Being IML - September 2003

Photo of John at Manchester Europride, August 2003
Photo credit: Dave Harris

Shortly after winning IML someone who'd heard that I'd been involved with a fundamentalist religion in the past sent me an email asking if I realised that I'd "swapped one cult for another one of my own." To begin with I treated the email as a bit of gentle teasing, which it was. But the more leather events I attended over the past few months the more I thought about what he'd said. Is fundamentalism only to be found outside our community or is it also attacking us from within?

Before I go further, let me give my definition of fundamentalism. My dictionary defines fundamentalism as "a strict adherence to orthodox traditional views". After seven years of personal experience I would also define it as the reduction of a broad subject to a single viewpoint and insistence that everyone follow that viewpoint without exception, regardless of the consequences.

Where have I heard such single viewpoints in our community? Here are some examples:

Is any of these views wrong? I can think of individual situations where each one would be an acceptable option. But every one of them is definitely wrong when applied universally.

We are a diverse community because each member has a unique background. We cannot possibly expect everyone to agree. Those who insist that their way is the only way are doing more harm than good. In my life I've seen churches, societies, educational groups and leather clubs split when one group tries to ride roughshod over the views of the others.

If we want our community to SURVIVE we must learn how to live with each other even when we disagree.

If we want our community to IMPROVE we must learn to appreciate our differences and understand WHY people hold views different from our own.

My dictionary also has a definition of "unity" as "...harmony or concord between persons; being formed of parts that constitute a whole..."

Unity does not come when we all have the same opinion or impose the same opinion on others. Unity comes when we have differences of opinion and still manage to live and work together productively.

I joined the fundamentalist movement when I was a teenager. (If you want to read about my experiences click here.) I was looking for black and white answers. The fundamentalist movement gave them to me and I found it attractive not to have to think. Our leather community should not be like that. As adult leatherfolk we should be able to discuss taboo subjects, challenge established viewpoints and hold debates without resorting to cheap fundamentalist tactics of "I'm right and you're wrong" or "I'm not listening to you because you disagree with me".

For anyone who has read this and recognises the symptoms, then I have some suggestions. Even when the majority of people agree with you, you will never convince everyone that you are right. If you want to win more people over to your argument you will need to find ways to do so which give the other person respect. Find ways to gently educate people. Show them by example. Perhaps stop trying to get everyone to agree with you and find a way to "agree to disagree".

Please don't let the disease of fundamentalism ruin our community. We have enough diseases to fight as it is.

Yours in leather,

John Pendal
International Mr Leather 2003

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