Tonight I’m answering Diane’s question:
After years of going to kinky workshops and events, I’m starting to feel vaguely dissatisfied by most of the offerings today. A lot of them are 101s or cover topics I’ve already learned about or am not into. The most interesting part for me is often the discussion amongst participants, not the topic.
What can I do to continue to learn and grow?
(I think it may be out of chronological order, but I’ll answer the other one soon too!)
I find that a lot of people end up in this sort of headspace after a number of years in the leather/kink/BDSM community. It makes sense: as we get to know ourselves better as kinksters, for all that there’s still room for growth and diversification, many of us find ourselves “specializing,” or developing particular areas of interest that we’d really like to pursue in greater depth, more like following a personal path than enjoying a general experience of learning whatever we don’t know yet about kink. As a result, because event organizers and seminar leaders aren’t inside our heads and tailoring their offerings to us, we may find ourselves disenchanted with the standard line-up of educational opportunities in kink settings.
I can offer a few ideas about what to do here, but of course, your mileage may vary based on what “learning and growing” really means to you.
First, design an interview questionnaire for someone who’s facing this situation. Ask all sorts of open-ended questions. You might start with things like, How do you best learn new things – what’s your learning style? What topics are you interested in exploring? If you could design your very own kinky curriculum, what would be on it? What sort of growth would you like to experience? And what sort of people inspire you to do that growth? Where do you want to be challenged? What still scares you about or within kink? What sort of kinky person would you like to be in five years, or ten years? How do these desires and hopes tie into your other desires and hopes (in terms of relationships, career, health, etc.)? … and so forth. Then, answer all those questions yourself as the interview subject. See what comes up. See if you can list off two to five goals or desires.
From there, brainstorm all the ways those goals or desires might be attained – and don’t let “reality” limit you. For example, just because there’s no existing “kink 301” university where you can do graduate-level classes in all the topics of your choosing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write that down. And just because you don’t have a leather family right now doesn’t mean you couldn’t end up in one if you put the right vibes out into the Universe and created one for yourself. Just lay it all out. Entertain your wildest dreams.
Then, once the brainstorm part is totally finished, take each of those possibilities and evaluate how realistic it is. Each time you come across something you could do easily, that’s within reach for you – as in, you have the appropriate resources, time, energy and availability – highlight it in one colour. You can go back to that later and come up with plans to make ’em happen. Each time you come to the conclusion that something is not realistic, put it aside, but don’t toss it.
For each item that’s not realistic, do a second brainstorm to generate ideas about how you might meet that same desire using means that are within your reach. No kinky grad school? Fair enough. But what programs are out there, somewhere else, that you could potentially use for inspiration? For example, the Journeymen program out in San Francisco is an 18-month commitment to one weekend a month of intensive work with a specially selected group of kinksters. Sure, you might not be able to commit to a full weekend in another country once a month for a year and a half, but you might be able to gather a group of people together to do intensive work around a specific topic for a full weekend once every two months close to home, in a less formal setting. Or hell, you might find yourself moving to San Francisco for a time! Granted, some possibilities might be more attainable than others, but there’s no reason not to think about them.
I’d encourage you to think outside the box. If you want a mentor and can’t find one, what ways could you go about looking for one that you haven’t tried yet? Perhaps a personal ad, a discussion group post, or an intensive inquiry among your kinky connections might work; perhaps you could ask for temporary or trial mentorships of a month each with three or four older leatherfolks who might have something to offer. If you want to do advanced readings in a given area and you don’t know where to start, perhaps you could make a list of who you could ask or what discussion boards you could post to for suggestions. If you’d like specialized training in a certain area, perhaps specialists do exist and you could make time to spend with one when you next take a vacation. If you want to do intensive spiritual work, you might be able to find a spiritual community to do that outside a kink-specific setting, but bring other leatherfolk with you and meet up after each community gathering to discuss how that work relates to kink. If you want to read and reflect about power exchange but you can’t find sufficiently advanced kink books to start with, perhaps you could look outside the relatively small field of leather publication and ask people for their recommendations to build a reading list sourced from more general fields of spirituality, self-help, psychology, history, world politics, philosophy and so forth. If you want to learn more on a given topic, you might consider starting to teach – it’s amazing how much teaching teaches the teacher, not to mention you are guaranteed to find a group of people who are interested in the same topic and might know of further resources that you don’t.
Similarly, I’d encourage you to think about the possibilities of creating the resources you don’t yet have. If you want the satisfaction of regular discussion with like-minded kinksters, you might found a discussion group like the D/s Salons in Vancouver, a regular informal dinner hosted by a local leatherdyke with a selected topic for each meeting. If there is no book about the topic you want to learn more about, perhaps you could put out a call for submissions and edit one! Same goes for lots of things – researching film databases and creating a list of films to see and then blogging about them so others can find out about them, making art when you can’t find images to your liking, starting an online discussion group, and so forth.
I’m certainly not accusing you or anyone else of being lazy, but I do find it unfortunate that some kinksters seem to think that all the knowledge we might want to acquire is out there and ready for the taking, if we can just find it. I would argue that the kink world is still very young and very marginalized, and we simply don’t have a rich enough literary canon or a sufficient number of solidly established institutions to provide all that knowledge. Not to mention that even if we did, kink is so much about individuality and personal pathways that I’m not sure we’ll ever have canons and institutions that will truly meet all our needs; so much of what we learn comes from relationship and life experience rather than any sort of activity that’s deliberately geared toward learning. Deeper knowledge and growth in leather really does need to be pursued one tiny little morsel at a time, from any number of sources, some of them very unlikely. Kink is the very epitome of independent learning, and if we can conceive of it as such, while the challenges are considerable, so are the opportunities to make amazing things happen.