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Ciaran Christopher

Thorn London is making London’s kink clubbing scene safer and sexier

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With popular spaces under threat in the city, we dive into Thorn London, a haven for LGBTQIA+ people of colour who are fans of BDSM.

21 Mar 2022

We all make remarkable choices in the name of pleasure, don’t we? I don’t remember her name, but I remember her smile. I remember how she made me feel insecure about my body and my size but most of all I remember how she tasted (to the black woman in latex who let me tie her down and caress her body if you ever read this: you tasted lovely). As I flogged her, I felt pure adrenaline. I found myself playing a part that is rarely found in my own bed. I goaded and taunted her. I became a version of myself that thrilled and scared me.

“Do you want more?”

“Say please.”

“Say pretty please.”

Thorn London is a platform that runs kink nights and workshops with people of colour and pleasure at its core. Having thrown their first party last September, Thorn London made it explicitly clear on our call that people of colour and LGBTQI+ experiences are at the heart of what they do in a way that is rarely thought about in London nightlife. They have created and maintained a centralised and democratic space that prioritises POC and the money spent on tickets to their nights go back to the community whether that’s booking more accessible venues or providing taxis home for the vulnerable. Their nights encompass and allow all identities to enter the space but make it very clear that they are to act as allies. 

I’ve written about sex and touch and how its absence robbed me of something fundamental to the way I live my life. Kink then, to me, is living life on steroids. It’s touch, intimacy and sexual pleasure to the extremes. It’s maximalism. It’s painful. It’s too much and sometimes not enough, which sums up my experience at Sacrilege, by Thorn London. 

“It’s much more than just a party.” Speaking to one of Thorn London collective’s organisers, Sisi, over Zoom remarked that we all come to kink from a place of trauma. As such, the organisers are very keen to centre mental health in these spaces. Sacrilege, a smaller and more intimate night than the typical rave and play format of other London kink nights like Crossbreed, Klub Verboten and Tortue Garden, consists of two spaces: a playroom and a wellness sanctuary. 

The wellness sanctuary is about psychological safety as well as physical safety, a distinction I particularly enjoyed as I have been to sex parties and private member clubs and experienced undeniable pleasure; more than I can describe in this article but I still left feeling bereft. Aftercare isn’t just for heavy BDSM scenes (named a ‘scene’ because just like in a film, there is a clear beginning and end), it’s an important way of checking in with your body and self. Adrenaline and endorphins affect your body in ways we cannot even begin to imagine so I was very impressed to hear that staff at these events (wearing fluorescent armbands) are trained in mental health facilitation and intervention which sometimes just looks like a chat over a drink.

“Everyone enters the scene on a different level and if you have the chance to start slower, you should always take it.” Ora, another organiser, tells me. I had actually met her that night. We shared a lighter and complimented each other’s acrylics, huddled by the entrance in long coats to hide our outfits. I hadn’t known she was a member of the Thorn London collective at the time but her eyes lit up when I gushed over being in a kink space with predominantly Black people. “I was just so tired of being the diversity, you know, the token,” she says. Her fingers didn’t move from her cigarette but I saw the figurative air quotes and knew exactly what she had meant. 

For people like me, the gender binary has always been a murky watery grave where imagination goes to die but within kink, we are allowed to play. At Thorn London, fetishwear is not about the most expensive latex, it is about effort. A part of creating a safer space for POC kink fans is ensuring that there is a loving but firm dress code that includes leather, latex and lace that everyone must adhere to. You don’t get to gawk at us unless you participate, the organisers explained. 

“Instead of trying to support sexual freedom, the councils seem intent on destroying safe spaces for expression

While they know the gear is expensive and that they (and their attendees) aren’t rich the sartorial choices breed creativity. By making an effort to create something, a persona, it shows that you have thought about your presence in this space.

At Sacrilege, I was adorned in mesh and leather and I was not alone. I have a box squashed under my bed with vibrators, condoms, latex, rubber and silver buckles and picking an outfit is where the night begins. Within the kink community, people have said to me that wearing fetishwear allows you to create a persona, and whether that persona is simply you plus the confidence required to don that gay apparel, the fact still remains that something shifts within you when you squeeze your flesh into rubber. 

Pleasure in its truest and deepest forms is so important for all of us to live whole and fulfilled lives. Writer Audre Lorde encouraged us to find and eroticise the smallest moments in our lives. “The erotic functions for me in several ways and the first is in providing the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person,” she wrote in an essay named ​​The Erotic as Power. “The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between sharers.”

What more can we share than the truly weird and primitive way in which our naked flesh slaps against each other? The way we squish together, the way we salivate over one another, the way we recycle our breaths from one to the other. 

Everyone who has these carnal desires should be afforded ways to satiate them. But there is an inherent politics alive in all forms of kink. There’s power, submission, and pain. Thorn London was born from a very real frustration that many people of colour face in white-majority kink spaces wherein we become even more of a minority and colourful objects to gawk at and take photos of. You are left with nights where these tricky dynamics aren’t handled respectfully within a context that acknowledges them. 

Politics is found not just in the metaphysical, but in the physical spaces we kinksters create. Fetish clubs and events are under increasing aggression from councils, that are using archaic laws to bolster their bigotry.  Most recently, Tower Hamlets Council in London is trying to shut down kink parties. The hashtag #Savekinkspaces is a sea of shiny black on Instagram, with members of the community calling out for sexual liberation, solidarity and the protection of their spaces.

Later, Ora emailed me to share Thorn’s response to this threat and explained that “the reality is that kink and queer spaces are constantly under threat by the powers that be.” She says that Thorn stands in solidarity with the hashtags and online campaign to counter these draconian moves. “Instead of trying to support sexual freedom, the councils seem intent on destroying safe spaces for expression.”

She continues: “As a community founded by and for the marginalised, we know all too well the importance of standing up for community safe spaces. Now is the time for our community to stand together and protect our freedom to express themselves.”

So what’s next for Thorn? Where do they see themselves going? The organisers say they’re finding “new ways to be, new ways to party”. Fans can also expect to see merch. 

Kink spaces allow us to stop shying away from our primal thoughts. Like beetles in our brain, sometimes our needs and wants make us hide, squirm, wriggle in satisfaction, groan and grunt and make us feel so deeply ashamed that we feel uncomfortable tickles in our belly. If you’re wondering how the rest of my night went at Sacrilege, despite having my tongue inside someone by midnight, sudden anxiety bubbled up in my stomach like a bad takeaway. I lied about going for a smoke and quickly disappeared into a taxi under the cover of darkness. It was like I was Cinderella, except this time I left behind a leather choker. Embarrassing doesn’t begin to cover what I felt but I’m only human; I put on my fishnets one leg at a time. Sometimes, pleasure is scary but I’ll still be at the next event.

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