Tag Archives: kink

Lessons in acceptance

When people refer to California as “the land of fruits and nuts,” they’re usually talking about the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the places that has most strongly welcomed people who are LGBTQ – or in any way different from the mainstream. San Francisco hosts the annual Bay to Breakers race, where people wear wildly creative costumes – or nothing at all. Just across the bay, Oakland is home to the Black Panther Party and Occupy Oakland, and the 1960s Free Speech movement and student-led Vietnam War protests took place at UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza. As of this week, Berkeley (or “Berzerkeley,” as a conservative radio announcer referred to it the other day) is the first city in the U.S. to officially recognize Bisexual Pride Day (which is today, September 23). Questioning authority, challenging convention – that’s the Bay Area.

But no other event challenges convention more, in my opinion, than the Folsom Street Fair.

The Folsom Street Fair is the third largest event held annually in California (the other two being the Tournament of Roses and San Francisco Pride). It attracts all sorts of people, ranging from members of the leather/BDSM community to sightseers and tourists, with a considerable number of “gawkers.” And every year, there seems to be some sort of major controversy associated with the event. One year, Catholic church officials spoke out against the official poster artwork for the fair, which featured several well-known LGBTQ and BDSM community members, clad in fetish attire, seated around The Last Supper table. The table was draped with the Leather Pride flag, and various sex toys and other BDSM paraphernalia were scattered across the table. Another year, a photograph of two twin toddlers attending the fair, clad in leather attire, sparked a call for boycotting the Miller Brewing Company (a major corporate sponsor of the fair). The event has been criticized for public nudity and flogging, potential harm to children, and general debauchery.

The Folsom Street Fair was the first event I attended when I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area back in the 1990s. I was still on my own coming-out journey, and I was searching for community. Had I known then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have chosen the Folsom Street Fair as my initiation event, so to speak. I attended that event very naively, knowing almost nothing about BDSM, and being a relative newbie to the general LGBTQ community. But, in hindsight, I’m glad I went, because it opened my mind in ways I never would have expected. And I’ve learned, since then, that the BDSM community can potentially teach us a lot about positive, healthy relationships, communication, and acceptance.

As part of the research for my upcoming book, Fringe: On the Edges of the Mainstream Gay Community, I’ve interviewed several people who are involved in the altsex community in some way. All of them have felt powerfully drawn to BDSM and kink, despite the fact that these practices are so strongly pathologized. Even though homosexuality has been removed from the DSM, kink and consensual BDSM have not – sexual sadism, sexual masochism, fetishism, and transvestic fetishism are among those still included. In fact, most therapists know little or nothing about BDSM, and most of them continue to view it through a pathologizing lens. One 2010 study indicated that, among people who aren’t part of the BDSM community, strongly negative and pathologizing attitudes continue to persist. And still, despite that negativity, people are drawn to these communities.

One of the most popular booths at the Folsom Street Fair is the Spanking and Flogging booth, hosted by the Society of Janus, which is the second-oldest BDSM group in the United States.  Their website gives a brief history of the organization, as well as the origins of their name:

There were three basic reasons why we chose Janus. First of all, Janus has two faces, which we interpreted as the duality of SM (one’s dominant and submissive sides). Second, he’s the Roman god of portals, and more importantly, of beginnings and endings. To us, it represents the beginning of one’s acceptance of self, the beginning of freedom of guilt, and the eventual ending of self-loathing and fear over one’s SM desires. And third, Janus is the Roman god of war–the war we commonly fight against stereotypes commonly held against us (emphasis mine).

Can you imagine a society where we all – every single one of us – experienced complete and unconditional acceptance of self, freedom from guilt, and a release from self-loathing and fear over our desires, sexual or otherwise? How ironic it is that people who are “erotic minorities” – people who are marginalized furthest from the mainstream – are the ones offering us this vision? I think that’s a powerful thought to reflect on.

If you plan to go, enjoy the Folsom Street Fair. And happy Bisexual Pride Day.



Filed under BDSM, bisexuality, homophobia, LGBTQ, psychological research, relationships, San Francisco, stereotypes, Uncategorized

Be a part of the Fringe!

This week, I’m taking a little detour from my typical format to talk in more detail about this new project I’m working on – and how you can potentially be a part of it. The working title for my new book is Fringe: On the Edges of the Mainstream Gay Community, which will explore the experiences of people who exist on the edges of the LGBTQ community. These groups include people who are bisexual, polyamorous, alt-sex/BDSM/kink, disabled, non-White, poor and/or working class, older, trans or genderqueer – groups that don’t get as much attention in the mainstream LGBTQ rights agenda, and who often experience marginalization within the LGBTQ community.

When I say “marginalization,” what do I mean by that? As an example, the other day I spoke with Dr. Keely Kolmes, who works with the bi, poly, and kink communities in her psychotherapy practice. Early in her career, when she decided to focus her research and therapeutic skills in this direction, she experienced all sorts of negative reactions – and many of those reactions came from members of the LGBTQ community. “Most of us who are gay aren’t like that,” a gay male professional made a point of saying.  The assumption behind that statement, of course, is that we want to be seen as normal by heterosexuals – not like those “freaks.”

Or take Dany Atkins, who is bisexual and gender-variant, and who has been in a triadic polyamorous relationship for almost two decades. She had previously been part of a quad relationship, and when the biological mother of their son decided to leave the quad, a fierce and ugly custody battle ensued – with little support from the LGBTQ community. “You got what you deserved,” one lesbian woman told Dany, who was denied any legal rights to her son.

We could even consider Phyllis Lyon (of Phyllis Lyon/Del Martin fame, the first couple to be legally married in San Francisco and under pre-Proposition 8 California law). If anyone has been a trailblazer in the LGBTQ community, it would be her. Back in the 1950s, Lyon and Martin started the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian organization in the United States. They helped start the Council on Religion and the Homosexual. They were the first out lesbian members of the National Organization for Women. As they got older, they started the group Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. The San Francisco LGBTQ community is what it is largely because of them. And while Lyon was once front and center in the LGBTQ community, at 88 years old, she now exists on the edges of it. In an ageist culture that celebrates youth, Phyllis Lyon finds little connection in the community she helped build.

That’s what I mean by “marginalization.” It happens within the LGBTQ community – even though we all know what it feels like to be a member of an oppressed group. And that’s why I feel so motivated to write Fringe.

But in order to make this project happen, I need your help.

First, I need to raise money in order to make this project happen. I invite you to take a look at my Fringe Kickstarter campaign, and please consider contributing whatever is possible for you. Also note that with your contribution, you will receive a reward – including a signed copy of Fringe, an opportunity to guest blog here on The Active Voice, or an invite to my book launch party, where many of the people I’ve interviewed for the book (including the three individuals listed above) will be present.

Second, I’m looking for additional people to interview for Fringe. I’ve completed about a half-dozen interviews so far, with another half-dozen lined up in the next few months. If you are a member of an “edge community” within the larger LGBTQ umbrella, I’d be interested in hearing your story. Note that the opportunity to be interviewed is also a reward for contributing to my Kickstarter campaign. If you think your story would be relevant to this project, please contact me at gaylepitman@activevoicepress.com.

Thank you for continuing to read The Active Voice and to engage in conversations about my reflections – whether those comments are made on the blog itself, in person, or backchannel via e-mail. These conversations have challenged me to consider issues I hadn’t considered before – and they’ve fueled my excitement for writing and learning more about the community I’m a part of. While I will continue to blog on The Active Voice, I invite you to be a part of this new direction I’m going in.

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Filed under biphobia, bisexuality, gender nonconformity, hate crimes, HIV/AIDS, homophobia, intersex, LGBTQ, LGBTQ youth, psychological research, racism, relationships, sexism, transgender, transphobia, Uncategorized