BDSM and Leather Cults

by Lady Jodi

Vanilla: “BDSM? Isn’t that some kind of cult?”

Me (with appropriate indignant tone): “Of course not!”
Vanilla: “How would you know? I mean, if you are in a cult, how would you know?”
Me (my indignation quickly turning to doubt): “Um, well… Good question…”

It really is a good question, and one that you probably have never thought of before. I never had until I had a conversation similar to the one above. To me, a cult was a bunch of people that dressed in similar, strange clothing, participated in weird ritualistic behavior, held meetings… I began to see where my vanilla friend was going with this.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this is not an attack on BDSM or Leather in general. I am a proud practitioner and active member in the lifestyle. We are a community of people with similar beliefs, interests, and values that we perpetuate via traditions and rituals. We are a culture. As such, we are subject to the same advantages and difficulties of any society. One item in the latter category is cults; specifically, the small groups that spring up and practice destructive and mind control techniques which are designed to perpetuate an individual’s or group’s personal agenda, much to the detriment of the individuals involved and the larger community.
Most people think that they would know a cult if they saw one, let alone become a part of one. But the fact of the matter is, you simply wouldn’t know if you were part of a cult unless someone else pointed it out to you. Even then you would probably not want to believe it. We would all like to think of ourselves as too smart, sophisticated, suave, shrewd — and many other S-words — to be drawn into a cult. But no matter how many S-words you use to describe yourself, you are still human. It’s that very thing, your human psychological and emotional needs, which make you vulnerable. Contrary to popular belief, many cult members are upstanding citizens; educated, worldly, and even famous. After all, a cult is only as successful as its members. Therefore, a cult will seek to recruit those that have the most to offer.

At some point, everyone is new to this lifestyle. For most of us, this is a very vulnerable time in our new social circle. New faces, new vocabulary, and new experiences.  Most of us are eager to find our place. We help out in any way we can and participate. We find new groups to join, protocols to follow, and history to learn. After this infancy, when we feel that we have grown into our leathers and roles, we still have times where we don’t feel like “Leather Adults.” Groups dissolve, people and relationships come and go, and all the while the rest of our vanilla lives are taking place and shaping how we react and impact the community.  Every year seems to bring with it new challenges. In other words, we are always potentially vulnerable. Our need for friendship, affirmation, and belonging are powerful. Successful cults know this and use it to manipulate and control.

I always say that if you want to sell something to someone — whether that’s a product or yourself — make them feel special. Cults use this tactic to “sell themselves,” in essence. You are brought into a group where everyone is friendly to you, you are important and part of something great, and that “thing” you were missing in your life has been found. You have found something that struck a cord of truth in you. All of these are the hooks that can be used to get you and keep you. But let’s be sure to put this into context: there is a big difference between the group that is friendly, holds regular meetings and parties, and has paid members vs. the group that offers you instant friendship, exclusive gatherings and access, and makes you promises about what they can do for you. Let’s talk about those differences.

It is important to note here that I am not in any way, shape, or form, coming from a place of spite or out to get back at some specific group. This is simply the facts that I have compiled from years experience and research. I am not out to lie to you, tempt you away from your truth, or persecute you or your group. I don’t even know who you are! But if you feel that something said here seems to mirror a group that you are involved with, please keep reading. This information could change the rest of your life, and I only wish I was exaggerating.

1) Pretense

Unfortunately this is one of the hardest things to spot at first because cults won’t tell you everything there is to know about the organization up front, and it is often hard to find the truth. It will be gradually introduced to you in small bites until you have acquired a taste for it, and then some new information will be added to your diet. Before you know it, you have become someone that the person you were before joining the cult wouldn’t even recognize. You have become the person that they have created to best serve them. A legitimate organization will let you know everything up front – what is expected to maintain membership, what that membership gets you, where all the finances and monies go, etc. This will be in the form of rules, bylaws, protocols and procedures, and the like.

Many cults practice a type of multi-level recruitment. Being from Utah – the Multi-Level Marketing capital of the country if not the world – I’m well versed in how MLM works. At first you think you are going to a group just like all the others. But you soon find out that the meetings and parties were just a way to screen you to see if you were “serious” or have “what it takes” to be invited into the next level. This is what you must do to earn your leathers, for example. Usually what takes place at the next level is not to be discussed with anyone outside the group, or with the lower levels. Once you graduate that level, there will be other levels for you to pass. This is a way to ensnare you and keep you under control.

2) Relationship Control

One of the best ways to control a person is by controlling one’s relationships, whether that be friendships, romantic and/or sexual entanglements – even work and family. Most of us come into the scene or a group looking for acceptance and a cult will give you instant friendship. It’s a technique called “Love Bombing” and these arranged friendships can be in the form of a mentor, teacher, or buddy. Some groups actually arrange play partners and even lovers for you. But if you decide to pull away from the group, it is made very clear that you are pulling away from the relationships that are only available to you through the cult. Obviously, real friends or people that care about you will not care if you decide that another path might be in your best interest. In fact, they should fully support your pursuit of happiness. But not in a cult. Eventually things that normally would have made you complain will pass by silently because you don’t want to be ostracized. Like in an unhealthy relationship love is turned on and off to control you.

Any relationships with outsiders are either forbidden or kept under control. If you are given too much information, a cult knows that you will soon see through their lies. I was told by a group recruiter that I would have to leave my husband, my very supportive and loving husband, because he was holding me back. “Holding me back” was their way of saying that if I was married he would object to me being passed around the group for play and sex with whomever they determined was appropriate. This continues to go on in this group, and it constitutes rape, plain and simple. People are coerced into having sex with someone that they normally never would under the guise that it is “what they need to grow.” Consent by manipulation is not consent! And once you are high up in level and responsibility, you are allowed to choose your partners from the “fresh meat” in the group. In other words, you get to be the rapist. It is a terrible cycle, and illustrates the dire need for this information to reach as many within the community as possible.

Once indoctrinated, however, sometimes outside relationships can be solicited due to the need to try and infiltrate other groups and control the community.

3) Time and Information Control

A cult will keep you so busy with duties and responsibilities to the group that you won’t have time for anything else. Meetings, parties, events, and preparation for each of these things will have you so distracted that you will have no time to think about anything else and keep you completely immersed in the cult and isolated from the rest of the community.

Unfortunately I have seen marriages and families fall apart because someone was so involved in a group that they were not given the time to work on what was really important. Whenever they tried they were not-so-subtly reminded that if they wanted the love and support of these people that they had known for years, they would have to continue to fully participate and time off was not allowed.

Also, nothing that goes on inside the group is ever to be discussed with anyone outside the group. This manipulates in two ways – it makes you feel as if you are part of something special and elite. It also keeps anyone from calling “Bullshit!” on the things they will be telling you. They know this, which is why that very rule is in place. However they will give you a reason like possible persecution from others or those others aren’t ready for such information.

4) Exclusivity

Any group claiming to be the “best” or “the only true” or “right way” or “real” is a group that you should run, not walk, away from. BDSM comes in as many different flavors as there are people in the scene. There is a good and bad way for you, but those aren’t necessarily right for everyone. Even those groups that claim their way is the “one true path” because of history or tradition are operating under incorrect pretense. Protocol can and will be very different from group to group, even within the same city. All it takes is a cursory look at Leather history to see that each group had their own way of doing things.

In the case of the so-called Old Guard, for example, someone determined how they thought it should be done, and others followed that plan. To claim it was always the tradition is no more so than the rules your parents determined when you were young. This was only mostly amongst gay Leathermen; there was, of course, a lot of hetero BDSM going on at the same time, most of it without such protocol or regulations. And there is NOTHING wrong with that.

Another tactic used is experience exclusivity. I am referring to the claim that only this one group has access to the knowledge, people, or places that you will need to become a “real” Leather person. Trust me on this one: no matter what a leader claims, he or she does not have exclusive access to this information. I have heard over and over how only They have a special relationship with this presenter, or how They are the guardians of Leather doctrine. Puh-lease! It doesn’t take much to see through pronouncements such as these. A cult will claim to have the more famous amongst us on speed dial, but this is no more than name dropping. Those who make a good portion of their income traveling and presenting to BDSM groups would be the first to say that they choose not to participate in group politics and I am sure they have no idea how their name is being used like a weapon. When they do, it often backfires on the cult.

5) Mysticism Myth

This is actually just a very good reporting structure. Basically, everything you say gets reported back to those in charge, yet it is presented to you in such a way to make it sound like divine revelation or some sort of supernatural power that helped the cult to learn what you are thinking or feeling. This tactic begins to create an atmosphere of lies, where members begin to hide their true feelings from one another or else risk being perceived as something other than a perfect member of the cult. This keeps true, strong relationships from forming. And that works very well for the cult leaders because nothing should be more powerful than your devotion to the cult.

6) Fear

Guilt, character assassinations, breaking sessions – these are all forms of using fear to control you. Nothing is ever wrong with the program, group, or (most especially) its leader. The problem is yours, always. You aren’t trying hard enough, or you aren’t giving in fully. Or perhaps you aren’t giving the time or money necessary to your success. Should you ever disagree or question anything that the leader or leaders claim, your argument is not met with logical and reasonable counterpoints. Instead it is met with an onslaught of personal attacks and insults like “I don’t think you are serious about BDSM. If so, you would feel differently about it” or “Who are you to question? You haven’t been in the scene nearly as long as ________.” Remember, how you feel about something is never wrong, and your feelings or thoughts about it should never be attacked or used to lay guilt or manipulate you. If your questions cannot be answered logically, or at all, then you are involved with people who do not have your best interests in mind.

These are only a few of the ways that cults try to control your mind. Cults are dangerous. They destroy you, your family and loved ones, and the BDSM community as a whole.

Some groups may also display or practice some of these without any ill intention, but it is a very slippery slope and best to remember that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. What starts out as an upstanding group can end up with everyone clambering for power and prestige and using as many innocent bystanders as they can to achieve this.

Leather and BDSM groups should exist to teach, aide, and help others grow. They should not be about power, numbers, control, money, or anyone’s legacy. Be a good consumer when it comes to joining any group. Read, talk, research. Do your homework. If everyone outside of a group has nothing but bad things to say about them, that is not jealousy or bitterness – it is most likely the closest thing to truth.

Sources:

 

http://www.howcultswork.com

http://www.rickross.com

http://www.icsahome.com

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