Thoughts for New Clubs

by Russell B


This paper was part of a presentation given at the 2001 Leather Leadership Conference in Chicago.1

Please note that local laws and local interpretation/enforcement of existing laws will vary from place to place, and you are responsible for doing your own legal research as well as for any consequences of your decisions or actions. In other words, this document is not offered as legal advice.

Also, please note that at the time this paper was presented, its accompanying bibliography and resource guide wasn't yet complete. That work has now been completed, and is available at http://www.erotichospitality.com


 

Introduction

It is our belief that leather and non-leather communities have a great deal to offer each other, and are stronger together than apart. We wrote this guide to help other organizations that may be interested in serving sex-positive culture as a whole.

 

General Tips

 

 

Advise on Specific Communities

One point, before we begin... In any area where it is difficult for a sex-related organization to find meeting space, your organization (if it has a leased or purchased space of its own that it can offer) may itself become a catalyst for more groups becoming active in your area. Although you shouldn't depend on this in your financial planning, if it happens it's probably a sign that your project is on the right track.

Once you're finished with the suggestions given below, you might also want to look over the bulletin boards in any sympathetic businesses or clubs in your area, search the internet a little more, and possibly go through some of the steps suggested in the ``meta-guide'' at http://www.sexuality.org/other.html just to be sure you haven't missed anything.

 

Non-Leather-Specific

 

Swinging (aka ``The Lifestyle'')

``Swinging'' is recreational sex amongst (typically het-identified) male-female couples, with an emphasis on sex between couples as a social activity. The swinger's community has developed over the last 50 years in parallel with (though largely separate from) the modern leather community; today it's at least as large as the modern leather community, and like the leather community has a large-scale need for play space.

Of course, once you begin hosting sex-focused events, you may find that they also draw from a subset of your existing leather community and/or start attracting new members who didn't previously hail from either swinging or leather; this section will therefore provide general suggestions on hosting sex parties as well as specific information on the modern swing community.

 

Here are some recommended resources on swinging:

 

 

Men's Sex Clubs or Baths

One general comment... It's always helpful to be familiar with the other clubs in your area; even in cases where those clubs have their own buildings and hence no need for yours, you may want to network with them so you can alert (and hopefully support) each other should the spectre of a police crackdown rear its head.

The Damron Men's Travel Guide 2001 is the best place to start looking for men's sex clubs and bathhouses, though you may also wish to check http://www.cruisingforsex.com and http://www.guidemag.com to be sure you haven't missed anything. For background on the legal and political history of men's sex clubs and bathhouses, pick up a copy of the book Policing Public Sex.

If there aren't any men's clubs or baths in your area, then it might be particularly valuable for your organization to begin hosting men-only events of some kind.

 

Polyamory

``Polyamory'' refers to various forms of responsible non-monogamy, under which there is an expectation of honesty between everyone involved.

The first place to start is Loving More magazine, and their web site at http://www.lovemore.com. For more links to local organizations, see http://www.polyamorysociety.org, http://www.polyamory.org, and the Usenet newsgroup alt.polyamory.

The two best books on polyamory (the first of which has also become extremely popular in our area's leather community) are The Ethical Slut and Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits.

It's worth noting that some folks who identify as polyamorous may choose to downplay the sexual component to polyamory, and resent any implication that sex is the key element of polyamory. If this seems to be the general feel of things in your area, then when approaching such groups about using your space you should avoid giving offense by implying that the main reason they might be interested in using your space is that sexual activity is allowed on-premises.

As a practical matter, there may be significant overlap between your area's poly community and its SCA, sci-fi fandom, and/or neo-pagan communities.

 

Clothing-Optional Organizations (aka ``Naturist'')

Although sexual activity is forbidden at most ``naturist'' events, clothing-optional environments can help those with body image concerns begin feeling more comfortable with themselves. As such, they have at least a tangential relationship to sex-positive culture, if not a direct one.

When approaching local naturist groups about using your space, avoid giving offense by implying that the main reason they should be interested in using your facility is that sexual activity would be allowed; rather, they might be interested in using your facility because nudity is completely allowed and accepted under your facility rules, and because you are supportive of their mission.

For listings of clothing-optional organizations in your area, take a look at The North American Guide to Nude Recreation and the web sites http://www.aanr.com and http://www.naturistsociety.com

 

Spiritually-Focused Sexuality Groups

The Body Electric School offers weekend workshops, all over the country, on the integration of spirituality and sexuality. Because their workshops involve nudity and some level of explict sexuality (in an educational context), they occasionally face difficulty finding suitable class space. Depending on how your space is set up, you may be in a good position to rent to them: see their web site at http://www.bodyelectric.org for scheduling and contact info. There may also be independent instructors in your area who need class space: see the ``teachers'' list and the ``workshops'' list at http://www.tantra.com for more information.

The key things these groups need are (1) an assurance of a private and disturbance-free environment while their class is in progress, and (2) that the space they're renting has a comfortable and ``neutral'' feel [which may be a concern if your space has heavy SM equipment that can't be temporarily moved into storage].

 

GLBT Organizations in Need of Meeting Space

The following resources may prove helpful in finding local GLBT resources:

 

Having a strong variety of GLBT groups as part of your organization's coalition could prove valuable should it face persecution by your local government: accusations of ``homophobia'' or ``anti-gay discrimination'' are ones which liberal politicians may fear, and which less open-minded officials may associate with experienced and effective legal action.4

Although some politicians may want to avoid being seen as ``homophobic,'' there aren't even words in today's political lexicon for ``unfairly persecuting sex parties'' or ``unfairly persecuting sadomasochists.'' In other words, the slogan ``strength in diversity'' may have very concrete meaning for your organization.

 

Leather-Specific

Local organizations may be found through the book Alternate Sources, google.com searches for the name of your city plus ``BDSM Community'' or ``Leather Community,'' the newsgroup soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm, etc.

The Leather Leadership Conference (see http://www.leatherleadership.org) is one of the best ways to stay up-to-date on issues affecting clubs; if at all possible, you should send at least one representative from your organization to this conference each year. Additional sources for networking and support may be found via the Kink Aware Professionals list see http://www.bannon.com/kap/ and the sm-act/sm-org mailing lists (send one email to majordomo@tpe.com with "subscribe sm-act" in the body of the message, and a second email with "subscribe sm-org" in the body of the message).

 

The Pansexual Community

If your pansexual [multi-gender / multi-orientation] leather community has gotten used to playing in public venues (e.g. public dance clubs) or venues subject to alcohol laws, then some of your members may immediately appreciate the fact that, at your private facility, play is no longer a three-step process (i.e. covering up your nipples for the sake of public nudity laws, engaging in non-sexual play for a while, then taking your pick between driving home to have sex or hanging out/socializing until you're no longer aroused). For other members, the presence of ``sex in the dungeon'' may take getting used to. If you are committed to offering a play space that is accepting and honoring of genital sex in the context of BDSM, then it's important to be sure all of your volunteers, leaders, members, and DM's are in complete understanding on this point.

Despite this, for mixed-gender events (definitely not for men-only or women-only events) you may need a rule forbidding masturbating to scenes in progress. This makes many attendees at mixed-gender events uncomfortable, and learning in advance that it isn't allowed has been the deciding factor for some of our members in deciding to join.

 

The Men's Community

If your city has a strong and popular leather bar scene, then you may have better luck hosting your men-only events on nights that are not traditional bar nights (particularly if your space has a no-alcohol policy, which in the interest of avoiding the jurisdiction of alcohol enforcement authorities you probably would).

 

The Women's Community

Depending on prevailing attitudes in your area's women's community, the question of ``who is a woman'' may or may not be a fractious one. Our own policy is that admission to our women's events is predicated on showing valid female ID, just as admission to our men's events is predicated on showing valid male ID. This approach may be seen as too restrictive by some, and as not restrictive enough by others: it is, however, completely objective.

 

Bondage Events

These events are best served by a quieter, calmer atmosphere and softer music. If your leather pansexual events become overly vibrant, crowded, and/or noisy, then some of your members might appreciate having this alternative. Be sure you have a good pair of bandage scissors and bolt cutters on hand, of course.

 

Fisting Events

You'll want quality slings, and if at all possible a place to shower. Bert Herrman's book Trust: The Hand Book offers plenty of tips on setting up a good fisting space, but this is definitely a case where you should ask your local community what they'd like to see.

If your facility has a strict drug policy that forbids poppers, then you may lose some prospective attendees but gain others (esp. those in recovery): unfortunately, it is not possible to please everyone all the time.

 

The Spanking Community

The heterosexual ``spanking community'' has traditionally considered itself separate from the BDSM/Leather community. For the most part, their community is built on personal ads rather than events and organizations. Nevertheless, there are exceptions, and it might be worth doing a quick search for the name of your city on soc.sexuality.spanking, and looking at the organization list at the end of Lady Green's book The Compleat Spanker.

 

Should You Offer a Library for Your Members?

Starting a library of (donated) sexuality-related books and publications for your members can be a wise step for a number of reasons:

 

A list of books and magazines that might be valuable additions to such a library is available at http://www.sexuality.org/seasex.html#BOOKS

 

About Us

Our organization has been in existence since May 1, 1999. We are a non-profit corporation with IRS 501(c)(7) status, organized on a membership-based ``community center'' model, whose mission it is to serve the broad range of our area's sex-positive cultures. Our 3000 members (as of April, 2001) hail from every segment of the our area's sex-positive culture, and we're currently housed in a 4500 square foot building that we leased in June, 1999 and renovated over the following year.

With the exception of our Executive Director and a maintenance specialist, our organization is run entirely on volunteer effort.

 

Our Mission

As formally defined by its board of directors, our organization's mission is to foster the ongoing growth and development of sex-positive culture by:

 

  1. Maintaining a safe and supportive membership-based community center, which serves as a gathering place for the Pacific Northwest's full range of sex-positive cultures.
  2. Offering extensive informational resources and educational opportunities.
  3. Offering a wide range of social events and volunteer opportunities to increase our membership's sense of community.
  4. Generally assisting other efforts to foster sex-positive culture, both within and beyond the Pacific Northwest.

 

Why We're Doing This...

A lot of us feel that the best way to overcome culturally-inherited guilt around sexuality is to be in the company of others who are in the process of overcoming it, and that the best way to expand and fully enjoy the tremendous gift that your sexuality represents is in a community of others who find pleasure and intimacy to be inherently good.

To us, this sentiment transcends the comparatively superficial differences between the various facets of sex-positive culture, and we feel honored to be part of an organization that accepts them all.


Footnotes

... Chicago.1
See http://www.leatherleadership.org
... corporation.2
We see 501(c)(7) status (``social club'') as an attractive tax-exempt classification for organizations that serve their membership in a social capacity rather than the general public in an educational capacity. In comparison to the more restrictive and demanding 501(c)(3) status, the main limitations are that people can't deduct money they donate to a 501(c)(7) organization on their federal tax returns, and that any interest income the organization receives from investments will not be tax-exempt. However, it's worth noting that neither reasonable membership dues (i.e. an amount paid with the expectation that you will then be able to use a club's facilities) nor reasonable event admission fees could be tax-deductible to the payor regardless of what type of 501(c) entity the payee was recognized as. Restructuring your organization so that it might qualify for 501(c)(3) status (or, alternatively, finding some way for your 501(c)(7) club to create and then live under the auspices of a 501(c)(3) entity, e.g. its library) would probably only be worth investigating if you intend to purchase a building and raise most of the money towards your down-payment through substantial donations from individual members. If nothing else, before you consider 501(c)(3) status, examine very carefully whether by doing so you would affect your ability to regularly host play parties which are not open to the general public.
... engines.3
though there are some regional guides, such as the one at http://www.janesguide.com/travel/travelguide.html, which may be worth checking first
... action.4
This appears to be exactly what happened in Phoenix during Fall, 1999: the city shut down all five of its swing clubs but consciously chose to leave its equivalent men-only sex club alone, and a city attorney was (apparently) quoted as saying this was the reason. See http://www.sexed.org/newsletters/issue02.html#four for details.

 

 

 

 

 

Web Questions - Email our Webmaster