Chains and Whips in Cyberspace
Isabelle Comber went looking for a seedy underbelly, she found was a close-knit community.
“I’m thinking about writing an article about fetishes. Have you ever gotten involved with it?” I said to the guy I was seeing. He smiled and leant in, “Why do you ask…?”
After I clarified that I wasn’t proposing a rendezvous, we began discussing the topic and his previous partners. “How did you know they were into it?” I asked. “They were bad girls,” he responded, slowly nodding.
There are many problems with the way this guy thought (he’s dumped now) but the conversation still made me wonder. If one wishes to engage with kink and BDSM in a consensual and meaningful way, how can one go about it?
As a relative outsider, I wanted to pursue different ways of thinking about the community of kink, and stumbled upon fetlife.com. Fetlife is a global social networking site similar to Facebook for the BDSM and fetish community. Users have a profile and can join groups, chat to ‘friends’ and seek event pages, all about kink.
Emma* was introduced to Fetlife through her boyfriend a few years ago. “It’s so open and accepting to all kinds of people. Plus, however weird you may feel you or your interests are, there’s thousands people into the same thing, and weirder stuff.”
Fluid identity is key when joining. You can choose from myriad sexual orientations and gender associations. Whilst the online sphere can often be a male-dominated space, this arena seemed more neutral. I signed up as a cis-female bisexual.
Flicking through profiles, elements of kink that would have never be discussed in my social circles lay at my fingertips. I learned a lot from simply viewing member profiles. Before, I had reduced this world to BDSM, ‘subs’ and ‘doms’, neglecting other practices like ‘slavery’, age-play and animal-play. It was hard to imagine people being able to connect with others who shared these interests outside of the online sphere.
“Being treated like shit, or dressing as the opposite gender, or acting as though you’re an animal/family members/baby… Some people aren’t okay with admitting that stuff to themselves, let alone others,” said Emma.
You can find literally any kind of fetish on here, and most members address their personal fetishes proudly. One of the first pages I found was a 22-year-old pansexual gender queer, whose profile picture showed them unashamedly anally fisting themselves. They belonged to several groups that linked them to likeminded people with a ‘fisting’ interest locally and around the world.
This member had the capacity to live their fetish online as part of a global community, and interact with the local site to meet up or attend events in the physical world. Though while everyone is accepted, community involvement is imperative, and illegitimate or detached members are under the scrutiny of others.
Emma described the discrepancy between her pride in kink, and the times when members had doubted her commitment, as difficult. “On the other hand, much like any other community anywhere, people get very cliquey.”
It was this commitment to the community of kink, along with the honesty and openness that I saw in members that pushed me to cancel my membership to Fetlife. Most members are serious about fetish and protective of their community. My fetish-less student journalist vibe urged me to leave, but has also encouraged me to return if a fetish were to develop. Far from characters, members are real people engaging in kink and fetish, humanised but not normalised.
“I don’t think BDSM communities feel the need to be normalised or accepted.”, says Emma. “I would say that most BDSM people, especially Fetlife users, are perfectly fine with their world being a little out of the ordinary.”
*Names have been changed.