There is a story going around the internet about a man who was asked to step down from his position at Drupal because of his interest in BDSM and Gor. The details are a bit fuzzy and many of us think there is more to the story than either side is revealing (which is their right, of course). So what is this all about? Did a man get fired for kink?
I will warn you now that this is long. There are a lot of details and I’ve tried to present an unbiased account of what is known before getting into my own commentary (which is fairly biased). The details are first, with my commentary beginning at “Things That Make You Go ?!?”. I do cave in and make a smart ass comment in the section “Fired for Kink & Actions”, so if you’re just looking for the facts, you know where to find them. Please check ou the various links to both direct and indirect sources. There is a lot to take in.
Fired for Kink – Background
To understand this situation, we need to look at the different elements involved. Mainly, BDSM and Gor – or rather the differences between the two.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Drupal (which included me until this story broke), it is an open source content management system. The position in question is a volunteer position, but offers various career advantages – one would assume the ability to network with others in the field, obtain contacts for paid work, etc. Larry Garfield, the man who was asked to step down, also held a position organizing and selecting speakers for a track at a conference run by the same group (Drupal). He was removed from that position in a separate decision over his interests in Gor.
Gor, it seems, is the issue here, not BDSM. There is a much wider knowledge of at least the basics of BDSM in the mainstream community. Most people understand that consent is important, the know about the existence of safe words and have an (often misguided) idea of what we do.
Gor, on the other hand, is much more niche. Many in the BDSM community don’t know anything about Gor (or don’t realize they do). Part of this may be because of many Gor practitioners attempts to distance themselves from BDSM, often calling it a perversion. The other reason is that it simply doesn’t appeal to a large number of kinksters. Of course, like any other fandom, those who love it, really love it.
Crash Course in Gor
I’m personally not into Gor, so I’m going to try to give a quick overview but I may miss some of the nuance that a follower could share. I’m also going to do my best to give an unbiased account here, for reasons which will become apparent very soon.
Gor, as a philosophy or way of life (as many of the practitioners refer to it), is based off the novels in the Chronicles of Counter-Earth series by John Norman. Gor is the planet that the stories take place on, the people who live there (and the practitioners of the subculture here on Earth) are called Goreans.
Gorean philosophy focuses on virtues like honor, valor, and obeying the ‘order of nature’. In this context, the order of nature tells us that men are predisposed to be dominant while women are predisposed to be submissive. In Gorean culture, this manifests as master and slave relationships between the two. Goreans often focus on training and keeping a kijara, a female slave, as a central tenet of their way of life.
Sadly, many people within the Gorean subculture look down on male submissives, feeling that they are going against the natural order. Female dominants are barely acknowledged, if they are, it’s usually in a negative light. I will stress that it’s #NotAllGoreans who believe this, but a vocal minority(?) – and a large part of why I have never bothered to learn much about them.
I’ve also seen a good deal of homophobia and transphobia from members of this community online. Again, I’m sure it’s not everyone who follows this philosophy, but it does seem to be common.
Why Does This Matter?
Having said that, the reason for asking Garfield to step down, given by Dries Buytaert, the founder and project lead of Drupal, was because his personal beliefs didn’t align with the values of Drupal.
The Drupal community is committed to welcome and accept all people. That includes a commitment to not discriminate against anyone based on their heritage or culture, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, and more. Being diverse has strength and as such we work hard to foster a culture of open-mindedness toward differences.
A few weeks ago, I privately asked Larry Garfield, a prominent Drupal contributor, to leave the Drupal project. I did this because it came to my attention that he holds views that are in opposition with the values of the Drupal project.
The full post gives some insight into the decision without giving many details. It alludes to more information that is being kept confidential.
There doesn’t seem to be any complaints about Garfield’s conduct at Drupal. In fact, many co-workers have said that he was always respectful towards everyone. Of course, without further information, it is difficult to hold any sort of reasoned opinion about the situation.
DrupalCon has separate leadership from the main project after Buytaert recused himself from the decision-making process concerning this case. The Executive Director of the Drupal Association also released a statement regarding their decision to remove Garfield from his position there.
Once again, they cite confidential information that led them to ask Garfield to step down and stress that it doesn’t have to do with his personal life. They do make a point of emphasizing their belief in inclusivity and equality. It’s wonderful that this organization holds these values, but it is a bit odd that they keep stressing it in statements. I don’t know if it’s because of the information that has come out about Garfield’s involvement in Gor or because of the confidential information that we aren’t privy to. I suppose it could be a combination of the two.
Garfield posted about his story, which is what prompted the two statements above. This is where we find out about his involvement in Gor and how it was brought to the attention of Drupal.
By Garfield’s account, someone stumbled across his profile on one of the large fetish/BDSM websites and brought it to the attention of Drupal. We then meet Klaus Purer, who Garfield says berated him for his involvement in kink. He claims that Purer signed up for the BDSM site to dig up more dirt and continued to pursue the issue after Drupal regarded it as closed.
Fired for Kink & Actions?
Let’s recap where we stand at this point. You have Drupal saying that Garfield was asked to step down because of some confidential stuff which is related to his beliefs. Garfield claims that he is being targeted for his involvement in BDSM and Gor, which is akin to targeting a person for their sexual orientation or religion.
Next, in this shit show of kink, we have Alex McCabe, a member of Drupal, who brings some interesting facts to light. McCabe shows us that in three years of Garfield being the Chair for the PHP track at various DrupalCons (Baltimore, Dublin, and New Orleans), there are exactly zero women selected as presenters. For two of these conferences, the co-chair is a woman, but none of the presenters out of 27 sessions.
There are always lots of excuses when things like this happen at conferences, especially when the conference is in a field where women are under-represented. I am reminded of the Tumblr “Congrats! You Have an All-Male Panel“.
The reasons given for the lack of women, in this case, are (bolded emphasis mine),
- Session selection is a collaborative process involving 2-3 chairs per track and reviewed by the entire 20-odd person selection committee. The ability for any one person to exclude a class of people is tiny.
- Extremely few women submit sessions for the PHP track in the first place. For Baltimore, there were zero.
- A key goal for the PHP track is to bring in speakers from outside the Drupal community, so that is where we’ve always focused our session recruiting efforts.
- I and others have reached out to women in the PHP community who I know are excellent speakers to invite them to submit sessions. Most decline to even submit.
- The number one reason given is that DrupalCon doesn’t cover speaker travel costs (most PHP conferences do), which makes the conference cost-prohibitive. That is one of the reasons I have repeatedly raised the issue of speaker travel costs with the DrupalCon leadership team.
- There was some internal discussion amongst the content team about having a special travel fund to help “diverse” speakers (non-white-males, basically) attend the conference. I supported that move.
Things That Make You Go ?!?
His follow-up post provides more information about his personal life. He gives more reasons he thinks that he was dismissed for his beliefs and/or participation in Gor.
He also brings up details about a woman he calls his former housemate. Reading through the story twice, I can’t tell if this was a romantic relationship, a D/s relationship or a friendship. Either way, the way he describes this person is disturbing to me.
Garfield says that this woman is “acutely autistic” and doesn’t speak. She communicates through written words and ASL. She also has “severe social anxiety” and prefers to speak to only one person at a time. He then says,
However, her particular condition means there are very few people who are able to effectively act as caretakers for her, and a few years ago, when she needed a new place to live, I was one of those people and available, so accepted her into my house.
Other than some questionable language, none of this seems questionable (other than why we are hearing this story). Garfield then says that the woman developed an interest in programming and assisted on some simple tasks. he brought her to a few tech conferences, with the commentary,
“Help a mentally handicapped woman learn about Drupal” is a concept I believed most Drupalers would be 1000% on board with, and for the most part I was correct.
I’m not going to pick on the language here because it’s not the point. The sentiment expressed with this statement is pretty disgusting but what comes next really does it for me.
We were very open about her autism (at her request, her logic being “I’m not broken, just autistic”), but of course didn’t mention the D/s part because, well, that’s nobody else’s business.
Let’s break this down. Yes, letting people know that there is a reason a person is non-verbal and shy/nervous around people is a good thing. Most of us have enough friends who are on the autism spectrum to have a base understanding of the condition and be sensitive to the person’s needs.
Yes, letting people know that there is a reason a person is non-verbal and shy/nervous around people is a good thing. Most of us have enough friends who are on the autism spectrum to have a base understanding of the condition and be sensitive to the person’s needs.
Regarding a person with autism, even “acute” autism, as “mentally handicapped” and making infantilizing statements about her is not good.
Being in a position of power, such as a caregiver and landlord, to a person you regard as “mentally handicapped”, then entering into a power exchange relationship with that person is really not good.
If a person is disabled enough to require a caregiver, then said caregiver should not abuse the position of authority they have by entering into a kink relationship. I want to acknowledge that many in the autistic community do not regard autism as a disability. I am just trying to stay in the context of what Garfield has written.
The whole thing kind of comes out of left field and leaves some of us questioning the relevance.
Fired for Kink?
This is certainly the impression that Garfield wants us to have. I don’t know that kink would have entered into this story – or that there would be a story – if he hadn’t brought it up. His post follows a pattern I have seen many times before. One where they try to make it seem as if they are being persecuted for their beliefs. Gor is not a marginalized group, not in the way that POC, disabled people, or trans people are.
Garfield really stresses this point, comparing himself to both gay people and Muslims in the current US political climate;
Gor is a culture. D/s is a sexual orientation. . . . Yet no one would even think to exclude someone from Drupal because they were Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. Some (although certainly not all) practitioners of those religions have cultural traditions and practices that others find distasteful, but no one would tolerate a “religious test” for Drupal participation or Drupal leadership. If someone suggested that certain “religious symbols” from Judaism or Islam were unwelcome at Drupal events there would justifiably be a riot. Hell, I’d join it.
I find these sorts of comparisons very distasteful. Obviously, I don’t want to see anyone fired for kink but being kinky is not the same as being gay or being Muslim.
I am one of those people who believe that I was ‘born this way’. I am not content in a romantic relationship that does not involve power exchange. I find the need to be in a D/s relationship of some sort very important and fulfilling.
However, my interest in BDSM does not have the same effect on my life as being disabled (or being a woman). I deal with ableism constantly in my life, including barriers to access and outright discrimination. Hell, a politician declared that something was “lame” on MSNBC the other day and no one batted an eye (and let’s not get started on how the words “crazy” and slurs against mental illness are so casually used in the news lately).
OK, But Was He Fired for Kink?
I don’t know if Larry Garfield was fired for kink.
All I do know is that there is more to this story. Probably a lot more.
I don’t know if we will find out what’s really going on here. I don’t particularly care, other than it’s come across my radar multiple times in the past few days (which is why I wrote about it). It’s because of that visibility that I have some thoughts about the situation that I wanted to share.
There are a number of red flags for me in this situation. I don’t think that either side is doing themselves any favours. I think they should both stop posting publicly until they have something of substance to post. I think that Garfield is digging himself a nice, deep hole.
For some reason, I’m reminded of the Jian Gomeshi case, where he tried to get ahead of the story by posting about getting fired for consensual BDSM. Where various members of the kink community stood up and defended him based on his words. Who then had to take it all back.
I hope that’s not the case here – at this point, there isn’t any evidence to support that. I’m just seeing similarities in the statements regarding unjust persecution and how BDSM is like religion.
Let’s hope that this is all there is to things. I will post an update if/when more info becomes available.