Monday, December 6, 2010


One of the perennial problems that we kinksters face is the question, “How can I tell?” —especially when it comes to the reliability of a potential playmate. This is directly related to last week’s column on Gnostic BDSM in that “private revelation” also needs to  be vetted as reliable.

The theological answer is that we need to use discernment in our decision-making processes, that is “the act or process of exhibiting keen insight and good judgment.” On a more mundane level, this process can be looked at as a combination of several things to do, namely: get references; trust your gut; check out your past; interview the player(s); research; reflect; pause; watch; and listen.

Get references

In the good old days I was taught to get references. In fact, what might have been called the “S&M” subculture was based on a rather dependable and covert network of references. You didn’t get in without someone vouching for you.

There were several ways to get a reference. Among gay men, the leather bars of their time were the easiest venue. You’d go to the bar, meet someone, gain his respect, probably by playing with him and then he could become a reference for you.

That meant that you could (with permission) ask to use him as a reference for yourself or ask him whether others whom you might meet were reliable. The Chicago Hellfire Club still uses that system today. No one is allowed to attend a party unless a member serves as his sponsor. No sponsor means no invitation and no admission. No exceptions.

The lack of referencing in today’s scene is an important loss of a very helpful tradition. Referencing might not be perfect, but it sure adds a margin of safety rarely equaled.

Trust your gut

Our materialistic and scientific culture has done a great deal to trivialize our “gut feelings.” That still small voice that speaks to us from within is too easily and too often ignored. It takes practice to regain the art of hearing and heeding that voice, but as Pinocchio learned the hard way, listening to Jiminy Cricket has its advantages.

 Check out your past

What does your experience tell you about the situation? Over the years I have adopted a number of rules for my own life. I don’t mind saying that they were taught to me in the school of hard knocks. The sad truth is that failure is often the best teacher, i.e., go home with a trick who is drunk once and you’ll learn never to do that again.

This suggestion is based on my belief that there is no such thing as failure. What we might term failure is in fact an opportunity to learn what not to do, a strong indication to do something differently. By analyzing our lack of success we become more capable of succeeding the next time. In other words, while two wrongs don’t make a right, they just might show us how to do it right the next time.

Interview the players

Be bold, even (especially!) if you are a sub, to ask questions of your partner, host, or enquirer. The idea is to get to know him through meaningful dialogue before you find yourself emotionally involved  or, worse, in trouble. Getting all the particulars of the scene is hot and probably important, but not nearly as important as getting to know him as a person.

In this regard consider his veracity; i.e., is he telling you his real age? We often asked about a person’s experience but do we ask enough? When doing so, the questions should include descriptions of what happened and with whom. Who taught him and when and where?

Go further with this and ask some or all of the following: What is his educational level and career path? His family situation and a short history of his relationships? Who are his references? Check them! What clubs is he a member of? What events does he attend and does he volunteer? What is his health status and financial situation? What are his hobbies and favorite pastimes? How does he approach the use of cigarettes, alcohol and recreational drugs? Now you might not need details, but an overview of answers on at least some of these topics will shed  a lot of light on the character of the person you are contemplating for play.


Do your homework. Read up on the fetishes and relationships you desire to have. Attend seminars, and when you do, ask questions. This presumes that you are doing research in reliable venues. The Internet may be an easy place to do so but is the source you are checking a reliable source? How can you tell? How credible is the presenter, the website, the chat room typist, or the book? Be able to answer those questions if you want to use the information you’ve gained.


None of the above is in any way helpful unless you think about it. How does it all fit in with what you want to achieve, and can you trust what you’ve learned? Only you can answer those questions. So do your damned best to answer them well.

Reflect also means to analyze. Does it all make sense? Fit together? Feel right? Think about it, because if you don’t you’ll be the fool rushing in where angels fear to tread.


Simply put, “Haste makes waste.” Take time to do it right. A good decision is never a rushed decision. Be very wary of partners who demand you decide now “or else.” If there is the potential for a great scene now, there’ll be an equally grand opportunity after you’ve done your homework.


Actions speak louder than words. So watch, be alert and pay attention.

And Listen

It is your responsibility to care and protect yourself, so do it well and take both the time and effort necessary to discern the right from the dangerous or erroneous. It really isn’t all that hard if you simply take the time to do it.

Have fun and a great week.

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