October 2008 - in San Francisco
On October 8th Dave and I flew to San Francisco for the International Leather Sir/ boy and International Community Bootblack contests. I was one of the ten judges and Dave, my husband, was the official photographer for the event. As well as the four photos on this page there are more at www.leathersir.com/2008/PhotoIndex.html and www.recon.com/events
3 IMLs were present at the ILS/b weekend
In September's column I published a model of SM sexuality that I often use during presentations to non-SM players to explain what we get out of our scenes. The column generated more feedback than usual, both positive and negative. One of the criticisms was that it was too simple, that you couldn't describe SM sexuality using just three dimensions, and that I'd left out lots of different kinds of kink. That may be true - but as it's a model designed to explain what we do to NON-SM players I didn't want to blow their minds!
Another common criticism was that the model only described SM scenes, whereas for many people SM relationships were more important. ("I may only visit a playroom once a month, but I'm in a Dominant/ submissive relationship 24/7.") This gave me pause for thought. I've spent a lot of time giving speeches arguing that there is nothing wrong with SM sexuality and that our play can increase confidence, help people overcome phobias, increase self-awareness and improve communication skills, for example. However, I'm not sure I can be quite so confident that SM relationships are so positive, when many players I've spoken to have had at least one extremely bad experience of them.
Part of the feedback from September's column was having members of the community open up to me about SM relationships they'd been in which they now consider to have been bad for their health. I wanted to know why this was. Were masochists so drawn to people that would hurt them that they were more likely to (unwittingly) seek out unsuitable partners? Or is a lack of training or regulation in our community allowing abuse to spread unchecked?
To find out I interviewed 27 men and women who had had at least one serious SM relationship. For the purposes of the interview 'serious' was defined as "not necessarily involving a collar, but must have been deeper than friendship". The number of people surveyed is too small to represent the whole community, but five broad themes emerged from their answers which I think it is useful to set down here:
(1) TRULY ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS
In my opinion only two out of the 27 respondents had been in truly abusive relationships where the Dominant exhibited criminal behaviour. However, two out of the 27 people also disclosed that they had been in abusive non-SM relationships. Although this is a terrible situation either way, it seems to suggest that the risks are no greater if you're an SM relationship. We can reduce the risks by better education of the differences between SM and abuse, and also encouraging support networks that can offer help to people if they need it.
The ILS/b winners: Raul J Mendez II (Int'l Leather Sir 2008) and Bill Hoeppner (Int'l Leatherboy 2008) from Florida, and Black-Jack Pearce (Int'l Community Bootblack) from Toronto.
(2) "THE TOP DIDN'T CARE ABOUT ME"
A few submissives complained that the Dominant didn't care for their welfare, but just wanted to hurt them. This is a difficult one to analyse. Every relationship is different, but did the Dominant ever say they would offer overt love and affection? Did it start out as an SM relationship but the feelings have grown deeper more for one of the partners than the other? It's worth finding out clearly in advance what the intended aim of the relationship is for both sides before either of you makes any big sacrifices. If you're about to join a household as a collared submissive, for instance, are you going to be the only one? If there is more than one, will you be treated with the same status? What other relationships does the prospective partner already have? If they have a romantic life-partner your role may be one of "just being hurt".
(3) FIRST TIMERS
Sometimes relationships didn't work out because it was the first time for one of the participants. Comments included "he had difficulty admitting he was kinky", "he wasn't ready for a relationship" and "I wasn't a good Sir to my first boy". We all make mistakes. Think how often in your professional career you've seen a poor manager - and these are people who have usually been through a recruitment process and been offered some training! In the leather community ANYONE can set themselves up as "Lord Master Pooh-Bah" or "Mistress of the Seven Paddles" and start advertising for submissives to join their household. It would be wise to find out if this is your partner's first SM relationship, or be honest if it's yours, and if so then take things at a slower pace and don't get angry if mistakes are made.
(4) RELATIONSHIP WAS GOOD BUT IT ENDED BADLY
Even the best relationships can leave a sour taste if people part on bad terms. Two common complaints were that the ending came as a complete surprise, or that it was done long-distance. One submissive even cut his own collar off after being dumped by phone - which he now admits was quite a risky thing to do. We can improve this situation by being honest with our partners about where we are, giving them fair warning if we want to end the relationship (and giving them an opportunity to change), and wherever possible breaking up in person and being around to administer aftercare.
(5) INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS ARE DIFFICULT TO MAINTAIN
A few of the responses would apply to any relationship, regardless of whether it contains any SM. Some relationships ended because of addictions, "the timing was wrong", "we rushed into it", "he ran off with a younger model" etc. I don't believe these have anything to do with SM and everything to do with us being flawed human beings.
Since many people said that their first SM relationship had not been a good experience, I wondered how that compared to their first experience of being in love. The majority of respondents said that the first time they fell in love it was best described as a crush or puppy love, with just over half saying it was a positive experience and the rest describing it as unhealthy, all-consuming, one-sided or with an unsuitable person. Perhaps people who have an all-consuming or one-sided SM relationship for the first time are exploring their SM feelings the way that everyone does when they first fall in love?
Photo credit: Dave Harris
All of the respondents were asked one final question: "what one practical piece of advice would you give a newcomer to help them make a good choice of SM partner?"
Here are some of the responses:
Have fun, look after yourselves and the people you play with.
International Mr Leather 2003