For a while, when I had a little more disposable income and a little more optimism about the possibilities therein, I was going quasi-regularly to a few weekend kink events.
I haven’t gone in probably a year. And though I miss the idea of having community around kink, I don’t much miss the events as they were. The events didn’t feel like they provided community. I often felt like the one person there who wasn’t insisting they were having the best time ever.
Typical interaction at a kink event:
Acquaintance: Are you having the BEST TIME EVER?
Acquaintance: I’ve had, like, seven playdates so far.
Acquaintance: I just got staples!!!
Me (relieved to have a socially acceptable conversation topic): Oh, really, how was that?
Thing is, I often don’t have a great time. For a number of reasons. Maybe I arrived unpartnered and most nights there’s nothing to do besides play. Maybe it’s been a hard week, or someone said something fucked up, or I can’t find the queers, or a class was triggering, or a speaker assumed that people like me don’t exist or aren’t here. Or I got sick and now I’m coughing mucus out of my lungs and don’t want to touch anyone. Or I went through a heartwrenching breakup the week before. Or people here are touching me without my consent or making assumptions about how I play or who I partner with, and I feel not seen, not valued, not among anything like the community I wish for.
But there isn’t much room for admitting when things are hard. “Are you having the BEST TIME EVER?” isn’t really a question that tolerates a “no” answer, or even a shade or two of nuance. At the last event I went to, which I attended primarily to support my friends who were organizing, teaching, and speaking, I made a point of answering questions about my weekend truthfully. “It’s been nice,” I’d tell the enthusiastic questioners. “Low-key.”
This too was the wrong answer. I got back looks of bafflement, incredulity, affrontedness. Didn’t I know there was a huge dungeon, plus pool parties, a vending floor, a sex lounge, and hey, a hot scene starting in like twenty minutes—maybe I could join in?
Yeah, I guess. But the party atmosphere—this constant, frenzied flitting from one good time to another—isn’t really how I do my kink, or my community. The play I want is based in connection and intimacy, and often the kinds of connection and intimacy I’m looking for build slowly over time. When the expectation is that time is scarce and we have to cram in as many experiences as we can over the course of a day or two, building those connections becomes next to impossible. Sometimes I’ve been lucky and connected quickly with somebody, but that’s the exception to the rule and not something it makes any sense to count on.
Besides, it’s not just about getting to play. What I wish for from kink community, more than finding partners (though often, that too would be nice), is to connect with people who value the work of intentionally co-crafting our sexualities and our relationships, who can share skills and experiences and approaches to doing specific kinds of play or relationships, who can celebrate when kink is rewarding and joyous and pleasurable but also make space for it being scary or challenging or hard. I want to stay up all night sharing stories about who we are and how kink fits into our lives. And I want to maintain those connections long after a weekend event is over.
My suspicion is that plenty of people who go to kink events would be up for many of these kinds of connections. But the culture of events is not one that facilitates intimacy, at least not for me.
In a way, that’s just as well. Ultimately, I don’t want the community I build to be—as many of these events are for many of us—financially and physically inaccessible. Nor do I want it to be bounded so strictly by time—something that exists for a weekend, then disappears for months. But deciding party-style kink events don’t work for me means back to the drawing board as far as how to build the community I wish for. Which is a step in the right direction, but sometimes a little dispiriting.