Bondage

So, the Chronicle has a section for weird news that they call “Bondage.” And every time I see it, I kind of cringe. I’ve been debating whether or not to talk about my dislike of the “Bondage” column for various reasons, but today I decided why not, what the hell, might as well go for it.

So, the thing that really bothers me is the implication that bondage is weird, aberrant, or amusing. Especially in a city like San Francisco, which has a huge progressive and leather community, the idea of using the term in this way kind of surprises me. When I first saw it, I actually thought that the Chronicle was starting a kinky news service, and I thought that would be pretty awesome. Well, they do have a kinky columnist now, but the “Bondage” column has been around a lot longer than Violet Blue’s column has, and Ms. Blue has had some problems with her content, like the Chronicle refusing to link to naughty websites in the context of her column.

So, why does it bother me that “Bondage” is belittled by the Chronicle in the form of an amusing news column? Surely there are far more important things for me to worry about, right? Well, first of all, let’s talk about what bondage is, because it means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For me, bondage is part of a larger alt-sex and, yes, kinky community, to which I belong. I’m not sure that I have explicitly stated that anywhere on this website, because I hesitate dragging personal details about my life into this site (ruminative “reflections” columns aside). I’m not going to go into the gory details of my sex life, and I suggest that if you are really clueless in matters of kink, you read through some of my “further readings in sexuality” which can be found on my links page. In the strictest sense, bondage, to me, is about confinement, sensation, and pushing limits in a safe, sane, and consensual environment. It’s also about satiny rope on bare skin, the play of leather on flesh, and many other things. But for the sake of my squeamish readers, I’ll pick this up in another post.

I have hesitated to come out about my membership in the kink community for many of the same reasons I dislike the “Bondage” column. The moment that I admit my alliance with alternative sexuality, you, dear reader, are jumping to conclusions about me. Perhaps it’s merely an “aha! I suspected it all along,” but it might unfortunately be something much darker as well.

I know that kinksters read this blog, because contrary to popular belief we don’t actually spend all of our time tying each other up and leading each other around fetish parties like dogs. Indeed, many kinksters have wide and varied interests, and we all live very different lifestyles. Some of us might look decidedly vanilla at casual glance, while others among us have obviously embraced their roles in the fetish community.

Unfortunately, many people have very…interesting views about alternative sexuality and lifestyles. Sadly, this makes for a lot of prejudice against us. I know people who have been outed at work and fired, been rudely turned down when they ask people on dates, and others who have struggled with a variety of issues relating to their sexuality. In a way, I liken kinksters to gays and lesbians.

Straight vanilla people can generally fearlessly walk up to someone in a coffeehouse and say “hey, that looks like an interesting book, would you like to go out for coffee?”

Gays and lesbians can’t do that, for fear of being greeted with hate speech and rejection. And kinksters, likewise, struggle, because we have to struggle with when, exactly, we bring up our own sexuality. It would hardly be fair for me to ask a vanilla boy out on a date, go through an extended courtship, and then discover that we aren’t compatible at all. On the other hand, that innocuous looking cutie in Headlands leaning over a laptop might be into the same kinds of things I am, but I can’t peer over his shoulder to check and see if Twisted Monk is on his RSS feeds.

Heterosexuals with mundane tastes can live in confidence that they will be accepted by society. Kinksters struggle through their teenage years, with most of us thrashing around until we realize that there is a community and a place for us. And then we have to find medical professionals who won’t chastise us for the way we live, employers who won’t be seized with panic at the thought of what we might have been doing over the weekend, and come out to our friends. Have my experiences been mirrored by all members of the kink community? Of course not, but I would imagine that my words strike chords with many.

Just like I cringe when I hear a gay joke and people laugh at it, I twitch when I hear bondage reduced to humor. Can bondage be funny? Oh, yes, beautifully yes, and humor is very much a part of my sexuality. But it should not, in my mind, be used as a header for a weird news column, because that implies that bondage is weird. Which, certainly, it can be, but it perpetuates a stereotype, like “all tattooed people are scary aberrant freaks of nature bent on the destruction of society” or “all vanilla people only know one sex position.” Why not call the “Bondage” column “Monogamy,” because I have a feeling that monogamy is far more rare and weird than bondage.

It is only through outreach and education that we will find common ground with all people, and distancing ourselves out of discomfort and fear is not the way. Just as I encourage people to treat modified individuals with respect, curiosity, and love, I invite my readers to do the same with the kinksters in their lives. Instead of greeting revelations like “I really enjoy dressing up as a pony and being whipped around a racetrack” with horror, why not talk about the broader cultural world of pony play? Or ask about what it’s like? People don’t come up with personal revelations just to have them sink heavily to the bottom of a conversation like stones, after all.