With the popularity and success of the Fifty Shades of Grey series, my eyes have been opened up to a whole new world of fringe communities. A fringe community is a community that exists and functions on the outer boundaries of society. Individuals in a fringe community do not necessarily always identify themselves publicly as a fringe community member (mostly for fear of retribution or judgment). However, in some instances, individuals see no issue with identifying themselves with their fringe identity because it is a large part of who they are. The community that I observed is an online site for individuals with sexual fetishes or “kinks”. They are a fringe community, who refer to themselves as “kinksters”, who hide their fringe identity from the rest of society because of the “kinks” that bring them together. It is important to note that, although a fringe community may seek to express themselves or live their lives away from the spotlight of mainstream society, they still maintain and follow their own community guidelines which govern how they interact within the fringe community and culture.
Fetlife.com (2013) has a page of community guidelines that governs how the community members must cooperate and communicate when on the website. There are the general rules that state to, “Enjoy yourself,” “Play nice,” and “Think twice before you hit ‘say it’” that are common in most communities (“Community Guidelines”, 2013). The community also enforces rules that focus more on behaviors that pertain to the community, “Be Open-Minded and Non-Judgmental,” which states that “People often say to us how they love the fact that FetLife’s community is so open-minded and non-judgemental…There is no place on here for any ‘my kink is ok but yours is not’ attitude”(“Community Guidelines”, 2013). The site also says “Don’t Out anyone,” which helps individuals protect their real-life identities from being known on the website (“Community Guidelines”, 2013). The rule goes on to state that, “Each person on FetLife is comfortable with different pieces of their personal information being revealed. Some people don’t mind you using their full real name and others don’t want you to even use their first name. Please make a conscious effort to respect each person’s comfort level” (“Community Guidelines”, 2013). Another important rule on the website says “Take everything you read with a grain of salt” and further goes on to share that “FetLife is for entertainment, informational, and educational purposes only” (“Community Guidelines”, 2013). I feel as if this last rule underlines the culture of the website, which has been created to ring together “kinksters” of all kinds to share in their fetishes in a safe, anonymous place. The rest of these rules are help in defining the community specific concepts that oversee how individuals should act in regards to each other’s “kinks” and online behaviors.
In addition to community guidelines, the website also provides content guidelines, which governs how individuals can communicate within the community. The website states, “On FetLife, it is very important to us that you feel free to be yourself and let your freak flag fly! Unfortunately though, due to obscenity laws in the US, Canada, and some European countries, if we openly fantasize about certain topics we can find ourselves in hot water. To protect the community, we think it’s best if people don’t publicly eroticize any underage, incest, zoophilia, necrophilia, or scat fetishes they might have” (“Content Guidelines”, 2013). These guidelines also help demonstrate that while the individuals in the community may participate in fetishes or “kinks” that are not considered mainstream, and are often judged as being miscreant, the community on FetLife.com must adhere to the rules for both community and content in order to have a positive and accepting culture on the website. These guidelines are vital to maintaining the safety of all individuals who participate within the community, as well as sustaining the culture of the community.
Individuals who participate in the community are just as important to FetLife’s identity as the individuals who do not participate in the community. The “kinkster” individuals feel that they have to hide the “kink” parts of their identity because their interests are not accepted by their “vanilla,” or normal, friends and family members. This is evidenced in one of the community member’s review of the FetLife.com community where she states, “Great website. I have been checking out facebook but I have to keep it somewhat neutral as vanilla family and friends are there. Its great to have somewhere to go where you don’t have to hide anything.” (“FetLife.com”, 2013). Individuals who may not have “kinks” or understand individuals who have “kinks” make those who do feel self-conscious about their fetishes or that they are being judged. Because of these feelings, “kinksters” have formed the FetLife.com community where they can express the part of their identity that they, otherwise, keep hidden from mainstream society. If mainstream society accepted “kinksters” for who they are and all facets of their identity there may not be a need for a community site like FetLife.com because “kinksters” would be incorporated into mainstream society and no longer need to be part of the fringe community they have created in order to find a safe and non-judgmental place to be themselves.
FetLife. (2013, February 16). Retrieved November 23, 2014, from https://fetlife.com/fetlife/content_guidelines
FetLife. (2013, August 13). Retrieved November 24, 2014, from https://fetlife.com/fetlife/community_guidelines