Friday, July 20, 2007

If Everybody’s Kinky . . . Nobody’s Kinky

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #317, July 20, 2007)

“Your Kink Is OK/My Kink Is OK” is nothing less than the beginning of world peace.

Someone, somewhere thinks you’re kinky. And they think you’re evil because of it.

They think Your Kink Is Not OK. They even have an acronym for it: YKINOK.

They may be a right-wing conservative extremist. They may be a “vanilla” member of the GLBT community. They even may be a member of the leather/BDSM/fetish community playing the MKIOK/YKINOK game (“My Kink Is OK/Your Kink Is Not OK”).

You may think their judgment of you is not fair, and you’d be right. But are you doing the same thing?

What exactly does “kinky” mean, anyway? Who gets to define what’s kinky and what’s not?

Everybody does. That’s the problem.

“Kinky” is a relative term. Many people define as “kinky” what they don’t like, don’t identify with, don’t feel comfortable with, or don’t understand. Kinky is the opposite of “normal,” whatever that is.

Many members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community self-identify as kinky individuals. They are the opposite of what they call “vanilla,” which to them means conventional, “usual” sex—not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that. Sometimes even self-proclaimed kinky people are in the mood for vanilla sex.

At its most extreme, though, “vanilla” is fundamentalist: one man, one woman, missionary position, for the purpose of procreation. Anything outside that small, supposedly moral, scope is fair game for the disapproving “kinky” designation. (Of course, some of the fundamentalist types who berate these “unnatural” sexualities are speaking most loudly to themselves, trying first and foremost to convince themselves of the evil nature of these practices.)

In this context, there are people who classify all kinds of things as kinky: gay or lesbian sex, bisexuality, anything connected with transgender issues, polyamory, swinging, vibrators and other sex toys, and even sexually suggestive clothing. So if you’ve ever been associated with anything of these, someone thinks you’re kinky.

But there’s good, clean, morally approved “vanilla,” and then there’s reality. And the reality tent is a lot bigger than the fundamentalists like to admit.

When I am introduced to people as a leather columnist, I often wind up finding out a lot about them. Often they tell me, “Well, I’m not kinky, but . . .” and then they name their predilection: “I like to be spanked.” “I like to get tied up sometimes.” “I like to have my nipples played with.”

Who’s kinky? Almost everybody, in some way or other. But if everybody’s kinky, nobody’s kinky. The concept of “kink” loses its meaning when the normality of many and varied forms of human sexual expression is recognized and even celebrated.

One man, one woman and the missionary position is not the one true way. Other societies have organized things differently: ancient matriarchies; multiple wives (in the Bible throughout the Old Testament, in many Middle-Eastern societies today and historically among otherwise-conservative Mormons); the “walking marriages” of the Mosuo people in central China, a matrilineal society in which families of biological brothers and sisters raise the sisters’ children, often without knowing or caring who their father was.

So could we all just lighten up a bit? Could we cut each other some slack? If I don’t get off on something but you do, why should I deny you your right to the pursuit of happiness? Wouldn’t it be better if I respected your rights and preferences, and in return you respected mine? There’s an acronym for that, too: YKIOK/MKIOK (“Your Kink Is OK/My Kink Is OK”).

That is nothing less than the beginning of world peace. Maybe if we can agree on that, we can agree on some other things as well. And, to paraphrase what an IML contestant a few years ago proclaimed during his speech: “World peace has to come from somewhere. What better place than this community?”

Leaders of the GLBT community have been saying for a long time that discrimination based on affectional preference or gender expression makes no sense. And it doesn’t, any more than discrimination based on skin color, race or ethnicity. And discrimination on the basis of kink preference or disapproval also makes no more sense than, say, discrimination over ice cream preference:

“Well, I’ve often dreamed of trying the triple-mocha caramel, but I never actually would. What would people say if they found out? It’s just not respectable. (But, oh, I bet it’s delicious!)”

Or how about, “Watch out for that one—I hear he goes for tutti-frutti.”

Or maybe, “She’s so staid—she only ever eats vanilla.” To which she answers, “Yes, I prefer vanilla—but only REALLY GOOD vanilla!”

As I sit here at the completely homosexual end of the sexual-preference bell curve, I clearly see the artificial and limiting nature of our society’s current “vanilla” sexual paradigm. But what would a less enforced, less rigid, less vanilla world look like? Would kinksters lose that outlaw thrill? Would we be just like everyone else? Could we stand it?

No, we wouldn’t be like everyone else, because our preferences are not everyone’s. But we’d be like everyone else as far as human rights and human dignity were concerned. Wouldn’t that be a good change?

We crusade for sexual freedom as a fundamental human right for everyone. That means freedom to consensually enjoy any sexual flavor du jour. Yes, even the freedom to be monogamously vanilla—which some of us think is the ultimate kink.

Friday, July 6, 2007

All Together Now: “Thank You, Hilton, for Not Discriminating!”

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #316, July 6, 2007)

The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), and this columnist, want you to write a short note of support to the Palmer House Hilton, host hotel for the International Mr. Leather contest weekend. In your note, thank them for not discriminating against any guests or groups. According to NCSF, “The Palmer House Hilton has been a staunch supporter of the Fair Accommodations Act in working with alternative lifestyle groups, particularly IML.”

Please email your note of appreciation to:

• Stephen Bollenback, CEO, Hilton Hotels Corporation (

• Trina Owens, Hilton Hotels Corporation (, and

• Peter Lynn, General Manager, Palmer House Hilton (

Why is this necessary? Because an anti-gay group called Americans for Truth has posted an action alert calling for people to protest the “homosexual orgies” that take place at the “sadistic sexual perversion-fest known as International Mr. Leather.” You can view the Americans for Truth article about IML, complete with pictures, at <>.

“Americans for Truth About Homosexuality” (AFTAH) was founded by Peter LaBarbera in 1996, but was dormant for many years. Previously LaBarbera was involved with other right-wing organizations including Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America. He recently resigned from his position with the Illinois Family Institute to work full-time at re-launching AFTAH (now listed in the organization’s web site masthead as simply “Americans for Truth”) as a group devoted solely to countering what LaBarbera calls “the homosexual activist agenda.” Obviously LaBarbera feels a lot of passion for this issue and sees it as worthy of his full devotion.

One of LaBarbera’s stated goals for the organization is to “send reporters to ‘gay’ events and publish first-hand information about the lifestyle and radical ‘gay’ activism that the media routinely ignore or cover up.” To that end, LaBarbera himself has attended IML repeatedly and has taken many photographs to catalog the goings-on at the event he describes as “one of the most purely evil perversion-fests ever invented by mankind.”

His organization’s web site recently published seventeen photos taken at the 2006 and 2007 IML Leather Markets. They were prefaced with “WARNING: ***NOT FOR CHILDREN***/Graphic photos below with offensive depictions of real-life homosexual depravities.” (Interestingly, however, the web page is not protected by NetNanny or any other service or technology to ensure that minors cannot see the images.)

The photos cover many bases: bondage, slavery, water sports, tattoos, rubber hoods, electrical play, paddles, jockstraps and kilts, bathhouses, and even fisting (well, actually it was just a photo of a St. Andrew’s cross, but he managed to work an explanation of fisting into the caption below it). Referring to the photos, LaBarbera breathlessly noted “there are others that we could not publish” (leaving one to wonder if the rest of that sentence is, “so we’ll just save them for our private collection”).

On another page of the website LaBarbera calls Chicago “Sodom-by-the-Lake” and says the city is having a “moral meltdown.” As an example, he discusses Chicago’s Leather Archives & Museum: “I visited this ‘museum’ last year and was stunned by its audacious chronicling of the most repulsive perversions, e.g. ‘fisting.’ The sheer horror and weirdness of the place makes it difficult to describe to a normal audience.” Americans for Truth is headquartered in Naperville, Ill., making it convenient for LaBarbera to get to both the Leather Archives & Museum and The Palmer House for research purposes.

LaBarbera encourages visitors to his organization’s web site to take contact Hilton Hotels CEO Stephen Bollenback and “politely express your dismay” that Hilton is associated with International Mr. Leather. “If you feel so led, tell them that you will certainly never stay at the Palmer House Hilton—who would knowing that disgusting homosexual orgies have gone on in their rooms?—and you also will not be staying at other Hilton hotels while this deviant association continues.”

LaBarbera’s second step: Contact Palmer House Hilton General Manager Peter Lynn to “ask him how they sterilize their rooms after the perverse IML orgies” and express outrage over The Palmer House’s hosting of IML. Step 3 is, in the future, to book hotel rooms through a website offering “porn-free” hotels “so you can rest easy knowing that you are not rewarding the pornography industry through your stay.”

There has been much speculation, in the blogosphere and elsewhere, about whether or not Mr. LaBarbera is himself a closeted gay man. But while such gossip may be tantalizing in the short run, ultimately the question of what motivates and drives anti-gay activists such as LaBarbera is a red herring and a distraction. The real issue is that voices like his are out there, and they must be countered strongly, eloquently and in great numbers. So let’s get those e-mails going, okay? Thanks!