I’m in Sydney, Australia.

Without a doubt, the hardest thing about moving across the world for me has been the sudden lack of connectivity to the information I’m so used to getting on a regular basis. Nothing else really compares, because more than anything else the cost of that information is time—something (generally speaking) that we all have in equal amounts. Rich or poor, there’s still only twenty-four hours in the day.

So between learning the geography (and public transit systems) of a new city, getting a cell phone, looking for a place to live, setting up a bank account (and doing the dance of juggling one’s finances across two of Earth’s hemispheres while not bouncing any checks), going on job interviews, meeting freelance work deadlines, figuring out what the cost of living might be like, trying to understand people through their (sometimes unintelligible) Australian accents, and a whole lot more (like wasting four hours over three days on a health insurance claim [don’t ask]), I’ve barely had enough time—much less an actually usable Internet connection—to do any information-consuming.

Slowly, that’s all getting sorted and the stress that makes all the differences I’m seeing between Sydney and New York City insufferable are making way for me to feel interested by them. Some things I’d have thought would be the same aren’t (like coffee, which is practically a whole different language here), and other things that I hoped would be different aren’t (yet).

Most striking is the (very painful) reminder that I’m not like almost anybody around me. Eileen’s just started classes, and we spent the better portion of a week exploring the campus. I’m meeting lots of students, but I am always reminded (typically rather explicitly) that I am not a student here, and thus not privileged with the same monetary discounts, opportunities for networking, or even casual social invitations for conversation (at least, not at first). It’s making me feel very segregated and lonely.

This past weekend was the climax of the Mardi Gras celebration in Sydney, and the famous parade. I watched the whole thing from the corner of Oxford and Riley streets, right up at the barricades, accompanied by Eileen and our gracious friends from the Blogosphere (and temporary Mardi Gras tour guides) Mistress 160 and Solipsist. It was a lot of fun in its own right, yet I couldn’t help myself from comparing the experience to the one’s I’ve had at the New York City Gay Pride Parades. They are, of course, incomparable in some respects, but not all of them.

For instance, one thing I noticed right at the start when people were beginning to crowd the streets was that at Sydney’s Mardi Gras, the spectators themselves were much, much more participatory in the celebrations. Costumes could be seen everywhere, on a huge chunk of the population, not just the marchers. In New York City, it’s typically only the people actually marching who do anything other than just show up to watch.

Another distinct difference was the abundant presence of alcohol. Beers and wines were so prevalent that by the end of the nearly two-hour parade the street was literally covered with so much trash (called “rubbish” here, by the way) that for a good half-block’s walk you had to be careful where you stepped. For the next few days, I occasionally walked by bits of broken glass. Maybe it’s just that you can’t really tell the difference in New York, but the aftermath of the Gay Pride Parade in New York City doesn’t look like a huge house party. That said, Sydney is surprisingly clean—especially for a city with an unnerving scarcity of public trash cans. Sorry, I mean rubbish bins.

All in all, Mardi Gras just can’t match the scale of the parade in New York. But then again, what can? After all, the entirety of Australia, whose geographic size rivals that of the United States, sustains a population equal merely to that of New York State.

The highlight of Mardi Gras, for me, was the single obvious leather group that marched. Predominantly male and bearing all the earmarks of what the New York City BDSM community would call “old guard leather,” they were sporting leather puppy boy outfits complete with paws and snouts, straight jackets, heavy metal shackles, and no shortage of exposed skin. By the point they marched by—well after halfway through—I had almost given up hope of seeing a kinky group march and advocate for BDSM, so vanilla (if very obviously GLBT-centric) was the rest of the parade and whole general atmosphere.

Shortly after that group marched by, I saw another much smaller group holding a banner that read Sexplorer08.com that had a few other hopeful signs: a woman in a shibari rope harness and a few others dressed in classic fetish outfits. To my surprise, the woman in the rope harness came right up to Mistress 160 and gave her a hug, which prompted quite a few questions from me because ever since I got here Eileen and I have been trying to find the kink scene in Sydney (as well as trying to find the time to search).

I’m really thankful for this blog because it’s given me so many lovely connections to kink communities on an International scope (Curvaceous Dee being another “AsiaPac” example).

One of the things I’ve been chomping at the bit (only figuratively, unfortunately) to see is how, if at all, kink is different across the planet. A lot about BDSM and sex in general is culturally influenced, and geography has a very heavy influence on culture. What sorts of differences, then, will I find in the kink communities here?

Browsing through the aisles of the fetish shops won’t reveal the answers to that because, low and behold, the accoutrements of kinky sex are evidently the same the world over. Not just similar, mind you, but identical, right down to the label. One shop in particular stands out as the clear premium BDSM shop in Sydney: Sax Fetish. Comparable to The Leather Man or Purple Passion in New York City, the only surprising thing about Sax Fetish is that they’re the only ones—something that speaks to Sydney’s smaller size.

This is also exemplary of the way smaller community sizes actually beget a more mixed crowd: wherein New York City you have specialty kink/fetish/leather/BDSM shops owned, operated, and marketed to distinct communities (like the gay community or the heterosexual community in the case of The Leather Man and Purple Passion), in Sydney every kink space is explicitly, pro-actively inviting members of all gender identities and sexual orientations to participate in a singular space. The same is true of the monthly fetish party, Hellfire Sydney, which (and I’m guessing because I’ve not attended it yet) seems reminiscent of BYTE. Specifically, both are monthly “fetish parties” with strict dress codes (the exact same dress codes, in fact), yet because Sydney only has this one monthly public fetish party, the proprietors make great efforts to be inclusive of everyone under the rainbow. These are statements that are mere afterthoughts in the New York City fetish scene, if they are even made at all.

On their web site, for example, Hellfire Sydney says:

[Hellfire Sydney] is a very mixed club. You’ll find varying proportions of people who identify as straight, bisexual, lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, intersex and some that defy even those labels. Which is just as well because we’re not too keen on labels anyway. Celebrating human sexuality in all its weird and wonderful diversity is what we’re all about, so as long as it doesn’t involve children, animals or the unwilling then hey, let’s party, whoever you are!

We’re also a club that celebrates physical diversity, with deliciously dirty deviants of all shapes and sizes dressed to thrill.

That may be so, but doesn’t it seem strangely at odds to you that a club which so adamantly touts its acceptance of the diversity of sexual expression has such a strict (and some would argue, boring) dress code? It does to me. But of course, as Richard has recently pointed out, the “fetish scene” is hardly representative of actually practicing sadomasochism, though there is some obvious overlap.

Perhaps it’s my New York conditioning, but I’m wary of any space that has strict dress codes because I believe it’s likely to be full of “stand-and-model S&M” and lacking for actual play. This is one of the clear differentiators between the “fetish fashion scene” and the “BDSM scene,” and I’m simply not interested in the former.

And so, I’m in Sydney. I’m still waiting to find out what I’ll find here.

Followups: Check out Mistress 160’s post about our night at Mardi Gras, too!