Fringe Florida Arrives At Last

Copies of my book Fringe Florida arrived over the weekend, allowing me to enjoy Labor Day for the first time in years. No mud park excursions, backyard zoo visits,  or blazing hot crucifixion reenactments. Most of all, no more revisions, at least not of this tome. Instead this year James, Sandy pup, and I lazed on the couch with a good book.

The book Fringe Florida has arrived.

The book Fringe Florida has arrived.

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For the Love of Feet

Photo by Victoria Pickering

Photo by Victoria Pickering

Today’s Broward/Palm Beach New-Times‘ piece about South Florida women selling their dirty socks to foot fetishists on Craigslist caused me to flashback to an underground fetish party in Fort Lauderdale. Stationed in the ladies restroom, the otherwise ordinary-looking middle-age man begged passing women to let him lick their feet. Without hesitation a young woman pulled off a knee-high, patent leather boot and let him suckle her sweaty toes while she talked to her girlfriend about eye liner.

At the time it didn’t surprise me. Possibly because I had just watched a fetish performer pull a string of beads from her vagina and toss them into a crowd all too eager to catch them. Although after a few months of exploring the kinkiest of sexual fetishes for my book Fringe Florida, even that didn’t shock me. A certain numbness sets in.

Perhaps it’s only appropriate that the penis-shaped state is home to a massive kinkster community — practitioners, performers, models, filmmakers, and actors.  The Fetish Factory superstore in Fort Lauderdale is a key player in the international glam fetish scene. Their Alter Ego event spin-off  has hosted an annual fetish weekend for 18 years and owners claim to have held monthly, strict-fetish-dress-code parties longer than anyone else in North America. Their Alter Ego online community is a Facebook of kink. On the sign-up you’ll find a drop-down menu of sexual proclivities as long as your foot, including turn-ons by Saran Wrap and toilet training.  You must choose one when registering. As a Vanilla, I opted for the shoe fetish (what woman doesn’t love footware?) and voyeurism since journalists are observers of the human condition, albeit not necessarily sexual.

Soon after signing up a handsome semi-pro baseball player in Southwest Florida messaged me. He was into gaining and feederism, fetishes for watching yourself and others become engorged. That online encounter is a story for another day.

As for dirty socks being sold on Craig’list, well, as the New Times also notes, people have been peddling such things on Ebay for years. Most likely on Craigslist, too. Podophila is one of the milder and more common among the broad spectrum of kink.  Orlando, family vacation kingdom, even has foot fetish parties.  As a super heroine wrestler told me at one Fetish Con in Tampa, there’s a sexual fetish for everything, even something as ordinary as a puffy coat. For obvious reasons, that one isn’t particularly popular in Florida.

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On Scientology

Some have asked why I didn’t focus on Scientology in my book chapter on Florida’s unusual religions and practices. After all, it was founded by a sci-fi writer. It uses an electropsychometer, a device which looks and sounds like something from a 1950s b-movie, to help “clear” practitioners of implanted “spiritual disabilities.”

1024px-Scientology_-_The_E-Meter

The church’s outreach group is called Sea Org and upper ranks dress like naval officers. And most germane to Florida, it owns about half of downtown Clearwater. The Gulf coast city is home to Scientology’s spiritual headquarters, or Flag, as the church calls it, being short for flagship. These are just a few of the church’s, shall I say, unconventional attributes. Solidly fringe material.

But Florida has so many faiths that fall outside the norm. I gravitate to irony, so I juxtaposed one of Florida’s oldest religious communities which holds séances and orb tours with the Disneyfication of Christianity at Holy Land Experience.  Little evokes “Florida!” more than a theme park.

That’s not to say I didn’t consider Scientology. During my Florida travels, I stumbled upon a Scientology gathering at one of their multiple buildings in downtown Clearwater. I got an e-meter demonstration by a Flag member wearing gold lipstick. I watched the church’s slickly produced, ambiguous videos on large HDTVs while the same Flagger watched me. I took their personality test, which another Flagger said showed I was depressed. (She told my friend the same thing.) My unplanned visit was quite enlightening, but after reading about the church’s response  to press and the South Park parody, I decided it best to leave in-depth coverage of Scientology to those with a legion of lawyers on retainer.

This week’s article, In Texas lawsuit, judge orders Scientology and its leader to stop harassmentby Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin in the Tampa Bay Times reminds me of my wise decision.

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Fetish Con Revisited

It’s only appropriate that near the release of my book I return to where I began the adventure, Fetish Con. Yes, this is a convention with a trade show floor, conference rooms and all the trappings of bourgeois commerce, except Fetish Con vendors push everything from super hero porn to shock wands. Kinksters attend seminars on age play (think men in diapers) and how to safely beat their partner. The downtown Tampa Hilton (formerly the Hyatt) has hosted the kinky event since 2004, so long that leather-clad fetish models in platforms and a man dressed as a bumble bee standing outside the hotel don’t get second glances from the passing suits on lunch break. It was here in 2009 that I discovered that my state is a beacon in the dark world of sexual fetishes. No state outside of California, of course, matches Florida in kinkiness or business enterprises that supply the goods, be they fetish models, latex clothing, or human pony tack.

For the Bubba Rubberist.

For the Bubba Rubberist.

I met my first ponygirl at Fetish Con along with an international pony play champion. They weren’t around during my visit this past weekend, but I did find evidence of the champ’s handiwork. A pony play newbie from Deland was wearing some of his hand-crafted leather tack complete with a real horse-hair tail.

Gene and his new ponygirl at Fet Con 2013. Gene is sometimes a pony, too. Photo by author.

Gene and his new ponygirl at Fet Con 2013. Gene is sometimes a pony, too. Photo by author.

Holding her reins, Gene B., formerly of Florida, said he said he’s a switch, which in pony world means that at times he’s a pony and at other times, a pony trainer. His business card says he’s also into tickling, human pets, and human furniture. Like a good submissive, the vinyl-hoofed pony was quietly under her trainer’s control (pony play is an extension of BDSM). Plus, she had a bit in her mouth which makes pronunciation virtually impossible. When I asked if she liked being a pony, she managed a light whinny. Gene said he’s adding her to his stable of human pony trainees. Never mind that he now lives in Texas. Ponies will travel for the right touch. For that matter, kinksters of all flavors travel to Florida to fulfill the fetish fantasies. This Jersey/Virginia couple has been planning their annual vacation around Fetish Con for 10 years. They say it helps their marriage.

William and Karen keeping it unreal at Fetish Con 2013. Photo by author.

William and Karen keeping it unreal at Fetish Con 2013. Photo by author.

Fetish Con 2013: Not clear if Williams sees himself as the bee on his back or if it's more like a Wanted poster.

Fetish Con 2013: Not clear if Williams sees himself as the bee on his back or if it’s more like a Wanted poster.

Bernie Bondage Bunny of Orlando was also on parade. I first saw him bouncing up and down the aisles of the vendors selling dildos and leather whips back in 2009.  My only surprise is that it took until now for Fetish Con to make him the official mascot.

Bernie Bondage Bunny at Fetish Con. Photo by Lori Ballard. All Rights Reserved.

Bernie Bondage Bunny at Fetish Con. Photo by Lori Ballard. All Rights Reserved.

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Welcome to Fringe Florida

Florida is as much a state of mind as a place on the map.  Billed as a wonderland, a paradise, an escape, people come here to be whatever they think they can’t be in the cloudier places they are from.

As a journalist,  I’ve immersed myself in some of the stranger and more iconic lifestyles for the book Fringe Florida: Travels among Mud Boggers, Furries, Ufologists, Nudists, and Other Lovers of Unconventional Lifestyles that is being released by University Press of Florida on Sept. 17, 2013.

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Contemplating Nude Biker Camping

It’s going to be all about talking, getting drunk and having sex- James says.

My husband isn’t looking forward to camping out with a bunch of bare naked bikers at a Pasco county nudist resort, (and I use the term “resort”  loosely. From what I’ve seen it’s a rustic campground with a pool and small pond filled with lilly pads, a baby gator and ramshackle houseboat).

I’m not ecstatic about it either. In fact, I’m questioning if I have the fortitude to witness things like a naked middle-age woman with sagging breasts on the back of a Harley grab a dangling hot dog with her mouth. The photos from a past Butt Naked Biker Bash at the Riverboat Nudist RV Resort Campground paint a pretty bawdy image of the event. Not to mention that it’s going to be hot 90 degrees  and we’re going to have no place to retreat to other than a second-hand tent I picked up at a yard sale last weekend.

Oh yeah, least I forget there’s the whole thing about walking around totally naked in front of strangers, not that walking around nude in front of friends would be any easier. I’m not so modest that I can’t walk around the house naked in front of my husband or strip down in front of other women at the gym, but even the idea of being naked in front of my husband and women at the gym is just too weird. Fortunately, we’re not required to go au naturale for the event, but we’ll probably stick out like an unwrapped Ken and Barbie in a sea of nude GI Joes and cabbage patch dolls. Not that we’re skinny or even slim, at least not me. But I don’t want to advertise my middle-age flabbiness to the world. Keeping it covered at least gives me the illusion that I’m hiding the ring of fat around my waist, to myself more so than others.

So, why are we doing this? The intrepid gonzo journalist (professional voyeur) in me must see it, talk to these people and try to understand their motivations. I want to know why anyone would put their bare ass on a leather seat above a hot engine, expose their most sensitive body parts to the possibility of asphalt burns, and, as if those weren’t puzzling enough, at the same time try to snatch a dangling hotdog with their teeth?

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