On sex, leather and visibility


Submitted by Nigel, aka SubDirectory (3), 16 August 2017



In a piece recently published on GayStarNews, I make the argument for allowing people in fetish gear to be in Pride parades. I think it's an important one - and increasingly we're seeing people from within the gay community saying "it shouldn't be allowed', "it gives us a bad name" and "think of the children."

There have been many comments on the article, particularly on Facebook, and while some are indeed accepting, there are still plenty of people who disapprove, who think that any fetish representation is setting the wrong tone, hurting our acceptance, and other such arguments.

On the question of numbers, it's worth pointing out that, for Pride in London, there were three main fetish groups marching that I know of - BLUF/London Leathermen, with something over 30 participants, Puppy Pride, with around 100, and the Recon fetish contingent, which had around 80. Together that's a little over 200. For perspective, there were 26,500 people in the London Parade. Even if there are other groups I've forgotten to count, that's still only around 1% of the whole parade made up of fetish people.

I hardly think that's enough to substantiate claims that we've co-opted Pride, or for onlookers to think being gay is all about being fetish - we're a tiny drop in an ocean of diversity. So, too, are many other groups in the parade, and the argument that "people should be able to see someone they relate to" holds just as true for the leather people as for anyone else. Talk to people on the fetish scene, and many will tell you that they realised they had an interest in fetish before they were gay. It's not just fancy dress, to shock. For many of us, it is an important part of our lives, both our perceived identity, and sexually. And if you accept that, why is it ok for someone to march under the identity of, say, a rugby player, or chorus member, but not as a leather man?

Too much sex!

"You're sexualising Pride" some people tell us - often, of course, allied to the old "think of the children." The march, these people say, should be about love and equality, not sex.

Stop, for a minute, though. We're not having sex on the march. We're wearing gear that some people may think is sexual - but some people think uniforms are sexual, or rugby kit, or even a nicely tailored suit. So why single out leather for attention?

And I also think it's important to realise that sexuality and sexual expression are not easily divorced. Indeed, when the law seeks to attack us as LGBT people, it is seldom our actual sexuality - our thoughts and feelings - that is attacked. It is the act of sex itself that is criminalised. It was the crime of sodomy that we partially decriminalised fifty years ago in the UK, after all, not merely being gay.

Around the world, where people are persecuted, it starts most often with persecution for the act; yes, there are also countries where supporting LGBT people is a crime, or being suspected of one. But all too often, sex is at the heart of things - just listen to the visceral disgust of people at gay sex, as they justify their hateful laws, or bash us in the street.

We're not immune from this here in the UK, or elsewhere in the western world, either. It's sex, not sexuality, that rears its head once again when people, including many gay men, argue that the potentially life-saving drug PrEP shouldn't be made available on the NHS, "because it's a licence for people to have anal sex without condoms."

In other jurisdictions, it's sex and AIDS that collide, for example with laws that see people sent to prison for transmitting HIV.

Proud messages

The very concept of being gay is - aside from those who are asexual - essentially defined by the sex that we have. While you may not be sacked just for being gay in the UK, it can still happen in the US, and sexual expression can lead to it too. A few years back, for example, a lecturer in the US was fired because of her weekend job performing in a burlesque club. I know people in the UK who fear they might lose their jobs, if their leather interests became known.

And all this, in my view, strengthens, not weakens, the case for a leather or fetish contingent at Pride. To those watching from the sidelines, not bold enough to join, it says "Yes, you can be open and proud about this!"

To those who would seek to hound us from jobs, it sends the message that we are not ashamed, and we will not be intimidated.

We march proudly in our gear - not having sex, just being there - to remind people that everyone deserves respect. And yes, perhaps it is a bit sexual, but so too is the very act of our being. Those messages we are sending are exactly the same as the whole LGBT community had to send through the 70s, 80s, and 90s as we fought for respect, and for equality under the law.

You may not want to gear up in leather. That's fine - no one's making you. But remember that if the tide turns - and it can - it's those on the margins who present the easy pickings, who are more likely to be picked on by people both within and outwith the law.

Whether you're in the 1% of Pride that is wearing something kinky, or the 99% that is not, we should all stand together. Because when it comes to the crunch, whether it be unfair laws, or the club wielded by a fascist in the street, all too often, it really does all come down to sex.

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