DON’T HIDE. Live proud. Play hard.Read More
I am struck most notably by the sheer innocence of Tom's work. Yeah, there's fucking. There's fisting, There's cock sucking and rimming, to say nothing of bondage, flogging, and coercion. Pornographic? Absolutely. But innocent? I stand by my assertion.Read More
Race Bannon (Bay Area Reporter) and Deborah Hoffman-Wade (Leatherati) were in attendance on April 22nd 2015 to hear to Rich Stadtmiller talk about the 250,000 images at richtrove.com, and his extraordinary motivations for creating an unparalleled body of work documenting our community.
By Eric Burkett
Two men are up against a post in a darkened dungeon on the edge of the Castro. One, wearing motorcycle gear, is seated on a low stool with his back to the post while the top, one of the owners of this particular dungeon, is standing over him, repeatedly thrusting his knee hard into the seated guy's nuts. Music, dark and moody synthesized organ, floods the room.
Several other men, standing at the edges, watch. Some are intent upon the scene before them. Others are investigating pieces of equipment, such as the St. Andrew's cross, and various erotic posters hanging on the wall.
This wasn't a play party. It was Leathermen's Discussion Group's dungeon tour, which on March 21 gave 60 guys the opportunity to see and explore three well-established dungeons and playrooms in San Francisco. Yeah, demo sex certainly happened but, in one of those only-in-San Francisco events, many of the observers were picking up tips for their own dungeons and playrooms, or the spaces they hope to construct themselves some day.
Shuttled from one location to another in a chauffeured tour van, the group – divided into smaller groups of 15 – spent the evening of March 21 noshing, chatting, cruising, and observing their way through the dungeons scattered around the Castro. The event was a successful fundraiser for LDG but, for many of the men on the tour, it was a rare chance to visit, as one man put it, the “holy of holies,” the private dungeons of San Francisco's leather and kink men.
While the demo continued in the dungeon, several visitors had moved to the room next door where they enjoyed refreshments and the opportunity to talk with Gary, the other half of the dungeon's owners. Questions ran the gamut, from inquiries about the dungeon's complex soundproofing and details about the large bed (“Which weighs about a ton,” Gary said) to the more nitty-gritty: how much did it cost the two men to build their space and what was the permitting process like?
Gary recalled the uncomfortable matter of wondering how to describe the room to city permitters, which was quickly allayed by an inspector who arrived, took a look at the space, and casually observed “Oh, a dungeon.”
As the 45-minute visit wound to a close, another group arrived several blocks away at the dungeon on Noe Street. It's an elaborate construction - “a technical marvel,” offered one visitor – entirely befitting its owner, Bob, a former engineer. Mechanized platforms and wall mounts dominate the well-lighted room, although they're matched by an enormous collection of handcuffs on another wall. Bob has been collecting them since he was a kid, he explained.
Inside the marvel, the demo volunteers, Brent and Santiago, were going at it. Brent has Santiago tied to a cross as he works his bottom's cock and strokes his ass. The ropes binding Santiago to the cross match his red jockstrap and blindfold, one visitor noted.
“Thank you,” replied a smiling Brent. “We are gay, after all.”
The two men had been performing for a couple of groups already, an experience Brent described as “Like Groundhog Day for bondage.”
Outside in Bob's backyard, guys milled about, chatting and drinking after they'd seen enough of the dungeon. Jim, a handsome guy with gray scruff and a 19-year resident of San Francisco, enjoyed the tour.
“This beats the hell out of Disneyland,” he said, adding that, like many others on the tour, he was planning his own dungeon and looking for ideas. And, like many others, his own space offered up its own series of challenges.
“My place needs to be soundproofed,” he said, adding “Let's put it like that.”
While visitors stood back and watched at the other two locations, things at the 15th Street playroom were picking up steam. Not only were there two demos going on – there might have been more save for a couple of volunteer cancellations – visitors were getting in on the act, too. While one volunteer was strapped onto a hanging bondage board, and another was being single tailed on the large St. Andrew's cross, a visitor – Craig – was being strapped into Sparky, a heavy bondage chair replete with binding straps, a rim seat, and a set of blinders, designed to sit on either side of the subject's head and block his peripheral vision.
The 15th Street playroom is the oldest of the three and, while all three have been changed and remodeled over time, this one is probably the most organic of the bunch. While the other two were the results of years of planning and deliberate design decisions, the dark red room at 15th Street has evolved a little less deliberately over the years and, as several visitors noted with a smile, smelled more like sex.
Once he's out of the bondage chair, Craig reflected on what he'd seen on the tour (“Nothing surprises me in this town,” he said). Impressed with the carpentry of the cross he'd seen in one dungeon, he realized, too, the best model for his own space might be one of the dungeons he toured before he arrived at 15th Street.
”I'm also anal retentive,” he said. “My dungeon would end up looking like Bob's.”
Except we only rarely refer to it as a dungeon. It's “the playroom,” a name far more fitting to the role it fulfills in our lives.Read More
We had four sexy and intelligent men with varying levels of experience in the leather title system, and, as one might expect, the conversation was pretty freewheeling.
What is clear to me—from our initial brainstorms on the topic, questions which poured in from our anonymous poll, facebook messages and public comments, the panel discussion itself, and from people's reactions afterwards—is this: expectations are entirely UNCLEAR.
Contest producers have expectations, contestants have expectations, spectators have expectations, and the WINNER has expectations.
Layer on another axis of expectation: Bar titles, versus city titles, versus regional titles, versus international titles.
Layer on another axis of expectation: an exponentially growing community of people made up entirely of contest producers, judges, contestants, winners, and whiners.
Now let's add words like Community. and Service. and Mentoring. and History. and AIDS Epidemic.
Finally, let's not forget that in the midst of this title ecosystem forming, an entire generation of men was lost to us, and we now have a brand new generation of men entering the scene who—thank fuck—have literally no experience living in terror that the most important expression of their sexuality and manhood will unquestionably kill them in a horrible way.
To me, the leather title system as a whole is The Mirror of Erised - or "The Mirror of Desire" from the Harry Potter Universe. This mirror was inscribed with a mysterious phrase: "Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi." Read backwards, as in a mirror, you see "I show not your face but your heart's desire:" When someone looks into the mirror, they see the most desperate desire of their heart. You have a clear idea of what you see, but those around you do not. Everyone at every level of the contest system seems to have a desire which may or may not be clear to anyone else, and which may or may not line up with anyone else's desperate desire of their hearts.
I don't mean to sound glum about this. In fact, I am excited that I was asked to judge this year's Mr. San Francisco Leather Contest on March 7th, 2015. For context, this is the first contest I have been asked to judge. I have been asked to compete, but I never have. I (as a representative of LDG) have been asked to sponsor a new feeder contest, and we sidestepped that. I have attended many local contests. I know lots of contestants at every level. I have a relatively fresh view of all of this in general, because I came out into the leather/kink community only 4 years ago. LDG is a constituent member of the San Francisco Bay Area Leather Alliance, which is also the "owner" of the Mr. San Francisco Leather title. Just for fun, I am also the primary architect behind what will (hopefully, if the Apple/Android Store goddesses are agreeable) be the first SF Leather App - an iOS/Android app which will not only serve as the contest weekend program, but also be updated throughout the rest of the year to be a useful Leather/Kink Community Resource.
So, with that in mind, I am looking forward to seeing how this contest thing works behind the curtain. I will do my very best to judge the contest based on what the stated expectations of the contest owner is. I will make sure that the contestants I talk to understand what they're being judged on and why. I will talk with my fellow judges to make sure we are on the same page, using the same scale and set of shared values.
I will throw one final parallel in here to close: The amount of (mis/non/loaded)communication that leads to unfulfilled expectations feel very much like people who want to reproduce some load-blowing scene they saw at a dungeon party, but don't know how to negotiate it. So they fumble their way through it, trying to make it look hot, perhaps desperately hoping the other person is getting something out of it, but ultimately failing because they didn't sit down to talk about what it was they wanted to get out of it.
So, in conclusion, negotiate your scene, and know wtf you are getting into before you own/produce/contest in/spectate upon/win a leather title. ;)
A question about "old leather traditions" and "houses" came up on someone else's FB page and I wrote this advice: There are no "old leather traditions." There are behaviors that individuals and small, isolated groups developed...Read More
A few years ago, your consensual kinks—being spanked, fetishizing feet, the desire to be tied up while having sex, and anything else your perverted little mind can come up with—could have cost you everything...Read More
What questions would you like to hear at our January 2015 Program ARE LEATHER TITLES NECESSARY?Read More
LDG Mentoring Program - the Next Cycle
Are you ready and hungry for a deeper connection and exploration into kink, leather, fetish and gear? Hungry and ready for the start to a meaningful connection to our community, our tribe, our band of brothers (and Daddies, pups, Sirs, boys and ?)
Not sure what you want? Not sure how to explore or where to connect? Or do you have some idea of what you want, but not sure how to get it?
Then you are perfect for the LDG Mentoring Program. Our next cycle will begin in January 2015 and go through the end of July 2015. You will have an opportunity to be matched with a mentor from the community, someone who has had at least 10+ years of experience and who wants to give you the benefit of their experience.
To get the most out of the program, it helps to have had at least a year of kink experiences or hanging out at community events. Guys who have previously gone through the Mentoring Program say that "you get what you put into it!" and "be open to what may happen" - like any other exploration, effort and openness are required.
The first formal meeting will be January 21, Wednesday, at 7:30 pm. We will accept applications up until 11:59 pm on January 14.
Is an age-specific social group exclusionary? Are guys in one age bracket discriminating against men in another age range because they want to hang out with guys their own age?Read More
That may have been what made it so difficult to see where meth was taking me. I didn't meet the strung out addicts we hear so much about. The guys I met and played with weren't covered in scabs or depleted looking. They were in good shape, gregarious, and sexy as hell. Like my friend, T.Read More
Race Bannon recently wrote an extraordinary column in the Bay Area Reporter.
...as I was reading [Joseph] Bean's 10 rules of SM, each one a gem of wisdom, one in particular stood out for me because it reflects what I have often said about what it takes for the best BDSM experiences. His Rule Number 5 is, "If you're not in love, don't do the scene." For those unfamiliar with the specifics of BDSM, a scene is what BDSMers call the actual session in which they engage in a BDSM erotic encounter.
Bean then elaborates, "If desire and consent do not lead to a kind of love, the scene is probably not going to work. Love can take many forms, but the very ground from which it springs is the demand one places on oneself to please and do what is good for the other person."
I agree. New folks (including myself when I first got involved) sometimes ask why LDG doesn't always have a demo - and Race's column helps illuminate why.
The mechanics of a scene—with some basic safety and common sense—aren't a challenge. Race and others have been overheard to say that one can learn technique of many scenes in a half an hour, or a few hours at most.
The challenging part is cultivating a trusted connection and continuously seducing consent with your play partner. Something you usually learn directly with your play partner. You may be honored enough to witness a scene in a dungeon so powerful that play partners and witnesses alike float on a magic cloud of endorphins. You may be able to gather a group of playmates with enough trust and rapport to both play and discuss the interactions in a way that the connection is tangible.
However, expressing the magic of a connection rooted in some form of "love" for an audience can't always be planned, may be intangible in front of a larger group of people, or even between perfectly matched partners may not be there that night because something isn't in place. If you're just watching someone get smacked, or poked, or prodded, or bound down, or experiencing pain in some way without seeing a connection, what have we gained?
So while we do offer "demos," and try as often as we can to make sure those are meaningful, between skilled players who tangibly exude that intangible connection, we intersperse those with conversations, interviews, and panels. As with traditional education, no one can impart every detail, but these conversational programs are part of an overall "curriculum" of things we believe help you learn what’s fundamental in kink/BDSM, from the people who do it with all their hearts. More importantly, we hope they instill a sense of wonder, curiosity, and desire to get out there and learn and experience it on your own.
Read Race's BAR column and tell us what you think!
In July of 2011, we hosted a rather controversial panel featuring Guy Baldwin, Gayle Rubin, Race Bannon, and Michael Thorn. It drew over 300 people for a lively discussion of the state of the leather community. While we may not take complete credit for the renaissance in active, visible leather community which began around this time, we do believe this discussion which brought MANY people to the table and out of the woodwork played a non-trivial part.
For additional context, you may be interested in looking at the remarkable commentary on the original facebook event page.
Our friend Race Bannon collected this list of info, and I think its important enough to share.
HIV (including PrEP) and STI Resources
March 15, 2013: Condoms 70% effective at HIV transmissions and low condom usage: http://www.hivandhepatitis.com/hiv-aids/hiv-aids-topics/hiv-prevention/4038-croi-2013-consistent-condom-use-stops-70-of-hiv-infections-says-cdc
Remove Weinstein Petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/ahf-remove-weinstein
May 1, 2014 Weinstein Blog Post in FrontersLA: http://www.frontiersla.com/frontiers-blog/2014/05/01/ahfs-michael-weinstein-deconstructs-stigma
Condoms not approved for anal sex: http://www.imstilljosh.com/fda-condoms-not-approved-anal-sex/?fb_action_ids=10152361933016435&fb_action_types=og.likes
Rather have HIV than diabetes: http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9185591/why-id-rather-have-hiv-than-diabetes/
The following article from BETA makes reference to some of the latest studies that show that people with HIV viremia consistently suppressed to undetectable levels (that is, not spiked by long-untreated GC or chlamydia, or by use of hyperstimulants or large doses of alcohol) do not transmit HIV to ininfected partners. http://betablog.org/zero-hiv-transmissions-with-condomless-sex/
Condom usage efficacy: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9141163
Research team at The Hunter College Center for HIV Educational Studies and Training ( CHEST ) against Weinstein's PrEP stance: http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/LETTERS-PrEP-rally-/47315.html
Clinton Fein comes out as a Truvada Whore: http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/yep-im-another-truvada-whore/news/2014/05/10/86540
Michael Kaplan's Leatherati deconstruction of Michael Weinstein and Eric Paul Leue: http://www.leatherati.com/2014/05/leatheratis-deconstruction-of-michael-weinstein-and-eric-paul-leue-truvada-is-a-party-drug/
67 HIV groups back PrEP: http://myprepexperience.blogspot.com/2014/05/67-leading-hivaids-groups-endorse-cdc.html
Facebook Post on my wall May 15, 2014:
Regarding the AHF and Weinstein Controversy: From my friend Keith Folger:
"AHF provides substandard care, has no hospital privileges for any of its physicians, no referral network to speak of. Please someone tell he how they are doing a good service, in spite of their leader. AHF came into SF 10+ years ago and were told then, we have adequate enough HIV services in the City. They said FU, we are going to set up shop anyway, using part time physicians and start stealing your limited Ryan White dollars. Oh, did I mention the reason they are limited? MW went before congress and persuaded them to redo the formula for how communities HIV services are funded. He cost SF alone something like $12M dollars annually which the City has backfilled since. He is worse than egotistical, he is dangerous and his clinic's are not needed. He poached Mom's pharmacy so that he could gain a foothold in the Castro. Let him have what he already has but quit trying to force your way into a community that does not want you."
The Sword AB1576 commentary: http://thesword.com/i-have-something-to-say-about-ab1576.html
NYTimes article on HIV Sexual Revolution: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/05/24/opinion/sunday/ready-for-hivs-sexual-revolution.html?_r=0&referrer
Peter Staley on HIV prevention today: http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/05/22/peter_staley_talks_about_truvada_hiv_and_stigma.html
Damon L. Jacobs blog post about PrEP not being for cowards: http://www.bilerico.com/2014/05/getting_my_rocks_off_prep_isnt_for_cowards.php#iolgbs4HM6tF1XMB.99
AHF not paying Maitri: http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=69384
Why I'm a Truvada Whore: http://www.towleroad.com/2014/05/outcom-editorial-why-i-am-a-truvada-whore.html
Dr. Judy Auerbach interview: http://hivelimination.uchicago.edu/spotlight/detail/judy_auerbach
Dr. Judy Auerbach on people not using condoms: http://www.towleroad.com/2014/05/outcom-editorial-why-i-am-a-truvada-whore.html
YouTube video regarding AHF and money practices: http://youtu.be/I9MOWF94_II
AB1576 change.org peititon: http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-ca-legislators-to-keep-adult-performers-legal-and-safe-stop-ab1576
PrEP efficacy based on adherence study: http://www.aidsmap.com/Daily-dosing-key-to-the-efficacy-of-tenofovir-based-HIV-PrEP/page/2851315/
Condomless Sex and Gay Men, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/gay-and-lesbian-well-being/201406/condomless-sex-and-gay-men
From Adam Zeboski: Thank you BioCentury TV, for this awesome debate. Dr. Richard Elion from Whitman-Walker Health in DC has his #PrEPfacts down! I'm super impressed. The guy from AHF seems to be making it up as he goes on. No thank you Weinstein for continuing to spread your moralistic misinformation with the world. We all know you're the "Tea Party" of the HIV/AIDS world., http://www.biocenturytv.com/player/3659820884001/3657514416001?utm_medium=web&utm_source=video_link&utm_campaign=bctv_twitter
WHO recommends PrEP, http://cir.ca/news/pill-cuts-hiv-risk
Project Inform PrEP Doctor Discussion Pamphlet, http://www.projectinform.org/pdf/prep_docvisit.pdf
99% efficacy, plus PrEP effective if taken just 4 days a week, http://www.natap.org/2012/CROI/croi_10.htm
Eric Paul Leue's response to Vince Andrews' Leatherati article, http://www.leatherati.com/2014/07/the-enlightenment-of-prevention/
Historical rise and fall of Gonorrhea rates, http://www.cdc.gov/std/stats12/figures/11.htm
Facebook Comment by Eric Paul Leue July 12, 2014: I am just going to say it: HIV is incurable and other STIs are not. Only 16.7% of 7000 people use condoms for every anal/vaginal intercourse. Syphilis, Gonorrhea and Chlamydia can all be transmitted through oral sex too. The goal of preventing one STI can not stand in the way of preventing a second one and vice versa. This has absofuckinglutely nothing to do with Big Pharma or Big Government, this is about ending an epidemic. I disapprove of the high prices of Truvada, but the cost has nothing to do with the efficacy that BY FAR outweighs the efficacy of condoms AND prevents transmission not only on the dick, hole and vagina but in the ENTIRE body.
Race Bannon's and Luke Adam's Test, Treat, and PrEP 2011 article, http://www.ebar.com/columns/column.php?sec=guest_op&article=347
Al Jazeera interview with Damon Jacobs and Dr. Fauci, http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/2014/7/new-hiv-pill-facesunlikelyfoepartone.html
AHF Board: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
AHF revenue growth graphic from Peter Staley, AHF Revenue Graphic from Peter Staley.jpg in my files, data comes from AHF's 990's (deep inside, where they report audited numbers), along with Weinstein's publicly stated budget claim for 2014. It's almost all from their pharmacies.
PrEP Adherence Curbs HIV Transmission in Straight Couples, http://www.aidsmeds.com/articles/PrEP_Adherence_1667_24515.shtml
Kink.com starting to shoot in Las Vegas due to SB 1576, http://sfist.com/2014/07/15/exclusive_kinkcom_begins_shooting_i.php
AIDS Conference and the promotion of PrEP, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2014/07/20/20th-international-aids-conference-hiv-pandemic/12913667/
iPrEx OLE found that PrEP is highly effective at preventing HIV in MSM/TGW, even when some doses of the daily regimen are missed. No study participant who took PrEP 4 or more times per week became HIV-infected. The study measured participant use of PrEP in dried blood spots (DBS), a novel and highly sensitive biomarker of long-term PrEP use discovered and developed at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Among those receiving PrEP in iPrEx OLE, HIV incidence was 4.7/100PY if drug was not detected in DBS, 2.3/100PY if drug concentrations indicated use of fewer than 2 tablets per week, 0.6/100PY for use of 2 to 3 tablets per week, and 0/100PY for use of 4 or more tablets per week (P<0.0001). There were no infections at visits where DBS sampling indicated use of 4 to 7 tablets per week. The DBS concentration associated with 90% reduced risk of HIV acquisition was consistent with use of 2 to 3 tablets per week.
"Daily dosing of PrEP is recommended, because it helps foster the habit of consistent PrEP use and increases drug levels in the body, providing the best safety cushion for individuals who occasionally miss doses," said Dr. Grant. "At the same time, these results demonstrate that PrEP remains highly effective, even in real-world circumstances in which adherence may not be perfect."
Biomedical and behavior treatment suggestions from JAMA, http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1889145
From Damon Jacobs on Facebook about condom use in PrEP studies: Yes - variations in condom use was considered. 2499 men in six countries (including U.S.) were selected for enrollment iPrex in 2007 because they were not using condoms consistently and were at high-risk for HIV. Half were give given Truvada, and half were given placebo, no one knew who receive which. Condom use was inconsistent amongst participants, as it had been prior to the study - meaning some said they used them, some said they didn't. But having such a large sample helps to mitigate individuals variants in condom usage. This is one of the slides presented to the FDA on 5/10/12 while Truvada was being considered for approval. It demonstrates variations in adherence amongst the group that received Truvada, but shows that adherence was higher with the participants that were "URAI" - Unprotected Receptive Anal Intercourse. In other words, people who didn't use condoms in iPRex were more likely to take Truvada consistently than those who reported condom use. Not a single person who took Truvada 7 days a week became HIV+ . [graphics referenced saved as Damon Jacobs Graphic.jpg]
From Damon Jacobs on Facebook: And according to the new information this week from iPRex OLE... "Adherence was 69% higher in participants reporting receptive anal sex without a condom, 57% higher in participants reporting more than five sexual partners in the previous three months, and 40% higher in participants with a known HIV-positive partner, indicating that people were adjusting their PrEP use according to their perceived risk of acquiring HIV." http://www.aidsmap.com/Overall-PrEP.../page/2892435/
From Damon Jacobs on Facebook: On the resistance issue: Not a single HIV negative person in any research study, nor real-world setting, has become resistant to Truvada. The only instances of resistance have occurred when someone who didn't know they were already HIV+ began using Truvada without using in combo with other meds. This is why it is SO important that people begin using Truvada for PrEP with a medical professional who can screen for HIV first. http://www.aidsmap.com/No-significant-risk.../page/2849061/
My Facebook comment on someone's thread about PrEP: Ugh, I hate that many of these opinions are mired in misinformation and, frankly, wishful thinking. In a well known and respected study only 16.7% of 7000 people used condoms for every anal/vaginal intercourse. And as was pointed out, almost no one uses condoms for oral sex during which the S/G/C assortment of STIs can all be transmitted. There is this odd assumption that condom usage is widespread and consistent. It is not. None of the data shows that. What the data does show is that a very large percentage of people do not use condoms at all and another large percentage use them only occasionally. To drone on with the message that the only way to address prevention is to use condoms is to push a whole bunch of folks into a model that has frankly begun to fail rather than succeed (see my past article from 2011 for a bit of an explanation why the biomedical is succeeding where the behavioral model was failing). Every time someone shouts to the rooftops that condoms are the only viable option for prevention they simultaneously send a misguided message to all those people who don't or won't use condoms that they are not protected. That's just bullshit. PrEP, for example, has a higher rate of efficacy at reducing HIV transmissions than condoms (yes, higher). So who is more protected? HIV is not curable. Everything else mentioned is curable. Why is it so difficult for people to realize that the use a condom every time message is not right for everyone. If it's right for you, awesome. Keep doing it and I and others will support you. But judge others for making alternative, well reasoned decisions and you will be called out as part of the problem and not part of the solution. [including link to my Test, Treat, PrEP article]
Zero HIV Infections When PrEP Is Taken 4 or More Times a Week, http://www.thebodypro.com/content/74799/zero-hiv-infections-when-prep-is-taken-4-or-more-t.html
Truvada: It's Time To Take the Fucking Pill, http://gawker.com/truvada-its-time-to-take-the-fucking-pill-1612386701
AB1576 B.A.R. article, http://www.ebar.com/bartab/article.php?sec=karrnal&article=411
Christian Walters' PrEP checklist post, http://www.thechristianwrite.org/prep-checklist-what-you-should-know/2014/7/23/prep-checklist-what-you-should-know
(Keynote address at South Plains Leather Fest/International Master/slave Contest Weekend, March 9, 2014)
Thank you for your kind reception and for your attendance here this weekend. As I said when I was invited to give this keynote, it’s an extraordinary privilege to be given a forum to formally address one’s peers, one that I do not take for granted, and so before I begin I want thank the South Plains producers for their trust and confidence. It’s my sincere wish that when I’m finished you’ll continue to feel that your trust was well placed. That said, the older I get and the longer I do this, the less I seem to know. If I do many more of these, I’ll soon not know anything.
When Master Jim, with the encouragement of the slave marsha and Sir Cougar, invited me to play a part in this milestone anniversary conference, he said that they felt I was the ideal choice because of my longtime participation in both of the communities that SPLF-IM/sW focuses on: the Leather community; and the Master/slave community. They felt I could provide an informed, dual perspective on the state of our deviant union. That reasoning resonated with me, and since it’s hard to say no to Master Jim—and even harder to say no to Sir Cougar—I readily accepted.
Truth be told, I thought this particular address would be a breeze. Many of you have no doubt attended one or both of the terrific pair of presentations Master Jim and slave marsha have individually given entitled “Listen Up, slaves! What Your Master May Want You To Know But Won’t Tell You,” and “Listen Up, Masters! What Your slave May Not Say, But Really Wants You To Hear.” I figured I would just piggyback on their idea and give a “listen up” talk of my own, with the only difference being that I would have to handle both parts of the equation. No problem. I would just put on my Master’s cover and make a list of those things that I want you leatherfolk to know about the Master/slave community, and then put on my leatherman’s chaps and do the same vis-à-vis you M/s-D/s people. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.
(Some of you are already sensing the schizophrenic challenges that lay ahead for me.)
It wasn’t too long, however, before I realized that South Plains caters to not two, but three different radical sex communities: the M/s-D/s community; the Leather community; and the fetish/kink community. I suspect that many of you understand why I’m distinguishing “Leather” from “fetish” and “kink,” and for those who don’t I’ll be explaining my take on those distinctions a little later. For now, it’s enough to say that because of this it quickly became apparent that anything beyond a superficial approach to this address would necessitate my speaking to, and speaking as a member of, all three of these communities.
It was then that the process of crafting this keynote took an unexpected, and for reasons that I’ll share with you momentarily, an undesirable turn. But it also forced me to think deeply about the things I’ll be addressing and to get very clear with myself about where I stand on all of them. And that’s the first point I want to make: what you’re about to hear is a set of personal observations and opinions. Although I’m given to believe that others share my points of view, I don’t pretend to be an official spokesperson for any of these communities.
So, with that caveat, why was realizing that I would need to distinguish Leather from kink such an unwelcome development? Well, because that meant I would have to share with you my take on what Leather “is”…a topic of oftentimes heated public discourse that I have until now successfully avoided. There are many reasons why I’ve chosen not to express any of my thoughts and feelings on the matter until now, none of which I need go into. But I will say that chief among them is the unshakable belief that it doesn’t really matter. What’s happening is happening; what will be, will be, and I can either accept that reality and continue to grow (both as a kinkster and as a person), or I can dig in my Wesco-shod heels, become stagnate and die before I die. Besides, anyone here who knows me knows that engaging in public controversy is simply not my style, particularly when doing so will only add more fuel to the fire. As I see it, the “Leather debate” has much in common with the ongoing creationism versus evolution debate, in that each side is vehemently standing its ground and making anyone with a different point of view the enemy, much to the larger community’s detriment. Because of that, you’ll be happy to know that in finalizing this address most of what I initially wrote regarding the isness of Leather is now on the cutting room floor, and I’ll be limiting my “What Is Leather?” commentary to only a handful of essential truths that, in my experience, are either glossed over whenever the Leather debate occurs or have never been publicly broached, at least not as far as I know.
But again, let me remind you that what you’re about to hear is simply one man’s opinion, albeit an opinion begot from having spent almost four decades thus far in the clandestine world of Leather. Next June will mark 40 years since I first crossed the hallowed threshold of a leather bar (for the record, it was the Ramrod in Phoenix, Arizona). Although things at that time were already changing, I came out at the tail end of what’s been lamentably labeled “the Old Guard” (another debate I’ve declined to participate in). While that doesn’t mean you must therefore accept what I have to say as gospel, it does, I hope, mean that you won’t dismiss it out of hand.
It’s my position that even though they share many of the same ideologies and practices, Leather and kink are not synonymous. A large part of the confusion, I’m afraid, is the fact that a lot of leathermen and women—myself included—have for years been lumping the various practices that make up the menu of BDSM under the general umbrella of “Leather.” However, notwithstanding that most of these practices are cross-cultural with respect to the consortium of subgroups that comprise the larger kink community, the fact that one engages in them does not automatically make one a leatherperson, and here’s the primary reason why:
Leather was first and foremost the expression of a specific homosexual identity.
Let me say it again. The kink subculture we call Leather came into being solely as the result of a particular and explicit expression of homosexuality, and, for its first several years, primarily male homosexuality at that. Leather as we’ve come to know it was birthed from the reactions of a subpopulation of American gay men to a specific social perception, namely that they were contemptible sissies. But for their genitalia, post-WW2 America didn’t even perceive male homosexuals as men, certainly not “real” men. Leather, with its hypermasculine attitudes and iconography, was my forebears’ way of saying, “Oh, yeah? Well, fuck you—I’ll be more of a man than you could ever hope to be.”
Because of this, the fundamental criteria for cultural legitimacy as a leatherman or leatherwoman have until only recently been a homosexual orientation and a sharp bend toward kinky sex; one without the other was simply not enough. Please believe that I’m making no value judgment in saying that, none whatsoever—I’m merely stating a fact.
”Vanilla” homosexuals were societal outsiders, as were heterosexual kinksters; leatherfolk, on the other hand, were the outsiders among the outsiders. SPLF-IM/sW is in part a Leather conference because its founders and owners—Master Jim, slave marsha, Sir Cougar and Mark Frazier—are all leathermen and leatherwomen, and their Leather sensibility permeates this event.
Leather’s hypermasculine ideal no doubt held a genuine erotic charge for the gay men and, later, butch lesbians who adopted or otherwise embraced it, but full disclosure necessitates my pointing out that it was also a coping strategy for dealing with the horrific projections of an unenlightened society. It was likely an unconscious defense mechanism for the internalized homophobia that Leatherfolk undoubtedly wrestled with as well, but as any student of Freud can tell you, protecting one’s psyche in such a manner can have both positive and negative consequences. At the risk of being branded a traitor to the tribe, I must say that with its denigration of the feminine and its disparagement of homosexuals who did not meet its butcher-than-thou standards, early Leather, particularly as a coming out process, fostered much that was psychologically harmful—something that’s rarely, if ever, acknowledged in the various histories of Leather presently available. But, let me hasten to add, given the times it was the only way that those gay men and lesbian women knew how to deal.
It might surprise you to know that there was little communal recognition of the BDSM that’s part and parcel of Leather experience. Instead, early Leather broadly and imprecisely categorized its practices simply as “rough sex.” and a leatherman’s rough sex scenes, consciously or unconsciously were in many ways rites of passage into an exaggerated form of manhood.
The point I’m trying to make is that historically Leather has had strict requirements for membership, and these restrictions have led to it being over-romanticized by a whole host of interlopers, and by a few insiders as well. “But what about Leather today?” you may be asking. Well, the first generation of leathermen and women have all but left us, and with each new generation the qualifications for being designated a leatherperson became significantly more relaxed. You need no longer be born into Leather; you can now be adopted or otherwise fostered and granted associate membership. Hell, nowadays you can sometimes even buy your way in. The one thing you still cannot do, however, is commandeer a place at the Leather table.
Interestingly, even though the Leather gateway has been widened, and even though, through a confluence of events, the number of people publicly indulging in kink is at an all-time high, the percentage of kinksters who actually are leathermen and leathewomen is dwindling. Indeed, even the kinky young gay men now coming into the scene don’t by and large identify with Leather; instead they’re all about fetish and “gear.” There are, I believe, two primary reasons for this phenomenon. Firstly, what it means to be a “real man” has been hugely redefined over the last 60 years. “Macho” is now far removed from “manly,” and the balance of strength and sensitivity that one derives from the healthy integration of both the masculine and the feminine elements of one’s psyche is the new Holy Grail for men of all sexual orientations. Secondly, homosexuality is significantly more accepted here in the U.S. and in Canada and Western Europe as well. Because of these developments, the hypermasculine persona that leathermen heretofore idolized and embodied no longer serves much of a needed purpose beyond the fetishistic. I personally don’t feel any of this is a calamity; rather, I see it simply as the evolution of my species.
If leather is dying, it’s dying a natural death.
In light of everything I’ve just said I would be remiss if I didn’t at least briefly address the MDHL movement (“movement” being my word, not theirs). For those of you who until now have not heard of MDHL, it is not the latest designer drug. MDHL is an acronym for Male Dominant Heterosexual Leather, and while it’s a relatively recent phenomenon, it has already spread from coast to coast. Let me be clear that I categorically support and affirm the idea of consciously created community, particularly when it’s created around well-thought precepts and a shared set of values, as is MDHL. However, based on what I’ve read on numerous MDHL websites, and by what I witnessed first-hand while attending a recent MDHL event, it seems to me that it’s been built on a foundation composed at least in part of Leather myths and legends. Furthermore, because of their heterosexual orientations, the men of MDHL, many of whom I count as friends, simply do not and cannot possess the psychosexual makeup of the gay leathermen they so clearly admire and so strongly wish to emulate.
As a leatherman, I must confess to feeling a certain dismay regarding the wholesale appropriation of Leather culture that’s been taking place during the last several years, not just by MDHL but by much of the larger kink community as well. However, since I’ve learned only too well that I create as much suffering by taking offense as by giving offense, I’ve chosen to largely ignore it. Besides, my vexation over what I perceive as rampant Leather squatting may simply be an unconventional variant of the archetypal tension that naturally exists between Pioneers and Settlers. Whatever the case, it would, I believe, be more in keeping with its principles of “honor, integrity and respect” if MDHL proclaimed itself “Leather-inspired” and its members “Leather devotees” rather than the unqualified Leather label it prescribes for both.
Public reaction to that last statement will no doubt crash Fetlife’s servers.
Okay, with that long introduction to what will now have to be a relatively short speech, what do I as a leatherman want the rest of you perverts to know? Well, for starters, our history is not your history. As the late Jack McGeorge impressed upon me, you heterosexual kinksters have your own long and glorious history...learn it and cherish it! If you don’t know where to begin, my scholarly friend Master Bert Cutler highly recommends Rob Bienvenu’s eye-opening dissertation “American Fetish” or, more modestly, his own pre-Ph.D. essay entitled “The Development of the BDSM Community in the U.S.” Whatever you do, please stop co-opting our Leather history for your personal advantage.
Next, don’t look to leatherfolk for guidance on your public covering and collaring ceremonies—such things were never a part of Leather. I’m not saying that collarings and coverings didn’t sometimes happen, they did, but when they did they were usually private affairs involving only the individuals—rarely more than two—directly affected. It wasn’t until the expansion of the M/s community following MAsT ‘99 that I even ever heard of, let alone attended, a public collaring ceremony. As for covering ceremonies, with Hardy Haberman’s permission allow me to read to you some excerpts from a self-described “rant” he recently posted on Facebook:
This is a Muir cap. They are called this because they were (first) manufactured by the Muir Cap & Regalia (Company) in Toronto, Canada. It is not a “master’s cover” to me, it is a frigging hat and I like the way it looks when I wear it. It makes my dick hard, and guys who react the same way find it appealing and are attracted to me, and it therefore serves its purpose. It signifies one thing: that I’m into leather.
The silver brim used to mean I’m a Top. Bottoms wore them too, back in the dark ages of the 1970s, but theirs had no decoration. Muir caps were quick and easy symbols to let people know what role you played in the dungeon and the bedroom. They were not awarded by any committee or group.
Today, some folks like to make a ceremony over the gift of a “cover.” It’s a way to show you respect someone in your family or community. Nice idea, but it does not automatically bestow on the wearer any power or rank. So enjoy your covering ceremony…embrace it as a new tradition…but do not rewrite my frigging history and try to pass it off as truth.
For those who don’t know Hardy, and around these parts, I don’t know how you couldn’t, he’s a long-standing leatherman of good repute, and you’d be a fool to challenge his take on this bit of Leather history. To it I’ll add only the following confirmation from Guy Baldwin, whose experience echoes my own: “When it comes to my cover”—this is Guy speaking—“I, like every good leatherman of my day, bought it.”
Lastly, taking on our trappings doesn’t make you a leatherperson any more than droopy britches, thuggish behavior and incorrigible homies make Justin Bieber a gangsta from da hood.
So now putting on my Master’s cover, here’s what we M/s-D/s people want you to know.
First off, in granting or taking on the honorific of “Master,” we are not attempting to signify communal rank, status or any sort of expertise. For us, “Master” denotes a relationship role, period. You leatherfolk reserve the “Master” honorific for those among you who have demonstrated great expertise in one or more fetishes or who by their longevity and wisdom have achieved elevated communal status, we get it, but we don’t get why the manner in which we choose to use the word upsets you so.
Just like same-sex marriage is a threat to conventional marriage only if those in conventional marriages are insecure or have low self-esteem, unless they have a very fragile ego our less-restrictive use of the “Master” honorific shouldn’t pose a threat to those among you who’ve been bestowed that title by your local communities. (And for the record, we think there are more self-proclaimed “Masters” among you than you let on.)
Second, we know the governmental powers that be scrutinize us to a much higher degree than they do you. We understand that our country’s legal system will often turn a blind eye to your SM escapades but that our 24/7 D/s lifestyle is virtually always an invalidating taboo. We’re working on changing that, but in the meantime please don’t throw us under the bus in your efforts to achieve greater social acceptance.
And third, unlike you leatherfolk and kinksters, our primary reason for engaging in SM—and by the way, not all of us do—is not to facilitate an enhanced sexual experience, it’s to support and strengthen the D/s dynamic that is the cornerstone of our primary relationships. Because of that, our relationships are not necessarily sexual ones, which is why we’re able to cross sexual orientation and gender boundaries in our SM.
And as a personal aside, notwithstanding the unkind insinuations of some of my former club brothers, the fact that some of my D/s relationships have involved biological females (of all orientations) does not mean I’ve given up my gay card. Even though I sometimes cross the vaginal curtain I’m still a Kinsey 6…or at least a 5-1/2.
Finally, here’s what we kinksters have to say to you Leather and M/s folk:
Lighten up, people!!! You are sucking all of the fun right out of this thing that we do.
You call them “tools,” we call them “toys;” you call it “work,” we call it “play.” Potato-potahto.
Poly is a relationship choice, not a competitive sport.
SM need not define you to be a quality play partner; bedroom-only kink is not necessarily a stepping stone to greater perversion; and D/s doesn’t have to be a lifestyle in order for you to be a valuable member of this community.
Finally, mind-blowing sex is what first drew all of us to kink, and it’s what continues to drive most of us at some level. Please don’t discount that or disregard the sexual components of BDSM in your fervent exploration of its other intriguing facets.
So that’s it—that’s my triumvirate manifesto. What’s the takeaway?
Well, the cynics among us might conclude that the grass is always browner on the other side. For the rest of us, however, who have a stake in the building of our tribe, allow me to end this address on an up note by saying that just like the ego and the shadow both complement and counterbalance each other so that the little “s” self can function at an optimum level, each of our subgroups brings with it unique gifts and eccentricities that keep the larger community in check and on course. So my kink is not better than your kink; your lifestyle is not more authentic than mine. We are more alike than different, and there’s more that unites than divides us. Because of that, we need neither compromise nor assimilate to strengthen our family ties. But if vibrancy and diversity is what we’re aiming for (and I truly hope that it is), then celebrating, not tolerating, must be our watchword when it comes to our marvelous differences.
Thank you for listening.
Copyright ©2014 by Skip Chasey. All rights reserved.
(Keynote speech delivered at Leather Reign in Seattle) Good evening. It’s a pleasure and an honor to speak with you tonight.
A little over two years ago, I heard a rumor that shocked me: the San Francisco Leathermen’s Discussion Group was about to fold.
LDG, as we call it at home, was conceived in 1996 by the late Salem Bucholz as a monthly reading-slash-discussion group for leathermen. It met in living rooms. Among the earliest topics we find “The Bible and Homosexuality,” “Homoerotic Images on Greek Vases,” a discussion of the infamous Spanner Case moderated by Peter Fiske, and even something called “Leather Discussion,” I’m guessing about leather care, since it was led by Daddy Alan Selby, originator of “Mr S.” and so much else in our San Francisco scene.
That first year also saw a smattering of what we’d consider more standard entry-level presentations: fisting by Bert Herrman, bondage, flogging, boots. But what gave LDG its specific flavor was a sense of “something for everyone,” a place where newcomers of any age could rub shoulders and make friends with the city’s most seasoned and celebrated leathermen.
So many of our organizations have life spans shorter than a poodle’s; in dog years, LDG is almost a century old. When I came back to the public scene after some years of activism around AIDS and homelessness, I came back to LDG.
I called the leather friend, Troy, who’d been chairing LDG. Yes, he said, it was true. He and his team were worn out. No one had stepped up. No programs were scheduled. They were ready to let it go, unless — was I interested in taking it over?
I have a long but not very illustrious history in leather. I never had anything I thought of as a “leather education.” It never occurred to me I was supposed to. I learned to tie up boys at Camp Twelve Pines — all due respect to Midori, the world’s foremost bondage instructor is still the Boy Scouts of America. When I started tying up older guys for less innocent purposes, I paid attention when their shoulders hurt, their hands got numb; I made adjustments, I learned. I never heard I should be worrying about nerve damage until I’d been at it for thirty years.
I learned how to use floggers, whips, toys by playing around with them on my own, or having a friend show me the basics. It just didn’t seem that hard to figure out how to do the things to another man I was so highly motivated to do without killing or maiming anybody. And without ever attending a class.
I knew kink classes existed, but they were never on my radar until people started asking me to teach them. I said no. Honestly? I thought “classes” were something straight people did. They didn’t have leather bars, they didn’t have leather clubs, maybe they didn’t have friends who could come over and say, “Pinch the skin, point the needle away, and keep steady because he may jump.”
But suddenly it seemed all my friends were “teaching” and/or “taking classes.” Everybody couldn’t be wrong. Come to think of it, did I not have great yawning gaps in my leather prowess? What did I really know about flogging? I still use only one hand. What did I know about fisting? Only how to do it. What did I know about fireplay? Nothing, especially Why? And those were just the F’s! The vogue of “kink classes,” the very fact of them, was turning me from a happy, confident leatherman into a guy who felt inadequate to detain a willing bottom without nerve damage.
I think it can safely be said that the most resounding success of our education scene is to make us all feel inadequate. To instill in us the belief that the things we do are rarefied and exacting, and it would be foolhardy to attempt them without authorized instruction. It’s the same strategy used to sell us mouthwash and underarm deodorant: “Without us, you’ll never get laid.”
So I did exactly what it seems we’re all expected to do: I started taking classes and saying yes to “teaching” them.
Teaching felt good. I made up handouts. My way was the right way. I was an authority. I think it can also be said that kink education has been a splendid success at making our educators feel good about themselves.
“Taking” classes, on the other hand, was the most alienating kink experience I ever had. In one class a woman wearing a miner’s light raced the clock to put a hundred needles in a man’s scrotum. Never heard the man’s name or heard a word from him. None of the forty of us in chairs was close enough to see her place the needles. But she finished with a triumphant flourish because she beat the clock.
Which leads me to a third truth, this one about kink-education demos: what is being demonstrated is never what the instructor says it is. That “teacher” demonstrated self-absorption, indifference for her partner, and the implicit belief that leathersex is all about personal achievement. Nobody left knowing how to use needles, but people walked out thinking they knew what it should look like from a distance.
My education in leather, such as it was, happened not in classrooms but in relationship. The men who helped me learn how to do what I wanted — and often, what they wanted done to them — had an investment in my getting it right. And they liked me. If you think about the essential things you do every day, isn’t it the same? How did you learn to brush your teeth, comb your hair, shave or put on makeup? How to ride a bike, wipe your ass, shell a hard-boiled egg, how to give a blowjob? (Which I’m sure can cause nerve damage if done incorrectly.) Somebody who loved you showed you the first time, or the first few, and you took it from there. It wasn’t an experience of “education.” It was the experience of a trusted relationship guiding you toward your health, your independence, your goals and desires. And aren’t those lowly activities more like what we do in leather than Algebra, Chemistry, Spanish 101?
It’s not that the classroom is good for nothing. It’s just no good for the way we typically use it. The traditional classroom is great for storytellers, performers, gifted lecturers; for town-hall discussions; for conveying specialized information, facts, with visual aids. I learned a lot in Driver Ed, about motor-vehicle law, braking distances, internal-combustion engines. What I did not learn in class was how to drive.
All these things went through my mind as I talked to Troy. My troubled relationship with the idea of leather “education.” My private conviction that our concept of it took a wrong turn somewhere in the 1980s (like so much else). My equally strong conviction that the Leathermen’s Discussion Group could work. I’d seen it work. I didn’t know why it worked when it still worked, but I wanted to try and figure it out.
Helpful friends advised that hot demo programs showing hot sexy stuff would pack the room again. Problem is, I looked back and that’s what LDG had been doing: saline infusion, pumping, CBT, bondage, fucking machines. I do believe that demos have their place (more about that in a minute), but once you’ve run the gamut of the fundamental, what, twelve or fifteen — then what? Start over? Does it ever feel to you like demos are just an endless loop?
I don’t know how to run an organization, but my friend Brian had management and PR experience, and I thought he might. All I wanted to do was the programming. So together we took on LDG.
Our first program was attended by four men. Three, after one got indignant and stormed out.
Our second program drew about ten.
The third month we had the writer of DemonicSex Comics, a hot, honest, beautifully twisted guy who laid himself bare for us. We had about thirty men that month.
Fakir Musafar, Jim Ward, Mollena Williams, Peter Fiske came and bared their souls for us too. Peter did a whip scene with my slave so instantaneous and profound it took your breath away. Then came July and Dore Alley and our panel discussion “Is Leather Dead?” with Guy Baldwin, Race Bannon, Gayle Rubin and Michael Thorn. Brian thought we might have a big turnout, so with the help of Folsom Street Events, we rented a big room in the LGBT Center. Which had the good grace to look the other way when over 300 people showed up. Thankfully, nobody called the fire marshal.
We outgrew our old meeting room and Mr S. offered us a new space that seated 100 or more. Now every month we’re at or over capacity there too.
The resurgence of LDG is not my doing: let me say that straight up. There’s been a happy confluence of factors in my local men’s community that’s made us stronger and more cohesive than we’ve been in decades.
What I can say is that my little experiment in leather education didn’t fail. It showed me some things I didn’t know about teaching and learning, and confirmed a few things I’d always suspected.
I’d like to finish by telling you about seven of those lessons.
1. The experience of our coming together in numbers is more important than what we came together to learn — and more educational too. Very few of us who were at our “Is Leather Dead?” discussion could tell you what the panelists said. But none of us will forget laughing at the same jokes, applauding or booing the same remarks; that sense of shared values, and a shared experience of them; the understanding that what was happening between us in that room was the answer to the question.
2. I believe we learn by experience and no other way. Not being a cognitive scientist, I can’t offer you proof, but I am not able to disprove the proposition either. Imagine a yoga class, a drawing class, in which all you did was watch and listen. Preposterous. You need the experience in your body and in your consciousness.
I’m using the term “by experience” here in the broadest sense. Physical, emotional, sensory, psychological, aesthetic, even spiritual experience are our greatest — and I think our only — teachers. Poets, performers, shamans, artists can kickstart our learning because of their power to make us feel, to awaken in us an experience of the subject; to inspire us to want to know more and become self-teachers.
And yes, there are those rare private experiences of enlightenment, when suddenly the answer to a problem we have wrestled with or to a gap in our knowledge drops into our laps, out of a tree or a book or from the lips of another person. Those moments are impossible to plan, by their nature. But our concept of education seems overwhelmingly to presume that those moments will happen while we’re lined up in chairs watching someone get poked or paddled.
3. Decide who your audience is and be faithful to them.
There’s a huge divide in leather and kink more real and more consequential than the age-old divisions between gays and straights, men and women, Old Guard and no Guard. I’m talking about the unbridgeable gap between players who seek sexual connection with partners and those who employ the apparatus of kink to keep sex at bay.
If what I consider the means is what you consider the end, then our teaching and learning will be at cross-purposes.
LDG is for men who like sex with other men who like sex. We like it in a house. We like it with a mouse. We like it in the rain. We like it on a train. We like it here and there. We like it anywhere! Those are my peeps, that’s who I’m working for. Yes, we have a small but loyal following of women and straight guys who say they benefit from what we do. They know we’re not going to tailor presentations to them, and they’re good with that. They don’t want us to.
So I don’t plan programs for the sex-avoidant. We all know what those look like: complicated demos with fire and very sharp things and pulleys on the ceiling. The technical ante is upped because the play’s not a prelude or a vehicle to anything. No doubt both the pleasures of the flesh and the pleasures of the rollercoaster can make the spirit soar, but neither the journey nor the destination is the same.
4. Our kind of learning happens most organically in the context of a relationship.
Skills can be taught — just not the way we’re doing it. Mentoring and peer-education models are manifestly superior to the “classroom” approach we default to. The LDG Mentorship Program we started in March, led by Dr Richard Sprott, may be the most potent and valuable project we’ll ever undertake.
And peer education brings into play the sometimes unformed but always developing relationship we have with others of our community. Last month one of our board members launched an event he called “Whips in the Park.” Over twenty men showed up that first Sunday to throw their snake whips, signal whips, bullwhips in the bee-spangled sunlight of Dolores Park. It’s a safe bet that none of those guys would trade that afternoon for a dozen classroom presentations on the singletail.
I work with another Bay Area project called Leather Traditions. We average about one program a year, devoted to authority-based relationships, M/s and D/s. Three programs ago we noticed it always seemed to be the same people registering. Obviously they liked us. Weren’t they telling their friends? Were we just “educating” the same thirty or forty men and women over and over?
I would suggest that those faithful attendees attribute the excellence of their learning experience not just to us or to our presenters, but to the comfort and familiarity of being in the same room with each other, again and again.
5. The presenter is more important than whatever you say the topic is.
In 2011, I asked Mark Frazier to come and close out our year with any program of his choosing. Breath Play, he decided. Naturally, the safety police were roused from their slumber, Jay Wiseman was quoted at length, guys grumbled “Who cares about breath play?” — and to tell you the truth, I don’t. But I do care about Mark Frazier, who has to be one of the finest, most authentic, most resourceful leathermen who ever lived. Watching him negotiate and bond with his demo partner, seeing the mixture of fun and solicitude in the way Mark handled him, hearing Mark’s blunt assessment of the safety issues: these were the real lessons conveyed. At the end of the night, this group of guys who didn’t care about breath play formed a double line leading out the door and down the stairs for a chance to have Mark Frazier put them in a headlock and make them pass out. No lie.
6. A leatherman’s story is his most valuable asset, the most powerful truth he has to tell — or to teach. And I have to believe the same is true for leatherwomen.
Recent calls for BDSM teacher training and certification make me want to cry. The creation of an entire class of kink teachers armed with better classroom tricks seems to me an advance in a catastrophically wrong direction. Come on. What we’re doing now in our conferences and workshops is working so well, turning out such a superior breed of kinkster, that all we need to do is standardize it? Is becoming one of us really so similar to becoming a medical assistant or a flight attendant?
I’ve been working with a wonderful guy named Erik Will, who took over as LDG Chairman in March. I heard someplace that the first thing you should do after accepting a leadership role is to identify your successor, so I zeroed in on him. He’s fairly new to the community, but he’s a fast learner. In fact, if you know Erik, you know he’s fast in every way.
A couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, he said to me, “Do you think we could ever get Laura Antoniou to do a program?” I wonder if his parents were ever prouder of him than I was right then. He didn’t want Laura because of her classroom skills, formidable as those may be. He didn’t want to watch her do CBT. He’s impressed with who she is and what she’s created in the world and he wants to know more.
It took Laura about three minutes to say yes.
7. If we must demo, then let us demonstrate values, not “skills.”
Demos for instruction between people who hardly know each other are boring. Yes, with showmanship, they can become entertaining, but for the wrong reasons: What It Is That We Do is not performance art. Watching seasoned, committed players in the dungeon will always be more educational because of the values that inform their play: care, humor, understanding, trust, tenderness, lust, sadism, communication.
Of all the values we could conceivably choose to demonstrate in our teaching, technical proficiency has to be the most trivial. And the classroom method by which we communicate it is mostly an exercise in passivity for the student and in self-promotion for the “teacher.”
I know what you’re thinking. “People love our demos. Newcomers flock to our demos!” I’m sure they do. But what newcomers say they want to learn is almost never what they need to learn. They’re almost always parroting the priorities driven into them by the most plodding Kink 101 sources: technique and safety.
Well, in the immortal words of Miss Jean Brodie, “Safety does not come first. Goodness, truth and beauty come first.” If goodness, truth and beauty do not animate our play, our relationships, our teaching and our learning too, then I have no fucking idea what we are about.
The Religious Right is correct about one thing: values do belong in the classroom. (But not theirs.) Education is fundamentally about values. How can anything be taught without some cultural agreement about what is important to know? About what is true and what is beautiful and what we aspire to?
Let us name those things. Let us elevate them. The rollercoaster people, the performance-art tribe, the 50 Shades crowd will not agree with us about what they are, but it’s okay to leave them behind. That is their comfort zone.
And once we understand what we have that’s worth learning, please, let us have a little more humility about what we teach, and a greater respect for it.
Everyone says “No touching without permission,” but what about hugging as part of a hello or greeting? Most times I'm already in role, so is my slave, and it's invasive to be hugged and touched in an unsolicited fashion. I haven't yet created a snappy, respectful retort to keep my space touch-free. Got any suggestions? How about “Please don’t hug me”? Prefaced with a friendly “I’m happy to see you too, but…”? Your friends cannot know their warmth feels like an intrusion to you unless you tell them. Until you do, you’re exactly like the scene bottom who complains, the day after, “No, I didn’t tell him to stop, but he should have known!”
I won’t ask why for you being hugged is incompatible with being a Master. You get to decide that. I am curious, though, how being “already in role” is relevant? Sure, life circumstances can prompt some Masters and slaves to toggle the dynamic on and off. But you don’t really expect your friends to know when you’re “on” and when you’re not?
Repeat after me: The roles and rules of my relationship apply only to the people in it. Meaning that if you want a no-hugging policy, it has to be 24/7. Friends don’t make friends guess which you you are being tonight.
There is a real joy in being able to feel, for a weekend or an evening, that our Master/slave community holds basic values and practices in common; and we can live out that fantasy with close M/s friends, or at “high protocol” gatherings where the ground rules are spelled out in advance. But even in those situations, people make mistakes. So it behooves us to remember that nothing is so un-Masterly as losing your shit over someone who’s trying to be nice to you.
My Master's follow-through is lacking on the discipline side. I need the discipline and reinforcement, or why call me a slave? How can I broach this topic diplomatically?
Discussing this with your Master is not optional. I don’t think we can quite say that knowledge = power in M/s, but until you speak up, you’re denying him or her the power and the possibility of fixing the problem.
“Diplomacy” is a red herring. You’re feeling conflicted because you’re forgetting that all you have to (and all you ought to) give your Master is information. “You’re lacking in follow-through, I want discipline and reinforcement” isn’t information; it’s a demand that comes bundled in blame.
Slaves don’t tell their Masters what to do. Not because it violates the “128 Slave Rules,” but because it violates their longing for and commitment to surrender. So what slaves do is to bring reports from the interior, describing as best they can what they’re experiencing.
It will take some introspection for you to figure out what that is. It’s much easier to find fault with Master than to pinpoint the lack you’re feeling. Do you feel adrift? Lonely? Unappreciated? Unnoticed? Bored? Do you feel futility in your service, that it doesn’t matter if you get it right or not? Do you feel pressed for time or feel you have too much time on your hands? Do you feel you’re going to waste?
“Discipline” may mean many things. It may mean structure: the rituals, protocols, rules, standing orders that give shape to your role and establish expectations.
It may mean consistency. Maybe the structure’s in place, but lapses in compliance are shrugged off rather than caught and corrected.
It may mean punishment (or “funishment”), especially if there’s a role-play element in your dynamic, or if you as a slave find comfort in stringent accountability.
It may mean something else I’ll call present attention. Some Masters think of slaves as wind-up toys: inform them what their duties are, then Master can go back to channel-surfing. A slave needs to feel that Master is noticing, commending, interjecting, countermanding, exercising those consensual authorities he or she holds in trust. My slave puts it this way: “I need to hear my Master’s voice.”
There’s no guarantee this necessary conversation with your Master will lead to a resolution for you. Master may be too far away to fix it, too busy, too inexperienced, too indifferent to the kind of control you crave. What do you do?
You can create your own structures, or try to. Slaves do this all the time. Kneel when you enter the room. If Master doesn’t say, “Quit that,” you have a new discipline. Give Master a cloth napkin while you use a paper towel. Set the table with the good silver for Master while you use the beat-up stuff. Etc.
Anyone who thinks the slave is powerless to shape the dynamic hasn’t been around M/s much. Slaves are idea-generators, the very best kind: shoot down one idea and they won’t whine about it, they’ll come up with another. The worst thing that passes for “discipline,” in my view, is the Master who rejects the slave’s every effort at ingenuity with “Do it my way.” Hell, man, if that’s all you want, try Burger King.
(First published in Growing Pains, newsletter of the Society of Janus)