Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Link Between BDSM and Goth

Goths and BDSM. It's not an unheard-of thing to talk about. However, most of the time it's discussed in the context of someone debunking misconceptions about what Goth is. "No, we're not all kinky and slutty." But, for my post, where do all of these rumors come from? Why do people think we're all in the BDSM community? I'd like to take some time to explore that with you all today.




First, I think it would be wise to clear up what BDSM is. While there are many online resources for this, I'll give a condensed version here: BDSM is an acronym with three parts: BD stands for "bondage" and "discipline", DS stands for "dominance" and "submission", and SM stands for "sadism" and "masochism." In essence, BDSM is a sexual and sometimes lifestyle preference with a power dynamic between a "Dominant" and a "submissive." While the specifics of the practices vary, generally the submissive serves and receives the attentions of the Dominant. BDSM operates by the general rule of "Safe, Sane, and Consensual" which means that even though there is a power dynamic, both partners agree to what is going on and keep the activities within safety parameters that vary depending on the people involved. BDSM is actually an extremely old fetish, paintings on walls from the sixth century b.c.e. depict erotic floggings, though somehow it still manages to frighten or disgust some people for various reasons. If you'd like to learn more and are looking for a safe-for-work resource, I recommend the Wikipedia page.

A lot of Goths get up-in-arms about people assuming that they're part of the BDSM culture, even if they don't take issue with the practice in and of itself. Many consider it a privacy issue (people trying to guess about their sex lives bothers many) and some are just flabbergasted by the entire insinuation. They declare, as the "Goth Confession" above shows, that people shouldn't make assumptions based on what they wear. However, these assumptions don't just come out of nowhere, and it's better to understand them than to get really upset about it.

Source: Tumblr

Let's look at some of the recurring Fetish fashion trends, shall we? Collars, boots, high heels, latex/rubber, leather, fishnets, corsetry, military motifs and imagery, and a predominately black/red pallet. Sound familiar? Many Goths have adopted a look which may feature some of these elements, but if you ask a Goth why they wear a collar, they're more likely to answer with "I like how it looks" than "I wear it for my Dom/Domme." Many of the icons of Goth, such as Peter Murphy, were spotted on stage wearing heavily fetish influenced garments. Above you can see an image of Mr. Murphy wearing a leather harness with an O-ring, typical of Bondage wear (you can hook any number of devices to the O-ring.)

A tangent, if you don't mind: In my opinion, getting really upset about people assuming you're kinky while you are wearing a collar is a little bit silly. I'll forgive you if you're wearing a corset, or boots, or any other item of clothing that can be worn outside of the BDSM context. However, collars are one of those items of clothing whose very essence is BDSM. I'm not going to tell you to stop wearing one, but I would ask that you acknowledge what message you might be sending and that you respond to all assumptions fairly. If someone makes that kind of assumption about you, all you have to say is "I wear this because I like how it looks, but I'm not into that." Of course, if you are feeling harassed by someone because of the BDSM imagery in your clothing, this does not apply.

If the things we wear weren't enough to solidify the bond, there's certainly music that supports the link between BDSM and Goth. Depeche Mode has a song entitled "In Chains" which, as you might have guessed, features bondage imagery such as the lines "I know my hands will never be free, I know what it's like to be in chains." London After Midnight has an entire song called "The Bondage Song" whose lyrics include such kinky imagery as: "I want the kill, the conquest,/ to be your master,/ wrap your arms around my pale skin,/it's too late to back out you're in,/on your knees and praise your new lord,/deeper now, and here's your reward." If you're a Goth who also partakes in industrial, metal, or other types of music, you'll be sure to see bondage imagery sprinkled throughout the lyrics.

Beyond even our music, there are other reasons for our bond with bondage: in mainstream society, BDSM is viewed as one of the more taboo fetishes, though often exploited for some humorous purposes. Much like Goths, those who participate in it can be ostracized for their interest. Combine this shunning with the corsetry and kinky lyrics, then you should definitely see more of a correlation between Goths and BDSM. This can only be solidified by the fact that Goths are considered to be "open-minded" about other people's sexuality and kinks (within reason, anyway. My post about us having our own prejudices still stands strong.) which is why you might see an increase in people who are "out" about their BDSM practices in the Goth scene.


Of course, the initial statement still stands: you shouldn't make assumptions about someone's sexual/lifestyle preferences based on the way they dress. Still, I think it's worth understanding why someone is assuming we're into BDSM. So, readers, what do you think?

8 comments:

  1. Unfortunately, we live in a very shallow world, where people rarely think before they speak and sex rules and sells. Why are we even surprised that everything gains sexual connotations? A knee-lenght pleated skirt and a white button-down is considered "pornwear". They call lolita fashion "fetish". It's a global obsession. Thank you for this post, BTW - I've never worn a corset in public and I intend to do it soon; now I know what to expect :)

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  2. To be honest, people don't even have to know what you look like, they just hear the word 'Goth' and assume kinky slut. Every label in existence has people assuming that it's associated with things that it may or may not be. I for one, do get annoyed when someone assumes that because I'm wearing fishnet tights, I of course must be a dominatrix. No.

    HOWEVER...totally agree with you about thinking it's silly when people get pissed at others assuming things about their sex life if wearing a collar, a pvc corset and knickers. Clothes send a message. It's the way it is. I feel the same way about women who parade around in practically nothing and then complain about getting called slags. If you don't want to send certain signals, dress accordingly. If you don't care, then do what you want! If someone snickers at me or calls me names for how I dress, I acknowledge that I look a little odd or silly to the casual observer and just ignore them or snark back.

    Obviously if it starts to cross boundaries then it becomes an issue.

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    1. You are totally right about clothes sending a message and I think the reason why people get offended with some assumption is because there has been a misinterpretation. The person wearing a corset (for example) is sending a message of being a goth, but some interpret it as being a part of a sexual fetish group.

      I think everyone should dress the way they feel comfortable to be, but I also think it is a little hypocrite to deny completely the sexuality of some of the garments in gothic fashion. Bosom, undergarments and legs have been erotic signifiers for good 1000 years, some even more. There is no contradicting that high heels and bigger curves by corset do send messages about sexuality. Not that the person must be into BDSM, but that the person is a sexual creature of some kind.

      Same thing with every other subculture, if you look in the mirror and think you are pretty and looking sexy, others probably think the same! :)

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  3. Considering how, for example, yesterday I was walking around in leather trousers, leather corset with straps and buckles, and a collar (an actual pet-collar collar), and a slinky black number that laces up at the neck under the corset... well, I can see why people assume things about me being into BDSM. I don't get uppity about it because I can see where it comes from. I happen to think leather looks fantastic, PVC too, etc but I know that those things are commonly associated with the BDSM community, and the collar has to do with me being "the House Cat" rather than me being part of a relationship where I take part in a submissive role, and I'm definitely not living a 'human pet' or slave lifestyle. I can see why people might think I am, though, and I'd rather correct them politely and explain that it's a bit of a joke to do with me being called Cat.

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  4. Well, what's wrong with being kinky and slutty? :D
    Sorry, I am, but only with my Love.
    I love to wear leather, pvc, rubber, chains, d-rings and spikes. But on a "girls only night", I wouldn't wear them, as I don't want to be attacked/raped.

    If you dress in a way that makes guys think you are a kinky slut, learn how to scare them away, (if you don't want to have some fun with them) or have a nice guy/girl on your side to protect you.

    You can't really change society and what people think, just learn to handle it.
    These things will get into mainstream fashon soon, anyway, so I hope things will change for us!

    Loved the entry!

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  5. I've been reading up on alot of internet articles on bdsm over the past few days, and alot of advertisements that pop up sell bdsm and Goth events on the same line (it's why I looked up this blog in the first place), like vendors have little distinction. The wiki describes a particular fashion that participators wear at dungeons/playplaces that sounds very much like the gothic clothing style (corsets, leather, etc.) but as far as was implied, general bdsm participants do not dress like this anywhere else.
    There really is nothing wrong with being a slut (though personally I think the name calling is a bit rude, unless you like it).
    I agree with you on the collars, but I remember seeing a few people wear them in high school and thought nothing of it (one girl even had a bell on hers, another often wore cat ears).

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  6. I'm a bit late to the party here, but I came across your blog entry as I did a search on "goth and bdsm." I did this search because I was just asked by someone if a goth event I recently went to was a fetish event. Of course my answer was "no," but then it never dawned on me that such a question might be posed by someone unfamiliar with the "goth" lifestyle. In all my years of attending goth clubs and events I have seen some fetish performances but always thought it was just an "overlap," that there were some people who happened to be into both, and that the aesthetic of each can share many commonalities. I say "can share" because I think of the person who is into bdsm as potentially wearing blue jeans and a plaid shirt during the day and their bondage gear only during play, and a goth wearing some element of whatever their personal goth style is (ie: do they lean more towards the victorian, the leather/PVC, the punk, the cybergoth, or the multitude of other styles) pretty much at all times. But I am sure that is an over-generalization. Bdsm to me also narrowly defines a person's sexual proclivity, while goth speaks more to a person's taste in music, dress, home decor, art, etc. Like others have said, goth seems to be more open and accepting of various sexual preferences, so it makes sense that the two lifestyles might be perceived as "kissing cousins."

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  7. Love this post. Have re-posted it and tweeted it to my followers on FB and Twitter. I think the problem arises with those looking to project their fantasies onto such an alluringly dressed people and they just assess the surface and what they see. Your conclusions are very positive and heartening.

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