Friday, October 27, 2006

On Nov. 7, Your Safeword is “Vote!”

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #298, October 27, 2006)

My involvement in preparing for next year’s Leather Leadership Conference XI in Minneapolis (April 20-22, 2007—registration is now open at <>) has made me see leadership—and our nation’s current lack of it—in a whole new light.

The goals of the Leather Leadership Conference (LLC) are a) to strengthen the SM/Leather/Fetish community by developing the leadership skills of community members, and b) to foster a greater sense of connection between and within community groups, and a greater sense of unity and understanding within the community as a whole.

That seems to me too good to keep to ourselves. Maybe LLC 2008 should be in Washington, D.C. And maybe we should invite a few congressmen, senators and White House types to sit in on some lessons in effective leadership—because there certainly seems to be a dearth of it in Washington right now.

Then again, why wait until 2008? Let’s invite our national (and, while we’re at it, world) leaders to LLC in Minneapolis next April. Image what a different place the world would be if its leaders learned a thing or two about the theme of next year’s conference, “The Art of Sharing Power.”

I am not necessarily being facetious here. One contestant at this year’s International Mr. Leather contest (I wish I could remember which one) said something to the effect of, “If world peace is ever going to be achieved, it has to come from somewhere. Why not the leather community?”

Why not, indeed. The way we live our lives in this community means we have to think deeply about many things that people living their lives in more conventional fashion don’t have to think about at all. That breeds an unconventional and rare sort of wisdom.

It behooves us to share that wisdom by being in positions of leadership—not just in the leather community, but in other communities and in the wider community as well. We share our wisdom by serving on community and non-profit boards, by participating in civic and political activities, and by making our voices heard. We share our wisdom by leading, and by demonstrating and exercising good leadership.

And, at the most basic level of leadership, if there is currently a lack of leadership in Congress and the White House, it is up to all of us to deal with that leadership vacuum by voting, and voting intelligently.

An analogy has just occurred to me. Think of our current national nightmare—the quagmire in Iraq, the ineffective response to Katrina, civil liberties trampled, scandal upon scandal, etc.—as a BDSM scene gone horribly bad.

In 2000, the people of the United States voted to allow themselves to be led, or topped, by George Bush and his administration. (Of course, it was a nonconsensual scene for just over 50% of the electorate, but that’s politics.) It could also be said that we elected a Republican majority in both houses of Congress to act as overseers, i.e. dungeon masters. And the scene began.

Well, the scene hasn’t turned out either as promised or as hoped for. Who knew that we as a nation would be bottoming to such incompetent, arrogant, selfish, dishonest, hypocritical, unprincipled tops? (Well, slightly more than 50% of the electorate had an idea what was coming. But, again, that’s politics.)

For the last several years I have watched things continually worsen to the point where since 2004 I have personally questioned whether our nation and our world, to say nothing of the leather and GLBT communities, can survive this administration’s (poor) leadership until 2008. We have seen scandal, incompetence, and corruption on a massive scale. It doesn’t look like good leadership to me.

In BDSM parlance, a “safeword” is a predetermined word which, when uttered by anyone involved, modifies the action of a scene. One popular series of safewords is “green” (everything’s fine, keep going), “yellow” (slow down), and “red” (stop immediately).

In 2004 the American electorate had a chance to safeword out of what was even then a nightmare scene. But we didn’t. The two safewords were “blue” and “red,” and very slightly more than 50% of the electorate said “red”—which in this case meant “more of the same.”

As the 2006 mid-term elections approach, however, it appears the tide might be turning. Many leaders find themselves with a dwindling following as poll numbers and approval ratings drop to new lows.

So consider the mid-term elections on Nov. 7 as your chance to safeword out of this national/international nightmare scene, at least partially. Your ballot/safeword might not bring things to an immediate halt. But it might at least act as a “yellow” that will slow things down until 2008, when—assuming the republic has not morphed into a dictatorship—we will have a chance to choose leadership that is more honest, more caring and more effective.

On Nov. 7, vote for change. Vote for sanity. Vote for clarity. Vote for honesty. Vote for accountability. These are all things that leather culture prizes. We demand them in our fellow community members. We should demand them in our community leaders and in our national leaders as well.

It’s your ballot. It’s your safeword. On Nov. 7, use it.

Friday, October 13, 2006