Kink, in many forms, is now more popular and more visible than ever. I knew we had gone mainstream when American Dad, Family Guy and even Raising Hope had kink references in the shows that aired during Prime Time without additional warnings. Pretty much every mainstream magazine has covered BDSM and kink: Playboy, Glamour, Cosmo, Vogue, GQ, and now even Redbook.
Is this a good thing?
I am not so sure the mainstreaming of kink is a good thing. Part of this is being part of the Old Guard. Kink and BDSM evolve with every generation and the newbies now who stay in the life will recreate kink, become the OG in a generation, and complain about the newbies coming in 30 years from now. So, yeah, some of this is “kids these days.”
But some of the concerns about kink and its future are rooted in experience being part of alternative communities that became part of the mainstream. I have been out as queer and proud for thirty years this year. I saw queer culture go from an alternative culture to one co-opted by straight people and our community values were taken over by the more mainstream American values, much to our detriment in my opinion. Yes, we have more protections and rights than we did 30 years ago but we also are much less concerned about the members of our community on the edges of society.
As kink becomes integrated into the mainstream the community will necessarily adopt aspects of the popular culture and lose part of what makes kink- well kinky. Coverage of kink and BDSM has focused on sexy, rich, White folks in large cities. Yes… that is a part of our community. And yes, some of those folks are the cornerstones of our community. BUT they are not the sum total of our community.
One of the great things about kink is that we have been more accepting of queer bodies, trans bodies, and POC bodies. I have been in the kink community for more than 25 years now. In many kink spaces I found acceptance of beauty much more wide ranging that is present in the wider American culture. As we mainstream, we are losing that acceptance.
The loss of the acceptance of queer, trans, and POC bodies would be a huge loss to the community. So many people deal with body shame and we hate our bodies for not being what we told them should look like. How much of a lost it would be if anyone with a few extra pounds, or a disability, or a minority did not feel comfortable stripping down to play in a dungeon. It has been happening in dungeons in cities across the United States. As we have encouraged newbies to come into our spaces it has meant letting in people with culturally ingrained senses of beauty. It doesn’t take too many, “Gross! I would never get naked if I looked like that,” in harsh whispers to drive people out of a dungeon.
We also risk losing the sense of community. We have long been split along sexual orientation and race lines. In my own community, lesbian and gay couples are lacking. Lesbians are nearly invisible. We have subgroups that meet- general kinky folks, femdoms, doms, subs, M/s and so forth. The more people that identify as kinksters and the more they feel comfortable doing that on their own without connecting at munches, education groups, dungeons, or conferences, the more scattered we become.
The community has provided a sense of safety. For decades I have been able to vet potential partners by asking other kinksters. I have been able to find out about community events, find support, and find friends through community. The more we assimilate, the more we fragment and the more community is lost.
Finally, we become boring. The queer community came into the national spotlight when POC queens and trans folks fought back against the police. Thirty years later, almost all our representatives were White, upper middle class professionals. With this meant that the political agenda became an agenda of the White, upper middle class professional class. We stopped fighting for homeless kids, for trans folks, for the fairies and butches and those who don’t fit in with a bunch of lawyers, professors and social workers.
Kinky folks cross all classes, all races, all genders. That is what I love about the community. For generations, our need to keep our kink and our vanilla work separate has downplayed what we do for a living, our station in life, and the focus shifted to our passion, our kinks, and our roles in the community. That makes kink revolutionary. It didn’t matter if you were a lawyer, a politician, a sex worker, or a housewife- in the kink world your reputation and status was much more dependent upon how you conducted yourself, your experience, and your dedication to the community.
I don’t think we should close the community to newbies. People need to discover their kink. They need a place to learn, and connect, and play. We will change as more of these newbies become part of the community.
I do think it is important the that OG continue to engage and train up this generation. We have some excellent qualities that need to be preserved. Our history is important. Our traditions are important. Our lives and experience is important. We should never let that go just to be popular.