“No fetish at Gay Pride”: the eternal debate about leather and latex in LGBTI+ pride events
Recently, gay fetish communities have been at the heart of a heated debate: do they have a place in gay pride? To understand the debate and above all to answer it, we asked the main people involved what they think about it.
It’s a sea snake, one of those subjects of discord that comes up year after year in the run-up to the gay pride events in June. It first appeared on my Twitter timeline across the Atlantic, before being taken up in France and thrown into the fray: should kinks and fetishes march in the pride parade this year?
First of all, what are we talking about?
Under the word fetish, we find a multitude of sexualities, preferences, desires, practices: leather, latex, uniforms, role-playing (like puppy play or pony play), BDSM…
They are codes, aesthetics, cultures, clothes and accessories. They are places, clubs, but also large-scale events, such as the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco and its European version in Berlin.
For some people, the presence of these fetish communities in gay pride events is questionable.
Denis, president of “Mecs En Caoutchouc” (MEC), an association for latex and rubber boot fetishists, admits to being very surprised by the debate that took place for several days on social networks: “Fetishes have been marching among everyone for twenty years, it’s never been a problem, it’s a bit weird. “
So what’s the problem?
Fear of a bad image
In the collective imagination, when we think of the fetish community, we mostly think of white, cisgender gay men in leather — not least because in terms of visibility, they have often found themselves embodying pride in the media, recalls Laurent, treasurer of ASMF, one of the main gay leather fetish associations:
“In the gay pride events of a few years ago, what was filmed? On TV, we saw drag queens, guys in leather, we saw things like that, it was more sellable for the press. “
An extravagant, extreme, subversive visibility… and double-edged, as the Association of LGBTI Journalists’ kit reminds us, in the chapter devoted to the invisibility of lesbians:
“Many media choose to illustrate Gay Pride with images of heavily made-up people (usually men), dressed in exotic outfits or almost undressed… Why not, it’s joyful, colourful and one of the facets of the LGBT community, but let’s try to be careful to vary the representations. “
If the presence of fetishes at prides is questioned, and even strongly contested, Laurent of the ASMF sees a growing desire for “total normality” that erases “the sexual or playful side of fetish”: “We should blend in with the masses under the pretext that we have to defend LGBT rights! “The implication is that it would be impossible to do both.
The fear of giving a bad image to the LGBTI+ community, to its demands, is expressed by the detractors of fetish. But what is a bad image? “Is showing our diversity a bad image? “asks Denis from MEC.
“Do it at home, but not in front of the children
Be careful with children, they should not be able to see nudity or extreme sexual acts at the pride! This is basically why some LGBTI+ people take a dim view of the presence of fetishes at gay pride events.
I’ve been hanging out at gay pride for a long time now, and I’ve never seen anything objectionable. But if we go that way, I have sometimes felt very insecure when I found myself in certain gatherings full of almost naked and drunk men when some football club was winning a match…
On the pretext that there are children present — LGBTI+ teenagers coming for the first time, children from homoparental families, or even any minor present as a spectator — we should police this event and only allow certain people to march, those who are not too shocking, who will be sufficiently dressed? (There won’t be many left, believe me.)
Under the guise of protecting children, a lot can be done, as journalist Rachel Garrat Valcarcel once summed up very well: “The argument of children, of their protection, has anyway been repeatedly put forward against the advances of women’s and LGBT rights. “
It is for “the good of the children” that we oppose marriage for all, PMA, and targeted prevention posters in public spaces.
It is surprising today to see that reactionary and homophobic arguments are taken up within the LGBTI+ community, as if the fetish community is a threat. “When you start talking about fetish, it goes outside the norm. What’s going to bother some people is that it’s not a traditional pattern,” says Denis.
To imply that the mention of an alternative sexuality practised joyfully and between consenting adults is bound to disturb children is to imply that sex is bad, dangerous, dirty and morally reprehensible. Instead of covering their eyes, talk to your children about sex (and yes, we know, it’s not easy), and don’t hesitate to tell them that sex can be a fabulous thing and that there are a thousand ways to do it.
Kinks, not legitimate at Gay Pride?
An argument that sexual fantasies and practices have no place at Pride also came up, as Laurent explains:
“We are told that we are LGBT by nature, we are gay, lesbian, we didn’t choose it, we were born that way. But you’re not born leather, you’re not born latex, you’re not born puppy, that’s the problem. We are told that we can march because we are gay or lesbian, bi, trans, all the other letters… but “your sexualities, your deviances”, because it’s just that we are not told like that, “we don’t have to see them”. “
This would already be very reductive for the followers of the fetish community. But it’s also forgetting that these communities have been around for a very long time, that they have actively participated in struggles. If there was ever a need to prove the need to pass on the history of LGBTI+ struggles in our own community, here it is.
“We have done gay pride events, many of them! We’ve done marches, lots of them”, Laurent reminds us.
“We made progress by being visible forty years ago. Somehow, we have a legitimacy through our seniority, through the fact that we structured a community at one time. If you look at the first gay pride days in the United States, in San Francisco, the guys in leather were there, they made up a good part of the parade. It was almost the extremes that were marching at the time, we were marching in leather, in drag — the normal, somewhat hidden people weren’t coming. “
So it is with a slightly bitter feeling that this debate is being held, as if the ground covered over the last few decades is being quickly forgotten, as if empathy and openness in the community is waning.
. “We fought for our rights,” insists Laurent.
We fought for our rights”, insists Laurent, “and now we are told: yes, but you fought forty years ago, we have our rights, we are normal people, we get married, we want children, we want the same thing as everyone else and we don’t want you any more because you no longer represent the future of the community. “
Should gay pride be respectable?
Since when should gay pride be a respectable event? And then respectable in whose eyes? Do we really want a sanitised pride march to please straight people?
“We are not here to please, to be smooth, we are here to disturb! “Denis reminds us. “Gay pride is a moment where we can show who we are and it can arouse curiosity. “
Moreover, the animosity encountered on social networks is far from the reactions that he and the members of his association trigger at the pride: “There are more people who will come to us with curiosity than hostility. “
The reason why many of us still look forward to this event is because once a year it brings together and confronts parts of the LGBTI+ community that for some rarely find themselves in the same space.
Pride brings together, federates and confronts young people who may not yet put a word in for who they are and people who have been marching for decades. People living in small towns, in the suburbs and others living in the anonymity of big cities. People who are militant and deconstructed on all fronts, and others who have never heard the word “intersectionality”.
And it also brings together people who are well within social expectations and norms, and others who question them by their very presence.
Pride brings together different, but not necessarily contradictory, demands: one can advocate for the right to have a family, which may seem like an entirely normative and consensual demand, without necessarily thinking that men in leather and latex, puppies and their masters, do not or no longer have a place in this procession because they would threaten propriety.
The conclusion of an article by the author Simon McNeil seems to me very appropriate to counter this argument of respectability:
“The old adage is “we’re here we’re queer, get used to it”, not “we’re here, we’re queer, please love us”. It’s a show of strength, a way of showing that certain weirdnesses won’t give in. If you want an all-ages, desexualised pride, make your own. In the meantime, don’t expect to stop the kinks from marching. “
So yes, let’s stay weird, let’s stay queer, let’s stay irreverent, let’s keep drawing disapproving stares. The day when pride doesn’t bother is perhaps the day to worry.