SMers as Nice Folks

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July 1998

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1998 by William A. Henkin

<Q> I'm a recent transplant from New York, where I was a member of The Eulenspiegel Society and spent a fair number of what would otherwise have been my idle evenings at Paddles, the Vault, and other places where leatherpeople congregate. I've been to several LILs (Living in Leather, the National Leather Association's annual conference – WAH), Leatherfest a couple of times, a bunch of club runs, and generally have been around the scene for the past ten years. While I've noticed a lot of changes in the community, and while the community here is certainly different than it is in New York, one thing that has always seemed consistent in my leather experience is the quality of the people I meet. With few exceptions they have been considerably more intelligent, thoughtful, and all-around pleasant to know than most of the civilians I've met in the same period. Why do you suppose that is?

<A> Well, it might be because you're a swell fellow and attract only the best people to you. It could be because leatherfolk are a wonderful breed apart, and the world is poorer for failing to know us better. It could be because you have a bias in favor of people who share your fetishes and see mostly the good in anyone perceptive enough to join your club. I'm sure there are other possibilities as well, since your letter is not the first time I've heard someone talk about similar experiences, and in fact I said something like it in my own book.

But I also suspect that when you join any sub-culture organized around education and support, as most of the formal BDSM communities are, you enter a world that tacitly defines itself in more thoughtful ways than many communities do. Education and support specifically require some thoughtful efforts to work through, and participating with other people around common goals and interests encourages a pleasantness similar to what you might expect to find among people who negotiate and play with one another in intimate ways. You might also find something like it in certain spiritual communities or in some of the 12-Step groups, for instance, or in a group of people organized into a community theatre.

In addition, I suspect that one of the things you specifically like in the BDSM communities is exactly that attention we have traditionally paid to education and support. But education and support are community enterprises that do not automatically come with the BDSM turf. There are plenty of people who share your fetishes who do not belong to Janus, Eulenspiegel, NLA, or any other part of the organized leather world. Some of them I know to be as nice and bright as the people you're referring to, and some have educated themselves about BDSM protocol, safety, and other relevant issues in ways that serve their needs. But others I know to be not more intelligent, thoughtful, or pleasant than a considerable number of civilians, and some few I have known to be conspicuously less intelligent, thoughtful, and pleasant than people I generally want to spend time with, regardless of their interests. Arguably, some of these latter people may not always practice BDSM as I understand it – but that's grist for another column, if anyone asks the relevant question.

All in all, in the general run of human relations, and recognizing that no one person is a template for another, I'm persuaded that at least at deep levels like attracts like more often than opposites attract. Maybe you're just a nice guy after all, and so are we.

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