Kink is a language game. When someone asks what I’m into, I start vague. “Sub,” I say, or “assplay.” This helps me determine their degree of experience and see if we’re a good fit without revealing everything I like at once. Within “sub” submission are countless kinks, along with a hidden dominant side that comes out from time to time. “Assplay” requires clarification; it means anything from playing with toys to fisting to certain types of S&M. If they have no idea what either word means or don’t think either word sounds fun, we won’t get far.
This process is an exchange of labels and words we call ourselves: sir, daddy, dominant, submissive, pup, dog, fag, pig. These words set the roles we play. They’re more than sex roles, at least for most of us. They’re integral parts of our identities. In this way, the words we use in kink are similar to words on the LGBT+ acronym (the full version, depending on who you ask, is LGBTQQICAPF2S+).
I love being kinky, and I love the words that define me. But I’m hesitant to put K on the acronym, as The Gay UK and other queer media outlets report we are doing. Not because I don’t understand its placement there — I do, and it could be safely said that leather culture is a queer invention. But I also care about what LGBTQQICAPF2S+ is. I know the journey I took to find my deeper words, ones more integral to my person than “sub” or “dog.” Adding K is problematic because it runs the risk of oversimplifying identities like “lesbian” and “trans” to sexual fetishes, a claim we’ve been fighting for decades, and assumes that all kinky people are queer (they’re not).
Growing up, guys called me a fag, and it hurt because I didn't know what I was, and they had decided for me. Now that I’m older, when a sadistic dominant slips a pair of lacy panties on me, fucks my brains out, and calls me his fag, it’s hot. In my mind and my bed, “fag” is reclaimed, ripped from its history as a slur and turned into something powerful. Outside the bedroom, it’s my favorite word for myself. The word's '90s-era antagonism, its nod to the gay punk scene, holds the same fury that reclaimed “queer” among ACT UP New York marchers during the height of AIDS — a fury I direct back at all those who wish to cause us harm. “Fag” is a raised middle finger to the hetero establishment, a war cry.
But when I lie down with someone I love, protest signs put away, what am I? Depending on the day, “gay” feels right. “Queer,” sometimes. That word — that “me” at the end of the day — is what I see in LGBTQQICAPF2S+. That long, complicated acronym is who we are as kids, before we discover sex, dealing with identities we don’t know how to voice yet, words we don’t yet know how to speak.
Homophobic people think my identity is a fetish — that my love amounts to a kink. I heard ministers and my father say that gay men can’t love, because love, a biblical institution, only exists between a man and a woman. The reason we have so much sex, they think, is because sex is all we’re capable of. So in my imagined future, where I’m explaining the different labels on the LGBTQ acronymn to my father, introducing him to other members of my family, K is going to be a stumbling block. Our identities aren’t fetishes. Our fetishes are fetishes.
Kink is a welcoming community with labels and sub-labels of its own. Some think the kink community is a hypermasculine, male-only, able-bodied populace, but those people have never been to the Folsom Street Fair or International Mr. Leather — events where sexy leather daddies in wheelchairs, trans rubber fetishists, female dominants of every size, leather men and women of color, Asian alphas, and brown-skinned pups all come together. We all belong. We are a community of many kinds of people with countless different cultures, backgrounds, skin colors, genders, and political perspectives. As a subculture, BDSM crosses — or rather, ignores — lines of sexuality.
In the rest of the world, however, the world outside leather, these lines are drawn daily in blood. This is why we have LGBTQQICAPF2S+ — a unified front, a mushing-together of very different people. Why are lesbians in the same family as gays? Why are trans folks included in a list of what appears on the outset a list of sexual orientations? Being trans is, after all, not a sexual orientation, but a gender identity, as our hetero-oriented trans family members prove. So why do we present this unified concoction?
It could be safely said that we are unified by oppression. We tend to share safe space in the same bars and communities, and we are each other’s closest cousins in a world in which we are eclipsed and outnumbered by a cisgender, hetero majority — a majority that, as history proves, does not have our best interests at heart.
That is why this long, complicated, difficult-to-remember acronym exists. This is why we discuss it every few years and add more letters to it as our understanding evolves. Because LGBT is just four communities, but LGBTQQICAPF2S+ is an army. If there are more of us, more identities pushed into popular lexicon, then it forces them — and us — to acknowledge that we are more than just a group of gay men. We are many different people coming together as one. We compose more of the general population than they (and perhaps we) want to admit. We are not small.
To this end, adding K might seem attractive — there are, after all, many straight kinky folks. What, we think, would right-wing heterosexuals who enjoy handcuffs in the bedroom do if they realized their kink made them queer? Would they vote differently? Would they defend us?
No. And they’re not queer. We are a separate populace that shares kink with (some of) them as common ground. Straight kids with undiscovered fetishes don’t have to “come out” once they find them. You can enjoy your sex behind closed doors for as long as you like. No one forces you go to Mister International Rubber. Straight kinky folks might lose their jobs for having BDSM videos online, but we lose our jobs and our lives for merely existing. From “Straight Pride” marches to the recent suggestion from a popular mommy blogger that it’s necessary to “come out” as straight feel like efforts by hetero, cisgender people to exceptionalize their identities with false claims of marginalization, and the inclusion of K is uncomfortably a step in that direction.
Sorry, straight folks, but you’re not oppressed — not even if you like BDSM. Queer lives aren’t fetishes. Anti-trans activists have been trying to reduce trans identity to a sexual fetish for decades. While there are many kinky trans folks, I’d wager they all agree that their identity, their gender, is more than a kink. It’s who they are. You can toss the tools of kink — throw away your whips and paddles — and live for all purposes as a vanilla person. It wouldn’t be fun, but if your life depended on it, it would be possible. But I cannot toss aside my identity any more than a trans person can toss aside theirs. I can’t live without intimacy I don’t know how.
When I talk to someone who discovers all my kinks and welcomes them, that’s fun. That’s a good night — maybe even a good regular playmate. But after sex space, when I’m cleaned off and sleepy, I want to be seen as more than a submissive. In that moment, I’m something else, and I want that “something else” to be believed and authenticated by the person holding me. I want to pull them close — someone who shares that acronym with me, a compatriot, a brother in arms.
ALEXANDER CHEVES is an Atlanta-based writer. Follow him on Twitter @BadAlexCheves.