Okay, so I’m thinking too much again. It happens, and I’m sure someone will be taking me to task for this again soon. But after spending an essay defending titles and contests, I now have to ask myself the question of what can you do without a sash or a stole. And the answer is – quite a bit.
So – here’s the frank truth. Most of us aren’t cut out to be in the spotlight. Either it’s not in our personality, or we don’t have time, or it’s just not something we want to do. Being a spokesperson and front man takes a certain kind of effort and (often) a lot of time. And, yet, for those of us who believe in our own communities, we want to give back.
Here’s the open secret that’s out there that we often forget: You don’t need a title to get things done. Really.
There’s a saying in the community that I’ve heard recently. “The true worth of at title holder is measured not in what they do during their year, but what they do afterwards.” The thought here is that a title gives a person exposure so that they can become known and can, therefore, accomplish things once they’re out of the spotlight. While doors can open more easily for title holders, my argument is that if you want to get something done, skip over the title run and just start doing. If you stop and look at a lot of the work being done in the community, it is often being driven by people without titles – people who are willing to step up and do the (often dirty) work needed. Our community is a volunteer driven one, and we almost always need more human resources to help pull things together.
Personally, I learned this lesson at my first IML. At the strong urging of a couple of friends, I signed up as a volunteer for the weekend. With the promise of three four hour shifts I had access to all the contest evenings, the vendor mart, and the final closing night party. During that weekend, I saw that it took a small army of people to make that kind of large event happen, and being part of that army of people brought with it a sense of accomplishment and purpose. As I got more involved with the community, I saw that even smaller events took a lot of time and effort. Stepping up and offering my assistance not only made things easier for the organizer and producer, it also gave me a sense of ownership and inclusion. I was one of the people making things happen.
But here’s the rub. Almost everyone in this community is giving their time and energy out of their own respect and love for how we like to gather and live. There are very few people who get paid for what we do, and, if we do get any sort of compensation, it is hardly commensurate with the time spent. If you’re not happy with how things are set up and going, please don’t complain. Instead, volunteer. There is almost always a need for additional hands and additional organizers. We’ve all heard the adage “Be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” and it makes just as much sense here as elsewhere.
I put this to test myself when I, along with another community member, decided to be part of the solution and follow in the footsteps of our neighbors down in Iowa. We created a weekend of educational events that turned into the first Kink U event in the Twin Cities. My co-producer for the event and I had looked around our community and had seen a void in educational opportunities – especially within the gay community. There were lots of people playing out there, but also lots of people who wanted to learn more. It took some time to pull it all together – including coordinating with a local bar, finding some local sponsors, and arranging for some local kink experts to come in and teach. Still, with all that work, we were thrilled to see 125 men and women in the community come through the door that morning and afternoon to experience what turned out to be the first of many educational opportunities in the local community.
My advice – if you want to be a leader/if you want to get something done – is to not worry about getting a title. Stop and look around you for needs within the local scene. If you see a void in kink education, arrange an afternoon with someone who’s willing to teach. If there’s a need for a certain type of play party, figure out how to get one going. If a local club or organization needs help with their run or weekend event, consider volunteering – or better yet, step up and offer to coordinate and find more volunteers. At the very least, thank the people behind the scenes putting the events together. For every title holder up on stage, there are a host of people working to make sure that your evening or weekend of debauchery and sex (yes – remember why we’re here again?) is a fun and enjoyable one.
Yes, a title can help get things done, but the honest truth is you don’t need one to give back. And, at times, it can get in the way of getting things done. So step forward when you see a chance to help – and be one of the true stars of this community.
Jason Zahlen is the current President of the Titans of the Midwest. He has been a regular volunteer and staff member at IML and has helped produce many Kink U events within the Midwest. While supporting multiple contests and title holders, he has never run for nor held a title.