The Fetish Fair Fleamarket has been running for 25 years and is an bi-annual tradition for many attendees. With one event hosted in the summer and one in the winter, the NELA (New England Leather Alliance) recently celebrated their 50th event in Warwick, RI. The Flea features educational workshops, tons of vendors, performances, and social events for kinksters of all kinds. The 50th Fetish Fair Fleamarket (FFF50) was my first. I attended the Flea on a Saturday day-trip with Salem. While I didn’t get the full weekend experience, I did get to see the height of the event.
I wasn’t able to get attendance numbers, but the hotel was absolutely overflowing with leather-clad guests–so much so that it was an issue for me for the majority of the day. From browsing vendor booths to getting into workshops, every step I took was carefully maneuvered around other guests. The day was a drawn-out process of slowly shuffling around the crowded hotel and getting overly intimate with half-naked strangers in congested areas. It wasn’t the best of times for my anxiety, but there was a lot of good crammed into the day, too.
Event Rules & Environment
The NELA put out a program for the event that contained a lot of information on speakers, workshops, vendors, and general rules of the event. Consent was really stressed in the rules, which is always something I like to see at kink events. The NELA actually included two full pages outlining what consent is and how to establish it in their program to serve as a guide for those who haven’t received specific training on the subject.
The bios of featured speakers and performers included their gender pronouns for respectful convenience and the majority of restrooms for the event were gender neutral. Restrooms even had signs posted about respecting others’ identities, which was a reassuring thing to see for my genderfluid partner.
The atmosphere was very positive and conversations about consent and safety flowed out in the open. I could overhear people discussing technique and the importance of safewords in workshops, in the hallways, and during lunch. The cafe even served up fancy cookies with consent-friendly kinky messages on them. Salem and I adored them, but both agreed they looked much better than they tasted.
Although the majority of folks I spoke to at the event were friendly, kind, and respectful, I had interactions with two men I was less than thrilled with.
The first was simply an ignorant comment I get often online about the juxtaposition of my name. Salem had asked a vendor if we could take photos of their products, giving him the name of my website. The vendor found it necessary to comment that “submissive feminist” is an oxymoron, which only shows to me that he either doesn’t understand feminism, or doesn’t think submissives hold human rights. I rolled my eyes and continued on my way, focusing on less annoying vendors.
My second negative interaction was some unnecessary comedic sexual harassment. Again, prompted by Salem asking if we could take photos for the website, one vendor thought it would be funny to agree and pretend to take off his pants and expose himself to us for a photo op. Sure, it seems harmless enough, but we weren’t in the mood for it. With the lack of professionalism, I quickly lost interest in promoting his business.
General overcrowding and annoying interactions aside, the Flea did have some great things to offer–one of which was the educational workshops. Salem and I were only able to attend one workshop in our limited time at the event, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The workshop we chose, “Consent & Community” was run by an author I very much admired, Dossie Easton. Easton is the co-author of The New Topping Book, The New Bottoming Book, as well as The Ethical Slut. She is a licensed psychotherapist and has a long history of working within the kink community. Easton gave a great talk on her personal experiences in the BDSM and LGBT communities, gave some solid advice for people trying to establish safety and consent in their own play, and answered several questions from the audience about their cases of abuse and PTSD. Her work in this area has been very helpful to many people, including myself when I started out in kink. Easton has truly made an impact in establishing safe practices of BDSM for others to follow.
Other workshops included several specific kink technique instruction courses, 101 workshops of various dynamics, spirituality, scene negotiation, polyamory, gender and sexuality topics, a morning “naked yoga” class, as well as paid “Master classes” on kinks that are seen as dangerous or more advanced. The range of topics covered in the FFF50’s workshops was impressive. There was something available for everyone, with plenty of social events to fill in any gaps between classes.
Social Events & Performances
In addition to lecture-style workshops, FFF50 also featured meet and greets for various subsets of kinksters. They ran events like the “pet playground,” where people of a specific kink could socialize with others in an accepting space. There were also social meetups specifically for disabled, recovering, and Deaf kinksters, as well as for people of color. Several panels were held for specific kinks or social organizations such as the NELA board.
At several times throughout the event there were lounges for hypnosis, rope play, and photography where people could go and discuss these topics with others for extended periods of time without the structure of a speaker-led class. In these spaces, people were free to play, learn new techniques, and make new friends in a low-pressure environment.
A live performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show was also put on by the RKO Army, a shadowcast based in Rhode Island. For those unaware, a shadowcast is a group of people who act out a movie on stage as it plays on the screen behind them. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is an interactive cult classic. Sadly, since the show was on Friday night, we weren’t able to attend. However, having seen RKO perform many times over the last decade, I’m sure the show was nothing short of spectacular.
One of the things I look forward to most at kink events is seeing all the vendors. Sure, I may not have the money to buy anything I want, but I love the variety of toys you come across at events like these. FFF50 had a huge selection of vendors, both in the main ballroom in an open-booth style as well as some out of first-floor hotel rooms.
Because the crowd was so dense, shopping proved difficult at times. Salem and I first went to shops vending from their hotel rooms. While this method makes for easy set-up for vendors and extended hours to sell to guests, it wasn’t my favorite shopping experience. The privacy of selling from one’s hotel room and having a better connection with guests who come in to browse is nice, but when eight or nine people try to enter the small hotel rooms to look at products, it gets tight. While I wasn’t a huge fan of it, the shop owners I spoke to about this style of vending reported that they enjoyed the set-up and made a good profit from the event.
The main ballroom wasn’t much better as far as maneuvering around from booth to booth. There was a heavy crowd in the hallways and the main room. Several times, I was awkwardly pushed up against a table or wall, and multiple people walked into me during my time inside. Salem and I also got seperated a few times due to the crowd and had trouble finding each other again. However, there were a lot of booths to explore and each of them brought some really unique products to the Flea.
All kinds of impact toys were on display, most of which were handmade. Businesses I know and love like Agreeable Agony, Anarchy 4 All (AKA: RavenHawkToys on Etsy), Good Vibrations, and Purple Passion were in attendance. Salem was really happy to see vegan retailers like Fun With Fetish present. The variety of toys was incredible. There were all kinds of impact toys, rope, metal and leather bondage toys, fetish clothing, violet wands, medical toys, ceramic dildos, and jewelry. The Flea had something for everyone, if you were able to navigate through a crowd to get to it.
The NELA hosts an eventful weekend with the Fetish Fair Fleamarket. With their 50th event milestone now past, they’re clearly doing something right. The kink community relies on events like these so people can gather, discuss concepts and technique, and pass on knowledge from different generations, regions, and subsets of BDSM. The Flea provides a safe and supportive space for people to fully be themselves, regardless of what that looks like. For people new to the scene or without ties to a local organization, that is a really important freedom.
The sheer volume of people was a little challenging for my comfort level, but the educational opportunities that the Flea provides to the kink community are invaluable. New England hosts no greater event for community outreach, vending, and education on BDSM than the NELA Fetish Fair Fleamarket. Stay tuned with the NELA website for upcoming information on this summer’s event.