Tread gently. This article contains descriptions and visuals of BDSM activities.
Hear that cracking of the whip? It sounds like music to someone’s ear. That blade that sends a shiver of fear down your spine? It makes another stand upright and come alive. From the outside, the world of kink can look like a place where a smile would be a rare occurrence. After all, smirks, screams and tears do fit better when the picture contains whips, canes, and chains. But come closer if you dare. Let go of your inhibitions, your fears, your judgements, and biases, and take a real, long look. Our tenebrous world isn’t only one of grimaces; it’s also one of giggles.
In April 2023, a non-funded activist group called Kinky Collective organised a national kink festival in India, inviting people to come to witness this world for themselves. Held over three sunny days in Goa, Kink Con was, to put it simply, a riot to attend. There were panels on every abstruse topic under the sun – polyamory, mental health, LGBTQIA+, feminism – with panellists trying to elaborate on how kink interplays with these in their lives. There were skits, carefully designed to create discourse on our basic understanding of consent; a fashion show that celebrated identity in a way never seen before; a one-of-a-kind auction with underwear and kinky services on the menu. And then there were workshops on activities like whipping, rope bondage, needle play, trampling, breath play, with seasoned kinksters playing professor, giving detailed lectures on the size, thickness, and material of their favoured ‘torture’ implements. Of course, there were practical demonstrations too − on, allow me to add, very willing, eager participants – which only took place after our professors elucidated every safety procedure that the class needed to note when playing on their own, twice.
But I’m getting ahead of myself; this is no way to take you through the event of my life. Let me rewind to the beginning. Strap up, you’re in for a ride.
Back to the Start
As I entered this gorgeous beachside resort in India’s very own Las Vegas, having spent a long 7 hours belting out tunes to old Hindi songs with two friends in a car, my jaw dropped. Sitting in the resort’s restaurant were a grand total of 84 kinksters eating breakfast. If I had to talk about the diversity, I’d use the metaphor of an ice cream shop serving gender, sexuality, and personality. We had one of every flavour (and combination) in attendance. Now, the night had taken its toll on me, so I was quiet as the group did the registrations, but my mind was clear. I had one singular agenda for the next three days − I was going to collect (and dissect) every laugh I could find in this festival.
I have a firm belief that under all our layers, kinksters are irreverent souls who like to play games with ideas that the rest of the world considers sacrosanct. Essentially, we’re jesters. And as a newly minted kinkster out in the wild, at, by some insane stroke of luck, the country’s first nationwide kink festival, I will go far enough to say that I felt a moral obligation to unearth just how people play these games in practice. Luckily for me, I got a taste at the first workshop itself.
After a morning of introductions, registrations, and panels, three kinksters took centre-stage for the first participatory activity at Kink Con, a rope workshop. Two kinksters chose rope bunnies (a term used to describe the person getting tied up), while another decided to go the atmanirbhar (self-sufficient) way, circling a long strap of rope around his torso and down his left leg. A grin crept up my face as I watched his deft handiwork, marvelling at the amount of time it may have taken him to master his technique. Surrounded by a group as enthralled as I was, this Dom was chattering away to glory without missing a knot on his rope work. “You know, I have to give kudos to my rope bunny’s patience,” he told us. “There have been so many times where I’ve had to stop in the middle of a scene, telling them ‘Hold on, wait a minute, I need to revise.’” Of course, as intended, the image of someone having to wait half-tied up, mid-scene, as their Dom scoured YouTube to revise his knots got me and my fellow voyeurs sniggering.
Soon after, I moved to watch a gender-fluid Domme practising their art on another participant, this one in a seated position, with rope fastening their feet, hands, and neck together. “Does it hurt?” they asked kindly. Upon receiving a negative response, they cheekily followed it up with, “Do you want it to hurt?” As I watched further, I realised this Domme was clearly a bratty one. To explain, in BDSM terminology, the term ‘brat’ is used to describe someone who is on the spectrum of being naughty, playful and defiant during kinky interactions. Though the term is typically used for subs, many Doms and switches also use it to express their style of play. Case in point: this bratty Domme tied up another submissive brat in a remarkable hogtie that included rope going around her neck. Placing the ends of the rope in her hands, they said, “I know you’re a brat. You want the control. I’m giving you the control in your hands.” Of course, the brat used this ‘control’ to choke herself further, making the Domme and everyone else around giggle at her antics.
The next day, a demo on whipping was even more insightful on the importance of wit, banter, and laughter within play. The Dom conducting this demo began by whipping a sub’s back a few times. When he stopped, she turned around to tell him she could take more. The Dom looked out to the crowd, saying, “I’m not doing a good job. Shame on me.” As the crowd burst out laughing, he got another sub to stand next to the first, cracking his whip on their backs in succession as the crowd held its breath. Once he was done, he whispered to the subs, “Done with your warmup?” making both of them giggle out loud as he turned back to the crowd to declare, “I’m telling you guys, I’m really bad at this. I suck!” As expected, this demo ended in an uproar of applause and laughter.
My favourite event of the festival took place on Day 3 – the needle demo. After all, I was one of the volunteers for this one. As I watched the Dom working on me thread needles into my chest, the slight smile on his very serious, focused face had my face splitting into a wide grin. I couldn’t resist, I had to pull his leg, cheekily asking, “You like greedy girls, don’t you?” just before he pierced a needle through my nipple. I did pay for my slight later though when I didn’t want my needles taken out even after the demo was done. Telling me I deserved a hug, he pulled me into one, ensuring that the needles pressed down into my skin as he chuckled in my ear. “Why, don’t you like it when I laugh?” he said rhetorically. Readers, to say I swooned in response would be an understatement.
It wasn’t just the workshops that testified to the whimsical nature of kink. The fashion show, for one, was a clear showcase. Among my most loved outfits of the night was a female Domme dressed like a zamindar, complete with a kurta, dhoti and a penis. Surprised? We weren’t, we were too busy applauding her ingenuity of strapping on a strap-on to serve her purpose. Another favourite was a male-bodied person walking the ramp in a leather kilt, a harness and a ball gag paired with attached nipple clamps. As he reached the edge of the ramp, we chortled as we saw a larger-than-life cloth penis drop down from under his kilt. It was only later that I found out, this person owned a tie that had a penis printed on it – he just decided to fasten it around his waist to complete his look.
Brats: The Superheroes of Kink
On Day 3, I also had a particularly emotional moment following a panel discussing mental health and kink. The topic is dear to me, and a tale relayed by Jahan* – one of the panellists, and a co-founder of Kinky Collective – left me choking back tears. I think he noticed something in my face, because, once the panel was over, he came right to me, pulling me into a hug as I wept a river into his shirt. Once he noticed my sobs turning to sniffles, he held me in front of him and asked me seriously, “Do you know what dacryphilia is?” As I looked at him confused, he explained, “It’s when someone is turned on by tears.” In two sentences, this man turned my sobs into fits of giggles that lasted longer than my tears had. And I remain forever grateful to him for it.
“See, life is very serious generally,” Jahan told me later. “So why not bring some fun into the erotic?” He’s clearly not alone in this thought process. “It’s called ‘play’, isn’t it?” Zorro*, another kinkster reminded me, referring to a term commonly used to describe a kinky interaction. “[So many of us] are forgetting that it doesn’t have to be serious, we don’t have to bring all our troubles and worries into it. It’s just play. We’re playing, like kids do.”
Humour is key to enjoyment, to pleasure. And brats, whether they be Doms or subs, seem to have mastered the art of employing it. Of course, as always, each has their own way. Zorro, for one, seems to have an adorable schoolyard approach. They prefer to be able to rib their partner, poking fun at them till they make them blush. Sarah* and Devon*, a couple engaged in a brat and brat-tamer dynamic for two years, have their own style of communication. “She throws a fit when she doesn’t get what she wants. I indulge her at times, but she knows when she has to listen to me,” said Devon. “It’s a tone,” Sarah whispered to me. “I know I can push till I hear that one tone.” Jahan, who identifies as a bratty switch, professes to be a “naughty Dominant” when in that role. “When I’m playing with a [submissive] partner, I often find, they’re usually, conventionally, accustomed to more serious, no-nonsense Dominance. [It is not the same for everyone, but] for me, power does not operate that way. I can be a complete doofus and still be in control of the situation. There have been times when I have led the sub on till they feel they can go berserk and crack any joke. And then, [I make them] realise they’ve dug their own grave,” he chuckled mischievously.
There’s more to it, though. Humour can do a lot more than just create pleasure. Jahan explained, “In our country, female-bodied persons have a generational experience of abuse, violence, and violation with male-bodied persons. If I, being a male-bodied person, can create a space for them where they can laugh their heart out, immediately, a sense of safety, of comfort, develops. Then they can explore [themselves] freely, without fear. And after all, that’s my job, isn’t it? To help people relax. That’s what I’m here for.”
*All names have been changed to protect identity.
Individuals in the photos have given permission for the way that their face has been shown in the photos.
Cover Image: IWonderWhy