What you should know about privacy, secret identities, and kink communities

What you should know about privacy, secret identities, and kink communities

June 24, 2014  |  essays

Welcome to the kink worlds of BDSM and reclaimed sluttiness and sex toys!

I see you there in the wings, lurking a little bit, shy and nervous, and possibly fearful of revealing too much and putting yourself or your life in some sort of “danger.” Danger is of course what you are coming here looking for, in a safe and risk-aware context: more edge, more bite in your sex life, more intensity of feeling, more cracking yourself open and seeing what’s inside.

But taking the first steps into the kink communities are a challenge, and you’re almost immediately faced with the question of anonymity. Should you stay anonymous, or be transparent? Create an alter ego, or use your legal name? And what about … pictures?

There are a lot of fears about being “out” as kinky in a world that sees all kinky things as deviant, dangerous, and out of control. Kink is in the mainstream more than ever these days, from Fifty Shades of Grey back to “The Secretary,” but there still can be real consequences to working in sexually explicit fields, or being out as kinky.

Here’s a few examples from my own version of struggling with being out—Just last week, I put up a sale for enrollment into the Submissive Playground ecourse, and after about five hours of it being live, I got an email saying that it had been pulled and I wasn’t allowed to use Gumroad for this project because it violates their terms of service, which excludes any adult content. Fuck. Cue sad trombone.

I was also turned down for a Twitter business ad recently because my business is sex related, and denied entry into the Audible.com affiliate program because my work is too explicit (got some leads on resolving that one, but no guarantees).

Sometimes, this is Just The Way It Is and I can kinda let it go, but other times, it feels like I’m being shamed for being explicit about sex and I get all righteous and pissed about it. I get mad, and then I write furiously, and then I try to formulate these writing furies into actual useful pieces of writing that you get to read, too!

Of course I’m the only one this happens to professionally—there have been a bunch of headlines recently about Chase bank closing porn actors’ bank accounts. It’s not just Chase: Paypal has been making headlines lately too as freezing funds and strong-arming businesses into flagging any “adult” content. My friend Andre Shakti recently crowdfundraised over $500 to travel to the Feminist Porn Awards, but the bank processor Wepay wouldn’t let her collect what she’d raised.

You might be see these headlines around, on your usual Internet wanderings, or on the Facebook feed of that one friend who always shares kinky shit. (Hey, maybe you’ll see this from them, too!) And it makes you wonder … so what about me?

Is it risky to be out as kinky?

Maybe. It’s generally agreed upon that you’re going to have a much, much harder time being any sort of elected official if you’re an out kinkster, so most folks who want to go into politics are really careful about any sort of identity in the kink communities. Some people who have kids are very strict about their kink identities, particularly if they are adopting or going through legal battles—but I’ve also heard that it’s becoming more common for kink to be disregarded in court as related to the safety of children or the capabilities of the kinkster as a parent. But I am not a lawyer! Nor do I work in law—I’m just a kinkster who likes to stay informed. This is just what I’ve heard.

There’s no easy answer here for what to do and how to deal with your new budding kink identity, but there are many, many kinksters who have come before you, grasshopper, who have deliciously happy lives and who do dirty things in consensual privacy. Kink producers—folks who actively work to produce spaces for kinksters to learn and gather and play—work with you to keep you safe and disclose the level of identity that you want to disclose.

Here’s some strategies for you to think about.

Most commonly, people do one of three things to keep themselves as safe as possible and not in a position to be threatened or “outed” as being kinky. They either 1. retain anonymity, using no identifying information about themselves in places that could be used against them, or2. create an alter ego, using a different name and separating their kinky communities from the rest of their life, or 3. go for complete transparency.

Let’s look at each of ‘em and see what might fit you best:

1. Stay Anonymous

If you are extra nervous about consequences from being out as kinky, you might want to consider remaining completely anonymous in the kink communities. This usually means taking some sort of non-identifiable name when you are involved in kink events or on Fetlife, but not necessarily building a whole persona behind it—just using it as a screen in front of the “real you.”

Pros:

  • Most protective of your legal identity and any identifiable characteristics

Cons:

  • The more you hide, the more you have to hide
  • Some folks end up craving the validation and community that comes with sharing more, and this anonymity isn’t enough to build those deeper connections that are possible
  • Many people won’t recognize your Fetlife avatar, photos, or name if you introduce yourself at an event as one thing and then use a different name as your smokescreen
  • Often there is a big risk of being outed as kinky, which can cause anxiety and stress
  • Sometimes you might really want to a) take photos of you doing kinky amazing things and b) share them, but this option shuts that down

2. The Alter Ego

This is super common in the kinky worlds—for people to basically have two names, one that they use outside of kink spaces and one that they use for kink. They often use this name as their Fetlife profile, on their badge at kink events, or introduce themselves as that at the local munch or BDSM workshop.

Pros:

  • Nobody who googles your name will find your connections to kink
  • Generally very safe to show up at events, wear a “no photos” marker, and go by your other name—no one will ever know you were there
  • Easy to erase all trace of your alter ego, just by deleting your alter ego’s accounts
  • Relative ease to keeping your other self separate from your kink self
  • Can still put up a variety of identifying things (photos of your face, photos of your tattoos) and be relatively sure that your name is not attached to them. If someone you know is at a kink event or on Fetlife and sees you, well, then in order to out you, they’d have to out themselves, so you are relatively safe.

Cons:

  • It can be lots of work to maintain two selves. You have to be very diligent about what you post where, who sees it, and where (if ever) you cross post.
  • The lines start to get blurry. Sometimes your alter ego becomes more you than the rest of your life (see: Sinclair Sexsmith, myself, for example), or sometimes you become your alter ego.
  • It might sometimes feel like fragmenting your Self, if people know you as many names, and can lead to a lack of integrity or a lack of intimacy for friends because they only know parts of you
  • Being “exposed” as this alter ego is a real risk that can sometimes be incredibly scary

Full Transparency

This is where you end up either merging your legal identity and your alter ego, if you started there, or you just always used your own name (or a variation thereof) and used your personal accounts to connect with the kinky communities. Very few people start from here in the kink scene, but it can be liberating and empowering to

I heard a story just recently from a man who used to work at a high-up government office, and as he came into the kink community, he realized that was a potential spot for blackmail. Rather than cease his kink engagement, he called a meeting with his boss and his boss’s boss, and came out as kinky. “I want you to know that I’m a gay man, and I participate in BDSM activities—” he started. They cut him off. “We don’t need to know that!” “But you do,” he persisted. “Because if you know, then there’s nothing for anyone else to blackmail me with.” “Fair enough. Great. Thanks for telling us. Now go back to work.”

(I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.)

I’ve been pretty shocked at how few issues being almost completely out as kinky has been in my own life. I began publishing erotica under my legal first and middle names when I was 27, in 2006, and because my legal name is very specific, it’s easily findable via Google.

Pros:

  • Integrity! Being who you are!
  • Making your own unique way in the world without apology
  • Significantly reduced shame (Potential for, not guaranteed)
  • Reduced potential for someone to attempt to use something against you as a threat

Cons:

  • It’s really, really hard and scary and challenging, and you may sacrifice some relationships, professional contacts, your job, your standing in the community, your career ladder, or other things. It’s more and more rare, but it is still possible.
  • It’s not for everybody! It isn’t always possible (because of perceived/feared consequences or known consequences) to be out as kinky

Most of the folks I know in the community do some sort of combination of these things. I’d say I have an alter ego (“Sinclair Sexsmith” isn’t the name my parents named me at birth, if you didn’t already figure that out), but that I am completely out in my life in general. Pretty much everyone who knows me via my birth name knows that I am Sinclair, and it isn’t hard to find out my legal name if you know my work through Sugarbutch (there’s even a post in the archives for “coming out day” from a few years ago where I come out as my legal name).

When my boy rife and I were talking about this article, he said, “My alter ego is pretty transparent.” Which I think is a very accurate way to describe what both he and I do with our kink worlds.

As a producer of kinky events and a facilitator of kink education in general, I am always interested in and concerned with people’s privacy. I don’t take photos of my classes (unless I get permission from the audience, which I sometimes do). I don’t use anyone’s names or identify anybody who was in attendance (unless I either get permission or know their level of out-ness and transparency). Note—just because I have my own policies that I follow around this doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes fuck up. I have posted photos on Sugarbutch of people I didn’t have permission to post before (and subsequently apologized and taken them down). I have messed up. It happens. I do my best to apologize, reflect, and fix it, if possible.

Take the Submissive Playground course, as an example—many people have had challenges attending because they are not particularly out as kinky. Some folks don’t want to use any sort of credit card or payment linked to their name in order to pay. Some folks have been very concerned with their name and email, worried that their identity would be revealed to the group.

But let me reassure you: We can work around that.

Payment challenges? No problem. You can send me a check—or, even more anonyously, a money order! You can use an anonymous email address. You don’t have to give me your address.

Any information you give me will be protected and for my use to make the course better, and will never be released.

In this particular course, you can be whatever level of anonymous that you feel comfortable being. You can use a pseudonym and an alternative picture for your avatar, no problem. You don’t have to ever go on record and say where you live or what you do. You do have the option to share photos, to go on video to chat with me with the group, or to speak up on our live calls, but you don’t have to.

You might not know about the variety of options that are available to you to keep your identities from being outed as kinky if you are new to the BDSM and fetish and sex toy and slutty delicious worlds, but there are quite a few. Producers of kink events work hard to make the spaces as safe as possible, and for many people to attend, regardless of their anonymity, alter egos, or transparency.

None of these options are better or worse than the others, they are all weighing risks and mitigating the circumstances as best as possible, and everyone has different risks. You are the best gauge of what is right for you—nobody else can make the decision for you.

Think about which of these options feels best for you, and remember—at any time, you can change it. Problem is, it’s much harder to change to more anonymity than it is to change to more openness about your identities. And certain things (like publishing erotica in a Best Lesbian Erotica 2006 anthology under your legal name when you’re 27) don’t really go away, though they do have the potential to lead you to an integrated, kink-forward and well-lived life.

identities

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4 Comments


  1. I’ve been reporting on issues faced by people in the sex industry for a few years and my finding is that the restrictions facing people who are out are very real. Chase didn’t simply choose down performer accounts, but those of their partners. Google isn’t currently simply backing away from porn, but sex educators, erotic content creators, and even sex worker rights activists. I’m with you that the more open people are, the better life can be — and the better the world, too, as it begins to accept that adults have and enjoy sex — but I’d tell anyone thinking of coming out to think about it very carefully. Being part of the change means being in the front line of a war against a very sex-negative society and this is a very big deal.

    • I’ve been in the sex industry for almost ten years now, and I hear you. That makes sense—there can absolutely be real consequences, and many of the business.

      Personally, I’ve witnessed kind of the opposite—lots of friends who are porn performers, sex workers, and erotic educators coming out at their jobs, to their parents, and to their families with very little or almost no consequences. These people haven’t tried to run for office or, idk, work as a child care provider, however. I know there have been systemic, institutional ways that those working in sexuality fields have been discriminated against and denied, and many of my friends & colleagues that I talk to regularly basically say they have not felt like any doors have been closed to them because of their outness.

      And, the discrimination is still very real. There can be real consequences. It just completely depends on the person, the situation, the community.

  2. I’m a straight TV guy into BDSM (though not so much SM), created an alter ego for online purposes. Lived with that for a year or so, then finally ‘came out’ to my wife. As a result (few other factors as well) we have split up. Told a few other close friends too, all of them accepted me and the need for the other me receded until it’s now gone. I’m integrated and *much* happier. If anyone can’t take it – fuck ‘em. If a bit of kink is so awful it means you can’t be my friend then I feel the same. Thankfully I haven’t lost anybody yet. And I feel complete.
    Thank you for your writings Mr Sexsmith.

  3. The stigma against kink is similar to the 1950′s opposition to gay even in ‘liberal’ San Francisco, except for the police who do not trample on consenting adults’ activities (generally). The more people ‘come out of the closet’ and be themselves, the more those who live with them will accept their lifestyle and are positively curious about kink. So it is good that you educate the public so that they can understand what they previously knew little about.

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