I’m not sure exactly where I heard it first, but it was all the rage during the first year or two after I joined FetLife: “Be a credit to your kink.”
Practically everyone was writing about it back then, in some way, shape, or form.
The basic premise of this catchphrase was this: If you’re doing something considered beyond the sociosexual pale, particularly something like kink or polyamory, it’s important to be on your best behavior, especially when you’re speaking about it. Because to the people you’re speaking to, you’re not just a person who practices polyamory. You are polyamory — or at least their mental shortcut for it.
The Exact Origin of the Phrase “Be a Credit to Your Kink” Is Unclear
In spite of the “kink” mention (and many people’s insistence that polyamory and kink are completely different creatures and should not be confused), the earliest mentions of “be a credit to your kink” that I could find were surprisingly regarding polyamory and not BDSM.
Doing some digging to find the source, I found an early mention of the phrase in one of the Polyamorous Misanthrope’s old columns. The Misanthrope has ceased publication (whether this is a temporary or permanent condition remains to be seen), and the site is no longer hosted, but fortunately everything she wrote has been archived via the Wayback Machine.
As the Polyamorous Misanthrope wrote:
Well, well, well, polyamory is all growed up and hitting the big time in the media. There’s been mentions in women’s magazines – the big ones like Redbook and Marie Claire.
What does this mean for you, the average poly person just a’livin’ her life and lovin’ her loves?
That’s up to you. You might be getting more attention these days. You might get some questions or comments from people if they know you’re poly.
I hope, that if you’re poly and “out” that you do keep in mind that you’re “The Face of Polyamory” to the people who know you. This means what you do, and how you live is going to be how people around you see polyamory.
I know what this feels like. As a visible poly parent, I often feel enormous pressure to have it all together and be seen as a “good mother” so that I don’t give the impression that being poly is gonna screw up my kids. At a certain point, I did decide that I’d screw what people thought and just be the best mom I could be. It works out.
Thing is, unless you live in an area with a high poly population, when people who know you’re poly look at you, that’s what they’re gonna think polyamory is.
What does this mean?
Much or little. Me? I like the idea of being a credit to your kink. I like the idea of people just trying to be good people because… well, being the best person you can be is a valuable thing to do.
This does mean I want to caution you more against “seeming” and to be in favor of “doing” and “being.” Be a credit to your kink! Don’t worry too much if you look like a credit to your kink, if you follow me. Getting caught up in what you’re looking like will get in the way of the real doing.
From the casual way the Misanthrope talks about it, it seems less like she’s coining a novel phrase and more like she’s incorporating one her social circles already use. (Although it’s difficult to know for sure).
My gut tells me that the idea sprung up organically. And took hold particularly strongly among polyamorous online communities, who were deeply hungry for widespread validation and acceptance.
It was commonly given out as advice to polyamorists who were presented with articles with negative media representation in them. Typical usage: “Feel free to comment and let them know what they got wrong — but don’t forget to be a credit to your kink.”
“Be a Credit to Your Kink” Hits FetLife and the Meaning Changes
Anyway, this advice somehow later ended up all over FetLife applied to all kinks. The entire spectrum. And as it did, the meaning shifted a little bit. In this context, “be a credit to your kink” was less about being a good spokesperson to outsiders and more about fostering virtues and values within yourself as a kinkster to combat any inner shame that you might experience from your proclivities.
Essentially, especially for practitioners of less mainstream kinks (i.e., stuff you wouldn’t see casually strewn in a vanilla porn), it can be easy to feel shame. Society inculcates us to feel shame over deviating sexually from what’s “normal.” (It’s worse in certain cultures than others, of course.) Some kinksters actually fetishize this shame — for them, it’s part of their kink!
For others, there’s an entire process of working through those negative feelings and working towards being a happy, whole sexual being — even if your sex life looks a little different than your “standard” template.
And being a credit to your kink was proposed as part of that. Do you like to be called a filthy little whore in bed? Okay. But you pay your taxes.
Does being beaten into a quivering mess turn your crank? Sure. But you keep your promises to people when you make them.
Those who advocated for “being a credit to your kink” in the BDSM community argued that many of us had been raised with a mental and emotional template of kinksters as criminal perverts, dangerous people — basically cartoon villains.
Part of fighting against that stereotype — within ourselves and in the greater community — was going beyond. Being extra trustworthy people. Not cutting corners on our ethical conduct with others.
To Be or Not to Be…That Is the Question
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this idea for about 10 years now. A lot. I’ve gone back and forth, back and forth on it.
On the one hand, I’ll be the first to admit that I used being a credit to my kink as a compensatory strategy. Particularly when I was new to first polyamory and later the kink community (the order that I found them in). Along with “no one can shame you if you are not ashamed” (which I talk about in #4 of this article), being a credit to my kink not only served as a powerful psychological reframe but gave me something else to focus on other than shame (much in the way that fostering compersion isn’t a cure-all but can be a distraction from working through jealousy and insecurity).
The Siren Song of Respectability Politics
On the other hand, focusing so much on being a credit to my kink really did seem like it was still rooted in defensiveness. And in some ways, it reinforced it.
I’d later go on to talk about these issues with a friend who would introduce me to the term respectability politics.
Respectability politics are “attempts by groups to police their own members and show their social values as being continuous and compatible with dominant values rather than challenging the mainstream for what they see as its failure to accept difference.”
My friend identified “be a credit to your kink” as a form of respectability policing. Said that it put the blame for a lack of acceptance in the wrong place. And it counted on defensiveness and assimilation to do the work that other methods of activism could arguably do just as well, if not better.
You Can’t Please Everyone, But the Loudest Puppies at the Pound Want You to Please Them
As I’ve become a fairly well known polyamorist over the past few years (well, more accurately, I’m an ambiamorist), all sorts of randos have shown up on my virtual doorstep taking issue with one thing I’ve said or another. (When you write every day in public, as I do, this sort of thing is an inevitability.)
Hilariously, while they speak as though their criticisms are obvious objective truths, they often contradict one another.
If I followed all of the advice I was given, I could never write. And of course this would conflict with advice I was given by still others, who have told me to keep on writing, that people want to hear what I have to say.
You can’t please everyone all the time. It’s true. But there are definitely loud puppies at the pound who will jump up and down, yelling in your face, “PLEASE ME THOUGH!”
So it goes.
And one thing I hear used as an argument nearly every time someone like that disagrees with what I’ve written is something like, “You’re a leader! You have a responsibility to represent us well!”
Some have argued that I can’t talk about the times when polyamory was hard for just that reason.
Others have said, “Can you not talk about your struggles with anxiety in public?” And have argued that I shouldn’t talk about having an anxiety disorder or being abused as a child because it sends the message to monogamous people that all polyamorous people are defective. Damaged.
And countless others have picked some random nitpicky miniscule red herring nothing gripe about something they misheard on Reddit or tumblr once. Some so silly that they’re hard for me to remember, let alone explain.
What Being a Credit to Your Kink Looks Like to Me
So I think after all this time, I’m stuck at the interface between these competing ideas. Because while I make every effort to live my life in a way that’s consistent with my personal values and feel quite good about that choice, I’m not going to be at the mercy of every person in the peanut gallery, how they would define a good life. Or proper self-representation. Or what have you.
A desperate struggle to align perfectly with everyone’s personal values.
No, that’s too much.
After all, the Misanthrope did caution against being so caught up in “seeming” like you’re a credit to your kink that you aren’t “being” it.
Instead, I live in a way where I’m not ashamed of who I am and what I do. Where it’s easy to feel good about my choices.
That’s what being a credit to your kink looks like to me.