I ask that you do not republish this speech anywhere without my permission. I want to control its use, and I want to be able to keep track on where it winds up.
OK, without further ado... here it is.
Rio Grande Leather Keynote Speech
By Phillip Wolf aka Boymeat
It is such an honor to be invited to speak in front of all of you today. Thank you to the organizing committee of Rio Grande Leather, to Pat Baille, and to the lovely Prince Julian for your amazing hospitality. It has been such a treat to meet, socialize with, and experience your local community. From this New Yorker, thank you New Mexico. And a big thank you to all of you who have come to listen.
Now, let me take you back 12 years to 1995, not very long ago, if you think about it. A 19 year old guy walks into his first meeting at The Eulenspiegel Society in New York. A few people say hello, someone takes his money, and then…
“Um, hi, excuse me… how old are you?”
“Oh, I see… well, this is an organization for adults. I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Come back when you grow up.”
At the age of 18, I had been granted the right to vote, to smoke, to drive, to join the armed services. But on that night in New York, I was told I could not learn about SM.
That guy was me. I never did leave, by the way.
Four years later, in 1999, I was part of the group that created a space for the younger generation so they wouldn’t have to experience what I did. A place for that girl who walked into their local group’s meeting, saw that everyone was her parent’s age, and left. A place for us to talk about SM on a student’s budget. A place for us to make friends, within a group of peers. A place to feel welcomed, and safe, and where we could explore the world of SM together. That space was called TNG – The Next Generation, a space for adults 18-35.
Of course, these things don’t start with such meaning. No, they start much sillier. Allow me to tell you the history from my eyes, and then maybe we’ll all have a better understanding of the future.
One night in New York, three others and myself got a little… silly. The party consisted of Josh Hightower, Lady D, Margo, and myself – all kinky, young TES’ers. After a hot night of SM at the NYC club, Paddles, we went out to a diner, and ate and drank coffee and laughed well into the night. Somehow or another we thought it would be a good idea to go back to my place… my parents were away for the weekend… and have ourselves a good ole orgy. Except, we were too hyped up on caffeine and exhaustion to get around to taking our clothes off!
Instead, we went to the computer. (Yes, folks, it is true, the internet is a dangerous place.) We opened up AOL, and wrote a post to the TES e-mail list. We announced that the state of affairs of TES needed the influence of the youth of today, and we were instituting a take over. We declared the formation of the Gen-X Syndicate – a frightful foursome who would lead the SM scene to new heights… of ridiculousness. Giving ourselves crazy titles – The Grand Fubar, Her Royal Highness Little Miss Thang, Ms. High Muckety-Muck, and Emperor Boymeat - we laughed and laughed as the older set of TES read their e-mails and let out a collective, “HUH?!”
It was a crazy evening, worth a week or so of laughs, and then we went on. It was talked about at TES forever though. I think we hit a spark. There was a reason that evening happened. We were tired of seeing younger people being told they didn’t belong. We were sick of seeing people being disenfranchised from the larger scene. We were sick of being told that because of our relative ages, we didn’t know what we were talking about… that we didn’t know anything… that we should listen to what we were told. That we were novices, that we couldn’t be a true Dominant, or a real submissive… that we were too young to know who we were. So we let out our frustrations through an evening of joy, amongst peers.
Fast forward another year.
I was sitting in a restaurant in Baltimore, after the Maryland Drummer 1998 contest. A woman named Kyri, from Black Rose in DC, and I sat and talked over our burgers. We were the same age, and experiencing the same phenomenons in our local groups. We were amongst the youngest in the group. We were lonely, wishing there was more of us. I told her about the Gen-X Syndicate. And then the light bulb came on – what if we created our own groups? Both TES and BR had a foundation for special interest groups. Dominant men/submissive women, Dominant women/submissive men, switchables, couples, singles, women’s. Each of these groups had their own place within our large organizations. Why not us?
Why not indeed?
That November, at Black Rose 98, I sat on a panel called “Gen-X in the Scene.” There, for the first time, we were given space to officially voice our opinions and concerns to a public audience. We didn’t expect anyone to show up, but there was actually a great turn out of people who wanted to hear what we had to say. It was empowering, and kick started the beginnings of what would now be called a movement.
Kyri and I continued to stay in touch, and we supported each other’s attempts in starting up groups for younger SM-ers in our respective cities. Kyri wound up being first out of the gate. Together with a former Ms. Baltimore Eagle, Shelli Dittman, Kyri brought a proposal to the Black Rose board of directors to form Black Rose TNG – The Next Generation. At first we were thinking BR and TES-Gen X, but we quickly realized that we wanted a group that could support not just our generation, but also Y, and Z, and any others than came after us.
It was a struggle for Kyri and Schelli, however. They had a major fight with the BR board – whether or not there was actually a need for such a group, what they could or could not do, and whether or not they would be responsible enough to run a special interest group at Black Rose. But eventually they won. The 1st TNG group was born.
A few months later, Josh Hightower and I sat down and planned our own attack. We wrote speeches, we lobbied board members and other influential members, we theorized all the reasons why we needed this group, and planned responses for all potential critisms. Shaking, we walked into the TES board meeting, and read our speeches, and pleaded with the board to give us our space. And just a few seconds later, the board voted unanimously to create TES-TNG. Our friends had to slap us back into reality, as we couldn’t believe it went so easy!
The next summer, the 1st national TNG conference took place. Of course, national meaning two groups – DC and NY. We called it Chickenstock – it was not long after the Woodstock anniversary concert, and it was appropriate. Like the attendees of the original Woodstock festival, we felt magic in the air. A gathering of peers, creating a space for ourselves in a world of elders. We felt like rebels! 40 TNGers gathered together in Jack McGeorge’s dungeon, listened to Viola Johnson talk to us about SM history, and we ate grilled burgers together, played together, laughed together. It was truly magic.
Soon after that, the country caught on. Boston-TNG was next to form. Then came Arizona. Chicago. Philadelphia. Hampton Roads, Virginia. It took off like wildfire. Today, there are at least 25 groups, maybe more. From coast to coast, cities and towns, and even international. There have been 2 other TNG conferences – Second Coming, in DC, and TNG3: BDSM in the Big City, in NY. A fourth is in the planning stages, set to happen in February in San Francisco. Every year at Leather Leadership Conference since its 3rd event, there has been a TNG presentation.
Why? Because there is a need. Because our community was not serving our younger members. Large groups saw their spark slowly fading away, as their membership grew older without attracting new, young blood. People chased us away, preyed on us, saw us as dumb little playthings who were there to be “mentored” instead of respected, looked down on instead of listened to, taken for granted instead of being taken seriously.
We changed that… eventually. We went from a world where younger people were essentially either ignored or looked down upon to one in which we were in the spotlight. TNG became the hottest discussion point on SM activist lists nationwide with accusations of separatism, elitism, and ageism. To this day the questions linger, “Why do they need their own space? What’s wrong with being with us ‘old people?’” The accusations were even more shocking. “You’re just trying to keep all of the young, hot people to yourselves.” And the piece de resistance, “You’re discriminating against old people!”
So, let’s address these issues…get them on the table. Is TNG ageist? Were we separatists? Technically speaking, yes. Just like a men’s group or women’s group is sexist, a gay group is heterophobic, a straight group is homophobic, MaST groups are elitist. If you want to be negative about something, it’s easy to do. It’s easy to feel discriminated against. Ironic, isn’t it, how quickly those who discriminated against us charged us with discrimination. Most often these people were short-sighted, deciding to feel slighted by our actions instead of seeing how TNG could positively impact their lives and the scene.
Something that we realized through this process was that it is possible to build community through creating safe spaces for niches of our community. We hadn’t realized it before, but this had always been part of the community we grew up in. There was The Chicago Hellfire Club, The Satyrs, Samois, LSM, GMSMA, and The Exiles. These groups are part of our common history and look at how much they did to build the scene to what it is today. Specialized spaces for specific subgroups. Inclusion through exclusion. A community built block by block. TNG did this, too. We can barely fathom how many young people turned away from our organizations, feeling like they didn’t belong, before TNG came into existence.
Why TNG needed to happen is surprisingly misunderstood, and to clear things up right up, it was neither to get laid, nor to keep anyone else from getting laid. It was not to keep you from hitting on us. It was not to create our own world and not include you. It was not to stop anything other than the graying of our community. To put an end to the undertone that those under a certain age were unwelcome.
And we’re not creating a Logan’s Run. When you turn 30, your crystal does not burn out and you do not die. I say 30 here because Joshua HighTower, who co-founded TES-TNG with me, was adamant about the fact that TNG really, truly, ends at 30. Now that I’ve turned 31, I tend to agree. I remember the first TNG regular who was turning 36 and desperately wanted us to throw a “expulsion” party for him. He wanted us to have a cake, shove his face into it, and then have him walk of the club through two rows of TNG members each kicking his ass as he walked past. This was not our vision.
Instead, our vision was realized when, after a year of existence, we noticed a TNG regular at a TES meeting that was happening upstairs at the same time as ours. Josh and I looked at him, incredulous, and reminded him that our meeting was downstairs (traitor!). He said, “no, I wanted to check this out.” And that’s when we realized…we did it. We brought people into TES through TNG. The gateway was open and working.
Another example: the girl who said to us that TNG was going to be the only thing in the scene she’d ever attend. One year later, she was on the board of the Lesbian Sex Mafia. We started seeing a lot of that happening. TNGers began heading TES committees, teaching classes, joining the board. We had a high turnover due to the fact that we did our jobs so well. People would come in, get comfortable with TNG, and then explore the rest of the scene. That’s really all we ever wanted to achieve.
I think everyone here would agree that we’ve done a good thing. How many people here think New Mexico TNG has done a great job here in your local community? How many of you can credit your attendance in this room right now because of TNG?
Then why are some people still trying to push us away?
I think any keynote worth its words has to have some sort of rant in it. Some sort of complaint about what is happening in the world around us, and where we could be doing better. So here it is. My rant.
I attend and teach at a lot of events across the country. I’ve seen a lot of presentations, a lot of speeches, and a whole butt load of propaganda and snake-oil salesmen. I constantly hear statements like:
“The scene today is nothing but a overly sanitized world of safety nazis and SM by numbers.”
“I miss the scene of old, when SM was REAL, when it was about MAGIC and ARTISTRY.”
“The internet has killed SM”
“Yesterday was better. You have no idea what SM was like back when that club-that-no-longer exists was still around.”
Yesterday is always better than today. Memory has that way of doing that, don’t-ya-know? The details get fuzzy, the golden moments grow brighter, the sad moments fade away. You don’t remember the struggles – the persecution, the cop raids on our clubs and bars. The shoddy equipment in that secret room downstairs that you were afraid to touch. The countless hits you took on your neck, your kidneys, your tailbone, because there just wasn’t any classes or books around. Or how about that feeling of being the guy excluded off in the corner from all the cool leathermen, not deemed worthy to learn their magical trade. That search for the almighty mentor who would lead you into the promised land, ever within sight, always slipping between your fingers?
We keep bringing up the old magical golden years of SM as if it’s our fault that we weren’t born earlier. The term old guard is now used as a status symbol, a line drawn in the sand, to define the difference between us and them. Old and young. Wise and knowledgeable, versus young, rash, and ignorant. Worthy versus wanna-be.
These lines, these golden moments, they serve as lovely memories for those who lived in those great exalted times. For some of us history sluts, they are great stories, and we love hearing them and learning from them. But it is also a wall. A wall being placed deliberately for us to run into. And it’s chasing your next generation away. Because once you draw that line in the sand, we’ll make our own memories. Our own clubs.
We’ll draw our own line.
You want inclusion? Stop forcing us out and instead welcome us with open arms. Tell us stories about your history to make us smile, and then allow us the room to make our own stories. Make them with us.
Today is a golden moment in SM, too. Yesterday is no better than today, and today is no better than yesterday. Today we have great craftsmanship in our toys, our gear. Today we don’t have to feel like a freak, like something is wrong with our desires. Instead, we can go to Google and in two seconds find others like us, find our community, learn about our desires, and safely explore them. How can that be worse than yesterday?
Here is another.
“It is our responsibility to teach the next generation our traditions. We must mentor our young, and make them understand our protocols, our ways of life.”
Excuse me? Who’s traditions? Who’s protocols? Yours?
If I can think of any surefire way to chase someone 18-30 away, this is it.
20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago, people created their own traditions. In reaction to a sexless society, or inspired by the summer of love, or just breaking out of their boring, vanilla existence, our forefathers and mothers created where there was none. They broke away from their parents lives, from societies rules and cultural norms, and created a rebellious society of perverts, kinksters, and freaks.
The young have always rebelled.
Marlon Brando in The Wild One. 1953.
“Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Jack Weinberg, 1965
The Summer of Love, 1967
Pat Bond placing an ad in Screw Magazine leading to formation of TES. 1971.
Chicago Hellfire Club – same year
Gayle Rubin and Pat Califia, and others found SAMOIS in San Francisco, the first leatherclub for leatherdykes - 1978
GMSMA started in New York by Brian O’Dell and david stein, tired of seeing guys turned away because they couldn’t penetrate the private cliques that had a stronghold on SM – 1981
Instigator Magazine, the new force of gay male kinky sex, turning the old guard onto its stomach and forcing a fist up its ass – 2003
Each one of these milestones was the young creating their own world, their own space, their own traditions, and their own magical moments. They wrote their own protocols, crafting a whole new set of rules of engagement that worked for them at that time.
So if you did, why can’t we?
We’re rebels too! We’re sexual outlaws, just like you! And we will create our own traditions, just like you.
We want to hear what it was like yesterday. We want to know what you did, and how you did it. But we also want to create our own traditions. Just like you built your houses, we need to build ours.
Teach us our history so that we can better understand where we all came from. But give us room to fly.
We’re The Next Generation. We’re here. And tomorrow, we’ll make room for the next.