Thousands of people every year, all over the world, learn that they're kinky. This happens through small, private, erotic acts of discovery. They stumble across a porn site where something catches the eye -- a horse bit in a performer's mouth.
The messages people everywhere are taught about sex often squash and quell these discoveries. When we are taught that two-person, monogamous relationships (both queer and straight) are the only ones worth validating; when we are taught to fear "alternative" sexual lifestyles and those who live them; when a distrust of desire is fostered by nearly every social institution, from entertainment to religion, the prospect of learning about kink is daunting. Shame, stigma, and lack of resources create challenges.
Kinksters (kinky people) in isolated areas struggle to find playmates and support. Without a universal bible of BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism), many make mistakes along the way, accidentally hurting themselves or others.
Patrick Smith wants to change that.
Last Monday, the Canadian-American LGBT activist and International Mister Leather 2015 launched Leatherpedia.org--the first online database for kink, leather, and BDSM. The goal of Leatherpeida is to be comprehensive; to be a one-stop shop for curious, beginner kinksters.
In less than a week, the site has over 440 user registrations and 75 entries -- and more are being added daily.
"Keeping information factual and accurate is a concern for any wiki," Smith tells The Advocate. "We are trying to strike a balance between not censoring our contributors and at the same time making sure visitors get the best and most accurate information possible."
Smith says all entries are checked by site administrators daily.
Like Wikipedia, Leatherpedia.org relies entirely on contributor content. Content is currently organized into categories -- People, City, Knowledge, Business, and Titles. Under "People," noted kinky figures like Smith himself will have bios. In "Business," fetish retailers can describe their goods and services -- a potentially invaluable resource for remote kinksters in need of proper gear.
Smith got his start in community activism when he competed for the title of International Mister Leather -- a leather pageant and competition that highlights competitors' community outreach. IML is held every year in Chicago and draws thousands of kinky folks from all over the world.
After winning the top spot in 2015, Smith embarked on a year of international travel to learn about the plights of queer people in places outside the United States and Europe. He traveled to Uganda to meet with LGBT leaders there to see what could be done to combat the severe antigay laws and stigma in that country.
Smith quickly realized how great a need existed for reliable kink education.
"I spent Thanksgiving meeting with LGBT advocacy groups and the broader community in Trinidad and Tobago," Smith says. "I thought the conversation would be focused on their rights in that country, but numerous people spent a surprising amount of time asking me about Shibari [Japanese rope bondage]. They had the interest, but didn't have an easy resource to learn about it."
With the involvement of kinky folks everywhere, Leatherpedia.org can be that resource.
The site comes at a time when there is discussion among folks in the scene about how leather tradition should be preserved. Old Guard and New Guard leather practitioners have different approaches to kink tradition. Many New Guard kinksters say the "opening up" of leather culture -- thanks largely to the internet -- makes kink and BDSM more welcoming to everyone. They argue that more accessible information invariably keeps people safer.
Few kinksters on either side of the debate deny how the internet has impacted the scene, particularly in light of pop culture phenomenons like Fifty Shades of Grey.
"I am very enthusiastic about honoring tradition," Smith says, "but where this community gets in trouble is when we prescribe how someone must dress or act based on what may or may not have been done in the past. It's important to chronicle and honor past practices, but our future shouldn't be constrained by them."
That, Smith says, is why Leatherpedia.org exists -- so that traditions can be handed down and not forgotten, but made accessible to newcomers, and to kinky folks in places like Trinidad and elsewhere.
"This is a project that will only succeed with a broad cross section of people contributing their knowledge of leather and kink," Smith says.
Patrick Smith will promote the new site at International Mister Leather 2017, which runs from May 25-29 in Chicago.
Smith needs your help to make Leatherpedia.org the most thorough and reliable resource it can be. Click here to create an account. Want to know more? Like and follow Leatherpedia on Facebook and Twitter.
ALEXANDER CHEVES is a kinky writer and blogger. He writes the Sexy Beast column for The Advocate and is the social media manager and copywriter forFort Troff. Follow him on Twitter @BadAlexCheves.