Building Bridges: Diversity in our Community
It is good to be back in Tucson where I have fond memories. My previous trips to this city were to visit a man and a Master, I consider to be my mentor. He was one of the individuals contributing the most to who I am today. It is always good to remember him and today I do so, once more.
This afternoon I want to address an issue very dear to me:
Building Bridges in our communities.
I remember very well, back in the seventies and eighties, when Gay men like me had to keep themselves in their comfortable gay box and miserable gay closet in order to survive. For us, gay men and women, heterosexuals were the enemy. We were afraid of them. We were the subjects of their jokes. We were seen as freaks, unnatural, perverts, a shame, individuals who think only about sex.
This reality forced many gay men and women to try to follow and conform to society’s rules by getting married, having children and pretending to be “straight” while deep in their hearts they were miserable knowing that they were living a lie. A gay person within a family was a shame and many young gay men and lesbians were forced out of their homes by their parents.
Many factors changed that:
The AIDS pandemic in the 80s brought many people with HIV/AIDS out of the closet, in order to receive proper medical attention. Many had to come out to their families in order to be taken care of. The pandemic motivated many gay men and lesbians into some sort of activism to help our community survive and to force government officials to act. The AIDS pandemic also brought many people into deeper closets full of guilt and shame. And yes, it brought more open discrimination against gay people and people with HIV – AIDS.
Looking back, the loss of thousands in our Gay and Leather communities has not been in vain. It started the process for people to be seen, understood, accepted and respected. It brought many of us out of our closets.
Many Americans realized for the first time that gay people were our parents, our children, our siblings, our co-workers, our friends and relatives… and they were good people, not the mentally ill or freak that society thought we were.
Another phenomenon happened as well in the BDSM, fetish and Leather communities. Heterosexual Kinky individuals and Gay men and Lesbians began to find themselves at the same events. That led Kinky Gay and Straight folks to interact more with each other and to realize that we have more in common than we ever thought. That allowed many of us to get out of our comfort zones and our boxes and welcome our diversity and connect with people of all genders and sexual orientations.
At the same time, many people began to feel comfortable being out of the gay or straight paradigms by coming out as bisexual or transgendered individuals. And the more we see them out there, the more comfortable that many of us feel around them. At many events across the country, including the Master/slave Conference I produce back home in Washington, DC, it amazes me that we see more and more of these diverse groups and individuals mingling together and befriending each other.
All of us have our own story on how we got out of our box and welcome different people in our lives. I will share with you a bit of my own story. Fifteen years ago, I was very comfortable in my gay leather community. When I embraced my calling as a Master, the event which made that possible was a mixed event, and for the first time I began to interact with heterosexual kinky men and women. That started a long journey that allowed me to embrace my straight brothers and sisters in ways I never dreamed. Five years ago, I had a slave girl in service and currently I have a young straight male college student under my guidance.
My Leather Family includes a female Senior Master, three straight Junior Masters, two other het females, and the young straight college student. Seven out of 13 family members are straight, including three females. My two best friends are a straight male Master and a straight female Mistress.
I have embraced the diversity in our kinky world, not only by accepting them for who they are, but welcoming them into my life and leather family. My friends and playmates include people of all genders and sexual orientations including transgendered individuals.
My staff at our Master/slave Conference is as diverse as you can have it: Gay men, lesbians, straight men, straight women, bisexuals, and transgender individuals.
Looking back, I have to give credit to Master J, a straight female who is so involved in the gay community that her journey lead her to belong to a gay leather club and to serve as president of the largest gay charity in our Nation’s Capital. Master J invited me more than a decade ago to be part of a panel on Building Bridges to be held at Black Rose, a mostly hetero organization in DC. Her invitation was probably the beginning of the journey that led me to embrace the diversity in the community. She took the lead in our DC Community to build bridges among the gay and straight leather and kinky communities. Master J succeeded in many ways but there is still much work to do to bring us together.
One thing I have learned is that I am a better person for it. I am a better Leatherman because of it. And I am a better Master for it. I have learned that we – gay and straight kinky folks – have more in common that we have differences.
This did not happened overnight. It is a personal process that we go through. I call it “evolution”. It can also be called “Mutation”, which is the theme of this year’s “Behind Closed Doors” event.
Life affords us the opportunity to evolve, to grow, to see the world in a different way from the world our parents presented to us when we were kids. And we are better off when we can evolve into better human beings. It is my hope, for all of us here today, that we will continue to evolve, to find beauty in diversity, and to see the diversity in the world around us:
Diversity in people…
Diversity in race and ethnicity…
Diversity on ideas…
Diversity on philosophies…
Diversity on how we live our lives…
It is important that we learn to accept others who are different from us. But even more important is to find the things that we share in common with people who otherwise would be different from us.
And that is what the heterosexual, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people can do: to accept each other with our differences and celebrate the things we have in common as our kinkiness, our leather, our fetishes, our power exchange relationships. Let us focus on what we have in common and put aside the things that make us different.
I am going to give credit for doing just that to the Master/slave Community I am so proud to be part of. We are accepting each other for who we are, by sharing events, by sitting next to each other in a classroom, by developing close friendships, by learning from educators of a different sexual orientation, and so on.
But we are going farther: We are developing relationships or playing with people who do not match our sexual orientation. We are creating Leather Families with individuals who are not part of our particular box. We are learning to connect with people, with human beings. And that is a good thing.
Unfortunately, not everyone is on board. We still have gay kinky people who do not feel comfortable around straight folks. We still have gay men who are uncomfortable with women around them, even as friends. There are still straight folks with deep misconceptions of gay people and won’t go to an event that is labeled “too gay” for them. There are still male dominants that cannot stand to see females in a dominant role, as if domination is reserved only for men. There are men and women who are still afraid of exploring their inner bisexuality because the world or people around them won’t accept them as such, or even worse, label them as “gay”. There are too many transgendered kinky folks – both female to male and male to female – who still feel ostracized and not accepted by their peers.
That happens because we have not given ourselves a chance to understand them, accept them, respect them, and celebrate them for their difficult decision of taking radical steps to be who they are.
Although I can accept that we all need our own space at times, mingle among our own people, play in our own play space, and develop relationships among ourselves, that should not preclude our need to accept, respect and welcome others into our lives. I strongly believe that isolation is not healthy and is not a good thing. In our kinky community there are people with different and conflicting views. Some prefer monogamy, others an open relationship and others are poly. Some have particular and limited fetishes like bondage, impact play or electro stimulation. Others like them all. Some like to play in the privacy of their homes, while others prefer a public space, or maybe that is their only choice. Some involve romantic love in their power exchange relationships while others prefer not to. Some households use high protocols and / or a military structure, others prefer a looser family oriented dynamic, and even others follow monastic rules of communal living.
I have always said that what makes us a great community is our diversity; the fact that we like different things and we are very creative coming up with our own kinks. But still I hear, far too often, people claiming that only their way is the right way. We do not have to like what others do or how others live their kinks and their lives, but we have to learn to accept and respect our peers. Our evolution as human beings signals our personal growth.
I am happier today when I live 24/7 as a Master within a very diverse community than when I was just a Gay Leatherman involved exclusively in gay events and among only gay men. When I was in my Gay Leather box, I only saw my little gay leather world. Now I can see and experience a more diverse world, and interestingly, today I have more in common with people in the Master/slave community than I have with my peers in the Gay Leather community.
I am still a Gay Leatherman, but I have opened myself to a larger world. I think I have built an amazing bridge and connection with people who are different from me. I take a great satisfaction when anyone takes something out of my classes. No matter if they are straight or gay, male, female or transgender, old or young. They come to my classes to learn from whatever I can share. They know I am gay, but that is not why they sit in my class… they sit because they are eager to learn, and they do not care if I am gay or straight. And that is the way it should be.
And if you are still in your gay or straight box – or any box for that matter – I encourage you today to get out of the box and welcome the diversity found in our community. Give yourself time to meet and learn from people who are different from you. That is where the importance of education comes into play. To be better people, we have to educate ourselves.
To understand gay people, we have to learn about them, their hearts, their struggles, the bullying they suffered when young, the rejection they suffered by their families, the stigma, the coming out process they face, the discrimination in many areas in life. Exactly the same applies to bisexuals. The same applies to transgendered individuals. And yes, the same applies to kinky people, Leather folks, BDSM practitioners, Masters and slaves, and poly folks.
Get to know those who are different from you. Educate yourself on their issues and struggles, and learn to accept, respect and celebrate our diversity. We will be a much better Leather, BDSM, Fetish, Kink, and Master/slave community when we learn to welcome and celebrate our diversity. To achieve that, we – as individuals and as a community – have to do our part.
Today I thank each person who has accepted, respected and celebrated me for who I am… a gay man, a Leatherman, a kinky guy, a poly individual, a Master. And I thank those who have come into my life and have allowed me to accept, respect and celebrate them for who they are, even if they are very different from me, or even if I cannot understand completely who they are.
We have made much progress in our BDSM, Fetish, Leather, Kinky, Master/slave Communities during the last few years. We can still do more and we should do more. It is time to embrace all we have in common and at the same time respect, accept and celebrate our differences. That way we will build a more unified, powerful, strong and unique community. And that should be our common goal, building community for a better world.
Thank you for your time and for listening.