Flying the Freak Flag
October 20, 2008 7:09 AM   Subscribe

BDSMFilter: Is a minimal amount of bondagewear acceptable in public?

I'm exploring the darker side of my personality and want to be more open with myself and others. I'm considering wearing padlocked leather cuffs out and about during non-working hours (though, as my company recently underwent a lawsuit from a harassed male-to-female TG, I probably could get away with it there, too). No chain between them, just the cuffs. The rest of my dress would be my regular clothing, so this wouldn't be mistaken as a goth accessory.

I don't think anyone in LA gets fazed by anything, but is it crossing the line exposing this to the world? The ultimate goal is to meet likeminded folks without resorting to, and I'm far to intimidated to reach out to the local BDSM meetup group. I'm 28, male, living in Los Angeles, single, and never talked with previous ladyfriends about my sub tendencies, so I've never played with others. Just keys frozen in ice.

I know the irony of posting anon about wearing gear in public, but my mom is crafty with her Google-fu. When I don't tell her enough about my life, she tries to find it out herself. But that's a whole 'nother AskMe.

Throwaway at raisingthefreakflag at gmail dot com.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (41 answers total)

Honestly, I don't think many people would even notice them; those that did would probably not attach any special significance to them. Especially in LA, I would think it would be taken as just a random fashion accessory, not a BDSM thing per se -- I mean it's relatively common to wear a wristband/cuff/broad-strapped watch. Kind of depends on what exact style we're talking about, of course. But heck, even with something relatively obvious, the only people who'll really know what they are are people connected to the scene, who are unlikely to mind.

So I really don't think you're going to get lynched for it. If it helps you become more comfortable and open about yourself, then go for it!
posted by Drexen at 7:31 AM on October 20, 2008

Acceptable, probably yes, unless you are lunching with the VIPs at their country club or are working at a car wash and those padlocks scratch the clients' cars.

But the bigger question is, will anyone notice, other than to note that your bracelets are large and clunky? Old ladies will probably ask you in very concerned tones about how you get them off in an emergency, sure. But are these such clear signals of your particular kinkiness that others will be clued in and invite you home for some naughty good times?

Try it and find out. Really, the only thing at risk is your dignity -- other than laughing, what could anyone do? What's the worst case -- you run into your uncle at the store, and he phones your mother who is talking to your boss at the health club, and they all learn that you are wearing funny-looking accessories? I guess I just can't see any down-side to this.

Give it a try, and experiment with other signals, too -- a collar, maybe? But my guess is that and other places where you will find concentrations of people who share your interests (eg fetish night at the local club) will be a lot more effective than cruising the produce aisle of your local supermarket while wearing a ball-gag and rubber hood.
posted by Forktine at 7:37 AM on October 20, 2008

Though I myself am not enmeshed in the BDSM community I would hazard a guess that this particular fashion choice wouldn't really be that helpful in attracting the kind of ladies you're looking for. I would think a more helpful approach would be opening yourself up to social situations/environments where you are actually able to act out your submissive personality in a more direct way. I don't think that there's much chance you'll be sitting in your local starbucks with your dockers and button up shirt and have a hot chick approach you and say "Hi, I'm a dom, I can tell by your padlocked wrist cuffs that you are a sub. Shall we?" Switch the venue to a "rave", goth, or sex club and this situation becomes far more probable.

In regards to the workplace statement: discrimination doesn't usually occur in such obvious ways as a firing or overt harassment- it often functions in much more subtle and sneaky ways. Be careful how much of yourself you show your co-workers and employers.
posted by ryaninoakland at 7:51 AM on October 20, 2008

I'd probably go with just slavebells. Unobtrusive, but people in the lifestyle recognize them.
posted by Bernt Pancreas at 7:51 AM on October 20, 2008

I wonder whether some people in the know might read locked cuffs the same way they would a locked collar (i.e. someone else's property).

You might get more mileage in the meeting-people department with an amusing t-shirt, a leather pride pin, or a gray hanky in your back right pocket.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:55 AM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think you're totally fine wearing cuffs in public, but I do agree that you're probably not going to get a "Y HALO THAR, BDSM??" reaction from ladies on the street.

If your ultimate goal is play, I think you should get yourself to a meetup. They're very welcoming and not as intimidating once you meet the people there. (So I hear.) You're much more likely to meet someone who knows what she's doing, too.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:07 AM on October 20, 2008

Second Bernt's suggestion. I think there are better ways, though, to garner this kind of attention that you're in the scene, something less obtrusive. If you want to advertise, definitely time for a meetup or a visit to your local play space, or maybe look around for some socials.
posted by arimathea at 8:17 AM on October 20, 2008

If meeting up with local enthusiasts is intimidating, look for what's called a "munch." These are meetings held in open, public places, where everyone comes dressed normally, and there is no expectation of anything sexual happening. They tend to be held in coffee shops or pubs, often during the day. They are low-risk, no-commitment, and generally understood to be the best way to introduce yourself to the locals.

The bracelets would probably be fine, but if anyone interprets them as having anything to do with BDSM, they will probably be understood as markers that you already belong to someone.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:35 AM on October 20, 2008

Metroid Baby has it. Is it the preponderance of Teh Dumb that makes you want to avoid If that's the case, you might try fetlife dot com. It's newish, but I'm sure there's a critical mass of LA people and forums through which you could find non-intimdating meetups.
posted by clavicle at 8:38 AM on October 20, 2008

Don't wear them to work. Even if you think they're unobtrusive, it's possible you'll still be sexualizing the workplace in a way that your coworkers wouldn't appreciate.
posted by kittyprecious at 9:07 AM on October 20, 2008

if i saw someone locked into cuffs i wouldn't think anything besides them belonging to someone else. nothing says property like a pair of locks.
posted by nadawi at 9:22 AM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm a female dominant, and I would never approach a guy "in the wild" as a submissive, even if he appeared to be wearing BDSM-oriented accessories. The exception would be in a bar or at an scene oriented event (presuming I were single, which I'm not).

I would also not bring it to your workplace. Unless you work in, say, a piercing shop, people are going to talk and say unflattering things behind your back. Out of the 4 most common varieties of BDSMers (fem top, male top, fem sub, male sub), sub males are the most reviled by the general public. Sorry. Every male sub I've been with has not been out to the general public, and only rarely to their vanilla friends. People really just don't want to know.

There are plenty of sites and events out there. Find someone to play with and/or form a relationship, and then see if you want to come out. If you're really out, you may scare off potential partners who don't want to be outed by association.

Please practice safe self-bondage - we don't want to read about you on the news.
posted by desjardins at 9:22 AM on October 20, 2008

On preview, nadawi has it. That's exactly what I would assume - that you were taken.
posted by desjardins at 9:23 AM on October 20, 2008

I used to wear bondage bracelets to work (as a computer programmer), but not as a bondage thing, just because they were a "punk" accessory. Nobody ever really said anything, except one particularly uptight coworker who usually dressed like she was going to the country club.
posted by atomly at 9:50 AM on October 20, 2008

Unacceptable. The way I was trained, you don't bring people in without consent. Wearing stuff that can't be mistaken for vanilla gear in public is not acceptable. Especially at work.
posted by QIbHom at 10:26 AM on October 20, 2008

QIbHom - i don't understand your response - how would him as a single man wearing cuffs be "bringing anyone in"
posted by nadawi at 10:41 AM on October 20, 2008

If they see it, you are forcing it on them.
posted by QIbHom at 10:54 AM on October 20, 2008

I wasn't sure if I was properly visualizing the item you're talking about, so I googled "padlocked leather cuffs" and the first result that showed up was a page on for Juicy Couture bracelets. This seems pretty mainstream to me, and I see people wearing bracelets like these frequently.

So as a Los Angeleno knowing nothing about BDSM culture, if I saw you wearing these I would just think you were trendy. Possibly trying too hard with two of them, but that's all.
posted by tyrantkitty at 10:56 AM on October 20, 2008

QibHom - everyone has a different level of candor they like to approach any topic with - and there's certainly a shh! keep it secret mentality in the BDSM scene - but your comment smacks a little of "it's ok to be gay, just don't kiss or hold hands in public" - to some people their cuffs are their wedding rings. should punks stop wearing studded leather because they might like to get spanked and someone could know that by looking at their belt?

and tyrantkitty - i of course haven't seen the poster's cuffs, but chances are they're a bit thicker and bulkier than that. although, knowing that juicy is now making locking bondage cuffs is just about the funniest thing i've heard all month.
posted by nadawi at 11:14 AM on October 20, 2008

Two, and locked, gives mixed signals from multiple points of view. One subtle black leather strap, on your right wrist, would be a flag (sub). Agree the lock = taken, at least to some extent.

There are probably -several- BDSM munches in LA (I do not know that scene). If one is intimidating you, you would be well served by looking for another. People who are already into it will very likely turn up at such munches so the available talent pool's a whole lot greater than a cross section of the city taken at random.

Seconding comments upthread that flags in public ought to be plausibly deniable; that goes double at work. Trust an interested dominant to look carefully for them (a dominant will pick out a handcuff key worn as an earring at fifty paces, so we're looking). Any flag on an interesting person will be carefully and tactfully explored.
posted by jet_silver at 11:21 AM on October 20, 2008

but your comment smacks a little of "it's ok to be gay, just don't kiss or hold hands in public"

This gay's gonna side with QIbHom...think of it this way: there's a difference between being out at work and having very visible photos on your desk of you making out with your S.O. Wearing bondage gear in the office is more like the latter.
posted by kittyprecious at 11:55 AM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thank you, kittyprecious, that is exactly it. I'm out both as a dyke and as someone in the lifestyle, but it is immature and counter-productive (and, the way I was trained, abusive) to go around freaking the mundanes.
posted by QIbHom at 11:59 AM on October 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

while he mentions work in his post - "I'm considering wearing padlocked leather cuffs out and about during non-working hours" (emphasis mine). he's not talking about going to board meetings in a ball gag. he's talking about wearing locking leather cuffs when he goes out to dinner and grocery shopping.

also - when juicy couture starts making locking bondage cuffs, i think the normals are far enough along to just accept them as fashion - especially in a place like LA. he's not talking about ft. smith arkansas or witchita, kansas.

this conversation really shows the difference of how people are trained. many years ago i was running through an airport with some people we couldn't figure out why one of us wouldn't pass the metal detector as all he was wearing was a sarong, sandals, and a tshirt. on the third or fourth pass one of us finally realized it was the huge fucking metal collar and padlock around his neck. everyone is trained differently. i wouldn't ever consider something i chose to wear, that's modest, abusive to anyone else. in my mind, the only plausible denial you need is "i think they're cute".
posted by nadawi at 12:16 PM on October 20, 2008

Yeah, I have to side with QIbHom as well. Bedroom items do not need to be on public display. Would you hang your vibrator from your belt? Homosexuality is completely different, because holding hands with your gay partner does not advertise what you do in the bedroom, only who you do it with. No one wants to extrapolate "oh what a cute couple" into "oh, they like rough barebacking." I have a picture of my husband on my desk. No one would know from the picture what we do in the bedroom. I have OTHER PICTURES (cough) that I do not bring into work, even though they contain no nudity. No one else cares about your sex life except people who want to sleep with you, and most people don't, so it's wrong to inflict your bedroom preferences on others who don't necessarily want to know.

Also, in my experience, the right-side/left-side thing is completely ignored in hetero BDSM. My impression (and it is just that) is that it is well-known in gay BDSM. The OP's question isn't 100% clear, but I'm assuming he's hetero based on "ladyfriends."
posted by desjardins at 12:22 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

This gay's gonna side with QIbHom...think of it this way: there's a difference between being out at work and having very visible photos on your desk of you making out with your S.O.

Quite right, but we should remember that Anonymous's question was: "I'm considering wearing padlocked leather cuffs out and about during non-working hours [...] Is a minimal amount of bondagewear acceptable in public?"

Assuming Anonymous means this sort of thing I would have thought he'd be just fine; to me those look as much like bracelets or watch straps as they do bondage gear. They're acceptable by virtue of the fact the only people who would know what they are, would not care about what they are.

On the other hand if you were talking about something which was more visibly a BSDM accessory I would say that you shouldn't dress like these gay pride parade attendees in public unless there is a gay pride parade going on at the time, because it just ain't polite.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:35 PM on October 20, 2008

i find it insulting that people keep assuming that bdsm is just a sex thing. i find it worse that people in the scene, especially people who are gay (and have their own host of "it's not just sex" fights), are furthering this idea.

wearing your cuffs out is more like a wedding ring than a vibrator belt. and wearing your cuffs is just as abusive to the normals as slogan tshirts about jesus.
posted by nadawi at 12:59 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Most people in the US are Christian. Most people in the US do not practice BDSM, at least not in the form we know it. Your comparison to a Jesus shirt does not hold.

Certainly there is room for differing opinions within the scene. I am not telling you that you cannot wear such-and-such; obviously that is up to you, or whomever you've delegated to make decisions on your behalf. No, BDSM is not just sex. However, it is perceived as such by the masses. I am really not interested in "enlightening" folks, because there is no benefit to it, and no cost to being in the closet. Unlike gays and lesbians, we have not historically been denied our civil rights. We don't systematically get our asses kicked for it. We can marry (heterosexuals, anyway). Who the heck needs to know that my husband is submissive to me? What is [staying in the closet] preventing me from doing? There are leather events all over the freakin' place; I can "express myself" there. There's absolutely no reason for me to do it in the produce aisle.
posted by desjardins at 1:09 PM on October 20, 2008

By the way, I disagree with QIbHom's use of the word "abusive." I'd use "inappropriate."
posted by desjardins at 1:11 PM on October 20, 2008

I totally agree, too.

Also, while I'm pretty kind to the 18 year old who lectures me on veganism, Hari Krishna, sex positivity (is that a word?), or whatever else their new discovery is, a 35 year old is going to get a smack down. You don't say how old you are, but if you're 18 and finally away from home and out of the closet for whatever lifestyle, I'm a little more tolerant (but it's only because I hold you to lower standards) than I do "grown-ups".

Mike1024, those don't look like bracelets or watch straps. Good grief.

On preview: nawali, physical restraints worn in public tells me more about a person than I want to know. A nice handcuff key piece of jewelry would get your point across just fine, and be more equivalent to a wedding ring. Actually, the whole thing's a bad analogy, since the OP seems to be trying to advertise that he's not taken.

I'm against Jesus t-shirts, too, but no one's posted an AskMe about them, so far as I know.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:11 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

(fwiw - those look very much like a fairly popular style of watch and no one is talking about going up to the normals and lecturing them on bdsm)
posted by nadawi at 1:18 PM on October 20, 2008

nawadi, they totally don't. They're way too functional. I get that the fashion is based on BDSM, but the end result looks a lot different.

However, if he wants to wear two of those watches he might get the results he's looking for without looking like he forgot to take them off after an evening session of club trolling.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:25 PM on October 20, 2008

As a (mostly) top female, I've never been attracted to a guy based on bondage jewellery, unless it had a clear context in which said bondage could be used. BDSM adornments mean either a) you're taken, b) you're trying too hard, or c) you're into the look and I still need to gently feel out your orientation.

When picking out subs from the general flock, playfulness, submissive behaviour and sanity are what I look for. My S&M-dar is pretty good, but I’m more likely to risk hinting I want to abduct my boyfriends and tie them up if it looks like the guy has a playful mindset, and I tend to instinctively boss anyone around who lets me. The caveat is that I’m going to run away from you without even the courtesy of a rejection (because for some subs that’s an invite), if you look clingy, unbalanced, or unaware of your effect on others. I’m out enough that a stalker or journalist can join the dots (goodbye political career), but I don’t want someone showing up at my workplace in nothing but pink underpants or telling all and yon that he has a MISTRESS now. And frankly, it’s not safe to play with immature or crazy people. So in approaching domme women, for the love of god, have some self preservation and think in terms of safewords. “You can do anything you want” tells me that you’re either suicidal or irresponsible.

Of course, I do use BDSM influences in my general costume, but not explicit paraphernalia. I just know that certain aspects of how I represent myself (long dark hair, sharp contrasts in skin/lip colour, a preference for prim) helps draw subs out of the woodwork while telling the vanilla world I’m bookish, aggressive and a bit of a control freak (other facets of my identity I’m cool with). When visually spotting subs, generally I look for puppy eyes and nervous mouths. It’s impossible to properly convey in text, but people who are happier on the submissive end of things tend to share this in how they respond.

Nadwai has a point about life style BDSM-ers, but generally cuffs are a bit too much. While BDSM is more than sex for many people, there's a difference between a wedding ring or a discreet chain and padlock (or key on a chain), just like I wouldn't slap a submissive lover in public, but I might give him orders (if that was part of our thing). If you're cool enough to carry it off, wear the cuffs, but I fear there's no hanky style code that I'm aware of.
posted by Phalene at 1:42 PM on October 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Good grief, people, parentheses don't make text invisible. The OP did bring up whether he could "get away with it" at work and it's perfectly fair to say, "No, bad idea."
posted by kittyprecious at 1:43 PM on October 20, 2008

follow-up from the OP
Sorry about the parenthesis line, I really had no intentions of wearing anything out-of-the-ordinary to work. I even went to the libarary across the street to send this instead of doing it from my desk.

Thanks to everyone for your input. This is exactly the conversation I wanted to see. I can now see why this is an awful way to meet people, and I thought about the locks=ownership thing, but thought that primarily was for collars. Given the current information, I'll probably just lay low. It's tough, all these feelings have been bottled inside of me for 20+ years, and I just want to scream out to the world. So, I'll think it through, and try to meetup with folks the old fashioned way.
posted by jessamyn at 2:23 PM on October 20, 2008

Mike1024, those don't look like bracelets or watch straps. Good grief.

Depends on the style of bracelet :)

Admittedly, none of those have visible loops for locking them together, but you can see where I'm coming from; wide leather bracelets, even those with buckles and studs and other accoutrements, are sometimes worn as fashion accessories.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:02 PM on October 20, 2008

Mike1024, he should wear those instead, then. To my eyes there's a big big difference and I'm a mundane, at least by SF Bay Area standards.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:31 PM on October 20, 2008

try to meetup with folks the old fashioned way

Well, the Internet is hardly old-fashioned and it's how I met 80% of my subs. Try clavicle's suggestion of - there are plenty of forums there with intelligent dominant women. You can write with proper spelling and grammar and you have a professional job, which puts you above the majority of the sub males online.
posted by desjardins at 3:33 PM on October 20, 2008

Can't speak as to what would attract those who you want to attract, but can speak as to the streets of LA: nobody gives a fuck what you wear, so wear what you want.
posted by paultopia at 3:50 PM on October 20, 2008

I have similar interests, and I'm voting with the group that says it's misleading and kind of ickily nonconsensual besides. Also, tacky.

You don't have to "lay low" and repress your desires just because you aren't into the local scene. Like you mentioned, there are online dating sites made for BDSM enthusiasts, but I don't blame you for skipping them; I spent all of five minutes on collarme before realizing it was really not for me. Since I'm looking for dating rather than hookups, I've had a lot more luck with a mainstream dating site -- and a "by the way..." note at the bottom of my profile.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:12 PM on October 20, 2008

I concur with misleading and tacky; I'd read "fashion victim" at best (depending on the rest of your outfit), and "taken" — exactly the opposite of your intended signal — at worst. (Although I must say that, people and fashions being what they are, the chance of my automatically concluding "taken" would be pretty damned low; I'd be much more inclined towards "taken" if you were wearing the blatant combination of a locked collar with normal clothes. You never can tell at a glance, IMHO, which is why it's best to simply ask.)

I don't, however, think there's anything wrong with wearing the locked cuffs outside of work. The people most likely to freak out over the appropriateness of such a minor display are, ironically, those who already engage in BDSM. It's them you should be concerned about offending, not the mundanes; the latter will either take you for a fashion victim or (more likely) not even notice.

I do think booksandlibretti has a good suggestion in trying mainstream dating sites; note your kinky side (along with all of your other wonderful attributes), and see what happens there. There are also dating sites based on various subcultures, which may tend to have a higher proportion of kinky types; for instance, I met a few of my past SOs through Gothic Personals several years back when that was more my thing.
posted by korpios at 9:43 PM on October 20, 2008

They don't have munches where you are, anonymous?
posted by QIbHom at 5:46 AM on October 21, 2008

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