RACE BANNON: Becoming Better Kinksters Through Mentoring
21 August 2020
Race Bannon AKA member LoneWolfPig 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 talks about becoming better kinksters through mentoring.
I was recently at the Mid-Atlantic Leather (MAL) Weekend in Washington, DC. I had a great time. Thousands of kinky men from all over the country and world having fun, fucking, playing, attending events and socializing with their own kind. So much fun.
As I was talking to friends one night in the MAL host hotel lobby that serves as a default massive leather and fetish bar during the weekend, it struck me that many of them, newcomer and old timer alike, have come to where they are in our scene by benefiting from some form of mentoring.
Mentoring isn't some mysterious process. A mentor is simply someone who guides, teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced person. The concept of mentors has been an integral part of the leather and fetish communities since the beginning incarnations of modern organized kink.
In the early days, mentoring was essentially the only option for learning about and navigating the kink world. Men who were new to kink and fetish would often organically connect with someone of more experience who assisted them with entrance into and navigating within our then mostly underground and clandestine sexual subculture.
My own initial forays into leather were peppered with an array of men who kindly showed me the ropes along the way. From the first time I accidentally stumbled into a leather bar to my current ongoing development as a kinkster and sexual adventurer, there have been many men who I'd call mentors even though none of them were ever officially designated that in my life.
Today, it seems we have often defaulted to classroom-style education to provide what might have been provided more personally and intimately through mentoring. While kink education is good, perhaps we've started to rely a bit too much on it to the detriment of newcomers. I don't think there's any comparable replacement for mentoring within the classroom paradigm of learning. The one-to-one relationship provides learning and support in a way no class can.
The interesting thing is that everyone can be a mentor. All of us know a bit more about or have more experience with some aspect of the kink experience than someone else. That's why I'm cautious about elevating anyone as an expert on all things leather, fetish, kink or whatever. We're all experts about something. Even expertise outside of the immediate realm of kink can inform our fetish lives in profound ways (philosophy, psychology, communication skills, and so on).
I don't think there will ever be a replacement for one-to-one mentoring that forms organically and naturally between two men, but I do think we can learn some things from more formalized mentoring programs that we can take into our own mentorship situations.
I asked Richard Sprott, a developmental and research psychologist, who along with Patrick Mulcahey founded the well-known mentoring program run under the auspices of the San Francisco Leathermen's Discussion Group (LDG), for his thoughts about mentoring. I'm leaving Sprott's words intact because I think he offers valuable wisdom about mentoring that can easily be transferred to how we handle our own private mentoring relationships.
"Mentoring works very well when the mentor is willing to share his lifestyle experience - to invite the mentee to hang out, attend events together, when the mentee can experience the community alongside the mentor."
"It is important to know when a person needs mentoring, versus when they need more professional aid to handle emotional difficulties, relationship issues, mental health challenges or behaviors around out-of-control drug/sex behaviors."
"Mentoring is not counseling. Mentoring is not a way to get your healthcare needs met. Mentoring is about fostering the positive personal growth of the person."
"Mentoring is about facilitating connections, opening doors, and being a place to ask, reflect, and explore with someone who cares about your personal growth."
"Mentoring works well when the mentee is clear about their goals - what they want to learn, what they want to do. It is difficult for a mentor when faced with a mentee who doesn't have an idea of where they want to go."
"Mentoring is not about sex or romance, but it is an intimate relationship, especially if you are mentoring around kink."
"Mentoring is about relationships, purpose, identity and meaning. It is not really about techniques. You can get that from a book, video or class, or your own hands on experimentation."
With all that said, what makes for a successful mentorship varies based on the guys involved. You can learn a lot from the men you're playing with as long as you never misinterpret information that might be clouded by the sexual relationship. You don't need any sort of formalized mentor/mentee situation to benefit from mentoring. Just ask anyone you respect for a bit of advice. There's some mentoring. Are you a more experienced player who's met a newcomer and you're answering a few of their questions? There's some mentoring. It comes in all styles and forms.
My friend and esteemed kink author, Laura Antoniou, recently wrote about mentoring. She felt that the top quality required to be a good formal mentor is a sincere "interest in developing that relationship without selfish motivations. Not hoping to have a sexual or romantic relationship, not in order to poach someone from another path, not in order to project their own issues on someone else, not to impress someone else or show off for any sort of audience."
Let me summarize what I think makes for a good mentoring situation – a caring relationship in which the more experienced person wants nothing but the best outcomes for the person to whom they're giving guidance.
There's also an elephant in the room that often torpedoes good mentoring – ego and one-upmanship. The showing off to which Antoniou alludes. The shaming of another for expressing their kinky selves authentically. Competitiveness in all its forms. Our scene sadly becomes competitive far too often whether it be actual contests, theatrical dungeon displays, or compartmentalizing guys into an unspoken kink class system. All that is bullshit in terms of learning and growing. Avoid it and avoid people who embrace such stuff.
Let's all try to help each other. Let's all try to mentor, in whatever small way we can, others to be their best kinky selves. If you do enter into a more formalized mentoring situation, do so honorably and with the best intentions. It all usually works out well if you do.
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