Saturday, May 26, 2012

UUs, Kinksters, Community and Diversity: What We Could Learn from One Another

This started with a question posted on FetLife, the social networking site for the BDSM community: How do your UU beliefs affect your kink, and vice versa? I’ve long said that our two communities could learn from one another, but seeing the topic put in print once more had made me think a little more deeply about two areas often discussed by both groups, but in different ways – community and diversity.

We kinksters often talk about “the community” without clearly defining it. Some even debate whether we really have a kink community, and I can see why. Compared to a Unitarian Universalist congregation, a local kink community often seems like nothing more than a bunch of folks gathered around the shared trait of non-vanilla sexuality. UUs really think through what we mean by community – what brings and keeps us together, how we get things done, how leaders are chosen and held accountable. One could say that, because we’ve had to address those issues for centuries, we’ve gotten it all down pat. And while I’d agree that’s a large part of it, we also have to consider that many of our congregations are relatively young, and our entire faith movement has been continually exploring the definition and praxis of community.

UUs also surpass kinksters in another important aspect of community formation. Ours is a thoroughly democratic tradition. I’m not just talking about electing governing boards, or debating and ratifying resolutions. Democracy is integral to our culture and ethos – we’re so used to it that to many of us it’s become second nature. Contrast that to the large number of local BDSM organizations run as so-called “benevolent dictatorships,” and the host of groups torn apart because inadequate governance procedures could not keep petty personal disputes in check.

Now, with all that being said, kinksters do have a considerable advantage over Unitarian Universalists. While we UUs talk frequently about embracing diversity, it seems to me that kinksters have a better approach in this area. Yes, UUs have plenty of workshops and documents and colorful PowerPoint presentations … but I’ve seen too many UUs who seem to think that, once they’ve gone through this or that workshop, they’ve earned their credentials and they’re done. If someone proposed having an educational program, and it turned out the congregation had hosted it two or three years ago, they’d wonder if it was worth a repeat performance. Kinksters would be saying: “Well, not everyone attended last time, and we’ve had a lot of new members who could benefit, and I know I could use a refresher course … let’s do it.” Not to mention deliberately repeating certain topics, like new member orientation or basic safety or CPR certification.

A large part of it is because “kink” or “BDSM” is not a single identity, but an umbrella for a wide diversity of consensual sexual expression. So, just as UUs have gotten into the habit of democratic governance, kinksters have gotten into the habit of educating one another about our different forms of eroticism, including really edgy, button-pushing topics. As education coordinator for the New England Dungeon Society, I was always pleasantly surprised at the turnout our classes had, especially with people who had no personal interest in the topic, but thought it was important to learn about what other kinksters were into. That, to me, seems a vital factor in embracing diversity – that understanding is a prerequisite for acceptance and affirmation. And that understanding is not like earning a graduate degree or professional certificate – do it once, and then you’re set. No, it’s more like first aid and CPR – you have to keep going back to get re-certified, because there are always changes and it’s always good to keep up on those skills; plus the importance of having as many people as possible learning those skills, so as many people as possible can benefit.

Unitarian Universalists have been able to sustain local democratic communities for generations – but we still have a ways to go towards the embrace of diversity.

Kinksters have learned that diversity requires continual education and growth – but many of our local communities are still wrestling with foundational issues of getting groups off the ground and keeping them going.

Come, let us learn from one another.