Tuesday, May 29, 2012

LURE (Portland) • April 28–29

I’ve increasingly been dreading this spring and summer, as I’ve looked ahead at my schedule for the year and seen almost every weekend booked.  In fact, from the end of March to early September, I will be attending/will have attended three leather contests, two rubber events, two country-western dance events, one bear event, five fisting parties, two Pride celebrations, two other leather weekends, and my international contest.  (And I’m not just attending these things: I’m judging one of those contests, presenting at one of the leather weekends, competing at one of the country-western dance weekends, host for three of the fisting parties, and on the organizing committee for four of the weekend events.)  Add in the weekend before the international contest for a contest walkthrough and my free Saturdays across 5-1/2 months become… April 28, May 12, and June 2.

So when Northwest Leatherboy Dan asked me to come down to Portland for the April LURE, I naturally said “Sure”.

(I’m writing this on May 27, which means I’m now down to one free Saturday until the end of summer.  Ugh.)


While the ride up to Vancouver three weeks before had been a little too chilly, a few more weeks of spring made it a dandy ride down.  I left about 1 pm, rode I-5 all the way down, and got to the hotel (Courtyard by Marriott on Wasco; one of our former Northwest Leatherboy titleholders works there) which Dan had arranged in good time.  After a short nap, we went out to a nearby restaurant for dinner, came back and changed to go out to the Portland Eagle. LURE (Leather Uniform Rubber Etc.) is the Eagle’s 4th Friday leather event, typically hosted by the current Mr. Oregon State Leather (Tarsus, in this case).  They usually have themes attached, and this was the annual Battle of the Village People night, which included a Village People costume contest.  Andy Mangels started this Village People event during his title year, as I recall.
What to wear for the contest?  Hmm.  Ah, of course: Western attire as the cowboy — brown cowboy boots, brown chaps, brown vest, bandana around the neck, and brown cowboy hat.  The brown vest is actually my Mr. Northwest Cub vest from last year, which meant I didn’t wear my current title vest out to the event, although I did wear it as motorcycle colors on the trip down.
(Hmm, as I write this, International Mr. Leather has probably just finished.  Looks like Washington State Mr. Leather was in the top 20, and Oregon State Bootblack Nick won the International Mr. Bootblack competition.  You go, Nick!  I wasn’t at IML because the International Association of Gay/Lesbian Country Western Dance Clubs convention was in New Orleans this weekend.  More on that in a future post.) 
I ended up winning the costume contest, and the prize was a small original oil painting by Tarsus, of a harnessed leatherman.  A very nice prize, and just the right size to fit in the bike trunk. 
After the contest, I connected with a couple guys from Beaverton (a Portland suburb) for a play session, getting back to the hotel late.

And Back Again

Dan and I went out to breakfast at The Roxy Diner in the morning, before I left for home.  We had the chance to talk about ideas for the contest fantasy and demo, although I had bad info about the demo and have since had to start replanning it.  Sigh. 
On the trip north, I decided to take the (longer) scenic route: first out to the town of St. Helens and across the Columbia at Longview, and later leaving I-5 north of Centralia and going around the east side of Olympia, Joint Base Lewis/McChord, and Tacoma, coming up through Spanaway and up 167 to the south end of Seattle.  I ended up with absolutely killer gas mileage doing this — 58 or so going down, but over 74 mpg coming back!
Unfortunately, “killer” has its downside, I guess.  I was either too tired from the night before or spent too long on the bike in not quite warm enough weather, and when I got home, I had a major case of the chills.  I turned up the heat in the house and literally sat on the heater vent for 15 minutes. 
Of course I knew what this meant: my bronchitis was going to come back.  (Or “bronchitis”, anyway.  One doctor didn’t think it was actually that, but some other recurring bacterial lung infection.  Close enough.)  I used to get this one to four times a year since the early 1990s, usually when I got stupid: tired and overheated and dealt with weather too cool for what I was wearing — usually brought on in spring or fall by leaving the dance bar in a heavy sweat, or sleeping with the window open and having a temperature drop over night. 
Sure enough, in the next few days, I started to cough and hack up phlegm and all the stuff you don’t want to read about here.  After two rounds of my homemade antibiotics (onion-infused honey, nasty stuff but it works as well as a Z-Pak), it seems to have finally cleared in the last few days.  Wasn’t as hard of a cough as I’ve had before — only felt like being hit in the chest by a plastic baseball bat, not a wooden one — but a bummer because this was my first bout of it in maybe two years.  I was beginning to think maybe I had cleared it from my system.  Apparently not, although I’ll point to the scooter as likely reducing it in general by improving my posture and exposing me better to outdoor temperatures year round.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


I don’t play with safewords.

Let me rephrase that: I don’t generally play with safewords.  I have used them in the past, as both top and bottom, but I can probably count those instances on one hand over the past 20 years.


Safewords are a by-product of “Safe, Sane, and Consensual” (SSC), which was the guideline of the leather/BDSM community in the 1990s.  They show that what we are doing is Safe (see, “safe” is even part of the term!), Sane (we understand and respect limits), and Consensual (we negotiate scenes and agree on what will happen).

Today, people increasingly embrace “Risk-Aware Consensual Kink” (RACK) as a model.  The need to present Safe and Sane are not embedded in that phrase, and thus play without safewords may fit in more easily.

Let’s be clear, though: I am not bashing SSC in favor of RACK.  Both are valuable phrases for people to learn and understand.  They are not a one-or-the-other option; they can both be in effect at the same time.  SSC is externally focused, saying “BDSM play is not inherently a bad thing, so long as you are doing it with sense and reason,” while RACK is internally focused, saying “Some of the things we do may appear and even actually be risky and a bit crazy, but we know this and deal with those issue appropriately.”  It is difficult to convince someone familiar with SCC that fisting to the elbow or flogging with blackberry vines or skewering the testicles with electrified needles are safe and sane activities, but they are certainly kinky and can be done risk-aware and risk-mitigated.

Why I Don’t Use Safewords

I find that there are three main purposes for safewords:

  1. Safewords are used in a public context (even required in some cases), to make sure that the PC police are convinced that we are doing BDSM play the right way.

    That is, we use safewords not so ensure that our scene is safe, but to ensure that other believe that it is.  Safewords in this context only really apply in public dungeon spaces.  Public dungeon play is a great thing.  But there are relatively few dungeon spaces which are both welcoming and conducive to gay male leather play, and rules requiring safewords are typically seen only in pansexual spaces.  (Gay leathermen don’t really like rules forced on us, you know?)
  2. Safewords are used with BDSM newbies (or others) where there is a need to show them that we are competent, honest players.

    This is the one place where I have used safewords in the past, both as a bottom and a top, to establish a base level of competency and trust.  Recently, I offered to establish them for a play scene with a newbie, but it wasn’t expressed as needed, so we didn’t use them.
  3. Safewords are used when we can’t trust that “No” and “Stop” will be intended as such and will be heeded.

    There are two places this happens.  First is where the bottom doesn’t know his limits (or the top doesn’t believe that he does), so words other than the automatic ones are  set so that the bottom has to process a little deeper than “No” and “Stop”, has to consider a little more whether his limits have actually been reached.

The other is “mind fuck” play, where it isn’t that the bottom doesn’t know his limits but that the top (and maybe the bottom as well) wants to push past those, and they depend on safewords to help force the bottom away from calling it quits too early.

You’ll note the inherent problem with safewords: they are meant to establish trust and competency, but they don’t ensure it.  If you need to convince a play partner that you are competent, does mouthing sound bites about “yellow and red” do that?  If you need to convince watching third parties that you are competent, are you playing or are you performing?  If you don’t trust that “No means no” (or you don’t allow that meaning), why do you trust that “Red” (or god help us, that “Chocolate cream pie”) will mean “No”.

So to summarize, I don’t use safewords because:

  • I don’t play in spaces where there are required to be allowed to play
  • I rarely play with guys who need that I prove that competency level
  • I don’t play with guys/in situations where “No” and “Stop” don’t mean “No” and “Stop”

What I Use Instead

Obviously (I hope), I don’t ignore all communication from my play partner about his state and needs.  I just don’t use formal, negotiated safeword language.  I use body language and actual language to determine the state of my play partner, and I react according to what that tells me.

Since fisting is a big passion of mine — as top and bottom — I know that in the heat of a scene, especially when the bottom has gone into a sub headspace (or beyond; I go into animal headspaces — dog, pig, bear, werewolf, trout), the bottom may not be able to form coherent words.  Even “No” and “Wait” and “Stop” and “Pause” and “Ouch” may not be possible; “chocolate cream pie” is surely out the window.  When words cannot be formed, and when the bottom is literally thrashing in the sling, growling and barking, clawing at the air (is it getting hot in here or is it just me?), the top has got to depend the ability to “read” what the bottom needs well beyond negotiated words and signals.

(This isn’t limited to fisting in a sling.  I’ve seen it and done it with fucking, nipple play, CBT, flogging… anything where the bottom’s headspace goes sub-verbal.)

Further, of course, is that the “red” safeword is typically meant as “stop the activity now, we are done,” but that doesn’t typically apply with fisting.  With fisting “Stop” typically means “Too much intensity!  We need a serious pause to let me come down from my endorphin high an evaluate, but we’re probably not actually done here.”  (I have only once had to stop a scene outright in the middle.  Once you start seeing scaled, tentacled elder gods from beyond space looking back at you with intelligence and hunger, you’d want to stop it, too.  Bad bad juju.)

Other Thoughts

There’s only one safeword that really works: “lawsuit”.

I host play parties 4-5 times a year, and I don’t use Dungeon Monitors for them, either.  As with safewords, DMs are a facet of SCC, useful for either proving we run a “proper” play party, or where the attendees cannot trust one another’s competency and need a chain of command to deal with potential issues.  My parties have a sufficiently vetted, experienced, empowered set of players involved that this has not been an issue.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Rubbout 2012 • April 6–8

This year was Rubbout 21 in Vancouver, BC.  Started by Bill Houghton two decades and some ago, it was handed off to Mitch Kenyon several years ago, who built it from a small regional event (mostly Vancouver, some Seattle, a few from beyond) to something attracting a broader segment.  Mitch turned it over to a committee (including Mr. Vancouver Leather Doug Mitchell and Mr. West Coast Rubber Reid Dagleish), who have tried to build things a level higher, to attract outside of the rubber “core” with some added events, with a mix of success.

This was my 13th trip to Rubbout over the years, having only missed one year since I started attending.  I’ve attended more years than anyone except Bill Houghton, in fact.  Once again, I room shared with Cliff, who this year brought along his pup, Spike (Marty).

This year’s posters for the event and the Slick dance were by comics artist Stephen Sadowski (JSA, John Carter of Mars) and were fantastic.

Riding Up

My car is currently out of commission.  Apparently rats have chewed through the coolant systems, so it wants to overheat quickly, and repairing that requires taking out a chunk of the engine (thanks, Land Rover!), to the tune of $1500 or more.  I ride my maxiscooter most of time anyway (heck, all of the time now!), so this really only becomes an issue for out of town trips.

For Northwest Sash Bash last month, I rented a car, since there were four of us going down.  This year, I decided to ride up.  The scooter will comfortably zip along above 70 mph (even up to 85), so there’s no issue with highway speeds.  (And I did four multi-hour trips like this last year on it, and have ridden to Vancouver on my previous scooter a couple times, so the trip itself is old hat.)

I’ve gotten in the habit of wearing my title vest on these long bike trips as biker colors (which makes sense, when you think about the origins of title vest patches).  I started it last summer with a trip to Richland where I wore my Mr. Northwest Cub vest that way, and continued the tradition on this trip, both to Vancouver and back.

The only complication this year was weather, or maybe I should say the time of year.  While the country as a whole had a warmer than average March, Washington was actually below average for the month.  (In fact, we were the only one of the lower 48 state to be below average in March.)  Fortunately, the weather was looking at least clear, so I did the ride.  About the time I got to Stanwood (an hour north), it was getting pretty chilly, so I stopped for Starbucks in Burlington to warm up.  From there north, temps raised a bit and all was fine… until the border.

First off, I violated my rule of not crossing at Peace Arch.  I was lulled into a false sense of security by indications that the wait was only 5 minutes.  Which was true, until they pulled me over to Customs.

Apparently this was my once-a-decade border stop.  (I was stopped in 1992 or 1993, going to Vancouver from my parents’ home in Bellingham, and in about 2002, coming back from Rubbout in Vancouver.)  They made me give them my keys and passport and phone, and wanted to know if I had any firearms, any pot, if I had been arrested, if I had been in the back of a police car, if I had ever been fingerprinted (yes, when I was a Boy Scout), and pretty much just made me sit on my butt for 30 minutes or more.  So far as I can tell, they didn’t search the bike.  One of the customs agents implied that my name might have matched close to someone else, but hell, for all I know they were stopping everyone on bikes, or it was a tax-related thing, or as I said, maybe they just do this to you once a decade.  (It will be interesting to see what I run into when I go up for Pride in August.)

Once I got into Vancouver on the city streets, I was waiting at a light and heard a honk behind me.  WTF?  Cliff and Marty were right behind me!  (Which was odd because they left Stanwood a bit before I left Seattle, and then I got stopped at the border.  Turns out they hit several thrift stores on the way up.)

Friday Night

At most event weekend events, Friday night is the obligatory Meet & Greet, usually overlaid on an existing bar night as the only event of the day since you often only have a portion of your attendees present and the locals are dragging in after a workday.  That is what Rubbout has done for years, but this year, they amped it up with basically two events.

First was the standard Meet & Greet at the Junction Pub.  Second though, with sponsorship from Mr. S, Rubbout took over the entirety of the PumpJack Pub, closing it to the public after 9:00 pm.  (Well, sort of.  The PumpJack has a capacity of roughly 100 people, and that’s how many were registered for Rubbout.  For the first hour after 10:00, they would be letting in only package holders; after that, there would be a $10 cover for what small piece of the general public could fit in.  So close enough to a private party.)

About a month before the event, I got an invite from Doug to do a bondage demo during the Friday night event.  I ended up not being able to bring a bondage boy whom I’ve played with a few times up with me, so they found someone to be my stunt bottom.  Two someones, actually.  For the younger guy, I put him in a duct tape hood using the same method Karen Yew taught at Northwest Sash Bash, but I used three tape tubes — two red and one yellow — which then sliced open against the black duct tape to make a rubber pride flag hood.  I put the other guy in a neoprene hood.  I then tied them each into a rope harness — one red, one yellow (I do like my colors) — and then used red bungee cord loops to tie the harnesses to each other. So the boys got to have a hooded bondage tug of war.

This was the one piece of the weekend directly connected to the Northwest LeatherSIR title, there I wore my leather vest instead of rubber this, that, and the other.


Saturday afternoon was a Puppy Play event and “Best in Show” contest, which was won by Pup Gadget from Seattle, one of the proponents of the new SEA-PAH (Pups and Handlers) group in Seattle.

Saturday night was the Slick event at Performance Works on Granville Island.  This was the controversial part of the weekend, and the biggest failure point.  In an effort to expand Rubbout beyond just the “we come to gear up and play” rubber guys, the Rubbout crew has tried to expand to have a Saturday dance, to broaden the exposure of rubber by getting the leather guys involved, and this year broadening even more to a general dance crowd.  Last year, they had a pretty good event at Wise Hall, but this jumped the scale up a level.

Unfortunately, the non-rubber crowd didn’t bite much and attendance was pretty low beyond the Rubbout registrants.  As well, there were some attempts at a show (following the “Invasion” theme of the weekend) which fell completely flat — they cleared everyone from the center of the floor and one point and… fog blew out from under the stage, but nothing else seemed to happen.  (Heck if I know what it was supposed to be.)

So what went wrong with the event?  Inadequate marketing?  Overreach into an arena/for a crowd that could care less?  Easter weekend?  Location people didn’t want to go to?  Competition from other local events?  I don’t know.  The only thing I can really say is that thumpa-thump dance events don’t appeal to me at all — I went to the event only because it was part of my weekend package, had a couple drinks, and left about 11 pm — but last year’s event was both more crowded and had greater variety in setup in the location and thus was “better” in multiple ways.  Maybe they can retreat back to that option.

Saturday night was the “official” after party at Steamworks.  According to the website, my Rubbout package was supposed to get me a 6 month membership and there were supposed to be discount cards handed out at Slick, but I never saw the cards and the guy at the front desk seemed completely ambivalent to the Rubbout wristband.  There didn’t seem to be many of the Rubbout guys there, and Steamworks in general is a more general audiences play space, not especially conducive to rubber guys.  While I got a little play in while there, it was only a couple short sessions and I eventually left rather unfulfilled

I don’t think Steamworks was a good fit for Rubbout.  In years past, the play party has been at M2M, which is more welcoming of and enjoyable for the kink guys.  (And walking distance from the host hotel.)  I would have gone to M2M if this hadn’t been a designated event for the weekend; if they use Steamworks again next year, I’ll go with my better judgement and not go to that venue.


On Sunday, things returned to the regular Sunday brunch that Rubbout has used for… maybe forever.  The early ones had been at Doll & Penny’s (what is now PumpJack Pub), I think we had a couple at Fountainhead Pub, several at PumpJack Pub, and this year and last at Junction Pub.  In addition to Brunch, they had a raffle for which tickets had been sold all weekend.  I also bought copies of the Sadowski event poster, for eventual playroom art.

My only complaint is that the bartender couldn’t make a bloody mary to save his life.  Three cans of tomato juice and a shot of vodka does not qualify.  I had to ask for spice and olives (as the only veggies available).

The weather had continued to improve during the weekend, so the ride home was several degrees warmer than the ride up.  (Turned out to be a record high for Seattle that day, cresting 70 degrees.)  Best of all, no issues at the border this time.