Community. The word generates a multitude of images, different for each person. For some it’s the large, bustling neighborhoods of the city. Elsewhere, it’s the sprawling lands of the loosely populated rural areas where everybody knows not only their own neighbor but everyone else’s as well. Still other images are those of closed religious communities, huddled inside their compounds isolated from the western world. There’s the Amish, or the Native American, or the Hispanic communities as well; anybody in Pennsylvania, the Great Plains, or Miami can attest to the feeling of unity and togetherness found within those groups. In all examples, the people can easily gather and rally to support and improve their community. But what about us on the fringe, who are connected not by physical proximity but by interest and lifestyle? How do we go about cultivating, growing, and maintaining our communities?
In Tampa, all three of the Lifestyle communities — Swinger, Fetish/BDSM, and Polyamory — have relatively large and active populations. In many instances there is overlap between two of three of these communities, although I believe that overlap exists more greatly between Fetish and Poly than between any other combination. In part, I think, this is attributable to the fact that both Fetish/BDSM and Poly are more intrinsically built around developing longer relationships and exploring the boundaries of those relationships, which takes time. This is not to say that Swinger and Fet or Swinger and Poly cannot or do not overlap; there is certainly a fair amount of partner swapping among BDSM play partners, and several Poly people visit Swinger events. I simply have not seen the evidence of as wide a crossover in those categories, at least not here. In other places it may be different. Which brings us back to the question, how do we explore and improve these communities?
In this wonderful age of instant digital communication one can find like-minded individuals more easily than ever before. Swingers can find each other through a plethora of websites (Mrs. AP and I only use one as we aren’t dedicated enough to pay for an online service), and the Fetish/BDSM crowd congregates virtually on FetLife. Polyamorous people don’t have as central a location to use, sadly. There are some “dating” sites that cater to the Poly crowd, but the few that are operational have limited time trials and difficult to use interfaces, so following the the aforementioned overlap of communities, many Poly folk end up on FetLife simply because there are no other viable options.
When it comes to meeting in person, at least in the Tampa area, Fetish and Poly people seem to have a wider variety of options than do Swingers. For Swinging, there’s one well established on-premise club, Eyz Wide Shut, but beyond that everything else that I’ve seen is a house party or private club by invitation only. Some of these are regular events, to be sure, but the implication at all times is that you’re there to play and get out. Obviously, this make sense when the goal is to get your jollies off, but when it comes to building a sense of togetherness and community it can be a bit limiting. However, among the Fet and Poly crowds, there are regular events taking place weekly, monthly, quarterly, and year that are designed to gather people together for talking about issues in the community, learning new things, meeting new people, and generally getting together as people outside of the Play structure.
For example, a common term among the Fet group is “munch”. This is simply a non-kink “meeting over lunch” (expanded to be any time of day now, not just lunch) in a public place to meet new people, make new friends, talk about various experiences, etc. In Tampa there is a Poly Munch every month. There are also various other munches, for those who like rope play or those who just want to meet for coffee. These events are almost always organized through FetLife, and are open to anybody. They also serve as a chance to get to know somebody outside of the Play environment and, if the chemistry is there, go over some of the more personal things that should be covered for safety and sanity that can’t always be negotiated in a noisy club environment.
For the Poly crowd, there are several large gatherings held in Tampa and through Florida every year. For the Fetish/BDSM there are multiple Fetish Events, such as Fetish Circuit and the newly opened Tampa Dungeon, where people of Kink can meet and beat each other in a public, controlled, safe environment. This is particularly handy for those who like to be tied to a St. Andrew’s cross but do not have the space for one at home. In this way, the best of both worlds exist; there are non play gatherings for socializing, and there are Fetish Events for socializing with Play. Sometimes I think the Swinger crowd could learn a thing or two from it’s more leather-bound neighbors.
Ultimately, each community needs to ensure every acts for the good of each group, and someday what it seen as the fringe now might just be accepted by the mainstream as normal. We can only hope.
Stay SINful, friends.