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

“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.

BDSM is Not Repentance

[Image description: Photo is of a black flogger draped over a gold handheld mirror.]

Content notice: possible self-harm, police brutality 

Some time ago, I read about a guilt-ridden police officer who went to professional dominatrices to be beaten and humiliated as punishment for his habit of mistreating the people that he stopped on the street. As far as I know, his kinky sessions didn’t stop him from hurting the people under his power. He was still cruel. To put it in religious terms that I understand, he wanted to burn off his sins by ‘suffering’. Instead, he just burned off his guilt and went on his way. Shame covered him like a blanket of ash. 

He wouldn’t be the first to try to use BDSM to cope with guilt and shame. Some reading this post might wonder whether typical kink ‘punishment’ activities like being caned, forced to do chores, or verbally degraded will allow them to compensate for behavior that they’re ashamed of. My answer is “Maybe, but probably not.” 

My full response would be a real treatise, accounting for the various ways that people like to define BDSM and even ‘punishment.’ I’d also have to talk about whether I think that consensual punishments are fruitful (I have complex feelings). I’ll save those for other posts and spare you the ninety-five theses. 

For now, I want to talk about repentance, something more powerful than self-punishment. The Hebrew and Greek words that we often translate as “repent” appear over and over in the Bible.  

In Greek, the original written language of the New Testament, the word is “metanoia,” “to change the mind.” In biblical Hebrew, words literally meaning “to turn” or “turn around” are common (a little more on the language here). 

Wikipedia calls repentance “the activity of reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs, which is accompanied by commitment to change for the better.”

In short, repentance isn’t just about feeling sorry. Feelings are important, but they don’t do much in themselves. Instead, repentance is about harnessing thoughts and feelings through reflection in order to change behavior. 

Let’s consider the police officer. Did he repent? No. He felt bad and used BDSM to feel better. Perhaps, he thought that because he had chosen to experience pain, he now understood the pain he had caused others. Maybe he thought that his pain (carefully calibrated to satisfy him, as kinky pain usually is) would balance out theirs.

Repentance doesn’t work like that. For those who use Christian God language, God doesn’t work like that. 

Jesus didn’t say “I was in prison, but you felt bad and punished yourself.” Jesus said “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me” (Mt. 25:43). 

This passage might sound harsh and confronting to some readers. It is. It doesn’t leave room for us to pretend that feeling bad about something is the same as doing something about it. 

But it also means that God doesn’t demand that you punish yourself to counteract the suffering you have caused. It means that you get to choose how you respond to that suffering. 

In the police officer’s case, there was most likely nothing he could do to repair the harm he had caused. The bodies he bruised (probably black bodies) would have to heal themselves; the heartache and trauma might never fully go away. He numbed them out with his own ‘suffering’. But he has the power to recognize what he has done and to make different choices, I hope with the help of a good therapist and strong community. That in itself is painful, and not in a fun way (think of a much less extreme version of Voldemort’s fractured soul).

The temporary hurt of kinky play is not a shortcut to understanding the harm one has caused, and it isn’t repentance. 

That being said, does BDSM have a role in repentance? Maybe so (and I’ll talk about that more in another post), but it depends on one’s goals and attitude. I want to practice treating others well through kink, and I want to give myself care in the play that I choose. I want what my sub experiences under my direction to have a positive impact on the way that he interacts with the world outside of our dynamic. I believe that kink can help people to reflect and grow. In the end, though, repentance is a chosen struggle, and there is no substitute.

Diversity is Chosen – Pride Sunday Thoughts

[Image description: Cover illustration from picture book A Church for All, showing a dark-skinned pastor blessing a congregation of people of all races and genders. Rainbow banners and welcome signs are displayed on the walls.]

CW: Minor mention of church bigotry

I woke too early this morning. Dragged myself to Sunday School with wet hair. Struggled to warm up my voice while we sang the first hymn. I love my home church. It is pretty much “the little brown church in the vale.” I hop right back into the choir when I visit (of course, the fact that my mom is the pastor has something to do with that).

The members of that church are my family, and I wouldn’t trade them. When I’m sleepy, church can feel like a chore, but seeing queer friends visit (and noting today that almost half the adults sitting in the congregation have grown LGBTQ children whom they affirm) reminded me of why my church community is so valuable, how it’s so freely yet painstakingly built. 

In my conservative Southern hometown, my little church is becoming a place of haven for LGBTQ people and our families. A couple of years ago, I felt safe enough to come out as bisexual to my Sunday school class (mostly middle-aged adults) because I just wanted them to know who I was. More on that story later. It wasn’t always this welcoming a place. 

When I was a child, nobody talked about queerness in my church community. The only occasion when I remember anything being said about homosexuality was one Sunday when an older male church member, substitute preaching while my mom was away, listed homosexuality as a sin during the regular Prayer of Confession. In a sense, my mom limited the conversation around queerness, not because she disapproved but because a fundamentalist segment of the congregation always overwhelmed the discussion with bigoted views. Saying “We’re not going to talk about it” was the lesser evil. 

What eventually broke the silence was a 2014 PC(USA) General Assembly ruling that allowed same-gender couples to marry in the churches. You see, in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), big changes are made by a national governing body and ratified by Presbyteries. As we say in the Presbyterian Church, “We do it decently and in order.” 

This constitutional change tore my home church apart. More accurately, most of the fundamentalist faction broke off and joined other churches. They perceived a church that was more welcoming to me as less welcoming to them. For a church our size (fewer than fifty members), it was a significant loss. We were sad to lose them–it was like losing aunts and uncles–but their absence made room for needed change in the community. It also allowed me to be open about who I was without feeling like I would be causing trouble for my parents. We lost a bit of our theological diversity to evangelicalism but created space for people like me to participate more fully (after coming out, I felt confident enough to get confirmed). 

Today, I was reminded once again that ‘diversity’ is chosen. It usually doesn’t just happen; the kind of diversity that appears in a church community depends on the values and consistent work of the people involved. What a refreshing feeling it is not to be made expendable in the name of theological diversity, not to have to shrink for the comfort of people who think I’m hell-bound. Can someone who isn’t ‘affirming’ be part of this community? Sure. But I’m not expected to hide who I am to make them comfortable. 

With its steady welcome, my church community is becoming more sexuality and gender-diverse, and its children are being raised to understand that they are loved and have something of value to share regardless of how ‘normal’ or ‘different’ they are. When one of my grandfriends makes a Pride month announcement, when my mom gives thanks for LGBTQ people in the Thanksgiving Prayer, even when a little boy in the congregation gets to be an angel in the Christmas pageant (yes, that is actually an issue for some people), I can tell that my little church is doing the work.

We’re all still learning, but we’re working together to build a community that welcomes everyone who wants to participate. If that offends our fundamentalist siblings enough that they leave, then it’s a loss for everyone, but it won’t stop us–and it won’t stop me–from building and celebrating our community. 

That’s what gets me out of bed early in the morning (to drag myself to Sunday school with wet hair). I have the opportunity to be a full member of a church that works to reflect the love of God more fully each day, and I won’t squander it. 

Be of good courage,

Fox (she/her/hers)

PS–For Christians (especially faith leaders) looking for ways to help folks to see the beauty of a church with people of all ages, races, genders, abilities, etc., I recommend the award-winning picture book A Church for All by Gayle E. Pitman and Laurie Fournier.