From Issue 2.1 - September 1995
The terms "leather/SM/fetish community" or "kink community" have been bandied about a lot over the past few years. So what is a community, kinky or otherwise? Webster's defines community as "a unified body of individuals; a body of persons or nations having a history or social, economic, and political interests in common." Accepting from the start that the kink community is a rare breed of social structure, let's examine it in relation to this definition. Are we a unified body of individuals?
While it is true that there is a certain amount of unity experienced among a rarified group of kinky folk, the vast majority are anything but unified. Ask a number of us what the goals and direction of the kink movement should be, and you get as many answers as people asked. Hardly signs of widespread unity.
Do we share a common history? Examine the histories of the gay, lesbian and heterosexual segments of the kink world, and there are few commonalities. The differences are more extreme, to be sure, between the gay/lesbian and heterosexual sides of the equation, but the similarities are substantial.
Do we share common social interests? In spite of the pansexual movement taking place among a small group of us, most gays, lesbians and heterosexuals would generally prefer to play and socialize with their own kind. While not a "politically correct" stance in some circles, it is reality nonetheless.
Do we share common economic interests? Apart from frequenting some common leather and erotic toy establishments and reading some common publications, little economic incentive binds us together.
Do we share common political interests? In most cases, kinky folk don't see a political side to their sexuality at all.
So, is there a kink community after all? While the status might be tenuous at best, the burgeoning erotic culture we share along with some noble attempts at community organizing give cause to believe that a strong case can indeed be made that a kink community does exist, and that it is growing.
But to access and mobilize this community takes different approaches than those used in the Gay/Lesbian, Black, Hispanic or other such communities. The core problem in unifying the vast numbers of kinky folk is that most of them don't see their kink as an orientation or as a deep-rooted culture. They simply see it as one of the many erotic options available to them.
True, a small portion of people do consider their kinky desires to be so pervasive in their lives that they have elevated them to the status of sexual orientation, but that number is probably quite small relative to the total kinky population. While a few eat, drink, and sleep kink, so to speak, another larger segment chooses to engage in it sporadically while living a life that differs little from that of the rest of mainstream America.
So, how does such a loose knit bunch coalesce into a stronger community? I believe the answer is to overtly appeal to the diversity within our ranks. Who is really kinky?
Let me explain. Most of the leadership in this community comes from those for whom kink is extremely important. Kink, in whatever form, pervades their lives in some substantial way. And it makes perfect sense that these would be the people to become the community leaders. They identify more strongly with the erotic foundations of the community, and they have more at stake than someone with more attenuated kinky proclivities. All this is logical and probably as it should be.
The danger, however, is that the leadership, for whom kink is such an encompassing thing, often has a hard time relating to someone for whom kink may be but an occasional passing fancy, a diversion to enjoy when the mood strikes. Such kinky dilettantes are often looked upon with scorn as dabblers who are not really part of the scene. In truth, though, they are the bulk of the scene. If this single fact is ignored, then our community is destined to remain a small band of hardcore players with little collective power to effect change.
We must embrace a much broader set of criteria by which to judge a person suitable for inclusion in our community. Take a common scenario from the gay men's leather community. A young gay man dressed in fashionable attire enters a leather bar, consciously or unconsciously in search of his first kinky experience. The leather clad patrons turn as he enters and, for the most part, immediately pass judgment that he is "not one of them." In truth, the young man may be ultimately kinkier than anyone in the bar, but he has been written off as a tourist, a dabbler, because he's not wearing the garb of the leather lifestyler. What a shame. A potential member of the community has been shunned because of narrow views of what "kinky" is supposed to look like.
Remember, it is community we are talking about here, not sexual attraction. The leather clad patrons need not be sexually attracted to the young man. No one can dictate erotic attractions, nor should they. And yes, in this case, the argument can be made about the importance of maintaining a leather atmosphere in the bar, but the costly price might be the exclusion of many men whom the kink community would benefit from including.
Communities, even sexuality-based communities, do not need to be comprised only of people who find each other attractive. Gay men, lesbians, drag queens, leather men, and transgendered people don't necessarily want to sleep together, but they have somehow managed to build a sense of community around some common causes and identifications. Why can't the kink community do the same thing?
If our community it to grow strong and solid, then the guy who likes to be tied up with silk ties while in his Calvins must be accepted alongside the bike-riding leatherman. The S/M dyke must be accepted alongside the wife in the suburbs who puts on her first corset to spice up her lovemaking with her husband. Again, these people don't necessarily have to find each other erotically exciting. They don't even have to want to socialize together. But they must understand they have common issues at stake which can benefit greatly from a large, unified community.
Apart from reasonable safety considerations and common sense in play, it must become accepted that there is no single, correct way to be kinky, or else the community is doomed to forever remain a relatively small entity with little collective clout. Yet by each kinky person working to accept the vast diversity which is already present in the scene, a sense of community, which has already been established among a small group of kinky men and women, can begin to grow into a sizeable community. As every community that has gone before has come to understand, there is power in numbers. May our numbers grow.
As a writer, publisher, teacher and activist, Race Bannon spends much of his time furthering the acceptance and understanding of kinky sexuality. He is the author of Learning the Ropes: A Basic Guide for Safe and Fun S/M Lovemaking (Daedalus Publishing Company).