As Colombia’s Fetish Festival approaches, Fred Ellis delves into the cities’ BDSM scene…
It’s 18:30 on Saturday night and I’m a little afraid. My hand grips the taxi door nervously and my mind wanders and wonders, trying to imagine what the night will be like and what I will be expected to do, what I might see, how I might feel. This isn’t some dodgy barrio…in fact it’s the rich playground of Quinta Camacho. Why so nervous then? Because tonight, I’m taking a walk on the wild side. Tonight I’m exploring the world of BDSM, of kink, of the deliciously dark side of sexuality. Tonight I am attending the Bogotá Munch, or BogoMunch.
A few weeks ago I was given a heads-up by a friend about the kink scene in Bogotá. We’d been chatting about the sensuality of Colombian culture, and so my friend suggested I should get in touch with some people. He gave me the name of a website: Fetlife. A ‘Facebook for kinksters’ apparently. So I did as instructed, and my feebly written message in Spanish was replied to in perfect English telling me a place and a time, and ending with the charming send-off “We don’t bite…unless you want us to”.
I walk in the door of the bar: this is a nice place, unremarkably bland, sort of footballer high-end. Class for people who don’t know class, like much of Bogotá. A friendly face appears to my left, introduces himself as Jaime Restrepo and asks if I am here for the Munch. I nod yes, and he ushers me into a side room packed with people. My eyes scan desperately left and right, looking for signs of normality. In fact, everyone seems to be pretty normal. Dare I say it, disturbingly normal. The dress code was given to me as ‘vanilla’ or non-kink, so I’ve come in jeans and T. Although some people cut imposing or impressive figures, the scene attracting disproportionate numbers of people who like to be different, everyone is in normal or normal ish clothes, which immediately sets me at ease.
A round of typically Colombian effusive introductions follow. Everyone seems to have a name and a nick, the latter referring to a Facebook or fetlife alter-ego. Jaime also goes by the name Jymmy Botas. It’s clear that real names are not necessary, and referring solely to nicks is absolutely acceptable for those who wish to remain private. Nine Tails is the one everyone wants to meet, the founder of the Munch and a shadowy figure.
What is a Munch? Jaime explains that it is “a social meeting, without pressure”. Different from ‘play parties’, this is a casual setting, crucially without acts. It is designed to allow people to view the scene without having to go full on balls to the wall (if you’ll pardon the expression). Here you can meet people, realise that they’re regular folk and ask a few possibly embarrassing questions without feeling like an idiot. Jaime explains further, “it’s a normal environment. We start with those introductions, then discuss the month’s topic. However, it’s not an education, more of a forum, where everyone can speak, if you have years of experience or if this is your first time. Everyone can ask questions, and that’s normal”.
I’m intrigued as to why the Munch exists. “It’s an excuse to meet people, to bring more people here to us. It’s part of the process of developing the scene here. Look at Finland, they have stamps with [famous fetish artist] Tom drawings on. That’s not possible here. We are still quite conservative, a very religious Latin culture so this gives a space where we can be more open. It’s underground, and of course we love the underground, but we are a social culture and it’s impossible for us to be totally underground. This is part of our expression. Like gays, we need to come out”.
“It’s an idea copied from foreigners – started by a foreigner even – but we want to be clear that this is a Colombian meeting. We discuss ideas that have relevance for us, and the scene here. That said, all are welcome of course…we’ve had gringos, Brits, Belgians, Africans, Koreans and Germans, plus people from all over Colombia and Latin America”.
Indeed, even tonight, I’m not the lone gringo: a European sits opposite me. I ask him a couple of questions, seeking the sanctuary of English to bring me back to ‘normality’. He gives his name as Mr C and it turns out it’s his first time too. He seems enthusiastic about the scene, saying “I’m really happy it exists. I wasn’t sure about Colombia at first. I’ve been active back home on and off for a few years, so it’s something I should get into here. I guess the big difference is the talking, they do talk a lot. But everyone’s been so relaxed and calm, a welcoming atmosphere”.
He’s right, they do talk a lot, often with 25 people listening as one expounds upon a topic. It’s clear that some people are more involved than others, although the Munch espouses democracy and an anarchic structure. It’s been running for 2 years now and has always been the second Saturday of the month, apart from small hiccups like Easter. This regularity allows it to function without formal leadership, although a small cadre of organisers exist. Like Jaime, they meet new people, act as guides and also handle the little publicity they do.
As the discussion moves onto areas that don’t really apply to me, without an online profile nor being hassled by trolls, I ask Jaime about kink in general: “For fetish, it’s about objects or actions. They can be anything, although clothes are very common fetishes. BDSM, however, is more about the subjects, the connection between people. It’s more interactive. Of course, there can be crossover, but equally it’s possible to be a fetishist without an interest in BDSM or vice versa.
“Fetishes also tend to be long-term, for a whole life, whereas BDSM depends on the 1,2,3,4+ you are playing with”. He adds “it’s different from normal sex in terms of attitude. You might spank your partner in normal sex, but it becomes BDSM when you spank them for being naughty, or as part of a game, or to humiliate them. This might also include making them stand in the corner. That element of humiliation or of power, that’s really what makes it BDSM. How it manifests, that’s different for every person, but there is always that idea of something else, above the simple physical pleasure. An extra motivation past just fucking”.
Everyone’s talking about the Fiesta Naciónal at the end of May. Jaime is quick to give his opinion “It’s like I said before, the fiesta is really about development. In Europe, for example Holland, you’ve had fetish clubs and meets for decades, since the fifties or earlier. Here, although the scene has existed since at least the mid-eighties, it’s been quite isolated. The internet, with sites like fetlife and facebook, has changed things greatly, and we want to make gains from that. Even back in ‘95 I remember contacting a guy in SF about our love of boots – and I finally met him in person last year – and that changed my life”.
“In Colombia? Well, the same as everywhere, the same kinks tend to be most common wherever you go, they’re a human phenomenon, not for nationalities. I suppose spanking and bondage are very common here. Maybe because they’re easy to do and cheap.”
“What is crazy is that Bogotá has 7m people. We should have a minimum of 2,000 people active here…but a lot of Colombians, I don’t know, are scared, maybe, or don’t want to share and find other people. That’s why this festival is here”.
One dark thought keeps returning to my mind…what about safety in the scene? The casual way that the Munchfolk talk about pain and suffering sounds, yes, exciting…but also a little dangerous. I’m quickly reassured that it’s not. The scene runs on a system of safewords apparently, with the most common being ‘rojo’ or ‘red’. When these words are said, everything will grind to a halt and -reassuringly- emotional help will be given. It’s obvious that a genuine sense of trust is key to most play and that there exists a great deal of co-operation.
Several people dig out kit to show me, pointing out the quick releases on straps and bindings. It’s also made abundantly clear that nothing happens without care, and no one starts or continues play without carefully checking that everything is OK. It’s part of the SSC code, which stands for Safe, Sane and Consensual. Nothing happens without satisfying these conditions, and those that break them will be reported. It dawns on me that the Munch is also a way to meet people and check them out before consenting to anything.
At the end of the night, everyone makes the rounds of kisses before departing into the shadows in twos and threes, somewhat apt given the nature of the evening. I suddenly realise there are thousands of unanswered questions. For a little while I stand alone outside the bar, watching motorbikes rev up and depart. The last to leave is the erstwhile organiser ‘nine tails.’ He bids me good night “and I do hope to see you at the festival. You’ll live but once, why not try as much as you can?” then disappears in a flash. I walk towards the Trece to hail a taxi, preoccupied with new thoughts and exciting ideas. Will I attend the festival? But of course, I need to answer those questions…now, will you?
Read more on the Bogota Fetish scene here.
By Fred Ellis
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