Politics is rarely the conversation topic of choice among fetish friends. Kinksters often lead their fetish life to escape the banalities and generally shitty reality of real life, politics included. You might be thinking, 'what the woof does fascism have to do with what I do in the bedroom' or 'how is this relevant to me and my place in the fetish scene'. Recent events like Brexit, the Trump presidency and the handling of the ongoing pandemic, have shown us all how politics and political decisions affect our freedoms, rights and protections. A resurgence in European fascism coupled with the heating up of a tense French election has never made it more vital to explore fascism critically and its complex link to the history and current realties of our community. This frank conversation must be met with the recognition of how we have been seemingly politically pacified and what we can do about it.
It is important to mention that "fetish" does not equal LGBTQ+, yet many fetishists and kinksters (particularly users of Recon) do identify themselves on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Fetish beautifully transcends the boundaries of 'race', social class, sexual orientation, gender identity and age. It is for that very reason that our strength lies in our collective diversity of experience, knowledge and perspectives.
We don't really think about it that much but in many ways, the link between fetish and fascism is hardly surprising. Both share various ideological and situational characteristics, of which can be broken down into three categories
First and foremost, and perhaps the most superficial, yet obvious, is aesthetics. The fetishization of uniforms, in particular military ones, is a very clear embodiment of this; just look at any Tom of Finland book. His fascination with and repurposing of the Nazi SS officers' uniform has proven controversial, and has even indirectly led to a sub-fetishization of military clothing from the Third Reich. The more modern aesthetic of the skinhead holds undeniable parallels to those in white nationalist and Neo-Nazi movements in Europe and North America. In fact, some queer fetish parties have limited or banned the wearing of uniforms featuring nationalistic symbols or militaristic insignia due to this uncomfortable link.
Some argue hypothesis and rationale lay behind the aesthetic allure. People I have spoken to have told me they wear military gear to feel masculine. While others, in the past re-appropriated such clothing as a form of protest due to the exclusion of gay men from serving in the army. Bikers and Leathermen speak of the historical protection that some uniforms or clothing styles afforded them; an attempt to blend with those hostile to us and our 'gayness'. Some like the taboo of Nazi iconography, while others have an attraction to those who hate us (and exterminated us in our thousands); a "fetish of fear" if you will. Instead of the fantasy of the closeted high school bully or 'jock' roughing you up in locker room, it's a skinhead or someone in SS uniform.
Ideology is the second category, with certain concepts in fetish also having dark roots and history of use by fascists and their ideologues. Such commonalities include Hypermasculinity and its glorification, the importance and impetus on power dynamics, an established hierarchy based on gender/age/class/race, focus on dominance and subordination and the wielding of control. Such themes lead us on to the third and final category: Practice. Acts of degradation, dehumanisation, humiliation, violence and emasculation have been used as tools in the fascist toolbox to victimise, control or destroy opponents. One major difference in fetish is that these ideas and practices are carried out by consenting adults, for the purpose of gratification (sexual or otherwise), accompanied by mutual respect and discussion of limits, intentions, and risks beforehand (or at least, that is what I think we should aim for!)
These aesthetic, ideological and practical concepts are very much present in the fetish world, some of which are seen as problematic by some while for others are deemed acceptable. This is NOT to say that this link provides any basis to suggest that fetish is a form, exponent or enabler of fascist ideas, or participation in fascist action. But such correlations are still clearly there and should not go ignored, especially in the political climate such as the one we are currently living in. Our propensity to accept these ideas and practices in one environment, may lead us to unconsciously ignore, justify or accept (at varying degrees) in other contexts. As someone who in their non kink-life, has conducted and published research into radicalisation and the routes into extremism, I would argue that this understudied area concerning fetishization and fascism merits further research and inquiry.
At this point, you may ask yourself 'but how can I as just one kinky person aid in the fight against fascism?' Here are three starting points:
The first and foremost thing you can do, is to educate yourself on what fascism is (and what is isn't!), what is looks like and what is sounds like. Find out what local and national organisations are doing to stem the far-right in your community. It seems obvious, but education and engagement must be prioritised if we are serious about progress.
Second thing to do is to find, fund and support networks of co-solidarity and activism. For example, organisations, charities and collectives that promote anti-racism, that support and advocate for the homeless, undocumented immigrants, trans persons, sex workers, and people living with HIV. The LGBTQ+ community is no stranger to political activism and action. It is not long ago that daring activists staged 'die-ins' to raise awareness and to pressure governments to act on the deaths from AIDS. The fetish community, in particular the leather and lesbian communities were heavily involved in the supporting of those in San Francisco during the 80s and early 90s. Similarly, in the UK Lesbians and Gay Support, the Miners aided families of those striking in protest at the actions of the Thatcher government. To advocate, to protest and to stand in solidarity is who we are (or at least who we used to be).
The best response to fascism and division is inter-communal solidarity and political engagement. Inform oneself of politician's stances, their voting record and public statements, and vote accordingly at election time. Our voices are amplified together and so are our votes.
Thirdly and finally, be 'that person', be unafraid and unapologetic to mention politics in your fetish (and/or wider social) circle, call out reactionary or borderline comments and views; wherever they lurk. With that said, there is a time and place for debate, and one should be very wary about calling someone a fascist, its often a counterproductive comment. Choose the high road and be the bigger person.
There is no doubt that things have improved since the dark decade of the 80s, however our community faces different challenges today. Since 2000, our struggle has been seemingly hijacked in order to export an 'acceptable, pacified and profitable' version of homosexuality devoid of any fetish, queerness and god forbid, politics. One only needs to look at Pride month in June to see how companies are using our struggle for equality in order to turn a profit while appearing 'woke'. Our banners might as well read 'The struggle is over, we have PreP, gay marriage and rainbow jockstraps!' If only honey, if only. The fact of the matter is, such an exerted 'rainbow-washing' makes activism and the raising of and challenging of social issues even more difficult. Pride was, and is a protest, but it won't be at all for much longer if we don't intentionally put politics back on the 'gay agenda'.
The pacification of our politics is not just an individual choice or one imposed on us by corporate-run Pride. Certain fetish organisations choose an apolitical stance; their justification is to be as inclusive as possible and to ensure that all feel welcome to become members or participate. Some registered as charities may be required to be apolitical as to qualify for government support/assistance. While these decisions are valid and understandable taken in their context, I also feel such decisions act as a sort of abdication on our responsibility to combat threatening political forces. This is disappointing and no doubt leaves some not feeling represented by these organisations. It's a hard balance to strike and there is no right or wrong answers. I take example from ActUp Paris, they don't just talk about HIV, they talk politics and get involved with other causes, campaigns and social issues. This includes anti- racist/fascist messages on their iconic pink triangle placards. Fascisme = Mort. This is just the intra-solidarity that we should be aiming to make standard across our community. No one is free until everyone is free.
The wave of tolerance and acceptance, both in terms of public policy and opinion in recent years, has led to a growing apathy and deepening depoliticization among some members of our community. With French voters going to the polls this April, alongside a sharp shift to the right during this divisive electoral campaign, the discussion about fascism has gained a newfound urgency. Fascism's incompatibility with the values of our community and its status as a threat to the freedoms and tolerance that some of us in the "West" enjoy (and often take for granted) has to be at the heart of the discussion. It is in this context that a group of French fetish folks, myself included, formed United Fetishists Against Fascism (UFAF). A project that aims to serve as an informative resource and tool for the fetish community in the fight against fascism in France and elsewhere. UFAF aims to state the case for why anti-fascism has a valid and needed place in the fetish movement, from Berlin to San Francisco. UFAF seeks to re-energise the politics of our scene or to at the very least provide a space for those who wish to be political and kinky.
So then, if we can organise to talk about how much we love sports socks and trainers, surely there is also a place to talk about more pertinent issues at play?
"The views expressed are my own and not those of Recon."
***If you'd like to share a fetish or kink experience in a member article, send your ideas or a first draft to: email@example.com