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December 12, 2014

Supporting Younger Kinksters

A version of this post was originally published in the Bay Area Reporter. You will find the original online version here.

In a local Facebook group comprised mostly of Bay Area kinky gay men, a discussion took place as the result of someone posting about the formation of a group for under 40 guys. This immediately sparked a long and passionate debate about whether the event was ageist and exclusionary or was it simply an attempt by younger kinky guys to find their own space. It made me wonder if this dynamic might not be playing out throughout the gay men’s leather and kink scene everywhere. Based on my chats with guys from around the country, I think it is.

At the core of many of the discussion thread’s comments, as well as other similar discussions I’ve seen take place, are a few points I’d like to address here about younger kinksters and how they align and interact with the older among us (myself included). I know some of these same issues arise throughout all sectors of the orientation and gender spectrum of our scene, but I’m going to focus specifically on gay men because I’ve seen this happening up close mostly in that realm lately. However, I do think much of this applies to everyone.

Younger kinksters wanting their own groups, events and play parties is exclusionary and ageist.

I think one of the downsides of the hyperinclusion that influences much of our scene (and yes, there are certainly upsides too) is that anytime someone requests their own space it somehow gets labeled as exclusionary, elitist, separatist, or some other such negative. Most of the time it’s none of those things.

Sometimes certain groups of people need their own space. As but just one example, there’s are good reasons that ONYX formed as a place for leathermen of color to gather, commune and bond. They didn’t always see themselves or their issues reflected in other venues. They have commonalities others might not share. ONYX is a very successful attempt to give some guys who feel they need their own space a place where they can feel safe and understood. As it is with people of color, women, trans folks, and others, who also sometimes need their own space, why should it be any different for younger kinksters.

You’re too young to be a Dom, Master, Sir, Boss or some variation of a power dynamic top.

In a word, bullshit. This particular refrain bugs me personally because my first incarnations as a leatherman were entirely from the Dom perspective starting at the age of 19. To discount young guys identifying or playing from a Dom-leaning mindset is simply insulting. I have seen younger guys who are brilliant Doms and I have seen long-time leathermen with decades of supposed experience who are, frankly, terrible Doms. I have seen relatively little correlation between length of time in the scene or age and whether someone is a good power dynamic top or not.

Younger kinksters must pattern their kinky lives and identities based on the leather past.

The collision that sometimes takes place between older leathermen who have been around the scene for a while and younger newcomers is now legendary. I often joke that some of us older guys come off like a grumpy old man screaming at some kids to “get off my lawn.”

The default assumption for many older guys seems to be that just because their erotic identities, ways of playing and social constructs looked and operated a certain way means that younger guys should abide by those same things. No, they should not. History and the past are something to be learned from, but rarely something to be copied verbatim. Time moves on. Everything changes, and that includes our scene. Therefore, it’s quite natural that younger kinksters would configure their identities, relationships, play styles and social interactions somewhat differently than their older counterparts.

To my fellow older kinksters who are annoyed by this, I have but one bit of advice – get over it. Time moves on. Let the younger kinky guys create their own networks and communities much as we did decades ago.

Your kink looks different than my kink. So you must be doing it wrong.

This is related to the previous issue, but is somewhat different. As the scene has changed, the popularity of certain kinks and sexual proclivities have emerged, particularly among younger players. When I first came out into the scene there weren’t many pups, rubbermen (at least not in the U.S.), sports gear guys, and so on. But guess what? They are part of our scene now and that genie is not going back in the bottle. Every generation wants to imprint their own special flavor on what they do. Why should their sexuality be any different? I think the diversity of sexual expression is a plus, not a minus.
Clubs, organizations and groups should be led by the older and more experienced.

While there is some wisdom in leveraging people who have some mileage in terms of running such things, it can be just as much of a drawback. I’ve seen older kinksters display entrenched and rigid thinking, often simply replicating old ways of doing things rather than coming up with something new and innovative.

Sometimes groups need some fresh air when it comes to who is running those groups and younger people can bring in that new perspective. Younger people often take more chances, think in different ways, and reference a more contemporary culture to inform their decisions. Adding younger people to the running of things will likely add to their effectiveness and better serve the entire range of their
constituency.

I could offer many other negatives I’ve heard thrown at younger kinksters, but ultimately I’ve yet to see any arguments that hold up to scrutiny that bolsters claims that younger guys are any less capable, kinky or authentic than their older brethren.

I am one older leatherman who is incredibly happy to see younger kinksters morphing and changing the scene into something that certainly looks a bit different than it used to, but I believe has more breadth and depth in terms of the variations of kink and identities it embraces. And I think that’s a good thing.

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