I’ve struggled for a sense of personal security for what feels like most of my life. Worry about money, the stability of my family’s house, and my family’s emotional ups and downs serve as a laundry list of things that made up my childhood. I found myself in a series of relationships that often focused on my being an object of subjugation and humiliation. I thought that being useful to another person was what I could hope to be. I stopped being aware of needs and wants I had, and instead convinced myself that my string of selfish partners were doing me good by forcing me to be as available to them as I could be. This of course bore no relationship to whether or not that particular partner and I participated in Kink or BDSM, it just was a lot more obvious in BDSM situations, and it is harder for me to see what was meant as play and what was actually damaging.
At the present, I have two supportive partners who love me and a strong network of friends. Most of the time, I feel secure and OK. But sometimes, stalking in as a thief, insecurities creep in and captivate the anxious corners of my imagination. It’s very frustrating, for many reasons. I know my partners are hurt sometimes when I behave as though I don’t believe they love me. I know that other people are hurt. I am often confused in the middle of it all, trying to reason out a situation rooted not in the reasonable, but in the emotional, damaged, frightened areas of my consciousness.
I often feel like a little girl. On a maturity level commensurate with an eight year old. I desperately want things to be better but somehow lack the skill to be better. And the other part of my brain, the reasonable, conscientious adult ties desperately to get the child to see the better path, but fails often due to the sheer force of the child’s stubborn belief that none will be right in the world until satisfaction is granted.
Sometimes also, it feels like I’m locked in a room, watching myself become unreasonable, inflexible, angry and unforgiving, and I’m unable to stop the madness. I have to just watch until the storm subsides.
I need to feel more secure in order to calm the tantrums. I need to feel more secure in order to move forward in my life. I keep thinking that the mesa I’m standing on is shrinking daily, and soon I’ll have naught left but a tiny bar of sand to stand on, then nothing. I’m afraid that I’m wearing my loved ones out and that I’m running out of luck. I’m afraid I’ll never figure out my direction in life, or even settle into a satisfactory albeit not dream worthy groove. I feel like the pressure to be better is overwhelming, and its almost all I can do to get to work on time and not spend the day daydreaming and hyper-focused on the panic and rage.
I wanted to write about abuse and kink because I wanted to discuss one of the things that I fear the most- that in playing with the kind of kinks that turn me on the most- humiliation, age play, various kinds of exploitation, are actually ways of my brain forcing me to re-live certain nightmares from my past rather than finding healing and personal growth from overcoming challenges. Why might my brain want me to re-live a personal trauma? Well, depression has dented me into believing that in certain ways, I don’t deserve to be happy. I *know* intuitively that this is preposterous, that everyone deserves at least some happiness (at some point, don’t bring up child molesters here…) and that I am just responding to infernal internal clockwork with bent sprockets that I’ve been dismantling for years now. But still.
The automatic response to my concerns, from me at least, is that the thing that matters is the loving environment, the dominant’s goal of growth and improvement for the sub, and the fundamental dynamic being founded in some kind of love. This in and of itself is fundamentally different from the headspace and relationships that abuse occurs in, but I keep feeling like this is a flimsy argument, as though changing the scenery is enough to change the nature of the acts.
The other automatic response I have- that if the sub has learned to love themselves first, or at least sees the loving of oneself as valuable and is working toward a goal of being definitively their best selves, then the manner in which certain activities like I’ve described above are interpreted with different vision than those of the abuse victim. What this requires, though, is a paradigm shift- that instead of being “on the receiving end” for action the bottom actively sees themselves as powerful actors themselves, on their own, and furthermore definitely making decisions that support their own positive goals and interests. The idea is to move from believing that you are powerless to believing in your own personal power over your life and that furthermore your wants and desires are OK to try to make happen.
The second explanation is clearly one I find more acceptable. I feel that your perception of yourself and your position in the world fundamentally changes whether participating in certain activities is abusive or loving. Of course, this could be read that I am blaming the victim. I am most certainly not. Victims of abuse are not responsible for that abuse, and are not exacerbating, causing, interpreting, misinterpreting, or otherwise bringing upon their own heads the abuse and abusive behavior. What I am specifically trying to suggest is that in the process of recovery and healing, victims of abuse who find themselves attracted to BDSM and related forms of intimacy can engage in activities that might otherwise be abusive by a) developing a belief system about themselves and their place in the world that allows and encourages them to be powerful and actively promote their own health and interests and b) deciding that these activities are desirable and consenting to them affirmatively.
I was trying to avoid talking about consent, because I don’t think consent is a universal OK stamp. I think that consent can be used against people, that uninformed consent is dangerous (but not always disastrous). I think that consent has to come in conjunction with other factors, because, fundamentally, I think we’re all works in progress.
It seems like a regularly observable phenomena that any given individual, when pursuing people to date, will frequently find themselves dating the same general category of person over and over again. At least, this seems to be the case among myself and my friends. I know that my tastes often run a certain direction. I used to muse that my relationships with blonde men were always complicated and powerful, and with black or brown haired men simple and romantic. I don’t know what to make of my redheaded primary :-)
But there’s a darker trend that appears in my dating- a tendency toward abusive relationships. One of the lines in Sex and the City that I’ve found runs pretty true is that the one thing all of your relationships have in common is you.
This immediately seems to suck. And is a pretty simple justification for those of us who would beat ourselves up for making bad decisions. My feedback loop looks something like this: I made the decision, I ignored the red flags that my friends and my own brain brought up, I deserve the damage because I made a bad decision, I am damaged and that makes decision making harder, I make a new decision. I don’t deserve to have the things I want- commitment, security, love, understanding, being a cherished plaything, because I was damaged, my failure to find a partner was a direct result of all of the bad decisions I had made before…. And on and on and on.
I’ve done a lot of work in therapy (both the paid variety and the talking to my friends variety) and am trying to unlearn this habit in favor of other habits. One of the things I’m thinking about today, while writing this, is what role Kink actually plays in the abuse. I don’t think kink itself is actually a causal factor in the abusive relationships. I think that any given abusive relationship would be abusive, independent of kink. I say this not because I’m defending kink, but because I think that writing off a relationship’s abuse as characteristic of kinky relationships is asinine, and fails to recognize the basic nature of abuse. Instead, it classifies all non-egalitarian relationships as the same without actually examining the relationship on its own merits.
Of course, claiming that certain relationships are going to be abusive is problematic in and of itself. Does that mean that the individuals, when brought together, are likely to express abuse in the same way as a bad chemical reaction? I’m not sure where it comes from. I am of the opinion now that there is a tendency to seek out abusive relationships that I myself have experienced. I do think that past desire on my part to have someone confirm my worthlessness is part of the abuse I’ve experienced. I’m trying to skirt blaming myself for these things. But it is the case that when looking for something, frequently you’ll find it.
The thing is, I’ve found abusive relationships both inside and outside of kink. Vanilla relationships that turned abusive were no less abusive than the kinky ones that went bad. I don’t want to make any particular claims about the frequency about these things, but I do think that the reality of the matter is that there are a lot more vanilla people in the world than kinky ones.
But back to feedback loops. The idea here is that these feedback loops take a person who blames themselves for making bad decisions through a mechanism (the loop) and reinforces the basic ideas that the abuse planted- for example, worthlessness as a person. “This is what I got because I deserve it. I’m worthless and don’t deserve better”. Somewhere along the line the idea of worthlessness was planted and took root. But the repeated gamut of internal beating renders a person weak, less able to stand up for themselves. In my case, it leads me to seek out further abusive relationships, and to further do damage to myself, to just repeat the cycle of abuse.
Breaking out of one’s own cycle means finding support. Internally, the resolve to do what needs to be done- to end any particular abusive relationships. To walk away and hopefully ignore blaming yourself for anything to do with the relationship going sour. Also, external support. Reaching out to people who can help in one way or another. When ending my last longterm relationship, I called my mother for help quickly moving my belongings out of his apartment after he had gone to work. When she said she’d come down and help me, I fell apart. I remember saying something about ignoring me if I said anything that sounded like I’d changed my mind. I asked her to please help me be strong, and help me stick to my guns, and keep my resolve up. In the weeks that followed that breakup, I struggled with not having this person in my life, because I’d become so enfeebled. I so wanted to return to the relationship, because it was scary to be alone in the world. But the second that that idea struck me- that I was alone in the world, it was immediately flooded away by the memory of my mother coming to rescue me. My sister helping me load up a cart with my stuff. My mom driving all of us to my apartment, where I had barely lived for the previous two years.
It took a monumental effort on my part to escape that relationship. In my imagination, leaving that apartment felt like an exodus. In the time since then, I’ve stopped living purposefully isolated from communities of people I feel connected to, and this alone has raised me significantly. I’ve also started to be much more selective in my relationships, both romantic and friendly. I’ve started to learn that relationships both have to be developed and curated. Including people in my life who help me grow is a way of loving myself. Learning to love myself is paramount to becoming the person I deserve to be.
I come to you today, Blog, a sick and tired person. The sick and tired are largely due to actually being sick, but also doing the being there thing for friends on a couple of exceptional events that occurred this week.
Also, this week is more or less my year anniversary of my stepping out into the public Kink community in NYC. I’m personally thrilled with the yearlong odyssey that has been, and look forward to many more happy years to come. Having spent the nine or so years previous to that living in power-based relationships privately, eschewing any real contact with the “scene” as I’m fond of referring to it, I continue to be astonished at the color and complexity and happiness that I’ve found. To go from feeling like I was some run of the mill, unspecial person to realizing just how different every kinkster is was kind of like discovering seasoned food for the first time, and the layers of depth and interesting flavor that I’ve found just leave me wanting more experience, new discoveries, and to continue to push myself to explore beyond my comfort zone.
But tonight, I’m pretty darn tired. I’m tired because in the work of being a good friend I’ve extended myself a lot over the last few weeks, while being surprisingly and irritatingly ill, and circumstance has resulted in my not having access to the normal people I’d turn to for a fill-up. Which leads me to a topic I’ve struggled with always: Self-Care.
One of the first things my therapist told me was that he didn’t think I took good enough care of myself. That I didn’t put myself first ever, and that this results in my not being taken care of because I’ve surrounded myself with people who aren’t truly taking care of me. The result of this mess becoming the very frustrating fact that I was emotionally and mentally starved: for attention, for affection, and most of all for the kind of emotional tlc that comes from balance. This was over three years ago now, and it’s still a frequent topic of conversation, although much less so over the last year. Now we focus more specifically about preventing certain specific people from taking advantage of me rather than my need to prevent myself from being the town doormat.
He used to ask “what do you need?” and after months of stonewalling this question with “I don’t need anything, I’m clothed and sheltered and have enough to eat and can afford therapy” I finally started breaking down into tears, nearly every session, over the realization that I did need something, I just had no idea what it was. I knew things I wanted- I wanted to leave my emotionally abusive boyfriend, to tell my emotionally abusive mother to jump in a lake, to find friends, to have something to do with my life, to have a career i didn’t hate mightily, and a laundry list of other things which all struck me as things to want, but largely things I couldn’t have, because I couldn’t do the work or sustain the energy to have them- and therfore didn’t deserve to be happy or feel successful or anything else, because if I couldn’t do the work, I didn’t deserve the “reward”.
Of course, what I was failing to see was that these things I thought of as “rewards” were actually just sort of basics, like food and shelter and therapy, that I needed. These were not the pipedreams of some angsty child. I was not asking too much or being difficult to want to have them in my life, I was simply recognizing that need often extends beyond what is immediate. I still have some trouble accepting this idea, but lately its been easier because I’ve started to spend time with people who actively recognize these ideas in their lives and believe in them, and because at least one person in my life acts as an emotional recharging station (among many other things).
>But what about when these people aren’t at hand to help me out? The muscles that I need to pull myself out of muddy holes are still fairly underdeveloped. Tonight, for example, my emotional recharging unit is not available, but during a loving conversation we had he urged me to engage in some self care, and suggested that heading to bed early might be a good way to deploy it to myself. This sounded like a good idea but I wasn’t quite tired enough. So I decided to spend some personal time with my thoughts and the internet, expressing myself. This is working out pretty well, actually. My physical body feels some actual amount of relief, having spent 791 words now talking about myself. Its surprising, but my shoulders feel lighter.
So, self-care. We owe it to ourselves!
So, polyamory. It’s the stuff of crazy religious fanatics and news images of women and children being herded onto buses, but its also alive and well as a manner of everyday life for a growing number of people. It’s not common, by far, because its hard, and for a majority of us, means redefining the expectations we have about what our relationships and our lives will look like. On the surface, and one of the things poly people are criticized for, it looks greedy, non-committal, and frighteningly dangerous to the nuclear family.
Shockingly, it isn’t really any of those things. Or, the people who are involved are no more so inclined to be these things than any other group of individuals in the world. Possibly the nuclear family criticism carries the deepest relationship with validity, but frankly the root of that argument is that its bad for children, and what’s better for children than having lots of loving happy individuals around to love them and be there to help with math homework?
I’ve technically been engaged in polyamorous relationships for a year now, and this has actually been pretty wonderful. One of the things that I keep stumbling over as I think about the people in my life is an inclination toward classification, and I keep looking for some kind of an important difference between friends and lovers. The old me would have pointed out that lovers were people I actually had sex with, and friends were just friends. But that’s pretty heavily fraught- my definition of sex has become so wide and deep that there have been some conversations, not explicitly sexual ones either, where that dance between bodies is played out in words and in the mind- and that thing which is the intimate sharing, the deeply erotic opening and vulnerability which is sex to me, has happened with people I’ve barely known. I’ve left these conversations awake and alive and enhanced in ways similar enough, to my mind, to sex that making a distinction is just kind of silly.
So, its really not useful to distinguish lovers as being different from friends because there’s sex involved. The Ethical Slut suggests that perhaps instead of looking at the world with an eye toward maintaining certain limitations, we instead embrace the idea that relationships evolve and that it can be in fact good and healthy to explore the possibilities of intimacy with different people. I’m not sure that I stated the last idea very clearly.
>OK, I think it actually goes something like this: We move in the world, and people move into and out of our lives, based on the lives that they are leading and the internal clockwork of the universe. Because the happenstance of meeting people isn’t something one could realistically control, and attraction being as surprising and uncontrollable as it is, The Ethical Slut suggests that taking those opportunities to explore the full potential of any given relationship can be a good and healthy thing rather than a greedy or selfish thing.
At least, this is how I think about it. The fact of the matter is, the stresses of having more than one person involved intimately in your life, not to mention the impact of yours or your partner(s) other relationships on your life and relationships… well, you know those desk toys with the five balls on a string, and how they bounce off one another? Imagine adding a set of balls for every additional relationship… you see my point.
I find that for where I am in my life, I’m pretty satisfied with the number of relationships I’m in, and really enjoy having variety and opportunity and many methods of support, love and friendship in my life. Knowing that there’s usually someone to turn to when I need, or want, a partner in crime is magnificent.
Just don’t get it into your head that it’s easy. But what relationship is?
Ah, the first post of 2011. Only a month late- not so bad!
I’ve been telling people that this is going to be the year of vegetables. I feel that last year was a year of a few excesses, and this year I’d like to take better care of myself. the way eating vegetables is taking care of yourself. Doing healthy things, taking the reins of my finances, making good decisions. Trying to root out ways to make this fun.
My personal initial reaction to this has largely been to notice everything I could spend money on, at the moment, and want it with a lust that is almost uncontrollable. I think telling myself that I can’t have anything causes me to want… everything. So, a middle ground must be reached there.
One of the things I want to do to take care of myself is to write more. Larger quantities, more frequently. So I’ve decided that a personal goal will be to update this blog weekly, at minimum. If that goes well I might up the ante. But at minimum there should be a new post, every week, by Saturday.
So, there. A partial resolution for the upcoming 11/12ths of the year.
Happy New Year everyone!
I have neglected you. All four of you. And for this I am deeply sorry. Truth is, since about Floating World I have found myself to be so vigorously and continuously occupied that I haven’t really had the time to think of this blog.
I decided to take on a responsibility which feeds my soul, but … still takes enough of my time that I consider it a second job. And I’m struggling to be organized enough to do it successfully, while still going to my regular job, seeing Bear and friends, and taking care of some of the side projects I’ve wanted to work on. Like this upcoming weekend’s photoshoot. Anyone with good advice on economizing time, please! I’m all ears!
Less personally and more topically, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how big the scene really is. I suppose that at this point I more or less define the scene as containing age players to zoophilia, and as exciting as sex positivity could be, I will admit some trepidation about my big tent having circle space for people who want things I consider wrong. Like pedophilia. And, frankly, beastiality. And yes, I’m differentiating myself from “them” by invoking consent as a fundamental imperative, but still!
I think, at the root of my questin, is a concern about whether a politics of exclusion actually is healthy, in the sense that… Mmmm something like “boundaries about acceptable behavior are a way of saying what is ‘ok’ and what is not ok, obviously… More… Not that. Something else. About how we exclude and its like pruning? But the hidden behaviors are hard to exclude, like… Child abuse. Child abusors are too often not excluded. But is it that exclusion doesn’t work, or more that those people are simply hard to kick out of the tent?
Some reeeeeeally raw thoughts here guys. Be gentle.