Kinky Boston

By SARA FAITH ALTERMAN  |  April 14, 2009

Unfortunately, in Massachusetts with this sexual creativity comes wariness, and with this wariness comes the necessity for kinksters and fetishists to take their play underground, away from the judgmental eyes of disgusted vanillas, and from the long and strong arm of the law.

"It really feels like, in some ways, it's starting to be okay to be interested in at least some mild versions of BDSM," says NELA board member Vivienne Kramer, noting that kink has become more acceptable and influential in mainstream culture, from CSI to Desperate Housewives, from Jean Paul Gaultier to Janet Jackson. "But the reality is that [in Massachusetts], even in the privacy of your own home, you cannot consent to assault. BDSM covers such a wide range of activities, but the basic things that people think of are being whipped or spanked or tied up or blindfolded. Most of those things you cannot do legally in this state.

"It's a domestic-violence law," says Kramer, "and there are certainly reasons why it's in place. One of the reasons that NELA works with domestic-violence organizations is that there's a difference between what the cops will see as abuse and a consensual act between two adults."

There's actually nothing specific to consent in Massachusetts General Law regarding assault and battery. (As opposed to statutory-rape laws, which hinge upon a minor's ability, or lack thereof, to consent to sexual activity.) In theory, without a complaining victim or witnesses, it would be highly unusual for a BDSM participant to see jail time, though he or she could be hindered by hefty legal fees and a black mark on his or her social or professional reputation. Regardless, this legal gray area, combined with mainstream squeamishness, keeps kinksters from flaunting their ball gags and nipple clamps in, say, Fanueil Hall.

Professional dommes (dominatrices) have to keep an even lower profile than bread-and-butter kinksters, because they charge money for their services. Dee owns and operates a play space in the Greater Boston area, but keeps the location top-secret for the sake of her clients' confidentiality — and for her own fear of legal repercussions. Professional domination does have an aura of illicitness about it, even if the reality of the profession isn't overtly sexual. "There is absolutely zero sexual touching," says Dee. "Zero sexual interaction between me and my clients. It's so based in psychological fantasy and power dynamics and taboos. . . . I would say we're more akin to therapists."

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FRESHNESS DATE Writer, editor, and sexual activist Cecilia Tan (above) founded the Fetish Fair Fleamarket — now one of the country’s biggest kink conventions — as a way to bring fetishists of all flavors together under one roof.
Bad, bad Brahmin
Because of the perceived fine line between BDSM and physical abuse, NELA, like many organizations that advocate on behalf of kinky communities, stresses informed practice of any type of kink, and produces classes like SM 101 with the hopes that people interested in BDSM will make their own and their partner's physical safety a top priority. But, of course, they're also all about getting their jollies.

For the past 16 years, NELA has produced one of the biggest fetish events in the country: the Fetish Fair Fleamarket (FFF), which unites vendors, activists, educators, and leather lovers for a kinky cornucopia of demos, classes, and shopping sprees. Founded in 1993 by writer, editor, and sexual activist Cecilia Tan, FFF happens twice a year — a one-day event in the summer and a weekend-long extravaganza in the winter that, at last count, attracts approximately 3000 to 4000 attendees. After moving from location to location in its infancy in the early 1990s, the FFF finally settled into a groove at the Boston Park Plaza hotel — that is, until 2004, when one of the hotel's investors balked.

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