Sunday, January 8, 2012

How Does One Begin?

Thirty years ago, people who were curious about kink, generally speaking, had two avenues in which to find similarly-minded players: bars and classified ads.

So it was that, with my pocket-sized Damron guide I searched out gay bars whose clientele were called "Leathermen." One could also look for the euphemism of "Levi." It was there that, if you were brave enough to go through the somewhat foreboding and often un-marked door, you could meet men into "rough sex" aka "S&M."

BDSM had not yet entered the common parlance of the kinky world. In fact, neither had the word kinky.

Or I would pick up a copy of Drummer Magazine at some sleazy adult book store and answer the personal ads in its classified section. Each response that I mailed cost one dollar and I limited myself to $20's worth of mail per issue. The return on my investment was less than ten per cent but I did manage to hook up with a few guys now and then.

Mostly, though, I met my partners in Leather bars. One by one they gave me the experiences I needed to become who I am today.

Experience, according to the dictionary, is "1 a: direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge, b: the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation; 2 a: practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or in a particular activity."

In the "good old days" of the early eighties there were few books one could read about our lifestyle, only a very scant and hard-to-find number of seminars, and private clubs were by invitation only. Invites weren't easy to get because you had to know someone who would vouch for you.

That left the personal ads and the bars as the only practical entry-way into the world of "what it is that we do."

Even that phrase typifies the elusive nature of the BDSM subculture of the day. We spoke a code-filled jargon, not openly naming people, places, clubs or activities until we knew that the person with whom we are speaking was "safe," not safe as in "safe to play with" but as in "safe to share this knowledge with."

Today, of course, there are all sorts of information sources as nearby as a Google search on the letters BDSM. The same kind of search on will reveal hundreds of books on the subject, and on there is an incredible variety of SM-filled videos. Yes, over the years, the "&" has disappeared. Everything changes, even the jargon.

There are two quotes from Oscar Wilde that put the term "experience" into its proper light. The first is " Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." The second, "Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught."

I'm sorry to say that you've got to get experience. Doing so, I admit, is not without risk, since as Mr. Wilde points out, it is most likely that the best learning experiences are those where we fail. Fear of failure is probably the number one reason that we don't learn. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," Mom would say, though she probably wasn't thinking about my venturing into gay Leather bars when she told me that.

So today we find our subculture inundated with "newbies," men and women with no practical knowledge of our subculture, who think that what they've read in some chat room makes then one of us.

Others, to be fair, shrink from us because they have no experience. It is a circular and self-defeating argument. "I won't do that because I have no experience," they think to themselves and therefore they get no experience.

Another argument is "I won't play with you because I don’t have enough experience" or "I won't play with you because you have too much experience." Believe me, I've heard that last quote too often for it not to be etched in my memory. Why newbies prefer to play with people with little experience is way beyond me.

But what do I know? I was risky enough to walk into dingy, dark, hard-to-find bars that reeked of beer, sweat and semen. And trick by trick I got experience until one day while on a business trip in Corpus Christi, the bartender at a place called "The Green Door" called me a "Leatherman." It was a memorable rite of passage, even if I hadn't yet morphed into Jack Rinella.

Contrary to some thinking, getting experience need not be that risky. It is not an all-or-nothing proposition nor does it involve whole-hog activities. Start slowly. Do research. Ask questions. Check references. Read books. Take it at your own pace, one step at a time.

And reflect of the experience. What did you like about it? What didn't you like? What have you learned? What new questions has the experience given you?

Though there is a lot of talk in our educational circles about mentoring, it is still a hard to come by that resource. That said, my education was at the hands of many mentors. Each trick became a mentor for the night, each scene a class in the school of lower education.

Yes, there are predators but it only takes common sense and the smarts to ask for and check references to ferret them out. Remember, if they sound that good to you tonight, they'll still sound that good the next time you meet them, so there is no need to rush in.

I remember the confusion, ambivalence, and fear I felt the first time I stood outside of Lafitte's In Exile (in the French Quarter of New Orleans), the rankest, raunchiest bar I ever entered. But my heart wanted S&M and I figured I could always just run out the door if I had to. It wasn't a matter of quick entry and quick learning. It was a matter of quiet observation, scouting out the place and people, listening more than talking, and when I did talk, I asked lots of questions.

Then, as now, men and women of experience were pleased to teach me what my heart wanted to know. All I had to do was stop being afraid to ask.

Have a great week. Jack

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