I found writing this article really difficult. Talking about race within the gay and fetish community can be tricky, explaining the impact the lack of representation has on these groups can be even trickier. But here we go…
I have this running joke that the only black people I see out at fetish parties in the UK are myself, Antoin (our Events Producer) and TheBunny. As the conversation about diversity and representation becomes much more of a talking point in our society, it dawned on me that while this joke is certainly an exaggeration there is a distinct lack of people who look like me all geared up on the scene.
One thing I've definitely noticed on my travels is the disparity between the Europe and USA on this issue. There's an instant connection and recognition when I meet another person of colour on the scene. Without saying much, we understand the struggles that minorities may face. For example, I'm the token during Folsom Europe, whereas I'm a brother during Folsom Street East. Seeing a group of black men out and about isn't unusual in the states during these events.
Meeting ONYX NY/Northeast's Founding Father during CLAW, Recon member BOXERDADDY stands out as one of my early interactions with another black man on the scene. Here was this charming, beautiful, sexy black man with a fetish for fighting, whose presence was powerful. We sat down to talk where he said, "I've walked into a room where I was the only man of colour, but I relish that. I'm unique, I'm different, I'm something special. Look at me, admire me because I'm here and I'm going to be here. You either acknowledge me or you don't. That's up to you."
For those that don't know, ONYX is an organisation formed and operated by men of colour into fetish and kink. Compromising of 9 chapters from regions all over the USA they address issues specific to people of colour, as well as educate on how to conduct kink safely. BOXERDADDY turned to ONYX when he first realised he was kinky, looking for connections. Becoming a member ultimately introduced him to other fetishes but being a part of something bigger than himself was something special.
"Pioneering your own path is far more rewarding than following someone else's" is BOXERDADDY's mantra and could be the inspiration for men of colour in Europe to create something like ONYX. As far as I'm aware, there doesn't seem to be any organisations of this kind in these regions.
I feel that being a part of this group could have helped me through many situations and experiences in my life. Being a black gay man is already drenched in stigma by your own community, when you layer fetish on top it creates an even heavier weight of shame on your shoulders. Not to mention the perception of gay black men from other races. It can become a very complex environment to sexually thrive in. Having the ability to connect with others who come from the same place as you do is priceless. In order to further understand the need for groups like ONYX, I reached out to their President, Angel aka Diablo ONYX.
Angel says that he always had curiosity and felt he was different from everyone around him. He heard about ONYX through a friend and he finds that often people come to the group because they aren't sure where else to learn kink skills or find other guys that look like them. The expression of "being on the DL" is something normally associated with black gay culture. You see it on the torso profiles of men of colour on all the apps. The fear of being discovered is real for these men, which is why trust is so important to men of colour in order to guide them in their exploration.
"Going to events like MAL and CLAW, I didn't see many people of colour, so I didn't know where I fit in." Angel tells me. "Being around ONYX, I felt a little more comfortable to pursue what I wanted to and my interests, but everyone has their own story. Speaking to a lot of ONYX members I hear the same thing, you're just looking for somewhere you feel accepted."
Perhaps acceptance from people who look like you can help alleviate the origin of the shame. I wanted to gather more viewpoints on this theme of acceptance and Angel kindly provided access to the members during one of their bar nights the week of Folsom Street East in NYC.
Daddy Sage says simply, "It's important that people see themselves reflected wherever they are." He explains further that groups for minorities mean that they can express their cultural, political and sexual selves in a safe space.
He's joined by Recon member LeathermanLynx who offers quite a practical reason why men of colour need to come together to educate themselves in the fetish community. "Let's use flogging for an example. You can go to CLAW, MAL, SELF. You can go to all these conventions and see all these skill sets, but if the teachers are all primarily white, someone who looks like me may have a different question. I can't tell looking at this [darker] skin if I've flogged in this area too much, I don't know that from looking at it. It's not going to turn red, pink or purple. I have to feel the heat."
LeathermanLynx also adds "Being able to come into a situation where I know, when I come into this room, that I am seen as a leather man of colour, second… I'm seen as a human first."
His words touch on the fetishising of men of colour in the gay community, something that I have experienced quite a bit myself. In all honesty, there was a moment in time where I revelled in that type of attention and did very well out of it as a result. The older I get, this idea that someone may or may not be attracted to me because of my skin colour (something I cannot change) makes me slightly uncomfortable and for a period of my adult life put unrealistic standards of beauty in my head. But the perception from others doesn't stop there.