Kink and Queerness- Resistance Through Sex
“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” -Oscar Wilde
The BDSM and kink community has long been a circle within which queer individuals of various orientations and backgrounds have engaged. The term ‘altsex’ denotes those identifying as kinky and/or polyamorous (Holmes, 2012), and the development of a term to encapsulate both sexually ‘deviant’ and non-heteronormative behaviour demonstrates an undeniable intersection between those with varying tastes regarding sexual acts and those with varying tastes in the genders of their sexual partners. It is more than reasonable to state that, with the history of LGBT+ sexuality having been considered ‘deviant’, it makes sense that queer sex and BDSM and kink related sex have often shared spaces- both geographically and within the pages of academia.
It is hardly controversial to state that sex is power. The two are indivisible; there is little debate otherwise. A significant part of the BDSM acronym is the ‘Domination and submission’ segment; what the BDSM community provides and supports is an opportunity to explore and at times subvert expectations of sexual power through the (re)assignment of sexual roles. An aspect of the BDSM community which I have personally found fascinating is the topic of ‘femdom’. The act of a female being sexually dominant is considered taboo enough to be classed a kink and, although some aspects of femdom are inherently kinky and non-normative, other aspects feel less extreme. For many kinksters, soft-core femdom includes being ‘spooned’ or shown firm but affectionate attention by assertive women. It is fascinating that acts of affection that would be considered normal between an ‘assertive’ male and his female partner are considered deviant enough to be classed as a subsection of a sexual taboo when these genders are transposed. Through this example, the pervasive nature of heteronormativity through mainstream sexuality becomes evident. We can theorise how the taboo nature of matters such as soft-core femdom arose- predominantly those theorisations return to matters of power. Does this interaction appeal because there is a presumed male superiority and female inferiority which is stripped away, subverted perhaps? Does such a subversion elicit shame, humiliation, and thus sexual arousal? This supposition of binarisitic power between and within male and female identities is a framework within which so many queer sexual experiences cannot exist. Power so rarely presents itself within a state of stasis; it is a dynamic, an interaction, and where power fluctuates and shifts it can only do so with spaces between which to shift. Male superiority being exerted over female inferiority is a symbiosis; this symbiosis can only be sustained if both parties are suitably gendered and assume the necessary positions, per se. BDSM and kink culture is a space within which such a symbiosis is not a prerequisite for authentic sexuality. BDSM and kink culture is a space within which queer individuals get to decide the roles they play, the positions they assume, and how best those roles and positions can communicate the nuanced and complex aspects of their specific sexual and gendered identities.
One can suggest that engagement with the kink community is a means through which for queer individuals to reclaim agency over their bodies; the resignification of both queerness and queer sexuality is achieved through those acts performed with queer bodies. As I have explored previously in Heteronormalizing Childhood- The Presumed Perversion of the Queer Child, queer individuals are so often presumed to be both innately (hyper)sexual and thus innately perverse in nature. The derogatory nature of these accusations allow shame to germinate within the psyches of queer individuals- the idea that queer sexuality should elicit revulsion and disgust when witnessed by a majority-heterosexual and/or cisnormative populous. It can be argued that through participating in unconventional and non-normative sexual behaviour, queer individuals are allowed to redefine queer sexuality; perversion that is autonomously enacted is perversion that belongs to the body enacting it. It can mean whatever they desire it to. Here, we can draw upon Judith Butler’s Conscience Doth Make Subjects of Us All (1995), where Butler writes of responding to that which we are labelled as “nothing other than a sign of an inevitable submission by which one is established as a subject positioned in language as a possible addressee.” In yielding to these derogatory labels, queer individuals are positioned to reclaim that which is considered perverse and determine it as an avenue through which the hetero-resistant, subversively-powered nature of queer sex and sexuality can be considered both empowering and joyous.
Queer sexuality is fundamentally anarchistic; there is no space within the heteronormative symbiosis of male-female power where queer sexuality can belong. In acknowledging this, it becomes evident that BDSM and kink culture is not only a promising space within which to explore queer sexuality but also a space within which shame can be disregarded. Unchained from heteronormative suppositions of sexual power, queer individuals can determine what their sexual acts express about them and how they should be regarded as a sexual individual in turn. In claiming perversion and deviance as their own, queer kinksters are no longer devalued by their nonconformity. You cannot shame someone into inexistence when the language you use to do so has long since become theirs to resignify. Perhaps queerness bleeds into kink for so many individuals because it allows us to determine our own parameters for our sexual behaviour in a world where the rulebook does not, cannot apply to us. Queer and kinky sexuality refract the normative expectations of human intimacy and social power through bodies where they cannot be effectively (appropriately) replicated, and assign them with new meaning and new pleasures to be derived from them. We cannot own these norms, we cannot perform them, they do not belong within us- but we can adapt them to transform perversion into joy.
After all, what is queerness, if not the refraction of normative expectations through a non-normative body.
In Part 2 of this piece, Fetishizing Queer Bodies, I will be addressing the more divisive and problematic aspects of queer & kink intersections, including appropriations of ‘coming out’ narratives, the sexualisation of shame surrounding LGBT+ identification and the pervasive fetishization of non-cisgender, non-heterosexual individuals.
Note: I would also like to take a moment to address the use of the term ‘queer’ in the above article- I must stress that when referring to queer individuals engaging with the BDSM and kink community, I am referring to queer individuals who do engage in sexual conduct. Asexual individuals and all people identifying within the ‘ace’ umbrella are valid members of the queer community, and it is important to address their (in)visibility when it comes to matters of queer sexual behaviour. Queerness is not inherently sexual in all contexts.
See Kink and Queerness- Fetishizing Queer Bodies for part two of this article.
Holmes, Keely. “Stigma Squared: Understanding Kink in LGBT Communities”. Retrieved from http://drkkolmes.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/apastigmasquared.pdf
Butler, Judith. "Conscience doth make subjects of us all." Yale French Studies 88 (1995): 6-26.