A Munch is NOT a Community and a Community is NOT a munch

Posted: November 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

Ok, now that I have your attention…

In some communities there is a pathology at play.  It is a sickness which weakens and divides a community and, sadly, it is caused by the very thing that was originally created to draw a community together and give it a safe place to gather.

It is the munch.

Most of us in these communities don’t know what a munch was originally intended to be and what it was not intended to be.  We often believe that the way things are is the way they have always been or even the best possible way they can be.  I did a very small bit of digging to find the roots of munches and their original intentions.  Let us go back to the magical 1980’s, a time of upheaval in the smaller BDSM communities, back before the internet had gained prominance and back when AIDs was ravaging many BDSM communities.

In the 1980’s the BDSM scene was a little different from what we know today.  The clubs that existed were more close-knit and didn’t always welcome newcomers with open arms.  The internet wasn’t a gathering place yet, so there needed to be a low-pressure place where people new to the scene could get their first introduction and begin to gain acceptance that would eventually lead to them being allowed into a local club.  The clubs also needed a place to gather and announce their events.  Thus, one of the alt.sex.bondage and BABES members in California came up with what is believed to be the first munch, held in Palo Alto California.  It was held in a family-friendly coffee house and after a while moved to a different location where it earned the name the “burger munch” for the tasty burgers there.  This is the first known use of the term munch.  There were spin offs and more munches started.  These early munches were very careful not to attract unwanted attention from vanillas.  In most, BDSM attire was not allowed.  You couldn’t even wear a collar to some.  As time changed, dress codes relaxed, but by in large, munches continued to be an informal, low-protocol gathering place for new people and for all the groups in a community and did not include play or demos.  Events were announced and people talked and ate and mingled and flirted.

All was well with the world and in most places, this tradition of openness and acceptance continues today.  Munches in most communities serve a vital function as a portal to the greater community.

In some places, though, something went very wrong along the way.

In these communities, for various reasons, clubs began to disappear and the munch grew.  In these communities, events began to no longer be organized by individuals or clubs, but by the munch organizers themselves.  Soon, these communities found themselves held hostage by the munch which had begun as a way to open the community up.  Now, instead, the organizers of the munches started dictating what events could be held in their communities and only allowing sanctioned activities to be announced at the munch, effectively controlling the flow of information about the community.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The internet grew in influence and, soon, all it took to be a “leader” of a group was to be a group moderator on an internet group.  The loudest voices became the leaders, rather than those with the best interests of the communities.  These people, drunk with the power and control they now had, felt free to censor what was posted and also to control what was said at their munches.  Now, instead of opening up the community, the munch became the means to tighten the community, only allowing what groups or individual events the organizers deemed acceptable to be promoted.  As the chokehold tightens, anyone who has ideas that are contrary to the munch organizers is quickly marginalized.  Where before, different groups could cater to different tastes and different philosophies, now the munch and its sanctioned events are all that are left.  People either choose to follow…or leave.  The turnover in these communities increases as people first come to the munch excited and curious and, after a period of time, grow tired of the groupthink and censorship.  Luckily, the newer the people joining, the less likely they are to know that it wasn’t always this way or that other communities aren’t run this way.

This brings me to my point.  Munches are not a Community and a Community is not a munch.

Don’t get me wrong, munches serve a valuable service in our community.  They provide an initial starting point for so many people and they have the power to unite a community.  Still, the community is much more than just a munch group…or at least it can be.  A thriving community has room for many different ideas and many different groups to fit those ideas.  A munch group need not be threatened by the existence of other groups, even other area munches.  There is room for all and it is healthy to allow events to be freely announced.  One of the hallmarks of a healthy, thriving BDSM community is that group leaders, while they may not personally like each other, support each other and announce each other’s events.  This kind of open, transparent collaboration leads to a stronger, more diverse community for all.  In communities where this is allowed to happen, great things then happen.  More events are started that cater to different parts of the community.  More fundraisers are held for worthy causes.  More people run for titles and then use those to help their communities.  More special interest groups are started where people learn advanced BDSM skills safely.  The community grows and thrives and the members of that community grow as well.  All benefit from this cooperation, including the munch, which becomes the monthly gathering place where these connections are made.

In communities where this is not allowed to happen, where the munch is a jealously guarded dominion, the community stagnates.  Drama thrives.  There is a general feeling of scarcity, that if one group starts in one area to serve one population, that this somehow takes away from the importance of another.  There is bickering and there are grudges.  The community doesn’t grow, but instead becomes an endless revolving door through which new people enter and then after a while, leave.  The munch itself suffers as well, becoming more a gathering of separate cliques and a place to share gossip.  Skills aren’t passed on except in brief demos where only the most superficial of information can be passed along in the time and format given.  Mentorship declines.  Traditions are lost.

It is up to the members of a community whether they will have a thriving community with a munch or a munch with a declining community, but, ultimately, the most power lies with those who are greedily holding on to it in the first place.  If they could see the possibilities of a community stronger and more vibrant than the one they currently control, perhaps they could loosen their grip and let go of their fears and allow the seeds they have worked hard to plant sprout instead of stifling them?  In communities such as these, it remains a dim hope, but perhaps the only hope left.

I for one plan to continue to enjoy munches in the communities I live in and visit, but I also support those who want to add to the diversity of the community and I do so because I do not see it as disloyalty to the munches I enjoy but as loyalty to the community…not the munch and ultimately, the community I dream of means so much more to me than any munch.


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