The mini-renfaire up at the Cloisters this past Summer was an interesting event this year. Interesting not because of the event itself, but because of the sheer number of people Eileen and I ran into—spontaneously—who we know from elsewhere. Obviously, crossover between the kink scene and various other niche subcultures (i.e., renfaires) is huge.

Even more interesting than this elementary observation was the observation that Eileen made afterwards. “We keep running into people we know,” she said, “and having nothing much to say to them.”

“Does that surprise you?” I asked, completely acclimated to this phenomemon myself but noting the slightly higher-than-usual pitch of her remark.

Indeed, what more do we really have to say to one another than “Hello, how are you?” These are not good friends we have. I like them all well enough, but aside from our mutual interest in kink and (apparently) renfaires, there is little we have in common—none of them were even of the same orientation as we are (male submissives and female dominants, orientations with an ever-apparent dearth of participants). I’m reminded of something Richard said to me a while ago, which is that a shared experience does not make good friendship all by itself.

Nevertheless, there’s something undeniably important about being able to say hello to these people in the first place; it’s not their friendship that’s necessarily beneficial, it’s the fact that they make up a portion of the visible kink community.

A visible kinky community—even one that does not include certain elements that I wish it did—is extremely important. A visible kinky community is the other side of the closet. Without one, you couldn’t be out of the closet even if you wanted to.

When Eileen and I were first looking for new places to live (outside of New York City), we both quickly agreed on a list of prerequisites. At the top of this list was the requirement that whereever we end up, there be a kink community of some kind large enough so as not to be constantly underground.

On a large scale, visible communities that we can join and participate in are a factor in choosing where we want to live. On a smaller scale, however, these communities are also important as vehicles of self-expression. They provide places we can go, people we can talk to, things we can do.

This is why I have often bemoaned the fact that in my day-to-day (non-cyber) life I have no friends who consider themselves primarily submissive or bottom men, as I do. (Again, I have acquaintances, but these are not friends.) In my little social community, I am still something of an oddity, and not just in that “everyone is special and unique” way. Even worse, the typical submissive man, which I do not consider myself and whom I meet anew with alarming frequency, is the epitome of the kind of person I, and most others I know, don’t want to spend time with.

This means that whenever other people learn that I am a submissive man before they know much else about me, I hope against hope they don’t lose interest right then and there, and I’m surprised if they don’t. After all, I probably would turn away if I were them.

On the other hand, in the tiny little world I’ve managed to carve out for myself with the help of some friends, I may still be an oddity but at least I’m not sneered at, or looked upon with quizzical incomprehension as would surely be the case somewhere with no awareness of this kind of kinky sexuality. Of course, even in such a place as New York City, the USA’s East Coast BDSM Mecca, there are still uncomfortable expectations whenever I leave the safe haven of my circle of friends. When Eileen and I go out to the club, she gets the same kinds of alienating looks when she wears her jeans and T-shirt while she beats me up that I get when I wear my flared girl’s jeans and cap-sleeve shirts on the streets outside.

I know that disapproving look we sometimes get will always be there, somewhere. The nature of things is such that I can’t expect it to go away, nor do I really want it to disappear forever; that look tells me that someone out there does things differently, and that’s fine by me. (Generalizing a bit, take a peek at Kink in Exile’s short piece, The Power of “No Means No”, for another application of this same concept.) But now that I have plans to leave New York City, will I end up in a place where the only place I don’t see that look is my own home?

At that point I might as well get back in the closet about being a submissive bi guy. That’s why a visible community, other people and welcoming spaces, is so important to me.