Note: If I misquote you, please do not stab me; I am, in fact, the last member of a dying alien species.
In the eyes of a newcomer, the world of fetish is a strange and fascinating one, and many questions tend to float back and forth regarding the activities that people engage in. For example, a person interested in rope bondage would most likely be curious about how to replicate the artistic merit of a shibari (Japanese rope bondage) tie. While numerous sources do exist in the form of written manuals, instructional videos and workshops; the most direct form of experience, in my opinion, stems from having first experienced the effects of what it is a person is interested in doing.
A tasting party to those unfamiliar with the term are special events wherein multiple workshops, led by people experienced in a particular field, provide the means for newcomers and those interested to learn firsthand about activities. These workshops often provide a wide array of instruments for demonstration and having first agreed to be worked upon, the instructors often generously take their time to both teach and perform on an attendee. With the vast variety of fetishes out in the alternative community, one could easily describe a tasting party along the lines of an open buffet.
Like any buffet, to those already familiar to the culinary delights available to them, it is delicious (though not as much as gummi bears, oh God, the gummi bears).
In the larger dungeon space across the annex of the center, multiple workshops have been set up for newcomers to experience and learn about the basics of particular fetishes; most of these stations have volunteer instructors and participation is not mandatory, rather it is encouraged. While I am personally familiar with several such fetishes, admittedly I am not at all experienced to the same degree as the volunteers, perhaps not being partial to their relevant kinks.
Regardless of this, I stand idly by and watch the newcomers as they drift in wonderment between the separate stations, carefully sampling and listening what is being told to them. A common misconception is that there are set methods and techniques to any one fetish – this is untrue, for just like a person could tie a shoelace, so too could another person tie it in a completely different fashion. A terrible example, I’m sure.
What a person can be certain of, however, is that any kinkster with a good deal of common sense will share the basic safety and practicality of mutual fetishes. Between partners familiar to one another, their physical and other limits, deviations from this could be negotiated through time; the dynamic of safety in every activity is considered paramount, no matter which community you go to. In all the workshops that I have attended, the questions most often brought up afterwards are the safety in engaging with these forms of activities. It is nevertheless refreshing to take pointers from instructors, regardless of their age and experience, for the sake of personal wisdom.
While most of the people present in this event appear to be in their early and late twenties, I note as well the presence of the older generation, their body language and posture speaking of experience alone. I am not quick to judge a person based on their gait but it can be said that the language of the body is one that quickly becomes familiar, especially having dealt directly with the carnal limits of pain and pleasure. They keep their distance and having remembered the commentary by the people at the social, understandably so – the younger crowd, unfamiliar to the scene, would likely feel overwhelmed by the experience and age gap, imaginary or otherwise.
That is not to say that the older generation do not express interest in these tutorials, even if they happen to be more experienced or not, and there is no discrimination regarding who attends these workshops. Even the most familiarized individual in the scene can find the grounds to expand their knowledge in other areas, perhaps take notes as mentioned for their own devious little methods. It is my belief that only the truly arrogant and pompous of individuals can boast the lack to learn and grow.
It is not my intent to be hypocritical about my conduct yet I confess that my attendance in the workshop was menial, simply because alas I remained a hungry hippopotamus for the gummi bears. Yes, still reeling from my initial discovery, I opted to mingle with the attendees while observing the events unfolding throughout. Obviously it is a guilty pleasure watching everyone else corrupting the young.
“I’ve only just recently discovered the center,” said one man to me that evening. “I’ve been attending for about five months?” He pauses momentarily to hug someone passing by, interrupting our conversation. “Sorry,” He apologizes. “Yeah, most people I’ve met are very open to newbies.” How do you find it? “Amazing. I don’t think I can go back to doing what I did before.”
“About two years,” another person tells me. “I’ve had some experience before, coming from a poly household, and took a year off on hiatus due to school and work. I make the time for these events though, maybe having missed only six or seven of them.”
Momentarily our conversation is interrupted by the loud yelping of a demo bottom, undoubtedly having experienced her first ‘proper’ flogging. “Sorry, its the ambiance.” That’s alright, people get used to it. “But yeah, like I was saying, these workshops actually helped open my eyes to what’s really out there for newbies. It kinda brings everyone together in terms of collective practices and such.”
How did you first find out about this place? “From a friend,” Another woman tells me, glancing occasionally at a person suspended in mid-air. “They asked why on earth I haven’t gone out to these events and funnily enough, when I said I liked what I saw here, they said they weren’t surprised.” She snickers. “That’s what friends are for.”
“One of my Ex’s,” One woman tells me, “Took me out here one night and I haven’t ever left since. He still shows up and we’re still friends, maybe sometimes we play together, but yeah – I owe it to him, you could say.”
“It took me a few months of observation before I did my first scene,” She tells me, smiling. “I still remember how immediately hazy I got from the endorphins and the bruises stayed there for about a month but holy shiiit – it was awesome.” We high-five together. “Since then I’ve learned how to switch but most of the time I consider myself to be a Top. It kinda depends on my mood.”
“I Top most of the time,” One man tells me that evening. “With the right people, of course, and in the right mood; for example, with one of my partners, who is older and experienced, I get a kick out of being a brat just to see what she can do.” He momentarily flinches as the woman beside him pinches his butt cheeks. “You can say we learn from each other most of the time.” The woman narrows her eyes, repeating after him, “Most? We’re going to have a few words about that!” Oh dear.
Towards the end of the evening program, the dungeon area is immediately evacuated for the volunteers to help set up the play party; here, the older crowd depart, leaving the young generation to their own devises. While the sentiments towards the TNG in the fetish scene is one of mild controversy, an issue caught between those who would support it for the new generations and those that would see it as segregation, it is unfortunately an element that cannot be avoided.
“The most important thing that is happening here,” An older man tells me, watching the crowd disperse. “Is that if one of these newbies can walk away having learned about the risks and safety, the basics of what they’re interested in, then the conventional wisdom people have accumulated would be passed onto them. We didn’t have these privileges back in the day.”
True, it is important like the roots of history to remember where it all began, which admittedly being a neurotic and curious son of a bitch is something I’m interested in. What was it like before? “I’m a leather man,” He tells me, gesturing to his outfit, clad in – you guessed it – leather. “The old guard traditions required apprenticeship before you were recognized as a Dom or a Master. Nowadays people can throw that title around without anything to back their claim.”
Briefly the two of us trail off and stare in silence at a hypnotic rope tying session unfolding before us, a pretty young woman clad in a skirt, carefully being rigged with hemp before being suspended off the ground. For the uninformed, rope suspensions – combined with the restrictiveness of fiber on bare skin – can trigger a euphoric high known as rope space; in Seattle, rope suspensions are considered (at least with the people I spoke with) to be the most popular kink along with blood play.
“I’ve had plenty of bad experiences in my journey,” One woman tells me informatively. “When I started out, there would be people jumping in line, each claiming to be experienced and because we didn’t have the proper platform for establishing a network or raising education in these things, most of them have no fucking idea on what they were doing.” Gently she tugs her partner’s arm and brushes her head against it, a tender moment exchanged between them both, and he affectionately combs her hair. “That’s a different story now though.”
While not everybody is interested in the history of the movement, I believe that it is important to at least credit the people that were present beforehand for having allowed it to be preserved and to grow and expand. In all likelihood, it would come as no surprise that the younger crowd do not realize the immense privilege they possess for being in the community at this day and age. The advances of technology have since allowed more resources to newcomers than what most could only dream of before.
“You’re looking at it,” Someone else tells me that evening. “We have a library and daily schedules for information and the like. This center is built for the very purpose of raising awareness throughout Washington state. Our website has all the details you’ll need for upcoming events.”
As I wait outside, smoking a cigarette, one departing deviant adds, “You’re lucky. Its nice what you’re doing and in all honesty, it kind of needs to be done. Enjoy the party.”
Next Update: An Empty Smile