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A Kinky Family Reunion

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Flickr: Elmo H. Love
Flickr: Elmo H. Love

I have always said that I have blood family and chosen family. My blood family, which, depending on the day of the week and the moon cycle, might not be talking to me, is eclectic. My chosen family, which is made up of close friends from my kink and church communities, as well as random people I meet at the bus stop, is eclectic, but I rarely get to see it.

A few weekends ago I traveled to Providence, R.I. for a "family reunion." The winter 2012 Fetish Fair Fleamarket (also known as FFF, or simply the "Flea"), held by the New England Leather Association (NELA) every year since 1992, is what I call a perfect reunion. One weekend a year (for the past few years it has been held near Valentine's Day), 3,500 members of the kink community gather for three days of workshops and panels on different kinks, fetishes, and relationship issues. From the common "Rope 101" classes to workshops on monogamy, which many community members feel is being outnumbered by polyamorous relationships, to classes on tickling and age play, there is something for everyone.

This was my second Flea, the first one being in the winter of 2007. To sum up my experiences from the first conference, I joke that I went to the Flea and all I brought home was Eric. But really, whether you've been in the community for 25-plus years or are new to the experience, Flea is not just about the toys and workshops; it's about coming together as a strong community, a community that I support, and one that has in turn supported me through medical problems and coming-of-age issues.

At this last Flea, I had the pleasure of attending classes on different forms of communication and fetishes. The familiar snap of a whip brought my attention to the bullwhip lounge, one of the two specialty rooms that NELA offers to Flea-goers who want to practice their skills. At the same time, a class on monogamy caught my attention. Admitting to myself that I have very little knowledge of monogamy, I felt compelled to go.

All walks of life come to the Flea, though: monogamous and non-monogamous couples, polyamorous couples, "bigs" and "littles" (that is, people who take part in age play, a fetish that involves taking on a role as a younger or older being, mentality, emotionally, and in spirit), "furries," and people who focus on one or two strong areas come together to create a welcoming community. Over the three days of the Flea, I had access to five floors of vendors, organization booths, and classrooms offering different information and opportunities.

So where do I fit into the realm of things? I will admit to a few things, working my way from the most simple to the most detailed. Please feel free to skip to the next paragraph after you have read enough:

  • I am Amy.
  • I am Amy Shiner, a sex-positive blogger.
  • I am Amy Shiner, a sex-positive blogger and a geek.
  • I am Amy Shiner, a sex-positive blogger, geek, and submissive.
  • I am Amy Shiner, a sex-positive blogger, geek, submissive, and masochist.

Those are five statements I feel comfortable making to anyone, even those who attend the Flea. You may ask why I'm not explaining what my submission and masochism is. I do not want to give even the perception that this is only for one person or another. The community, which is made up of all sorts of people who believe either that everyone has their own identity or that they have all the answers (what we call the "twue" dominants and submissives), does not need me saying why I fit in.

CORRECTION: This article previously estimated the number of FFF attendees at 6,000.