My first visit to LAM on Sunday - shameful to have never been, I know, but Sundays are usually duvet days. It was a bitterly cold day which meant that the attendance was a bit low, but picked up towards the end. There were several interesting stalls which I was able to coo over, but really, the thing I was there for was people spotting. Social voyeurism. First impressions, putting my casual observer goggles on were that this was definitely a discrete subculture. The clothing gave it away - lots of black, lots of leather and a fair amount of dressing up: women were in heels, some had laced corsets, there were also some rather fine hats. The age range was comfortably middle aged - I felt very young - with a 50/50 split men and women. The majority were couples (mostly hetero, although not all), then single men. I attended a very interesting talk on how to do bondage without getting obsessed with knots, which has spurred me to suggest some rope practice with Different Drummer given we are both knot-idiots. The atmosphere was interesting, a little bit like a village fete: many people knew each other and were using it as a place to catch up on gossip. I was in the curious position of not spotting anyone I knew until much later on when it got busier, which proves something I'd long suspected, that I actually move in a very specific circle within what we term "the scene" and that the scene in its entirety is a lot wider than I had previously considered.
I consider myself to be on the scene but it's worth putting a bit of thought into what that means. Wikipedia, aka the internet's cobbled thoughts, is usually my first port of call for a general consensus of definition, so here's their link. Note the excitable use of images of tied-up naked women, only women and only beautiful women. If I ever wanted an outsider's view of what the scene meant, would this be it, or just the editor's wank fantasy? Hard to tell with wiki, but they've got the general gist right. The scene is the people in it, their acknowledgement of each other as belonging to the scene and it operates under certain social rules. Scenes are also very space specific - the New York scene is distinct from the London scene. Interesting that we use "scene" to mean both a BDSM interaction and the community as a whole, in the same way that the Hunt is both the central activity and the people involved in it. Which implies to me that are what we do, right? Not quite.
To be on the scene is more than being kinky. I've heard people refer to being on the scene in the same way as being out - you can be kinky but if you are not known to be kinky, then you aren't on the scene:"oh, I play with my partner but we are not on the scene" It's the public factor that makes the difference, not just whether you play in public but whether you are publicly known, not necessarily to your neighbours, but to the scene itself, and if you attend events other than clubs - there's certainly a separation of scenesters versus private players. Those who are known versus those who are not known. To be on the scene you have to be publicly known in three ways. I don't think that these happen in a particular order and this is only from my personal experience and observation, but those I know who can be called on the scene have these three things in common. Even if they have nothing else in common.
First, you need to go out and about within the BDSM community and start the act of fitting in. Attendance at clubs, munches, meet-ups is key. To be on the scene you have to be seen. Just being on the internet is not usually considered enough, and the term can be used to separate the Internet perverts from those who "don't cyber", as if the scene is only a physical space, not one that could exist in chatrooms or online communities. I don't really hold with that view, partly because I'm a nerd and therefore stand up for the validity of electronic exchange. Certainly the perceived proliferation of kinkiness since the advent of the internet one could argue that the internet scene has been key in increasing additions, discussions and interactions to what some would term the scene proper. For many, the internet is about maintaining and supporting their position within the scene, not the sole means of generating it - a lot of people would hold that in order to do things "properly" you need to go and attend a munch, for example.
Secondly, you have to self-identify as belonging to the scene and this has to be announced in some way to people who have previously not known about it. Whether this is to other people on the scene or to those outside it, doesn't really matter (although both is generally considered to be more "out" and therefore in some people's eyes - better). This is roughly the equivalent of pinning a badge to yourself. Though some people may shout through microphones, or set up blogs, for example.
Finally, there has to be an acceptance from those that are already on the scene. This does mean that scene is also a clique, or rather a group of cliques - people might be a member of any number of cliques or only one. What matters is that other people in the clique accept you as one of them. This can sound snobbish, exclusive and intimidating. Which it can be. Certainly people - often those who fall foul of the unwritten rules - can be very critical of these groups (or indeed the need for groups at all), sometimes with good reason, sometimes because they are clinging to geek social fallacy number one - that ostracisors are evil. The group acceptance, when it works, is not just about keeping people out, though it can be, it's about keeping the group safe, sane and consensual for those in it. Part of this is a very natural response to the semi-legal activities we do: we want to keep away those who might do us damage through bad publicity, raids and closing down of venues. Another part is the desire to ensure that those who are on the scene have an understanding and appreciation for what it is - the acceptance of other group members is in many respects a validation of your knowledge, your abilities or your personality as being a good fit.
5 weeks ago