The global musical hit Kinky Boots is currently on show in the Helsinki City Theater. Through Broadway to all around the World, the story of Kinky Boots is based on a British movie with the same title, which was inspired by a true story about Divine Footwear – a brand that manufactured feminine fetish shoes for manly feet.
In that story, a young yuppie Charlie Price reluctantly inherits a family business – a shoe factory which turns out to be at the brink of bankruptcy. Charlie, who had aimed to live in London, is forced to return to his small hometown of Northampton. The unexpected heavy responsibility and an equally unexpected drag queen friend, Lola, turn Charlie’s life plans upside down and force him to make his own path.
I got to experience Kinky Boots on September 21st at the large stage of Helsinki City Theater and I was completely blown away. Although let it be known that I’m not exactly a devourer of musicals. The last musical experiences I’ve had were The Lion King (The Lyceum Theatre, London) and The West Side Story (Jyväskylä City Theater, Finland) when I was still in elementary school. However based on these references I dare to claim that Finnish musical theater is no longer out shined by big city productions.
Technical mastery and the depth of experience go hand in hand
The technical execution of Kinky Boots was something incredible and I would like to point out immediately, that this was largely due to the basics that were refined to perfection. Technical matters like lights, sounds, hi-fi, scenes, set mobility and carefully thought out actor positioning were all top class.
I really believe that the ambitious perfecting of these technical aspects and the illusion of effortlessness it creates are a powerful way to enchant the viewer. The unbelievable flow of large entities and appropriately dispensed flood of stimuli spanned a space in which I could give up the role of an external observer and become a true experiencer and allow the artistic contents of the play really touch and change myself.
Even though I’m generally open, I tend to keep my guard in situations in which everyone but I knows the plot. By doing so I protect myself from feeling unsafe and getting bamboozled or scared. To my surprise, it only took the opening song of Kinky Boots for me to lower my guard and let my mental safety line between the stage and audience to fade away. This was largely thanks to many background workers I couldn’t see on the stage directly.
Alongside the outstanding technical work the second factor responsible for the Broadway-like atmosphere was of course the amazing musical spectacles. Each performer was highly skilled and their voices remained clean and flawless through the awesome choreographies while the band played each song with piety where a precise and clean touch and soulful and joyous jamming were simultaneously present.
Both lead singers had strong and powerful voices that really fit their characters. Charlie’s (Petrus Kähkönen) voice was clean and chaste like a shoe made by his father, whereas Lola (Lauri Mikkola) was able to channel her holistic drag essence all the way to her voice.
Even with all this praising, I was still most impressed by the group songs where 30 people at best seemed to be doing their own thing while contributing to the whole at the same time. By using the space and the set in inventive ways the group choreographies communicated the central messages of the songs and filled the whole theater with their energy. I could only sit still in awe of how all the pieces fell in their places while the soul filled sound wall pressed me against my seat.
The musical beat the movie
As a story Kinky Boots made a much better musical than a movie. I saw the film some five or six years ago and it didn’t make much of an impression then. The characters were left superficial, the drama felt forced and the ending was cheesy like a pizza-pastry.
On stage, in the swings and tensions of the musical, the characters were much more clearly defined by their presence. The story, which isn’t all that special alone, was just simple enough to be carried by the songs. The songs also described the characters and their relationships in creative and touching ways that were never there in the movie. Also the naive aspects of the story and the predictable ending were totally forgivable in the context of a musical.
The greatest merit of the musical version was the way it spoke to the audience. It brought home the messages but never in a lecturing tone. As a whole Kinky Boots was a carnival of love and humanity that could not have blossomed the way it did, if it was restrained by a too intensive plot.
All in all Kinky Boots was a phenomenal and unique experience and I give it full points, no matter the scale.
Meta reflections of a boot fetishist
The actual review ended in the previous part. Now I thought I’d ponder some thoughts that Kinky Boots invoked in me.
The point of view of a fetishist is always biased by the fetish. The word “biased” sounds awfully strong and negative, but I’m talking about any kind of imbalance, be it positive or negative. Here are some of the thoughts that sparked in the mind of a boot fetishist.
Kinky Boots discusses the significance of shoes to a person. It labels three different points on the continuum of attitudes:
- “It’s merely a shoe” – indifferent or at most a pragmatic attitude, that doesn’t glaze the shoe with significances other than its practical purpose.
- “The most beautiful thing in the World” – elevating the aesthetic value of a shoe side by side its practical value. In the story these words actually refer to the Price & Son shoes that are not portrayed beautiful in anyone else’s but Mr. Price’s conservative sense of aesthetics. But that’s irrelevant. What really matters is whether a person is generally willing to recognize and cherish the aesthetic value of a shoe.
- ” Two and a half feet of irresistible tubular sex ” – the mental image of high-heeled thigh-high boots painted by Lola. Indulging a mental image like this is a sign of an attitude that highlights the symbolic value of a shoe on the expense of practicality to the very extreme. These boots are made for walking as well, but above all they capture one’s attention, provoke, excite!
This probably seems like a peculiar way to analyze other people’s thoughts but I’ve actually used a scale more or less like this in my youth, when I’ve tried to probe whether another person thinks the way I do. The way we speak about a matter always reveals how we see it, what significances it bears to us and what emotions it invokes.
It’s amazing and on the other hand sad how different the World seems depending on what we treasure and cherish. We humans tend to glaze the objective reality with layers of significances, but what kind of glazings -interpretations of reality, that is – we expect from other people is largely cultural and bound to people’s roles.
Coming from my manly roles in life, earlier I felt it was impossible for me to talk about boots as a fascinating subject that invokes strong emotions. So I hid my passion and tried to talk about them as indifferently as I would talk about crackers or paperweights. Though, at the same time I still tried to survey other people’s attitudes and emotions about clothing in would-be-neutral initiatives.
So I have always cautiously tried to probe whether the people I talk with could understand how boots have such a special place in my heart. In the environment of my youth I didn’t meet but depressing indifferent attitudes. At times I might have discussed the topic superficially with some lady friends. In the light of traditional gender roles that was less awkward than trying to get something out of the grunting boys around me. But those discussions never became more than small-talk. The gap to bridge from recognizing the aesthetic value of boots to discussing a strong sexual fetish was simply too long.
I ended up telling some of my closest friends about my fetish but it was merely socially awkward self-centered unraveling that didn’t lead into much deeper discussions. And how could it have? My friends were probably as tangled in the strings of their own emotional lives as I was back then. Discussions only ever emerged of topics to which both parties could actually relate.
Back then I thought that opening up was a brave thing to do but the tendency to conform socially was also strong in me. Thus I never dared to imagine that I could follow this unusual passion of mine further in life. I’ve only learned to question social norms as an adult and I’ve been able to let go of the self-sabotaging inner voices of critique only in the past few years.
As liberating as this openness is for me now, I’m disappointed in myself at the same time for not having the courage to follow my passions earlier. I could have been exemplary and brave, but in my insecurities I ended up enforcing the culture of bullying, where following one’s unusual passions is always nerdy and weird and results in mockery. Lola from Kinky Boots and others who have followed their hearts bravely always make me reflect on this.
Better late than never, as the saying goes. Now that I’m more aware of myself and my environment, this blog is the least I can do. Now I am finally brave enough to follow Lola’s example: no more awkward splutter but saying it like it is. Not only painting mental images but becoming visible as I am. Provocative? Only if our idea of being human is so narrow that we are unable to publicly admit that we are sensitive, complex and sensuous creatures.
About shame and acceptance
In one of the most important scenes of the musical Charlie and Simon discuss about their relationships with their fathers and about letting the people close to you down by following your own passions instead of meeting their expectations. The scene touched me in profound way.
I have come face to face with this theme after coming out of the closet. It has been exceptionally difficult, because the shame I feel about my fetishism is at its greatest with the people who have known me for a long time. With some of them it has been almost mortifying to admit that I am a different person than I’ve pretended to be and that I’m so into boots, dress up, make up and other things culturally typed as feminine.
Most of all I’ve been ashamed about how great sensations boots can invoke in me. It has made me feel vulnerable and faulty. The shame about this fetish has been much greater than the shame I’ve endured for breaking the gender expectations by cross dressing or for my love of power exchange. I believe this is because my boot fetish is a founding piece of my sexuality while these other tendencies have developed as a result of it.
The scene ends as Charlie hugs Simon and says “Let’s make boots”. In that moment I felt like Simon who is being caressed both physically and mentally. That line was especially significant for me because in my years of being closeted the word “boots” has become a trigger that gets me on my toes thinking “NOBODY IS SUSPECTING ANYTHING NOW?! ARE THEY?!” I’ve tried to work on this by consciously using the words “boots” and “fetish” whenever I can so that I wouldn’t stumble around the subject anymore.
I acknowledge I constantly crave for the sensation of total acceptance that scene sparked in me. It’s probable that my craving for acceptance will never end, not even if all my loved ones poured their love on me at once. The black hole created by my past is simply to big. Luckily, with practice, I’m able to turn that craving into productive activities such as this blog. By being myself more and more courageously I can also meet my emotional needs myself.
Thus I’ve decided to make boots and the fetish style I love my own thing and keep living according to Lola’s 6 step program:
- Pursue the truth.
- Learn something new.
- Accept yourself and you’ll accept others.
- Let love shine.
- Let pride be your guide.
- You’ll change the world when you change your mind.
From transforming myself to transforming the World
I believe Lola would have my back when I say deep down we’re all fetishists. Like I said before, we humans add layers of significance to everything we experience and do – sex, sexuality and gender included.
When I’m asked, I usually describe fetishism as being significance-centered: conscious and unconscious indulging of the glazings we ourselves add to different things. After all, what else could we – intelligent but extremely susceptible and sensitive beings – do?
It would be only reasonable that the proper words that describe this human activity would find their way to our everyday vocabulary – our way of structuring thoughts and actions. It might just be that we’d become more self-aware. At least that’s the way it has worked with me.
Experience has taught me to lead by example. That’s why I seek to be the change I want to see in the world. Superficially I can momentarily transform into a woman and play around with sexuality and gender. But when I do so, I reflect into my environment a much larger inner transformation that has happened in me over the years. That transformation is about openness, courage, acceptance and love and my gorgeous boots are the symbol of it all.
Even if I got critique about what I do on the outside, I know it’s usually about something else. It’s about a desperate cry of social power structures we’ve given in to all our lives even though silently we’ve known for a long while that there are no logical or ethical grounds for maintaining them.
The screaming red high-heeled thigh-high boots of mine may be too much for those structures. But if something crumbles under the weight of love and truth, it deserves to crumble. May each knock of my heels be a crushing blow to the very foundations of those structures.
These boots are made for walking
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you