November/December 2002
Variations on Our Themes
by Jack Rinella

I think it's safe to say that we usually consider that those we first meet in the kinky scene are the truest representatives of that subculture. Certainly I did.

When I met Gay Leathermen in the early eighties, I had no conception that anyone else was in any way involved in that kind of activity. OK, I was naive and I admit it but without an opportunity to meet any other kind of kinky person it was natural to think that Leathermen were all that I would find.

Eventually, of course, I discovered that there were a few, and here I should emphasize very few, Lesbians in the scene as well. Then I met a few het women who were friendly with Gay men. Slowly my field of vision was expanded.

Vision, though, expands only slowly and myopia, "shortsightedness or lack of discernment in planning," lasts much longer than we might wish. So it was only many years later that I began to sense there were others who played as I did, even if they didn't play where I did and with whom I did.

The first non-Gay group that came to my attention were the professional dominatrices, then the local het players such as those in the now-defunct Chicagoland Discussion Group. Only later did I meet those involved in pansexual groups and munches. Those facts prove that I?m a slow learner but, hey, I do learn eventually.

I begin with these thoughts more as an explanation than a criticism. There's little wrong with being comfortable in your own niche and for most of us there is no need to venture further than our comfort zone and our close circle of friends. On the other hand there is much to be said about knowing the extent of the horizon and sampling the opportunities that await those who are willing to reach across fences and ford streams to make new friends and explore new territories.

As some of you know, a little more than a year ago I began exploring outside my comfort zone, attending events in distant states, and meeting people into a wide variety of alternative sexual practices. So wide in fact that I have to use the euphemism "alternative sexual practices." We're not, after all, uniformly into the same things. Our SM varies, as do our role-playing, our degree of involvement, our polyamory, our Ds, our fetishes, our communities, our genders, and our orientations.

My venturing out has gone a long way to destroy the stereotypes that line the pathways of my thinking. I am continually amazed at the diversity of our communities. In fact I have come to learn that we are communities, nowhere monolithic, nowhere homogenized, everywhere disparate. I have also learned that we are a very friendly, welcoming, and willing-to-learn group of people.

Many of us, of course, haven't met the other variations in the scene and therefore still hold the idea that our expression of kink, fetish, or lifestyle is either predominant or purest. We don't, happily, often hold those thoughts too tightly and so are generally able to conceive of manifestations of kink that differ from our preferences, even if we've never met anyone who was that different.

On the other hand, there are subtle biases that linger in our subconscious. A master, for instance, might think that his or her form of domination is nearer the standard than anothers The myth of the Old Guard plays into this, as does the typical Doms (myself included) egocentricity. In outlining some ideas for my next book, for instance, I came up with seven types of slaves, each reflecting a different kind of master: Greco-Roman, Sexual, Sissy Maid, Gorean, Manservant-Butler, Handmaiden, Domestic (this may be a duplication) and plantation. One could also add guardian masters, mentors, and Daddies of both genders.

This diversity is making itself known as pansexual groups reach out and welcome Gays and Lesbians, as Hets begin attending Leather events in increasing numbers, even to the extent of becoming contestants and judges. The lines of demarcation, once clear, are becoming blurred as men and women find themselves plural members of different clubs and organizations.

There was a time when one was permitted membership in only one club, for instance. Now there's room on our vests for multiple patches. Leather/levi clubs, long bastions of Gay male fraternity, are increasingly open to membership to both Het men and women of any orientation. The newest variation on the theme, boys' clubs, are routinely pansexual. Orientations, too, are becoming blurred for some. A good friend of mine recently admitted he called himself a "Gay man with Lesbian tendencies," since he had both male and female sex partners.

Adversity, too, brings us closer together as we find ourselves facing the same kind of threat from the Right. Here the experience of working for Gay Rights can be an educator for those seeking kinky rights. In many ways the present assault from the "Decency in America" crowd merely echoes the struggles Gays have had since the seventies. Sometimes it looks like Anita Bryant all over again.

Regional and national organizations are beginning to exercise a greater influence Whereas in the past they generally reflected the aims of more specific target groups, we now see them embracing diversity. The Leather Leadership Conference, for instance, includes the widest possible array of kinky types. It is amazing to see pro-Dommes, Queer tops, Butch bottoms, and married couples, to name just a few, all sharing and learning one with the other. The process can only enrich us all.

If my own experience holds true there is a remarkable future ahead of us as our diversity magnifies our opportunities for growth, for partnering, and for success. At the same time I find that experiencing different modalities enriches my thinking and my playing, though not to the detriment of my own home turf. It's for that reason, for instance, that I joined Chicago Hellfire Club, thereby reinforcing and strengthening my ties to my "Gay" roots, even as my branches stretched forth to embrace other arbors.

Rather than diminishing the love I have for male homo-erotic side of my kink, contact with straight men and women has increased my appreciation of our spaces and our styles. I hope to say, too, that the "our" means all of our styles. I've learned to appreciate professional Dominatrices, married men and women, bisexuals of every age and size, etc., as they have individually and collectively enriched my life.

It is incredibly satisfying as well to know that I am able to enrich theirs. Sure there'll be bumps, ruts, and pot-holes in the road ahead, but we couldn't find better co-travelers than the kinky folk of America -- whoever and wherever they are.

Have a great week. You can leave me email at or visit my website at Copyright 2002 by Jack Rinella, all rights reserved.