We walked through the club like a pack. Mannequin in a collar, the lead held lose in my hand. Dandy, Boy Wonder, Rossetti, Ringmaster, Hedwig and more. The club is in a beautiful venue, marble floors, spacious dance floors lit up, music playing. Pretty girls in pretty corsets carry pretty cupcakes. Pretty boys flex their abs and parade around in little shorts. Dancers and circus performers cavort on the staircases.
We walk past them all. They are nice, but they are not what we are looking for. We head downstairs and into the dungeon. We are perverts, after all and we are here to play. And play we do. For most of the night we are the only players in the space and we spread out, taking full advantage. We are exhibitionists and there is no shortage of voyeurs.
I strap Mannequin to a bench and start to beat her. Alternating hard strokes with pressure on her clit. I get caught up in the moment, in the direction she is heading as she cries out. In the beginning I enjoy playing to the (mostly vanilla-kink) crowd that has gathered, making her cry louder to court the attention, but then it starts to become distracting. Then annoying. Someone tries to talk to me as I am applying little clothes-pegs to her labia, another person squats down, about a foot away from her exposed cunt, staring as if he had never seen a woman that close before. A woman tutts disapproval at what I am doing, gesturing for her friends to come and look. They then leave hurriedly.
We spend the time we are not playing standing at the edges of scenes, guarding the rest of The Collective from those who are treading too close. I have to take one of the bar staff aside and have a quiet word after he groped Mannequin's (perfect, round, understandably tempting but absolutely mine) naked bottom not once but twice. His eyes widen like saucers as I explain to him what she is to me and why he needs to go and apologise.
Although perhaps from the outside it seems like chaos, like a decadent free-for-all our behaviours are actually very controlled. We know who will play with who and how and to what extent. Where to push and where to give way. I understand how it might be confusing - to see all these mostly naked people seemingly passing bodies and kit around as if they were sharable dishes at a banquet. But what was most revealing was how I felt about the group, something that was highlighted further to me over cocktails last night with Chiaroscuro and Hedwig. The connections that we have formed are not precisely friendships and they are not protocols for play. They are both those things and they are also are more than that. They are my tribe.
Other people are not.
The word can be difficult for some to stomach, with its associations of football hooliganism, island mentalities and parochialism. It's often used as a criticism of cliques, but cliques have their strengths, importance and value. We feel safe in cliques and empowered by them. It is wrong to think of them as a "natural" thing, although humans are social animals cliques are created, managed and maintained. Social anthropology aside (it's not my area of expertise) group dynamic is an incredibly important thing in all social situations, and more so in BDSM situations. The right balance is something we are always striving for, the perfect mix.
I, along with others, act as a procurer for my tribe. When I meet people for coffees or drinks or ice-cream part of my brain is assessing them for suitability not just for myself, but for the group as a whole. Will they be a good fit, might they have fun playing with this person or would this other person respond well to them? Certainly there may be those who I will play with in isolation, but, like meeting the parents, entry into the group and by extension group play, is required of my partners. They must fit my tribe, not just because that indicates they like the things that I like - remember the tribe is a manufactured thing based on deliberate choices we have made about our kink - but because I live in the tribe. It is my social circle, my friends, my extended, created, self-selected family. The Photographer did not fit with the tribe (and did not with most of my vanilla friends either) and that caused me no end of loneliness as we splintered off into our little bubble which eventually popped.
I'm not going to apologise for this sort of passing judgement - after all, I have my own tastes and desires that need fulfilling and I am not a public service or a democracy of kink. I will take what I want if I can get it - and I do. I'm also not going to apologise for the process of judging and rating either, although it may rankle with a geek culture that incorrectly assumes blanket acceptance is better than elitism, or that "leaving people out" is the ultimate sin. This process is part of what we do, or should do, as socially aware and responsible perverts - the old school assumption that the "vouched for" system has died a death could not be further from the truth. It's just not as formal.
There is a reason that cliques form and a reason they crumble. We grow together as well as our own separate journeys of kinky development and as we do people move in and out of our circle, becoming closer and further away from us depending on where we are in our lives. Sometimes this process is easy, other times less so. The people who I play with, and the people who I play near, are those who I have chosen to be extraordinarily intimate with. I am truthful with them in ways I cannot be every day. Some of them know (and accept, even love) things about me that my family never, ever will.
Later that night I walked Mannequin around the space, arms around her waist, piloting her movements. We view the models in their heels, make-up and carefully constructed fetish wear. I whisper in her ear: "these are all the girls who are not as good as you." The feeling of her being mine is intense, a mixed bag of protection, control, desire, lust all wrapped around a core of authority. Feelings like this, perhaps not as intense, or not as intense in that way, extend to the whole group. I want to protect my tribe, to ensure it continues, to nurture and support those within it, to defend it from others.
Tribe. You know who you are.