Thursday, September 22, 2011

Shut Up or Speak Up?

For a long time, the popular wisdom for new titleholders has been for them to not make a name for themselves, at least not in online venues.  The LeatherTitleholders mailing list — back when it was actually a viable venue for titleholders current and past to mix and converse (that stopped long ago, alas) was among the most notable such venue, where many a titleholder was told by his or her contest producers, “Join the list and introduce yourself, read everything on the list, but don’t post anything until your year is up.”

The theory there was that many new titleholders might inadvertently put their own foot (boot) in their mouth with any number of gaffes.  Many titleholders are somewhat new to the leather community; even those who may have been into kinky play for years (and thus wouldn't make some of the worst gaffes you can imagine) may not have had a lot of experience on the public side of things.  Others may not have a lot of experience in online venues and might say/do something dumb.  And of course, a list of leathermen and leatherwomen is bound (ahem) to have people who like to get into heated debates, who like to stir the shit, and who like to provoke others into emotional reactions (aka “flamewars”).

Most of all, of course, titleholders who would later be competing at one of the national or international contests might well have some of their judges on that same list, men and women who would be quietly reading all the posts and not saying anything.  Men and women who, if the new titleholders said anything — good or bad — would start to form an opinion of the titleholder which could carry through to the eventual judging.  (“Mr. Topanga Canyon Leather: back in October, you got into a nasty online fight with someone in which you wrote ‘We shouldn’t let women into our bars, our playspaces, our contests.’  Given that I, as International Ms. Leather, am here as one of your judges, could you expand on that further?”  “I… uh… um… crap.”)  So the general preference from many title producers was to have the new titleholders not make any impression on their judges ahead of time, figuring that a blank slate was better than a dirtied up one.

(I hope Robert Davolt would approve of the continued use of “Mr. Topanga Canyon Leather” as a generic leather titleholder.)

Today, of course, the Internet is in a different state.  The Leather Titleholders list and the AltLeather list which got created as a response to issues on the original one are both practically silent these days.  And so many other venues exist, from Facebook to FetLife and beyond, that if judges want to pre-research contestants, the odds of a digital paper trail existing are far greater than before.

For myself, the option to not pre-set any expectations in the eyes of the judges is pretty much impossible.  I have been online, starting with BBSes, for just shy of 30 years!  I have been at times a prolific poster in Internet/USENET venues — newsgroups, email lists, etc. — for 22 years.  This is my fifth blog; I had a collection of opinion essays online for over a decade, since almost before the word “blog” was coined.  I’ve competed and placed in several title contests over the years.  I’ve been name-checked in The Leather Journal and won a Pantheon Award (Northwest Region).  Suffice to say, there’s plenty of digital paper trail out there on me.  The odds are good that I will be an known name to at least some of my judges at International, perhaps all of them.  (I know one of them in person already.)  If there are embarrassing writings and behaviors in my past — and there probably are! — there’s not a lot I can do to cover that up.

So given that the judges will likely know at least a little about me when I’m standing in front of them — and potentially a whole lot about me, if they research the contestants a bit ahead of time (and what good contestant doesn’t research the judges in reverse, eh?) — I figure I might as well give them their money’s worth.  If my leather life can’t be a blank slate, I’ll make it an open book.  My past experience says that the best way to have a position settled for yourself and to be able to be expressed to someone else is to think it through and write it down.

If a judge wants to know my thoughts on safer sex requirements at play parties, I’ll have written a piece on it.  Where do I draw the line with drug use and why?  I’ll have tackled that.  Can a Sir bottom?  What is the value and importance of “earned leathers”?  Does the hanky code still apply in the twenty-teens?  How can the leather bar reinvent itself to stay valid?  What is the difference between a bottom, a sub, a boy, and slave?  And so on.  Some of these writings will end up on this blog — those with direct application to my title and my title year — and others with a broader leather focus will go on my Sounds Kinky-er blog (but I’ll cross-reference them here, too).

These sorts of philosophy and educational posts won’t be the total focus of this blog, though.  I’ll also have reports for events I attend, status updates about the fundraisers and workshops I do during the year, photos, and ample other light content throughout the year.

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