Mikhel had been gone almost four weeks when the rumors about Floggin’ Brews started. I’d heard through Aunt Grete and a terse email from Mikhel himself that it would probably be a couple more weeks before his return from Estonia. I still didn’t know exactly what he was doing there, but I figured I’d find out from Mikhel if I ever needed to know.
Boss had completely recovered from whatever had made Her sick. (I credited Aunt Grete’s soup, and made a mental note to call her the next time I got sick.) And Boss & I had gotten used to working together. Aside from a few minor business hiccups, such as running out of disinfectant wipes in the Theatre, things had been running smoothly.
I first learned that something was wrong when I got a phone call from Zingy, one of the leaders of the NOWME group, which catered to young cis kinksters, though it technically accepted everyone. (I think the acronym stood for something, but could never remember what.) After Zingy identified herself, she announced, “I’m sure you know why I’m calling.”
That took me off guard. “No, actually, I don’t.”
“After the consent violation that happened at the last EARLY party, you can’t expect other groups to feel comfortable using the same space. NOWME won’t be coming back to Floggin’ Brews. I’m calling to cancel our munches and parties. We’re going to find somewhere that doesn’t harbor abusers.”
What the. . . ? “Zingy, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I was more puzzled than pissed.
“Don’t you? Well, that’s even worse.” And she hung up.
I hung up the phone and thought hard about the last EARLY party. I’d been working, and hadn’t seen anything amiss. There were some new-to-the-group people, and some new-to-each-other couples/threesomes, but that wasn’t at all unusual.
I called Rick, our part-time evening bartender who’d been working that night, to see if he’d noticed anything.
“Um, lemme think. There was a couple girls out back when I was on a smoke break.” He heard my silence. “I mean young women.”
“Ok, what about them?”
“One of them was crying, and the other was hugging her and saying things like ‘that bastard.’”
“And you didn’t think to mention this?”
“Sorry. It seemed personal, I didn’t want to get in the middle.”
Given the drama that sometimes accompanied personal relationships in the kink community, that was understandable.
I hung up the phone, and called a couple folks who saw themselves as “well-connected” in the community. Meaning they were insatiable gossips. I learned that the scuttlebutt was that Sir Stag, aka Mathias, and Blue Belle, aka Trish, had negotiated a scene at the EARLY party, and that Trish had been seen crying afterwards, and word was that Sir Stag had violated her consent, and had since been seen at parties at Floggin’ Brews, so between that and what happened with Blue Belle, it was assumed that the management here was tolerating Sir Stag’s misconduct, and probably that of other predators. So far, only the NOWME group had canceled, but others had “expressed concern.”
Well, isn’t that just dandy. And entirely untrue.
I took a day or so to cool off, and to think about what to do, if anything. I even talked to Boss about it. At least, I talked, and She appeared to listen. And just saying stuff out loud gave me some ideas.
I contacted the EARLY group moderators, and let them know that I had heard that there had been some concerns about conduct at the last party, and to let me know if there was anything I could do to make sure their members felt safe. They told me they were investigating, but that there had been no formal complaint.
Mercy was of the opinion I ought to call Blue Belle, get her story, and then ban Sir Stag from Floggin’ Brews. That was tempting, but I knew nothing about what, if anything, had really happened. The EARLY moderators had a responsibility for what happened at their parties, and if they needed my help, they knew where to find me.
I had something more proactive in mind. I explained my idea to Boss, and She was on board.
I contacted every group that meets at Floggin’ Brews, and told them that there was going to be an information session on sexual assault and sexual consent. If you wanted to keep meeting at FB, your group had to have someone attend, and to re- submit their group statement on consent after the session.
There was some grumbling, but less than I expected. I told the complainers to consider it the kink equivalent of mandatory CPR training. Or a flu shot.
When the day came, there were folks from the Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Rape, the Sexual Violence Program, and the Sexual Rights and Autonomy Project there to give presentations on best group practices to ensure safe and consensual practices, behaviors to watch out for, and resources for victims of consent violations or violence. I’d invited a bunch of non-kink groups to attend if they were interested, and there were representatives there from the local yoga studio, a community artist cooperative, and an “alternative lifestyle” retail shop. And representatives from almost every group that meets at Floggin’ Brews.
The meeting itself was in the Theatre, which Brita had helped me set up as a conference room, complete with coffee and Danish, and a screen at the front for presentations. The kink equipment had been pushed to the sides, but provided what I thought was a practical reminder of the risks inherent in the things our guests like to do.
I left Mercy to tend the bar, and watched from the back of the Theatre, more anxious than I cared to admit. Boss wandered in after things got started and unexpectedly hopped in my lap. That helped. She even let me stroke Her a bit, but mostly we both watched the presentations and discussions that followed.
As things were wrapping up, Mercy stuck her head in the door and motioned for me to come out. Boss and I quietly snuck out the door.
“What is it?” I asked.
Mercy smiled. “We have a latecomer who wanted to talk to you.”
And there was Mikhel, sitting at the bar with a Big Eddie’s Stout in front of him, giving me a big smile. Boss chirped and hopped up on the bar and offered Her nose. Mikhel briefly touched Hers with his, and gave Her ears some skritchies.
I waited until they were done, and then gave him a big hug. “Welcome back! I am very glad to see you.”
“Boss tells me that she hardly missed me, that you have everything under control, and why did I come back so soon?”
I snorted. “She did not!”
Before Mikhel could argue, people started coming out of the Theatre.
“Ret!” It was Portia, one of the moderators who came from the DommiGrrls group. “Ret, thank you so much for organizing this. So much good information! And the discussion was great. We’ll be sending you an updated consent statement soon.”
Three or four others made sure to give me a hug on the way out. Almost everyone was talking with someone else, and a group of four decided to grab a booth to continue their conversation. The presenters were complementary about the crowd (and the pastries, since they all worked at nonprofits). And the woman from the Sexual Rights group told me to let her know when we were going to have the next class, because whatever the topic was, she wanted to attend.
By the time I returned to Mikhel, he was on his second beer, and Mercy had a tulip glass of Prairie Bomb stout poured out for me.
Mikhel gave me an appraising look. “That was a very good idea.”
“What, the class?” I took a sip of the stout. “Remember, I used to teach. I didn’t know what else to do about the rumors that wouldn’t make it worse.” Which required a discussion of what might or might not have happened, the resulting gossip, and the NOWME group boycott.
Mikhel nodded. “That kind of thing will happen every once in awhile. Not everyone is going to respect another’s boundaries, and not every scene will go well. And some will be quick to find fault.”
“True. But I wanted to do something to give folks a reason to trust us.” I took another sip, and shrugged. “And for the groups to realize that consent is always going to be a big deal.”
“The second goal is more important than the first,” Mikhel said.
“Yes, I know. But I took it personally that some people were blaming us.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Hmm?”
“Thank you for taking it personally.”
“So, speaking of personal.” I turned to look at him. “What have you been up to? You’ve been gone for almost six weeks, and I’ve heard almost nothing.”
Mikhel took a breath in as if he was about to say something, but changed his mind. “Not now. Another time. I just got in and need to get some sleep first.”
“Fair enough,” I said as he stood up and started to put on his coat.
As he turned and headed toward the door, he took a look around. “It’s good to be back. And I look forward to hearing about what you’re planning to organize next.”
“I’m not. . . .”
Mikhel just smiled. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”