Defining Kink – KinkForAll Boston and Beyond

My how time keeps bloody happening.

I suppose I should start with the sorrow – it comes. It goes. Right now, it’s gone. I feel brave and confident, comfortable and happy, secure and well. I will not be overwhelmingly surprised if the sadness comes back again with a vengeance, but it seems to be growing less and less. I am pleased.

But it was there, in and around the more important and worthwhile events of my life. KinkForAll Boston happened – the sadness kept me company right up to the day of the event, and the Little Hater paid a visit , too. But the event happened, and it was impressive. We lost our venue 8 days before the event, found a new one two days before it, and we still had about 70 people show up. For the first time ever, people who hadn’t planned to go walked in and participated – I think holding it in the Boston University Student Union helped that hugely.

There had been alot of discussion of diversity on the list, and that topic – how to make the event welcoming and comfortable to people of all ages, races, and backgrounds, was much discussed. It is my personal goal with KinkForAll unconferences to create a space where everybody can talk about everything involving sex.

This includes the BDSM community, but is not limited to it. This is a very hard concept to grasp, both for those within and those outside of the BDSM community. People within the community only ever expect to be able to talk openly about their sexuality in spaces where nobody outside their sexuality is present – so they gear their talk specifically for and to themselves, without the introduction and explanation that people outside of the community require. And people outside of the BDSM community largely do require that explanation, because outside of closed off spaces where BDSM practitioners talk amongst themselves, nobody talks in clear, educated way about that practice or community, at all.

It’s a difficult thing for all involved.

But each new event, I think, gets better. I can’t wait to see what the next one looks like.

In the meantime, in order to battle a few of the misconceptions I find most difficult, I went to KinkForAll Boston and I did a presentation. There is video:

Defining “Kink” – KinkForAll Boston from maymay on Vimeo.

And below, making this entry incredibly over-long, is the text that I used for the presentation:

Defining Kink: Wikipedia, Language, and Sex for All

Let’s start by taking a look at classical definitions, shall we?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary online ( defines kink thusly:

Main Entry: 1kink

1 : a short tight twist or curl caused by a doubling or winding of something upon itself 2 a : a mental or physical peculiarity : eccentricity, quirk b : whim 3 : a clever unusual way of doing something 4 : a cramp in some part of the body 5 : an imperfection likely to cause difficulties in the operation of something 6 : unconventional sexual taste or behavior

It’s not the OED, but it’s a perfectly acceptable academic reference.

Academic references don’t necessarily Move With The Times – paper dictionaries are almost always out of date.

Not that I don’t love dictionaries, nor do I think that even language not currently in common use is ever really out-of-date (Medieval Studies major, here) but that’s not what I came here to tell you about….

It’s academic suicide, but let’s check WikiPedia – it’s Up-to-Date, edited constantly, crowd-sourced and self-regulating. Just the thing for talking about language that is constantly being defined and changed, and used in different ways by different people.

And academic reputability aside, when want to find out about something we check Wikipedia first, and then start looking through it’s bibliography to figure out where to go next.

Allow me to demonstrate: Raise your hands, everybody. If you’ve used OED in the past 3 weeks, lower your hand. NOW, if you’ve used Wikipedia in the past 3 DAYS, lower your hand.

[A few people lower their hands for the OED. Almost no hands are left in the air after Wikipedia.]


Wikipedia says:

Kink (sexual)

In human sexuality, kinkiness or kinky (adjective), is a term used to refer to an intelligent and playful usage of sexual concepts in an accentuated, and unambiguously expressive form. Such expressions may represent a mature degree of social and sexual intelligence, wherein partners and prospective partners mutually communicate sexual understanding, interests, and tastes through outward and characteristic expressions such as gesture, dress, and conducive interaction.

In current usage, the term “kink” has instead come to refer to a range of objective and objectifying sexualistic practices ranging in degree from the playful to the paraphilic. These include spanking, bondage, dominance and submission, sadomasochism (BDSM) and sexual fetishism.

Kink sexual practices go beyond what are considered conventional sexual practices as a means of heightening the intimacy between sexual partners. Some draw a distinction between “kink” and “fetishism”, defining the former as enhancing partner intimacy, and the latter as replacing it.[1] Because of its relation to “normal” sexual boundaries, which themselves vary by time and place, the definition of what is and is not kink varies widely as well. Practitioners are sometimes considered to be perverts by “outsiders.”

That’s a lot to take in. Let’s break it down:

  1. Kink is “intelligent and playful usage of sexual concepts in an accentuated, and unambiguously expressive form” That’s good! And it indicates “ mature degree of social and sexual intelligence” That’s great! (go us!)But

  2. Unfortunately “In current usage, the term “kink” has instead come to refer to a range of objective and objectifying sexualistic practices ranging in degree from the playful to the paraphilic. These include spanking, bondage, dominance and submission, sadomasochism (BDSM) and sexual fetishism.” So according to our up-to-date, crowd-sourced, techno-savvy reference here, “Kink” has come to be associated with just one group of people, which is not so good.

  3. However: “Some draw a distinction between “kink” and “fetishism”, defining the former as enhancing partner intimacy, and the latter as replacing it.” So we have one good indication of what “Kink” might not be. But that’s not terribly clear, so let us make a brief digression to take a look at what “Fetish” and “Fetishism” are. Heading back to our hide-bound Merriam-Webster dictionary, we find

    Main Entry: fe·tish

Variant(s): also fe·tich ˈfe-tish also ˈfē-

1 a : an object (as a small stone carving of an animal) believed to have magical power to protect or aid its owner; broadly : a material object regarded with superstitious or extravagant trust or reverence b : an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion : prepossession c : an object or bodily part whose real or fantasied presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification and that is an object of fixation to the extent that it may interfere with complete sexual expression 2 : a rite or cult of fetish worshipers 3 : fixation


Main Entry: fe·tish·ism

1 : belief in magical fetishes 2 : extravagant irrational devotion 3 : the pathological displacement of erotic interest and satisfaction to a fetish

We’ll have to accept this definition, because Wikipedia gives us an example of of self-regulation in action:

This article may contain original research or unverified claims. Please improve the article by adding references. See the talk page for details. (March 2009)“,

This article contains weasel words, vague phrasing that often accompanies biased or unverifiable information. Such statements should be clarified or removed. (March 2009)

So, leaving WikiPedia alone for now, and go with the academically accepted sources. These definitions include the word “Psychological,” “Pathological,” and “Necessary,” all of which I think we can generally agree are not integral to our definition of the word “Kink.” As the “Kink (Sexual)” article in Wikipedia says, Kink should “enhance emotional intimacy” Which is, of course, a good thing, and something that a pathological fetish does not do. So, why is it that:

  1. Practitioners are sometimes considered to be perverts by “outsiders.” What’s an outsider? According to the first definition in the Wikipedia article, anybody who takes the time to think and talk about sex in an intelligent way either has some Kinks or is Kinky. How can there be insiders and outsiders in that? That presupposes that being Kinky puts you in some sort of closed community, which goes back to the idea that Kink can be associated only with people interested in BDSM and similar activities. But even so, why is that community necessarily closed? Because of fear – of the law, of social judgement, of the pain that can come from owning up to one’s interests. All completely legitimate, but reducing Kink to that and that alone takes away the “Playful” nature. The idea that “practitioner are … considered perverts by “outsiders” either conflates Kink with BDSM and nothing else, or conflates it with Fetishism, both of which we see cannot be our definition of Kink. If we hold Kink to it’s definition as “a term used to refer to an intelligent and playful usage of sexual concepts” how can it become a pejorative that turns people into “perverts”?

  2. Maybe perverts are people who’s “sexual practices go beyond what are considered conventional sexual practices as a means of heightening the intimacy between sexual partners.” What’s conventional sex? Wikipedia tells us it’s the same as “Vanilla Sex” and “Among heterosexual couples in the Western world, vanilla sex often refers to the missionary position.” but the “Vanilla Sex” page (to which the search “Conventional Sex” redirects) also says “The British Medical Journal defines vanilla sex between homosexual couples as “Sex that does not extend beyond affection, mutual masturbation, and oral and anal sex.” That’s a much wider definition! AND

  3. Looking back at the “Kink (Sexual)” page, we see “Because of its relation to “normal” sexual boundaries, which themselves vary by time and place, the definition of what is and is not kink varies widely as well.” Now isn’t that telling? It turns out that we can’t give a consistent definition for “Normal,” “Conventional,” “Vanilla” sex, because it’s changing all the time – any definition we put down will become as quickly outdated as the dictionary we put it down in.

So we’ve pulled apart the Wikipedia definition, and the Merriam-Webster definition.

We know a little bit about what Kink isn’t – Kink isn’t Fetishism. It’s not pathological, and it doesn’t act as a replacement for emotional connection and intimacy.

We know as well about what Kink shouldn’t be exclusionary, prejudicing. Kink is not BDSM and BDSM alone. In fact, there’s no reason that Kink should necessarily be opposed to conventional sex – think of it as Sex 201. A little bit more in-depth, perhaps. Requiring intelligence and thought, explicitly open and honest communication, and with any luck, provides lots of fun. One can do Kink just by talking, one can have a Kink just by knowing enough to know what it is that really gets your motor going.

Listen to WikiPedia, since you’re looking at it anyway: Kink is “Intelligent and playful usage of sexual concepts in an accentuated, and unambiguously expressive form.” And if not everybody can, under that definition, currently be called Kinky, then that’s the reason why the people who can be called Kinky need to get out there, get talking, and change the world – So that Kink can be For All.

Upcoming posts:

  • Kink On Tap – Changing Sexuality Podcasts One Sunday Evening at a Time
  • Crowed-Sourcing Sorrow Management – Notes on Friendship
  • My Mother and Other Miracles (Or: Wandering Out of the Closet)
  • Almost certainly I will talk more about May. No big surprise, there, really…

Inspiration; Everything

I see that I last posted on July 17th, well over a month ago.

How did that happen? All my grand plans to start a new internet presence, to branch out, connect, figure out what an RSS feed does, make it into the future and stop being a luddite and be brilliant and build an army of internet followers to change the face of sex education in America… where’d that go?

Well, it was all potential energy, wasn’t it? And it got burned off, as it does, by life. Life has hit me where it hurts, this past month and a half or so. I have moved from the apartment I once shared with my once partner, to a small and slant-ceilinged place of my own. It was an overwhelming effort, despite the new one being only a few blocks from the old. I had to take a life apart. I came home from traveling to find gaps where my ex had removed his stuff, I stared at the space where the table had been like it was a hole in the safety and comfort of the things I’d build my life out of. I cried. I have cried so much in the past few months I’m beginning to think I’m no longer 70% water. I must have lost at least half of that by now. I am the world’s first reduced-water human being, only 33%. The rest of me is the space left by changing everything you are into something new. It’s potential energy, again.

And in the past month and half, having fallen into and out of and into love, a loved one of mine left for across the continent, where he is building up from scratch and running on fumes. I am loving a person who wakes slowly every morning to fight to face another day because it has been too long since he has felt safety, regularity, inspiration, comfort, and despite the fact that I have been fighting for the same things for almost equally long, I can hold no blame for him for not being able to provide for me. We fight. We cry. We disconnect and we reconnect and we grow stronger, and sooner or later the sadness will be gone and we will dance in sunlight ever after.

And speaking of disconnecting and reconnecting, I started a new job. And when I say I started a new job, I must take the time to make a nod, or perhaps a deep and courteous bow, and to tip my hat and do a dance for the overwhelming inspiration of our President, Barack Obama.

I graduated in May 2008 from Wesleyan University, and I expected to hear, at my graduation, the wise and dearly missed Senator Ted Kennedy say something inspirational, and frankly I expected not to listen.

But Senator Kennedy, even then, was not well. So in the middle of the week between the end of finals and commencement day, when I was busy chasing after people I shouldn’t and forming new and sometimes painful relationships with people I very much should, we discovered we’d have to get a pinch-hitter for our commencement speaker. A little known man who once did community organization on the South Side of Chicago, Barack Obama.

With secret service men on the roof of the library, he smiled his more-than-a-movie-star smile at us and he spoke of his work in the community, he spoke of giving back what had been given to us, of taking our new education and our promise and making the world a better place, and I sort of said… whatever.

But then, months past, time past, and what did I do but I started working with kids, I started working with kids and I started thinking about kids and I started looking around me and I started to doubt all the things I had told myself about why I didn’t need to devote my life to changing the world. Because it turns out I do, actually. Because the world is bright and brilliant and beautiful and needs to be better.

So when I say I started a new job what I mean, in fact, is that I joined up with AmeriCorps. I’ll be working in a library and I’ll be helping the poorest of the poor in a very poor city in a very poor state learn to recognize letters of the alphabet even before they get to school, because literacy starts early and the truth is many kids are behind before the school system even had a chance to neglect them. So I’m learning about how the mind works when it is just forming, and about how children connect, and disconnect, and reconnect, and I’m making connections.

I haven’t been doing so much of that, recently. I’ve been feeling like I can’t put any more energy into any more things, until some of it comes back to me. I’ve been feeling wrung out and pained and abandoned and abused, because we all feel like that, sometimes, even when it isn’t true, because life just is not fair. I’ve been watching TV to keep my mind from thinking, and comforting myself with substances, and I’ve not been creating.

But then today when I got home instead of watching MythBusters blowing things up, I went to and I watched Jay Smooth talk brilliance about race, hip-hop, and politics. And then I went to and watched Rives spin words, and I showed it to some friends who I thought would like it and they said, “Yeah, we know.”

So, ok. I’m slow. I don’t know, until I find out, but I remember that the way to be smart and do things is to focus your attention on smart people who are doing things. The way to get other people to be smart and do things is to be smart and do things yourself, and not ever to look at them and ask them with a voice full of disappointment why it is they aren’t doing the same.

To those of you who know me, or who care about such things, it’s worth noting: I am hurting, but healing. I am rubbed raw. I am rebuilding, and other than Helping The Children and Talking About Sex I have no idea where I will be a year from now, and a year ago I kind of thought I did. I miss those things that are gone. I value those things that are here. Each day contains pain, and it’s hard to keep happiness pure, but I am glad to be here again. I hope to become once more a custodian of myself, as well as a caretaker of the world, and I hope to bring things to this spot that I find valuable and insightful and interesting, and I hope you will find those things similarly worthy. Because the truth is, the way to feel energy coming back to myself, is to put it into creative, stimulating stuff. It can be just like a magic penny.

And by the by, thanks, Mr. Obama! I didn’t know you could inspire me without my knowing I had been inspired. That, sir, is inspirational.

Quick and Dirty Blogging: STI Clinics Done Me Wrong

This is just a brief post to express my frustration with the STI clinic at which Maymay just very responsibly made an appointment to have himself re-screened.

I was going to do so, too. He called and attempted to make appointments for both of us, consecutively. He was told that he couldn’t make them both, but that there were consecutive appointments, and I should call in. I did, I was shunted to the emergency testing line, who cordially asked me about the unprotected sex I might have had in the past 72 hours. Upon being told that no, I have every reason to believe I’m clean, I just want to make sure, I was shunted back to make an appointment, and then told there was none for over a month, which was then reduced to two weeks. There were none, apparently, consecutive to May’s appointment… that information would only have been accurate if I was male. Because my appointments have to be made through gynocology.

What pisses me off most, here, is not that they were disorganized, listened to him and didn’t listen to me, assumed that when I wanted testing it was because I had done something irresponsible whereas his appointment was just common sense. No, what pisses me off is that the operator who spoke to May must have assumed that his partner was male. Otherwise they wouldn’t have told him there were such consecutive appointments, because appointments are apparently just made differently and along different schedules for women and for men. Which is fine, but fuck you operator for assuming my lover only sleeps with dudes because he’s responsible about his sexual health and he has a soft-toned voice. Fuck you long and hard.

I’ll get my screening another time.