Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Time to Get Out of the Leather Ghetto

Is it just me, or has the kink community gotten rather conservative?

I certainly don’t mean in the sense of endorsing Republican or Tea Party candidates, or working with Concerned Women for America. But I do mean a seeming lack of effort in looking for change. I mean the way that members of the Gay Liberation Front looked at the older Mattachine Society.

Truth be told, Mattachine had its own internal conflicts between those pushing for more activism, and those who argued for assimilation and public education. But I’m definitely seeing a parallel here. Like Mattachine, even though the bulk of BDSM and Leather groups espouse educating the public as one of their major goals, I’m hard pressed to find that actually being done.

Worse, even the low-key efforts which I’ve had to do among Unitarian Universalists has led to my being attacked – personally as well as politically – and histrionically labeled as an obnoxious extremist.

If you don’t believe me, go look at the website of the New England Leather Alliance, and see if you can find any signs of life in their “external outreach” efforts. Is there a list of actual accomplishments in this area? Yes, there are relevant documents from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom – but where’s the evidence that they have actually acted on them? And it’s certainly no help that the position of Director of External Outreach has remained vacant for months. You’d think that, if this was indeed a priority, the current leaders of NELA would make an effort to recruit someone.

I’m sure there are some examples of public outreach being done by local groups and activists. The problem is in finding them, especially when the websites of these groups won’t even list them. They’ll talk about events and educational programs for kinksters - which we certainly need – but go into specifics about talking to vanilla folks, and the well comes up dry. Certainly more public events like the Folsom Street Fair provide visibility and a sense of community pride – but if a vanilla tourist is walking about lost among the spanking and bondage demos, what then? Museums have tour guides and information booths, so why can’t Folsom?

It’s as if the BDSM community has ghettoized itself – become so insular and inwardly focused, we forget one of the quintessential principles of political and social change: The smaller the minority, the greater the need to build alliances and coalitions with outside groups. So if we want to change the laws and social attitudes which lead us to remain isolated and misunderstood, then we have to leave the leather ghetto and talk with vanilla folks, whether one on one or in panel discussions or mass media.

It’s been said that the number one rule of the Old Guard was: “Don’t scare the villagers.” Many appear to have interpreted that to mean that we should always keep out of sight. Well, it’s too late for that – the villagers know we exist. And while some will always be scared of us, no matter what we say or how we say it, that’s no reason we should remain so scared that we can’t find a way to engage the rest of the village in dialogue and understanding.


  1. Amen, brother. You and I should get together at the FFFlea and see what ideas we can cook up. Bitching is not enough. We may have to be the leaders we want to see. Let's talk.


  2. QueerPreacher: I won't be at the Flea, but there will be a meeting January 19th of folks looking to move things forward here in Massachusetts. If you're on Fetlife, you can find the link to the info on my profile.