30 March, 2008

Ambiguity and Mental Health

The Chicken/egg question, eluded to in my last post: Does BDSM affect my (passive) psyche, or is it my psyche doing the heavy lifting? Also, the unimportance of "why?" redux.

  • How has BDSM affected your emotional/psychological life?

BDSM administers to my life a primal tension and frisson that our technically sanitized and morally confused civil society actively mitigates against. It is a modern virtue to compact human emotional and physical experience into a narrow range; we sweep the natural exuberance of children, the catharsis of grief and even vague senses of ennui under the equalizing broom of serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, and carve our empathy and our bodies to fit a perfect composite image that is called “normal” or “beautiful.” In all our potentials we are aggressively herded toward the vast, gray and amorphous middle, surrendering what Gerard Manley Hopkins celebrated in his poem Pied Beauty as “all things spare, original and strange.”

Not long ago I read an AP wire report in the Bennington Banner (VT) of the phenomenon of teenagers playing very dangerous games, including mutual strangulation and surfing atop fast moving vehicles. Of course, the therapeutic classes are all atwitter about such goings-on, but I myself am unsurprised. The more adults take pains to smooth the bumps out of their childrens’ teen years, the clearer and bolder said teens will be in their expression of their new found erotic, emotional and intellectual vitality, which often emerges as pure Dionysian energy (i.e., chaotic, fecund, bloody, destructive, creative, etc.). Where our culture emphasizes safety and deadening of deep feeling, the first hormonal blush of adulthood demands immersion in life (and all that entails) immediately and at full throttle (so to speak).

BDSM reintroduces color to human relations in bold and sometimes grizzly defiance of puritanical mores and its culture of just saying “no.” It is resolutely politically incorrect. It is patently ridiculous and even comic with no obvious biological or social imperatives. It is utterly inscrutable. To the unambivalent it is harmless but hurts like birth. To the ambivalent it offers clarity. It can bring out the complete truth of who its practitioners really are. It has all of the right enemies.

  • Do you feel BDSM relationships last longer or shorter than non-BDSM relationships? Why?
I think people endure or not in relationships as a function of their will to become known to their partners, irrespective of BDSM. BDSM offers all of the conveniences any other life pursuit for hiding from one’s self and from others, and as long as anyone in relation to another person keeps themselves secreted away, it’s fair to ask if there is any such thing as a relationship (in a serious sense of the word) going on. There are arbitrarily large numbers of ways in which people may loose themselves to passion, open and become vulnerable to getting exactly what their souls need (however that shows up), and thus truly be known by another. BDSM is about as efficacious in this respect as golf (but it may be faster acting).

28 March, 2008

Relating Through (Not Despite) BDSM

One hears ad nauseum that kink deranges the finding and building of solid relationships and abiding love. I disagree. Certainly there are many interests vested in the maintenance of that idea, not least of which would be the common culture and its perpetually reinvigorated puritanism. Love and a satisfying relationship are the peanut butter and jelly of erotic maturity - pretty easy for me to piece together (even with the handicap of a learned palate) if I just own up to my fondness for the simplest of tastes. My need for love (and expressing love) is as basic and atavistic as anyone's; my need for peanut butter nearly as much so.

It may yet take generations but these United States will eventually exhaust the world's importable supply of sexually backward mores (our foundational religious tolerance being since the dawn of the Republic a magnet for intolerance) and have to make peace with biology and its uncalibrated expressions. In the meantime curiosity about erotically flamboyant behavior will invariably come subtly freighted with pietistic (and peanut butter-less) scruple. Consider the suppositions below:

  • How do you find others with similar BDSM interests?

I traffic in artistic circles, model for artists, rig for hire, write on aesthetics, mysticism and altered states, and consort with other writers. I’m open about my inspirations, and much of that flows from my pervy experience. I make a point of studying the work of those by whom I’m inspired, and endeavor to meet with these people and join their projects. That has led me to participation on various bondage websites and as model/rigger for various photographers who have an eye for the spirit of BDSM. Since I either show up in the work or contribute to it, I am introduced to others in the community as effective and participating in my capacity, and inevitably the right people find their way to me (and I to them).

  • Do you feel your BDSM interests make it difficult to find a partner?

Quite the contrary; I feel that my BDSM interests enhance and deepen my social profile, even among those who have no interest in bondage as such. A counterintuitive example: I myself find petroleum chemists who are deeply passionate about subtle variations in carbon chain branching very interesting indeed, and will spend an entire party listening in rapt fascination to the latest advances in refinery by-product reclamation processes if the speaker accepts my ignorance and believes in my interest. I met one such person recently, had a most enjoyable evening owing to that person’s candor, and enhanced in the process my understanding of our fossil fuel-based economy.

Most people do not believe that who they are and what they spend their lives on could ever be interesting outside their domain. Whatever it is that someone does, however arcane, can read from them as an object of others’ fascination if they are willing to speak their truth with passion and alacrity. Preachiness may be a fault, but it works because consciousness seeks expansion more often than not.

  • What type of impact has your BDSM interests had on your relationships?
My BDSM interests have given me more and better relationships, and also given me a modality and even a narrative structure in which to render the happy accident of my existence comprehensible to myself. Furthermore, BDSM transforms what might be considered in a conventional view to be a character quirk (some would say a flaw) into an elegant and erotic competency that distills my rangy sympathies for the benefit of another person while accelerating insight into my partner’s humanity.

  • How has BDSM affected your sexual life?
The question appears to presuppose a distinction between BDSM as affective, and my sexual life as affected. There is no such distinction, much the same way that a top is not a top without a bottom in the picture (and vice versa). While I have and enjoy conventional, gentle intercourse as an extension of my affections, it is precisely that; affectionate in the way that walking hand in hand or a delicate peck on the cheek speaks my feelings for another person. The fugue of my high sexual arousal is inseparable from BDSM.

26 March, 2008

Of Rôles and Other Chimaeras

  • What role do you identify as having?

I find the entire question of rôles and identity somewhat notional, to be honest, for everyone I've ever known in BDSM culture has very permeable containment of whatever they claim as their identity or rôle, and few hesitate to say so.

For example, several professional dominants (prodommes) with whom I've played are quite happy submissives and/or bottoms off the clock, and more than a few hardened masochists of whom I'm aware turn out to have well-formed sadistic streaks. I myself have tested everything I've ever contemplated doing on another person on myself first, and found all of it gratifying to various degrees. None the less, our categorizing instincts being what they are, most people in the "scene" (even those most polymorphously perverse) adopt one designation to supervene over others.

In my case, I'm what would be understood as a straight rope top, that being the active party in a hetero exchange featuring bondage. I do not expect or require submission, in fact I rather like when a bottom works passionately at escape. I am, however, hugely gratified by the final yielding borne of either exhaustion or the capitulation of resistance, and I do what it occurs to me to do to attain that yielding. I envisage the net effect as analogous to the performance of a priestly function of sorts: I am excited by the aspirant's quest and the deft administration of a small part of their journey is my principal gratification. I have not heard many tops allow this, but I find topping in BDSM to be effectively a service rôle (further subverting the congruity of the labels with the truths of BDSM).

  • How did you come to your role identity?

My sexually controlling nature emerges from an especially awkward and powerless youth. At age 12 I reached 6 feet in height, and I weighed at the time only 125 pounds. For the next several years, I could not organize one foot in front of the other, much less participate profitably in athletics or appeal to the opposite sex. I was also an easy mark for the more alpha/successful boys my age, as it did not take much to knock me over.

The first feeling I recall that this ungainliness might not last forever was when I subdued an assailant by ensnaring him in my long arms and just pressing him to my body. He could not break out of my grasp to hit me and became suddenly very quiet, even docile. A teacher broke up the altercation (wherein I was implicated as the instigator, which, owing to my opponents becalmed state, must have been easy enough to assume), and I was quite pleased with myself to be marched to the principal's office and treated to detention.

Thus did physically controlling another person take on the coloration of personal overcoming. With otherwise a perfectly average young man's view of the world, girls were of course intimidating to me in my teens. When I hit upon simply holding them tightly or pinning their arms while otherwise engaged, I not only got more enjoyment from the act (however chaste or innocent), but my partner would often enough become noticeably more enthusiastic. Strong physical control of my partners (even absent bondage) has been a hallmark of my sex style since.

25 March, 2008

The How, Who, and Some of the Why

As those closest to me would tell you, the question of "why?" is to me surpassingly unimportant. Any psychic or emotional energy spent on satisfying for "why?" is pure profligacy with respect to getting on with anything worth doing or which may properly be said to be actual living. "Why?" Feh.

However, "why?" is, as perhaps one might discern in this series of posts, central to the academic Weltanschauung. If what academic endeavoring came to was purely descriptive, most of the humanities (including my beloved philosophy) would promptly whither and die. "Why?" is a critical tool in the way of science, with its substantiation of theory and testability of hypotheses (Nietzsche took a very dim view of philosophizing with the scientific method - his preferred tool was a hammer). In word "why?" is rarely to be found, but as subtext it's often comically apparent. See what you think of the next few questions.

  • How do you let potential partners know about your BDSM interests?
Since I undertook to have multiple partners, BDSM has been the exclusive interest which prompts a liaison in the first place. In my case, it's given that potential partners are interested in me in the first instance at least as an extension of their antecedent interest in BDSM.

With respect to the particulars of my interests in BDSM (that being principally, of course, the “B”), interested parties are either similarly inclined or have determined that they would like to experiment with bondage to enhance their overall experience or pervy résumé. I have suspended several people for whom the rigors of hanging in rope was challenging in a way they were drawn to, but the attractiveness of being bound purely for its own sake was minimal.

The circumstance of my meeting a new partner usually governs their knowledge of my BDSM interests.

  • At what point after meeting a potential partner do you tell them about your BDSM interests?
If they are known by me to be kinky but are not aware that bondage is what I do, then I will query their orientation inside BDSM, which will inevitably be reciprocated. This is usually covered within the first few minutes of discovering we have kink in common.

  • Are you “only” involved in relationships where BDSM is present?
Yes, although I am still involved in one relationship that has tempered its kink component and now favors straight sex. She was deeply interested in being tied up in the early going, but has since determined that the greater attraction was my passion for bondage, and it was that passion she found most compelling. In the end bondage itself did not suit her sex style. We still speak of rope with plenty of animation and enthusiasm, and she still enjoys other alternative sexual activities (which I would not characterize as BDSM in nature), but our companionship has tapered off significantly as a function of bondage having fallen out of it.

  • If yes, how is BDSM used in your relationship?
In all my current relationships outside my marriage, bondage is the leitmotif upon which the relationship is founded. The interest and passion for rope is entirely reciprocal and the roles are very clearly complimentary, otherwise the connection reliably fades. Although rope is a prominent feature of my history with my wife, the foundation of our relationship is far more diverse and chambered. Our sex life would be unrecognizable without bondage, but our larger relationship is built on the notion of YES, of positive affirmation of the other’s interests and aspirations, and of making the contour of our lives according to our own designs. Thus do I believe that the relationship has neither static or durable aspect, but is an endogenous property of the continual friction of two people expressing without limit, the evanescent spark as it were. We have the pleasure of being fascinated by who the other is and is becoming, again and again, in the process of stoking the fires of aspiration and then walking into them.

The elective challenge of bondage impresses us every time we turn to it as an especially apt metaphor for how we live life. My position in my wife’s life is to make things “difficult” for her, to give her an honest and impassioned reaction to who and how she is, to challenge her assumptions about the world and herself, and to offer informed critique. As an artist this informs her professional activities (she readily acknowledges) to good effect. For her part, she puts down before me the requirement that I be in, acknowledge and accept the power that I am capable of expressing, which I extend profitably into many another area of my life. To paraphrase Anne Desclos in the epigraph to Story of O:

“You ought never have accepted the mantle of deity if you are unwilling to execute the office faithfully, and we all know the ways of gods are not all that gentle, don’t we?”

Before anyone gets it in mind that I consider myself a demiurge in some unique sense for having cited that bit of wisdom, let me say that I believe we are all perfectly capable of manifesting the divine, and that bondage (and SM more generally) is something of a fast track to that quality of experience.

20 March, 2008

Porn: Use Only as Directed

The establishment cant about porn usually has something to do with its subversion of the otherwise wholesome attitudes, appetites and sensibilities of young men. The pure version of me, as it turns out, is and always was purely perverted, and my earliest exposure to porn promptly subverted that purity. The cinematically seedy trappings in which I discovered my proclivities to be unexceptionally alloyed, indeed commodifiable, struck a reactionary chord in me; how could I identify myself with something so, well... tasteless? The puritanical version of me resisted the idea of my own commonness.

Nearly 30 years on it’s all so much water under the bridge, and I am in the end grateful for my ammonia-scented revelation. While it was my own lofty estimation of myself at the time that forbade such squalid associations I would fortunately get better (with the help of some patient-but-eager young ladies).

I found in addressing myself to academicians that making what is academically interesting actually interesting is its own challenge, one I had a shot at with the following…

  • At what age did you self-identify as being in the BDSM culture?
My awareness of the fact that there were other BDSM oriented people predates my understanding of it as what is popularly understood as a culture. In the hormone addled years in which I discovered bondage porn, I did not realize that what I was seeing was in fact a means of transmitting a pattern of belief, a system, or a prior art. I understood something else entirely about it, as you might imagine.

Although I knew of bondage as an erotic practice by the age of 15, I came to associate it with the desolation of Time Square adult bookstores (of which I entered several as early as 16 on dares; my size and general bearing allowed my indulgence in most adult activities well ahead of attaining majority) and therefore did not make my interest known to girl friends through my teen years. Whatever sense I had for any "community" that might devote itself to bondage (or related activities), I was pretty sure for many years that I wanted little to do with it.

I did, however, have several partners during my sexually formative years who very much liked being held down during erotic activity (from the earliest kissing and petting, to during intercourse by age 16). I enjoyed this too for its aggressive cast. I met the woman to whom I'd be wed at age 20, and she was very receptive to aggressive sex (being "taken" as she puts it), but I did not begin to associate our mutual erotic pleasure as anything other than just our "way" for several years still.

It was my first lover outside my primary relationship who introduced me to a kinky milieu to which I felt some affinity. These people were all artists of various sorts - my lover an accomplished ceramist and dancer. She quite casually asked to be tied up during sex, and I quite falteringly obliged at first, then shortly thereafter with complete abandon. I liken it to having emerged onto an open plain from a life spent in dark woods; at first frightening, then amazing. I finally welcomed kink (and in my case specifically bondage) into my psyche under the broader rubric of creativity and art-making, fields in which I had already spent some time and was cultivating further passion. Looking back on it all, I realize that I might have adopted the view of myself as member of a distinct subculture at many points before I finally did (especially since the sorts of women I was attracting were consistently excited by what-I-didn't-quite-understand-at-the-time was my dominance), but I was apparently waiting for the opening to come as an engraved invitation at age 23.

13 March, 2008

Leading Question

Starting not from the beginning, but rather where I think my answers start to take on some interest, here is where my scholarly interlocutor's little bit of knowledge became a dangerous thing:

  • How do you negotiate the consent and boundaries of 'safe, sane, and consensual' with your partner?

Like an increasing number of my fellow travelers, I do not believe in safe kink. I would go so far as to say that the mere idea of safety partially compromises the allure, efficacy and possibilities for discovery in kink. One of the fundamental notions that is therefore understood from the very beginning of any interaction is that what another person and I are proposing to participate in with one another is inherently unsafe; let us not labor under any delusions to the contrary. If we're having this type of conversation in the first place, plain-spoken acknowledgments of danger lurking among our intentions usually ups the excitement level that much more.

The word "sane" I consider a bromide and a palliative, and as an truthful assertion pertaining to anything to do with BDSM ascertainable only a posteriori. In fact, if someone feels compelled to assert to me their sanity, said sanity is thereby immediately suspect in my book.

Consent is perhaps the only term I consider meaningful of the three above. Consent emerges not from anything like a call-and-response-type exchange ("It is my intention to tie you up now." "That would be agreeable."), but from the feeling of trust, faith and mutual advantage discovered endogenously in the consideration of something possibly unsafe and, in a conventional sense, of questionable sanity. With time and the understanding that the person I am with will do me no harm, consent abides whatever it is that we determine we would like to do.

An example: a current partner and I are very fond of breath control play. We have never negotiated it, and it has evolved over many months to a fairly pitched and risky degree. It's beginnings were humble enough - I had gagged her very thoroughly and she had experienced trouble breathing. I rearranged things a little more to my liking (and comfort level), but none the less effectively, and we had a very nice scene. It was not until I mentioned the severity of the gag that she was prompted to tell me that she had found her gasping for breath very exciting, much to her surprise. We are now somewhat expert in a variety of ways of controlling her air supply, and she finds them all very much to her liking. Not safe, questionably sane, adventitiously consensual, and, as it turns out, one of our favorite things.

11 March, 2008

Spinning Yarns

14 to 1? Can that be right?

A dear dominant friend of mine who inscribes his perspective in a fine web log told me a while back that in all the vastness of the blogosphere entries originating from the dominant pole of BDSM are comparatively rare. Intrigued, I undertook a methodically unscientific survey of submissive-to-dominant blog ratios and can affirm my friend's assertion to the surprising tune of about 14 blogs authored by submissives for every one put out by a dominant.

Are we, the supposed active half of a power exchange, really that taciturn? Or even torpid?

Should someone care to look into this glaring imbalance in a more considered and rigorous manner I would be pleased to be found in error. In the meantime I offer this recording of my monomania as a small corrective, for while I have been taciturn with respect to my public participation in BDSM I have been writing about it - in essays, correspondence, photographic commentary, aesthetic analysis and many another way - for decades.

Several years ago a faculty member at a large mid-western American university scarfed my email from a list and spammed me a request for insight on the perv nation for a paper she was preparing. I fell for her solicitation and we corresponded for months, with her gently stewarding the exchange and me staying up nights Babbitting like I knew something. In consequence an academic monograph elaborating some of my inchoate kinky antics is lodged somewhere in a prairie library, mostly for the delectation and delight of corn-fed students of social deviance, but where no one else is likely to ever lay eyes on it. I'll start RSE with some slightly retooled excerpts from that lengthy exchange.

May you be edified, if not corn-fed.