UPDATE TO THE UPDATE:
Because I think that the comments are important, I've left all 1,300 of them in. But for reasons outlined further below, all the current threads have been locked and new comments will go into the trash file. If you want to talk to me, feel free to email me at email@example.com - but while I'm happy to show you the interactions that have been had, I can't keep track of infinite comments per day.
Unfortunately, one of the things about life is that what works in a microcosm does not work in a macrocosm. And while yeah, despite the many who’ve said this is just another exercise in dumb male power and pathetic women, the important thing is this:
Women should feel safe.
And the chances that the Project would get fucked up, making con spaces more amenable to hordes of stalkers and mouthbreathers who will grope and maul women, are pretty damn big. Hell, it’s already made women feel less safe by me mentioning it, and that makes me feel like shit. As it should.
The Project itself, at least as done at Penguicon, has been turned by the miracle of reposting into some nightmare of eternal groping, female hunting, and a constant stream of denigration. And while that’s not the way it happened - at least from the perspective of the folks who participated that I’ve heard from who have expressed positive opinions behind f-locked posts because they don't want to endure the commentstreams that I’m getting…
…It doesn’t matter. Scalzi, as usual, got it right: It was highly context-specific. What happened to us, even if it was good, is not what will happen to you. The danger of it getting out of hand is too great – and already, people worry that they’re going to be press-ganged into a groping area if they don’t have a button, despite the fact that I (and others) have said that’s not what happened at all. But honestly? That easily could happen without proper supervision, male power being what it is…
And the fear is something that can be triggering in itself. I do get that. And nobody should be triggered.
If I’ve contributed to the idea that women are not safe, then I’ve failed with a capital “F,” regardless of the underlying reality. And if people think that all cons are filled with horrific swarms of gropers, well, then I’ve also failed.
So let me say this: Don’t try it. Some folks have wanted to because well, they see that it could be something healthy and sexual, but chances are someone’s going to end up alienated and skeezed. If you’re going to do this at in the entirety of a con-space, no matter how carefully you try to set the boundaries, you’re going to encroach on space that shouldn’t be occupied. Do not. (And one update, months later: The Con Anti-Harassment Project is a project dedicated to making people feel safe at conventions. You should support them in that, and their friends.)
Among friends who all know each other, understand their own boundaries, and have respect? It can be freeing. But what’s freeing coming from friends is often binding from strangers, and I’m truly sorry for not drawing that distinction.
(Even as many won’t ever see it as anything but a violation of awful, personal space, not understanding that every person – specifically, the volunteers who asked for buttons – draws a different space. The fact that the women who participated in the project at Penguicon each actively wanted to be a part of it apparently means little, because they’re apparently not qualified to make their own choices about how they want friends and acquaintances to approach them.
(Still, the point about the group needs overriding personal needs is something I get. Access needs to err on the side of restriction. Believe it or not, I am against construction workers hooting at women on the street.)
And because people now think I’m going to tear their clothes off if I look at them sideways, the perception is that I’m not safe. And again, regardless of the reality, nobody should have to fear that I’m going to do something awful to them the minute they let their guard down. And so I’ll say this:
I will not go to Penguicon next year. Nor will I go to ConFusion. The people there should not have to worry about me, even though frankly I don’t think they did much beforehand. But even so, I’m not going to chance that someone will go, “Crap, that’s Ferrett, I know what he does.”
(At least I’m fairly sure they didn’t have to worry about me at Penguicon. ConFusion, though? Even though I don’t recall asking anyone I didn’t know personally beforehand? It’s certainly possible I did harm – and if I embarrassed or humiliated anyone at either con, then I do apologize personally to you. As I apologize to anyone who now feels less safe going to cons, for whatever that is now worth.)
The OSBP has also run its course, so you don’t have to fear that, either. (If it does re-emerge, it’ll be stashed quietly in rooms and among like-minded friends where will keep their damn hands to themselves and you’ll never have to see it.) And if someone else tries to start this at a con, for God’s sake have them email me so I can slap the shit out of them.
As I said. I think it was worthwhile for us, at the cost of potential harm to some bystanders at ConFusion who were asked questions they didn't want to endure. (And that is significant.) Despite the tides of people who hated the idea, there were also tides of people who saw what it could be - which, despite the misinterpretation, is more than just HURR HURR TITS, though apparently I don't have the words to make it clear. But regardless, the harm equation tilts way up the more people you let in. You might try it with pals, but standardizing it? Where every additional person increases the risk of harm?
Stupidity made flesh. Which would be me.
I’m shutting down comments not because I’m opposed to reader interaction, but Jesus I’ve been trying to carry on interactions with 1,300 comment streams, and I don’t have the time for it right now. This isn’t my full-time job. If you’d like to email me privately, feel free to at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will listen.
I thank you for the comments. Yeah, a lot of them were pretty brutal, but you took the time to register your assent or dissent, and I did read every one. Even if you called me a damn fool, I’m not going to deny you may have had a point.
The original post lies beneath an LJ-Cut, complete with a link to a clarification that, well, pretty much nobody read. I refuse to delete it, because that would be cowardly. And I wish I didn’t have to shut the comments down, since even the people I disagree with have some good points – believe it or not, I did listen to what you had to say, which is why I’m saying this. But 700 comments a day is way too much to handle right now, and so regretfully I have to do this for the first time in almost six years of posting.
"This should be a better world," a friend of mine said. "A more honest one, where sex isn't shameful or degrading. I wish this was the kind of world where say, 'Wow, I'd like to touch your breasts,' and people would understand that it's not a way of reducing you to a set of nipples and ignoring the rest of you, but rather a way of saying that I may not yet know your mind, but your body is beautiful."
We were standing in the hallway of ConFusion, about nine of us, and we all nodded. Then another friend spoke up.
"You can touch my boobs," she said to all of us in the hallway. "It's no big deal."
Now, you have to understand the way she said that, because it's the key to the whole project. The spirit of everything was formed within those nine words - and if she'd said them shyly, as though having her breasts touched by people was something to be endured or afraid of, the Open-Source Boob Project would have died aborning. But she didn't. Her words were loud and clearly audible to anyone who walked by, an offer made to friends and acquaintances alike.
Yet it wasn't a come-on, either. There wasn't that undertow of desperation of come on, touch me, I need you to validate my self-esteem and maybe we'll hook up later tonight. There was no promise of anything but a simple grope.
We all reached out in the hallway, hands and fingers extended, to get a handful. And lo, we touched her breasts - taking turns to put our hands on the creamy tops exposed through the sheer top she wore, cupping our palms to touch the clothed swell underneath, exploring thoroughly but briefly lest we cross the line from 'touching" to "unwanted heavy petting." They were awesome breasts, worthy of being touched.
And life seemed so much simpler.
(EDIT: For a more fact-checked version of events, and an explanation of the button issue, click here to see a clarification of events - because frankly, a lot of people are confused on the later button issue, et cetera.)
In this moment, all of the societal restrictions had fallen away, and we discovered an eBay-like need: We liked to express adoration of her body, and she liked the compliment of being desired. It wasn't a one-way flow; it was a stream of compliments being passed back and forth as we explored that small zone of her body, a My God, these are beautiful breasts you have, along with the backstream compliment of Thank you, you're worthy of touching them.
It could have been a base lechery. But instead, it was sexual desire made simple. We knew we couldn't go further, but being allowed inside this area of restricted access with nothing more than a question was somehow amazing.
We stood there afterwards, a little shocked. Then someone else spoke up in the same tone of voice:
"You can touch mine, too."
And my God! We all reached out like zombies trying to break through a door to get to those breasts. And it wasn't getting any worse! We weren't degenerating into an orgy, but rather exploring the amazement of how beautiful this body was and how wonderful it was to have access to them. Nobody was trying to pull off a bra or suck on a nipple; we'd been given access to a very special place that only lovers usually touched, and why would you be so crude as to try to push the boundaries of that?
And every girl in that hallway was then asked the question: "May I touch your breasts?" They considered, and said yes. And we all did.
And my Lord, I'd had experience in breasts in my time, but having so many compared right next to each other was beautiful. One of the reasons I love sex is because every body is so different, and the differences in size, and skin tone, and nipple sensitivity, and bras - bras were a big deal in how a boob felt - were highlighted. It wasn't like the breasts blurred together; they were all each beautiful in their own way, framed in the canvas of a shirt or a tank top or a dress. With each set we explored, we appreciated the last ones even more.
We went back to some of the first open-sourcers, eager for comparison. "Can I touch them again?" "Sure!" And the feel-ups continued.
I felt the terrors of high school washing away from me. It could be this easy. Just ask!
And then the real magic happened. Because a beautiful girl in an incredibly skimpy blue Princess outfit strode down the hallway, obviously putting her assets on display (the thin strips of her clothing had to be taped to her body to stay on), and we stopped her.
"Excuse me," the first, very brave girl asked. "You're very beautiful. I'd like to touch your breasts. Would you mind if I did?"
We held our breath. We didn't want to offend. This could go wrong, collapsing and turning us into cruel lechers who'd make her feel uncomfortable and shamed of who she was....
She thought for a heartbeat, sizing us up. But there must have been something honest and trustworthy in our eyes that promised that we wouldn't get out of hand... Because after a moment, she smiled and said, "Sure!"
The first girl touched respectfully. And reported that they were glorious. Then we all asked in turn, and she nodded happily and put them out, and lo, even with strangers and not acquaintances, the magic of the Boob Project continued. It wasn't that she was a piece of meat to be felt up, but rather that a living person that we did not know had voluntarily lowered the barriers that separate us and allowed us in... And we were so grateful that we were showering her in pure adoration.
It was exciting, of course. I won't deny it was sexual. But it was a miraculous sexuality that didn't feel dirty, but clean.
Emboldened, we started asking other people. And lo, in the rarified atmosphere of the con, few were offended and many agreed. And they also felt that strange charge. We went around the con, asking those who we thought might be amenable - you didn't just ask anyone, but rather the ones who'd dressed to impress - and generally, people responded. They understood how this worked instinctively, and it worked.
By the end of the evening, women were coming up to us. "My breasts," they asked shyly, having heard about the project. "Are they... are they good enough to be touched?" And lo, we showed them how beautiful their bodies were without turning it into something tawdry.
We talked about this. It was an Open-Source Project, making breasts available to select folks. (Like any good project, you need access control, because there are loutish men and women who just Don't Get It.) And we wanted a signal to let people know that they were okay with being asked politely, so we turned it into a project:
The Open-Source Boob Project.
At Penguicon, we had buttons to give away. There were two small buttons, one for each camp: A green button that said, "YES, you may" and a red button that said "NO, you may not." And anyone who had those buttons on, whether you knew them or not, was someone you could approach and ask:
"Excuse me, but may I touch your breasts?"
And if you weren't a total lout - the women retained their right to say no, of course - they would push their chests out, and you would be allowed into the sanctity of it. That exchange of happiness where one person are told with gropes and touches that they are desirable and the other is someone who's allowed to desire.
For a moment, everything that was awkward about high school would fade away and you could just say what was on your mind. It was as though parts of me were being healed whenever I did it, and I touched at least fifteen sets of boobs at Penguicon. It never got old, surprisingly.
Some women didn't want to. That was fine. We never demanded anything of anyone. And if you didn't want to put yours up for the Project but you wanted to touch, well, that was fine, too. It was simply for folks who felt like being open.
It was a raging success at Penguicon.... And there haven't been any hookups that I know of thanks to the Open-Source Boob Project. It is, as I said, a very special thing. (Though I wouldn't rule it out if two single people exchanged a moment.) And we'll probably do it at other cons, because it's strangely wholesome and sexual at the same time.
I've left off the names, because frankly, people should reveal for themselves whether they're Open-Sourcers or not. Not everyone wants to go public with it, and what happens at the con stays at the con. But trust me. If you are, and I meet you, I will ask. And you'll understand the beauty and simplicity of the Open-Source Boob Project for yourself.
Touch the magic, my friends. Touch the magic.
(NOTE: I should add that my memory of details is fuzzy at best under the best of circumstances, particularly when I drank a lot of very good Scotch later that night. I wouldn't trust any specifics here, and others have already informed me that the Princess happened first and then the other touching occurred. But the spirit of the Open-Source gestation is very much correct here.)
(EDIT: Since many seem to have been confused on the topic, I'll clarify three points:
(First: The program's an opt-in program, which is to say that if you're not wearing a button, we'll never ask. Certainly the first wave of con-asking was something with the severe potential for harm, which is why we decided on the need for buttons. The need for a red button was debated, and we decided to have it just in case... But if even if you never wear any button at all, you won't be asked. At all. It's not as though we'd be gang-pressing people into servitude.
(Second: When I say, "Like any good project, you need access control, because there are loutish men and women who just Don't Get It," I am not referring to the women who don't want to be involved, who are perfectly cool, but rather the guys/gals who see a green button and assume that it means that the woman has to let herself be touched because she's got the green on. [As I said, the answer "no" is something that can be given and should be respected - it's not like a button should force you to give up your right to a body.] Or decide to spend a good five minutes in a mouth-breathing grope. Those kinds of idiots are the folks who we're worried about, and if I could change any one sentence it would be that one, because I never meant to imply there was anything wrong with someone who didn't want to be involved. There isn't.
(Third: I should add that the most of the men were open-sourced, too. The question of what that means is up to you.
(Apologies for those. Anything else? Blast away.)