Race Bannon AKA member PigMaster4PigSlave has been an organizer, writer, educator, speaker and activist in the LGBT, leather/kink, polyamory and HIV/STI prevention and treatment realms since 1973. In this article he tells us why we don't need to strive to be exceptional in our kink and fetish lives.
One of the upsides to so much kink how-to and insight material on the web, in print and in sexuality classrooms is the sheer abundance of it all. Some of it is terrible, but much of it is good and offers anyone easy access to information about kinky play.
Whether you're going to tie someone up, flog them, submit to a dominant or play with an ass, somewhere there's something that will tell you how to do it or offer insight into that specific mindset or practice. The era of on-demand kink education is indeed at hand.
In addition to these resources, in many parts of the world there are a plethora of conferences, clubs, workshops, munches and meetups at which people can learn and exchange tips and ideas to add to one's kink knowledge base and skillset.
There is simply no lack of kink educational offerings these days. That's a good thing, at least usually.
With such positives though often come some negatives. The proliferation of kink education is no different. While it can empower you to more confidently explore areas of sexuality you might not have explored otherwise, it can at the same time overwhelm you with so much information that you're paralyzed to inaction.
Along with such highly educated kinksters come that subset of people who we deemed, correctly or incorrectly, as exceptional. Advanced Shibari rope bondage practitioners. Flashy single tail whip throwers. Acclaimed Masters who boast an army of dedicated slaves in their stable all masterfully "trained" in the "right" ways. Submissives who appear to have few if any limits. The list of such supposed exceptional players and scene lifestylers is long.
Most of them have the same fears of inadequacy or incompetence as the newest of neophytes. I'm confident that's true. But that doesn't change the fact that on the surface it appears our scene is often compartmentalized into the lofty realm of the exceptionally skilled and experienced with the rest operating at some lower echelon of kinkiness.
This is profoundly not useful. It does little but elevate inflated egos while holding back others who fall prey to the malady of comparison. As a past American President, Theodore Roosevelt, once said, "Comparison is the thief of joy". That's true in all of life, and it's certainly true for those of us who pursue kink, BDSM or fetish as either an occasional side pursuit or as a core identity.
To constantly compare oneself to others is to compete. If there's anything I've learned from all my years as a leatherman it's that's life, and most certainly kink, BDSM and fetish, is not a competitive sport. No one hands out trophies for who is the better player or kink lifestyler, or at least they shouldn't if they do.
Appearances can be deceiving. I recall standing against a wall with a friend as we observed a big men's dungeon play party unfolding before us. At the center of the room was a master with his slave. Using gobs of BDSM gear extracted from two suitcase-sized toy bags the master proceeded to execute a highly technical and complex bondage and SM scene. It was technically impressive.
To the right of that scene were two other men partaking in a simple boot worship scene. The bottom was on his stomach licking and reveling in the top's tall boots. The top and bottom were intensely and intimately connected. The bottom crawled up the top's leg slowly until they met in a long and protracted kiss with the top's hands gripping the bottom's neck in a sign of sensual dominance that was palpable.
My friend pointed to the simpler of the scenes and said "Those are the guys I'd want to play with. That's what it's all about for me."
I contend that's what it's all about for most of us. Connection. Bonding. Sensuality. Mutual pleasure. A sense of complete investment in each other's fantasy fulfillment. Advanced techniques, lots of gear or an extensive wardrobe of fetish garb are nice, but for me and many others it's not the stuff of peak erotic experiences.
Sadly, the master doling out the scene in a proficient paint by numbers way was seen by many in his circle as exceptional while the top was known as a relative newcomer and often discounted because of his newness. That was unfortunate and such stratification still occurs far too often in our scene.
It was not always this way. I'm old enough to remember when leathermen and fetishists socialized and played much more as equals. Sure, some men possessed a bit more technical skill or experience than others, but the playing field was far more level.
Those men who navigated through the scene arrogantly, who felt themselves exceedingly exceptional, were typically shunned. A bit of modesty was sexy. The most revered players were those who gently nudged along newcomers and fellow erotic rebel travelers without the need to claim any sort of exceptionalism.
There are likely many reasons things have changed. I mostly blame pervasive online connectivity, social media and other leather and kink megaphone platforms for proliferating the idea that we must be exceptional, not average, kinksters. We're outright told or subtly coerced into believing we should know everything about everything in our kink realm.
We should have perfect BDSM technique and be exceptionally skilled at many things.
You better have all the right gear and know how to wear it or use it.
People should be mind readers and never fuck up around consent, and if you do you should be permanently ostracized.
You must know all our scene's history and be able to parrot it at will, even if you really don't fully understand that history.
Even worse, in some camps you're told to adhere to some mythological Old Guard set of values and ways of functioning, essentially building your kink life on falsified quicksand.
Your formal kink education must be ongoing and robust. It's the kink equivalent to always being in school, but you never quite graduate.
The areas in which kinksters receive messaging that they must be exceptional are numerous and impossible for anyone to achieve. Especially if they happen to be your everyday kinkster who doesn't live 24/7 steeped in the kink and fetish hot issues of the day.
Is it any wonder some ponder entering the more organized side of the kink scene and then slowly back away thinking to themselves "Damn, I can't achieve all of that so I guess that's not for me"?
Please don't get caught in this trap. Never forget that ultimately what matters is that you and your sexual partner(s) have a good time while treating each other with respect. That's really the entire kink/BDSM/fetish mantra in a nutshell. Just have fun. Be a decent person. Leave the chasing of exceptionalism to others.
Race Bannon has been an organizer, writer, educator, speaker and activist in the LGBT, leather/kink, polyamory and HIV/STI prevention and treatment realms since 1973. He's authored two books, been published extensively, spoken to hundreds of audiences, created the world's largest kink-friendly psychotherapist and medical referral service, was a leader of The DSM Project that led to a beneficial change in the way American psychotherapy views BDSM, founded a groundbreaking alternative sexuality publishing company, been an internet radio sex talk show host, received national and local awards, and appeared in numerous documentaries. He currently also writes for the Bay Area Reporter and on his blog