My name is Alexander Cheves. My nickname is Beastly. I write about sex.
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I am new to the leather / BDSM community after ending a 28-year monogamous relationship. How can I best learn about the culture and norms of this community? Thanks in advance.
Hi aspiring kinkster,
I’m guessing you were not allowed to explore kink in your last relationship, so first let me say congrats on finally being free. That may be harsh or insensitive to say following a breakup, and I’m sure the separation was painful, but you’re in a place now where you can explore things previously barred to you, and that’s great.
How to learn kink? First, look to the internet. Kinky people have unprecedented access to kink culture — more than any generation before them. The internet is not perfect — it’s filled with misleading and inaccurate information — but it’s a good place to start if you don’t know what kinks and fetishes you’re into. I wrote some slideshows for The Advocate on kinks and fetishes — like this one and this one — and on this blog, you can find info on fetishes like gags, pup play, fisting, and bug-chasing. The internet can show you what porn, images, and ideas you respond to. I discovered my love of fisting by stumbling onto fisting porn.
That said, I believe digital communities should be seen only as supplemental to physical ones. If you live in a very remote place, you should try to travel to kink gatherings like International Mister Leather in Chicago, Mid-Atlantic Leather in Washington D.C., Dore Alley in San Francisco, the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco, Folsom Europe (in Berlin), CLAW, and others.
It’s not hard to find digital communities. For many, social media has become a digital kink community — albeit a heavily sanitized and stringently moderated one. Some people enjoy blogs and web forums; others find their community on Twitter. But these do not replace authentic human interaction. We kinky people still desperately need our physical spaces, and this is why it is urgent that we protect the few that remain. You may not realize this, but leather bars — and gay bars in general — have been shuttering across the country and across the world since their heyday in the 70s and early 80s, and some were lost in the COVID-19 pandemic. You must go to a leather bar, the nearest one you can find, and you must talk to people there.
There’s a reason why kinky people flock to the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco, Folsom East in New York City, International Mister Leather (IML) in Chicago, Folsom Berlin (Folsom Europe), Mid-Atlantic Leather (MAL) in Washington D.C., all the Recon parties across Europe, leather bars in every city, and so many other IRL events and spaces. There’s no real supplement for being among other people decked out in whatever makes them feel sexy — kinky, leathery getups — who are letting themselves be fully, unapologetically free. That is powerful and transformative — it nearly moves me to tears every time.
I knew I was kinky in college, but that kinkiness didn’t click into place — I didn’t fully realize what it meant or the sheer number of people all over the world who shared these desires with me — until I went to the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco during my last year of college. Every visit to Folsom has been a journey of self-discovery — I discovered I was into fisting the following year. That first Folsom was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I knew next-to-nothing about the kink community — I was unversed in its various scenes and customs — but that truly didn’t matter. No one demanded competence in my language or dress. Nobody turned me away because I was new — they did the opposite. Because that’s what the kink community does. When I walked through the half-million attendees (most wearing leather, rubber, or nothing at all) I felt, for the first time in my life, like I had found my people. And I had.
You need to have that experience. The rest will come.
There are few cultural norms of the kink community that are standard. Kinky men in Amsterdam likely have a wildly different perception of their fetish lives than people in Atlanta. Some kink and fetish scenes are more popular in Europe than they are in America (rubber), and vice versa. But generally speaking, most kink scenes are divided into two kinds of practitioners: top/dominant and bottom/submissive. Some guys are both — what we in the U.S. call “switches” — but many people seem to choose one role or the other, and that’s true regardless if they’re into bondage or baby play (paraphilic infantilism — involving no actual babies).
Beyond that, there are micro-cultural norms within different kink scenes, but even these vary from place to place. Leathermen and leatherwomen tend to view their scene as the original kink community, because leather is, and they often practice various rituals and protocols associated with leather and are stringent about titles. Fisters, in contrast, hardly see themselves as part of the BDSM world at all; they have almost no titles and protocol, many are decidedly not kinky besides fisting, and they prefer rubber over leather, yet they tend to be close-knit, well-connected, and enjoy celebrating their scene visually (with red hankies, socks, and harnesses, etc.).
But the fisting and leather scenes where you live may be completely different than what I’ve described. Wherever you are, your local and regional kink scene will be shaped by your location, your language, and the way your culture views sex in general. This is partly why online content has limited value: tips from a professional BDSM master in Los Angeles may not apply to where you live. This is why it’s necessary to meet local kinksters (kinky people). Try the gay fetish app Recon, which is like Grindr for kinky guys.
Come frolic with us.
Best place to start in kink? I’m a 60-year-old bear daddy, with no Kink Experience.
Most of my above answer is applicable to you. The best place to start is your nearest leather bar. I understand that might be two hours away from you, but I still think it’s the best place to meet others. Do some research online about the closest one. Then download Recon.
If you like written porn, Archive Of Our Own is a great place to learn about kink as well — their tagging system for stories is very detailed, so you can find things by kink, reading to find out if you find the kink hot or not. You’ll get the most out of it by reading stories in a fandom you’re familiar with, but I’ve read stuff I had no idea who anyone was just for the kink.
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