Uneasy Bedfellows – Leather and the Pansexual BDSM Community

Posted: April 4, 2011 in BDSM, Titleholding

I began my title year with a speech and, like most titleholders, I will end it with one as well.  The speech I gave when I ran for both my regional and international titles was about reaching across to the pansexual BDSM community, something which has become almost a cliche in Leather title contestant speeches.  However, I felt I had a unique perspective on this divide given that I live my life in both communities out of necessity.  Being owned by a heterosexual Master and having a girlfriend means that finding spaces where we all can play together within the Leather community can sometimes be a challenge.  I don’t like leaving those I enjoy playing with at the door and they tend to like bringing me along as well.  For better or worse, that often means I play at pansexual BDSM venues and events.  I also have my roots in the pan community and I have lasting friendships and people I admire within that community.  Sometimes the act of flowing between these two unique communities, or collections of communities, is flawless and effortless.  Other times, it can be a bit jarring.

This weekend, I had the honor of presenting my Leather Mythbusters class to a group I had not previously visited and it really brought my thoughts about the divisions between these communities to the forefront.  There are misunderstandings on both sides.  There are egos on both sides.  There are also crises of identity on both sides.  In attempting to address those divisions in my title year, I have had to face head-on my own identity and my own misunderstandings.  If anything, I think that has been my area of greatest growth over the year.  It wasn’t until I had to attempt to explain Goreans to a Leather Sir that I really tried to understand their point of view.  It wasn’t until I was drawing analogies between pony play and puppy play when talking with a Leather boy that I began to understand both a bit better myself.  Teaching my Leather mythbusters class has forced me to approach Leather from the perspective of the pansexual BDSM community and has made me have to think more deeply about why it is that I have chosen to make my home in Leather, even as I am a frequent visitor to the pan scene.

There are a great many myths out there on both sides of the fence and yes, there are very distinct differences in how both sides view their kink.  Still, there is also a lot of commonality that gets missed because the language used is so different.  I recently had to consider my own attitudes regarding the use of “Old Guard” mythology within the pan community.  While it still raises my hackles to hear those outside the Leather world try to appropriate Leather history or traditions, much like suburban youth affecting the dress and speech and music of inner city dwellers and with similar ridiculous results, I think there is an underlying reason for it that is more important than the outer silliness.  People in the pansexual BDSM community do not have as clear an identity or as clear a picture of their history as Leatherfolk often do, even as murky as ours can be.  There is a lack of writing on the history of pansexual BDSM, of the communities that grew and developed into what we now see.  There will always be people who look to the past and to tradition as a guidepost of how to handle situations and what behavior is expected and, without a uniquely pansexual view to look to, they look to what is much easier to find…Leather traditions.  They then try to recreate a past that never existed out of traditions that were never meant to fit their types of communities.  Whatever we may think of the results, they come from a question we all ask, “Who am I?”  For those who come out in what has been called the “Second Coming Out,” those answers are often more clear in Leather than they can be in the pan world, where there is less structure and more freedom, but as a result, a lack of clarity.

Robert Bienvenue did quite a bit of work to prove even that pansexual BDSM did not grow out of Leather, but instead grew organically on its own out of the kinky stuff straight couples were doing in their homes and then eventually doing in swingers clubs and BDSM venues.  Still, there is much more that isn’t known than is and records of the past are even harder to find.  There is no pansexual equivalent of the LA&M for a young person coming out into the pan scene to scour through to answer these questions.  Instead, there is the internet, with a million different versions of what might be, many of them valid, but even more of them completely manufactured.  These myths get reposted as truth and the question of a pansexual BDSM identity becomes even more clouded.  At least in Leather there are some authorities.  Even if you disagree with them, they are there to disagree with.  Pansexual BDSM is even more than Leather a loosely confederated group of different groups, from weekend spankos to foot fetishists to TPE M/s’ers to body modification afficionados.  Each smaller subset has more of an identifiable culture than the broader group.  Even more confusing, you can find many representations of these groups within Leather as well.

It has been fashionable to talk about reaching across this divide.  After all, aren’t we all kinky people, regardless of what we wear or our sexual orientations?  Still, that reaching across is often problematic in practice.  I once interviewed some Leathermen for a contest whose goal was just that.  Still, when pressed on details, their focus was entirely on educating those in the opposing community with little time spent on what those in Leather could learn from them.  Such a one-sided approach rarely works.  We are, as human beings, far more likely to listen to the perspective of another when we feel like our own point of view is acknowledged and honored.  In addition, their stated experience with people in the pan community was work with the National Leather Association members in their community.  Obviously, regardless of how they identify, someone coming to an NLA meeting is at least open to discussing Leather and might actually be curious about it.  In this case, I think it was more a mistake of assuming that a heterosexual orientation meant that a person was part of the pan BDSM scene.  My advice was to first learn about the pan scene before trying to education anyone in it.

There are difficulties as well coming from the other direction.  I have seen leaders in the pansexual BDSM community assume that their titles and honorifics will be given the same weight in the Leather communities or that they can claim their past experience in the pan scene as Leather experience.  This seems to come from the myth that all kink is somehow Leather or that the pan community grew from the Leather community and therefore everything within the pan community is relevant to the Leather community.  There is so much more to Leather than just reading The Leatherman’s Handbook.  Another common mistake is assuming that all Leatherfolk, in all parts of the world, all obey the same customs and protocols…or that they ever have.

I started out my year asking the question, “How do we bridge this divide?”  I am ending it with a different question, “Do we need to bridge this divide?”  Each time I attend an event where these two cultures intersect, I see them come together to support causes that effect both, like the NCSF, yet each seem to, on the whole, self-segregate into their own groups.  As long as we respect and honor each other and are able to work out a basis for interacting when necessary for the good of both communities, does there really need to be a coming together?  In reality, I think that there is strength in diversity and having distinct cultures is not a bad thing at all.  I think the key is not bridging those divides so much as deepening understanding across them, through education on both sides and through ambassadors from both sides.  I think those things have been happening all along, regardless of speeches made by contestants.  I also wonder if both communities aren’t so very diverse that even talking about a divide between them becomes a bit less constructive as time goes on, given that there are just as large of a divide between some of the groups captured under each umbrella as there is between the two groups themselves.

I have found, through this year, that when we connect as individuals and talk or play, these issues become less and less important.  Perhaps that really is the key…we just need to be willing to keep talking and playing together, when the opportunities arise.

Just please, you keep the pony bits away from me and I’ll keep my boots off of you.

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Comments
  1. Heather says:

    Thanks for writing on this, it’s nice to see others thinking on the same things I am. I’ve been in the pan community for somewhere around four or 5 years (silly me, had I realized then I was going to be asked this so much, I’d have marked the date on my calendar) and starting to hang around the edges of the Leather community this past year as my interest in boots grew.

    My theory-of-the-moment is that we don’t need to make one big pond, but I think all communities (men’s, women’s, Leather, pan, queer, youth – Toronto is hella divided) could benefit from bridges and knowledge sharing between groups. Turns out though, building bridges is not as easy as I first thought it would be. Now I’m trying to figure out how inter-group connections can be made without angering people, or making anyone worry abut having ‘their space’ invaded.

  2. Miss CandiAnne says:

    This, unfortunately, is one of those age old battles that constantly resurfaces and is discussed to death and never gets anywhere. In fact, each time it does come up in major discussion, the various sides want nothing to do with each other for a while after because nothing was accomplished during the discussion but hurt feelings and so forth. The kink community is extremely diverse and we’re all taught that no kink is wrong. I agree with your wholly on “Do We Need To Bridge This Divide?”. My answer is NO we do not. We can remember each of us has our own kink and sometimes those kinks coincide so we can play together, talk together, learn a new kink from another and so forth. We needn’t put everything under one umbrella and make everyone be alike. We never have been, we never will be and that’s what makes this community so beautiful. We accept the differences but still call ourselves a community.

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