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Archive for the ‘Philosophizing’ Category

I had a conversation last night that wound up with me coining the title of this post. I was thinking about collars, and the many things they seem to represent for people. Naturally, a collar tends to be a symbol of ownership, or at least of control-over, whether it is for a circumscribed period or for life. But it is interesting to note the many different experiences that wearing a collar – or similar marker – evokes for people.

I know that for me and some others, a collar can often be a marker for the start and end of a scene. When used this way, a collar puts me into a certain headspace almost immediately: all of the sensations of submission, headspace, and associated arousal go along with the buckling or locking in place of the collar. I was reminded of this by reading back in Devastating Yet’s journal, about leashes and what they did for her boy. I have one lover who goes into a completely non-verbal, spaced out, almost childlike subspace when I collar him; with him I have to be especially careful, because in that state he will do anything I want, even if he would consider it a hard limit ordinarily. For him, and to a lesser extent for me, the removal of the collar denotes the end of the scene, and the ability to return to normal consciousness.

One circle out from that, as I was explaining last night, would seem to be the “weekend collaring,” where the dominant collars the sub for an overnight date, a weekend or several days. This is still under the rubric of “special occasion” collaring, where everything the couple will be doing during the period has to do with fun, if not sex. For instance, one might get collared for a weekend playparty, or kink convention, or vacation getaway. Generally this isn’t done during mundane time, when the two will have to be separated for any real length of time, like a workday. The effect it has, though, tends to be different from the scene-only collaring, in that the headspace cannot be so deep that the sub is unable to function in normal ways like eating or interacting with people outside of scene space. The person I was talking to last night said that for her the collar was a type of safety, a confinement within which she could feel more comfortable and free. I compared it to making art with budgetary or resource constraints; much of the best theatre I’ve seen is made in this way.

The outer circle – or perhaps the inner circle? – in this concentric collar design is, of course, the “permanent” or 24/7 collaring. While the meaning of the collar is strongest in this instance and indicates intense commitment, the mental effect, because it is ongoing and constant, is much less dramatic. Even a submissive who is collared all the time isn’t going to necessarily feel submissive when working the forklift or signing papers at his office. The collar becomes like a wedding ring – a constant reminder of his relationship, and the nature thereof.

This creates an interesting dichotomy, potentially: the more serious the significance of the collar, the less, by necessity, the mental and emotional change wrought by it? Naturally, the mental and emotional change one must undergo when becoming a 24/7 collared slave must be immense, but it cannot be a change that affects their day-to-day functioning in the way that a scene-collaring might.

Just some thoughts of late. What are your experiences with collars?

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I recently did something I should have done ages ago, which is turn on Google alerts and make it tell me whenever certain key words or phrases are mentioned in the news. Doing this for “BDSM” has garnered some interesting results, not the least of which is a continuation of the trend that Bitchy has noticed of a rift between professional dominatrices (as she likes to say) and more ordinary folks doing kink. Her main beef was that the professionals seem to be creating the world of female dominance as it is seen by most people, and it is a world that she reviles. But another question is arising from my own reading: a question of elitism, of experience versus education, and the potential de-fanging of kink.

The story starts with Lera Gavin, a young dominatrix in Miami who writes a column called “Ask a Domme.” In an August 11 article called How to Enjoy Extreme Smothering Without Fatally Suffocating Your Boyfriend, she advises a man who would like for his girlfriend to try smothering with him to “con her” if she doesn’t agree at first:

You also said you’re unsure how to approach your girlfriend. There are two ways you can handle this matter: You can ask her or con her. If she says no to your request, don’t frown, just trick her into it. But start easy. You want her to be relaxed. The best way to get a woman into smothering is by worshipping her body, especially her ass.

So next time you see your beloved chickadee naked, compliment her gorgeous bottom. Most women go gaga for praise. Call her a goddess and then ask if you can admire her hot ass. She won’t be able to say no.

No question, this is phenomenally bad advice. Not just because breathplay can be extremely dangerous and should only be done with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved, but because dude, consent! Trick her into it? “She won’t be able to say no”? Welcome to rape culture; here’s your complementary beer bong.

Theresa Ikard of Carnal Nation responded to this moron with some dismay. The angle she took, however, struck me as a bit oblique.

Her piece is titled Why It’s Important for Dommes to Go to Dominatrix School, and while it briefly addresses the consent and safety issues, in larger part I think it misses the point and comes off as condescending. In pertinent part:

BDSM is way more a mental game than a physical one. What I mean is that “hard skills” like flogging, caning, cock and ball torture, rope bondage, etc. are easier to learn than the “soft skills” like communication, awareness and responsibility for interpersonal dynamics, and respect for the power of their craft…

The only way to master these skills is to be educated properly and practice consistently. Just like a young therapist or doctor in training, a fresh Domme needs mentoring and feedback. The author of this article has a bio online in the form of a feature article and I gather from what she has written that her training to become a Domme centered primarily around financially driven motives. Now, don’t get me wrong: the business end of sex work training is essential, but is hardly sufficient knowledge or motivation in itself and it certainly does not foster development in either soft skills or hard skills.

Now granted. Lera Gavin is 21 years old, and in said feature article she says things like, “The mistress explained the client was a sad, older man still mourning his recently deceased wife. I knew it was a difficult time for him and that seeing a mistress was a way for him to cope with pain and loss. Of course, I put all of that out of my head. Sensitivity isn’t part of the job.” [emphasis mine] I would no sooner put myself in her hands than I would let my dog use the stove.

But suggesting that because this woman has for some reason been given an column in which to propogate bad kink advice that she should have gone to “dominatrix school” is a little off the mark. Suggesting, too, that experience as a pro domme does not foster the skills needed to be a good dominatrix is simple madness. When I was going into the business, I trained by reading books, throwing whips at willing stunt bottoms, playing with people I liked and watching others play. I barely knew anything when I had my first paying client except for how not to actually damage him. I was lucky to have some natural ability in the “soft skills” and a background in theatre and in healing, but I had to learn nearly everything on the job – how to use my voice and what words to choose, how to read a client’s reactions, how to establish rhythm and pace for maximum effect, and once, how to get a guy out of standing bondage when he’s fainted.

What’s wrong with this whip-wielding youngster is not that she didn’t go to dominatrix school – nor even that she didn’t receive mentoring. She seems to have had an older domme as a boss and guide; mentoring is no guarantee, especially in the less populated parts of the country. What’s wrong is that she never learned that the first rule of kink is consent, and without it, there can be no ethical BDSM play, or in fact sex play of any kind. What’s wrong is that she doesn’t seem to have learned that actually, sensitivity is 95% of the job; whipping and tying and torturing and having your feet worshipped is the rest.

She responded to Ms. Ikard’s article with a vicious and infantile rant full of ad hominem venom in which she calls Ikard “some humorless lipstick feminist,” refers to Carnal Nation as “an obscure online magazine about ‘sexuality,'” and derides the opinion of “a lowly bottom,” as if submissives were allowed no dignity or opinions even when they leave the dungeon. (She makes a further fool of herself by fluttering “Midori who?” when someone mentions Midori in the comments. At least do your homework.) Then she tries to back away from the criticism by suggesting that her column is meant to be humorous and the advice shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Yet later in the article she does raise an interesting point. “The true art of BDSM is all about power, fear, and suffering,” she writes, adding:

Scary? Well, it’s supposed to be. No professional dominatrix wants to seriously harm a client, but if you don’t see at least a hint of real fear in your submissive’s eyes, you’re not doing your job right. In a way, old school feminists were right, S&M does eroticize power and violence, and all the PC jargon such as “sex positive,” “personal empowerment,” and “energy exchange” are just a way of avoiding this inconvenient truth.

Don’t get me wrong; I still think she’s mostly talking out of the wrong end of her corset. Claiming that sex-positivity is simply PC jargon is wildly ignorant, and BDSM play isn’t always about fear. But what are we doing, exactly, when we seek to take the teeth out of kink by making it a subject of academic study? How are we bullshitting ourselves and our clients when we claim to be healers, priestesses or therapists rather than sex workers? I specifically took up training as a type of therapist and began seeing clients in a counseling capacity because I felt that the work I was doing was not healing work but bandaging work.

BDSM is dark – it has its ugly sides and its deranged desires. These things need to be acknowledged, not just because they are true but because our desire is so intimately linked to our freedom. Read Pat Califia’s introduction to Macho Sluts sometime, if you want an excellent breakdown of this topic, but the point is: we want what we want, and sometimes, it’s not pretty.

None of this, of course, removes from Ms. Gavin the responsibility to stop telling people to do nonconsensual BDSM with their partners. Like it or not, she is something of an authority, even at her age and level of experience, by virtue of having such a strong interest in this work and having a column in which to share her supposed expertise. Part of her ongoing education, hopefully, will be recognizing that she has a responsibility for the community she represents, and that passing off her column as humor after the fact is buck-passing of the cheapest sort.

Meanwhile, I look forward to the continuing marriage of intellect and heat that seems to be churning over at Carnal; pieces like this one on a potential parents-of-kinky-kids support group, and this thoughtful piece by Clarisse Thorn give me all kinds of hope.

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I’m still seeing clients here and there, if I meet someone I like and feel that the fantasy is something I can fulfill with integrity and a sense of fun. Plus, the money’s good. What can ya do.

The type of client I seem to keep coming back to is spankos. Not because spanking fantasies are particularly un-problematic to me; if anything, I often find the types of activities that spankos seek somewhat disturbing. But in the interest of being non-judgmental and promoting the sexual health of all individuals, I think I probably keep coming back to it because it’s problematic for me, and the problem inherent is one that is not the fault of the spankos themselves, nor even of the professionals they sometimes visit in order to indulge their fantasies. It’s a tweak I have about the rhetoric that often forms around the spanking roleplay.

The sexy idea of “I’ve been baaaad and need to be punished” is probably as old as time; the kinking of punishment into pleasure isn’t what troubles me (much, more on that later), though it’s not really what I go in for personally. Professionally, though, I’ve often found it to be a hoot to play the strict aunt or headmistress or Victorian lady doling out paddlings and canings to irrepressible “young boys.” It’s a chance to do some acting, to stretch my roleplay capacities and hone my quick responses, and often, it’s hilarious.

But what bugs me is what many of these men are wanting to be punished for. Sometimes it’s sassing an elder, sometimes it’s violating someone’s privacy, usually a girl or woman and usually involving a panty drawer or curtains carelessly left open of a summer evening. But more often than anything else, they want to be punished for masturbating.

As a staunch supporter of masturbation (stand tall and salute!), I find this a troubling trend. I think that the healthy habit of pleasuring yourself is the first step of exploring and loving your body, getting to know what you like, and being able to share a healthy sexuality with others. Granted, there are all kinds of things that people fantasize about and enact that would be horribly unhealthy in “real life,” things that they wouldn’t want to happen: rape fantasies are an excellent example, and many people fantasize about being kept as slaves in a cage in someone’s basement, but would hate it were it to really happen, even in an erotic context.

But the fetish for being spanked as a response to natural pubescent impulses troubles me because a lot of the time, it stems from true experience – an experience in which a child was punished for trying to know himself. This fantasy has the tendency to expand, too, into talk about the need for a strong female authority to control men’s wild sexual urges – which in turn recapitulates an irresponsible and misogynist narrative about how men are just beasts who can’t control themselves, and women are the moral, moderating influences who must rein them in, lest they go out and rape every woman they meet. (See also: maybe the way to prevent rape is not to stop women from wearing short skirts and drinking alcohol, but for men to STOP RAPING WOMEN.)

One of my favorite longstanding clients enacts multiple versions of this fantasy with me, and given our relationship and our lunches post-factum, I often have discussed this problem with him. Over time, his detailed fantasy letters began to shift: it wasn’t masturbation he was being punished for, but inappropriate, non-consensual attention to women, or being a cocky, misogynist 17-year-old asshole (one of his more entertaining incarnations), or the classic: going into a female classmate’s room and stealing panties from her drawer. We developed a story over several visits which wound up with the young man masturbating under the caring supervision of a slightly older female intern, which I thought was strangely sweet. In earlier versions of the fantasy, the boy’s ongoing discipline and recidivism ultimately ends in castration. In a later version, over lunch one day, he told me that he imagined that young man finally settling down with one of the imaginary young women we wove into our scenarios, having a healthy, female-led relationship with her. My sessions with him, to a certain extent, mirrored my own attitudes about my work – and, I like to think, began to heal that boy inside him.

I still have trouble with some of these punitive scenarios: for myself, in kink, punishment is a bad thing, so much so that it’s something I don’t really play with as a bottom. Punishment, as in the real world, is something to be avoided. For spankos and some others, the punishment is the kink, is the pleasure. There’s no teasing and denial, no finishing themselves off afterwards. It’s chastisement, smart-mouthing, face-slapping, and butt-reddening with fast, hard strokes meant to cause real pain. It’s something that I don’t fully grok, as it’s not about the pain being transformed into pleasure, or the pain being endured as part of a trial by fire, or even the pain as atonement, though I’m sure that’s part of it. And unlike a lot of kinky activity in the more leather side of the scene, it almost always seems to stem from childhood. As with foot fetishists, it’s something they knew about early and have sought for much of their lives (or began to kink on later in life).

As with the sessions with my old client, with this new client I chose to punish him for looking in his little neighbor girl’s window while she was dressing, rather than for masturbating. I always have this strange need to punish for something I feel is just, rather than for something I want to encourage. I just can’t reinforce that idea that masturbation is bad and sexuality is immoral and wrong – even in the context of a session that’s clearly sexual for the person receiving it!

There is, of course, the possibility, as with some kink, that enacting these scenarios is in part about re-framing and healing the wound. But I just never hear about that from spankos. It just always seems like a somewhat compulsive, likely ultimately harmless, and usually pretty playful thing that got kinked for them at an early age. And probably there’s nothing wrong with that. But I’m always bemused by my own reactions to these things.

What are your thoughts?

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Last night’s Diane Rehm Show was a panel discussion on France’s recently passed ban of the veil and the burqa. It included the voice of Asra Nomani, a journalist and American Muslim whose heritage stems from a strict Indian sect who forced women to veil their faces. She herself was raised a modern woman by her mother, whose own mother-in-law literally tore the veil from her face and thus began her liberation.

Nomani’s story is touching, and I can’t say I support the wearing of the veil or the burqa, though I don’t claim to fully understand the nuances of the practice. But more to the point: regardless of what I think of it, I cannot support the idea of state-mandated or -forbidden religious practices, no matter how oppressive we on the outside may believe they are to the women in question. As another panelist asked, what’s next? Is the state going to go into Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods and stop Hasidic women from shaving their heads?

Why am I writing about this here? Well, I couldn’t help but think of those well-meaning – but usually ultimately vitriolic – feminists who believe that all women who choose to be engaged in BDSM are simply brainwashed by the men they are with, and by extension, by the patriarchy. According to these folk, there is no way a woman could actually desire, or consent to, sexual submission or erotic pain. She is just the unwitting victim of a larger society that promotes and reinforces the supremacy of men and violence against women.

French Muslim women who wear the burqa – only a couple thousand in all, incidentally – couldn’t possibly be doing so because they want to as part of their personal religious beliefs. It must be and can only be an expression of the most radical political elements of Islam, which are seeking to oppress their women and will not stop until every Muslim woman is veiled and locked in the house. A sad story, to be sure – but unfortunately, it’s simply not the case. And even if it were – that is no call for a state to step in and punish the victims by forbidding them from appearing in public in the only mode of dress they know to be correct. Way to isolate, punish the victim, and further radicalize Islam. Thanks, France!

I was listening to Maymay’s podcast, Kink on Tap – and I’m several episodes behind, mind you – but it was the one where one of the panelists was discussing how Rhode Island was re-criminalizing prostitution. In that story, it was explained how the best way to stop the supposed horrible human trafficking that is going on is to punish prostitutes who are caught with hefty fines and even prison. This was so the heavy penalties could be used as a bargaining chip to get these women to testify against their awful human-trafficking pimps.

Does anyone else see anything wrong with this?

On going to Kink on Tap’s site, I found that naturally, Maymay got to this ahead of me. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has seen this connection. When are people going to stop trying to protect women by removing their freedoms and questioning their agency?

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Saw a wonderful, sweet client today. He was terribly nervous, for all the usual reasons: not wanting to get found out, worrying that his desires were strange, not believing that he could broach the topic with his wife, constantly window-shopping pro domme websites.

It amazes me how needed the services I’m now offering seem to be. I find myself, these days, in this wonderful space of healing: of validating, of normalizing, of bringing people more into themselves.

What kills me, though, is how much I talk to people about stuff that is freely available on the Internet and in books. How little people actually research, and how much time they instead spend looking at porn, or trawling pro-domme websites for gems that only very rarely exist. They’re seeking answers for what they find hot, what keeps drawing them back, in places that are designed to draw them in commercially, take their money, keep the closet door locked and avoid self-analysis.

It’s amazing how many people come to me just because they need someone they can talk to about their fetish, or because they just want to hear someone say that what they’re into is okay.

I’m thrilled to provide this service, don’t get me wrong. And when it’s appropriate, I will still recommend some of these people to particular service providers. After all, I’m not going to get everyone to ask their wives to dress them in women’s underwear and peg them. For some people, it’s just not going to be possible.

But it continues to be my ideal. The thing I strive for: to bring people’s desires out into the light, to offer them a space where it’s even possible to explore those desires with someone they love, instead of with a stranger.

It’s a weird job, but somebody’s got to do it.

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I’ve been pretty silent here for a while. There are reasons, of course; there always are. But I would like to be saying more in this space. It’s just that the things that are happening to me in the kink realm seem increasingly private, and it’s hard to talk about them in a space where so many people know my real name.

Instead I’ll talk about the woman in the Firefox window I’ve had open for a month, Marina Abramović.

I read about her first when Cal pointed her out at the closing of her recent exhibition in New York.

For those who don’t know (because I certainly didn’t), Abramović is a performance artist who began her career in the 1970s. Her work was explicitly about the body: what it can take, and to whom it belongs. She did work that was grueling, painful, and sometimes close to lethal. In what was likely her most famous piece, Rhythm 0, she stood completely passive and silent for six hours near a table full of objects: chains, feathers, olive oil, razor blades, cameras – and a loaded gun. Audience members were invited to do whatever they liked to her, and while at first people were reluctant, by the end a spectator was holding the gun to her neck until another group of audience members stopped it.

Throughout her career, she has demanded that the audience engage with the art directly – and she has demanded endurance and discipline of herself which, reading about her, made me think of the most extreme forms of submission and service. In this latest exhibition, she sits in a chair, completely silent, and stares into the eyes of whomever cares to sit across from her and look. She did not speak for three months. In older works, besides the extremity of Rhythm 0, she played the point of a knife between her splayed fingers as fast as she could, sometimes missing and cutting herself. When she would complete a cycle, she would attempt to repeat it exactly – including the cuts. With her long-term partner, Ulay, she did a piece where he held the string of a bow, with an arrow pointed at her heart; she held the bow itself, and the two of them leaned back, balancing each other. (A video of this and other pieces is here.) She did a piece in which she lay in the midst of a burning five-pointed star, and one in which she lived on platforms raised high above the gallery floor for twelve days without eating or speaking. The only way down was via ladders, the rungs of which were upturned butcher knives.

The dedication and grace with which this great artist has put herself through privation, suffering and humiliation are admirable in a stark way, that moves me as a person interested in the extremes of human experience. It offers, to me, another window into why we do what we do. Sometimes – often, in fact – it is about sex. But not always. Sometimes, it feels to me, we are reaching for something more: a spiritual cleansing, a direct encounter with our own limits, the kind of fear that allows one to walk the line between life and death without falling in, because the guide, your partner, is there. Watch this to get a sense of that peculiar terror, the predicament that you’ve entered into willingly.

She performed these pieces to say a number of things: about the body, about limits, about Communism and the terror under which she grew up. But it still strikes me, the way we still do these things ourselves: the way we subject ourselves to suffering in order to learn something about ourselves and what we can take. To show ourselves that suffering has meaning.

Because we all suffer, each in our particular way, from the most abject to the most privileged among us. Not many of us can claim the kind of suffering Abramović endured under Tito – but perhaps that’s exactly why we put ourselves through what we do.

I don’t believe, as some do, that kinky inclinations are the result of a diseased mind. But I do imagine that most kinky people are in semi-privileged positions – and for those of us who have never known what it’s like to starve, live in war or occupation, or really hurt people for a living, it can be very intriguing to get close to violence, to put yourself through the kind of challenge that humans who live indoors and have TiVo are rarely called to anymore.

Sure, kink is sexy. Sure, power play is hot. But for me, at least, there’s something more to it. It’s about overcoming fear – or about seeing that fear in someone else’s eyes. It’s about seeing how much pain I can take before I break. It’s about finding my limits. It’s about knowing myself – and stretching the definition.

More of Marina here.

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After a great deal of work by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has agreed to change its criteria for its Paraphilias section, which up until this moment has listed Exhibitionism, Fetishism, Sexual Sadism, Sexual Masochism, Frotteurism, Pedophilia, Transvestic Fetishism, and Voyeurism as mental disorders in and of themselves. The proposed revisions would finally differentiate between these desires, which can be experienced healthily (pedophilia being possibly an exception), and the unhealthy expression of these desires, i.e. examples in which these desires inhibit day to day functioning, are exercised on non-consenting parties, or otherwise cause harm to self and/or others.

The manual will now include such things as Exhibitionistic Disorder, Sexual Masochism Disorder, and so on, and would require not just that the person exhibit the desires, but that said desires adversely affect the patient’s functioning or that they cause harm to others, such as unsuspecting strangers to which the exhibitionist exposes himself.

I will admit that I am a little concerned that pedophilia is included among these other so-called disorders: I believe that a person can have a fetish for shoes, for example, without it impinging upon his or her life or harming self or others. It’s difficult to imagine, however, someone having a strong sexual attraction to kids without it eventually becoming problematic – or even without it initially seeming sick in some way. It makes me wonder where and how we draw the line between just kinky and really actually kinda sick. Is there a way to have sexual attraction to kids and have that not be sick?

I mean, I suppose if you don’t act on it, it never actually causes harm. But I’m still not crazy about it being included with the other paraphilias, as I think that there are ways to enact the other paraphilias without causing anyone harm. I guess you could dress up someone of age as a kid. But…ugh. Seriously. Somebody help me out here. I really think that a line should be drawn between someone who gets off on hurting people – because they consent to it and like it – and someone who gets off on having sex with kids, who by definition are unable to consent. There are sadists who are truly sick, who want to hurt people who don’t want to be hurt. But are there pedophiles who aren’t truly sick? Somehow I can’t see it.

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