The XCBDSM team is working hard to expand this site and make more education resources available within the kink community.
Thunder in the Mountains is this weekend, and as I pack the last few things and get ready for the weekend, I thought I would give some tips to the first time convention-goer. On the Thunder website, there is also a list of “What To Expect” that was written specifically for Thunder, but in my experience, most of the list is applicable for any kink conference.
#1 Getting in the Door
Many people are nervous about going to a kink convention, especially if it is also their first public kink event. They may be nervous that they will not be dressed right, have the right toys, or otherwise appear to not fit in.
But you really have little to worry about. While kink events once had strict conduct and dress codes, only a few still do. Instead, most prioritize bringing in new people, rather than holding folks to these behavioral expectations. So you can go into the event confident that you will not stand out or be embarrassed for not having the right gear. Kink conventions are some of the most supportive and wonderful experiences available.
Try to get your tickets early if you can. Many events offer reduced prices if you buy a few months in advance. Even though the hotel rooms are also offered at a discount, many attendees will split a room with others to reduce the cost further.
If the cost is still an issue, or even if you just want more ways to interact with people and help out, you may consider volunteering for the event. Every event I know of relies heavily on volunteers and usually offers free (or discounted) admission to the event in return. But what’s even better about volunteering, for me, has been the chance to meet with and get to know other people at the event before they put on the leather and latex. This was a big deal for me on My First Time in a Dungeon. I was assigned to a crew where my partner and I met our very first friends in the community, without whom we may have had a very different experience that weekend.
Finally, get to the event space the night before if you can. This is another way to meet people before they get in character, relaxing at the bar or by the pool. Often times, event attendees will organize a meeting place for people who are there the night before. Joining the event’s group on Fetlife is the best way to find out about these informal gatherings.
#2 What to Wear
You will certainly see people in expensive fetish clothing, but you will observe people in jeans or Hawaiian shirts, as well. Wear what makes you happy and comfortable.
There is one BIG exception to this however.
Most conferences are held in hotels, and while there are areas sectioned off for play or sex, the main areas of the hotel such as the lobby are often still accessible to the public. Even if this is not true, it is important to respect the hotel staff by keeping your kink inside the designated safe zones.
This means that you should be fully clothed and refrain from activities which are likely to make the vanilla folks uncomfortable. Once you get past the nudity line (usually covered by some sort of security check point) feel free to let loose. At least within the confines of the event rules. Which leads to the next point.
#3 Read the Rules, then Read Them Again!
I don’t know why this is so hard, but seriously, you need to read the rules. And you need to follow them to the letter. As someone who does rule enforcement for some of these large events, I can tell you that we are constantly having to confront people and interrupt their fun because they are doing things they aren’t supposed to.
The biggest example of this is cell phones. Most kink clubs and almost all large kink events have banned cell phones in the play spaces due to their recording capabilities. We take this very seriously. I know a Dungeon Master that keep a big tank of water on the central table and any cell phone she sees during the parties goes straight into the tank. No questions, no exceptions. Please don’t be the person we have to talk to about that. Remove the temptation and just leave the phone in your room/car.
Each event will have other specific rules as well. Be sure to familiarize yourself with them. Otherwise, you may have your scene (or even your weekend) cut short.
#4 When in Doubt, Ask Questions
People at these events tend to be friendly, helpful, and generally awesome. The staff at the events are even more so. So if you are ever unsure of a rule or see something you don’t understand, just ask someone. Staff are often marked with special shirts or hats or armbands. But even if you can’t find a staff member, someone who looks like they’ve been around a while will probably answer your question or help you find someone who can.
The big exception here is that you should never interrupt someone’s play. If you see someone doing something cool, wait until they are done, including any aftercare, before you approach them with questions. Alternately, you can ask a fellow spectator if you don’t want to wait. And on that point…
#5 Expect to See Something You Never Imagined
I have been going to these events for almost a decade now, and I still see something new every time. In fact, many people spend the whole year planning and preparing for the big, crazy, bad-ass thing they intend to do at the event. Some of them are very extreme, or at least appear very extreme. A few may be disturbing or upsetting. You might see someone in full replica Nazi regalia beating a girl while hurling racial slurs. You might see someone carving patterns into another person’s chest with a scalpel. You might see any number of things which provoke any number of emotions.
If something bothers you, take a break, go have a cookie. Also, you should bring some cookies with you. Cookies are great.
#6 Don’t Miss the Classes
The classes are way underrated. Even many small regional events are able to bring in some brilliant people to these events. This is a great opportunity to hear and learn from some of the most prominent voices in our community. So don’t miss it. You never know when one of them will change your life forever.
That is not an exaggeration. Most people I know who have been going to these for a while can point to a single presenter, a single class, a single moment that stands out in their mind as transformative.
Mine was a class called “The Servant Master” by Master Skip Chasey. He is, as a matter of fact, one of the few people who I am willing to refer to as a Master. The man is a force of nature. Being in the room with him is a powerful experience and hearing him speak is incredible. This particular class helped to form one of my core beliefs about my approach to kink, that all people involved in a power-exchange relationship are in service to one another.
#7 Don’t Be Afraid to Talk to the Presenters
I present at these events sometimes, too. While we tend to be surrounded by people after the classes are over, we generally spend the rest of the weekend doing the same stuff you do. We wander around the event, buy new toys, go to other classes, and talk to random people.
I certainly can’t speak for other presenters, but my favorite part of these events is getting to meet new people and learn about their local communities. Every city is different and I am fascinated by it. So if someone invites me to lunch, or to go with them to the local fetish store, I leap at the opportunity and many other presenters I know feel the same way.
So don’t be afraid to go talk to the presenter that resonated with you. You may end up with a friend.
#8 Don’t Expect to Find a Partner
Unless you attend the event with a partner or make arrangements ahead of time, it is possible (likely, in fact) that you will not play during the weekend or meet a new partner. It’s best to go into the event with the mindset of an observer. Watch and learn. Certainly keep an open mind to the possibilities, but with a realistic set of expectations. The events are largely attended by couples. A lot of them are monogamous, and some are not. There are some single people, but they don’t wear signs around their neck saying so.
The people who go into the events seeking play and directing all of their conversations to that goal they will usually be disappointed. On the other hand, those who come into the event without an agenda and interact with people in a fluid manner and with an open mind will find that they make a lot of friends and might even stumble their way into a relationship.
#9 Spend Carefully
The vendor areas at the events are often a great resource. There are things you can find there that aren’t available in your local sex or fetish shops, and which are usually more expensive online. This is a rare opportunity to try on something expensive instead of ordering blind from a website. In particular, the corset manufactures can give you a much better product when they can adjust it to you in person. Toward the end of the weekends, some of the vendors will even mark down a lot of their items trying to avoid having to pack and ship them back home.
But that said, you should be careful with your cash. The excitement of the event might motivate you to buy things that are impractical or something that you don’t actually know how to use. Some of the more expensive items warrant special scrutiny. Violet wands, for instance, all look nearly identical from the outside, but can have major differences in how they work. You should do your homework before a purchase like this to avoid throwing away your money.
#10 Have Fun
If you are able to, take time off of work and really immerse yourself in the experience. Stay at the hotel if you can afford it. Surround yourself for these few days with other folks like you. It’s so rare to be able to do that. Learn, explore, and enjoy.
If you will be at Thunder this weekend, come find me. I would love to meet you. My nametag says “Cross”.