A few weeks back, I was invited to an old friend’s art opening. Daniel* was showing his analog photography at a local venue-space-turned-gallery rented out by a gaggle of folx within the kink/BDSM community.
For reference: I do not consider myself a part of the kink community. I’m down to clown with whatever consenting adults decide to get up to. "Different folks, different strokes, I always say!" I just don’t belong to that subculture.
The invitation to the art show had a dress code that read, “Please come dressed to impress... think big, bright, beautiful, and out of this world!” Words like “clown” and “psychedelic” followed. I spent most of the morning before the event, frantically deciding how to go about that.
I decided to paint my face up like Pagliacci — the sad jester. I called Daniel to figure out what he was wearing. What he ended up describing was something I’ve seen him wear at barbecues, to go shoe shopping, or out to brunch: cargo pants and a t-shirt. That was the only sign I needed to take a baby wipe to my face paint and throw on some jeans and a white tee.
Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed was that there was no air conditioning. That week, we were in the middle of a heatwave. The heat index during the day crept perilously close to 100 degrees and didn’t go down much after the sun set. I showed my ticket to the person at the door (who had their face painted like a clown) and made my way into the venue.
On some level, it was mostly what I imagined it would be. A little clandestine. Scrappy. Vibrant. There was a large projector playing a glitchy home movie on loop. Past the stairs, there was a dog crate that looked suspiciously human-sized. Photos dotted the walls sporadically like depraved missing pet signs.
In the corner was a tattoo artist wearing a bikini under a fishnet top and a spiky anime wig. He was doing circus-themed tattoos for the event. It turned out that he was an artist I’ve gone to for several of my tattoos while I was in college. He remembered me as well! While his expression was mostly obscured by his wig bangs and coordinating face mask, I assumed he was smiling.
“I always knew he was kinky,” I thought to myself.
On the floor by the back door that led out to a patio space was a benign sight: a rolled-up carpet. In an industrial setting, it mostly just looked like it was moved out of the way to clear space. Turns out, there was a living person in there. “Carpet Guy,” as he’s called by some, is a person whose kink is being rolled up in a carpet, like a Taki, and being walked over. Daniel even encouraged me to wipe my feet on the rug roll. Who was I to yuck his yum? I swabbed my Timbs on his carpet sheath and listened for a small moan. I heard none.
There were several performance art pieces. Live music. A rope-tying performance, in which a woman was hoisted up a foot above the ground for a few moments before being lowered down to roaring applause from the small but engaged audience. There was a tarot reading bit that I missed. One of my favorite performances of the night was a burlesque number that involved an instrumental track of “Bad to the Bone” and a rhinestoned water gun.
The level of pageantry made me think that a great deal of care and craftsmanship was put into each of the looks — whether it was a latex high-cut leotard or a pair of eight-inch, thigh-high boots worn over fishnets. Those who did decide to paint their faces did so with gusto. If there was a time to wear unapologetic splashes of color with unconventional placements, this was it. Everyone looked so pretty because I believe they felt pretty.
For as many uncommon spectacles as there was that evening, there were pleasant interactions. For every slutty outfit was someone with an earnest smile from ear to ear. For every bare breast was someone asking for consent before snapping a photo. With every new visitor was an overjoyed greeting. The warmth and sense of kinship multiplied with each person that entered.
I met many new people and even was invited to a similar kink event by an attendee that looked like Cillian Murphy in drag.
“I have to be honest. I don’t know much about all of this! I’m just here to see my friend’s art,” I said meekly.
“You’re welcome, either way,” said Cillian Murphy.
I left just before what I think what a stripper pole performance. The heat had become too much, and the cooler was all out of seltzers. I didn’t want to wait to find out if tonight was going to be the fourth time I’d gotten heat stroke. I found Daniel in the crowd and broke the news to him.
“It’s time to blow this popsicle stand,” I said, shouting over the music and chatter.
He lamented my departure. There was a puppet show that I would miss, but he thanked me for coming to his event, and I thanked him for thinking of me and introducing me to his friends. We hugged like brothers, and I made my way back up the stairs, past the door clown, and back out onto the swampy Brooklyn street.
It’s easy to have judgments about the kink community. I had some, myself. I assumed I wouldn’t fit in — that in my t-shirt, jeans and minimal knowledge of BDSM, I would somehow be an outcast. It turns out that in a community of people who banded together because they themselves felt like outcasts: there are no pariahs. Just joy and a little bit of pain — but only if you’re into that.
*Names have been changed.