What’s in a name? (with backstory)
With the scene at large, many of us use names that aren’t our own. I’m not talking about titles like Master, slave, Sir, Ma’am, Mistress and so on. I’m referring to our other names, like the one I’ve been using since I first broke into the scene around 1982-83.
At that time, there was no Internet the way that we know and take for granted today. The best there was at that time was a small cobbled together intranet of corporations and colleges, and fledgling companies with names like Compuserve, America Online, GEnie, Prodigy and so on. In order to connect to these latter places, you had to have a physical piece of hardware called a ‘modem’, that hooked into your telephone line and the telephone dialed a number to connect. It was a long, laborious process, but it worked. Well most of the time. Speeds were incredibly slow, but still, it worked.
Once you connected, like websites today, you had to create an account. Account, password and then you were assigned a username. Compuserve assigned numbers. (So far as I know they were the only system that used that method.) Once you’d gotten past the sign up process, that username (or number) was the way that people identified you from then on. Except in places like chat portals, where like today on IRC, you were able to choose a ‘handle’, a name that was unique to you and you could then interact somewhat anonymously. Compuserve’s chat forum was called ‘CB’, a throwback to Citizen’s Band radio, which at the time was still being used in people’s vehicles as well as commercial trucking because cellphones (or car phones) by and large were nothing like they are today.
When I first located CB and signed up for it, I chose ‘Leathers’ as my handle, because someone else already had chosen ‘Leather’. Even then I had a very prominent leather fetish, so for me it seemed appropriate. Over the years I’ve owned several domain names with ‘leathers’ in the name (leathers.org, dungeonleathers.com, leatherspride.com) as well as being the one on Fetlife with that nickname, so for me it continues and will continue in the future. By contrast, my wife has always used the handle/nickname ‘Christabel’, there are people that we’ve known in the scene for the last 25 years that still call her by that name, because really, that’s the name that they know her by. (As an aside, when we were both on Compuserve in a certain forum, while she was eternally called Christabel, my nickname at the time was YM. It doesn’t really fit nowadays as I’ve gotten considerably older….)
Nicknames by and large are something that we’ve come to know and expect in the BDSM scene, but it’s a double-edged sword. When you use a nickname, there’s initially no baggage attached to it. Essentially you’re creating a whole new person, because people who you meet aren’t aware of any history that you’ve had prior to creating the new persona. So people can take advantage of that, like in the case of ‘Michael Makai’ for instance. He’s someone who was in the news a couple of years ago, a respected and admired scene educator, but he had some outlandish ideas that for the most part should have stayed in the books he had written. Instead he attempted to bring them out into reality and caused more than a few problems, for others as well as himself.
A story like that is always something I keep in the back of my mind when I talk to people in the scene. Yes, many know me by my given name, but many others only know me by the name ‘Leathers’. I try to make sure the knowledge they have of me is always truthful, accurate and doesn’t deviate from what my ‘vanilla’ friends know of me, but there’s always things that don’t translate, that you don’t want one or the other to know and so on.
Just have to keep your personas straight!