Race Bannon: Are Our Educational Efforts Backfiring?

Race Bannon
Reprinted with permission

(Editor’s note: Longtime writer and leather community member Race Bannon recently wrote this column on his own site. With the intense interest in the subject, he’s allowed us to reprint it. Participate in the conversation at his original post. A special thanks to Race for allowing us to run it on the Den.)

Last night I attended a wonderful birthday dinner with a few amazing, and I think brilliant, fellow kinksters and the topic of education and outreach came up. It once again sparked some of my concerns.

One of the contemporary common themes throughout the organized kink networks, especially among BDSM practitioners, is the need for education within our ranks. Along with that theme is the newer effort to do outreach education to those outside of the networks to bring them into the fold. And then there’s the education of the general public. I think some of these efforts are backfiring.
First, education within our ranks and how we do that education.

As I’ve mentioned before in this post, I think perhaps we are over-educating ourselves to the point where even the most seasoned of players are starting to get the impression that if they aren’t forever adding to their set of play skills they are somehow not meeting up to the standards the community is setting. Such efforts amounts to us shooting ourselves in the foot. We are fostering a sense among many that BDSM and the range of kink is just about skills and, at times, what essentially amounts to fancy parlor tricks, to continually up the ante in terms of variety and extremes of play. This does not sync with the average kinkster’s daily experience or needs.

I think the number of classes, workshops and panels has reached the point where it’s overkill. We simply don’t need this many. I’ve heard more times than I can count that many people have reached the point where they only attend such events because they are socializing opportunities with other kinksters, but is a class really a good socializing opportunity? No. Why not reduce the number of those classes and get creative with fostering more in-person socializing opportunities in their place, something we desperately need as our physical meeting spaces dwindle and our virtual connections increase.

Most kinky folks have a very specific set of desires and needs for their kinky and erotic play. Typically they’re pretty simple and basic. They don’t need to see one more of the thousands of ways to do scene X or Y. What they mostly need are insights and support on how to best meet, bond, connect and navigate within the BDSM and other kinky subcultures. Let’s reduce the number of skills classes and figure out ways to give kinksters what they really need most.

The educational model that’s been adopted is also becoming an outdated one. The typical kinky class uses the standard industrial model of pushing out “education” in the form of lecture and demonstration. Education research has consistently shown this is a lousy way to learn most things. Informal learning, mentored learning, project-based learning, team learning, leveraging recorded e-learning and other more innovative and effective ways of teaching should be employed if the goal is actually to educate kinksters rather than simply give them yet another voyeuristic opportunity to view a type of play many of them will never bother exploring anyway.

We’ve wholeheartedly adopted the standard business conference model for many of our educational events and I think at times this has proven a negative rather than a positive. What we do is not always so easily presented in such a format. What we do is more about interpersonal connection than it is about information and skills. Shouldn’t our big gatherings be figuring out how to foster this rather than pushing out the same, often regurgitated, information and skill set many of the attendees have seen many times prior? Why not create learning play parties with an interactive and mentored approach? Why not foster socializing settings where kinksters feel empowered to share knowledge, insights and experiences with each other as learning and growth mechanisms. Why do we feel obligated to pack educational tracks so full that it becomes a challenge to attend what one wants to attend at such events? Kinky folks tend to be a creative bunch. Why aren’t we leveraging that creativity to come up with new socializing and educational events rather than offering up yet one more cookie cutter, templated version of the same event. We’re better than that, and we’re not really serving the needs of the community by rigidly sticking to old models.

Instructors at events are rarely vetted at all. Often they are invited to teach based entirely on their longevity in the scene, their star status or some other criteria other than demonstrating the ability to teach (not everyone can), their knowledge, the solidity of their reputation, and so on. I have far too often seen people schedule an instructor simply because they have a time slot to fill rather than because the instructor rises to the level of providing true value to those in attendance. Let’s vet our instructors better. Yes, this takes work. Yes, this will annoy some people who think their star status entitles them to be instructors. So be it. The scene will be better for it.

Second, education as outreach to bring people into the kinkster networks.

I see “educational” scene demonstration events take place at public venues that concern me. Do we really want the average person witnessing a complex and nuanced BDSM or kinky scene? The general public has no context in which to place what they see. Even those who might be kinky curious can actually be turned off and discouraged by witnessing such play before they’re ready to fully understand it within the overall context of that particular kinky subculture.

An argument that’s often made is that such public displays bring new people into the kinky scene. I disagree. I don’t think it generally does. I think it often amounts to a side show carnival for the viewers and an exhibitionistic opportunity for the players. Nothing more. I don’t think much education actually takes place. I think it’s far more important to provide venues in which interested people can come, learn and explore in a controlled and secure environment.

Some say we want to make it easy for newcomers to come into the scene. Sure we do, on some level. But to spoon feed the general public kinky scenes done outside of an understandable context doesn’t do that. Make educational, learning and support opportunities known to the public. Absolutely. But if someone doesn’t have the motivation and drive to expend at least the effort it takes to show up at a more private, controlled event, do we really want them in the scene in the first place? Does this not encourage the casual dabbler while discouraging the more engaged players? What value does this bring to the overall community?

Finally, our educational outreach to the general public.

The general public does not need to know the specifics of what kinky folks do. They just don’t. All we want from the general public is a basic understanding of what we do and why we do it, and to make dialogue and awareness prevalent enough so that kinksters can do what they do undisturbed. That’s it. We really don’t need anything else from the general public and to ask for any more is to invite problems that don’t need to occur.

I know much of what I’ve said here is controversial. I know many within our ranks have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo for the educational efforts as they’ve developed over the past two decades or so. And what I’ve offered here is not meant to suggest that we don’t need education. We absolutely do. I have championed and participated in countless educational events over the years and support them, but perhaps even I’m culpable in fostering some of the missteps I see in such efforts today. My current opinion is that we likely need a major rethink in this area.

I welcome your comments and thoughts on this topic. It’s something that needs to be discussed.