More than any other subculture, members of the BDSM community love to bestow titles upon the people with whom they have relationships. That's unsurprising in a group that eroticizes power differentials. However, the passion for formal-sounding titles extends beyond Mistress or Daddy into nonerotic peer friendships, as well. Some BDSM people will speak of "being in a leather family" with close pals, or they will say, "I'm a member of the House of [Someone's Name]." Creating social networks based on affection and trust is a good thing. But sometimes these job descriptions make me roll my eyes. The latest title to come into vogue is mentor. All the new kids are talking about getting a more experienced player to be their personal mentor. But they shouldn't ask me, because I'm not in favor of that term as a BDSM title.

First off, I'm not exactly sure what it means when someone asks, "Will you be my mentor?" My impression is that it's an ongoing relationship where I teach someone BDSM techniques and act as a kinky life coach. But since this is a newly made-up title, no two people have given me quite the same definition. That's a red flag—any time people create a relationship with different expectations of what it's going to look like, someone is doomed to disappointment. It also implies that the mentor—with whom the newcomer often has only a slight acquaintance—will be consciously molding the fledgling into his/her own image. You want to be a kinky Mini-Me? Bad idea. When you're new, you should learn from a variety of sources.

Those are, shall we say, my altruistic reasons for disliking the title. There are other aspects that stir up snark among those whose leathers are well-worn. Some mentor-hunters seem less focused on BDSM guidance and more on being the protégé of a kink celebrity. It's hard to be honored by the request when one feels like a scalp for a FetLife profile. They also seem oblivious to the fact that they're asking for a huge favor and look startled when asked what, precisely, they would do for their mentor in return. Apparently, they missed the scenes in The Karate Kid where young Daniel spends lots of time painting Mr. Miyagi's fence and waxing his car.

It's great to teach and be taught by your community. But there's already a title for people who share their life experience with you, teach you what they're good at, and support you when you're troubled: That title is friend. True, that word has been watered down (waterboarded, more like!) by promiscuous social media. I think that's one reason kinky people who spend a lot of time online keep repurposing other titles. But friend has a more noble tradition and honored use than any trendy new title, and I'm unwilling to give it up. Even if it meant I could get a bunch of acolytes to wax my car. recommended