March 21, 2011

San Diego Leather Pride 2011 Victory Brunch Speech

This post is a transcript of the speech I delivered at the San Diego Leather Pride Week Mr. Victory Brunch on March 20, 2011.

Good morning. I’d like to first of all thank all of the organizers and volunteers who put so much work into this wonderfully executed Leather Pride Week here in San Diego and to those who made my part of it this past weekend such a joy.

I’d also like to thank the organizers for asking me to speak here today. I consider it an honor.

To all of the contestants in this year’s Ms. and Mr. San Diego Leather contests, thanks for having the courage and motivation to stand up and strut your stuff to vie for the opportunity to be among your community’s ambassadors and representatives. It takes a lot of guts to do that and your efforts are truly appreciated.

To conclude my introduction, I want everyone to know that I worship at the altar of brevity and this speech will not be long.

When I’m asked to do a speech at an event such as this, I always ask the organizers a few questions such as where will I be speaking, who will be in the audience, how many people will be there, and do you have any particular theme or topic you want me to address. Since I was not given a specific topic, I had to mull over what I was going to say to you today.

I decided that today I would offer you some unsolicited advice that, if taken, I believe may be the greatest gift you can receive or give anyone.

Now the nature of unsolicited advice is that it’s unsolicited, which means you didn’t ask for it. You can take it or leave it. I sincerely hope you’ll take it, but I leave that to your discretion after you hear what I have to say.

The spirit of the advice I’m about to offer you is beautifully encapsulated in a quote by one of my favorite writers, Dr. Seuss, who wrote “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Isn’t that a great quote? What Dr. Seuss was saying is that we’re all 100% unique. Every one of us.

So what is my advice? When you hear it, it will seem like very common sense advice, but common sense is unfortunately not always so common. My advice is this.

Allow yourself to be truly yourself, and allow others to truly be themselves.

Embrace diversity, honor uniqueness.

How does this relate to our leather and kink scene?

My reason for offering this advice today and why I think it’s so important is explained in another quote by another of my favorite writers, the poet E.E. Cummings, who wrote “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”

Remaining truly ourselves, and allowing others to truly be themselves, should be, in my opinion, a guiding principle in our scene right alongside Safe, Sane and Consensual, Risk-Aware Consensual Kink, or any of the other mantras we repeatedly mention.

Embrace diversity, honor uniqueness.

I am not the first person to bring up the notion that our scene must embrace the uniqueness of each person. In 1989, Guy Baldwin was the featured speaker at the International Mr. Drummer contest in San Francisco. He pointed to nature and how everything in nature was unique. Flowers, mountains, trees and snowflakes. All completely unique with no two alike.

Since all human beings are part of nature, and since kinky folks are a subset of the larger global population, Guy contends that people must also be 100% unique. Guy made a call to embrace the diversity among us and I am doing the same here today.

There is the human tendency to want to be right, to want to belong, to want to feel special, and we sometimes, consciously or unconsciously, belittle others, or judge others, or try to control others to make ourselves feel superior.

In mainstream society, we see this when people staunchly put forth their religious views, political views, education credentials, wealth, social position, and so on. But such self-righteousness occurs in our scene also, far too often.

We’ve all seen examples of our kinky brethren engaging in some aspect of this self-righteous behavior.

How often have people in this room heard someone utter “Oh, they’re not a real leatherman” or “They’re not a real leatherwoman?” I’ve never understood such phrases or what “real” actually means, but we hear it all the time.

Or how often have you seen someone shunned because they dared to attend an event in sneakers or some other supposedly inappropriate form of attire, even though that person might be one of the newcomers we give lip service to wanting to embrace.

Or we’ve seen someone’s play being judged, not because it’s particularly dangerous or unsafe, but just because it’s different from how they do it. So therefore there must be something wrong with it.

One recent specific example of this self-righteousness happened at a leather conference at which someone was teaching a workshop on leather protocol. This person stood in front of those in attendance and doled out his rather rigid do’s and don’ts regarding leather protocol. They were not offered as suggestions, but rather firm and factual explanations of how leather protocol “must” be done.

Unfortunately for the teacher, there were quite a few rather experienced kinky men and women in the audience and they began to feel uncomfortable with the rigidity and self-righteousness of the teacher. Hands began to be raised in the audience with attendees gently suggesting to the teacher that perhaps there were other ways to do what he had mentioned. The teacher was clearly upset with the challenge to his rigid dictates about leather protocol and pretty soon the audience was in full tilt rebellion against the teacher. It wasn’t pretty. Imagine if a newcomer to our scene was present at the workshop. What must he or she have thought of this entrenched rigidity being presented.

Language is often the culprit that spawns such self-righteousness. Language is always imprecise. All we can hope to do with language is approach precision. Yet we bandy about words and phrases as though they are always precise.

We use a variety of labels such as Old Guard, New Guard, dominant and submissive, Master or Mistress and slave, handler and pup, Sir and boy , top, bottom and switch, gearpig, and so forth. None of these terms are truly precise. They only approach precision. Due to everyone’s uniqueness, they can’t possibly be an exact description of anyone.

Add to the language the rules and processes we often talk about such as protocol, traditions, honoring elders, leveraging mentors, earning one’s leathers (and with all due respect, I still to this day don’t know what that entails), valuing experience, standing by safety guidelines, encouraging certain levels of technique and skill requirements, and so on. Again, none of these are truly precise.

What we often neglect in this mix of self-righteousness, language and rules is the individual. Our scene is made up of thousands upon thousands of individuals. And like flowers or mountains or snowflakes, none of them are alike. None. Not one. Of that I am quite certain.

Our scene has emerged from its infancy and is experiencing the growing pains that inevitably accompany such growth. We’re seeing greater societal acceptance, kink making inroads into mainstream culture, the ever-present internet and its pervasive influence, along with a growing body of now very experienced kinky men and women. These folks have had many years to mature into their sexual identities. I’d like to think I’m one of those people. I’m sure many of you here today consider yourselves among them also. And for people like me, like us, this maturation process has often brought us to a place where we can begin to sit back and reflect on the bigger picture.

As a result, I think many of us have begun to come to a collective realization that we are not a monolithic group. We are all uniquely kinky. We all possess unique sexual identities. And we must come to grips with figuring out how to remain a community while honoring the diversity this individual uniqueness represents.

I believe the way to do this is to foster within our ranks this gift, this unsolicited advice, that I hope you’ll both receive and give. Honoring and promoting the individuality of each and every person in our scene.

Embrace diversity, honor uniqueness.

Our scene is changing, quickly. I predict the leather scene will morph into a collection of many sub-scenes, each of which will focus on some more granular aspect of who we are and what we do as kinky people. But my hope is that we also recognize there is tremendous value in remaining a larger community of people bound by our kinky natures, even when how those kinky natures manifest in distinctly different.

As the old Zen saying goes, the tree that bends in the wind survives, the tree that resists snaps and dies. So it is with both our own individual erotic lives and with the larger leather and kink scene. If we adapt and go with the flow, we’ll thrive. If we resist and stubbornly cling to more conservative ways, we’ll cease to exist as a community.

I believe that if we constantly strive to deduce life to its most basic ideas and propositions, we arrive at certain foundation principles that serve us well. I hope that what I’m offering you today with this unsolicited advice will be adopted as one of our scene’s foundation principles, right alongside Safe, Sane and Consensual and Risk-Aware Consensual Kink.

Embrace diversity, honor uniqueness.

Yes, language that encourages precision is necessary. Shared concepts are necessary. Categorization is necessary. They allow us to talk about things intelligently and more clearly. But they are also a trap, because their constant use tends to foster the notion that these are the only available options and pretty soon people, especially newcomers, try to somehow fit the round peg that is themselves and their erotic identity into one of the square holes comprised of the many words, concepts and categorizations we toss around daily amongst our kinky comrades. Again, a common language and community mores are necessary, but they should never be construed as entirely accurate.

To the new Mr. and Ms. San Diego Leather, all I ask is that you go out into the world and be yourself and encourage others to do the same.

Embrace diversity, honor uniqueness.

That is the single most valuable contribution you can make to your fellow kinky explorers and comrades. It is by your example of proudly being yourself, and encouraging others to do the same, that you will do the community the most good.

Let me end with another quote by Kevin Hall who wrote a book titled Aspire, which is interestingly subtitled Discovering Your Purpose Through the Power of Words. He wrote “No matter how alike we might appear, based on our race, ideology, where we live, what political party we belong to, or how we wear our hair – if we have hair – each of us is truly one of a kind. Over six billion people are on the earth, yet not one of us has the same fingerprints, or footprints, or even laugh. Every individual is authentic. Every person is an unrepeatable miracle.”

I contend that every person in our leather and kink scene is an unrepeatable miracle. Celebrate that and help everyone you meet understand that.

Embrace diversity, honor uniqueness.

It’s the greatest gift you can accept or give.

Thank you, have a wonderful afternoon, and be good to each other.

3 Comments on “San Diego Leather Pride 2011 Victory Brunch Speech

Frank L. Jones
March 22, 2011 at 9:47 am

Great speech Race! I was very honored to have heard it in person. I hope many in the Leather Community take head of your words or we will indeed find ourselves “breaking” rather than bending. “Embrace Diversity, Honor Uniqueness”.

Thanx for all you do

Always Leather in my Heart

Race Bannon
March 22, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Frank, it was a true pleasure meeting you this past weekend. I’m glad you enjoyed the speech. I certainly enjoyed getting to know you.

May 6, 2011 at 5:15 am

I’m rather late commenting on this post. I love the speech.
Yes, exactly, this, with all my heart.

Allow yourself to be truly yourself, and allow others to truly be themselves.

Embrace diversity, honor uniqueness.

This is at the heart of how I relate to my own kinks, and other people’s kinks, all the time.

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