Got fetish? FetCon comes to St. Pete

The Burg will rock the annual celebration of alt-sexuality this weekend.

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click to enlarge SELFIE ORGY: Fetishconists smile for the camera at last year's event. - DRUNKCAMERAGUY
SELFIE ORGY: Fetishconists smile for the camera at last year's event.

Fetish Con
The 15th Annual Fetish Trade Show takes place Aug. 13-16 at theHilton Bayfront Hotel, 333 1st St. S., St. Petersburg, 727-894-5000, The hotel is currently sold out, but call to check in event of cancellation. Must be registered for the event at prior to booking room.  
Thurs. Aug. 13 :Meet and Greet Event and Pervy Pool Party limited to preregistered all access pass-holders
Fri. Aug. 14:  Trade Show, Hotel Ballroom Noon-8 p.m.
Kinky Dreams: Official F iday After-party at SIP Social Lounge, 179 1st Ave. N., St. Petersburg, 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Tickets available at hotel (discounted)
and at door.
Sat. Aug 15: Trade Show, Hotel Ballroom Noon-8 p.m.
After-party: Le Burlesque De Fetishe and Genitorturers at State Theater, 687 Central Ave.,
St. Petersburg.
Sun. Aug 16: Trade Show, Hotel Ballroom 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Daily: The 15th Annual Fetish Ball & Bash Daily, Pervy Pool Party at hotel limited to preregistered all access pass-holders; private dungeon space.
Overflow hotel: Courtyard by Marriott St Petersburg downtown also book. Check for cancellations. Must be registered for event to reserve room.
Annual Fetish Extravaganza (not an official FetCon event)
The Castle, 2004 N. 16th St., Tampa, Sat., Aug. 15, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., 813-247-7547, [email protected]

For a decade, Fetish Con, one of the nation’s largest kink conventions, has been as much a part of Tampa’s steamy side as Mons Venus and slasher porn. This year, due to reasons organizers have not disclosed, the four-day kink event has jumped the Bay and landed in sunny downtown St. Petersburg at the Hilton Bayfront, steps from the sidewalk cafes of Beach Drive and the surrealist art of Salvador Dali, who, if living, might've joined his temporary neighbors.

Despite St. Pete’s rise as a hipster paradise filled with local brewpubs and colorful murals, I accept that my adopted hometown isn’t as identified with libertine ways as its grittier cousin across the bay. But having attended Fetish Con more than once for research on my book Fringe Florida, I’m thrilled at the opportunity to peer into that world again, even though I have no idea what to wear.

Not that I knew fashion protocol when I attended FetCon during my book research. Despite fretting, that worry disappeared in a place where a giant pink bunny clad in leather loped between rows of sex toys, where humans dressed as horses pulled carts, female superheroes stomped tiny plastic cars, and a legless man begged voluptuous women to walk on him.

But what was infinitely more fascinating to me was what I couldn’t see. As in all things sexual, the most important organ isn’t between the legs, but atop the shoulders.

click to enlarge BLONDAGE: Vita DeVoid assumed a netherworldly persona last year at The Castle. - DrunkCameraGuy
BLONDAGE: Vita DeVoid assumed a netherworldly persona last year at The Castle.

Although vanillas like myself toss out the word fetish for our love of shoes and jewelry, I learned not to be so cavalier with the word in fetish circles. The official definition of fetish applies to deriving sexual gratification from inanimate objects. (When someone gloms on to specific body parts for arousal — toes, knees, etc. — the term is partialism, whereas a sexually compulsive behavior that is simply an unusual type of sexual gratification is referred to
as paraphilia.)

What makes a person become aroused by Minnie Mouse’s sneeze, or by watching a partner gorge herself on a tray of strawberry pies? Such fetishes do exist. As a superheroine told me at Fetish Con, there are fetishes for everything. “When I went to Europe I couldn’t believe some people were into these puffy coats. It was crazy,” she said. “Why would anyone get turned on by a big puffy coat?”

Scientists have attempted to answer such questions since French psychologist Alfred Binet coined the term "sexual fetish" in 1887. He theorized that fetishes were formed through learned association, a Pavlovian approach. Freud wrote that a fetish evolves from a boy’s unconscious fear of castration (he didn’t bother to try to explain fetishes of women). Despite scientific theories, there is no certainty as to what causes one person to be aroused by a puffy coat and another not. The human brain remains beyond that level of decoding. Lack of understanding, of course, hasn’t prevented some Draconian attempts to reprogram the fetish mind.

It wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that kinksters started flying their fetish flags high. Technology helped open bedroom doors to the world, exposing affinities once considered deviant as more common than some hoped and others feared. BDSM — shorthand for Bondage and Discipline (BD), Dominance and Submission (DS), and Sadism and Masochism (SM) — started showing up in movies such as Basic Instinct in the 1990s. Madonna whipped pony boys on her 2005 Confessions tour. Today you can find the Fifty Shades of Grey kit complete with blindfolds and his-and-her vibrating love rings next to the condoms and Kotex at Target. Fetish to some extent has gone primetime.

As the internet grew, those with more obscure fetishes — furries, plushies, rubberists — discovered they weren’t alone. Groups formed and held meet-ups, which in kink parlance are called munches. Then came events like Fetish Con, which started in New York in 2001 and moved to Tampa in 2004.

click to enlarge THE GANG’S ALL HERE: A gathering of Fetish Con attendees in 2014. - DrunkCameraGuy
THE GANG’S ALL HERE: A gathering of Fetish Con attendees in 2014.

If you go to Fetish Con you’ll likely see human ponies, Bernie BondageBunny (FetCon’s official mascot) and more than a few human slaves being led around on leashes attached to the most tender of areas. No surprise, many also are exhibitionists. You’ll also see a large number of people dressed no differently than anyone else walking down Beach Drive: vanillas like myself, or mildly curious couples hoping to spice things up in
the bedroom.

Of course, you’re unlikely to see evidence of the more obscure fetishes on the trade show floor, if only because it’s difficult to make money from them, short of selling pies, puffy coats or whatever ordinary object turns someone on. Make no mistake, despite the grins, giggles, and late-night after-after-parties, the more than 200 fetish actors and long list of vendors selling everything from latex superhero suits to electric wands are there to make money. A fetish for cash is appreciated, and in fact required: Admission is cash-only.

All-access passes are sold out, but the $40 day pass buys admission to the trade show and to classes on such topics as Paddle Me Purple, electric stimulation, and domination/submission as therapy. No room for freeloading gawkers: The host hotel is open only to paying attendees of the event.

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