Rebuilding the Barter System by Shanna Katz

Something I truly love about being a member of smaller communities is that for the most part, we look after our own. When someone needs a ride to an event, people band together to help them out. Here in Denver, we have Leather Magick, a kink specific charity group that local dungeons (public and private) fundraise for. When someone is moving in either of the community, the class is placed to garner help for them. When someone is sick, someone organizes visits from community members, food for family, and more. We frequently take care of our own, which is something I don’t always see in larger communities that tend not to have as many disenfranchised identities.

What I don’t see as much of in these communities (at least, as much as I’d like to see) is the concept of bartering. I firmly believe in bringing back the barter system. As we see our economy continue to ride a rollercoaster, and given that many members of the kink and queer communities are disproportionately broke/straining for money, it’s time to barter.

Now, I’m not saying that I think everyone should quit their job, and that we should live in kinky and queer communes, operating solely off of the barter system. However, it wouldn’t be that difficult to integrate more bartering into our communities. Sometimes, it already exist; many kink and queer events trade free entry in return for volunteer hours, allowing those with lower disposable incomes to still attend events. Let’s bringing that in to the rest of the community. Here are some ideas:

*Barter lessons/information on queer history, queer theory, for homemade goods, for pet sitting, for rainbow gear.

*Barter lessons/information on leather history, Kink 101, play skills (flogging, fire, rope, etc) for service, home made goods, food, massages, etc.

*Barter help with social media, blogging, writing, resume building, flirting, finding a partner, job searching, etc for whatever it is that you need.

*Barter anything for anything.

As you can see, really, anything is barterable. I exchanged help moving furniture to our place with helping someone re-do their resume (both of us are kinky). I exchanged an hour of relationship counseling for a professional photo shoot. I’ve traded home cooked meals for a variety of things. Of course, we do need to be careful around bartering sex and/or play sessions, depending on the laws of your locale and the rules of your play space, but outside of that, barter away.

Why bother bartering? Because it creates community, it supports community and it grows community. You might not have the money to donate to someone hurting in the community, or they might not be willing to take it. However, if they trade you washing and organizing all your rope for fresh food from your garden, you both have supported each other, as well as have inspired the rest of the community. It is a way of giving back while still getting, something that warms the cockles of our hearts in all sorts of various directions.

Now that you’re done reading, take a moment and think; what do you have to barter, and what do you need. Once you’ve got some semblance of an idea, go forth!

4 thoughts on “Rebuilding the Barter System by Shanna Katz

  1. This is wonderful, within kink communities and life in general these days. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I know a few women who have bartered sex for promo videos, house painting, photo shoots, so it’s not unheard of. ;-) There’s a reasonable chance I could barter two dozen beeswax tealights in exchange for a half-hour of in-call rental, if I talked to my studio-mate about it before hand (I already know that she wants to buy a few dozen tealights from me, so this might be a way to work that out).

    I tried trading home-cooked meals for dish-washing services (which worked well right up until exam time hit, and my dishwasher disappeared on me).

    A friend of mine will charge $20/hour for house cleaning, or $10/hour + a meal. Which isn’t exactly barter, but it related.

    In the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto kinky dyke community, I’m seeing sweat equity in lieu of entry fees cropping up more and more – although these positions are usually limited because, duh, the organizers still need to pay-in-cash for their rented venues, and similar.

    As you say, anything can be bartered for anything.

    None the less, I’m ambivalent about bartering… at least as something formal.

    On the one hand, as a broke chick with a lot different skills, the option of bartering eight hours of cooking services in exchange for admission to a couple of play-parties is wonderful. On the other hand, I need to be able to find people who both have what I want, and want what I have… and so do other people.

    I mean, right this second, if someone said “can I swap you five tins of red kidney beans and 900g of basmati rice for a 500-word article on Dominance and Gender” (just as a for-instance) I’d jump on it. That’s more than a week’s worth of dinner right there. But if my cupboard was full, I might prefer the $50.00 that such an article would (in theory) garner in a paid market because I could use it to pay my phone bill that way.

    A question I have is How do things get valued?
    My wife’s leatherwork skills are a case in point. Because we’re in the leather community, some people view her ability to repair their stuff as “they are allowing her to enjoy her kink; they’re doing her a favour”. But this is actually her livelihood, and she has specific amounts that she charges for resoling a pair of boots, replacing zippers on chaps, making a new case for this or that tool. How does one avoid being taken advantage of in a barter system? How does one measure “a fair deal”?

    Maybe I’m suspicious of this because I get work through Model Mayhem, and I’m used to there always being someone (frequently me) getting the short end of the bartered skill-sets stick in that context. (I could go on such a rant about that stuff. Anyway).

    The question becomes:
    Do I factor in my eight years of post-secondary education and fifteen years of accademic and professional writing experience when I trade landing pages for home-made bread?
    Do I factor in my twenty years of bread-making experimentation and experience when I trade home-baking for landing pages?
    Do I factor in the eight to ten hours I need to be available during the bread-making process (a lot of which is Waiting Around) or do I only factor in the hours of my hands-on labour (maybe one, tops)?
    Do I charge based on how long it took me to create that taylor-made landing page, or do I charge based on word-count? (And how do I factor that into a barter situation, anyway?)

    • I think you bring up a variety of good questions, Syrens. My husband is a skilled wood-worker and also a very generous person. I think that he is sometimes taken advantage of. However, he arguably doesn’t do a great job of negotiating/advocating for himself. I think this might come down to Lee Harrington’s idea of “fair energetic exchange” (I’m pretty sure that we had that article posted here). Both people in the barter transactions have to feel whole and as if they got a good deal.

      • Re: Both people need to feel like they got a good deal: Absolutely. Trouble is, I’m honestly not sure how to self-advocate for stuff like that, particularly when what I value my work at – as, say, a skilled and practiced model with years of experience – may not even be recognized by someone who believes that good pictures “just happen” and have nothing to do with skill or effort.
        How do you ensure that you get a Fair Energetic Exchange when you’re organizing that monthly munch and people just figure that you’re doing it “because you want to” and, therefore, “the work is its own reward”.

        Maybe my read question, here, is: How do you self-advocate (for thanks, for participation, for *money*, for whatever it is that will get you fed/paid for the work you are doing) *without* being dismissed by an entitled & presumptuous Community (or members there-of) as being “bitchy” or “greedy” or otherwise undeserving of even basic thanks? (And, yeah, there’s a reason I used a term as gendered as “bitchy” in that one).

        BTW: Lee’s Fair Energetic Exchange… Yep. That one went up, back in April. Here’s the URL for the original:

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