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How To Start Your Own S&M Support Group!

© Copyright 1995 by Nancy Ava Miller
Reposted with the author's permission.

...Suddenly Nancy's group appeared in the middle of nowhere--New Mexico is a desert culturally as well as geographically. The meeting was very emotional because I hadn't discussed it [S&M] before. There were about 40 men and a couple of women, so it was a public setting
... Barry Robinson discussing the first PEP S&M group
Some people are involved in leather or S&M social groups; others are not. Some are politically active; some are not. There are those people who are into leather mostly as a fashion statement; there are those who are into rubber or latex.... There are those who are merely into role playing; there are those into only the mildest form of bondage; and there are those who derive sexual satisfaction from driving nails through their penises...
...Sono Motayama editor Baltimore City Paper, writing in 1993
Networking is the key, so many wonderful people, so many great ideas and philosophies. This life would not be nearly as rewarding without the networking!
Goddess Glory former leader PEP S&M Support Group, Albuquerque

How I Created An S&M Group -- An Introduction

On the phone the other night, Morgan Lewis and I got to reminiscing. Morgan--for those of you unhip to the S&M Scene in New York City--hails as a longtime board member of the Eulenspeigel Society (TES), oldest SM support group in the US, founded 1971 by Mr. Pat Bond.

"Bet you never thought I'd do it!" I told Morgan, referring to 1986 and the first time I attended TES. I'm sure as far as TES was concerned back then, I was just another hyped up dom' in motorcycle boots, ranting about a proposed S&M group in New Mexico, of all places!

"No! No!" insisted Morgan, "I knew you'd do it."

Then we recollected an SM party in Virginia-- one of the first I scheduled after founding PEP-DC, my second People Exchanging Power SM group, born eight months after PEP-Albuquerque.

"Remember that whip demo?" I said, "with Michael and Meriam?"

"She was crazy over him," Morgan sighed.

Michael was a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair.

"You never saw him without a beautiful woman hanging around--or two or three. They were all crazy over him. He must've been a great dom'..."

A pause.

"Yes," said Morgan.

Another pause. It was not long after the Virginia party that Michael died--of cancer.

The conversation with Morgan spurred a kaleidoscope of memories. I recalled other PEP clubs in other cities, and the many people I've met because in 1986 I decided to create my own support group in New Mexico. Nine groups in nine years as it turned out: Albuquerque, Washington, Tucson, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver and St. Louis. (Oh, by the way, that's not counting the PEP groups that sprang up in yet other cities, founded by folks other than myself!)

And in these nine years, I've been asked again and again: How do you do it? How does one actually form an SM support group where none exists?

When I launched PEP in 1986, I had no guidelines. Sure, I sojourned to New York, dropped in on Eulenspeigel twice a week for weeks on end while camping out upstate in my Toyota van, met Morgan and Pat Bond and the rest of the TES habitués. I asked a lot of questions, observed how Eulenspeigel operated, confiscated all the SM information TES proffered, and then drove home to New Mexico where I secured a conference room and placed my first infamous PEP ad in the Albuquerque Journal:

Dominant--submissive love? New! Intelligent support group! October 16...

But then I was on my own.

In the beginning, I did some things I would not now repeat. I also stumbled upon ideas that worked and worked well. Trial and error, as they say. And now that I've tried and erred--plus tried and succeeded a time or two!--I dedicate this article to those of you courageous enough and altruistic enough and tough enough (and--once in a while--masochistic enough!) to take on the task of starting your own SM support group! Here then are Mistress Miller's suggestions on how to create your own S&M support group!

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Why Start a Group Anyway?

Before forging forward, please consider your motives in starting the group. While there may not be any completely right reasons for so doing, a few wrong reasons deserve attention.

Do not start an SM support group to:

  • make money
  • find sex partners
  • promote yourself (or your business)
  • compete with (or hurt) others

Recently, Bob and Mary (not their real names) decided to create a PEP-club in Maryland. In conversing with Bob, I heard over and over again how the group would be a big money-maker and how Mary (a professional dominatrix) would garner lots of clients from the venture. In addition, Bob mentioned another local SM organization where he and Mary felt shunned--a group "doing things all wrong." So he and Mary were planning some competition for the "bad guys" by way of the new group. But an SM support network based primarily on accumulating wealth, self aggrandizement and hurtful competition is no doubt doomed to failure. Not that a group couldn't--in theory--produce income. Not that such a group won't lend validity and viability to those who lead it, and not that two or three SM groups cannot co-exist in the same general locale--in such a fashion, by the way, that ALL the groups benefit from one another through synergistic relationships as opposed to a situation of cut-throat competition, distrust, mistrust, and lack of communication. And as for improving one's sex appeal, no doubt those who accept the time, effort, exposure, and expense of leading an SM club become more desirable (and lauded) in the eyes of our fetish community. But personal gain--while not to be eschewed or ignored--should not be the main goal in starting your support system.

I like to believe that altruistic goals are best when creating a group, but I'm not sure that's true. I've often stated that PEP was born out of my own desperation, loneliness, isolation, fears, and frustrations. PEP exists today because I craved the camaraderie of people who shared or accepted my own sexual obsessions. Yes, of course, I hoped to help others via PEP. I hoped to structure a haven for those of us who are--shall we say?--"sexually unique." But--if truth be known--PEP was propelled primarily by the needs of my own heart, soul, mind, and genitals.

The early organizations for sexual perverts are marked by histories of struggle--the struggles of the founders to create and keep their groups alive despite financial turbulence, societal pressures, censorship, legal battles, internal group strife. Henry Hay of the Mattachine Society (first successful Gay organization); Pat Bond of Eulenspiegle; the late Cynthia Slatter of Society of Janus in California (second oldest SM support group in the US)--all faced battles and barriers to the formation and survival of their groups. We need not assume that SM groups during the 1990's won't see their own ups and downs as well. Be prepared for sacrifice--or, at least be aware of the potential for sacrifice while recognizing, too, the potential for joy and for personal benefit.

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In The Beginning, or "If You Build It, They Will Come"

It is not necessary to call around trying to "get a feel" for who might be interested in an SM support group, and it certainly is not necessary to extract commitments of attendance from fetish aficionados before forging ahead with your group. You need not communicate for months via the local bondage BBS (computer bulletin board service) to learn if others agree with your idea, and don't bother publishing an exploratory classified ad to gauge the viability of an SM network.

You may recall the refrain from the movie, Field of Dreams: "If you build it, they will come" (referring to a premonition that long dead baseball heroes will re-appear for one last game if only a new ball field is molded out of farmland). That same refrain relates to the formation of SM support groups: "If you build it, they will come." Find the conference room. Schedule the dates. Secure the speakers. Set up a voice message to announce group information. Place a few classified blurbs touting your events. And people will come--men in boots; women in garter belts and heels; (guys in garter belts and heels!); leatherdykes on motorcycles; gay boys with earrings, nose rings, and dick rings; housewives with collars and exposed nipples. If you build it, they will come.

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Where To Meet

Consider holding your first meeting, by the way, in a public space--in a church, for instance, or in a hotel conference room, or at a community center. This will lend credibility to your group and provide attendees with a sense of safety. After all, visiting an SM group for the first time can seem threatening or scary. How many tales I've heard of men and women discovering a PEP ad, showing up at the rendezvous spot and approaching the door only to turn around and rush away, frightened of what they may encounter, but more frightened, perhaps, of facing head-on their own sexuality at that moment.

My first PEP gatherings were held at Common Bond Gay Community Center in Albuquerque. But the local Lesbians complained about an SM club there. The women felt they might be "attacked" by our members. (I tried to explain that most of the guys would prefer if the Lesbians attacked them, but PEP nevertheless was ousted from Common Bond amidst much controversy and fanfare.)

Next we shifted to a class room at University of New Mexico. But a janitor turned us in for displaying "pornographic material," thus PEP was forced to depart the hallowed halls of academia. The Albuquerque group then congregated in churches, offices, and in the homes of members before finally renting its own official "PEP House," a duplex in suburbia.

PEP-DC first convened at Rockville Unitarian Church. But soon bonafide church-goers infiltrated PEP as spies and later told us--nicely, as it turned out!-- that "PEP's philosophy was not in keeping with the philosophy of the Unitarian Church." (In pondering how the "spies" arrived at this conclusion, we determined it was an animated discussion on fisting that did us in--where long-time Leatherman, the late Bob Key, raised his arm and, pointing to his elbow, stated: "I got my whole arm in up to here!")

In recent years, I've noticed less resistance in reserving meeting rooms for PEP. Perhaps the times are changing with respect to the acceptance and validity of SM as a sexual preference. At any rate, PEP is honored to have been booted out of the conference halls of some most prestigious organizations!

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Events -- Who? What?

Before advertising the new group, schedule at least two events about a week apart. Thus, when folks call your message line (an automated voice system which announces group information) they'll hear of both gatherings and assume the group is on-going and not a fly-by-night scheme. And if callers cannot attend the initial function, perhaps they will visit the second (or third) get-together!

Meetings Number One and Two should be informational, cerebral, fascinating, enticing. (Save for later--though it, too, may be "enticing"!--the penis-piercing demo by the macho-man resembling Mr. Clean. (Group members may feel more comfortable with one another at that future meeting, plus more educated about the many possibilities of SM.)

Your first presentations should in no way involve topics or activities which could be misconstrued as illegal or dangerous. No fisting demos, for example. No sexual penetration of any kind! A discussion of the Daddy-girl/Daddy-boy phenomenon might fare best in a seasoned group where there's less chance vice cops might peg your club as catering to pedophiles.

What talks should you schedule?--A few of my favorites for new groups:

  • Recruit an attorney to discuss "Sex, S&M, and the Law." Members are often up-tight at the start of a new SM support group and an expert may reassure everyone about what is or is not sexually acceptable in the eyes of the local authorities. Where to find your legal pundit? Call the Bar Association, the ACLU, or the law department of any university.
  • Schedule a talk on "Safe SM" by your local AIDS agency. Some of the hottest presentations I've seen involved the subject of safe sex where AIDS educators arrived with phalluses, condoms, and other devices geared toward having fun without risking the infamous "exchange of bodily fluids." By the way, often the volunteers who man the AIDS organizations are themselves SM participants. Therefore, when scheduling the lecture make sure you explain the nature of your support group. Request a speaker who possesses--if possible--some familiarity with SM. You may be surprised at who shows up! In Washington, for instance, the AIDS expert--a man with a body to beat Arnold Schwarzeneger's!--arrived in full leather regalia toting a black bag of fetish toys.
  • Recruit a hip minister for a "Sex and Religion" talk. To locate a "hip minister," try the Unitarian Church or a Gay congregation.
  • Schedule a psychology guru to discuss the paraphilias, and how and where SM fits in with other unique sexual behaviors. Make sure your speaker is "SM-friendly"--i.e., open-minded, objective, and truthful regarding our special brand of erotica--not someone dealing in negative sexual stereotypes! The psychology department of any university (or the human development department) may provide leads as to such speakers.

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Benevolent Dictator

I do not recommend running your support group democratically. In the early era of PEP, I tried to please everyone. Thus for every major decision, I called a meeting to brainstorm towards an "answer," a "solution," or a "better way." If more members favored lowering of party fees, I reduced the price. If members insisted PEP events originate at nine p.m. instead of 7:00, we congregated at the later hour. This democratic method, however, proved cumbersome and time consuming. Plus, for almost every soul who preferred the nine o'clock rendezvous, another could be found decrying the new policy! In addition, this wimpy management strategy left the group without a sense of strong leadership.

I recall one gathering where PEP member Diane persisted in chatting during a lecture, competing-- loudly at moments-- with the scheduled presentation. I shushed her a couple of times, but she took umbrage at my attempts to insure respect for the official speaker. Later, Diane pulled me aside and told me she felt I was wrong to silence her beforehand. She believed the audience had every right to chit-chat, even during a presentation!

"I want you to call a meeting right now, Nancy," Diane insisted. "Let's take a vote and see how many people agree with me, and how many side with you."

Fortunately, Diane's demand fell after I'd reconsidered my policy on group democracy. And although she didn't realize it (she had skipped the business meeting where I announced my new method of leadership), PEP by now had metamorphosed into a benevolent dictatorship, where I was boss. A nice boss --yes. A boss who listened well and who took all suggestions into consideration and then made her own decisions. A boss--a leader--who ruled kindly, in a Dale Carnegie fashion. But, nevertheless: A boss.

In PEP's early days, I might have embraced Diane's demand, called an emergency meeting to discuss her feelings, held a vote, and then acted according to group wishes. But now I responded differently. I explained to Diane that it is inappropriate to speak while another is speaking--especially while a scheduled guest is speaking! I encouraged Diane to create her own group with its own rules, since she wasn't pleased with PEP. If she chose to attend PEP, however, she'd best refrain from conversing during the official meeting, unless, of course, she herself held the floor!

What have I learned about leadership since the early days of PEP? Do not fear it. Do not allow the "Dianes" of the world to shake and sway you--to sour your joy of the group. Solicit suggestions and advice. Respect what your hear. And then act according to your own judgment. You do not require a board of directors to guide you. You need not feel everyone must love you or your choices. Always do what you feel is best for the group. Some of your ideas may not pan out, but if you govern with honesty and with the strength of your convictions, the group should flourish under your compassionate leadership.

Tip: Anyone leading--or hoping to lead--an SM group should consider memorizing Dale Carnegie's masterpiece, How to Win Friends and Influence People. In fact, any person alive and well and not subsisting in an cellar isolated from other beings should embrace this landmark dissertation on self-development, the human condition, and human communication. Among many topics, the book discusses the value of a smile, why no one ever wins an argument, the futility of criticism, plus the importance of good listening (and how to do it!). If you wish to succeed in life, in love, in work, and with your SM support group, read Dale Carnegie, please!

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About The Author

Nancy Ava Miller still plans new S&M groups for the future. Next stop?--Possibilities include Anchorage, Vancouver, Minneapolis.

Nancy Ava Miller's website