16 April, 2008

Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings...

My notes on Insex are still scattered hither and yon, so while I enslave appeal to my erstwhile adjutant to get things properly ordered I present here the next bit of thread in the developing 20 questions yarn; I am most appreciative of your kind indulgence...

  • How did you feel about yourself when you first started having BDSM interests?

  • How did you feel about yourself once you started engaging in BDSM behaviors?

  • How do you feel about your current BDSM interests?

  • What do you feel are the positive and/or negative aspects of BDSM, if any?
I remember quite clearly having standard issue American shame with respect to sex generally, and since my earliest BDSM inklings (however uncategorized as such) were definitely erotic, they were tainted by association.

I don't attribute my youthful sense of shame to my parents' influence so much as to the callous treatment of intimacy in our culture. While American culture, with its emphasis on the individual, descends from a kernel of puritanical reactionaryism, my home life as I came into my adulthood was socially fairly progressive. My father was a psychiatric social worker (M.SW) and my mother holds advanced degrees in biology and instruction (M.S., M.Ed). Both my parents descend from the Nordic race and are otherwise pure Yankee of the rock-ribbed variety. My mother's tribe dates back to the founding days of the Rebublic and turns up in Gateway Families (the Library of Congress' gigantic flow chart of American familial lines that predate the Revolution), and my father's forebears date back only two generations prior from Sweden (what would become in 1905 Norway). Both mother and father had from their own upbringings every impetus to embrace conservative (even primitive) values; they strayed, staging their own reaction, as it were, and their parents, my grandparents, were not happy about it.

That fact was something of which I became aware only upon entering my teen age, when certain disjuncts between the dispositions of generations other than my own became apparent. Discussions of human spiritual, psychic and physical functioning was de rigour and often very frank at the family dinner table, whereas my parent's counsel was always to temper our youthful enthusiasm when visiting their parents. Notwithstanding, both of my parents were economically conservative much like their elders and in my idealistic years we were wont to have fairly robust disagreements. For the usual reasons young people believe such things, I thought it more just that the state balance its citizens' checkbooks (a belief I did not abandon entirely until my taxpayer status changed to self-employed, and ironically I now live in the triple-tax oppressed City of New York (quadruple, really, for in addition to paying NYC's income tax I pay the unincorporated business tax as well).


Thus were my parents very strongly in favor of their children and people generally being free (and responsible) to pursue their own happiness as long as such happiness did not interfere with others' freedoms to do the same. In the same frame, however, they both promulgated to their kids a sense for social cohesion and political responsibility that by itself would yield advantages to the whole as well as the individual, i.e., a well ordered and functional social unit is capable of accomplishing more than scattered individual self interest.

With the exception of the "birds and bees" conversations in which both mother and father participated separately and together, sexual subjects in our household were treated objectively or theoretically. One's own proclivities one did not trot out to polite company, less so because of the possibility of giving offense (as I recall mostly from my father's political constitution) than because tipping one's hand sacrificed certain tactical advantages. This I think is characteristic of WASPishness generally, although all of the good poker players I know are either Catholic or Jewish. I myself am merely scratch.

The keeping of my sexual consciousness to myself dovetailed, however, very neatly into received American attitudes about sex and personal revelation. I have considered that shame is a very effective means of treating prophylactically the vulnerability implied in the absolutist form of individualism that underlies our American moral and economic life. In the American/puritan Weltanschauung, there is no group to mediate one's application to God for salvation; you're on your own, so to speak, and completely vulnerable to failure (and damnation - I mean, imagine the lot of the early Calvinists). If we do not show ourselves completely, we preserve the power we have and which we believe to be otherwise scarce. Shame works in puritanical cultures because it enforces conformity and prevents cultural dissipation. In a way I bought into this, but less through the mechanism of shame than through a consciousness of the fact that keeping my business to myself afforded me an advantage. This is abundantly clear to me in my roll as a top.

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