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Monday, August 22, 2011

Community Cookbook Part Two: Honey Traps

(This is a re-post of an old article that got published elsewhere, but then got lost when the site changed). It is also part of my Mentoring for Tops/Sirs/Doms/Masters curriculum.

I often run into people who beseech each other for help in figuring out how to approach new people, for the purpose of inviting them to be a part of the community, without appearing to be a predator.

I've been extremely successful in this endeavor. The group in San Diego that I started fourteen months ago has almost 1200 followers, and nearly ALL of them have been added ONE AT A TIME. I can't stress that enough - Simply printing cards or flyers, or mass-emailing, or posting it online is nothing, compared to the personal approach. We are all fed up with impersonal invitations. We've been burned too many times with spam, viruses, and every other kind of crap coming at us from every direction. These people have raised our threshold for bullshit so high that any sane person would assume that nobody could ever break through the average person's cynicism. 

However, all that it takes is a touch.

Let's assume that I'm going to approach you at a bar event that I've created.  I'm HUGE (six foot five, even taller in my big boots, 280 pounds, gray-bearded and hairy, and usually in uniform or leather).  To the average person, I look nine feet tall and six foot wide. Despite all of this, when I come up to strangers to let them know about my group, I have a consistently high success-rate. Out of 100 strangers, approximately 90 of them will gladly give me their email address.  Out of those people, after I have added them to my weekly email list, ONE will unsubscribe. Everybody else sticks around, and likes what they receive from me.

People think that the most important currency is money. In 2011, it's not. It's CREDIBILITY.  No amount of money will buy credibility.  It has to be earned the hard way. I have the confidence to approach strangers and enroll them in a sweet, joyful common dream, because I have kept my word for decades. The average stranger doesn't know that for a fact yet, but they are intrigued enough by my affectionate, respectful and confident demeanor to give me a chance.

So, let's say that I'm at a public event (usually one that I created for this purpose), looking for new people to sign up for FMSD ( I call these events "Honey Traps", which is a term that I am using as a metaphor - They are events that are attractive enough to drag individuals away from their damn computers. The average person sits in front of FaceBook, Fetlife, Recon or some other endless distraction, but has a firm conviction that everybody else is having more fun in the real world than they are. EVERYBODY has that idea in their heads, and doesn't understand how few people are having fun in the non-virtual world. We're all lonely, disconnected and losing our ability to feel like we're part of something real, and bigger than our concerns, insecurities and considerations.

I look around me at these events, looking for someone who is clearly wearing their favorite "suit of armor". They are broadcasting "I'm shy", or "I'm not interested" or "I'm just passing through". Those are the folks that I make a beeline for.  Other people might call them "Attitude Queens".  I don't - I understand that "Attitude with a Capital A" is just shyness. I can handle that, and here's how… This is my standard script for approaching strangers:

I approach the stranger, stand quite close (about two feet away), where they can clearly see me and can't pretend that I'm part of the furniture. I pointedly look them right in the eye, and say "Excuse me, have I spoken with you before?", while wearing a pleasant, (but not excessively pleasant) smile, and slightly upraised eyebrows. My demeanor is clearly communicating polite and courteous interest. They usually have a slightly startled reaction to this, saying "No, I don't think so". I'll then ask "are you a San Diegan?" If they say no, then I tell them a bit about our group, and show them a few pictures from previous events, and then move onward to the next guy.  If they say yes, then I continue with the script.

Remember, many of these events are NOISY - Loud music, chattering people all around.  This gives me cover for moving in closer and making actual, physical contact with them. I touch their solar plexus with the back of my hand, while introducing myself, and asking who they are, and a few other polite questions to break the ice. This is 100% effective in initiating physical contact, because no matter how shy or cynical that person is, they have been programmed their entire lives to shake hands to show that they are nice, well-raised people who don't have any weapons. I'll say "I'm Papa Tony, and I host many of the leathermen's events here in town." I'll release their hand, and whip out my iPhone. I''ll show them group pictures (see the website for examples) that clearly show happy, satisfied crowds of people who obviously share traits with my guest of the moment. These events are diverse, full of big smiles and don't follow any common rules of the "I'm Hot and You're NOT" philosophy.

I'm now paging through photos for the enjoyment of the person in front of me, and drawing QUITE close - Close enough to rest my hand on his shoulder while I'm flipping through pictures one-handed. That way, I can talk in a normal, comfortable, just-between-nice-guys voice, because I'm so close - My mouth is maybe ten inches away from his ear, and I'm using my Indoor Voice. Closeness COUNTS. In our current culture, we have learned that somebody who stands at a distance from us is not a trustworthy person. Spammers like to hide. Abusers like to hide. Nice people are close by, and have no fear about other nice people in a polite society.

Example: Let's say that you see a stranger shoving his way through a crowd, and when he gets to you, he says "Get the fuck out of my way, ASSHOLE!"  Chances are pretty good that he's going to get a big dose of ASSHOLE in response.  That's not a side of us that we prefer, but our internal, hard-wired  Fight or Flight response demands that we do SOMETHING in a stressful situation.  Now, delete that example, and imagine somebody coming up to you and treating you as a thoroughly respectable, intelligent, pleasant and enjoyable person, right from the very first instant. You're being approached, not for the sake of money, or power, sex, or any other other onvious, predictable reason, but because somebody wants YOU, of all people, to be a part of an actual, visually-appealing, thriving community of nice people, who get together often in public.

By this time, my target of interest (and possible new brother) is intrigued, despite multiple layers of well-earned cynicism. I continue to destroy his defenses: I'll say "We want all ages, all colors, all body-styles and all levels of experience. The only kind of people that we actively and aggressively discriminate against… Is GRUMPY PEOPLE!". This is usually good for a laugh, but they always look at my face and see that I'm being quite authentic in this statement.

I will then set the hook - I'll be showing him the pictures, and I'll say "You would fit right in". And, clearly, he would. Everyone is tired of being judged by externals.  Even the world's prettiest/most-perfect men and women are sick of the social "A-List" game of perfect teeth/hair/muscles/tits/whatever providing us with varying levels of social status. It's an empty philosophy, but we never know when it's time to let go of it and just be happy like a bunch of uninhibited three-year-olds. By looking at the pictures (and grabbing the phone from me and zooming in closer to see everybody better, my new brother is losing his defenses fast.

I'll say "The nicer you are, the more friends you deserve - This is normal human behavior, but it fell apart somehow for gay men. We've fixed that". I tend to get rueful agreement from my new buddy.

I'll go further, and demolish his preconceptions like my life depends on it.  I'll say "Listen to the people around you".  He'll stop, and listen seriously and intently.  I'll say "Everybody sounds really happy, don't they? You can't fake that kind of happy." He'll have to admit that yes, everybody else sounds like they're having a rocking good time.  I'll tell him "You deserve to have just as good a time as anybody here. I'm the host of this event, and you have my word of honor that no one here will ever treat you shabbily.  If anybody DOES, you bring it to ME, and I will take care of it right away.  I take full responsibility for the safety, success and well-being of everybody at this event, and you can count on me. Just go up to people and chat, and they'll all be nice to you. I know most of the folks here, and they aren't meanies, or tweaking, or spiteful."

I'll mention that I have nothing to sell him, and never will. I don't make a penny off of this, and neither does anybody else. In today's society, this is unheard-of… It seems mythological and theoretical. EVERYBODY wants a piece of somebody else, wants to treat us like walking wallets, and they have cunningly learned to hide it until they have tricked you somehow. And yet, here's this big galoot who is saying that he wants your actual, non-virtual and physical presence at a series of upcoming events. Nothing more, as long as you're a pleasant, well-socialized grownup.

Then, I say that I have an email-list that tells people what events are coming up, so that they know about them BEFORE each event, instead of hearing about it after everybody else had a great time. I'll ask "Would you like to be on the mailing-list?" This is Decision Time. I'm being the very epitome of a forthright, pleasant, respectful and clearly idealistic human being, and now, I need them to step up and deliver their half of the social contract. Just listening, or tolerating, or being a disinterested observer isn't enough - They have to make a commitment and be responsible about it. Like I said earlier, it's nearly always a slam-dunk… People can't get on the mailing-list fast enough.

I have created a web-page that is perfectly designed to be used on a Droid or iPhone's web-browser, using a free utility that allows me to sign people up for the mailing-list ON THE SPOT, without delay. I hit a bookmark icon on my phone's main page that brings me directly to that page, tap the field that asks for the email, and hand the phone right over for their data-entry. While doing so, I say "You have my word of honor that you will never receive any spam as a result, and if you don't like the mailing-list, just click on the link at the bottom and you'll be unsubscribed immediately". When they are done, they hand it back to me - I always have a pair of reading-glasses with me, in case somebody needs a pair for accuracy. I insist that they check the address one final time, and then tap the "Submit" button.

Nowadays, my success-rate is so high, I can sign up a total stranger within three minutes, and I will do it over and over and over, all during the event. I do not sit with my Good Buddies, chewing the fat. To me, that is exactly the wrong thing to do. I have a task to perform, and nothing will distract me from it. If I am going to be committed to creating real, honest and solid community, then I have to extend the hand of friendship to every new face that shows up.  The moment that any affinity-group stops welcoming new people IN A CONSCIOUS WAY, then that group is dead. D-E-A-D. Our newest members are our group's future, and if we force them to bounce off of our indifference, then we may as well close up shop. The group will get older, and less relevant, and wither away.

So, what about the folks who DO NOT sign up? What if their cynicism is too awesomely impervious? No problem. "Invitations can be accepted, denied or renegotiated". I never attach my ego to trying to enroll 100% of the people that I approach. It is impossible. I wish them well, I mention our Web site (while pointing to it on our club banner, hanging in obvious display) and step over to the next person. I have seen those same people come to our events over and over, because they wanted to see whether my fancy talk had any actual credibility.
So, one more time, let's talk about Credibility with a Capital C. LEADERS PROVIDE. We keep creating these "Honey Trap" events, and take group pictures periodically.  Why? Because no amount of words can convey the awesomeness of a successful, joyful and satisfying event as well as group pictures can. No amount of money, or trickery, or bossiness or manipulation can make a big, diverse and deliriously happy crowd look like a bunch of Labrador Retrievers with a tennis ball. You want to document your successes, even if they start out small. That's still better than the big, echoing emptiness that is usually the default when somebody is looking for heartfelt community in the real world.

My next article in the series will be based on feedback that I've gotten so far, so please let me know what you think. If anybody has questions or feedback, I can be reached at

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