I had a great time — I’d been to both events before. While they’re wildly different in terms of who they attract, the tone of it, the cross-section of the leather community, the classes, and even the location, I was struck by what they had in common.
I spend a lot of time observing — at these events, but also in general. As I sat in a chair in the shade by the pool at Desire, and as I sat on a picnic bench eating lunch at Boundless, I had the same thought:
I hope all adults do this.
At least once, if not every summer, if not all the time.
Not just the kink part of the sex part, but the body positivity. People wore whatever they wanted to wear: head to toe leather, suits, fancy dresses I would even call gowns, sarong wraps, mesh jock straps, wrist and ankle cuffs with nothing else, or just completely nude. (I wished them much sunscreen.)
I wouldn’t think of an outfit that would stand out in a way that they would “look weird,” be judged, shamed, or not fit in. Maybe a military or police uniform? But even that has a place in kink, as many have uniform fetishes (though it is problematic at best, and outright violent at worst, as they are symbols of racist and classist systems. Still, they are seen in kink spaces).
I don’t think there’s a body that would stand out, either. There are so many people of so many sizes, abilities, appearances. I’m sure that body shaming, fat phobia, and ablism all still happen, I’m not trying to say they don’t — this community is a microcosm, after all, not some magical safe haven where the cultural biases don’t exist.
But generally, there’s a different standard of body acceptance at these retreats. There are tiny women with big burly men on leashes, there are round men in kilts with three submissive girls in tow, there are conventionally gorgeous women who are just there to watch, there are fat non-binary folks with a different play partner every time they turn around, there are gender-fabulous people with beards and high heels.
It’s every configuration I can think of, and some I would probably never think of; my own bias is frequently questioned.
And I love it.
The folks who attend are, for the most part, cultural outsiders. Sure, many are conventionally attractive and some have “beauty privilege,” but many (even most?) don’t. To many, we’ve always been the weirdos. But there’s no being the weirdo here — or maybe more accurately, we’re all weirdos here, in a reclaimed, honored way.
Beyond the body acceptance, it also struck me just how unique, unparalleled, and embodied play these spaces encourage. They really are adult playgrounds, places we can explore connection with others; temperature like the swimming pool, hot tub, fire play, body bags; sensation on the skin and muscles and fascia from bold to subtle to sensual to violent; ways to move and run and jump and wrestle and chase; ways we make up the rules to our games and get others to play along, follow the leader and tag and laughter and interpersonal group social politics.
Of course, with all our adult knowledge of complexities — like consent, psychology, authority exchange, systems of oppression patters of trauma and habit and conditioning — it’s not easy play. But that, too, is part of what makes it fun — the challenge, the risk, the thrill.
I hope everyone spends time in these environments.
That they are held outdoors in clothing-optional spaces (in summer) is key — we can wear anything, we can be on leashes or stilts, in bondage or pajamas. We can have our bellies hanging out, showing our scars in all their glory and history, our genitals touched by the sunshine (again with the sunscreen wishes!).
I hope everyone gets to experience this at least once in their lives. Even if it isn’t comfortable for them to be nude, or to not bind, or to not wear makeup, or show their desires to anyone watching, it is incredible to see so many people doing so. It is incredible to see so much permission to take up space, to go for it — to play with our bodies in every and any sense of the word.
I’m sure I don’t know all of the events that are like this, but here’s a list of a few you can check out if you want to attend something like this. They really are worth flying across the country to attend.
Check out these events:
Boundless — in Northern California, about half an hour from Ukiah. Outdoors, food provided, wonderful education, dungeons and activities in the evenings. Most attendees bring their own tents and camp, but there are some cabins and some shared rooms in the lodge available. The event center, Saratoga Springs, hosts other kink events, too.
Desire Leather Women — in Palm Springs, California. It’s a women-only event, which means trans and cis women. As with any event that is gender-specific, they’ve received some criticism about their policies, but in my experience it’s been a welcoming, inclusive environment. As two transmasculine / trans-ish people, rife & I have loved attending.
Dark Odyssey Fusion, and Dark Odyssey Summer Camp — Summer Camp is where rife and I met (and, later, where I threw a scavenger hunt engagement party, so obviously I’m biased, because I think it’s the best event ever. More specifically though, it’s held at Camp Ramblewood near Baltimore, Maryland, which hosts many kink events through the year. They’re mostly pansexual, lots of amazing education and celebrations, I love having a pool and huge grass lawn and as much outdoor play as we want. If I lived closer, I would be there every time.
I haven’t attended any of these, but here are some others to check out — if y’all have been there, I’d love to hear what you thought.
- Camp Crucible — Camp Ramblewood, near Baltimore
- Gear Up — Saratoga Springs, Northern California
- Kinky Queer Weekend — near Portland, Oregon
- The Chase — A human fox hunt! Whispering Pines Resort north of Napa Valley, California
- Beach Bind — a rope con-cation. 2020 is in Jamaica, though I’m not sure if that’s a special year or every year
- Beltaine — Camp Ramblewood, near Baltimore
- C2K: Camping Cookouts & Kink — Albany Power Exchange, near Albany, NY
- Camp Hard Wood — near Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota
If you have other events like this to recommend, please leave them in the comments!
I imagine this kind of liberation is what many people find at events like Burning Man, circus arts gatherings, or other hotel-based kink and sexuality conferences. It’s different, to me, to have them all combined — outside, kink, sex, all clothing optional.
If you’ve attended any of these, I’d love to know what your experience was like. Often people particularly ask me how it was to be there as a queer nonbinary person — most kink events are largely white, cis, and straight, so finding ones that have a strong queer component, or aren’t that way at all, is a concern for a lot of folks.
I’ve experienced this in the summer 5-day residential retreat that my spiritual community produces, called Portals of Pleasure. We producers/facilitators have been doing this for 11 years now, and I’ve been part of the planning and facilitation team since the beginning. It’s challenging to describe, though we tried on our recent podcast episode. What’s the most different about it compared to these others is that Portals is 25 people maximum, and these others have hundreds of people. It’s also much more personal, tailored, curated … there’s no pickup play, it’s all very intentional and, for me, much more intense and deeper.
Portals is happening at the end of July. If that kind of group erotic embodiment / sacred somatic work is something you’re already familiar with, I invite you to reach out and learn more, and see if it is a good fit for you.
If you aren’t familiar with it, take a look at the workshops I’m cofacilitating in Seattle this coming year about BDSM and energy. They aren’t beginner workshops, but they are suitable to folks who haven’t done erotic/spiritual group work in the past but who are familiar with play parties, kink, and play. They will be near the solstices and equinoxes as part of our Year Wheel series.
Glad to talk more about them, just send me a note and let’s talk.
But meanwhile — find one of those kinky summer camps! And let me know what you think.