The dynamics of institutional oppression and the dynamics of intimate relationship violence parallel each other. It’s frequently the case that, when you’re in an abusive relationship with someone who is “protecting” you, the Big Bad they claim to be protecting you from – while certainly a real threat – probably a) isn’t actually as Big and Bad the abuser claims and b) is less likely to have a dramatically detrimental impact on your life than being stuck in an abusive relationship does.
I’m not condoning victim-blaming here. I’m just pointing out the parallel. As I hear more experiences from people who are or have been actively involved in the BDSM scene, I come to believe more and more that the BDSM scene qua institution tells people that nobody else will ever want them. That they won’t be okay on the outside. That without the conceptual construct of “BDSM” and its attendant community to protect them, they don’t have a chance of finding love and fulfillment.
But I’m living proof that that’s bullshit.
Look at the world we live in. BDSM does not have a monopoly on eroticized violence or quantum consent. Nor does it have a monopoly on navigating those complex waters in thoughtful, conscious, “risk-aware”, empowering, liberatory ways. Despite its claims that something about the way I fuck means “we belong together”, I’ve spent most of my erotically conscious life dodging, ignoring, or actively avoiding the BDSM scene’s ongoing efforts to encroach upon my sociosexual space – while, at the same time, sometimes burning with jealousy for people who seemed to find themselves at home in it. I’ve sometimes done this consciously and sometimes unconsciously, sometimes successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully. I’ve had to do a lot of reinventing of wheels and figuring shit out on my own. I’ve had to ask myself a lot of questions. Sometimes, I’ve felt guilt or confusion about WHY I’m so averse to BDSM qua “community”. Maybe they’re right. Maybe that is where I belong. Maybe I’m just scared. Maybe I’m just being a snob. Maybe there’s something wrong with me for not wanting that. Maybe I do want it but I just can’t hack it. Maybe I’m not good enough.
And yes, I continue to have a pretty complicated relationship to sex and intimacy. (Who the fuck doesn’t?) And yeah, I struggle with that, with fear and guilt and shame about it, with how to even begin to talk to the people I’m intimate with about what I need, don’t want, and fear, and with the repercussions that failed attempts at those conversations have on my relationships and the people I’m in them with.
But I’m okay.
I don’t have as many orgasms as I otherwise might. And that does matter. But I’m not alone, abandoned and unloved, shivering in the cold and being spit on by pervert-hating passers-by. Sometimes, I’m even happy. Sometimes, especially since meeting D, sex feels like an amazing boundless scribble-pad playground where we can explore together – and hold each other and kiss it better when we fall and hurt ourselves. And I’ll tell you a secret: Until about a month ago, I had never had an orgasm in my life that was caused by another person. I’d had them through masturbation, but never from a partner. Now, I’ve had one. It’s only one. But it matters.
I also feel more and more empowered to keep trying to deconstruct, queer, experiment with and re-design intimacy through trial and error to find ways that work for me. In the long-run, I feel like that’s worth the sacrifice of not being able to strap on an ill-fitting identity and get pre-packaged answers from BDSM culture. In fact, I’m not sure that’s a sacrifice at all. Even though, in the short run, that means fewer orgasms, more dissociation, panic attacks in bed, and long stretches when I wonder if I’ll ever really understand what ‘good’ feels like.
Some people may read this and say, “But my BDSM is just like that! Exploratory and unique and all that stuff. It’s not like I’m running some kind of script or something!” And, y’know, that might be true for you. But it makes me think of a conversation I had with one of my partners, someone I’ve been with since I was 15, when I told him I needed to stop having sex with boys for a while because my susceptibility to just falling into the “Straight Sex” script and then running it ’til I wanted to peel my skin off was fucking my shit up – and I didn’t know how to break the habit without detoxing for a while.
“What are you talking about?” he said, hurt. “I’m not running some kind of script.”
“Sure. It’s not like we’re having missionary with the lights off every night. But how many times in your life have you, say, had sex that didn’t involve putting your penis into an orifice?”
So often, when we talk about “scripts”, people think scripts-as-in-plays. And there’s something to that. But we’re also talking about scripts-as-in-machines. You may be running all kinds of scripts you’re not aware of, because the script is being run on you by an institution.
And I’m not trying to be on some moral high horse here. It’s not like I checked out the BDSM scene and decided I was too enlightened for it. Despite the fact that, on the one hand, I feel like it’s been trying to seduce me for most of my life, at the same time the Scene was still never genuinely accessible to me. Even when I’ve sometimes wanted it to be. And it isn’t now. Because of the ways in which I’m “rolequeer” (this word helped), and because of things that have to do with trauma, and the relationship between those two things, trying to play in the Scene when I was younger would have been a disaster. The more I learn about the Scene through exposure to other peoples’ experiences, the more I realize this. I wouldn’t be welcome there. I wouldn’t be safe. I wouldn’t be okay. And I feel lucky in some ways, for having dodged a bullet, and incredibly angry in others, because of the fact that the bullet is there to dodge in the first place – and because, in some ways, I haven’t dodged it at all. And I’m still not sure I’m ready or able to talk about either in depth.
But even with all the complexity and insecurity I still feel about everything I’ve just said here: I’m okay. And it feels good to be able to say that out loud. And to believe it, mostly, for maybe the first time in my life. This is how I am and sometimes I’m not okay. And that’s okay. I’m okay.
* * *
It feels important to me to give some credit to maymay here, because many of the frameworks I’m using here reference ideas he’s articulated elsewhere. I think, in fact, that he has some longer pieces that speak specifically to the idea of BDSM Scene-as-institution and what that means for the people in it. I haven’t had the chance to read them yet, but I have read enough of his shorter work that I think I’ve gleaned a lot of those ideas osmotically – partially because his words give me frameworks for talking about feelings that I’ve been wrestling with for most of my life; they go off like lightbulbs for me and are easy to hold onto.
And I suppose, as a complement to those who have written about growing up in the BDSM scene, I’m trying to give a voice to how BDSM-as-institution (both Scene and conceptual framework) impacts one person who grew up “outside” of it – or at least on the periphery. Although, on one level, I don’t think they are very different things. Scenes are all about feeling like you’re on the outside looking in, no matter how far “outside/inside” you actually are. And I still don’t know exactly how to talk about it. But, at some point, I will.
This started as an addendum to the previous post, but it needs its own space. Here:
ETA: The dynamics of institutional oppression and the dynamics of intimate relationship violence parallel each other. (I need a good source to link for this. Remind myself to dig through some SPAN materials when I get a chance.) It’s frequently the case that, when you’re in an abusive relationship with someone who is “protecting” you, the Big Bad they claim to be protecting you from – while certainly a real threat – probably a) isn’t actually as Big and Bad the abuser claims and b) is less likely to have a dramatically detrimental impact on your life than being stuck in an abusive relationship does.
I’m not condoning victim-blaming here. I’m just pointing out the parallel. As I hear more experiences from people who are or have been actively involved in the…
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