When I checked my email that Monday afternoon and saw the message titled “Kardinal Kink—New Group Approval,” I froze and stared at my screen as if it were a bomb and that email was its timer.
“New Group Approval?”
No, that doesn’t mean anything by itself, I reasoned. It probably means “new group decision” or something. I was too scared to assume we had made it—that Kardinal Kink was now an official student group—and my staring match with this message quickly turned into an episode rivaling my showdown with Stanford’s admission email.
With that in mind, when I finally opened the email and saw the word “congratulations!” in bolded font, I practically started sobbing at my desk.
We did it.
Kardinal Kink’s journey to VSO status was a long one, and definitely a loud one in the last few months. For those involved in our community, kink was a thing we were continually thinking and rethinking to understand better the culture of consent, body-positivity and trust that we took part in—but for Kardinal Kink to become official, we had to get Stanford to understand us. And at first, that requirement towered over our heads.
Kardinal Kink began as a place for kinky Stanford students to meet each other in real life. It didn’t have a formal structure or strong advocacy goals—but it was a haven for those first few members. Kink hadn’t ever been an integral part of the Stanford community, and having a safe space to meet, chat, and talk about their lives without fear of judgment or repercussions was incredibly important for the first few members of the young group.
But why did we have to meet in secret? Why was this an underground group? Why couldn’t we have filed for VSO status in the very beginning?
The truth of the matter is that kink was (and still is) very much misunderstood. The sensationalized media representations of dominatrices, naked politicians, latex and leather—BDSM porn, essentially—are the most accessible representations of kink for most people, and this is troublesome because it leaves out the most important parts of what makes kink kink. People know the safewords but not the negotiations that set them up; people know the floggers and whips but not the people who they are used by and on; people know the ropes and collars but not the complicated interactions and communication that goes on in-scene around bondage and everything else.
That is, people see kink as actions and not as a community or a culture—and when your identity is reduced to just a handful of actions, it makes coming out even harder. What does coming out about kink even look like?
When your best friend tells you “I’m gay,” they’re telling you a lot more than who they want to have sex with. (Shoutout to queer asexual people!) Most of the time “gay” is just a specific way of talking about love, attraction, desire—and it has its own culture attached to it as well, whether or not people want to become involved with it.But when your best friend tells you they’re kinky, that culture and community don’t immediately come to mind.
“You like to hit people?” or “I don’t understand why you needed to tell me details of your personal life,” someone might say in disgust. But in the same way that being gay is about more than sex, kink is more than kinky acts.
Kardinal Kink’s mission statement defines kink as the following:
A community looking to build on the historical cultures of BDSM, Leather culture and sex-positivity towards a modern movement celebrating consent, sexual and sensual freedom, and the identities and communities centered on these ideas. We define kink as being broader than just specific acts or identities, focusing more on ways of understanding cultures of consensual intimacy unexplained by the prevailing narrative of “sex.”
Kink is about consent—about trust.
But that idea wasn’t too out there, especially not to Stanford students who only knew kink through media. Who knows what would happen if they met an actually kinky person,right?
There was a pretty big reason for Kardinal Kink members to stay anonymous –to not out themselves. Public opinions on kink are incredibly unaccepting, reflected in the fact that fetishism, cross-dressing and BDSM were only just taken out of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013. Last year. On campus, there were hardly any resources for students with questions about BDSM, polyamory or so on, let alone a community of peers. Coming out as kinky on campus for many people meant and still means shooting their careers in the foot.
With all that in mind, Kardinal Kink’s group of students (not yet a student group) continued quietly for a few more quarters, gaining 50+, 60+ members through word of mouth alone. Near the end of winter quarter this year, we decided that we wanted to be official.
Members were mobilized, the VSO application was completed almost overnight—it was like a movie training montage, but kinkier. A month later, though, we were looking at the email. “Consider reapplying,” it said.
Spring quarter began and a good chunk of our leadership left to study abroad or graduated. We had a slew of suggestions to take into account for revising our application, and we made a lot of noise in return with an article in Salon and on campus. There were a lot of meetings.
Eventually, we came to the definition of kink mentioned previously. We fleshed out a leadership structure for our group, got the help of an amazing faculty club advisor and made ourselves a little better-known on campus. When we submitted the application, I honestly felt like the campus had become a more accepting place for kink than it had been earlier in the year.
A few weeks ago we reapplied, and a few days ago, we got our answer.
Of course, as a new student group we have a lot to do—and we definitely won’t say that we’ve massively changed the perception of kink on campus after just a few quarters. But the outpouring of support from Stanford students and faculty has been amazing to see, and the enthusiasm more than we could ever have predicted.
Kardinal Kink is official, and it’s thanks to the continuing support and enthusiasm of the Stanford community. Thank you!
Lily Zheng is the president of Kardinal Kink. Contact her at [email protected]