Beyond Vanilla started 25 years ago as a small safe-sex workshop
It was a Thursday night in 1990 and I had decided to attend a meeting at the Resource Center presented by the unlikely pairing of the Dallas County Health Department and a group called the Disciples of de Sade. It was a class to explore ways to keep sex hot while keeping it safe.
I had pretty much expected another “Here’s how you use a condom” session, but the presenters intrigued me. They were mostly a group of gay men in the leather community who wanted to educate people on the many activities that make up BDSM (Bondage, Discipline and Sado-Masochism) that were actually quite safe when it came to transmission of disease.
At the time the only disease anyone seemed concerned about was HIV/AIDS, and after several years of “condom-only” sex many men were looking for safe alternatives.
What was covered was a bit tame to me; after all, I already had some experience in the realm of kink. Still the idea that sex could be spiced up and still remain safe was a good message.
It was so good that what started as a one-night-a-week workshop has now become a full weekend of kink and entertainment. That is a quarter-century of kink, and it is stronger than ever.
Beyond Vanilla, presented by the National Leather Association-Dallas Chapter, still features safer-sex alternatives, but it has expanded to include much more. Every aspect of Leather/BDSM/Fetish/Kink is explored, and often in hands-on ways.
If asked in 1990 if I expected to be seeing an event like this 25 years later, I would have laughed. Heck, I had real doubts whether I would even be around 25 years later. All gay men did.
I have participated in Beyond Vanilla for most of those 25 years, though in the early days as an attendee and not an organizer. In later years I helped plan and expand the event to a full day of workshops at what is now Resource Center. One year it even featured a fetish fashion show, of which there is apparently video still hanging around. I have yet to find it, but I feel sure it will surface (hint, hint).
Finally, the event outgrew Resource Center, and we moved it to a hotel venue. It was a big step and a financial risk for NLA-Dallas.
That first year, in a now-defunct hotel on Mockingbird Lane at Harry Hines, we brought in a fair-sized crowd. And from that day forth, we never looked back.
Beyond Vanilla was a success. It didn’t just support itself; it fulfilled our mission to educate and welcome anyone with a sincere interest in what we now call “kink.”
It was a pansexual event, meaning we welcomed gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, straight and pretty much anything in between. It was a paradigm shift for the leather community.
What had started as mostly gay men and lesbians was now much closer to the demographic of the population at large. Turns out lots of people were hungry for the information we had to share. In fact, we began attracting lots of new folks — both straight and LGBT — long before 50 Shades of Grey.
Unlike that book, Beyond Vanilla gives attendees a much better sense of what real BDSM was about and how to do it safely.
This weekend, we expect hundreds of kinky folks to attend the workshops, entertainment and vendor market. There will be lots of information for just about any kink that consenting adults might engage in, and a chance to try out new toys and share new experiences during the private play-parties that are now part of the event.
And oh yes, I almost forgot one thing: It seems that after a quarter-century, some folks wanted to hear me run my mouth off. So the current organizing committee asked me to keynote the event.
The idea that I would be doing this still amazes me; 25 years ago I had trouble looking forward a few weeks, much less a quarter-century. The fact that I am still around, still coherent and as much a curmudgeon as I aspired to be is testament to the power of leather!
Beyond Vanilla runs Oct. 16–18. Information is at BeyondVanilla.org.
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and board member for the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 16, 2015.