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 Race talks about the vast and varying ways people approach kink.
Recently I had conversations with a few guys during which they each divulged their kinky side. Not just a little bit kinky. In some cases, extremely kinky.
The fascinating thing is that none of these guys navigate within the organized kink, fetish or leather communities. They were all, to use an older expression from early American leather, GDIs (goddamned independents).
GDIs happily traverse the world of fetish and kink having a good time, playing, fucking, socializing and bonding with fellow kinksters without the need to align themselves with a club, organization, network or even specific erotic identities.
Interestingly, all these guys knew the basics of things like negotiation, safety, and consent around which seasoned kinky players operate. None of them learned it through structured education. They just knew it.
This happens a lot. Guys know of my kink involvements and end up telling me their various erotic pursuits. Most of them seem content to steer clear of the more organized aspects of the kink communities.
A major exception seems to be guys who go to bigger kink events such as International Mr. Leather, Easter Berlin, Mid-Atlantic Leather, Folsom Street Fair, Folsom Europe, Fetish Week London, and so on. They revel in those atmospheres and go to the associated bars, dances, sex parties or social gatherings, but otherwise have little involvement with the organized elements of our scene.
When I was discussing this topic on social media recently, a friend of mine, noted clinical psychologist Russell J Stambaugh, PhD, commented that the perception that most kinky folks aren't part of any organized group, and in fact most have no contact whatsoever with such groups, is backed up by what data we have to date.
Stambaugh cited a 2017 study by D. Herbenick that suggests less than 10% of the general population who admit to kink behaviors have had any contact with the organized kink communities.
This is important. Stambaugh claims, through the lens of this and other data and his own studies, that the kink communities work best for those with a high tolerance or preference for voyeurism and exhibitionism, who can tolerate the perceived risks of being socially outed, who are tolerant of nontraditional relationship structures, who prefer lots of variety, who are highly social and like joining, and who live in areas that are convenient to organized events and clubs.
Think about that. Considering the right circumstances for most people to get involved in the organized kink and fetish communities, it's not surprising that many guys feel it's not for them. They either fumble through their erotic lives not quite feeling satisfied, or as I often find, they figure out how to do and live this thing we call kink and fetish comfortably and satisfactorily solo through whatever casual network of players and friends they cultivate.
When I write, organize, or otherwise work within these communities, I find this an extremely important thing to remember. It's something all of us who are active in the organized scene should remember. The bulk of our audience is functioning in a rogue status. They have no desire to become part of the inner sanctum of clubs, organizations, conferences or contests. They simply want to be kinky, sexual and have fun. That's it.
This is one the reasons online networks like Recon are important. It does a few vital things, especially for the 90%.
It provides an outreach and communication mechanism for guys who might not be connected to resources and mentors who can help them meet others and hone their skills and perspectives.
It provides an education, sometimes overtly through articles and videos, but more importantly organically through peer-to-peer learning and support. This is how kink learning happened prior to the era of classes, books and instructional materials. While I'm grateful for those things, I still think the best learning takes place in a real-world play environment.
It can increase, rather than decrease, the safety with which guys can pursue their initial forays into kink, particularly BDSM or any play involving bondage, assuming members use the platform appropriately. A guy can easily point a friend to a guy's profile along with the location they'll be at to provide a safety net when first meeting a new play partner.
If you're someone like me who moves within a robust social and sexual kink scene, I hope you will remember that your experience is not necessarily that of others who do not. Your perspectives on the correct or best way to do something might not synchronize well with others who have carved out their own path outside of established structures. We should never assume that we can speak for or act for all kinky people because the kinky people with whom we're typically most engaged are the inner sanctum 10%, not the majority.
If you're someone who is not a joiner, someone has no desire to become part of any aspect of the organized scene, I hope you will not consider yourself any less a kinkster. Your approach is just as valid provided you've taken the time to incorporate physical and emotional safety guidelines into your play and that all your play is consensual, ongoing, from the start of play and throughout.
For the non-joiners though, I do urge you to explore a bit of good information about any activity that might pose physical or emotional dangers. I don't think you have to plop yourself in countless classes or read a shelf full of books, but some good foundation knowledge and skillsets will always prove useful.
For the 10% I commune with, let's keep having a great time playing, fucking, learning, socializing and befriending each other. But at the same time, if anyone from the 90% reaches out to you, let's be there to not judge them but rather to welcome them, or simply share some knowledge and insight to make their GDI journey a more pleasant and safe one.
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