Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Expanding community

Mayhem's new definition of queer

The queer kink community has been enthusiastic about Mayhem's decision to make its play parties more inclusive, Mel says. Credit: Shauna Lewis

Vancouver’s preeminent leatherdyke play parties have broadened their guest lists to welcome members of the queer community not previously included.

Well known and appreciated in kink circles for their regular sex-positive play parties, Mayhem’s events were previously geared primarily toward women, though past and future women were also welcome, thereby including some trans people.

But for the last two years, organizers have been experimenting with a broader vision of community. Now, queers of all expressions on the gender and sexuality spectrums will join those women and trans people who felt comfortable within the original parameters to create a broader sex-positive space for all.

For Mayhem organizers Arleigh and Mel, the move toward greater inclusivity stems from a desire to welcome all their kinky queer friends at their parties.

“When we first started [throwing Mayhem parties], we started with the idea of throwing a party that we really wanted to go to. And what we’ve discovered over the years is that a number of our friends were actually not coming out because they didn’t feel like they met the descriptors,” explains Arleigh, who asked that only her first name be used for fear of professional repercussions in a world still prone to misunderstanding and stigmatizing kink.

“But in 2010 we shifted the language to just say that it was a queer party, and that meant that gay men, trans men, bisexual men and anyone who identified as queer — male or female, any gender — could come,” she continues.

“It was really a success,” says Mel, who echoed Arleigh’s request to use only her first name.

“So many people were just so enthusiastic about us opening it up, and so we just haven’t looked back,” Mel adds.

Arleigh says the broader, more inclusive definition of queer is consistent with Mayhem’s original mandate to provide a safe, fun, sex-positive party space for all.

Mayhem regular Pussy Liquor says she, too, has been actively carving out all-inclusive, queer, sex-positive spaces with the sTeam Collective, which hosts gender-inclusive bathhouse nights.

“It makes me feel more welcome and included in queer communities when parties open themselves up to a wider array of genders and sexualities,” Liquor explains.

“If I feel more welcome and included at events that are open and inclusive, then I’m pretty sure other people feel the same way,” she adds.

“The events I’m focused on are for people who fall outside of the traditional ‘men for men’ or ‘women for women’ events that happen in the queer community,” Liquor continues. “That’s a pretty diverse group of people: some who are trans, some who are cisgender, and some who are either in between or outside those definitions.”

“The sTeam Collective creates a safe, sexy space for queer-identified men, women and trans folk,” agrees Charlie Spats, who is part of the collective.

“As a trans person, I always feel most comfortable in spaces without gender restrictions because I am never sure how I’ll be received once I get there,” Spats says.

“I think that inclusive sexual events are a fantastic way to introduce people to what trans bodies look like and to introduce them in a sexual context,” he adds. “Most people don’t understand what a trans person is at all, let alone how they fuck! It demystifies trans bodies to see them all around you.”

“That being said, I recognize the need and desire for gender-exclusive spaces as well,” Spats says. “Men and women do socialize in sexual spaces very differently, and because there is no firmly established bathhouse culture that integrates male/female/queer sexuality, it’s being developed now by the people who attend the events.”

In a shared sexual space, participants may need to rethink the way they approach each other and initiate interactions, Spats notes. “In a traditional all-male bathhouse, flirtation is extremely forward and often approached hands-first. Queer and women’s communities have a much stronger sense of consent culture, which not only means that the interactions with the men there have to be established out of some kind of commonly understood ground, but it also means that the men’s community is learning how to integrate consent into flirtation.”

So far, both sets of organizers say, community response to their inclusive queer events has been positive.

“We’ve had a lot of enthusiasm,” Liquor says. “A lot of people are very excited to have a sexy space that’s open for them to come play in and feel comfortable showing up as they are.”

“We’re just tossing the party we want to toss,” Arleigh says of the Mayhem events. “I imagine that there have been people who have been surprised by the penis action because perhaps they hadn’t actually read the poster. But interestingly enough, the same people came back, so if they were offended, they got over it.

“Besides, there have always been dicks,” she grins.

“They’ve just all been made of silicone,” Mel adds with a laugh.