CN: This post briefly mentions some anti-BDSM prejudice; one of the footnotes also mentions TERFs and fascists. There are also brief references to heteronormativity and to the underrepresentation of BPOC and disabled people in the (queer) kink community.
Before we start, an important note on language: In this post, I’m talking a lot about the 1990s and early 2000s and partly use the language we used then to describe groups, events, and media I encountered. It’s crucial to understand that back then, ‘lesbian,’ or ‘dyke’ as a descriptor on book titles, event flyers, and in articles about the community was commonly understood to include not just cis women, but also some trans women as well as some nonbinary or genderqueer identities (as we’d call them today), especially on the butch spectrum. It also included many bisexual/pansexual women. ‘Women’s’ kink communities tried to be more inclusive of the bi/pan women who had been there from the beginning by using ‘women who do BDSM with women’ instead of ‘lesbian’ in event descriptions (and eventually further adapted the wording to be more inclusive of transmasculine people, too). Not everyone in the ‘lesbian’ community wanted all of these people to be included, and their inclusion was often contested and conditional, but they were still there — and were expected to be there by the vast majority of us. Also, all of this language was/is in constant flux, just like the community it described. Please keep this in mind when you read on. 
For me, BDSM has always been a community thing.
I was (consciously) introduced to BDSM at a (vanilla) lesbian conference in the mid-1990s. At this event, BDSM (or SM, as we called it back then ) was mostly framed as something terrible, abusive, and deeply patriarchal, but nevertheless: the topic was unmistakably present — as well as several dykes in leather and/or fishnets. And while I found those SM dykes way too awe-inspiring to talk to (as the brand-new baby dyke I was at the time), I still noticed that the actual people and their public behavior didn’t seem to have much in common with all the warnings about them. In fact, I distinctly remember them as exceedingly respectful, fun, and, well, attractive. I also learned that they apparently traveled in groups.
After that event, and true to form as a budding sex nerd, I did what I always did when a topic intrigued me: I went to search for more information and more perspectives on the matter of BDSM, especially between women. I first found some feminist books and articles which were almost all against SM . The topic kept coming up every now and then in my lesbian and/or feminist social circle, but the most positive attitude towards BDSM I encountered was something along the lines of “well, everyone does problematic stuff, and SM is just another example of that.” So I kept looking.
Since I was already immersed in lesbian and queer communities, I knew there was a monthly meet-up for SM dykes at the local LGBTQ+ center. I never dared to go there on my own, mostly because I didn’t even know yet if I really was into BDSM or just thought I might be. But when I saw that this group was going to host a public discussion about a BDSM topic at the LGBTQ+ center, I decided that this was my chance and talked a vanilla friend into accompanying me. Two or three real-life(!) SM(!) dykes(!) talked about their kinky life and patiently answered some “BDSM 101” questions from the audience of curious and mostly female queers. The fact that I now at least knew some faces helped a lot with finding the courage to finally go to one of the meet-ups. Which was ridiculously small (I think we were four or five people?). I was a bit disappointed, especially since we had practically nothing in common besides an interest in some aspect of BDSM. I went a few times but ultimately concluded that this particular group just wasn’t my crowd.
Around the same time, I began to have a bit of internet access in the university computer lab. I found the website of a national network of “women who did SM with women,” which had a small archive, a book list, and a few links to U.S. resources about lesbian/queer BDSM. This is how I found the website of Patrick Califia, one of the most groundbreaking leather dykes in history. Reader, I printed out everything. Then a lover introduced me to Internet Relay Chat (IRC), which had a lesbian channel and a BDSM one in my language (and some people — my lover and me included — hung out in both). Shortly thereafter, there also was a Yahoo mailinglist for SM dykes in my country. That lover also talked about doing BDSM with me, although I still wasn’t quite sure I really was into that. (I was rather slow in understanding that ‘adventurous sex with a power exchange flavor’ also counted as ‘real’ BDSM…)
It was probably through some of the internet links that I first came across explicitly pro-BDSM, sex-positive, and (usually) queer feminism. I also spent a couple of months in San Francisco in the late 1990s, which was nothing short of a revelation for me. I spent much time in second-hand book stores, buying everything I could find from queer (and mostly kinky) authors and activists like Patrick Califia, Dorothy Allison, Susie Bright, Kate Bornstein, Amber Hollibaugh, Carol Queen, Joan Nestle, Samois, and Gayle Rubin (yes, you should look up all of them!). Their writing finally offered a feminist perspective that made sense to me: Choice and consent were crucial elements in judging the ethics of any (sexual) activity. And feminism shouldn’t prescribe just another set of universal rules of ‘correct’ behavior for women to follow. Reading these books felt like tapping into a rich history and ongoing community of like-minded people who had made way for me to be as kinky, consensually non-monogamous/polyamorous, and queer as I wanted to be. These writings deeply shaped my understanding of BDSM, feminism, and queerness; they mentored me, comforted me, challenged me, and supported me at a time when I didn’t have people to do that anywhere nearby .
When I wasn’t buying books during my stay in San Francisco, I also took an all-gender queer class on peer education on HIV prevention at the Harvey Milk Institute, went to see non-commercial dyke strip shows, danced at various queer clubs, and met a bunch of gorgeous dykes — most of whom were openly kinky, it seemed. It was a budding queer femme pervert’s paradise. Going back home was like traveling back in time ten years.
Nevertheless, I eventually met some kinky dykes I could relate to. And I finally started doing some BDSM for real (which then meant ‘with proper negotiations and dedicated kink toys’ for me). In the early 00s, I began to regularly go to munches, workshops, conferences, play parties, and other events for “women who did BDSM with women.” Everything was organized and run by unpaid volunteers from this community, nothing was for profit, and the general attitude was “if you want it to exist, create it yourself.” Very soon, I started to get more involved in creating and maintaining dyke/women’s BDSM spaces as well. I helped organize a few play parties, initiated and participated in some discussion events, started and co-hosted a munch, designed and distributed flyers, participated in online forums and mailing lists, held countless private (and often educational) conversations about the topic, and worked for the inclusion of BDSM issues into larger women’s and LGBTQ+ events. I much enjoyed the overall DIY ethos that allowed me to try out lots of things, collaborate with other kinky queers, and use my skills to do something I considered important. I eventually took a break from all things kink for a few years, but as soon as I returned to the community, I immediately went back to volunteering for things. I also began moving into a teaching role and started giving various workshops on BDSM topics within my community (which I still enjoy a lot).
I also began using FetLife, which has become the central online place to find out about relevant BDSM events and occasionally discuss community issues (besides its function as my kinky address book). Despite its terrible search function for writings (and all the other things that are terrible about that platform), I’ve still managed to find some useful information about BDSM there and use the website as an additional source of my ongoing kink education. Last October I’ve begun to get involved in yet another vague community related to kink here in the kink/sex blogging world and on kink Twitter. I’ll admit that I sometimes feel a bit alienated by the predominance of cis male/cis female relationships (many of which seem to be based in marriage and 24/7 D/S) and the at times overwhelming (and usually unthinkingly careless) heteronormativity. And I still wish there were more voices in this world that come from a queer background even a little bit more like mine. But I’ve also found some awesome LGBTQ+ writers, some really nice straight (or hetero-leaning) individuals, and I enjoy getting glimpses into BDSM worlds that often are very much not like my own, especially through the various writing memes (such as Wicked Wednesday, Kink of the Week, Food for Thought, Erotic Journal Challenge, etc.).
As you can see, my actual partners in kink play a comparatively small role in all of this. Not because my relationships and my BDSM practice aren’t important, pleasurable, or influential in forming my own BDSM identity and understanding my desires, but because (most) partners have come and gone, but community has always been there, whether I’ve had a partner, or several partners, or none. And play partners also sometimes were collaborators in my community work (and community fun!). Community is also how I’ve found most of my play partners so far. It’s always been a matter of knowing someone who knows someone they introduced me to, or of attending the same events and starting to talk (and eventually play). I’ve also played a lot at play parties in recent years, more than at anyone’s home.
Both in terms of queerness and of kink, and especially in terms of the intersection of both, I’m a community person through and through. I can’t imagine a completely private queer and/or BDSM life for myself at all. It’s part of my identity as a happy queer pervert to be involved in community work, to do my part in welcoming those who’re arriving after me, in educating others about BDSM, in passing on our history, in working for greater inclusion of those who are still underrepresented (such as Black people/people of color or disabled people), in looking for and promoting ways to handle intra-community conflict that avoid exclusion of anyone as much as possible, and in generally just keeping the community going as a community. These are the people I call on when I need help. These are the people I support to the best of my ability. These are the people who have been around for almost a decade now, and who were still there even after I needed to take an extended break. These are the people who’ve challenged me in the best ways and who’ve let me challenge them. These are the people who’ve seen me at my best and at my worst. This is my family. Which probably explains why I’m so damn protective of it.
So, yeah. Go and find your community (if you want one). And if it doesn’t exist yet, start creating it. Please?
 ⇑ I’ve briefly considered updating the language to current use, but that seemed deeply ahistoric and potentially even more distorting than just using the terms we used then and leaving them as vaguely and (at times) paradoxically defined as they were then.
 ⇑ Back then ‘SM’ (or ‘S&M’ or ‘S/M’) encompassed the same variety of activities and dynamics as ‘BDSM’ does today. So this is how I’m using it in this post.
 ⇑ The most ridiculous anti-BDSM argument I remember was in one of Sheila Jeffrey’s books (yes, that’s the same Sheila Jeffreys who is a massive TERF). She claimed (and I’m paraphrasing from memory here) that BDSM practitioners would be unable to resist “fascists marching down the streets again” due our fetishizing of uniforms and consensual D/S power dynamics. Even back then, without the two decades of nuanced BDSM education and experience I now have, that seemed a highly improbable prediction. In fact, nowadays, trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) (or ‘gender critical’ ‘adult human females,’ as they like to call themselves) are among the people who most eagerly side with literal fascists. Sheila Jeffreys herself included. Feel free to draw your own conclusions from that.
 ⇑ Well, technically, one of them was a bisexual woman who was in a polyamorous D/S relationship with one of the lesbians.
 ⇑ It’s not a coincidence at all that the majority of these writers also wrote about butch/femme dynamics or identified as one or the other. For me personally, butch/femme and BDSM has always been intertwined (which might be a topic for another post sometime), especially since I discovered both of these identities and communities for myself almost at the same time. (Of course this connection is not universal. Not all kinky lesbians identify as butch/masc or femme; and not all butches/mascs and femmes are kinky.)
This is a post for the Kinktober prompt “community.”
Image source: Pixabay (rainbow-colored background figures), cropping and black drawings by me.