Uberkinky’s Periodic Table of Kinks has 151 blocks and is equally important as — if not more than, in my opinion — the Table of Elements. Various kinks are sorted into 12 categories, including torture, restraint, role play, butt stuff and vanilla. Everything from tickling to poop play is represented.
Mom, Dad, tread lightly with this one.
Kinks — sexual desires attached to specific objects, acts or body parts that aren’t necessarily sexual in and of themselves — tend to be taboo at the dinner table, but they’re more common than you might think. The Journal of Sex Research found one in three people have experimented with paraphilia, or unusual sexual interests, at some point in their lives. A 2016 UK survey indicated as many as 75 percent of people harbor a fetish.
Probably the most prevalent and certainly well-known kink is BDSM. The acronym is up for debate, but generally refers to erotic bondage, discipline, dominance/submission and sadomasochism. Riding crops, handcuffs, ball gags, harnesses and black leather garments are BDSM tools as well as part of the subculture’s aesthetic.
The organized kink/BDSM community in Iowa is small, but it exists. Iowa Leather Weekend, which takes place in October, is an all-out kinky bonanza, including a vendor market, entertainment pieces and a contest in which participants compete for four Iowa Leather titles: Ms., Mr., Bear and Pet. These titleholders go on to wave the leather pride flag (black-and-blue-striped, with one white stripe cutting the center and a red heart in the upper left corner) around the state, including at the Iowa City Pride Festival.
Bettie Rage, Ms. Iowa Leather 2020, has been in the scene for 20 years. Starting her journey in Minneapolis, she jumped feet first into the leather community after becoming fascinated with the power dynamics between submissive men and dominant women.
“When I was 21, I had a friend who brought me to a bar called Ground Zero in Minnesota, and on the weekends, they have a bondage and go-go night,” Rage said. “As soon as I walked in I had a man crawl up to me on his hands and knees and another man asked to kiss my boots. I was there every weekend after that.”
Becoming Ms. Iowa Leather is no joke. Contestants submit a resume and, if picked, undergo an audition before a panel of judges. The audition consists of a private interview with the judges, a speech, a question and a five-minute fantasy scene performed on stage.
For Boy Chris, the Mr. Iowa Leather 2020 titleholder, Leather Weekend is also a good way to discover more about certain kinks. Educational panels present people an opportunity to learn safe sex practices in a welcoming environment. Because their kink can involve intricate skills, like knot-tying, and negotiated relationships, such as that between a dom and a sub, communication and consent are tanned into the leather of BDSM culture.
“We pull in people from all over to watch the contest, and we do educational things,” Chris said. “We educate on various kinks, promoting inclusivity. We want everyone to come — our trans boys, sisters, drag queens, twinks, bears and pups. The pet scene has really exploded so we want to be all-inclusive and welcoming.”
Pet play “is a subculture within our community that allows people to let go and feel comfortable in social scenes,” Chris explained. While people with a pet kink often get off on playing the role of a submissive puppy, including wearing a collar, leash or muzzle, others prefer to portray cats, or other animals “that capture their personality.”
The list of domination-, pain- and restraint-related kinks is virtually endless, including such niche interests as cuckolding and “human furniture” (which is pretty much exactly what you think it is). To signal which kink they’re into at meetups, people put various coded items, often colored handkerchiefs, in their back pocket. A red handkerchief indicates an interest in fisting, yellow for “water sports,” hunter green for daddy play, black for BDSM and so on and so forth.
“There are plastic forks you can put in your back pocket — that just means you’re looking for dinner — and another is a sweatband which means you’re looking for wrasslin’ fun,” said Rage, explaining the most unique back-pocket tokens she’s seen.
Rage understands how difficult it can be to overcome the fear of outing oneself as a BDSM enthusiast, particularly as a woman in a predominantly male scene. Before becoming Ms. Iowa Leather, she established a kink and coffee group at Smokey Row in Des Moines for female-identifying and nonbinary folk to have a safe space to talk all things kink without male-identifying people around.
“Running for title was important to me because there are so many spaces that are still men-only spaces [where] women and trans folks aren’t necessarily welcome,” she said. “I wanted to win this title to be a presence in the women’s community and to change things.”
The Iowa Leather title family has recently broadened its outreach, offering monthly Think Kink classes at the Blazing Saddle in Des Moines, open to anyone 18 or older. Held on the second Tuesday of every month and spanning six months, the lessons are designed for both beginner and experienced kinksters.
“The first one was consent and the next one [on Feb. 11] will be about impact play,” Chris explained. “In that topic it’s about, how do you do those things without hurting, and then teaching what consent you need to think about when using a cane to hit someone.”
Iowa Leather will also expand beyond Des Moines metro, hosting a Sash Bash at Studio 13 in Iowa City March 6-8, and an event in Waterloo at Kings and Queens Club the first weekend in April.
I felt very comfortable interviewing Rage and Chris, and told them so. As a closeted kinky queer, being sex-forward is something I crave but haven’t acted on, held back by trauma and boys who don’t respond to my 2 a.m. booty call. The Iowa Leather titleholders reassured me that the community is open to anyone, regardless of if they’re having sex or not. There’s no pressure to be anything in a place largely written off as “bad” or “perverted,” a few negative stereotypes unfairly hurled their way. Once you overcome what society has conditioned you to believe is bad, you start living.
“People have kinks. Gay, straight, nonbinary, whatever people want to identify as, they have kinks,” Chris said. “We just want to reach out and let people know they’re not alone. My title family is living our best lives and showing people you can have fun and still be an adult.”
Meggie Gates is a comedian and writer from Cedar Rapids, based in Chicago, Illinois. They write for the Chicago Reader, Consequence of Sound, Reductress and a variety of other places, including, of course, Little Village, located in their favorite city in the world. They enjoy comic books and hate sand between their toes. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 278.