Although blindfolds are fully encouraged, if you’re interested in dabbling in (or diving into) kink this Valentine’s season and beyond, it’s important to not explore blindly. ELIXHER chatted with Ignacio Rivera, activist and sex educator, about combating shame and preconceived notions around practicing kink and navigating kink communities as a queer person of color. Whether you’re curious, seasoned, single or coupled up, take note.
ELIXHER: Tell us a little bit about how you began in the kink community.
IGNACIO RIVERA: My kink started off privately. I had this lover, a play partner, and I asked them to teach me kinky stuff. I was interested and the only thing I had engaged in was role playing, dirty talking, hair pulling, spanking, etc. I was ready for more. This person eventually became my first Daddy [a Daddy is usually a more dominate partner].
My process of kink started through the vehicle of polyamory. I came out as poly 13 years ago and I was excited to come to that realization. I wanted to meet other queer trans poly people of color. I started going to the groups in New York but they were predominantly white and gay male oriented. I said to myself, “I know people of color are polyamorous.” This started my work – a group called Shades of Poly.
“The problem begins when someone tries to push me in a box. That’s just not happening. I’m a switch. Switch, bisexual and genderqueer are valid identities.” – Ignacio
I promoted myself at events and outed myself as poly, asking other people if they were poly. I learned that people of color were poly but didn’t identify with the word. This word was mostly associated with white folks. I used many different words to go beyond the word polyamory: poly, non-monogamy, cheater, creeper, predominantly single person, serial monogamist, etc. I organized and created something out of a need. I ran this POC only group at the LGBT Center for many years. Through that journey, I started expanding my idea of sexuality beyond just sex and oral sex. Meeting new people, experimenting with my lover and engaging in more play parties exposed me to kink/BDSM and I loved it. [A play party is a space to practice sexual activities, BDSM included, in a safe, welcoming environment.]
ELIXHER: How do you identify in the kink community?
IGNACIO: I’ve always identified as a switch, a trans kinky switch. That can mean a lot. I like switch because I have been a Daddy, a boi, a submissive, a Dominant; I hold multiple identities on the kinky spectrum. So switch is a place I can explore. The views on the switch identity can be comparable to that of bisexual or genderqueer. Those that embrace switch identity know we can be more than just one thing. Others are like, “What are you? Choose!” When I meet a person of color who is into kink but much more dominant than I, I can submit. If I meet a submissive person, I can dominate. And when I meet another switch, there is no end to the kind of play we can have.
“I have not and do not currently ‘submit to’ white people. I believe kink is not void of politics. We don’t leave our identity at the door.” – Igancio
The problem begins when someone tries to push me in a box. That’s just not happening. I’m a switch. Switch, bisexual and genderqueer are valid identities. When it comes to kink dynamics, as a person of color I had to distinguish “bottoming to” vs “submitting to.” I have not and do not currently “submit to” white people. I believe kink is not void of politics. We don’t leave our identity at the door. I am able to negotiate dominating a white person. I have negotiated bottoming or switching sexually with a white person but will not submit within a power dynamic. I have also negotiated power exchange with a white person. Especially if this person is skilled and trusted in the community. I am able to receive this exchange as such. Racism, the history of racism, and systematic forms of oppression are not void in kink. We play with power and taboo. These are just some of the boundaries I set for myself.
ELIXHER: How does your skin color affect your presence in the kink community?
IGNACIO: I am light-skinned so even though I am a person of color without hesitation, my experience of race will be different than a darker skinned person. I think people make assumptions about who you are and what you do. I identify as Latino, Native and African. The first time I went to a play party, it was a kink party. I was just looking around with no intention to play. A white woman asked if she could flog me [hit with a flogger, which is a multi-tasseled whip]. I was so surprised. I thought, “You’re a white woman telling me you want to whip me? Don’t you know what that means?” Race affects how I play but also my gender affects my play too. How I present myself, how I play in public, it affects how I am viewed in the community.
ELIXHER: How has your opinion of kink practices developed over time?
IGNACIO: They have developed through the education I have been doing, teaching myself, talking to other people. As I’ve learned, experienced, trial and error, my opinions have grown and changed. Things that I didn’t want to try and will try now is because I have watched people and I trust their ability and skill. I watch them play and I learn to respect the way they play and negotiate.
ELIXHER: As an educator, what aspects of kink have you seen people of color struggle with?
IGNACIO: I’d say the same things I mentioned. A lot of folks of color struggle with the predominance of whiteness, the de-politicizing of kink culture, the pricing of events, etc.
“The kink community has shifted in recent years and we can push it further.” – Ignacio
ELIXHER: What advice do you have for people of color who are new to the kink community?
IGNACIO: I would say definitely talk to me [firstname.lastname@example.org] and also I’d say go to workshops, talk to as many people of color as they know, ask questions. If you are interested in public kink, come to events, take an interest in the kink community. It is predominantly white, but if we want more people of color at events, we have to show up, demand multi-racial spaces, get into decision-making positions, insert politics into kink conversations and create our own spaces. The kink community has shifted in recent years and we can push it further.
Editor’s Note: Keep an eye out for Ignacio’s book The Play Party Survival Guide and How-to Tool Kit for Queers of Color, coming out fall 2014. The book documents the creation of their Poly Patao Production people of color only and multi-racial play parties in Brooklyn, New York. In sharing that story, the book aims to give concrete tools for people of color to carve out sexually liberating spaces for themselves in an otherwise white-dominated arena. Read more about Ignacio’s writings here.
– Interview by Ashley Young
Ashley Young is a Black queer feminist writer and poet working as an editor in New York City. She received her B.A. from Hampshire College where she studied education and theater and is earning a certification in copyediting at New York University. She is a 2010 Voices of Our Nations Art Foundation Poetry Fellow and a 2011 Lambda Literary Foundation Creative Non-Fiction Fellow. Her feminist poetry and prose have been published in Rkvry Quarterly Literary Journal, Autostraddle, Her Circle Magazine and more. She authored a chapter in Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012) and will appear in Wisconsin Press’ anthology “All About Skins: Short Fiction by Award Winning Women of Color” and Andrea Boston’s anthology “Oddflower.” She is working on her first novel, an Audre Lorde-inspired biomythography titled The Liberation of the Black Unicorn.