by Darklady :

So there I was, bare-ass naked and attached to a latticework frame while a new friend introduced a variety of strange sensations to my exposed flesh. I couldn’t help thinking that this certainly hadn’t been something I had expected to do when I was a kid proudly proclaiming “I wanna be a writer when I grow up.” Sometimes we just get lucky, I guess...

No, it wasn’t an early IRS audit. I was attending a kinky party at the National Leather Association’s “Living in Leather XII” conference, held recently in Portland. At least a dozen other sensual adventurers were in the room, in pairs or small groups, all on their own journeys into the mind, body and spirit. Adventurers who are often misunderstood by the mainstream and whose enjoyment of power exchange games (also known as S&M or B&D) is being turned into big money by trendy clothiers and hip culture vultures.

Writing about something as personal as BDSM (a term developed on the internet to represent Bondage-Discipline-Dominance- Submission-Sadism-and-Masochism) is tough. How does one take such a sensitive subject (excuse the pun) and make it comprehensible to the average “vanilla” (i.e., non-kinky) person while respecting the deep meaning that such activities have for those who participate? As usual, I concluded that the only way to do this is to experience my subject first hand and write about those experiences. Living in Leather XII provided me with the perfect opportunity to submerge myself in the Scene, explore my own (allegedly) non-standard fantasies, listen to experienced and novice “players,” learn techniques for safe, sane and consensual kinky fun, and increase my understanding of myself and others who enjoy walking on the wild side.

Modern life in First World countries can be overwhelming, as anyone who has ever had to commute during rush hour or program a VCR can attest. It often involves repetitious activities, pointless rules, and meaningless responsibility. Mindless conformity has replaced the rites of passage that once helped create communities and usher us from one stage of life to another. I don’t think getting your voter’s card or buying your first six-pack has the profound meaning that tribal or religious people’s initiate ceremonies have. When a young man or woman has earned their first tattoo, ritual cutting, adult garment, or headdress, they know that something important has happened and that they are no longer the person they were before the ritual. They know that they have moved further into the realm of adulthood, deeper into the mechanics of their society. Their identity becomes more than simply that of another secretary typing another letter or another CEO rushing to another meeting. But for those of us who are secretaries of CEO’s, what is there?

Perhaps most people are satisfied to run inside their human-sized hamster-wheels, dropping a few shekels in the basket on Sunday, or slapping our buddies on the back when their favorite team scores a goal. But not everyone is. For some of us, there must be more.

If I learned nothing else from LIL, I realized how many different ways humans have of finding meaning in their lives, of processing emotions, of enjoying sensation, and of sharing intimacy. The conference offered 48 workshops on topics as diverse as “SM and the Law,” “Fun and Humor in SM,” “Dungeon Scenes and Manners,” “Intro to CPR,” “Pain Processing,” “Negotiation Skills,” “Spirituality and SM,” and “Gender Bending.” Whether one’s interest in kinky fun was physical, sexual, or spiritual, there was someone talking about what works for them and someone else following up with another perspective.

One person would tell me that SM is not about sex for them, and then another would get misty-eyed about how their last scene had lead to some of the best sex they’d ever had. One man would recount how “bottoming” (receiving sensations which can often be painful and/or quite intense) helped him overcome his fear of failure and then a woman would describe how play-acting a powerful seduction scene with her lover allowed her to see herself as strong and desirable. Nearly everyone spoke of the endorphin rush that they experienced from their favorite mutually consensual perversion and how accepting those desires and meeting others who shared them had made them happier, and often better, people. In fact, in a workshop about “switching” (enjoying both dominant and submissive play) many confided that their experiences had helped them identify the games that mainstream people and employers play but never admit to. When you know the rules, it’s easier to win the game.

The relative “normalcy” of the people who attended LIL (and kinky folk in general) is perhaps one of the most startling things to a novice. Mainstream movies and literature lead us to believe that anyone who enjoys anything more daring than a playful nipple pinch must be some sort of steely-eyed psychopath with a scalp collection in his or her basement, but the facts are far more mundane. Teachers, lawyers, tailors, accountants, booksellers, leather workers, support line techs, programmers, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and neighbors – folks just like you and me – were in attendance. And they came from all over the world: USA, Canada, Mexico, Germany, the UK, and Australia. Some of them were pierced, tattooed, shaved, and/or scarred and some of them had skin as factory fresh as any Mormon missionary. Some were monogamous, others involved in multiple partner relationships; some were gay, bi, straight, or monosexual. Some were born the gender they appeared and some had used the miracle of modern surgery to be reborn in the correct gender.

The diversity of LIL XII’s attendees is a testament to the growth and acceptance that BDSM has experienced. Lo, those many years ago, when LIL I was held in Seattle, it was billed as a conference for Gays and Lesbians of the Leather Lifestyle. And gays and lesbians, fighting their own fight for acknowledgment and acceptance, were naturals for expanding that fight into other areas of their sexuality. Because of their bravery and hard work (as well as that of their straight and bisexual allies) the National Leather Association and LIL are now pansexual and international, embracing all forms of consensual adult loving and the Portland NLA chapter is the largest in the United States.

As the numbers and types of people involved in the BDSM community has grown the need to counter mainstream confusion and even hostility has also grown. In 1992 the National Leather Association published the first draft of its Statement on Domestic Violence as a step toward explaining the important differences between safe, sane, and mutually consensual BDSM and abuse.

In a nutshell, BDSM players are concerned with the enjoyment of their partner(s), whereas in abuse, the interests and wellbeing of the other person is either ignored or distorted. Because of the emphasis on communication, self-exploration, and trust of oneself and one’s partner(s), many people find that BDSM exploration can help strengthen their relationships with themselves, their partner(s), co-workers, and friends. The emphasis on consensuality can also help those who have suffered from genuine abuse, as children or adults, to heal and move forward with their lives. The knowledge that if you say “stop” (or another agreed-upon “safeword”) if things get too intense, is very liberating... especially if one has experienced abuse from a person who did not honor our needs. LIL XII included a workshop, “Domestic Violence,” to address these, and related, concerns.

It’s easy to raise an eyebrow skeptically and pass this sort of happy talk off as propaganda. I know. I’m the queen of skepticism. But I’ve simply met too many people who’ve shared too many personal accounts to chalk it all up to drugs in the drinking water. Neither I nor any other self-respecting kinky person would suggest that tying your partner up and giving them a good spanking will “cure” marital problems, but repressing any desires you might have to do so (or to receive said spanking) will definitely come back to haunt you in time.

While exploring BDSM activities and desires is no guarantee of a lifetime of blissful human interactions, lying to yourself and those you love seems to be a sure way to build a knot of resentment and frustration in your belly and your love life. Developing trust in yourself and others in one of the most fundamental elements of a healthy BDSM life. Sadly, as was brought up during the “Switching” workshop, this trust is often misplaced when dealing with the mainstream world, where people frequently lie and misrepresent themselves and their intentions.

Other people’s experiences aside, the depth and honesty of emotion felt and expressed by BDSM folk has touched me. Their sincere concern and compassion for others has made a profound impression upon me. During LIL XII the wealth of heart possessed by the community was especially evident, as the conference was dedicated to the memory of its executive director, Jeff Rose. Rose, a graduate of Oregon State University, suffered a brain aneurysm on July 16th of this year, which resulted in a coma and his eventual death shortly before the conference. At the conference’s opening ceremonies, the local president of the National Leather Association barely restrained his tears as he spoke of Rose’s death, the great love the kink community held for Rose, how profoundly he would be missed, and how, even after his death, the spirit of his work and returned love could be felt by those who had known him. Rose had been enthusiastically devoted to furthering understanding of BDSM and had volunteered uncountable hours toward that end, including establishing a legal scholarship fund to assist third-year law students dedicated to keeping Oregon hate-free. The fund was named after Bill and Ann Shepherd, the couple who, in the mid-1970’s, founded Oregon’s Portland Chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (also known as P-FLAG).

It gives me hope to know that gatherings like Living in Leather XII exist. Perhaps there will come a day soon when adults will be able to openly and honestly express and act upon their desires and inclinations without the need for justification. In the meantime, we will see people affiliating with groups like the Promise Keepers in an attempt to justify their desires to dominate, or submit to, others while proclaiming their spiritual superiority by agreeing to pick up their socks once in a while. Ironically, it is often zealots of "virtue" who truly follow in the sick tradition of the Marquis de Sade. So many moral absolutists have no real respect for themselves or others, filled as they are with the message of Original Sin, and they use their dogmatic methods to justify their brutal and uncaring actions toward their partners and families. Saddest of all, it is these individuals, engaged in nonconsensual and unsafe behavior, who give the rest of us healthy and happy perverts a bad name.

If you would like to know more about, or become more involved in, the local BDSM community, feel free to contact the Rose City Discussion Club for details about gatherings, workshops, and social events. You can reach them by phone at (503) 650-7052, by writing PO Box 1370, Clackamas, OR 97015, or e-mailing They also have a web site at Those interested in joining the National Leather Association can write to P.O. Box 5161 Portland Oregon 97208 or view their site at And don’t worry, you don’t even have to own a leather coat (or want one) in order to fit in fine.

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