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The Merits Of The Fetish Culture

by Gert Hekma in General , 26 januari 2011

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

There’s a strange abbreviation blurb replacing words like homo and gay. Our Flemish neighbors use the sympathetic Holebi, the ILGA has recently added BTI after the LG. Meanwhile I’ve seen LGBTTTIQQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transvestite, transsexual, intersexual, queer, questioning) and I’m afraid this is not the end of it. I once wrote extensively about perversions for Gay News and these articles have been collected as a Dutch “ABC of Perversions,” published by Meulenhoff.

The strange thing is that those perversions have never made it to that soup of letters for our community. No SM, no BDSM, no K for kinky, no L for leather, no A for army, no F for fetish, no P for the ancient Greek pederast or the modern pedophile, no S for skinhead, no R for rubber, no S for sports and sportswear, no A for animal lovers or a B for bestiality, no P for public sex or C for cruising, all kinds of sexual preferences considered very “queer” and straying from the heterosexual norm are ignored. While they would add playfulness and excitement to the LGBT range.

It’s also strange to skip all the other perversions because everyone familiar with Amsterdam’s gay scene will know that there’s only one café for all those Ts – Lellebel – but there are at least five L bars, and as many specialized shops.

One can cruise at perhaps as much as twenty different spots, and with a bit of knowledge of people and the streets, the entire city could be seen as a non heterosexual-normative meeting spot.

If there’s something that gets up straight people’s goat, it’s pedophilia – one can’t get more alternative and subversive in one’s sexual preferences than that.

The B of bisexuals however, although at an honorable third spot in the abbreviation, celebrates total absence in the cityscape. I’d say it’s about time we review this strange little blurb, also to help those poor straights, as there’s much in the kinky list they can engage in too.

Engaging the Entire Body

Recently I reread interviews on “sex, power and friendship” with Michel Foucault, published in Dutch by David Bos as “Michel Foucault in gesprek” (In Conversation with Michel Foucault, 1985). It’s about his three books on the “History of Sexuality” (1976, 1984 and 1984), which were the start of all kinds of homosexual and sexual studies. In these conversations he stresses the importance of a gay culture, of friendship and dandyism and speaks of the art of living and esthetics. He thinks straight people should take an example of gays and their efforts to create a new sexual culture. No orientation, no choice but playing things by ear, and design your own sexual life.

From the gay world he moves to the achievements of the leather scene, which he praises even more. He had just discovered that culture in the Parisian bar Le Keller (which just closed last spring after 34 years) and in the leather bars of San Francisco, New York and Toronto. In that leather world he found his leathered inspiration.

We know Foucault as a strict and critical scholar, who rarely writes romantically. But here he turns very utopian all of a sudden. Of SM he says it’s “a true creation of new possibilities for pleasure, which people could not imagine before. [...] They find new possibilities to experience pleasure through unusual body parts...” He speaks of special erotic experiments and inventions, about eroticizing power and engaging the entire body for sexual pleasure. Right up to one’s entrails with fist fucking. He praises the kinky subculture and the collective experiments with several forms of sex, like all the variations mentioned above. Foucault has acquired fame mainly for his studies of sanatoriums and jails, and his emphasis on discipline and repression. He was very critical about the sexual revolution of the sixties and warned how psychiatric, legal and police institutions would perfect their ability to subject people with the unraveling of our deepest soul stirrings.

That might be a horny thought for sadomasochists, but he meant that people had to fit in with the straight norm. So he celebrated the leather culture as a form of resistance against norms of sex and sexuality, as a way towards new erotic possibilities. After all his studies focused on discipline he saw the leather culture as a collective move to escape from it. At the end of his life he was fairly desperately looking for free havens and that’s why he was so excited about kinky life.

Kinky Surprises

His message is very inspiring to read in a time when young gays and lesbians are trying so hard to behave as normally as possible, copying the boring behavior of straight people. They do their utmost to remain invisible and meet all the hetero requirements. Read the SCP (Social Cultural Planning Bureau) reports “Gewoon doen” (Act Normal, 2006) and “Steeds gewoner, nooit gewoon” (More Common, Never Common, 2010) about acceptance of homosexuality and shiver over the modern developments.

A new generation of young gay men is not following Foucault’s trail to kinky surprises. To the contrary, they feel ill at ease with the fact they’re faggots, that they are horny, that it’s fun to wear leather, rubber or sportswear. Of course the continuing harassment both verbal and physical is forcing them in another direction.

Authorities that continue to turn a blind eye whenever they’re confronted with discrimination are no great help either. That’s why these boys can’t afford to say: “Stop nagging and leave me alone, why don’t you just do the same and find out what you’d really like?” It’s great that they can go to the exhibition “Leather in Amsterdam: 40 Years MSA” at the IHLIA in the Public Library and pick up what Foucault and the leather scene have to teach. Thanks to the hard work of their wonderful peer in age, Pieter Claeys, who made this exhibition and also the beautiful website

The fear of many gay youngsters to stand out makes me wonder how an older generation can pass on its experience and knowledge. How can they help them see things in a larger perspective, and think and act accordingly?

The suicides of young gays in the USA have shown us that the situation is dire. Because parents, teachers and other caretakers choose to keep their children as far away from gays and lesbians and explicit gay messages as they can. Sometimes they even join in with putting gay people down. Who hasn’t heard the dirty comment “don’t act like a sissy”? Might be funny in a kinky setting but not as a humiliation on the sports’ track or in the classroom.

Emancipation Machine

Let’s keep the Amsterdam Mayor Van der Laan to his promise to introduce more and better sex education in the primary school curriculum and to check that homosexuality is part of that. And that people who are familiar with and knowledgeable about sexual and gender variation get involved. Youngsters of all colors and sexes need to hear about erotic diversity, for themselves and as sexual citizens of this city. It’s part of them and of the people around them. Amsterdam, as a widow of the sixties, still has the power to become an emancipation machine, to paraphrase a slogan of GroenLinks. Partly also because of the MSA as a nest for new erotic possibilities, the IHLIA as our gay and kinky memory and enthusiastic, intelligent people like Pieter Claeys!

Eulogy pronounced at the opening of the exhibition “Leather in Amsterdam: 40 years MSA,” which will be on show at the Public Library on the sixth floor at the IHLIA department until the beginning of January.



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