There's a special date coming up. On September 28, it's Kink Coming Out Day. What's it all about? It sounds simple, and in many ways it is: Show up and let others know you are kinky. But there's another side of this that matters, and it just might matter a lot.
Coming Out? What's That About?
For those of us who have navigated our sexual orientation, the idea of coming out is, in some ways, a kind of a "right of passage." Anyone who knows LGBTQA history has probably heard of Stonewall, and what that meant for the population so long oppressed by police and other institutions. For this population (and to some extent, that generation), "coming out" was often much more than a personal statement; it was a political act, a way of saying to the world who one really was (oh, and by the way, we have rights and deserve to be treated as human beings). In this context, coming out stories abound, and they range from deeply personal, poignant stories, to shining moments of clarity.
Being kinky, though, presents a whole slate of challenges. For many who enjoy kink, there is danger at the door. Revealing oneself as a sadist or masochist, top or bottom, carries with it a stigma. Despite the changes in the DSM-V (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, revision 5, used by mental health professionals in clinical diagnoses) that remove entirely the clinical pronouncement that those with an interest in BDSM are mentally ill, the reality is that hundreds upon hundreds of state and local laws continue make it highly problematic to openly enjoy this particular interest. For many who do enjoy kink, the experience of being "outed" has sometimes left them jobless, separated from family, and worse. The stories of how being out as kinky can damage and destroy people's lives are many, and it's unlikely this will change a lot in the next few years. (Read more about the DSM-V in Why BDSM Might Be the Sanest Sex Out There.)
The underlying problem is more than a stigma attached to kinkiness. Many of the legal barriers exist for an entirely different reason: to try and protect those suffering real abuse and domestic violence. The reality is that the difference between consenting adults who like to tie each other up and the twisted mind and actions of an abusive partner who inflicts physical damage that sends a spouse to the hospital aren't that easy to put in legal terms. Such protections as can be reasonably implemented in law must exist. (Read Rachel Kramer Bussel's take on how BDSM and abuse get all tied up in 50 Shades of Abuse?)
In addition, the baggage and misinformation about what "kinky" is often means that employers and institutions, not to mention family and friends, are easily predisposed to condemn and reject us for who we are and what we do and do not like. This rejection is often masked as something else entirely, making any restitution or understanding impossible. There is precious little, if any, protection, either legally or socially, that someone can turn to if they are "caught" being kinky. All of this means that "coming out", at least coming out as kinky, is very complicated.
Kinky, Loud and Proud
Kink Coming Out Day, or KCOD, was collectively created after a keynote address given at a small conference in Seattle in April 2013. The speaker challenged those in the audience to do more than play, but to stand up and say who we are, to remind others that we are just as "normal" as the person sitting next to you, to be willing to come out. The challenge was made: Have a national kink "coming out" day. A small group of people gathered together the next morning and, after an hour or so of spirited discussion, decided on a date and a framework for a mission. First and foremost, it mattered to all of us that this be about letting each individual decide how they might choose to participate. There was a strong sense that while we all wanted to encourage as many people as we could to stand up and be counted, we also wanted to respect individual boundaries, to allow everyone to be free to make their own individual choice about being visible or not. We all recognized that the realities of being kinky are deeply stigmatized and might be potentially painful. We also felt strongly that the entire project of Kink Coming Out Day was something that no one individual "owns." Instead, it represents a collective effort - groupthink, if you will. The efforts of a smaller subset of volunteers from that group established a Web presence and generated media statements. You can see, and read, the result at kinkcomingoutday.org.
Being out, then, meant that each individual had the choice, the freedom, to choose the manner that they could participate. This matters a lot.
Coming Out: What It Means and Why It Counts
It's easy to be critical of others who are "in the closet." It is, after all, human nature to be wary of those who are different from ourselves. Part of our ancient legacy is a hard lesson about survival: Prepare to eat or be eaten! Whether your closet is being gay, or being queer, or being kinky is secondary to a simple fact: The very nature of oppression in the realm of sexuality is precisely what leads so many of us to suppress who we are. But using force to coerce or control the actions of others is the diametric opposite of what we truly need to do. That is, to let go, to make space at the table for any flavor of identity or interest, even if we might not agree with it or understand its nature.
Kink Coming Out Day is your day, our day. It's a chance to stand up and be counted. It's a chance to sit quietly in solidarity. It's an opportunity to be part of a beginning, a shift away from fear and hatred to one of openness and compassion for others. All of them. Whether you choose to be visibly out or stand in silence, we are all part of this day. We can honor each other and send a message to all that we are here - in whatever way we choose.