27 September, 2008

Ins and (Mostly) Outs of Public Displays of Kink

When time is short I'll occasionally dip into the pool of interesting ideas I've addressed with one correspondent or another over the years and dress it up a bit for posting on RSE. Here's one concerning my antipathy toward public play.

  • What happens when the norms/rules are violated in a club? Do others provide sanctions or do some just look away? What if people consistently violate and are sanctioned…will they eventually stop coming because they realize that they aren’t wanted there? Have you ever seen someone who others ignored or sanctioned because they weren't respecting the rules? If so, what happened and what happened to them?

In my checkered experience of the public scene, the answer to this question seems to me highly contingent on the nature, structure and/or conditions of entry into the club. At one of the few surviving public BDSM clubs in NYC there is no vetting for fitness to the club's motif and putative purpose, so culture tourists and "wankers" (men who intrude on scenes while masturbating) are not only common but form the base upon which this club continues to do business.

Crowding by such persons reliably breaks scenes, mine and others. My standard line to unwanted participants (at first politely delivered) is "If you need to know where to position yourself, it's where I'm not hitting you," referring putatively to my reach inside the scene, but offered with a dusting of menace. More than once I've been brought to the point of physical confrontation with a wanker who simply would not keep his distance from my bound partner. In one instance an inebriant ended up being physically removed by myself and three other men (none of whom represented the club), but it is my impression that as a matter of policy no one who pays the cover is ejected unless the disruption has practically evolved into one for the police. I understand the club's position as a business proposition, however, and my choice to attend or not is, like any wanker, mine to make. It's impossible, however, not to conclude that under such conditions I am providing an attraction, and act, as it were, and indeed paying for the privilege of doing so, solely for the club's benefit.

In the interest of gender equality let me also observe that it is not only sexually repressed men who confound public play. Under different public circumstances and on more than one occasion women have approached me in public and endeavored to insinuate themselves by exaggerating their interest and experience, or by just lying. The latter behavior, if not pathological, one can usually chalk up to loneliness or an interest in something other than bondage (such as in one case the mistaken assumption that I was both substantially well-off and of a certain faith). More than a few women I've met have "always been intrigued by bondage" once, it seems, they've calculated my value on some other scale. Finding out I'm married usually puts an opportunistic intrigue down pretty quickly.

A counterpoint to this kind of tedious public dynamic are clubs such as one I used to frequent in Seattle, which fields 7 - 10 dungeon monitors on any given night. These experienced volunteers manage scenes in which perhaps a large number of people have taken an interest, or will assist with complex suspensions or other dangerous situations, and generally make their presence known and felt for the sake of those who can use them to, or, at the very least, to establish a perimeter.

(As an aside, gay bears and leather daddies make, I think, especially excellent DMs; robustly masculine and intimidating on the outside, politic, diplomatic and empathetic on the inside. The queer clubbing community also seems to have an intuitive feel for SM scene energy, irrespective of individual appetite. This reflexive and deferential civility toward concentrated human experience (in this case intimacy) is what I think endows a community with culture. Perhaps we don't use the word "culture" to qualify the straight or vanilla communities precisely because they lack the requisite erotic cultivation and civility to qualify as such. As I am often wont to observe here, BDSM just amplifies who one (or an entire community) really is.)

It helps that the Seattle outfit is a membership club, so all members are thoroughly briefed on the rules, and outsiders such as myself are obliged to either be accompanied by a member upon entry, or to be meeting one there. Even so, outsiders are obliged to sign off on the rule sheet. I'm given to understand anything untoward is very unusual, and that was indeed my experience. Likewise, in a private party setting all of the attendees have probably demonstrated their bona-fides to the host directly or by relation to a trusted source, so rules are largely unnecessary and comity is far more likely.

But, still, there are no guarantees. Once, some time ago, at a private party outside Austin I performed a semi-suspension that gathered a large audience. As the scene played out to the satisfaction of myself and my bottom (a friend's girlfriend), the respectful (and wanker-free) crowd dispersed to reveal two attractive young women, one of whom I had taken note of earlier in the evening, the other giggling cutely and asking if she could be next. I foolishly (and youthfully) said "of course," both flattered and feeling very full of myself on the heels of my moment in the spotlight.

Well, pride goeth before the fall.

Their excitement ended up centering around getting pictures of each other in situ at a BDSM affair, to which they had been invited as decoration (which I would find out presently). I had unwittingly volunteered to be their sideshow cut-out. With very little rope on her my initiate posed and mugged for a few snapshots before she realized she was in fact in the early stages of helplessness, at which point she began complaining loudly that she was uncomfortable, and went from giggly to apoplectic in a matter of a few seconds. Fortunately my creds were good with the organizers and, more importantly, the bouncers, who bounced promptly when the one I had initially found cute started shouting (most uncivilly) "Hey! This asshole's assaulting her!" There were several minutes thereafter of feather smoothing and drink ticket distribution, the effect of which apparently prevented the dialing of 911.

Turns out culture tourists can show up in grubby trenchcoats and shear back-seamed stockings.

The above constitutes the majority of my misfortune in the public scene taken over 20 odd years, so I consider myself actually pretty fortunate. Apart, however, from the occasional class or private tutorial (and, of course the fine art stuff), I've pretty much forsaken public play for these and other reasons, but mostly because I finally got wise to the happy fact that in all areas of life the right sorts of folks seem to show up right in my midst when I'm least expecting it, and with a lot less work and stress. To quote Bertold Brecht:
"What a miserable thing life is: you're living in clover, only the clover isn't good enough"

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