A friend of mine and I pride ourselves on being open to new experiences. We’ll bravely go and check out some weird art exhibit, eat strange food (provided, of course, that there’s a vegetarian option for me), see some new band, take belly dance lessons, what have you. Sometimes we find something amazing. Sometimes we find something dreadfully boring and awful. Almost every time we find something to laugh about. Life’s too short to spend it doing the same old thing, we say as we take off on a new adventure.
So when my friend e-mailed me earlier this month to see if I would be interested in going to the Fetish Fair Fleamarket, I wrote back, “Hell yeah, if for no other reason than to say that I went.”
“Exactly!” she wrote. “If nothing else, it will be hysterical. But you never know…”
Over the next couple of weeks, we exchanged expectations and laughed over the course titles (and cringed over others—I’m sorry, but I do not find abject humiliation sexy, and I don’t think I ever will). We also talked about our theories of why people engage in this kind of activity and rehashed stories from our own limited experiences, both of us having tried some kinky stuff but never really going in for the whole S&M thing.
From what we’d gathered, S&M doesn’t really have anything to do with sex. It has to do with power and submission. We wondered how this would display itself in gender roles (defining gender not as one’s sex, but as qualities associated with masculine and feminine). Both of us have an intellectual bent, and so we were approaching the topic as slightly naughty anthropologists. You know, the kind who giggle.
Wanting to blend in a teensy-tinsy bit, I wore dramatic makeup and donned my gecko necklace (the little silver lizard points South and looks just a little creepy). My friend was running late, and so I strolled up to the hotel lobby. My expectation of seeing fastidious people (I thought an overly hyped sense of cleanliness was a fetish) was shattered by this slovenly old guy who kept leering at me as I climbed the hill. Keep walking, UglyGeezer, I thought. You aren’t getting lucky with me.
I surveyed the scene once in the lobby, and I have to say that I’ve never seen such a gathering of unattractive and unhappy people. Where were all the sexy ladies with their whips and spiked heels? Where were all the buff, leather-clad men? What about the naughtiness? I don't know, but there was skinny late middle-aged, wrinkly chap whose leather (pleather?) slacks were sagging at the ass under his LL Bean parka. I turned away from him and saw a woman wearing what I think were supposed to be spider web tights, but she looked as though she’d sprayed on more varicose veins. Both the man and the woman looked miserable. I continued my survey and saw that while a few people were smiling, most of the market-goers looked defensive and defiant. I spied a few people who looked like fellow slightly naughty anthropologists. I was already disappointed. A sign warned participants that photography would not be tolerated. Damn! I thought. So much for photos for the blog post.
My friend was likewise disappointed when she entered the lobby. “My God,” she said. “Have you ever seen more unattractive people?”
“Oh, you haven’t seen the elderly guy in the cop bondage outfit yet.”
We bought our tickets and went into the show. The sign pointing us to the vendors read “Venders.” My friend and I looked at each other and smirked.
On display in the hotel ballroom was the usual array of leather, glass, and latex sex toys that one can find at any sex shop in America. The leather and latex hoods were interesting, but I only saw one man buy one. I liked the Mardi Gras masks, and my friend loved a couple of bags that could double as hysterical purses. We saw some velvet and lace corsets and garter belts that were to die for (and priced accordingly), but we also saw a poster advertising a woman with the hook (think Gitmo). A bondage exhibit promised to show things in action (we were hoping to see a rack and a wheel on display, at least), but all we saw were some truly hapless folks trying their hand at whipping. A quick stroll through the “art” exhibit revealed mediocre photographs, featuring women (and only women) tied up awkwardly and trying to look like they were into the experience.
After about an hour of wandering around the various displays, we figured out what was bothering us about the whole fetish-y thing. With the exception of one hotel room full of gussied-up women selling vintage lingerie, there was a complete and utter absence of joy. The lack of sexiness was palpable. We walked through display after display of blatantly sexual wares, and nary a dirty thought crossed my mind. I think I had dirtier thoughts during jury duty. The people at the fair seemed to approach their fetishes grimly, almost militantly. The vibe was almost like a bully saying, Yeah, I’m into some kinky shit. What do you want to do about it? After walking through that show, my answer is nothing.
“Well,” we said as we left the exhibit for some thrift-store shopping (where I found an adorable schoolgirl skirt) and dinner (we also went makeup shopping), “We’ve been to the Fetish Fair Fleamarket. Check another one off on the life-experience list.”