monthly column from author/activist
Carol Queen

The Royal Treatment


So you know that we hold a lovely S/M flea market in San Francisco three or four times a year, right? Lady Thorne puts together a fine event at which vendors and leather community folks with overflowing closets get together and sell each other stuff. Yeah, you can do S/M without buying lots of things -- but this is a shopaholic culture, and why not stuff the toy bag?

Well, we ain't seen a flea market like the one Robert and I were invited to attend last weekend. Boston holds theirs twice a year, but what they lack in frequency they more than make up for in other respects. For one thing, it's huge. Thirty-two hundred attendees came, saw, spent, and went home to play during the two-day affair. What's more, many folks didn't go right home -- it was held at a Ramada Inn outside Boston, and many people from all over the region actually stayed the whole time, filling 150 rooms, dressing up for a fetish ball on Saturday night and attending one or several of over a dozen workshops and readings. At a full-on leather conference there might have been many more workshops, but here the focus was not so much on learning the ropes -- that was a nice extra offered by event organizers -- but on getting geared up, so have your credit card handy, baby!

My credit card's maxed out, so I may be the only person at the event who barely shopped. But I looked around a lot, and the place was a wonder to behold. In the first place, the entire hotel was full of us -- leatherfolk, I mean, most dressed the part. Lots of us were full-on fetish dressed. So the crowd looked great. Then there was the fact that the entire ballroom was full of vendors, and there were many more left over, so the whole atrium around the pool held vendors too. And the ground-floor rooms surrounding the atrium were full o' vendors, so that each room was a little store.

We're talking fetish clothing -- leather, latex, PVC, and then some. Corsets galore, some that hold up beautifully next to our great Bay Area corsetiers. Robert went into the men's room and found someone had used a stall as a dressing room, getting into newly-purchased drag and leaving shoe boxes and bags strewn about. (Obviously wasn't raised to be a tidy girl.) Then we had other costume elements: shoes, of course, and studded belts, and beautiful leather masks. Toys -- from the dildos and vibes sold at Grand Opening's table to the more S/M-oriented whips and restraints, including some really lovely (and then again, some rather obscure) stuff. Books and mags at a few tables, including one staffed by Laura Antoniou, author of the wildly popular Marketplace series -- this is an S/M utopia many people would love to visit and never leave, and the crowd kept her signing and talking all weekend. (Heads up -- we're going to try to get her to visit the Bay Area later this year. Stay tuned!)

I did a reading, and Robert and I did a couple of sessions -- our workshop Rough Sex, and a round of Ask the Doctor. So many people have long, involved questions when we do our regular workshops that we like to devote an hour or two just to them. This time a guy named Match Stick (I'm guessing it's his on-line moniker, not the one his parents saddled him with) had in-depth questions about anal play -- our favorite! So we happily talked about butts for practically the whole time.


Okay, so the Andover Ramada Inn is crawling with perverts, many apparently from the suburbs. Sure, Boston is bigger than San Francisco, but when we have an erotica shindig, not that many people show up. Plus, everyone is newly attuned to the shaky legal ground occupied by BDSM in Massachusetts -- remember Paddleboro, the case Midori and I wrote about here last summer, in which the Attleboro cops shut down a private dungeon party and busted a lot of the participants? Famously, one lady was arrested for paddling her partner with a wooden spoon, hence the sobriquet and the cute benefit bumpersticker: When Wooden Spoons Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will Have Wooden Spoons!

Plenty of people in the past have told me how sex-negative and repressive Boston is (even as I and Robert were talking about all kinds of sexy things, and being hosted by a sex shop -- Grand Opening -- the likes of which exists in only a handful of American cities). Interestingly, since Paddleboro, they're not talking that way any more. Many people have stuck their necks out, spoken out, come out. Just the news that S/M parties are held in a conservative corner of the state has made people realize there's more going on than they thought. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a rush of new memberships to the S/M- and sex-related organizations around Massachusetts. The Paddleboro incident has politicized and informed people somewhat.

Now, I hear something new, something the "Boston is so uptight" folks never before told me: "Oh, everything is illegal here! It's not just S/M and the fact that we still have a sodomy law. Fornication is even illegal! You can't have sex with someone you're not married to!" Now, San Francisco is the way it is, we often assume, because we benefited from one of the early consenting adults laws. (Never mind that we were Baghdad by the Bay even before that law was passed in the mid-70s.) But Boston is the ironic opposite: a sex center where everything is illegal. It didn't stop Boston's leather community from being well-organized and diverse -- this Fetish Flea Market was the sixteenth put on by the New England Leather Association, its sponsor. Boston's bisexual community was an early rival for energy and organization to San Francisco's. Kim Airs' store Grand Opening is a magnet for the sex-positive elements of the community. And Boston's queer community was one of the earliest to radicalize and organize, inspiring many other cities in the 60s and 70s. The town's a fucking brain trust, after all. And all that gray matter just spawns sex. At least, that's my theory.

So now the question is, can the wakened sleeping giant that is Boston's sex community get those archaic and mean-spirited laws tossed off the books? Many of the Flea attendees were suburbanites not really affiliated with any organization -- just slightly kinky couples with some money to burn, wanting a chance to feel frisky. Will they tell that to their senators, though?


Robert exhorted everyone at our workshops, all week long, to contact their legislators and demand that they bring Massachusetts law in line with peoples' real lives. Of course, there are a lot of other states which need to do the same. But the Flea did seem like an ideal place to exhort -- and indeed, the Libertarian Party had a table there and several booths were fundraising for Paddleboro, so plenty of people were thinking in those terms.

I kept wondering which strategy would work in a politically mixed city like Boston, with so many conservative Catholics to offset the queer and kinky votes. Is it "Dear Senator: I expect you to recognize that adult sexuality is not yours to regulate"? Or will the opposite strategy work better with the sexphobic legislators who can never seem to work up the gonads to stand up for our right to be the erotic individuals we are? Here's a sample letter for those wanting to pursue the left-hand strategy. "Dear Senator: I just wanted to thank you for keeping almost all forms of sex illegal in the great state of Massachusetts. We have one of the oldest sodomy laws in the nation, and I think it's appropriate for us to keep it that way. Anyway, when I engage in S/M and sodomy and fornication and all the other things we're not supposed to do here, it makes me so fuckin' horny! It just wouldn't be anywhere near as exciting if it were legal, and so I guess this letter is really to thank you for having the courage to make the sex lives of me and so many perverts like me extra-illicit, dirty, and just swimming in cum." Whatever it takes to bring them into the 21st century, huh? Maybe reverse psychology is the only way.