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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The kink culture of fear

Where do I start? Do I begin with the retelling of the stories from years now long past, or with this weekend? It's hard to tell what would be more effective. This weekend, while filled with spectacularly virginal experiences for most people in the realms of play, pain, pleasure, and of course sex, was actually somewhat old news to me. After all, unlike for most of my friends, this was not my first BDSM convention.

So what was new for me? Some play was new, like participating in a friend's gangbang fisting along with seven other people, getting suspended in rope bondage by two switches, and getting jumped by I don't even know how many people for a "forced" sex scene. Those things were new for me, but after the fact I am finding that my mind is reflecting on quite another element of this past weekend that is new to me.

For the first time in my life and the first time in all the (more than five) years I've spent in the public BDSM community, I felt that other people who are not necessarily friends actually respect me for more than just my pain tolerance, that they began to actually see some things about me that don't have to do with how hard I like to be hit.

As a person who primarily bottoms, I've often felt that people in general only listen to me when I talk about what it's like to get hurt. It's as if, in their minds, all I am is a punching bag. For some reason, it's hard for people—even other bottoms—to see bottoms as anything else.

The awful phrase "take it like a man" rings loudly in my ears whenever I see this because more than anything else I see it cause self-doubt in men who bottom, and makes them afraid they won't be able to "take enough pain." I will instantly confess that I, too, once felt and sometimes still feel this pressure. I think this is stupid.

Mind you, I have little trouble playing the part of a punching bag. In fact, I rather like it, I think I'm very good at it, and wish I had more opportunities for it sometimes. But after more than five years of interacting with people at large, being a punching bag is a very unsatisfying, frustrating social existence. It's made even worse by the fact that I'm a rather picky punching bag to begin with—I don't let just anyone hit me. You have to earn it first.

On the first night of the three-day weekend, as a kind of appetizer scene, I got whipped 'til I bled and that night the white hotel sheets were speckled red. Shortly after the whipping scene was over, Anita Velez, the official event photographer, asked if she had permission to take a photo of my back (I said yes). After that, Eileen and I found her again and asked her for a photograph of our own.

On the second night, after I fisted my friend along with seven other people, I got suspended in a rope bondage scene, and then after that I got jumped by I don't even know how many people who all beat my arms, ass, thighs, and chest 'til they were bruised using a rubber nightstick, an acrylic cane, and some other heavy objects I couldn't identify due to the spandex hood they put over my head. They pushed an NJoy wand into my ass and then made me go down on some of them while beating my already-whipped back with what I'm pretty sure was a rubber tire tread flogger. (I had felt that particular rubber flogger before.)

On the third night I got bound in a hog-tie with my hands behind my back and my legs kept bent with thick leather belts. Once secured, I was again beaten on my back and ass, this time with what I could identify as a (probably deerskin) flogger, a flat paddle-like object (but it was small, so I'm guessing a kitchen implement), and a heavy rubber taws, among other things. The rubber taws hurt the most, especially when it struck my already-bruised ass.

So like I said, I rather enjoy playing the part of a capable punching bag.

Of course, I got the usual, "Wow, great job," awed comments from all sorts of people who had seen us play (and who I didn't even know were watching the scenes). I also eventually overheard from second-hand accounts that others had more negative remarks, such as things like "That's wrong; you should never crack a whip on someone's back." (Fuck that, whoever you are, by the way. I'll play the way I want, thank you very much.)

Of course, this wasn't really the hardest Eileen and I have ever played with a single-tail. I even have another picture of more marks taken some time ago, for example. I have been beaten much worse before, like the week before that previous photo was taken; Eileen gave me my first caning which an inch-wide acrylic artist's cylinder, which resulted in purple and yellow bruises that lasted well over a week and a half. Another time, my friend who made the tire-tread flogger brought over a wooden table leg and bruised my thighs so badly that they swelled to the point where I could no longer fit into my jeans.

Nevertheless, people were still impressed by the intensity of my play this weekend and they still expressed their respect in the form of an appreciation for my personal preferences for pain. Misguided as I think this expression is, I did (and still do) enjoy the recognition.

This kind of misplaced respect happens to me all the time. It's happened many times in the past, when "heavy" single-tail scenes have earned me the respect of someone who prior to witnessing it didn't seem to think very much about me.

In 2003 I was a fixture of the New York BDSM scene among the ranks of TES members, quickly earning a reputation as the quiet, shy boy in the corner who watched but never played. Reminiscent of all my school years, most people treated me with an uninterested attitude evidenced by their neglect to acknowledge my words or my presence. Later that year at TES-Fest I had my first single-tail scene that ended with band-aids and a giddy if somewhat worried pair of tops who relished in retelling the story of how the waifish, quiet boy took the hardest whipping either of them had ever given. I'll admit to being very surprised at my own enjoyment and what I interpreted back then as "stamina" and now simply call my usual preference. All of a sudden people were coming up to me and remarking on how impressed they were with me.

The lesson was clear: to get noticed, play extremely hard.

Even though I was certainly getting noticed a lot more, I hardly felt respected. Perhaps that seems strange to many people because playing that way is exactly how a lot of people who bottom, such as myself, earn respect in the scene. (We would all also be wise to remember Richard's words when he reminds us that the scene is actually representative of a tiny minority of kinky people and we are, for the most part, the public exception to the normal kinky person.)

We play "hard." We can "take more." We have a "higher pain tolerance." We can "handle it." Tops respect us because we can challenge them, bottoms respect us because they'd consider themselves broken by things we consider warm ups. People think we deserve respect because of the way we play, because they are scared of how we play. And they're completely wrong.

Bottoms who don't play as hard as I do feel bad about it; they feel frightened and inadequate. What a horrible shame that is. Tops who don't want to rip open flesh or turn skin rainbow colors or emotionally batter a bottom until they sob and beg also feel bad about not wanting to do these things. Again, what a horrible shame that is.

Respect should not be accorded based on someone's preferred physical intensity of play, and yet every time I play that way in public I get at least someone coming up to me and saying, in an often dejected tone of voice, "I could never do that." I try to tell them that they don't have to, that it's silly to think they should try if they don't want to. As Eileen said cleverly before me,

And then let's talk about the fuckupery of according respect to a scene member based upon the intensity of their play. What kind of logic is that? That's like saying that you respect The Rolling Stones more than The Beatles because The Rolling Stones are louder. Respect isn't about what people do in the scene; it's about how they do it. I have young friends who have been in the scene just as long as me, who don't get the respect I do because they don't have the balancing factor of being intense players as a weapon to carve out a place for themselves. God help you if you're perfectly content with a light spanking now and then. The patrionizing smiles will probably drown you.


(Emphasis added.)

In other words, I'm not more worthy of respect than any other bottom because I have a higher pain tolerance than they do. If you respect me for that reason, I feel invisible. I'm worthy of respect because I have impeccable judgement, a razor-sharp mind, incredible intellect, a generous attitude, a commitment to my scene partner as well as myself, and because I respect these same things in others. If you respect me for that reason, I feel seen.

So this weekend I didn't feel respected when I was asked "How much were you really struggling in that take down scene?" I didn't feel respected by the people who thought I was on the Power Bottoming panel because I like to limp for days after I play. I definitely didn't feel respected by all the people who stopped me in the hallways and told me what an intense scene they saw me do (though, again, I did appreciate the kind words and enjoyed the obvious admiration and surprise—I don't look like someone who likes to scream until my throat is hoarse, but I do).

On the other hand, I did feel respected when a fellow attendee approached me and asked for my opinions regarding TES's web site (and others) because he had heard people mention my name in conversation about the topic. Likewise, I also felt respected when people came up to me privately after some of my presentations and told me that they thought I had made good points, that I articulated myself well, and that I exposed them to something new and provoked some new thought or insight inside of them.

Thanks to the transman who told Eileen and I that we had finally articulated his primary kink in our Sexual Teasing and Denial presentation. Thanks to the young woman who taught me the word cyberbalkanization in my Sex and Technology presentation. Thanks to the people who congratulated me on my bravery and willingness to get naked on the first night in front of more than thirty clothed people during the demo for the G and P Spot Stimulation presentation.

In other words, thanks for seeing underneath all the cuts and bruises and welts. Thanks for rejecting the rhetoric that to be worth a damn as a bottom you need to have a pain tolerance that rivals a super hero's. That's the kind of thing that makes most men think they need to be stoic and "strong" when they are in pain, which is stupid because the last thing a sadist wants to see when they're hurting someone is a lack of painful reaction (duh).

The people who did this with sadness and envy in their voices made me the most upset at the BDSM community's constant self-aggrandizement through what amounts to nothing more than fear mongering. The people who I think should be the most ashamed of this are the ones who call themselves teachers, who present so-called "classes" in thinly-veiled attempts to advertise themselves as "intense players" in order to earn what they think is credibility and respect, like the one Switch encountered and wrote about in her post.

Those people are spreading a culture of fear through BDSM that is damaging to people's self-esteem (both bottom's and top's), to the BDSM community's image in mass media, and—most importantly—to their own partners. Playing at a certain physical intensity is simply one very mechanical aspect of what makes a scene work. It is natural that players with more physically intense tastes would be drawn to one another. There should be no reason to fear that you're "not playing hard enough."

It's just a matter of BDSM chemistry. No one's going to put you down for liking blondes over brunettes. Don't let people put you down for liking, or not liking, a certain kind of play.

22 comments:

almost said...

People will always find ways to judge others and the things they do.

"...most people treated me with an uninterested attitude evidenced by their neglect to acknowledge my words or my presence." That is one of the reasons I stopped going to scene events, because I felt the same way. Maybe I should let someone beat me at a play party until I bleed, ha.

maymay said...

"I stopped going to scene events, because I felt the same way. Maybe I should let someone beat me at a play party until I bleed, ha."

Here's the thing, though. Playing that way will probably get you noticed and people may start actually acknowledging your presence, but if your experience would have been anything like mine, most people would still turn a deaf ear to you until you start talking about getting beat up again. It can be maddening, the narrow-mindedness that permeates a supposedly "alternative" subculture.

Boymeat said...

Despite the usual intensity of my scenes, I have fought as an educator very hard over the years to combat the whole "edgy/hard" is better syndrome. And it IS a problem.

I have seen it manifest itself in so many ways. Presenters leap-frogging one another to be the most edgy and most out there. Tops declaring it as a goal for bottoms. Bottoms feeling they need to progress or they aren't worthy.

I'd like to think that I was one of those people back in your days of TES that treated you with respect. I think you have always deserved it, and you continue to have it, heavy player or not.

maymay said...

Boymeat,

"Despite the usual intensity of my scenes, I have fought as an educator very hard over the years to combat the whole "edgy/hard" is better syndrome. And it IS a problem."

I do remember that in the first TES meeting I attended, where you presented with Luna, before you started your flogging demo you mentioned that everyone plays differently and that it was all okay.

Sue said...

This sort of attitude leads to dangerous play, too. I've seen people with that look of uncertainty in their eyes that you NEVER want to see in someone topping or bottoming, feeling like they have to play harder to be a "good" top. It squeaks me out every time I see it. Kudos for saying it so well... play like you like to play. It's SUPPOSED to be fun.

Also, I think that (despite the attitude I've seen around rt, that online kink isn't somehow "valid" on any level) online discussions bring an element of intellectual discussion of kinky things. Smart talk combats alot of stupid ideas... this is a good thing.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

One of the things that I used to go around and around on a lot was something to the effect of, "Am I kinky at all because I'm not into SM?" Basically, the extreme other end of the 'cred is how much you can take/deal out' spectrum -- I was all hung up on whether I was appropriating an identity or misleading people.

It made it very hard for me to find resources. I don't think it's all the 'you have to do the hitting thing to be kinky, and the hittier you are the kinkier you are' thing, though; I also think that it's a lot easier to talk about the parts of kink that are much more physically demonstratable.

It took me a good while to get past that, honestly, and I still have bits of "They're all gonna notice you're a complete faker!" every so often.

Bitchy Jones said...

Today, I said to Jack: It's not what you can take it's what you can give.

As for you, I'm kind of fond of your ability to *think* hard.

xx

almost said...

Maymay, I was kidding!

maymay said...

Almost, I realize you were kidding about playing 'til you bleed, but I thought I'd throw in the remark on how that doesn't help much anyway, since that's a lot like what I actually ended up doing for different reasons. :) Also, I'm pretty horrible with sarcasm.

Dw3t-hthr and Bitchy, my only responses to your comments is a silent nod.

tom allen said...

cyberbalkanization, hmm?

*muses*

Yeah, I get it.

Juliet said...

Thanks for this post. I get worried about this from time to time, because my pain threshold is definitely Not All That. And that sometimes bothers me despite the fact that I know fine well that from the other side of the hitty implement, I really don't mind where someone's pain threshold is. I mean, it can be fun to be able to hit someone all out, but it's not better than taking things more gently. It's about reactions and experiences on both sides - abstract measures are irrelevant.

I did wonder, last night, whether the premium placed on "taking it harder" is partly due to fantasy. I think fantasies can have a tendency to be more extreme than reality, but with some sorts of fantasies it's fairly easy to accept that they're not physically/practically/whatever realistic (or that they wouldn't actually be enjoyable in reality), just hot to think about. Maybe for painplay, that's harder for people to do - because it's easier to think "well, I just should be able to take it a bit harder". And that translates into attitudes to others, as well.

maymay said...

"Maybe for painplay, that's harder for people to do - because it's easier to think "well, I just should be able to take it a bit harder". And that translates into attitudes to others, as well."

But the thing about pain is that it's subjective. I know a few self-professed masochists who can take a pounding on their testicles that would make me cry in short order. Is it bad that I can't handle the same amount of pain there that they can? No, of course not. Do I wish I could handle more pain there? Not really, but I do find the personal challenge to try exciting.

The point is that what one person defines as "very painful" another person might not. That person who doesn't have as high a pain threshold can still live out his or her fantasy of being horrifically in pain, if they want to. It's just that their scene is not going to look the same to you or me—but it's still going to hurt them like the dickens.

Nothing wrong with that.

Joscelin said...

I gotta say, I do love watching a really intense scene where I can see deep red marks and hear a seriously loud thud.

I also like corsets, lingerie, plus size women, and (I'm amazed to learn) some men.

Show me something I like, anything I like, and you'll have my appreciation, and yes, sometimes I let appreciation translate to respect.

But the very, very best thing I like about BDSM is its unique romance. Tough to have that kind of relationship without having qualities that I respect a lot, so respecting that romance is pretty decent heuristic.

BTW, that shot of you and Eileen is incredible. I sorely wish I could find more of that kind of thing when I go looking on the 'net.

Juliet said...

Sure, pain is subjective, & there's nothing wrong with that.

(Just to clarify: I agree that the "playing harder is better" idea is wrong, & not a good thing; I'm just wondering/speculating about why people are so susceptible to it. Because brains are interesting :) )

I think, though, that pain in the strictly physical sense is not necessarily the only thing that a pain-involving scene is about, and not necessarily the only thing that the turn-on/fantasy is about.

e.g. visible indications (bruises, blood, whatever); the feeling of strong impact (which is different from pain per se); the idea of being hit hard. Those are all things which I think can be an important part of how one thinks about a "pain" scene. And they're all things which are impacted on by one's pain threshold.

I actually wonder if there's a similar root for both the reason that these things are sometimes seen as important or hot; and the reason why people can feel bad about low pain endurance. Which is the cultural emphasis on "bravery" and stoicism and so on (I certainly feel like a wuss if I squeak when undergoing painful medical stuff, & that's nothing to do with kink!). That might also impact on (for example) a wish to be beaten to the point of screaming, e.g. if the bottom feels that their screaming-point is lower than average & that taps back into the idea of "not being brave enough". Hm.

Anyway. It is possible that I am rambling off the point at this point :)

maymay said...

Sue,

"Also, I think that (despite the attitude I've seen around rt, that online kink isn't somehow "valid" on any level) online discussions bring an element of intellectual discussion of kinky things. Smart talk combats alot of stupid ideas... this is a good thing."

It's possible to have smart talk offline, too, but a lot of us find it easier to get our points across in writing than in spoken words. I'm a much better writer than I am a public speaker.

Also, yeah, I've gotten the impression from many a "real dom" that online stuff isn't actually valid at all. Now, I personally wouldn't find much satisfaction in online sexual relationships that didn't have a face-to-face element, but that is a far cry from calling them "invalid."

maymay said...

Joscelin,

"I gotta say, I do love watching a really intense scene where I can see deep red marks and hear a seriously loud thud."

Me too, and despite all I've said in this post, I will and do get bored with floggings that are basically a massage (nice and relaxing, but not intense, sorry), with knife play that isn't scary or doesn't actually draw (at least some modicum of) blood, with single-tail tops who only crack whips to "scare" their bottom (uhm, not scary dimwit because you totally missed me), or things like that. But the point is that's just me.

"sometimes I let appreciation translate to respect."

I try to never do this because I think confusing apppreciation (an expression of gratitude) with respect (honoring, expressing deference, or regarding someone with admiration) are two distinctly different things.

I have seen a lot of people play with a new partner, express gratitude for a wonderful scene, and then mistake that gratitude for love. That's a more extreme example of the same pitfall, and I would caution everyone I could to beware of it.

Then again, I'm also a bastard in real life and it's extremely hard to earn and keep my respect, so again, maybe that's all just me.

"BTW, that shot of you and Eileen is incredible. I sorely wish I could find more of that kind of thing when I go looking on the 'net."

Hey thanks. I feel similarly, in that I wish there was more of that sort of thing online. There is such a dearth of loving imagery showcasing male submissive, female dominant relationships. It's kind of mind bogglingly frustrating so I'm glad we're able to bring some water to the drought.

maymay said...

Juliet,

"Anyway. It is possible that I am rambling off the point at this point :)"

Your ramblings are awesome. Please don't stop.

"pain in the strictly physical sense is not necessarily the only thing that a pain-involving scene is about, and not necessarily the only thing that the turn-on/fantasy is about."

Agreed. I certainly kink much harder on the marks I get after a scene than the scene itself. I don't actually like pain very much and certainly not as much as what it means to me or what it can do; pain kind of really hurts, y'know. But I get all weak-at-the-knees turned-on sex-charged hot-and-bothered when Eileen traces fingernails along my bruises.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

It's possible to have smart talk offline, too, but a lot of us find it easier to get our points across in writing than in spoken words. I'm a much better writer than I am a public speaker.

Me too. I've found I sometimes confuse people by the way I frequently get nervous, inarticulate, or even tongue-tied in in-person interactions. I tend to come across very strongly and assertively online, where I have time to get my words in order, where the words come out much more easily and smoothly than they have to when I'm attempting to vocalise. Whereas if I have the slightest bit of anxiousness in person, pfft. I lose most of that in just inability to find language.

I actually, when working through complicated emotional stuff with my liege, tend to write him emails and then go sit with him on the couch while he reads them on his laptop. Because it's orders of magnitude easier than talking, even in a relationship so intimate and trust-based.

Sue said...

It's possible to have smart talk offline, too, but a lot of us find it easier to get our points across in writing than in spoken words. I'm a much better writer than I am a public speaker.

I think that the difference, for me, is that I don't have a community to talk about stuff in, real time. The kink "scene" holds little appeal to me for various reasons. One reason being that there's not alot of intelligent discussion.

I don't think that's universal. When I'm in NYC or LA, I've found more of a space created for smart kinky talk.

I think that much of the world finds that to be true, actually. Whether there isn't a scene they feel at home in or if they are closeted.

Online differs then because people can type from their closets (and while wearing whatever they want from it LOL). And the discussion gets broader.

I read more than I discuss, and just the exposure to various ideas from individuals of every flavor and stripe from all over the world? Is thought provoking in a way that I think can be found only online.

Juliet said...

BTW, I was talking to my partner C about this today, & he threw in the suggestion that there's also issues about control in pain scenes (or there can be); or about D/S.

Which made me think that another thing going on here is perhaps about the D/S aspects. That if one is doing a scene which is about taking pain because that's what the top wants, then there's scope for the bottom to feel bad if their ability to deal with pain puts limitations on that.

Of course, what's actually going on in a scene like that is more about subjective experience (making it hurt X much - where X is perhaps more than the bottom wants, but less than will have them safewording) than it is about objective experience (hitting Y hard). But the mental first approximation when people are thinking about such a scene is perhaps more likely to be about the objective assessment.

OK, now I want to go hit someone with something, or possibly get someone to hit me with something, & make Observational Notes :)

maymay said...

Juliet, one day I'm going to expect a line graph to show up on your blog as a scene report. ;) Good observations, thanks for sharing them with me.

devastatingyet said...

I find it very, very hard not to respect someone extra for being able to take seriously intense "stuff." It doesn't mean I don't respect people who aren't quite so much into it.

What I enjoy in my own submissive isn't that he can take extremely hard blows or whatever (which he basically can't) but that he can go so far past his own comfort level for me. As a bottom, I actually have (I think) a higher pain threshold than he does, but I won't travel nearly so far past it. And that is sexy.

But, feh. Respect should be based on knowing people anyway, or watching them play a few times to get a sense of their style. And even then, what does my respect mean to anyone but me?