Presented at the 19th Anniversary of GWNN
July 20, 2012 Austin, TX
Congratulations, GWNN on 19 years; that’s quite a milestone in the kink community. For example, you can now join a TNG group and expect to be cruised by creepy older people who entice you with shiny violet wands and other attractive nuisances. Try to resist taking the candy; text your BFF and totes set up a safe call.
I bet you didn’t realize you were getting two speeches out of me this weekend; what’s even more interesting is that one is only slightly older than the other. What I said this morning, on responsibility, is less than three weeks old. What I’m about to say to you now is less than 12 hours old.
Why yes, I do prepare for these events. I just don’t do it much in advance. I have learned my lesson several times – a carefully prepared speech has been tossed into the trash more then once when I realized I had an even better idea. Or, once, when I realized the community I was about to address didn’t need to hear what I’d written, and in fact, I might taint their already existing good health by even suggesting the bad habits I had intended to talk about.
But today, what I have to share with you is entirely based on two movies I saw yesterday. It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen either one; but it was the first time I’d seen them one after the other, and, in a curious and rare receptive state known to authors everywhere as Deadline.
When the Deadline state is achieved, inspiration opens like an ass on poppers – that’s a classical reference. So, when I was pondering issues and subjects on my radar or rant list, awaiting expression, I found myself stopping a sweep of available Direct TV channels on my flight from NY to Houston to watch the second half of Disney’s The Lion King.
I like the Lion King. To be honest, I love the Broadway show so much I’d happily see it any time you cough up a ticket for me. I’ll sing along; you’ll find it amusing, I guarantee it. The cartoon is fine, though, and I figured the music would help drown out any crying children while I pondered deep things involving the leather/BDSM/kink community.
Then, when it was over, I channel surfed again only to find John Ford’s seminal western, The Searchers.
The Lion King, with music by Elton John and Tim Rice, about the trials and tribulations of a bunch of talking animals on the savannah, versus one of the darker character study westerns ever made. A children’s story containing a farting warthog and a hula dancing meerkat – and then a tale of murder, rape, racism and revenge. Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick – or John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter.
Together, they stitched a narrative for me that resonated. This is really how writers work, folks. All of you who want to ask where we get our ideas?
Everywhere. The more honest admit it. The more talented have better inspirations. And then there’s me, who sit there humming Can You Feel The Love Tonight while addressing the alt sex world. Perversion is where you find it.
GWNN just turned 19, you say. In our scene, something that’s 19 years old …is old! When you think of how many groups have come and gone in the past, oh, 30 years or so – that would be as long as I’ve been around – to make it almost to drinking age is a notable achievement. And yet, when you eavesdrop on our world, trying to find out what people value, what they’re curious about, what they want, they tend to fall neatly into two parts. There’s that group of us who always want the new shiny – whether it’s the latest electrical toy, fanciest kilt or the most popular of new play techniques. What’s hot now, or even better, what will everyone else want, tomorrow?
And then there are the Back in the Olden Days folks, those who romanticize a past they have not experienced. Or, sadder, those who were around, but not only embellish their tales of decadence and derring-do, but begin, seemingly, to believe their own hype.
I’ve picked a public bone with the romanticists before, whether I made fun of the pretentious names they make up for themselves, like Master Wolfdick of Thunderfang Manor – aka, the double wide. Or, they engage in what I called, earlier – and perhaps later, too – competitive badassery, declaring that their way, practice, creed, clan, mystical belief or lifestyle is somehow more genuine than what other people are doing. Some of them do this obviously and with an obnoxious disdain for objective reality – others do it with smooth élan and psychopathic manipulation, and still others do it with genuine and heartfelt belief in their own mythology, whether they created it, stole it, or received it from someone sharing the same delusion.
But watching this cartoon reminded me of an enormous reality in our world – we want, we seek, indeed might be hard wired – to seek, create and believe in stories that paint our lives and our values in large, Disney-esque colors. The glorious future, whether it’s a destiny of wealth, fame and leadership, or the hope that someday our prince will come. The secure, predictable, stable childhood moment of NOW, when parents will always be there to protect and love and guide us, when your best friend will be there forever, you could tell time by playdates and TV shows, and when you get back from the most incredible adventures anyone ever had, your dinner will still be hot. And of course, the rosy, Vaseline smeared past, where everything was easier, made sense, was more natural or more formal, when everything and everyone had a proper place, and if you played by the rules, you were guaranteed success.
The betrayal we feel when our stories are revealed as false, misguided, unrealistic or complete nonsense is real. And it’s part of engaging with the world in maturity. Simba the lion cub aches and feels anger that his father – James Earl Jones – betrays him by dying. He only gains an adult sense of self and responsibility – there’s that word again – when he realizes that his belief in his father’s story was childish. He heard his father say, “I will always be with you.” He wanted big daddy to come and tell him what to do, to have his back, to save him from failure and loneliness. But the real story he was being told was, “Your ancestors – or, to be correct, memories of the value of the past will inform your choices correctly if you listen wisely and apply those things I have taught you are good to your reality.”
In our scene, we have many people who embrace the wrong story. They seek the old guard and enact dramas they imagine have been passed down to them by a group – and I will be so blunt here – a group that did not exist.
I know! You can say, oooh, gay men, post WWII, biker clubs, leather, Larry Townsend! To which I must inform you, even when you find someone who says, yes, I was there, and he’s got bonafides and even witnesses, he’s a representative of that bar, that patch club, that town, that circle of gay men brave enough to seek each other for company and pleasure in a time when it was sometimes worth your life to do so.
The 70-year-old man from a Los Angeles area biker club has nothing in common with the 80-year-old New York actor/waiter who has nothing in common with the 85-year-old Florida dock worker. Or rather, they do have one thing enormously in common.
They sucked dick. You want to be old guard? Find a gay senior citizen and suck his cock. Maybe it will transfer the secret old guard rituals to you. Maybe you’ll just liven up that afternoon’s canasta game. Either way, what you’re doing will be more old guard than any ritual of hat giving, any list of kinky rules, any form of dress, no matter how sexy, and of course, will establish your cred as a cocksucker, which I always think is a worthwhile thing to know. Sure beats knowing why you should not touch the brim of your own cap.
We seek fairy tales and stories and myths because as humans, we have the ability to do so. An ability doesn’t evolve completely without purpose, even though it may take us time to figure out what that purpose is. But stories can continue to delight and inform and inspire us – I’m almost 49 and I enjoy the Lion King! But when we imbue the wrong elements of a story with importance, we are as easily led astray as Simba. Betrayed and grieving and hurt, he leaves the community of security, knowing there is no Daddy to keep him safe, it’s all a lie. And he finds new friends – who teach him a new philosophy.
The past doesn’t matter. Hell, the future doesn’t matter that much. Your myth betrayed me, so I reject it. Nothing matters. The world is meaningless, so seek pleasure in the childhood experience of NOW and care for nothing.
This happens to us, too.
Sometimes, we call it burnout.
At some point, anyone who is sensitive, anyone who enters the scene thinking, wow, at last I am among MY people, where I have a place, where everything is either more natural or more formal, where at last things will be easier, simpler. A place where, if I play by the rules, I will be guaranteed success.
We enter the scene like children looking for meaning in stories and myths, and then we layer over the reality of the world a rosy, Vaseline smeared image of that mythical past.
Lemme tell you something about the past.
The good old days weren’t. When some bleating politician pines away for the simpler days of the 50′s, I guarantee he doesn’t remember what the 50′s were really like. The image of a world where all parents were two people who married for love and brought children into the world in welcome and joy, where men had secure jobs and women stayed home to be blissed out housewives, when children were safe in the streets and we all revered the same God was bullshit.
If you were a heterosexual white man of the middle or upper class, maybe you might have felt that way. But you know what? I doubt it.
Because people still got married because women did not have autonomous access to safe, legal birth control, let alone abortion. They got married because the myth told them they should. Children were born by accident; they were sent to abusive schools and neglected and abandoned just as often as they are now, and we’ll never know how many of them were abused at home, except maybe we can estimate by how they then abused their own spouses and children later. Maybe a man might have a good job that paid enough to afford a house and a car and we look at that now and laugh in amazement; but an awful lot of them also lost work as industry shifted out of the US and technology outpaced our manufacturing and creative industries, as employers realized they could get those women who worked in the 40′s back and pay them less.
Try being a person with brown skin and faced with two identical water fountains, one just for you so you wouldn’t pollute the “white one.” Or, being turned away from a hotel or a hospital. Being denied a job because you’re Jewish, or you speak with an accent, or might have babies one day. Being denied an education because your ancestors were so cheeky they lived here before the Italians, French, Spaniards and Brits arrived.
Or, try being that privileged white guy – who loves other men.
Fuck the glorious past. As a queer women with bad eyesight and a bad attitude who only enjoys role playing for fun, the past is no haven for me, it’s a prison of nightmarish proportions.
So when you romanticize the past of the old leather or kinky community, whether you call it old guard or old days, and you imagine it was safer, more secure, more real, simpler, sexier, at once bigger and more insular than what we have now, look around a room like this and understand that 95% of you would not have been welcome walking into a gay men’s bar in the good old days. And if you did get in and look for the keys to a mystical fraternity of honor, respect and loyalty, you are mostly likely to find …cock sucking. With or without hats, keys, patches, and certainly without rituals, unless you mistake checking for the telltale signs of an STD a ritual. If you sought a mentor, he will probably tell you which alleys, bathrooms, parks and other deserted places were more likely to be safe than filled with cops, and he’ll tell you which clinic or doctor in town will treat you for syphilis, and he might tell you the name of a hot guy he met in another city that one time.
But still we search, which leads me to John Ford’s movie. In The Searchers, John Wayne plays perhaps his most nuanced role, a man whose niece has been captured by the evil Comanches. Interestingly, in both of these movies, the villain is named Scar.
As we follow the character of Ethan across Texas, in his multi year search for Natalie Wood, we discover that he has a fierce hatred for Indians, despite being fairly conversant in at least one of the native languages and in many of their customs. The murder of his family members and captivity of the niece drive his hatred so thoroughly he does things like shoot buffalo just so no Indian can eat them the next winter. Slowly, you realize that when he does find his niece, presumably raped and possibly adopted into a tribe, he will not rescue her, but to kill her. To “save” her – and possibly him – from the shame of being kidnapped and raped.
The glorious past. The values of a patriarchy, where a father or husband or uncle or brother has the right to kill a woman because an unauthorized man has fucked her, with her consent or not. Actually, I wish that was only in our past. But people clinging to the wrong values in myths and stories still do this today.
And we do this in our community.
When we are betrayed by our visions of what the community will be, and will do for us, when we realize we are not finding the perfect place, the prince and princess charming, when we work hard and find our work disregarded, our achievements forgotten, when we play by what we think are the rules and we don’t become king of the savannah, but instead get chased around and threatened by hyenas, trampled by wildebeest, when the figures we looked up to are revealed to be false, or when we lose them altogether, sometimes, the search for the right thing continues.
But we intend to destroy it when we get there.
When I say harsh things about the romanticism of the past, you might think I am destroying it. That I am saying, “this is meaningless; this is soiled and worthless and embarrassing to us now.” And yet, here I stand, dressed in my leather finery, and where the fuck do you think I got this image? There was no internet when I came out. I got this image from the texts of my people – porn and the Leatherman’s Handbook. I got this image and embraced this look because I met leathermen and I wanted to incorporate what I thought was hot and meaningful in them into my life and identity.
So today, under the influence of two movies about as different as you can get, I am here to give you my usual reality check and some romantic veneer to make sure you don’t think the world is nothing but existential meaningless moments of time, unconnected and adrift. You can be mature enough to accept the nature of a fairy tale and childish enough to enjoy the NOW of thought, experience, wonder and timelessness – at the same time.
Your first step is to realize that a story – whether true or exaggerated, blatantly fictional or merely doubtful, can get a vote in how you live your life. Just avoid giving it either a mandate or a veto. Just because that’s the way some guy used to do it at the Manscape Bar in Des Moines in 1957 doesn’t mean you need to do it today. Know what also happened in 1957? A black lady couldn’t sit at a fucking Woolworth lunch counter and get a fucking sandwich, or sit in the first 4 rows of a bus. There’s an old guard custom right there. Want to embrace that too? Then realize age is not equivalent to wisdom, or righteousness.
Most people know I rage on the Goreans, but I suspect they will be mighty shocked at how downright affectionate I am toward my fictional depiction of them in a book I am releasing next year, called The Killer Wore Leather. It’s a comedy murder mystery set in the leather community, and amid the made up organizations and clubs, I include the Zodians, who dress like the barbarians from the Capital One ads and follow the rules gleaned from a set of poorly written pulp fantasy novels. But grab your average Gorean and ask, “So, are you waiting to be transported to another earth on the other side of the sun, where inter-solar system travel meets age-defying serums and gravity defiant boobs and giant, gravity defying carnivorous birds can carry two grown adults? Where, despite such birds flying around, the standard form of dress is leather rags that tear like ‘pick a size’ paper towels instead of a full length raincoat and hat and hip waders to get through the tarn guano?” said Gorean will look at you with pity and say, carefully, “No, because some deluded philosophy professor in Queens made up those stories, my friend. We just like parts of them because they get us hot and give us an excuse to dress up and play fun, sexy games. Do you need some water? Did you take your meds today?”
I mean, they might bluster a bit and talk about the fantasy and all that, but most of them know they’re doing what they call cosplaying now. We just called it dressing up to party when I was younger. Do it in furs and silks or in a leather trench coat and Ray-Bans, or a pink crinoline and corset combo, or a brown, embroidered waistcoat and goggles on your top hat or in full leathers, the ultimate goal is to go out, find someone who sees that and thinks, YUM, and get your goddamn freak on.
If there ever are MP role players out there, and I hope there aren’t, but if they are…I hope they do it to get laid. Not to live the MP lifestyle.
Because you don’t have to believe in the actual narrative of a myth to get value from it. You don’t have to have a genuine example of something in objective reality in order to find meaning in it.
As an adult of free will and personal responsibility, it is your task instead to discover what the true values you admire are, even in a children’s story, and then embody them YOURSELF.
Simba’s dad tells him, movingly, in one of the better songs of the show, the ancestors of the lion kings continue to exist in the night sky, in the stars, but they live – they experience and interact with the world – within the living.
Simba, lost and hurt and angry, declares in the song Endless Night,
“Where has the starlight gone? Dark is the day! How can I find my way home? Home is an empty dream; lost to the night …I feel so alone.”
This is the cry of a child, seeing security, simple answers – the rule book and dinner waiting, still hot.
But what we have are not empty dreams – we do dream of things like honor and loyalty, respect and courtesy. We have visions, some of us from childhood, of an ordered world of command and obedience; just rewards and punishments, drama, passion, love, unending pleasure. We want to be heroes – and villains. We want the fairy tale so fucking much.
But when we find that life isn’t that tale, when all kinky people do not form a fraternity united against whatever Stephen would call ‘the other tribe that defines us by not being like us’ – when the fantasy of an older, cleaner, more rewarding way of life becomes the reality of committee meetings and by-laws, stupid fights about pins and patches and logos, when there’s never enough time and energy, or money and compensation – when the place we thought would be home seems more like a minefield of brittle personalities, pointless internet drama, lost friendships and lovers – when there’s always a place for division and strife and rarely a place to fuck and play…
We cry to the uncaring skies. And we blame the myth, instead of realizing that, in the mythology of yet another classic movie, we have always had the ability to go home.
(Click heels 3X.)
We just have to build that home.
And the tools are right where Mufasa said they’d be. They live in you. They live in me.
If you value the myth of a world where kinky sex is more than kinky sex, where it’s a way of informing your decisions and choices to make life better for you and your loved ones, but now you know it wouldn’t have been that way for you in that mythical past…
Then you get to incorporate the best aspects of that myth into your behavior. Maybe not your identity. I’m not a man. I’m butch. There’s a difference. So, I don’t say I’m a leatherman, even thought I might dress like one. I’m a leatherwoman. And the values I imagined before I found kinky people are IN ME. That I was blessed in finding some people to reflect those values, and teach me their own is because I was open to the possibility that even though a TES meeting in the basement of the Harmony Burlesque theatre in NY wasn’t quite the image of the smoke filled leather bars OR the Edwardian drawing rooms of my fantasies, the people there had things to teach me. And in time I would stand up and teach them.
Because that is what I value.
Inside you are the dreams and myths you embraced as a child, hoping for your own personal happily ever after, whether filled with domestic peace and contentment or dramatic action and adventure – or a combination thereof. So when you find your dreams dissed by a rude and intemperate reality, don’t kill them, don’t let your anger and betrayal and hurt destroy that which feeds your imagination, your passion, your soul, if you believe in one. Don’t murder that part of you because you feel embarrassed for believing in its purity. Purity is one of the most toxic myths of all. Nothing is pure; we are all gloriously, wonderfully tainted.
Instead, protect your real lifestyle – not composed of ritual and habit and modes of dress and play and speech – but the style of your life that exists without any trappings whatsoever, your morals, ethics, your personal values and truths. Remind yourself that in order to become dignified, you should life a life of dignity. In order to earn respect, you must be respectful. In order to attract people around you who value loyalty, you must be a true and loyal friend and ally. In order to be taken seriously as a leader, you must…lead. These things will not come naturally and they won’t always be easy. Sometimes, you have to pretend you are better mannered than you feel like you truly are, inside. But enough time spent pretending you have good manners…guess what happens?
You become polite.
It’s easy to get caught up in the nets that life sets to keep us from finding our way to happiness. You believed a college degree would get you a fine job and security; it got you 60G in debt. You think you’ll log on quickly to say goodnight and wind up staying up until 3Am arguing something petty on Fetlife. Big betrayals of our time and passion and small ones both trip us up and make us doubt ourselves and each other and the world around us.
But when you act from fear and hatred and loss; when you are reactive rather than active; when you mourn an untrue fairy tale instead of becoming the hero yourself, when you destroy the very image you hold most valuable because it costs you too much to keep it, damaged or different as it might be, you’re only making sure that your values, the best things about you – your most noble dreams – might not find their way to the next generation.
In ten years or so, people will call me old guard. Maybe in twenty years or thirty, they will say that to you as well. But only if you stick around long enough to transmit your stories – your true stories – and your values – the ones you cherish the most – in the only way that counts.
By living them. To the best of your ability. Because that is what the real circle of life is all about.
I would like to finish with the words of the President, from yesterday.
“Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it’s not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it’s how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.
It’s what we do on a daily basis to give our lives meaning and to give our lives purpose. That’s what matters. At the end of the day, what we’ll remember will be those we loved and what we did for others. That’s why we’re here.”