9 Tips for Nonbinary Folks Navigating BDSM Community

By Sinclair Sexsmith

So you’re a nonbinary person — and you’re kinky! Fantastic. The kinky world of pleasure, sensation, trust, intimacy, and intensity is open to you. Often, there are a lot of expectations for what kind of kink men are into, and what kind of kink women are into (these are stereotypes, and often incorrect). In my experience, nonbinary people have an easier time deconstructing the expectations of the binary gender roles and diving in to really discover what it is they particularly like. You don’t have to subscribe to any of the gender role expectations of what kind of kink men and women “should” enjoy — and this gives you a leg up. 

You get to make your own treasure map. You get to make your own path.

What’s that? Oh, you’re tired of making your own path in all the aspects of your life? I certainly understand that. As a nonbinary trans masc person myself, who has been out as butch and out as kinky for more than twenty years, I have had to forge my way through multiple communities — including queer, kink, and writing communities. I’ve carved so many paths for myself that my machete is dull and I have some wicked tennis elbow from having to create a trail through the high, thick brush where no trail was previously. 

It is hard to find acceptance and community as a nonbinary person navigating the kink communities. (Side note — I always say “the kink communities” instead of “the kink community” because there are many, many kink communities, and there is not only one. There are even different communities in the same city!) Especially from the outside, kink communities look as though they are dominated by heterosexual and cisgender folks. If you are lucky enough to have kink events in your town through a local club, leather bar, or education-focused kink organization, unless it is explicitly queer and explicitly for people of color, it is probably going to default to hetero, cis, white folks.

Don’t worry, though. There are lots of resources out there for nonbinary, queer, and BIPOC folks in kink. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)

And don’t forget, the kink and BDSM communities were founded on queer sex and desire and by gay men and dykes, radical misfits, trans folks, people of color, and people who wanted to explore the limits and pleasures of the body. As kink has become more and more mainstream, queer, trans, and nonbinary people within the kink community might seem less common, but we aren’t — we have always been here, and we will always be here. In fact, we are the ones who have been holding the pillars of the kink communities all along. 

So even though the kink communities you’ve tapped into might be predominantly hetero, white, cis, and affluent, there are many, many pockets of kink that center queers, people of color, nonbinary and trans folks, and DIY crafters.

Personally, my kink life has always been centered in queerness and gender radicalism. I came into kink in the late 1990s, and it was a very different world then, with the internet only just beginning and kink still deeply stigmatized. (It still is, of course, in many ways, but there is a lot more mainstream acceptance for it now.) The first kink events I ever went to were explicitly queer and kinky, and the first mentors and friends I had in kink were queer femmes, trans guys, butches, and gay men.

So while I didn’t have to navigate my way through a crowded hetero-dominated kink event at the beginning, I certainly have had to make my way through it as general kink events have become full of more and more heterosexual people.

Figuring out that you are kinky (or nonbinary, or many other things that we often are denied as we’re younger and discover as we forge our own options) often takes time and effort. You may have felt, like I did, that becoming part of the kink community was an incredible feeling of liberation — that the kink communities were a safe space to express all kinds of desires for behavior (sometimes labeled “deviant” or “perverted”), and that you finally had friends, acquaintances, mentors, and classes you could attend to learn more about your desires. 

The kink communities can really feel like a miraculous place that way! And, even though there is liberation and exaltation in claiming, unapologetically, a kink identity, the kink communities are still a microcosm of the larger culture. There is still rampant racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, classism, ableism, and all the other aspects of oppression and marginalization inside of the kink communities — just like there is in the overculture. 

Even though the kink communities look as though they are very normative from the outside, there are many, many people doing incredible organizing for trans, nonbinary, queer folks, and people of color. 

You can still find wonderful acceptance and place within kink.

Finding in-person community is harder since the pandemic. There are many folks who are high risk and immunocompromised, and kink events have varying COVID protocol policies. Make sure you check the location, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, and what the testing and masking requirements are before you go, to assure that you know the risks you’re taking.

There are kink events happening in person — I’ve seen a rise of them in the spring and summer 2022. Some conferences are back in person, and some play parties, munches, socials, and bar nights are either happening again or never stopped. 

But regardless of whether you find kink community online, connect with a few folks on your own, or connect with a local or national (or international!) community, you, as a nonbinary person, deserve a place in the kink community. You might have to work to find it, but it’s there, and you might be surprised at how wonderful it is to have a group of kinky, queer, nonbinary folks who you know and trust to do beautiful and rough things to each other.

Here are some tips for nonbinary folks navigating BDSM community. To find your people within kink:

#kinkspiration: 

1. Get bold

Not everyone is the biggest extrovert’s extrovert, so you might have to guzzle down some courage, read some blog posts on how to make friends, and put yourself out there. The process of creating a new community and friend circle absolutely is kind of like dating, or finding a job. Attending social events, figuring out how to say hi to people who look and sound interesting, figuring out how to give them your contact info (or getting theirs), and then actually following up are all big steps before you even start forming something deeper. It can feel daunting and hard, but the kink community is actually incredibly welcoming to new folks, and most clubs and events host new member orientations or kink 101 classes frequently. It might help to have what a friend of mine calls a “white belt” frame of mind — if you’re brand new at this, you may as well just own that! It’s absolutely okay to be new. Inexperienced folks are coming into the kink communities all the time, so you won’t be the only one.

2. Start by asking the queers!

Go to queer events, talk to other nonbinary people that you know, go to queer kink socials, and start asking around about the kink resources in your area. This is, absolutely, made harder by the COVID pandemic, because things may or may not be happening in person, and you may not want to meet in person. But, if you filter for queerness — and, relatedly, by nonbinary and trans community — first, you will get recommendations from other nonbinary, trans, and queer folks about what kink events in your area are the most nonbinary-friendly. That can help, rather than starting with general kink and trying to hunt for the sub-community of queers and gender outlaws.

3. Do find your local kink community

Your city might already have kink events happening — start looking around! Do some research and see what kind of leather clubs exist in your area, and whether they are doing any events online or in person. Spend some time on Google, Fetlife, and Facebook looking for BDSM groups, clubs, and events. Text the two or five kinky people you know and ask them where you should start. Get some recommendations. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  

4. Find online events

Even if there’s not much happening in your local kink community, there are a lot of online resources. Kink Academy is an amazing place, full of dozens of educators who are sharing some of their best content. The price for a monthly membership is not any more than an average in-person event, so it is definitely worth it to try out a membership for a few months, watch as much as you can, and decide whether or not you want to keep it. Also check out Wicked Grounds, the kinky coffeehouse and education center out of San Francisco; Karada House, a collective of kinky queer folks out of Berlin; and The Exiles, who are one of the oldest women, trans, and nonbinary leather clubs in the country, and whose programming went online in 2020 and they now have members throughout the US and Canada.

5. Attend some national or international events

Many conferences moved online during the COVID pandemic, and some new all-virtual BDSM conferences have showed up, too. Check out IMsLBB, Thrive, and Sex Down South, all of which include many queer, trans, and nonbinary people. When you attend classes, make note of the presenters that you like and follow their work. They might be teaching other places that you’ve never heard of, so find out where else to attend. Make note, too, of the people who are attending who make smart comments in the chat or during a question and answer period, and tell them that you appreciated what they shared. Ask if you can connect on Fetlife (or Facebook, or Instagram, or wherever else you tend to hang out).

6. Seek out kink community on social media

Fetlife is the obvious social media site to connect with kinky folks, but many people find it hard to navigate or overwhelming, or they often can receive unsolicited messages and feel a bit unsafe. Do some research on the best ways to use Fetlife — for example, make some educated decisions about what photos to share of yourself. You might also want to not share your real age or location, depending.

Discord, Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok, and Instagram all have many ways to connect with kink community, too. Twitter has the most lax policies about sharing explicitly sexual content, but there are people sharing education, information about events, and general kink musings on all of them. See if some of the kink educators you like are on your favorite platforms and follow them there, and check out who else they recommend. 

7. Make yourself a bingo card

If you’re the kind of person who likes to gamify your life, creating your own bingo card for reaching out to kink community could be a fun goal. Include things like: go to a social event, go to a play party, research my local kink groups, ask three people I know if they have any suggestions for kink events or community, give someone my Fetlife handle, attend an online conference. When you get a bingo, celebrate!

8. If you really want to find kinky nonbinary folks, you might have to travel

If you really want to find some nonbinary folks in kink, and you don’t live in a big city with a big enough kink community that there are queer and nonbinary specific or targeted events happening, you might have to travel. If you feel safe enough traveling, given the COVID risks, find a kink event that you want to attend in New York City, Chicago, or San Francisco, and make a trip of it. There are many things to visit in all of those places separate from whatever event you find, so you can easily make a weekend (or a week) of it. Check out Dark Odyssey (they throw four events a year, three on the east coast and one of the west coast), International Ms Leather/International Ms Bootblack Contest & Conference (which will happen near San Francisco in 2023), and LSM (a women, trans, and nonbinary focused BDSM group out of New York City). 

9. Create your own kink group!

If you’re not getting anywhere finding a group to jump into, you might just want to create your own. Ask your kink friends if they want to have a monthly discussion group, book group, kinky movie night, or Kink Academy watch party. Ask them to bring their kinky friends, and pretty soon you’ll have more than enough to get you connected and learning.

Finding and creating kink community is not an easy task — and, even once you have it, staying active in it is an ongoing project. It takes work and effort to find the people who you really resonate with — but it is so worth it! Having people to validate your identity, explain things to you when you learn new things, share in your milestones or challenges, and maybe even play or flirt with is essential in the kink journey. You do not have to go at this alone! There are so many places to dive in and find connection.

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Sinclair Sexsmith

photo by Bill Wadman

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is an award-winning queer trans masc writer focusing on queer culture, trauma, dominance, submission, spiritual kink, and transgender and nonbinary issues. Sinclair’s creative nonfiction and queer erotica writings are widely published online and in more than thirty anthologies, including eight volumes of Best Lesbian Erotica series. They are the editor of Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year Volume 4, Volume 5, Volume 6, Best Lesbian Erotica 2012, Erotix: Literary Journal of Somatics, and Say Please: Lesbian BDSM Erotica. Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2015 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. Sinclair writes at sugarbutch.net since 2006, recognized numerous places as one of the top sex blogs. They have been teaching about erotic writing, the power of queer narratives, somatic arts, and many sex and kink techniques since 2002. Sinclair is an international leather titleholder, a pretty good cook, and an avid creative journaler. Follow all their work at patreon.com/mrsexsmith

Sinclair will be running D/s Playground, their 8-week online course about power dynamics, starting in July 2022.

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