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Kinky and queer: BDSM in the LGBTQ community

Love & Lust 2017: Realities, risks and rewards of kink

In the age of sexual liberation, LGBTQ people still fight for acceptance. But even within the community, there is a repressed subculture: queer kinksters. Practitioners of bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism (BDSM) are criticized from all sides. Some queer kinksters seek to remove the stigma and affirm that their sexuality, though alternative, is no more bizarre than “vanilla” or non-kinky sex.

BDSM includes so many kinks that it would take a full-length book to explain them all. But at the core of the debate is the question: is kink “normal” and “natural” in the same sense as other “alternative” sexualities?

Slate’s Jillian Keenan believes that kink is a sexual orientation as valid as any LGBTQ identity. Keenan argues that beyond the pop-culture stereotypes lies a community of people who are true to themselves and get very real rewards from their practice of BDSM.

Those engaged in BDSM have to build a strong sense of trust
with their sexual partners, in addition to creating
a safety net during encounters.
Photo Credit: Wisky via Adobe Stock

“Kink mixes language, ritual, trust, power, pleasure, pain and identity in a way that can’t be captured by a stereotype,” Keenan wrote. She went on to describe the many parallels of LGBTQ people and BDSM practitioners, and doesn’t fail to mention that many LGBTQ people are kinky.

“Kink can be such an orienting force that, for many of us, it even overpowers gender,” Keenan wrote.

This was certainly the case for Laura Garcia, who identifies as pansexual and has had partners at every degree of the spectrum of gender identities. Garcia says that being LGBTQ and kinky can be a challenge.

“The BDSM community in Charlotte is very still attracted to that [gender] binary,” Garcia said. “So it can be harder if you’re a woman interested in women to find someone to genuinely dominate you long-term. But in a way it’s ultimately more rewarding…Those are some of the longest-lasting relationships.”

Despite what Garcia calls the “old-guard” values of the local kink scene, many LGBTQ people have found their places in BDSM practice. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom’s survey found that 35 percent of kinksters identify as bisexual compared to the 1.8 to 2.8 percent rate in the overall population.

The stigma around kink in the LGBTQ community is as common as homophobic statements by straight people. In a post for Out & About Nashville, River Johnson points out that the fight for LGBTQ equality often rests on the need to be accepted as normal. As a result, “any activities that would make us seem more ‘deviant’ is one more thing we’d rather keep in the closet.”

Zannah Breunig agrees, but points out that the presence of LGBTQ people in the kinky world is undeniable.


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“Maybe more queer people end up being involved because they’re already assumed to have a non-normative sexuality,” Breunig postulated. “There’s going to be pockets where there’s resistance because in a lot of ways there’s this…gay and lesbian desire to establish themselves as normative. In that regard, there could be a lot of distancing from ‘the perverts,’ the more queer expressions of sexuality.”

However much kink is tied to sex, there are those who don’t see BDSM as a sexual activity. The common misconception about kink is that it’s an “extreme” form of sexual pleasure, when those involved say that this is only sometimes the case.

“I practice typically non-sexual domination,” Garcia said. “I like flexing my mental control over a person. I’m the kind of person where if said submissive sees me slowly round and raise an eyebrow, it’s instant quiet, instant arms to sides, ‘yes, Ma’am.’ For me, no, it’s typically not sexual.”

Breunig points out that not all kinksters even want to have sex in the traditional sense. For these practitioners, BDSM is a vehicle for intimacy and building relationships that don’t center around what they call “the P and V.”

“It also allows you to explore erotic potential that isn’t necessarily genitally focused,” Breunig explained. “That can be a thing with people who are HIV positive, or people who don’t want to have penetrative sex. I think it can be positive to explore the potentials that our bodies have.”

This self-exploration can be the ultimate reward of kink. Practitioners emphasize that BDSM is about more than the surface-level qualities.

“We need to stop assuming that everything in the BDSM community is geared towards pain, sex or control,” wrote Johnson. “It absolutely can be oriented toward those things, but it is also an outlet for self-expression, a community, a form of spiritualism, a hobby and enables a variety of relationships.”

Understanding the parameters surrounding BDSM aids those who participate in it to have a more pleasurable sexual experience.
Photo Credit: focus via Adobe Stock

Breunig said that relationships formed through kink are the greatest rewards of BDSM practice. They describe the way BDSM helped them communicate better about their needs.

“I wouldn’t have the relationship I have if it weren’t for that,” Breunig said. “The whole consent thing [has] been ingrained into me. I want to talk about stuff. I want to know what their limits are, even if it’s a vanilla encounter. It’s made me want to hash everything out and make sure I understand.”

Despite the healthy communication that many kinksters enjoy, there’s no doubt that BDSM can be dangerous without the right resources, protocols — and partners.

“Watch for the people who try to force you to do things and never let you take the time to watch and observe,” Garcia warns. “This requires a different aspect of self, a different level of dedication, of trust, so just take your time.”

Taking a step back to do your research and practice kink in a healthy way is not only important, it’s vital. Nevertheless, Garcia says, the local scene isn’t without its flaws.

“I got told to my face by a pretty well-known Dom that women could not be dominant, not truly,” she said. “I’m definitely a dominant individual…People like to mess around with me because I’m a young girl, and not give me proper decent respect.”

Breunig, too, acknowledges that some in the kink scene hold too tightly to traditional gender roles. But this flaw isn’t exclusive to BDSM, they point out — it’s a reflection of the world at large.

“Any subculture or community is going to be in some regards a microcosm of the larger society,” Breunig said. “There’s places where you can play with those gender roles, like maybe somebody who’s a regular businessman and comes in to wear fishnets and heels and kind of explore things that would disrupt the patriarchy, but then there’s also situations where you get these really butch Dom men who just want to be men.”

Whatever the flaws on the scene, it seems clear that many LGBTQ people find BDSM one more avenue to explore their identities. Whether it’s private play or a public event, kink is here to stay. Garcia says that repressing kinky tendencies leads nowhere, especially for those in the LGBTQ community who may already struggle with embracing themselves.

“Bottling that up and making it feel like you’re two different people is the worst,” she said. “You already have aspects of alternative sexuality. Don’t be afraid to try it out sometime. Recognize that when you say, ‘oh that’s kind of weird,’ you have to have a moment when you look back and say ‘some people think I’m kind of weird, so maybe I shouldn’t be a dick.’”