No, I Won’t Present at Your Event For Free

Nor will I pay good money to attend an event if presenters are not fairly compensated.

Why? I finally took a good long look at the system, and all I feel is dismay.

I enjoy teaching. I mean I really enjoy teaching. I have an enthusiasm for my subject matter that audiences appreciate. I have fun, and interject personal stories and humor in my classes. I offer accurate and well-researched information, and am constantly striving to be better; tweaking things here and there each time. I never know what questions are going to be asked or what stories might be shared by attendees, and that makes each class excitingly different and full of possibilities. Yes, I do love teaching.

The first class I taught was to a grateful and interested local kink group. I taught, loved it, and connected with my kink community that day, a lovely presaging of what was to come in my life. I remember they paid for my lunch. I was so happy to have found people who were interested in what I had to say, that a free lunch felt like a cool bonus.

So I approached the dungeons in LA and they were happy to have me teach but told they couldn't pay me because they were 'non-profits'. When I pressed one of them, they reluctantly offered $20 for gas, which I gratefully accepted. At that time I was a struggling single mom, but I still got in my car and made the 1.5 - 2 hour drive down there, because I was so passionate about teaching, and felt 'honored' that I got to teach at these places. I was new at sex education and determined to prove myself. Yep, I was one of those newbies who were pretty happy to work for free for the 'exposure'.

Over 7 years later, I am still passionate about teaching. What has changed is that I am no longer new. I've proven my worth and I'm not available to present for free anymore. I'm honored to be asked to present, but asking me to do it for free feels disrespectful of my expertise, experience and knowledge. Typical compensation offers range from nothing (most often) to free entry to an event. While it's nice to get into events I want to go to for free, there is still food, travel, and my time.

It always ends up costing me. Every. Time.

There are exceptions, of course. I've taught before FemDom parties that I happily attended afterwards; a service to that FemDom community. I've taught (twice!) at a phenomenal kinky weekend retreat where free entry included gourmet-quality food all weekend; that felt fair.  Several times while visiting family in Denver I was hosted by kink groups and enjoyed a 50/50 door split as my compensation for presenting. That was decent. These were situations where I mixed business with pleasure, and sometimes that works. But it still didn't pay the bills.

I receive frequent requests to travel somewhere far away and teach. People tend to assume that presenters just cruise around, flying from city to city, making bank. Could not be further from the truth. The top 1% of presenters have an easier time of it, but even they struggle, usually finding other ways to monetize what they offer. Frankly, I would be happy to travel to (fill in the blank) and present, absolutely! Here's what I need to do that: I need my airfare, accommodations and food covered, and I need to go home with $500 - so that I can actually pay some bills (with the money I wasn't earning while I was gone).

Once I was asked to teach at a thriving retail kink store in LA, and was told I would be compensated for my time in retail product, and that they would 'take care of me', I shouldn't worry. After teaching the class, I was asked to email them a 'few' product choices from their website. I sent 3. I received one thing, which was the cheapest of the 3 choices. It was a riding crop that looked good, but couldn't compare to the $8 crops I get at the horse store. Never received anything else. I didn't complain, because I figured if that was the level of attention to detail that they had when dealing with presenters, I would just write them off and never teach there again. But seriously? A retail store? Wow. I didn't feel 'taken care of', I felt used. Then again, lesson learned. That taught me to get specific instead of accepting platitudes.

Here's the thing. I love to serve to my community.

And I do.

I offer free information to all who seek it - my webinars. Givers attend free and receivers can, too, if the $15 requested donation would keep them from attending. (Update - Webinars are free!) I don't want there to be a pay wall between information about pegging and those who seek it, so I teach for free to anyone who wants to take the time to get on the internet, register, and attend. How does that reconcile with the age-old (capitalistic?) axiom of 'if people don't pay for it, they won't value it'? I'm not sure, to be honest. Perhaps I'm shooting myself in the foot, here. But so far it feels good to be generous, and easy to manage when it's just a few hours of my time in my home, which is low overhead.

Like most other sex educators and presenters, I have managed to find alternate ways to monetize what I have to offer. My Patreon group is filled with people who are very grateful for what I put out there in the world, how it is normalizing pegging and helping to erase the taboo around it. Many of my patrons are grateful because my work has changed their lives, improved their relationships, helped them let go of their shame and connect with an inclusive community of like-minded people. They believe in my mission to spread accurate information about pegging to all who desire it, and send me money every month towards that cause. This continues to be a very humbling experience for me. Talk about feeling appreciated and valued, wow!

Some of my listeners/readers/fans have the financial freedom to shop at an online store where I receive a commission for all sales. I'm quite frank with my webinar people that they can find the equipment I recommend other places a little more cheaply, but shopping at my store helps support what I do. I am humbled by these shoppers, too. They help me out so much! And I don't have to fight with them to convince them that I am worth supporting. They already know it, and believe it.

Consequently, that is where I am putting my efforts these days, towards all you lovely patrons and shoppers out there who value what I do. You all rock.

But back to the system itself - I am far from the first to write about this. There is a dark underbelly resulting from the way this system presently works.

Rain DeGrey expressed it eloquently in her post, The Presenter's Dilemma", on FetLife:

What are the reasons that a presenter would chose to teach if it is a situation where they can't possibly even cover their expenses?

Attention cookies.
A large selection of hot play partners that are much more willing to interact with the “respected” and “well known” “community leader” then just some rank and file kinksters.

And then we are surprised when time and time again well known presenters across the country face consent violation after consent violation? Frankly, I am just surprised it doesn't happen MORE often. The system is broken.

When you have it set up so that presenters do not get paid for their time and effort, you have presenters choosing to present for the validation and ego pats it gives them. If we are paying our educators only in attention cookies, we can't be surprised at the endless strings of consent violations that seem to trail many of our “respected community leaders.” We get what we pay for.

Do I have a solution? I wish I could say that I do. I get that putting together a convention is an exhausting and punishing activity. I get that money should not be the reason we get together to share our skills and revel in our community. I get all of that. All I am saying is that as long as presenting is an activity that one pays money out of their own pocket to do, then there will have to be other reasons that draw presenters to the stage. Keep an eye on those reasons.

(Rain's full post here)

A commenter on Rain's post spoke to additional consequences of this system:

Having helped organizations and venues in their educational programs, I was shocked at the resistance I would get to my question " and how much are we willing to pay presenters?"... many times I was told that people who truly cared for the community would teach for free (????) And I have seen amazing, dedicated and talented people do this. However, none of them are trying to make a living out of it.
The consequences of this system are obvious:
- only people with a certain amount of income will present, leading to a lack of diversity in presenters.
- the few people who are not only willing to present for free or little money and are talented, become over exploited by the local community and at some point burn out.
- talented people who see value in what they are teaching are not hired to do so because it is not hard to find less talented people willing to do so for free.
- presenters that "bring people" are more likely to be invited to present than those who don't. Even if they are not particularly skilled. Which results in bad Classes. And only people with inflated egos think they are qualified to present when they just suck and being invited to present because they are cheap only makes this worse.
- people who are willing to pay to attend classes stop doing so after seeing that most presenters have little knowledge of the topic they teach (I remember seeing a friend of mine present a class after just one year of entering the Scene).

(full comment here)

The inimitable Mollena Williams-Haas describes the battle for compensation well in her piece, "Why You Should Pay Me":

When you say, “We are not gong to pay you or even cover your expenses”, what I hear is, “We do not value your expertise and contributions enough to make this happen, but we will use your name and work to further our goals.”

So why should you pay me?  You should pay me because I’m worth it. Because I am a member of the community and by supporting me you are supporting the community. You should pay me because I have some notoriety, and you can use that to your advantage. Because I’m smart, funny, and I talk to people with respect. I listen with empathy and dedication. You should pay me because, if you try, you can. You should pay be because I have 38 years of experience as an entertainer, and I bring it. Because I write, walk, eat, live and breathe this material. You should pay me because there are events, venues and conferences who respect me, and themselves, enough to do so.

(full article here)

Like Rain DeGrey, I don't have the answers, either. But I am quite certain I no longer have interest in supporting or participating in a broken system that does not reward excellence, is far from inclusive, and (however inadvertently) encourages abuse.

People deserve reasonable monetary appreciation and acknowledgement  for their achievements. I'm not seeing that in this community's broken system. I'm seeing whoever will do it for free held up as a worthy presenter while many presenters of true excellence (and no nefarious motives) are either tired of paying to present, or never had a voice to begin with because they cannot afford that voice. The degradation of our events is inevitable. Indeed, it has already happened and we don't even see it, because there are surely many marginalized presenters of excellence in the shadows, unable to offer their wisdom to the community. The system does not favor a diverse variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, The system doesn't fucking care. We never even get to hear from those in the shadows because the system shuts them out completely.

And that's a damn fucking shame.

2 Responses

  1. I belonged to a fb group for a spell, of photographers but mostly videographers. Almost every day the entire time I was with this group, someone was telling a story about working for free. The typical way their potential clients would approach them was to try to convince them with some story about the “great exposure” they’d receive by doing the project.

    In my last career I designed restaurants, it’s a ton of work! Hours of drawing, revising, drawing again. Some of these projects took anywhere from 1-3 years on average. Many clients wanted all this done for free. Usually they would bait us with the “exposure” line. Or perhaps they would ask us to “discount” our design services. To which I would normally say, “well, do I get free meals when I come into their restaurant or “discounted meals?” They’d look at me like I had two heads. I would then say something like exposure and discounted meals don’t keep the lights on and bills paid. If we were still at an impasse, we would send them on their way with well wishes in achieving their goals. That also afforded us the time to put resources forward for actual paying clients.

    Kudos to you for realizing your worth in the marketplace! I chose to be a patron because to date, I’ve found nothing remotely close to the level of information/education you provide on a very specialized subject.

    Continued success Ruby ?!

    1. Thanks for your support.!
      I’ve gotten a lot of grief about my policy, but when people pull the, “…but won’t you do it for the community?”
      I can say, look, my webinars are FREE for the entire world! I think I’m doing a fine job of giving to my community.

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