What price, visibility?
One way I view our Kink/Leather/Fetish/BDSM community is through its relationship to the larger LGBTQ+ community and the way their developments have paralleled and diverged.
I’ve written before about what I call the “Kink closet.” The Kink closet mirrors the more widely-known “closet” that many LGBTQ+ people remain “inside” until they decide to “come out” of it and reveal their authentic selves to various people and groups in their lives. Someone in the Kink closet is a person who hides the fact that they are kinky from the other people in their lives, the wider world in general, or both. The Kink closet exists because there is taboo, stigma, and shame attached to being kinky by much of the vanilla (non-kinky) world, just as there is to being LGBTQ+ by much of the heterosexual/gender-normative world. Even some kinky people who are Out-and-Proud about being LGBTQ+ are in the Kink closet.
As the Republican Party tries to force the country into a new Jim Crow-styled Era of legislated discrimination and erasure of LGBTQ+ people, I’ve been thinking a lot about visibility. With visibility comes scrutiny. LGBTQ+ people are more visible in American life now than perhaps ever before in our nation’s history. We’ve made so much progress since that fateful night in June 1969, yet so much work needs yet to be done. And at the same time, the Republican Party, which like all conservative movements is reactionary and invested in maintaining the status quo, has seen our progress and not only wants to halt it but to reverse it.
What does it mean to be visibly kinky? Many of us in the Kink/Leather/Fetish/BDSM community who are involved in TPE (Total Power Exchange) relationships wear ornaments that symbolize those dynamics. Collars are a common example. A collar is either a leather strap of varying width worn around the neck, or a length of chain worn the same way. Collars are frequently secured in place with padlocks. I wear my collar all the time. It never comes off unless it’s being cleaned or changed out for a different one. My collar is a symbol of my bond with the man with whom I’m in a relationship and our respective positions within that dynamic. I am very proud of my collar. When I’m out in public, I sometimes get lingering glances directed at my collar from people around me, and sometimes direct questions from total strangers. When questioned, I answer truthfully, adjusting the amount of detail based on the situation.
There have long been those within the Kink/Leather/Fetish/BDSM community who resist visibility and prefer Kink to remain something outside of mainstream society. They like the rebel/outlaw mystique of Kink and want the community to stay in the shadows. It’s important to point out that many of these people don’t see themselves as in a closet. They just find that part of the allure of Kink is its transgressive nature. They imagine that mainstream acceptance of the Kink/Leather/Fetish/BDSM community lifestyle would rob it of some (or all) of its appeal.
For me, this appetite to retain outsider status is parallel to (among other things) something that happened within the LGBTQ+ community in the lead-up to the marriage equality battle that was fought some years ago. One might assume that all LGBTQ+ people wanted the right to marry whomever they chose, but that isn’t the case. Before everyone eventually united behind the marriage equality cause, there was a faction of the community that thought our energy was better spent elsewhere. Their view was that LGBTQ+ people are not heterosexual or heteronormative, so why are we asking to be included in a practice/custom that is the very definition of patriarchal heterosexual normativity? They were saying that standing up and declaring, “We are something different from you and want to be recognized as such” and, “We want exactly what you have,” were contradictory statements. That we should be working for other rights and protections, not for the dubious privilege of participating in the very institution whose oppressive paradigm we take exception to by our very existence.
I think the argument the anti-marriage equality faction made is applicable to our status as members of the Kink/Leather/Fetish/BDSM community. Do we want mainstream acceptance? Do we want to be seen as “just like” vanilla people, or do we want to maintain our outlaw status? What would be gained or lost in either case? Should kinky people be more visible? What would a more visible Kink community look like? If we became more visible, and thus more scrutinized, would we be subjected to the same onslaught of tyranny that the LGBTQ+ community faces right now?
I don’t have answers to these questions, and certainly would not presume to tell others how they should live their lives. These are just things I’m thinking about these days. What do you think?
Have thoughts, questions, or comments about this column or anything to do with Kink? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll answer them in an upcoming column. Be safe and have fun out there!
Alpha Mercury has been an out-and-proud member of the Kink/Leather/Fetish/BDSM community his entire adult life. He has a degree in film production from the University of Southern California and is a published author of erotic fiction. Alpha Mercury lives with his Leather Family in Salt Lake City.