The title of this post comes from a song by the wonderful Seanan McGuire, and I quote:
It’s a little slice of chaos, it’s a starlight carnival.
It’s the place where heroes fear to tread, but angels come to fall.
Ask the barmaid where she’s from, she’ll say she doesn’t recall.
You may think this is heaven but it’s not that at all,
So why not look around you and see?
Won’t you take advantage of me?
This, to me, has to be a song about fetish clubs. I’ve held off writing about fetish clubs so far because the more I think about it, the more I realise how little I know. I’ve been to a few, but they vary so much and who you go with makes such a difference that it’s really hard to say anything that is both general and useful. Plus I feel totally out of my depth in places like that. In a perverse kinda way, they make me feel less kinky.
That might sound like it makes no sense, but if you think about it, it’s obvious. I lead a standard geeky student-y life, surrounded by standard geeky students. Pretty much all my friends know that I’m into kink, and that I’m the one to go to with any kind of ‘alternative sexuality’ question. When I talk about the bondage I’ve done, or try to explain the sort of submission I’m into, or reveal the rope burns and scratch marks I’ve incurred, they look at me with wide-eyed amazement. These are my close friends, and they are accepting and non-judgemental, and they know me. But as far as they’re concerned, my kinks pretty damn extreme.
And then I go somewhere like Club Antichrist (which is probably mild, by scene standards). I dress up in a corset and collar, clothes that would shock even at a costume night, and tell myself that these are my chances to really let my hair down (in the hope that someone might pull it) and embrace my kinkier side. Yet as soon as I step through the doors, I revert to my nervous, self-conscious teenaged self. I watch people taking spankings and whippings that I know I couldn’t handle. Nowhere even close. I see collared slaves kneeling at their Master or Mistress’s feet, and know that I don’t want that kind of public submission. Strangers approach me and casually ask if I’d like play, and I back away, confused and conflicted but certain that I don’t trust a stranger to hurt me.
None of these are bad things, I should add. In fact, I kinda envy the people in the community who are into that level, because in some ways it turns me on and makes me wish I was less anxious. Less vanilla. Someone jokingly called me a ‘tourist’ last time I was there, and that stung, because the last thing I want is to be is a little girl playing dress-up. Which is kinda how I feel, especially when I see the elaborate outfits other people wear. I also know that my limits are my limits, and I shouldn’t feel pressured into anything I don’t want, just because I want to be accepted. Playing with a stranger is very different to playing with a partner. I’ve taken public spankings from people I don’t know, and it does very little for me, except to make me feel vaguely unsettled afterwards. I’ve also taken much, much worse from a close partner, and come so hard it took me days to recover. Some people get off on the act itself, not on the situation. Some people get off more with a stranger. I’m not one of them. And that’s okay.
But I still feel confused and out of my depth and a little like an impostor when I stand in the dungeon and watch women (and it is always women) being handcuffed to a cross and lashed with a cane. The corset and collar feel like a disguise, and not even a good one at that, compared to the fishnet body-stockings and latex dresses. I don’t even have any tattoos or body piercings, for goodness sake!
Something else that unsettles me is the gender dynamic. The fetish scene is meant to be embracing of all genders and sexualities, and for the most part it is. But I can count on one hand the number of men I saw submitting to women, in a sea of leather-clad male doms punishing corseted female submissives. (It’s difficult to tell about the ratios for people of other genders, as I’m mainly going on markedly male or female clothing.) One guy I spoke to about this said he’s a switch, but it’s almost impossible for men to find female dommes who will play with them at places like that, whereas female submissives are easy to find. Maybe that’s true, and I could also understand how it might be harder for male submissives to be open about their preferences than male dominants or female submissives. Cultural expectations and social conditioning and all that. But personally, even though I am a sub, I get slightly freaked out by men I don’t know coming up to me and asking if I want to be whipped by them, before even asking my name, just assuming that’s the sort of thing I’m into. I mean, yes I’m 5’4 with long hair and stockings, but does that has to mean I’m submissive? Do you not get dommes who don’t wear stiletto heels and leather?
Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I’m doing a lot of thinking about kink and the scene and where I fit into it all. I still feel kinky. I still identify as kinky. My sweet vanilla friends still think I’m the kinkiest person they know. But I’m not quite sure how the rest of the scene would see me – cautious new blood or vanilla tourist? I get overwhelmed at fetish clubs – the lights and the music and the smoke and the costumes (oh god the costumes) and the sound of whips and the smell of sex. It’s intoxicating. It’s very difficult for me to think clearly in that kind of environment, so the thinking has to come after. How kinky am I? What do I want? And who do I trust to help me explore my limits safely, to push me just slightly beyond what I’m comfortable with without going too far?
It’s a kind of happy ending; it’s the midway of the moon,
It’s where broken stories gather in our shadow-play saloon.
And it’s burning where she kissed you, but the scars will heal soon,
You can’t reach ‘ever after’ if you don’t know the tune.
Now, can you pay the ferryman’s fee?
Won’t you take advantage of me?
In Seanan McGuire’s song, it’s all very glamorous and dangerous with the tantalising promise of your deepest darkest fantasies coming true. I’m not sure how I feel about that. But I don’t think I’m ready to be taken advantage of just yet.