This past weekend was FtB Con. On Saturday, I was on a panel about kink for those who were beginning to explore it. I brought up issues of racism that I have faced online and off in the scene and specifically described a situation where I was nonconsensually fetishized for my skin tone at a kink event. Another panelist compared the situation to being followed and harassed at a mall and advised that people ought to firmly say “Stop!” to anyone who was doing such a thing.
As the panel wasn’t about exclusively my experiences and I felt a little flustered, I didn’t cover all the reasons why the situation hadn’t been that simple for me. The idea that it would have been easy for me to halt what had been happening is based on the assumption that the only power dynamics at play in kink spaces are pre-negotiated ones between consenting adults.
To rehash the situation I described in the video: At a kink event, I was followed around at various points during the evening by a woman who decided that she would call me “Cinnamon” because she thought I had “beautiful cinnamon-colored skin.” This was not as part of a scene nor did she ask me before deciding that she would call me that.
What I had left out of my verbal account were several mitigating factors.
When I joined FetLife, it became very clear to me that I was going to meet problematic people if I were to attend any of the events advertised there. As I mentioned in the panel, FetLife hosts individuals and groups that promote misogyny, white supremacy, and other forms of oppression under the guise of “kink.” Furthermore, the defense against those who criticize them is “you’re being sex-negative!”
The only reason I attended the event in question was that it was all-women and allegedly run by women who believed in intersectional awareness and social justice. The group and event descriptions both promoted an allegedly safer-space mentality that was purportedly inclusive of all and anti-oppressive. Many of the women who ran the event had FetLife profiles that included terms like “anti-racism work.” Based on all those factors, I figured that I wouldn’t have as bad a time at an event like that (and was proven wrong).
My prior experience of kinksters was of people who ignored both me as a prospective play partner and my consent in order to engage in exclusionary explicit play at a parties that weren’t actually supposed to be play parties. I was the fat brown girl in the corner watching lithe, attractive white people engage in sexual activities at a party that was supposed to be about, say, wine and cheese, and it was off-putting to say the least. Aside from those experiences, I was fairly new to the kink scene at the event where I was dubbed “Cinnamon.” I didn’t know anyone at the event very well and was trying to make friends. In short, I was already more than a bit wary and insecure, as can be expected from an inexperienced and intimidated newbie in her underwear at an erotically-charged event.
Contrast me with the woman who decided to fetishize my skin tone. She was assisting a prominent and well-respected domme that evening. Everyone seemed to know and like her and she clearly already knew the ropes very well, so to speak. The boundary-violator’s confidence in that situation was very high and mine was incredibly low. I assumed that she would know what was appropriate and what was not, and that I must have been wrong for disliking being fetishized against my will (I wasn’t).
Furthermore, the domme she was helping was an expert I was hoping to get help from so I didn’t want to seem too touchy or commit some kind of faux pas. I didn’t want to potentially lose out on good experiences from an event I’d already driven 2 hours in traffic to get to and paid $15 to get into. I was already on the hook and already having a bad time, so I wanted to salvage what I could from the evening by potentially learning something (and I did).
For the record, the event had featured a round of introductions at the very beginning where people had stated their preferred names and pronouns. This woman had not only picked out a nickname for me and without my consent, she was blatantly ignoring what I had told her to call me. I find that to be an especially dangerous precedent in a space that is allegedly inclusive of marginalized groups like trans folks. That aside, it felt like a power play: she was a known person and I was a nothing she could call whatever she wished.
A well-liked and -known person who was essentially gatekeeping for the aid of the de facto matriarch of a women-only play party choosing to impose a nickname on a newbie based on said newbie’s skin tone is not at all like a random person following someone around a mall and calling them something offensive. There were multiple layers of power dynamics at play at that event, ones that made it highly difficult for me to have yelled “Stop!” at her.
I ended up quitting those events because I realized that getting the group to be truly racially inclusive was going to be a difficult struggle in which I was uninterested in spending my time and energy. That lack of true inclusive spirit was evidence in the FetLife group, where someone suggested a culturally-appropriative theme for the next event. I very carefully expressed my concerns about it without naming anyone or getting personal, but that didn’t seem to matter to a certain member.
One of the very organizers of the event posted about what I had said into a group I wasn’t part of, so I couldn’t respond with my perspective but could see the post and others’ comments. To call what she had said about my words “unfavorable” would have been an understatement; the disgusting remarks people made in support of her post that she let pass without comment were horrifying. If this was the best that the kink scene had to offer in terms of “aware” groups, I was going to keep my play private as I had before.