An Open Letter To Conference Organizers About Safe Words

An Open Letter To Conference Organizers About Safe Words April 3, 2018


Dear Conference Organizers,

Howdy. This may seems like a strange letter coming from someone like me. By the title of this post you can see the subject matter concerns conferences and the use of safe words. However, I haven’t been to a gaggle of conferences, conventions, or galas. That being said, I have enough data points to make this assertion: You need safe words. defines safe word as A word serving as a prearranged and unambiguous signal to end an activity, such as between a dominant and submissive sexual couple. For our purposes I’m going to tweak the meaning to A word serving as a prearranged signal to ask if something questionable maybe going on or a statement that a boundary has definitely been crossed. While the traditional safe word is a red light, the use of a safe word at conferences would act as a yellow or a red light.

And attendees need yellow and red lights at conferences.

From my experience most people most of the time are well behaved at conventions.  We go to our seminars and breakout groups without anything, well, shady going on. But the thing is the larger number of people in any group increases the chances of a bad actor being present. It’s a numbers game. The more apples you have, the greater chance there will be a bad one is in the group. Add a hotel bar stocked with alcohol into the equation, and you’ll get otherwise good pieces of fruit acting rotten.

And safe words will decrease the chances of a single bad apple ruining everyone else’s time.

My humble suggestion for a safe word is platypus.

Did platypus give you pause for a moment? After all, it is a funny little word for a funny little animal. Platypuses have duck bills, webbed feet, are mammals who lay eggs. It’s difficult to think of one without a smiling.

And that’s the point. In the societally and oftentimes alcohol fueled  murky waters at conferences we need clarification. For example, if you observe a situation that looks unethical but aren’t sure what’s going on you can innocently say “Platypus?” (I’m imagining myself shrugging my shoulders while asking.) Uttering Platypus?” is a far less controversial than “Is this guy creeping on you?”

Other times adding a question mark at the end of platypus will be unnecessary. If an individual is clearly crossing a boundary then one may use a strongly stated “Platypus.” It’s a far simpler way to communicate “Your verbal manifesto on white supremacy is interesting, but you, sir, are full of crap.”

No system is going to solve every single issue posed by bad apples. But a universally accepted safe word could very well be an effective tool  in helping to keep the bad behavior at a minimum at conferences.


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Andrew Hall is the author of Laughing in Disbelief. Besides writing a blog, co-hosting the Naked Diner, he wrote two books, Vampires, Lovers, and Other Strangers and God’s Diary: January 2017 . Andrew is reading through the Bible and making videos about his journey on YouTube. He is a talented stand-up comedian. You can find him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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