“You Must Be This Tall to Ride This Ride”
Master/slave Conference 2009
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Good evening fellow perverts, and thank you, Master Taino, for finally realizing that keynote speeches do not sound good at 9AM after a weekend of dungeon parties. The only thing that sounds good at 9AM after a weekend of dungeon parties is, “Oh my God you are fabulous,” followed by more sleeping.
When I was invited to give the keynote here, my first thought was, “Why do people invite me to these things any more?” You know I am not going to stick to your subject. You know I am going to say unflattering things. And what’s worse is that while I am saying unflattering things, hopefully somewhat softened with humor, there are some of you out there who still haven’t realized that yeah, I was talking about you.
But ultimately, I said yes because let’s face it. For better and worse, you ARE my people. And vice versa, you are not getting rid of me any time soon. And when I say my people, I mean, this is the population that I care most about. Not because you read my books; believe me, the vast majority of people who have read my books probably rarely actually do SM, let alone identify with a power dynamic. It’s because you inspire my writing; you inform it, you challenge it, you make it possible. If I only relied upon my own experiences and fantasies, I suspect I’d have a series of books with very little to differentiate them except that the character names might change. In fact, they’d be so easy to write, I’d probably have oh, 27 of them.
But instead, I have had in my many years in the scene a wealth of information and stories tossed my way. With the help of the people who think of SM as something more than foreplay to great sex, (which it is!) I have been enriched in my personal relationships, I have been warned of some pretty subtle pitfalls. I have been able to celebrate who I am, and able to get comfort in times of hardship. That is, ultimately, what a community is. So when this segment of the community calls, I am slightly more inclined to answer. (And slightly more than inclined to offer discounts, dammit.)
I also said yes because there’s been something on my mind. And unlike a more encompassing group or event, this corner of the SM community actually is exactly the audience I wanted to hear it. Otherwise, I’d just put it on Facebook. Where, by the way, I ask you to friend me in order to validate my existence.
This all started earlier this year, in Edmonton. Edmonton is a wonderful place, full of seriously fucked up people. I mean it. When I do my discussion on unspeakable, forbidden fantasies, I have found there are generally regional favorites. In the southeast, for example, “gang raped by black men” is by far the most popular. One of the black men in a class I was teaching finally spoke up and said, “I have friends!” bless his heart. I hope he’s been keeping busy, he was a great sport. In the Midwest, “until nearly dead” is a common factor; if those folks had their way, they’d be lining up for CPR training and all own defibrillators. Because there’d be a lot of bottoms half strangled, half drowned, half beaten to death, etcetera.
But in Edmonton, well, these folks, probably affected by the fact it’s colder than an icicle dildo, have a deep and abiding affection for a great deal of fur. Attached to big dogs. If you wanted to open a coming scene business, I recommend a nice kennel up in Edmonton. And I would advice you to keep a few talented livestock around for special occasions. Say hi to Big Jim for me; tell him I sent you.
So, there I was having a lovely time at Lupercalia, because nothing says lovin’ like -10 degree weather, and I found myself in the company of a gentleman you all know, Master Skip.
Now, if you don’t know Master Skip, I suggest you make an effort to get to know him. He’s a nice guy, kinda spiritual, and a snappy dresser. Hi, Skip!
So, I’m sitting with Master Skip on stage for one of the best ways I’d ever seen to sort of wrap up a conference; they grab the presenters and let anyone ask them anything they want. I love Q&A! And we’re having fun, talking about all sorts of good stuff, and at one point, Skip said to me, sotto voce, something like how we need to stick together, we perverts who are into the whole D/s thing. Because, he said, the rest of the community would drop us or betray us at the drop of a hat. That the more mainstream SMers didn’t understand us, witness their lists of “how can you tell if this is an abusive relationship?” pamphlets and such.
Now, I didn’t actually respond to him then, because really? He was dressed like a lesbian. They lost his luggage, you see, and he was wearing a plaid flannel shirt. And I was having way too much fun playing “dress up the Ken dolls” in my mind and imagining slave rick in a corset.
But I did reflect on what he said for quite some time.
One of the things I pondered was the very idea of “the mainstream SM community.” Personally, I don’t think we are quite there yet. I think we’ll know that there is a mainstream SM community when we start seeing social groups with SM minority sub groups. You know, how the gays started going mainstream with organizations like the Stonewall Democrats, the lesbians for Patsy Cline, the Cocksuckers for Christ. When we see Kinky People’s Fly Fishing and Quilting Society, then I’d say we have a mainstream community.
But I knew what he was talking about. It’s the same division that strikes any community when it becomes time to elucidate their core values. And if anyone thinks this is new, may I direct you to slave david stein, who just might have been the one who saddled us with Safe, Sane & Consensual. Hi, david! David, if you hung that as a sign around your neck and had some humpy fellow tie you up in the dungeon tonight, and offered free smacks, I suspect you would get more play than anyone else here. And if you do, can I watch?
And of course, we keep trying to find some way to show that at the very least, we are not all serial killers with empty 55-gallon drums waiting for the next playmate. I covered this in my Unsafe at Any Speed speech, but if you missed that one, I’ll tell you my opinion – we should never coalesce around the fact that we are not as bad as criminals. You can find the rest of the speech online.
So, even though we have played with different versions of the same thing – I mean, RACK, what did you do, some up with a kinky word and fit concepts to it? – the essential problem is how to differentiate the us from the them.
So, taking Master Skips words, I looked at our world as different sub communities. Those who only use SM for foreplay. Sensation players. Those who roleplay. Those who find the best time to get their SM freak on is the weekend. Those who say they live it 24/7 and only do it on the weekend. Those who say they do it 24/7 and do it whenever the kids are asleep, the dog is locked in the basement and grandma is watching Keith Olberman at top volume and occasionally screaming, “Say it, brother!” And of course, those who say they do it 24/7 and actually might be doing that.
And I thought more about whether what he said was true. Would, say, a group of sensation players, happily doing outrageous things to each other, actually point fingers at us – those who at least say we extend these roles and identities to outside of a dungeon – and say, “hey, they’re the ones who need help. We’re just a bunch of bi-poly-genderqueer-hedonists throwing a party. THEY actually do really bad stuff.”
And I have come to the conclusion that yes, they might.
And at the same time, I came to the conclusion that I don’t fucking blame them.
It was four years ago when I addressed the Southplains Leatherfest and brought up the simple fact that far too many of us were either hiding, lying or endowing ourselves with grandiose titles and questionable histories. And yeah, some of it was funny, but the point was not. Look around you this weekend and listen to how many people talk about honesty, openness, truth, respect, honor, and all those lovely qualities a good person might aspire to, or admire in others. And yet, at the same time, we have a huge contingent of titled people with unlikely names who have had the most amazing experiences in a scene no one living can verify.
And let me be clear – it’s us. You won’t find too many sensation players boasting about the secret society where they learned Florentine flogging, or how this riding crop – $4.95 at the Agway – was passed down to them by their master, sadly deceased, along with anyone who knew him. No, they’d be bragging about the great deal they got at the Agway store and leading a club trip there next week.
And I mean it about the high death rate among SMers of the D/s flavor. When I first came out, people would say they were trained by Master Marcel the Merciless who, sadly, has returned to France. These days, since we can look up Master Marcel online, people telling the stories of their impressive lineage all seem to have lost their trainer, previous owner, whatever, in a tragic bus accident. Or, it was so long ago, no one is left to tell the tale. Which they were bound by sacred oaths and contracts signed in blood never to tell. Except on Fetlife.
When we, as adults, make a conscious decision to engage in SM relationships and tell other people about it, we have passed the kiddie corner of the scene – otherwise known as the anonymous online community – and are stepping up to something that has the potential to shoot you out of a tunnel at 60 miles an hour and turn you upside down six times – and then do it backwards.
In other words, my friends, you must be this tall to ride this ride.
If you come out of the closet and tell other people that you control all of your slave’s finances, you must take ownership of the fact that in our more or less egalitarian culture, you are doing something which is often seen as abusive and controlling. If you want to tell people that you have no limits at all, than you must accept the fact that people will think you are courting incredible potential for harm an idiot.
For example, there’s Master Scott, who is teaching the no safewords, no limits ideal this weekend. Hi, Scott!
Now, when people say things like no safewords – and that is something I pretty much live by, seeing as I speak fluent English and am fairly sure I can manage to say, “Fuck, my wrist just snapped!” without needing to come up with a color first – there will always be people who say, “Oooh, that’s dangerous, how will your subbie let you know something is wrong?”
To which the answer is, a safeword is a tool designed for novices, strangers and people who like to get into role when they play. But a bottom who knows their limits, knows their top and can speak in the same language the top understands – they don’t NEED a safeword. And besides, I note that the final safeword is always, “When you untie me I am calling the police/my lawyer/Jerry Springer and/or your mother.” An experienced bottom can, in other words, take that ride because they know not to slip under the safety bar. An experienced top knows the difference between “ouch!” and a sudden, scary silence.
The answer to no limits is trickier. This is where the sensation and part time and just plain kinky people do have a point. But there is a huge truth here that our more romantic or extreme D/sers almost never say, and habibi, we should start saying it.
Of course there are limits. Don’t be obtuse. The first “for instance” that comes out of anyone’s mouth (or keyboard) usually involves amputation, am I right? “Oh, yeah? What if your mistress wanted to chop your ding dong off, huh?”
See, the answer to that is NOT “I would do it and hate it.”
The answer is NOT “that’s a stupid example.” Hey, you said no limits, not “no limits except for stupid examples.” So the first “what if” is usually amputation or mutilation. They generally don’t get to death for another five minutes or so. And almost no one mentions my favorite limit tester, moose vomit enemas.
The real answer is that when we form deeply intimate bonds based on mutual respect, attraction, esteem and trust, we pre-select for matching values.
A bottom who says they have no limits, assuming they are not a complete idiot on collarme.com, but say a bottom in a relationship right now, looking adoringly at their top, is saying, in effect, “I trust this person so much that I know they would never tell me to sell my children into sexual slavery/donate my brain to science – tomorrow/ tell me to watch Glenn Beck for 24 hours straight.”
The top who says “no limits” really means that they trust their bottom to take a leap of faith with them. No limits doesn’t mean a top is stocking fava beans and a nice chianti to serve roast slaveboy with. But it does mean they have found someone whose trust, faith and backbone are so admirable they can go places they would not even think of with someone less experienced or less well matched.
This isn’t no limits. It’s pretty close to matching limits. (Hey, if they were perfectly matched, it would get boring.)
But see, we don’t say these things often enough. Instead, the D/s scene hosts, cultivates and nurtures extremism as a virtue. It’s like some sort of schoolyard competition! “My master left me so sore, I couldn’t sit for days!” “MY daddy left me so bruised my gynecologist gave me a domestic violence pamphlet!” “Yeah? Well my mistress cut my ding-dong off!” OK, you win! Take your year’s supply of rice-a-roni and get the fuck off the chat room.
Look; when you paint your relationship as the be all and end all, the hardest kind to maintain, the smallest population inside a small population, when you beat your breasts declaiming how so few people can do what YOU do and do it right, and no one understands how your true, complete, total, 24/7, Euro-gorean, olde guarde way is soooo unique and rare and by the way, not for everyone, because we don’t want anyone to have to do all the hard work we do…
Step up to the measuring tape, my friend. Are you tall enough? Then get on the fucking ride and stop trying to impress the hot dog vender.
Will a general guide to abusive relationships sound suspiciously like some things you do? Of course it will, where do you think I get my ideas? Especially when the Amnesty International report is late.
But when you read one of those helpful lists, you have two choices; you either are abusing someone, or, you have chosen a partner who shares your values, and therefore what you are doing is fine. You should not be threatened by the fact that some of the things we do will always look or sound abusive to someone outside, whether they just don’t do dominant/submissive stuff or because they are radical right wing prudes or radical left wing prudes.
I also hear from some other members of the “extreme is a virtue” club – what else was edgeplay, after all, but a way to say “we’re more dangerous to each other than you are, nyah, nyah!” And I am sure most of the longer term players here can come up with more than a few names of people who seemed to make it their entire purpose in life to make someone throw them out of the dungeon or club or bar. Or at least be disinvited to certain events. You know, if you do get up there and say, why yes, you are making your slaves prostitute themselves to support you, or you intend to shove a gerbil up someone’s ying-yang and sew it in until it dies, ya know what? I wouldn’t invite you either. Not because I think you’d actually do those things. But by saying you do, or would, you have officially put yourself on my list of “dull, bragging weirdos I’d rather not have to make a statement about in the NY Post.”
(“Gerbil Master Was a Quiet Guy, Kept to Himself,” says neighbor. “No he wasn’t! He never stopped talking about it,” says other neighbor. “We just thought he was bullshitting to impress the newbies.”)
To which I say, when you are tall enough to ride the ride, you then accept the consequences for taking it. Throwing up on your fellow passengers will never be popular; neither will leaving your melted chocolate bar on the seat. If you are out there talking about things that will sound crazy to your fellow SMers, let alone to the outside world, ya know what? You’re gonna miss some parties. But that’s OK, you might get more dates. Come on…that’s why you do it, isn’t it? No one owes you a platform, no one owes you party invites. Make a web page and by all means blather on.
Sometimes, the ride will be more intense than you thought – sometimes, you will take it and wonder what the fuss was all about. But to those who have no interest in that ride, whether it’s because they fear it, they think it looks stupid, they haven’t really thought about it much or they know they would not have fun on it – the fact that you get on will create a reaction. It is up to you to decide whether it really has anything to do with you.
My fellow perverts, we cannot afford to think we are being victimized by other people in the scene. There will always be those who don’t understand, don’t like, or are completely disinterested in anything we do. But we cannot let those closest to us; in the same theme park, to continue the metaphor – distract us from the very real danger outside the scene.
We are right now on the cusp of a change in our visibility. For years now, we have met in nice hotels and conference centers. We make playspaces in commercial buildings and actually have the legal right to use them and make renovations. Google us and we are found.
At the same time, the gay community is moving slowly but surely toward a more full enfranchisement into common culture. When you get queers marrying in Iowa, you know the change is gonna come. And already, the extreme right anti-sex brigade (well, anti-sex until they get caught sucking cock, taking long hikes in Appalachia and winding up in Buenos Aires or writing porn on the side while home schooling your kids) – has already begun, through their more wacko members, to cast their eyes on us.
The Maine Family Council, one of the large organizations aiming to make sure queers can’t marry there, is using the murder or accidental death of Fred Wilson, a twenty-one year old computer specialist from Southern California who lived in South Portland as a reason to derail the fight for marriage equality there. Why?
Because Fred Wilson was a supporter of the Leather Archives. That’s it. No, he wasn’t found tied up in a dungeon, no, there was nothing in the police report that even suggested he ever did SM. It might have in fact been a completely accidental and tragic incident.
And of course, even if he had been killed by a lover, one has to wonder what the fuck using one tragedy as a reason to deny an entire population marriage would work when, oh, the person most likely to have killed a straight woman with violence in the US is…anyone guess? Yeah. Anyway.
Right now, there is only one man who spends most of his time actually following us around to leather events and pointing out how wickedly hot we are, and that’s Peter LaBarbara of the laughingly named Americans for Truth About Homosexuality. He has snuck into IML and sauntered through Folsom finding pale people in unfortunate fashion choices to feature on his website. In fact, he probably has more Folson pictures up than the Bay Area reporter even took. He has yet to discover how many straight people do this. Or rather, since gays are his reason for frothing, he hasn’t really decided to hit up the hets yet.
But as it slowly becomes less popular to go around claiming the homos are a danger to life, liberty and happiness, they will be coming for us. Not just hi, but the organizations who have much larger budgets and actual paid lobbyists. It’s their business to titillate their followers to raise the money. And just as more than a few khaki and sweater gays would love it if we just, you know, didn’t bring the leather and drag to the parade, we do not have a large, out of the closet leadership that can and will stand up for us.
So, I don’t care if the NCSF tells novices and vanilla people that restricting someone’s ability to socialize freely with others outside your relationship is a sign of abuse. I am tall enough to buckle my seatbelt without being told to; I know the difference between “no, you can’t go to the movies with your puppy pack this weekend, I need you to clean the garage,” and “no, you may not call your mother in the nursing home.” The person whose socializing I am restricting will have already told me what their life priorities are – other than me, of course – and I’m not a complete asshole. We would share values and have no reason to think we are being bad people, let alone bad SMers.
I do care about the day someone comes here and takes our words out of context and outs us to make a cheap political point. Or, hell, leaves them IN context, we say some scary things from time to time. I care that there are people IN THIS ROOM who will hear and read these words who secretly don’t care for queers getting married because that’s not their issue, but they will expect the uncloseted queers to protect and defend them when the cameras come our way.
We would all do well to consider the words of the man we are remembering and honoring this weekend. “I am who I am. I am not ashamed of who I am – not one bit.” Jack McGeorge wasn’t happy about his non consensual outing by the Washington Post. But you can’t deny that when he got on the ride, he was in the first fucking car, waving his arms in the air and screeeeeaming all the way down. (He would toss his slaves in the rear car to get that whiplash effect.)
When we are unashamed, when we have left behind a ton of self doubt, when we are ready to hand over the ticket, we can’t do much better than be a little like Jack, who laughed when I teased him about the ODS lifestyle. (ODS? Odious? Jack, what were you thinking? But he already had the polo shirts embroidered.) Jack never turned down a chance to teach or listen, even after he had every reason to go into hiding and keep a low profile.
So, let there be good sensible guidelines for people to learn from; it will never hurt us for someone who might actually be abused to become aware that the community will not think ill of her for leaving. Let there be plenty of room for discussion, plenty of books and panels and parties and conferences. Because even when there are times when we don’t understand or like each other, we’re all we got.