I’m always hearing that the world of kink doesn’t have enough mentoring, or that we used to have mentors but we’re losing that tradition. Our communities have multiplied, fragmented and spread out across the breadth of the Internet. Everyone doesn’t go to the same bar and belong to the same club like they used to.
Lots of people are learning our craft through books and online videos and message boards and maybe in-person classes where they listen to a presenter talk for two hours and then they leave, all without ever connecting to a more substantial community where they might be able to form relationships with elders and learn all the things that online videos are less good at teaching: social graces, community values, or the comfort and confidence that can grow from having a role model who’s walked the path before you. I hear from so many kinky folk that they feel isolated and wanting for connection and guidance.
If any of that resonates for you — if you wish you saw more community and more connection, more passing down of values and helping people find a happy healthy place in the world of kink — I’d like to invite you to change it.
I run a mentoring program with the Society for Janus. At heart our program is a matchmaking service between mentors and mentees, and something I’m noticing is that a huge part of what we do is just give people permission to mentor someone. Many people who make great mentors think that they aren’t experienced enough or aren’t knowledgeable enough, that they’re too young or not well enough established in their community — or it just has never occurred to them that they could be a mentor for someone. All they needed was for someone with an official-sounding title to come along and invite them to start mentoring.
Certainly forty-year scene veterans can make for great mentors, but so can two-year scene veterans. There are ways in which having a mentor who is only a shorter distance farther down the path than you are can even be more valuable. They “grew up” in a kink world more similar to the one you’re in today, and the early stages are still fresher in their minds.
So I’m giving you permission right now. If you aren’t completely fresh off the turnip boat yourself, and you’d like to see more continuity and more community in your community: mentor someone. Offer a hand up to someone who’s new come to your circles, but sincere in their interest. If they take you up on it, be a resource for their questions and a friendly face to make events less intimidating. Be a role model and show them the best etiquette and ethics you’ve learned. Help them connect to other folks and start to feel like they’re part of something, not just a consumer who paid $25 to get into a party.
Some simple guidelines for how to do that and have it go well:
- Mentor someone who you don’t want to fuck.
Erotic or romantic interest complicates the living hell out of mentoring. Lots of folks have gotten a bad impression of the whole concept of mentoring because they associate it with chickenhawks mobbing the fresh meat with offers to “mentor” their pants off. Don’t be that guy. Mentoring works best when you find someone who’s on a path that’s similar to your own rather than someone you’re attracted to. If you like beating people, look for a mentee who also likes beating people, not one who likes to get beat.
- Asking can be awkward.
Many of the best mentors I’ve known are modest enough to recoil from the idea of putting themselves forward as someone’s mentor. Of course, it’s awkward on the other side too — it’s hard to walk up to somebody and ask “Will you mentor me.” One good approach is to let other established members of your community know that you’re available to be a mentor. Then when they meet a newcomer who they think might be a good fit they can make the introduction.
- They set their direction.
Mentoring shouldn’t be like teaching high school, where the teachers set the curriculum and try to drum the things they consider important into their bored pupils’ heads. A mentor helps someone move forward along their own agenda. You don’t have to create a program of education; you answer questions, you present options, you help them think through what they want to learn, and you point them in the right direction to find what they want.
- Connect; don’t isolate.
A hallmark of really bad mentoring is when you try to set yourself up as someone’s only source of wisdom and support. Even if you’re the smartest, best and most awesome kinkster around, people learn better and find their place in community better when they get to hear from multiple voices and see multiple styles of being kinky. A good mentor works to connect their mentee to other people, groups, books, etc. to help broaden their horizons.
- Don’t waste your time.
Not everybody’s prepared to make good use of having a mentor. If you’re trying to mentor someone and they’re regularly flaking on you, never actually follow through on the options that you offer them, or seem to be expecting you to do everything for them — don’t keep throwing away your valuable time and attention. A mentee should be putting as much effort into the mentoring relationship as you are, and should be demonstrating (not just talking about) that their kinky development is a genuine priority in their life.