There are times, running on adrenaline and sugar at 4am, dressed in a rubber mini-skirt, foot-high hair and fuckoff gothboots, cheerily smacking the naked, trembling buttocks of a more-than-willing submissive bent over a leather flogging-horse, that a girl starts to wonder: what’s it all about?
The evening in question was an interesting mix of goth-couture, industrial dance-floors and BDSM fetish-play – cultures united in their embrace of ‘alternative’ lifestyles and attitudes, as long as the participants have disposable cash. Subversive in concept, BDSM power-play is in fact its own political microcosm, teetering on the grimy brink of totally ignoring people and ideas outside the scene; this, like all intoxicants, is tolerable up to a point. That point is the moment where citizens become entirely involved in a sub-culture to the extent of ignoring the rest of the real world.
Although the dungeon was pleasant in its own way, by far the hilight of the evening was the dark cabaret. Many of the acts made wrigglingly direct contact with what used to be the central mission of contemporary burlesque: to titillate, but also to agitate. The gothic belly-dancer, for instance, revivifying gorily made-up corpses with her eerie, Freddie-Kruger-on-speed choreography, was a terrifying infusion of sexy, daring and frankly disturbing. ‘Satan’s strip-show’ struggled more obviously to distinguish itself from any other strip-show, but there were, at least, more tattoos and genuine smiles and fewer fake breasts in evidence. The rest of the evening was fun, but failed to retain that shaken-up edge of danger I’d been hoping for: self-satisfied doms can be the most terrifyingly irritating people on the planet.
The London Reclaim the Night March, organised the next evening by the London Feminist Network, was a daunting prospect, having dragged myself back into town after two hours’ sleep to meet my maternal unit and various assorted relations for strained tea. Even coming down from an large and educational night out, however, solidarity has to stand for something, and after two bowls of noodle soup and a pint of strong black coffee, so did I.
Arriving in Trafalgar square on a sharp-edged winter night to lose oneself in a crowd of murmuring, excited, independent women with agendas gave me a deep, calm thrill. As the clouds blew in across the London night, I found myself marching besides hundreds of others yelling,
whatever we wear
wherever we go
yes means yes
and no means no!
The police prescence was quite ridiculous, as was the fact that we were cordoned off to prevent us bothering ‘normal’ pedestrians with leaflets. I’m sure, though, that I’d seen one of the male officers the night before, wearing crotchless leather jodphurs and being roundly thrashed by a slender goth-pirate in a Farah Fawcett wig. A few friends and I skipped off before Julie ‘transphobic panty-twisted rad-fem’ Bindel took the stage, opting to head home for tea, company, moderate political subterfuge and the entire Clash back-catalogue thumped out on a badly-tuned guitar by a drunk friend.
The right to walk safely. The right to feel secure from male violence. The goth/BDSM/fetish culture engages with personal power, with sexual per/subversion and with everyone’s right to live and love and fuck as they please, so long as they don’t hurt anyone who isn’t actually begging for it with puppy-eyes. The real revolution, though, is never going to take place in smoky clubs or elegant dungeons. It’s where it always has been: on the streets.