I’m about 3 weeks away from presenting at Beyond Vanilla in Dallas, and among the classes on my roster is one I call, “Damn I F@%KED up!”. As you can well deduce from the title, it is a workshop/discussion where we examine in-depth what causes our mistakes, how we react to them, and how we can constructively learn from them. And alas, every time I prepare for this class, I get confronted by MY many fuck-ups.
The idea for the workshop came to me as I was observing something hypocritical about our leather/kink culture. Over the years one hears so much language about ‘traditions’ and ‘honor’ of the connections in leather…that we are a brotherhood of trust and respect and we stand by one another in times of good and bad. When one of our comrades is down, we stand by their side and help build them back up. The connections between Sir and boy are all about GUIDANCE….that in the Sir’s collar the boy will be encouraged to grow and learn. The Sir will strive to bring out the very best of the boy..and when the boy errs or fails…the discipline given will come from a place of nurturing and love. And then there’s our titleholders. These are the men and women we choose to be our leaders; to represent us and the community we strive to uphold. The people who step up to the plate to make a difference….to abide by those principles of honor and respect….and evoke change when necessary, so that we are welcoming to our future generations….
….and it all sounds well and good. Until the fuck-ups begin to happen.
And then all these optimistic keywords get replaced by those of judgement and condemnation.
As children we hear all kinds of heartwarming encouragement about not feeling bad about making mistakes; that we should embrace it as a part of growth, and a universally shared trait. So says Big Bird:
“If you make a mistake while counting one to ten,
Well don’t get mad and don’t be sad;
Just start to count again.
And if you should only get to eight or nine,
I’m still your friend and I still like you fine”
(Please forgive me for citing Sesame Street BTW, but I’ve always found that some of life’s most sage advice comes from Muppets. Plus that song’s been stuck in my head for two days…).
Regarding the Big Bird message…one would like to believe that a child will embrace their own humanity and be self-forgiving in the face of their mistakes. It’s all part of learning and growing, and we should all LOVE to do that, right? Until the mistake actually does occur. THEN we have a whole different story, as I’m sure many of us can painfully remember from our youths. A perfectionist father may scold his son for not being ‘good enough’ to excel at a particular sport and thus never amount to anything. A teacher may lose their patience with a student who is a little slower to learn arithmetic, and in their frustration put the child down. And the other kids witnessing the mistake…well, many of us have read Lord of the Flies and can attest to how cruel children can be to each other. This is their opportunity to feel better, by using the error as a deflection from their own shortcomings.
And many of us treat each other similarly as adults.
So what exactly constitutes a fuck-up?
It can happen in play, such as accidentally nicking someone in the ear with a singletail – unless of course you’re ME, in which case it’s my nicking my own ear repeatedly. Maybe it’s a social or administrative fuck-up, such as a miscommunication with a sponsor resulting in an upset. And then there’s countless relationship fuck-ups….and the dramas that go with them. Basically, a fuck-up occurs when a preferred expectation or outcome is not met as a result of not having all available data.
Being a leatherman or kinkster involves having to navigate around one’s feelings of personal shame. Growing up, it wasn’t enough that we felt different or perhaps ashamed for being gay. Our kinky feelings gave us additional reasons that we were different and somehow bad or wrong. Therefore if we want to maintain some degree of thriving in our community, I believe we need to stop using the mistakes of others as an opportunity for judgement. These simply uphold the messages of shame we learned in our childhood. A wise statement my mother used to tell me about those kinds of exchanges: “Who are they actually responding to – you? Or their unresolved past?”
Here’s a personal example. Years ago I participated in a weekend leather camping event in Canada with my boy at the time. One of the doms was doing a presentation on scrotal saline inflation…and my boy was going to be the demo bottom. The weather was very hot, and we all spent most of our time either in jocks or naked. When it came time for the demonstration, my boy had not had sufficient fluid intake nor had he eaten anything that morning (something I found out after the fact). When the infusion began, his electrolyte balance was severely off and he became very dizzy. It was suggested that I take the collar off of him as it was slightly restricting. Well, due to the heat and all of us in jocks…the key was NOT on my person…but in the bedroom. I therefore opted to use a pair of safety scissors to remove the collar instead (it was leather). We got some fluids and nutrients in the boy, and he was able to come to. For the remainder of the weekend…EVERY dom present at some point came up to tell me how THEY always keep a spare key and all the precautions they take and how THEY would avoid such a harrowing situation. One even smacked me on the back of the head and said, “What the hell were you thinking??” What was interesting is not ONE person came up to the boy to ask why he hadn’t eaten or hydrated properly before the demo. After all.. he was MY boy….it’s not their responsibility. However, I believe a few were using that as an excuse to simply not be involved. “He’s collared to you. I don’t tell another man’s property what to do. That’s disrespectful”…Hmmmm.. it didn’t stop you from flirting with him earlier….but I digress. While each of these gentlemen may have thought they were helping the matter…the reality is they were doing nothing but shaming me. It was as if each of them were using my fuck-up as a means of making themselves feel better. Only one man actually came up to me later and said, “Oh I am so sorry Dart. I have been there myself as a Sir. It’s so hard when you think you’ve taken every precaution and then BOOM you discover one oversight. And everyone feels the need to point it out to you. It happens to all of us man…are you okay??”
That was actually the only exchange that weekend that made me feel better.
Have any of you been a titleholder? How nurturing or forgiving was your community to your efforts during your title year? Many of you were probably made aware of your downfalls more than your successes…or in the face of great endeavors there was one or two negative people in the community who shot down your hard work. What’s always interesting to me is at times like this….it’s the people that have spent the least amount of time in your life that suddenly become the greatest ‘experts’ on who you are.
Now, I know it’s important to be vigilant about mistakes in the world of kink. After all, what we do can be dangerous, obviously. But in being vigilant, I feel we have a responsibility of remembering the most important element of all this – that we are human beings, and nothing more. Accidents are going to happen….we are going to continue to fuck up. And we’re going to witness others do it as well. And in this, we have opportunity. Instead of condemning the person for their error, we can be that supportive comrade and say, “yes…I have fucked up too. Let me help you. Here’s what I learned.”
These are some tools to assist you in navigating a fuck-up, or helping others do so:
1. Have Courage – a courageous mistake is worth a thousand times more than a fearful compliance.
2. Trust Yourself – in the aftermath of your fuck-up you’ll most likely be inundated with outside judgement. Don’t give in to the social pressuring of shame when it’s undue.
3. Accept – take ownership of the fuck-up..and be clear what is yours, and what is not.
4. Avoid Guilt – this is part of a mythology where we believe we have to openly demonstrate our remorse and regret to everybody. By indulging in heavy guilt, you sacrifice your personal power. The situation cannot be reversed based on the sorrow you express…so tread lightly.
5. Stay in Action – cultivating resiliency is one of the best antidotes to resignation. Nothing gained from being scared into doing nothing.
6. Laugh at Yourself When Appropriate – because really, a LOT of this is quite funny when you step back and look at what it is we do, and how much we take ourselves seriously
7. Don’t Quit – plain and simple 🙂
I have had innumerable fuck-ups in my time and shall continue to do so. But I love the life I live and what it has brought me…mistakes and all. One of my favorite quotes that sums up all this for me comes from Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita: “It is better to perfectly follow your own path flamed with mistakes, than to follow inperfectly one’s perfect path that is NOT yours.”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to cover Big Bird as a Sir…..