The feeling that you are not alone, the joy of not being judged, of feeling safe and protected, of finding community beyond geographical boundaries – sounds familiar?

Queer folks, especially those who found queerness in the pre-Internet era and those from less privileged contexts who join queer communities today, might find much that resonates in this account of India’s first national kink festival – the ‘Kink Con Goa’ – held in Goa on April 14-16, 2023. Straight, pansexual, bi, cis, transgender – wherever kinksters are on the gender and sexuality spectrum – the harsh realities of natal families and the wonders of finding a chosen family mean that kink and queerness cannot be separated easily.

Finding family

Indian society thrives on the family structure. We are reminded daily that the (natal) family comes first, and will always be there for us in times of need. As children, we are told to always keep family and community closer than friends we might make. The security net that this bunch of people provide will be there for us when we need support and comfort.

This heavy focus on family however comes with many strings attached that we only find out as we grow older. For those of us not capable of living in the square of heteronormative expectations set by society, we find ourselves devoid of that family feeling and often, ostracized for not conforming.

This photograph shows a presentation under way at ‘Kink Con Goa’ organized in April 2023. The presentation is taking place inside a conference hall in a hotel. The photograph has been shot from behind more than two dozen people in the audience seated on chairs, and all the faces have been blurred to ensure confidentiality. A screen is visible at the far end of the hall and a visual from the presentation can be seen on the screen. The presenter is standing next to the screen, looking towards the screen. The ‘Kink Con’ banner can be seen mounted on the wall above the screen. The conference hall has wood-panelled walls and a vaulted ceiling, lit up in a warm glow from several lamps hanging from the ceiling. The hall is decorated with posters mounted on the walls and conference signage hanging from the lamps. Photo courtesy Nemo

A presentation under way at ‘Kink Con Goa’. Photo courtesy Nemo

It is a choice we make, quite willingly, for conforming takes a heavier mental toll than sticking to our true selves, and yet the child in us yearns for that safety net, the idea of a family that we have been spoon-fed since our nappy days.

As a 37-year-old unmarried woman who is into the kink lifestyle, my presence in my own family is somewhat diminished and muted. Relatives do not wish that I hang out with my younger cousins lest I corrupt them with my ‘unwomanly ways’. Neither is my opinion sought for, nor is it considered valid. I am an outsider in my family – I am a misfit. I had made my peace with it. It was a small price to pay, I thought, for my mental equanimity.

Oh, how wrong I was! The Kinky Collective recently organized India’s very first national kink festival in Goa during a weekend in April 2023. The three days of ‘Kink Con Goa’ showed me what I was missing – what I had willingly given up! The festival was a living embodiment of the song We Are Family by Sister Sledge. In the 80-odd participants from different parts of the country, I found my community – my family.

We are a found family, together in our differences from the norm, and together creating a safe space where that desperate yearning for family feeling was finally fulfilled. It was an emotional high, this convention. Despite being part of the kink scene in Delhi for a decade, it was this event that gave me a sense of belonging to something larger than just my kinks. It gave me a family where not only am I not judged but welcomed and protected. I was able to stand tall and share my life without the fear of ostracization or unhealthy labels.

Finding myself

The three days of the convention were packed with panel discussions on the intersectionality of kink with feminism, queerness, polyamory, and mental health, along with skits, demonstrations for several kink practices, a kinky fashion show, and conversations that lasted into the wee hours of the morning. I barely slept a full eight hours in the four nights I spent there. Like a thirsty camel, I wanted to drink in everything and talk to everyone, and I was not the only one doing so.

Quote: The fashion show organized on the second day of the convention tore through this veil of shame like it was toilet paper! I walked the ramp in a dress that I had never even dared to wear with a partner, let alone in front of an 80-plus strong crowd. With a riding crop in one hand, and a leather flogger in the other, I walked out proud knowing my bulges were jiggling. There was a big smile on my face all this while and I could not feel my cheeks for hours afterwards.It was the support and love that I experienced at the kink festival that made it possible for me to push past barriers in my own life that I had been battling for years. As a plus-sized woman, I have always dressed to cover my bulges. Body issues were gifted to me daily, by my mother and other relatives. Shame became a security blanket and I covered myself in it. I was not welcome to expose my jiggly-wiggly curves. I stopped swimming lest I be mocked.

The fashion show organized on the second day of the convention tore through this veil of shame like it was toilet paper! I walked the ramp in a dress that I had never even dared to wear with a partner, let alone in front of an 80-plus strong crowd. With a riding crop in one hand, and a leather flogger in the other, I walked out proud knowing my bulges were jiggling. There was a big smile on my face all this while and I could not feel my cheeks for hours afterwards.

The cheers, applause and wolf-whistles still ring in my ears and bring me to tears. I was welcomed and celebrated for being me – not for the idea I am supposed to be. I was loved, just as I am. I, for the first time in my life, understood the emotion that Bridget Jones might have felt in Bridget Jones’ Diary when Mark Darcy said, “I like you very much, just as you are!”

It was the feeling that was promised to me as a child, that no matter what, my family would always support me. ‘Kink Con Goa’ gave me that feeling for the first time in my adult life!

Despite society laying stress on uniqueness and standing out, as humans, we all want to belong somewhere. We lay so much stress on communities and families to fulfil that need – of wanting to have someone or something or somewhere to belong.

After the event, the participants shared their feelings on social media platforms, and they all resonated with what I had felt so intensely in those three days. Sample these:

“Kink Con gave me a family that gave me the courage to explore parts of me that had me scared all these years, one that guided me and gave me the confidence to be myself” – RC, 35, male.

“It wasn’t just a safe space for kinksters, but also for polyamorous, neurodivergent, and queer folks. There was so much love and acceptance that I feel like I’ve left a big chunk of me back in Goa” – S, 35, male.

“There’s so much I need to express and yet I’m falling short of words. Grateful that this happened. I found a whole set of new people, a new family . . . A family where everyone is respected, loved, cared for, and cherished without any judgement” – K, 30, female.

“What’s home? A place where we can be ourselves and don’t have to wear masks and hide ourselves. Through the three days I never felt the need to hide myself back. I felt so much at home that it felt odd to say I’m going home while leaving Goa” – Q, 45, female.

* * *

‘Kink Con Goa’ was more than the sum of its parts. It gave Indian kinksters a sense of community beyond geographical borders. It fulfilled a need that had been growing for so long, yet nobody was able to articulate what it was – a need to belong. We can be part of a community that is like us, we are not related by blood but in our thoughts, views and hearts.

Those of us who were lucky to attend the first ‘Kink Con’ have formed a bond, a collective. Before the convention, I had communicated with a few of the participants not from Delhi, online, but I met them for the first time at the event, and now I have a family that lives across the country. I was not the only one crying on Sunday evening, when the event officially ended. All the participants felt a sense a belonging, a sense of family that we had missed in our lives thus far. In the three days we spent together, we had endless conversations about accepting our kinks and moving past societal shame that we had consciously and unconsciously ingrained.

The Kinky Collective perhaps may not even have realized the far-reaching effects their wonderful planning would bring about, but I am eternally grateful to the organizers for making the convention possible. In their desire to bring kink out of the closet, they have unknowingly given us all a community that accepts us for who we are.

To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, “We’re all kinky here!” And I have a family by my side. I am not alone.

About the main photo: A panel discussion under way at ‘Kink Con Goa’. Photo courtesy Nemo