On “leather traditions” and “houses” and other things people try to sell you on

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A question about “old leather traditions” and “houses” came up on someone else’s FB page and I wrote this advice: There are no “old leather traditions.” There are behaviors that individuals and small, isolated groups developed as customs (Bob has a new bike! Let’s all pee on it!) and there are behaviors individuals established as relationship habits (Call me Lady!) but there are no unified, recognized leather “traditions.” A “house” is not part of anything that anyone would recognize as an “old leather tradition,” whether it’s a custom or a habit. If your new friend wants to join in a group with quaint, individual rules that mostly come out of “what makes them feel good,” that’s awesome. She should ask them what all these rules are and see if they make HER feel good, and then do whatever she feels is comfortable and sexy and positive and right for her in order to join their little club, knowing full well that should it get creepy, stupid, onerous or no-longer-sexy, she can wave bye-bye and wander off to find more people with their own little quaint rules. Which will be entirely different from the ones she just learned/experienced. My advice would be to be very wary of anything that sounds like “this is the right way!” (as opposed to “this is MY way, because I love it when things happen this way! Whee!) and understand that everything is subject to negotiation. Also, that if she needs to pass tests, perform feats of strength and derring-do, gets special clothing to wear and toys to play with and secret handshakes, those are super fun things for grownups to do, and having the mindset to throw yourself fully into the moment can be quite a rush.

And ultimately – anyone who says you MUST do anything to be “real” or “true” is basically saying, “...in MY Sooper Sekrit No Cooties Clubhouse!” So, any time you hear words like that, just think “super secret clubhouse,” and you will know instantly whether you want to continue chatting, let alone consider play, sex or a relationship.

There are a lot of people in the world who find it very hard to find meaning in their lives. We seek it in all sorts of affiliations, looking for affirmation, community, friendship, relationships, connection, or even just responses. (Including anger, outrage, and hurt.) To seek it in fiction just removes the messiness of dealing with actual humans. We should vacation in fiction and make-believe and the passion of special interests and hobbies and rituals and societies. But in my humble opinion, to live a full life, you have to walk between and across multiple worlds and deal with people and situations in an infinite number of levels, with only the sketchiest of rules and guides to work with. This is part of being an adult; it’s part of being a mensch. We love to brag about how hard it is to be queer, kinky, poly, and then we argue about what the real and true meanings of those words are and who belongs in our clubs and who does not. We waste so much time and energy and focus on these things, fighting with each other when there’s a whole world of people who would delight in our unhappiness and strife and grin when we turn on each other and make things hard for anyone new to our little worlds. I just think that’s a shame.

There’s a BIG difference between “This is the way someone told me it should be,” and “This is an old (kinky) tradition,” or worse, “This is a standard belief/truth/requirement in our subculture.”

There’s also a huge difference between, “This is what works for me” and “This is how it must work for you.”

You may find a story/theory/style romantically compelling – the way I, for example, romanticize a kinky/leather/SM culture of entering via a period of bottoming, service & obedience, and then later figuring out where you feel best suited to identify and behave. And maybe someone who came out before you, or is just older than you once told you that was the way it really happened “back in the day.” But sorry – it really did NOT. Did some people do something like that? Sure! Can you do that now? Absolutely! Is it valuable, or exciting, or sexy or heroic? Why not? If you like it, then it’s all of those things. But if it doesn’t appeal to you, and you discover your tastes and talents and partners by tricking via an online dating app, that works too.

Who knows – some day, people will be saying your favorite app is an “Old Guard app.” That’s how these things go.

So, if you want a spiffy new hat, go get yourself one. Especially if you look good in hats. If you feel it would be better to “earn” a spiffy new hat, then tell your lover/partner/friends/super secret club. Perform your feats of strength and derring-do. Earn that spiffy hat and wear it with pride. But don’t call what you just did an Ancient Leather Tradition of the House of The Reddened Tuchus. There’s no such thing as the Old Guard Hatting Ceremony. And if you just decided to get a hat because you look good in hats, wear it with pride because you should always walk with pride in what makes you look good and feel good about yourself.

Here’s the trick though – just because something is untrue, or limited to a certain time and place and not universally accepted as truth, does NOT deny its romance or mythic power. We should by all means create rituals and styles and protocols and traditions in our little communities. These are the ways human beings interact, find connection and meaning, mark exciting and worthy experiences and times in their lives. Just OWN that we are, if not trying to re-create something that never was, actually creating something new and uniquely US. Say, “This is MY CLUB’S way of showing respect and love for community minded members. We buy them clothing and then piss all over them while they wear it. Your party is this upcoming Saturday. Bring a towel.” Say, “This is the way my partner and mentor taught me, and it was so meaningful for me, I’d like to share that experience with you.” Then get agreement/consent, and go bravely forward. Instead of saying things like “Boys must be in service!” or “Dominants must never bottom!” or “Women must always be submissive!” and sounding like a douchebag, say, “To me, boy is a state of mind and an identity which may or may not include service,” or “I prefer not to bottom myself, it doesn’t turn me on as much as being in charge of things and topping does,” and “I prefer submissive women for my partners.” Own your identity and preferences and your myths and realities and stop trying to make them into something universal or absolute.

Do not EVER let someone tell you that because of an identity or role or title or article of clothing, someone is excused from common courtesy. Top/daddy/mommy/mistress/master/trainer/dominant/caliph/lord/lady/alpha/protector/uber-thunder-pack-leaders should still be polite – in fact, if they’re really thinking of being considered a leader, they will be EXTRA polite, just to show off their awesome good manners. Bottom/girl/slave/boy/pup/trainee/submissive…you get the picture…people should never be treated with disrespect or discourtesy outside of their personal sphere of consent. Period. We’re always humans, first. And no matter how you identify and what club you join and what rules you choose to follow – we must START with “treat each other as humans worthy of common courtesy and consideration.” It also follows that when someone in our crowd is acting like a douchebag, we hold them responsible. “I are a dominate, I don’t have to be polite!” and “But this slave is merely a lowly submissive, unless my Chosen Person says I should be responsible, I get excused!” should have the same weight as “But I AM a fairy princess/Transforming robot!” foot-stamping tantrums from 5-year-olds.  The kinky, fetishy, role/identity based stuff? That’s all personal and negotiated.

Imagine how much more time, energy and focus we’d all have if we spent less time debating terms and roles which will never have universal value and meaning in as varied an underculture as we have. (Seriously, one of the first TES meeting topics I remember from 30 FUCKING YEARS AGO was “What’s the difference between a submissive and a slave?” Have we figured that out yet? No? How about we move the fuck on?) Imagine how easier things would be for newbies if they weren’t inundated with “must” and “should” outside of “Be courteous to others,” “Don’t take what’s not yours,” and “Use your words.” Imagine how many people of generally good intentions could have so much more free time to, I dunno, hook up and play, teach classes, make art, chat and flirt and get to know people if they didn’t spend so much time arguing over telling people what to do or how to behave in any situation Dear Abby or Miss Manners has already covered…or refuting the multitude of outright lies and exaggerations.

So, yeah. If you and your friends have a group of like-minded people and you wanna call yourselves a house or a clan or a family or a pride or whatever, you go do that. If you want a collaring ritual, make one. Or, steal one you find in a book or on the internet. But don’t call your spiffy new collar the Olde Guarde Blue Collar of Consideration. Call it the Purple Collar of Passionfruit Cocktails, or Lady Sparkle’s Collar or call it Bob. Just don’t try to make it seem like there are thousands of people who know what your ceremony means, what the collar means, or anything else other than someone’s got a new thing around their neck. Feel proud and happy explaining what you mean to other people and don’t assume they’ll magically know that according to your way, wearing the collar means …anything. And when you SEE someone in a spiffy new purple collar, ASK them about it. TALK to people. Find out what they’re doing and why and you will probably find out that while in YOUR values and fantasies and realities, a collar means you’re only dating the person with a key, but according to this other person, a collar means they do household chores while dressed differently and use a whole bunch of fancy rules. And meanwhile, at the other end of the dungeon, someone is wearing a collar because they look fucking HOT in a collar and they want to attract some playmates.

And it’s all good.

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