Attending Edmonton’s annual Taboo Sex Expo by myself was not as daunting as I had imagined. This prudish and self-patronizing assumption was first assuaged, then eviscerated, and yet I wish it hadn’t been.
But assuaging is supposed to be a good thing because kink communities pride themselves on being bastions for individuality and inclusivity. That is the ethos behind ASPECC (Alberta Sex Positive Education and Community Centre), which promotes sex-positivity — the embracement and celebration of consensual sexuality in all its diverse forms. I made a point to pass by the play dungeon multiple times in order to, at least theoretically, witness a myriad of ASPECC’s staged BDSM demonstrations: first I witnessed a woman tied to a table while experiencing small electro-shock treatments by a male dom; then it was a woman tied down and bent over while being lightly flogged on the ass, again by the male dom. Both instances presented the woman, tits out and in lingerie, in the submissive role, and the man, fully clothed, in the dominant role. And herein lies BDSM 101.
BDSM offers a framework for people who have strong sexual desires to either tell their partners what to do in bed or to be told what to do in bed. If you’re the former, you’re a dominant (and usually male); if you’re the latter, you’re a submissive (and usually female); and if you’re a combination of the two you’re a switch. Depending on how kinky you bend will inform whether these roles arouse or disgust you. I’m not opposed to the conventional BDSM template Taboo exhibited, but I was in search of bizarre-o fetishes.
Of course fetishes are bizarre by nature. But there is a deeply entrenched desire in kink communities to “normalize” fetishes for the sake of inclusivity, insofar as they become neutered, which deters from their inherent thrill.
I like the bizarre-o kinks. If I want to sleep with you, I want to indulge in your kinks. Because deep-down I’m a people-pleaser. I have learned that an individual’s sexual idiosyncrasies are a cache of secrets that, when divulged, breeds acceptance, trust, and loyalty. And since people are rarely, wholly sexually compatible, their negotiations determine whether one is open-minded and forthcoming.
Pleasure and perversion are encouraged at Taboo but in a profoundly homogenous way. Aside from the paradigmatic BDSM performances, little was offered in the way of eccentric kinks — whether goofballish, in the vein of tickling, or more niche, like using a partner’s ejaculate as a substitutive fruit topping. The vendors and exhibitors at Taboo may not believe anything other than standard BDSM would interest its attendants. But I, for one, would have been interested in learning a thing or two about female dominatrix and male subs.
The tension between acceptance and homogenization within subcultures is not unique to the kink community; in fact, it plagues, to the extent that it defines, the history of modern identity politics. To even say that kink belongs to identity politics implies that kink is indeed a sexual orientation — thus tethering the community to queer subcultures and the LGTBQ* movement. And just as gay communities, and even feminism, were once governed by rules of inclusivity and exclusivity, so is the current state of kink. Group membership in kink circles is accepted on the assumption that your brand of kink is consistent with the group’s brand. A wellspring of possibilities exists for Edmonton’s Sex Expo, although I don’t see any materializing in the near future.
Feeling uninspired at the Expo Centre I let an attendant at “Better Leather” polish my boots. (I can only imagine that the Taboo organizers insisted “Better Leather” be at the Expo as a means for leather daddies to polish their leather toys and gimp gear.) Allowing this wholesome rural woman sell me on all-natural shoe polish was the closest I came all day to an authentically bizarre-o, albeit relatively tame, fetish: the ubiquitous foot fetish.