BARtab » Sexuality

Leather: Collective Compersion - Expanding our erotic lexicon

by Race Bannon

Terry Miller offers a (consensual!) crotch grab to a fan at the 2019 Up Your Alley Street Fair. PhotosbyDot
Terry Miller offers a (consensual!) crotch grab to a fan at the 2019 Up Your Alley Street Fair. PhotosbyDot  

It seems that every day the word compersion makes its way further into daily discourse. While its usage is by no means pervasively common, at least not yet, I've noticed it being uttered verbally or in print much more often lately. While mainstream dictionaries have yet to adopt and define the word as part of our standard lexicon, its use in everyday life appears to be here to stay.

Compersion is usually defined as a feeling of joy associated with seeing one's sexual or romantic partner having a sexual or romantic relationship with someone else. It's how I usually use the word. It's how I describe when people with whom I'm intimately connected experience happiness when intimately involved with another.

In polyamory circles references to compersion are prevalent. While the presence of compersion by no means ensures that jealousy is not also present in the dynamic between two people, I believe the increased acceptance of the concept will over time counterbalance the appearance of jealousy in relationships.

Optimistic? Yes. I admit to a bias that a world in which compersion is more readily experienced will be a better world. Time will tell if my wish blossoms into reality.

So, there's that version of compersion, the personal relationship kind. Keep that concept in your back pocket if it's not something you've embraced previously. Even if you're in a monogamous relationship, you can still feel joy when your partner interacts deeply with others, such as spending quality time with a close friend.


These beefy pups were among the many from their community hanging out at the Up Your Alley Street Fair. PhotosbyDot  

A less frequently used purpose of the word is to expand it beyond intimate relationships to include expression of happiness when others experience good things happening in their lives.

Taking pleasure in someone else's experiences isn't just about blunting jealousy. It's about broadening our capacity to love. More love for others, which translates into more love for ourselves.

Similar to jealousy, envy is its kissing cousin. We might be jealous that someone is going to take something we have from us, like our partner or the person we're dating, but envious of what someone else has that we do not. Compersion can be a perfectly legitimate reaction to what might otherwise be internal pain that jealousy or envy might elicit.

I contend compersion can represent feelings beyond its typical relationship structures — a type of antidote to those nagging struggles with societal jealousy and envy. It can apply to pleasant feelings we have towards a wider circle of people such as family, friends, associates and the general public, experiencing their own joys. I call this collective compersion.

Taken within the context of LGBTQ generally and kink cultures specifically, promulgating awareness and adoption of compersion could have a profound effect on the entire array of such communities.

We're human. It's likely we've all felt the tugs of jealousy or envy outside of our closest relationships. Wouldn't it be great if we could alleviate some of the sting of those feelings?

Words into action
So how might this play out in real leather and kink life?

Often, we witness someone within the kink scene denigrating someone else for not presenting or acting in a certain way that the accusing person feels is correct and appropriate based on their own biases. This sadly happens a lot.

You might hear statements like: they aren't dressed appropriately; their presentation is too playful and this leather stuff is serious business; they don't follow protocols; they're not a serious leather person because they're not into BDSM; that type of sex is blatantly unsafe; and so on.


In spite of the warm temperatures during the Up Your Alley Street Fair, a few brave souls still dressed if full, head-to-toe gear. PhotosbyDot  

The list of negative comments and outright denigrations is long, and we hear or read them all the time. Rarely is any of this useful. I believe the root cause of much of it is jealousy and envy, and the solution is fostering compersion.

Wouldn't it be better to hear statements like: I've never seen someone dressed that way, but I can see why it's hot for them; I'm pretty set in my ways, but good for them if how they're presenting turns them on; I've never seen that done without protocols in place, but maybe I can learn something new here; I love BDSM, but my non-BDSM kink friends are every bit as much kinksters as I am; or, I follow fairly rigid safer sex standards but I respect that others have different approaches.

Compersion on display
I was able to observe collective compersion during the recent Up Your Alley Street Fair. It was one of the best such fairs I've experienced in a while. Part of it was that I saw relatively little judgment and a whole lot of compersion.

I saw couples and poly families openly cruising and erotically manhandling each other while the others in their relationship smiled on in appreciation.

I saw some staid and buttoned-up leathermen revel in their own classic presentations while mingling and cruising amid guys presenting themselves at the edges of kink garb and style, with no problems whatsoever with any of it.

I saw a highly experienced BDSM player who was heavily flogging a guy later take a newcomer aside and gently walk him through some introductory BDSM information.

Compersion; relationship compersion, collective compersion. It's good for us individually. It's good for us collectively.

Race Bannon is a local author, blogger and activist. www.bannon.com

For Leather events and Race's previous columns, go to https://www.ebar.com/bartab/leather-kink


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