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Herd Any Cats Lately?

Another Leather Leadership Conference and another keynote address delivered by Guy Baldwin.

It's been several of these now that I've had the privilege of being at and hearing firsthand.  In previous years Guy's remarks were delivered with no small degree of intensity and urgency but none were delivered with as much anger as he had coming forth at this one.  Guy was clearly frustrated and disappointed with how the LLC had handled things and was directing both that year's conference and the organization in general.  He was also quite insightful about pushing everyone to digitize and take their work online for the benefit of all.  And, also for the benefit of all, Guy urged us to stop giving our wealth away to others and start focusing on our community's needs first.  Yes, this is badly paraphrased but that's why I'm also including the full text of his address as it was posted over on the site.

Please read on and take his words to heart!

Leather Leadership Conference Keynote:  2011
April 8, 2011
Los Angeles

Herd Any Cats Lately?

So, “Leather Leadership,” is it, eh?

Well, when I throw my head up against the whole notion of Leather Leadership, the very first thought that hits me is ...

Here, take a look at this, which I think says it about as well as I can:

[E.D.S. “Herding Cats” commercial runs]

Now, I’m by no means the first guy to quip that leather leadership is challenging because it’s like trying to herd a bunch of cats.  Others have been saying that for years, decades even.

But while that cute clip is fun to watch, it’s a bit misleading too.  

To begin with, the premise is wrong.  We all know that when it’s cattle that are being rounded up for a cattle drive, those cows are all headed for the same place:  a short stop at the slaughterhouse and then on to somebody’s plate for dinner.

But just where, exactly, would anyone want a herd of cats to, uh, go?

I suppose that E.D.S. -- the computer services company responsible for that Superbowl commercial you just watched -- would have us believe that those cats are all being driven toward, I guess, “The Land of Solutions.”  

Okay, sounds good.   Companies & businesses identify their really tough I.T. problems and then hire some outfit like E.D.S. to bring in cat wranglers to solve those problems.  I get it.

But if we’re seriously going to compare leather leadership to herding cats toward solutions, then it stands to reason that we’d better know -- and know very clearly -- exactly what our problems are, before going off in search of solutions.

And do we?

Do we really know what our problems are?

Do we know what our problems as a community are?

Has anyone ever really bothered to ask our communities what its problems are?

I don’t remember anyone ever taking a poll in an effort to identify problems, so that our Leather Leadership could bend its talents and efforts to finding some solutions for those problems.

Nope, never heard of anyone doing that kind of research on us.  Yet lots of other kinds of minority groups have had exactly that kind of “problem identification” research done, including but certainly not limited to:

    * people of any color
    * religious minorities
    * immigrant populations, legal and otherwise
    * substance abusers
    * the homeless
    * the elderly
    * high-school seniors in Florida
    * post-op knee-replacement patients
    * survivors of atomic bomb blasts

and many other groups, for that matter.  Even cat owners, for God’s sake, have had more research done on their problems than we have.

But not us.

Why not us?  Why don’t we know what “our people” consider their problems to be?

I do get various answers to that question when I’ve asked it:

“Uh well, that kind of research is expensive, and nobody has any money for it.”

Or, “Who would do that research and how?”

Or, “Won’t work because different places have different problems.”

Or, “Our leaders just KNOW.”

Or my favorite:  “Nobody really cares.”

Well, it isn’t true that nobody really cares what our problems are.  But what is almost certainly true is that not very damn many of “our people” care what our problems are.

Why not?  Because the main problem that concerns the vast majority of kinksters is -- guess what? -- getting laid.  

I should have said, getting well laid.  Or better yet:  getting laid well.  Which, at base -- please God, let us not forget -- is central to what spawned our communities in the first place.

Anthropology suggests that communities are born when individuals figure out that it’s easier, faster, safer and more efficient to get one’s individual needs met when one tries to do that from inside a community rather than trying to do that as a loner, from outside of communities.

Certainly the history of our own “leather”-erotic subcultural world seems to support that idea.  The renegade motorcycle culture of late 1940s California spawned the first gay motorcycle clubs here in the mid-1950s, which then proliferated across the nation.  With only two or three exceptions, those motorcycle clubs gave rise to our leather bars, where it became possible to join networks of BDSM players -- communities -- to learn the craft of one’s favorite kinks; and most importantly, to find suitable partners to get laid.  

So, for at least forty-five years, the conventional wisdom was:  participation in brick & mortar communities results in more and better sex.

That was then.

For years now, predictable communities with an actual street address have been eroding as more and more of us choose to spend our time in communities with a web address, or in even more brief flash-mob gatherings.  I refer to virtual communities which manifest in what we used to call “cyberspaces.”

I’m sure that no one in this room has failed to notice at least two features of the progressive virtualization of our world:  first, individuals can find as much information as they want about radical sex online; and second, individuals can seek out with great precision their own erotic counterparts without ever leaving home.  

Hell, it’s even easy to do those things on our smartphones while we’re shopping for groceries, if we want.

 A commercial I saw the other day says that one in five relationships now begin online.  But I’m betting that in our worlds, the great majority of our relationships begin online.  (Although I can’t prove it.  Remember?  No research on us.)  I strongly suspect that we perverts took to the online world like ducks to water long before the general population did.  

Just for fun -- raise your hands:  how many of you actually remember paying upwards of twenty bucks a month for an AOL or a Compuserve membership, back in the day?  Go on, raise your hands.  

Anyway, I don’t think there’s much debate nowadays:  today, and for a while now, the real gateways into the various worlds of all the radical sexualities are now found online.  

Which, by the way, begs the question:  Why are you guys even here?

After I read way too many of the class descriptions offered at this event, I found myself asking, “Uh, couldn’t someone who really wants that same information find it from several sources -- online -- and save themselves the cost of hotel, travel, and event fees?”  As conference attendees, it seems to me you have a right to expect the presenters here to restrict themselves to presenting only information and ideas that cannot be found online.  

And so, I therefore urge presenters to review your class plans tonight and amend them from that point of view.  Make sure you’re worth the hundreds of bucks it’s costing many people to be here...

Including -- much to my shock after keynoting this event twelve years ago -- the presenters themselves.  I was stunned to learn that faculty are still expected to pay a registration fee and pay for a hotel room.  At no other long-established headline event in the country is the faculty subjected to that kind of treatment.

I need to believe that somebody has given serious thought to how those policies skew who is -- and who is not -- willing to work as faculty here, at what presents itself as a headline event.

Or, for that matter, I guess it’s up to me to ask:  Why isn’t this entire conference done as a group of webinars, cached video files, and online real-time seminars and discussion groups that can be made easily available to anyone, in all cities, and of course, at no charge whatsoever?

Embracing virtual event models will be far superior to doing this event the same way it’s been done for the last 15 years, if for no other reason than that we’ll be losing our next generations.  

Look around you:  we already are.  

35% of the US population is under twenty-five years old.  Our president is committed to extend high-speed internet service to cover 98% of our nation.

People, today online social networking is rapidly becoming the infrastructure of “community.”

If we can have FetLife and Recon, then I’m very sure that deploying virtual event models for our educational gatherings is possible, is necessary, and ultimately is inevitable.  With the talent that’s in this community, I’m sure that this evolution just ain’t rocket science.

Because if clinging to such an outdated event model is a representative example of modern “leather leadership,” then only some truly revolutionary changes in our vision of how we do things can save us from ourselves.

Our leadership has for too long been limited to thinking tactically, but unless we begin to think strategically (and if you don’t know the difference, look the words up), then leather life as we’ve known it will continue to vanish slowly, much like traditional native American tribal culture has done.

For the life of me, why is a 65 year old man having to tell you this?

And from another point of view -- one that matters to me -- taking this event online can make producers far more accountable than they are now.   

Last month, I suddenly realized that the LLC national board isn’t really accountable to its claimed constituency, yet has reserved for itself the prerogative to micromanage the experienced local people here as if we don’t have a clue how to produce a successful event.  Local leather leadership has had such an unpleasant experience interfacing with the national board that I’d bet serious money it will be a cold day in hell when L.A. wants this event here again.  Ever.   

Nashville, Seattle, gird your loins.  

Cats, it turns out, really don’t take well to being herded.  Who didn’t know that?

Before I move on, I’d like all the L.A. people who’ve helped out, or tried to --even if you quit months ago in frustration -- to stand up and be acknowledged now for your efforts.    

[Local organizing committee members stand and are applauded.]

Moving on.

And going back to my earlier comment:  “at no charge to attendees.”

Okay, let me just go ahead and talk about money for a minute, but with a nod to Mike Gerle, one of my IML colleagues, for opening this really important door in his “Carpetbaggers” essay on Leatherati.

So:  what for, money?  

Money to pay for strategic decisions and operations.  

Specifically, for starters, money to fund that research I’m sure we need.  Money to put this event up into virtual space.  Money to hire civil-rights attorneys when our people run unfairly afoul of the law.  Money to develop modern teaching tools to educate district attorneys and law enforcement, and first-responders.  Money to treat our own event faculty like first-class volunteers.  Money to maintain a classy website.  And the list goes on.

Sadly, I don’t have time right now to give you a detailed history of fundraising in the leather world, so instead, I’ll just ask you to trust me when I tell you that, dating all the way back to the 1970‘s, the leather community has been a fundraising powerhouse.

The AIDS nightmare really kicked that into high gear beginning in about 1984, and soon, thanks to IML’s Patrick Toner and Mike Pereyra, the leather titleholder system made HIV-related fundraising a routine part of every leather event from coast to coast till about 15 years ago.  

(And by the way, there’s nothing that sucks the erotic heat out of any gathering more than a fundraiser, but that’s another conversation.)

At last to my point here.  Since about 1996, we’ve continued to raise ten tons of money for countless worthy charity causes:  Meals On Wheels, free clinics, HIV prevention programs, starving artists, victims of natural disasters, breast cancer, wounded veterans, children’s hospitals, the list goes on.

So, what, our community isn’t also a worthy cause?  

There are other constituencies raising money for all those causes I just mentioned.  But do any of those constituencies ever send any of the money they raise in our direction?  When is it our turn to be a worthy cause?

No, I’ve sure as hell never seen any bucks flowing our way from the gay bowling league, or the Roseville Monthly Munch, from anybody’s garden party.  Why not?   

Well, I have two theories about that.  

One is that we like to keep up the appearance that we’re self-sufficient, that we don’t need any money for ourselves.  So we don’t keep what we collect and instead behave like the rich uncles we quite obviously are not.

But my favorite theory is that we’ve spent the last twenty years doing above-and-beyond-the-call fundraising because, at some deep level, we can’t shake the need to show the world what good citizens we perverts really are.  To demonstrate with our endless generosity that even though we’re into twisted sex, we still share some important core values with the rest of the world.  In short, I suspect we’re trying to buy off some shame we have about who and what we are, and how we are different.

If someone asked me to name the single most spirit-killing thing in our world today, I’d say it was kink shame:  “kinkophobia.”  I think it may be what has kept this event from maturing into the grown-up event that we need it to be and wish to hell it was.

I promise you that when we stop treating ourselves like third-class citizens and start taking ourselves and our needs seriously, there will be plenty of money to implement the strategic policies and tools which our people need for a better, more satisfying future.

But to help them get there, we need inspired leaders with fearless imaginations who have mastered their own shame and always refuse any suggestion that we should try to buy a place at the table of humanity with our generosity -- or tolerate anything that is merely “average” in ourselves or in our leadership.

The brave may not live long, but the ashamed do not live at all.

No doubt for some of you, I’ve gone on for way too long already, so let me close by leaving you with this single thought about leadership itself:

We have far too often chosen to do the easy things.

Mediocre leadership hides from bad news, deflects tough questions and ignores confusing situations, whereas great leadership eagerly reaches out to embrace those things, and greets them as exciting, interesting and meaningful ways to spend one’s day.

If you can’t or won’t do that, then move out of the way for those who can, and want to.  But if no one comes forward when you’ve withdrawn, then be open to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the time for your organization has come -- and gone.

Thank you for your time and attention.  

And welcome to the city, not of “Lost Angels,” for we know who we are:  welcome instead to the city of fallen angels.


© 2011 - Guy Baldwin, M.S.

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Please note: Any spelling or grammatical errors are most likely my own that occurred as I worked up this page with Guy's original text.

If you would like to learn more about me – just ask!   Drop me a line and we’ll see what happens.  I can be reached
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This page was last updated on: 15 April 2011