Alaska’s Kink Community Readies its New Home After Years of Unique Hurdles

Sahra Shaubach in the room she and volunteers extensively rehabbed inside the basement of the 225 E. 5th Ave property, holding a poster from the The Eagle, a renown Baltimore leather bar. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.
Sahra Shaubach in the room she and volunteers extensively rehabbed inside the basement of the 225 E. 5th Ave property, holding a poster from the The Eagle, a renown Baltimore leather bar. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.

Alaska has a tightening kink community made up of people living alternative lifestyles that range from discomfort with mainstream society to unconventional sex practices. But they have struggled to find spaces in which to gather. Now, after a lengthy tenant dispute and thousands of dollars worth of property damage, the Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles–ACAL– is ready to open it’s doors.

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“Our stairwell, when we finish staging, will be full of pride-flags from across the lower-48,” explains Sahra Shaubach as she shows off the staircase leading into the 2000 square-foot basement she rents in downtown Anchorage, formerly the site of the Kodiak bar. “Those will include Bear pride-flags, and GBLT pride flags, of course the Leather pride flag, the Trans pride flag and so on and so forth.”

ACAL is meant to solve a years-long problem of where people interested in unconventional sex can get together for events.

 “You name it, we’ve rented it,” Shaubach explains.  “We’ve done this out of restaurants after they’ve closed, we’ve done this out of convention halls, we’ve done this out of hotels–we’ve rented entire floors of hotels and done theme rooms. We’ve rented basements, we’ve rented empty houses. And we’ve been doing it with the respect of the greater community in Anchorage, I believe. We haven’t had anyone call the cops and say ‘Oh my god the perverts are screaming next door.'”

“Kink community” is the umbrella term covering everything from bondage and leather aficionados to erotic artists and exotic hula-hoopers. Though Alaska’s kink community is dwarfed by cities in the Lower-48, it is far more widespread than the uninitiated may realize. In the last two decades, different groups like The Northern Lights Dungeon Society and Alaska Dark Realms organized coffee meet-ups and dinners nicknamed “munches.”

“It was just amazing to realize that people across the board–young, old, fat, ugly, educated, not, your doctors, your lawyers, your school teachers, your single mothers, your college students–everybody shows up to those munches,” Shaubach recalls from when she began getting involved eight years ago.  “If you saw us sitting at a restaurant–20, 25, 30, 40 of us–you would have no idea we are Alaska’s alternative community. We look like the people you’d see at Fred Myers.”

Shaubach pounced on the opportunity to rent out the basement in the old Kodiak, even though it meant cleaning up years of broken furniture, trash, and remnants of people crashing when they had nowhere else to go. Upon seeing the space for the first time in two years, the landlord wept. Shaubach and volunteers organized “work frollicks”–a borrowed Amish term–to haul trash, paint, clean, and disinfect the industrial kitchen on the top floor. It took months, but the results are impressive. The rambling chambers of the basement are primed for activities: a tiny stage surrounded by tables, studded leather straps to hang donated art, and “playrooms” holding a few daunting apparatuses.

“There’ll also be a large padded table here that also has a cage that goes underneath it,” Shaubach explained, pointing inside her favorite room. It was filled with supplies and equipment, including an X-shaped St. Andrew’s Cross and wooden stocks affixed to a spanking bench.

“Forgive me if this is a little bit suburban,” I asked, “but what is the table and what are the cage for?”

“Umm,” Shaubach paused, a smile spreading over her face, ‘there’s so many options for a table and a cage!” 

Alaska’s kink community numbers in the hundreds, and is committed enough that Shaubach can finance the costs of rent and upkeep by collecting membership fees.

“It’s like having a Sam’s Club Card,” said Shaubach, “you don’t get the groceries for free, but you definitely get a discounted rate for being a member.”

$120 s a year buys access to the space, along with priority rates on workshops and educational events on eclectic topics like knot-tying.

Shaubach stands in a corner of the industrial kitchen she says had been left in a state of disarray by the time she returned to the space for the first time since December. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.
Shaubach stands in a corner of the industrial kitchen she says had been left in a state of disarray by the time she returned to the space for the first time since December. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA.

ACAL was set to open in December, but a highprofile tenant dispute disrupted those plans. The top-floor was leased to Charlene Egbe, who runs the Alaska Cannabis Club, and was evicted last week. By the time Egbe and her business partners vacated the premise the top floor was a mess, documented extensively by a local blogger with an interest in the case, who has since publicly archived photographs documenting the state of the property. The kitchen was filled with trash and flat-screen TVs, fixtures, and furniture were gone.

Egbe says that she and associates poured money and time into improving the space beyond its condition from when she first  signed the lease.

“We’re disappointed that our former landlord continues to attempt to assassinate the character of the Alaska Cannabis Club,” Egbe said by phone. “We are taking legal action against our former landlord, and other parties involved, for defamation of character, amongst other things.”

Shaubach is not eager to dwell on what happened, or on the pending civil case. Instead, she is planning more work frollicks to get the ACAL space ready in the weeks ahead. She knows where she’ll put a small library and has already picked a name (The Back Door) for the modest boutique that will sell leather accouterments. Mostly, she’s ready for the Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles to finally become a gathering place.

“We’ve built this center, and created it with a vision of our community having a place to foster our foundations and elevate our education past what we’ve already done. And we just need a home,” Shaubach said, a sad note creeping into her voice. “We need a place that’s safe, sane, secure so that we can practice what it is that we do.”

The Center’s public premier is slated for the first Friday in February.