Juggalos, Kink, and The Mainstream(tm) World

One of my favorite writers, Nathan Rabin, became a dedicated Juggalo while attending the Gathering of the Juggalos for the purpose of writing a book. It’s the kind of “going native” association with one’s subjects that would make a social scientist cringe, but for a pop culture writer, it provides a valuable outsider-turned-insider perspective that I enjoy reading about.

This year’s Gathering, according to his field reports, has been dampened significantly by the current political climate. Moving the venue to Oklahoma City and reducing the availability of drugs has cast a pall on the proceedings, already facing the bizarre and daunting situation of being declared a gang by the FBI. In response, the Insane Clown Posse and their associates have announced a Juggalo March on Washington. The surreal nature of even uttering that sentence is truly a sign of the times.

Within the proceedings, there seems to be a muted tension and widespread inability to grasp these developments in their entirety. Some dedicated members of the group feel energized by the FBI’s designation, because it confers a type of “badass” real-world status. In contrast, Nathan points out, declaring fans of a music group to be a criminal gang is, in fact, an unconstitutional threat to their rights of association and free speech. The idea that Juggalos are actually conducting organized crime beyond the local distribution of controlled substances is patently implausible.

There are some odd parallels here to the world of kink. Many kinky people seem to delight in the disapprobation of the vanilla world, and wear it as a badge of authenticity. Certainly, our preferences and peccadilloes don’t conform to any mainstream notion of acceptability, in a moral or legal sense. A penchant for odd and often violent sex acts is no way to win the hearts and minds of a nation that traces its roots back to puritanism.

But as with the Juggalos and their misapprehension of gang status as a kind of power, being outsiders doesn’t make us better or more worthy in any way. It certainly doesn’t make us a force of change that threatens the establishment. As I have noted previously, a subculture that centers the sexual desires of heterosexual, cisgender and mostly white men isn’t even close to being revolutionary. It’s downright normal, in many respects. The only aspect of kink culture that challenges mainstream sexual mores is our outspoken insistence that sexual behavior is something we do because we wish to, not because we are obligated to propagate the species within the confines of Christian, heterosexual marriage. And as such, it requires the consent of all involved. The consent narrative in kink culture, as contrasted with its absence in mainstream culture, highlights just how mainstream our interests truly are – without a commitment to that narrative, most of us are just performing the same patriarchal, cishet sexual politics of our vanilla neighbors.

A march of kinky people for our rights conjures images and bizarre and unlikely as one made up of Juggalos. And as with this parallel universe of a subculture, being dangerous, disagreeable and edgy doesn’t equal speaking truth to power, any more than taking drugs and engaging in assorted acts of chaos and mayhem. The fact that straight, white cisgender men who enjoy being Dominant in their sexual relationships may feel put upon for their sexual preferences speaks more to their resentment at not being able to fulfill those desires with greater ease, as the wealthier and more powerful men in society are wont to do. It doesn’t mean that being a straight, white, Dominant man is a kind of oppression. The entire concept of sexual gratification as reward for winning the game of power and privilege is one steeped in patriarchy and rape culture, and flies in the face of our stated group values of consent, honesty and free self-expression. If sex is a game to be won, then one’s sexual partners are game tokens, not human beings with their own desires and agency.

If we really want to speak truth to power as kinksters, we can easily do so by supporting the political rights of our kinky friends who are transgender, queer, Black and Brown, immigrants, non-Christian, and disabled. They can tell us much about what it’s really like to live as an outsider, not someone who embraces an outsider identity because it makes us feel important, or someone who can easily shed that outsider identity and appear perfectly normal when it suits us.

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