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The online diary of an ethical pervert.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Unpicking vanilla / kink

I've been thinking recently about labels, words we use to describe ourselves and our actions, words that others might use. In this case, the self and the action I'm talking about is kink and kinky. Personally, I'm of the viewpoint that kinky people are born, not made, whether or not you eventually become a practitioner (to whatever extent) is a different bag of rope entirely. The potential is there from the start. However, it is neither a binary state and neither is it an objective state.

Let's talk binaries first. The dichotomy kink/vanilla separates and segregates one lifestyle choice from another, the two support and define each other through a negatively enforced relationship in which it is impossible to be both at the same time. Pick a side, seems to be the implication. Which a lot of us do, I know I do. It's a way of describing and delineating our lives, putting things into boxes. We can talk about our "vanilla life" and "vanilla friends" or "kinky activities" and "kinky side" create a little linguistic apartheid state in which ne'er the twain shall meet. But they do. They meet in us. And they meet in everyone. However, we're busy picking sides. Which people do in order to identify themselves, find like-minded people. We do this by labelling ourselves, by laying claim to words like "kinky", "submissive" "masochist". Naming acts occur when we do this, pouring our thoughts into words which become real. Whether or not we are inherently kinky or vanilla becomes a bit of a moot point when we also decide that we are. Because these are practices and philosophies rather than physical attributes, they can't be seen or touched or pointed to so in order to "be" something we need to "do" it. They are active choices which we live up to.

Which leads nicely onto objectivity, and with it, definitions. What is "kinky" and what is "vanilla", to whom to these terms belong and in what context? I'd argue that no-one who enjoys sex could honestly say that they have never engaged in a little light bondage (even with the merest wisp of silky scarves), some rough and tumble, or blindfolds. Does that make them kinky - if so that would make the activities themselves kinky, regardless of who performs them and where, which doesn't feel quite right to me. We can also get a little hung up on the pejorative phrase "vanilla kink" where some might look down their noses at folks playing at being kinky. Which on the face of it looks a little absurd, given the importance of play and playfulness within the scene. Perhaps what we mean is a failure to take these things seriously, or to acknowledge that there might be some for whom those activities are more meaningful, and certainly no-one would want to detract from these things.

However, just because some people are champion swimmers doesn't prevent the rest of us from using a paddling pool.
I'd argue that no activity is truly either kinky or vanilla, but that it all exist on a range, a sliding scale which varies from person to person and from day to day depending on all sorts of internal and external changes and pressures. Perhaps it is less about the "what" and more about the "who" and "how". If we think that these ways of being are roles to be adopted whilst we identify as one or the other then we do not inhabit either state fully or in any sort of fixed way.

I would say that I am kinky, but I wouldn't say it all the time, there are portions of my life in which I feel it is inappropriate. I'm not actively, (or performatively, to take Judith Butler's theory of gender and give it a little twist) being kinky all the time. To those around me, I am therefore vanilla. Certainly I am behaving in a vanilla way at those times and in those contexts and as far as they are concerned. I can self-identify as much as I want but by not speaking out, by letting others infer and make assumption based on what I am (not) saying
I put myself in a vanilla context.

Or do I? After all, I get to decide who I am, and make my own choices about living. I don't have to fulfill other people's expectations or opinions of me. I can be just as kinky in jeans and a t shirt, sat in the pub as in full pvc tied to a rack. My brain is the same, wherever I am. There's an argument for attempting to do away with all labels, all definitions, but then we would lose all frames of reference. In a sense, for all the fuzzy borders, we need vanilla/kinky, even though
perhaps neither term sufficiently encompasses the reality of desire, because they function as imperfect but useful touchpoints within our lives.

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