Alone but Never Lonely

Photo courtesy Sykina Butts.

Per my Aunt Becky’s research, the following was true: There were no Black people in Salt Lake City, Utah. Therefore, she reasoned I had no business going there. Her theory ended with me being kidnapped, raped then killed. I rejected both her research and rationale, jumped on an airplane for the first time in my life and flew from Mississippi to the valley in the mist of the mountains. I did not share my aunt’s paranoia over the journey, but she was spot on about the absence of Blackness in the city.

SLC airport was a wave of whiteness. The people flocking to baggage claim were white; the walls were white; the toilet seats were white; and the blue-eyed children gawking at me were white. Within those short moments at the airport, I became more conscious than ever of the color white. Strangely, I sensed the white bodies I floated past were not thinking about skin color at all. Perhaps, they were. I thought too much about it. But I felt lonely.

The same thoughts and feelings returned the next morning, but I refused to say them out loud. I ignored the loneliness when my mother called that morning at 7 am to ask how I was doing. I disregarded the loneliness when surprised faces glared at me as I shopped at Smith’s Marketplace. I overlooked the loneliness when I finally saw another Black face but that Black face did not see me because it was glued to the screen of a phone. My first days in Salt Lake City started and ended with something unfamiliar to me: being the only Black person in sight.

The days passed, and slowly, loneliness began to fade. It began fading when I talked with a Cuban woman about Mormons and skyscrapers, children and God’s kingdom. Salt Lake City seemed more welcoming as I met the people I would be working with. My longing for Mississippi lessened as I journeyed further into Salt Lake City and spotted rainbow flags hanging from houses and businesses, instead of Confederate battle emblems. It disappeared completely the night I discovered kink.

On that day, I visited the Utah Pride Center for a People of Color & Allies meeting. Afterwards, I stayed for a meeting with the Salt Lake City Leather community. The group was not what I expected. I pictured a bunch of old, white men with Hulk Hogan mustaches covered in leather attire from head to toe; however, the room had more Black people than any room I had been in since I arrived in Salt Lake City.

The words sex, inclusion, kink, white privilege and fetish popped out of mouths with no hesitation. My jaw was locked at first; these words usually came out with a cautious tone back home in Mississippi, where people mumbled them as if they were telling a secret. The hint of discretion found in Mississippi voices was not in that room. Frankly, it was refreshing. Conversation flowed easier and got deeper than the surface.

It got so deep I forgot I was in a room full of strangers when I blurted out, “I wouldn’t know how! I’m a virgin!” My proclamation got me a few snickers and later an invitation to watch people play from a Latino kinkster named T.

T picked me up from my dorm that night around 8:30 pm. I got my membership card and then entered my first sex club. Nude bodies roamed free and shame was not even an afterthought. Women giggled and pranced around the rooms without underwear, men were tied to wooden posts and flogged with a leather twin tail. I saw so many new things, but nothing stirred my emotions. To be honest, I was indifferent to what I witnessed. The girl getting dozens of needles stuck in her back didn’t surprise me, neither did the man growling from being electrocuted. I talked to people more than I watched people play. I relaxed and ate hotdogs, while men flaunted their human ones and laughed with the owner of the club.

That night turned out to be the most casual one I had in Salt Lake City. I didn’t think about being hundreds of miles away from home. I didn’t fret when something white stared at me for too long.

In a place where I was out of place, I felt familiar. Familiar with the sense of community T and the other kinksters seemed to have. Familiar with the assurance that comes with being in a space that feels like yours.

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