Monday, January 23, 2006

More random musings about tastes, kinks and identity

Since my recent re-immersion in music began I've been thinking a lot about the question of how identity is contructed. Specifically, I've been thinking about how one's involvement in a particular subculture affects one's sense of identity.
I had a wierd conversation with a co-worker about my fondness for the Japanese visual kei scene. For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, "visual kei" is a catchall term for a bunch of bands most of whom are broadly at the heavier end of the rock/punk/industrial spectrum (though there seem to be more and more annoyingly poppy ones recently) and who also tend to place a very heavy emphasis on their visual style. There are a lot of goth influences,frequent hints of BSDM, an abundance of eyeliner, very tight leather pants, and frequent cross-dressing. One of the biggest stars of the scene has literally never been seen in public not dressed as a woman as far as I can tell (and he makes a rather pretty girl in an ice-queen kind of way), which is a bit disconcerting given his deep and noticeably masculine voice. There's also a great deal of homoerotic imagery, though most of the musicians say that they're straight.
I have always had a deep affection for the visual kei scene. There are a few bands who I don't like at all, and some whom I adore, but my fascination for the scene in general has remained constant for many years. The strange thing for me about the conversation I had with the co-worker was the fact that she kept using the word "exotic" to describe the scene, and my interest in it. The reason this struck me as odd was that the scene is so appealing to me not because it's exotic, but because it feels utterly familiar. I grew up in the goth and punk scenes in the UK, and my entire adolescence was spent hanging out with pretty, androgynous boys in eyeliner. Nothing could be more familiar to me. I've always felt most at home with the people who the mainstream regards as kind of freaky - skinny punk boys with tattoos and piercings are extremely sexy to me, and the classic All American Boy may as well not exist from a sexual point of view as far as I'm concerned. That's the wierd thing about the visual kei scene - it doesn't feel strange, foreign or "exotic" to me, it feels like home.
This got me thinking about the way in which we all contruct our identities. I think that those of us who feel strongly drawn to a particular subculture identitfy much more strongly with those who share that affiliation than with others whom we may superficially appear to have more in common with. It's a particularly thorny issue for those of us who also have strong political affiliations. In a conflict between feminists and BSMD people, which side am I on? Do I have to pick a side?
I've also been thinking about how much, for me at least, sexual orientation plays a part in the subcultures that I'm drawn to. I'm leaning towards saying that BSDM, or kinky in a more general sense, should actually be regarded as a separate sexual orientation just like being straight, gay or bi is. If I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that nearly every subculture I've ever become involved with, I was initially drawn into by an encounter with a person who I was attracted to. In the case of the visual kei scene, it was a Japanese girl who I used to know in London and whom I most definately had the hots for. She introduced me to her friends, all of whom were art school/visual kei kids, and thus an obsession was born...
I've also been thinking about how easy it is for people who do have a particular kink, for lack of a better word, to identify each other. I've always been able to spot another person with a strong sense of kink at 1000 paces, and subs are even easier for me to identify. I'm just not quite sure why. Is there some sort of gaydar equivalent for kinky people? What would we call such a thing? Any suggestions?
I'm curious to hear if any of the other strongly subculture-identified people on here have experienced the same thing as far as being able to spot other members of one's own in-group. Thomas? Arwen?


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Anonymous said...

About the "separate orientation" thing, I think it has some explanatory power but is ultimately wrong. True, Califia (pre-transition) did say she'd rather be "on a desert island with a leatherman than a vanilla dyke." So, certainly, when BDSM is a core component of one's sexuality, it can't just be shelved without painful and destructive self-denial. However, for most of us it goes to how we are intimate with our partners. While it may be an important part of our lives, it is one that is much easier to contain than who are partners are. The burden of being a closeted sadomasochist is pretty manageable. The burden of being a closeted gay man or lesbian is much, much greater.

About kink-dar, sure I've picked up a cue sometimes, but on the whole I've found that, while gaydar is real, it is not very reliable, and the same is true for us.


Arwen said...

Actually, I was thinking on this just today. I manage to pick the woman to talk to in Mommy and Me who's got no hint of Goth left (we're all cotton and spit-up and raggedy hair), and within a very short period of time we realize we're one or two degrees of seperation away from each other in our sub-group scenes.

On the internet, I've been wandering around (carpetblogging), and running into all of these visions of the world that are UTTERLY FOREIGN. Shared age group, class, and professed philosophies aside. I get a little alarmed, but it's good to get out of the bubble.

The sub-groupings seem to confer things that aren't just stylistic or sexual or musical: it wasn't just about music and clothes. I realize now that there was a lot of shared philosophical ground that extended well past the mere drinking/dancing/smoking of Djarums and looking cool in our eyeliner.

Online, I spend a lot of time thinking: "No. Not really. Really? You think that way? Oh my god. Okay."

Sometimes, it's cool - different, interesting - but sometimes it's judgemental. Sometimes, it's as if others are seeing black as white; I know I must sound the same to them.

It's interesting: I'm not BDSM, (well, slap and tickle: I'm damn near British), and I'm personally allergic to porn - yet I spend scads of time defending/explaining various lifestyle choices to people on feminist blogs. (I do think that porn needs to be bought very carefully, since there is a lot of exploitation. I suppose there should be fair trade like stickers...) So even though I'm probably ridiculously sexually vanilla, I'm closer philosophically to you & Thomas.

belledame222 said...

Wrt the closet: the thing about being gay versus being a het into BDSM is, even if you're the most macho gay man or lipstick lesbian out there, you're still, by mainstream society's standards, transgressing a fundamental rule about gender. If you're partnered, it's impossible to avoid that friction even in a completely non-sexual context. Even at your most "cleaned-up," at a certain point you have to deal with how to introduce (or not) your "roommate" to your colleagues and loved ones. This isn't true for a differently-gendered kinky couple, no matter how transgressive they are in other ways or how fundamental a part of their identity their sexuality is.

Which really doesn't address the question of "orientation" either way, I don't think, though. The etiology of desire in general is just so incredibly complicated, and it's damn hard to find a way to explore it, even a little, without getting bogged down in politicization.

As problematic as John Money is in many respects, I think his theory of "lovemaps" was really useful and interesting, and comes closest to my own muddled ideas of how sexuality develops.

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