Scan the faces of the crowds at any given kinky gala, in the pages of your nearest glossy fetish mag, or posing against your favourite fetishista in the next ‘girlfriends’ update, and there's one thing you'll still see very little of: black people. But that's changing.
When I entered high school, Janet Jackson had just revealed herself to be a nipple-pierced, rubber catsuit-clad kink kitten on her album The Velvet Rope, and I envied her. Although that was two years after my initial exposure to the kink-pop crossover that came via Madonna, all those deviant inclinations were somehow normalised by Janet’s exposure. It was because we shared something I hadn’t even thought possible — we were both black and pervily inclined. Those enlightened moments spurned a decade of exploration and led to my own dance into the playroom.
You may have seen me around a bit but, let me formally introduce myself. I'm VonLivid — resident lifestyler, model, performer, D/S advocate, designer and all-round American girl. I've been a Chicago fetish fixture since 2001 and a professional performance artist since '02. I'm simply a young, kinky, fashionist Visionista with an itch to scratch in this little bubble of a scene. I’m here to dispel any preconceived notions of what a black fetish model should be and reinvent what a fetishist could be.
‘Each day produces fresh arrivals on MySpace of pierced and fluoro-coiffured brownie alt-boys and girls’
There are more like me out there, but the catalyst drawing in these colourful fets is a bit different today. You see it in the commercial phenomenon of hip-hop with its recent MTV infusion of faux hawks and 20-eye boots; in latex-slicked and thigh-booted pop princesses singing about steamy moments of power exchange; and in those rubber-clad übermodels taking to the runways for Dior, Givenchy, McQueen and Mugler. Fetish, alt and kink are all becoming less risqué to the black population and each day this new exposure produces fresh arrivals on MySpace of pierced and fluoro-coiffured brownie alt-boys and girls.
Even so, there are still relatively few of us visible in the mainstream of fetish culture. Fortunately for Americans at least, events such as Black BEAT now provide subtle stepping stones for what might otherwise be a significant populace of unsure fetishists. This conference is held annually and marketed toward the black D/S community but consistently welcomes a diverse mix of ethnicities onto the floor.
Another venture in the US, the Bay Area Women of Color in BDSM Photography Project, exemplifies community motivation at its best. Founded by Mistress Heart and Andrew Morgan of San Francisco in an effort to offer exposure to models of colour and the photographers who capture them, the project has been featured in Eros and the (now sadly extinct) Spectator and was even awarded a Certificate of Honor by SF's mayor, Gavin Newsom. The photographers who’ve been involved to date — Andrew Morgan, Larry Utley, Darque of New York and Refa One, to name a few — have each offered their individual spins on visions of colourful fetish.
‘There are even a few true fetish paysites that specifically spotlight black models of all shapes, sizes and shades’
Designers and fet sites who frequently feature brown skinned fatales in their campaigns, such as Schwarze Mode, Polymorphe, Vesperi, Vex, Strange Lifeforms, Fetish-Live and Rubber Clinic, offer further hope that the monochromatic trend of fetish is changing. There are even a few true fetish paysites that specifically spotlight black models, such as BlackGirlsBound.com and EbonyBondage.org. Their extensive galleries are flooded with ladies of all shapes, sizes and shades.
There is a whole new wave of fetish models, pervy bloggers, performers and professional dominants who are becoming scene staples and dragging in more than just like-skinned admirers by the droves. And the recent surge of appearances in print, online and on stage by these women and men has at last sparked a debate about exactly why there have been so few blacks at the forefront of this scene.
Many possible explanations suggest themselves — a lack of true lifestyle interest by models, a lack of aesthetic appeal for fetish photographers and the commercial market, and just plain old ignorance, to name but three. Religious, socio-economic and geographical factors have also to be considered. Although the reasons are not cut and dried, this historical deficiency is even now in the process of being addressed by dozens of enthusiastic models who refuse to rely on race but instead follow the path of desire. Having stroked the sultry skin of this topic in my first piece, I will return in part two to examine the bare bones of the issue.