Being fetish (2022)

You can listen to this musing here or read it below.

I organize a lot of different play spaces. There are dedicated parties built upon hundreds of working hours planning an architecture and making it a reality—the focused rituals directing attention through repetition and protocol. And the tantric temples guiding a communal “energy flow” by hypnotic voice and suggestive music. And sometimes, a mixture of it all. The common goal is shaping an experience, an alternate reality, or what I like to call the in-between space. But there is another way, other than the manipulation of space and time, and that is helping people shape themselves.

A similar example is traditional fetish parties, where this happens by explaining what materials, uniforms or styles are welcomed. One of my first kinky experiences was at the Swedish Leather Men (SLM) club, and they very clearly explained what kind of men they wanted. So it’s the rubber gimp, the military man, the sports jock, the schoolboy etc. And they can’t be mixed. Some are beginner welcoming, and others are more strict, requiring a massive wardrobe. In the end, it’s a dress code, and it’s often seen as a filter to decide who fits and who doesn’t. Who is a part of the lifestyle, community, or subculture, and who isn’t? But adhering to the dress code also changes who one is, if one can allow it. And this I find the most fascinating.

I remember a friend in Berlin receiving a 16feet kangaroo leather whip for his birthday from his wife. It’s the finest craftsmanship and probably costs at least 500 euros. But it’s also an incredibly hard tool to master that requires lots of training and physical space (because it’s so long). And it can’t be used every day because the experience is harsh, and the bruising can take a long time to heal. So using this whip is somewhat of a ritual. It also interests me from a consent point of view because I think it becomes hard to back out when the occasion is so unique—a little bit like running a marathon. I have another memory of a similar whip being used, also in Berlin, in an underground catacomb. A naked body tiptoeing, hanged by the wrist. When the whip cracked, the sound exploded in space, echoing off the walls and putting the surrounding audience in awe. So again, the object changes the people around it.

For me, this is the definition of fetish. Or when an object becomes a fetish. Mythologically, a fetish is an object of the gods. Therefore, it is often forbidden to be used. Only to be worshipped. Its only function is to change who you are. Or even more spiritually, new-agey or not, it’s made to put you in contact with god. So it is deprived of its human function. And I think it connects to fetishism within kink and sexuality.

Within psychology, the pathological definition of fetishism is having one’s sexual attraction tuned towards inanimate objects or body parts not traditionally viewed as sexual. Shoes and feet are typical examples. For it to actually be pathological, one must be unable to function sexually without the fetish. While, on the other hand, it’s widespread to “have a fetish for something”, I think the word kink is a better description for the casual obsession with a material, like leather or latex. From a mythological perspective, pathological fetishism, I think, can be seen as the object depriving the individual of their human function (forging intimate connections, fucking, and reproducing) and replacing it with worshipping the fetish in a god-like relationship. And here, of course, the reference to BDSM is apparent. In submitting to an object, and sometimes even becoming the object oneself, like fully enclosing oneself in leather.

Maybe the subconscious purpose of a fetish party can be seen as a communal worshipping act, like dancing to heavy techno beats, dressed in latex, closely, oh so closely together. Sliding together on silicone lube and sweat into an ecstatic state. My ultimate fantasies about a fetish party closely resemble the tribal dancing scene when they reach Zion in the Matrix Reloaded.

So when dressing for a party or a play scene, I think the primary focus should be allowing the clothing, toys and symbols to change who one is. Just like the architecture of the space is designed to do. In tantric circles, this is often referred to as sacred space. It’s an invitation to slow down and feel the transformation as it’s happening. And I think this is what people dream about when they enter the Eyes Wide Shut party (the number one fantasy, you know) to put on that Venetian carnival mask for a night and become a godly and mysterious lover. But the fetish also limits the possibilities for interaction. And I think that’s the point—it kind of forces or guides. When I put on the thigh-high leather boots, I can no longer make pancakes at home, or I could, but then it would be a bizarre comedy scene. Just like if my friend brings out the 16feet kangaroo leather whip, then cuddling is kind of off the radar. Therefore it becomes both dedication and obsession.

And it changes how people form relationships in a curated space, in a designed outfit with selected symbolic items, because they see each other differently. So it’s a symbiosis and an awareness to cultivate—how I see myself, relate to others, and place myself in space. So when I enter a play space, I enter as someone else. And therefore, it can’t be a social space. So this means that upholding or maintaining everyday social relations kind of doesn’t fit. Because in everyday life, I am Andy, the reader of books, the connoisseur of hot sauna and good coffee. And he is very different from the persona belonging in a play space or scene.

My goal when writing this musing is to encourage people, mostly people around me, that go to the play party SALONGEN (the parlour) to cultivate this skill of “being fetish”. That is collecting and selecting things based on how they affect who one is, rather than anything else. But can a whip be both “a toy” and a fetish object simultaneously? I don’t know. Again according to my friend with the kangaroo leather birthday present, the more he mastered that whip, the more and more it became a casual item. And just another thing in the toy bag. In ritual magick, there is a concept for charging items of magical use. To give them meaning. To decide that they are unique. To make them a fetish. Maybe not of the gods. But of one’s own fantasies and desires.