The world is incredibly big, and we? We are individuals, small in the big picture. To deal with that, we develop ideas that help us get along. We develop the idea of family, of community, of national identity. Each idea fits in context to shape our experiences in life. This is true for kinksters as much as it is of anyone. The choices we make in defining ourselves both individually and collectively dictate how community interacts with the individual. That’s part of why it’s so very important that we start looking beyond the one, to the many.
Individuals and social crowds speak constantly through Fetlife, email groups, and other social media of the kinky community. The kinky community is this, or isn’t that, it does this, it doesn’t do that. It is honored and vilified, loved and hated. The kinky community hosts conventions and parties and outings. From San Francisco, to Boston, to San Antonio, kinky people consider themselves part of an enormous and growing community.
But what is a kinky community? Is it just a community that likes whips and chains? Is it all of us, some of us? What about the dictionary version? If we believe Merriam Webster, community is ‘a unified body of individuals’ or ‘a group linked by a common policy’.
Houston, we have a problem.
Unity is not something we are all that good at. There are a lot of theories I’ve considered around why division is such a common problem. Most of these are still valid. The short list of culprits includes being a fringe group of a larger culture, not having the outside survival pressures to hold group cohesion, and lacking dependence on other kinky folks for basic survival needs. We are, essentially, a sexual spinoff of mainstream society which can survive (note, I did not say thrive) without our fellow kinksters. That means a lack of consequences for being a jerk, and fewer rewards for being deeply involved. Whatever you need, you can get it elsewhere. So belonging in a meaningful way? It’s almost entirely optional.
Still, this lack of involuntary bonding doesn’t explain the hostility and divisions I have witnessed. I have seen an enormous surge in the last two or three years in very public conflict. Groups have had complete meltdowns in the public eye. Individuals have gone off the behavioral deep end. Debates and discussions best suited to event or organization specific leadership have moved to social media, and become a public free-for-all of insults, accusations and character assassination. It’s rough enough to have a public meeting of a board of directors, but social networking sometimes fans the flames to the point of national attention. In some ways it is exceptionally fortunate that kinky social media is behind a membership firewall. It stays ‘in the family’ and doesn’t become a CNN scrolling headline. Those embroiled in the conflict, the people who have aired their dirty laundry in public didn’t set out for misery. So what is going on here?
It is conceivable that we’ve all just gotten too big for our collective britches.
Before I set a social media fire with that statement, let me put it in perspective. If you have a conversation in your family and you disagree with someone, you have an interest in finding a resolution. Yes, there may be yelling, shouting, frustration, and anger. However, in the end you still have to live there, so you either fix the problem or find a way to let go of it and move on. The neighbors don’t (usually) get involved. The local news doesn’t come check it out. You deal with it within the family unit. Its home, you can’t just walk away. In a neighborhood, you have a vested interest in not pissing off the guy next door. Why? You live there; you’re more or less stuck with him. So you find ways of keeping the peace. In these situations there is enormous risk in causing more conflict or damage than absolutely necessary. We cope, we compromise, and we go on living where we do.
If however, you go onto the local newspaper website and see an article that pisses you off about yet another corrupt local politician whom you’ve never met and may never meet, you don’t have that safety valve. You can blast off in the comments section and there are no consequences to your daily life. Are you a member of a household, family, or neighborhood with the guy you’re flaming? Nope. Therefore, no loss to you. Small unit safety valves of ‘hey man I live here’ and ‘don’t piss off the neighbors’ just don’t work on a national scale.
Lets take another look at the definition of community:
In all of these definitions, there are limiters which draw a smaller group out of society as a whole. We have common location, common interest, common interest withina location or area, or even common policy as factors that narrow the community form society at large. A coast to coast super-sized identity just doesn’t fit the facts before us.
I propose that we, as kinky people, are not one gigantic community any more than the entire nation is a single community. We have evolved, grown apart, changed, and multiplied. I believe we are a huge network of communities. But we’re still all trying to live and act like we are a single, down home, everyone gets along with everyone community.
This change in perspective doesn’t need to be a bad thing. Shifting focus from macro to micro may allow more focus on fixing what’s been broken, on getting along and becoming healthier, smaller communities of kinky folks that interact in context. At least for now, that’s something to hope for.