Read all about it

The online diary of an ethical pervert.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Social responsibility

I learnt a valuable lesson. My "weekend off kink" that was supposed to be all about relaxing and resting up ended up being so horrifically stressful for RL issues that I am never doing that again. I'm still a bit frazzled by it all, so have nothing to report of an exciting physical nature. The most I managed was coffee with Captain on Sunday where he offered several hugs which did make me feel somewhat better. He also smelt really good, for those who are interested (pheromones interest me...)

So, some posts of a more philosophical or political nature for the next few days, at least until Festival of Sins at the weekend when I shall make merry. First off the bat is something that came out of a conversation at the midweek drinks last Wednesday, when I got into a discussion about the different generations of kink, how they interact (or don't) and how we understand the kinky social contract and rules of engagement.

Lots to take in, which is probably why we managed to clear the entire table within five minutes. Graphs were involved. Perhaps we might have got a little animated for a "friendly social" but I think what we were discussing was extremely valid. The nub of the conversation was this. Once upon a time, before the internet, BDSM was a smaller, more personalised community. People knew each other and there was a slower progress of meeting people, attending munches and eventually a party or a club. This meant (in theory, personally I was not entirely convinced at the idea of a golden age of kink) that generally, by the time someone got to a club they knew how to interact, what the rules were and were a safer, saner player than they might have been otherwise. With the advent of the internet and with a more open society, more people were able to find out about kink, reach out to kinky organisations and kinky people and get out there without going through that same process of "vetting".

So much the better, perhaps. After all, it has meant that those who might otherwise have been mired in vanilla misery, dissatisfied and unhappy, are able to meet other like-minded folk. The scene has gotten bigger (and perhaps more diverse). The scene has also gotten younger, which is neither a good thing, nor a bad thing, but certainly I got the impression from the conversation that the driving force behind the increased number of people on the scene was more people starting earlier on in their sexual careers.

What my conversation partner was concerned about was twofold. First, that there now appears to be a generation gap, of younger and older players, who rarely meet, especially now there are so many clubs and events, each with their own niche market and each which seem to tend towards one or the other end of the spectrum. The second point was that each tranche has its own modes of behaviour and ways of relaying information about the scene. To create a grotesque stereotype the older group is more likely to be more secretive, less public, less of an internet user and more of a private player. The younger group is more open, more club based and very internet savvy. The younger group also includes more recent joiners - so at any one time will have a higher proportion of less experienced players (which isn't to say there are no young, experienced players, there are many, it's just a group that contains a lot more new people and a lot of people who only play a little and not very often). I'd like to add that this is entirely from my own observation and conversations with others. Therefore totally anecdotal and without a single "fact" to back it up. I might well be wrong and there may be hordes of octogenarians racing to start their retirement by beating each other up. I hope this is true.

What this meant, and something we were both interested in was that the two groups do not really socialise or share information. This makes sense, because they do not necessarily share the same values, life goals or want the same things from BDSM. Worse still, there are difficult and challenging misconceptions that both groups hold about each other which prevent them from meeting in a friendly, open fashion: the old guard are laying claim to inscribing kink upon stone-tablets and citing privileges of rank whilst whippersnappers are arguing the natural ascendancy of the young-and-therefore-beautiful alongside our right to discover things for ourselves and not be told what to do. Neither side is entirely right. Neither side is entirely wrong - there are fools and heroes on both sides of the generation gap. What it does mean is that there is no one scene. There are multiple scenes. In other words, we don't have a kinky community. We have communities that are kinky. Some people don't even want to be part of any community, but still want to (quite understandably) tie each other up every now and then. This is a natural state of affairs for any movement that has grown through time but is problematic for us because parts of what we do are illegal. Other parts of what we do are certainly in the moral grey as far as society as a whole is concerned.

We have
no real consensus, as a group, on what we hold as common ground. We are not a firmly established political entity. We have rules, but they vary from situation to situation. To take an example - what does "safe, sane and consensual" mean? Different people will have different views. There is also no process in how we explain this to new people, so a lot of the time, people pick things up as they go along. We are an informal, peer network, which is not necessarily a bad thing - it's certainly an open system, with no-one at the top handing down proclamations and it can foster a responsibility for each other. It does also have gaps. People get missed out, no-one is in charge so no-one is actually accountable. The way we share knowledge is very much catch-as-catch-can, which would be fine if we were all into knitting, but knitting isn't especially dangerous or illegal whereas parts of BDSM are. I'm sure we can all agree that it would be a good thing for everyone who was interested to get all the info they needed to be safe in case someone gets hurt or even (God forbid) arrested, but who will do this? I'm certainly not going to quit my day job and declare myself to be in charge of doing that. Besides, any number of people would then point out my total lack of qualifications for such a role.

So, the question becomes what do we do? I'm personally against any sort of hierarchical system of apprenticeship such as that operated by our cousins across the pond (a friend of mine was recently told he couldn't be a proper Dom unless he'd "served his time" as a submissive to an older Dom, which is not only extremely patronising to submissives - implying their status as a mere stepping stone to the "superior" position of dominance - but a bit unpalatable to someone who doesn't really want to be submissive). I'm also averse to harking back to a system whereby each person first had to find other kinky people, then jump through any number of hoops before actually picking up a crop. For a start, it's impossible in a world of the internet and high-street sex shops and secondly do we really want to be the Masons? I'm not sure what is the best way forwards. Certainly more open discussion, seminars and workshops would be wonderful, but you can't enforce attendance and I'm not sure that handing out brownie badges for kinky skills is within anyone's remit.

More thought required.


moreinches said...

It is very interesting thing indeed, and somewhere I think it is important too, to remember that there is this notion that we speak of,(age and 'old guard' vs 'new guard') but also that we might be creating in this moment.

I.E there can be loads of people who might be seen as 'old guard' but really are not. Age is a fickle indicator and, with any other type of stratification, it creates conflicts where age from the beginning might not be the problem but other factors that are kind of re-invented through the notion of age.

So while age might seem to be the thing that is representative when it comes to this division, it is probably, as you describe it,rather the different individual and group experiences on the scene that make up our notions of what it is; experiences that make us appreciate and view activities and ourselves differently.

Anyhow, without adding to much, I for one also would like to see something in between, with more community building ( where people feel there is a need for such a community), and not defining that after some idea that it would be completely representational.
Different parts of the U.S probably have different set-ups but as I am a fan of meeting more people and learning, I want more of everything like that.

Fucking greedy I am. :)


electronic doll said...

Food for thought for later on this week, I think?

unsentimental said...

Would you say this is particularly bad in London?

The only other city I have experience of the scene in is Vancouver, and while the differences might be cultural to some degree, it's also a much smaller city and the community does feel a lot more unified. The generations might not totally see eye to eye but there's only so many events to go to so they do run into each other. (For reasons I suspect are similar, there was also a considerable lesbian - although not gay male - presence on the scene. The less pansexual nature of the London scene rather saddens me.)  Canadians don't seem to go for the kind of rigid roles that the American scene is notorious for (thank heavens), so it wasn't that.  My theory is that London is just so big that you can always find a peer group of people pretty much like you, and so there's little reason to hang around with people you have less in common with, but I'd be interested to know what it's like in the rest of the UK.  

electronic doll said...


I think you are right that the size of London gives rise to lots of different groups, we have the space to create them and the cash/people to support lots of different venues and events.

Interested in the idea that London is less pansexual - do you think this is because London has more niche markets, so there are straight scenes and queer scenes?

From my limited experience of other places (Edinburgh = friends of friends network, Deepest rural Lancashire = fuck all) and anecdotal from other people I think that most cities in the UK would be of a similar nature to Vancouver rather than the diaspora of London.

moreinches said...

Well, we all know that London is not really England. It' the twilight zone *giggle*



M said...

As a fellow with a social science background. I would like to bring up the concept of authenticity.

1. Authenticity

To be authentic is to have some claim and sincerity to the activity or practice that is adopted.

Authentic music (for example) is that which is heartfelt and directed by independent, creative control of the artist or composer. Authenticity in various music scenes also vary: for folk music, authenticity is defined by avoiding electronic music, for punk; sometimes it means playing badly live. For the various late avant-gardists their sense of authenticity was defined by social challenge.

I think a sense of authenticity is inevitable, and there is very much a popularity contest involved, which involves the forming of groups and heirarchies. At least in the domain of the intersubjective rather than formalised roles being defined.

2. Percieved heirarchies and 'full-timers'

I was at a munch earlier this month and it was my first. Everyone seemed very friendly and welcoming, although I initially percieved (and feared) heirarchies and cliques. Cliques scare me because they seem so much to be a 'survival of the fittest' where only the popular survive and the rest are chewed out.

I was curious whether there were 'full-timers' in the scene, whose lives consisted completely of sex and kink and munches and kinky coffee meetups and 'hello darling' greetings to long time friends.

I dont know about you, but my life is spread across so many different dimensions and scenes that I don't have a 'native' place to be a full-timer. My interests are varied so as not to fit into a scene completely. Maybe that's perhaps something more about my age and inexperience with life perhaps?

M said...

3. On age differences

The concept of the youth is a social construct that is one that is constantly (and organically) evolving.

As an adult sometimes around children (and as a man), I've found people apprehensive that I like children. It can seem a bit suggestive of darker things. People are afraid of younger people in some kind of media-inspired threat.

It seems also the case that many young people are not accustomed to talking to older people, which is a social skill that isn't taught through the socialisation process very well, especially with paedophobia so prevalent in society.

What I liked about the fetish community from my initial 'outsider' perception of it was how diverse a group it could be.

4. On the notion of a fetish community

There is such a tendency to categorise people with age groups and youth cultures. I was at a heavy metal gig earlier last week and I found that many of them were trying so hard to belong and felt the need to be as a 'group', such that a community just emerges. It seems both understandable to want to belong somewhere, where one can identify strongly to soemthing, and yet crass (inauthentic?) to try so hard to fit in.

Philosophically speaking, the semantics of a community can be communicated in terms of either 'emergence' or 'supervenience'; if the latter, we may say the notion of a fetish community is a misnomer insofar as there are more significant divisions of individuals that an appearance of a 'community' can be explained away.

Personally, the notion of a fetish clique scares me. I will almost certainly be left out and be the guy who is on his own again (much like when I was in school, university etc...); the prospect that there is no fetish community to speak of is really exciting. I would feel less intimidated, heirarhies would not judge me, or deem me inferior for being relatively sexually inexperienced to them, or being unattractive, fat etc...

When I was at a munch last week, people were passing around these forms where we were asked to fill in nominations such as:

best dom/me
best sub
best switch

While I was being quite jovial at the time, I questioned how such a thing was possible. How could there be a 'best dom/me'? What if the best dom/me was a switch as well? or are they mutually exclusive? Surely the best dom/me would have the best sub because (presumption) what makes a good dom/me is the relationship with their subject?

At that point, I felt although I was a newbie, there was a distinct popularity contest going on, and there was an upper echelon. A little bit of disconcertment on my part. I thought to myself 'I guess popularity contests and cliques always exist'

As always, I love your posts!

unsentimental said...

Interested in the idea that London is less pansexual - do you think this is because London has more niche markets, so there are straight scenes and queer scenes?

Basically, yes - I suspect London has a certain critical mass of lesbians (and maybe transfolk too) that means they mostly don't need to occupy the same spaces as we do for kink. I could be wrong, though.

electronic doll said...


Thanks for your thoughts - very interesting. Also, I believe that we were at the same mid-week drinks with the same leaflets, not sure if I managed to come say "hi"? If not, then come find me next time.


1. Authenticity

I think that the issue of authenticity is extremely tricky in and of itself.

I'm also not 100% sure on what you mean by authentic, is this about not being a faker or a tourist, about subscribing to an exterior value of what is or isn't kinky (which therefore has it's roots in something outside yourself, a higher authority which ascribes authenticity) or is it about being historically accurate, an older, wiser version of kink?

I'm not sure what authenticity really means is this context. I don't have a social science background, so don't know if there is another, formalised meaning that I'm missing.

2. Hierarchy

There is certainly something of a popularity context, absolutely. But then, it is a social scene, and why would you want to spend time with people if you didn't like their company? The issue comes when someone is held up as being "better" because they are more popular, rather than simply saying that they are just that, more popular.

I consider myself a "full-timer" on the scene, but there is still more to my life than just kink. There are informal hierarchies, just as in any social grouping. But they aren't merely based on "time served" - for me it's more about attitude, outlook and how you want to live your life. Experience plays a part in the sense that the knowledge-base is essential to safe, sane and consensual.

People choose their own level of involvement, and doing "more" kink does not make you "better". Just that you do more kink. Everyone sets their own bar and as long as everyone is mindful of the basics, then all should be good. For example, I do not want to have a vanilla relationship, ever. That doesn't mean I only want to live in a latex box.

electronic doll said...

3. Age differences

I'd agree that "youth" is a social construct, but age itself isn't. There are meet-ups that are limited by age, rather than "youthful outlook" for example.

I think it's difficult to talk of "youth culture" within the BDSM scene because, almost by definition, we are all adults. The generation gap is between different stratas of adults, rather than children and their elders, although I agree that it can sometimes feel otherwise, with childish behaviour and old-fashioned attitudes expressed by people of many different actual ages.

4. On the notion of a fetish community

I don't think there is a fetish community, rather a series of venn diagram-like bubble communities in which we may find overlap.

I understand your worries about being the last man standing - I was always picked last for games and had a fairly lonely childhood. I've got better since.

People do judge others, that's a sad fact. However, they do tend to judge them on different criteria - what I want is not what the next person wants, for example. I think that the example of the LAM awards are more along the lines of a bit of fun, whilst also recognising those who have given pleasure, entertainment or similar to others. I agree that ideas about "best" can be very problematic, it's all just personal opinion.

I have to challenge you on the supposition that the "best" dom must therefore have the "best" submissive. First, a submissive does not neccesarily have to be owned by a dom to be a submissive. A dom can have multiple submissives and vice-versa. Finally, you seem to be implying that the dominant creates the submissive - the submissive is "good" because their dominant has mnade them thus, rather than anything coming from the submissive themselves.

I'm not sure if this was what you were impyling, so apologies if I'm messing with your words, but that was my reading of it.

Certainly, part of what makes a good dom is their relationship with the subject, but it doesn't define them in their entirity. They could be technically good, for example a fantastic rigger. Similarly, a submissive could be a very good rope bunny, or able to take a lot of pain.

M said...


1. On authenticity

The thing about authenticity is that its very definition can be relative to various factors.

Authenticity to one scene, or age group, is inauthenticity to another. How authenticity is defined, depends on many factors. I've given a very bad exegesis on the topic (my bad). But various factors, as you acknowledge, do come into play.

The point I could make at the bottom line, is that there is always a notion of authenticity, and often they may compete with other authenticities out there. Perhaps too little can be said in a blog comment reply for now...

2. On Youth as a social construct

I'll clarify what I meant by youth culture (with some precis). It is the case that adults (ironically) are characterised by youth cultures. How? you might ask?

Consider phrases like 'baby boomers' (those born after WWII alongside a population explosion, who were teenagers between the 60s-early 70s).

There is a sense (partly commercially motivated, partially socially constructed) in which we always are defined by what we identified with as teens, or what 'youth' group we identified with (even if in opposition to them).

In the sense of using analytical classifications, we also appeal to demographic groups by their age range (to monitor trends), but this is perhaps tangential.

Youth culture is not about the young anymore, the irony of this can be seen when we look at pop stars and celebrities like madonna and the rolling stones; for whom adults worship as a way to hark back to their teenage days. In that respect, it doesn't matter that we are adults. (a misnomer, eh?)

3. (Lemma) On the notion of a fetish community

I admit I was imputing a question-begging premise and I concede to your insight about the dom/me. The overall point I was making was that it is at least question-begging as to what criterion we should use for a best sub or dom/me and I suspect it may in part deferential.

As always, kind regards

electronic doll said...

@ Conatus

Looks like we need a drink and a chat, will you be at the next midweek drinks?

2. On Youth as a social construct

I understand everything that you are saying, and it is a useful primer as to why "youth" is socially constructed. But I'm not really talking about youth culture. I don't disagree with, I just don't think that "youth" is the issue here, it's actual age and actual time on the scene, neither of which are constructs.

What people are being judged on, rightly or wrongy (and certainly this has come to a head recently)is on their perceived life-experience (age) and their perceived BDSM experience (time on the scene). It's not derived from youth per se, more from the generation gap in the scene.