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Kink (at) Pride

Making space in the Rainbow for black and blue.

As June approaches, it’s time again for that perennial social media debate: should the BDSM/Kink community be included at Pride?

Some say no; Pride Month celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community and that should not be diluted or distracted by other communities. Others point out that this initialism itself has been expanded many times over the years to include other marginalized sexual communities. LGB was first used in the early ’80s, to be more inclusive than simply saying “gay.” By the 1990s, our Trans siblings were represented and the term evolved to LGBT. Representation for Queer, Intersex, and Asexual/Aromantic identities has been added over the last two decades, until finally folks started including a + sign, to indicate support for an expansive acceptance of marginalized identities within a shorthand that was rapidly becoming almost comedically cumbersome. And yet, for many, the + does not include kink.

This is surprising, considering the parallel paths of oppression, self-advocacy, and empowerment that both communities have followed. In the earliest days of psychology, homosexuality and sadomasochism were lumped together under the same overarching umbrella of “sexual deviancy.” This was eventually parsed out into a set of distinct diagnoses, each of which was considered a form of unnatural and degenerate behavior: homosexuality, sadism, masochism, transvestism, etc. In the 1970s, the Gay Liberation movement took on the American Psychiatric Association and lobbied hard to have homosexuality removed from the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness (DSM), the guidebook used by nearly every mental health provider in the United States to diagnose psychological concerns in their patients.

Today, the DSM still includes diagnostic criteria under paraphilic disorders for sadism, masochism, fetishism, and “transvestism” (what we might today more accurately refer to as cross-dressing). While it offers some general guidance about assessing for clinical distress before applying these labels, voices both within the mental health community and the world of BDSM strenuously object to the practice of safe and consensual power and sensation exchange being categorized alongside intrinsically problematic non-consensual behaviors such as pedophilia and frotteurism.

This battlefront extends beyond the world of mental health. While many states have taken steps to enact protections for discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, sexual practice is not a protected class. This means that while a landlord in my home state might not be able to evict me for being gay, or trans, they have the legal right to evict me for engaging in consensual BDSM play in my apartment. Likewise, Kinksters are not protected against employment discrimination, zoning exclusion, censorship, and other forms of bias. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, which provides incident response and tracking for members of the BDSM and consensual nonmonogamy communities, tracks dozens of such incidents each month. Consider that that only counts the folks who knew to report their experience to NCSF at all. And that’s to say nothing of state and local laws that constrain or criminalize consensual BDSM play.

Quino Al/Upsplash
Kinksters have always been present at Pride.
Source: Quino Al/Upsplash

Evidence shows that when a parent’s BDSM identity is brought up in custody cases in court, that parent typically loses, regardless of whether there has been an allegation of inappropriate exposure to sexual materials or behavior or not. Researchers who track these cases state they have yet to see a kinky parent retain custody once the issue of their sexual identity is raised (Klein, Moser). And for many, BDSM is a core component of their sexual identity. Approximately 2% of people state that being kinky is their primary sexual orientation. Many, if not most, of the people interviewed report being aware that they were kinky before age 12, whether or not they had the word for kink in their vocabulary (Goerlich). That sounds a lot like a sexual orientation to me. This is a population roughly comparable to the number of left-handed people in America, or redheads, or Jews. It is a small, but not insignificant community that faces stigma on a daily basis. And that doesn’t include the 10-12% of people who state that they enjoy power exchange dynamics, but do not necessarily consider kink to be a key element of their sexuality. Or the 50% of Americans who report experimenting with some form of BDSM with their partners.

Marsha P. Johnson said, "No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.” The work of liberation is far from done, and the battle to preserve the gains made since Stonewall seems never-ending. The BDSM/Kink community shares this struggle, both because many LGBTQIA+ folks are themselves kinky, and also because kinksters have historically faced the same social, medical, and criminal barriers that their queer comrades have fought so hard to overcome. There will always be room to debate just how sexualized the environment at any given Pride event should be. And we can have a debate over whether children belong at Folsom or if nudity belongs at NYC Pride. But there should be no doubt that those carrying the black-and-blue striped flag with a small red heart in the corner deserve their place underneath the rainbow.

References

Klein, Marty and Moser, Charles(2006) 'SM (Sadomasochistic) Interests as an Issue in a Child Custody Proceeding', Journal of Homosexuality,50:2,233 — 242 : http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J082v50n02_11

Goerlich, Stefani (2020) The Leather Couch: Clinical Practice with Kinky Clients, Routledge Press, New York, NY.

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