I’ve had a complicated relationship with the word ‘Fetish’. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason, the word just never sat well with me. I’d always felt referring to the role leather plays in my life as a sexual obsession was like a label that didn’t fit, almost dismissing what it meant and even who I was. So, when I finally looked up the actual definition of the word, I was pretty surprised.
Researching the word ‘fetish’ online led me to some pretty interesting photos (sorry, mom) but also to some eye-opening reads. According to the leading online dictionaries, a ‘fetish’ is an object believed to have special spiritual, religious or magical powers which offers protection. The word first appeared in English in the early 17th century, when it referred to objects believed by certain West Africans to have supernatural powers. By the 19th century, having a ‘fetish’ took on a broader meaning, signifying a powerful connection, of devotion and even obsession, not only objects but even ideas. It was only in the early 20th century when the term came to describe a sexualised desire for an object or for a body part, significant for sexual pleasure.
I’ve gotta say, this wasn’t what I expected. I’d always known ‘fetish’ meant more than sex, but in reading this I realised I had completely forgotten. Over time, it seems the frequent use of the word in and outside our community had watered down its meaning, leading myself (and I as I suspect, many others) to feel uncomfortable about using it. I felt as if the word ‘fetish’ diminished leather to no more than a sexual aid or practice, grouped into a bucket of ‘fetishes’ – most of which I have no affiliation to, and some darker fetishes which have no place in our community. Like a label I was handed, I felt ‘fetish’ came with a clear set of rules and exceptions to follow. If I followed the rules, I’ll fit in. And If I don’t…😬
“There is a clear red line to draw between a healthy sexual fetish and a morally or socially reprehensible act.”
By ‘adopting’ a simplified definition of the word, I forgot what I think, and started thinking what everyone else did – or thought I should. Over recent years, I’ve seen some inspiring people in our community feel a similar way about the words we use, and how they might actually limit, rather than empower us. Words such as ‘fetish’, ‘kink’ and ‘gear’ have been redefined and expanded through people such as Cal Rider, with his empowering #Gear365 movement as well as Gael Leung Chong’s celebration of our diverse community through#WeAreFetish. They, along with those who use their hashtags have shown the power of taking ownership of their chosen skin and chosen words, breaking break free from societal (as well as community) labels and norms. In doing, they’ve helped redefine what these words mean, igniting powerful conversations helping our community become more inclusive and empowering.
How we define something makes a huge difference to how we experience it. When it comes to our fetish, sexuality or anything we feel or what to experience, it’s down to each of us to define and express in a way which feels true to us. In doing so, we don’t simply get to experience all the joy it entails, but also signal to others they can do the same. As I write this, I realise this carries extra importance in BDSM, where people use and assign definitions of ‘Dom’ or ‘sub’ or set ‘boundaries’ without clearly defining what they mean or what feels right. When it comes to these and any other sexual relationships, consent is key, as is engaging in practices which do not in anyway normalise or glorify hate, racism, sexual abuse or causing harm of any kind to any other person. There is a clear red line to draw between a healthy sexual fetish and a morally or socially reprehensible act. It’s up to each you and your partner to set your own definitions of your unique fetish, and know when to draw the line.
These types of powerful conversations between people start with you and the conversations your have with yourself. Your choice of words and how you define them form the building blocks of your thoughts. Thoughts are like an ongoing conversation you’re constantly having with yourself, all day, every day. They are the most important and the most powerful, as they shape the way you see yourself, the world around you, feel and subsequently act. A useful example is the word ‘confidence’. While the dictionary may offer a generic definition for ‘confidence’, each of you see and experience it differently based on your personal experience and goals. And once you define what ‘confidence’ means, looks and feels like for you, it’s easier for you to find ways to move towards increasing it.
“Change the conversation, one definition at a time.”
This type of thinking, where we make our own definitions and focus on moving towards our desired outcome is the the basis for developing a ‘solution-focused’ mindset. Cultivating such a mindset can lead to a greater sense of clarity, self fulfilment and success. Over this series of columns, we’ll have conversations which I hope will help you and the community as a whole become more ‘solution-focused’. By tapping into the very power of fetish, I hope they support you and I both on our unique, but shared fetish journey. Whatever your destination in life, be it living your fetish, experiencing better relationships, greater professional success or personal fulfilment, its up to you to define. Getting there, just like you and I, is a work in progress.
‘One-size-fits-all’ definitions rarely describe who each of us really is, often amounting to just noise. By putting down the dictionaries, you can begin having a powerful conversation which drowns out the noise and amplifies your own authentic voice. For me, taking control of my thinking habits, of not just what, but how I think meant that for the first time in years I could finally hear myself think. It helped me steadily climb out of years of depression and anxiety, by defining and focusing on who I am, want to be and where I want to go. A big part of it was discovering my fetish, and what it meant to me. For so long I struggled to figure out why leather had such power over me, doubting it, resisting it and struggling to ‘come out’ to it. Once I finally understood what ‘fetish’ meant, I realised my inexplicable connection to leather wasn’t ‘wrong’ or unusual. Instead, I felt part of a vibrant and diverse fetish community where we each get to define what it means for each of us. So according to my personal dictionary,‘fetish’ means not only what I read, but also a whole lot more: authenticity, diversity, respect and community. My fetish is for having conversations that make a difference. I realise my personal definition may not fit yours, and that’s the way it should be. Each of us gets to define it our own way, and start a powerful conversation. Who knows where it might take us.
Let me ask you this:
What’s your fetish?
What else in your life might benefit from some extra definition?