Being IML - February 2004
I've spent the last few weeks thinking about the issue of "consent" and what that means when we live out our fantasies. Perhaps it was seeing a couple of leathermen wearing swastikas at a leather party over Christmas that made me question my beliefs, or the recent trial of a cannibal who found a willing victim over the Internet and has now been convicted of manslaughter.
Enjoying Texan hospitality!
How do we deal with the issue of consent as a community when we all have such wildly different ideas about what is acceptable or offensive behaviour? One person's humorous rape fantasy in a leather contest can bring back memories of actual rape in a member of the audience. Another person's cigar fetish exacerbates someone else's asthma. How can we agree on issues of consent in a public space, like a leather bar, a dungeon, or in the case of the "Chicago Leather Family" anywhere with cocktails and showtunes?
Let's discount some easy answers. I don't think that you should be able to do whatever you want in private as long as all parties consent. From the reports in the press the cannibal killed his victim in private and both parties consented, but what he did was not right.
I also don't think that the only answer is to follow the mantras "Safe, Sane and Consensual" or "Risk Aware Consensual Kink (RACK)". A lot of hard core BDSM players would argue that their edge play isn't entirely safe, sane or consensual. Awareness of the risks and informed consent didn't stop the cannibal from killing his willing victim. And the court's verdict was that he was sane at the time.
Equally though, I am passionate that we shouldn't go for the lowest common denominator and outlaw from our leather spaces anything which is likely to offend. That road leads to a ban on all drinking, smoking, talking, partial nudity, humour, uniforms or any form of sexual expression. (Sounds like that might be California in ten years time!)
There has to be more to the issue of consent than a well-worn phrase or knee-jerk response. In an age of individuality when people vigorously defend the right to live out their own fantasies, is it possible to come up with a set of guidelines that are acceptable to the majority of our community, allowing the edge players freedom to play while reducing the risk of offence to others?
Here are five suggestions (from a variety of sources) for guidelines about where to draw the line in living out fantasies:
- Check the rules with the bar owner, club committee, dungeon master or leather contest.
Every venue is different. Some bars are non-smoking, some are single sex. Some dungeons allow watersports, others ban knife play. Leather events and clubs have to make whatever decisions are necessary to keep their businesses commercially viable. By all means lobby the owners if you disagree with the rules, but if you turn up expecting to get your own way they have the right to ask you to leave.
- If you want to break the law do it in your own city, not someone else's.
I am NOT asking anyone to break the law! However, I live in a country where any injuries more than "transient or trifling" for sexual pleasure are illegal, so I know how hard it is to stay a law abiding citizen. My personal opinion is that if you're going to break the law in a leather club you should do it in your own city where you'll have to live with the consequences. I know this goes against human nature as we often have fewer inhibitions when we're away from home, but I've been to several events where visiting leatherfolk have angered locals by engaging in behaviour that risks the shut-down of their leather bar. It generates a lot of bad feeling between communities.
- A scene should not end in serious injury; that includes death, loss of a limb or a trip to the hospital.
In my mind if a scene ends with one of you needing professional medical attention or a morgue, something has gone wrong - even if it was consensual.
- Don't take apart what you can't put back together.
Everyone has different limits, depending on their personal experience, phobias and state of health. Find out what their limits are in advance and don't break someone mentally or physically unless you're both able and prepared to do the aftercare to get them back to normality.
- Consider how public your scene is.
What is right in a bedroom may not be right in a shared dungeon. And what is fine in a leatherbar may not be okay in the open air. The more people who are likely to see your scene without understanding what is going on, the more you should consider whether it is right to continue.
These are not meant to be "commandments from IML" but rather starting points for a discussion about what is acceptable. If you come up with some more ideas please let me know.
Have fun, and look after yourselves and the people you play with.
Yours in leather,
International Mr Leather 2003