kink and queerness- fetishizing queer bodies
When approaching matters of kink and queerness from a sex-positive standpoint, it is evident that a reclamation of shame, of that which has been labelled ‘the perverse’, can benefit queer individuals who have struggled with sexual anxiety, internalised queerphobia and matters of gender dysphoria or incongruence.
Unfortunately, one must acknowledge that the queer and kinky delights of sex positivity cannot and do not play out within a vacuum. Kink, like queerness, undeniably attracts both the gaze and interest of individuals who wish to utilise, exploit or even abuse the sexuality of others to manufacture their own pleasure. The kink community is not without its issues, and the (mis)handling of queer individuals and queer bodies is a significant issue indeed.
One doesn’t have to venture far on the internet to find pornographic content which specifically or exclusively focuses on transgender, gender variant or sex variant bodies. There is a well-documented history of transgender individuals being fetishized, objectified and even degraded within the realms of pornography- a format where the mere taboo of desiring the ‘other’ can conjure sexual interest (Webster, 2018). When looking for this kind of pornography, one is most likely to be able to isolate their desired material through the application of terms which are now considered slurs, such as tr***y. How telling, that a term that has been used to dehumanise, shame and project revulsion upon transgender individuals is also the term that is used to conjure sexual images of them to please a cisgender, gender-normative community? That which is othered by social norms and expectations can so easily become a ‘forbidden fruit’; an exotic spectacle that shouldn’t be desired, but is. Why should these individuals not be desired? Is it because transgender individuals, like other marginalised groups, are not supposed to be considered attractive and suitable sexual partners?
Pornography is a means through which for one individual- a witness- to engage in a unidirectional, non-reciprocal manner with another, sexualised individual. There is no need for mutual respect, commonality or human connection. My personal belief is that pornography is a means through which to curate a zoo within (predominantly, these days), a virtual space- where the bizarre and the supposedly ‘perverse’ can be spectated from behind a curtain of anonymity. Detachment and disengagement from a subject allows for dehumanisation, and pornography is perhaps the most damaging medium through which that disengagement exists. Transgender individuals are among those marginalised groups which are so often reduced to a spectacle for sexual pleasure but not awarded the agency and platform necessary to be allowed to address their social issues, subvert those sexualised expectations upon themselves and establish themselves as a collective whose identities cannot be homogenized into the two-dimensional caricature of a sexual fetish (I call to mind groups such as Asian women, disabled or alternately-abled individuals, pretty much any and all lesbians…). The reduction of trans narratives to a sum of their anatomical parts and, crucially, the supposedly freakish and taboo nature of those parts, disempowers transgender individuals both in the bedroom and in the wider community.
It is not only queer bodies which become sites of exploitation within kink circles- many LGBTQ+ individuals take offence from the appropriation of ‘coming out’ narratives by those who ‘identify’ as kinky. Due to the covert and often less publicly evident nature of gender and sexuality variant identities, coming out is an act of vulnerability that a queer individual is expected to engage in multiple times throughout the course of their life. Coming out often starts with internal acknowledgement of a queer identity, before sharing this acknowledgement with close friends, family, and then often on to more distant friends and acquaintances, depending on the context of the situation and the environment within which a conversation is situation. Outing oneself is an act of vulnerability because it is often used as an excuse to incite violence against that individual, and that violence can be physical, psychological, structural; it can take place in the workplace, the home, even the bedroom.
Unquestionably, sexual behaviour has a history of state regulation which varies from country to country- often, these laws pertain to what are considered ‘deviant’ sexual acts. However, what separates prejudice against kink and prejudice against queerness is that laws surrounding the regulation of sexual acts have almost always been used to punish queer individuals- to justify brutality and even murder. These ‘sodomy laws’, as they are referred to, are almost never enforced against heterosexual couples, they are almost exclusively used to justify homophobia and queerphobia (Sullivan, 2003). Aversion to queerness is not, and cannot be reduced to the social perception of sexual acts- after all, if this were the case, asexual individuals would live joyous and discrimination-free lives. It is the intimacy, emotionality and sharing of oneself with a same sex partner, or a gender variant partner, that is the focus of revulsion here. Kink and BDSM does not elicit that same revulsion, that same structural violence. To come out as ‘kinky’ is to exploit a rite of passage for queer individuals that is both simultaneously a means of embracing our authentic selves and also a potentially dangerous act of exposure. The stakes are not the same for kinksters. The stakes will never be as high.
There will always be opportunities for kink and queer communities to overlap and produce positive, healthy and affirming experiences for all parties involved. However, the affirming of one individual should not, must not come from the unwanted fetishization and objectification of another. In a community where power itself is such an integral focus regarding identity, communication and human connection, there is a shared responsibility to uphold the humanity and dignity of others wherever necessary. We can acknowledge privilege, we can acknowledge marginality and still derive pleasure and joy from the sexuality we share with others. Sex positivity can and should incite the affirmation and validation of all sexual partners- and one’s queerness should provoke a reinforcement of this practice.
See Kink and Queerness- Resistance Through Sex for part one of this article.
Sheff, E., & Hammers, C. (2011). The privilege of perversities: Race, class and education among polyamorists and kinksters. Psychology & Sexuality, 2(3), 198-223.
Sullivan, A. (2003). Unnatural law. New Republic, 228(11), 18-18.
Webster, L. (2018). I wanna be a toy. Journal of Language and Sexuality, 7(2), 205-236.