Sunday, January 28, 2007

Adventures at the Fetish Fair Fleamarket

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.”

We laughed.


dive said...

Hmm … Different strokes for different folks …
I once had a girlfriend who was REALLY into bondage. That was great the first few times but after that it became a bit of a chore (then a LOT of a chore).
In the end I'd spend half an hour doing really good Japanese shibari on her and leave her there (with her vibey just out of reach) while I went and made dinner.
Come back an hour or so later and she'd be all flushed and happy but it did bugger all for me (except teach me some knots I didn't know).

Slightly kinky's fine, but when folk take it seriously, just walk away.

Sassy Sundry said...

Agreed. To me, all of it looked like a very elaborate bore.

dive said...

Yup. Bondage is pretty joyless. About the only pleasure I got out of it was the aesthetics of getting shibari techniques just right … and the feel of the really soft, hand-made Japanese ropes, which were nice.
Perhaps I'm just getting old …

Sassy Sundry said...

I don't think you're old. Old's a state of mind.

I'm not sure what I was really expecting, but I guess at minimum I thought that people might enjoy that kind of thing. I don't think they enjoy it at all anymore.

My friend and I felt rather bad afterwards. It seemed like the people most into it not only didn't like sex, they didn't even like what they did to pretend that they liked sex.

Vic said...

Well hey, it's all experience. I guess that most people into the fetish scene would prefer to keep it to themselves, rather then go to a fair. So there probably is some enjoyment for the folks into it, but the secrecy thing is part of it.

Sassy Sundry said...

I thought about that, Vic. I wondered why people into something underground would congregate in a hotel, of all places. It seemed to me that perhaps some kind of speakeasy would make more sense. The whole vibe was really depressing, though. I was hoping for something more, if not fun, then intriguing.

Oh well.

Bock the Robber said...

Yeah. Not a lot of humour going on there. But if you want really humourless, go and visit a science fiction convention. You'll be be begging the S&M people to let you back in.

And guess what? They won't!

Carissa said...

Glad to hear you were not kidnapped my old bondage cop guy. :-P Yuck.

Yes, I'm wondering if prehaps the secret fetish sexy people we off being sneaky about it instead.

Gaijin Girl said...

good on you for being open to new things. shame the atmosphere was so dire - perhaps some of them got off on that?
S&M sounds kinda scary to me with its basis of power and control. fascinating from a psychological point of view, but honestly, who could be arsed? i'd ruin the mood by laughing.

Old Knudsen said...

Being manacled for 18 hours a day on Devil's island wasn't much fun, bloody amateurs let them try that.

Sassy Sundry said...

Bock, I am certainly open to new experiences, and so if I could go to a sci-fi convention on the cheap, I'd go. But I wouldn't be expecting sexiness or fun. I don't think I'll try to get back into the S&M fair scene any time soon. I try things once. I didn't say I'd try them again.

Carissa, is there something you aren't telling me about your past? Hee hee. Yes, I escaped. And, yes, I wonder if the whole "convention" thing scared away the really interesting people.

Gaijin Girl, I wasn't really all that interested in the hard-core S&M thing. I don't like the whole power/control thing, but I was interested to see if perhaps I was missing something. I might be missing something, but I'm not interested in finding out more about it now.

Knudsen, I know you have lots of experience in this area. I felt like shouting out, "Good God, Knudsen could teach these people a thing or two." But I didn't.

RICH said...

Whip me, beat me, humiliate me BUT respect me.

Robyn said...

Yikes. Good for you for exploring, but I don't I would be surprised to find a lack of joy in that setting. It's not about joy, and in some ways I think it's not about pleasure either--I say safely from the outside looking in.

I do think that secrecy is a big part of, and thinking you're doing something naughty with a risk of being caught, but when it's all out in the open, and nobody wants to punish you, then the thrill is gone.

Steven Novak said...


I need to go to one of those. ;)


RICH said...

Robyn - say that again will ya?

RICH said...

You know... the part about being naughty?

Sassy Sundry said...

Rich, I'm not sure if humilation and respect go together. I don't think I could humiliate someone I truly respected, and I don't think I could respect someone I humiliated. That's just me.

Robyn, I think I can now say that I agree with you. I wasn't sure before.

Steve, I think they hold these things in different areas, so perhaps you'd be in luck.

Rich, don't ask Robyn to be naughty. She's nice.

Robyn said...

Rich, let's wait until I get that upper respiratory infection, and then I can record it for you.