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The 101s: a coming out group for kinky folk

Group grew out of last year's Mr Leatherman Toronto

EAGER BEAVERS. "Boi" Joe Hunter and Richard Fenn cofounded The 101s, a coming out group for kinky folk, to fill a gap in the Toronto scene. Credit: (Peter Bevan)

Think of it as the Boy Scouts but naughtier. There are no merit badges but plenty of rope tying and “be prepared” is an equally appropriate motto.

“The more prepared, the more educated you are, the sooner the better,” says Richard Fenn, one of the cofounders of The 101s, a coming out group for kinky folk. “We’re saying, ‘If you are going to do this, this is why you need to know this.'”

The group, cofounded by Fenn and “boi” Joe Hunter, grew out of a workshop held at last year’s Mr Leatherman Toronto weekend.

“It was an open panel, roundtable discussion with people from all over Canada and the US discussing their experiences with youth and kink,” Fenn recalls. “I noticed the fact that we had such a small number…. I was curious where are all the young, kinky people in Toronto were.”

His curiosity was shared by Hunter, as well as Paul Ciantar, former Mr Leatherman Toronto and Canadian Leather Man.

“One of the founding principles behind the whole leather movement is really a philo-sophy of embracing your sexuality, getting rid of the shame associated with it and learning how to explore it safely,” Ciantar says. “One of the most important functions of the community is that they provide a social and educational framework so that you can learn how to explore those limits safely.

“There’s a whole process by which people who have experiences with certain kinks and fetishes teach others how to do it because a lot of this is really dangerous.”

The three pooled their contacts and The 101s was born. As the name implies the group was envisioned as a starting point, a means of introduction for a new generation of kinky folks. The group is aimed at helping 18- to 35-year-olds of all genders learn more about various kinks and fetishes, helping to disrupt stereotypes about what kinky folk are like and helping newbies decipher the customs and protocols of the leather and fetish scenes. It also provides a forum to learn about safer sex and play.

“We started off with bondage, the next workshop was on percussive play, then we had another workshop on pervertables and then we just had the recent one on humiliation,” says Hunter, listing off The 101s events held so far.

While the idea of coming out groups is second nature to many queers The 101s is a bit of a departure from the ways in which fetish culture, particularly gay men’s leather culture, has traditionally been propagated. In the past leather mentors passed on knowledge to apprentices within the community, Ciantar says. Techniques and nuances were shared from generation to generation until AIDS largely wiped out that tradition of mentorship, making it even more difficult for young people to come out into leather.

Both Hunter and Fenn found their place in Toronto’s leather scene with help from older friends. As a 16-year-old who was just beginning to feel a stirring interest in kink Hunter says he was told he was too young to get involved. A couple years later he heard it again at a now-defunct downtown youth group. It wasn’t until he was 21 that Hunter found someone who was willing to guide him into the deeper emotional and spiritual aspects of the leather scene.

“I actually had someone who literally took me by the hand and said, ‘Hey, this is what it is,'” says Hunter, now 30. “It was somebody who basically made it more than an abstract people beating each other. She introduced me to the concept of DS [domination/submission] and the mentality of being a boy.”

What followed for Hunter was a time of evolution and introspection.

“I think leather is kind of more of a frame of reference or point of view,” Hunter says. “Leather is kind of a way of living with pride and dignity and, instead of something scaring me, trying to figure out why.”

It was six years ago, at age 19, that Fenn got his first taste of leather, when a then-boyfriend brought him to the Toolbox, a now-defunct bar in Toronto’s east end. Fenn says he was always open-minded — he grew up in a left-leaning neighbourhood and says he “never developed a judgment call on things” — and credits that quality for his smooth entry into the scene.

“I thought, ‘It’s fun and I have nothing against it,’ and that’s where it starts,” he recalls with a chuckle. “You have nothing against it and then you move into ‘Hey, this may be fun,’ and then you move into ‘Wow, I can’t stop doing this.'”

Not the sort of person who would ever be accused of being shy Fenn learned about the scene simply by asking around and striking up conversations at the Black Eagle. Eventually he was able to find a dominant player to show him the ins and outs.

Although people come out into kink at all ages and a 19-year-old coming out into the leather scene will face some of the same challenges as a 39-year-old other challenges will be unique, say 101s organizers. Young adults may still be coming to terms with their queerness, let alone kinkiness. One of Fenn’s proposals for an upcoming workshop reveals another big difference: income.

“We’re thinking about having one on gear and travel and kink on a budget,” says Fenn. “I’m going to be discussing how people can get things done without paying top-end prices.”

The group is also unique in an age when so much information about kink and fetishes is explored anonymously through the internet. But Hunter says the ‘net is no substitute from being a part of a real-world community.

“[The internet] is really a place to go and access resources,” says Hunter, “but it may not always be the best place to talk to real people because the focus is very much on cruising.”

For young people coming out into the BDSM scene, Hunter and Fenn both offer up some advice.

“Don’t be too judgmental,” says Fenn. “If someone is into something you’re not, as long as it’s consensual… don’t judge them for it.”

“Persevere,” offers Hunter. “A lot of people come to the community and they’re so excited by kink but they forget that it takes time for the community to know they’re okay and for them to know the community is okay.”For more information check out he101s.org.