This speech was delivered on February 14, 2015 as the Saturday dinner keynote address at the Southeast Conference of Clubs (SECC) annual event held in Orlando, FL. A video of this speech was recorded and can be viewed here.
Good evening. I’ve had a really good time this weekend and I hope you have also. Everyone involved in creating and running this event has done a great job and you have my thanks. Thanks especially to Vince Andrews for reaching out to me about speaking here today and to Wayne Turpin who asked me to do it. And thanks to all of you for taking the time to listen to what I have say. I truly appreciate it.
When I was first asked to speak here today, I was told that the Back to Black theme of the weekend was about getting back to basics. It was about emphasizing that SECC, and indeed all that we do as leatherfolk and kinksters, is about mutual respect for each other, the connections we make, individually and collectively, and of course, the hot sex and play.
Let me say that I wish other events would also focus on such things. And I don’t mean getting back to some mythological leather days of yore that so many in our scene have idealized in their heads, but rather having our events and various efforts foster true mutual respect, connections of people and opportunities to make those connections, and yes yes yes, the hot sex and play which I fear we have far too often put on the back burner.
And let us remember that mutual respect means we should applaud anyone who expresses their sexuality and erotic identity in ways that make them happy, as long as it does not cause direct harm to others, even if someone’s personal expression of their erotic self doesn’t match up to how we do it.
Connections with each other don’t happen in a void. We have to work at them. Yes, social media has kept all of us better connected, but nothing replaces some real time, in the flesh conversation and connection. So I’m happy to see SECC create this event for connection. Let’s try to create more of them.
About that sex and play. Oh how we have often shirked our responsibility in keeping sex and play front and center in all that we do. However, I see the tide turning with many in our scene clamoring to return to the days when the sex and play, and the camaraderie it fostered, was one of the pivotal points around which our lives as leather and kink folk revolved. Again, thanks to SECC and other people and groups who create truly sex- and play-positive spaces. We need even more of them.
So kudos to SECC for having the Back to Black theme. You have my personal thanks.
With all that said, and in line with the back to basics theme, I’d like to offer to you what I consider the most basic of advice regarding what it is we do and who we are. It’s going to seem simplistic. It’s probably going to seem self-evident. You might be tempted to discount what I am about to say because internally you might say to yourself, “well sure, everyone knows that.”
But, I’m not sure that everyone does know what I’m about to suggest. Sure, they might give lip service to it. They might even say what I’m about to say themselves. But when it comes to actually living it, giving it some real substance, I think we, myself included sometimes, often ignore it. And I think we ignore it at our own peril.
So what is this gem of advice? It is simply this. Never forget that this is all about having fun.
Again, I’m sure many of you are saying to yourself, “well sure, of course I know this is about having fun.” And perhaps you do. Perhaps you are one of those people in our scene that understands how damn important it is to keep having fun as the prime, guiding directive in your kink life. If so, congratulations. Too often I think your kind are in the minority, and let me tell you why.
When I think back to the very early 70’s when I first entered the gay men’s leather scene, I recall the hyper focus on having fun. The bars. The sex. The play. The sense of belonging. Enjoying the company of men who shared my passions and lust. The friendships, some of them bonded by physical intimacy, some of them bonded by a connection of the brain, and some of them bonded by both.
In many ways it was a simpler time. In spite of the old guard mythology (and it is mostly mythology) that too often gets regurgitated among our ranks, it was not a time of regimented lifestyles full of rules, protocols and secret handshakes. No, it was a time when most gay leathermen simply enjoyed being leathermen. They simply enjoyed the company of others like them. They simply enjoyed the sex, play, socializing and camaraderie that was the sole focus of our scene at the time. In short, they had fun. If it wasn’t fun, they didn’t do it.
In those early days I ran with a mostly gay men’s leather crowd, but then, as today, I always had connections with kinksters who didn’t belong to the gay men’s leather camp. My sense was that back then they also focused intensely on fun. I think the non-gay realms of our scene have also perhaps lost their focus on the fun.
Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that many of us don’t have fun doing what we do and being who we are in this leather, kink, fetish, gear or whatever we call it scene of ours. Of course we do. But far too often I see the fun literally squeezed out of what we do and who we are by people with agendas, conscious or unconscious, that clash directly with other people’s fun, and sadly I think often their own fun too.
Let me offer some examples, and yes I know these examples are sweeping generalizations, and sweeping generalizations always have exceptions. But I think they hold true overall.
Once upon a time a newcomer to our scene might initially have had a harder time finding the scene that he sought out, but once found, entry was a fairly pleasant and low key affair. They socialized. They had sex and played. Along the way they learned some things about themselves and the best ways for their own sexuality to manifest. No one categorized them. No one pointed them to classes or some protocol-driven path to acceptance. No one judged their seniority or status within the scene. No one pushed them into entering a contest as some path to acceptance. If you were a nice person and wanted to hang with the leather crowd, you generally could. And if you were an asshole, the communal vetting process that took place within our ranks typically ostracized those assholes pretty quickly.
Contrast that scenario with today. While it’s clear that awareness of our scene is more prevalent than ever and viewable from the outside with a few clicks of a mouse, that doesn’t mean entry into the scene is truly easier. I contend it’s often harder. Once a newcomer decides to seek official entry into our scene, they are presented with so many entry point hurdles.
If their interests encompass BDSM, they are pointed to a plethora of classes they are encouraged, if not outright coerced, into attending. Even more seasoned players are often looked upon with suspicion if they do not embrace the kink education complex with open arms. Apart from instilling in newcomers a few of the basic safety and socialization considerations, I don’t think reinforcing attendance at lots of classes does newcomers much good really. Sure, they perhaps pick up a few BDSM or other kink techniques tips, but from a cost/benefit standpoint, do all of those classes really contribute to that newcomer having more fun in the scene. I don’t think so, at least not most of the time.
In fact, I think it gives newcomers the impression that they must have the equivalent of a college degree in kink if they are to be deemed a worthy play partner. I think in some ways we’ve done a terrible disservice to kinksters, especially newcomers, by allowing this impression to proliferate. I have been just as guilty of this as many others, but I now think there are just too damn many such classes.
Instead of our sometimes myopic perspective when it comes to kink education, I think we need to instead foster more organic learning and discussion opportunities rather than the onslaught of classroom-style presentations that don’t ultimately really teach much and can often waste precious time together that could be spent actually connecting with and truly learning from and enjoying each other.
Yes, for those who know me, I fully understand the irony that I have historically been someone who has taught many of those classes. My views have shifted over time. Occasionally we need to recalibrate our direction and, for me, I believe we need to scale back the abundance of such classes and use that precious time, money and effort on other pursuits that might benefit us all more.
Scene seniority is also often put forth as some sort of yardstick by which to measure the value and worthiness of scene members. For some bizarre reason old timers like myself are deemed of higher rank, essentially, simply because we’ve been around a long time. Yes, sometimes a bit of mileage helps, in life as well as in our scene, but I just don’t think it holds true that old timers like myself are typically better people, better players, better activists, better organizers, better teachers, more ethical, or otherwise superior kinksters compared to the younger or newer members of our scene. Proliferating this notion of scene seniority can impact the fun for those newer to the scene or for those not highly connected with the scene movers and shakers. And what happens when something stops being fun? Often those people leave the scene looking elsewhere for a place to find joy and fun.
Let’s stop worshiping at the altar of someone for simply being in the scene for a long time and let’s make it more fun by assessing each person individually. And yes this means often the younger or newer kinkster should be evaluated more worthy of being trusted and respected than many older or supposedly more experienced folks.
Once newcomer kinksters deal with the stress about their kink qualifications and resume, they are then faced with the stress of trying to connect with others to partake in whatever kink they now feel qualified to do.
At times the ease with which we can connect with others, seeing in often painstaking detail the range of people’s sexual proclivities in their online profiles, might actually be working against us. Sometimes it sucks the fun right out of it.
Let’s say you see a list of 15-20 sexual interests listed on someone’s profile. You notice one or two that don’t turn you on.
I think the tendency for many of us is to write off that person because we’re not an “exact” match in terms of interests. Same goes for sexual positions, roles, body types, and so on. No two people will be an exact match. That’s just not how our sexualities work. We are all truly unique in the exact combination of physicality, erotic turn ons and chemistry that trip our sexual and compatibility triggers.
Lost sometimes amid the clamoring for the kink connection we all crave is simply finding someone who appears interesting and figuring out what might work erotically at the time through conversation. Absent a detailed sexual resume, we are forced to engage and converse with someone to find out their interests, needs and desires.
Frankly, this approach is a lot more fun for most of us, trying to find common erotic ground this way rather than using someone’s profile for reference accompanied by a few, quick back and forth online messages.
Let’s try to keep the fun in our cruising and connection pursuits and stop reducing ourselves to a checklist of scenes we’re technically skilled at or some arbitrary leather resume of experience, club affiliations, or whatever. Let’s just have fun being kinky people wanting to bond and play with each other. Let’s try to come up with yet more creative events and other ways to encourage kinksters to gather, socialize and organically bond, share and learn, and yes, cruise. Online is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use it as a tool and not be beholden to it as our only means of connection.
Now let’s consider the leather contest system that’s so evidently replicated itself beyond what any of the original creators of such contests imagined. And these contests now often dominate the leather scene in terms of time, money and attention.
I do know that much of this weekend centers around a contest. I am in no way anti-contest. I’m a titleholder myself from the distant past, I’ve judged countless contests, and otherwise been close to a wide array of contest producers, volunteers, contestants and titleholders. Virtually all of them fine people. But as I have shifted my view of kink education, so have I shifted my views about contests. It’s always good to re-evaluate and I have done so with contests.
Such contests are often, in my opinion, misrepresented as to what they actually are and what the winners actually are. Far too often I hear that entering a leather contest is a great entry point for a newcomer to the scene. I was astonished when I first heard this uttered, but I hear it so often nowadays that I just privately roll my eyes when I hear it.
So you’re going to throw a newcomer into a contest system that’s judging his or her competence as a leatherperson or kinkster when they barely have their feet wet in the scene. Does that sound like fun for the person? Does that not sound kinda messed up? Does that not seem to be putting the cart before the horse?
The limelight is typically not the place from which to properly learn about and enter our scene.
Now consider the judging criteria used at virtually all leather contests. Contestants are drilled with often obscure historical or deeply probing questions about their perspective on the scene or their identity as a leatherperson. And most contestants don’t give the answers to the edgier questions that speak to their own truth, but rather they give the answers they think the judges want to hear.
This can result in allowing the lowest common denominator to flourish at the expense of unique people with unique perspectives. Those who have their own approaches to kink or think outside of the status quo box are often discounted for not falling in line with the leather groupthink many judges bring to the table. That’s not fun.
Contestants are asked to present a “leather image,”, whatever the hell that is, because after nearly 45 years in the scene I’m still not quite sure what that is, and I’m sure the contestants are just as befuddled by such nebulous criteria. What they consider a fun self-image may be nothing like what the standard set of judges or scene insiders consider a hot and sexy image.
So, think about this for a moment. Why do 15,000 gay men attend the International Mr. Leather weekend every year? Because the entire event is geared toward fun. Yes, it’s had many years to grow and develop, but the guys would not keep attending if it wasn’t fun. Few classes. Few speeches unless you count the contest itself which, frankly, only a small percentage of guys at IML attend. Shopping aplenty. Very little overt fundraising. A countless collection of parties, dances and other social events. And lots and lots of sex, whether through organized play parties or, and I think more importantly, sex happening organically as men meet up and drag each other back to their rooms.
Contrast IML with many other leather and kink events such as the many conferences we have. They’re highly organized. They are often populated primarily with classes that offer little to do during those time periods except to sit staring straight ahead in a classroom and listen to someone. Attendees are sometimes pummeled with an onslaught of requests for their money with rabid fundraising that permeates the entire event. Even the play parties at these events are often highly regimented with a flurry of rules and roadblocks to having the sort of erotic and sexual experience you really want to have because of having to appease the venue or the organizing group’s specific view of what’s appropriate public play or not.
I contend that for the vast majority of kinksters, most of that is not fun. Or at least not optimally fun. Most of it is of little interest. I think much of what is organized at those events caters to what I often refer to as the inner sanctum of our scene, already highly connected people or those politically involved with the inner workings of the scene. However, that does not describe the vast majority of kinky folk. They don’t want to sit in on a discussion about organizing leather clubs. They don’t want to see yet one more bondage 101 class. They don’t want to play in environments that run so counter to how they might play privately or in a more free erotic venue. In short, the vast majority of leather and kink people want to have fun with their kink. They want to have sex and play. They want to socialize and cruise. They want to dance and celebrate. They want to build connections. Give people more opportunities to do those things and most event attendance would likely climb and reviews of those events would elevate.
You can even look to our BDSM and kink credos that we tout so often. Safe, sane and consensual. Or the newer one that’s become favored by many these days, Risk-Aware Consensual Kink. Note that there’s no mention of fun.
When the BDSM crowd adopted the safe, sane and consensual credo, I was overjoyed. It served its purpose well in its time. When it got updated to Risk-Aware Consensual Kink I liked that too and that tends to be the phrase I use when I need to trot out some concise guidance to a newcomer.
But now that our scene has fully embraced these two sayings, I think it’s time we start mentioning fun all of the time when we utter those phrases so we don’t lose track of why we do this all in the first place. Even back in 1992 when I published my book on BDSM I was encouraging us to add fun to the then pervasive Safe, Sane and Consensual mantra that was hot at the time because sometimes the almost clinical way we go about discussing and experiencing BDSM runs contrary to having fun. At least for most people.
Now I know that the purpose of the credos is essentially to foster a sense of safety and acceptable behaviors, but I think that by not having fun as an integral part, indeed the most important part, of what we repeat over and over might be sending the wrong message.
BDSM, and indeed all kink and sex, is supposed to be fun. If it weren’t, why would anyone do it. So let’s always try to mention fun anytime we utter the Safe, Sane and Consensual or Risk-Aware Consensual Kink sayings. Let’s try to get our fellow kinksters to start saying to themselves “do I have enough information, have I intelligently assessed the risks, is this consensual, and just as importantly if not more so, is this fun?” By doing so, we’ll ensure everyone has not only experiences congruent with their safety requirements and acceptable level of risk, but also enjoyable and fulfilling ones as well.
So I’ve given you some examples of why I think that sometimes we diminish our emphasis on having fun with this wonderful scene of ours. I could have given others. My point is not to denigrate any person, group, event or institution, but simply to encourage us to focus on the fun more than we sometimes do.
When you are about to do anything within the leather and kink realms, either personally or as part of a group, ask yourself “Am I keeping this fun? Could I make it more fun?” Sure there are things we sometimes have to do that aren’t so fun, but I don’t want to be part of any scene that can’t keep having fun as a guiding directive. I don’t think most of us would want to be part of such a scene either.
Let me leave with with a quote from one of my favorite actresses, Katherine Hepburn. She once said “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.” Sometimes the rules are, indeed, meant to be broken. Sometimes the rules do indeed get in the way fo the fun.
Love each other. Be kind to each other. Connect and bond with each other. Have sex and play with each other. Be the kind of kinky person you want to be. And never forget to have fun along the way.
Thank you for your time. I love you all and wish you a happy, healthy, kinky, and fun life. Which is exactly what you deserve. Good evening.