"Watching people play is both sort of boring and sort of uncomfortable for me. I was raised as a super conservative Catholic schoolgirl (complete with all-girls high school) so maybe I'm still trying to break out of that. Where are the inspiring places to go and watch?" Okay, maybe the problem is you. If you can’t break the joy-killing stranglehold of that Catholic girls’ school, enlist the help of a therapist from the Kink-Aware Professionals list, some of whom advertise with SOJ. (None of them close by? Lots of counseling is done by Skype these days. Better the right therapist on your laptop than the wrong one in the building next-door.)
But your complaint is common enough that primary suspicion falls on the play you’ve been seeing.
Public play seems to be in crisis, locally, nationally and every which way, for lots of reasons:
- An education scene that emphasizes technique and safety over passionate engagement. The result is a shitload of play that manages to be complicated, clinical, stagy and boring all at the same time.
- Scene etiquette that drives serious players away. Talking and laughing in the dungeon, uninvited touching (of bound bottoms yet!), screechy scenes that demand everyone else stop and watch Me, me, me! or move somewhere else.
- Dungeon monitors who are poorly trained, intrusive, or forever off monitoring the Doritos.
- “Nanny rules,” imposed by venues or municipalities, insisting on gloves and latex barriers or prohibiting blood, piss, wax, electro play, insertive sex. Experienced players and players with fluid-bonded partners feel competent to assess and address for themselves the risks they take. At home they can.
- The loss of brick-and-mortar leather/kink spaces, meaning fewer and more crowded dungeons, more competition for equipment, meaning not more but fewer opportunities per capita for play.
- Lack of quality control. Somehow the notion has evolved that a play space is a public accommodation, like a movie theater, and the cost of admission should be all it takes to get in the door. Which in our fewer, more crowded spaces adds up to more dreariness per square inch.
Newcomers to our scene bring talent, heat, perspective and energy we would languish without. But when the new and awkward are learning from the only slightly less new and awkward, we have reason to worry about the quality of play being modeled and emulated. We need balance. We need environments that attract players of all levels of experience and expertise, where the play on view expresses our longing, our passion, our values — is play that inspires, as you put it.
I don’t think you’re looking for new locations. Few public dungeons are as roomy and well-appointed as our own S.F. Citadel. What I think you want are different assemblies, different mixes of people, or maybe even just a little redirection. (Try approaching one senior person, even the party host or a dungeon monitor, to ask: “If you were starting out, which players here would you watch and learn from?”)
Only you can say what turns you on, what genders and orientations and modes of play you find meaningful to watch. Where does that community of players come together, and how often? Sometimes it’s at regional events. I’ve seen superb nuanced play at Southwest and Northwest Leather, at South Plains in Dallas, at Leather-Levi Weekend up north every August. I notice that a number of conference and event producers have begun to dispense with barrier rules and prohibitions against sex, which to my thinking is a step in the right direction.
If you already know players you trust and want to see more of, why not organize your own party? Rent public dungeon space on an off-night, or ask around and buy a couple of hours in one of our local private dungeons. Don’t forget the Center for Sex and Culture; Carol and Robert are nothing if not game. Hell, almost any garage or basement can be outfitted for play. My friends Race Bannon and Larry Shockey have a handout on how to throw play parties; look me up and I’ll send you a copy.
(First published in Growing Pains, newsletter of the Society of Janus)