OpEd: Lifestyle Factions
Within any culture, group or community, there are differences in how core values are perceived or prioritized. Consequently, there will be factions with differing viewpoints as to which values are to be held in higher regard, or how principles are made manifest in activity. What invariably happens is that, over time the rationale as to what has initially bound these people together drifts and fades.
Certainly the kink community is no different. However, the culture which strongly values tolerance and individual choice has largely managed to keep the various camps in peaceful coexistence and even as an educational opportunity to appreciate other views and lifestyles. There is an exception, which has been long coming, where there is the community bifurcates into two primary factions… Tradition vs Frivolity
Observation of Factions
It has been my observation that, while there are many common values across the community (individuality, consent, mutual respect, etc), there is yet a definitive split. This schism is perhaps most evident in the types of events which are run. Neither faction is right, yet neither is wrong- for they both advocate for admirable values and principles worth upholding. The question is rather which aligns with one’s own personal values of views.
One could say that the root of this schism goes back to the the start of the alternative lifestyle revolution between former service members and free-love hippies, and has been carried through time by the schools of thought between the structured and unstructured.
The camp which I’m describing as Traditional, tends to have strong ties to the leather culture, which is often denoted by values in structured mentorship, strong adherence to practices such as SSC (safe, sane, consensual), or RACK (risk aware consensual kink), a bias towards power exchange, and often a “serious mindedness” with respect to codes of conduct. In all honesty, I tend to fall into this camp more so because of my own rather hierarchical values and practices. I believe that the spirit of this camp is evident by the more senior members use of scene terminology such as work, and tools or implements.
The camp which I’m describing as Frivolity tends to be a newer generation with strong ties to the college environment and social consciousness, which is often denoted by values in self-expression, individual identity, intra-connectivity, and pleasure seeking. As someone long involved in the arts and academic pursuits, I appreciate this camp but cannot live in this world – I have found it too chaotic and thus only visit it on occasion. I believe that the spirit of this camp is evident by its members use of scene terminology such as play, and toys or gadgets.
No matter what one’s personal views or preferences, there is nearly always something to be gained or learned by appreciation of another perspective. Any time we can look through another lens and come away from that experience with a greater appreciation or understanding, we have done something important in our own growth. So let’s take a look at these two camps in terms of their value:
The traditional camp strongly espouses the awareness of reality in risky activity. After all, a scene or BDSM relationship gone awry is fraught with legal implications, career peril, and significant cost to relationships with friends, family, and social circles. The primary tool for mitigating said risk is through Control. Whether through the screening of candidate members, structured training and mentorship, rules of engagement (protocols), space and environment – the goal is to ensure responsible people are engaged in a responsible manner.
The net benefit is a highly protective culture that values co-responsibility, training, and breathes SSC and RACK as a way of life.
The frivolity camp strongly espouses the awareness of how individual we can be. Our identity of self, sexuality, gender, and role is far more fluid and evolving through life’s journey. The primary method for journey is often engaged through experimentation, exploration, and variety of play. Through Play, we open the mind to potential, break down barriers, and provide for an widening of perspective.
The net benefit is a highly interactive culture that values no assumptions, communication, and the freedom to organically explore as a way of life.
I believe that few can argue with these two critical standpoints, both are incredibly valuable stances. The challenge is this – these dynamics are often at polar opposites in the spectrum between Control and Flexibility.
No single school of thought is without its risks, as it tends to stick to its position, largely as a matter of belief rather than a evaluated cognitive choice. As such, there is a tendency to exclude the value of other perspectives, or have significant difficulty in identifying with the other viewpoints. Let’s consider some of the challenges we should consider in both:
When considering the Traditional standpoint, there is risk in excluding those that don’t fall into well defined categories of interest, gender, sexuality, power dynamic, etc. The culture can be seen by those that require more freedom as stifling of individuality, freedom of expression, and requiring a declaration of identity or dynamic which may not be authentic for an individual. It is largely this viewpoint that gave rise to events that focused on the opposite camp of Frivolity.
Meanwhile, the rise of freedom and play over tradition and structure has introduced a challenge in favoring flexibility over the need to manage risky activity. The focus on play and freedom of expression and exploration often eschews the measure of structure which can be seen by others as too carefree, possibly irresponsible, and seemingly drive out those in more interested in stable relationships versus open play and hookups.
Neither position is necessarily right, for both sets of values are valid, as are both sets of criticisms or risks associated with an over focus in one arena or another.
New State of Mind
I would like to see a new state of mind – Balance. I do not believe you can please everyone, which is very often how new camps or schisms form – trying to pull aside another group of stakeholders for their own objectives. That said, I believe that both camps can learn something from a simple compare/contrast of the cultural values without having to form such dogmatic factions.
It doesn’t mean it has to be balanced all, right now, all the time. The sense of “it’s not fair” over one instance is a rather emotionally immature perspective. That’s the complaint of someone that is unhappy with not getting their way. The question, rather, is that whether there is an objective overall sense of fairness over time.
Right Sized Guidance – While both camps hold education valuable, the format of that education is highly divisive. As clearly told in our policies regarding education as a whole, there is a reality which must be addressed, the need to accept that people learn differently, while also facilitating foundational competency to be safe and responsible. We cannot forgo instruction of important basic or elementary lessons for two reasons (a) there are always those brand new to the lifestyle, (b) experience breeds overconfidence and these lessons need revisiting. If certain Core lessons are included in every demo, workshop and class, then certainly one presenters message or style of delivery will get through – if not offer a different and valuable perspective.
Balanced Work & Play – Regardless of your choice of lingo, the essence of the attitude remains the same. What I’m calling for is a need to balance the disposition of “work” and “play” with a cooperative sense that progression in skill and depth of expertise requires both work and play. It requires work in that there is a need for focused and well-defined exercises of technique, form, awareness, and skill. It requires play in that there is a need for safe experimentation, injection of joy into open potentiality, and humor. Too much fun, without work, leads to dangerous situations by forgetting the seriousness of the risk involved. Too much work, without fun, leads to stress for achieving perfection and stifles innovation. We need balance.
Inclusivity – While the lifestyle tends to promote inclusivity, there are many factions, cliques, and sub-groups that often look down and harshly upon others. We do not need to understand a mode of sexual expression or relationship dynamic to respect that there are others who enjoy or thrive within it. Depending on your kink, dynamic, or lifestyle goals – no one else but you needs to agree with the way you define your life. Not until you approach someone for a scene, then it’s best you are completely and certainly on the same page with what is desired, restricted, and what goals are being sought. That is the nature of good negotiation and consent. However, until then, I believe we could use more Mutual Respect without insisting that respect or tolerance means I have to agree with your way of life.
I do not presume to expect any utopic agreement between these and other camps within the various fetish, kink, BDSM, or alternative lifestyles. My hope is to make one real strong point – not to outright Dismiss or Devalue the other without first considering what value there might be to gain. Yes, some prefer a structured stance, and there is wisdom in that to be gained by following a more methodical practice in that it minimizes much unnecessary risk. Yes, some take a very frivolous and carefree spirit to their interaction, and there is something gain there to by allowing an open mind and spirit to discover and explore.
Neither, however, benefits when you live strictly in one camp. That does not mean abandon what appeals to you – but do spend SOME time in the other world to appreciate and get the value it has to offer. After all, spending time where it challenges us is how we grow.
Copyright 2015, Limits Unleashed, LLC