For several years and for varied publications I have reviewed the annual Fetish Fair Fleamarket (FFF). Both the weekend-long winter FFF and the one-day summer FFF are organized by NELA (New England Leather Alliance), a highly respected civil rights group for kinky people. There are many dozens of workshops and a renowned marketplace. This year I attended as a civilian, so I was less interested in weaving a story than in enjoying myself. Here are my five favorite impressions from last weekend’s FFF:
1. FREE THE GARMENTS
The FFF takes over a whole hotel, giving people a holiday from the alt-sex closet – or rather from hiding their favorite rags in the closet. People get to wear their lovingly constructed outfits – from the expensively attired leather or latex crowd to the flowing, tutu, lacy types. Women of every shape and age – and a few men too - sport a bounty of corset-induced cleavage. It’s a wonderfully snuggly sensation to be surrounded by so much amplitude. A personal highlight? I wore a very non-kinky but quite bright black and red satin jacket from China with a high stand-up collar and at least five generous women complemented me. If you could only see the context – all these gloriously dramatic sexy people – you’d understand why I was over the moon.
2. THE PUBLIC AREAS KEEP IT LIGHT
The atmosphere is playful and respectful. Bathrooms are gender-neutral with explanatory signs posted outside establishing a trans-friendly environment. For people-watching alone, the entrance fee is worth it. Bootblacks are glad to service your shoes. A short confident dominant leads her giggling collared submissive around the hotel on a leash, stopping a moment for a kiss. A poly family clusters around one of their members as he tries on some ass-less chaps. A budding domme gets a lesson in wielding a whip from a volunteer as her friends cheer her on. In the bondage lounge you can sit and watch or try out a knot or two.
3. ACCESS IS ASSUMED
The FF is clearly welcoming to the kinky members of the disability community. I saw perhaps a dozen people using wheelchairs or crutches or a white cane integrated in the scene. For example, one striking woman in fetish gear rested her stiletto-heeled boots on the foot supports of her wheelchair.
4. HARASSMENT-FREE ZONE
Security is effective but good-humored. A dramatic gender-bender in a flowing silver sparkle wig is perched at the top of the escalator and if someone ascends without the requisite blue wristband, they are guided right back down the descending moving stairs. A beefy guy with a thick pewter nose-ring checks again at the entrance to the retail market. A young reedy woman – a canvas of piercings and tattoos – checks at the exit door to the stairs. As far as I could see, no one was able to crash the event. It was truly a kink-safe space. Negativity was prevented in the coolest possible way by the hottest possible volunteers.
5. THIS AIN’T NEWBURY STREET
Overflow vendors spilled out of the big halls where some of the booths are nearly the size of a store into individual hotel rooms transformed into shops. What’s available to buy? You can stock up on lube; learn the finer points of floggers of which there are infinite weights, lengths and styles for sale; and explore the world of electricity play equipment. There are dozens of designers making their own corsets and latex nurse outfits and leather dildo harnesses. Vibrators, clit pumps, nipple clamps, blindfolds, cuffs, harnesses, chain mail shirts, talons, jeweled collars, stainless steel cock-rings and 5-finger vibrating gloves are everywhere to be found. Photographers will provide you with a glamour shoot. Painters offer portfolios of erotic images. Authors are signing books – some erotic fiction, some how-to do one fetish or another, some on the legal implications of being a player. This ain’t Newbury Street, but this is one rich gathering of artisans, artists, craft folks and leather workers who are deeply entrenched in the community and trying to eek out a living from the world they love.