Archive for August, 2007|Monthly archive page

Healed, Not Quite

I think I’ve had two major “coming out” points in my life. One, obviously, has been accepting my sexual desires and fetishes for what they are, not being ashamed of them, and (more recently) not shying away from talking about them with other people.

The other has to do with something most people in this society would call mental illness, and my struggle to accept that as part of my life, to not feel ashamed or scared of it, and to work my way through it as I see fit, not as my family or lover or doctor sees fit. The breaking point with all that nonsense came when, in a state of desperation after a particularly bad spell of whatever-you-want-to-call-it, I sought out a therapist for the first time in my life. It was not the first therapist I had been to, but the first that I would go to of my own free will.

It’s only now occured to me that one of the selling points for me, upon reading the therapist’s website, was her assertion that she was kink-friendly. I wasn’t making any connection between my mental state and my sexuality, at the time, but something in me saw that as a good sign, and I went. And she was just like any other therapist, who was more interested in my family history of mental illness than in discussing her approach to therapy or asking me what I wanted and didn’t want. By the end of a half hour she had already said I would probably need to get on medication, and dismissed my polite refusal (voice trembling with frustration and anger, how DARE she) by saying that we’d talk about it more in our next session.

I walked out, infuriated. But I felt more alive than I had in months, in this refusal of medication and therapy, and in the determination that now filled me to solve my problems by my damn self. Since then I have never looked back, and while I’ve had some pretty awful spells, some near-suicidal times, I still have felt that I’m better off exploring this part of my psyche on my own.

…why am I writing all of this on a sex blog? Well, in part because I don’t have any other outlet for it, and I’ve come to prefer typing to writing in a journal. But it’s also because something really interesting happened a few nights ago.

When I become overwhelmed, as I frequently do, it sometimes happens that I can’t shut off the flow of extreme emotions and racing thoughts that accompany it. In those cases, I usually tend to shut down completely: frozen, unable to move, unable to speak, sometimes even unable to construct a coherent thought. In those times, there is nothing more that I want than to not exist, or rather, to be encased in stone, protected; to sink into myself and sleep forever. It’s a difficult thing to describe. And it’s a difficult thing for a lover to witness when you’re in bed together. My last partner would get angry when I got this way, because he saw it as me ignoring him, shutting myself out of his life, not letting him in. He blamed me for not trying hard enough to communicate with him. He might have been right—until relatively recently, I hadn’t really wanted to try to communicate or break out of these states, but just wanted to be left alone.

My current partner has been extraordinarily understanding about all this, but it’s still been pretty fucking hard, especially when he’s trying to do whatever he can to help me snap out of it, to come back down to earth. The other night, this happened, and as he asked me again and again what he could do, he began to simply rub his hands over my body, arms and legs and chest and face. And then he used his nails. And then harder. I could barely speak, but managed to tell him to keep going, harder, more. He squeezed me hard, until the pain cut through and I felt again, and then let me lay still, now euphoric from the combination of not-quite-being-in-my-body and the pain. I kept laughing, unable to stop. He attached a dozen clothespins to me, and let me breathe it in and out, relaxing even as the pain increased, even as he took them off and the blood rushed back in to sting my skin.

And it all released, and I cried, and cried. Not because I was suddenly released from a terrible mental state, but because this was okay, this was all okay. I had once frequently used pain (cutting and burning) to do the same thing, to feel something when I was numb, to bring me down to earth when I was feeling anxious, manic and high. But I had left it all behind me, or brought it out only for shameful moments of weakness, because that’s not the way you’re supposed to deal with things.

The message I internalized when I was younger was the same for my mental abberations as it was for my sexual deviancy: pain is bad. Inflicting pain is bad, and willingly taking it for yourself is bad. And so, having him be the one to wield the pain, and to tell me I was beautiful as I took it in, completely shattered both of those falsehoods in one stroke.

Exiles Workshop: Bottoming 101

On Friday night, a friend and I went to check out the monthly workshop held by The Exiles, a primarily queer women’s BDSM group. I’d actually thought it was an exclusively lesbian organization, which is why I’d never checked it out before—I suppose it’s more “women who play with women” focused.

The presentation was preceded by about a half hour of announcements and administrative business: upcoming parties and workshops, several appeals for volunteers, announcements of different members leaving or taking new positions within the administrative heirarchy. Like I’ve said before, it’s been both a relief and a source of some amusement to me that like any club or hobbyist’s group, some elements of the dark, nasty world of BDSM can be rather mundane. I certainly had not expected a business meeting as a warm-up to watching our presenter strip and get whipped with canes.

The first half of the presentation was very, very basic. Audience members helped contribute to lists of what we get out of bottoming (why we enjoy it), and when we have to stop (or when we don’t enjoy it). The third list was more interesting: why do we continue even when we want to stop? The list included some pretty awful stuff, including “fear of being ridiculed,” and some that I’ve experienced, such as “afraid the scene will end completely,” “not wanting to hurt the top’s feelings,” and, perhaps most disturbingly, “unable to break out of deep bottom/subspace.” One top shared a story of a bottom she used to play with who had once gotten so deep into her masochistic headspace that she failed to safeword even when her physical safety was being jeopardized, and by the time a third party had intervened, she’d received several cracked ribs. Stories like that are terrifying for me, because I’ve definitely reached points where it was extremely difficult for me to determine my limits or to remember to say “stop.”

That point in particular raised a discussion of the importance of communicating your limits and your common reactions to things with your top beforehand—because once you’re in the scene, it can become extremely difficult for either of you to tell what’s okay and what’s not okay without ending things completely. Crying, for example, is a reaction that some bottoms are completely fine with, and even something that they want to get to; in others, it’s a sign that things are going terribly wrong, and they need a break. But unless you’ve let your top know that, one way or the other, they might misinterpret your reactions as the opposite of what they mean to you, what you think they signify.

The “demo scene” was really, really interesting to me, for a few reasons. First, it really helped me to understand the whole “bottom vs. submissive” debate better—Rae, the presenter, was most definitely bottoming, not submitting. There was very little, if any, D/S dynamic present in the scene, which involved clothespins (part one) and caning/booting (part two). I think that because bottoming has been pretty inseparable from submission, for me, it was hard for to me to imagine a scene like this.

The second point of interest for me was Rae’s limits, and seeing how much the top gave her. Having only seriously played with one person (and not being much of a porn watcher), I’ve wondered, sometimes, how my limits compare to other people. And yes (I’m embarassed to say), in part that’s a pride thing—am I a good sub? Am I a good masochist?

After the presentation, we stood around for a bit, and talked about the awkwardness we both feel in identity-based groups like this, where we fit in based on one aspect of our lives (our submissive sexual identity) but probably have very little in common with most of the women there, otherwise. Besides being relatively young (I’d say the bulk of the women there were over 40; we’re both in our 20s), our lives and desires are structured around an opposition to a lot of the stuff that’s very normal for most people, and by extension most people involved in the BDSM scene. And a lot of the stuff that’s normal for us might seem alien to them. If most of my identity was based on my sexuality, I would feel right at home at things like this—but it isn’t, and I don’t. And a lot of other aspects of my life can make it seem very far away from home: the preponderance of leather, for example, is a little off-putting for me as a vegan; the fact that the room applauded when someone mentioned that the Folsom Street Fair is endorsed by the mayor is a little weird for me as an anarchist.

And I guess that’s a longer topic for another time…

Friction Burn

Some time ago I received a review copy of Nobody Passes, an anthology on, yes, passing, edited by Mattilda (AKA Matt Bernstein Sycamore). But I hadn’t actually picked it up until last night, and the first essay I turned to was this one, by Stacey May Fowles:

There is a friction burn on my left wrist that I have hidden with a collection of brightly colored plastic bracelets that I bought for forty-nine cents apiece from the local Goodwill. My mother is transfixed by the gaudy accessories as they noisily slide up and down my arm each time I lift my glass of white wine to my mouth, and I realize quickly that my camouflage is fault.

Pay attention to what I’m hiding, the bracelets scream.

“Are you all right?” she asks me as I pull my sleeve beneath the bracelets and over the crimson marking.

“Work. Work’s been busy,” I lie.

In truth I haven’t been sleeping well, but work or insomnia or a packed agenda cannot be blamed. The friction marks and the bruises are to blame for the lack of sleep, and as I casually lie to my mother I suddenly realize that I am more awake than I have ever been.

So yeah, it hit home. Just a little bit. This is such a beautiful essay, describing the author’s trials with coming to terms with her submissive side. Especially heartbreaking is her description of her long-time boyfriend finally leaving her because he can’t deal with her desire to be verbally degraded and physically, as he sees it, abused.

I am a carefully cultivated companion at dinner parties, the good girl you bring home to your parents. My admission of a need to be his whore has suddenly destroyed this well-crafted illusion.

…I wish the piece was available online, so I could simply link to it, but I suppose I should probably just encourage folks to buy the book. After all, there’s a lot of other interesting stuff in it, too.