What I’ve Learned So Far: A Reflective Epistle

In the past few days, I’ve had this odd hankering to reflect on the past year in writing. I don’t yet know how my finals will turn out, and perhaps I should be working on them. But I love to procrastinate work with other work. So, here are a few things I’ve learned since I got involved as a switch in the kink community about a year-and-a-half ago:

  • I’ve learned that munches are pretty great, especially if you can tell people apart. 
  • I’ve learned how to spank, flog, strap, paddle, cane, finger-fuck, peg, and edge. I’m learning how to communicate, ask good questions, listen, maintain boundaries, process difficult feelings, and not use dominance or submission as a security blanket. I haven’t yet learned how to get anything satisfying out of the riding crop. 
  • I’ve learned to face fears and take care of myself (I even went to the gynecologist and got treatment for chronic pain). I also started this blog, and I’m proud of myself for not giving up on it–it feels good to recognize that I’m building resilience. 
  • I’ve learned that playing with lazy, unmotivated play partners is not part of ‘paying my dues‘. I used to think that I had to deal with a few blah play partners in order to ‘hone my craft,’ a bit like an apprentice doing grunt work. In real life, that translated into bending over backwards to educate and accommodate flaky, lazy men who hadn’t taken the time to educate themselves. I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten more experience, this type of man has largely disappeared from my DMs. 
  • Through my D/s dynamics, play experiences, and conversations with friends in the local community over the past several months, I’ve learned that a lot of kink isn’t sexual. Thus, I now tend to describe BDSM simply as “One of the ways grownups play.” For example, my dynamic with my Dominant isn’t really sexual so far, and my submission to her isn’t sexually motivated. Our play and D/s interaction centers around sensuality, service, and mutual growth. If you’d told me this last year, I would have been shocked. It just goes to show that even when discussing ‘alternative lifestyles,’ we often don’t recognize the kaleidoscope of healthy, loving ways for human beings to interact. 
  • On the other hand, some of my kinky play is quite sexual! In my dynamic with my submissive, a major element of my holistic dominance is my ownership of his sexual life (long-term, encompassing control that I wouldn’t have expected to want at the start of my kink journey). I’ve learned that (consensually) stepping into someone’s personal space in a dominant frame of mind can be a strong sexual trigger. Perhaps it sends a signal to my body, paradoxically, that I can ‘let go’ and be sexual (Emily Nagoski’s “gas pedal and brakes” framework makes sense to me here).
  • I’ve discovered that I have an inner sadist (which I’ll talk about more at another time). I like to watch people grow, to assign homework, to ask probing questions that confront assumptions. To an extent, it’s satisfying to watch people struggle, knowing that they will come out of the difficult experience wiser, kinder, and more resilient. A while back, my Dominant shared some concerns she had about being in a process of growth. I said, “This may sound strange, but as your submissive, I’m still sadistic. I derive joy from your discomfort.” She wasn’t offended–that tells me that I’ve chosen a good Domme. Do I have an inner masochist? I think so. Stay tuned.
  • I’ve learned that I’m not immune to pettiness, jealousy, and consent accidents. And while we’re at it, I’m not immune to ye olde frenzy. I’ve made many mistakes and will make more (see Fetish Foibles for a couple of examples from my dominant life). 
  • I’ve had a complicated journey with submission. There’s a reason I’ve been calling it #Subpocalypse2019. Being confronted with a serious opportunity to submit frightened me, even made me feel ashamed. Frankly, it embarrasses me to think of the monsters that came out of my mental closet. I’ve learned a lot about my fears and insecurities. 
  • I’ve been learning how to manage multiple dynamics, friendships, etc. that require care and attention. I honestly believe that I’ve become more of a stickler for planning and scheduling because of my kink exploration. Planning is one way to show care for people, even if that just means planning a little extra sleep into your schedule so you can be fully alert during negotiation and play. While we’re at it, I’ve learned that gratitude is more precious than gold. 
  • In making the leap from kinky fantasy into kinky reality, I’ve learned to fantasize more responsibly. That is, I think more deeply about my fantasies and how they relate to my needs. Fantasy has been a lifelong coping mechanism for me; I’ve always been imaginative, and as a child, that’s how I spun straw into gold. I used to eroticize the feeling of being left-out and marginalized in social groups, in situations where my tender young mind saw no alternative. It went something like this: “Oh, I’ve been left out. I shall now be Cinderella.” And I would revel in the degradation of my imagined servitude. Nowadays, I try to think through my options before spinning a fantasy. For example, if I’m feeling bad, I might think, “Is this a situation that I can work through in the ‘real world’? Am I using this fantasy to make my shame feel sweeter instead of confronting it?” That doesn’t mean I restrict my imagination (or, for that matter, that fantasies are ‘good’ or ‘bad’) but that I try not to use fantasy to avoid the hard work of reflecting, communicating my needs, and following through in reality. 
  • Maybe you’re wondering whether I, a queer, kinky Christian divinity student, have any reflections on faith here. First, my journey has taught me that Dominants are not deities, though we can certainly play with those roles and language. We don’t ever ‘deserve’ anybody’s submission (we don’t even deserve the capital ‘D’ at the beginning of ‘Dominant’). Now, what about God, whom some people choose to conceptualize as the ultimate Dominant? I don’t know what to make of God, to be quite honest. God is a mystery, and I’m leaving it at that for now. I haven’t truly ‘worshipped’ in a traditional sense in quite a while, but I think God can understand that. 
  • I’m pretty sure my Christology (my sense of the divinity of Jesus) has come down a few notches–I used to really like the idea that God, through Jesus, could understand the spectrum of human suffering, but I’m not so sure anymore. Overall, I feel as stubbornly rooted in my Christianity as ever, but, to quote transgender pastor Allyson Dylan Robinson, I’ve “sacrificed my certainty” many times. 
  • I’m just beginning to explore the connection between kink and spirituality (read a bit about my frustration with traditional ‘spiritual practices’ here). But I’m finding kinky activity to be intensely connective and intimate, a time when I can be completely focused on my partners. Regardless of my role, kink requires me to be vulnerable, showing up as myself. I learned how to show up with vulnerability in part through my Christian faith and nurturing community. Yet, I find that I usually can’t show up that way when I try to pray–I have too many complicated thoughts and feelings, confusion and anger, sometimes blankness where I would once have imagined God to be. It’s hard to talk to a mystery. People are slightly easier. So perhaps kink is a way that I can commune with the Divinity in myself and others. I hope to explore this idea further. 

I honestly have more to say, but I think that’s enough for now. I am grateful for the people, the discoveries, and the opportunities to learn that I’ve had so far in the kink community. I look forward to learning more as I continue my journey.

Be of good courage!

Masturbation Monday

Being a Body

I had my first “Bodies and Theology” class today. It was great. Apropos of my last post, we started class with theatre-influenced movement exercises. At one point, the professor (who is wonderful) asked us to walk like dogs. While my classmates remained upright, I dropped to the floor and scurried around like a puppy. I got to be silly–and there is exhilarating bravery in silliness. We also created some body sculptures, an exercise borrowed from the Theatre of the Oppressed. Posing together without any foreplanning, we attempted to convey the concepts of “knowledge,” “theology,” and “God” through our bodies. 

“God” was the most challenging; our professor invited those who weren’t part of the sculpture to modify it. They joined our hands together until we formed a circle. As a result, the body sculpture that started as a vision of disconnected hierarchy (one person standing, others kneeling and cowering), became an image of connection and interdependence. A very different understanding of God. Rich discussion arose from the choices that we made to represent each idea, the beliefs and biases that they revealed. 

In this class, we are invited to discover God as people with physical bodies. Christianity isn’t traditionally good at that, so I’m excited about this opportunity. It also feels good to have a break from the intensely cerebral space of other classes. When we shared our reasons for taking the Bodies class, I said that I wanted to work on being ‘present’ as a body and to experience things without immediately intellectualizing them. For those who follow my kink journey, that’s also a goal I have for my current exploration of submission. My Dominant said early on that she wanted to see me “feeling without thinking.” What a terrifying thought!

Thinking and feeling are my bread and butter. My strong feelings are normally mediated through intellectual, critical thought, which is useful most of the time. It can, however, lead to a sense of distance from my body when I most want to be present, as if I’m more of a brain floating along than a full being. It sometimes means that sexual experiences feel ‘hotter in hindsight,’ more intensely erotic after I’m removed from the situation than in the moment. I hope that the movement and physicality that this class requires, my continued kink exploration, and the interplay between those two different realms will encourage me to enjoy my body and connect with the Divine in a new way–as an embodied person.

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.”

“Wow, you’re so domly!” – Negotiating from the Other Side of the Slash

[Image description: Photo is of red and purple flowers in a hanging basket.]

I’m already learning about myself through submission (even though I haven’t actually submitted yet). Having spent the past year exploring dominance (read my erotica “Stay Like This” to get a sense of my D/s dynamic with my sub), I decided recently, in abject terror, to start exploring submission. You can read about that here and here. As I browsed articles about D/s from my shiny new submissive perspective, I found one by Pearl O’Leslie called “Why a Special Protocol to Approach Dominant Women is a Bad Idea.” It made me think about the ways that men approached me on FetLife while I explored dominance. 

One pattern I noticed was that they sometimes perceived my frankness, my refusal to sugarcoat or soften my boundaries, as a sign of dominance. More than once, men I had been messaging with said they could sense my dominance. I think that happened for a few reasons: for some desperate souls, it was surely flattery. Others probably lacked experience with firm, direct women in their vanilla lives (which makes me sad). Still others were comforted by my ability to ask good questions; it inspired in them a desire to submit that made me feel authentically dominant. I’ve had the most fun with group three. 

I didn’t enter these conversations with the intent to be Ms. Domly Domme. I was interacting online as a woman, distrustful of men as a group and thinking that clarifying my boundaries quickly would shoo away the creeps. But it’s more complicated than that; in hindsight, I believe that part of what empowered me to set such clear boundaries was my dominant mindset. As Pearl O’Leslie writes, “Sure, it feels good to say ‘how can you hope to be a submissive for someone if you ignore my ‘no dick shots!’ request in my profile!’” 

And it did feel good. It felt powerful to be so firm. It felt comfortable. For a year, dominance has been a security blanket, reinforcing my sense that I can claim firm boundaries without guilt. But firm boundaries and dominance are not the same thing. Likewise, lacking firm boundaries is not submission. As I would tell any sub, everyone gets to have boundaries; no special approach required. That has been strangely hard for me to tell myself. Why? Because now that I’ve started exploring submission, I don’t have my security blanket. It’s made me feel awkward and prickly in a way that I rarely do as a Dominant, anxious and uncertain about whether I’m negotiating ‘correctly’ as an s-type. That’s been a challenge, and I couldn’t quite articulate why until I read that article and recognized my reliance on my dominance. 

Even without my security blanket, I need to have strong boundaries for my own safety and that of potential partners. With an ethical partner, I can expect them to be learned, acknowledged, and respected, no matter what role I choose. So when I put a “no dick pics” request in my profile or set any other boundary, in any role, I can let the boundary be without feeling either overly defensive in my vulnerability or guilty for the boundary’s existence. While understanding that doesn’t take away the fear of the unknown, it does reassure me to know that I don’t have to compromise my boundaries to negotiate as a submissive. 


Further reading: “Domism: Role Essentialism and Sexism Intersectionality in the BDSM Scene

Teaching from the Bottom” by blogger Kinky & Nerdy

“Just as I Am” – Confessions of a Kinky Churchgoer

[Image description: Photo is of a cautious but curious calico cat that has just stepped through a doorway.]

Church felt weirdly relevant today. Not that church is ever irrelevant, but I kept making connections between this morning’s worship service and my personal life in ways I don’t always. You see, I’m currently negotiating a new power exchange (which I will hereafter refer to as #Subpocalypse2019), and it’s brought up a lot of difficult feelings. I’ve felt more overwhelmed, afraid, even desolate in the past couple of days than I have in months. Maybe that’s tuned me in more than usual. 

My sense that the service was speaking directly to my inner turmoil started with the Prayer of Confession: “We fear failures, and we cling to unquestioned habits […] Show us your way. Open our eyes to new ventures,” we prayed. I do fear failure in this new venture, one that’s appeared seemingly out of the blue. It will involve questioning my habits in unusual (and embarrassing) ways, as I make my life available for another to view. I felt like that prayer was for me. 

Other messages jumped out at me as the service continued, especially in the hymns. When I saw “Just as I am” in the service order, I looked up from my bulletin suspiciously. “Just as I am though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt…” the song goes. I could give or take some of the theology in that hymn, but the thought of just…being…and showing up as myself with all my fears feels especially poignant right now.

Fortunately, I have a supportive pod of people who are proud of me for showing up and have given me space to feel scared without judgment. My sub is excited to see me experience life on the other side of the D/s slash; he’s been giving me pep talks over the past few days and encouraging me when I’ve been tearful. I don’t know how much involvement God has in shaping personal relationships, but I think God understands my feelings and is proud of me too. 

The final hymn was “Here I Am, Lord.” That one’s just always a tear-jerker. It was a very special song to one of our members who died a couple of years ago. It illustrates his way of being so clearly. It’s a song about committing to mission even when you feel unprepared and vulnerable–it also imagines God as immensely loving and thus, vulnerable to hurt. 

Today’s service was about being courageous, vulnerable, and flexible in ministry to the world, but I hear it another way too: I hear a call to minister to myself. I hear a call to grow more loving to myself through the discomfort that submission brings. With the guidance and care of others, I am called to minister to myself “just as I am,” fearful and brave and loving. 

*Prayer is from Feasting on the Word Worship Companion, John Knox Press, 2013.

Submission is Scary

[Image description: Photo is of a freshly rained-on brick patio with plants growing around the edges and through the cracks. A pair of pale human feet is at the edge of the frame.]

This’ll be short because I’m emotionally exhausted.

I’ve heard it said that in BDSM, dominants learn power, submissives learn courage, and switches learn wisdom (I wish I could find the original source). That statement oversimplifies things for sure, but it illustrates where I am right now. Looks like I’m about to be very courageous. I’m talking with a friend about experimenting with a low-key D/s dynamic where she is dominant and I am submissive; it’s more of a mindset than a specific kind of play. Not having had any experience with actually submitting before, I’m terrified. 

She brought up the idea of D/s a couple of days ago, and my subconscious wouldn’t leave it alone (I actually dreamed about it; I pay attention to dreams). When we finally started discussing it in messages, I had a physical fight-or-flight response–pounding heart, churning stomach, etc. Having only experienced kink so far as a dominant and top, giving up control and letting myself be led is scary. But scary doesn’t mean bad, and I’ve learned over the years that if I don’t let myself be scared sometimes, I won’t grow. 

Even though I’m intimidated by the vulnerability of it, I’m proud of myself just for being courageous enough to explore this path–I feel braver already. I’m also terribly curious about what I will learn and the wisdom that this experiment will bring. 

That’s all I got for now, but I’ll have more reflections soon!