When an RCMP profiler described “exhibitionists and voyeurs” as criminals exercising their uncontrollable, deviant sexuality at the 2017 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies’ Violence Link conference in Ottawa last November, Cassandra Atchison did not agree.
She dedicates a lot of her time educating people about alternative sexualities and the healthy, satisfying lives people can lead with proper understanding of themselves.
For the past six years Atchison has been a member of the BDSM community, which unites people whose sexual preferences diverge from the mainstream. She was attending the conference because she feels that such people routinely deal with a lack of inclusion and understanding from the general public.
She is also an active, outspoken advocate for the rights of people in the LGBT community and those of alternative sexuality.
A support worker by profession, Atchison currently studies in the business management and entrepreneurship program at Algonquin and also heads the Algonquin Students for Kink Education & Workshops club (ASKEW). She aims to provide a sense of community to Algonquin students who need an inclusive forum for discussing subjects of sexuality and kink.
It is Atchison’s view that despite the great strides society has made in recent decades, the public still largely has an outdated and limited understanding of many of the issues her club discusses. Consent is something many people still don’t fully grasp, in her opinion partly due to the careless handling of the subject by mass media.
Atchison explained that popular works of fiction routinely instill incorrect and harmful notions into the public. Using Grey’s Anatomy as an example, she said it “romanticized the notion of … basically stalking people,” elaborating that many scenes confuse affection with toxic relationship patterns, and “in reality, these kinds of behaviours contribute towards rape culture.”
Another notable example of irresponsible misinterpretation of BDSM culture – and consent – is 50 Shades of Grey. Atchison says that although the franchise had the effect of bringing certain subjects to the forefront of the public consciousness, it also severely misrepresented them.
“I think the problem was that the author hadn’t been actually educated in consent culture,” Atchison said, adding that the books got most things wrong and popularized the dangerous concept of BDSM practised without informed consent.
“He was really overbearing, borderline stalker,” she said of Christian Grey’s character, “It’s a bit problematic.” Atchison affirms that education is just as important today as ever before.
One thing discussed at ASKEW meetings is consent, in all sexual contexts. She says the issue is more complex than most people assume. Last November the club ran a workshop on campus – a communication lab – where various exercises and theoretical situations were used in order to prepare people to have the type of sex they want to have in a way that is safe and respectful of mutual boundaries.
Saying that being sexually positive “doesn’t mean going out and having sex with everybody,” Atchison emphasized that learning as much as you can about yourself is important. It is her belief that all kinks can be experienced safely and with consent. She stated that with better education and resources, likely fewer people would be to resort to experiencing things in a non-consensual way.
The club is open to anyone who wants to join, or would like to sit at a meeting – members usually gather once a month in room E206 – and be introduced to the club’s dynamics. These meetings are a safe space where individuals can express themselves freely, and the floor is open to discussing all subjects without judgment.
Some meetings are simple get-togethers where people chat about their lives and play games. Others take the form of interactive workshops – sometimes with guest speakers – focusing on specific issues like informed consent and negotiating your terms in bed. The focus is always on enriching the perspective and knowledge of everyone in attendance on subjects of kink and sexuality in general.
In fact, Atchison emphasizes that most things discussed translate perfectly into everyone’s personal experience, regardless of their sexuality. She says often people will attend once and opt not to join, but they invariably leave with a sense of excitement, feeling better informed, and more receptive than before.
Atchison says she would like to start a non-profit after she graduates, aimed at adult sex education and a focus on alternative sexuality, ideally institutionalized as a community hub with a library and public classes.
She is currently working on organizing a club event, the details of which are not yet known.