We all remember our first time. Ask any member of the pet-play community—or the adjacent Leather, BDSM, or kink communities for that matter—and they probably have a story about this one person that they connected with that one time they went to their first event. You know, that one welcoming person who let them know they belonged.
That feeling is what this whole episode is about. We’re going to talk about the importance of welcoming people into pet-play spaces. You’ll hear what first-timers can do to make the most of their visit to an event or space. We’ll also discuss what regular, established members of any community, group, or venue can do to make that extra difference for someone new to make sure their visit is memorable, and that they’ll come back again later on.
To do that, this episode will be a bit different from others. It’s more narrative-driven than usual because feeling welcome only happens in specific contexts. We have to explore those contexts for this episode to really resonate. So I’ve lined up a few stories for you—enough that this is a two-part episode! (Check out Part 2 when you’re finished with this one.) Each episode starts with a brief example from my local community that shows just how important, how simple, and how potentially forgettable it can be to make new folks feel welcome. Then I’ll bring you stories from other folks who go out of their way to make sure new people feel welcome in their regular spaces, and you’ll hear directly from folks who benefitted from those efforts. In each of these cases, the person who felt welcomed reached out to me with the story, and the person who welcomed them was kind enough to join us for the interview.
What I notice from all these stories is not just the importance of actively reaching out and bringing people in to make them feel welcome in our spaces, but also the humility many folks bring to the process. When it’s done right, welcoming a new person into the space can feel effortless and simple. But at the same time, doing it right takes conscious thought and effort from everyone involved.
This two-part episode uses narrative to illustrate points, so it’s slower and less direct than normal, but that helps convey the importance and impact of welcoming newcomers. To emphasize each guest’s central insights, here are some simple guides for how best to navigate situations, spaces, and events—from both sides of the newbie/regular equation, as presented at the end of the second episode.
- Before an event, connect with someone online and plan to find them at the venue (or earlier that day if you’re not comfortable getting to the location yourself).
- At the event, if you didn’t arrive with a friend, first find your touchstone. Ask that person for introductions.
- Don’t be afraid to take up space and start a conversation. These are your people, regardless of whether you know them yet.
- In new conversations, share your name, story (are you collared?), interests, and needs. Ask for help finding others with shared interests (because the people you meet probably know the room already).
- Remember it’s okay if you don’t click with the first person you meet. Talk with a variety to improve your chances of connection.
- If you need a break, leave the space. Step outside for a bit, use the bathroom, etc. Avoid using your phone in the crowd because you become a ghost—there but not present.
- After you take a break, re-enter the space and select one person to reconnect with. Show you’re there to participate.
- Be on the lookout for newbies, wallflowers, or those who look overwhelmed. Call them in and introduce yourself. Ask who they are, where they’re from, what their name means, what their collar signifies, what their interests are, etc.
- Volunteer to introduce new folks to other individuals. Build connections, but emphasize individuals, not groups. People who thrive on group energy probably won’t be wallflowers in the first place.
- Be careful gravitating to the same people each time. Go find new people chat with on each visit. Particularly look for people who don’t look like you. Team up with difference to build broader community.
- Remember that everyone in the kink community has felt excluded by our society in some way. Buck that trend by actively including—not merely tolerating—newcomers.
- Consciously make space for people to easily enter your conversations—show with your body placement that folks are welcome to join you.
- Remember that a simple smile and gesture of inclusion from you can make all the difference in the world to someone unfamiliar with the event.
- Attend to specific first-timer needs in marketing or on your website. Include transit/parking info, especially the hyper-local tricks. (e.g. “Free parking after 6 if you go down to 3rd street” or “the L train doesn’t run this late, so take the A train instead”)
- Describe the dress code norms or boundaries. (“Wear what makes you comfortable” doesn’t work because newbies don’t know what will comfortably fit in until they arrive. Suggest norms. “You’ll find some folks in X, some in Y, and most in Z.”)
- Note differences between street- and venue-appropriate attire and how/when to transition from one to the other. (“Most folks bring a circuit bag, and there’s a shelf to put them on once you enter and change.” Or, “There’s a $5 cash-only coat check once you’re inside and take off your street clothes.” Or, “It’s the NYC MTA. They’ve seen stranger things than your gear. Consider not covering your face unless you’re on someone’s leash, but otherwise you do you.”)
- Normalize outreach. This could just be through cultural precedent, or through designated welcoming ambassadors, or by self-nominated nightly helpers. But make sure the event intentionally caters to new arrivals, not just regulars, and make sure your ambassadors are identified to the crowd, whether that be through signage or a quick announcement on the mic, etc.