The Pros and Cons of Kink-Shaming
Denver Riggleman, a House candidate in Virginia's 5th Congressional district, is buddies with Corey Stewart, a neo-Confederate white supremacist asshole. Riggleman also posted some risqué bigfoot pictures on his instagram account. His Democratic opponent, journalist Leslie Cockburn, found the pictures, and tweeted about both them and the white supremacy.
"My opponent Denver Riggleman, running mate of Corey Stewart, was caught on camera campaigning with a white supremacist. Now he has been exposed as a devotee of Bigfoot erotica. This is not what we need on Capitol Hill."

Riggleman's white supremacy should be disqualifying. The bigfoot porn is a bit more complicated. In the first place, it doesn't appear that he is actually a devotee of Bigfoot erotica; he wrote a non erotic book about Bigfoot, and then some joke posts about bigfoot penises ended up on his instagram (it's unclear whether he put them there or whether it was a prank by friends.) 

Riggleman's sexual interests or lack thereof are beside the point though.  The issue is that Cockburn's tweet suggests that people interested in bigfoot erotica shouldn't go to Capitol Hill. And while it's true that  Riggleman shouldn't go to Congress, that has nothing to do with bigfoot porn.

As Vice reported some years back, bigfoot porn is a surprisingly robust subgenre of monster porn erotica. Like most monster porn erotica (and most erotic prose, period) it's mostly written and read by women. For people not versed in the world of online erotica and kink, bigfoot porn sounds weird and funny—and like most kinks it is somewhat weird and funny. But it's not evil or dangerous. It doesn't make you a Nazi. It doesn't mean you shouldn't be allowed in elected office.

The issue here isn't the honor of Riggleman, who is horrible and deserves to be mocked for any and every reason. The issue is that normalizing the idea that kink is dangerous or evil hurts people who aren't Riggleman. Attacking Donald Trump as mentally ill or crazy or insane is a bad idea because it harms people who are mentally ill to associate them with an evil, racist, authoritarian nightmare of a human being. Similarly, sneering at Donald Trump for being fat normalizes the idea that fat people are evil and should be sneered at. 

Attacking kink has fall out especially for queer people and for sex workers. Queer people are often labeled deviant, and their sexuality is heavily policed; if it's okay to attack people for their bedroom practices, then queer people will be attacked. Similarly, if sex is seen as disgusting or if unusual sexual practices make you unfit for political work, it's a short jump from there to saying it's okay to silence sex workers, or to insisting that sex workers shouldn't be visible in the public sphere.

Some commenters (like Vox) have pointed out that no one was paying attention to Riggleman's racism before the bigfoot porn tweet. Vox also pointed out that winning likely Republican seats like Virginia's 5th is vital if Democrats are going to win the House. So, you could argue that as a tactical matter, some kink shaming is worth it if you end up gaining the seat, and defeating the white supremacist.

Defeating white supremacy is hugely important. But unfortunately people very rarely frame these trade offs as "we need to harm these marginalized people for the greater good; in return we are going to do our damndest while in office to make that group's issues a priority." Instead, what tends to happen is that, once you harm someone, you double down, and insist that there is in fact no harm. If kink-shaming is an effective tactic, then it's going to be defended, not as a painful necessity, but as a good in itself. 

And sure enough, the conversations on social media I've had about this have moved swiftly from condemnations of Riggleman to broader condemnations that could easily implicate other folks. Someone told me that if Riggleman had the posts on his instagram, then he must have wanted people to find out about his kink—a blame-the-victim argument that has obvious implications for queer people and people in the sex industry, as well as for innocent people into, say, BDSM. Others I spoke to suggested that while there was a problem with this material being public—which is exactly the logic used to censor sex workers on social media platforms, and to deny them access to banking and crowdfunding. Someone said that bigfoot porn had obvious links to Nazi ideology—which ignores the fact that most people who like bigfoot porn aren't Nazis, and that this particular white supremacist asshole isn't even into bigfoot porn. 

Perhaps the most popular argument is that it's okay to kink shame here to call attention to hypocrisy. If people were going after Riggleman's positions on sex workers, or were attacking him for being anti-porn, that would be a different story. Then it wouldn't be kink-shaming; it would be highlighting bad views in order to advance a sex positive agenda to benefit marginalized people. But the original tweet didn't do that, and most of the rest of the discussion of bigfoot porn hasn't done that either. The first tweet is simply saying that bigfoot porn is disgusting and weird and people who like it shouldn't hold office. The charge of hypocrisy is brought in afterwards to justify the attacks—as it always can be when anyone is attacked for anything. 

The truth is that Democrats don't have much place to call out Republican hypocrisy on porn and sex work, because when it comes to defending folks harmed by kink shaming—and particularly folks in the sex industry—the Democratic party's record is dreadful. SESTA, the law that makes it almost impossible for sex workers to advertise, or speak, online, passed in the Senate with virtually universal Democratic support. Democrats at the local level regularly sponsor and champion "anti-trafficking" laws which land consensual sex workers in prison, and make them vulnerable to rape and abuse by police. Stigma against porn, kink, and sex work is bipartisan—which is precisely why this particular tweet was so effective in garnering attention and in targeting Riggleman.

White supremacy should be much more a red flag than bigfoot porn. But white supremacy is a an ideology with wide appeal and many enthusiasts. Bigfoot porn is a more niche interest. It's easy to mock and stigmatize people associated with the latter, even though it's the former which is actually dangerous and evil. It's understandable that people, desperate to draw attention to white supremacy, would use whatever tools are available. If it wins Democrats the House, maybe it's even worth it. But we should be clear that kink-shaming hurts people, and that justifying it once tends to make it easier to justify it again and again. Once you've harmed someone, it becomes tempting to keep hurting them.