Convention a place to feel at home with fetish

Fans, usually well-off professionals, spend big bucks on leather, latex, fishnets and fantasies.

By MIKE BRASSFIELD, Times Staff Writer
Published August 11, 2007

TAMPA - When a bearded man in his 50s walks by wearing purple tights and high heels, you know you're not at a mortgage brokers' convention.

Downtown Tampa hosts all kinds of gatherings - legal assistants, Baptist women, Shriners, comic book collectors. But the most, um, colorful one has to be FetishCon, billed as the biggest East Coast assembly of the adult fetish industry.

It started Friday and continues all weekend. It's expected to draw maybe 2,500 people, most of them Floridians with fat wallets.

Held annually in Tampa for four years now, it's basically a social event and sexed-up trade show aimed at a very specific market.

Women decked out in tight latex dresses, fishnets and stilettos browse dozens of vendors' booths alongside men wearing jeans and leather vests.

They shop for deerhide floggers, paddles, cuffs, bunny fur mitts, static electricity wands.

They buy vintage girdles, dozens of colors of bondage rope, thigh-high boots and $36 locking leather gags, along with "toys" that couldn't possibly be described in a family newspaper.

"There are a lot of people who don't want straight sex. It really depends on your kink," said a Fort Lauderdale woman who called herself RubberDoll.

Dressed in what she described as a "rubber military stewardess" outfit, she was one of a dozen tall models in elaborate costumes greeting fans, signing autographs and hawking DVDs.

Like all the models, RubberDoll makes her living selling $5 and $10 online video clips of herself in this age of broadband Internet access. "That's where the money's really at," she said.

There are big bucks in this particular slice of subculture. The outfits and gear are pricey. The consumers tend to be well-heeled professionals who are fiercely devoted to their kink.

"It is the great secret of the suburbs. The perception is that it's the fringe people. But it's the well-to-do, the upper middle class, who can afford to have that fantasy playroom in the extra basement room or the locked study," said a woman who goes by the name Midori. The San Francisco sex educator writes books and conducts "loving skills" workshops.

"They have to have privacy. To have privacy, you have to have property."

On the convention floor, Maggie Delena, a clothing designer from Miami, was displaying latex dresses priced at $300 to $600.

"People always wonder why, because it just basically makes you sweat," she said. "But a lot of people love the way it looks on the body."

Nudity isn't allowed at the show, but the dress code is wide open. People dress as horses. People lead each other around on leashes.

It's also not the kind of scene you can wander into by happenstance.

The convention is at the Hyatt Regency Tampa, which brings in about 160 to 180 events per year, most of them more routine. It's sequestered from the rest of the hotel by a black curtain, a long hallway, and convention staffers standing guard.

Day passes are $25 today and Sunday at the hotel, 211 N Tampa St.

FetishCon draws enthusiasts from all over the world, from as far away as Russia and Japan, although convention organizers say most are from Florida.

"It's just a good time in a relaxed atmosphere. It's great how everybody's fetishes are accepted here," said conventiongoer Gary Rumley, 35, of Fort Lauderdale.

"It's got something for everybody."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at 813 226-3435 or brassfield@sptimes.com.

If you go

FetishCon 2007

Seminars and appearances are going on today and Sunday at the Hyatt Regency Tampa, 211 N Tampa St. Limited access day passes are available through Sunday for $25.