Friday, November 02, 2007


I am a recently single straight man. I feel like I've become a pariah in the kinky community just because I am in between girlfriends. Most of the large, public BDSM clubs charge guys like me an outrageous admission fee. Couples are charged a more reasonable rate, and single women are often allowed to go in for free. Many private play parties won't admit single men at all—unless they are gay. This is especially galling because I am not the typical "straight white male." I have a lot of queer friends and often feel more comfortable in that milieu than I do at a singles bar or some other environment where I'd have to put up with fag jokes and sexist comments about women. I'm a feminist, and yet I'm seen as the enemy, likely to sexually harass vulnerable women (none of whom came to a sex party to have sex, I guess). Women are seen as a more difficult group to get into public play, of course, and event organizers also see them as a big draw for the poor schmoos who are paying three figures just to hold up the wall and watch. But as a top, I am definitely in a minority, and I go to parties to make sure anyone I scene with has a good time. At every party or club I've been to, there are lots of single bottoms, standing around, not having much fun. Being asked to pay an outrageous entrance fee doesn't put me in a very sexy mood. Besides, you're not supposed to play when you are angry.

Why not simply set up some rules about how attendees are supposed to behave, and kick out anybody who is being rude? The whole idea that some people are more valued than others is fucked up, and it's not what I am looking for in a network or community of kinky people. But if we are going to have a group of people who are given preferential treatment, why shouldn't it be dominants—regardless of our gender? I'm not sure what you could do to fix this, or if you even agree with me that this is a problem. But I'd like to hear your take on it


I had to publish your letter, if only because your pseudonym made me laugh so hard I hurt myself. I'm happy to offer my personal perspective on this, with the understanding that it's hardly authoritative. I think we both understand where these policies come from. In the case of sex clubs, the owners are in a business that is legally dubious. They often want to make as much money as they can. In the old-school underground sex world of the 1970s through the 1990s, a sex club was run something like a carnival. There are the performers (i.e., the dominatrixes and their slaves) and the rubes (tourists who are sight-seeing and gawking at the freaks, or salivating because they want to be in an act themselves). This structure no longer reflects the straight BDSM community. The male masochist personified by the character Severin in Venus in Furs is no longer the prototypical perv. Male dominants and female submissives are much more visible. There are a growing number of dominant women who are not in business, doing sessions for money, or patrolling the clubs for potential clients. Leather dykes are women, and out in greater numbers than any other point in history, but they usually don't fit the femmy stereotype of girl-on-girl action that's supposed to draw a lot of male voyeurs.

The commercial BDSM scene has not caught up with this diversified subculture. In New York, Los Angeles, and other big cities, many clubs are still run this way. Some club owners will tell you they charge single men a lot of money to cut back on the presence of people who aren't seriously interested in BDSM sex, but I don't buy it. They've got a desperate captive market, and they are exploiting it.

Queer-oriented sex parties see straight single men as a menace for other reasons. Many gay or bisexual women don't want to be the target of a straight man's desire. Of course, there are exceptions. One of the delightful things that happens at poly parties is people risking crossing the lines of gender and sexual orientation that usually keep us segregated. Straight men get flogged by gay leather daddies, dykes experiment with fags, submissive straight girls discover a dominant streak and cane the hell out of somebody, etc.

As a queer ally who sounds like he has good social skills, I don't think you'd loom over anybody, make inappropriate comments, touch people who didn't want to be fondled, or do anything else to interfere with the energy of the group or the individuals within it. I just don't know if your suggestion that people get treated as equals and ejected only if they misbehave is workable in the real world. Let's imagine a club that is packed with straight men who have all come because the club is offering a fixed rate for everybody. They aren't interested in each other, so they aren't going to be pairing up and creating any sexual energy. They will be waiting for women to show up. But most of the women who arrive will come with people they know already. They will show up to use the large bondage equipment at the club, and they won't necessarily be available to new dominants or submissives. And if they see nothing but an ocean of male faces, hungrily turned in their direction, they are going to feel intimidated and overexposed, if not unsafe.

The policy of admitting only bisexual or gay men to a pansexual play party is there because these men have the option of getting sexy with each other, so as to take some of the pressure off any woman who scrapes up the courage to try to play in public. While many women are becoming bold adventurers in this realm, it still takes a lot of encouragement and education for some to learn how to set their boundaries and create a safe zone of space where they can explore their own desire.

In my experience, many single straight men who are bottoms are single because they have little respect for women and no idea that BDSM play has to be mutually pleasurable. They have a long list of things they want somebody to do to them, but they are fuzzy about why a Cruel Fetish Goddess would deign to gratify them. They tend to see all of the women at a sex party as fair game for their proposals. They don't take the time to figure out whether any individual woman is, perhaps, only interested in other women, or whether she has the experience or personality type to top. I've had to peel submissive men off a collared and handcuffed slave girl who was on my leash. I understand how strong the desire to go under can be, but you have to learn how to treat other people if you want to make a workable lust connection. These guys would be unable to get a date or maintain a relationship even if they weren't kinky.

It's a shame that you, Carey, aren't given some credit for being more updated, liberated, and well-behaved. Maybe you should try to get to know the people who organize private parties and see if you can get them to recognize you as one of their tribe. Or you could organize some parties of your own, with your own set of rules and admission policies. I count many, many straight people among my dearest friends and playmates, and I'd feel quite lost if they weren't present at any party or club I attended. I think the best description I've heard of such folks is "straight but not narrow." Queer people need to recognize that our activism is changing the face of sex and intimacy for everybody. Radical sex between men and women is now more of a reality. You don't have to be gay to be queer.