Among the many new groups appearing at Leeds Pride this year is the first organised contingent with a fetish theme.
Leeds Fetishmen dropped us a line and told us a little about why it’s important to them that they join the Leeds LGBT Pride Parade, their motif of ‘Fetish is fun’ and that diversity of sexual interests and LGBT history is represented at Pride.
Pride should be inclusive – it should reflect the breadth of gender, race and sexuality – and reinforce that it is not something to be ashamed of. Since the second world war many fetishes have seen more visibility as expressions of individual identity – workwear has always had a frisson – whether it’s gents in suits or clothing reflecting the more manual worker. Materials themselves have taken on fetish with lycra, leather, latex, pvc and neoprene being but some of those with their own ‘scenes’.
Fetishwear has played an ongoing part in LGBT history, especially since WWII. Shortly after the war ended motorcycle (‘biker’) gangs emerged in the USA and many gay social groups copied their appearance. This allowed our gay forebears to meet in plain sight at a time when homosexuality definitely wasn’t acceptable. However it’s pretty obvious that guys in full leathers or leather and denim are not just a good ‘mask’ to avoid drawing unwanted attention – but pretty homoerotic too.
The most popular imagery linking to fetishwear in the 20th century were presented by the Village People. But unfortunately the rapid tightening of any freedoms achieved happened with the arrival of HIV/AIDS in the 80’s and society’s reaction to it made this short-lived. Fetishes didn’t go away – they just went back underground. In the 70s and 80s the hanky code was established – which used colour, position and material to identify sexual interests and preferences and this added to things like the language polari (and other alternate uses of language) to ensure LGBT culture could continue with minimal interference.
In recent years there has been a big resurgence in fetishwear – in part facilitated by more open attitudes in the west – but also social networks allowing guys to come together and discuss (and share hot photos) – without doing it in public. Not only have the more established scenes become more visible – especially leather and rubber – but also previously underground fetishes – such as Pup Play. For those who don’t know this is the approach of taking some characteristics of dog-like behaviour to form an identify around or to help achieve a mindset; which isn’t necessarily sexual and has nothing to do with bestiality.
It’s also helpful to identify that no-one’s fetish approach or journey are the same. Some see it as costume; a way to easily adopt another personality (like wearing a mask), others see it as a way into a different headspace. Different people use their fetishes to greater or lesser extents – in some cases it’s their primary sexual identity – but others as a way to dip in and out of different kinks. You shouldn’t assume that an attire means an interest – it is genuinely acceptable to wear a material simply because you like how it looks or feels – or the signal it send – it doesn’t mean there’s anything more to it. A final assumption to clear up – fetish isn’t linked or restricted to homosexuality; many who identify as other sexualities are also interested in fetish and many acknowledge a fetish interest long before they identify gender preferences.
A few concerns we’re aware often get raised:
- “You’re displaying depravity in public” it’s rare anything coming close to legal codes actually happens – in most cases the police would intervene if anything indecent were occurring. Our belief is that we’re reflecting people’s sexual identities and reminding everyone that it’s ok to have them. If what we do is not acceptable to you, it doesn’t mean we should hide them away. This is a part of people’s lives and it’s good to be reminded of the diversity of humankind.
- “It doesn’t do our cause any good…” – Pride is not about assimilation, it’s about creating equality and acceptance. A lot of us in the LGBT community are aware that we have come a long way in a short time – and that society is adapting a more open approach to us, but equally we need to keep moving forward – so that no one feels ashamed of something relatively natural – finding another human being, dressed or acting in a certain way, attractive.
- “You shouldn’t wear fetish in public – there may be children present.”
This reflects more on adult/parental prejudices than anything. In most cases children find the material and appearances intriguing or appealing – or they ignore it. Yes, fetishwear is linked to sex – but most clothing can also be used in sexual practices and fetishes… if, as someone with inquisitive kids, you’re really concerned – just refer to it as the costume it is!
- “They’re wearing weird clothes – so it’s open season” – nothing could be further from the truth. Most fetish wearers in public are taking a risk in an attempt to educate and achieve greater acceptance. They are already a little nervous – and the last thing they need are people who think it’s acceptable to yank, slap, pinch or otherwise harass. Please treat fetish folk with respect and, if you do anything unacceptable to someone in fetish gear, don’t be surprised if you get a strong reaction.
We honestly believe our mantra of ‘Fetish is fun’ – most of us don’t take it too seriously and have a good time wearing them. We’re very inclusive – most would be aghast if they were aware of anyone in the fetish community using any difference to demean or otherwise put down/reject a fellow kinkster. We also generally try to dress to impress – but realise that it can be taken lightly and generate inquisitiveness
If you are interested in a kink or fetish then Leeds Fetishmen would love to hear from you. If you’re brave enough they’d love to invite you to join them parading at Leeds LGBT Pride on Sunday 5th August. To find out more about either – view our Facebook page or message them.