Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Poison Speech

Posted: July 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

This post is not about my own personal trials and tribulations with the infamous Leather rumor mill or gossip circles, but instead a comment on a cultural phenomena that has always troubled me within Leather.  Truth be told, I’ve actually fared better than most during my title year and the experiences I’ve had have been, in the majority, overwhelmingly positive.

But there is a darkness within our community.

We all know someone, regardless of where we live or what community groups we are active with or which runs we go to.  We all know someone who seems to gain their power from always trying to find the worst in others…and then make sure everyone else knows about it.  These people willfully choose to live in a world of negativity and are eager to bring others into it with them.  They are quick to judge and feel righteous in their self-appointed positions of judgment.  In their own minds, they are doing the community a great service by “calling people out,” and that service is so righteous that it justifies any amount of cruelty in the process.  In effect, they believe that the misdeeds of others, real or imaginary, makes their own misdeeds in pointing them out not only justified, but somehow to be praised and the more public this spectacle is, the better they find it and the more their feelings of righteous indignation are fueled.

Sadly, every community has stories of these people.  Even more sadly, most of us do very little about it.  I will admit I have been guilty myself of not speaking up when I heard someone else’s reputation being trashed for public entertainment.  Most often, my reasons for staying silent were fear.  I was afraid I would be next if I spoke up.  Given that anyone who does speak up to these sorts of people is likely to become their next target, my fears were justified.  Instead, I tried to console the victims and pacify the attackers, hoping that all would come to a place where they were beyond all this.  I tried to remain Switzerland in an ongoing war zone.  While that strategy often got me praise for being “above the drama” and also kept me out of the sniper’s sights…in retrospect, was it really the “right” stance to take?

Ancient religions actually deal a lot at great length with this kind of behavior.  Buddhism and Judaism both speak of it at length.  In Judaism, this kind of behavior is called “lashon hara” which loosely translates from Hebrew to mean “evil tongue” or “evil speech.”  Interestingly enough, in Judaism, it doesn’t even matter if the gossip is true, if you’re spreading it to hurt someone else, you’re in violation of the law.  In other laws, they go so far as to say that embarrassing a person or destroying their good name is akin to murder.  Buddhism, which in general tries to take a more positive view on human behavior, speaks of it when they talk of “right speech,” but also points out that intentionally destroying a person’s reputation is similar to killing that person.

Seems pretty severe, doesn’t it, to equate trashing someone’s name or reputation with murder?

Why were the ancients so worried about gossip, even true gossip?  In both cases, we’re talking about groups of people that were socially ostracized from the people around them, often to the point where they had to fear anyone outside their own group.  They were discriminated against and in many places even had to fear the local authorities, simply because of who they were and what they believed.  Sound vaguely familiar?  These people had to stick together for mutual survival, whether they liked each other or not.  They had to function as a cohesive group in order to protect themselves from outside forces and to pass on their traditions to the next generation.  In that kind of society, this kind of gossip and slander could have the power to fracture communities and create divisions that would eventually allow the outside pressures to destroy the community, so the wise leaders of these communities (or divine law, if you prefer) decided that this kind of speech had to be dealt with swiftly and seriously.

So does this mean that people should not have free speech?  What about the First Amendment?

Even free speech has boundaries, even in America.  You can’t use it to incite violence or yell fire in a crowded movie theater.  The supreme court is even working on ruling on whether or not you can use it to bully a high school classmate into committing suicide.  Sure, most of the bullying and gossip we see is likely legal…but does that make it right?  Is “calling someone out” worth the destruction these people often cause within our communities?  I know from experience that it’s easy to sit back and stay out of it, but what about when the sharp tongues turn on you or those you love?  Is our silence worth the price then?

I wish I had a nice easy answer to this problem to type out here.  This problem has obviously been around as long as humans have gathered together, but I do know that I see some of its worst representations within the very Leather I love so deeply.  I have seen behavior from people I have respected that would make a Junior High girl accustomed to dishing out bullying blush and give pause.  I have also seen noble men and women silently suffer it, taking the higher road when met with those who only take the lower.  Mostly, though, I’ve seen a whole lot of those of us who see it, but feel powerless or afraid to stop it or stand up to it.

I guess Leather doesn’t work well as armor against others wearing it.

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Rituals

Posted: March 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

I have been thinking a lot about the use of ritual in BDSM lately and a forum post sparked even more thoughts. When I think of rituals in BDSM a few things immediately spring to mind. The one that most easily comes to me is collarings, but when I think deeper, there are more rituals, but often those are older traditions that have fallen to the wayside or perhaps never were quite as front and center as we once though, like coverings and the giving of earned leather. The more I learn about old Leather traditions, the more I learn that there were few that were uniformly accepted and practiced.

Still, I think ritual has a unique importance to us, not just as kinky people, but as human beings.

I grew up Catholic. Looking back, one of the few things that I enjoyed and still carry with me is a love of ritual. I can remember the smell of incense and the ritual of lighting candles. There was something about the old rituals that made me feel connected to the past, to my ancestors who worshipped in Latin before me. That connection to the past made me feel grounded in an identity, even while I questioned that identity. Rituals marked the passing of time and helped mesh with the cycles of planting and harvest on the farm to give the year a cadence. Rituals helped give structure and focus in times of both joy and sorrow. In college, I traded the rituals of Catholicism for those of Air Force ROTC and a co-ed fraternity. The rituals were different, but their purposes similar. The ritual of young officers receiving their first salutes marked a rite of passage. The rituals of initiation into the fraternity marked an ordeal that cemented bonds of brotherhood. I was honored to later be asked to lead the initiation rituals for my fraternity because to me, it was one of the most important responsibilities I could be given.

To me, ritual carves out of our ordinary lives sacred space. We use symbols like candles and black sheets to transform an everyday space, like wedding decorations transform a communal hall. We use words that consecrate that space to a purpose and help focus our thoughts on something that is more profound than the everyday chaos. For a brief time, we set aside all the noise of modern life and focus on something that is deeper, something that runs like an undercurrent through everything else. In that way, we connect with each other and we formalize and strengthen bonds between people and their communities.

Rituals can be elaborate or simple, formal or informal. They can be a touchpoint during each day or a one-time event marking a major transition. They can be joyful, contemplative, or sorrowful. We can use them to celebrate and mourn or simply to pause. All of them, though, have the power to bring that deeper meaning more to the surface, if only for a moment or a day. They can be religious in nature, or profane. Rough sex or pissing on someone can be just as much a ritual as soft candlelight and a kiss. Anything can become ritual, if it is given meaning and separated off from our everyday lives.

Our modern lives have become increasingly fragmented and busy. We often sacrifice formality for comfort and, all too often, ritual is one of the casualties. I think, though, that we as humans crave ritual as a way to touch on the things that are important to us, mark important events, and bring meaning to the passage of time. We as kinky people are no different, even if our rituals take on different forms. Sometimes those forms have even more power to tap into the primitive within us, and to elevate the spiritual. I believe it is up to each of us to determine our own rituals, but I would love to see us share them with each other more often. Rituals may be between two people or a small group, but they often have the power to bring a sense of identity and community to a group of people who stand witness to them, affirming them, and sharing in them.

The best rituals aren’t always those which have the most tradition or history behind them, but that speak directly to those involved, like a wedding for geeks that involves storm trooper costumes versus the traditional tuxedos. When a ritual “fits” those involved, it becomes an outward expression of them…and beautiful or poignant to see. When it doesn’t fit them, it is more like a costume worn for the sake of others, to impress or conform.

And I don’t think many of us very much enjoy conformity for conformity’s sake.

I’d love to see a return to ritual and the creation of new ones, unique to those partaking in them and the communities they come from. I know I could use an escape now and then from the chaos of life.

Farewell SouthEast!

Posted: March 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

This weekend, I will be stepping down from my regional title, SouthEast Community Bootblack 2010 and I will be cheering on the contestant for the Florida Community Bootblack title. I will remain the International Community Bootblack until the ICBB contest in July, but this is definitely a milestone for me this year and this week I’ve been taking some time to think back over the year as I write my step down speech.

Last April, I stood on a stage at Beyond Leather, nervous as anything, in front of a panel of judges filled with “scary Leathermen.” I asked them to give me a chance to try to share my passion for bootblacking and Leather with others. I told them about my own journey from the pansexual BDSM community into Leather and how I wanted to try to be a bridge between those two communities, helping to increase understanding and cooperation between them. I asked for a bigger voice and a bigger reach, even as my knees shook and I felt so much like I had to pee.

Those judges, for whatever their reasons, responded by awarding me the title of SouthEast Community Bootblack 2010.

I remember how tired I was the next day when we met to go over the responsibilities and the contracts. To say it was overwhelming would be an understatement. I had set out to do my best and to learn during the contest and now I found myself feeling a new weight of responsibility. People already told me that life for my Master and I was going to change. We had the International competition just months away to prepare for. I was dizzy just thinking about everything that needed to be done.

I began by reaching out to my local groups, asking for opportunities to help and to present to them, starting out in Jacksonville and later moving across the state. I bootblacked at The Woodshed for the kinky flea. I did my first fundraiser at ALE, a basket raffle with help from ziggyFL, the Kink Shop, and Decadent Transitions. I prepared and planned for ICBB. Those first few months were amazing and I felt such support from my local community even as I adjusted to the sometimes uncomfortable spotlight I was now in.

Then, I got on the plane for San Francisco and ICBB. I remember feeling like I would never be the same after that trip, even as I waited for the flight.

I was right.

I never expected or dreamed that I would win at ICBB. My goal was, again, to do well and to learn. I was excited to see more bootblacks gathered in one place than I ever had before. Again, I stood on a stage, this time a bit bigger, and asked a panel of rather scary looking judges to give me a bigger voice and a bigger reach, fully prepared to come back to Florida and concentrate on my region.

Those judges, for whatever their reasons, responded by awarding me the title of International Community Bootblack 2010.

I returned to Florida with a whole new set of responsibilities, but I still maintained my regional title. Unlike most regions, where the titleholder competes at ICBB the year following their title or comes home with only a few months left to go in their regional title, most of my year as SECBb was left to go. I still had much work that I wanted to do in Florida, particularly as I learned that Florida would now be its own ILSb/ICBB region.

In practical terms, what this meant is that I needed to make the most of whatever time I was in Florida and not attending events out of the state for ICBB. I was honored to be invited to places as far as Ft. Lauderdale, Tallahasee, and even Palatka. I presented whenver I could and I started the first annual Bootblack Intensive with the help of chris, my mentor and the SouthEast Community Bootblack 2009. It was amazing meeting so many wonderful people throughout Florida as well as having the opportunity to represent them all over the country and Canada. I tried to never lose sight of the work that needed to be done in my region even as I traveled to do work outside.

Even now, looking at my calendar, most of the weekends I am in the state are booked with something in my local community or around Florida. I don’t see that changing even as I prepare for my last few months as ICBB. This state has a wonderful, thriving collection of communities that go beyond any attempts at generalization, whether it’s the men’s community of Tampa, the munches in the panhandle, WOLF in Ft. Lauderdale, Black Monday Society in Tally, or my own diverse community here in Jacksonville or anything in between. I’ve made friends across this state and had experiences that I know I never would have if I hadn’t gotten on that stage, nerves and need to pee and all.

In my step-down speech, I will have a chance to thank those who supported me this year as well as those who took a chance on me and gave me this opportunity. There are too many people to count who, in ways big and small, contributed to making this year what it was. Even those who challenged me this year helped me by helping me grow stronger. Florida is like that. It’s not always an “easy” region…it makes you work and challenges you to grow and become something more than what you are.

It has been my great honor to serve you as SouthEast Community Bootblack 2010 and I look forward to continuing to serve Florida…if a bit more behind the scenes, where I feel most at home.

Thank you all.

My Title Sir is a remarkable man and he and Race Bannon have begun an interesting discussion on their blogs regarding “Leather Fundamentalism.”  I come to offer another viewpoint.  Their blogs are here – The Procrustean Bed and here Leather Fundamentalism)

Both men offer interesting points of view, but both are from similar vantage points, having the experience of many years as Leathermen.  I, however, am of another generation and a bisexual woman enslaved to a heterosexual Master…not your typical voice in Leather.  Not so long ago, I would have felt clearly the pain of Procrustes’s hammer as he forced me to fit his bed as I would never have fit into a very strict definition of Leather.  Even now, I sometimes struggle with identity and trying to decide where I do fit in.  Still, from what I see, this struggle to define myself and find my place puts me very much in line with the Leather community I find myself in.

I often see the upcoming generation as orphans, wandering in the wilderness, looking for something to cling to.

What we find, often, is someone who claims to know what it is that we are looking for, the birthright that we can’t seem to find as those who would have been our mentors and guides have faded into the darkness.  We find comfort in the rigid codes and mythology they weave for us.  It is better to believe that the past was strong solid ground than to believe that everyone before us also struggled as we do to define their world and themselves.  I think this is the allure of the stories woven about the “Old Guard.”  They give us something firm to hold on to in a time when our elders ranks have thinned and we often feel very much on our own to determine what Leather is and what it isn’t.  The fundamentalism gives a structure that seems at first to be comforting.  It appears to have a strength to it that we can cling to like vines and climb until we discover our paths.  It’s often only too late when we realize that this structure often becomes a prison that keeps us conforming even when it isn’t our nature to be what it is we are being forced to become.

We yearn to believe in a mythical past where some secret underground society of Leathermen all shared the same protocols, dress, values, and ideas partly because if it existed then, there is the comforting though that cohesion and unity are possible and that if they existed once, they might exist again.  It is also easier to be told the “one true way” to do something than to try to learn by trial and error what way is true for each individual.  Fundamentalism has the promise of something to believe in when the world around us can sometimes almost seem like post-apocolyptical with the empty shells of Leatherbars haunted by the ghosts of a thriving Leather scene past.  We sift through the rubble left behind, trying to find the meaning in it all.  Leather Fundamentalism offers a shortcut to that meaning that is tempting to take rather than having to spend the time sifting through all the debris.  Still, like a funhouse filled with mirrors, it only points back to itself and leads us only further and further away from our own unique truths.

The truth is, the answers are not in any one book now any more than they were when the books were written.  The answers for those authors are their answers and while they might help point the way to my own answers, they alone are not my answers.  My Leather journey will be influenced by many along my path, but the sad and scary truth is that I have to walk it alone and it will be different than anyone else’s.  That truth does not have the same warm and cozy comfort as the tight bonds of Leather Fundamentalism, but the truth rarely is as cozy and comfortable as the lies we tell ourselves to avoid it.  It’s harder to each make our own paths, sometimes uphill and each define what Leather will be for us, but, ultimately, I think our forebears would approve far more of that process and journey than of us trying to model ourselves on a mythical past they never lived.  I think they would see the bumps and scrapes we get along the way as we face the same questions they did and make the same mistakes as far more valuable than blind obedience to traditions that were never universally shared.

So, here I am, the alien, redhaired daughter of these titans, pulling from the debris that which I can find useful on the road ahead, seeking guidance from those who seem to know their way, and reaching out to those who are stumbling.  I like to think my forebears would not only be proud, but would also recognize the uncertainty of this journey as much like their own.

Bittersweet Thanks

Posted: November 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

Thanksgiving is usually a joyful time for me. It is joyful again this year, but tinged with a bit of sorrow. A year ago, I was at my parent’s farm for Thanksgiving, mainly to see my brother who was battling kidney cancer. As fate would have it, I ended up with a nasty stomach bug, and since he was going through chemotherapy, I was unable to talk with him and could only see him briefly, from across a room so that I didn’t make him sick. I left thinking I would see him again.

I did not see him until his funeral months later.

Thanksgiving is a time of giving thanks for what we have been given in this life. Foremost among those things we usually give thanks for is our family. While I wasn’t always the closest with my brother, I’m very thankful that I had him in my life. When we were children, he was the sensitive one who understood why I couldn’t stop crying when I was afraid or sad and he would hold me and help me stop hyperventilating, calming me down. He was the patient one who didn’t yell at me when I nearly took his arm off learning to drive a stick shift, as I popped the clutch and we barreled out of the garage. He had an offbeat sense of humor and would often give prank gifts, enjoying the look of concentration on my face as I tried to get countless quarters out of a plastic tube. He was also thoughtful enough to know that a college student would value pounds of quarters for laundry over most other gifts.

My brother had a brilliant mind, but he was humble enough to hide it from most people. He had numerous patents when he died and mentored other engineers. To us, he would say little about what he did at work. He was the type who preferred to be in the background and let others take the spotlight. It was always my oldest brother’s humor and social skills and my achievements that the family celebrated while he quietly stayed in the shadows, smiling. He never wanted to talk about himself, but was always glad to hear about everyone else’s life. He was truly a selfless person who I never appreciated while he was alive the way he deserved. Looking back, I wish I’d noticed him more and made more of an effort to draw him out.

As odd as it may seem, I am also thankful for his death, which was the end of a very long, painful battle with cancer. He never told any of us just how sick he was, but that was his way. My brother died on his own terms, just as he had lived and while I would have liked to have seen him and hugged him one last time, I’m also glad that he got to leave this world the way he wanted, without a fuss. I’m thankful for all the lessons he has left me to contemplate on after he is gone. His life, in retrospect, is like a book that I can go to when I need examples of quiet dignity, playfulness, and selflessness. I may not be able to ask his advice, but I can refer to that book he has left in my memories of him.

Rather than dwell on the loss of him, I am choosing to be thankful I had him as a brother at all and for as long as I did. He was definitely a brother that a little sister can look up to and he gave me another role model, one that now will never grow old or cynical, but will always be sitting to the side with a mischievous smile.

Happy Thanksgiving, Jeff…wherever you are.  I made cranberry sauce, your favorite, this year.

Leather Buddha

Posted: November 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

Last weekend, I was in a noodle shop in Madison, Wisconsin discussing Buddhism with two friends who also practice Zen.  Later that night, I was in a scene with both, one of them holding me and grinning diabolically in my face as the other whipped my back from behind.  Sound contradictory?  Not at all.  The more people I meet out in the greater Leather world, the more I find that we are often a spiritual people.  We may not all sit in pews come Sunday morning, but many of us who wear Leather Saturday night do hold deeper beliefs about life and Leather.  For many of us, our Leather is entwined with our spiritual path to the point where the two are almost indistinguishable from each other.

To me, my Leather and my Buddhism are two cords that, combined with my family, chosen and blood, make a strong rope that I hold on to.

This rope is what I grab hold of when life gets rough and I’m tossed around by chaos.  It’s the rope that I held on to after my brother died of cancer last year, not long before my regional contest.  Death, particularly that of someone very close to you, has a way of making you rethink life.  It’s like putting a light painting in front of a black wall…the contrast helps you see things you might otherwise have missed.  I questioned everything in those weeks as I processed what his death meant to me and who I was.  Going back home to the farm, to the quietness of fields and small towns, also made me reflect on my own journey, one which had taken me so far from home.  My Master went with me and, while he was embraced by my family and handled adapting to this setting with graceful ease, it still shone a light on how different a man he is from the ones I grew up with.  The most striking part of this trip home to my brother’s funeral came in the receiving line at the side of his coffin during the visitation…where no one recognized me.

I am foreign among my own blood…a stranger from a faraway place with a different accent and a head full of different ideas.

Still, I felt peace.  As my family speculated on my brother’s fate and their hopes that his death brought an end to his suffering, I did not join in.  The fact is, I cannot know where my brother has gone.  I cannot know whether I will join him or laugh with him again.  I know, though, that the body that held him prison, dying around him the cancer ate his organs, has died.  Some part of me, the part that knows that there is something beyond pain, a place where our minds are no longer tied to our bodies, that place of peace and sublime that I reach when I play hard, that part of me knows that he is no longer feeling the agony he did in his last days.  Whatever transition he has made, it is the same one that awaits everyone, just by different routes.  For me, that is comfort enough.

When we returned from his funeral, I asked my Master to play with me hard.  I needed it.  I had set aside thinking about the upcoming SouthEast Community Bootblack contest.  I wasn’t even sure if I would still want to compete.  All I knew was that I had pain deep inside me that needed a way out.  I needed to be somewhere I felt safe so that I could let go of being strong and feel it.  My Master and I scened.  It was not a pretty scene or necessarily a passionate one, but it was raw and authentic.  My tears weren’t pretty teardrops silently streaming down my face.  They were tortured sobs with snot and my face contorted and red.  I stopped pushing the pain away and, as the physical pain brought the emotional to the surface, I let go and let myself feel it all.  I cried for him and his suffering.  I cried for my mother who seemed to be lost inside grief, unable to see a pathway out.  I cried for my father, still so out of touch with his emotions, so separated from his family.  I cried for my brother, trying so hard to be strong enough for everyone.  I cried for myself, the stranger in their midst, too selfish in my own life to take the time to stay an active part of theirs.

What does this all have to do with Buddha?

Buddha walked many different paths on his way to enlightenment.  It’s said he tried many different spiritual paths before just sitting down underneath a tree and clearing his mind and thinking.  Some of those paths included pain and denial and discipline.  Some forms of Buddhism still do.  Buddha did not reject pain and did not see it as inherently evil, but as simply a sensation and a part of life.  Many chronic pain sufferers find comfort in Buddhism because it encourages them to accept the reality of their pain.  For me, it allows me to accept pain in all its forms, physical, mental, emotional.  All pain has a place in our lives.  For me and those I play with and around, pain can often be the catalyst for experiences that are beyond what words can express.  We don’t fear pain the way many do, but instead see it as a tool.  For me, pain is often a tool that helps me focus and reach a place that is almost like active meditation.  The dungeon  or Leather bar is my altar and I am my own sacrifice and yes, sex is part of it all.  In the midst of the sweat, blood, piss, and cum, I find truth.  I find the honest, gritty truth about who I am as a human, an imperfect being with desires, needs, fears, and wants.  Even better, when I lay all that bare for those I play with and around…I am accepted, dirty and broken as I am, I am embraced.

In the dungeon or Leather bar, at the end of the whip or knife, I strengthen that rope I hold on to.  I tie the bonds that will keep me safe as I walk outside, into a world that doesn’t follow our rules.  Out there, there are no safewords that will make cancer stop.  There is no way to negotiate with death.  Very little in life is follows SSC or RACK.  Still, that rope is something to hold on to.

I think my Buddha at home needs his Sir cover…don’t you?

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.