Why the Movie Release of 50 Shades Concerns Me

With the upcoming release of 50 Shades the movie, there is a lot of talk on mainstream blogs about kink (e.g., Huff Post, Slate, NYT). The general consensus of the authors is that this book and film will push kink into the a mainstream discussion about sex and make kink more acceptable.

As someone who was out and queer before the mainstreaming of gays and someone who faced imminent threat of firing if a single photo of me in a play space was leaked to my board, I am deeply concerned about what, how and when kink becomes “mainstream” (if that indeed happens).

On some level I want kink to be more broadly accepted. The entire time I served in a political position (and one at the helm of the only state-funded women’s group in CA) my kinkster identity was a constant threat to my career. For several years, I flew out of state in order to play anywhere semi-public. Very few people who knew me in my professional capacity also knew I was a kinkster. I had to appear to be safe, vanilla, and non-sexual as much as possible.

For several years I provided analysis about “women’s” issues such as pornography regulation, prostitution regulations, and sexual health care. I could champion a pro-sex position as long as I submitted volumes of expert citations saying that some activity was okay. My suggestion to the women’s caucus that we consider legalizing certain forms of prostitution was seen as a betrayal to “women’s rights.”

To make women palpable in the political arena, we have tried to completely de-sexualize them. In fact, during the first run for Assembly of a very effective female legislator, the Speaker “lent” her campaign a staff member who’s only job was to follow the candidate around with jackets and sweaters and make sure her arms and decolletage were covered because, god forbid, a female politician have visible tits.

This fear of the feminine and sexuality translates into politics. Women in politics learn to shut off their sexuality and deny they have a pussy. They may have a vagina which needs to be protected by rights, but they would never admit to having a hot, wet pussy that likes sex.

So, in some ways, creating a world that accepts kink and accepts that we are sexual beings would be a good thing. I think acknowledging that sex can be fun, consensual, hot, sweaty and fucking fantastic and the fact that you got laid last night does not mean your job will suffer, would be a good thing. I know doing a quick nooner always put me in a better mood in the office. So, the increasing discussion about sex and sexuality could be good in some ways.

However, I fear that as kink goes mainstream, we will loose the critical understanding of the important parts of kink that many practitioners now embrace. For some, a light spanking or the use of fuzzy handcuffs on someone’s birthday is as kinky as they will get. Kink is very occasional and only used to “spice things up.” That is fine and works for some people.

For those of us who are long-term practitioners and have sought out kink for the more psychological, energetic and power dimensions, mainstream “kink” may be detrimental. In all the writings from mainstream publications I have read in the last year, there is almost no mention of the power exchange dynamic between people. There is absolutely no discussion of the psychological dimensions of kink and almost no discussion of community.

This concerns me. Kink goes well beyond the physical. The power exchange, energy transfer and intimate connections which can be formed in a D/s or M/s dynamic are the core of why I practice it (and I am not alone here). As kink mainstreams and the discussion of these dynamics is lost, I worry about what kink will look like for many, many people in years to come.

I cannot fathom engaging in a long-term D/s dynamic with someone if it is only physical. If all kink is was a physical exchange, it looses its power to connect and transform people. We have seen this with vanilla hook-up culture. Sex use to be a way of connecting, even if it was only for an hour or two. Today, people regularly hook up with someone who they only know via a screen name for a physical exchange. While that is not problematic if only done on occasion, if that is the staple of your sex life, sex becomes rather meaningless. When we loose one more way to connect with other people, we seek a replacement for connection by glorifying number of hook ups, or indulging in copious amounts of alcohol and drugs to facilitate the psychological states we are looking for but not satisfying through sex.

I also worry that if the deeper reasons for kink fail to translate to the mainstream, kink will become just one more area for people to “conquer” and use to become a social climber. I have already seen this in some manifestations. There are multiple newbies in Sacramento who discovered kink in the last couple of years. They have actively decided to try and become the new “go-to” Dom or “extreme” sub. We all see it. They appear on the scene with little or no experience. All of the sudden they are at as many play parties as possible. The Fet accounts explode with comments and pictures. They going the “Ask a whatever…” groups and pontificate about kink as some sort of expert. They look for established people to play with in public to boost their reputation.

It is not that these individuals do not, on some level, enjoy kink. They have just not found the deeper reasons for kink. Kink becomes a sport. They seek to do more extreme play and front as an expert without the experience to back up what they say. Fear of looking like a newbie cuts them off from connecting with more long-term practitioners and keeps them from seeking out education in public. I think this is problematic for kink.

Finally, I don’t want kink to be sanitized. When gay became mainstream we whitewashed it. Community organizers often tried to “hide” and distance gay from the less palpable parts of the community. We denied full community to our fellow members in drag, our trannies, our leathermen and leather dykes, our most flamboyant queers, those in poly relationships, those not looking to “ape heterosexuality” in the terms of my ex-wife. We opted to deny equality to some in our quest to be “equal.” This was wrong then and it is wrong now.

Mainstream folks seem to be able to handle the idea of a little light spanking, a soft flogging that does not leave marks, simple bondage. But I doubt that it would be well-taken if a video of a serious impact session that took the sub to their knees, bruised, maybe bleeding and in tears would play well. Images of people suspended and shocked with a violet wand, pictures of sounding, or cutting will never play well with your average Joe. Many vanillas can only laugh at furries, puppy play, role play and pony play. Water sports and scat are almost incomprehensible to many.

While I do not participate in ALL kink play, I don’t want people thinking that my impact play is reduced to five minutes with a cute suede flogger. I don’t want to excise my fellow kinksters who enjoy puppy play or scat play in order for my version of kink to be more widely accepted.

Kink has a community. I think that is one of the beauties of being a kinkster. I think we need to start having conversations about the future of kink. I think we, as a community, need to actively try and shape some of the discourse about us. I recognize that we can not all be out and flying our freak flag high. But, those of us who have that freedom need to be very conscious of what we put out into the broader world about kink. We need to engage our fellow practitioners in conversations about what is valuable and what needs to be transmitted to the next generation.

For me, I am working with another amazing sub to put together a list of solid websites, books, and individuals who write and speak from a sub point of view about kink. It will be posted on several submissive discussion groups in the near future. We need to proceed thoughtfully and make sure all kinky folks have a place at the table as the mainstream pervs us for a while.

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