A version of this post was originally published in the Bay Area Reporter. The resources mentioned are mostly from the local San Francisco Bay Area, but the main content of the post and some of the resources will prove useful to anyone. You will find the original online version here.
One of the most beautiful things about the San Francisco Bay Area leather and kink scene is how connected and supportive everyone is with each other. I don’t want to paint a picture of a perfect kink Utopia. All communities have their challenges and areas for improvement, but the Bay Area really is special as far as I’m concerned in how we honor, acknowledge, befriend and assist others in our scene. It’s a great place to be a kinkster.
Of course, I am sure many others would say that their local scene is equally connected and supportive. In many cases they are likely correct. The Bay Area is my home and it’s the local scene here with which I am most familiar.
Nowhere was the “it takes a village” mindset displayed more than at the recent event hosted by the San Francisco Leathermen’s Discussion Group (LDG) about depression within the leather and kink communities. As I sat in that room listening to therapist professionals and fellow local kinksters explain the details of depression, how it can manifest in people’s lives and how it can be treated and managed, I realized I was sitting amidst a special group of people. “These folks get it” I thought. They understand that along with all the hot sex and play, bar gatherings, conferences, contests and other things us kinksters do, if we don’t actually care for each other both individually and collectively, can we really consider ourselves a compassionate and caring community, or a community at all really.
There is a collection of maladies that inhabit our scene, as in all walks of life, that are either directly linked to depression or, as I like to say, are kissing cousins of it. Outright depression, ongoing clinical or temporary. Loneliness. Suicidal thoughts. Feelings of differentness or isolation. Being the newcomer and trying to fit in. All of these things, and more, are present within our scene just like they are in other sectors of life.
Consider also that kinky people can have shame about their non-standard sexual leanings that long outlasts any shame they may have felt as LGBT. That can be a contributing factor to feeling depressed too.
But you know what? I think in many ways we are better equipped to help our fellow kinksters. We have built in mechanisms to connect us and communicate with each other that perhaps other groups do not. That gives me hope and makes me proud to be part of the leather and kink world.
As I sat and listened to the presenters on the panel, and listened to audience questions and the resulting answers and cross discussion taking place, certain themes emerged for me about depression and the impacts that ripple through kinksters’ lives and the scene overall. Here are my layman’s observations.
Experiencing depression is by no means rare. Many of us experience, either fleetingly or ongoing, some form of depression during our lives.
Depression, in all its various ways of expressing itself, looks and feels different for different people. We can’t always know that people we know are depressed. However, when we do, there are things we can do to help.
There can be a tendency for many depressed people to isolate themselves. That sometimes makes it harder to realize a friend is depressed. But if you notice someone hasn’t been around for a while, or you haven’t heard from someone who normally communicates with you, check in. Call them. Text them. Facebook them. However you do it, reach out. Just say hi. That single act of checking in can do so much for the depressed person. If it’s at all possible, try to make reaching out result in an in person, face-to-face meeting. Nothing trumps being physically present with someone.
One of the important things you can do to help someone who is depressed is something pretty simple. Show up. Be there. Connect. Be a presence. You don’t have to offer any advice. In fact, at times that can be counter productive. Just be a friend. Just be an acquaintance who cares. Talk. Hang out. See if someone wants to grab some coffee, go for a walk, or just “be” together. The point is to foster a human connection because that’s often what the depressed person needs the most.
If alcohol or substance abuse appears to be a possible issue in someone’s life, see if you can navigate them to finding some assistance. It seems that for many people depression and substance abuse go hand in hand, although you can’t always be sure which one ushered in the other. To a friend, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is to see if you can move them toward some help and support. Luckily, there is a strong presence of sober folks and meetings within our local kink scene and our scene is very open and welcoming of the sober among us.
Here’s a good place for me to give a shout out to one of the local presences we have for sober folks, the contest produced by SF Bay Area Sober in Leather-SF. That contest was recently held and let me offer my congratulations to the winners. I hope the contest and its titleholders do some good in fostering awareness and help for those who might need to address substance abuse issues in their lives. The winners for 2015 are Mr. SF Sober Leather Stephen, Ms. SF Sober Leather Leather Jackie, and SF Sober Kinkster Robert Moore.
As a result of the LDG event on depression, local kinkster David Hegarty launched his new initiative to take the kind of active steps to combat depression that were discussed during the program.
Get Out and Love is a project aimed at challenging people to get out and connect with people face to face, to share real connection with other humans, and in doing so help relieve the ever increasing effect of depression and isolation in our community. Isolation is a frequent symptom and cause of depression. This project offers a way to reach out and touch someone in your life.
Here are some other resources that can be useful to local kinksters who might be dealing with depression or have friends suffering from it.
Bay Area Open Minds offers psychotherapy services to people who serve these Bay Area populations and issues: BDSM/kink, polyamory, trans concerns, gender identity, same-sex relationships, sex work, and more.
Kink Aware Professionals is a referral service managed by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. It’s a great resource for kink-aware psychotherapists, doctors and attorneys.
The San Francisco Bay Area Leather Alliance has partnered with Stop AIDS Project to sponsor their Suicide Prevention Project.
San Francisco has its own Suicide Prevention organization and they are very welcoming of the diversity of sexualities in our city.
I know this isn’t an upbeat topic, but I think along with all of the great fun and hot things we do together, us leatherfolk and kinksters have to also try to take care of our own.