Iâ€™ve been around and publically doing my thing with kinky folks since I walked into my first Munch in San Francisco around 1996.Â Prior to that, Iâ€™d spent three years figuring out why this One Guy had managed to dig the fuck inside me and turn my head & heart all the way around. In those three years, Iâ€™d spent some time on this newfangled internet, on message boards, reading books, trying to see if could trust myself to walk with the lions & tigers & bearsÂ (oh my!)Â and take care of myself in the wilderness of an underground community of outlaws drawn together under the thinnest of pretenses: we all like some kind of freaky sex.
One of the things I have trusted all of my life is my instinct. I grew up in New York City in the 70s and 80s. By the time I was five, I had committed to my mind and my bodymemory countless rules & regulations & guidelines & hints & tips & tricks for navigating the urban landscape. From how close I walked to parked cars to how long I’d maintain eye-contact with strangers to how much distanceÂ (both physical and metaphysical)Â Â to leave between myself and the person seemingly pressed right up against me on the Uptown 6 to how to determine whether or not the person walking behind me is a harmless drunk or a potential perp. It might seem like a strange childhood, but I was fiercely proud that, by the time I moved from The City at age 21, I’d managed to navigate my way through some tight spots and emerge victorious.
Trust is something that is sometimes earned over years and sometimes assumed in a heartbeat and eye-to-eye connection and gut instinct. I have trusted my life to people Iâ€™ve known for mere moments, and I have had my deepest trust violated by people with whom I have shared a bed.
And so it goes.
When I began my explorations in the Leather, kink and BDSM Communities Confederacies, I took the sum total of my lives in New York, Los Angeles and my brand-new life in the Bay Area into that Munch with me. And at that first Munch were some of the biggest names on the roster. Several of the books I had read about this new world I had finally decided to explore were written by people in that restaurant. Several people in that room had been involved in this Scene for longer than Iâ€˜d been alive. Many of them have names that none of you have ever heard, but are some of the most respected people among the so-called “Old Leatherâ€ folks, and some of the names all of you have heard. And as I met them, I forgot all of that. I met them as people. Shook hands. Made eye contact. Saw how each of themÂ feltÂ to me. Hugged some, because I had spent well over a year in communication online, and we had met on an emotional level that fast-forwarded us to a particular depth of intimacy. Â ReputationÂ isÂ important. Time spent in your communityÂ isÂ important. ButÂ mostÂ important is taking the time to seeâ€¦reallyÂ seeâ€¦the people we wish to hold up and â€œleadersâ€ and â€œthinkersâ€ amongst us. Decide for yourself on a case-by-case basis. Do your homework. Listen to your gut. Don’t let someone’s rep oer’leap the hoops and standards you set for a total stranger.
Interestingly, that isnâ€™t often how we work.
People rise to prominence. Via effort. Via time, via rude persistence. Via duplicity, lies, deceit, bullshit, fuckery and the laziness and sycophancy of those around them. Via honesty and transparency and love for their â€œcommunity.â€ And those around them take the passive word of those who have gone before as testament to their honesty, their viability, their worthiness.
And thatâ€™s a problem.
I have seen, over the years, people take â€œreputationâ€ and â€œcommunity standingâ€ as carte blanche to entrust themselves into the hands of those who are not worthy of trust.
I have questioned friends who work with those who have questionable histories, who have shadowy pasts, who have seen others stand up to say â€œThat person violated me and my trust.â€ and had those friends shrug and say â€œWell, it isnâ€™tÂ myÂ job to police the community.â€
I have seen people endorse, by word and deed, people they KNOW to have problematic histories and shrug it off with â€œWell,Â IÂ have never had a problem with them, so it isnâ€™tÂ myÂ problem.â€
I have seen people who are â€œleadersâ€ in the community duped, swindled, ripped-off by people who, after the shallowest of digging, were revealed to be liars and thieves.
I have been sexually harassed and treated dismissively by men entrusted with instructing people about BDSM.
Iâ€™ve watched people who are bullies and liars intimidate and swindle their way into positions ofÂ (relative)Â power and trust, and surround themselves with the weak-minded who thoughtlessly protect and bleat the chant theyâ€™ve been taught in order to support those unworthy of their trust.
I have had handshake promises breached by people who will then turn around and evoke â€œLeather Valuesâ€ and â€œcommunity pride.â€
I have been lied to by people who smile in my face and in the same breath trash talk and belittle me to others.
I have had people to whom I appealed for help in taking a public stand against injustices instead opt to remain silent against racism, against rape, against consent violations.
AndÂ ALLÂ of these examples involve The People Youâ€¦Weâ€¦embrace as â€œLeaders.â€
No one likes to feel as though they may have trusted someone untrustworthy and some of us are so wedded to being right we will cling to a rotten ship as it pulls down the innocent and guilty alike.
And yet, Iâ€™m here. Why? Because this is one of my homes. Because these issues are part ofÂ lifeÂ and common to life. We are not exempt. We are a microcosm, not a Utopia. WeÂ WILLÂ have theÂ SAMEÂ issues that the rest of the Default World faces everywhere, every day.
So donâ€™t fucking assume youâ€™ve tagged into home base when you hit the ground running amongst the “Community.”
Use your head.
Use your guts.
Take itÂ slow.
Take itÂ slower.
I have been disabused of some of my naivetÃ© around the idea of what “Communityâ€ means in the past couple of decades. I have also found the Most Solid Friendships and chosen Family I could hope to have amongst the sea of humanity, among the disjointed narratives, among the drama and tragedy and triumphs and journeys and derailments.Â I have learned more about myself and people than I would gain earning four degrees in any university. And I refuse to be driven away from what I love…from this societyâ€¦from this Confederacy of Pervertsâ€¦into which I have poured my flesh and blood and love and hate and rage and lust for almost half of my life.
I implore you: use your hearts. Use your brain, listen to your gut. Donâ€™t coast on the works or words of others and count on them for your safety.
And hey, donâ€™t thoughtlessly listen to me on this oneâ€¦I just might be full of shit.
Except, Iâ€™m not.