The True Story of How The Palm Springs Bondage Club Came To Be!

Every time the Palm Springs Bondage Club has our monthly meeting, I am this close to losing my shit. Every time.

When I host events, my stress during the run-up is usually “What if nobody shows up?”. This has not been the case with the Bondage Club after the first meeting in March of 2017. At the third meeting we had almost fifty people turn out, and that felt like over-capacity, with more people standing and watching than actually playing at any given time.

So now, I worry that too many people will show up. Or that it will be all inexperienced people showing up. Or that it will be a bad ratio of tops to bottoms. Or that we’ll be invaded by lookie-loos walking around wanking. Or that some Very Experienced Player in town from SF or LA or wherever will show up, take a look around at our humble efforts, and judge us to be lame.

Every time.

And every time the Palm Springs Bondage Club has met over the past year and a half, all that stress and anxiety is for nought. Instead, I have guys coming up to me and telling me things like “this monthly event and the community that has formed around it is the most important thing in my life.” At 10 PM, as we’re all standing around eating pizza, faces are glowing, and everyone is buzzing with that special feeling that happens when something turns a room full of strangers into people who have shared a great experience together.

How did this come to be? How did an impossible idea become an event that rolls around in the calendar every four weeks or so? I am going to do my best to describe just that. It’s my hope that if you, reading this, believe as I do that leathersex and BDSM can save lives and transform communities, and you want to make something like the Palm Springs Bondage Club happen where you live, this will provide you with a basic blueprint for making that happen.

The short answer to the question of “How did you do that?” is the same answer to almost everything else I’ve undertaken: Vision-Mission-Strategy-Tactics. Back in the ‘90s, when an MBA was the most desirable thing imaginable, I sat in a windowless, poorly ventilated hotel conference room with awful lighting and was subjected to a PowerPoint presentation that introduced me to this formula for “change management.” I have no idea why it got my attention, but I recorded every word I could in cramped handwriting in my Filofax.

I’ll break it down for you.

Vision is your best articulation of what the world would be like if all of your dreams, wishes, and desires came true.

Mission comes into play when you take a look around at the world you actually live in, take note of the differences, and, using “action verbs,” set forth how you’re going to realize your vision.

Strategy is about values. One way of realizing your vision might involve robbing a bank to get the money to make it happen. But before you get a gun and a rubber halloween mask, spend time thinking about what your values are and set out a course of action that both works toward your vision and is consistent with those values.

Tactics gets us down to brass tacks. What resources do you have on hand and what do you need to do you need to obtain? What help do you need and how will you go about getting people on board with helping you? What is the step-by-step plan you will commit yourself to follow? What could go wrong, and what will you do when those things go wrong, and at what point will you throw in the towel, chalk it up as “lessons learned,” and move on? And, importantly, how much is all this going to cost and where is the money going to come from?

Here is how that all played out with respect to the Palm Springs Bondage Club.

My Vision was simple: BDSM saved my life. From a very early age, and at a very deep level, I have been drawn to images and narratives of bondage and domination. After the usual leatherman’s bildungsroman, I discovered that not only was there a whole world of like-minded and similarly motivated men, but that they had bars, clubs, magazines, and fly-in events. There were opportunities for me to learn and practice what I had learned, and in doing so, I met amazing men—and several women—who I came to love and respect and who came to look on me as being a brother. I cannot imagine the sad, lonely life I would lead if it were not for BDSM.

What I wanted was to have this magic as a part of my life on a regular, ongoing basis, and for the journey to continue: with new opportunities to learn and to teach and to fall in love. What I wanted was a monthly BDSM play party in Palm Springs, the city where I have made my home. I took establishing this as my Mission.

Coming up with a Strategy took a lot of reflection; I thought through experiences I had had—at Inferno and Delta, in the educational programs presented by GMSMA, when I was taking my first tentative steps all those years ago at the New York Bondage Club, the few meetings of a mind-blowingly awesome monthly play party called SuperPigs held in a private home in San Diego—and I tried to distill in each case what made them work.

Here are the elements I wanted to incorporate…

  • Welcoming  No matter who you are, what experience you have or don’t have, what exactly turns your crank, what your age is or what kind of body you have, if you have an interest in doing or exploring BDSM, you should be greeted and feel that you and your contribution are valued.
  • Food  The aforementioned mind-blowingly awesome monthly play party called SuperPigs started off with all of us eating dinner together on the deck. And, at Inferno and Delta, there is breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In the ancient world, breaking bread together forged a sacred bond.
  • Shared Ownership Everyone who walks through the door should feel that they are a part of making it happen and know that their contribution—of time for set-up or clean-up or helping out with the door; or lending or donating equipment and supplies; and, most importantly their ideas—is valued. Power is not vested in one person or a small group of people but is shared equally.
  • Make It Derpy  Remember walking into a leather bar for the first time and it was terrifying? (Actually, it wasn’t for me. I was hoping I would be abducted into slavery just like in those stories I had read in Drummer Magazine and I was like “Yes! Yes! Yes! This is it!”, but I understand it is for many people.) I wanted it to be more like walking into the New York Bondage Club. Back in the day, and maybe still, you walked down the stairs and there were a bunch of guys hanging around drinking soda. Then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any more derpy, they totally went there and everybody went around in a circle, introduced themselves, and let it be known whether they wanted to get tied up, tie somebody up, or were open to whatever possibilities.
  • Money Is Not A Barrier The cost should be minimal. Rope, restraints, floggers, and such should be on hand to borrow for the evening. If people volunteer in some way, they get in at half price.
  • Anti-Authoritarian I refuse to police my fellow leather folk. I refuse to be the sex police. Putting someone “in charge” means that they very likely will abuse that power, and not in a sexy sexy way.
  • Build Coalitions  If your club or organization—or worst still, just you—are doing it alone and taking all the credit, you are doing it wrong. If the enterprise is going to last, and if your club or organization is going to last, that will only happen because others are supporting your efforts and working with you side-by-side.

The Nitty Gritty

Solving problems and thinking my way past obstacles is what gets me out of bed in the morning. This gave me a lot to think about.

The Venue was by far the biggest challenge I faced. Back at the height of the AIDS crisis, the City of Palm Springs put it into the city code that they did not allow any sex oriented business—formal or informal—within the city limits. And, to this day, they mean it. Retailers run up against a specific number of square inches they can allocate to displaying butt plugs and dildos as opposed to clothing and such. Bath houses and sex clubs are strictly prohibited. Advertise that you’re having a sex party and asking for money at the door and the Palm Springs Police Department will be first in line. In California, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board has a (homophobic, irrational, unequally enforced) regulation that prohibits (ambiguously worded) “sexual activity” from occurring in any establishment that has a liquor license.

Having it in a private home may seem to be the answer, but that can be a bad way to go. Neighbors complain about noise and all the parked cars cramming the streets. Also, when you show up at the home of a stranger, it takes a little bit more guts to walk up and knock on the door, and there’s always the risk that something will be damaged and the person who owns the place will freak out.

One possible solution I explored was finding one of the several clothing optional gay male resorts in town to host us. This proved to be a non-starter because after attendees paid for day passes (twenty or twenty-five dollars), there wouldn’t be much money left over to keep the organization running and still keep the price of admission affordable. Also, anyone staying at the resort would have a de facto invitation to attend. But the really deal breaker was the consideration that people associate the gay resorts with blowjobs and fucking. There are numerous opportunities for blowjobs and fucking in Palm Springs. However, if you want to lash a man to a cross and whip him until he bleeds, good fucking luck with that. Not that there is anything wrong with blowjobs and fucking—I am, in fact, a big fan—but I did not want to go through all this work to host yet another sex party.

While working out at my gym, my very gay “sure you can work out shirtless and it’s no business of ours what goes on in the sauna” gym, I looked around and noticed all the things around me that you could tie someone to. With trepidation, I approached one of the owners. His face lit up. (He is an out and proud fellow pervert!) But, he explained, either he or his partner have to be here when the doors were open, and that pretty much takes up their entire life. Opening up for several hours after the gym closed would further screw up their already very screwed up work-life balance.

Maybe, perhaps, I could find a dozen or so people in the community who would be willing to chip in a two hundred dollars a month of their disposable income allowing us to rent space of our own. For a while, that was the plan. I made lists of people I knew who would be in a position to do that and even had a few tentative conversations. I backed off of this idea for two reasons. First, when a serious financial commitment is involved, things get very complicated very quickly. Second, it would be anti-democratic: what would be the relative status of someone who is coughing up two hundred dollars a month and someone who plops down twenty dollars to attend a play party but has done something to piss off the two hundred dollar a month guy? And all of the two hundred dollar a month guys would all have their own ideas about what they should be getting for their money. Uh uh. Not going there.

Have I built up sufficient dramatic tension at this point? Are you wondering how we could possibly overcome this challenge?

I re-framed the question. What we were looking for was a place to have a party once a month. All kinds of people rent out spaces to have parties. You pays your money and you takes your chances. Think of a bachelor party, the kind where the groomsmen all chip in and rent a sex worker to give their buddy one last fling before he ties the knot. All I needed was a community minded person with the rights to use some raw space with a bathroom and enough egress doors to be compliant with the Building Code that would accept a portion of the door for use of the space. And, we would have a written agreement in place that was worded in such a way that in the event that the cops busted in on us, there was plausible deniability for the owner of the space. (I would gladly and happily be led away in handcuffs and take full responsibility for everything and wear it as a badge of honor forever afterwards.)

And with this, I struck gold. One of the bars—not in Palm Springs—had an adjacent space, about fifty by a hundred square feet, that went unused ninety percent of the time. They were happy to give it to us once a month. Following the agreement we negotiated and signed, the doors closed, we had our event, and we cleaned up after ourselves before we got out of there.

We had a venue.

Equipment

During the years I went to Inferno, I would fulfill my volunteer obligation by doing set-up before the event so that my time during the run was my own. Assembling and placing all of those crosses and whipping posts and bondage frames and floating bondage tables and stocks set the bar pretty high for me when thinking about what was necessary for my own event. I owned none of that. Sure, you can tie someone up in a metal folding chair, but a room full of metal folding chairs… well, there is no way that that is not lame af.

One make-do solution that occurred to me was to find some people with portable sling frames who would be willing to lend them to us, minus the slings. They could be used for suspension, but also, tie a man spread eagle and it works fine for flogging.

The floodgates were opened when I started—just started—to put out the word of what I was up to. The donations started to come in. It turns out that a lot of people have bondage equipment and dungeon furniture gathering dust in the garage. They intuitively grasp that this stuff is meant to be used and be used often. Along with the guarantee of discount admission for life, every meeting early on had someone unloading a cross or a bondage table and hauling it in for us to use until I was forced to rescind the call for donations. We have three crosses, a bondage table, a massage table (works great!), a portable sling frame of our own, and amazing stocks welded out of steel girders.

Insurance

At the time I got this whole ball really rolling, I was a member of a group called Desert Fetish Authority and I was the president of Palm Springs Leather Order of the Desert. Desert Fetish Authority (DFA) is informal, with no officers, bylaws, or a bank account. If you want to start a Power Exchange discussion group, you come to one of the quarterly planning meetings, flesh out the idea, an announcement goes out on the DFA website and in the weekly email to several hundred recipients, and you and your group are up and running. Palm Springs Leather Order of the Desert (PSLOD) on the other hand, has officers, bylaws, a bank account, and general liability insurance. What came to be called the Palm Springs Bondage Club was started as a joint effort of both groups: PSLOD provided the infrastructure and DFA gave us the means to get the word out. So, at the outset, insurance wasn’t something I had to consider.

However, when I left PSLOD, as I was the member who had been coordinating the Palm Springs Bondage Club, PSLOD bowed out, and we were left without insurance. One of the key people who helped me get the Bondage Club off the ground stepped forward to help us with our insurance. He called his insurance broker and asked for quotes. And he got none.

Every insurer that his broker contacted basically said that there was no way they would write a policy for a group that had the word “bondage” in its name. This was not because they were kink-phobic. Rather, in the post Shades Of Grey world that we live in, everyone knows what BDSM involves. If you think about it, we were asking insurers to write a liability policy for a group of people who got together once a month and invited injury. It was like asking them to insure a Slipping On A Banana Peel And Falling Down An Open Manhole Club. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

So what to do?

Our angel and benefactor’s insurance broker had a solution. There is a very common insurance instrument that pays out in the case of medical emergency for emergency medical treatment. Basically, if someone doesn’t hydrate enough, passes out, and cracks their head open when they kiss the floor, the trip to the emergency room is covered by our insurance policy. The is basically the same insurance policy that a gay softball team would have offering the same protection and for much the same reason.

Everyone attending our events has to sign a general release of liability form. (The 15 Association in San Francisco was kind enough to give us the form that they have been using for years, written out by some shrewd leatherman lawyer.)

And so, we invite injury to our hearts’ content. Every month.

The Name

The Palm Springs Marauders? The Desert Diabolicals? Kinksters United? The Pain Syndicate?

What should we call ourselves?

I remembered a nugget of wisdom that one of my mentors imparted on me many years ago: if you walk into the bar with a hank of rope hanging off your belt on the left side, you’re not going to walk out alone. Bondage is sort of the Ur perversion. Most people have at one time or another entertained fantasies of surrendering their power in the form of rope or chain or handcuffs or gotten off dreaming of having the object of their desires bound and helpless and at their mercy. Everybody likes bondage. So something to do with bondage in the name.

The very first time I went to a meeting of the New York Bondage Club, I was stuffed in a sleep sack and suspended from the ceiling. As soon as the hood went on, it was an out-of-body experience. The man who organized all this took out my dick and jerked me off; my orgasm was so intense that the cum hit the wall twelve feet away. To applause. Suffice it to say that the New York Bondage Club will always hold a special place in my heart.

Another key thing about the New York Bondage Club is that for decades it was kept running by the efforts of just one man. He would buy the soda, put the ad in various gay publications, and, eventually, send out the emails. I decided that twenty-four hundred miles away where the Mohave and Great Sonoran Deserts meet and kiss, we would pay homage to this great institution.  The monthly play party that welcomed everyone in the leather community here in the Desert and beyond would be called the Palm Springs Bondage Club.

Interestingly, a better name would have been the Palm Springs Whipping Club. A lot more whipping and flogging tends to go on at our meetings than bondage. But bondage is more generally popular, with a lower threshold, and “club” sounds so nice and friendly, like something Annette Funicello, Jimmie Dodd, and Cubby O’Brien might want to get involved with.

The Top Deficit

Oh, the stress and anxiety I had about this. What if the Palm Springs Bondage Club turns out to be fifteen guys who want to be tied up and me? There are far fewer people who looking to do the tying, and maybe half of those can do so competently.

My initial strategy to counter this failed completely. What I did was sought out all of the experienced players I knew in the area and beyond—men I knew from Inferno or similar events—and begged them to come to meetings. With only a few exceptions, none of them did.

Here’s what happened. I convinced the manager of what used to be a leather bar to let me host an event one Monday night a month called “Bondage Night.” I would show up with rope and restraints, start off with a demo, and then show guys how to tie rope handcuffs or talk somebody into letting me hogtie him on the pool table. (Sorry, pool players!) Whereas before, Monday night was three guys and the bartender, once I started Bondage Night, they were busy all night. So, when the Bondage Club got going, I had a cohort of bondage enthusiasts who were in the habit of showing up once a month primed for recruiting. As many of them were newish to BDSM, there was that great beginners energy: they wanted to experience it all. And, “it all” meant that in addition to getting tied up or flogged, they discovered that the intimacy and connection they had come to love was still there if they did the tying up and flogging. Most members of the Palm Springs Bondage Club have those gray hankies in both the left and the right back pockets. In all the meetings we have had, it has never been the case that a bottom couldn’t find a top to accommodate him.

The Format

So. People just show up, unpack their toy bags, put the boy they brought with them up on the cross and get to work? No. Not at all. The opposite of that. I have been to play parties like that. I hate play parties like that. Going stag to a play party like that means you are in for a night of drinking coffee with non-dairy creamer and watching the people who knew that if you wanted any action you had to bring your carefully selected bottom along have fun.

In scripting the format of meetings of the Palm Springs Bondage Club, I worked very hard to make manifest the values I listed above. I discussed it (at great length) (as I do) with people whose insights and wisdom I valued. And, for the most part, we have only had to make a few minor changes. (One sort of significant change we made was it was originally my intention to start off the evening with a demonstration of some aspect of BDSM technique. This aspiration was pretty quickly abandoned because it fell to me to organize that or do it, and with everything else I had to do, I had plenty on my plate, so fuck it. But, at our last meeting, someone stepped forward and said they would love to do a demonstration. That went over so well that someone who attended said that he wanted to do one next month. I am overjoyed, because I don’t have to do it, and as far as I’m concerned, if they want to do a demonstration of hardcore raunch and toilet sex, party on, dudes! So, even though the demonstrations have not been happening, now that they are, I will drop them back in the format.)

So, without further adieu, here is the format of the monthly meetings of the Palm Springs Bondage Club.

One Week Prior: everyone who has attending a meeting gives us their email address, and we send out an email reminding the date, time, and place of the next meeting, even though those details do not change. I also post a G-rated picture of some guy tied up on Facebook and giving the time and date, and telling people to contact me for the “Top Secret Location.”

[Every so often, we will send out a notice to the entire Desert Fetish Authority mailing list of several hundred people, usually when the previous meeting has had a turnout of fewer than twenty-five people. Also on occasion, we will put postcard size flyers around town with an email address to contact to get the specifics of where and when we meet. As time goes by, both of these become less necessary as people bring friends.]

6:00 PM: Set up. I load into my car the massage table, the sling frame, the shopping bag containing our supplies (clean-up stuff, spritz bottles of hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol, blank release forms on a clipboard, and the big blue duffel bag containing the items available to borrow during the meeting (rope, bandage scissors, restraints, quick-release clips, a straight jacket, a gas mask, a thuddy flogger and a stingy flogger). At our Top Secret Location, I drag our crosses, stocks, spanking benches, and bondage table out from where they were stowed neatly in the corner after the last meeting. (Anything too big for someone to walk out with we leave at the venue.) After all the equipment is set up, I place a few folding tables so people can put their gear on it, and one table at the front door and two tables for the items available to borrow.

7:00 PM: the Demonstration. I cribbed the format for the demonstration from programs that the late, great Gay Male SM Activists in New York City used to do. They would invite in someone who was very, very good at what he did to essentially do a scene in front of onlookers. Afterwards, after the aftercare, first the bottom, then the top, would explain as best they could what was going on in their heads during the scene. And then they would briefly field questions, and depending on what aspect of BDSM was being demonstrated, there were opportunities for people attending to “take a taste” if practicable. As the demonstrations are publicized without mentioning the Bondage Club, the announcement is made that, in fact, anyone who would like to is welcome to stay on for the meeting of the Palm Springs Bondage Club.

8:00 to 8:30: Arrivals. Everyone coming to the meeting pays a fee of ten dollars, with the exception of people who have volunteered that night and people who have donated equipment; donors and volunteers are given the option of only paying five dollars. (Almost everyone declines this and pays the full ten dollars, because they love their Bondage Club). People who are there for the first time put their legal names, their signature, and the date at the bottom of our release of general liability form. Email addresses go at the bottom of the form also if they want to get the monthly email reminders.

8:30 PM: We begin. No one is admitted after 8:30. You have to be in the door before 8:30 to take part. Exceptions are made if someone offers a really good excuse, but for the most part, latecomers are told that there will be a meeting next month.

Once the doors are closed, I, or whoever is facilitating the meeting if I’m not there, gives The Speech. The purpose of The Speech is to set the tone and lay out the ground rules.

Here it is…

Welcome, everyone, to the monthly meeting of the Palm Springs Bondage Club, your BDSM play party for everyone in the Desert and beyond. My name is Drew, and I will be your Dungeon Concierge for the evening, and so I am wearing the Yellow Safety Vest of Grave Responsibility. If you have any questions, need assistance with anything, or have any concerns, please come to me and I will do what I can to help.

Before we get started, I would like to run through the ABCs of BDSM Safety.  “A” is for Airways. If, for whatever reason, he cannot breathe through his mouth, he is never for one second out of your field of vision. If you forgot something in your toy bag, give a holler and I or someone else will fetch it for you. “B” is for bacteria. If there is a break in the skin, here on the tools table we have rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide to do wound care. “C” is for circulation of the blood. Before you tie him up, give his little hand a squeeze and take a base reading of his skin temperature. While he’s tied up, check that again every few minutes to see if it’s getting cold. If you are the one being tied up and you notice your hands are numb or you are feeling pins and needles, speak up. Nerve damage is not the worst thing that can happen, and I have never known a bondage scene that ended in amputation, but it’s annoying and let’s avoid it if we can. Also: if someone is tied or restrained with their hands above their heart, this interferes with circulation also, so take the same precautions.

Is anyone’s mother here tonight? That being the case, we have to clean up after ourselves. Up here on the tools table, we have a spritz bottle of Simple Green and some paper towels. Let’s leave things as good or better as we found them. I am available to help out, but please don’t expect me to do that for you.

Please keep conversation within earshot of a scene going on to an absolute minimum and no louder than a whisper. If you want to chat, we have these chairs in the conversation pit and there is lots of space on the patio.

Do not interfere with a scene in progress. Ever. If you have a question, wait until everything is over. Do not assume that because the Top is across the room that the all tied up is public property. 

Nudity is perfectly okay in this room but not out on the patio. If you want to go to the bar or have to use the bathroom, you have to put something on to do that.

The emphasis here is on BDSM. We love fucking and blowjobs, but there are so many places here in town a lot of places here in town where you can go for that, but nowhere other than here that you can tie someone up and beat him, or get tied up and beaten. If you’re looking for a blowjob and fucking, I will be happy to give you back your ten dollars and offer some suggestions of where you can find that. Which is not to say that if he’s all tied down and helpless you can’t edge him until he shoots his load or have some fun playing with his hole or make him your cockslave when he’s restrained and powerless. If it’s part of the scene, we love that. If it’s stand alone, not so much.

Items on the tool table can be borrowed. The key word in that sentence is “borrowed.” Please return them before you leave. (We have never had an item go missing.) 

Now, if you are here tonight hoping to get something done to you, whatever that may be, please raise your hand. (Pause) If you are here tonight hoping to do terrible things to someone, please raise your hand. And yes, you can raise your hand for both. 

Everyone who is here for the first time, please raise your hand and keep it raised. Welcome! We are really glad you’re here. The rest of you, take a good look. The rule is that first-timers get priority. Nobody should leave their first meeting without having had an opportunity to play.

Let the games begin!

In addition to keeping an eye on things, the Dungeon Concierge does his best to facilitate play, asking people—particularly newcomers—what they’re into and making introductions to possible play partners.

In the fifteen times that the club has met, there has been only two times when people have been given their ten dollars back and politely invited to give this meeting a miss and come back next time. In one instance, the person had had too much to drink, and in another, he had been dragged along by his boyfriend, was not at all down with what was going on, and was being disruptive. I am opposed to Do Not Invite lists. People can learn, we have all had days when we were not our best selves, and adults should be able to work through those issues without being stigmatized.

10 PM: Pizza!!! When I left New York City, I despaired of ever having a decent slice again in my life. But, I have found a pizza place right down the street from our venue that makes pretty good pizza. We call in an order, and I hand off the Yellow Safety Vest of Grave Responsibility to someone, take a portion of the proceeds from the door with me, and go fetch the pizza and bring back the receipt. That doesn’t mean that all play has to stop, but most people spend the next half hour or so eating delicious pizza, chatting, and showing off their welts and bruises.

After pizza comes Last Licks. I stay until everyone is done playing. Although for the most part, pizza marks the end of the evening. An hour and a half of serious play might not seem like a lot of time, but offering a sprint rather than a marathon keeps people coming back for more. The limited time also reduces the likelihood that someone is going to stand around all night waiting for Mister Perfect to present himself and get busy with Mister Up For It If You Are.

Whenever: Clean Up. We leave the room as good as we found it if not better. Also, the money taken at the door is counted by two people and placed in an envelope along with the receipt from the pizza. The envelope is sealed and they sign their names on it. Within the next day or so, it is delivered to the person who manages our bank account for us. The rule of thumb is that sixty dollars from each meeting is set aside to pay for our insurance for the next year. The rest goes for supplies and equipment. Current items on our wish list include a big, heavy duty box that locks (like they use at construction sites) to so we would be able to leave some stuff there at the venue between meetings, a double, freestanding Saint Andrew’s Cross, a bondage chair, and a cage. No hurry for any of these; no one is whining about not having a good time because we don’t those items available.

The Next Day: I send a list of all the email addresses collected at the previous night’s meeting to our Supreme Major Domo Of The Contact List. (Note: we pledge to our members that we will not share or sell their information; announcement emails are sent out so that members are blind carbon copied.)

Success

I love to whip men. I love to tie men up and torment them. Finding guys on Recon doesn’t work well for me: as a friend of mine once said, “You gotta meet’em and smell’em to know if it’s gonna work.” And, I can’t play at home. It freaks out my dogs. I went for years without the leathersex that I want and need. Now, I have it once a month. My needs are met. I am a happy leatherman. Also, when you fork over a lot of money go fly across the country to go to a run or event, you almost feel obligated to play. When an opportunity rolls around every four weeks or so, there is no pressure.

But enough about me and my needs. Is it possible to objectively say that the Palm Springs Bondage Club is a success?  I would offer the following criteria.

Novice to Intermediate to Expert  I have done a lot of BDSM education, mostly in the format of an “expert” standing in front of a bunch of seated “learners” imparting wisdom. I think this is a great way to learn history or cellular biology but a not-so-great way to learn BDSM. I had many hours of “This Is How To Flog and Whip” and learned a lot of useful information, but when I saw the Oberammergau that is Guy Baldwin Whipping A Man one year at Inferno, that, my friends, was an education. We learn by watching, then trying ourselves and getting feedback, and building up confidence until we can make what we learned our own and put our own stamp on it. This is what goes on at the Palm Springs Bondage Club. We have raised the BDSM competence of the herd geometrically. If you’re looking for play partners who are confident, trustworthy, and sophisticated in their approach, you will find them in Palm Springs.

Strangers to Friends How do you make friends after college? When our lives are cluttered up with work and family and community obligations, how do you break into all that, get to know someone well, and reveal something of yourself behind the mask to them? May I suggest a really intense flogging? I couldn’t begin to count all the times people have mentioned to me that many of the people they they now count as friends they met at the Bondage Club.

It’s Not My Bondage Club, It’s Our Bondage Club  I came up with the idea, I midwifed it into existence, I facilitated the meetings, I served as Dungeon Concierge, I did set-up and clean-up, I went and got the pizza. The Palm Springs Bondage Club meets on the last Friday of each month. When we had been up and going for just over a year, I had to miss one meeting to attend CLAW and the next meeting to fly off to IML. In my absence, everything went fine. No problems at all. They had two good meetings. Everyone jumped in to help. If I were to get hit by the proverbial bus, the Palm Springs Bondage Club would go on. There’s no reason why it can’t go on for years to come.

Special acknowledgements:

  • The current and former members of Palm Springs Leather Order of the Desert, especially Nina, Raphael, Mixtress Victoria, Master Warren, and slave doully.
  • John McBain and Rick Jammer, the founders of Desert Fetish Authority, without whose help, generosity, good counsel, and friendship none of this would have happened.
  • Kevin and Marko, owners of the Barracks, the tenth best leather bar in the world who don’t know the word “no.”
  • Eric Trostler, database manager extraordinaire.
  • The (more than) one hundred and fifty men—and women!—who have made the Palm Springs Bondage Club happen month after month after month, especially Dave Madrid, George, Matt, Tim (not Tom, Tim!), Bob, Papa Scott, Peter Fiske, Don Folkers, Michael, Al, Ray, and I’m sorry if I forgot your name but it’s really late.

The Controversial Non-Controversial Addendum

In 1994, a group of leathermen living in Palm Springs came together and formed a club they called the Palm Springs Leather Order of the Desert and selected a man best known by his nom de porn as Steve ‘Titpig’ Hurley as their first president. Five years later, Master Steve Sampson had taken over as president. Master Steve ran into Victoria Rendall, Mixtress Victoria, at the local watering hole and invited her to join up.

“Steve!,” she said, “You’re all guys, and I’m not…”

“Fuck that,” Sampson answered, “what kind of leather club would we be if we wouldn’t have you as a member?”

Master Steve also had a four-car garage tricked out with crosses, cages, and the like, and PSLOD play parties were not to be missed. After Victoria had signed on as a full member, she was invited to attend. Again, she declined, saying she wouldn’t want to intrude on the boys having their fun, and again, Master Steve insisted. From then until recently, any event sponsored by PSLOD was open to all members, and therefore was open to everyone, regardless of gender.

When I first brought the proposal to ask for the Club’s support for the Palm Springs Bondage Club, this concerned me. The events I had attended focused on BDSM had been all-male preserves. What my proposal contemplated was that the Bondage Club would be limited to men, and if there was interest in a BDSM play party open to everyone, I would set about organizing that on a different night of the month.

Lead balloon.

“It’s in the bylaws,” I was reminded.

And so I reversed course. The Palm Springs Bondage Club would be open to everyone. With this amendment, the proposal passed unanimously. When I asked for help, Nina, then the club’s vice president, said she would be thrilled to help out.

At the first meeting of the Palm Springs Bondage Club, I was shitting a brick. What would I do if one of the men attending came to me and demanded to know why there was a woman in our midst? That never happened. Nina reported that there were no sour comments or dirty looks. Quite the reverse: from the start, she was a big part of what made the Bondage Club work. Beyond the sexual politics, I believe that the evident fact that the Palm Springs Bondage Club was clearly open to absolutely everyone means that whatever a new member’s insecurities might be showing up for the first time, they were unfounded.

Before our most recent meeting, I was contacted by a prospective member who asked if he could bring along a friend of his, a woman with far more experience in BDSM than he had. I took pains in crafting my response. “The Palm Springs Bondage Club welcomes everyone with an interest in BDSM,” I wrote. “That said, we haven’t had women at our meetings over the past few months and there have been a lot of new members. If any issues come up, please talk to me immediately.”

About a half hour into the meeting, the new member and the woman he had brought along were wrapped up in plastic wrap crotch to butt astride a spanking bench. It was damn hot. Later, after they had both taken a taste of getting whipped by a member emeritus of the 15 Association, their faces glowing and smiling, they both told me how much they were loving this night at the Palm Springs Bondage Club.

I am a gay man, and 99% of the the people I have whipped—my favorite way to play—have been gay men. The overwhelming majority, sometime all, of those who show up to meetings of the Palm Springs Bondage Club are gay men. The sexual energy and shared perspective of the gay male leather tradition is very important to me; in fact, I would say it is the organizing principle of my life. Other aspects of who I am—Episcopalian, political moderate, person with a lifelong obsessive passion for British murder mysteries of that genre’s Golden Age—take a back seat to my identity as a leatherman.

That said, I think what we have going on with our tradition is a great thing. Such a great thing, in fact, that if anyone feels a deep admiration and kinship with that tradition, regardless of gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation, I value their presence in my life, in my dungeon, and in the Palm Springs Bondage Club.

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