Recon member IndigoFFenix mentions, "Because I'm black and into leather people often assume that I'm a top, and if you read my profile you'd see that's not who I am." Continuing to talk about the stigma of submissive black men on the scene he says, "It's not really taboo for you to say that you flog somebody or you pee on someone or you spank someone, but as soon as you say you got spanked, you got peed on, you got fisted it much more taboo because it plays on this idea of what it means to be masculine which is a bigger problem."
Similar feelings are echoed from the Latino community, as ONYX members Richard and John-John add to the conversation about being referred to as "exotic", and even being mistaken for each other while out. However, they approach such situations with a degree of empathy. Richard reasons, "9 times out of 10 we're going to be sexualised because of the nature of the scene. Does it make it wrong? Not necessarily, but if you feel like you being sexualised is incorrect, then the objective is to correct the action."
How we do that isn't exactly clear but LeathermanLynx tells me where he is in his journey concerning this matter. "I am not responsible or in control of how someone sees me. If someone gets off on the thought or idea of me… then ok, we're all here to have a good time. As long as I'm not disrespected, devalued or humiliated without permission, do what you do because you look just as good to me."
My conversation with the ONYX crew illustrates the barriers and struggles that men of colour may face and find off putting about the fetish scene. I have also witnessed what happens when those barriers are removed and the impact it has on minority groups. I recall in 2015 using an image featuring Yoshi Kawasaki for Full Fetish San Francisco. Yoshi is an incredibly hot man who comes from Japan. The night of the party I was on the door. A timid Chinese man approached me to ask if he was allowed in. I asked to see his gear, he was wearing a harness-jock combo and I said that of course he was allowed in. He asked if he could be excused from the queue but come back as he needed to make a phone call. I said yes. 30 minutes later he was joined by 10 of his friends. The next day at the Fair, they came by the booth to thank us and lined up by a promotional banner of Yoshi to take a photo with it.
It saddened me that this man and his group of friends felt like they needed permission in order to be a part of our event, but it also inspired me to do better with regards to Recon promotional imagery and content. The content we produce should be reflective of the whole community and incorporate people of all races, shapes and sizes. Richard also touches on this, saying, "All the imagery of the scene is very white, so from the outset you're alienated. We need to talk about why there is a division." Following this moment, my team and I have endeavoured to feature members and models from a wider variety of backgrounds, but the work is continuing, and our goal is to bring about further changes where possible.
I also made a conscious decision to put my fetish self out there more, especially on social media - so that someone who looks like me won't have to wait for permission to explore and find themselves. When I tell this to Daddy Sage he reacts, "A lot of us don't understand that when you put yourself out there, how many people see you and go… Ooooh, can I do that?" Richard supports this by saying, "Live out loud on the internet. You are a connection to people who don't have the luxuries or opportunities that you have, to not just be themselves but share that with the people they love or the people they wish they could. You can enable them to feel free."
Visibility of the men of colour on the scene seems to be a common solution when talking to the ONYX guys about how we can make more ethnic groups feel included. This can be easier said than done, though, as it takes a lot of bravery to be visible.
Master Joshua, also based in NY, an educator in the fundamentals of the BDSM lifestyle adds, "We have to break the cultural beat downs that we get for being non-hetero. These feelings that society put on men of colour that relate to being gay and or kinky, from friends and family, make us stay in the closet. If we come out as leather men, there's always the worry about 'What people going to think of us?' Walking out like this can be nerve wracking, but you made it this far, why not go that next step. Introduce yourself at another bar. Take one of the brothers and just go."
I also recognise that there is a lot of work to do and it is from all sides of society. IndigoFFenix says, "We as a black people need to stop making gayness or anything that's not mainstream as dirty. Due to oppression and pressure from religion, it's human nature to validate one's self by pointing out how you are better than another. This is the same for minority groups. Black people take their frustrations out on gay people. As a result black queer people are forced out of their communities. But then there is also a layer of the tribes within the gay community needing to validate themselves and as a result put others down too. Self-hatred is layered and its harder to pick apart."
So where does that leave us? The whole thing is a minefield, but like any issue, solving it starts with understanding, taking small actions, and supporting one another. Actions such as my mission to have more representative content on Recon may seem small, but the power of seeing yourself reflected in media you care about can't be denied. You just need to look at mainstream culture, with the impact and importance of recent films such as Black Panther or Crazy Rich Asians as prime examples. It shouldn't be a big deal that there are successful superhero movies and romantic comedies made and starring people of colour, but while it is the case, we need to keep chipping away. Then, when it comes to support and nurturing, groups like ONYX provide living, breathing examples that if people who look like you can thrive in the fetish world, then you can do it too.
In the end, the intention of this article was to start a dialogue, share where I am on my fetish journey, share some alternative perspectives and hopefully plant a seed with others about this issue. We all possess power and magic to do better in order to make our scene as inclusive as possible and that's all I'm striving to do.
Have you got a unique perspective on fetish and kink that you want to share? Email your ideas to: firstname.lastname@example.org