Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fifty Shades of Going Mainstream

NPR did a story the other day about the Fifty Shades trilogy.  Now let me say right here, I have not read these books and have no interest in reading these books.  I have heard them described as “This does to BDSM what Twilight did to vampires!”  *Ouch!!!*  And “mommy porn”  (which is very funny at first and then kind of gross the more you think about it).

However these books have (and this astounds me) sold faster than either The Girl w/ the Dragon Tattoo or the seventh Harry Potter book!

So… this got me thinking… Just how out in the open do we (the kink/leather/BDSM community) really want to be?

To some extent, this is a very generational split… and I (aged 37 and first started sniffing around the scene in the late-90’s) am pretty much right on the hinge.  On my left I see those older and more experienced than me who had to enter the community by having the balls to walk into a bar or club like the Eagle, the Woodshed, or the Sanctuary…  They had to earn their way in, and were (in general) accepted gradually.  You had to prove that (a) you were the real deal and not a “weekend warrior” and (b) you weren’t an asshole.  Reputation was gold, respect came gradually… and the members of this community (many of them still gun-shy from the pre-Stonewall days when the scene had to stay in the shadows) didn’t want any public attention.  If you were serious about it, then you’d find your way in… if you were just a weekend warrior, you weren’t welcome in.

Then I look to my right, and I see TNG.  The 20-somethings are hyper-connected and social networked.  They are out and open and have pictures of their tits and dicks online.  They probably first discovered the scene online.  They probably began by Google-ing (every time I say “Google-ing” an IP litigator loses his wings :) ) and made their way to social networks like FetLife.  I can tell you… I have felt the impact of Fet since it appeared about 5 years ago – it really has re-shaped the community.  We’re now in a flat-world (as per TomFreidman), and everybody is everybody’s business.

Now we have Fifty Shades… a mega-bestselling, mainstream, book that revolves around a BDSM relationship (that sparkles in sunlight!).  Awwww… how cute!

So, just how big, visible, and mainstream do we want to be, really?

On the one hand… as the gay community has learned, that is the path to acceptance.  Rosie, Ellen, and Will & Grace did more to move the gay-rights cause forward than every Pride parade ever.  Marvel & DC comics have both introduced gay superheroes.  (I think marvel actually had the first one back in the late-70’s w/ Northstar… but he was a minor character, and his homosexuality was only hinted at until the 90’s.)  Certainly, Fifty Shades will make the job of NCSF a lot easier I would think.

Also, the more open and inviting scene has advantages for bringing new people… and the expanded population is certainly a boon for those looking for partners.  When I first came in, it took me a year or two to build-up some regular play-partners… and it took a couple years more to find a 24/7, romantic partner.  I don’t thing TNG today faces quite the same level of obstacles.

On the other hand… When I think of the ComicCon messes or the hoards of housewives fantasizing over Fifty Shades and identifying themselves w/ us… I honestly feel a bit “cheapened.”  I’ve had the same issues since Fet took off 4-5 years ago.  Suddenly we had “experts” appearing and calling themselves “Lord God Master Hugedick,” who had NO realtime experience.  There was one kid (about 24 or 25 I think) up here in NC who started his own group who had NEVER been to a single, actual BDSM event – not a class, not a play-party, not a dungeon, a con, or anything!  I admit… I was a little bit disgusted.

While Fet has made it easier to bring new folks in… it’s also made it a lot harder to identify and remove the creeps and predators.  Things are too democratic now, and the genuine predators can hide in the noise of the internet “drama.”

It was as well, partly in-response to the rise of Fet that Shdwkitten and I started teaching out “Avoiding the Kink Ghetto” class… which we’re doing this weekend for Charlotte TNG, which is another reason why this is on my mind.  Fet certainly exploded the population of the kink ghetto – those so stuck in the (mostly online) kink community that the rest of their life becomes sadly neglected.

I know that for me – and I think also for a lot of the older BDSM/leather crowed – we really don’t particularly want to “go mainstream.”  I’ll admit, some of it might be childish, but, damn it, it feels “cool” to be in-the-know… to be one of the guys who know the secret handshake and all…  I think that now masses of people are Google-ing all about what we do, and it, again, feels somehow “cheapened.”  And mind you, I’m someone who’s made education the main focus of my activities in the community… but still…

It’s a question I don’t have an answer for: How mainstream do we want to grow?  And… it’s probably a moot point anyway since the flat-earth is here and we’re not going to be able to stay in the shadows much longer even if we want to.  Part of me thinks that’s good… and part of me thinks that’s bad…


  1. I, being part of TNG, am of the mindset "Fuck it. Maybe one of these days I'll get to wear a collar to work, and nobody bat an eyelash".

    I think the problem with your argument is that your experiences have lead you to believe that BDSM is sacred. Why can't these people enjoy their fantasies and get to taste what you do? Kink isn't yours, and doesn't have to be done your way. I don't care about all the idiots who call themselves "Lord God Master Hugedick", because I see that, or hear it, and have a fun time laughing at them.

    My mindset is that all the "Lord God Master Hugedick"s are worth putting up for the amount of people, no matter how small, that really get something out of it. I've heard people bitch about the BDSM episode of CSI, which was my first experience, and I'm glad it was there to help get me into such a fantastic community.

    You still have to actively want to get into this community to be in it. I've noticed the more experienced people are a bit more reclusive than the standard "Lord God Master Hugedick" (I don't know why I like that so much). The delusional also tend to be predatory, and it's easy when you're new to not know the difference and meet up and have an awful experience with them.

    When I moved to Atlanta, I wanted to be a part of the community, but didn't really actively look, so it didn't happen. Then, I started looking harder, and met with someone who caused me Major problems (read: Stalking/death threats). Eventually, I went to a Dominion Party, and had a blast, and met insanely nice people. It was work, but eventually I found people worth knowing.

    Now, about the book, that's depressing. I wish people had a much better novel to read based on BDSM. My friend bought it for me (... and yes, I am relying on that excuse). It's 400 something pages long, first bondage doesn't happen till 200 something, and I stopped reading after about 250. It ruined the word "sardonic" for me. "His sardonic smile." "His sardonic gaze" "...his sardonic cock". That and some underexplained and overcliche "inner goddess" dialogue kept popping up, and I just couldn't take it.

    I honestly think she's the worlds greatest sadist, and was punishing someone with this book, but then it accidentally fell into a publishers lap, and they saw a woman crying over the book, so they must have thought "Jackpot. A woman crying? That means it's a good romance novel!"

    It really fits the mold of Twilight. A shy woman meets a deeply troubled and unobtainable guy, and slowly fixes him and they life happily ever after.

    Sorry for the novella

    1. Thanks for your comments, Hunter; I think your novella are very insightful. :)

      I don’t really have an argument to make – rather I'm trying to raise a question: How open and out do we want to be? The trend is heading more in that direction, and generally speaking it seems that those 10-15 years younger than me have a different attitude about it than those who are 10-15 years older than me… and I can see both sides.

      “[Your] experiences have lead you to believe that BDSM is sacred.”

      I think BDSM can be sacred. For some people it’s a very spiritual thing… and it comes w/ a lot of the same trappings of religion: edge experiences, rituals, esoteric knowledge, community (membership in the “tribe”)… But I think it’s important to see that people come to BDSM in different ways and for different reasons, and for many of them it has no spiritual/sacred aspect to it at all.

      “Kink isn't yours, and doesn't have to be done your way.”

      I’m not sure if that was addressed at me or at the generalized “you”… but, for the record, I have never claimed kink has to be my way… in fact one of my favorite expressions is, “Your mileage may vary.” What works for one person won’t work for another… and what fits one generation is usually not what the next generation needs/wants.

      But it seems worth noting, does it not, that life is always about trade-offs, and for something gained there is also something lost? Yes, your community can be larger and more open… but you have to put up w/ a lot more drama and undesirables. Yes, you can be more mainstream, but you loose the feeling of having a hard-won membership in an exclusive/esoteric sub-community – of knowing the secret handshake. When my Owner and I got started 10+ years ago there were one or two BDSM events you could go to a month. Now there is something going on once or twice a week. That’s good… but what you trade off is that anything that becomes more common also becomes less valuable. (Christmas would be “cheapened” if it came four times a year.)

      It also occurs to me that some of this could be an American thing. "The Story of O" was a bestseller in France like 30 years ago and has been made into a (foreign) film multiple times. Obviously the French have a more “open and mainstream” attitude about sex in general than we do…

      There’s not an “answer” – or any need for one – but I think the question itself is worth thinking about…