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Friday, July 25, 2014

DIY Kink Arrives at Dore Alley: Yarness Is Queering an Already Queer Scene

Posted By on Fri, Jul 25, 2014 at 10:46 AM

click to enlarge The Classic Yarness and the Lock. - GEOF TEAGUE
  • Geof Teague
  • The Classic Yarness and the Lock.
On Sunday is Up Your Alley, aka Dore Alley, the so-called “Dirty Little Brother” to the Folsom Street Fair. Minus the hordes of tourists and the Leather Pride flags up and down Market Street, Up Your Alley is an otherwise identical fetish bonanza spread over some of the same few blocks of Western SoMa, dedicated to San Francisco’s hometown queers (and nudists, and bondage enthusiasts, and looky-loos).

Amid the pornographers, the single-tail booths, and the beer stands, there will be something else that might make the American Family Association cringe a tiny bit less than usual: Yarnesses.

Yarness, which is exactly what is sounds like: “yarn” plus “harness,” and is a creation of gay S.F. artists Ryan Crowder and Brian Mangin. It brings together the aesthetic of BDSM culture with gender-inclusive body politics and the D.I.Y. sensibility of the crafting world. Having won funding through a successful Indiegogo campaign, Yarness is currently in its manufacturing phase, meaning they're hard to come by unless you get your hands on the prototypes that Crowder crocheted for the initial photo shoots and launch party.
It started as “an art project,” Crowder said, and quickly morphed into a range of styles, including “Classic,” “Bulldog,” and “Trucker,” as well as a chain-and-padlock made of yarn. “I want Yarness to be an entry drug to people who haven’t participated as much [in the BDSM scene] or who don’t have a history. We've sold a number of D.I.Y. kits, with people asking us for patterns. I like the idea of D.I.Y. kink.”

“It’s a celebration and a critique, of both masculinity and leather culture," Crowder said. "Using a traditionally ‘female’ craft in the construction of a garment — it’s a queering of an already queer scene ... twenty-five percent of our orders are for ladies. It was intentional in the photography we used, with trans and women models. We tried to be inclusive, and people really responded to it…so there’s a mix of performance.” (Disclosure: I was one of many models, but have no financial stake in the outcome.)

click to enlarge Yarness creator and crafting enthusiast Ryan Crowder. - GEOF TEAGUE
  • Geof Teague
  • Yarness creator and crafting enthusiast Ryan Crowder.
Inclusiveness and performance are occasionally in tension. The leather component of BDSM has a long and storied tradition that far exceeds the euphoria and spectacle of being tied to a St. Andrew’s cross and flogged in the open. Leather itself is revered for its appeal to at least four (and possibly all five) senses.

However, leather is a complicated material, in that it’s extremely expensive (as five minutes of browsing through the inimitable Mr. S will demonstrate), leather products are largely geared towards the male physiognomy, and it’s as vegan-unfriendly as it gets.

Hence the niche for something more approachable. But the cutesy commodification of BDSM culture, and the swapping out of the hyper-masculine for the adorable and pastel have stepped on some nerves. To some members of the so-called Old Guard, wearing something like a Yarness can look like nothing more than a silly joke, or perhaps “Baby’s First — and Last — Harness.” It’s the co-optation of a subculture, with little knowledge of the practice behind it, and without any of the protocols or psychological demands that come with a dom-sub or master-slave relationships that “real” chains and harnesses signify.

This is not to say that Yarness is intrinsically asexual, or even PG-13. Yet Crowder admitted that “We received a ton of pushback on Secret. Anonymous critique and hate. Yes, there’s a feyness to [Yarness], but [the criticism] ended up helping us in the long run. I’ve gone to L.A. and Chicago since, and people know what Yarness is. I was on Growler in Chicago and unlocked my private pics — there was a pic of me wearing one — and a guy said, ‘Hey, is that a Yarness?’”

In spite of taking over San Francisco city streets in broad daylight twice every summer, BDSM culture largely remains a hermetically sealed-off mystery to the general public. This, even as organizations like the Leathermen’s Discussion Group and events like Gear Up Weekend are growing, shows that there is room for further evolution and development, just as Folsom Street itself continues to change. At this Up Your Alley or the next, amid all the latex catsuits, the pup masks and the full-body tribal tattoos, expect to see some bare torsos adorned in yarn.

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Pete Kane

Pete Kane

Pete Kane is a total gaylord who is trying to get to every national park before age 40


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