by Catherine Gross

Speech for M/s Gathering – April 22nd, 2016

Thank you for asking me to speak. It’s a particular honor to speak at a conference whose workshops are composed by those attending and not the voice of one educator at a time.

Speeches are generally about what is not quite right and highlight a call to action. I can imagine how at least half of this crowd doesn’t appreciate being told what to do. While it might be entertaining for me to fantasize that I could tell the gathered community what to do—it certainly would be unrealistic. Sometimes realism is better than fantasy.

I recall what my fantasies were when I first discovered M/s. I have had a long learning path and my world looks very different from those initial thoughts. As most of us do, I set about learning everything I could and wanted to do whatever I was going to do well. I know I am not alone in this line of thought—we work hard to create our best outcomes.

We, individually and as communities, focus so much on improvement. We focus on what we need to fix and do better in various communities. We focus our education on bettering our skills and improving our relationships. Yes, it’s a worthy endeavor and it is a necessary evaluation from time to time.

We each know that everything is not perfect and we need to make a course direction change occasionally. We make course corrections out of necessity, like boats that stray from their charted course. Whether it’s the wind, the tide or a mistake that sends us into unwanted territory – we’re going to respond with action to get ourselves back on track. We’re going to make that course correction by being aware of what isn’t quite right.

We do it with our careers. We do it in our relationships and we do it in our communities.

We all know how to chase “better.” I believe every last one of you have chased better in every area of your life, probably for most of your life. Chasing better has you focused on any aspect of your world and your community that is not up to speed. Chasing better also demands that you carry a burden. How are you feeding your soul when you’re charged to carry a burden for yourself and your communities? Is the weight increased when these burdens are linked to the idea of worthiness?

An example is a frequent discussion that M/s is misunderstood in other communities and therefore others will disrespect people practicing M/s because those others don’t get M/s. You know what? Lots of other people who aren’t practicing M/s get it. They are happy to make space for us to be exactly as we are if we are willing to not judge them for how they choose to live. However, if we continue to focus on how misunderstood we are, I’m certain we will find people who do misunderstand M/s. If we focus on that dichotomy, it may influence us to be watchful and suspicious. Our own focus could easily create a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s getting back to basics, if you give respect generally you will receive respect.

I wonder what we’re doing. Are we attempting to warn new M/s pairs that they might have a hard time and be misunderstood? Why? Do you really think they don’t know what it is to feel different already? We all know what it is to feel isolated and fear the judgment of others. No one needs to experience M/s to understand that basic discomfort that most breathing people have experienced. Do we really think if we educate others, that we will have an easier road? If education is the antidote, why have we not seen less judgment in our educated M/s communities? I have to wonder if some of the judgment in our communities does assert itself through chasing better. Is there an idea that if you aren’t hustling for something better than you aren’t really working your M/s? Are relationships supposed to be 24/7 labor? And what are you saying about the current state of your relationship when you place it in the category of requiring that much work?

Chasing better also firmly roots you in the fantasy of what the future might be. Usually those future fantasies of how things “should” be are fairly simplistic. They start with sentences like, “If only this was different then (please insert the thing you don’t like) would be better.” Well yes, if only the world was different but guess what? It isn’t. It’s one thing to create a plan for better and execute. While talking about what you don’t want might provide parameters for you to know something about yourself, it doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere. It’s basic quantum physics. Energy follows intention. Given this line of thought—what do you think happens to us as individuals and as communities when we focus ourselves so tightly on the many aspects of what is not quite right in communities?

We create burdens; we create less happiness if our majority focus hovers on the negative. We drain our communities of needed energy and decrease the likelihood of better outcomes personally and collectively.

What if our focus on what “is not quite right” only accounted for 20% of our attention on our communities and ourselves? Imagine how energized people would be if they only spent 20% of their time mired in the muck? Consider how it would feel if 20% of your time was focused on problems and the rest of your time was spent on anything and everything but problems.

Being well balanced provides great energy to map a well-charted course. This type of energy creates a willingness where work no longer feels like work. This level of energy creates people who are up for a challenge and can do the work. It is those people who can move forward and fashion innovative thought that breaks with the past providing solid solutions for the future. Those are the people I want vested in our communities.

Consider focusing on what is good and healthy in your personal relationships and apply it to your relationship with yourself. Also apply it to how you relate to your communities. Take a moment to consider that reality fully and to find out if that creates a framework shift for the better.

As your official Polly Anna of the many communities to which I claim membership— I think we have somewhere else to focus the rest of our attention. I want to focus our attention on being yar. It is an antiquated nautical term. Katherine Hepburn defined yar in the Philadelphia Story as, “Easy to handle, quick to the helm, fast, bright, everything a boat should be.”

We, at our best, are yar. We can be yar when we’re sitting still and when we are flying across the water deftly. There are aspects of our communities that do not need a fix. Our communities do not need to be fixed every waking moment. It’s not as if change will stop if we stop focusing on change—it won’t. We will organically shift. We already know it. In gratitude and recognition to the heaps of work which has already has been done, let’s recognize what is intact, bright and well done. To be healthy people who participate in healthy communities, sometimes we need to stop doing and recognize the being of ourselves. We need to know with certainty what exists that is well done and pretty great in our communities, our relationships, and ourselves.

What we are doing well is how we work in groups. We don’t rely on one person to do all the work of our communities. We have educators, vendors, authors, volunteers and thousands of people who show up in hundreds of capacities. We tap into many sources of available talent.

We create the ability to expose ourselves to many variations of M/s relationships. We listen to differing narratives. We have hundreds of classes at our disposal. There are studies, books, blogs, social sites and social media. Our access to varied information makes us quick to the helm, meaning we can adjust to the new circumstance we suddenly see before us. And we know that new circumstances will arrive personally and in our communities.

We are willing to discuss the private details of our relationships. This type of exposure and disclosure is previously unheard of- not even therapists expect to hear the truth as it exists between couples at the first therapy session. But we will walk into a classroom, meet for one hour, and reveal ourselves. Our willingness to be open to one another regarding our personal lives is admirable. This only begins to highlight the generosity we afford one another. It is remarkable.

We encourage each other to try. We encourage bravery in the face of uncertain outcomes within our relationships. It’s easy to proceed when you have a sure outcome. There is not a certain charted course to reach the depths of multi-decade relationships. We plunge forward in our communities without knowing where we are going or having a neat, tidy, pre-ordained destination. This bravery and willingness to step forward in uncertain circumstances is part of becoming “easy to handle” in being yar. If you can weather uncertainly with bravery, you can cooperatively handle the stormy moments in your relationships and in your communities. And so we have, many times.

We have a culture that asks us to know ourselves well. This is no an easy feat nor one that can be completed and forever checked off our to do list. We ask each other to know ourselves and then act accordingly. We ask each other to be true to yourself after you know the who, the what, and the how, of you. We actually mean it and on occasion reward those who are unique.

We ask each other in our relationships to leave nothing unspoken. We delve deeply into one another. We ask to hear what we may not like but we commit to knowing those items about one another. We ask that we disclose our expectations and relational requirements. We ask each other to be transparent, again and again.

Our systems of correction and consequence allow us to address issues that otherwise could lay and fester eventually ending the relationship if untended.

What we are doing well is continuing to keep a commitment to learning. We do not settle into being like a Pinterest photo—clearly identified, captioned and pinned in the exact 3 x 4 spot. The attendees of this conference are the living proof of it. You treat each other with respect and with equal standing. Many of you have been in relationships that far exceed the average of three years, and yet, here you are- listening, contributing and creating the dense discussions that will take place this weekend. Not all of these discussions are comfortable but we will have them regardless.

These discussions are part of knowing yourself, being yourself, actualizing it in your relationships. The process of learning and knowing is the brightwork of being yar. Brightwork refers to polishing the metalwork on your boat and keeping it shiny. Given the changes in weather and the many seasons, you expect to do the brightwork on a regular ongoing basis. We do the brightwork of being yar.

We build confidence and a sense of competence in ourselves by addressing our fears. We take fearful moments and at times even find a way to eroticize it. In other words, we learn how to take fear and make it another pathway to intimacy. That’s a holy cow wow moment. Fear can be a great roadblock to intimacy and we have created paths to make it a useful tool for greater personal connection fostering trust.

We grow up and stop needing someone to hand us a user manual on how to be. We encourage each other chart our own course and find our own horizons.

We have created a culture that appreciates those who are aging and we value those who have not yet aged.

We don’t allow ourselves to be trapped by our own labels. We expand them, personalize them with the expectation that we will self-define and self-determine. We move past constructing a social self through our labels, containing but a portion of who are as a social beings and defined by how we are with others. Instead we become fully realized in our essential self-identity inclusive of the whole being. We are living well according to our own self-identities and our own good opinion.

Our communities consist of great variance in sexual preference, gender, race, age, kink, sexual interest, relationship style, and our kink style. For some, what they do is what they are and it is their personal identity. For others it is not an identity. It is a type of sex or way of being in a relationship that they choose to employ sometimes. Each approach has something to offer.

What we do well is having events and gatherings where the focus is on one facet and one area of commonality. As M/s people, we need our space to talk about what we do, who we are and how we might choose to live in M/s. We also do well to have events that intentionally invite divergent ways of thinking and being. I am certain that kink events have contributed to the betterment of my M/s. Kink reminds me to be playful. Kink reminds me that not everything should be serious all the time. Both types of events remind me to be in celebration and think outside of the box of M/s.

We do well to be inclusive and we do well to be exclusive. One of our assets is that sometimes we open a door and sometimes we close the door. I would be an entirely different person without having had the opportunity to be included in many communities and to be in front of and behind a closed door. My life has been exceptional due to many communities. I have been asked to give classes for groups who based themselves on a commonality that I did not share.

An example is the occasions I have attended men’s events where perhaps there was 1 woman for every 100 men. In one such instance, I was given entry to their play space, as they knew I was curious about what I might learn from men’s only space. I initially declined feeling my presence would change something essential in their space. Again, the invitation was pressed saying I had taught them for days, let them teach me. I told them I would only accept under specific terms. I would sit in a corner, speak to no one, be adorned in a manner that clearly signaled I was to be ignored in full. Those terms allowed me to be respectful of a space I have no business being in. I came in before they started, faded into the background interacting with no one. I sat for hours, watched, learned, felt and what I can say is that I know what my experience of men’s only space is. I know another complicated layer was added to who I am. I can also say, I do not know what men’s only space is because I am not a gay man. It is not that gay men are sacred. They aren’t. But their self-defined space is sacred. My self-defined space is sacred.

So is yours. Your self-defined space is sacred.
If you do not choose to stand within yourself and your community admiring what is truly good, you are losing a great opportunity of standing within what is sacred and meaningful. When we stop looking at what is not quite right, we are more likely to enjoy personally meaningful space. We are more likely to experience our essential self-identity without being critical and demanding improvement.

I am not the owner I was in 1996 in 2016. I don’t want to be either. On the one hand, I have great appreciation for how I cut my teeth and how I went about my relationships in 1996. I can appreciate the beauty of my younger self’s systems and her structure. However, some of her structure, I personally have no use for today. Is my younger self’s structure useful information? Yes. Is it authentic for me now? No. Part of my being yar is my willingness to let go of what no longer serves me.

Am I an improved version of my younger self? No. I do not want to judge my younger self as somehow being unworthy because she didn’t know what I know now. She was a sight to behold. I admire anyone who can play in back to back scenes for the better part of a day while wearing five-inch heels. I admire people who can wield authority unapologetically and command a happy household. I admire her for living through her mistakes, owning them and still showing up as head of household without having a crisis of faith in her M/s. Part of being yar is our willingness to know the past without judging it to be better or worse. We allow what exists currently to be enough.

What we have done well in M/s is that we have not sequestered ourselves into one way of being or believing there is only one type of M/s, we do well when we know it’s time to make a course correction and be yar.

In Anna Hartman’s book, “Many Ways of Knowing,” she wrote, “The editor takes the position that there are many truths and there are many ways of knowing. Each discovery contributes to our knowledge, and each way of knowing deepens our understanding and adds another dimension to our view of the world.”

Knowing what is good in yourself and your communities is essential. Focusing intentionally on what is yar is a state of being that fosters gratitude, satisfaction, fulfillment and happiness. Being true to your self is the greatest state of self-care. Doing your own brightwork on a regular basis keeps you yar. Attending to your brightwork doesn’t need to be a daily hustle—a little bit of sea salt might sting the eyes and dull the shine but that is the reality of living. From time to time, you need to let the sea salt be there while you sail across your own open sea.

When Katherine Hepburn spoke those scripted words defining yar, she was referencing a boat called, “The True Love.” She was holding a model of the boat wistfully gazing at the whole of the boat. I hope you take in the whole of your communities and of yourself. I hope you allow the not quite right to fade out of your focus long enough to envision the present moment and a future that is defined by what we all do well.

Perhaps in doing so you will find your own True Love and you also will know, without a doubt, we are yar.

Thank you.