Kink at Pride, Part 1

It’s almost June, and you know what that means! Arguments about whether kink belongs at Pride. <sad trombone> Recently I’ve been getting into it with people on Twitter over this issue, so I figured I should do a post about the issue.

Those who oppose kink at Pride are basically asserting that people should not wear fetish clothing (leather, rubber, bdsm gear, pup hoods, gimp suits, furry suits, etc) at Pride parades and similar events. They also oppose displays of kinky activity such as leading subs on leashes, flogging, pups acting as pups instead of people, and so on. (Some of them seem to imagine full-scale torture scenes or open sex occurring, and may be confusing Pride with events like Folsom.) The arguments they offer mostly center around two issues:

  1. Fetish requires consent and since those attending Pride have not consented to participate, wearing fetish clothing constitutes a violation of consent.
  2. It is inappropriate to expose children to fetish clothing and displays of sexuality, and since there are children at Pride events, there shouldn’t be kink at Pride.

Neither of these positions strikes me as having very good arguments in their favor. The first argument falls apart when you realize that attending a Pride event is similar to going to a bathhouse or a sex club–your presence is voluntary and amounts to consenting to witness displays of sexuality. Although Pride parades and similar events take place in a public space (city streets, specific parks, Milwaukee’s festival grounds), they are not technically public. Parade permits effectively transform a parade route into temporary private space, thereby allowing the organizers to decide who can and can’t participate in the parade. Likewise, ticketed Pride events (where you have to pay to get in) are open to the public but not actually public. So if you attend one of these events, you’re implicitly agreeing to witness displays of LGBT sexuality. If seeing go-go boys in skimpy clothing, pups, drag queens, leather daddies leading boys on chains, or leather dykes on motorcycles offends you, don’t go. If you do go, you just have to accept that you’re occasionally going to feel uncomfortable, the same way I feel uncomfortable when I see all the commercialization that’s happening at Pride.

The argument about children at Pride is a bit more complex but really boils down to the same issue. Arguments that children should be at Pride events center on two issues. A) I’m straight but I want my children to grow up understanding that LGBT people are normal and have their place in society. B) I am LGBT and I have kids and I want them to be included in the celebration of LGBT life.

But my response to both of these points is basically the same. If you think it’s inappropriate for your children to see people dressed in fetish clothing or being led on a leash, don’t bring your children to Pride. Personally I think it’s a huge over-reaction to say that your children shouldn’t see guys in leather or whatever. Lots of parents bring their kids to Pride events and report no traumatic incidents; if the kids are confused, the parents just explain that some people like to wear leather or whatever. Most kinksters understand that if they wind up directly interacting with a child, they need to keep the interaction appropriate for the child’s age (and the few that don’t understand that are likely to be pulled up short by other kinksters). I think it’s entirely healthy for children to grow up understanding that human sexuality is complex and highly varied; it helps those kids be more prepared when they start navigating their own sexuality. But I fully concede that parents have a right to not expose their children to such things if they think it’s inappropriate. So if you think that children should not see fetishes on display, don’t bring them to Pride.

But if you’re a straight parent, you don’t get to tell the LGBT community that Pride events have to conform to your moral standards, because this event isn’t for or about you. You’re a guest and you need to accept that your wishes are secondary to our wishes. 11 months and 20-some days a year, we LGBT people have to operate according to the standards of the heteronormative community, so the few days in June when Pride events are being held are brief moments when we get to be the dominant voice in the limited spaces where Pride events occur and you straight people get to experience what it means to be outsiders looking in.

LGBT people with children are in a different situation. They are members of the community and have a right to a say about how such events should be conducted. It’s understandable that they want to bring their children, because their kids are effectively part of the LGBT community, even if those kids are mostly going to grow up straight. However, LGBT parents are not the only members of the community who have a voice here. LGBT kinksters are just as much part of the community as vanilla LGBT parents are, and although more LGBT people have children today than 30 years ago, they’re still a minority of the community. My rights to participate as a kinkster are equal to your rights as parents to bring your children to the event, and therefore it’s unreasonable to say that your rights to bring your kids to the parade should override my right to march in leather. As equal members of the community, we need to have equal access to these events, and that means we have to find workable compromises, such as rules about not allowing exposed genitals or no simulating of sex acts or providing kid-friendly spaces at a festival. But ultimately, we have to remember that your right to have your kid at Pride does not trump my right to be at Pride in the clothing and gear I choose to wear, and my desire to lead my boy on a leash is as valid an expression of our relationship as your desire to hold hands with your spouse or significant other.

There are, however, deeper issues at work here, issues around kink-shaming and heteronormativity that I also want to discuss. But I’m going to leave those for a second post.

3 thoughts on “Kink at Pride, Part 1

  1. An excellent article. As a member and leader of a local leathemen group I wholly concur with the writers arguments that pride is for all. And let’s face it if it were not for the leather community and a little upset in 1969 at the Stonewall bar in New York I am sure there would be far fewer gay pride, or any other communities for that matter, able to celebrate their culture in public in a safe atmosphere.
    No it it not right to have overt sexual acts on display in public. However we must remember and consider others and the surroundings we are in at the time. After this terrible pandemic I hope we can all get together and celebrate our culture with fellow friends and members of our community without resorting to a squabbling match.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In fairness, there has always been some gatekeeping at Pride. In the early 1970s, there was a big rift between some lesbians and early trans rights activitists–Sylvia Rivera was literally pushed off the speaker’s platform in 1972.

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  2. I have not att4ended a Montreal Pride event in a number of years now. But my best friend, who is straight, married, WITH a son on the way, always involves me and himself in Pride events in Ottawa, our nations capitol. I’ve been, several years running, prior to the pandemic.

    On all occasions, there have been families either near me, or in the vicinity of where we stand on said parade route. In Ottawa, you don’t see the leather men, (I am a leather man) I bring my leather, but since I don’t see them en mass, I don’t gear up for public consumption.

    People are tolerant. however, militant lesbians and non-binary folks tend to make the most noise, and a few years ago the trans bathroom crowd monopolized the parade into rolling ports potties on trucks, and that tuned me off.

    The Ottawa Pride events are tame by comparison to other locales. And everybody who is there, accepts their parts they play in the whole gathering. I’ve never seen anyone make a scene, those with kids in tow. As long as you are aware of those around you and you keep to a moral code of acceptance, dignity and decorum, there should not be a problem.

    It’s when the general public make pronouncements or visuals at said pride vents that piss me off, like they should have a say in how we celebrate our right to exist in the grand scheme of things.

    Jeremy in Montreal.

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