Listen, I know Wesleyan’s whole deal is being subversive. I get it. You want to piss off your mom and show off your socially progressive chops. That’s fine; we all do it. The problem arises when, in our attempt to find some Fresh New Take (TM), we end up eating our own tails and circling back to some reductive philosophy that on most levels, goes against what we claim to stand for. It’s time we talk about our kinks.
There’s nothing wrong with being kinky, we all like different things. However, the idea that our sexual preferences are somehow separate from our political and social identities is…frankly a little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. No one’s sexual persona is exactly the same as who they are in day-to-day life, but that doesn’t mean how we have sex is above examination. The weirdest development of kink culture, especially as it pertains to liberal arts culture, is that it’s somehow more progressive to be kinky. “Vanilla” sex seems to only belong to boring people, and we’re just supposed to accept with open arms that because someone enjoys choking and demeaning someone during sex, that they’re somehow more creative or open-minded. You should be free to explore kinky sex, but you should also feel free to…not explore, especially when many kinky sexual situations arise at the coercion by the more willing party.
Never mind the fact that the top porn categories routinely reaffirm the darkest impulses of white supremacy, heteronormativity, and misogyny—indicating that, maybe, sex and politics aren’t so discrete after all! Why is kink suddenly put on a pedestal in the liberal arts sphere? And why…why, WHY is it conflated with LGBTQ politics? Although not upheld in practice, Open House has come under fire from right-wing publications for its “over-inclusive” acronym, including BDSM with other sexual identities. No one in Open House truly believes that a straight man who likes to tie up his younger girlfriend is at all equivalent to a trans individual, or literally anyone else who has experienced systemic oppression for their identity. So why include it?
Similarly, in a recent email to the Argus, CAPS announced that their recent hire, Priya Senecal, is “poly, kink, and LGBTQIA+ affirming.” There’s nothing wrong with these three individual statements. The problem is associating the LGBTQ community with any form of sexual “deviancy,” as if it were a catch-all for anything that exists on the margins. The acronym LGBTQ in itself does not imply that every member is on equal epistemic footing, but it does exist because of a common sociopolitical goal. The LGBTQ community is a culture more than it is a way to have sex, and reducing it to its erotic components minimizes the humanity of LGBTQ individuals. Kinksters don’t have a political goal. Although kink communities exist, its spaces are inherently sexual—there is no larger culture. Although “vanilla” people may dislike certain kinks and would prefer not to see them in their daily lives, that personal rejection is not tantamount to oppression. LGBTQ individuals get hazed for holding hands with their significant others, not for chaining them to a park bench. Historically, the same movement of “family values” and moral purity would have driven both the LGBTQ and kink community into the same underground spaces, but that does not make them equivalent.
That brings us back to what kink even is. As much as we enlightened liberal arts students would like to believe that kink is empowering—and it can be—the fact remains that kinks can take place in unequal power dynamics, usually between older men and younger girls. Simply put, there’s nothing radical about reinscribing gender inequality in the bedroom. There’s nothing progressive about women convincing themselves to consent to acts they would never accept in a nonsexual setting. These dynamics don’t exist in every kinky situation (and a lot of kink does subvert traditional gender roles, not to mention kink within LGBT relationships), but they exist enough for us to begin to examine why we can joke about “getting choked out” on Twitter so nonchalantly. What we do in the bedroom never actually stays in the bedroom.
Not that it’s anyone’s business, but at the risk of sounding like a bitter outsider or a hypocrite, I want to point out that these concerns come from someone who has both willingly as well as coercively participated in, well, kinky sex. It’s not uncommon, and I wouldn’t even say it’s edgy at this point. I’m not asking anyone to stop enjoying what they enjoy—just think about WHY you enjoy it. Do you actually enjoy it, or do you just think you’re supposed to? These are questions that should apply to all sexual interactions, but for some reason kink has created a blind spot where it’s more important to be “liberated” than safe.
Brooke Kushwaha is a member of the class of 2020 and can be reached at email@example.com.