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Thursday, December 30, 2010

When Good Etiquette Goes Bad: a short short story

I'm currently living in an area where manners mean a lot. By and large, people are friendly and polite as a matter of course. They smile at me on the street. They make small talk with strangers. After living here for over a year, I've started addressing older strangers as "sir" and "ma'am". It's a little old-fashioned, but it goes over well.

Unless I'm at a play party, in which case it is very bad form to assign those titles to someone with whom you don't actually have an existing power dynamic. Anyway, I don't want to be giving anyone ideas.

So I do a lot of "Excuse me, si... uh, 'scuse me."

I am going to be putting my foot in my mouth one of these days.

Monday, December 6, 2010

On Labeling Myself

One thing that keeps coming up lately is how I label myself. Since I've started labeling myself, I've been calling myself a submissive, and that's been varying degrees of accurate. For a long time it was completely true: I was primarily interested in being overpowered, in taking orders, in service, and in a system of punishment and rewards. That is a lot less true now. I know that a big part of that is my bad experience with it a couple of years ago. For a long while after that, I completely lost interest in submitting to someone else in any prolonged or serious way, and I've only recently started to think about wanting it again. That is, it's barely even a part of my fantasy life again; I just want to want it again.

That's probably another entry entirely, but the point is that it's barely accurate to call myself a submissive anymore.

It is still accurate, in a way, to call myself service-oriented, or at least to say that I'm into service, but I really shy away from doing that now. One really mundane reason is that I've been cleaning houses for money for the last few months, and that makes me a lot less excited even to clean my own house, much less that of someone who isn't paying me. The more insidious reason that I'm reluctant to say that I'm into service, though, is that I'm only into it in specific contexts, and a lot of people would love to take advantage of it.

Okay, let me be more clear. In a blog in which I talk about abuse constantly, "take advantage of" is pretty strong language. Here's what I mean by all of that: I like service, when it is eroticized. I like when the other person is also getting off on having me do things for them. I don't just get turned on by doing the vacuuming. (My job would be a lot more interesting if I did.) I know that there are people for whom the mere act of serving someone else is a total turn-on, but it just isn't for me. I don't necessarily want to make your dinner or scrub your sink; I want to please. I want to delight. Obviously, I want to arouse.

Here's the problem: most people really like to have things done for them. They want their dinner made. They want their sinks scrubbed. They want it for free. Heck, I want my dinner made and my sink scrubbed for free! If I found someone for whom making my dinner and cleaning my house was so intrinsically gratifying that they would happily do it for free, I'd be thrilled! I am not that person, though. And yet, as soon as I say I'm into service, I can see the eyes light up, and a moment later I am getting gleeful offers. When I try to explain the context situation, they say that it would be erotic for them! I could be naked while I cook! "No, thank you," I tell them.

It's hard to imagine ever accepting one of these offers; I think that service is probably something I'll reserve for intimate partners. After all, doing domestic service for someone who is in it for the free labor feels a bit like having someone fall asleep on me during oral sex. It's just humiliating - and not in the fun way. Not to mention that it is a dull-as-bones waste of my time.

On to: why no other label is good either.

Right now, I should probably just be calling myself a masochist. What I actually want is to have painful things done to me. The reason I don't use that label all the time is that I'm already tired of other masochists playing the who's-more-masochistic game of one-upsmanship, and I think that if I joined their ranks, I'd just be bringing it on myself. The other night, I had a woman ask me, very solemnly, if I'm a masochist or a pain slut. When said that I didn't know the difference, she explained that a masochist is into pain, but a pain slut is really, really into pain. ("I used to be a masochist, but I only recently became a pain slut.") I told her that I didn't know. Calling myself a masochist would just be inviting other people to challenge it - and god, will they ever - and I'm just not up for it.

Which leaves bottom. Bottom is true - and it sounds kind of cute! I feel like it's tough to take yourself too seriously when you're calling yourself a bottom. Am I being a jerk by saying that? Am I ignoring history and destroying context? Possibly. Very possibly.

On the other hand, bottom is just so vague, and seems like such a tiny part of who I am, sexually. It's appealingly neutral, but its neutrality makes it kind of disappointing to me. Not to mention that I switch, once in a blue moon.

I don't know. It was never reasonable to expect that my sexuality could be summed up with a word. Maybe I should stick with acronyms. SLUL: Submissive-Leaning UnLabeled. Or something like that.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Fury of the Righteous (link time!)

When I started writing this, it was to fill a gap. I wasn't seeing what I wanted to see in terms of critical writing about the kink community. I hadn't read Clarisse Thorn yet. (Can I link to her in every post? Probably!) Until two days ago, I hadn't read Maybe Maimed but Never Harmed or listened to its creator's podcast, Kink on Tap. I'm not sure why I didn't listen to it before, except that I think I confused it with a different podcast that I tried and didn't like. I didn't give the blog a chance, in spite of the fact that everyone, everyone, everyone links to it, because I saw the name, and assumed that it would be about someone having all kinds of sexy sex in unexamined ways, and isn't the Master/Mistress of my passion an actual demigod? I was completely wrong. I feel like I should apologize to someone, and maybe I should apologize to myself for denying myself the absolute fucking thrill of reading posts like this incredible diatribe against the kink community.

[T]here is a fallacy, a lie, a self-protective disgusting self-consolement that the sex communities tell themselves to comfort themselves and hide their own massively, outrageously discriminatory practices[…]. And that lie is that those people simply “didn’t find the right space for them,” “wouldn’t fit in here anyway,” or some such bullshit. […S]ex communities do a fucking piss poor job of making it okay to want those things, and that in fact, sex communities are mostly filled with self-contented, complacent, lazy people whose actions make it clear they care more about getting their own lay than making it possible for other people to connect to them, or with others.

Miranda and I read it and gawked for a bit. I waved my arms around expressively. It feels so good to read that, we agreed.

So, go read it. I'm probably going to go comment on it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

How to Not Abuse Me

Ok, so I've been halfway through a post about Story of O, Secretary, and why we BDSMers are so into stuff that glorifies rape, for... gosh, an embarrassing amount of time. I plead NaNoWriMo, and how despairing that particular post makes me feel. So, a new post, quick and dirty.

This came out of a conversation I had with a friend pretty recently. Making up themey, literary names for people is fun, and I'm going to call him Hyde because he'd like it. Mina and I have played with Hyde before, and he and I have had a lot of interesting conversations about what works and doesn't work for us in the scene here. He knows about my (gasp) abusive past, and, the other day, asked me what differentiated abuse from business as usual, when it comes to BDSM. Since we've played, and since we're both total sex geeks, he's got a good idea of what I'm into - in particular, that I like pain and lots of it. Most of what goes on in BDSM would look like abuse to an uninformed observer, and would be abusive in a non-negotiated context. Spend enough time around BDSMers, though, and you'll probably develop a different idea of what's appropriate, healthy, and okay. It makes sense, then, that my friend, a dominant sadist, has been worrying that he could wind up abusing someone and not even know it. (Also, how cute is that? I love that. I want to give him a prize. The prize of knowledge!)

Clarisse Thorn wrote a wonderful article about taking anti-abuse measures within the BDSM community, and she includes a few definitions of BDSM vs. abuse. (You should also check out her blog, with which I am deeply in love.) Here's one, from a pamphlet by The Network/La Red:

The most basic difference between S/M and abuse is Consent. It is not consent if…
You did not expressly give consent.
You are afraid to say no.
You say yes to avoid conflict.
You say yes to avoid consequences (i.e. losing a job, losing your home, being outed).

S/M is…
Always consensual.
Done with respect for limits.
Enjoyed by all partners.
Fun, erotic, and loving.
Done with an understanding of trust.
Never done with the intent to harm or damage.

Just because you consent to play does not mean you consent to everything. You have the right to set limits.

Another list emphasizes intent (that both partners enjoy themselves and feel safe), risk-awareness, informed consent, and having done the research about/legwork for whatever activity you're planning on doing.

I can agree with these definitions, in general, but I thought it might be nice to talk about a few things in particular. I tend to do better with specific examples, since general rules like the ones above seem so obvious that it's easy to say, "Well, of course I knew that, and then not examine my own behavior any further. I should also add that there's a lot of debate about what's acceptable , and I've been surprised by the number of people I've met who are scornfully anti-safeword, for example. I believe that safewords are indispensable, but I know that some people enthusiastically consent to giving them up, trusting that their partner can read them well enough to stop or slow down if necessary. There's always going to be some disagreement, so I've tried to think of this as a list that I would give a potential partner, to keep it focused.

Tips for Not Abusing Susan

- If I've said no to something before a scene starts, it is off the table, even if I change my mind during the scene itself. That is, if I say no sex, and then you tie me up in painful positions and do mean things to my pressure points, and I get all hot and bothered and say, "Actually, yes, do me," do not do me. Stick to the limits I give you when I'm sober and negotiating; they are more accurate than the ones I have when I'm in the middle of a play-induced chemical rush. I wouldn't ask you to marry that chick you went home with when you were drunk, so don't ask me to live with what I think I can handle when I'm totally loopy from play. This is a good way to avoid horrible emotional fallout once the scene is over.

- And definitely don't try to seduce me into saying yes to something. This is just a more extreme version of the last one. Negotiation about limits should happen when we're clothed, sober, and have both had some time to think about it. If I say no to knife play, you don't get to try to change my mind once I'm tied up, horny, and presumably role-playing some kind of submission. I definitely get into sub space when I play, and I'm kind of a neurotic people-pleaser in general, so saying no at that point is going to be really difficult. If you wait until I'm feeling all happy and submissive to try to get me to bend or retract my limits, you're a manipulative dickbucket.

Here's the thing about this last one: some people are going to say that that's okay, in the name of training. Some folks who are into behavior modification and more extreme kinds of power exchange might argue that it's good to seduce a submissive into something that she feels trepidation about - that way she approaches it as something pleasurable, rather than as something to be dreaded. Whitewashing the fence is fun if you're wildly excited for the opportunity, basically. And yet. Limits are there for a reason. That attitude really bothers me, in that it assumes that the submissive doesn't really know what she can handle. I distrust a model that assumes that the dominant partner knows best.

- Don't hit me when you're angry. I am not your worry doll.

"But wait!" subbier_than_thou (not a real person) might cry out from Fetlife's "Sluts, Cunts and Whores" forum (a real thing). "I exist to serve my Dominant, and part of that is being there to be hit when she needs to vent some rage. She gets to take out her anger, and I get to fulfill my service kink. Where's the problem?"

"@subbier_than_thou," stockings_and_boys (not my real handle) would reply, "what happens when you make her angry? More specifically, what happens when you need to tell her something that she won't like, especially if she's at all quick to anger? What if you're feeling upset or uneasy about some activity that she's particularly fond of, or you need to cancel a date, or (if you're not monogamous) you want to plan a date with someone she dislikes, or you think that she's not behaving well and want her to behave differently? In every relationship, there are going to be conversations that need to happen, and will also make at least one of you angry. If she gets to act out every time she gets angry, you're going to start avoiding those conversations. You'll probably start hiding when things make you uncomfortable, and you may start changing your life to make it less likely to piss her off. You know: you didn't need to go on that date. It doesn't bother you that much when she makes rape jokes. Etcetera."

Which leads me to...

- I need to be able to call time-out. I need space to discuss concerns without fear of being punished, and without worrying about rules and protocols. At this point, I have no desire to do another 24/7 power exchange, so this is less relevant, but I think it's worth including. When I was in that situation before, anything I did or said was supposed to be informed by my submissive role, and it was all fair game for retribution. Part of the reason that I didn't get out of it sooner was that it was so all-or-nothing. There was no room to renegotiate once I'd agreed to be submissive. Very fucked up.

- You should reward use of safewords and communication of my comfort level. Let's be clear: it is an act of bravery to say no to something that a sex partner wants. Even in the most vanilla context, it is brave to say, "I don't like it when you touch me there," or "I don't feel comfortable with that." It is harder to do when there is any kind of power exchange, especially if you - like me - kink on service. With that in mind, you should work extra hard to make sure I'm extra comfortable telling you what I need, and what I can't handle. Let's use an example:

BAD: I use a safeword. You stop what you're doing, curl up in a ball and wail, "Why am I such a failure?!"

BETTER: I use a safeword. You stop what you're doing and find out what went wrong.

BEST: I use a safeword. You stop what you're doing, tell me what a good girl I am for letting you know, check to see if I want to be touched and give me a big hug if I do, and then deal with what went wrong. Then remind me again how good I've been.

(I'm assuming here that I'm using the "red" safeword, meaning "This is too intense and it needs to stop NOW," rather than "yellow", or "Hey, could you stop for a sec because I'm a little squicked/ that sensation is too intense/ my arm is falling asleep." I'm also assuming that you've checked for major physical damage, like a responsible person.)

These are the ones that occur to me just now. I'd love to hear what other people think of, so feel free to comment. I'll keep posting them as they occur to me. That will serve the dual purpose of helping me continue to put off writing about sexy nonconsent and how we're supposed to just wet ourselves over how sexy it all is. Tell me what advice you'd give to a dom who just wants to be ethical!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Assumptions: not just for ascending to heaven anymore!

People in the scene always guess that I'm a sub. It's possible that some of them pick it up via some kind of kink-dar, but I'm pretty sure that my being young, female, polite, and usually wearing a dress has more to do with it. It's no radical notion that, by the standards of Fucking Patriarchal Society, femininity = weakness = deference. Even I have some trouble picturing a lady dom waltzing into a party dressed like June Cleaver. (Or Betty Draper to you young hooligans.) That would be unimaginably hot, but that's beside the point.

In certain kinky circles, I get talked down to because I identify as a sub/bottom/masochist, or because people assume that that's how I identify. When Mina and would go to parties and people would see us play, some (very few) of them would approach the two of us afterward, but only actually address Mina. I can understand that some kinksters are used to certain kinds of protocol - having to ask a dom permission to approach his/her sub, for instance - but for crying out loud, we have always played in zero-protocol environments. Especially given that Mina and I have never done any public power exchange, there has been no reason for anyone to assume that we are anything other than a sadist and a masochist with an egalitarian relationship. (When I talk about Mina in the past tense, it's because she left the state for school. Boo! She is still very much a part of my life, and I'm sure I'll continue to write about her.)

A friend that I'll call Bella (yeah, I'm going there) once introduced me to one of her friends at a play party. "That's her dom, over there," she said, indicating an area across the room. I looked around, expecting to see the friend's dom, until I realized that Bella was talking about Mina.

The funny thing is that in settings where no one had seen Mina topping me, some people would assume that she is a sub. Once, at a munch, a new male acquaintance was talking excitedly about an upcoming party. There were a couple of guys at our end of the table, and he turned to them as he detailed the equipment he thought might be there, which included a hanging cage. Then, he turned back to Mina and me and asked, "Which of you is going in the cage first?" I raised my hand gleefully, distracted by the thought of toys. It took me a moment to realize what immediately made Mina bristle: he had never asked about our orientations. There was little chance at that point that Mina, sadistic switch and public top, was going to climb into a cage at a play party, but this guy assumed that she would, presumably because she is a pretty young woman, precisely the kind of person that this guy likes to top. I realize that I am now making assumptions here, but Mina and I conferred afterward, and she agrees with me.

A simpler explanation for people assuming that Mina and I are bottoms is that, at least in this particular scene and I think in general, there are more female than male bottoms and more male than female tops. When I see a man/woman couple at an event, and there are no visible signs of power exchange, I usually assume that the woman is bottoming to the man. I am usually right, but I'm also wrong often enough that it's silly to make the assumption.

Let me also add that I'm usually right *as far as I can tell*. Like I said, people who saw Mina and me play at parties might comfortably assume that I always bottom to her, which is untrue. I might see two other ladies playing, make a similar assumption, and have no idea that the one doing the flogging (for instance) identifies as a service-oriented slave and a sadist, and that her partner is a masochistic switch who likes inflicting pain sometimes as an assertion of dominance.

Of course, there's no reason that I should know this. We are under no obligation to reveal everything about our proclivities at all times. But still: our assumptions influence who we choose to spend time with and get to know better. They influence how we treat others right off the bat. We will be doing ourselves and our community a favor if we make an effort to assume that we don't know that much about the various sexual identities of the people around us, and that the people who seem to fit comfortably into distinct categories probably don't.

This is all very preschool, yes? Except for the sex part.

Then, there are the ways that we assume sameness. But of course we are all liberal, college-educated, poly atheists! And probably geeks.

Yes, in a large, loosely-tied group of people brought together by being slightly outside of the sexual mainstream, these are all very fair assumptions.

Take note of my scorn.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I love this, oh my goodness.

First off, I want to apologize for the format of the last post. I am starting to loathe Blogger.

I have been reading the hell out of this blog called freaksexual. It is everything I want. I just read one of the older entries, titled "Your kink does not get a free pass" and I squealed with delight, repeatedly, and made Miranda listen to me read it out loud.

I have nothing else to say about this. Just go read it. I, personally, probably shouldn't read it again, because I will start licking my computer screen.

As if to respond to my previous comment, Blogger isn't letting me link to this article. Here is the web address:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ah, to be young, kinky and uninformed!

I worry sometimes about how little information is available to underage kinky teenagers. That is, Miranda brought this up to me about a month ago, and now I worry about it.

We know that a lot of teenagers are going to have sex before the legal age of consent. We agree that there are risks inherent in having a sexual relationship, and that even kids and teenagers whom I or you might think are too young to be sexually active deserve comprehensive enough sex education that they will be able to navigate those risks, when they choose to, in a way that leaves them physically and emotionally healthy. (If you don't agree with that, I'm not sure what you're doing here, but maybe you should go.) Many -although not enough - public school students are taught about safer sex, birth control, and basic relationship stuff, like how to handle partners who try to pressure you into something you're not up for. Even for kids who are left uninformed, misinformed, or taught that abstinence is the only way, there are resources available, like Planned Parenthood and the wonderful sex-ed website Scarleteen. All of these legally distribute information about sex to young teenagers, as well they should, because helping them to protect themselves is more important than trying to keep oneself from being somehow implicated in helping teenagers to have sex "too young." Teens are going to have sex, no matter what anybody says, and they are going to do it more or less safely depending on how much information and how many resources they've had access to.

Why does this reasoning not apply to kink? Kinky teenagers are going to tie up, flog, and collar each other, just as surely as their vanilla counterparts are going to fool around in cars. Lots of people don’t realize that they want to do kinky things until after high school, but enough do, and enough act on their (perverse, twisted) desires that it seems only responsible to provide reading material – particularly about physical and emotional safety precautions – for teenagers who want it. Some of the physical stuff that people do to each other can be pretty risky (hello breath play), and while it’s rare for anyone to get seriously injured from BDSM, it does happen. I’m honestly more worried for teens who get involved in power exchange and other mental games, or whose partners use BDSM as an excuse to perpetrate a more standard definition of abuse.

There are, of course, always books, for which there are no age restrictions. It is sometimes possible for a curious adolescent to go to a library or a bookstore and pick up a copy of SM 101. For many teens, though, this is not a practical solution. I live in a pretty big, notoriously left-leaning city, and our library system doesn’t even have a copy of The Ethical Slut, much less any how-to books on flogging. There’s no guarantee that the local bookstore will, either. Even if it did, not every teenager has access to reliable transportation. It is possible to order books discreetly online, even sometimes via money order, but then there’s the question of shipping, since parents and adult guardians will likely be curious about packages arriving for their offspring. (I once had a vibrator shipped to my best friend’s house, since her parents didn’t ask questions about things like that.) Then, there is the money question. Not every teenager has access to money of her own, and books can get pricey.

Really, a teen’s best option is the internet. Most people have access to the internet in some capacity – at home, at the library, at school. It is possible to look up information online discreetly, and it’s pretty simple to cover up one’s tracks. Lots of young folks get information about sex and BDSM online already; I remember my glee when I discovered that if I clicked the “I am eighteen” button to enter an adult-content website, the computer wouldn’t know that I was lying. But then, my parents, for whatever reason, didn’t use the parental controls. I know that it’s possible to block certain websites – probably all of those that you’re supposed to be eighteen to enter. That pretty much knocks out most of the available info about kink. Granted, I don’t know how well parental controls work, but I do know that I can’t check a good number of the websites I frequent when I’m using the library’s wifi. (Yes, I’m a big pervo.)

Actually, a lot of sex-related websites will re-direct under-eighteen people to Scarleteen, an all-ages website. I’ve been trying halfheartedly to find out what kind of content requires an age restriction – and thus how Scarleteen can talk frankly about sex to an unrestricted audience – but I think that might be a project for another day, because the Family Online Safety Institute website is really freaking me out. Too many families staring beatifically at laptops, presumably streaming episodes of Dora the Explorer, or something equally wholesome.

As to online content actually directed at kink-curious teenagers, Scarleteen comes through again. (I swear, I did look at other websites, but the pickings are really, really slim. I did find a site called Queer Youth Exist, but you have to be approved by the moderators in order to get to the discussion boards, and I’ve been waiting two weeks for approval. I think the moderators may be AWOL. If anyone knows of anything else, please send it my way. I will be thrilled.) Scarleteen only offers a brief overview of some kink-related terms and concepts. It is hardly an education in and of itself.

I think that the best solution is for some of us kinky adults (or, more likely, me) to get savvy about what kind of content gets you blocked, and to put out some good, solid all-ages material about kink. I’m really curious to hear if anyone has any thoughts or suggestions about this.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Let's Talk About Torture, Baby

I have a friend who is into torturing girls. It totally gets him off. He tells stories that start out, "So, I was torturing this girl...."

I really hate this word, as applied to BDSM. Torture is perpetrated on non-consenting people. It's something you do to someone whose life and health don't matter to you, someone whose body and mind you are okay with fucking up permanently. I don't really want my sex/play partner to think of me as her torture victim.

Okay, I know that my friend is not actually torturing anyone. He's putting his partners through a series of intense sensations, many of which they probably don't like very much, but all of which they have consented to, because having these things done to them turns them on. He may even be doing some sort of torturer/torture victim roleplay with them. This isn't torture, just as rape play is not rape.

The problem here is in the word itself, as it so often is in BDSM. (Seriously, this is the kind of irresponsible use of language that would make Orwell spin in his grave. Or emerge from it, with vigorous Orwellian re-education on his mind! Zombie Orwell!) I have a big fucking problem with rape, but I don't have a problem with rape play. People can play with the idea of non-consent as much as they'd like. Ditto race play. People are playing with their experiences with, and the presentation of race - which is why it is not called "hate crimes". (Race play seriously squicks me out, but that's neither here nor there. In fact, I'm going to guess that my feelings of squicked-ness have something to do with my discomfort with the heaping piles of white privilege that are my inheritance from birth.) I would not have a problem with someone telling me that they were into torture scenes, because that implies that everyone is playing.

I don't even necessarily think that this is something that one needs to be rigorous about in the bedroom. If you turn to your partner and say, "Lover, I'd like if you'd torture me," I won't think less of you, because at that point, both of you will, I hope, have an understanding of what that means. And a safeword. I do, however, think that people should be cognizant of what they say in public, especially in front of people who are new to the scene. Saying that you're going to go home and torture your lover implies that you think of your lover the way a torturer thinks of his victim. Most people are going to understand what you mean, but do you really want to be responsible for the person who doesn't?

So remember: "I am really into torture scenes."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Rage less, Mary B.

A couple of nights ago, Mina, Miranda, our friend Jack and I went to a play party. [Moment of self-congratulation: Jack is named for Jack Pumpkinhead, of the Oz books - a character who is, essentially, a walking innuendo. I think he'd appreciate that.] Mina and I have been hanging out with Jack a lot lately, often to practice rope ties, and at the last party we all went to, we asked Jack to play with us. This was a really good decision. Jack is a big rope enthusiast and a big goofball: as soon as he had tied my wrists to the legs of a sawhorse, he took the first opportunity to tickle me. He's a lot of fun, very careful about limits, and respectful of my relationship with Mina.

Disclaimer time: I don't want this to turn into one of those blogs that's about my sex life and how totally awesome it is, and how the other night I did this thing that made me feel sooooooooo submissive, and isn't pain super fun? Still, I think that a few concrete details are going to be important for illustrating my point. So: I'll try to keep it tasteful if you try not to get too titillated.

Based on Jack's general awesomeness, we asked him to play with us again at this last party, which was hosted by a group that I hadn't interacted with before. It was a very chill group of people - dorky in the best possible way. In fact, this party seemed like the perfect setting for Mina and me to try out something that we'd been hoping to do for a bit: Mina and Jack got me tied down on a bed, and then Mina scoped out the room and asked a man (a stranger) who was watching us if he would like to get a few hits in. As the session went on, Mina invited a couple more people (both men) to join in as well. Then blah blah edited for content, and I had a really good time.

I was actually surprised by how smoothly things went. I expected to enjoy it, and I felt safe with Mina running the show, but there were quite a few things that could have gone wrong and had to be dealt with, and none of them did. I am interested in enumerating as many of those as I can and trying to pinpoint what we did right, since that's going to be useful in the future. And! It means that I get to write about good things! You want to read about abuse? Read Fugitivus! (No, really, do it.)

Okay, first of all, there is always a danger that I will feel unsafe and vulnerable, and that the bad feelings will completely take over. There was even a brief period during the party where that could have happened, but Mina and I stepped outside and had a little chat and a cuddle, and then things were excellent again. So, to state the obvious: communication is good. We did that right. Being able to be neurotic in front of each other is good. Then, once the actual play started, I not only felt safe in general, but I'd been recently reminded that Mina is totally prepared to handle any freakouts/triggers/neuroses, so I felt safe on that score in particular, and thus a lot less likely to panic.

Next, I reminded myself that we play like ourselves, and not like anyone else. Yes, I am the broken record for the concept album Obvious Things in Obviousville (1973). We had just watched a young couple we know hit the hell out of this girl. There was blood, tears, and intensity. When Mina and I play - and particularly when we play with Jack - there is a lot of laughter, punning, and me swearing elaborate vengeance. This other scene was pretty lovely, and I began to worry that I would be unimpressive in comparison, since I was pretty sure that nobody was going to make me bleed, and certain that nobody was going to try to make me sob. As it turns out, there is an audience for giggly, masochistic exhibitionists, and I'm glad that I didn't let myself get hung up on wanting to be someone I'm not. (This lesson has been brought to you by the letter G.)

In terms of our play partners, Mina chose remarkably well. I couldn't always see them, but I found out later that she went for older men who weren't trying to look tough and domly. (The idea was to find people who wouldn't try to take over with their big domly egos.) She made it clear that she was in charge of the operation and stated a couple of ground rules. Girl's got some poise, basically.

Most importantly, everyone - Mina especially - paid close attention to my reactions. I could tell that they were, because every time I started to feel uncomfortable with something, or like I legitimately disliked a sensation, or like I needed a different intensity, they changed what they were doing to accommodate me, even before I felt the need to articulate something being wrong. When they tried something very different, they would check in with me. The strangers would ask Mina about my likes and limits. The play went on for a long time, and then Mina stopped it while I was feeling very good and very exhausted, before I had to ask them to stop. The whole experience was obviously about making me feel good, and I couldn't have asked for more conscientious people to do it.

This really boils down to: it is good to find partners you can trust, and whose judgment you trust.

I'll go back to being rageful soon, I'm sure.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Abuse? Abuse!

At some point, I should actually talk about abuse, if I'm going to bitch about people not talking about abuse. Ugh, responsibility.

Okay. Abuse.

Like I've said, I was involved in an abusive D/s relationship. I'm going to call the abusive fellow Arthur, because when you want a name for an abuser, just ask a Bronte. (Gals, which one are you? I'm an Anne.) My abuse narrative will sound familiar to anyone who's spent time in Fetlife's groups for submissive women. In fact, after typing the whole thing up, I've opted not to include it here, because I think that anyone who actually knows me will be a lot happier if I omit the details. In very brief, the relationship (not a romantic one) was abusive because Arthur was into maintaining control over me by pushing my hard limits and by guilt tripping me if I used a safeword. I walked around feeling completely fucked up for way too long, and when it hit the point that I was sobbing about it every day, I got enough objectivity to realize, "Wait, this is not how this should go. I don't feel good about this at all." Finally, all of the Are You In an Abusive Relationship? pamphlets that had been stored up in my brain since high school got to have their say. "Holy shit," I thought. "This relationship is textbook abusive."

Now, I do not think that Arthur is a bad guy. I think that he was young and troubled, and completely unprepared for the responsibility of having someone give so much control over to him. I think also that he really believed himself to be acting in my best interest. I think this in part because I've heard some of the views that he espoused from other sources as well, all around the kink community here. They go like this:

- What every sub really wants is to be good. If she isn't striving for this, then she isn't a real sub. [Oh, yeah, I'm going to use female pronouns to talk about subs and male pronouns to talk about doms, because that's what I'm talking about right now.]

- "Being good" means having no boundaries whatsoever, so as to be most available to your dom.

- It is the duty of the dom to help his sub achieve ultimate goodness by breaking down her boundaries.

This is the Father Knows Best model of D/s relationships. I know a lot of people who subscribe to it. Shockingly enough, I think it's extremely dangerous. This philosophy of D/s did a great disservice both to Arthur and to me. (Fucking people up isn't one of his kinks.) Like I've said - or at least implied - before, I think that it's important to maintain a clear boundary between what we actually want and believe and what we pretend to want and believe. I wanted to pretend to believe that Arthur knew what was best for me, and I ended up relinquishing so much control to him that I had to behave as if he actually did know what was best for me.

Here's the thing that separates D/s relationships from vanilla ones: one person is explicitly relinquishing power to another person. That makes abuse all the easier to perpetrate and all the harder to identify. That said, why don't we warn people about this as soon as we find out that they are new to the scene? Why is this topic so taboo? I guess it goes back to this fear that if we tell anyone that anything is wrong with BDSM, that he will pull off his fake mustache and reveal himself to be a secret member of the Vanilla Police, here to take us away (haha hoho) for indecent acts. To which I say, grow up. You are not Oscar Wilde. The worse persecution you will probably ever experience because of your naughty proclivities will be at the hands of a partner who thinks that your sadism/masochism/dominance/submissiveness/balloon fetish is kind of icky. Oh please. You have so little to lose from warning people about abuse and so little to gain from shaming me for warning them.

If I had been told that what I was experiencing was abuse, and not just par for the course, I might have gotten out of that situation a lot sooner. I want to tell everyone that, but I don't, for fear of losing the community that I have. Because, like, this shit is heavy. It's not fun to hear about. It's terrible PR. And now I'm a little ashamed for posting this for the benefit of a few people, instead of saying it really publicly, because it should be heard. I don't know. Maybe it's best not to drop the "a-bomb" because that's, like, totally humorless. Maybe it's better just to point out that not everyone that can tie a knot or wield a knife deserves your trust. Maybe you're better off being hyper-vigilant about safewords until you know for sure. Maybe we bottoms have to look out for each other. Just a thought.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About Kink

This one's going to be short and ranty. And in list format!

Sometimes I just get so unhappy about the terms people use, and then I have to monologue about them to anyone who will listen (Mina and Miranda, basically). Now I'm going to do that to you, imaginary readers! For your extreme, almost-overwhelming pleasure, I present... A List of Terms That Piss Me Off:

Subby - Or maybe it's with an "ie". If someone self-identifies as a subby/ie, that's fine with me. Anyone who thinks it's cool to use that as a blanket term for submissives, though, hasn't thought about what the word "submissive" means. It does not mean "into humiliation". Plenty of subs are into being demeaned, but even among those, most of us aren't into being demeaned all the time, by anyone who thinks they know anything about BDSM. Demean me - if I ask you to - but respect my sexual identity, please.

Domme - "Dominant" is a gender-neutral word. "Dom" is a gender-neutral abbreviation. The only reason to make the word feminine is that it is abnormal for women to be dominant, which is, even statistically speaking, untrue.

The Lifestyle - Oh come on.

Do not even think for a minute that this is the end of me being angry about terminology! However. I am about to go to a party, where I plan to be happy, which is more fun. Goodnight!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Macho Doms

I've been putting off writing this entry: it is far too big already. I want to write about how doms and subs interact outside of a clearly-negotiated play context - when the lines are blurred, and what people's expectations seem to be. I can tell that this is going to be terrifyingly long, and that I'm not going to explain myself nearly as well as I'd like to.

So I'm going to stall a little longer. I'm going to talk about names. In the proud blogger tradition, I'm using aliases for myself and the people I write about. In the proud nerd tradition, they are, so far, all literary references. Specifically, I have named myself Susan and my roommate Miranda after characters who had problematic relationships to magical worlds. Susan is the unfortunate Pevensie sibling who stops believing in Narnia - and starts showing a little too much interest in stockings and boys - and is thus barred from the Kingdom of Heaven (I mean, of Aslan). Miranda is Prospero's daughter in The Tempest, who gets to be on the receiving end of her father's magic quite often, and who gets to spend some serious quality time with the creature who attempted to rape her. Yes, I thought a lot about this. Yes, I am very pleased with myself.

Of course, I had to come up with a nickname for my ladyfriend as well, and since she's just as critical as either Miranda or myself, I needed one in the same vein. Wendy was the gimme, but Lost Girls has pretty much ruined that one for me. When I asked Miranda, she - without missing a beat - suggested Bella; I value my life too much to use that one. I'm sure there are better ones that I'm not thinking of, but I'm going to go with Mina. (You know who I mean, I know you do.)

Ok. Onward.

I am so tired of doms who posture. I mean when a group of a certain kind of macho dom gets together and has a pissing contest. Not that they're showing off skills, which is cool, or passing around pictures of their rope work, which is also fine (although after a bit it begins to feel like looking at pictures of someone's pet. It's really for their benefit, and you have to love the pictures because they do.) I'm talking about the doms who constantly need to one-up each other with stories about their exploits in kink, and about their own domly prowess in particular. Something like this:

Master Beelzebub: I once left this girl hanging from my ceiling for two hours while my friends and I played Halo in the next room! She totally yelled at me afterward, until I told her what she could do with her mouth! [Heyo!]

Lord Dom-Dom Pop: Yeah, well, this one time my girl was being a brat, so I spilled my drink on the floor and made her lick it up!

(Ok, I should probably have more respect for the monikers that people choose for themselves, but it's too much fun to mock! A friend of mine refers to pushy doms with an inflated sense of their own importance and impressiveness as either Lord Flashpants or Zeus Thunderthighs. It makes me so happy.)

So, I'm bothered by these conversations not just because they are annoying, although they are. It's not just that they always have to happen at a loud volume, designed to attract the largest possible audience, at the expense of the most possible other conversations. I can put up with these posture-fests with only mild irritation as long as they are about scenes that sound like they were designed for everyone's enjoyment. What really bothers me is when I hear a conversation like the one above, wherein the participants are describing doing things to their partner(s) that the partner(s) don't want or like.

Okay, okay, I get that a lot of play is about just that. I personally enjoy being made to do things that I don't enjoy doing. I might enjoy being made to lick up Mina's drink, and I would even be fine with her telling people about it, as long as she didn't tell them that she forced me against my will to do something I didn't want to do.

This is the difference for me. If, during a scene, Mina spills her drink and tells me to lick it up, I tell her no, and she shoves my face into the puddle, that's fine. We are adults who have agreed to play together, agreed to the terms of the play, and agreed to a safe word, should anything go awry. We know that we are participating in a scene about power play: we are pretending that Mina has the right to push me around. We are pretending that I am unable to retaliate, should she do something really cruel. We are pretending that I am not pleased as punch to have a face full of, well, punch. Even if I'm grossed out, humiliated, furious, I am still enjoying myself, because I like to be pushed around. That is, after all, the point. When we do these things, we are playing. This is pretty 101.

It would not be okay if Mina then told a group of people about it, saying "I shoved Susan's face in a puddle of punch. Bitch hated it."

Never mind that Mina and I have an egalitarian relationship outside of the bedroom, and in public she can call my by my name or by the appropriate pronoun. It would be a problem even if we were D/s all the time. It would even be a problem if I wanted her to tell everyone I hated it. This is because she would still be pretending. And in pretending, she would be asking everyone in earshot to pretend along with her.

When Lord Dom-Dom Pop announces that he made his bitch sleep in the doghouse all night, that she hates his guts but she can't do a thing about it, he is asking us to acknowledge his power and his ladyfriend's helplessness and misery. Essentially, he is making us part of the scene, without the prior negotiation, trust, precautions, etc. He is playing with me without my permission. I am absolutely not okay with that.

I'm realizing that a discussion about power dynamics outside of scenes will have to be broken up over several entries, otherwise I'll never post anything and eventually end up with a book. I think I'll wait until I've been doing this for awhile, write a book about my blog, and wait for someone to make a movie about the book about my blog. God, I hate Julie Powell.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

These are the things that I wonder.

I cannot sign on to Fetlife without running into an announcement for a class or demonstration by a famous dom. Various groups are forever heralding the arrival of Master Jean-Paul Satyr and his excellent knife play technique, or Sir Cruelteeth, here to talk to us about biting, all the way from New York! I have never heard of any of them, but I haven't been around that long, and other people get excited enough about them that they seem to have achieved some measure of legitimate fame. A lot of these events sound exciting, and like things that I would go to if I had a spare thirty bucks a week just lying around, but after umpteen invitations to see Mistress Faerie Venom discipline some worthless whores, I began to wonder:

Where are the celebrity submissives? Are there any celebrity submissives?

I know that the profusion of celebrity tops versus the seeming lack of celebrity bottoms makes sense; after all, tops have more badass - not to mention teachable - skills. I know, however, that I have also been invited to classes and seminars about various kinds of service, but those were always taught by local folks, not anyone imported for their expertise and the strength of their name. I wonder, too, that I have never been invited to see a celebrity bootblacker, since bootblacking is certainly a tangible skill, and once that I hear is totally hot (having had no personal experience with it). But no, I can think of none, given that Maggie Gyllenhaal doesn't count. Joss Whedon also does not count, although he has apparently admitted to being really into femdom. I'm looking for someone who is famous for their skills as a sub.

I asked around a bit, and a friend of mine mentioned Madison Young. I have to say, Madison Young occupies sort of a gray area for me. On the one hand, she is indeed famous, and I really do admire her. I like so much that she writes about being a feminist sub and a vegan in a culture of leather, that she makes her own porn (including a porno version of Macbeth, my god!), and that she runs a gallery for art by women. Madison Young is extremely cool, and I do not at all attempt to deny that. However. She did get famous as a porn star. She still is primarily famous as a porn star. I would really like to see a celebrity sub that can be famous without being preternaturally gorgeous, which Madison Young is, I mean it's really boggling, and without being objectified.

I don't know what that would look like at this point. I can only think of a couple of really awesome skills that a sub might demonstrate for an admiring crowd: bootblacking is one, and self-suspension another. I'm sure that I can think of more. The other alternative, I realized, is for a submissive to be admired and sought-after for his or her mind - for being an excellent public speaker, say, or for publishing something really excellent about BDSM, or service, or the nature of bottoming or whatever. I told Miranda, jokingly, that I was going to have to get famous, for the sake of submissives everywhere.

And that is how I came up with the title for a blog, and it is the blog you have just read.

I started this post off meaning to talk about hierarchy within the BDSM community - how relationships in the bedroom leak into everyday life - but I am frankly exhausted. I'm going to let this go now, while I'm still coherent.

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

This being the very first entry (!), I'm going to treat it as an introduction, both to me and to the project. This is not just because leaping right into a critical analysis of, say, the situations in which we do or do not use the word "play" would be terrifying, and I am stalling. I am, of course, terrified, and stalling, but (liberal arts kid that I am) I also think it's important that my (imaginary) readers know where I'm coming from. Here goes:

I'm Susan. I'm in my early twenties. I have been involved in the scene (i.e. munches, parties, events) for as long as I've lived in a place with any scene to speak of, which is about six months. Before that, I'd been doing kinky things with partners for nearly four years, including spending several months in a non-romantic, but pretty all-encompassing D/s relationship. I identify as a submissive and a masochist.

When I first moved to this city with my roommate/amazing friend Miranda, we were beyond thrilled - I mean really over the moon - to be going somewhere with an active BDSM community. You have to understand, we were coming from a small college in the middle of nowhere, which, in spite of its reputation for being a stronghold of free-thinking, free-loving liberals, was the most prudish place I have ever spent any significant portion of time (and that includes Catholic middle school). This was a shockingly sexless campus, and even when people were having sex, they were not talking about it, and certainly not openly, and certainly not as though it was fun. There were of course, a few exceptions, and I am beyond grateful for my kinky - and just cheerfully slutty - friends, but in general the landscape was pretty bleak and devoid of sex toys. Miranda and I tried to throw a play party once, and it was a complete bust. Weeks of planning, shopping, inviting, explaining, explaining again, explaining again, and reviewing the guest list to make sure that all of our invitees would be comfortable with all of our other invitees concluded in a gathering that consisted of the two of us, my girlfriend, our roommate and his girlfriend, and our roommate's best friend. As it turned out, there was just too much platonic friendship in that room to allow play. C'est la vie. We talked and drank juice.

Given all of that, Miranda and I were so ready, oh so very ready to get somewhere with a scene. We both cheerfully created Fetlife accounts and joined all of the groups specific to our city. We found a weekly TNG munch that happens not too far from our apartment. We also spent enough time on some of the other Fetlife groups that we decided that if we went to said munch and met just one person who was not a complete creeper, we would count it as a win. As it turned out, the place was creeper-free, and we have since become regulars ourselves. We have also each been to a few events, some of which have been really lovely. (Getting hit in public is awesome.)

That said, I have had some problems with the community. It can be hard to tell, for instance, when someone is playing, and when they are just a big old sexist. Some of the terminology really squicks me out. There's quite a lot of dogma in place about how doms or subs always are, and what is always permissible. In fact, some of these are problems that I have with individuals, or with certain segments of the community, but the overarching problem is the implicit gag rule against talking about points of discomfort. When I have done this, either on Fetlife or in person, I either get brushed off ("It's just play, so why does it matter?" "If you don't like it, don't do it.") or vilified ("Don't we get enough shit from outside the community?"). I understand the drive to make this kind of community a safe space, and I do agree with it, but I don't think that it really is a safe space if I can't even bring up the aspects of it that make me feel unsafe, for fear of offending someone.

This is probably a good time to bring up my prejudices, since my (imaginary) readers are bound (heh) to notice them anyway. Lists are always good:

- I am a feminist. Actually, I'm one of those angry feminists. I see misogyny everywhere because it is everywhere.

- I am bisexual, which has made me hyper-conscious of how people see me in relation to the person I'm with. (Most obviously, queer groups tend to be a lot friendlier if I'm actually dating a girl.) It's been interesting (and sometimes icky) to be a bi sub dating a gay switch. More on that later.

- I was in an abusive situation with a dom some time ago. This has had a few different effects: First, I am sometimes still triggered, which is no fun, so I have been very careful with myself in joining the scene here. I didn't go to a party until I was sure that I was good and ready, and even more sure that I could trust myself to leave if things got scary for me. Second, I know that I am sometimes apt to project my own experience onto other people, so that someone who is a dom, and also a bit pushy, gets filed away as Probably An Abusive Fuckbrain, when in fact he or she may just be a dom who is a bit pushy. Third, the fact that I do not feel comfortable mentioning the abuse thing (my own, or in general, because it really is rampant) around fellow kinksters that are not Miranda, because my previous experience has been that the people I mention it to will immediately say "But we are not all like that! Surely you are not saying that I am like that! DO NOT TALK ABOUT THAT BECAUSE IT IS NOT FUN AND I AM NOT LIKE THAT AND MY FRIENDS ARE NOT LIKE THAT AND I JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN AAAAAAIIIIEEEEE!!!" is a big part of what prompted me to start writing this blog. This is my safe space, and I will say whatever I damn well want about abuse, because someone really ought to be talking about abuse.

I think that's about it for an introduction. I'll get into specifics next time. It will remain to be seen how personal I want to get with this, and how much of it will be mini essays about things that bother me. We shall see.