Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Education Group vs. “Leather” Club

“Sometimes I feel like the last soldier standing on the battlefield, and I look around and I wonder where the hell did everybody go.”  -- Michael Garibaldi (Babylon 5)

The first CAPEX meeting of the year is traditionally when a few of the older members who don’t come around much anymore make an appearance.  Last weekend (the 13th anniversary of our little club), Kitten and I ended up going to an early dinner w/ our friends Mystrys and Pet who don’t put in too many appearances.  We had a blast and spoke of many things… among them we talked about CAPEX and why those who don’t come around anymore don’t come around anymore.  My theory is that a lot of it has to do w/ the focus on education.

Last year I posted some comments inspired by something Race Bannon wrote about “over-educating our community.”  His point (I think) was that we’ve gone too far into reducing every kink to a one-hour lecture/demo (too many of which are not even that good), and that the better way to learn is through more unstructured, organic interactions, “teaching parties,” and mentoring.  My response was a sort of ‘yes-and-no.’

CAPEX is an education-based group and it’s very good at what it does.  I’ve said for years that ours is the best education programming in the region.  We bring in some great presenters, and each month we offer a 2-hour long feature demo/workshop, then after dinner we have a BDSM 101 class for (re)viewing basics or just doing some show-and-tell… and then we have a dungeon party.  In addition we have a Gateway munch each month for newbies.  We used to also offer various monthly special-interest groups for those who wanted to get-together in small numbers and work on specific skills, dynamics, or toy-making crafts, but we kind-of quit doing that b/c so many other small groups have sprung-up post-Fet that, well, there’s no longer a point in us having a CAPEX rope group when there are now two other rope groups in Charlotte.

Mystrys put it well Saturday when she said that CAPEX is a great bridge for taking people “from FetLife to real life.”  But for those who have been around for 3 or 4 years and seen dozens of different demos and workshops, there’s just not as much incentive to keep coming to CAPEX.  It’s probably not a coincidence that two of the oldest members who are still active (NCMaster and I) are both educators, so I think we both attach a lot of importance to teaching new folks.  But most people who come through CAPEX’s doors only stay about 2 or 3 years.  We have a high turn-over rate.  In the past, I know that some of our Board members looked at this only as a problem w/ our group, but I always argued it was a mark of success.  I mean, we offer all-together 20+ demos a year, and there’s only so many times you can watch a wax demo or needles or whatever.  So I always said we were victims of our own success.

And the “victim” part is what we were talking about over dinner w/ Mystrys – i.e. the down-side of being such a good education group.  Because we have this 2-3 year turn-over rate it really keeps the club from feeling like a family.  It’s hard to have a sense of community when almost nobody in the club can remember back more than a few years.  W/o collective memory there’s no collective identity.  A mythology is a collection of stories that acts as the glue that holds a tribe together.  This is how myths are built: it starts around the campfire with, “You remember that hunt where Grog broke his leg?” and evolves into, “Once, long, long ago, our ancestors lived in the earth…”  I’ve noticed that when my old friends get together we spend a lot of our time reminiscing.  It’s a bonding thing and the construction of a collective-identity.

On the one hand, it’s great that CAPEX does such a fab job of offering educational programming.  (And we have some good parties too, by the way.)  One the other hand, I can sort of see Race Bannon’s point about “over-educating.”

I’m always very dubious about so-called “leather traditions,” but when it comes to traditions in general the whole point is to take what you find to be good and dump the rest.  One thing I like in the “leather” tradition is the sense of really being a part of a group.  Whether it was a motorcycle club, a leather family, or a puppy pack, there’s a sense of belonging… which (these days) I find very appealing.  Most of the “leather” groups seem to me to be exclusive (in a good way – i.e. you have to earn your way in).  CAPEX is an open door; anybody can join; nobody is veted.  That makes sense if you want to be a “bridge between FetLife and real life,” but this, too, makes it hard to have a strong sense of belonging.  Increasingly, I see that there is some good in a more exclusive and somewhat hierarchal group… you know where you have to earn your club badge or club jacket or whatever, because it’s human nature to value things we have to work for and to devalue whatever comes easy.

Well, I don’t have a pithy conclusion… or even a “position” on these questions… they’re just ideas that keep floating around in my head.  But… I think increasingly (since about 2011) I’ve found my preference moving toward what I kind of think of as the “leather” club model.  There’s always a place for open, educational groups like CAPEX… but, well… I don’t know…  *shrug*

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