safe. They won’t take me up on it: for whatever reason, nobody local seems to want to discuss this stuff. So I thought maybe I would blog about it a bit. I’ve been thinking about what tips I would offer for successful party planning, and I’ve decided it’s going to be more than one post. But ya gotta start somewhere, right? So I think this will be one of a series of posts. I don’t promise consistency, I don’t promise to stick to the topic, but I promise it will be pretty informative. Hopefully.

1. Intentions

First off, decide what your intentions are. This may not be as simple as it sounds. What, you mean there’s more to a play party than fucking, fisting and flogging? Why yes, there is. Why are you having a party? Is it for members of a particular group? Is it to attract new members to a group? Do you want to teach and/or inform attendees? Do you want to get laid? The intentions you have will inform every other decision you make about your party, from the venue to the publicity.

If you’re planning a party for some friends in your home, that’s pretty straightfoward. Maybe it’s a birthday party or just an opportunity to get together and make mischief. If you’re hoping to host all (or most of) the members of a particular group, you’ll need to find the right space as well as the equipment to fill it.

Many established groups will host parties as a form of outreach in the hopes of providing some education and maybe getting a few more interested members. There are benefits and risks to this approach: if you are really interested in finding new members, you’ll have some people at the venue who are either unknowns or lesser-known folk. Unknowns increase the risk of something going wrong as well as increasing the risks of things getting worse if they do go wrong. However, the promise of a night of naughtiness and education may well pull some people out of the woodwork who have been toying with the idea of checking out your group. It may be intimidating to attend a munch or luncheon, but fun and exciting to go to a naughty masquerade play party, for example.

If it’s a members-only party for your group, then find out what’s been done in the past. Is there documentation or someone you can talk to about what worked and what didn’t? What venues have they used? Take advantage of any existing infrastructure (list of past volunteers, dungeon rules, resources for equipment) if this is the first time you’re trying to run a party. There are a lot of things to consider, so having a starting point is really helpful.

Once you figure out what exactly you want to do, whether it’s a small party in someone’s home or a big blow-out in a rented castle, some other questions will become easier to answer. Of course, new questions will pop up, too, but at least you’ll have a framework for them!


Happy New Year!

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I am who I am and I make no excuses. I am my own queer, anxious, fat, kinky, poly, musical, opinionated, kind, smart, quicksilver, crafty, flawed, scared, creative, femme-y, mentally ill ball of awesome. Deal with it.


I will try to be kind. Always. To everyone, regardless of whether they are kind to me back. Always, to everyone. I will also be kind to myself when I trip up on this one a little.


Earning My Leathers

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There is a tradition in leather culture of earning your leathers. The theory is that leather gear should be bestowed upon you by the community or by your top or by an elder because you have achieved something. This is of course a fairly vague definition, but in being so it kinda encompasses the various permutations of earning I’ve seen/heard about/read about/participated in.

Like many things, this tradition started with the gay boys and their motorcycle clubs.  And as the notion of leather family has broadened and encompassed more identities, the ways in which I have seen this idea of earning your leathers be adapted has similarly broadened. In Robin Sweeney’s short story Daddy (from doing it for Daddy, an anthology edited by Patrick Califia in the mid 90s), a genderqueer boy earns her leathers when her Daddy confiscates them and only returns them to the boy as challenges are met over a conference weekend. A dear friend recently had Master’s cap bestowed upon her in a formal capping ceremony with friends and leather family in attendance.

When my event hit its five-year mark, we chose to recognize the outstanding service of three volunteers who really had given their all over the whole five years with leather vests, bestowed by myself and my co-conspirator. Two of them were presented in a quiet moment on people whose work behind the scenes needed recognition beyond a thank-you but who were not necessarily very comfortable with the spotlight, and one was given in front of the attendees in the closing ceremony of the weekend.

In year seven, my co-organizer and I were presented with leather vests, bestowed upon us by our attendees. They surprised us during the closing ceremony, offered to us by community leaders. Even though it was not entirely unexpected, there were tears for both of us. It felt like such an honour. Our attendees gave us a standing ovation. It’s a moment I will not forget. This year, number eight, a leatherworker in our community spend the entire weekend AT the event carving out patches for us. The patch is of our logo, hand-tooled in leather. There are only two in existence, mine and my co-organizer’s. And on Friday night, that same leatherworker offered me the finished vest on her knees.

This weekend was our city’s titleholder event. I attended. I wore the vest the whole weekend. If you read this blog on a somewhat regular basis, you know how I feel about title contests. They’re not my cup of tea for a number of reasons, political and personal both. However, there was a desire this year among the women’s community to try to create critical mass this year, specifically at the Friday-night play party, and the cheapest tickets that gave you access to that party included the workshops, so I went to a number of workshops as well. I dressed in my usual high femme, but the vest never left my shoulders. On Saturday afternoon, a woman asked me about the patch as she had never seen it before, and I explained that it had been bestowed by the attendees of my event and described the logo and its many layers of meanings. I told her how the logo was designed by an attendee who is also our graphics goddess, and handcrafted in leather by another. And, reader, I got really choked up. I feel so grateful and proud of this vest. For the many ways it reflects on my particular leather family and community. For the affirmation I get each time I look at it that the work I do has had lasting impact on so many. For the many labours of love it represents, both mine and others’.

I did not understand until this weekend how much it means to me that my community has chosen to adopt this tradition as a thank-you to both myself and my co-organizer.  It feels like a profound connection to a longer tradition, while still being proudly ours. I am so deeply moved and grateful. I have an uneasy relationship with the concept of leather history largely because it doesn’t generally mention leatherwomen; it’s mostly owned by the gay boys. But this vest feels like a tie into that larger history that fits juuuuust right.

Switching Politics

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My identity as a switch is pretty much set in stone. It feels important to insist that, yes, I *do* bottom, contrary to recent evidence. I’ve bottomed in public exactly twice since I walked away from my marriage. When married, I bottomed to my then-wife in public and private and pretty much topped everyone else the rest of the time. There were and are a fair number of reasons for the lack of public bottoming:

As an event organizer, I felt unable to let myself go enough to enjoy myself in bottom-space when I might be pulled away from play at any moment. At one time, this ruled out 90% of the parties I attended. It’s not quite that bad now: I only organize two annual events and attend parties largely put on by my cohort, my chosen family and my friends.

I bottomed to ex1 (and, toward the end, ex2) pretty much exclusively for years. One of the most destructive aspects of the breakdown of our marriage for me was her insistence that I trust her and continue to bottom to them both in ways that made me feel uncomfortable and exposed. The final betrayal struck a heavy blow to my confidence as a bottom and significantly ups the vulnerability factor when I do choose to bottom.

So this sucks on a number of levels. First off, I really love bottoming. It feeds me in different ways than being a top and a Domme does. There is something deeply affirming for me about being on the bottom. I feel desirable and desired in a way that topping somehow doesn’t tap into. I will admit this may be my own fucked-upedness, but I know that I have something to offer as a top or a Domme: I am a good negotiator, I am a skilled flogger/piercer/cutter/fister/pincher. I am a fairly responsive and mindful lover, whether I’m beating the snot out of someone or filling their cunt with my whole hand. I am a kind, firm, self-aware Domme. Vastly imperfect and always learning, but I know what I bring to the table as a top. As a bottom? Well. I’m responsive. Does that count? I think my bottom brain harbours this conviction that bottoms only get play if they’re stereotypically pretty, even though my top brain knows this is bullshit.

Huh. This post is getting more personal than I had planned.


There’s something really important to me about bottoming in public, as well. There’s a statement being made there. It worries me when all our community leaders seem to be tops. I don’t think it’s a healthy supposition that only tops can be in leadership roles. This is aside from the fact that I get off on it: I want to let newcomers know that you can command space, run events, MC and order around volunteers (with a smile and a thank you) when your sexual ID is as a bottom or submissive.

We’re just not quite advanced enough as a culture to have that be okay. I am claiming space when I insist on bottoming at my own events. More than when I top. I am making a conscious choice to show vulnerability despite the fact that I am a leader. There’s a statement there.

This is tied up (HA!) with my own issues around being seen as desirable and/or attractive as well as unresolved shit about my last relationships, but it still needs to be done. On a personal level I need to bottom because I crave that letting go. On a political level, I need to bottom publicly to let others know it’s okay to do so and still take a leadership role. Maybe this whole post is just a long reminder to myself that I carry that obligation, both to myself and to others.



Owning the Contradictions

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I had a major anxiety attack yesterday. I know I’ve talked about having GAD in the past, and this was a pretty bad state of affairs. I was out with a new group of people – a friend wanted to introduce the bunch of us to each other, a noble goal – so already the anxiety level was high. The resto was a dim sum joint I’d been to once before. The last time I’d been too poor and a little freaked out by the lack of food descriptions to want to eat anything – my food sensitivities make strange food a little unsettling. In addition to which, I could hear neither the waiters nor my tablemates, all of whom were strangers. I’m a vegetarian and honestly dim sum is not the best place for a vegetarian.

By the time we hit 30 minutes into the meal, my blood sugar was scraping a new low and everybody but me had managed to sample a few dishes. Something finally came around that sounded like I could eat it – sticky rice? yes, please! – and when it hit the table it was dotted with not only pork, but the one vegetable I know will make me agonizingly ill, eggplant.By this time, I was about four years old, panicked that I was simply not going to be able to eat anything on the table and that I was just going to get hungrier and hungrier until someone chided me for being picky and force-fed me something that made me sick.

It had also become apparent that I didn’t have a heck of a lot in common with the other very nice people sitting at the table, at least not at first glance, and the four-year-old in me was simply not interested in making a huge effort to find common ground. There is a great chasm between het kinksters and leatherdykes, and I’ll write more about that some other time. But it added to the general anxiety level.

At which point my wounded hamstring and IT band (which I cheerfully refer to as Grief And Anger Butt, or Gaabi) starting sending shooting pains from my ass to my knee. Gasp-inducing stabbing pains.

Dear reader, I called it. I left, making my apologies using my Gaabi agony as the (legit) reason I was leaving and taking my lovely girlfriend with me. Let us observe that I did not feel I had an acceptable reason to leave until the anxiety starting manifesting itself in physical pain. Let us also note that I did not mention my anxiety even to the genuinely lovely person who had invited me, despite the fact that I trust her and I know she knows about the whole mental health thing ‘cos I know she reads this blog.

Well, so, what the hell is your point already? I have a few. En passant, I would like to remark that I am struggling with owning my mental health issues. Since I went off my meds a few months ago, anxiety attacks and depression have both increased. I don’t want to go back on them for a number of reasons. So I’m trying to regulate my anxiety, control attacks when I can and be more open when I can’t handle stuff because of it. On that note, Sunday was a fail. Though I am proud that I didn’t stay due to some misplaced sense of politeness.

But my major point is that this same lovely person has told me she looks up to me. And I’ve gotten that from a few people lately. I received some truly high praise from a colleague this week, the kind that goes onto my career record. People tell me they admire me. And I’m not ill enough that I don’t see how I move mountains: I get shit done. Not alone, but yeah. I have had a hand in building the community that exists in the tri-city area, a community that helps each other outside the dungeon. As a friend recently mentioned, we visit each other in hospital, we attend births and funerals and weddings and we help each other move. It’s pretty fucking special.

So, which one is the “real” me? Well, that right there is my point. The answer is yes. Part of the reason I want to be out about my mental health is because I want people to understand that my illness doesn’t stop me from moving mountains. I’m not a gun-toting maniac, and in fact I am a functional and contributing member of society who just happens to have an invisible disability. It’s feeling more and more important to fight the stigma around mental health these days.

There have been a couple of suicides in the wider leather community in the last few months, and both the individuals were highly respected within said community. These were people who, it came out after, suffered from depression in silence. Suffering in silence is not a good thing. I can’t help feeling like we need to not put leaders on pedestals. Nobody is beyond struggling: they may be leaders but it doesn’t mean they’re not going home and crying every night, or suffering from anxiety every time they work a room. We’re all fragile and we’re all fallible. We’re all human.

This has three important corollaries: 1) We need to accept that leaders are human. This means that we need to treat them with kindness, and let them fall when they need to, and be there to catch them when they do. 2) We as leaders need to be open about the struggles we are going through. We need to let people see our fragility and accept offers of help when they come. 3) Those who look up to us need to understand that we move those mountains, we work those rooms, we teach those workshops and we bang those heads not always because of who we are, but often in spite of it. We hurt, physically and emotionally, and we do it anyway. Knowing that, what’s your excuse for not joining our ranks?

Think about it.


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