The “Kink” in “KinkForAll”

Regular readers of this blog, if there are any, might recall that I wrote before about KinkForAll, an open-source, “unconference” model dedicated to fostering dialogue between members of the kinky, queer, and sex-positive communities. The first iteration of KinkForAll was held in New York City in March, and the next is going to happen in Washington, DC this summer. The folks putting that together haven’t announced a date yet, but since I’m going to be in DC for the summer, I’ve signed up to attend (as should you, if you’re interested in this sort of thing).

Anyway, the process of deciding to attend and eventually attending the New York KFA caused me to do a lot of thinking about the philosophy behind this whole “unconference” thing, and a “kink” conference in particular. What is the role of the “conference” model? How do you make something like that, which seems so intrinsically academic, accessible to a wider community that hasn’t had an academic background? How do you bring together a lot of disparate communities who have little in common but a penchant for talking about sexuality and get them to have a conversation? What form should that conversation take? There’s a lot of politics to be dealt with here, particularly when considering the role of the BDSM community in all this: a lot of the folks who attended KFANYC came from within New York’s BDSM community, but that’s a largely underground space, without the level of public visibility, public comfort, and publicly-constructed community identity that, say, the LGBT community has. It’s tricky. Very tricky.

Part of what’s tricky is the name “KinkForAll” itself, and actually in listening to one of KFA’s primary unorganizers and evangelists, maymay, talk about this, I’ve been able to develop my understanding of what that word is doing there. When I initially heard that the name had been chosen to include the word “kink,” I was dubious, because to me “kink” was synonymous with “BDSM,” and I had to wonder how this conference model was going to include and address other sexuality communities, and how it would be different from your average BDSM workshop. (I also had to wonder where I, whose realm is primarily queer identity and politics, would fit in.) Well. Folks who have been to a KinkForAll (and hopefully that number will start to grow pretty rapidly!) will know that it is quite different indeed.

Maymay says all this better than I do, so I recommend you read his blog; I won’t even try. I’ll just point you to something he said in a recent podcast where he spoke about KFA (which is what prompted me to write this post): “The BDSM community is so focused on these, like, extreme sports-style skill sets that we forget, often, that’s not necessarily the most important thing… especially for people who need to know more about the world in which we live in [in order] to come out to our world.”

That’s exactly right. Much as there was a time when the gay community was criticized for being overly focused simply on sexual practice, and not on larger, more abstract or theoretical questions about identity and community, so too (from what I’ve heard; I can’t speak as an insider) does the BDSM community seem to struggle with this problem. KinkForAll is addressing that, and here I think the word “kink” is actually key: I’ve come to see this word as encompassing any non-mainstream sexuality, maybe a further broadening or development or evolution of “queer.” I think we can use it that way; it’s not as if it’s a word that actually connotes a specific sexual desire or practice in the way that the B, D, S, and M of that acronym do. From a sociological perspective, I have to say that KFA is a perfect opportunity to watch this community evolve and shape itself, and the questions that KFA has posed to me make me constantly reconsider how minority sexuality communities continue to place themselves in relation to the majority. As the LGBT community becomes increasingly mainstream and increasingly integrated into a “straight” (for lack of a better word) paradigm, what takes its place as the radical outlier? Maybe “kink” is the new “queer”; one of the concepts I saw threading through KFANYC was that what almost seemed more important than any specific sexual preferences was a radical ethos, a prevailing notion of being outside the mainstream, of DIY, of grassroots. I don’t think it’s erroneous to draw parallels to gay liberation, when a minority sexuality community decided it was going to establish its own boundaries (or lack thereof), and not allow the law or the medical profession or anyone else to do that for them.

I think I may have lost the point of this rant, except to say that, well, all this is critically important. In my classes and my own reading, everything is about progress, and acceptance, and mainstreaming; today in my lectures in the last week of class, sociological data on the younger generation’s increasing acceptance of homosexuality went along with my history professor’s discussion of progress on the same-sex marriage front. And that’s all well and good, but I think it’s still wise to address the sexuality counterculture, whatever that may be at time of writing. They lend an uncertainty to the whole model, the possibility that maybe relationship paradigms and societal standards will continue to shift and change and blow our minds. That’s why I’ve signed up to attend my second KinkForAll, anyway.

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