Danny Thanh Nguyen, AKA ByronicPunk, is well known for his ability with floggers and whips, as well as a fiction and non-fiction writer. He's currently working on a book about kink, survivalism and the parallels between the gay leather and kink community and refugees. In this article, Danny shares the joy and community that can come from embracing and relishing aspects of kink that others might find distasteful.
"Oh my god, have you ever heard of Fist Fest?"
This was my friend Denay as we drove back to her apartment. She was gushing about a recent discovery she had heard about on an episode of The Howard Stern Show: an annual gathering for men who enjoy wearing each other as though they were sock puppets.
We were driving on the bridge between San Francisco and Oakland at 1AM and the lights above passed over us in dotted waves as we crossed the bay. I was already personal friends with the organizers of Fist Fest and had even posed for their promotional poster back in 2011, yet I said nothing as Denay insisted on replaying the exposé for me. Instead, I appreciated the uncomfortable laughter she produced with each pained grimace, as the speakers filled the car with sounds of moaning men and J-lube churning like a vat of mayonnaise.
I've had a high tolerance for the grotesque ever since childhood. Like most gay guys, I was a momma's boy, a wimpy effeminate child who was picked on, though I quickly learned that having a morbid sensibility protected me from bullies, who stuck to name calling because they were too afraid to physically harm me. I was deemed a witch when, in second grade, I gave a Show and Tell presentation on a squirrel skull I had found in the park. When the teacher asked for examples of mythological heroes, I replied Jason Vorhees, the horror movie villain who decapitated people with a machete while wearing a hockey mask. My classmates accused me of being a psychopath with no empathy, when I was simply aiming for being gross.
Having the ability to sit comfortably with what others could not became an accidental source of power, something I wouldn't fully appreciate until adulthood. I was maybe twenty-one years old when I inadvertently leaned into my boyfriend's ear, intending to whisper something sexy while we were in the midst of foreplay, and he suddenly shoved me off of him.
"No moist noises!" David said, cringing into himself.
He twisted the tip of his pinky in his ear as if he were attempting to dig the memory out. Apparently, the smacking of my words against my wet tongue had the unbearable sonic quality of chewing creamed cheese.
I'm not particularly attracted to moist noises, but I am into trolling my lovers. Because nothing feels as soul satisfying as testing the elasticity of love, repeatedly doing a bit that your partner doesn't like. So, when David advertised his allergic reaction, I couldn't help but find it nearly erotic. His yuck became my yum, and I followed him around throughout our relationship, producing soggy sounds right into his ear well into our marriage. Though he eventually escaped by way of divorce, I'd like to believe I still haunt him in his dreams.
While I play more on the dominant side of the spectrum when it comes to bondage and S&M, I realize my true sadism has little to do with whips or chains, but rather, is more social in nature, manifesting in delight over watching people I genuinely care about squirm in uncomfortable situations. This is how I show my affection: by mildly abusing others for my own amusement, or what I like to call abusement. Which is why, when non-kinky friends ask me to explain leather culture, I not only thrill at the opportunity—I relish the look of horror on their faces as I focus on the gory details.
I was having dinner with my sister and her husband one night, explaining how the following Sunday was a summer fetish festival called Up Your Alley, relating details of my past debauchery. I walked them through a dungeon party where cigar smoke swirled around humans tied to St. Andrew's crosses while scantily clad in dead cowhide, then out into the open air of the street fair choked with chargrilled food and suntan lotion. I transported them to the crowded dance floor of the closing night's party, filled with a haze of man-mammal sweat and fog machines vapors. Then I punctuated my illustration by explaining how, for me, the festivities truly kicks-off on Thursday, where I attend a popular fetishwear formal dinner leading into the weekend.
"All-you-can-eat Mexican food," I said, "Because a banquet hall of leathermen gorging themselves on unlimited beans, queso, and chilies is the perfect precursor to anal sex."
"You are so disgusting!" my sister said.
The sound of her scream then, and of her husband's laughter—they fuelled me and made me strong.
I've been accused of being lewd by colleagues, obscene by a number of exes, and lovely by friends with the sense of humor of six-year-olds. Yet, ironically, I'm not into filth when it comes to my actual kinks. I enjoy saying the word "sploshing" more than I actually crave smearing myself with a can of baked beans or marmite. I can't bring myself to use poop as an emoji in my text messages, let alone introduce it to my partner's mouth in the bedroom. Still, I'm continuously drawn to the bawdy aspects of fetish for some reason.
I often think about my younger self, how scared he would be of the person I've become; this callused man so desensitized that he's bored by talks of fifty-person orgies or grown adults frolicking on all fours wearing dog masks with steel hooks in their asses. I remember being horribly embarrassed by the first openly out kinkster I ever met in college, a woman in my queer student group who was prone to oversharing, when she announced, "Saying no to anal fisting is closed minded and like burning Madame Bovary!"
Her lofty analogy disturbed me, but so did the naked transparency in which she broadcasted her sexuality. Sure, it conjured up the mental image of an anus yawning like the carnivorous plant in Little Shop of Horror, but I was mostly uncomfortable because I was a closeted bondage enthusiast who couldn't even recognize it, who was too shy to even talk about sex, let alone kink. I would ultimately grow into that comfort, but at that time, I felt sick and paralyzed and out of my element.
There's a bridge queer folks and kinksters alike have to cross, leaving behind us the cultural shame we learn from society for our desires, preventing us from being intimate with others, but mostly with ourselves. Which is why when we come out as gay or queer, some of us go through a phase in which we explode into flaming displays of rainbow flags, weaponizing faggotry as compensation for lost times spent in the closet. I certainly did. And like most other kinksters, I grew up feeling like an isolated freak. So, once I arrived at owning my fetishes, talking openly about the raunchy details began feeling like both a political act against the tyranny of the puritanical world, and an act of camaraderie between me and my fellow freaks.
I experienced this companionship for the first time at CLAW, or Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend—a leather gathering that sounds less like a kink conference and more like a public service campaign bringing attention to a city that has the misfortune of being located in Ohio. I attended CLAW with a fisting buddy of mine who, after checking us into our hotel room, wasted no time on rigging his Showershot in the bathroom. A Showershot is a douching tool composed of a silicone pitcher that collects water from under a showerhead, fashioned with a long hose and a nozzle one inserts into their rectum to flush out their insides for the sake of hygiene, being polite to their butt-sex partners, or simply because they're bored.
On the last day of CLAW, I passed by a pair of housekeeping staff turning over rooms across the hall from each other, two women in their starched grey dresses, armed with supply carts filled with toilet paper rolls and mini bottles of cheap shampoo and conditioner. One woman stood in the doorframe of Room 422 and addressed her colleague.
"Jenny," she said, "Are your shower curtains dirty too?"
Jenny, a brunette with a stern face, hardened by what seemed like multiple deployments to military combat zones, didn't bother looking up. She continued folding the bedding at her cart and started shaking her head. In fact, Jenny didn't even bother waiting for the last syllable to finish coming from her coworker's mouth; she shook her head with the "sh" sound in "shower curtains."
"Jenny," she said, "Are your shower curtains dirty too?"
And without skipping a beat, Jenny coldly declared: "I just strip them right off the rod."
Jenny's eyes remained unwavered, meditating on the bed sheets in her hands—those fresh bed sheets. Those fresh bleach clean bed sheets. Those fresh unstained bleach clean white bed sheets.
That was when I realized how the functions of asspigs make them the bane of a hotel staff's existence at these events. I ran cackling to my friend, rehearsing the way I would mock him and his brethren for traumatizing the housekeepers with their half-digested Jackson Pollock splatters. But in the elevator, before I could reach him, I paused at a second epiphany: it took two muggles just now for me to even think about the condition of the bathtub. I had spent the last four days showering alongside my buddy's pitcher and hose system, draped and coiled around the tub like a rubber jungle, completely unphased by how familiar I had become with the smell of my friend's insides.
"What have I become?" I thought to myself. Who is this person that casually speaks of fist fests and moist noises and human puppies—whose comprehension of what passes for normal has become bent and blurred? I've been living on the farm for so long, I can hardly smell the pig pen anymore. Yet my heart bloomed in that moment, because my immunity to what would be nasty to the average person had also become a testament to my empathy. Perhaps this is what it means to find fellowship: when you're given a whiff of the inner workings of another person, whether it's their intestines or desires, whether you're turned on by the same thing or not, and are able to not just tolerate but to embrace them. Perhaps this is what we call community. Perhaps this is what we call intimacy. When we look at another freak and ask ourselves: Do you take this person, to have and to hold, for as long as you both shall share this space?
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