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kink and fetish culture at LGBTQ+ Pride
via Flickr (torbakhopper)

Why it’s bizarre to try ban kinks and fetishes at Pride

The LGBTQ+ event is as much about hedonism and fucking as it is about politics and community

Yesterday, as happens often, someone wrote a tweet which sent the internet into meltdown. A list of statements about Pride, it began so promisingly:

“1. large corporations just want your money” – Well, quite!

Eagerly anticipating the serving of more scalding hot tea, I read on:

“2. Lesbian exclusion is ugly. 3. Trans woc are the ones that lead the fight for our rights” – by this point, I was punching the air and cheering in agreement. But then... instead of being served more tea, I found myself spitting out my own, all over my laptop:

“4. Please don’t bring your k*nks/fet*shes to pride, there are minors @ pride and this can sexualise the event”.

It’s worth saying that the person who wrote this tweet seems well-intentioned, as proven by their previous three excellent points, and attacking them personally would be both unkind and pointless. But the attitude the tweet embodies is worthy of critique, and I’d like to unpack the ideas being suggested: that children need to be protected from displays of kink (whether that’s rubber, leather, BDSM, animal roleplay... I could go on), and that Pride shouldn’t be sexualised.

“Pride is, among other things, a defence of sexual freedom, and people attending should be free to behave in a sexual way. The event should be as inclusive as possible, but raucousness, provocation, and fucking are important too”

In the furore which followed this tweet going viral (at the time of writing, it has been liked a disturbing 30,000 times), many people suggested in response that children shouldn’t even be at Pride in the first place. Others argued, more mildly, that the essence of Pride shouldn’t have to change to accommodate them. I’m sympathetic to the latter point, but a ‘no kids at Pride!’ rule risks excluding queer parents who can’t afford childcare, the children of queer parents (who have every right to celebrate their own families), and the many children who will grow up to be queer themselves, and are perhaps beginning to realise this themselves.

For all of these groups, there is enormous value in Pride being child-friendly. We should also accept that the texture of LGBTQ+ life has changed since the 1970s, and that Pride should reflect that. Having a family isn’t necessarily assimilationist, heteronormative, or lame – there’s lots of ways to go about it – and making the event child-friendly isn’t necessarily a capitulation to those things.

But although the discourse around Pride increasingly evokes quite treacly notions of love or family, you simply cannot tell me that sex doesn’t play an important role, as it does for queer culture at large. Pride is, among other things, a defence of sexual freedom and people attending should be free to behave in a sexual way. The event should be as inclusive as possible, but raucousness, provocation, and fucking are important too; reconciling these things might be complicated but banishing kink isn’t the answer.

What does ‘child-friendly’ even mean, though? Is children being present and witnessing kink even that deep? I’ve attended Pride events in several different cities and countries and I’ve never seen any full-blown fucking in the street (more’s the pity!). For the most part, the expressions of kink on display are, although representing sexual situations, playful and carnival-esque. I’m not a child psychologist, admittedly, but I don’t understand why it would be more traumatising or inappropriate for a child to see someone in a gimp suit than it would a slightly spooky Halloween costume – i.e, not traumatising at all. It’s basically fancy dress. Is it really that hard to explain to your kids that some people like dressing up in leather, or pretending to be dogs, because they enjoy it? You don’t need to go into the details.

And if, as a parent, you’re unhappy for your child to be around this stuff, there are plenty of family Pride events you can attend instead  – but, funnily enough, I rarely hear this type of critique coming from queer parents themselves. It doesn’t seem fair to suggest that the kink community should be excluded from Pride, when they’ve been there since the beginning.

“I can’t think of a more contemptible viewpoint to hold than the idea that we should tone it all down incase a straight person sees and suddenly decides that we don’t deserve rights” 

Although there are some sincere desires here for making Pride more inclusive, the whole thing carries an uncomfortable echo of less progressive arguments which crop up every year. Arguing against the presence of kink at Pride typifies the most pious, finger-wagging form of respectability politics. This usually goes along the lines of “well, it’s hardly giving a good impression to straight people if we’re seen to be cavorting around in latex, is it? We’re just playing into homophobe’s hands!” This is almost certainly true: I’m sure that homophobic people do find it infuriating to see, I’m sure it disgusts them… but imagine thinking this was a bad thing.

Pissing these people off, being ourselves defiantly and without apology, is precisely the point. I can’t think of a more contemptible viewpoint to hold than the idea that we should tone it all down incase a straight person sees and suddenly decides that we don’t deserve rights. If this is you: please stop begging it from people who despise you.

Pride is about many different things. It’s about hedonism: along with New Year’s Eve or your birthday, it’s an excuse to get dressed up, splash out on a packet of Marlboro Gold when you normally smoke roll-ups, and stay awake for as long as physically possible without feeling any guilt – it’s Pride! It’s about politics and activism. It’s about shagging and kink. And, yes, these days, it’s also about families and children. But if we don’t find a way to accomodate all of this, I worry that the elements of the queer community which are less palatable to the mainstream will fall by the wayside – and I can’t think of a greater betrayal of the values which Pride ought to represent.