There is a subreddit called BDSMCommunity. Like any community it has its unspoken but closely policed norms. In the last few weeks the most interesting posts (to me) have been about being kinky in public and consent (not as two topics but as one). Specifically, different kinksters have received severe admonishments from the community and sparked debate for: 1. being deeply aroused while getting a tattoo, 2. having their Dom walk them on a leash down a public street, and 3. engaging in a Daddy/little dynamic at a Starbucks. The primary argument against them centers on consent: the tattoo artist did not consent to arouse you, the people in the street or at the Starbucks also did not consent to participate in your sexual act. Other arguments were that you could trigger someone, that you do not have the right to make people uncomfortable or, for example, make people have uncomfortable conversations with their children (as the mother of a two year old, I’m just going to say that «that’s just something those two people enjoy» doesn’t seem that hard an explanation), and that you contribute to the stigma against the kink community.
I did not really agree and so I started conducting a wholly unscientific survey on the matter. My conclusions: the kinkier people were, the more likely they were to consider that the behavior was inappropriate; while (under 40, liberal) vanilla friends were more likely to say ‘whatever, live and let live.’ It surprised me and frankly continues to surprise me that the kink community was effectively coming down on the more conservative side of things. Of course, it speaks to a consent culture within that community that is vastly different from the (lack of) consent culture so often evoked and berated in social discourse today. As one friend put it, if you’re going to hit people (or tie them, or choke them, or degrade them, or anything else that rocks your collective jollies), you need a high level of explicit, enthusiastic consent and communication.
Nevertheless, arguments such as “keep it in the bedroom” and “don’t make people uncomfortable” seemed much too close to those used against same sex love and desire to not scrutinize closely. This is where the follow up questions emerged. None of which will likely be resolved here.
- Is kink an identity or a sexual practice? If it is an identity then it would be afforded further social privileges than if it is merely a sexual practice–which our society mostly deems private matters. The fact that there is such a thing as a BDSM community suggests to me that it is in fact an identity, one that some people identify as primary while others see as just a small part of their lives.
- Do we or should we have a right to be aroused and experience our sexuality as it is so long as we are not coercing others in any way? It’s certainly not a constitutional right. Does this fall under freedom of expression? Seems closer to the pursuit of happiness, too bad that didn’t make it into the constitution. And then, is the tattoo artist with the masochistic client being coerced to participate in their clients sexuality? Are the people at Starbucks or on the street being coerced to participate in the exhibitionists’ sexuality?
- A friend argued that we have a social norm against sexual acts in public and that this kind of behavior fell into that. I thought it was perhaps the strongest argument I’d heard, still do. But is it really about the sexual acts or is it about the nudity? Is making out a sexual act? Is a power dynamic (such as Dom(me)/Sub, Daddy/little, or Master/Pet) a sexual act or a way of relating? So many kinksters play without ever actually engaging in what most people would consider sex or even nudity. What about consensual impact play in public? Would that be considered sexual? Should we follow a movie rating system and only PG material is allowed in public?
I don’t have answers to these questions, perhaps in large part because I have not spent as much time thinking about them as people in the kink community have—I suspect many of us have not. But there’s undoubtedly a lot to learn and question here, and I, for one, am just hoping more people will start asking themselves whether it’s ok to be walked down the street on a leash; they might like it (-;