Discussion with Guy Baldwin / & issues with leadership January 13 2023
I was over in Los Angeles as a speaker for CARAS C2C Conference, and while there is much to report back on (reception to my new Ki work from psychologists and peers; general thoughts on research, community, conference, etc), I wanted to job down a few notes from discussion with Guy Baldwin.
I wasn't able to attend workshops due to being so embedded in and committed to C2C, however I did manage to pop into the Guy Baldwin Q&As session.
One of the delicious things about me flying into USA, is unlike being in Australia or the UK events, I enjoy some anonymity there. And it was a great opportunity to ask questions of someone who has been around the scene and so influential in the scene, authored books and holds no doubt much wisdom and insight specific to the USA etc.
I wasn't recording the answers, (although someone there was filming for some documentary), so the following is prefaced by being my impressions and approximate memory, and not word-for-word. There may of course be errors in my recollection.
* BACK IN THE DAY
Guy Baldwin spoke of his early experience, and it was very different of course to many people in contemporary era. (Not at an event, no online apps etc.) I won't share the private first experience Guy recounted, however some of the take-aways and impressions left for me personally - were:
- the improvised nature of equipment - he describes buying dog collars from a US department store and fashioning cuffs. (As an aside, this theme was also echoed in my research on historical Dominatrix Theresa Berkley for Sky History TV, putting together her equipment from c1826 era, which made use of components of birch rods also used in besoms (brooms), prickly botanicals, leather soles from shoes to create paddles, equestrian curry combs, equestrian leather items (modified), and masochistic embellishments made with sewing through nails, as well as available ropes and chains).
- intuition and imagination. There was not a wide selection of BDSM books (then called "S/M"), and there wasn't the internet in those days; and these dynamics and power plays were what I would describe as horny and desirous. However also a far greater "unknown factor" I would imagine in terms of what one was getting oneself into - sense of danger and mystery factor. In a way that makes it more complex lined up against today's notions of pre-negotiated "informed consent", however it's certainly a powerful experience of not knowing or preempt what may happen.
- psychology strong power play. An intense psychology-strong dynamic, in which the equipment is adding to the scene and to me in some ways from his description sounds secondary. Which should be how it is in any case, but in today's era I see much more focus on equipment and activity, in which I feel that in some people's play their psychology and relational dynamic is weak.
I think this was a good reminder that people today can in my experience get lost in absorption in fancy expensive equipment, when in reality it's rare that a session is by expensive equipment. (I would allow of course that for some people they have a specific fetish for a particular implement with material fetish qualities or specific power over them from earlier imprinting from childhood / adolescence of fantasy that make it immediately powerful and arousing.)
As an aside, I feel that the best scenes / dynamics are in the power play, in the eyes, in the knowing, in the timing and anticipation, in the wrestle and shifts / drop into role, into psychological and physical softening submission, or enthralled slavery, or surrender and sub space, and myriad other potential and exploration, etc. Equipment: secondary, an aid to facilitate, to bond / entrap, to make impact, etc.
* ON THE MELBOURNE LEADERSHIP SCENE ISSUES
I brought to Guy Baldwin the issue much spoken of in the Melbourne scene of leadership at present. In short summary without going into details or dropping people "in it", the leaders are burning out. I could run through a list of top leaders who've dropped out in recent ears.
They're burning out because it's a small scene and once they teach, they don't for the most part - date or interact with anyone who's been a former student (as that student's former teacher), because ethics, having boundaries between them and people they have taught. It's an ethical model derived from doctors and psychologists, and academia lecturers who are unable to date patients / students.
They're also very conscious of being watched and being a role model, and this limits enormously their own enjoyment and involvement in the scene.
It puts them on guard, high vigilance to anyone they meet to check if they've ever taught or close to someone they've taught, feeling they need to be perfect in all their conduct and play, being held up to an ideal extremely high bar model, etc.
There has been some unfortunate incidents of alleged non-consensual interaction and fall-out within the ropes scene, which has fuelled higher and ever higher expectations of "perfect" conduct. (I don't just mean in terms of consent - which should always happen, but every aspect of perfection of "performance" of activities and power play and everything needing to go perfectly.) And leaders have few or no-one to play with in their personal lives, feeling less enthusiastic to attend events as a player because they're being looked at as a teacher on a pedestal, people they'd normally meet at an event and seek to date or interact with - they can't because of teacher status. They're also being "pounced on" at events by people seeking teaching instruction from them, and not appreciating they may want to enjoy their night and a break from teaching. There's few they can share their humanity with, and they're burning out and dropping out.
I don't know that I adequately covered every aspect of the Melbourne scene background context as it's a Q&A and I didn't want to bog him down with lengthy context, as others had questions to ask also. However Guy's comments were interesting.
He laughed. My impression was he thought it somewhat ridiculous. Because he doesn't not interact with people just because he's a leader.
It was somewhat surprising to me that such a different approach is being taken in the leatherman scene, but it's informative. Guy is in his other hat a psychotherapist, so he's used to therapist-patient boundaries. His response proposes to me that within the scene, one can share knowledge by example, lead by example, manage issues that come up like an adult, with good communication and talking, intuition, and identification of someone's vulnerabilities or potential issues that may come up - and address those. Was the gist I took away.
So thank you to Guy for his candid comments and responses.
* MY THOUGHTS FOR THE MELBOURNE SCENE
I've come back with a different viewpoint and perspective to pass on to the scene.
My take after hearing Baldwin's views is this:
We're talking grown adults. Leaders (usually) know what good consent is. Know vulnerabilities of those younger, less experienced, those with mental health conditions that require extra care, alcohol that may impair judgement, those who are putting them on a pedestal enthralled by their leader status. Leaders can talk about those openly with the other would-be play partner, can discuss concerns and hear the other person's take. They can mutually raise and discuss any concerns. But adult people are not infants. They are capable of enthusiastic desirous consensual play sought out with someone who is highly experienced.
Perhaps a hypothetical 48 year old male scene leader and teacher is perfectly able to conduct themselves in a play dynamic get themselves with a 41 year old who he taught one class at some point prior. That they're mature enough to discuss and manage any concern over pedestals and power dynamic. They're adults and not babies. He's not their doctor or therapist, and not an academic lecturer who has power over their school grade. So perhaps these correspondences (ethics for doctors and psychologists with patients, university lecturer bars on not dating students) are not perfectly parallel or equivalent.
And if a leader practices general sensibility, care, good consent, good communication and checking-in, intuitive gauge for people's vulnerabilities and awareness of those, manages and discusses issues which come up well, then they actually lead by example.
The past ropes scene issues with lack of consent is bad practice (and indeed assault in law) and was extremely poor. And scene leaders need to be particularly conscious of power imbalance and on-the-spot play being at risk of feeling swept-along and/or alcohol-involved and often younger / less experienced submissive people with vulnerabilities. To exercise good judgment, alongside good communication. Potentially also to tend towards setting loose plans for future play (rather than on-the-spot play) enabling time for (mutual) consideration and further discussion, and well-informed consent, where appropriate and where there is concern, and away from "on the spot / swept-along" rush to play. Those are all good take-aways.
Has Melbourne swung its pendulum too far to the extreme caution, over-vigilance, and a bar set so high that no-one wants to be a leader in the scene, in the face of very bad past conduct isolated to a few examples of male "riggers"?
We've all known examples of the odd leader / teacher in the scene who has been arguably exploited the power imbalance and been highly predatory towards an enthralled newbie, and employed coercion, manipulation and/or poor consent practices or even consent violation. The scene hasn't looked on them well, and functioned to deal with this in many cases quite effectively.
However the majority of teachers and leaders are behaving ethically and well, and hence their position and regard within the scene.
Also what can students do to better support and humanise their leaders and teachers, and understand the challenges they face in stepping up to that position. And leaders and teachers also need their community to support them, not to withdraw away from community ashamed of any human foible or imperfection. How do we help thank and help recharge our leaders, so they don't feel they need to withdraw and so they don't burn out?
And how do we deal with a leader who errs? Who misjudges a person's vulnerabilities or extent of someone's mental health challenges, or forgets something, or errs in cleaning perfection or anything else in "real life" situations to 100% perfection all of the time?
If the bar is set to God-like with seer abilities, no-one is going to make it.
On the other hand, leaders need to be aware (and I don't think that they're not) that their conduct is seen and modelling for others.
As an aside, I end my first class with the 2 paired tarot cards of the Empress and the Fool, for my students. For them to keep in mind that while they are playing and embodying "the Empress" - (as Dominatrix) - they also need to keep in their tarot cards "The Fool" - who has arms open to new experiences and able to make mistakes, and in acknowledgment that they will make mistakes, and I have and will make mistakes. And the best we can do is address them when we make them, attend with first aid immediately and without ego interference, talk about those openly with humility and humanity, and share with others and learn from mistakes.
These are all issues that the community needs to talk about more.
- Leaders / teachers feeling like they can't date or interact with people due to power dynamic pedestal, and in such a small scene cutting possibilities down to very few or some have said "slightly above zero" - lol. This is likely even more the case in regional town areas with very small population, or niche fetish groups etc.
Addition: Some groups are employing a set length of time after teaching a student, after which it may be possible to engage with them, which seems to range by organisation. As an example Sexological Bodyworkers had a 3 month post-teaching period as minimum time period to pass clear of the teaching relationship, and I'm told that it's now been extended out to a minimum of 12 months.
I'm advised that Melbourne Community Rope group has a rule that teachers can't tie current or previous students, without requesting permission of the committee in advance. On Fetlife "pkr" wrote to me from his own experience: "It [the rule] tries to tread the balance of avoiding abuse of inherent power differentials while not outright stopping all interaction / play. I find the level of oversight provides both MCR and the teacher some level of confidence that we’re (me as a teacher) not (even accidentally or without awareness) using the inherent power differential, and I suspect it would stop or significantly limit any deliberate predation."
- Leaders / teachers scared to be seen lest they ever make an error / mistake and be held up to expectations of perfection / high bar.
- Leaders / teachers being "pounced on" at events and surrounded by a swarm of those seeking teaching instruction, and unable to be off and enjoying night as a regular lifestyle participant.
- Leaders / teachers by their position will sometimes trigger those people who have issues with authority figures and project and transfer all their issues with their father / mother / step-parent / abuser onto the leader / teacher, seeking subconsciously to heal those issues, which is a lot to put on a leader / teacher.
- Leaders / teachers feeling there is no way (or no easy) back after an error, due to high bar / pedestal people have them on.
Addition: Someone has brought to my attention the relevance of "splitting" and idealization to devaluation phenomenon, which is additionally associated more often with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder).
- Leaders / teachers burning out.
- Leaders / teachers being put off from being a leader / teacher, and stepping up to that role due to above factors.
I welcome readers' thoughts and feedback on the topic. I've set up a Survey Monkey form here for those who want to write their thoughts or suggestions:
Anne O Nomis