The fight for Black rights is ever-growing and ever-changing. Law enforcement is being reformed, congressional conversations on reparations are being revisited, and even businesses, celebrities, and influencers are being held accountable for their anti-Blackness. Although the Black community has seen a lot of progress, from an intersectional standpoint, Black activism spaces lack safety, recognition, and even solidarity for Black folx who are LGBTIA- identifying or lead alternative lifestyles. Within this subset, Black people who are sex and/or kink positive are frowned upon, often subjected to shame and judgment from others. As a Black fat womxn who exists at the intersection of these identities, it’s time to have conversations about what sex and kink positivity are and why they are important for Black liberation.
From a personal standpoint, kink and sex have been a big part of my journey into womanhood. Despite being a late bloomer, my interest in the kink lifestyle started when I was in my mid-to-late teens. I remember staying up late to watch Secretary, and how the power dynamic between James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s characters intrigued me. It was something about E. Edward Grey’s sternness and the way he chastised and punished Lee that captured my interest. From that moment, I knew I wanted to learn more about what I had seen. My curiosity grew as I matured, and when I finally entered adulthood, I decided to explore my desires by turning to kink-friendly groups online and different websites. In these virtual spaces, I met a lot of like-minded individuals that not only taught me about the ins and outs of kink, including the roles of dominants and submissives and the meaning of each letter in BDSM, but also became my friends and even partners. Although some of these redeemable qualities have played a critical part in shaping my sexual identity and have kept me coming back to the lifestyle, there was one major issue that always plagued my experience: the lack of Black people.
Just like most communities, kink is inherently white-centric. Being that the lifestyle is a broad umbrella term that encompasses so many different smaller communities and subcultures, a lot of these are made to fetishize Black and brown bodies. I can’t even count how many Carsons and Karens have slid into my inbox and expressed their desires for “a big, beautiful Black woman” and how I fit the bill for their next scene. I’ve even been approached by masters and mistresses in search of creating a dynamic with someone that virtually simulates slavery or a form of race play. Y’all, I’m totally not here to yuck anyone’s yum, but I also want to make one thing clear: there’s a definite difference between a fetish and fetishization, and the aforementioned anecdotes are examples of the latter.
Initially, I felt alone in my experiences, but after chatting with friends and colleagues, I realized I wasn’t the only one. Dawn, an educator and close friend, talked about how fetishization of non-white folx goes beyond the parameters of kink and extends into the realm of sex as well.
“I can’t log into Pornhub or XVideos without being bombarded with white pornstars and nothing that could even remotely resemble representation of someone like me,” she pointed out. “[On these sites] there are even videos that are titled in derogatory and racist ways. As for outside of the digital world, my encounters with white counterparts have been almost always, if not always, rooted in fetishization. Think: ‘I’ve never been with a (blank) before. Is it true that (blank)?’ [with] those blanks being filled with obscenities, ridiculous stereotypes, and dehumanizing rhetoric.”
Our conversation on the origins of this type of behavior doesn’t start with the web, though. Kink and pornography are directly linked to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the moment Black people in this country came to be othered for everything from our skin to perceptions about our ability to endure pain. The effects of slavery are seen overtly in some forms of race play, but they can also be as covert as “[being] welcome in white spaces when they’re looking for “diverse” voices or when they think they’re doing [us] a favor,” said sexologist Goody Howard.
Realizing that images and communal gatekeeping are controlled by white people causes us to take a step back and think about our relationship to sex as Black people and how Black and brown folx feel left out because of whiteness.
“[We were] raised seeing kink [and sex] through the white-centric lens but never got fully respected in white-centric spaces,” Mrz. Neptune Violet explained. “Being Black and brown in kink and sex spaces is a one-sided relationship which entails having the responsibility of appeasing and supporting the consumer while actively being consumed for their pleasure, rendering us excluded and invisible.”
Part of dismantling that narrative is showing up as your authentic self and taking a stand with other marginalized constituents of the community, said Maddox, a ProDomme and Kink Activist. “As a leather person, I am active in the BDSM community here in NYC, and I show the f-ck up! Seriously. The first step to literally anything getting done is attendance.”
Showing up in ways that defy social norms and gender binaries is a big part of that Mrs. Neptune added. There is power in using one’s identity to eradicate all notions of male and female gender norms and what is socially acceptable and unacceptable by “meticulously slapping indelible new Black paint on old, adored white ways,” she explained. By choosing to own their Blackness and identity as sex and kink-positive individuals, those who are non-gender conforming are not only creating change for themselves but for the community at large.
A number of organizations are also pushing for inclusion of Black and brown people and validation of their experiences. I joined LVRSNFRNDS, (pronounced lovers and friends), a UK-based virtual and in-person group made by Sophie Mona Pagès that’s devoted to creating an inclusive and safe environment for everyone, especially BIPOC folx. As a growing global community for people with diverse perspectives on love, sex, kink, and relationships, Pagès organizes events and group discussions, known as salons, to allow members to gather and share their questions and experiences. Topics range from how to discuss contraception with prospective partners to establishing dominate-submissive dynamics in relationships. A major topic that was both challenging and monumental for the group to tackle was unpacking proper ways to honor and make space for Black folx in sex and kink.
Because “Lack of diversity is a deeply ingrained problem in the poly, kink, and BDSM scenes,” Pagès pointed out, LVRSNFRNDS screens all members and has established user agreements to ensure safety and challenge biases, including those related to race, that exist in the group and beyond. The organization also exists as a resource hub to provide access to marginalized groups that have been denied time after time.
Tired of going to munches and joining groups where there was a lack of people that looked like me or even respected my being, and fed up with being tokenized and having inaccurate judgments passed on me because I’m a Black woman, I realized I needed to create something of my own for the people who share my experiences. I channeled all of my anger and frustration into creating Unveild, an inclusive community for Black and brown folx that are kink and sex-positive. Though still in its beginning stages, the budding community offers educational resources on the different elements of the kink lifestyle and it’s been rewarding to see so many people of color respond so positively to its conception and the content that I’ve been creating for it.
Black and brown folx deserve the world. We deserve to fully experience all parts of our pain and pleasure and to be able to exist in and use sex and kink as a means to explore ourselves and our desires. Sexual liberation starts within. It begins with understanding religious and conservative occidental views on sex, desire, and pleasure. And it’s paramount that we have these hard conversations in order to destigmatize the societal taboos that have been placed on us. Raising awareness on kink and sex as it pertains to Black and brown individuals boils down to acknowledging Black folks as sexual beings because, as Dawn put it plainly, “We have sex too, and Black people should be allowed to just be.”
Maddox echoed that sentiment and the sense of urgency in unpacking the shame surrounding sexualities and kink. “It’s time for representation,” she said. “The correct kind.”
For Goody, that means representation of those in the kink community within the larger fight for representation of all Black and brown people.” If we truly are going to normalize and fight for the existence of Black people, we cannot forget Black people that live ‘alternative lifestyles’ as well.”