Easter weekend is also the weekend of KinkFest. KinkFest is one of the largest west coast gatherings of people into Kink, BDSM, and related sadomasochistic pursuits. In some ways, KinkFest is like any other convention. A large group of people in a giant hall, attending lectures, perusing vendor booths, and socializing. Where it departs, obviously, is the subject matter. The classes usually involve demonstrations that can get you arrested in some places or are interactive and intended to teach a new skill. And the socializing involves leather and latex and cross-dressers and rope and beatings and all kinds of fun, fucked-up shit. Well, not literal shit. The dungeon doesn’t allow scat, thankfully, nor piss play or Roman play.
This year was KinkFest XX. The Portland Leather Alliance has been putting on the event for 20 years. It’s grown to 1500 people attending and takes up the largest space at the Expo Center in Portland, OR. It’s an all-volunteer run effort. And we bring in presenters from around the country and even internationally. It’s 3 days of debauchery, education, and friendship, and I kind of look forward to it every year. Sorry, no actual pictures as cameras aren’t allowed during the event, and the official photos haven’t been posted yet. I’ve included a few shots I’ve taken that are relevant but hopefully SFW.
One of the fun things about KinkFest is that you have attendees who are new and jumping feet first into the deep end and old heads like myself who’ve been involved for decades. The classes cover a wide range. From the relatively vanilla-like classes on anal sex, giving head, or having multiple partners, to basic kink-related things like flogging and how to process pain, to more advanced topics like full-time total power exchange, medical play, and other types of edge play. Here’s the worskshop list from this year.
Edge play is usually play that carries with it higher risks or is pushing close to the limits of the players involved. What that entails varies by kinkster, and it is like Justice Stewart’s definition of porn: you know it when you see it. Some of the more common types are play using knives, needles, and increasingly race and misogyny play.
The Kink scene has always fetishized consent for a couple-few reasons. The first is that knowing that all parties directly involved are consenting is the difference between play time and abuse. It may also be the only difference between getting your rocks off and going to prison. In some jurisdictions, even that wouldn’t help, so trust is paramount when you’re doing some of the things we do. Having trust in your partner to stop when you use your safe word, to not push too far, or not take advantage when you are helpless means that negotiations and consent are important. Third, because we are playing with things that are dangerous and carries physical, emotional, and psychological risks, having some security by emphasizing discussion and agreement is important to people in the scene. There is a focus from the older crowd on autonomy, and the idea that you can’t exchange power if you don’t have power to start with, where negotiations are the means for doing so.
This does lead to some entryism by SJW types. But most people aren’t much impressed by them. Part of the point of kink is risk and ambiguity and playing with those things. People do need to learn etiquette around a dungeon. The rules are different. In some ways they are looser than in a nightclub or normal situation. You’re going to see people doing and wearing (or not wearing) things you’d never see in public. In other ways they are more stringent. The biggest one is don’t touch other people or their things (which may mean other people) without asking or being invited to do so. There are other protocols like not talking to people at a play station who are having a scene or standing too close. Generally speaking, people into kink recognize individual autonomy and have developed etiquette around supporting it.
Like any other con, there are vendors at KinkFest. Vendors selling leather vests and outfits and cuffs and collars. Toys for impact from wooden paddles to acrylic canes. Electro play toys like violet wands and tasers. And of course, rope, rope, rope for bondage and suspensions. There are floggers and whips and latex outfits. Oh, and dildos. Every shape, size and description you can think of. There’s even one vendor called InHerTube that makes special dildos and harnesses that attach to the thigh, or the end of your boot. The vendor hall makes a good spot to wander around, people watch, and socialize with friends. Or to arrange a scene that night in the dungeon, featuring the toys one just purchased. Some of the vendors are truly talented at the things they make.
The dungeon at KinkFest may be the best in the country. To start off with, it is 36,000 sq ft. That space is divided into individual 10′ by 10′ play stations. Each station has some sort of furniture in it: St. Andrews Cross, spanking benches, bondage chairs, massage tables, pagodas, cages, medical tables or simply thick floor mats. The center piece this year was a giant truss structure laid out in four squares with hard points for doing rope bondage. It covered, by my estimation, about 2500 sq ft of space. The whole dungeon has a professional sound and light setup to help set the mood. And it honestly looks like something out of a movie. Some of the extras maybe weren’t as telegenic.
There were some amazing scenes that took place. My favorite was probably an alien probing scene. At least from a spectator’s perspective. There was also the car wash. A couple of nubile young ladies in transparent latex with sponges and water who would wriggle all over their subject and give them a washing. Whip alley is always fun. It’s a 40′ by 20′ section closed off by chain link that has space for two whip scenes. Hearing the bullwhips crack and pop over the sounds of the crowd and music can be startling to some, but it’s part of the atmosphere to me. It goes nicely with the screams, and surprisingly the more common laughter.
And that’s what brings me to the libertarian bit in this piece. It isn’t all just titty-lation (hi Q!). The Kink scene can be a microcosm of spontaneous order, self-policing, private property, and self-ownership. The entire KinkFest phenomenon refutes the ideas people have about why small government couldn’t work. It absolutely works.
The entire affair is organized by volunteers. The core staff put in 20+ hour weeks for 9 months and don’t get paid a dime. They perceive a need and they do it because they want to see it happen. It is a direct counter-argument to the idea that feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless wouldn’t happen without government. People donate so that shit gets done. This includes people spending hours to build dungeon furniture then giving it to the organization. Or specialized skills like professional riggers who donate their time to get things done. Same for the promotion and lining up vendors.
The volunteers, usually younger members of the community, who help carry it all off give up part of their time enjoying the convention in exchange for free admission. This is a fair exchange of value for those who couldn’t pay the entry fees that are used to pay for the bits that aren’t done by volunteers. Nonetheless, the volunteers earn their keep. It’s also interesting in that if someone volunteers, gets in free, but doesn’t keep up their end of the bargain, they get banned from next year. This deals effectively with the freeloader problem.
Risky things happen in the dungeon. People wear their bruises and welts and even lacerations with pride. Yet the policing is done by a volunteer crew whose focus is on making sure the rules are followed and people are having a good time. The Dungeon Monitors are a model for private police. They are mostly focused on facilitating play in a way that reduces risk as much as possible. They only interfere when called on, or when there is a genuine threat to life and limb. And even then, they are trained in de-escalation and using their words instead of violence. Despite 1500 people all doing fucked-up shit, they rarely must intervene. They wind up offering council or telling people where supplies are like cleaning stuff, first aid, etc. They occasionally must do some dispute resolution over who has dibs on a piece of equipment. But even that’s rare. Because people police themselves.
People and their property are also sacrosanct. Despite all the degeneracy on display, asking first is ingrained and important. Yes, there are yahoos that are new that don’t understand and make mistakes. They are usually quickly identified and corrected. And yes, there are predatory types that look for vulnerable victims to assault, but by and large, those people stay away from the organized group events. Because, again, they get identified. I’d wager one is less likely to be made uncomfortable by a stranger groping you or trying to corner you or to wind up having unwanted violence done to you at a kink event than at a normal bar or concert. It isn’t perfect, but it puts the lie to the idea that without government you can’t have people getting along peacefully or that corporate action requires coercion.
Another note on property. Most players who have been at it a while have large toy bags. This can be anything from a backpack to rolling suitcases stuffed with stuff. To keep from turning the dungeon into an airport, large shelves are setup near the entrance. People leave their stuff unattended for long stretches of time while playing voyeur or looking for just the right playmate. And return to find their toys unmolested. Some of those toy bags have thousands of dollars in equipment in them. My rope kit alone is probably close to a thousand bucks worth of jute and hardware. Toys rarely go missing. And on the few occasions where they have, it’s usually a case of someone picking up what they thought was their own toy but was someone else’s and it is promptly returned.
That’s not to say there aren’t problems with SJWs, as mentioned. There are, especially online, a contingent of the usual intersectional feminists who want to make any accusation of violating someone’s consent an automatic blackballing of the accused. They use all the language SJWs use in campus kangaroo courts and make big posts on Fetlife, the kink equivalent of Facebook. But fortunately, they don’t have much power in the flesh and blood world. Even more interesting, the vocal ones are learning a hard lesson that the #metoo movement is learning: experienced tops with the more exotic and in demand skills are being much more selective in who they play with for the simple expedient of wanting to guard their reputations. The gender and pronoun thing is something of a big deal. But my experience is that most of those folks are polite in requesting you use their name and pronouns. Those that would like to be able to force you, power is so decentralized, it is hard to coerce people.
One of the saddest things to me is that so many kinksters don’t see that. In their private lives they live and play by libertarian ideas. But they can’t make the leap to seeing it as a strong basis for politics. The left politics are almost reflexive and without thought. I think because many people into kink have negative experience with religious and political conservatives they lean the opposite direction in politics. And there’s a larger contingent than the general population of people who are dysfunctional and therefore want their gimmedats. I try to talk to people about it, and I’ve made some inroads with a few. But cutting through all the accumulated derp is slow going. There are some things you can’t beat out of people.