How Latex Eclipsed Sex And Made It Onto Mood Boards


Ever since 50 Shades of Grey saw moms in Middle America reference “The Red Room,” BDSM has become one of society’s most-fascinating fetishes. Hand-in-hand with the whips and chains is latex—the figure-molding fabric that often outfits dominatrixes. Now, with the growing embrace of sex positivity and media spotlight on such communities, latex has subverted its sexual subculture to become something else entirely: high fashion. From Kim Kardashian to Cardi B, skin-tight style has become the name of the game—and that makes latex the MVP. 

 

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While model-cum-latex-expert Kimberly Mae, or @Gummipuppet, is definitely here for its entry into the zeitgeist, she’s also ensuring you don’t forget the fabric’s origins. Ask her, or anyone who’s embraced BDSM, and they’ll tell you: when it comes to latex, we’re late. Read our conversation with the Canadian fetishist and part-time dom to enter her world of spinning orgy rooms, gimps, and celebrity stylists who just won’t quit.

 

COOLS: Tell me a little about how you became involved with the fetish scene—what was its initial appeal? 

 

Kimberly Mae: “I signed up for my first BDSM networking site in 2002 aged 15. I found the site through an online personals ad looking for a live-in fetish maid. I was curious, and so I lied about my age and joined the site. I quickly fell into a long-term relationship with a much older man which was both a damaging and formative experience in my life. After that ended I attended my first real-life event when I was 21—a Play Party/Potluck held in a Legion Hall in Dearborn Michigan (I drove there from Canada and even got stopped at the border for secondary questioning).” 

“I didn’t come into my own in the fetish scene until I started to wear latex and frequent the much larger and more debaucherous parties held across Europe—which, by the way, are probably some of the best parties in the world right now.  How many people can say they’ve partied at a Dutch industrial site with a paraplegic fetishist or an 80-year-old in leather-wear in a venue complete with spinning orgy room and skating rink? Keep your wanker banker-studded Burning Man, Mykonos, and Tulum circuits, we’ve got the kind of fun you can’t buy your way into.”

 

COOLS: You mentioned dabbling in sessions, what held you back from pursuing a career in sex work?

 

KM: “For me, the cost/benefit analysis has just never worked out. The trope of the easy-money dominatrix controlling the wallets of powerful men simply isn’t true. Of course, there are outliers, as in any industry, but what is the likelihood one will become the Larry Ellison of the dungeon? Not likely. It takes as much education, strategy, hard work and dedication as any other career path, except in this one you are risking your reputation, your well-being, and your safety. I tried it and decided it just wasn’t worth it for me, although I do still make guest appearances in the sessions of my close (female) friends hustling in this industry.”

COOLS: What kind of outlet do you find latex provides for wearers? 

 

KM: “When I first got into latex the ‘inclusivity movement’ in fashion was like, barely a whisper. I always loved fashion and secretly dreamed of being a model, but at castings, I was always told I was too short, too old, too fat, too whatever. I knew I had a point of view that I could express through non-normative fashion, so I started my Instagram account as an outlet to express my love of fashion on my own terms, without the restrictions of commercial expectations.”

 

COOLS: How has the industry evolved since you became a part of the community?

 

KM: “As for latex, there has been a big push towards normalizing at least some interpretation of our subculture. Around five years ago an online migration in the fetish community began. Due to data breaches and other reasons, many visual fetishists (think rubber, leather, shibari, etc.) moved away from the Fetlife platform and on to Instagram. I think because we have so much more visibility on Instagram, particularly the latex style is becoming more and more mainstream. Of course, at the same time, there has been a huge ’90s resurgence which makes our aesthetic more topical (think Versace bondage dress) and due to the explosive success in the last few years of shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, and alum like Violet Chachki, people are willing to embrace being fabulous and dark online and in their daily lives more than ever.” 

COOLS: And with the sex-positivity movement, you must have also noticed a growing acceptance of the latex community?

 

KM: “Absolutely! Social media, which I gather is the push behind sex-positivity, at least temporarily, gave regular people a platform to express themselves. We have influencer sex-workers, cum cartoonists, and people like Reflective Desire creating gimp art-porn for a huge audience. Familiarity breeds acceptance in my opinion. Normal people might see our posts show up in their recommended feed and think: Whoa, I like that. It’s not so weird.”

 

COOLS: Does the fashion and celebrity embrace of latex ever read as tokenizing? A go-to for stylists to suggest “spicy” or “sexy”?

 

KM: “It’s double-edged for me. On the one hand, I am very happy for my friends who are designers to have the opportunity to finally make money at their craft. A good friend, Laura, who owns the label Vex Clothing is now regularly making outfits for Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Cardi B. That’s amazing! It’s fashion, it’s not tokenizing. It’s creativity, tribute, empowerment. The aesthetic being promoted in mainstream media doesn’t really represent the ‘real’ core of this subculture anyways. They are the (usually) male gimps with a true tactile fetish for latex. These people are still widely looked down upon by heteronormative society, even in the fetish community, and I wish that wasn’t the case.”

 

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“There have also been misunderstandings as mainstream publications try to give vanilla people a glimpse into our world without any context. My friend Nokkena recently did a shoot that was featured in DAZED and she got so much shit for it. Why? Because she was wearing a classic full latex look including gimp mask with a white wig that happened to have red lips. Many of the people who choose to wear these masks want to feel objectified, inanimate or just like an exaggerated female identity—the exaggerated lip thing is a common gimp aesthetic. She was harassed for months about this look, by people screaming ‘blackface’ when it actually has nothing to do with minstrelsy at all.”

“I guess to cut it down to a bite-sized nugget: men who crossdress in latex, those who are into latex objectification (to be fully enclosed in latex and treated as sexual or non-sexual objects) are often looking for a way to embrace or experience femininity, to take passive roles in sexual play, or to have a release from the pressures of facing a world where men are expected to be emotionally stunted in every way. I think it is very similar to drag. What I truly hate, is when a celebrity stylist DMs me to copy my look. I have had stylists hit me up asking for a shopping list. It’s like, isn’t that your job?”

 

COOLS: What you do hope will be the future of latex?

 

KM: “More acceptance of male gimps and cross-dressers rather than just sexy female alt-models and cosplayers wearing latex. I’d love to see celebrities hiring fetishists directly for their styling instead of just stylists and editors putting us on the mood board.”

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