Published: Thursday Nov 1, 2007
Lately I’ve noticed a number of people using the word "mentor" in conversation and online chats- that is, I’ve heard from a number of people who are looking for mentors as guides and teachers, either to the leather community in general or for specific instruction on specialized play techniques.
In the past I’ve been asked by subs who wanted to be trained at being better submissives, or sometimes even by their Sir; on occasion, I even hear from other Sirs, who want to learn new (I don’t assume better) ways of interacting with their partners or playmates.
Whether I just happen to be noticing it more or whether there is an actual trend for increased interest in knowledge and participation of the leather community and leather play, I find it very heartening.
For years now many community activists and Old Guard-identified leather folk have decried the internet as the downfall of the leather community. And to some degree, I suppose that has been true.
People with an interest in learning more about the leather life or about hooking up with a leather person need only go online to find personal ads, literature, history or porn. The internet may be good for the individual, but perhaps collectively it’s hindered our ability to sustain or grow as a community.
And even for individuals, there is a limit to what can be gained by double-clicks and scrolling in solitude. Although, truth be told, some fantasies are perhaps best left in cyberspace.
But for those people who require a little more hands-on action and are looking for an experienced player that they can trust, where can they go? Or someone who has heard about fetish play, but lacks the skills to safely attempt it... where do you turn to?
Perhaps in some ways, the old days really were the good old days.
The modern gay leather movement is most often traced back to post-WWII era, when soldiers returning from war rejected the social norms of their home and instead created new family structures in fraternal organizations like motorcycle clubs (with leather gear and equipment often culled from military surplus). These men who formed bonds through shared experiences in the military ultimately created social hierarchies and rules that both mimicked and mocked conventional social norms.
Although they were a band of brothers, not everyone was perceived to be equal. Indeed, they may have been as regimented in their new environment as they were in the service, with rituals and rites that affirmed their status/rank in their new family just as the military differentiated the class of its service people.
So just as an officer’s title and rank had specific meaning and entitlements in the military, in the Old Guard days, a leather man’s title or ranking also held social cache and entitlements... and these were based on knowledge and experience, blood and sweat equity, like an officer in the service. A Master was respected then because everyone knew the types of experiences such a man needed to amass before he could wear that honorific.
Today titles come cheap. Anyone can-and might-call himself a Master. But being a pushy top does not make you a Master anymore than turning on a light switch makes you a master electrician.
I have attended demonstrations and been horrified to see "leaders" wrapping their floggers around upper shoulder/neck of subjects, or to see areas like kidneys being struck, presumably (hopefully) in error. Enjoying kink play doesn’t mean you are good at it, even if you are an exhibitionist. And demonstrating play with poor technique is not a community service, it’s a community disservice.
So how do we find the good ones?
Within the tight ranks of the leather community of yesteryear, it was well known who the leaders were, who proved themselves worthy of titles and respect. I’ve read about a group on the West Coast who provides "certification" on certain core competencies... but these certifications are not widely recognized, particularly on the East Coast (and I’m not knowledgable enough about the criteria used or how objective the review process is to vouch for them).
But clearly that need for objectivity in determining compentence and trustworthiness is rising. As recently as last month the country’s oldest BDSM education and support organization, New York-based The Eulenspiegel Society, hosted a debate and discussion on this very topic.
But without these metrics in place, without established standards and tight social networks that uphold them, we’re left instead with looser social networking to determine who is safe and who to avoid... and, if we’re really lucky, who we can learn from.
And who among us does not have things that we can still learn? I know I sure have a lot to learn still.
In regards to polyamory relationships, e-stim and fireplay, I’ve lectured and performed demos many, many times because A.) it’s fun to meet people and to share my knowledge; B.) if they are expressive and playful, it’s fun to get my hands on them; C.) there is an exciting transfer and creation of energy when you see someone explore something for the first time, feeling new sensations or coming up with new ideas that intrigue and titillate them.
For those of you who have been around the block socially (and you know who you are), please know that you have leather culture history and knowledge that’s of value, that others want to hear. For those of you might not be involved in any "community" activity, but have specialized skills in various fetish play techniques, you are an untapped resource that local communities are clamoring for.
The leather community is not a monolithic melting pot. We are made up of subgroups with different interests, different histories and cultures, different ways of playing and caring and supporting one another. I hope as we move forward to holiday season and the promises and potential of a new year, we can start to bridge the gap between these subgroups-to learn from one another, to build on each other’s skills and strengths.
But to do so, we need our mentors. You don’t need to be a titleholder or visible leader to be a teacher or guide or role model. All you need is knowledge, experience and wisdom to share.
Come out and get involved! The rewards are worth it... and it might even get you a little extra on the side.