Anonymity and events: how do you stay safe?

A while ago someone emailed to ask me about anonymity at Eroticon. Understandably, given that a lot of the people who attend write under pseudonyms, it’s one of the most frequently asked questions. Can I stay anonymous if I attend Eroticon? And what processes are there to help me do that?

I figured, given that I’m anonymous, that I might be quite well-placed to answer this, so here’s an overview on Eroticon’s anonymity policy, as well as a couple of more general tips on anonymity at events, based on the events I’ve been to and the ways in which I’ve shit myself about having my picture taken.

Eroticon anonymity policy

Coloured lanyards

When you pick up your badge for Eroticon on the first day, you’ll be offered a choice of lanyards – the colour corresponds to whether you’re happy to be photographed. Last year it was pink and black (if I remember correctly), and I’m not sure about this year – we haven’t ordered the lanyards yet, but there’ll be a similar system in place. We’ll also make an announcement explaining this system at the beginning and end of every day, as well as have it prominently listed in the event booklet to remind people not to take pictures of those who are wearing a certain colour lanyard.

Names on delegate badges

The first year I went to Eroticon, I was just listed as ‘Sarah.’ I didn’t want people spotting my blog name before I’d had the chance to speak to them. While most people choose to list their blog names, it’s not compulsory by any means, and if you feel more comfortable using just your first name, or a different pseudonym, for your written badge, that’s A-OK.

ID when you’re in the building

To make sure that no strangers wander into the event, delegate badges must be worn at all times inside the building. There will be staff/volunteers at the entrance to the event (held in a closed-off section of the building so others can’t simply wander in) checking that everyone has a delegate badge when they come in, to prevent randoms wandering in off the street. If you smoke/want to go outside for some fresh air during breaks, etc, you can just take off your badge so people don’t see that you’re an Eroticon attendee. I do this all the time, because again: having ‘GOTN’ hanging round my neck makes me nervous.

Official photos

There isn’t an official Eroticon photographer, although fellow organiser Molly does always take some lovely event pictures with the sponsors and people who are happy to be photographed. We don’t issue press passes to external photographers though, and any individual taking pictures has to abide by the event behaviour policy, and only take photographs if they have the clear consent of people in shot.

Speaking and anonymity

Some people want to take pictures during their talk/have someone else take pics, which is fine as long as they respect the audience members who are wearing coloured lanyards. Others want to record the audio of their talk/a video. If you’d like to do this all we ask is that you make an announcement at the start of your talk making it clear to the audience what you’re recording and what will/won’t go online – so if you’re making an audio recording of a Q+A those who don’t want their voices on it will be aware. I’ve spoken at Eroticon for the last two years in a row, so if you’d like to speak and maintain anonymity that’s not a problem at all.

These are the anonymity basics that we have in place, but if you’ve read those and you’re still nervous about attending Eroticon for anonymity reasons, please do feel free to get in touch with me if you have any other suggestions or concerns you think we can address. Naturally I’m obsessed with anonymity/not appearing in pictures, so if there’s a way I can make this even safer, I will. Consider me a gigantic anonymity nerd who is Well Up For Collaborating With You.

Anonymity: should I worry?

As a massive anonymity nerd, it would be ridiculous of me to imply that any system is infallible. There’s no way to 100% guarantee anonymity at an event. However, there are lots of things that event organisers can do to ensure that you are as safe as possible. Those include the steps detailed above, which we take with Eroticon, and which other great events like Woodhull in the US take as well.

The second thing is that while erotic writers, sex workers, and other groups who may be used to using pseudonyms are generally very hot on anonymity, people outside these areas are often oblivious to the need for it. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve had to approach someone who’s taken a picture of me in what I’d thought would be a camera-free setting and asked them not to publish it. Like I say, I am excessively private when it comes to pictures, and sometimes I forget that this isn’t the way that most people do things. So trade shows like ETO, or big events like Venus Berlin, have scared the living shit out of me in terms of the sheer number of cameras. In those environments, I try to either hang very far behind anyone holding a camera, or just maintain a high alert for accidentally being visible in the back of someone’s photo.

But the reason I mention it is because there may well be other events that you attend which don’t have the same kind of awareness of anonymity as things like Eroticon and Woodhull. In those cases, I’d strongly urge you ask the organisers first, work out what you’re comfortable with, and if you’re brave then be ready to ask people to delete photos if they take any of you without your consent.

Consent. I’m going to end on this because – as with the vast majority of life situations – it’s the most important thing to consider. Sometimes people ask me if they can take my picture. They’ll approach shyly and say ‘is it OK if I take a pic of your badge?’ or ‘how about one of your shoes/hands/something less identifiable than your face?’ I’ll always say ‘no’, but I might change that answer to a ‘yes’ depending on someone’s response. If I say ‘no’ and someone acts like I’ve kicked them in the teeth, or tells me that ‘everyone does it’ or ‘it’s fine’ or ‘oh but I won’t post it anywhere’, then every single one of my alarm bells will ring immediately. This happens so much with photos – people will assume that because they are happy to post a picture, everyone else should be too. I’m sure most of these people mean well, but personally I think the most important thing when it comes to events and anonymity is to always check in with those you might photograph/write about. Check in with people, ask, and then don’t question their answer.

No one ever has any idea what someone else’s reasons are for maintaining anonymity. If you would like to be anonymous, then you should be allowed to do that, and choose what you reveal in which spaces, when and why. That, in my opinion, is the most important rule of events and anonymity.

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