If you’ve wondered why you haven’t been seeing your humble columnist out and about as much recently, it’s because he decided to go back to college to finish his bachelor’s degree. For the last two years I have been locked away with college textbooks and a quill pen for writing the multiple papers that were due each week. (I’m exaggerating, but only slightly.)
I am happy to say that at the end of 2014 I finished my final class (see sidebar), and I will be graduating from Metropolitan State University in St. Paul next May. I will be awarded an individually designed BA degree in “Cultural Leadership Through Writing and Design.”
Part of the process of putting together an individually designed BA degree is taking several classes in education theory. After taking these classes, I now have an even greater appreciation for the importance the leather/BDSM/fetish community places on education. It might even be fair to say that my experiences in this community played a large part in my being able to go back to college and successfully complete my degree.
Nowadays there are plenty of leather learning opportunities in most major metropolitan areas with a sizable leather/BDSM/fetish community. Here in the Twin Cities we have The Lab, a monthly educational seminar, and the monthly Newbie Munch especially for those new to BDSM. Recently the Titans of the Midwest have presented a series of Kink U classes in the Twin Cities and elsewhere on a variety of topics. These educational opportunities are directly descended from several pioneering leather/BDSM/fetish education and support organizations founded between 1971 and 1981: in New York, The Eulenspiegel Society and GMSMA (Gay Male S/M Activists); and in San Francisco, The Society of Janus and The 15 Association.
The branch of the community known as leather was not always like this. I cannot speak from firsthand experience, but my understanding of the early days of leather history is that back then leather education was based more on one-on-one mentoring. Unfortunately, the AIDS epidemic destroyed that system of mentoring, and the system never has been rebuilt to the same level. Instead, we now are more likely to “learn the ropes” through classes, seminars and demonstrations.
Leather-community educational events have for years used academic-sounding names like “Kink U” or “Kinky College.” Laugh if you will, but there are more similarities between Kink U and a “real” university than might be apparent at first glance (even though leather education doesn’t involve the awarding of certificates or degrees).
Non-traditional colleges such as Metro State cater to adult learners. Adult learning is based on either a need to learn something (example: to get a better job) or an interest in learning something (examples: gardening, home repair, photography). Similarly, learning in the leather/BSDM/fetish community is motivated by, for example, a need to learn service protocols (to be a better slave) or an interest in, say, bondage.
Adult learning often is based on having an experience and then analyzing that experience. In a university setting this might mean roleplaying some sort of confrontation in a human-resources class and then having the class analyze the situation. In a BDSM setting it might mean a demonstration analyzing good and bad dungeon etiquette.
Whether at a university or in the leather community, education is not just about transmitting knowledge or technique; education also transmits community values. My class in astronomy taught me about values held by the scientific community: the ethics of the scientific method, and why scientific inquiry is good but pseudo-science often is problematic. In much the same way, a good seminar on flogging is about more than just how to throw a flogger; it’s a chance to learn about leather community values such as consent, safety, respect, the importance of communication with your partner, and aftercare.
Metro State and other universities stress the importance of learning throughout one’s lifetime, rather than getting a degree and then being done with learning. The leather/ BDSM/fetish community also places emphasis on lifelong learning; no matter one?s age or proficiency level, there are always new areas and interests to explore.
One last similarity: What we learn, whether in a university or in a leather setting, is most valuable when we transfer the knowledge out of the setting or discipline in which we originally learned it, and use it to become better citizens of the world and society at large.
At Metro State, the last class a student takes before graduating is called the “Capstone” class. During my Capstone class I looked back at my college career and what I had learned—and then documented my learning using a website. If you want to see what I learned when I went back to college to finish my degree (40 years after I started it), you can visit my Capstone website at www.stephenlenius.efoliomn.com/cap.