Hardy Haberman's Keynote Address from BL3

Communication and Community

I always enjoy coming to Beyond Leather.  Sir Top and slave bonnie put on one hell of an event, and if you haven’t done so, you should thank them face to face for all their work. They don’t do it alone either.  All the volunteers who staff the dungeon, workshops, theaters, security and vending really do a great job of making this event a success.

I feel and have felt since the first year that Beyond Leather is a family-sized event.  Big enough to have lots of variety, but small enough to feel like you are spending a weekend with family, a big extended family of choice. It is a pleasure to come here and feel so comfortable in such a great community.

In this age of MySpace, Facebook, FetLife ,Twitter and God forbid, "sexting," people talk about these forms of electronic messaging as “communities”.  That term was applied to user of websites back in the 90’s by clever marketers trying to integrate the dot-com world into everyday life.  I should know, I was one of them.

It worked.

Today, people now consider their FetLife "friends" their community.

They are wrong.

What they have is a group of mostly anonymous individuals, many of whom have created imaginary persona and communicate with other imaginary persona using the internet.  That is indeed communication to a point, but it is not community.

A community is a group of people who share common beliefs, risks, resources and most of all face-to-face interactions.  Getting anonymous messages from someone whose only picture is from the neck down, or who uses an avatar of a pink unicorn might as well be something you find in a fortune cookie.  It is communication, but not community.

If I sound a bit harsh, so be it.  I am amazed at how much credence people give to these faceless nameless “friends” who appear on a website one day and are suddenly Master Adrazon owner of 16 cyber slaves and keeper of the sacred knowledge of the Leather World.  He or she feels it perfectly acceptable to spout misinformation and personal belief as though it was some grand wisdom written down in the Book of Leather Knowledge.  That is communication, but it is not community.

Especially troubling are folks who decide that anyone with any real-life knowledge is somehow infringing on their freedom when they point out the dangers or just plain stupidity of that person online.  They feel free enough to “flame” and rant and talk about “honor and Leather Values” and yet they do not have the honor to let their own community see their face or know who their real identity is.

They are engaged in communication, but they are not part of a community.

The person who feels that because they have collected several thousand "followers" on twitter that they are so popular because they are really hot or sexy or masterful or whatever are really just voices shouting into cyberspace.

That is communication at least 140 characters of it, but it is not community.

Now before you go getting too bent out of shape, or start texting your cyberslaves about what a dick the keynote speaker is, I want you to know that I am on Facebook, and Twitter and yes, even FetLife.  And if you want to “friend me” that’s OK.  But don’t for a second imagine that everyone who shows up on my Facebook page is a close personal friend.  They are not.

I use those electronic mediums for communication.  I use it to send messages and keep up on events.  I have long since stopped contributing to the discussion groups.  Why?

Well in truth, part of it is I am tired of haggling with someone over the minutia of what constitutes a real Leatherman or how many positions a "real" slave should have memorized to be considered worthy, or how many fairies can dance on the head of a pin.

I prefer my discussions to be with actual flesh and blood friends, people who I have actually met and consider part of my real community.

To get all Biblical on you for a moment, there was a reason Jesus used a meal to remind his followers of the community of faith they shared.  There is a reason one of the highest holidays of the Jewish faith is a meal, Passover.  There is a reason most religions have feasts marking holy days or important milestones in their history.  It begins with the word community, or at least the first part of it “commune”.   It means to share a gift, usually to eat from a common table.  There is something about the act of eating together that bonds folks.

Why do you think so many BDSM groups rose from "munches."  It was not just a way to break the ice, but it gave members a chance to share a meal and commune with the others in the group.  It’s a simple thing, but I would wager you can get to know how honorable and genuine someone is over a simple meal than over the internet.  First of all you can see who they are!

They are no longer a decapitated torso, a fuzzy photo of genitals or a cartoon unicorn.  They are flesh and blood, real human beings!  What a concept?  Communication and community!

It is much harder to bullshit someone face-to-face than over a social media site.  It is much easier to understand where someone is coming from and if you think you can trust them if they actually show up for an event in the flesh.

FetLife, Facebook, MySpace, Collar Me, Recon, they might all be fine to send a message, get event info or hook up for a "quickie," albeit it a dangerous proposition but please don’t confuse that with what a community is.

When I hear people worry that it isn’t easy enough to get into the Leather Community.  That people might be intimidated and be afraid to show up at a meeting I have to say, good.  A little fear is a good thing, and newcomers who are just approaching the scene should be a bit scared and cautious.

What we do should not be taken lightly.  We deal with physical and emotional minefields in our play and it is not for everyone.  A person who really wants it should be sufficiently motivated to get over their fear and actually walk through the door of a meeting or event.  Once there they will soon lose their fear when they actually see us face to face.

We are human beings just like them. Most of us are not endowed like Tom of Finland drawings or oiled and glistening Amazons like a Boris painting, we are just folks.  We are just folks who have embraced their kink and fetish and come together with others of like proclivities to share in the feast of our sexuality.  We are a community who play together and talk and argue and celebrate and eat at a common table.

The feast of Leather is not something you can call up and have delivered or sign on and download, it is served in the "real-time" world.  You have to show up to share it.

And those people who are out there chatting and texting and twittering and believe they are part of the Leather community are simply hungry and afraid to step up to the buffet.  Fear and perhaps a lot of self deception is keeping them away.

So for those of you who are really part of this community, those of you who showed up for the feast, dig in, enjoy, share and be part of it.

As Roslyn Russel said in one of my favorite movies, Auntie Mame, "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!."