Sunday, November 14, 2010

Kink Going Mainstream? Are We Forgetting Something?

Lately, I've seen other kinksters posting on Fetlife and other places "examples" of kink going "mainstream" - basically the use of BDSM and fetish imagery in otherwise vanilla media. A few have even argued that this is a "good thing" and that we shouldn't be so worried about reaching out to and educating vanilla folks.

I respectfully disagree.

First of all: Just because someone in mainstream media appropriates the imagery of a particular group of people, that doesn't necessarily mean that they fully comprehend what that means. One clip I saw, for example, were two soap opera characters in a steamy encounter, with the woman dressed like a dominatrix, handcuffing the guy and spouting aggressive dialogue about getting whatever she wants. No negotiation or assurance of safety ("Oh no, where'd I put the key?"). Just another stereotypical portrayal meant to titillate the average viewer.

And the biggest thing lost on folks - both the scriptwriters and actors, and the BDSM folks who might applaud it? That couple could get into trouble just for being kinky.

In many jurisdictions, consensual bondage and sadomasochism could get you arrested for assault and battery, domestic violence, false imprisonment and any other charges a cop can think of. Ridiculous as it may sound, laws can be and continue to be interpreted to make consensual yet unconventional eroticism a punishable offense.

Not to mention kinksters who have been fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, expelled from otherwise liberal faith communities, even verbally and physically abused when outed as kinky.

I think it more accurate to say there is more awareness of kink than to say it's "going mainstream" in any real sense of the word. The GLBT community is much further along than we are, largely because of the efforts of educators and activists. Whether we want to become genuinely mainstream, or merely left alone, we can't rely on flawed and fleeting media images to do that for us. There's more to raising authentic awareness than that, and it requires the hard work of educating our vanilla neighbors.


  1. Desmond,

    I don't know if you've seen this clip from "The Family Guy" animated series:

    The series shows Peter and Lois getting ready for a BDSM scene and they include a safeword discussion as part of their preparations.

  2. Strange an animated series being more accurate than most live-action television.

    Now, if you have a noise complaint, and the cops find them, there's a good chance Lois could be arrested for domestic violence. Not to mention Lois losing piano students if word got out...

    That's my point. Even with BDSM portrayed in this way, it's still only a partial picture of the social and legal realities we kinksters have to face.

  3. Interesting point, but I'm glad at even the awareness.

    Frankly, I don't think we're going to get much further than we are until we stand up and demand rights, equality and acceptance the way that the Gay & Lesbian (and Trans & Bi) movement did in the 70s & 80s (and, sadly, all the way up through even now). We need a Stonewall. (We could have had one with Attleborough, but it didn't happen.) We need enough people to finally say "enough is enough" and to start actually DOING something about it. The NCSF isn't enough. Groups are great, but being polite & super-normative & asking isn't working, as it didn't work for the homophile activists of the 1950s. (The history of the GLBT movement in the USA pre-Stonewall is interesting.) We need some more radical action surrounding our community and our issues, much like the wonderful drag queens, trans folk, and gays did surrounding Stonewall.

  4. I wouldn't completely discount pre-Stonewall groups like Mattachine. Yes, they took a more cautious approach, but they also laid a lot of groundwork for what was to come.

    And until we kinksters have such a "Stonewall moment," what do we do? I think we need to engage our vanilla neighbors in conversation about who we really are and what we're really about. We need to give kink a human face.

    You are right that change doesn't "just happen" -- but it also takes many forms besides the most visible and raucous. Sometimes it's the quiet revolutions which bring about the most lasting change.