i recently had an excellent conversation with a fellow kinkster about kink aesthetics, during which we discussed the pervasive idea that a kink event must (apparently) have a medieval-industrial vibe: a ‘dungeon’ flooded with industrial music[a]. Not only that, but there is a relative homogeneity to the sort of outfits seen as appropriate for such an event: leather, for example, is expected in a way that brightly-coloured drag gear is .... not. Still, and much to my delight, they were planning to attend just such a kink event in just such gear.
Aesthetic normativities are hardly unique to the kink scene, of course. It's somewhat ironic that many subcultures which emphasise “people being able to be themselves” also tend to have a ‘look’ (or range of looks) which is sufficiently ubiquitous that people can feel that adopting the Official Countercultural Look is the price of entry to the community.
As i've written about in previous posts, a number of subcommunities of the queer and TGD[b] communities regularly make a strong link between being queer/TGD and being ‘fabulous’, where the latter is usually taken to mean dressing in a riot of colour and extravagant cuts. Given my own strong preference for wearing black, black, and black (albeit sometimes with flashes of shiny), i'm not enthused by this linkage, regardless of whether it's serious, or ‘merely’ intended as a humorous play on stereotypes[c].
Similarly, the standard tropes of kink aesthetics can be tiresome, marginalising and invisibilising. Since most people are cis and het, cishetnormativity is pervasive. Dommeliness is typically depicted by a cis woman in a (probably expensive) evil-is-sexy outfit[d]; domliness by a cis man in a (probably expensive) suit, wearing a (probably expensive) watch. In both cases, an expression of cold condescending distance is apparently obligatory[e]. The fact that expensive items come up repeatedly is surely connected to at least some of the class issues in the kink communities: there are some subcommunities where one is implicitly or explicitly required to demonstrate Kinkiness™ via expensive outfits and equipment.
As it turns out, there are many kinksters who have no interest in the standard tropes of kink aesthetics (or who even actively dislike them). And for such people, it can be somewhat disheartening to want to build connections with other kinksters, yet feel like the only way of doing so is via environments in which one feels very out of place. If a certain aesthetic is actually the point of a particular kink environment, that's one thing; it's another when that environment is intended to be an environment for kinksters in general.
To me, the appropriate aesthetics for a kink scene/dynamic are _those that are enjoyable for all people involved_. i'm all for using common kink aesthetics as part of your scenes/dynamics _if that's what you actively want to do_. But i don't want people to feel compelled to embody those aesthetics because “that's how to Do Kink”; because those are the only kink aesthetics that have ever been presented to them. The palette of possible kink aesthetics is far more varied than many media would have you believe.☙
[b] Trans and Gender Diverse.
[c] Many years ago, on a queer mailing list, a camp cis gay man angrily declared "I am not a stereotype!" He felt that he was being personally attacked by people complaining about the stereotype of the camp cis gay man. Yet the problem is not being camp and gay in and of itself; the problem is popular depictions of gay men tending to continually reinforce that gay men are necessarily camp. Of course, whenever there are politics of societal discrimination and oppression of a particular group, there are those within that group who will demand their fellow group members not present a certain way “for the cause”, an approach which can often overlap with various forms of respectability politics.
One example: some strands of feminism demanding that women not wear makeup, or not present as femme, because doing so is deemed inherently ‘unfeminist’.
[e] There's a Tumblr blog, happybdsm.tumblr.com, which, shock horror, shows pictures of people very visibly enjoying having kink experiences, in an effort to provide something of an alternative to the usual stuff.