Once a year thousands of New England kinksters and over a hundred sex-related vendors from across the country converge on the weekend-long Fetish Fair Fleamarket (FFF©). This edgy event offers its sex-toy and fetish clothing supermarket, a bondage university and a Masquerade Ball to benefit the Network/La Red nonprofit working around domestic violence issues among lesbians and transfolk.
“Time for some education,” we say on seeing the list of classes in the program. We start with “Creating a Spark: Electrical Play.” BDSM (Bondage/Discipline, Dominant/Submissive, SadoMasochism) focuses on intense sensations and some people find those thrills through toys that produce a spark jumping to the skin. The presenter British Lucky Paul is a self-admitted electricity freak who claims that his skilled use of the edgy tool, the Violet Wand, leads to lots of “shagging” with attractive women. Charmingly disheveled and disorganized, but utterly immersed in this perversion, Paul gives us the history (the Violet Wand was used by quacks as an all-purpose medical treatment), the international context (USA electricity at 110 volts is a wimp compared to European voltage) and, most of the all, the safety instructions. Don’t use it near metal jewelry, it burns holes in latex (be careful of condoms) and keep away from the eyes and pacemakers for starters.
His assistant (subject? victim?) Kristina is a 21 year old friend of the presenter who, until the night before, had never experienced electricity play. So why did she volunteer? “I don’t like to leave anything unexplored,” she explains to me later. However, this young nubile is no kink virgin: she teaches an intro to fetishism at her college in NY. Her throaty moans and sexy writhing add immensely to the entertainment. When she puts her clothes back on, her T-shirt reads: “Pain is necessary. Suffering is optional.”
The other class we attend is taught by the well-known bondage expert, Midori. We would enjoy the lesson on creating a Body Harness from rope a lot better if we had remembered to bring rope. However, it is so simple and clear that we are able, hours later, to reproduce the knots and wrappings at home. Midori, too, emphasizes safety, under the teasing slogan: Dead bottom, Bad bondage. I like the way she recognizes the variety in the room by referring to “domestic units,” – acknowledging that the terms couple, family or even tribe aren’t broad enough to embrace our combinations and desires.
We don’t make the others classes – from Sensual Tickling to Canes and Caning, from Role-Playing in Scene to SM & the Law. The latter is always relevant to this event, which has been forced to move from hotel to hotel. Vivienne, Chair of the sponsoring organization New England Leather Alliance, attributes this to “antiquated zoning laws, small-minded politicians and conservative zealots trying to tell us what we can and cannot do in private surroundings.” This, despite bringing in over a million dollars of business in just a weekend.
There is a further problem, Vivienne tells me. “We’re really saddened that the juried art show, Seduction, which consists of museum-quality photographs and drawings, had to be censored.” When I visit the show and see the ridiculous pieces of black tape put over representations of nipples, pussies and cocks, I am appalled. Making women’s nipples – and only women’s – into something that needs to be hidden from view is simple misogyny.
But on to the shopping. First we head straight to the world-renowned local leather maker Danny who has invented some of the most popular restraints and toys. Rummaging through his generous sale container produces a couple of fabulous hand-held leather slappers. Further along, John Miles from Georgia patiently straps me into a waist-cinching corset. I sample some thumping dungeon music from the ever-amazing Butt Boy and some classic erotica from David Moynihan of Disruptive Publishing in Maryland. Rick Savage, one of the best kinky filmmakers, offers some new DVDs – I’ll unwrap them when I finish this review.
Year after year NELA manages to create a welcoming atmosphere at the FFF© for people across the spectrums of gender, sexuality, age and race. There are gender free bathrooms, a page on etiquette towards transgendered people in the program and instructions on respecting the privacy of all attendees. Besides all the slender, young beautiful perverts, it is inspiring to see kinksters in their 50s, 60s and 70s slutting around in latex and lace, to see fat people flaunting their wonderful curves in leather and satin and to see cross-gender players mixing it up. The FFF© is the melting pot in which sex-positive queers, straights, freaks, pervs, tops, bottoms, switches and voyeurs keep alive a boiling hot New England tradition.