Is Kink Queer or Is It About Respectability Politics?
Kink is an umbrella term referring to specific sexual desires people have, which can encompass a range of preferences from dirty talk and spanking to BDSM, pup play, and more. It is also a way of defying conventions, and it’s important to reassess the connections we cite between kink on one hand and respectability, morality, and decency on the other. These connections arise from how the larger society view sexuality as immoral, as a subject of taboo, and impure by some extension – that which is not deserving of room in a public space, where dignity, respect, and morality reign.
Respectability politics – a type of politic of social capital where collaborating with the law and respectable and conventional norms provides legitimacy – underpins an assimilationist approach to queerness. Where being as similar to cishet people and their conventions is ideal, aspirational even. Basically, it’s the idea that marginalised groups need to behave or act in a certain way to validate the compassion shown toward them. It becomes complex when people lie at multiple intersections of marginalities, one of the prime examples being kinksters at Pride parades. This is crucial because sexuality has been seen as a taboo, especially since alternative forms of sexuality challenge the traditional understanding of love, monogamy, family, and pleasure. And at a time when people of all gender identities and sexual orientations are taking up public space and becoming more visible, those who prescribe to the norm feel like they’re facing a threat.
Sex has been largely seen as a way of procreation, but kink views sex and even self-expression through the lens of pure pleasure, which is why there’s always a group of kinsters at Pride. Pride parades cannot be sanitised and made just ‘family-friendly’ when families are one of the institutions which has been most oppressive to queer-trans people. Harnesses, leather suits, ball bags, puppy hoods, and furries aren’t going to hurt anyone. Vox defined the persisting problem of “sex in connection to respectability politics” as similar to the villain in Hollywood horror movies – infamous of never dying.
Sanitisation Restricts Accessibility
One of the major arguments that’s always making the rounds on Twitter is that you can’t expose children to sexualising stuff. However, Lauren Rowello argues that policing how others present themselves is not a great way to introduce the idea of pride to children either. In fact, children (in a guided and safe way) can also learn how the queer community transcends so many conventional ways of living, being, and loving. There’s opportunity to teach people that kinksters expressing themselves is not obscenity, and that they don’t force anyone to participate in kinks. Pride is about queerness and queerness is about joy, and kink can be a part of that.
One tweet that’s against kink at Pride stated,“Pride should be a cool, queer-friendly block party you can attend to meet with organizers and get cute shirts. Everyone should be able to attend. It should be safe and uncontroversial. Dismissing accessibility as “sanitization” is a really underhanded and disgusting strategy.” But again, whose accessibility are we talking about? And who exactly is the Pride event(s) catering to? Pride has been a protest and will be a protest, it’s not some mere rainbow celebration led by those who have assimilated as the most respectable of all the queers, which are predominantly cishet gay men.
Queerness Is Beyond Assimilation
Robin Domernoof says that queerness is beyond sex, seeping into political resistance against hegemonic ideas of living. Unfortunately, Pride has been appropriated and is about selling stuff as part of the capitalist ideology. So where do we find space for radical politics around loving, living, and being? I want the queer life that bell hooks talked of when she said that sex is a dimension of being queer, but it is also about having a self that’s at odds with everything around you, constantly reinventing and finding a place to thrive and live.
A comment on a YouTube video by the Youtuber Vaush discussing the kink question argued that the demand for family friendliness is arising out of the support and sponsorship corporates are providing to Pride to show themselves as progressive and inclusive and they need more people, especially cisgender people, to attend. However, Vaush’s rationale seems to stem from support for normalization, which is closely linked with the idea of assimilation to the wider values held by the normative society. Pride isn’t merely the rainbow t-shirts and badges. In fact, it comprises the still sexualized symbols of leather.
Leather in Kink Has Historical Significance
L.V. Loya Soto argues there’s a cultural and historical significance of how kink is connected to Pride (for instance, the gay male leather subculture in the late 1940s). If we dig a little deeper into the history of Pride, a bisexual activist and leather fetishist Brenda Howard is known as the “Mother of Pride” for their efforts to organizing the first ever Pride march. This wasn’t a great time for queers as there were rules like the three-article rule (which limited gender expression), the anti-sodomy laws (many of which still exist), homosexuality as an illness til 1973, and the Lavender Scare (queer people simply denied employment and ostracized).
Kink has been in defiance of all these draconian laws. The kink community was amongst the frist to respond to HIV/AIDS crises, eventually stepping in as sex educators and care-givers. The leather community has fought alongside trans women, queer people of colour, homeless queer persons, drag queens and lesbians. The furore regarding kink is baseless because wearing gear at pride is as legible as wearing swimming suits at the beach, it’s not about whataboutery but asking why queer people are blamed indiscriminately. Kat Blaque doesn’t support a public BDSM scene but that’s not what’s been happening at pride. Using ‘shame’ to restrict queer people’s expression of their joy, identity, and sexuality defiles of the whole point of pride – sexual liberation.
Pune Pride And Restricting Flamboyance
Even in India, in the year, 2017, the organizer of Pune pride declared that “there would be no cross-dressing, flamboyance or anti-national/anti-religious sloganeering at that year’s Pune Pride.” Even cross-dressing wasn’t allowed. And this isn’t even about kink, this is just about ‘flamboyance.’ Bindumadhav Khire further said to the Pune Mirror – “Pune’s pride march has always been a conservative one. We don’t want people to dress in a manner that embarrasses the community. There are families joining us and it wouldn’t be right if we allow people to simply have fun and not work towards our cause. Some people even get drunk during the march and misbehave —we would want to avoid all that.”
The idea of discarding flamboyance or “nanga naach” in favor of pleasing the cishet gaze is, again, respectability politics. In a paper by Brian A. Horton titled Fashioning Fabulation: Dress, Gesture and the Queer Aesthetics of Mumbai Pride, Horton discusses how pride is a public event and queer and gender non-conforming subjects use flamboyant clothing and gestures as modes of taking up space, arguing that “pride is also among the few remaining public bastions of queer fun.” Lastly, rather then centring of the narrative of queer pain as a model for social recognition that leaves out queer joy, frivolity and pleasure through a public display, whether it be through kink or through flamboyance, are both unapologetic expressions of queerness.