A few weeks ago, This article came across my Facebook feed. In the wake of Ferguson and the Eric Garner shootings, the author Britt Bennet wrote a very powerful piece about her complicated relationship to privilege and race.
I often hear good white people ask why people of color must make everything about race, as if we enjoy considering racism as a motivation. I wish I never had to cycle through these small interactions and wonder: Am I overthinking? Am I just being paranoid? It’s exhausting.
“It was a lot simpler in the rural South,” my mother tells me. “White people let you know right away where you stood.”
The problem is that you can never know someone else’s intentions. And sometimes I feel like I live in a world where I’m forced to parse through the intentions of people who have no interest in knowing mine. A grand jury believed that Darren Wilson was a good officer doing his job. This same grand jury believed than an eighteen-year-old kid in a monstrous rage charged into a hailstorm of bullets toward a cop’s gun.
This piece hit really close to home for me for completely unexpected reasons. I could not help but draw parallels to my own family history, but also think about how privilege and race play out in kinky and sex positive communities.
On a personal level, I saw a lot of parallels between her family history and mine, even though our cultural backgrounds are so completely different. I grew up with stories of the holocaust survivors in my family. My mother told me stories about working at a summer camp in the Midwest, where her co-counselor honestly and earnestly asked her whether her horns came out at night and if she needed special pants to hide her tail. (I wish I could make this stuff up.)
When I went to summer camp in North Carolina, my parents warned me to be careful talking about being Jewish. Apparently, my dad had been jumped when he was working in the south because someone found out he was Jewish. So I spent my first summer dead convinced that everyone was antisemitic. When I was proved wrong, I didn’t quite know how to handle it.
At the same time, I recognize that this author is actively dealing oppression I am privileged to be a generation removed from.
Articles such as these leave me grappling with a bunch of questions, which I think is kind of the point.
Here’s what comes up for me: how do I honor my own history of oppression without minimizing my privilege? How can I engage my own story to support and empower without being condescending or hijacking?
I also feel its important to pose similar questions to kink communities.
Kink/BDSM culture was born out of taboo and sexual oppression. The Leather Archives has done a phenomenal job of gathering and preserving some of that history. Its roots are tangled in Victorian repression, Underground gay bars, Japanese brothels. The risks of being out as kinky to friends, family, lovers, were and are very real. That history is also to be understood and honored.
Part of what gives kinky play its charge is the fact that it plays with taboo. Mollena has written and taught extensively about how she actively engages taboo in her own play.
Here’s the thing; it’s not just in our play where we tangle with privilege; it’s engrained in the structure of our communities. When I go to kink events, I can’t help but notice the lack of racial and cultural diversity of the attendees. While I think this is starting to change ever so slightly, the overwhelming representation of white, cis-gendered humans is still very hard to miss. I can’t pretend to know all of the reasons for why this is the case, but I’m willing to bet that economics plays a huge factor. Kink conventions and workshops are really expensive! Therefore, if you don’t have disposable income, going to even one event means a lot of careful planning, saving, and sacrifice.
There are organizations around the country, which offer free or inexpensive educational events/play parties, but those can be hit or miss, depending on a number of factors. These smaller events tend to be feeders for regional and national events, and a lot of times, local groups are formed by a small group of like minded people. This isn’t inherently bad, but if these local groups don’t make a concerted effort to create a welcoming environment for a diverse population, this can be another barrier to entry for many people of color, non-binary folk, ethnic minorities, and so on. I’ve encountered all too many organizations (which shall remain nameless) that are very entrenched in their own cultures and modes of operation. As a result, they end up alienating people who do not fit their cultural molds. Nobody wins when this happens.
Therefore, occupying circles of gender, racial, and economic privilege are often prerequisites for entering into many kinky circles. What can be done to change this? How do kinksters understand their own history of oppression and repression without turning a blind eye to the very real issues in our communities?