I Want To See More Racial Diversity in the Kink Community

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I Want To See More Racial Diversity in the Kink Community

"An older man sidles up to me and tells me he’s into Japanese internment camp-style play. I’m too stunned to reply properly, so I mutter, “I’m not Japanese,” and excuse myself from the conversation."

Every time I enter a room, especially if it’s a room full of people I’ve never met before, I scan it for a count of visibly non-white people, then for a count of women. It’s almost an instinct, nowadays. And this disparity is most pronounced at the kink parties and events I attend, whether it be in Adelaide or Perth or Sydney.


A kink party is, in some ways, similar to any other party – there’s socialising, BYO drinks – and there might also just be someone being tied up in the corner. The Melbourne kink scene is more racially diverse than the Brisbane scene, but that could easily be chalked up to the fact that Melbourne has a more diverse population. Even so, the community is still overwhelmingly white.


Ironically, the kink scene is probably one of the most welcoming communities I’ve been a part of, and is particularly welcoming to the LGBTQIA+ community. I’ve never felt unwelcome at a kink event, but the disparity when it comes to race still stands out to me.


It’s also magnified by an incident at my first visit to a kink venue in Melbourne. An older man, probably in his 50s, sidled up to me and told me he was into Japanese internment camp-style play. I was too stunned to reply properly, so I muttered something like, “I’m not Japanese,” and excused myself from the conversation. I made a mental note to avoid him for the rest of the night.


It’s something of an unspoken rule that kink venues and events have a zero tolerance policy on homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and overt racism, but things can get murkier when it comes to the realm of ‘fantasy’. I told my partner about this incident, but I didn’t tell anyone else at the venue. At the time, I didn’t want to make a fuss, especially since it’s likely I’ll never see that man again.


Maybe I should have spoken up, just in case this man ended up saying something similar to a newcomer to the scene. Reflecting on it now, maybe I also wasn’t sure whether my discomfort would’ve been taken seriously, worried that the comment might’ve been waved off as something benign, as a matter of ‘preference’. This incident, and the fact that I’m still thinking about it years after it happened, serves as a continual and bleak reminder of how far some so-called progressive communities have to go in terms of racial propriety and avoiding microaggressions.


While the kink scene is queer-friendly and extremely accepting of neurodiversity, it can be squeamish about tackling issues of race head-on. People acknowledge the need for and practise enthusiastic consent, but it is still a place where young people can fall victim to sexual predators under the guise of an unhealthy and poorly negotiated dynamic.


I can’t help but think of places like Karada House – a ‘queer collaborative art space’ and a kink collective in Germany who are extremely aware that all kink is inherently political. Because of this, their workshops are intentionally inclusive. I’d like to see something similar in Australia – a genuinely intersectional approach to kink that does more than just skim the surface when it comes to gnarly issues.


When I chat to a friend about my experience, I mention I simply feel safer when I’m around other people of colour. I think back to the first time I went to a rope show in Japan, how it was the first time I’d been at any kink event where everyone looked like me, and how I automatically felt more comfortable, even though no one spoke the same language as me. I probably felt more at ease simply by virtue of the fact that I knew I wouldn’t have to deal with any racist remarks from white men.


Later, I conduct an extremely informal survey about the whiteness of the Brisbane kink scene – I ask my friends if they notice it, what they think about it and if there are any particular reasons why it’s so white. During these conversations, some ask me why I care about this so much, a question that could only come from someone who hasn’t spent their whole life thinking about the effect of race on their everyday lives.


I know there are strongly ingrained cultural barriers that might prevent non-white people from admitting their kinkiness to themselves, but I still worry that the whiteness of the scene may prevent non-white people from feeling truly comfortable within it.


Even though I had friends who were already in the scene, I was still anxious when I attended my first event. As an Asian woman who is used to casual racial fetishisation, I’m not sure if I would have felt safe enough to go to an event if I hadn’t had those friends as an introduction.


I’m hopeful this can improve, though I’m under no illusions that progress will be made overnight – as is the way with all things associated with race. There’s a strong stigma attached to kink or BDSM – people’s minds can tend towards extremes, and it can be difficult to coax them out of these assumptions. By being more open about it as a Chinese woman, I hope to show others who look like me and who have names like mine that there is a space for them in kink, no matter where you are or what you’re into.


Written by: Yen-Rong Wong on SBS