A wolf and dog in kinky gear travel down a parade to waving people in the background.

Kink at Pride? This Incredible Master Doc Proves Why it Belongs

Most of the arguments against it are homophobic and transphobic.

Anyone who has followed my reporting for long enough knows that I, Ana Valens, am a very kinky lesbian. I’ve been writing about BDSM for a number of years now, am an ardent supporter of leatherdyke recognition in the LGBTQ community — and, yes, I’ve even gone out to Dyke March in a harness.

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So it should come as no surprise that I absolutely hate the annual “kink at Pride” discourse. With May fast approaching its end, June’s anxiety over BDSM in the LGBTQ community is coming. But this year, we’re armed with some extensive research to defend kink’s appearance at our local marches, parades, and picnics.

What is the ‘kink at Pride’ discourse ?

A group of bears and leathermen wave from a Pride truck.
Image via Richie Diesterheft/Flickr (CC BY-SA)

For the uninitiated: There’s a vocal number of people in the LGBTQ community that believe collars, leashes, harnesses, leather gear, and any other public display of consensual power exchange does not belong at Pride events. These people believe leather culture, or a queer subculture embracing leather clothing and erotic power exchange, is too extreme. It gives a bad look to the rest of the community.

In theory, people against kink at Pride believe we’re going to lose all our rights if a topless woman walks around Washington Square Park with a muzzle on. Of course, this is ludicrous: Republicans won’t stop at policing how we dress, they’re happy to take our rights away no matter what we’re wearing.

Arguments over respectability politics are one of the most annoying things to happen on the queer internet. But let’s be honest, there’s a difference between bad faith, hardcore, anti-kink-at-Pride people, and confused, newly-out 20-something queer kids who are trying to navigate this strange discourse on their own. We need to help them understand what’s at stake in the kink-at-Pride culture war, especially when the right is turning up the heat on rhetoric that calls trans people “groomers” and “perverts.”

That’s why I’m incredibly thankful that there’s a new master document available to teach people all about kink at Pride’s legacy.

“Kink at Pride and BDSM Information Page” is a growing resource available on Notion that provides a thorough, research-intensive breakdown on everything you’d ever need to know about kink at Pride. The list, which is still a work in progress, breaks down prominent myths about kink’s place at Pride events and squashes commonly held misconceptions about BDSM.

On the myth page, for example, the document notes that “think-of-the-children” rhetoric against kink at Pride is traditionally “weaponized against sexual minorities by radical feminists and conservatives alike.” If you’re not sure whether that’s true, don’t worry. The document links out to research explaining how this homophobic and transphobic talking point polices gay citizens and targets women’s reproductive rights, among other effects.

Even in its work-in-progress state, the project is incredibly expansive. It touches on whether kink is alienating to asexual individuals (as an ace person, let me tell you — it isn’t!) and whether BDSM is innately sexual (in short, it’s not just about sex, although it can be). There’s even an entry explaining how fetish gear, such as puppy play muzzles, is often worn at Pride to honor the leather community’s long and storied history in the LGBTQ community. It’s an incredible resource for those of us arguing that our community belongs at our favorite marches.

How kink at Pride discourse is “nothing new”

Three people march together at the Queer Liberatino March in New York City, 2019.
Image via Elvert Barnes/Flickr (CC BY-SA)

The “Kink at Pride” document was created by BeyondSafewords, who worked for years as a kink-informed sex therapist. Currently, she is studying for a PhD in social work with a focus on “researching non-kinkshaming abuse assessment,” she told The Mary Sue. She is also training as a sex therapy supervisor.

BeyondSafewords first created the “Kink at Pride/Destigmatizing BDSM Research Doc” on Google Docs in December 2021. The resource first began after she was frustrated with a debate panel featuring content creators weighing in on the subject. None of these participants were kinky, she told The Mary Sue, and the end result “made [her] want to punch things.”

“Since I was preparing to write my comprehensive exam (which I just passed! Go me!), and I already had a TON of literature on hand about BDSM, I thought it would be a good idea to organize it and share it,” BeyondSafewords said. “So, the next time the inevitable discourse rolled around (this debate has happened just about every year since Pride began!), folks with online platforms had information that they could use, with academic sources, to shut down the awful takes I was seeing online.”

There’s a reason why BeyondSafewords’ document is so thorough: BDSM was always stigmatized in the queer community. Leatherdykes in particular faced backlash from radical feminists and their fellow lesbians, who believed that BDSM was fundamentally abusive toward women (the document addresses how this theory “is not supported” by research).

“In the 1970s-1990s, the radfems (who were the proto-TERFs) targeted lesbian BDSMers. Scholars like Gayle Rubin were actively demonized for being anti-feminist, degenerate … all the lines that TERFs use against trans folks were used against kinky queer lesbians,” BeyondSafewords said. “Look up the Sex Wars! It was a time!”

As for whether this resource will change the hearts and minds of people who are dead set on removing kinky lesbians like myself from Pride, well, that seems unlikely. BeyondSafewords herself admits that herself. “I know there are folks who won’t be swayed, no matter how many fact you throw at them,” she said, “but maybe at least a few people will be willing to shift their perspective on BDSM.”

I hope that’s the case as well. Because I’m about to condition my harness for Dyke March, and the last thing I want is a 22-year-old screaming at me from the sidewalk for honoring my leatherdyke heritage, thank you very much.

(Featured image: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr (CC BY-SA))

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Author
Ana Valens
Ana Valens (she/her) is a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship, and sex workers' rights. Her book "Tumblr Porn" details the rise and fall of Tumblr's LGBTQ-friendly 18+ world, and has been hailed by Autostraddle as "a special little love letter" to queer Tumblr's early history. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her ever-growing tarot collection.