Currently, there is a contentious debate going on in San Francisco regarding whether to ban public nudity. For quite a while San Francisco has been fine with the occasional nudist strolling the streets or hanging out in a park. Much of that nudity has been taking place in the Castro, my own neighborhood, what many consider to be the bastion symbol of tolerance and acceptance of diversity in our country. Yet there are loud, and some local, voices seeking to ban nudity in San Francisco. I’m not in favor of the ban, and won’t go into the details here, because by now you’re wondering where am I going with this.
The Castro, like many gay neighborhoods throughout the United States, has become more diverse with lots of young, heterosexual couples deciding that maybe living in a gay neighborhood isn’t such a bad thing since, well, gay folks are OK now right? Add to that the number of LGBT folks adopting children, rallying for heterosexual-equivalent marriage, and other signs of moving to the center of life’s existence. What is clearly on display in the mainstreaming of gay America.
I’m not calling for this to stop. Because I don’t think it can be stopped, and much of what’s occurring is good in many ways. But here as in other cases I sense that as an oppressed subculture begins to gain equal rights and greater acceptance, a certain percentage of them begin to move right in their views. Look at how we’ve begun to see African-American Republicans in recent years as an illustration of the phenomenon.
So since this blog tends to focus often on the BDSM/leather/kink worlds, what does this have to do with that?
I’m seeing the same signs of mainstreaming within the kinky worlds as well and the ramifications are similar. Certain social occurrences like the popularity of the book 50 Shades of Grey have certainly nudged that mainstreaming along more quickly, but the trend has been happening for a while. And I will take my share of the responsibility for this happening.
I will admit that I am viewing the leather/kink world through the prism of my gay male leather experiences that began in the early 1970s. It was a time when the scene was incredibly sexual and often taking place in nearly clandestine locations. Even the bars and businesses that catered to our kind were often entered down alleyways or otherwise inconspicuous ways. It was truly a sexual outlaw subculture and many of us loved it that way.
Fast forward to today. BDSM and kink generally have gone much more mainstream, at least it terms of cursory awareness and modest acceptance. Media imagery has begun to embrace BDSM as a marketing mechanism. There are a plethora of BDSM/kink organizations, websites, events, titles, books and more. You don’t hear quite the derision you once might have from the average person when discussing kinky sex. This is the inevitable result of a networked subculture (I’m not really sure in all cases you can call it a community) gaining acceptance and slowly building their network and social connections. And much of this is good.
But there is a cost. The eye of public scrutiny is now more closely tuned in to the kinksters among us and to the entire body of kinksters collectively. As we have done “outreach” (don’t like that word) we have also brought into our fold many who might not have found their way there on their own in times past, often because they would not have had the deep desire or fortitude to do so. Might that not dilute the pool of kinksters to homogenize the more kink-identified folks with the dabblers?
Some of the cost hit home recently when I was at a leather title contest and was told that one of the contestants was held to a “no overt sexual displays” during your title year clause in his contract (yes, titleholders actually sign contracts believe it or not). What the hell? Here is a titleholder that supposedly represents sexual mavericks being told that anything approaching an overt sexual display will not be tolerated. Something has gone very wrong here.
So the cost to which I’m alluding is not just a cost when dealing with the general public. It’s also a cost that potentially erodes at what makes us the kinksters we are in the first place.
How to fix this? Now that’s the million dollar question and in all candor I’m not sure I have an answer, or if it’s even possible or desirable to fix it. I have even defended the changes in the past with posts like this one. What I have observed is that many kinksters are moving back underground. I’ve seen this most predominantly among gay male BDSM and kink practitioners, but even some other factions are beginning to pull back from some of the institutions (organizations, big events, leather contests, and so on) in favor of more intimately celebrating their sexual outlaw status with their own kind on their own terms.
Have you noticed any of this? Have you seen other examples of kink being mainstreamed and reactions to it? I am interested to hear other people’s thoughts on this.