Penance, Part 5

Read the entire series here. I’m exploring some concepts that I started to work through in my essay “BDSM is Not Repentance” using this experimental semi-fantasy flash erotica series. It is not intended to model realistic and healthy approaches to penance, sex work, or even BDSM, but to inspire thought about how we use BDSM and what role, if any, it can play in true repentance.

The next session begins one long week later, on a hot, humid evening. The doorbell rings at seven on the dot. This time, the man is prepared. So this Dominant is cautious? Okay. He’ll just have to be clearer and more confident about what he wants. With that in mind, he opens the door and folds to his knees without a word. The Dominant pauses, a wiry sketch of black and silver in the doorway, scraping their boots on the welcome mat. The man shifts restlessly, wishing he had a cushion. He looks up at the Dominant’s face. 

They blink at him, expression neutral. “Are you going to let me by?” 

“Uh, yeah.” Honorific intentions forgotten, he shuffle-rolls to the side to make room for the Dominant. Only when he clambers to his feet do they give him some hint of expression, a slight smile. He feels himself stand a little straighter. 

They ask for water again, this time seated on the sofa. He fetches it with a flourish. Along with their papers (the same as last time?), they pull out a handkerchief to cushion the glass on the coffee table. 

Are they going to do the same thing as before? He has to do something; this is ridiculous. He drops to his knees again, right next to the Dominant. 

They look…displeased. What is wrong with them? 

“I want you to sit back down in the chair while I go through these papers,” they say.

“What? Don’t Dominants like it when clients grovel?” It comes out more indignant than he intends. They raise their eyebrows over those steel-rimmed spectacles. 

“Sorry,” he mutters, moving back up to the chair in a tangle of embarrassment and arousal. 

“Thank you. First of all, we’re not a monolith.” They tick off the item on their fingers. “Second, I haven’t discussed a kneeling protocol with you. Third, I asked you to sit by me in the chair.” 

The man’s breath hitches as it clicks into place. So his kneeling was seen as disobedience. Maybe they’re closer to punishing him than he thought; this could work. 

Before he knows it, he’s fetching the blue notebook and asking the Dominant to read. 

He watches their eyes narrow as they page through his entries, all some variation of “I don’t need to write in this; I just need to be punished so I can move on.” 

He waits for the explosion, an order to ‘assume the position’ or something. 

They close the notebook. “Would you rather make audio recordings?” they ask, smooth as ever. What? “I notice you said you want to move on,” they say, removing their glasses, “and yet you wrote the same thing over and over. Perhaps you need a different medium and more time.” More time?!

“No!” he blurts, wondering what parallel universe he’s just entered. “What do I have to do to get you to just punish me?!” 

The Dominant’s eyes harden, like black marbles set in their face. They stand, temporarily looming over him with glass in hand. He braces in the chair, aroused but sickened by sudden fear of what he’s provoked. Maybe this is it, he thinks. 

But the Dominant walks past him to pour their remaining water onto the thirsty Monstera plant. Frozen in place, he watches them walk to the front door.

“Try again,” they say. And then he’s alone.

-To be continued-

That Awkward Moment When Even Theoretically Discussing Punishment Makes You Cry…

[Image description: Photo is of an old bamboo rod, not recommended for heavy impact.]

Negotiations continue for #Subpocalypse2019. I’m currently negotiating a new D/s dynamic and making discoveries along the way. Today, we’ve been discussing the concepts of “bratting” and “punishment.” I asked my prospective Domme to give her thoughts. She explained the nuances of bratting well. Bratting is a slippery term that encompasses many complex ideas (including but not limited to playfulness, manipulation, flirtation, and acting out). Folks pursuing D/s, make sure you’re on the same page about bratting! But I’ll reserve thoughts on that for another post. The concept that really got to me today was Punishment. 

Now, I know I’m not the only kinkster who grew up dreading punishment, whose childhood school identity was “angel” rather than “brat.” I glowed under the praise of my teachers and rarely got in trouble. Of course, the other side of that coin was that on the rare occasions when I actually did get in trouble, I was a wreck. The punishments felt so public–through the fourth grade, most teachers used a tag-pulling system, cutesy laminated construction paper cut-outs labeled with our names. If you got into trouble, you had to “pull your tag/card/take down your airplane.” For me, having to go up and move my own name to lower level was embarrassing, even shaming. And yet, other students, whose identities were not rooted in their similarity to divine beings, got in trouble daily without a care. I’ve learned some of their habits over the years. I’m recovering from perfectionism and have grown a fiercer, more flexible approach to life–one can’t be an angel in justice ministries; only humans need apply. 

Today, however, I read this Domme’s descriptions of the scenarios that would warrant punishment (mostly outright disobedience or disrespect) on the brink of tears. It wasn’t just vulnerability related to giving someone the authority to punish. Apparently, the prospect of punishment–even entirely theoretical–was enough to put me right back into that third-grade “I disappointed the teacher!” mindset. 

So, you might wonder, why even make punishment part of the dynamic? Not all D/s dynamics incorporate real punishment (and most scenes use, at most, ‘funishment’). In vanilla life, I have limited faith in the utility of punishments to change behavior. But. I can’t imagine subbing to someone in a stable dynamic without giving them the power to punish. As a Dominant, I occasionally use punishment in my dynamic with my sub. To me, in a D/s context, punishment calls attention to a problem quickly and decisively, it reinforces the power exchange dynamic, and it helps both parties to reset and move forward. 

Does punishment itself modify behavior? Perhaps, but not necessarily. As I think back to my school days, I imagine that I would’ve made about the same number of mistakes with or without punishment. Disappointing people that I respected, on top of failing publicly, regardless of the reason, hurt.

As I think about it more, while I would hate to do something ‘punishment-worthy’ as a sub, I also realize that I’m not stuck in the ‘angel’ mindset anymore. This is a dynamic that I’m choosing as an adult. I’ll try my best, but I don’t have to be perfect. My identity isn’t built on that anymore. And when–not if–I get punished, I won’t be recoiling in defense of that identity. Punishment is not about ‘being bad’; it’s about using all the tools available in this consensual power exchange to learn and grow, even when it’s hard. I will need to be vigilant when that ‘angel’ mindset pops up, but I now have the resources (perhaps including punishment) to treat it as a way of thinking borne of perfectionism, not my core identity. 

For other takes on punishment, check out my new flash erotica series Penance and my essay “BDSM is Not Repentance.”