Friday, April 25, 2008

Keynote Excerpts from Leather Leadership Conference 12

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #337, April 25, 2008)

PHOTOS: keynote speakerss

The twelfth annual Leather Leadership Conference was held April 11-13, 2008 in San Francisco. The jam-packed weekend included three major keynote speeches (as well as 49 workshops and panel discussions).

Friday evening’s opening keynote speaker was noted leather author and publisher Race Bannon (filling in for Guy Baldwin, the originally announced opening keynote speaker, who was unable to attend the conference due to illness). In his speech, Bannon discussed recent trends in the leather/BDSM/fetish community, including:

• the prevalence of the Internet as a communications tool

• the continuing generational divide

• pansexuality reaching equilibrium after more than a decade of growth

• increasing role fluidity among gay men (Top? Bottom? Switch!)

Bannon then noted another important trend: people seem to be getting kinkier, as evidenced by expanding lists in online profiles of what people are into sexually. Bannon offered a theory that might explain this phenomenon:

“In the 1980s and 1990s, Giacomo Rizzolatti, a neuroscientist and a professor of human physiology, and some other scientists were doing some research on the brain activity of monkeys when performing a task, like reaching for a banana. The researchers observed certain neurons firing in the brain. Then they noticed something they were not expecting.

“The same neurons fired when the monkey only watched someone perform the action. Rizzolatti named these neurons ‘mirror neurons.’ Subsequent research has observed these mirror neurons in primates, some birds, and—sure enough—humans. Therefore it seems logical that mirror neurons allow humans simply observing someone doing something to truly experience at least some semblance of what the person is experiencing.

“Consider the first trend that I mentioned: the dramatic influence of the Internet and technology. We see other people’s kink—via profiles, porn, often in real time via chat or webcam—and, assuming that the mirror neuron theory is correct, we actually experience the feelings and sensations in much the same way we would if we were actually doing it. This brings about an energizing twist in those kinks in ways that were more difficult to elicit before this technological age of ours came about.”

Saturday morning’s breakfast keynote speaker was Michael Thorn, editor and publisher of Instigator Magazine. He called the community to focus more on quality and less on quantity:

“What we’re doing is watering down our fucking gene pool. This ‘bring your neighbor to SM101, we’ll teach ‘em flogging’ just strikes me as a desperate need for safety in numbers—validation. ‘I’m a freak, maybe a bunch of us together can be safe.’ That’s not leadership, guys, it’s just desperation.

“Maybe what we need to do is shore up our numbers, tighten our ranks, take care of the brothers we have now. It’s like a Master who has a gaggle of slaves. If they’re sloppy and messy, no one’s interested. But if these guys are hot and tight, believe me, other guys will go up and say ‘Please, Sir, can you teach me to be like that?’

“Gay boys wait in lines around nightclubs to get in, knowing there’s a chance they might not. There’s an exclusivity thing that people are drawn to. And this all-encompassing-all-the-time is not getting us anywhere.

“I’ve come to believe that at the root of all our problems is self-esteem. Sure, we’ve got a boatload of pride, but when it comes to safety in numbers, are we really thinking out of the box on this one? This desperate need for validation is literally destroying our scene. If we could actually learn to concentrate on quality, just for awhile, instead of quantity, maybe we just might attract others who appreciate that as well.”

Sunday afternoon’s closing keynote speaker was author and radical-sex activist Patrick Califia, who talked about the challenges facing the leather/BDSM/fetish community:

“So, here we are, dealing with psychiatry, religion, homophobia, misogyny, fear of pleasure, body shame, disability, the ambivalent role of capitalism that’s happy to sell us our clothes but doesn’t really want to back us when it comes to our civil rights.

“I think it’s very hard when an activist is faced with this kind of fruit salad of issues to think that you could do anything about any of it. So I’m giving to you all my blessing and my permission to only pick one thing to work on at a time. That’s very important. Whether you feel like you can:

“Speak to classes of students;

“Talk to doctors, nurses, psych students or high school students about some issue of sexuality that people need more education about;

“Write a letter to the editor if there’s a crackdown on prostitution;

“Show up at hearings of libraries or city boards;

“Work with the police department or elected officials;

“Develop devout spiritual values and alliances with other-minded religious people like the folks at the Metropolitan Community Church;

“Collect and preserve our history;

“Continue our exemplary efforts at HIV prevention and fundraising for breast cancer.

“Anything you can do on any of those issues helps us to move forward. And more than that, it helps you to move forward—because it gives you a higher cause, something to live for other than just meeting your survival needs. And I think that’s what’s called ‘happiness.’ ”