Being Kinky Doesn’t Make You Queer

The argument that kink is queer — made most recently by Huffington Post Queer Voices after tweeting about adult babies, most notoriously by spanking fetishist Jillian Keenan in Slate, and sporadically across the internet — hinges on a few key ideas: Queer people are an identity-based sexual minority with sex and relationships and lives that are not normative. Kinky people are an identity-based sexual minority with sex and relationships and lives that are not normative. We are all sex outlaws together. We can all fight together for equality. Therefore, kink is inherently queer.

Except that it isn’t.

Sex acts alone aren’t what make someone queer. Many queer people know they’re queer long before ever having sex with someone of the same gender. That doesn’t make them less queer. Many other queer people might never have sex with someone of the same gender, whether because they’re also asexual, because they’re non-monosexual but in a monogamous relationship with someone of a different gender, or for other reasons. That doesn’t make them less queer. And many straight people — “actually” straight, not “haha give it a few years and some queer theory and we’ll see” straight — have had sex with people of the same gender. That doesn’t make them less straight.

Kinky acts alone aren’t necessarily what make someone kinky, either, though they can be. Kink can be a practice, an identity, or some of both. Both are valid. Both are irrelevant. What is relevant is that looking to sex or play to make statements about sexual identity is a bad place to start.

“The beauty of the word ‘queer’ is in its rejection of binaries and boxes, but so is its danger.”

Instead of the act of queer sex, what makes someone queer is an identity that includes the possibility of sexual and/or romantic relationships with someone of a gender that could be but isn’t necessarily limited to the same as yours, and/or a gender identity that does not align with your sex assigned at birth. It’s a departure. It’s not that you’re gay and/or trans, precisely; it’s that you’re not straight and/or cis. The beauty of the word “queer” is in its rejection of traditional binaries and boxes, but so is its danger. Stay with me.

Because of that departure, queer people (and relationships, and sex, and lives) are non-normative. They can obviously contain normative elements — like marriage, like monogamy, like obedience to capitalism, like arguing in Ikea — that can make it easier to fit into existing social structures and access the privileges and comfort they can provide. But compatibility with some structures isn’t the same as congruency with all of them.

As a result of that incongruence, queer people inherently face social, cultural, legal and political challenges that straight cis people just don’t. Teen suicides, the genocide of trans women of color, hate crimes, familial homophobia and transphobia, job and housing discrimination, an increasingly hostile legal landscape and so much more are unavoidably part of life. We are not equal legally, and we are not equal culturally, and that inequality is borne out across queer bodies and communities, some far far more than others.

Straight cis kinky people (and relationships, and sex, and lives) do not make that departure. They’re normative. They can obviously contain non-normative elements — like power play, like dungeon nights, like who only gets to take a sip of water with whose permission — that can make it harder to fit into existing social structures and access the privileges and comfort they can provide. But the binaries stay intact.

Straight cis kinky people, too, can face social, cultural, legal and political challenges. But there is not the same onslaught. Other factors being equal, straight cis kinky people are equal legally to straight cis people. Queer people are not equal legally to straight cis people. Having a few intersecting oppressions doesn’t make you part of the same group.

Queerness is hard to hide. You can hide the type of person you’re in a relationship with to some extent, but it’s much harder to hide their gender. It’s a lot easier to dance over the fact that you’re dating a dom than it is to dance over the fact that you’re dating a woman. And one of those things stands out more than the other. But you can hide your kinks. And, in public spaces, with non-participants present, you should. Kink involves consent. Everything from a years-long power dynamic to some light morning spanking requires consent and negotiation between everyone involved. To visibly bring those dynamics into public spaces is to involve other people in play without their consent. It crosses real boundaries, including those of other kinky people, in a way that two women holding hands could never.

But at the core, this is really an argument about language. “Queer” has a long etymology and history. It’s important to remember that part of that history is straight cis people using it as a homophobic slur. But the way it usually works now, the beauty of “queer” is that it isn’t necessarily about anything. As David M. Halperin argues, “Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers.” So why not have it refer to (straight cis) kinky people, too?

What this conversation comes down to is not “queer is an identity and kink is also an identity” or “queer is used in opposition to the ‘normal’ and kink is also ‘not normal’” or oppression olympics or even “why can’t we all just be sex outlaws together.” What this comes down to isn’t even the word “queer” itself; it’s what happens when it’s used.

“Queer” already nods to false unity and erases differences of gender and race and class and ability and orientation. It masks inherent imbalances of privilege. It’s easily co-opted. It’s easily, in Halperin’s language, de-gay-ified. And when it’s used to refer to straight cis people, whatever their additional sexual identities or practices, and when straight cis people want to make it theirs, that’s what’s happening. The imbalances become greater. The gay becomes smaller. The unique challenges that queer people face are erased.

“Straight cis kinky people do not have the right to call themselves queer. They already have a word: ‘kinky.'”

“Queer” is a sign of resistance. Claiming it, with its specific history (of hate crimes), is a means of resistance, from people whose identities somewhere transgress the sex and gender binaries, against the context and culture and people who created them.

Straight cis kinky people do not have the right to call themselves queer. They already have a word: “kinky.” Kinky people can be queer or not, and queer people can be kinky or not, but that doesn’t mean all kinky people are queer.

We need better ways to talk about identity, sexuality, sex and power. More nuanced ways. Discussions of kink identity and practices and problems aren’t valid based on whether or not they count as queer; they’re valid because they’re part of how people live their lives. Setting up a dichotomy with cis white middle-class able-bodied monogamous thin heterosexuals having vanilla penis-in-vagina sex on one hand, and everyone else on the other, intentionally or not others the everyone else, removes nuance from the conversation and wilfully dodges inquiries into systems of power.

And here’s the other thing about power. Kink is a way to intentionally engage with systems of power. As a kinky person, you can opt in, you can opt out, you can play, you can exchange, you can give, you can take, you can end it at any time. Power is everywhere, whether or not you’re practicing power play. It is yours to leave or to take. But as a queer person, you can’t opt into or out of those systems of power. You can’t end them at any time. There’s no safeword for your parents kicking you out before you’ve finished high school. For your new grandma-in-law getting homophobic and transphobic at your wedding reception. For your government telling you whether or not your partnership can have legal protection, telling you it can, and then taking it away. Whether or not you engage with kink as an identity or as a practice, being kinky means you get to manipulate and objectify systems of power. Being queer means you are subject to them.

Kink and queerness can overlap. But kink is not queer.


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Carolyn Yates is the NSFW Editor and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com. She is also a freelance editor and writer, and her work has appeared in Bitch, Nylon, The Toast, Xtra!, Jezebel, and elsewhere. She recently moved to Los Angeles from Montreal. Find her on twitter.

Carolyn has written 711 articles for us.

223 Comments

  1. 22

    Thank you Carolyn!

    Also, and this is a serious question, why do some straight people suddenly want in on the gay thing? (I’m using the word gay because this is what this polemic around “queer” is really about, the thrill of being a 1950s homosexual outlaw putting up the middle finger to society without actually having to do anything) If you want to be gay, just go be gay with someone??

    • 1

      Um it’s not always that easy for every LGB person to find someone to have same gender sex w (only leaving T out here as this isn’t really a gender issue).

      I do agree that if you only desire members of ‘opposite’ gender then you’re prob straight. But then I’ve not seen anyone like that call themselves gay. I was 11 and fancying ppl of multiple genders and that made me part of that sexuality spectrum. I didn’t really want sex til I was in my teens. Some (ace spectrum) ppl don’t ever want it and some who want it don’t ever get it. Doesn’t make them straight.

      • 11

        Hi Liam! I’m only talking about the straight cis kinky people of the article here, and some straight cis couples (say, some of the Refinery29 crowd) who would like to describe themselves as “queer” because they see themselves as daring for being more egalitarian or progressive. I am not talking about LGBT people.

        • 21

          YES I came here to say this exact fucking thing! STRAIGHT PEOPLE CAN’T BE QUEER. Stop it, straight people. Being gay is not a fucking trend. You can’t appropriate our culture and our language just because it’s getting attention right now. Fuck off. Straight people are the worst.

        • 3

          Ah ok then i agree that’s a weird trend. And not healthy. Straight ppl can’t be gay and they can’t be queer if they’re straight and cis. That’s an obvious oxymoron and really annoying.
          And so called allies doing it? Not allies. We need words to describe ourselves and QUILTBAG/LGBT*/queer do that without prioritising anyone over the other. Doesn’t mean straights can have them and A doesn’t stand for ally no matter how much they appropriate it 🙁
          Really everyone who isn’t part of a oppressed group ought to be an ally anyway so ally ought to just be taken for granted and not get special cookies. It sucks that we live in a world where supporting our rights is something to note about a person.

    • 2

      Do none of you realize that kinky individuals fear being disowned in the event they are found out? Why should we have to keep our identity a secret? And how exactly is that different from telling a queer individual that they have to keep their identity a secret? There isn’t a safeword for being ostracized for being queer, just like there isn’t a safeword for being ostracized for being kinky. Y’all are confusing how we engage with our consenting partner(s) with how the outside world engages with us. We only get to “play” with power structures when we’re lucky enough to find people who are respectful and accepting of who we are. That doesn’t change the very real dangers that the outside world imposes upon us.

        • 0

          Kinky does not equal queer as an identity or practice at all, but I call out the unfairness of this comment by Mandy as well. Being disowned by your parents and becoming financially independent at 16 because they found your flogger is just as shitty. Kinky people engage in power play either by themselves or with consent with their partner(s), just as queer people engage in physical and/or emotional relationships with their queer partners. Kinky people by nature of playing with power in their own private relationships do not get to apply that to the entire external world. If I am a Domme that does not mean I get to tell my boss not to fire me because he saw me in fetish gear at a party. Discrimination and being ostracised feels crap as a unaccepted minority, which ever group you belong to.

  2. 22

    The Pride that gets held where I live is pretty small (because I go to a small college in the middle of nowhere), and a lot of the focus is placed on kink and kink culture rather than queerness.

    I remember going to LA Pride and crying because there were all of these like really cute old couples and people with their families, and the one here is people walking other people around on leashes and highly public sexual acts with the occasional rainbow thrown in.

    • 8

      Honestly. Wth is Pride about if those involved do not need it in any sense, are basically totally safe without it? If ppl want to signal their queerness via leashes and all then fine enough, but to imagine that ppl are oppressed vis a vis their kinkiness specifically is another thing, and str8 ppl thinking Pride is for them on that basis are taking up others’ space.

      • 14

        I don’t have a problem with the way they’re expressed themselves, as much as, the space that was supposed to be a safe place for a very small, isolated queer community has gotten pushed out of the way in order to accommodate the larger, very straight, kink population in the area. Labeling it as Pride and then having these large scenes that anyone who walks into the designated park can view is harmful to the queer community even farther, in my opinion. It seems as if everything queer at the Pride is an afterthought just so that they can say it is.

        • 3

          My problem with this line of reasoning is respectability politics. You want to shelter the queer community from being associated with kink lest it be “harmful” for us, instead favoring cute old couples and families that make us appear more normal and by extension more acceptable. That’s not what this article is about. It’s not about kink shaming nor is it about queer respectability – though I do agree straight people shouldn’t push queer people out of the spaces designated for the LGBTIQ community, such as Pride.

          • 7

            I agree that we shouldn’t buy into the trap of respectability politics, but I don’t think that’s actually what Hannah said. Rather, they felt that what could have been one of just a few spaces for queers had been taken over by straights.

          • 3

            My problem isn’t that the queer community needs to be sheltered from kink, or that kink at the Pride should be banned. Like Carolyn says “Kink and queerness can overlap. But kink is not queer.” What I was trying to get at is that where I live, the kink community here, which is predominantly straight and cis and has also had problems with homophobia and transphobia at their events, has taken over Pride, where I live, using the same reasoning that the article mentions which is that kink and queerness are equivalent. The queer community here is really small because we’re the biggest city unless you drive 5-6 hours in any direction, surrounded by rural farmland, and a lot of queer students don’t stay at the college, because there’s an abysmal lack of resources, especially for trans students. Pride, in theory, would have been a great space.

  3. 20

    This is so great! I agree that just because our attitude is inclusive, our words don’t have to become umbrella terms. Even if we have overlapping communities or united causes we can still all benefit from specific language to communicate our nuanced identities.

  4. 42

    Another thing came to mind: my absolute least favourite (and probably the last favourite for many straddlers also) “liberal” reaction to me being gay is “oh, I don’t care how you have sex”.

    This is because it is insulting to have a huge component of my public and private life reduced to a certain sex practice, when heterosexuals’ romance, fashion, and life histories are not condensed into a sex practice.
    (In fact, there are mountains of media glorifying non-sexual heterosexual feelings and lifestyles, and they are considered tender and poetic.)

    Whereas, letting someone know that you are kinky is definitely mostly information about how you have sex.

    I don’t imagine that further equating LGBTQ identities with kink is going to help with the idea that a gay/trans person is inherently sexual and that this knowledge is inherently an overshare and inappropriate in public.

    • 0

      “Whereas, letting someone know that you are kinky is definitely mostly information about how you have sex.”

      KINK IS NOT NECESSARILY SEX, just like queerness is not necessarily sex. There are numerous situations in which consenting individuals engage in kink without engaging in sex, just as there are numerous situations in which consenting individuals engage in sex without engaging in kink. You are doing to us the exact thing that you are complaining about homophobic individuals doing to you. You are condensing our entire culture, lifestyle, and history into one dimension.

      • 13

        I am aware that there are nonsexual kink practices, that’s why I said “mostly”. These practices, however, are not the majority of kink.

        And now: “You are doing to us the exact thing that you are complaining about homophobic individuals doing to you”…
        How fucking dare you.

        Come back and talk to me, straighty, when I, a queer and trans person, have the power to oppress you for liking spanking or whatever. And full disclosure: I practice some forms of kink myself, some sexual and some nonsexual, and I can tell you I have not experienced a lick of oppression for them. People being unpleasant? Sure, sometimes. That’s not oppression.

        You clearly have a poor idea of what LGBT people face if you think being a straight person who has unusual sex is comparable.

        And yes, the kink community has been formed on the base of shared unusual lifestyles at the core of which is a certain way to express sexuality via power. Bootblacking is not a sex act, and could be done by someone who is not interested in sex, but it is popular because it carries sexual connotations.

        Ways to have sex, however, is not at the core of what binds LGBT people together.

  5. 12

    Thank you for writing this.

    Additionally, I’d love an open discussion/ article on if straight cis poly folk should be considered part of the LGBTQ community.

    Some poly folk have been getting resentful and aggressive towards me when I indicate they’re different, and I don’t have the words or energy to explain.

  6. 19

    ahh, thank you. anyone else have a straight, kinky person in their life — in my case, a family member:( — who thinks you being queer means they get to overshare details about their sex lives with you? being whispered sexual stories by a b-list family member at every holiday dinner is way more than i signed onto when i came out of the closet.

  7. 13

    Thank you for articulating something that has been bothering the hell out of me about my kinky friends in straight relationships using words like “coming out.” In fact, I’ve been having similar thoughts around my straight friends who are poly. I wonder if you think this same (or a similar) argument applies?

  8. 13

    The points here about legal and social issues, violence, etc. are very well-argued and important, but I really think this issue boils down to us needing to guard an identity that is explicitly meant to not include cis/straight people – and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that being the primary assertion. You could make many of the same arguments above about asexual people – they’re not victims of hate crimes, they’re not discriminated against legally or socially to anywhere near the same degree, etc. – yet the queer community is generally much more accepting of including them under the umbrella. In my opinion it’s enough just to say that cis/straight people aren’t queer because “queer” means not cis/straight.

    • 8

      I really like your point about there being a need for an identity that is explicitly, specifically meant to not include cis/straight people. I feel like much of the oppression/stigma/discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people is really rooted in the assumption and expectation that everyone must heterosexual, an assumption which also implies/requires that gender must be a binary. So it makes sense that we’d want “queer” to be a word for identities that defy this expectation/assumption.

      Regarding asexuality, I’d hesitate to say that asexual people don’t experience the same degree of discrimination as other identities within the queer umbrella, mostly because there’s such a variety of experiences within any given identity that I often don’t find the concept of “more/less discriminated against” to be useful. But regardless, I agree with you that it makes sense for asexuality to be considered a part of the queer umbrella since asexual people are not straight (as well as sometimes not cis).

    • 5

      I respectfully disagree re: folks on the asexual and aromantic spectra. If someone is on either spectrum and is cis and straight (e.g., a heteroromantic asexual person), they are not queer. I don’t have clever quips a la Carolyn to support my point, but do think queer should only be used by non-cis and/or non-hetero people. That said, I also understand that someone on the asexual or aromantic spectrum might not be straight, in which case they can absolutely identify as queer.

    • 3

      Asexual people are DEFINITELY victims of hate crimes though. Don’t have time to look for stats because I’m at work, but they (like queer & trans ppl) are victims of corrective rape in huge numbers, for one thing. They’re also not straight. [I’m not asexual, so please correct me if anything I’m saying is wrong! Just wanted to jump in to correct what I think are common misunderstandings about ace/aro folk].

      • 2

        For the record, here I’m assuming that we’re all using “straight” to mean “heterosexual.” Asexual, as a term, is defined in opposition to hetero- and homo-sexual (allosexual, when lumped together). Some heteroromantic asexuals DO identify as straight, just as some homoromantic asexuals do identify as gay, etc., but that doesn’t mean that all of them do or that all asexual people are straight by default.

  9. 14

    this is great, thank you for going through this. i’m into kink, and whilst i don’t associate with the kink scene so much anymore, yeah the amount of straight cis kinksters who think they are queer……NOPE! it especially irked because most of them did not give a shit about the issues lgbtiq people actually face.

  10. 13

    thank goddess for this article. i’ve been having so many thoughts about the expansion and co-opting of “queer” lately esp. in light of that huffpost queer kink nonsense and this expresses a lot of them where i’ve only been able to wave my hands and go “GAHHHSHSGAAAHH!”

  11. 13

    I think this is a super important piece, and I know I’m going to be thinking about it a lot. And my relationship to the word queer.

    I identified as bisexual for years, but a couple of years ago, I started identifying as queer more often. For a lot of reasons queer feels more accurate for me, but I was definitely also attracted to it because I’ve also idealized an idea of queerness. Like something I want to aspire to, especially since for most of my life people have been presuming I’m straight, no matter how much I try to be out.

    But I’m also a cis woman currently seeing a cis man. Neither of us are straight. A pretty big component of our relationship is kink play. And part of what works for me is that it feels very different from the relationships I’ve had with heterosexual men, because it’s got that aspect of queerness (as I’ve thought of queerness) that i idealized – the absence of heteronormative expectations of gender roles in what we are to each other. And for me, here, there’s the overlap you’ve mentioned, because I’m also so drawn to the respect and boundaries and autonomy that comes with the careful negotiation and attention to consent from kink.

    But in terms of privilege, around people who don’t know us well enough to know how we identify, we’d be read as a straight pair, treated as such. So while we’re both queer people, while our respective genders don’t have anything to do with why we’re seeing each other, considering that privilege, it feels appropriative to have been thinking of it as a queer relationship.

    Yet that privilege also comes with erasure.

    Bleh. This is a sticky place for me in my own identity and I’m not sure how to resolve it.

    • 23

      I encourage you to resolve it by letting go of the dilemma. Passing privilege is a real thing in certain very sticky, dangerous situations, and when discussing those situations it’s important to acknowledge and to take a step back. outside of dangerous situations, being treated at cross-factuals to your actual identity is *not* a privilege, it’s highly damaging. there are reasons why non-monosexual people, cis or trans, have so many greater health and safety risks than cis monosexual people, and some of those reasons are shame, erasure, and biphobia… two queer-identified people who aren’t attracted to only one gender are, in fact, really and truly queer, and NOBODY has the right to dismiss that as appropriative.

      You deserve community and inclusion, as part of a queer community – or maybe a few of them! hope you have it, or find it.

      and sorry if i sound strident, my heart just went out to you, reading this post.

    • 8

      Hi k! Here is another response you can add to your reflection.

      You can have a certain identity and consider yourself one of the most privileged members of that identity. It doesn’t erase your identity (because that belongs to you) and it also does you justice, because privilege within an oppressed group is something you can fall from (for example, in the future, nothing about your self-concept could change while suddenly your prospects get a lot darker because you found yourself married to a woman instead).

      Regarding Marianne’s argument, I don’t think it’s useful to try to convince someone to identify as queer by linking invisibility/passing privilege with symptoms of oppression that may or may not be relevant to someone’s history.

      Rather, since you are attracted to multiple genders, I would invite you to consider yourself queer, if that is something you want, and simply keep an active awareness of what situations bring you privilege (and which don’t).
      You would do more service to the community as a queer person who is aware of their privilege and commits to solidarity with less privileged members than as someone who is uninvolved out of fear of bothering people. You’re one of us! Just be mindful of stuff you experience and stuff you don’t, just like all of us should.

      • 4

        Some practical points, if you would like: do you find yourself in a comfortable economic situation? Because you know that this is not the case for many of your fellow queer people, you could set up a recurring donation for an elderly queer person of colour’s living costs, like historic trans leader Miss Major.
        Do you have no worries about benefitting from your partner’s pension plan or making medical decisions on his behalf in an emergency? Make sure this is the case for same-sex partnered people in your workplace or region.
        Can you go to a bathroom or changing room without worrying for your safety? In whichever institution you have a say in, lobby for non-discrimination policies for trans people.
        Do you wish you could better support other bi/pan people? You could try using any privilege you might have due to your relationship makeup (better access to savings, or housing, or whatever) to host a recurrent meetup for you and these people.

    • 7

      Hey K, I don’t have words as wise or helpful as Marianne or rhyme (though, seriously, you guys, thanks, I needed to hear that too) but I just wanted to say that I totally feel you on all of this. When I was single, I never felt like I needed to defend or even articulate my identity at all, it was just options and I had lots of them. And then I found this excellent human who came in a cis het male package, and I married him, because he’s excellent and I love him and I wanted to knit our lives together as thoroughly as possible, and now I feel like a poser All The Time. I love you, queer sister!

    • 2

      Hi k! Just wanted to thank you for posting this and give you a high-five across cyberspace for articulating this sticky place, which resonated a lot with me. As a bisexual woman partnered with a bisexual man, do I ever torture myself about not being a “real” queer! So when I read this article, an insistent part of me said, “Wait, I’m in a relationship that looks straight–that many people see as straight. Does that mean I’m not queer?” I don’t think this is what the author of the article is arguing at all, but one of the unfortunate effects of bi erasure and biphobia for me is that it predisposes me to feel alienated (and disadvantaged) in both straight and queer communities and thus makes it harder for me to see my very real white, cis, able-bodied, middle-class privilege in those settings. So I think bi women dating men are most definitely queer whether they’re kinky or not, that monosexual and bisexual people should both acknowledge that biphobia and bi erasure are real and damaging, and that bi people who can pass as straight acknowledge that they have privilege (but also unique challenges).

      Hope you find your queer community, k! 🙂

  12. 1

    I can agree that kink and queer are not the same, and are in fact two circles on a venn diagram. But I can also take issue with how you argue your point, because I hear echoes of how queer people were and are treated in your arguments.
    Kink can be hidden.
    Kink SHOULD be hidden.
    Engaging in kink in public violates public consent.
    Does this not sound familiar to anyone else? A gay couple was just recently assaulted in the Netherlands for holding hands. HOLDING HANDS. let’s rewrite those sentences above.
    Queerness can be hidden.
    Queerness SHOULD be hidden. ‘No one wants to see that! Re: public affection between queer folks’
    Engaging in queer displays of affection in public violates public consent.

    And then there’s the issue of kink being a totally non-negotiable for some employers. At least we’re talking and fighting for LGBTQ rights. We can’t even TALK about kinky rights because people who are kinky are afraid to be out, because they will lose their jobs and their families and their friends and their reputation.

    • 26

      I disagree with the parallels you’re trying to draw. Some people not wanting to hear about someone else’s kink practices is not the same as someone not wanting to see a same-sex couple holding hands.

      A person not wanting to hear about kink practices of an opposite couple where both ID as cishet is the same as a person not wanting to hear about the kink practices of a couple where the folks involved ID as queer.

      I see a lot of discussion around issues of prejudice vs discrimination and how institutions of power play into it. One of the simplest examples is that historically an opposite sex couple who ID as cishet have not been denied the right to marry because they practice kink. This doesn’t mean it’s never happened in the history of the world but “practices kink” hasn’t generally been written into laws governing who can marry.

      And this is where I feel privilege plays a big role. To view what is one’s own fear of judgement and potential social ostracism as the same as legal discrimination and potentially huge and persistent threats to physical safety (esp re: being trans, non-gender conforming, etc) is a function of privilege. And this is why I find it infuriating when people argue kink = queer. I think this article does a good job of explaining why it’s problematic.

    • 13

      To clarify, I think the main point of this article may have been missed due to strong feelings. The author is not saying that those issues do not exist for kinky people (the idea of being afraid of losing your job by coming out as kinky) but that they are a separate set of issues than what queer (read LGBTQIA) persons face. Therefore, the kinky community should rethink the use of the word “Queer” when discussing their identities and social issues. Hope this helps!

    • 9

      Why would you tell your employer that you enjoy kink in your private life? I don’t know what legal protections are like in the U.S. but you would certainly be able to take a company to court for wrongful dismissal if they fired you because you disclosed to a colleague that you like kink. The most you might get fired for is inappropriate conduct if you work with minors or vulnerable adults right?

      Also what kinky rights? What aren’t you allowed to do at present?

    • 7

      “Engaging in kink in public violates public consent.”

      I’m sorry but when a man or woman minces over to me in what is supposed to be a gay bar dressed like a little girl from the Victorian era or a sexy maid and is trying to provoke a reaction from me that humiliates them at the behest of their master or mistress or whatever that does indeed violate my consent. It’s not kink shaming if I do not want to engage in someone’s kink and it is violating to have strangers approach me in bars without my consent while they are engaging in kink play. It’s no different than me walking up to the author of this article and grabbing her tit.

    • 0

      Thank you!!!! I work with loads of kinky folks that struggle immensely around oppression in all sorts of contexts. I also personally am struggling to embrace my own kinky identity and feel that the kink dynamic transcends gender in terms of sexual orientation. That is very common in the kink community. So I used to identify as a straight cis frigid woman. Now I identify as an agender panromantic asexual kinky poly person. I’m the same damn person and expect my identities will continue to shift. I really don’t understand why queer has to be predominantly about gender or how you can determine who is straight forever versus who just needs some exposure to queer theory. Hell who are you to even assume someone’s cisness? People keep gender and sexuality hidden from family too. That doesn’t make it healthy.

      • 5

        In response to: “I really don’t understand why queer has to be predominantly about gender or how you can determine who is straight forever versus who just needs some exposure to queer theory.” I just want to say…you can’t. You can’t tell who is forever straight and who just needs exposure to queer theory. And that’s okay! People are dynamic. It’s okay to realize you’re gay or come out to yourself as asexual or whatever. But I don’t think that means that everyone should be considered queer…it just means we need to expect that identities can change as people learn more about themselves and the world and to through life. I agree that it’s harmful to assume a stranger you meet on the street is straight or cis because of how you perceive them but that doesn’t mean everyone is queer. It means you don’t know everything about everyone.

        • 4

          I totally agree — we have to be welcoming and give people room to figure out their identities, but that doesn’t mean we have to change the meaning of “queer” *just in case*.

          It is super cool that, for some or many people, kink helps them realize that they are in fact queer (or agender, or genderqueer, or anything else!). The same thing is true of people exploring poly dynamics and identities — a lot of people, when they start to break down standards of monogamy and to realize that a lot of their expectations around relationships are due to the heteropatriarchy, they might start to change their relationship to and understanding of their own gender and sexuality. That doesn’t make kink or poly *inherently* queer. Plenty of people engage in both and come out the other side still 100% straight. It’s just like how attending a Womens Studies & Queer Theory class in college took me from “70% sure I’m queer” to “95% sure I’m queer,” and yet that doesn’t make everyone who attends a women’s studies course queer (just, like, a pretty high percentage).

    • 0

      As someone in the coming out process internally and externally, seeing so many people rally around this is a nightmare for me. As an asexual, agender, panromantic, poly kinky person, it would not be hard for aggressive gatekeeper to kick me out of every identity that feels true to me. I want queer as an identity not because of my own or a partner’s gender (which can change over time), but because I’ve tried the normative stuff and am certain that does not work for me. Queer makes space for me to reject what doesn’t work without knowing for certain where I’m landing. Questioning is close but doesn’t include the firm rejection of normativity. There are loads of words for gender identities and sexual identities just as there are words for kink. I don’t see why it cannot be an umbrella word synonymous with “gender or sexual minority”.

    • 0

      “And then there’s the issue of kink being a totally non-negotiable for some employers. At least we’re talking and fighting for LGBTQ rights. We can’t even TALK about kinky rights because people who are kinky are afraid to be out, because they will lose their jobs and their families and their friends and their reputation.”

      Obviously that can’t be the case, because that would be a system of power kinky people were subject to, and it was just ‘splained to us that there’s no such thing and kinky people can simply opt out at any time.

  13. 11

    Thank you for this article! Prior to reading this, I had uneasily held a stance of, “I feel like people should acknowledge their privilege, but also should identify in whatever way feels right for them,” and I didn’t quite know how to make sense of my discomfort with straight/cis kinky people identifying as queer. Your analysis has really helped me articulate and refine the way I think about this topic.

    These parts really struck me:
    “The beauty of the word ‘queer’ is in its rejection of traditional binaries and boxes, but so is its danger.”
    “Being kinky means you get to manipulate and objectify systems of power. Being queer means you are subject to them.”

  14. 11

    I happened to stumble across this argument in a very different place a few weeks ago, and wrote what ended up being a sizeable essay on it. I’m glad other people have the same thoughts.

    An additional thing I noticed, that I don’t see addressed here, is that the label “Queer” and what society thinks about queer people are inextricably merged with what is acceptable behavior for someone of a given sex. It’s not a coincidence that for the longest time (and still, in many areas), people confused gay men and trans women. It’s not a coincidence that even the lower level bigotry – “who’s the man in the relationship and who’s the woman?” – have to do with an inability to conceive of gender roles not ruling everything. It’s not a coincidence that many gay men who, other than being gay, lead relatively standard lives, have historically complained about effeminate gay men and trans people being weirdos and defining themselves in opposition to that.

    Society’s conception of what it means to be queer, and consequently the discrimination that flows from it, can’t be disentangled from expectations regarding what (and whom) is proper for a man or a woman to be doing. Men should be dominant, effeminate men are aberrations. Women should want to sleep with men, so women who don’t must be damaged in some way.

    This is, incidentally, why trans people fit pretty naturally under the same umbrella as other queer people. Trans women often have the same slurs yelled at them as gay men. Trans men are often treated as lesbians who are extreme cases. You see these ideas crop up everywhere from scientific papers to popular media. The boat we’ve been lumped in, by society at large, and that we’ve since decided is populated by pretty cool people we’d like to form a closer-knit family with, is a boat defined by defiance of some aspect of gender role that has been deemed critical by the system in which we live.

    Perhaps this isn’t super relevant to the discussion in the same way this article is, but I think it’s a salient distinction, and one that’s worth remembering.

    • 7

      Kinky people are persecuted, yes.

      But are you queer, just by virtue of that persecution?

      I don’t think so. Peanut butter and jelly both go on sandwiches – often the same sandwich! But that doesn’t make them the very same thing.

      • 0

        The history of queerness includes a sizeable number of powerful, dedicated-to-the-movement people you would probably judge as straight, who were kinky. i know many people who are kinky who are “straight” in that they only want traditional sex acts, with the gender they feel is opposite to their own, but whose kink relationships (or not-relationship explorations) are multiple and not gender-confined,and I know kinky people for whom the dynamics of power exchange have everything to do with who they are and what they’ve lived through, lots to do with the peoplethey love most, and absolutely nothing to do with wanting to impose sexual participation on others (in fact pretty much NO kinky people I know other than the odd jerkface like you find in any crowd want that latter part). I’ve been ID’ing publicly as queer (also bisexual, also not-cis although we didn’t have the words i use for that now back then) since I was in college in the mid 90s, and I have kinky friends from back then (lots). One of them, in the 90s, id’d as queer, kinky, and … straight male. Guess what, these days, she id’s as a lesbian trans woman. There is so little point to running around blaming all queer-identified kinky people for the idiocy of smug cis heterosexual people who maybe tried handcuffs once and now want to coopt everything that I’m baffled someone as normally-solid as this author thought it was worth making an essay out of.

        Sorry, I know I’m ranting. But this is really embarrassing to me – y’all seriously don’t see how hateful and ignorant the OP is?? How similar to the exact same BS we’ve been fighting about for decades/centuries it is?

        Take a deep breath, get to know some kinky / queer elders, and reconsider your position.

        I’ll be over here in the cranky old queer people section. (Waiting for the day when our health outcomes improve to the point where 40 isn’t old for a queer….but that’s another rant all together…)

          • 0

            The hateful and blaming part was mostly because of the OP’s very narrow definition of kink and assertions about what not hiding your kink in public applies about consent.

            I heard “I don’t care if they’re gay but how dare they shove it in my FACE” one too many times as a teenager (and for that matter “Those leather people and drag queens are ruining our chances at being *accepted* and *respected* as just like everyone else” about men I saw as respected community elders) to accept that some aspects of a kink relationship being evident in public (including expressions like endearments, dress, etc.) is betraying consent. No way. There are def ways of breaking consent by public behavior and I’m also very uncomfortable when that happens, but the OP is hateful (surely not on purpose!) in the blanket statements it makes about kinky people in public spaces. I found it rather shockingly so, actually.

        • 14

          I’m not sure I understand the point you’re making about your friend who came out as trans -certainly, she’s queer now, absolutely, but surely you’re not suggesting that all kinky straight people are closeted and should therefore be given the benefit of the doubt on labels? For a start, that would directly contradict what they themselves tell us about their current identities and why they feel it’s currently appropriate for them to use the word queer.

          • 1

            No, of course not. I’m saying that people who seem to be straight in their sex/romantic lives (eg my friend, and she’s far from the only person I know who has been in that situation) get assumed-straight and pushed away from queer communities. In my friend’s case her (at the time NON-sexual) kink relationships and other situations were with several different genders. It’s not that she was running around saying “I’m a straight male!and also kinky and queer!” it’s that she was saying “I’m kinky and queer” without (yet) Officially Declaring her transness, and I don’t think it was helpful to anyone when people rejected and excluded her based on her being “straight.” Because as it turns out, she wasn’t.

            And there are a lot of people like that. The author of the OP, and many of the commenters, seem to want to keep “queerness” for “us”, in some way – but “us” is fuzzy at the edges,not clearcut. And it’s *supposed* to be fuzzy at the edges. When we were protesting with ACT UP, nobody was critiquing people’s identities before they were allowed to march and yell. Putting yourself at risk by marching and yelling was proof enough that you weren’t straight. If people later on made it seem really puzzling that they identified as queer, that was a decent time to try and figure it out and prod them to check their privilege if they were making strange assumptions – but with care to make sure the prods weren’t based on assumptions of our own. That isn’t assuming people are lying, it’s refusing the heteronormative assumption. And refusing the binary assumption.

  15. 1

    Hm. From y’all’s own comment policy:
    “We want this to be a place where you can be proud to rock whatever label you want (we do!): lesbian, queer, bisexual, bananasexual, awesomesexual, and we will never tell you that you’re using the wrong word to describe yourself…. or invalidate your own freedom to identify as you see fit.”

    Sooooo… I am really struggling with why this post doesn’t go against your ethos. I understand that y’all must not think it does, and I super-value everything y’all do here… but as a bisexual queer woman who loves a lotta queer kinky people some of whom also get lumped into straight because their sexual attractions are only male/female (which really doesn’t define their kink relationships, or their lfetime relationship commitments, incidentally, just for starters!) … I’m kind of completely at a loss here.

    What the heck?

    • 20

      “lumped into straight because their attraction is only male/female”??????!?

      Look friend, I would actually love the privilege of being lumped into straightness, if it were possible. I would, for example, not be afraid like I was last year of being mysteriously denied a lease on an apartment.

      I have no tears for people whose attractions fit neatly into the prescribed mold but who feel the word straight is too normie for them.

      • 2

        Sexual attraction is one – component of queerness and not the only component. Someone who, frex, lives with their dom but doesn’t have sex with them (a thing! that happens! because kink actually doesn’t, contra the OP only involve sex and play, but sometimes involves deep emotional connection that is equally deep and central to romantic or sexual relationships but doesn’t always come bundled with them) is often read (fairly accurately) as “oh no we don’t want THOSE PEOPLE leasing here”.

        This idea in the OP that not hiding one’s power relationships equals invading public space and forcing people to participate in them is …. unorthodox at best. The long term queer-identified kinky people I know, whether sexually attracted in “non-straight” ways or not, don’t live straight lives and they get kicked out, attacked, and read homophobically. The older ones were often present at the root of queer activism, suddenly we’re just going to rule them out? Frequently, because attraction and romance are not fixed and forever for everybody, those same people that “weren’t queer enough” by public definitions at one point end up transitioning, or realizing their sexual attractions are more fluid than they thought, or whatever.

        There are far more people who are less straight than they seem – and have suffered a lot more for their not straight-ness whether or not it’s public or obvious – than there are people who are more straight than they are willing to admit. Why do we want to set ourselves up as the queer police? Why not just say “for me, queerness has to involve self-awareness of same sex attraction, but I don’t go prying into other people’s queer cred.” and leave it at that?

  16. 16

    Just my two cents because I think it’s very dangerous to equate certain painful personal feelings with structural oppression: invisibility or blending in into a privileged category can bring about some private emotional turmoil, but it is by and large a blessing.

    My current girlfriend is trans; most people on the street take us for an odd, gender nonconforming straight couple. Does that bother me? Of course. I am a nonbinary person usually interpreted as a lesbian when I am alone, and here I am being interpreted as something completely alien to me, and a huge chunk of my lived experience is suddenly invisible.

    But do I regret being interpreted as a lesbian couple in public, like I was in my previous long-term relationship? Of course not. I feared for my physical safety at every turn. I never held her hand without checking my surroundings. I knew we stood out like a sore thumb, and sometimes people would scream or gesticulate at us or sexually harass us.
    I don’t miss it! Invisibility is working pretty well for me, actually.

    So idk, if other people not realizing that you are socially transgressive is the main problem on your plate, I would suggest taking a fucking glass of water and a nap.

    • 3

      The problem is not other people not realizing you are socially transgressive, it’s people who are treated by society as transgressive being policed out of communities where they should be included.

      Of course if you are in unsafe or safety-unknown places it’s easier to be clocked as a straight couple – i am also nonbinary, and i’ve been clocked as straight couple with a girlfriend, and as a gay man with my husband, and i know which one is more dangerous and more ostracized by general society, yes. (From personal experience the worst thing is when they get mad that they “guessed wrong” according to their stupid definitions and decide to take that out on you double, but basically the only thing that really feels safe out on the street is still passing as straight.

      But in terms of for eg suicide risk, for eg not getting out of abusive relationships, for eg substance abuse, it is *really* dangerous to be treated by fellow queer people as Not Actually Queer Enough. There are a crapload of studies about this.

      So where is the harm in giving people the benefit of the doubt when they claim queer, and judging them on the rest of their behavior instead? If they act respectful, if they don’t straight-person-ify spaces, maybe we don’t need to know the rest or attack them based on our assumptions.

      Like I said, many people of my acquaintance who are happy and out as trans now didn’t tell anyone about it and passed for straight until it was live their truth or die. How many of those people are out there and finding some kind of intermediate step in saying “queer as in fuck you”? How is their pain not tied up in structural oppression? Do we really think the society we live in has any real welcome anywhere for people whose lives are more complicated than heteronnormative models? Why be so much in a hurry to say They Aren’t Us. Why not just say “well, I don’t really get it, but I’m willing to assume they might be us unless they actively fuck up in the space.”?

      • 13

        I’ve read your posts a few times & I’m torn. As bi women who struggled with self-harm when figuring out my gender expression and identities as a teen, I totally agree that the “Not Actually Queer Enough” narratives within the LGBTQ community cause a lot of harm.

        On the other hand, pigeonholing “queer” to mean “anybody whose sexuality is viewed as socially transgressive” leaves me feeling disgusted and stinks of Eurocentric assumptions. It feels insulting and limiting to define the LGBTQ community by what we exist against, rather than what we exist for. Gender and sexual fluidity is not intrinsically a subversive social category, and queer people have existed for millennia (and still do in some instances) in societies that don’t oppress or malign us.

        So while I get how difficult existing outside norms in a transgressive role can be, that is really only a small part of how and why I identify as queer. I need a space where I can celebrate, through a community of collective lived experiences, the beauty and diversity of gender-based sexual orientations and expressions. If “Queer” now means “anybody who’s sexuality makes them socially transgressive” I would need another word to feel comfortable and safe moving through LGBTQ spaces.

      • 6

        The big problem isn’t really shared space though. Non-consenting participation in someone’s kink is an issue for me but the big problem is legal advocacy. Right now were struggling with trying to keep trans women from being raped and beaten in men’s bathrooms and corrective rape/sexual harassment of lesbians, bashing of effeminate gay boys at school. Heavy shit like that. So what happens when hetero-queers get a say in what are the important and prioritized legal issues that LGBTQ non-profits tackle? What happens if those het-queer people decide that trans women’s public safety isn’t a priority worth those non-profits spending money on? Just because we’re queer doesn’t make us exempt from capitalism. It doesn’t stop het-queer people from abusing het privilege. It costs money to fight legal battles and there is only so much money to go around. It has too be spent wisely and efficiently. I’m sorry but I have trouble trusting het people, even queer het people, to do right by us.

      • 6

        Please don’t bring up the alarming statistics for bisexual people’s substance abuse to argue for something completely different (about kink).

        For one, I don’t believe that these stats are mainly caused by a personal feeling of not being Queer enough. Plenty of other factors, like being more likely to be around homophobic straight men who abuse and assault, provide better explanation for bisexual people’s suffering. Even more important is the subject of race; people of colour are more likely to identify as bisexual.

        There is little research on nonbinary people and they are not a homogenous group, some of them are visibly trans and others are not. By my social circles and dating history, I am well-connected to many other white afab nonbinary people and to many white trans women. Both groups have poverty, substance abuse, abusive relationships, eviction, and survival sex work, but the rates have absolutely nothing to do with each other. I don’t know a white trans woman for whom two of these aren’t relevant, but plenty of invisibly trans afab nb people for whom none are. The only similar thing, unfortunately, is the rate of sexual assault.

        Those feelings of not being queer or trans enough? Everyone has them, actually, even cis gays and lesbians at some point in their lives. They can cause negative outcomes, but people who bear the brunt of structural oppression have to deal with both those and very urgent actions that threaten their ability to survive in the short term.

        • 7

          Femme-presenting cis lesbian here just wanting to confirm that yes, we do also struggle with the “I’m not queer enough” feels….
          *basically every day because of my look and energy
          *doubly so when I’m asked in a girl bar if I’m straight/lost/whatever
          *triply so on the occasions when I’m looked down on for not being a “gold star”

          But also I completely agree with the comment about things like allocation of funds, education etc. We’ve got bigger things to be worrying about…

  17. 1

    I found this article because it was shared on a page that I usually like and appreciate, but I have several major issues with it. I discussed it with someone I care about who is also kinky, and he saw the same issues with it as I do. I wrote to the page that re-posted the article, he commented on this forum. His comments were erased.

    It is supremely shitty to dismiss the hardships of a marginalized sexualized identity, and then to silence the voice of someone who identifies as kinky when they object to the problematic nature of this article. To be clear, I am not interested in arguing with whether or not people who are kinky are queer. What I object to is the complete erasure of hardships that kinky people face, and the assumption that we can simply choose to be something other than what we are.

    I really do not think the author who wrote this article knows as much about kink as they think they do, or is involved in it to the extent that they think they are. Either way, what they wrote smacked of ignorance, and they wrote things that are extremely harmful to the BDSM community.

    First off, kink is not just something that people acquire over the course of their life, but often an intrinsic part of who a person is, an identity that they realize they have long before they engage in sexual acts (as the author seems to note early on, but later dismiss). Because of this, there are a great many people who participate in the kink community who have sexual identities that fall both outside the spectrum of socially acceptable behavior and outside the spectrum of gender-based attractions. So sexual orientation is not just about what gender(s) one is attracted to. There are those of us who know full well that our kinks are part of who we were born as, this is who we are (whether we are publicly performing our identity or not), and that this is who we will always be. We do not get to quit, just like queer folks do not get to quit. We can hide and deny who we are, or we can accept who we are and seek out others who will be accepting.

    The author in question acted like being one of these individuals is a cakewalk. I can assure you, based on my own personal experiences, that it is not. Being born this way is struggling against the belief that you are a freak. It is fear that a loved one will reject you if they ever find out what you are. It is fear that you may lose a job if you are outed at work. It is fear that you will be rejected in advocacy circles, regardless of whether or not you are speaking about your own personal experiences or simply advocating for broader acceptance. It is fear that you will have to choose between being what you know you are, deep down inside, and being a feminist. It is fear that everything you are will be reduced to a perceived weakness, and/or a perceived cruelty.

    The author said the following:
    “There’s no safeword for your parents kicking you out before you’ve finished high school. For your new grandma-in-law getting homophobic and transphobic at your wedding reception. For your government telling you whether or not your partnership can have legal protection, telling you it can, and then taking it away.”

    This is, unfortunately, all too true. But what the author does not realize is that this not only applies to queer individuals, but to kinky individuals as well. 50 Shades of Grey did not make being this way as cool or acceptable as some people seem to think it did. In many ways, it hurt public understanding of us further. Sure, we could hide from ourselves and others what we are. We could choose not to participate in certain consensual activities, even choose a partner who is “normal” in a way that we are not. We could choose to never discuss who we are and how we feel. But it would be a lie that hurts us, just as having to hide hurts queer individuals. And it is no more or less cruel to tell us that we can or should hide than it is to tell a queer individual that they can or should hide.

    The author is quite mistaken when they say that:
    “Whether or not you engage with kink as an identity or as a practice, being kinky means you get to manipulate and objectify systems of power. Being queer means you are subject to them.”

    This statement is only true within the relationships and activities we choose to partake in, and that is only if we are lucky enough to find another individual, or individuals, who truly understands and respects who we are. When we are lucky, we get to build an internal world and power structure that nurtures us and lets us be our truest selves. But when we are not lucky, we are just as subject to systems of power as any other marginalized identity. We lose family, friends, and loved ones, we lose job opportunities, we lose our physical and mental safety. We are blamed for being abused by others, told that our identity “invited” harmful behavior.

    Quite frankly, I don’t give a shit about whether or not being kinky makes anyone queer. I’m not here to argue over language and quibble over words. If anything, I can’t help but wonder if drawing the line in the sand is not a recognition that one group faces severe hardships and the other does not (because in fact they both do), but rather an attempt to create distance lest our current status diminish gains made by the queer community. Either way, it disturbs me a great deal that someone who clearly doesn’t understand the BDSM community very well would have the gall to erase our hardships and pain, to act like we get to choose what we are any more than others with differing sexual identities do.

    I hope that the author who wrote this article will reconsider their positions on kink and BDSM.

    • 1

      Thank you for this reply. These are my thoughts/feelings too. I’m pan and non-binary but I’m also kinky, and my kink was the earliest part of my sexuality to emerge (aged about six or seven), long, long before I engaged in sexual acts or felt sexual/romantic attraction to anyone of any gender. I have never had a choice about it and I have experienced oppression and marginalisation and shame because of it, just as I have when I’ve been in relationships that have been read as lesbian. I am much more open about being interested in people of all genders and being non binary than I am about being kinky, because of fear of the responses I would get to the latter. Yet kink is something I experience as being the core of who I am. My attractions to people are based on the kinky connection I feel, regardless of their gender. I think it’s inappropriate to invalidate kinky people’s experiences and identities in this way. And I say that as someone who loves Autostraddle and what I believe you stand for.

    • 17

      Like totally fair enough, but why co-opt the term queer? It seems like ‘kink’ is a strong identifier for the community. The author isn’t saying kink people shouldn’t live authentic lives, just that maybe straight kink people could leave the term queer out of it because it’s meaningful to LGBT+ people in a way that it isn’t to others.

      • 0

        My understanding – and I did a lot of askign around, reading and so forth before using the word to describe myself, was that Queer covered anyone with alternate gender/sexuality expression. (alternate as in non hetronormative) – therefore kink came under this umbrella. There are also a lot of people in kink who explore their gender presentation, and their sexual orientation who may not have done so if they weren’t kinky. I certainly fall into that group. Kink has given me space to explore myself, to break down the hetronormative conditioning I have/had – and be more authentically me. My husband and I were trying to work out the ‘labels’ I’d wear – pansexual, monoromantic, polyintimate, sadist. (with a little non gender conforming thrown in). So am I queer? Or not? And if I am, it’s because I was kinky first.

        • 16

          If you’re pansexual, then you’re queer. if you were straight (and cis), you would not be queer no matter how kinky you were or how much angst you had about it. You would just be kinky. That is the word that describes kinky people. Queer is the word that describes people with connection to the LGBTQIA community.

  18. 7

    Hmm, I find the OP very thought provoking, and it’s making me reassess my own use of the word Queer to describe myself. I’m a cis woman, in a hetero marriage, who is some times read as a lesbian. I’m also a FemmeDomme, with relationships which spill out into the ‘vanilla’ world (that does not mean play, but as a continuation of the relationship) and my playmates include a straight man, a trans man, a queer man and a lesbian. Some but not all of these relationships include sex. However…day to day, apart from being read as a lesbian, I enjoy all the privilege of a straight cis woman. I’m going to have to spend some time rereading this article and deciding if and where I’m misusing the term Queer. I do not want to be adding to the problems faced by those who do face day to day oppression. Thank you to the OP for the mental ass kick.

  19. 8

    This was fabulously written and articulated, thank you Carolyn!

    And a big YES to everything you said!! I hate when people think being non-straight +/ cis only affects who you have sex with, there’s a million other things outside the sec ace a million other ways to discriminate that go along with it. Being kinky does not.

    • 6

      This is another thing that kind of bugs me about the whole framing.

      1) Being queer is so /not/ about who you’re having sex with, and it’s annoying that society as a whole often tries to boil it down to that. It’s harmful, in fact! It ends up being this weird idea that queerness is about sex, and sex is about genitals, so you’re not queer if you’re fucking a trans person with different genitals (despite, y’know, that not generally being why you’re attracted to… anyone) and you’re not queer if you don’t like a specific set of genitals. But it also ends up leaving us with an understanding of queerness that is decades old (though still with us) in that it reduces us to people with some sexual fetish or anomaly, which is, at BEST, a woefully incomplete description, and at worst the kind of dismissive thing hanging out in the front of bigot’s minds.

      I’m trans and my girlfriend is cis – the sex we have could uncharitably be described as “straight” (that’d be mean and inaccurate and missing subtleties, but it also isn’t the kind of thing that keeps bigots up at night). Still, we have to deal with people giving us looks for holding hands, if we lived in another state we’d have to worry about being denied the lease for this thing that’s tricky to hide, we had to deal with her coming out, and her family’s reactions to the fact that she was dating a woman, and so on. It’s not about the sex in and of itself, clearly, at least not mostly. It’s about, variously, the incongruence of my genitals or the attraction to someone with a similar presentation to ourselves.

      2)There is a corollary to this. The things we face for being queer are generally sex-peripheral, rather than about the sex itself. As the article mentioned, it’s hard to hide, but I think this misses another point: people actually know very little about the sex queer people have (specifically), because it’s generally unacceptable to talk about sex in the workplace or a lot of social environments. I think someone at work MIGHT know that I have a bunch of rope by the bed, maybe? No one knows about some of the other stuff. This isn’t because I don’t overshare – I chronically do – but because the specifics of acts just aren’t appropriate, and discussion of sex is by necessity vague at most. I gather that many people live in places where saying they’re kinky can cause many assumptions, and that is definitely unfair, but it’s categorically different in that (in most cases) discussion of any of the detail of being kinky is going to be a discussion of sexuality which could get you fired from any workplace for inappropriate conversation. My coworkers really wouldn’t like it if they got much detail about my sex life beyond “I have sex with my girlfriend, and it’s nice.” Relatively vanilla discussions of sexuality aren’t workplace appropriate.

      That got longer than I meant it to. Basically, tl;dr, I agree? Being queer is not about sex, being queer affects me in ways that are pretty orthogonal to my sex life, and sexual content is just generally inappropriate in many domains, so direct comparisons between kink and queer centering on problems when it comes up have this kind of confound suggesting that the issue is at least partially simply the sexuality.

      (I think people can go too far, and kinky people definitely are discriminated against, and that is unfair and sucks and should be addressed, but it’s pretty clearly different in many categorical ways from being queer. My thesis has little to do with discrimination, when you get down to it.)

      • 5

        I realised autocorrect had fun with my original comment which was meant to say “there’s a million other things outside of sex and a million other ways to discriminate” but I digress…

        I mean personally for me the fact I have sex with girls is probably the LEAST problematic part of being gay, it’s the rest of the actual living your life part which is hard part.
        I totally agree about the oversharing at work part, someone made a comment above about the fact you could be fired or discriminated against for being kinky and someone else pointed out WHY would you share that anyway?! But if there’s a “partners” even at work and I turn up with another woman it could be a problem. I dont talk at work about having sex with girls in the same way I don’t talk at work about the ropes and several sets of cuffs in my bedside table or the fact I’m learning shibari.

        Also I feel like some people are missing the point that nobody is saying kinky people aren’t discriminated against, just that cishet kinky people perhaps should reconsider using the label queer. There’s already a word for people who enjoy kink regardless of gender +/ orientation and that word is kinky!

  20. 0

    I can’t stop thinking about this. It is so disgusting that a bunch of people who clearly know nothing about what it’s like to be born kinky, think they get to tell us all about the ways we are privileged and not at all marginalized or discriminated against. How about y’all try growing up kinky and part of a religiously conservative family, and then tell me how easy it is to deal with all that internalized shame and guilt and fear.

    • 23

      Lots of us who agree with Carolyn here are both kinky and queer, don’t assume we know nothing about what it’s like to be kinky. Also, for myself, having grown up both kinky and queer in a religious family – I do not feel they are on the same level at all. Don’t think you can tell queer people about ‘internalized guilt and shame and fear’ – we know all about that.

    • 2

      Lots of us who agree with Carolyn here are both kinky and queer, don’t assume we know nothing about what it’s like to be kinky. Also, for myself, having grown up both kinky and queer in a religious family – I do not feel they are on the same level at all. Don’t think you know more than queer people about ‘internalized guilt and shame and fear’ – we know all about that.

    • 4

      I’m sorry you had that experience, and I both accept and understand that kinky people experience their own marginalization and discrimination.

      But I too, am both kinky and queer, and I find it absolutely repulsive that you have commented all over this article discussing why queer and kinky are two different labels that apply to two different communities (that often overlap) straight-splaining things like “internalized shame and guilt and fear.”

      Seriously? Get the fuck out.

      You want to talk about shame and guilt and fear? Let me know when you are afraid to walk into a public restroom because even MOC/tomboy CIS WOMEN are being thrown out of them for they way they look. You get back to me when you have a closet full of girl clothes your mom keeps buying you because she loves you and wants to help, but you don’t feel comfortable in those clothes. Or maybe tell me about the guilt you feel when you have to share with your parents that you will never carry a child, and you see the disappointment in their eyes as they consider that you are a failure of a daughter. We can have a conversation when you have a hairstylist spend an hour explaining to you how your haircut can be prettier and more feminine when you brought her a picture of a MAN to show her how you wanted your hair to look. You can tell me all about the fear you feel when a terrorist kills 49 humans for being in a public space for KINKY folks.

      Get. The. Fuck. Out.

      I’m not saying your lived experiences are invalid, or that you don’t have a right to your own feelings. But HOW DARE YOU lecture us on shame and guilt and fear.

  21. 12

    I’ve followed this debate and it’s rather confusing to me.

    Cis heterosexuals claim that they are queer because they could lose their job, families and their children because of their kinks. This is true.

    On the other hand, that’s also the case for a cis heterosexual who belongs to a religious minority. Being a witch or a Satanist does not make you queer, so obviously it’s not oppression for your identity that makes you queer. Is it potential oppression for your sexual identity that does it? Do cis heterosexual women who engage in pre-marital sex qualify as queer if the majority-community is conservative and Abrahamic?

    That brings us to Carolyn’s argument: “It’s not that you’re gay and/or trans, precisely; it’s that you’re not straight and/or cis.”

    This brings up a point for me that my internal head-jury is still out on. Is asexuality inherently queer? I’ve never personally come across an asexual person who has identified as ace to the exclusion of their straight cis identity. I might hear from some now, and that’s fine, I’m not saying you don’t exist and aren’t valid members of the queer community… I’m just unsure if asexuality alone qualifies IF we choose to define queerdom as not-straight and/or not-cis, which I’m not sure about either.

    • 7

      Well to address your first point, I think being queer is specifically about being LGBT+ and not about being non-normative in some way. I guess it’s hard to define and there are commonalities with anyone growing up in a repressive environment where they can’t be open about who they are. I suppose the difference in my mind is queer is about who you are sexually and romantically attracted to, whereas kink is about what you do with the people you are attracted to (leaving out gender identity for a second).

      Asexuality for me falls under the same banner as kink, as in it’s about what you do (or don’t do) with people you’re attracted to. I’m aware this is not a particularly universal opinion though. I think, like with kink, there is probably a lot of overlap because the queer community are more open to non-normativity in general, so it’s been a safe place for asexuality and kink communities to flourish within.

    • 5

      I said this in response to a comment above but will repeat here because YES! If someone is on the asexual spectrum and is cis and straight, they are not queer. This for me includes heteroromantic asexual folks, because romantic orientation (and this might be contentious because I think some use the language of distinct romantic and sexual orientations now, but I think historically) falls within the categories of straight, lesbian, gay, queer, etc.

      • 8

        Can we not do this?
        “Asexuality for me falls under the same banner as kink, as in it’s about what you do (or don’t do) with people you’re attracted to” Asexuality isn’t about what you do, it’s fundamentally about who you’re attracted to.

        Do some aces identify as straight? Yes. cool. But asexuality doesn’t mean “straight unless romantically attracted to people of other genders.”

        Thanks for this article, Carolyn; it really made me think.

        • 4

          I guess I think of it not as “what you do with people you’re attracted to” or as who you’re attracted to, but as HOW you’re attracted to people, sexually or not, sexually depending on the circumstances, etc. I think it is a legitimate question to ask okay, so are there any cis straight people who can claim queer identity? Imo, there are definitely plenty of circumstances in which ace folks are queer, but not when they’re straight and cis. In response to “can we not?” – I’m sure this article has a bunch of people feeling that way in the first place.

          • 3

            The problem with saying heteroromantic cis people (I’m assuming that what you mean what you say “cis and straight”) can’t be queer is that it erases half of their identity. Asexuality, regardless of romantic orientation a non-heteronormative sexual orientation. It is not inherently “straight”, though individuals identify in various ways.

            But I guess that’s the crux of it. Either you believe asexuality *detached from romantic orientation* is welcome under the queer umbrella, or not. Or is romantic orientation the defining aspect of queerness? (serious question)

            In the comments I’m also seeing some fundamental misunderstanding regarding what asexuality IS, which obviously hinders the discussion, so if anyone has a question or needs clarity on that, hit me up.

  22. 1

    “Kink is a way to intentionally engage with systems of power.”
    What about people who do not feel their kinkiness was an act of intention? Who were attracted to certain scenarios a long time before they had sex or knew who they wanted it with? I am not into kink (not very – it’s a spectrum) but know kinky friends who are clear that kink was the prime element in their dawning sexuality as kids.
    This is the old “gay is a choice” argument re-run. I accept that a lot of kinky people suffer no social penalty. Neither, these days, do a lot of lesbians and gay men. It’s not inevitable. As for the arguments about minority stress, psychological disadvantage and internalised stigma – that could clearly apply just as much to kinky people as queer ones.
    The point about being in a sexual or gender minority is that it makes it more likely that you may suffer some degree of social, psychological or physical harm. Harm is a greater potentiality for such people. Not an inevitability.
    As with almost any writing on sexuality that seeks to distinguish people within the circle of ‘normal’ and those outside, your argument is itself normative. The same applies to TERFS who seek to define who is, and who cannot be, a woman. It ain’t helpful. I’d suggest that a much more empirical stance on Sexually and Gender Diverse people [I won’t say ‘Queer’ because it’s clear we have different, and personal, definitions of what that is] would be helpful. Who suffers harm, or is potentially more open to suffering harm, due to their sexual/gender identity?

    • 17

      I have a 100% accepting family and live in a gay neighborhood in a major city, I’m happily married to a woman and am economically comfortable, and I’m wondering where on earth these gay people who live lives without penalty are and how I get there. How is it that they have their own mass media that reflects them proportionally in a respectful manner? Where are these lesbians who aren’t objectified by cis men when they walk down the street? In what way are they able to travel throughout the US and internationally, including to countries such as Egypt with dangerous legal penalties for queer people, without actively hiding their identities and worrying about the potentially deadly consequences of slipping up? How do they manage to avoid cishets and all of their uninformed opinions and microaggressions altogether? In what country do they never have to worry about denial of housing, service, healthcare, or other resources regardless of who’s gatekeeping those things?

      And where can lesbians find an “LGBT+” community where we’re actually included and celebrated?

  23. 24

    I think what it comes down to is that queerness is a very specific culture, with its own very specific history, language, art, politics, icons, organizations, inside jokes, and more. You could certainly argue that kink is a culture too, that it goes far beyond whatever happens in the bedroom. But they’re not the same culture, and it’s a disservice to both to pretend that they are.

    More importantly, just as it’s not okay for white folks–no matter what their other identities or intersections of oppression–to speak over people of color about issues of race or to claim a right to their cultures, it’s not okay for cishet folks–kinky or not–to claim or appropriate queerness or to tell queer folks how to define themselves.

    Anyway, this article really made me think, thank you for writing it.

  24. 14

    I’ve seen a few folks arguing here that since many people realized their same-sex attractions through participation in kink, kink must be queer.

    No. Almost all of us realized our attractions through participation in some kind of activity. By this logic, going to church is hella queer 😂

    • 6

      I realised my kink enjoyment from engaging in girl-girl sex, just to give an opposite example 😉

      But yeah I agree, by that logic these are also hella queer:
      Dancing
      Piano lessons
      Watching music videos
      Girl Guides/Scouts (ok maybe I have a point with that one!)

  25. 13

    Also, as many have pointed out, queers are becoming trendier and more accepted, and this feels like kinky people trying to hop on that bandwagon.

    This is not the right response. The Black Lives Matter movement inspired members of many minorities. But we didn’t run around yelling, “We too are black!”

    Instead, we drew inspiration from BLM and organized around our specific issues, even as we acknowledged the commonalities. This is the approach that the essay urges kinky straight people to take as well.

  26. 1

    I’m both queer (bisexual) and polyamorous. While I agree that kink culture is it’s own thing separate from queer, I take some issue with all forms of polyamory being lumped in with kink.

    I personally experience my polyamorous nature in a very similar way to how I experience my bisexuality. I sort of knew about it from a very young age, but only slowly, cautiously approached both parts of myself in my early 20’s. I’m very careful about how and where I am open about it. I hide partners, calling them “friends.” It can be hard to “dance over” the fact that the people you love are in the same place or intimately involved in your life, but you can’t express that. It’s about love, not about sex. People in my life have actually reacted much more strongly and negatively to my non-monogamy than they have to my bisexualality (though, that may be anout me being a woman, and people finding it nonthreathening/”hot” – but that’s a whole separate convo). It’s a definite departure of an assumed relationship cornerstone that I *could* choose to suppress and hide, just like I technically could with my bisexuality. But I don’t.

    To make it more general: asexual people can be polyamorous. Polyamorous relationships don’t have equal rights to monogamous ones. There has been progress, but it is far, far from a popular/trendy rights movement.

    I’m not even arguing that it should be called queer. Honestly, I identify as queer due to my sexuality, so it’s hard for me to say what part of me “feels” or “counts” as queer due to that vs due to my polyamory. I also don’t think the poly movement is accepted enough to be called a movement, even. It might get there one day, but I personally wouldn’t chose to divert funds or energy from pressing issues like trans rights and lgbt protections at this time. I mostly just wanted to point out that a lot of these arguments fall apart when you’re talking about polyamory specifically, because the relationship dynamic is, like sexuality, often related to sex, but is in its essence about love and chosen family.

    Thank you, thank you for this piece. That was the only part I respectfully wanted to comment on and I agree with the rest. Pieces like this are why I follow Autostraddle!

  27. 12

    People have so many thoughts about Carolyn’s points, but many of those commenters don’t actually seem to be invested in co-opting ‘queer’ for kinky straight people? I guess I’d like to hear from a kinky person who actually does claim ‘queer’ simply by virtue of their kink.

    There’s so much to pull apart here, but if you’re a kinky cis person who has sex with kinky cis people who fall across the gender binary* from you, why would you want to call yourself queer? You already have an identity that means something specific. Why take mine?

    *I know, I know

    • 11

      I was JUST about to make a similar comment.

      If there wasn’t any term for people who engage in kink and/or see it as part of their identify them I could better understand the use of “queer” by cishet people in absence of a designated term. But there IS a designated term. That term is kinky. Why the need for more?
      (Obviously I’m referring to cishet kinky people. If you’re LGBTQ+ then this isn’t even a conversation.)

  28. 21

    One great point that people like Abigail, Gretchen, and Shivahn have made, that I don’t want buried in replies:

    It seems like what kinky straights are generally fighting for is social acceptance. It sucks not to be socially accepted. That’s a worthy fight.

    But that’s not the same thing as fighting to use the bathroom, or get married, or adopt your children, or not be assaulted.

    The political goals of these movements are very different. Lumping them together overshadows our fight.

  29. 5

    I love everything about this and especially:

    “There’s no safeword for your parents kicking you out before you’ve finished high school. For your new grandma-in-law getting homophobic and transphobic at your wedding reception. For your government telling you whether or not your partnership can have legal protection, telling you it can, and then taking it away.”

    Amen!

    • 0

      Eh, where I’m from LGBT and BDSM politics overlap enough that we use the same label of queer and organize through the same organizations (straight BDSM people exist in subgroups of queer umbrella organizations with zero controversy or problems). There’s nothing logical or natural about marginalization – it’s a cultural product. BDSM can be queer if the culture and language deems it so (as is sometimes the case).

    • 3

      It’s not the statement “straight people are not queer” that drew the passion and the dissent. That’s a boring statement that is generally true and not worth fussing about the edges of.

      It’s responding to an article in Huffpo that is *about a gay man who owns a kink-related store* by turning it into the ongoing argument about whether kink makes a person queer or not (as the original responses to the the original tweet did, as the OP continues) that drew the passion and the dissent. It’s the weirdly narrow version of consent that the author describes as The One True Way that people’s kink can be moral, the doesn’t-fit-the-real-lives-of-most-kinky-people-I-know assertion that kink/play are only about sexual attraction and romantic relationships, that they are about having power and don’t suffer from structural oppression, and the added bonus snarky comment about people who aren’t sure if they are queer or aren’t yet able to articulate the queerness in the OP that drew the passion and the dissent. (In my case, especially startling coming from a writer who is queer and kinky and generally writes really f’in awesome, kind, and brilliant stuff.) And it’s finally, mostly, the ignorance and outright meanness showing up in the comments about people for whom kink is part of their lives, something that society has truly fucked them over for (the comments about not getting kicked out of family’s lives for being kinky are particularly ironic to someone like me who knows lots of older people who have had exactly that experience) … not just something they like to do to spice up their sex lives.

      As a queer person who has been generally out, active, and activist as queer and not generally out as kinky for more than 20 years now, I literally can’t pull apart my queerness and my kinkiness, as much as I am not all THAT kinky as these things go and I’m plenty darn queer – they’re still part of the same me-ness, part of the same “this is who i am and society hates it” – not two different and separate ones. Watching and supporting a friend get suspended (which they – not me – claim as a kink act) is part of my queer community. and who they want to have sex with – which is a very very narrow part of sexual and gender identities, which has been blown up into this hugely important and dangerous thing by oppressive straight people as we all know – is literally irrelevant to the queerness of what is going on (for the record, they are trans and non-monosexual but who cares?) and to the safety and the beauty and the holiness of the space. I get frustrated by people imposing theory and sharp lines and getting angry at who gets to use the word queer because for me a huge part of the beauty of that word, still, is that it identifies a way of being in the world that is not “non-normative” in some clinical sense but “my relationship to my body and to the bodies of others is not something that society is allowed to control unless I am hurting someone else. not something i will accept being beaten, denied medical care, or otherwise excluded from legal rights for. it’s something I will take risks to preserve, and fight for every day I can manage it, because the alternative is to let society ruin my life.” THAT’s what queer started out meaning as a reclaimed term in the 80s and 90s. Not “LGBT+”. I can separate my specific BT+ness from my kink, sure. They are different things with different associated pains and different associated joys and etc. But my queerness from my kink? If I could separate my queerness from my kink from my community from my experience of living in a body, I wouldn’t claim “queer” as an identity in the first place. Because for me, queer as an identity is precisely about wholeness and resistance in the face of oppression, not about splitting stuff up and drawing sharp lines.

      There are very very very few people out there who live their lives according to “my relationship to my body and to the bodies of others is not something that society is allowed to control unless I am hurting someone else. not something i will accept being beaten, denied medical care, or otherwise excluded from legal rights for. it’s something I will take risks to preserve, and fight for every day I can manage it, because the alternative is to let society ruin my life.” If someone wants to claim that they DO live that way, by using an identity term that I’ve loved and used for more than half my 40 years on the planet, I’m going to start from a position of trust and acceptance. If they don’t fight, if they don’t look after the other people in the community, if they take their privileges for granted, so that I’m not really seeing how they are living queerly? I’m going to be skeptical, whether or not I voice anything.

      But even then I think policing does more harm than it does good. If someone is arguing for the wrong stuff, argue back! Ignore them. Shut them down in the media and work harder to get your own voices heard. And yes, judge *those people* like the malicious, selfish idiots they are. But don’t use the assholes to make up your mind about what our words mean.

      And, please, if you’re too young to remember the queer community of the late 80s and early 90s, consider spending more time with queer history. Not just the history of queer theory, or queer activism, or queer people whose lives fit into modern experience, but the whole glorious, painful shebang. Queerness that *cares* about defining who isn’t queer is just plain old puzzling to someone who came out in that environment. The frustration I have with this post, and with 21st century people’s understanding of queer sometimes, is that it’s not about obvious generalizations. It’s not about not having the right to kick self-absorbed tourists out of our spaces. It’s about not doing damage to community members, not setting people up for being left out in the cold, not refusing to accept people as their whole selves. We can preserve queerness and preserve safety and fight societal oppression without doing those things.

      • 15

        I’ve spent time with queer history, thanks.

        I’m not generally interested in policing who is queer and who isn’t. But queer has to mean *something.* To me it means…not straight. Kinky means something else (for want of long paragraphs, let’s call it “not vanilla”.) The fact that your queer and kinky identities are inextricable from each other doesn’t invalidate those definitions.

  30. 3

    Funny, that’s not how some of us in Queer Nation saw it back when we were reclaiming the word “Queer” but we were in a very different context at the time.

    For us, it had a very great deal to do with transgression in relation to hetero-normativity and those who were “Queered” by the external culture.

    Nor did we label people, so much as leave room for people to self identify.

    Another aspect that isn’t addressed in this piece are many of the important distinctions in identity and community between “kinky” and “Leather” and how those related often very differently in relation to hetero-normativity.

    • 4

      I am personally very curious about Queer Nation veterans’ views (which I realize are likely very diverse) on this discussion. All of these definitions occur in specific historical and cultural contexts and we all owe it to each other to try to empathize across those contexts.
      To me it looks like the term ‘queer’ has evolved over time and space. Academics used to tell me that ‘queer’ shouldn’t be used as an identity category at all, because the whole point of it was disruption of stable identification.
      At this point, for better or worse, ‘queer’ has morphed into an umbrella identity category for non-cishet people. It seems like a completely different definition from its previous use.
      How did Queer Nation’s definition serve people at the time and does that vision apply to communities we live in today?

  31. 1

    As a non-kinky bi enby, I am not here for gate-keeping. Your entire article keeps erasing the existence of queers who are cishet: asexual, aromantic, polyamorous and more. All that we achieve by creating barriers around a fundamentally anarchic label is kicking out people who are already in this community as legitimate members. I think this article smacks of the same rhetoric that was used to exclude trans people and more recently aces and aros, and I would want you to examine exactly what benefit any of us get from exclusionary rhetoric. Nobody owns the label queer and I believe people can be trusted to identify themselves. Those who wish to abuse labels are few and far between and excluding them is not worth excluding all those who need and are already in this community (namely aces,aros and poly people).

  32. 3

    While I agree with some of the author’s points, and I certainly don’t think all kinky people have the right to claim themselves as queer, I’m also a little worried about drawing too much of a distinction between queerness and kinkiness. I am a queer, kinky person, and a lot of my kink play involves gender play. This is a key part of what has led me to the particular sexual and gender identities I hold today. Moreover, anyone who engages in gender play with me (or with others) is queer in some sense — even if we appear to be in a straight relationship outside the bedroom, our sexual relationship will be as a queer couple. I don’t think we should be discounted from being queer solely because we “look straight” on the streets — then bi women dating men, single femmes, and many trans people are also discounted from their queerness. I do think a line exists somewhere, and that not all kinky people should claim to be queer, but policing someone’s queer identity because they appear to be a kinky straight person due to how their relationship looks from the outside is also not something I want to endorse.

  33. 3

    I appreciate this article, and it’s made me think. I don’t fully agree, but I think there are some really important things being discussed.

    For the record, I am kinky and queer by the definitions proposed in this article. I’m pansexual, nb, and kinky. I’m also one of those people for whom my kink is integral to my identity. I’m one of the people who started tying themselves up in early child-hood and has been invested in kink since before I knew what sex even is.

    I think I’m more interested in why the question is important than in what the answer is. At the root the question is “Is Kinkiness inherently queer.” The OP and many commentators clearly think not. I think I agree, that kinkiness is not fundamentally queer. But the question is important because it’s not actually about kink, but about understanding what makes a person queer. And I think that is what has so many people up in arms.

    There’ve been a number of definitions of queer given here, and most of them boil down to “Not cis or not straight.” — This is a pretty common place to start, but there’s already a problem. There exist, as I recently learned, plenty of binary trans people who are heterosexual and do not consider themselves to be queer. And of course, defining cis as “not trans” is extremely troublesome in its own right. It’s generally better to try for a definition that is descriptive rather than prescriptive.

    Perhaps a more on-the-nose definition would be “A person whose gender or sexual/romantic attractions deviate from the socially norm.” By this definition however, a person like myself, who is attracted primarily to kink would probably be included regardless of being pansexual and nb.

    And let us not forget that poly-sexual and poly-romantic people exist, and that they may or may not have sexual/romantic relationships with people of the same gender. Are poly people inherently queer? Again, it seems like my more recent definition would include them, and given that poly families face innumerable legal and cultural hurdles I think there is a stronger argument that poly people are inherently queer than there is for kinky people.

    That said, I’m not convinced that either kinky or poly people are inherently queer.

    Personally, I welcome anyone into the queer umbrella if they wish to think of themselves as queer.

    But getting back to my point. I don’t think any of this is about the definition, or who can and can’t call themselves queer. It’s about power, oppression, and struggle.

    The real underlying concern is that people who have not experienced oppression are often unable to understand and prioritize the oppression of others. The challenge is that if we let anyone who wants to call themselves queer under the umbrella, queer culture, which has been shaped and tempered by oppression and violence, is at risk of being diluted. This is a struggle we know well. As many cis people have long ignored the plight and struggles of trans and gnc individuals under the lgbt umbrella in favor of activism and norming behaviors that earned them the rights they coveted; so is it a reasonable and real fear that we might find our community focused on the right to have multiple-marriages rather than the right to use the bathroom.

    And the right to not be killed because of your gender is more important than a kinksters feeling of queerness.

    All of that said, while I don’t think that all kinky people are queer, I also don’t think it’s accurate to say that kinkiness isn’t queerness. Queerness, to my mind, is a state of transgressing the norm. In our culture today gender and sexual non-conformity is the core of queerness, but I believe that this is a moving target, and that if we tie ourselves too tightly to that vision we will be left behind. I believe that there are kinky people who by virtue of their transgression are queer, regardless of their gender or sexual/romantic attraction. I also believe there are non-heterosexual people who are not very transgressive and don’t seem very queer to me at all.

    • 6

      I think this is broadly accurate and well thought-out. I do think, however, that “A person whose gender or sexual/romantic attractions deviate from the socially norm” is probably overly broad. Most of the hatred of queer people, and the particular style of attacks generally leveled at us for our queerness, are not just because our gender or sexual/romantic attractions deviate from the norm, but specifically that they deviate in ways that are inappropriate based on our perceived sex. In general, the things that queer people do that bigots hate are things that would be fine if we had differing genitals or gender. I can’t think of a lot of exceptions to that rule (and as I said upstream, this is what blends gender identity and sexual orientation together in such a delicious Reese’s cup of nonconformity).

      I think this tends to exclude most kinky people who aren’t LGBT+, as well as poly people who aren’t. Kay mentioned gender play, and that is honestly the murkiest formulation of the question I’ve come upon, and is something I will need to think about. In general, though, I think this holds. As you say, this is important for political reasons. I think it’s also important for community-building reasons – this relatively restricted (but simple) definition of queer also connotes a set of shared experiences that are near-universal in the queer community, to the degree that a trans woman can ask her gay male friends for advice in dealing with her lesbian girlfriend’s coming out to family. This is important! We need communities that have shared experiences, both because we’re social creatures and because sometimes a girl needs advice. I think that some of these have parallels – poly people need to come out to families, too, usually (though again, because it’s about gender, that’s still not perfectly parallel in the way the queer subdivisions are), and kinky people (of some subgroups) need to navigate discussing their relationships at work (so do poly people, actually). There are definitely some shared experiences, but they tend to be different and need to be handled by in-house advisors, whereas, despite the slight dissimilarities, a pretty huge deal of queer issues can be handled or at least understood by members of any house.

      On top of the political need to prioritize and so on that you said. I think that’s why I feel that it’s an important question. Queer people, in general, benefit from queer activism, and kinky people benefit from kinky activism, but those benefits don’t really translate to any great degree, except insofar as many people fall under both groups.

      (Having said all of that, labels are fuzzy and wishy washy and change, and it won’t surprise me if the label “queer” becomes broader or disappears in the next forty years).

      …Sigh, I’m still posting here a day later. Maybe I should give up and make an account.

      • 5

        “I also believe there are non-heterosexual people who are not very transgressive and don’t seem very queer to me at all.”

        At wich level of transgression, us non-heterosexual who are not very transgressive, do we have the right to call ourselves queer ? I would like to know.

        You have no idea how your ideas are hurtfull. People like me – who are non-heterosexual, but not very transgressive – don’t feel like they belong in the straight world, but also like they don’t belong in the queer world because they’re not transgressive enough.

        • 2

          P. — I’m so sorry you feel hurt by my words. As I said in my post “Personally, I welcome anyone into the queer umbrella if they wish to think of themselves as queer.” I have no desire to disenfranchise you or anyone else. Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your experience, I think it’s an important addition and a reminder that we’re dealing with actual people and lives.

          This is one of the big reasons why I think concepts like “you don’t have the right to call yourself queer” are really dangerous. There is no litmus test for being “transgressive enough” to be queer as far as I’m concerned. When I say “are not very transgressive and don’t seem very queer to me,” I’m not saying they AREN’T queer. I’m saying, I might not personally perceive them as queer. Which brings up another important point in this entire conversation, that of visibility and invisibility. There exist many people, kinky, queer, poly, and otherwise who are essentially invisible either by desire or circumstance. Being invisible does not make them less queer nor does it eliminate the impact of oppression upon them.

          In a broader addition, I’d like to point out that the formulation of “your experience as X is not my experience as X so you are not X” is an extremely problematic line of reasoning. It is the primary argument that TERFs make, although they use many different versions of it. Whenever we start trying to use experience, and particularly specific experiences, as a guideline for inclusiveness I think we wind up perpetrating a great deal more harm than we are preventing.

          Is a kinky cis person with no same gender romantic or sexual attraction queer? Maybe not? What if that same person engages in non-sexual kink-play with a same-gender playmate? What if that same person engages in sexual kink-play with a same-gender playmate, not out of sexual attraction but simple desire for their playmate to have a good experience? (much the same way many asexual people may engage in sexual activities to make their partner happy).

          The problem with trying to create a precise rubric for determining if someone is part of an in-group or not is that real life is extremely messy, and no matter how simple you try and make it there are going to be a plethora of complications and exceptions.

          • 5

            I think what P. is getting at, and what I have found so hurtful in these comments (including yours) is this: defining “Queer” as ” sexually transgressive” puts us at a perpetually adversarial state. It limits our ability to identify and exist beyond colonial western-social structures and norms.

            Also, the idea that “gender play” makes somebody queer makes my heart race. It’s akin to saying that somebody who dresses in drag is transgender. Maybe dressing in drag or gender play is part of your life & identity (cool) but that’s not the same as inhabiting the norms you’re playing with.

            I agree that this is about community building- and that’s why I’m going in the other direction on this one. Straight people entering our spaces and saying that being “oppressed sexual deviants” means we’re the same turns my queer identity into some kind of Oppression Olympics and radical resistance instead of a positive experience of associative uplifting. I need a community where I can relate to people based off of their experiences with gender-based identity, sexuality, and expression.

        • 3

          Hi p. Your comment made me sad because I have known too many people who have shared similar experiences of feeling like they don’t belong. Queer has been associated with transgression and defined against GLBT identities (‘I’m not gay as in happy but queer as in fuck you’ being a good example) in ways that privilege behavior perceived to be transgressive against behavior perceived to be normative. We see this in radical communities all the time where people elevate those who practice non-monogamy, kink, pansexuality, certain types of gender identification etc over people deemed vanilla, monogamous, monosexual etc. I get that this began as a backlash against the marginalization of ‘deviants’ within GLBT movements but the end result in many places has been a shitty condescension toward people deemed not transgressive enough. None of us should feel the need to apologize for either being ‘deviant’ or ‘not deviant enough’.

  34. 1

    This is a great post and I whole-heartedly agree. But I’m not happy with the bi erasure that’s happening here: straight people who have sex with people of their own gender are not straight. They might not be gay or lesbian but there’s this little word called bisexual and it describes a continuum on which people can appear. If you say that straight people can still be straight when they have sex with people of their own gender, you’re also implying gays and lesbians having heterosexual sex are still gays and lesbians and not bisexuals. And that, again, completely erases our bisexual existence. 🙁

    • 7

      No. People who have sex with people of “their own gender” can identify as bisexual, queer, or whatever else, if that’s how they feel. However, people who identify as straight can have all the gay sex in the world and still identify as straight. (Hence terms such as “MSM” and “WSW”.) Same thing goes for gays and lesbians having heterosexual sex: if they identify as gay or lesbian, then that is what they are, not bisexual – no matter what they do.
      No one can determine others’ desires and identities for them.

    • 6

      At what point on the continuum do you cross over from monosexual to bisexual?

      If you identify as straight (or gay) but you have sex with someone of the same (or other) gender to see if you like it, are you immediately now and forever a bisexual?

      If you identify as straight (or gay) but tried sex with the same (or other) gender two or three times over your lifespan because you’re open-minded and wondered what it’s like, are you now and forever a bisexual?

      How regularly do you have to have sex with someone for an outsider to determine your underlying sexual preferences and thus your identity?

      As a bisexual woman, I also get frustrated with bi-erasure and how prevalent monosexual labels are for bisexual experiences (by which I mean feelings and desires, not sexual experimentation), but that’s not necessarily what is happening here. We don’t know what their desires are, we don’t know what their motivations are, we don’t know what their feelings are. We just know who they sometimes have sex with. We don’t know if they enjoy it physically or emotionally, if they’re performing for a camera, for a partner…

      • 4

        Hey Faustine, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I can’t speak on a philosophical level, but I can speak to my own experiences. I identify as lesbian, but also as transmasculine agender/butch. There’s a lot of reasons for this seemingly incongruous set of identifications, but what is relevant here is that I am AFAB.

        I came out as bi when I was 14, and again as lesbian when I was 16. I have had sex with two cishet men and one gay cis man. I have also had sex with women of various sexual orientations.

        I do not feel that this negates my lesbian identity, same as I do not feel that my gender identity negates my sexual orientation. I am read as female pretty much exclusively, and the lesbian community was the first place I felt a sense of belonging. Interestingly, I did not sleep with men until after I had come out as lesbian, and my gender identity has taken me much longer to grow into. The gay man I slept with still considers himself gay. I still feel lesbian in my bones. I am still assigned lesbian by society. I am still (almost) exclusively attracted to women (and nb’s). If that’s not what lesbian means, than what on Earth is the definition?

        Which is to say, I agree with the point you are making. Our sexual histories do not determine our identities. Lots of queer folks experience heterosexual sex or relationships before coming out, many continue to experience heterosexual (queer) relationships after coming out. This does not make them less queer. If we are assigning labels based on real or precieved sexual history, we are completely​ erasing a massive life experience, that is often shared and an integral part, of the queer community. We are denying folks their right to self identify. We are taking away power from everyone who is not “gold star”, or who doesn’t have a precisely equal number of same-sex and opposite sex relationships. We also deny gender as a spectrum, since if this was how sexual orientation was defined/bestowed upon people, we would be unconcerned with the gender identities of people and concerned only with their genitals. That all seems pretty dehumanizing to me.

      • 2

        Yes! Also, this part is a little baffling to me: “You’re also implying gays and lesbians having heterosexual sex are still gays and lesbians and not bisexuals.” Personally, I wouldn’t just imply that, I would out-right say it! Gay people have “heterosexual sex” fairly often, usually when they are younger and first figuring out their sexuality, but not always! As @Faustine points out above, you can’t start to define identity-based terms in a prescriptive and quantifiable way, because then where where is the line? Are only “gold star” gays actually gay? Is “sex” the line (however you even define that), or do you include people who merely make out or do some heavy necking? Personally, I’ve had many more “heterosexual” sexual partners than any other type (I’ve slept with many more men than women or nb/gnc folk in my time, is what I’m saying), but I still identify pretty strongly as gay.

    • 1

      I see where you’re coming from grumpygirl, but I think the key here is desire, not sexual behavior as the determinant of identity. So when I, a person who identifies more or less as a lesbian, have had sex with men for money and not out of real desire, it didn’t make me any less gay, and when a bisexual woman enters into a monogamous relationship with anyone, it doesn’t make her any less bisexual.

    • 1

      OKAY yes bi-erasure exists and is a problem. But I have a big issue with the statement “If you say that straight people can still be straight when they have sex with people of their own gender, you’re also implying gays and lesbians having heterosexual sex are still gays and lesbians and not bisexuals.”

      I am a lesbian. I have had sex with men. Primarily because it was the thing I “should do” to be a “normal teenager”, then later because I couldn’t find any women to hook up with and also huge internal homophobia stopped me from completely coming out to myself. I’ve never enjoyed sex with men, but I’ve done it.

      Your viewpoint suggests I caannot identify as lesbian because I’ve had sex with men. Considering some members within the community already look down on people who are not “gold star lesbians” being told I can’t identify as a lesbian doesn’t exactly help those “I’m not gay enough” feelings….

  35. 4

    I wrote an article on the appropriation of Queer by straight people a few days ago, and while I agree with the author of this piece, I don’t think she goes nearly far enough in condemning this.

    Kink is not Queer. But neither is poly. Neither is “barsexual”. Neither is “gender non conforming heterosexuality” or simply having an undercut and, like, toootally being cool with kissing girls because my boyfriend thinks it’s super hot.

    Straight people need to find their own ways to define themselves, and leave us the hell alone.

    https://medium.com/athena-talks/queer-pressure-when-inclusivity-fails-45e2747d8925?source=linkShare-43ec33b777b8-1491569420

  36. 0

    been thinking about something for months. i am really trying to find answers to the important and complex life’s questions. Like, how come fantasising about a homosexual encounter does not make you queer, dressing middle class does not make you queer and a tattoo doesn’t either – but all three together in combination do?

  37. 2

    gotta say, i was not expecting this kind of an article to turn up on a site that also posts erika moen, lol? but hey, cool.

    the distinction i make has always been who vs. how: who you’re with (or want to be with) versus how you’re with them. who you’re with makes you queer, or not. how you’re with them makes you kinky, or not. they’re *different things.*

    people conflate the two as an excuse to be creeps. and i am 2000% done with people telling me about how they like getting flogged or whatever – without asking my permission – because i’m gay, and because they get their kicks from making people uncomfortable who they feel are beneath them, and because they argue this is the same thing.

    anyway, thanks.

    • 0

      I love this distinction! It’s also great for a lot of other sex acts too like penetration or use of strap-ons, what positions you like, how you interact with any body parts at all…

  38. 0

    I don’t think I have a personal stake in whether or not kink is queer. You might even, ultimately, be right. But I wouldn’t use some of these arguments.

    Some of the things you say apply to both queerness and kinkiness!

    The knowing it about yourself before you ever do it with someone, the lack of safewords for the government deciding what is and is not legal, etc.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BDSM_and_the_law

    And…even the lack of safewords for bigoted grandma at the wedding!

  39. 0

    If, as a man, and after years of careful thought and lived experience I self identify this afternoon as a woman – why can’t I self identify as queer? After all there is no Ministry of Queer to police queerness.

  40. 0

    Obviously there are lots of kinky straight cis people who are not queer and wouldn’t identify like that, but I think you make this too easy.

    It’s the old discussion around “queer straight”, and trying to draw a clean line between queer and straight that just doesn’t exist in real life.

    The same arguments you state here could be used to exclude bi people who live in longterm “straight” relationships from queer.

    Or to closeted LGBT. Or what about cross-dressers who may be trans but aren’t out in any way? Or BDSM practicioners who are persecuted by the law in the countries they live in? I’ve heard about some who have lost child custody. And others have described that their awareness of their “other” identities has started in childhood, leading to long years of alienation, hiding and shame.
    And so on.

    I’m just as annoyed as you about straight people who live priviledged lives and go a little slumming in queer spaces.

    But I also know that dawing clean lines will lead to exclusion of people who are just as discriminated against as any other queer person, and often more isolated.

    Walking at a Pride parade could be seen as an act of solidarity, not an act of appropriation. Watch the film Pride, and see the straight miners marching at a parade in the 1980s.

    This new century with all that splitting-up depresses me. Also I believe strongly that we will need all the solidarity we can get very soon.

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