RACE BANNON: Listen To The Young

RACE BANNON: Listen To The Young

from Recon News

25 October 2021

By Race Bannon

"Listen to your elders!" If you've been around the leather and kink scene for a while, I bet you've heard some version of that before. As an "elder" myself (translation, I'm old and have been around a while), I appreciate the sentiment. We all like to be listened to and respected.

That said, I think the incessant mantra permeating the kink scene to listen to the older among us needs to be counterbalanced with an equal amount of "listen to the young." Yes, the younger have a lot to teach all of us, including us seasoned community members.

Actress Angela Bassett once said, "It's important to surround yourself with good people, interesting people, young people, young ideas." I could not agree more.

Over the course of the decades I've been part of the kink scene, I've noticed a tendency for many of my peers to discount young people. They don't have enough experience. How can they claim to be dominant (or other identity of choice)? It takes years to build the necessary erotic skills. They're not a real (insert an identity or role). And a host of other statements that discount the young pour forth from the mouths of far too many older kinksters. That's not useful. In fact, it's harmful.

For what it's worth, I don't recall the age schism I perceive exists today having existed to the same extent in the 70s and 80s when I first explored American gay men's leather. My sincere hope is that the reason is because our scene has been attracting more young people into its ranks and therefore some generational friction is to be expected.

In general society, whether it's disparaging a younger generation's music, the way they dress, their work ethic or style, communication habits, or a host of other complaints, it seems to be a popular sport to talk down to those with fewer years under their belts. Maybe that's just human nature, but it's still misguided.

Look at the big social changes for the better and you'll see that many were spawned by younger voices. Why should the leather, kink, and fetish scenes be any different? They're not. While older kinksters can certainly provide a valuable background of experience and wisdom, it's usually the younger who nudge every subculture toward new horizons. The younger/older dynamic should allow for the ongoing creation of new ways of being and doing. Getting bogged down with the weight of tradition and sameness runs counter to a culture that's alive and thriving.

Younger people by their nature are adventurous. Exploration is part of what being younger is about. It's not surprising that younger kinksters explore new ways of being sexual, new erotic identities, and new cultural norms. Whether it's pup play, the rise in popularity of specific fetishes, or the gear one wears, younger people typically nudge the cutting edge of such trends.

A tired trope I hear frequently in the BDSM realm of our scene is that younger kinksters can't possibly have the necessary BDSM skills to do such things correctly. Bullshit.

The best rope bondage practitioner in my sphere is in his 20s. One of the best local single tail players is in his 20s. I got a great lesson in the intricacies of chastity play from a guy in his 20s. Younger rubber fetishists lead the local rubber community. At play parties I have witnessed 20-somethings create beautiful, intimate scenes while right next to them a 30-year veteran is simply going through the motions.

When I asked my network of younger kinksters what advice they would give older kinksters, I received dozens or replies, and a few fell into common themes. Here are a few.

Remember you were young once. If an older person seriously reflects on their younger self, the memories will hopefully make them lighten up and interact with more understanding and less judgment. This is why I encourage my older peers to mingle often with people outside of their age demographic. It fosters an exchange of ideas and histories while helping age groups better understand each other.

Never stop learning. Keep an open mind. Experienced players tell newcomers to never stop learning. Yet, those same experienced players often stagnate and stop learning themselves. Curiosity sometimes wanes with age. Remember the phrase that's often attributed to Frank Zappa but has origins dating back decades, "A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open."

Include, don't exclude. Ask younger people to lead groups and projects. Engage in active outreach to include younger people in events and gatherings. Diversify club, organization, and event leadership across the age spectrum. Stop ageist gatekeeping. If you're older and have maintained a leadership position, groom your younger replacement, and eventually let them take your place.

Stop telling them how to be. Just accept them. No kinkster, older or not, has a right to tell another kinkster how they should dress, play, or identify. Apart from the basics of consent and respect, it's no one's business to make someone else's kink look like theirs. Relatedly, avoid catty remarks targeting the younger (or older) in bars and at events. I've heard more than one story about how a young person's kink explorations were halted, and their confidence crushed, by a single negative comment overheard from an elder.

Listen to them. There is no one right way to do things. Young people's opinions and ideas are just as valid as those originating from older kinksters. While being open to listening, also provide mechanisms by which they can provide input without judgment.

I got a lot of feedback that could fill four articles like this one, but these few themes encapsulate the crux of much of it.

Charles Darwin showed us all we must adapt or die, and subsequent thinkers have espoused the same sentiment in many variations. George Bernard Shaw once said, "Progress is not possible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." The kinky world in which we navigate is no different. It either changes or it will cease to exist. We either change or we cease to be relevant.

Winston Churchill once said, "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often." Change is the only constant in life. For some bizarre reason some in our scene don't understand that. How often do you hear the word "tradition" bandied about to squelch change? How often do you hear self-appointed guardians of the true way to be kinky negate someone else's path? It happens all the time and it's tiresome.

Historian James Clifford once wrote "Cultures do not hold still for their portrait." So true. Our scene does not look or function the same as it did in the 80s or 90s. Our scene will look, and function quite differently than it does today, 10 or 20 years from now. That's how life works. Change. New ideas. New social constructs. New identities. New ways of navigating within communities. Without change the result is stagnation.

Resistance to change seems to be at the core of why young voices get squelched. That's why I'm focusing on it so much here because it appears to often be the impetus behind shoving the younger to the side. I hope we stop doing that.

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