Rants, Feelings & Opinions

What I Learned About Kink Communities at the UK’s Biggest Fetish Market

August 9, 2018

Rosie Solomon discusses attending the Birmingham Bizarre Bazaar, and what it taught her about BDSM, consent, and the importance of finding a community of fellow freaks.

The first time I attempted to attend the Birmingham Bizarre Bazaar (hereafter, the BBB) with a group of friends, we were defeated by the snows of February. The market had been rescheduled and we were in the centre of town with a whole Sunday stretching out before us. This led to a group trip around the Bullring in all-out fetish gear, attracting weird looks from the Sunday morning shoppers and a comment from a child that, in my floor length latex-and-leather coat and catsuit, I looked like a female Batman. Batman comments aside, our outfits drew much confused attention from the Birmingham public. But the month after that, when the BBB went ahead, we were not out of place at all. This is the story of my first foray into the world of kink, and of how I discovered the importance of finding your local kink community.

My hands were clammy as I gripped my girlfriend’s in the queue to get into Nightingales, the biggest queer nightclub in Birmingham. Previously, my experience of kinky and alternative circles (and sex)  was pretty limited, so to say this was throwing myself into the deep end was an understatement. We were, along with our two friends, about to enter the biggest fetish market in the UK, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it.

Stepping into the club, we were greeted by rows of stalls selling products made of leather and latex, all hanging on rails covered in black clothes. The tables in front of each stall were littered with various implements of (sexual) torture, so weird and obscure you’d struggle to name them. We spent a few hours wandering around the market stalls, wishing our wallets would stretch just a little bit further so as to afford some of this treasure, but ultimately began queueing for the workshop without spending any money.

The workshop this particular month was all about breath play and was run by the Leather Family. Apparently notorious in the kink community, the Leather Family are a group who practice BDSM almost as a career, jumping from event to event to make appearances and give talks. I was skeptical at first of the unquestioning respect which the audience gave these strangers, then confused when the ‘head’ of the family brought out a stack of lecture notes and put on spectacles to complement his leather waistcoat-trouser combo. I found my trepidation melting away as my eyes were opened to the high standard of communication, safety and respect cultivated in the kink community. It was something I had never really experienced in my many years of less-kinky, less-good sex. Breath play, the act of restricting someone’s air during sex, is something which obviously demands a lot of trust and care from all parties involved. The workshop covered some basic methods of how to do this safely, warnings against what would be a bad idea, and a performance at the end to showcase these techniques. Plastic bags are a definite no, and hands are a definite yes, so long as, when strangling, you can press in from the sides of the neck and not the tender part directly under the face.

Sex that “deviates” from the vanilla norm is often seen as weird, or ‘freaky’, a word which connotes admiration but also exoticism and abnormality. In reality, BDSM is often approached with the same attention to consent, confidence, support and community that I witnessed at the BBB. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the sex isn’t freaky; rather, those who practice BDSM accept its abnormal nature and handle it with mature communications about pain and limits. By opening up to these stranger topics, BDSM ensures that the most important topic of consent is well and truly out in the open. I have had more conversations about sex and preferences (and consequently, better sex) with my few kinky partners than all my vanilla partners put together. And Birmingham doesn’t stop at just the BBB, oh no. The kink scene in Birmingham is thriving, with events on most weekends at an accessible rate and a welcoming atmosphere which simply is not the same in a city as big as London (I compare these two cities as they are the places in the UK I have lived for an extended period of time). Birmingham being smaller than London and easier to navigate lends itself well to building communities such as this, and the importance of kink in opening up a frank discussion about sex and consent puts Birmingham at the forefront of this vital conversation.

Rosie Solomon is a writer specializing in feminist film reviews, which can be found under her alias The Bechdel Bitch.

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