Friday, January 9, 2004

This Calls for a (Kink-Aware) Professional

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #225, January 9, 2004)

Sooner or later, everyone is confronted with some sort of problem requiring professional help. It may be physical, it may involve mental or emotional health, or it may simply be a practical matter such as legal help, financial planning or even a crashed computer hard drive. Especially as one year ends and a new one begins, many New Year’s resolutions are about making changes that involve the services of a trained professional.

Once you’ve decided that professional help is needed, the next step is finding the right professional. It’s important to find one with whom you’re comfortable and whom you feel you can trust. If you can trust them you will be able to be honest with them, and the ability to communicate openly, honestly and completely can make the difference between success and failure in the professional relationship.

While finding the right professional help can be a daunting task for anyone, kinky people and others involved in alternative sexualities are faced with problems that other people aren’t. The last thing we need is a professional whose prejudices and judgments will get in the way. At best they will be a hindrance to dealing with our problem, and at worst they can actually cause the situation to become worse.

A classic example of this is chemical-dependency treatment for gays and lesbians. There are alcoholism and chemical-dependency treatment centers that work very well for most people but that put a significant stumbling block in the way of gays and lesbians, who are told: “We’re not here to discuss your sexuality, we’re here to discuss your alcoholism.” In other words, discussion of your sexuality is off-limits here, regardless of whether or not you might think it has anything to do with your addiction.

Treatment centers of this type expect you to ignore your sexuality and to therefore not be honest about who you are. The necessity of keeping one’s sexuality under wraps in a treatment setting can be a real barrier to dealing effectively with the issues that brought you there in the first place. And if these treatment centers often don’t deal effectively with gay and lesbian issues, a trans person will probably be met with even less understanding.

That’s why GLBT substance-abuse treatment centers have been established. They are safe places for GLBT folks to get the help they need without judgments getting in the way. The theory is that the more honest one can be about who one is and why one does what one does, the more likely it is that the person will be able to stop the behaviors that are causing them problems.

It’s the same for kinky people of whatever sexual orientation. Life is easier and simpler when you don’t have to spend time and energy explaining to your physician about the lash marks on your back. And suppose a kinky person is involved in divorce proceedings with a non-kinky person, and child-custody issues are involved—it is probably not a good idea for the kinky person to have a lawyer who thinks their client’s kinky behavior is sick and that the kids will probably be better off with the non-kinky, and therefore “healthy,” parent.

That’s why the notion of “kink-aware professionals” came into being. Any web search engine will pull up many hits for this search, but probably the most popular website in this field is the Kink-Aware Professionals (KAP) list (<>). The privately funded, non-profit website bills itself as a resource for people who are seeking “professionals who are informed about the diversity of consensual, adult sexuality.” While it formerly carried only listings from the United States and Canada it has now been broadened to include listings from around the world.

The KAP list includes listings for professions where kink-awareness is especially important and can make the difference between success and failure of the professional relationship. Some of the professions are health-related: psychotherapists, medical doctors, spiritual counseling, and other “complementary” healers such as chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists. There also are listings for legal and financial professionals, and there even are listings for computer professionals—which means you can find someone to retrieve data from your crashed hard disk without having them judge the contents of your saved e-mails or JPEG files.

According to the site, professionals who are listed there “may or may not be personally involved in kink sexuality, but they are friendly to such erotic choices.” The site states that its list “is composed of professionals who have requested that their listings be posted on this site. None of them are screened in any way. This means that anyone contacting these professionals should take the necessary precautions, just as you would do if you were searching for a professional through any other means.” So, once you have the name of a professional whom you might want to use, it might be worth meeting with the professional, discussing what you’d like to accomplish with them, and seeing if you feel comfortable working with them. Ask them for references, but also do some networking on your own. Ask around the community and see if other people have had experience with this professional, and if the experience was good or bad.

As a bonus, the KAP website includes an extensive collection of links covering many facets of the leather/BDSM community. There are links to organizations, leather crafters, erotic toy and other retailers, magazine and book publishers, accommodations, personal websites and more.

The website requests that you “Always tell any professional you find here that you heard about them through the KAP website. It is important that they know this referral system is working.” And if you happen to be a kink-aware professional in one of the fields covered by the KAP list, visit the site to find out how you too can be listed.

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