I guess I need to say more that that, huh? Okay: I had a great time at Northern Exposure, exceeding my expectations!
Northwest region for International LeatherSIR has a huge territory to cover — Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska — and much of it very sparsely populated. There isn’t much that you could call a gay leather scene out of the Seattle-to-Portland corridor (no leather bars in Missoula, Montana, sorry to say), so it is difficult to really cover the region as a leather titleholder. There are a couple small fisting weekends in Eastern Washington, though. And a pansexual leather conference in Alaska.
I knew vaguely of Northern Exposure in Anchorage because of arrangements made for last year’s Northwest Community Bootblack Dylan to travel up to the event. So when the call for presenters went out, I sent in five proposals: Play Party Etiquette, How to Throw a Play Party, Online Cruising, Engaging a Club and Its Board, and Fisting. (Yes, all over the map. Not knowing just what they were looking for — more sex or more organizational — I wanted to provide a variety of options for them to choose from.
It took a long, long time to get things settled. I had communication that they wanted me to come, but it wasn’t until after all the other presenters’ bios and classes were posted online that we got my stuff settled. (As the head organizer, Sarha’s time was stolen for the first part of the year getting ready to compete at IMsL.) I don’t know if this was my lack of experience in being a traveling presenter (this was only my second such; I previously did a rubber workshop for KCLU (now defunct) in Kansas City) or added uncertainly on how to handle a gay presenter at a pan event, but it was frustrating. Eventually all got dealt with, of course, and I had enough miles on Alaska Airlines to cover the ticket (which would be pretty expensive otherwise, even from Seattle).
I flew in on Thursday, getting in about noon. About the time I got to the Seattle airport, it occurred to me that this was one of the few trips I have taken in recent years to somewhere new, somewhere I haven’t been as an adult. The last trip like that would have been to Madison in October 2010, and before that were overseas trips to New Zealand, Amsterdam/Copenhagen/Berlin, and Ireland. Alaska is one of only a handful of states I had never visited before (with Hawai’i, Alabama, West Virginia, Delaware, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine), and there aren’t many metro areas in North America I haven’t been to at least once.
I met one of the other presenters at the airport — Dr. Clockwork, who sells violet wands. While someone from Northern Exposure was supposed to meet us, no one was there. I had rented a car, so I went off to get it and left my contact info with Doc in case he felt stranded. I headed to downtown, but stopped off at Alaska Leather (a motorcycle leathers shop) and ate at Angeline’s Philippine Cuisine.
In town, I scoped out where the gay bars are — Mad Myrna’s, The Raven, and Kodiak — and then headed for the downtown tourist area. That part of town is loaded with tourist shops, each of them having 80% the same stuff as all the others, of course. I bought the requisite Alaska t-shirt (with a moose on it), a pair of bed shorts (red with mooses on them), and a necklace with a bear paw (not a moose!) carved on some Alaska mineral that looks like hematite.
I then headed out to the west end of town, to Earthquake Park. Alaska suffered a major earthquake in 1964 which destroyed a couple major ports and severely damaged the Alaskan economy — and launched a tsumani which was seen in San Francisco and actually caused major damage in Crescent City, Oregon. Earthquake Park overlooks part of the landscape which collapsed, dropping a bluff a couple hundred feet.
At The Raven, there was a “potlatch” — a small potluck in this case — and the welcome meet and greet for the weekend, with the introduction of most of the presenters. The amount of food wasn’t quite enough for me, so I went next door to a hamburger place. Later on, I was definitely fading, so I got directions to where the presenters were being housed, some cabins on Beech Lake, about 30 minutes north of Anchorage, and I head out there ahead of people.
When I got there and got into the first cabin, I was dismayed: bare except for a couple cots and an unlit wood stove. Fortunately, I found the main cabin, which had futons, heat, a bathroom, and a kitchen. I found a couple blankets and snuggled under them, working on blog posts, and was just about to doze off when others arrived, including some of the Northern Exposure crew with bedding. Suddenly things were much more tolerable! about half of use stayed in the main cabin, and others got fires started and stayed in the smaller ones.
On Friday, I took a couple of the workshops, including Dr. Clockwork’s on “Violet Wands: Basics & Beyond” and Big Bad Jim’s on “How to Beat the Crap Out of Someone”. The latter of these gave me a few ideas to use during flogging and bondage scenes regarding hitting someone with body parts other than hands and feet.
I also did my first workshop, on “Play Parties: How to Go and How to Throw”. I first did a version of this a year and a half ago for Tribal Instinct in Seattle, toning it up a little for this. The first half of it is influenced by the book to teenagers called Prom and Party Etiquette, by Cindy Post Senning (daughter of Emily Post), twisting its content to kink party ends: what should you do and not do at a play party, should you bring a date, should you bring a (hostess) gift, can you see the guest list, etc. The second half is about putting together your own play party — why you should do one, what you can manage, what you need to provide, who to invite, how to manage an invite list, how to deal with problems.
I didn’t stick around for the play party that night, going out to Mad Myrna’s instead. I got to the bar to order and heard “Jim Drew, what are you doing here?!” The bartender was former Seattle Empress Miss MeMe (albeit in boy mode for work). Never assume you can go anywhere incognito. I also met up with a guy I had been chatting with on Scruff. After a couple drinks at Mad Myrna’s, we went to the Raven and made out a while there. Unfortunately, neither of us had somewhere we could go to fuck (etc.), so we had to leave it at that.
On Saturday, I took three workshops. One was Snook’s “Bill of Rights for Bottoms”, which was a work-in-progress workshop, as much group discussion about the concepts as anything. Second was Rule of Three’s “Depersonalization and Dehumanization”, which discussed things such as bondage and masking to focus on only part of a bottom (like tits or cock), and also about using a bottom as an object, such as a table or an ashtray. Third was slave Elizabeth (and Master Todd)’s “Slave’s Guide to Screwing Up with Grace”, which was mostly about how their relationship works, including managing/balancing the BDSM side of things with professional life and children. Slave Elizabeth also gave a great phrase to take with me, regarding when people treat their relationship protocol as the one everyone should follow: “Your protocol is your protocol. Your protocol is your gift.” (My addition: “Please keep it. Regifting is tacky.”)
I did my second presentation (we were each scheduled for three, one per day), “Cruising Online: Getting Some Ass without Being One”. This was heavily centered around gay male online cruising, but with looks into things like FetLife and OK Cupid, including the OK Cupid Enemies Tumblr blog, which showed that het cruising can be just as full as asses as gay cruising is (as witnessed by Douchebags of Grindr). The workshop went through details of what goes into a good online profile, including photos, title, text, and keeping things fresh. There was also some good discussion about concerns for het women (stalking, etc.) and people in smaller communities (where the description alone in a profile can be enough to identify someone, even without pictures). But probably the best part of the session was walking through bad examples I had found online — no pics, no profile text, iPhones implanted in faces, and so on. (You could probably do an entire hour giggle session just with bad profiles!)
I slept in the car instead of taking the last workshop session, very tired. It was warm and humid, though, so I only dozed.
Rather than head out to the gay bars early tonight, I stayed for the evening play party and engaged in four flogging scenes. Two of them were with women — Marie and Monique — both of whom were newer to things (I think it was Marie’s first flogging and Monique’s second one). I also played with one of the few other gay men at the event, former Mr. Alaska Leather (and former Seattle resident, so we already knew each other a bit) Kurt Hillyer. WIth Kurt, both because he is experienced with flogging and because we didn’t have either gender or orientation issues to get in the middle of things, I was able to work him over harder, and we did the scene in the round, without bracing, just him standing upright in the middle of the space as I worked him up one side and down the next. The fourth scene was the standout for me, though, as Monique had set me up with a straight (presumably) bear of a guy named Will who wanted to really be laid into. As with Kurt, I was really able to open up on Will, not just with the flogger but with a paddle and with my hands, including fist beating on his back and even spitting on his heated skin.
I eventually had to stop playing — had to cut short the fourth scene, with Monique — because of my wrist (which has been bothering me since March), before it started hurting too bad. Monique gave me a great gray bandana with “ALASKA” and bear and moose printed on it, and I traded her my fairly standard gray bandana in return.
I went out to Mad Myrna’s again for a beer and met up with a Facebook friend David, who knows people I do in the Seattle Imperial Court.
On Sunday, everyone at the cabins got a late start, waking up just a little bit before the car to take those of us who didn’t have our own in to Anchorage. Since my workshop wasn’t until the afternoon, I hung out rather than rushing.
I made the second workshop, Snook’s on “Piercing for Bondage & Control”. She used hooks in her girl’s chest and thighs and strung them under the table. She used some needles in the arm with a ribbon lacing, and then used needles through the fingertips and toe tips… and then made the girl remove the needle piercings while tied down. While it was a fascinating workshop, it also confirmed for me that needles aren’t something I want to pursue, either as top or bottom; the blood and pain issues don’t bother me, but there’s just nothing in it that flips a switch for me and makes me want to try it. Which is fine: Not My Kink.
My third workshop was after lunch, titled “60 Minutes of Buttsex”. Actually, the workshops were 90 minutes, so I edited that to “60 Minutes of Buttsex + 30 Minutes of Fisting”. This was a formalization of the “100 Miles of Buttsex” car workshop I did with Ruin, Ryan, and Jean in March. While my other two workshops had small attendance, maybe a half-dozen people each, I probably had 20 people here, which kind of surprised me. I shouldn’t have been: anal sex has some taboos attached (making it that much more attractive) and is something a lot of pan folks have tried to a limited degree (and maybe not with great success), but generally not nearly as much as a gay guy has — we specialize in it, after all. There were bits of great discussion during the workshop, especially from Cat, a lesbian from the Bay Area, who was able to help fill in some of the holes (intentional pun) I had regarding female bits.
After that, I sat in on Lady Pact’s “Erotic Wax Play” session, but I was so tired, I kept dozing off. Eventually FoxFinder (Sarha’s husband/dom) nudged me and had me go lie down in the presenters’ room, where I dozed and got a little sleep.
When we arrived that morning, FoxFinder had told myself and Master Todd that we wouldn’t be staying at the cabins that evening, that we would need to go back out and retrieve our stuff, that other housing would be done that evening. Due to my workshop right after lunch, we opted to go out between the workshops and dinner, when there was a long enough break. When we (and slave Elizabeth) got out there, Otter (who was kind of our cabin Den Mom) was dealing with the people who were renting the cabins next. Apparently not only were we not staying that night, we were supposed to be fully out before they got there at 5:00. Oops. We hastily cleared things out, trying to keep further friction at a minimum.
(The incoming people run a weekly camp for “special needs” kids. Obviously, one thing that really helps “special needs” kids is consistency, the ability to do the same things the same way every time. Perhaps less obviously, one thing that really helps people who work with “special needs” kids is also consistency. The woman was pissy less because our stuff was still there than because it was disrupting her consistency and thus her ability to provide such to the kids. I sympathize, but she came across as though some of the “special needs” had rubbed off onto her.)
Returning into Anchorage, we had a lengthy discussion about relationship protocols, how things differ between gay and straight kink worlds, leather contests, and in particular about hats and covers. Finding that we were on the same page about the subject, they asked me to do a Covering Ceremony for Master Todd, which I was surprised yet honored to oblige for. (I won’t go into details — it was just the three of us and the Alaska countryside, short, and less formal than ceremonies you will find written out [such as in John Weal’s controversial book], but the value in such is what those involved take away from it.)
Dinner was a multi-course affair back at the event site, everything home made, including bread, cream of mushroom soup, salad, salmon, bear meatloaf, and dessert. In between the courses, the Last Frontier Drag Kings performed. (And Sarha fluttered around, changing outfits every few minutes.) They also brought each of the presenters on stage for a special thanks, and for me, that included an on-stage pinning by Kurt with a The Last Frontier Men’s Club (the local leather/bear club) pin — down on his knees, fishing in my fly to find the right place for the pin — and a few seconds that I spent licking all over FoxFinder’s fist (that’s what happens when you ask me to explain International Mr. Saliva, what can I say?).
Most of the presenters who had been at the cabin went out to the FoxDen near Wasilla for the night. I decided I wanted to stay in town and hit the bars again, maybe get myself some man-on-man action. (And ensure having a room, bed, and bathroom to myself.) Online hotel sites had godawful expensive rates, but remembering the name of a motel near the bars, I got a decent enough rate to stay in the city. The bars were pretty dead, but I did connect with a guy online for some suitable play.
On Monday, I packed out of the motel and headed to Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant for the Survivor’s Brunch. The info I had was off by an hour, though, so the rest of the crew wasn’t there. I was about to leave to kill time at Starbucks when Kurt arrived, also way early, so we went off and had coffee together.
When we got back, a few of the crew and presenters were there, and more trickled in over the next 30 minutes or so. Food portions were huge, and I couldn’t finish mine. As things would down, I handed out zip ties (zipper pulls on leather things, akin to a bolo tie) to several of the people there whom I had a really great time with over the weekend.
(These zip ties are something I remember from my early days in the San Francisco leather community — you sometimes still see versions of them now without a zipper pull, with one of the cords in a fancy knot around the other — and I re-created them for my booth the last time I vended at IML. They are a great subtle way of showing your leather to others as well as keeping a little with you even when not wearing hides. And they can also serve as a handy collar, cuffs, or tie for CBT or other needs; I have even used one as temporary back lacing in a pair of chaps!)
FoxFinder pulled me aside at one point for a special thanks and palmed me a genuine bear claw. Very cool.
After the brunch — including some picture taking with the Edmonton Away Team on the reindeer sculptures out front — I drove down the Seward Highway along the Turnagain Arm to Girdwood (about an hour south of Anchorage). I took some photos and videos of the incredible scenery, had a fireweed & honey ice cream cone, and headed back to the airport for my return flight to Seattle.
GUSH! (Oh, I said that already.)
I had a lot more fun at Northern Exposure than I expected to. The largest part of that, of course, was being the sole gay presenter at an otherwise (kinky) straight event. You never know how you will be received — embraced, accepted as just another presenter, or kind of danced around. It was pretty much the second of those for me, which is really what you want: treat my like a person first, then deal with the gay angle only if you need to.
Despite some of the communication issues I had going into the event, it really ran exceptionally well. (I have always believed that most events will: set things up to succeed, start the boulder rolling, and it will make it to the bottom of the hill, in part because others want it to succeed and will help.) While I’m sure there were adventures and small panics behind the scenes — certainly with the music for one of the Drag Kings on Sunday — the only thing of significance that I noted which needs to be improved was having a large printout of the schedule. They only had a small printout taped to a white board at first, and then we started writing in big letters what the next workshops were, but a 24x36 or so pre-printed one would be a good thing to have for next year.
I loved loved loved getting to know Master Todd and slave Elizabeth, getting great insight into a model for how a master/slave relationship can actually work, especially with Elizabeth being more of an equal partner in the relationship in many areas than the fantasy nature of such relationships would have you believe (and that much more real as a result). I wish them the best if they choose to run for one of the regional M/s titles, as they said they may.
Almost my entire life has been on the West Coast, in view of mountains — real mountains, with craggy tops and snow, not the big rolling hills they call mountains back East (grin). You learn to tell your location and directions by where they are, and to navigate by them. From where I am sitting now, I can see the Cascades, four distances away (nearby Seattle, Mercer Island in Lake Washington, the Issaquah highlands beyond that, and then the mountains). They are real, but they are a ways away — 60 to 90 minutes drive. In Alaska, though, the mountains are IN YOUR FACE! They are only two distances away, almost close enough to touch, looking 15 minutes drive away, maybe. It was really amazing.
There’s an old joke that the Alaska state bird is the mosquito, and they were certainly out a Earthquake Park and at Beech Lake where the cabins were. For whatever reason, though, I only came away with one scratchy bite. I sure brushed enough of them away.
Northern Exposure was just days before summer solstice. Alaska is the “Land of the Midnight Sun”, and while I knew what this meant academically, you just aren’t prepared for it until you experience it. On Friday night, I got back to the cabin at 2:30 am, and it looked like the sun had just set. (Fortunately, I didn’t have trouble sleeping with the odd light levels.)
I did not get to see the Northern Lights. I don’t know if they are even visible from Anchorage at that time of year, but that’s something to look for on a future trip. There was a cool art installation at the Anchorage airport emulating the Northern Lights on the ceiling of one of the corridors, though. That rivaled “Flying Fish” (the stream of fish embedded in the floor of Concourse C at SeaTac airport) and “Desert Wildlife” (the half-sunk desert animals at the Las Vegas airport) for cool airport art.
I got several compliments on my speaking style and presentation for my workshops. The biggest part of that, I’m sure, is that I’ve taught dance workshops for a decade. But I think a chunk of the credit has to go to my father, who was a Methodist minister. Even though I didn’t like having to sit through sermons (and often read a book in the back pew instead of paying attention), a lot of how he did what he did must have rubbed off.
I also got kudos from people for doing my presentations from a gay viewpoint. While I did go through them and make sure that pronouns and focus weren’t completely male oriented, I didn’t try to “straighten” things up any more than I had to, presenting things as “This is the way I do it or I think it should go” and trusting that those attending the workshops were adults, able to adapt what I was presenting into their own reference frame. (This was especially true with the Buttsex & Fisting workshop, where a couple times I had to come back around to the fact that I don’t know the details of female anatomy, so I could only generalize about things like vaginal fisting.)
At one point during the weekend, I thought “Wow, this sort of event would be great aimed just at gay guys — workshops on all sort of subjects and play parties at night.” A few minutes later, I thought “That would never work.” What I meant by that is that on multiple levels, gay leathermen wouldn’t be interested. First, there’s simply the matter of number of attendees — take a leather bar with 100 guys in it, and frankly only 20% (if that) are actually players of a sufficient level to be interested in the concept, and only half of those might attend any way; the rest of your leather bar patrons are interested in leather as a fashion accessory or leathersex as a condiment rather than the main dish (and that’s fine!). Second, gay leathermen like to think we already know everything, or at least that we can figure out whatever we need to know — we don’t want a 90-minute workshop on wax play, covering beginning steps, safety, more advanced topics, and some demo; we want 5 minutes of basics, 5 minutes of safety, 5 minutes of next stages, and then 75 minutes of hands-on demo/guided play, with the belief that we can figure out what things to try or avoid. (We’re rebels, you know!) Third, half of the workshops (some of mine included) were less about play and more about making relationships work and managing your leather lifestyle and such; gay leathermen again generally are not interested in that stuff (at least on the surface, and there are exceptions) — we want the sex, damn it!
If they invite me back again next year, will I go? I would sure like to — do more exploring of the geography, and I have several other workshops I could do which would go over better for that crowd, now that I know them better. But I would also heartily recommend that other gay leathermen (and women) apply to be presenters — to get the experience of both the weekend and of Alaska, and to bring their own spin on things to the event — and if it were a choice between me and someone else with good stuff to present, I would definitely tell Northern Exposure to go for the other gay leather presenter, to “expose” themselves further!