Kardinal Kink meets in an unmarked room in Kimball Hall. The group, which recently had its petition to become recognized as a student group by the University rejected by Student Activities and Leadership (SAL), serves as a support and advocacy group for the kink community at Stanford and draws anywhere from eight to 30 attendees at their meetings.
“Part of the reason we come to this environment is for the affirmation that there are other people who experience the quote-unquote “weird” things we do,” said Foreman ’13, one of the members who was comfortable talking to a reporter using a pseudonym. “Identifying as ‘kink’ tends to over-sexualize you, which isn’t always the case.”
Kink is a broad term encompassing any non-traditional sexual activity. Bondage, sadism and masochism, fetishism—the range of kinky activities is as diverse as the people who enjoy them. What unites the members of Kardinal Kink, however, is the desire to break the silence and engage in meaningful discussion about these issues on Stanford campus.
The group has faced obstacles to attaining those objectives. SAL’s rejection of their petition to become a voluntary student organization (VSO) prompted one member of the group to tell Salon.com that the University was discriminating against them “for the same reasons LGBT-type groups were getting rejected a few decades ago.”
Nanci Howe, the director of Student Activities and Leadership, declined to give an interview to The Daily for this story. The members of Kardinal Kink were equally hesitant to speak about the process, declining to give details regarding the delay. Several of them did express reservations about comparing themselves to the LGBT community, which they said had historically experienced harsher forms of discrimination than the kink community.
Despite this setback, members of Kardinal Kink have worked with the Sexual Health and Peer Resource Center (SHPRC) to host several events on kink-related topics, including a well-attended event on polyamorous relationships. The group also regularly brings in experts from the community to educate members about kink-related topics, including rope tying, erotic hypnosis and dominant/submissive relationships.
Members of the group are quick to stress that these meetings are not overtly sexual, and that no sex or nudity occurs during any presentations or during group meetings. The group seeks to inform, teach, support and unite members of the kink community, not to provide a space for sexual activity.
Becoming a member of Kardinal Kink is not as easy as signing up on their website. One member of the group, a sophomore who goes by the pseudonym Nothing, said that often times new members of the group come in with unrealistic expectations of what the kink community is.
“Often when it comes to Kink, you just interact with things online,” she said. “The result is you never really hear about kink in a serious, realistic conversation.”
When a person wishes to join the group, they must first meet face-to-face with at least one member of Kardinal Kink and confirm they understand the basic rules of the group.
“You need more than a basic understanding of the meaning of ‘no,’” Foreman said, stressing the importance of active consent in the kink community. “The emphasis here tends to be on ‘yes means yes.’”
Lily Zheng ’17 is one of the few members willing to cast off anonymity, and would have become the official president of the organization had they received University approval. The freshman said that she relishes her role as a public face of the Stanford kink community.
“A really good thing about being out is that by defying perceptions, I get to change those perceptions,” she said. “If I don’t treat it as something different or scary or exotic, then people are more willing to talk about it.”
Zheng acknowledged that being open about her kinkiness may prevent her from running for office or hurt her in applying for some jobs. She framed those drawbacks, however, as a worthwhile sacrifice, saying that she asked herself “Do I want to get into a position to change society—which means not being out—or do I want to do a more grassroots [style] of organizing?”
Zheng said that she has been able to reach new audiences of Stanford students through the latter option.
“You can talk to a lot of different people and advocate for kink—conversations you usually aren’t able to have without outing yourself,” she said.
The fate of the group is still unknown, pending a new application and review by SAL. Harvard approved Harvard Munch, a similar student group centered on kink-related education and discussion, in November of 2012. Columbia, Yale, MIT, Tufts and University of Chicago have also approved similar groups. If they gain official approval, Kardinal Kink will be able to formally host external speakers, recruit new members openly, flyer and receive funding from student fees.
Regardless of the outcome of their petition, however, the group has already made waves and provided a space for kink-minded individuals to meet, talk and educate themselves. Doing so without University approval fits in with the group’s larger mission to change perceptions, according to members.
“You can’t change the social norms if you are busy abiding by them,” Zheng said.
Contact Brendan O’Byrne at bobyrne ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.