Guinea pigs and Pervocracy

Okay, so this is one of the times when I’m not writing because too much exciting stuff is happening. Like writing my thesis and looking for jobs and also getting way over my head with the kink scene. All of the awesome things! And I am making notes of posts I want to write, all about rape culture and relationships and life goals and fetish clubs and online dating and kink stereotypes… and then I spend all my free time sleeping in because otherwise I can’t function.

So until things calm down or I get better at handling six different sides to my personality, here is an amazing post from Pervocracy. It’s called “How can you be a feminist and do BDSM”, and effectively sums up most of what I feel on the matter, including the great comeback “it’s like asking how I can be a feminist and keep guinea pigs”. 

One of the things I really like is the way that post deals with all the problems that you do get within BDSM culture, pointing out that they’re all the same problems you get with sex, and with society in general. But higher risks mean the people who engage in such activities actually need to think about what they’re doing, how it feels and what the consequences may be, and that’s something that gets missed out far too often in vanilla, ‘normal’ interactions.

Anyway, go read the whole thing. I’ll be back when I’ve had some sleep.

A fairytale world where people are nice on the internet?

So you know how the last post was about how the kink community is actually kinda awesome? Well it still is. But it sure as hell ain’t perfect.

I am on FetLife, ‘the Facebook for kinksters’. If you don’t know it, it’s exactly what the tagline says, a social networking site for kinky people. It’s pretty cool, and if you’re at all curious about the community, I would really recommend checking it out. It is definitely not a dating website. You can’t search for matches like you would on a site where the aim is to find people to hook up with. Rather it’s for keeping track of your kinky friends in a way that’s separate from the rest of your life. (And for finding local events. Seriously, the events thing is awesome.)

I am stressing this point to give an idea of how not okay what just happened to me is. You can send messages on FetLife, and it’s usually a good idea to message someone before adding them as a friend, mainly because, unlike Facebook, it’s a site where most people use online pseudonyms. This is pretty obvious, since people upload some very intimate material, which they might want to be discreet about in their everyday vanilla lives. Some people use this online name on the scene, but others use their ‘real’ name when you meet them in person. As such, it’s sometimes really difficult to remember who is who at first, so a quick message saying ‘Hi, it was lovely to meet you last night, hope to see you soon – Phoebe’ goes along way when you get a friend request from mystic_domme777. (I just made that username up, but I swear, it probably exists.)

At the moment, since I’m relatively new to all of this, I’m only adding people I have actually met face to face, or have been introduced to through a mutual friend and had interesting conversations with. Lots of people on FetLife have this rule, it’s a common line on profiles. It is listed on mine.

Here is the following message conversation I had with a certain anonymous FetLifer. My analysis is in italics.

Him: How exactly does one make amazing coffee? [This refers to a line on my profile when I say I’m good at making coffee. It proves he read it. Good for him! On OkCupid, that might be a good opener, but this is not a dating website. It also means he read the bit about me not friending strangers.]

Me: Strong. Also, do I know you? I’m not sure I remember your name from last night. [At this stage, I have checked his profile, seen he’s from the same area as me, and assumed I met him at the munch. Like I said, it’s hard to remember usernames. I was also (I thought) making it clear that I like to know people before I add them, and subtly giving him the chance to acknowledge that and offer a reason why I should make an exception for him.]

Him: Probably not, I’m not in [certain place] at the moment. =) I’m Ceyx. Let’s Skype and explore you a bit more. [Okay, so his name wasn’t actually Ceyx, but that’s less random than his actual username, and also classical! More seriously, note how he deliberately ignores my not-so-subtle hint that I don’t talk to people I don’t know personally. Complete lack of interest. He’s also immediately gone from sending harmless messages to wanting to Skype. Skype means talking by phone, probably video-chatting. I definitely do not do that with people I don’t know well. I certainly wouldn’t do it with someone I’d messaged once on a website. Am I overthinking things to sense sexual undertones? We are on a kink site after all. The jump between Skyping and webcam sex isn’t that huge. The word ‘explore’ makes me feel kinda uncomfortable – I often find it creepy when people say that to me in real life, let alone in a message. From a guy who’s just admitted he’s never met me. Right.]

Me: Um, no thank you. I don’t really talk to people I don’t know in real life, and I get kinda freaked out when people message me for no reason. Sorry. [I debated long and hard about the ‘sorry’. In the end I decided that the message sounded too cold and harsh otherwise. After all, maybe he was just trying to be friendly? At any rate, I wanted to reiterate how I felt, and make it clear I wouldn’t be talking to him on Skype anytime soon.]

Him: Wow. Ok. Enjoy your exploring curiosity goals of 2013.

If I’d been concerned about pre-judging him, the last message removes all doubt. The ‘Wow. Ok’ suggests there is something completely shocking and unexpected about my response, despite the fact that this information was on my profile, and implied again with the first message I sent him. It also makes it look as though this is an entirely unreasonable policy to have, despite the fact that at least half the people I know on FetLife do the same. The second bit is just downright bitchy sarcasm. Had I mentioned anywhere about wanting to explore curiosity goals? No. And even if I had, it would be perfectly within my rights not to want to explore them with him, someone who’d violated my stated boundaries pretty obviously. The snide undertone there is that I’m boring, no fun, maybe even a hypocrite for replying as I did.

Any of this sound familiar, all you non-kinky feminists? This is standard rape culture (no, I’m not for a moment equating this with rape, read the rest of the sentence), where a man feel entitled to a woman’s time and attention, for whatever reason. It is online cat-calling. It’s getting angry when the girl you cat-call ignores you, and shouting after her that she’s a stuck-up bitch for refusing to respond. (Yes, this has happened to me. Several times.) It’s implying that, by being in a certain place or dressing in a certain way or saying certain things, a woman somehow owes you something. And yes, it’s on a kink site, where the atmosphere is generally more sexual, but you know how that atmosphere is maintained safely? Through the respect of limits and boundaries and clear communication.

This is exactly what the kink community would like to believe never happens. It does. I admit that this is a tiny, harmless example, but it stung enough for me to be writing a pissed off blog post about it hours later. This stuff hurts. It erodes confidence and embitters attitudes and generally spoils it for everyone.

The scene may be awesome, but it isn’t perfect. It has all the same bullshit as the real world. I am disappointed, but not surprised.

But EVERYONE loves a neck massage

I hate having my shoulders touched.

I used to joke that I’d let someone fuck me long before I let them close to giving me a massage, but the truth is, as is so often the case, I was ‘joking’ as a way to communicate how I actually felt. I come from a family of people with back problems, who live with constant pain in their neck and shoulders. I was sixteen before I realised that daily tension headaches weren’t something everyone suffered from (and I mean the kind of tension headaches where taking painkillers and sitting completely still doesn’t even take the edge off). I used to rock-climb, and if I pulled a neck muscle, it would be a week of agonising pain every time I tried to get dressed or moved my head too much. My friends would tease me and say that I went around with my shoulders glued to my ears. It took two years of Alexander Technique to get them down to ordinary levels of ‘tense’.

What this means is that when inexperienced masseurs grab me by the shoulders, I am likely to scream. I’ve got a lot better since adolescence, and the headaches I get are less frequent and less painful, but it’s still something I’m very aware of. The trouble is that amateur massages are often a common part of foreplay, even flirtation. I’ve lost count of the times where a new partner has tenderly put their hands on my shoulders, or asked me to roll over for a back massage, and I have sat bolt upright, tension flooding every part of my body. Occasionally, if I’m with a partner I absolutely trust with all my heart and soul, I’ll allow them to touch me if they promise to be really really gentle. Sometimes it’s nice, though usually by that point I’m so nervous that it’s very difficult to relax enough that I don’t flinch by reflex. On the whole, it’s not worth it.

(I should maybe add that my wonderful housemate Pyrrha has qualified as a professional masseuse. She used me as her ‘body’ for her assessment, which she said was really helpful as part of being a massage therapist is being able to adapt the pressure depending on what the person wants. She is allowed to give me massages. Sometimes.)

I bring this up on my shiny sex positive blog because I have to explain myself. A lot. My partners generally get very confused by this, especially because I talk about kink so much, and the kind of pain I’m into. I enjoy being whipped with a belt, but I can’t handle a light massage? It doesn’t make any sense to them. (Nor, indeed, does the fact that I hate having my hair pulled. I used to say that was a hard limit, whereas bloody scratches and purple bruises are welcome. I have recently discovered that I actually love my partner pulling my hair, or rather I hate it, and I love hating it in such a way that it’s really damn hot. But only with one particular person, and only in certain situations, and never ever without prior discussion. It’s confusing.)

I was at a munch recently (a.k.a. kink meeting, though I kinda prefer that term since it makes us sound like a secret society), and one of the women there asked if she could stroke my hair. I love having my hair stroked, but I tensed up automatically, and stuttered ‘Yes, but I really don’t like people touching my shoulders, because I have issues with muscle tension and it really really hurts even if it’s very gentle and I know that sounds weird, especially when we’ve been discussing hardcore masochism, but please please don’t?’.

Or at least, I started saying all that. What I actually said was ‘Yes, but I really don’t like people touching my shoulders because-‘, and then she cut me off with ‘That’s cool, I won’t do that’. And she didn’t. And then she stroked my hair in an entirely non-sexual way, and I felt calmer.

If you read anything about the BDSM community, you’ll quickly come across discussions about communication, and the importance of establishing clear limits. And in some ways the scene totally mirrors real life. In general, nobody is going to beat you senseless unless you discuss it first. (That’s a really great distinction if you’re at all confused by the difference between BDSM and abuse, by the way.) But something as mundane and ‘vanilla’ as a light massage, well, that’s something that people in ‘real life’ often don’t feel the need to ask about.

And do not even get me started on tickling. Attempt to tickle me, and I will kick and scream and try to claw your eyes out. Seriously. I hate it. Not love to hate it, just hate it. I have always hated it, and I have always had an impossible time trying to convince partners how much I hate it. Funnily enough, I’ve read at least three other S&M bloggers who say the exact same thing, and have talked about how they’ve had to use a safeword to stop tickling. People just do not take me seriously when I say this, at least not the utterly vanilla ones. Those that are into kink, even if it’s in a purely theoretical way, tend to get it. Limits are limits, whether it’s scratch me but don’t break the skin, or touch me but no penetration, or whip me with a riding crop but don’t you dare under any circumstances touch my shoulders.

I’m still finding my feet with the kink community, and I’ve got a lot to think about. But I like not having to explain myself. And I like having my hair stroked.

It’s the place where who you are meets who you haven’t been yet

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.

I always thought purple was the colour of kink

I don’t believe in condemning something I know nothing about. When I see shocking headlines, I usually do my best to read the entire article, to follow up on links, and to read around the subject. If I don’t have the time to do that (which often I don’t), I tend not to comment. The world is full of bias and prejudice, and I know I am by no means immune to it, but I usually try. In the same way, I don’t criticise films I haven’t seen or books I haven’t read. Twilight, for example. I don’t think I’d like the writing very much, and I’ve heard the films are fairly awful, so I don’t have any particular urge to watch them. But that’s all I’ll say about it, since I don’t have first-hand experience, and I think it would be hypocritical to just blindly put forward others’ opinions without having any first-hand experience of my own.

It is due to this random streak of morality, or ethics, or whatever you want to call it, that I finally caved in and read Fifty Shades Of Grey. I’ve been reading about it for a year now, and trying to avoid it as much as possible, because everything I’d read told me I would hate it – terrible writing, misleading portrayal of BDSM, trashy teenaged fanfic (which is what it originally was) not worth my time. The thing is though, if you’re into BDSM and writing and talking openly about it, it’s kind of hard to ignore the biggest source of (mis)information out there in mainstream culture. I don’t have to read Twilight, because Twilight has absolutely no impact on my life, but unfortunately, Fifty Shades does. And when I found out that my little sister was reading it, despite my plaintive attempts to get her to read Kushiel’s Dart instead, I caved in.

There are hundreds of reviews and analyses of it out there, especially in the feminist and S&M corners of the internet. I haven’t read all of them, and I highly doubt I’ll be saying anything new, but the nice thing about writing a blog rather than an academic paper is that you don’t always have to be saying something utterly radical and original. At least, I hope so, anyway.

The first thing I want to say is that, as I was warned, the writing is fairly terrible. By which I mean the dialogue is generally awful (I have sympathy with this, since I always found writing dialogue incredibly difficult, back in my own fanfic days). Any parts of the book that aren’t about sex are also pretty dire: tedious descriptions, barely-sketched minor characters, repetitive sentence structures. But that’s okay, because those bits just aren’t important – they’re just filler until the next big sex scene. And the thing is, the sex scenes are actually okay. Sometimes there’ll be a word or phrase that I’ll find particularly jarring and that will just break the mood entirely (does anyone use ‘my sex’ as euphemism these days? For goodness sake just use the word ‘cunt’!), but in general, it’s pretty hot. Hot like the Harry Potter slash fanfic I used to read when I was fourteen, all dizziness and liquid heat and mind-blowing, utterly unrealistic orgasms from barely a touch, but still hot.

Because the thing is, this is a book for teenaged girls to masturbate to. And that is a good thing. Teenaged girls need fantasy-material as much as anyone else, but up until now there’s been a gap in the market. Adult women get real erotica, once they know what to look for, and men get porn, which most teenaged boys seem to discover pretty rapidly. But teenaged girls aren’t meant to be sexual – they’re meant to be shy innocent virgins who want to fall in love, not get spanked and fucked. So the erotica market doesn’t really cater for them, or hasn’t, up til now. When I was that age, I had fanfic. The fanfic explosion seems to be ebbing, and has been for a few years now, but there’re still thousands of stories out there for the curious horny girl. I needed that. I was a geeky sci-fi fangirl who discovered the magical world of fanfic by accident, through a Lord of the Rings messageboard. I was lucky. If I’d been more popular and had actual friends in real life when I was twelve, I might never have discovered it. Popular girls need to masturbate too!

So yes, Fifty Shades reads like a teenaged girl’s wet dream, because that’s what it is. The heroine is an ‘ordinary girl’, just like you or me, while the love interest is literally Perfect, a millionaire who is gorgeous and sexy and can make her come just by sucking her nipples. It’s Twilight fanfic with the names changed, so yeah, the plot is non-existent, but that’s not what’s important. And if it’s encouraging teenagers to realise that female sexuality isn’t a bad thing, and to explore their own preferences and boundaries, then I don’t care how terrible the writing is.

The problem, however, is that it doesn’t stop there. This isn’t just erotica, this is kinky S&M erotica, dontcha know. And that is where Fifty Shades disappoints. As countless other bloggers have noted, it gets so many things wrong. The contract, for example – what’s that about? I mean, yes, some people do use contracts, but it’s not the norm, and they’re rarely as extensive with that. He has this phenomenal dungeon in his luxury apartment, that they don’t use for anything more extreme than spanking. The negotiation process is sort of there – they do communicate, and talk about boundaries, but she’s coming into it from a position of such utter ignorance and inexperience that it’s basically meaningless. And, of course, he was abused as a child, and is therefore a Damaged Individual, which is why he needs BDSM in his life. Not because it’s a valid and healthy lifestyle that can be extremely pleasurable for some people. No, because he’s damaged, and can’t handle ‘normal’ relationships. Got it. (I haven’t read the second two, but I do know how the series ends, and it is predictably not with acceptance of the BDSM lifestyle.)

In an ordinary fanfic, I wouldn’t care about any of that. I’d read it for the sex scenes, get off on it, and forget about it. But this isn’t just fanfic anymore, it’s a book that’s gone viral, and for the majority of people who read it, this is their only insight into what BDSM might be like. And that is what I have an issue with. I find it irresponsible. I guess that isn’t E. L. James’s fault, since she never intended it to explode the way it did, but now that it has, the damage is out there. Those teenaged girls discovering sexuality for the first time? They’re going to be left with just one paradigm for BDSM, and it will be a destructive and inaccurate one.

Maybe that’s better than having no paradigm at all, and just assuming it’s something disgusting and weird that occasionally gets referenced on CSI. Maybe it will make them curious and encourage them to go out and read more, ask questions and do research. I hope so. The S&M community has sought societal acceptance for years now. Now they – we – have it, sort of, but it’s not in our words or on our terms and it gets so much wrong that I wonder if that’s really any better than being hidden away.

I don’t know, is the answer. But at least now I’ve read it, I don’t have to feel guilty for having an opinion.

Lessons in intermediate-level kink

So after my last post, I got a couple of e-mails from people who have had similar experiences (from both sides), some offering advice, some just acknowledging that this kinda thing really is an issue. And it got me thinking that damn it, I have a sex blog, I should really make an effort to learn something here. So on the advice of one of these helpful e-mailers, I joined FetLife (the Facebook for kinksters) and started reading up. And, much to my amazement, my small university town does in fact have its own kink community. (From what I can work out, there is no official University Fetish Club, but Rule 34 and all that, it’s only a matter of time.) Not only does it exist, but I discovered that they have monthly meetings where everyone can get to know each other and share tips and advice, as well as eating a lot of pizza. Who knew?

Well, I’ve been complaining for ages that there’s no decent scene or good way to meet other kinky people, plus I keep talking about how good it is to learn new things, so I figured it was time to put my money where my mouth was and see what it was like. Which was, of course, easier said than done. It wasn’t until I was standing outside the relevant pub, desperately wishing I’d worn my collar, that I realised how nervous I was. What was I meant to do? Go in and say to the barman ‘Hey, I’m a sub and semi-masochist – I  heard there were some kinky people around, maybe playing with some rope’? I hung around in the doorway for a bit, wondering if maybe it was a good idea to go home and live a comfortable life of vanilla sex, in a monogamous heterosexual relationship with 2.5 kids and a labrador. (I am being flippant. I don’t mean to suggest for a moment that vanilla sex is boring on any less worthy than kinky sex. Also labradors are adorable. Just not quite what I need right now.)

Anyway, eventually I stepped inside and noticed a group of people all wearing friendly-looking name tags. I was only hovering for a second before a woman in a tightly-buttoned waistcoat came over to ask if I was okay and would I like to come over and join the group. She had two very obvious purple bruises on one of her breasts, which was how I knew that I’d probably found the right people.

I’m not going to try to give these people pseudonyms, mainly because most of them had two name tags already, one with their real name and one with their FetLife name, or ‘scene name’ as someone called it. They were all, without exception, incredibly friendly and welcoming. For the first time in years, I was the shy awkward girl in the corner, stammering nervously whenever I tried to talk. This was odd for me. Luckily, no one else seemed to mind, chatting happily to me about xkcd and pizza toppings and the best techniques for Japanese ropeplay (seriously). One guy, who was a photographer, had brought his portfolios, and I spent ages admiring some gorgeous fetish shots, which led to him asking if I’d like to model for him at some point. Cue more flustered mumbling that sounded something like ‘umm thank you, I’ll think about it?’. Which I actually will, because the pictures were really lovely.

What else did I learn? There is a monthly kink club, which is more focussed on play than costumes, and which I’d be very welcome to attend. One of the guys there introduced himself as a slave, while another woman kept referring to her master. Both were eating pizza at the time. I tentatively asked for some advice on the subject of what had happened with Gaius, to which the waistcoat-and-bruises lady replied ‘You’re training tops? How wonderful for you!’. At one point in the evening  a guy I’d been discussing Japanese ropleplay with earlier approached me to say his pet had asked to be tied up, and would I like to be tied up too? I politely declined, but I can’t say I wasn’t intrigued by how pretty it looked. Maybe next time? I’m not sure.

It was obvious that the most important point to grasp was the asking permission. For everything. It was quite crowded by the end, but even as people struggled to make their way to the bar, the care they all took not to accidentally touch anyone was clear. One guy with some interesting spiked gloves demonstrated their effect by scratching my neck, but only after I specifically asked him too. (The result had me purring like a kitten, which I think was the idea.) He told my I’d been pretty brave to show up on my own without knowing anyone there, and I confided that I felt rather out of place without a collar. It was strangely flirtatious, whilst remaining entirely non-sexual, which is quite a strange combination for me. I guess the whole evening was a bit like that: people talking about their most extreme kinks and fetishes in such a casual off-hand way that they ceased to feel like kinks and fetishes at all, and became everyday conversation. It was like a snapshot into a the sort of ideal world I keep trying to advocate, but actually being there living it was a lot stranger than I’d anticipated. I think I need more practice.

The final thing to mention is that as I was leaving, someone mentioned that the woman running it was trying to get rid of some corsets she was selling for a friend. So I messaged her, and the next day I went round to try some on (and came away with two gorgeous corsets that I can’t wait to wear out somewhere, but that’s beside the point). It wasn’t until I was standing completely topless in her kitchen, looking at different fabrics, that I realised how nice it was that this felt totally normal and not at all weird, even though usually I don’t get semi-naked around strangers. Not in a non-sexual way anyway. She also made a point of asking me if anyone had said or done anything which made me uncomfortable the night before, and told me I could come straight to her if they ever did. She may have said this while lacing me into one of the corsets, or while packaging them up while I looked for my bra. I don’t entirely remember, but it was very much appreciated all the same. I’m not sure whether I’d been feeling at all worried or not before, but I know I felt safer after.

So, that was my introductory initiation into the not-all-that-scary fetish scene. I’m hoping it will help me with boundaries and communication and being confident around others who are new to it, while hopefully giving me some new ideas and a safe space in which to experiment. At the very least, I met some exciting people and have some new corsets. As for the rest, we shall see.

The feminism will return to this blog shortly, when my brain has recovered from a term of missed sleep and too much coffee. There may even be the promised kittens. It’s all happening here.

Mirrored perspectives: submission and control

I’ve been trying to write this post for a while now, and every time I start I look back over what I’ve written and delete it. Because I don’t know everything, and sometimes I screw up or get something wrong or simply don’t quite know how to handle a situation, and I wonder, should I write about it? Will people still listen to what I have to say if I don’t always speak with total authority?

I have to hope so, because there is so much I don’t know, so much I’m still working out. So here goes, draft 6, or possibly 7. 7 is meant to be lucky, right?

A couple of months ago, I wrote about my attitude towards submission. Shortly after writing that, I had the opportunity to see the same ideas from the other side. I didn’t write about it then, because I didn’t know what to say. In some ways I still don’t. But I’m going to try now and if anyone out there has any idea to throw a me, or if anyone’s been through something similar (any doms out there?), please, tell me what I’m missing.

There was a guy. A friend of mine, Gaius, who has quite similar attitudes to me when it comes to dating and sex: try to be honest, don’t deliberately hurt anyone, have as much fun as possible. He knew about BDSM in the same way that I think everyone vaguely does, all handcuffs and professional dominatrices like in films, who wear thigh-high leather boots and carry whips. Like most people, I don’t think he ever imagined what it might be like in real life with real people, and, again like most people, he didn’t see the connection between his image of BDSM and the kind of rough, slightly violent sex he was used to. One of the biggest misconceptions about BDSM, I’ve always thought, is the idea that you either like it or you don’t, everyone is either kinky or not kinky. Of course, like just about everything else, there’s a broad spectrum of activities that goes from a bit of mild biting and scratching to hanging upside-down by your ankles being branded with hot irons. Somewhere along that line, it stops being ‘normal sex’ and starts becoming ‘BDSM’. But I’ll be the first to admit I have no idea where the boundary is, and if I’m honest, I’m a little hazy about why we need a boundary in the first place.

I’m going off-topic. The point I was trying to make was that Gaius would certainly not have considered himself kinky, at least not in the BDSM sense. He knew that I’m a submissive who likes being dominated and hurt, but then, most of my friends know that – it’s not exactly a secret. And I think we must both have been in really weird moods that night, because we were cuddled on the bed, and he put pressure on my wrists, holding me down just slightly, and I thought, why the hell not, and told him to hurt me.

I don’t know what I was expecting. Probably bitten lips and scratch marks,  or maybe some mild spanking if he was feeling adventurous. What I got was a full-on scene. I was held down, choked, grabbed by the hair, forced to give head, demeaned, degraded and humiliated. If I disobeyed an order, he would hit me across the face. Hard, hard enough for me to have bruised cheekbones days later. There is, I’ve been told, a massive difference for a man between spanking a woman and hitting her face. One is playful sexual fun, the other is breaking a huge taboo about not hitting women. I understand this intellectually, and from my side it’s incredibly arousing to be hit like that, partly because of how violent it feels. I know that I really enjoyed it when he did it to me. More importantly though, I could feel that he really enjoyed it, that he was getting off on treating me like and object and hurting me to the point which, had it not been a thoroughly consensual sex scene, would probably have counted as assault.

I used my safeword once, as a test, to see if I could trust him. This is something I would always do with a new partner, because BDSM is entirely about trust and that’s a very quick way to determine if you need to stop things right now before it goes any further. He stopped instantly, we both asked if the other was okay and said assuredly that we both were. We started again. It got violent. Good violent. I reminded myself that I had to be in control, this was his first time with this kind of stuff and it was my responsibility as the more experienced partner to keep my head and make sure neither of us crossed any lines we were uncomfortable with. I knew that I knew where my limits were and I trusted him to respect them, but I wasn’t convinced he could say the same for himself, so that was partly my responsibility too, even if he wasn’t the one being pinned down and hurt.

Except at some point, it all got too intense for me to stay in control and I let go, the same way I would with a familiar partner. I put this down to Gaius, for all that he was a complete beginner, being really very good at dominating me. Almost too good. It got to the point where I was genuinely terrified. I don’t mean for a moment that I wanted to stop – I didn’t, and I would have used my safeword if I had. I like being terrified. Fear is arousing. I forgot, briefly, who I am in real life, who he was, and gave in to feeling like someone else’s toy. It was total, complete submission, and it felt wonderful.

When it was over, I was shaking and close to tears. This is normal for me. It’s therapeutic and, hard as it might be to understand, it feels good. Even if we hadn’t done anything even vaguely resembling sex, submission can sometimes feel similar to orgasm, and I was enjoying my own very unique type of afterglow. Except he was shaking too. I explained aftercare, and slowly we both drifted back to some form of reality, and that’s when I realised how freaked out he was.

Let me be clear, I am 99% sure that Gaius did not do anything he didn’t want to do that night. I don’t think I pressured him, nor do I think he regrets anything that he did. What I hadn’t considered (and this is where I slipped up pretty massively) is how it must feel for someone who thinks they’re ‘normal’ to suddenly realise they enjoy violently hurting other people, especially if that person is a woman. I’ve tried to explain to lots of novice-subs how it’s okay to want to be dominated and hurt, and how it doesn’t affect how you lead the rest of your life in any way. I’ve much less experience with the other side, explaining that it’s okay to get off on something which, to most people, looks a lot like abuse.

Hitting someone during a scene isn’t abuse, or assault, or anything of the kind. It’s a consensual sex act, and like everything else in consensual sex, it’s much better if both people are getting off on it. And just like I don’t really believe that submitting to a partner makes me weaker or lower status than them in reality, enjoying dominating someone else doesn’t mean you have an abusive or violent personality. I know that, because I’ve been doing this for nearly three years now, while reading a hell of a lot of BDSM literature. Someone completely new to the scene might be a little less clear. And that’s where I slipped up.

We’ve talked a lot since, and I think he’s okay with it. I hope he is. I would really really hate for someone who obviously gets off on this stuff to be discouraged because of too, much too fast. And I hope we get to try it again at some point because I think we both had a lot of fun. But it was a rather intense reminder to me that I don’t know everything, and that I am very capable of making mistakes, or at least not handling things to the best of my ability, and also that I am not the Sex Positivity Fairy, not all the time anyway, and I can’t make everything okay just by saying it is.

I think maybe we need a whole troop of Sex Positivity Fairies. Anyone want to sign up? I can make badges!