Imagine you’re a lesbian, at a lesbian bar on Lesbian Night. You strike up a conversation with a total babe. You buy her a drink. She’s leaning in, touching your arm, giving you the eye. You take her out onto the dance floor and start mackin’. As the night winds down, you ask for her number. She giggles self-consciously.
“Oh, um…so, I’m not really a lesbian. I just think women are beautiful, and like, I thought it would be fun to hook up a little, or something.”
You blink your eyes, recalibrating to this new, baffling information. Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” comes on, and the woman you safely assumed might be interested in you wiggles to the beat as she goes on to explain, “It’s fun to kiss and touch girls—it’s so new and exciting! But, I could never actually date a woman, or like, have actual sex with her. Anyway, I should be going. Thanks for the drink!”
The fact that her heterosexuality somehow failed to come up in all the flirtatious conversation is an inconvenient mystery—but the fact that this scene unfolded in a lesbian space —a place that has been designated for lesbians to connect with one another—pretty damn frustrating. Perhaps even offensive. You think of all the bars and clubs where this woman could have found someone with whom to suck face. Her options, so abundant. It doesn’t seem fair she should barge into yours.
50 Shades of stupid fucking Grey is in good company with Perry’s 2008 hit. Many celebrated the normalization of kink thanks to the bestsellers. Finally, I can experiment with that thing I saw on the internet once, and rather than being labeled a deviant, I will be praised for my sexual savviness! the vanilla-with-a-wild-streak sang on high. Some of us, however, have been less than thrilled.
Making out with a lesbian doesn’t make you a lesbian; it makes you someone who might enjoy a little lesbian-ish behavior every now and again. There is no shame in being heteroflexible, or bi-curious, or—be really honest with yourself, here—straight, and looking for a little experimentation to spice things up while you’re still young. Party on, I say to all.
But don’t call yourself a lesbian. Don’t go into lesbian bars and misrepresent yourself. Real lesbians are trying to find real love. Don’t be that asshole cogging it up.
FetLife is a social networking site for kinky folks. The trouble is, thanks to 50 fucking Shades, everyone who’s ever wondered what it might be like to take it in the ass while blindfolded grabs hold of the “kinky” label, and elbows their way into the club. How edgy, these tourists drool at their computers. How wild. They peruse profiles, thrilled at the idea of filling in their sexual bingo cards. Vanilla sex is good enough as is, they think. Obviously, all these crazy accouterments could make it even better! And on their profiles, they scroll the different role options and select “Dom.” I mean, I’m a pretty dominant guy. I like feeling in charge in bed. That’s totally me! Or, conversely: I love it when the other person takes charge in bed. I’m curious about trying out some handcuffs. I must be a sub! Yeah, that’s it!
And somewhere, in some dorm room, a young woman sings along: “…the taste of her cherry chapstick…omg, that sounds so fun!”
I found FetLife when I was 25, after finally—painfully—admitting to myself that I wasn’t quite like them. I wanted to be like them—to be among the vanilla majority. To be satisfied with good old fashioned sex. Perhaps edgy sex, perhaps rough sex, but sex none the less. I never wanted to have fundamental needs that would limit my options in my love life. I didn’t want to be truly, deep-down kinky. And yet here I am.
Discovering FetLife was like discovering a new species of people, looking down at my own body and saying, “Hey! That’s me! I’m one of you! I make sense now!”
If it sounds like I’m comparing being kinky to a sexual orientation—I am. And I’m not the first to do so. Kink was not an option on the sexual menu that I ordered for the sake of expanding my pallet. Kink is my pallet—vanilla sex has always been the consolation prize. Vanilla sex has been the door charge: If I sleep with this guy, and give him the sex he wants, then maybe he’ll do a little of my kink with me. Oh god I hope so. Trying to date vanilla folks has been constant compromise.
I have always been kinky, long before I understood sex, let alone sexuality. As a child, that scene in Peter Pan where Tinkerbell gets held up by the wings and given a few swats to the bottom gave me the butterflies others describe of their first crush. And I’m not alone—many of us true kinksters can laugh about similar childhood memories. Some of us feel that (cue the Gaga) we were born this way. In any case, we recognize kink as an essential, core element of our sexualities.
So you’re into spanking. I could get into that! cry the over-confident pretenders, beating their chests. I’ll spank you and you’ll get so turned on, you’ll beg to fuck me. And then the fucking will commence!
No. No, the fucking will not commence. You, my bold friend, are a tourist, and you do not know the lay of this land.
Your endgame is wholly different from mine. Whereas I find gratification in the kink play itself, you use it as a vessel to get to bumpin’ uglies. I am immersed in the language, a permanent resident—you’re excited to check out the museums.
My dear tourists: you aren’t bad people! You want to experiment, and that’s fantastic. But that’s what you’re doing: experimenting. You’re vanilla, and you want to try some hot fudge and rainbow sprinkles.
The term “vanilla” may have a certain connotation, and to that I firmly contest: vanilla is delicious. One could argue vanilla is the most essential, universally-appealing flavor. And there are so many varieties of vanilla! French vanilla is acutely discernible. A vanilla wafer is radically different from vanilla ice cream. Vanilla is a wonderful world all its own. Sometimes vanilla might have a wild night getting called a slut and face-fucked. That vanilla might look great in leather. But it doesn’t make it chocolate.
To me, playing is the main course—it’s sustenance. To you, it’s an extra slice of cake.
I’m not on FetLife to be someone’s experiment. I’m there because having to explain to a vanilla partner what I actually need in bed is difficult, and scary, and doesn’t always go well. Having to explain that yes, I really truly have never in my life had an orgasm thinking about anything vanilla—yes, I have only ever exclusively come to fantasies revolving around my fetish for pure, kinky discipline—is burdensome. Having to come out of that closet again and again sucks. FetLife is a space for me. It’s the site where I can finally meet others who share my needs. Every night is Kinky Night at that kinky bar.
So you tied someone up and had a great time. Good for you! Have you ever bothered to do a little reading up on BDSM? Are you thinking you can just kinda wing it?
You’re a tourist.
Have you read up on BDSM, fascinated and totally mind-blown—rather than experiencing that coming home feeling?
You’re a tourist.
Are you interested in playing some things out with people, but would never want to actually socialize with kinksters, or god forbid, attend a munch, or a kink event? Are you sewing your kinky oats, knowing when you get married, things will “settle down” in the sack? Do you get by just fine with Tinder, and FetLife is just the cherry on top?
You’re a tourist, dude. Embrace it.
Be unashamed, tourists—after all, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to travel. And many of us would be happy to host. But when you’re getting ready to meet up with someone, don’t imply you’re there for the real thing when what you want is to try out a few tricks. Don’t misrepresent yourself as someone who innately understands, who cares enough to do their homework, who feels deeply compelled to identify themselves as a fellow within the kink world. Don’t claim membership and then fail to deliver. (And you will fail—really, you will.) Don’t call yourself a Dom when what you mean is you want to be a Dom, for fun, to see what it’s like.
Call yourself experimental. Call yourself open-minded. Call yourself “a little kinky, just sometimes, for fun.” Call yourself vanilla and adventurous.
But don’t call yourself a Dom. Don’t call yourself a sub. Don’t waste my time on the dance floor.
AB is an MFA candidate living in Massachusetts.