This past Memorial Day, Chicago hosted International Mr. Leather, a long-weekend festival and pageant for the gay-male BDSM community, which has already been written up by Dan Savage and by my partner over at the Geeky Sex blog. I have written of my fondness for puppy play before on this blog, but I had never been around many human-puppies. The concept was too enticing to pass up.
But beforehand, sitting in a bar with my fiancé and our friend, I realized that I was feeling socially anxious in a way that I haven't felt about play parties for a while now. Because I had never before been to a sexy-party where I was so likely to be the only woman present. In sexually-liberated communities, we often like to downplay how fundamentally different we are from people who fall into different categories of sexual liberation. But for all the warm fuzzies of confederacy and label-rejection, I realized over my Irish coffee around the corner from the IML fancy hotel that my tits and long hair still designate my body as unambiguously female, even femme, and it was safe to assume that most of the attendees of a butch-leaning gay men's convention would not find me attractive. I would only know the two people I came with, and at the very least, I was going to look conspicuously different.
And surely enough, in that very crowded hotel I spotted all of two or three other women without hotel-staff badges. But I sucked up my nerves and stripped down to my underwear, carefully folded my street clothes into a satchel, strapped on my knee-pads, and let my fiancé buckle on my collar. Honestly, part of my headspace was still waiting for someone to question what I was doing there. But my fiancé had brought my favorite squeaky monkey toy, and I went through the motions of biting and shaking it. And then I heard a nearby attractive man in a leather thong exclaim to his partner or friend that I was cute. I looked at him, and he smiled, so I crawled over and leaned against his legs. He pat my head and laughed in a welcoming way. And from that point on, I was home.
With my liberal-university-gender-studies background, I'm sure I could draft something very academic-sounding about the cultural variations between the "pansexual" (in practice, mostly straight with bi women) community and the gay community. I could examine the effects on our psyches from homophobia vs. from sexism, from male privilege vs. straight privilege. The pansexual kink community certainly owes a great debt to the gay kink community for initiating and organizing such large-scale projects as IML, not to mention the Leather Archives and Museum. But that night at Woof Camp, as soon as the first stranger pat my head, we were all just friends. The other puppies and I batted around a beach ball for a long idyllic time, and several bipedal men besides my fiancé and our friend grabbed my squeaky monkey toy, threw it, and exclaimed "Good girl!" when I brought it back in my teeth. One even rewarded me with a "treat" from a jar of chocolate puff balls. (Yes, I know that chocolate is bad for dogs. But it never seems to stop them, and I haven't shown any signs of poisoning yet.)
And while I also derive pleasure from gender-studies academia and debate, Woof Camp feels closer to why sexual liberation is a fight worth fighting. In the end, ideally, people of all genders and orientations should just be able to share simple joys like beach balls and chocolate-balls.
(Credit to Northbound Leather for making the tail-brief pictured, as well as a whole line of fantastic leather clothing.)