This speech was delivered on January 26, 2014 as the Sunday brunch keynote address at the Southwest Leather Conference conference held in Phoenix, AZ. Here is a link to the audio recording of the speech on Leatherati.
Good afternoon. For those of you I have not yet encountered in person this weekend, let me offer my rather late welcome to this conference. I hope you’ve been having a great time. I certainly have.
I would like to thank all of the organizers and volunteers at this conference with a special thanks to Joseph for asking me to be here this year. And thanks to everyone in attendance, all of you, for taking the time out of your weekend to listen to what I have to say. I truly do appreciate it. Thank you.
For those who might wonder, I believe brevity is a virtue. So I promise I will not make you sit attentively for too long.
As some background on this speech, I want you to know that as I was writing the first version of this speech, I suddenly realized that I had something else to say and I scrapped that speech. Almost in its entirety. There are snippets of the original speech left intact. But what you’re about to hear is an amalgam of a bit of what I had wanted to say and, mostly, what I realized I truly needed to say here today. I mention this because I want you to realize how important I think this message is.
Anyone who has listened to the speeches I’ve delivered over the past couple of decades knows that they often reflect my activist, education or leadership leanings. However, today I’d like to take all of those hats off and simply speak to you as a fellow kinkster.
When I come to conferences like this the topics discussed typically drift toward educating our own, organizing events, providing leadership within clubs and organizations, hosting parties, securing our erotic freedoms, and other such truly worthwhile endeavors. But there is too often something lacking, something missing. There is a piece of the puzzle, an important piece, the most important piece, we seem to sometimes neglect.
Too often we seem to forget that we all do this stuff that we do for one ultimate purpose – so that we can bond, connect and play with others of like mind. We tend to forget that the connections and relationships we create and foster are really why we’re here. It’s about the connections. It’s about the relationships. It’s about the play. It’s about enjoying our individual erotic identities even as we celebrate them communally. Everything else we do must support those things or our efforts are way off the mark. At least that’s the assumption I operate under.
I think at times we all, myself included, suffer from what I refer to as groupthink. As we gather at events like this one and as we communicate with each other virtually or at gatherings elsewhere, or we read or view what others have to say, a phenomenon occurs that was less prevalent many years ago when we would all typically be more independent players and gatherings were a bit more ad hoc and infrequent. We begin to think alike. We begin to agree on certain norms. We begin to categorize. We begin to judge. We become self-righteous at times. We begin to compare ourselves to others. We begin to construct rigidity where there was once flexibility.
This all leads to what I’ve called groupthink and I fear that often this groupthink perspective damages why we’re all here in the first place.
Now please do not take offense if you work hard on some aspects of education, organizing, leadership, or some other nuts and bolts activity that supports our scene. Kudos to you if you do those things. I do those things also. My position today in no way negates those efforts. But I do hope that what I’m saying here today brings some focus to why we do those things. And for those among you who may not be involved in the scene’s inner workings and are here to simply have some fun and learn, perhaps it might bring some clarity to your own kink pursuits as well.
One of the things I try to do is to constantly strive to deduce life to its most basic ideas and propositions, to arrive at certain foundation principles that serve me well. Many of the world’s thinkers have done the same and have their own list of such universal foundation principles. It is these foundation principles that provide the overarching truths upon which we hang much of what we consider to be good and correct in our society, and that includes our own kinky subculture.
The two foundation principles I want to talk about today are uniqueness and change, with another word for uniqueness I’ll use sometimes being individuality. There are many such foundation principles of life, but I focus on these two today because I think they are fundamental to who we are as kinksters as well as at the core of what’s both good and bad about our scene, individually and collectively.
I sit in classes. I attend contests. I listen to speeches like this one. I participate in discussion groups. I work with organizations. And more such activities of course. And as I do these things it consistently hits me that we are often going through many motions that don’t always serve my true, deep needs or what I see as the needs of others like me.
I don’t think our scene is particularly different than any other segment of society. I really don’t. As a subculture like ours grows and matures it is perhaps inevitable that our actions and intents veer off course as we get caught up in the trappings and processes and habits that, for whatever reason, become comfortable and commonplace. But I’m an optimist and I think we can do better. And as a kinkster, I must believe I can do better.
I watch a contest, sometimes even as a judge, and wonder to myself in exactly what way does this serve my fellow kinksters and might it even perhaps send some wrong messages. I sit in a kink education classroom as I’m witnessing some terribly complex BDSM technique or a recitation of someone’s particularly rigid approach to play or relationships and wonder if the newcomers in the room with me are perhaps dangerously absorbing the rigidity and often misguided information they are being fed. In the many club and organization meetings I’ve attended I consistently witness in-fighting, maneuverings for power and strained processes for their own sake and realize all that is taking place before me serves their intended audience very little if at all. I sit and listen to a newcomer’s story of entrance into the scene and cringe at some of the useless and often damaging things they’ve been told are the gospel truth with no room for variation and I want to cry because I know this person’s story is likely replicated in countless people’s own story.
At these moments I’ve mentioned, and many others, when I observe or hear or read something in our scene that might serve those engaged in it, but not serve or might even damage the experience of the bulk of other kinksters, I am sad, and they happen far too frequently for my own comfort level.
Now, am I saying this always happens? No, I am not. I do meander through our scene and also experience vast joy and wonder brought about by people, organizations, projects and gatherings that serve their constituency in powerful and meaningful ways and by people individually living meaningful and authentic kinkster lives. But I fear that I don’t experience that nearly enough. Maybe I never can experience it enough. It’s that special to me. I know we live in a world of imperfection, but my instincts consistently nudge me to try and make things better, and to live a better kinky life personally.
In regards to us categorizing, judging and becoming self-righteous, language is often the culprit that spawns such perspectives. Language is always imprecise. All we can hope to do with language is approach precision. Yet we bandy about words and phrases and mantras as though they are always precise.
We use a variety of labels such as Old Guard, New Guard, TNGs, dominant and submissive, Master or Mistress and slave, handler and pup, Sir and boy, top, bottom and switch, gearpig, and on and on. None of these terms are truly precise. They only approach precision. Due to everyone’s uniqueness, their individuality, and their specific situation, they can’t possibly be an exact description of anyone or any situation. Yet we use those words to describe others, and even worse, ourselves, as though they are precise descriptions.
Adding to the language, the rules and processes we often talk about such as protocol, traditions, honoring elders, leveraging mentors, earning one’s leathers, valuing experience, standing by safety guidelines, encouraging certain levels of often unrealistic technique and skill requirements, and so on. Again, none of these are truly precise. And quite frankly, many of them are based more on mythology, ego or opinion than they are on fact.
And we violate the principle of uniqueness not only with individual people, but with the way people identify, play or configure their relationships. How often have we each heard, for example, that “this” is how a Master/slave relationship should look or “that” is a “real” player or some other such pontificating hogwash.
What we often neglect in this mix of judgmentalism, categorizations, self-righteousness, language and rules is the individual, the unique individual, and their unique situations. Our scene is made up of thousands upon thousands of individuals, like you. And like flowers or mountains or snowflakes, none of them are alike. None of you are alike. None. Not one. Of that I am quite certain.
In Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into The Words, Little Red Riding Hood says “The prettier the flower, the farther from the path.” I agree with Little Red Riding Hood. I do not reserve my highest admirations for those among us who hold the party line on garb, roles, rules, protocols, sexualities, memberships, and so on, but rather for those among us who stray from the path to find their own unique ways. They are the brave ones. They are the ones we should be following. They are the ones who allow their own internal kink compass to guide them rather than look to externals to validate how it is they should be or act. They are the rebels. They are the mavericks. They are the ones who fully understand that a scene based on an alternative view of sexuality, identity and erotic relationships must worship at the altar of the individual, not the conformist. It’s easy to conform. It’s difficult and brave to be an individual. I encourage you all to be individuals.
When it comes to individuality, we often give lip service to honoring it. We say we’re all unique. We say we’re all individuals. But then turn right around and tell folks there are only certain ways to act, certain ways to dress, certain ways to play, certain ways to be a Master, Dom, sub or polyamorist, or whatever. We in the kink scene are guilty of this a lot. Myself included at times.
Adding to the complexity of our uniqueness, our individuality, is that we change as people over time. We have to realize that a person’s uniqueness is an ever evolving thing. It’s just the way it is. We change professional interests. Social interests. Circles of friends. Topics we like to study. Hobbies. All sorts of things. Over time as we grow as human beings, we evolve, we change. And if we change in all those ways, why should we not also change as kinksters. And if we change as kinksters, should not the scene we manifest around us change also? If we’re not changing, we’re stagnating. I encourage you to embrace, not resist, change.
So when we play our special ways or identify as a certain type of kinkster or enter into nontraditional relationship configurations, we are doing so at a specific point in time at which we are exactly who we are for but a brief moment. You will wake up tomorrow not being exactly the same person you are today, not being the same kinkster you are today. And that is the same for everyone else in our scene.
And this leads me to the heart of why some of us resist embracing individuality in favor of conformity. The second of those foundation life principles I’ve already been alluding to. Change.
Let’s all do a thought exercise for a moment. Close your eyes for a few seconds and imagine yourself in a time long long ago. That time before the internet. Let’s go back further to a time before we had kinky publications catering to our kind. Back further to before we had clubs and organizations within which we could gather. Now open your eyes.
Take note that in the grand scheme of the modern timeline, where you just went was not so far back in history. When you do this thought exercise and go back far enough, eventually you reach a time in the not too distant past where there were no organized leather or kink communities. Everyone was essentially a soloist, an individual sexual maverick desperately trying to get their needs met in whatever way they could, essentially seeking out people, experiences and knowledge on their own. Thus, there really were no traditions, rules, protocols and labels such as the ones we now look to when we seek to codify ourselves, others and this scene of ours.
So, if we can go back not all that far in history, and realize how kinky life has changed so dramatically since then, how can we say to anyone with a straight face that things should remain as they are? That things should not change?
The glaring ridiculousness of such a statement should be obvious, but evidently it’s not so obvious to some. Barring any acts that are lacking in respect for others or the safety of others, if anyone ever tells you to do something that does not sync with your own way of being a kinkster, especially if they preface it by saying “well, that’s tradition” or “that’s just how it’s done,” don’t accept it at face value. Challenge that notion. Be your own person. Embrace the growth and change in yourself and the scene that you and countless others like you manifest around you. The scene is just as much yours as anyone else’s, no matter what someone might say.
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 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 viable subculture. Or at least as a happy and fulfilled subculture.
So, why am I driving home the uniqueness and change messages today? Because I feel that our violation of these two principles of life are the root cause of what is often wrong with our scene. And our scene is too fucking wonderful and magical to not see it continue to thrive and improve. And let me say again, there is definitely a lot good about our scene. I contend far more good than bad actually. But that doesn’t mean we can’t focus on eliminating the bad.
I drive home this message because I have seen countless contestants in contests answering judge’s questions with what they believed the judges wanted to hear rather than the truth and presenting an image to win rather than an authentic version of themselves. Do we really want to place inauthenticity, violating the natural order of uniqueness and change, on a pedestal?
I drive home this message because I have answered one too many emails, phone calls or messages from a disheartened newcomer who has had their dreams and sexuality crushed because they were told in no uncertain terms they were doing it wrong, when they were doing it just fine all along.
I drive home this message because I too often sit in a kink education session and think to myself that the rigidity of the teaching style, information or opinion being disseminated is at that very moment squelching the full expression of sexuality and identity of someone else in that room.
I drive home the message because I hear a constant drone of complaints about how our scene isn’t like it used to be (which of course is what change is all about), yet people are so stuck in their rigid views and habits that finding creative solutions to invigorate our scene seem lacking.
So, I promised I would not make you sit for too long and I won’t. I’m going to begin to wrap up by saying to each and every one of you – be your own person, be uniquely you, embrace change, in yourself, in others and in the overall scene. To be anything other than yourself will prove to be less than fulfilling. To resist change is to be left behind in a scene that once was rather than a scene that is in the here and now.
Finally, let me end with some quotes. People who know me know I love my quotes. I find that good quotes encapsulate so much in a few words.
The first is by Kevin Hall who wrote a book titled Aspire. 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, every one of you, is an unrepeatable miracle. Celebrate that and help everyone you meet understand that about themselves. As Frank Zappa said “Without deviations from the norm, progress is not possible.”
And if anyone ever tells you that who you are or what you’re doing isn’t normal, by our scene’s standards, remember what Stockard Channing said in the movie Practical Magic, “Being normal isn’t necessarily a virtue. . .it rather denotes a lack of courage.” So be courageous.
There is an old Chinese proverb that states “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.” Let’s build windmills. Let’s tear down the walls. Let’s embrace the change that is inevitable anyway no matter how much we may try to resist it. The changes that will take place in you and in others, and the changes that will take place in the scene overall, are completely and totally natural. In fact, as Robert Redford once said “Change is the only thing that succeeds.”
If you are experiencing changes in yourself and you sense an internal resistance to those changes, check whether you are resisting those changes because of your own values, or someone else’s. Living up to someone else’s values rather than your own is a sure recipe for unhappiness. Unhappiness as a person and unhappiness as a kinkster.
Let me offer one final quote because it’s become one of my favorites. Morticia Addams of Addams Family fame once said “Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”
Embrace the chaos that are your own internal changes because it is the only path to a fulfilling and happy kinkster life. Embrace the chaos that are the changes that take place in the greater overall scene. It’s also the only path to true happiness as a kinkster.
Love each other. Be kind to each other. Connect and bond with each other. Have sex and play with each other. And most importantly, be the kind of kinky person you want to be. And never let anyone tell you what that’s supposed to be because they don’t know you nearly as well as you know yourself.
Thank you for your time. I love you all and wish you a happy, healthy and kinky life. Which is exactly what you deserve. Good afternoon.