Recon team member: ThatSandy
I have this running joke that the only black people I see out at fetish parties in the UK are myself, Antoin (our Events Producer) and TheBunny. As the conversation about diversity and representation becomes much more of a talking point in our society, it dawned on me that while this joke is certainly an exaggeration there is a distinct lack of people who look like me all geared up on the scene.
One thing I’ve definitely noticed on my travels is the disparity between the Europe and USA on this issue. There’s an instant connection and recognition when I meet another person of colour on the scene.
Meeting ONYX NY/Northeast’s Founding Father during CLAW, Recon member BOXERDADDY stands out as one of my early interactions with another black man on the scene. We sat down to talk where he said, “I’ve walked into a room where I was the only man of colour, but I relish that. I’m unique, I’m different, I’m something special. Look at me, admire me because I’m here and I’m going to be here. You either acknowledge me or you don’t. That’s up to you.”
For those that don’t know, ONYX is an organisation formed and operated by men of colour into fetish and kink. Compromising of 9 chapters from regions all over the USA they address issues specific to people of colour, as well as educate on how to conduct kink safely.
I feel that being a part of this group could have helped me through many situations and experiences in my life. Being a black gay man is already drenched in stigma by your own community, when you layer fetish on top it creates an even heavier weight of shame on your shoulders. Not to mention the perception of gay black men from other races.
Perhaps acceptance from people who look like you can help alleviate the origin of the shame.
Daddy Sage says simply, “It’s important that people see themselves reflected wherever they are.” He explains further that groups for minorities mean that they can express their cultural, political and sexual selves in a safe space.
He’s joined by Recon member LynxofOnyx who offers quite a practical reason why men of colour need to come together to educate themselves in the fetish community. “Let’s use flogging for an example. You can go to CLAW, MAL, SELF. You can go to all these conventions and see all these skill sets, but if the teachers are all primarily white, someone who looks like me may have a different question. I can’t tell looking at this [darker] skin if I’ve flogged in this area too much, I don’t know that from looking at it. It’s not going to turn red, pink or purple. I have to feel the heat.”
His words touch on the fetishising of men of colour in the gay community, something that I have experienced quite a bit myself. In all honesty, there was a moment in time where I revelled in that type of attention and did very well out of it as a result. The older I get, this idea that someone may or may not be attracted to me because of my skin colour (something I cannot change) makes me slightly uncomfortable and for a period of my adult life put unrealistic standards of beauty in my head. But the perception from others doesn’t stop there.
Recon member IndigoFFenix mentions, “Because I’m black and into leather people often assume that I’m a top, and if you read my profile you’d see that’s not who I am.” Continuing to talk about the stigma of submissive black men on the scene he says, “It’s not really taboo for you to say that you flog somebody or you pee on someone or you spank someone, but as soon as you say you got spanked, you got peed on, you got fisted it much more taboo because it plays on this idea of what it means to be masculine which is a bigger problem.”
My conversation with the ONYX crew illustrates the barriers and struggles that men of colour may face and find off putting about the fetish scene. I have also witnessed what happens when those barriers are removed and the impact it has on minority groups. I recall in 2015 using an image featuring Yoshi Kawasaki for Full Fetish San Francisco. Yoshi is an incredibly hot man who comes from Japan. The night of the party I was on the door. A timid Chinese man approached me to ask if he was allowed in. I asked to see his gear, he was wearing a harness-jock combo and I said that of course he was allowed in. He asked if he could be excused from the queue but come back as he needed to make a phone call. I said yes. 30 minutes later he was joined by 10 of his friends. The next day at the Fair, they came by the booth to thank us and lined up by a promotional banner of Yoshi to take a photo with it.
It saddened me that this man and his group of friends felt like they needed permission in order to be a part of our event, but it also inspired me to do better with regards to Recon promotional imagery and content. The content we produce should be reflective of the whole community and incorporate people of all races, shapes and sizes. My team and I have endeavoured to feature members and models from a wider variety of backgrounds, but the work is continuing, and our goal is to bring about further changes where possible.
I also made a conscious decision to put my fetish self out there more, especially on social media – so that someone who looks like me won’t have to wait for permission to explore and find themselves.
Visibility of the men of colour on the scene seems to be a common solution when talking to the ONYX guys about how we can make more ethnic groups feel included. This can be easier said than done, though, as it takes a lot of bravery to be visible.
So where does that leave us? The whole thing is a minefield, but like any issue, solving it starts with understanding, taking small actions, and supporting one another. Actions such as my mission to have more representative content on Recon may seem small, but the power of seeing yourself reflected in media you care about can’t be denied.
when it comes to support and nurturing, groups like ONYX provide living, breathing examples that if people who look like you can thrive in the fetish world, then you can do it too.
Have you got a unique perspective on fetish and kink that you want to share? Email [email protected]