Not Queer Enough?

Here’s what I will never be; I’ll never be a person whose identity is rejected by our culture. I’ll never be a person whose fantasies were unacceptable, who lived with shame about them, and who was delighted and amazed to find that there might actually be others who shared them. I’ll never be queer.

What I can be is someone who loves to play with my queer partner, who enjoys making him happy, and who is intrigued with exploring parts of myself I was never drawn to using.

Is that enough?

When my partner finds other queer people to connect with, it’s wonderful, because he finds support and solace. But I become the outsider. I feel like an adoptive parent watching their child connect with their birth parent or culture. What if my beloved finds his home where I cannot go?

Talking to Your Kids

The scariest possible thing to think about as a kinky person is your kids finding out about it. Okay, your boss finding out would probably also be bad, but you can get a new boss. So when I heard that our 20-year-old son had stumbled across a folder in the back of our filing cabinet labeled “BDSM” I was pretty worried.

Luckily, our (grown) kids know that we’ve been sex educators through our church for years. Talking about sex is totally normal around our house. Of course, no one wants to know the details of their parents’ sex life — or even that that parents have a sex life. But we were each able to talk to our son, separately, casually, and calmly, to deliver the same message — this is part of who we are, everything is fine, if he has any questions or concerns he can ask either of us any time, and he can share it with his (grown) sister. Cool, he said, and meant it.

No big deal. It’s a miracle.

In the Wild

Triskelion PinAt Fetish Fair Fleamarket #46, Jamie got a little triskelion lapel pin.  I’ve chosen to wear it pretty much all the time for a couple of reasons.  First, it helps me affirm my identity of who I view myself to be.  And it helps me to remember to be proud of that.  In many ways those two functions are similar to the ones my collar serves for me (that’s another essay on its own).

Most importantly, my “coming out” process (whatever that is, and whatever form it evolves to take) was kick-started by a much younger friend wearing his “Fetish Flea” T-shirt at a completely vanilla event.  As I recall from a long subsequent conversation, he wore it as much in a fit of pique at not being able to be “out” as anything else, and was pretty shocked when I (having never been to a Fetish Fair at that point), said, “Nice T-Shirt.  No, really, thank you for wearing that.”  Much conversation ensued, as I said, with dramatically positive consequences for me.

Ever since, I’ve wanted something I could wear that said “Not quite as vanilla as you might think.”  And to provide an opportunity for someone else to have the conversation that I had with my friend that afternoon.  The triskelion pin fills that function for me.  (If you haven’t spent a minute Googling how it acquired a BDSM connotation, its creator has posted his story.)  So far, I’ve gotten only gotten two comments, one from a friend who is totally vanilla (well, as far as she’s shared with me) but knows us and our story.  And the other was yesterday in … the auto parts store.

Citania Briteiro Triskelion
 

Triskelion from the calderium at Citania Briteiro, Portugal

 

I’m chatting with the counter rep when the rep at the next station says, “I was noticing your lapel pin, what is it?”  Now I don’t have a “rap” on this – I was figuring I’d know what to say at the time.  But I was also figuring that this moment would happen in a context with someone I was acquainted with so I’d be comfortable getting a little more personal.  So I started with “Ancient, all over the world, blah blah blah” and ended with “Nowadays, interests relating to leather,” which isn’t exactly true.  LAME, I know, but I was a little surprised and it was first time out of the gate.  I think next time I’m going to BDSM and if that doesn’t ring a bell, not my problem.

Anyway, conversation went other places until a minute or two later when I had completed my transaction and my service rep wandered off.  A hand came over the counter with a firm handshake, and “Hi, I’m John, pleased to meet you.”  I was nonplussed in a good way, and mostly surprised.  So go figure.

Thoughts on Becoming a Vanilla Domme

My husband has been submissive for as long as he can remember. I’ve known him since he was nine and I was seven. Looking back at the games that he, my older brother, and I played during our childhoods, we can already see his desire to play the role of the servant or the slave in our imaginary kingdoms 40 years ago. So kink was not a secret when we got married.

However, I didn’t identify as kinky and I didn’t know how important submission was to his identity. Over the 30+ years of our wonderful marriage, my feelings about kink and my role in our relationship has gone through distinct phases that might be common among vanilla spouses introduced to kink. I started with willful ignorance, denial, and pity, moved on to active disinterest, relented into grudging participation, and am now in a phase of growing comfort and perhaps even enthusiasm. Here’s what that process looks like.

For the first years of our marriage, my husband kept his interest in submission to himself. I didn’t realize its importance and I’m sure I didn’t encourage him to talk about it. We have very open lines of communication and our role as occasional sex educators at our church make sex easy to talk about, but my husband’s deep shame around his desires and my disinterest kept the whole thing in the closet.

Finally, something changed. I’m not sure what caused it — maybe the Internet and the alt.sex.bondage Usenet group, which gave him a way to chat with others in his predicament as well as connect with potential dominant women. He started to talk to me about his desire to submit, to be tied up, and to include sensation play in our sex life.

My reaction was right out of DSM IV. I was clear that his kinks were a mental illness caused by his controlling and mentally abusive mother. His parents’ marriage was a non-negotiated D/s relationship in which his mother dominated, controlled, and belittled her husband and son. We were pretty sure that she had been abused as a child. Other marriages in his family appeared to follow a similar pattern.

With my encouragement, my husband tried psychotherapy, although it was hard to find a therapist with an attitude other than “just stop.” (We refer to this period as The Year of the Seven Shrinks.) He did finally find someone to work with who encouraged him to figure out what made him happy and how to make it work in his life. We talked about kink a lot, and I encouraged him to tell me about how he felt and what he wanted, hoping to dissipate the shame associated with his needs. Once, as we were talking about his submissive desires, he said, “This is who I really am!” with great joy and relief. I heard this with great sadness and fear, because dominance is not a deep part of my makeup. Perhaps we were fundamentally incompatible.

Once I learned that at least one psychiatrist didn’t see BDSM as an illness (this must have been around the time that DSM V was coming out), I figured that my husband just needed to get it out of his system. Years of hidden fantasies had built up a huge need to actually do what he’d been dreaming about. So, okay, fine, just not with me. He had a few sessions with paid professionals over the course of about a year. He enjoyed them but learned that he wanted more than just “scenes” — he wanted submission within the context of a relationship, our relationship. If he had to choose between kink and me, he said, he chose me, but he was hoping that he didn’t have to choose.

That was a powerful and humbling message for me and made me feel safer about exploring the whole area. Up until then, I was worried that he’d find the Domme of His Dreams and leave me for her. It was time for me to step up and try out some of the activities that would make him happy. Maybe it was time to “fake it until you make it.”

We started an exploratory period of D/s, S/M, and bondage. I beat him (using kitchen implements until we started buying toys through the mail), I restrained him with cuffs and carabiners, and we created an elaborate contract in which he did all kinds of services for me. I didn’t love it. I didn’t even like most of it. It wasn’t for me, it was for him. He asked for what he wanted — still with great hesitation and shame — and I tried to give it to him. We love each other deeply, D/s is just a part of our wonderful and fulfilling marriage, and it was the least I could do for him. Refusing him would just make him ashamed, secretive, and miserable.

But I resented it. No matter what I did, he wanted more, or different. He was constantly tweaking the arrangement to try to get it right. And it wasn’t enough that I performed the role of dominant; I was supposed to like it. He wanted me to want to control his orgasms, to keep him on his knees, and to beat him. He wanted it to be important to me. It didn’t seem to matter to him that those weren’t my desires. Or, it did matter, but he wanted me to change.

And I did change. I’m still not a domme in my heart — I don’t have a deep-seated desire to control, dominate, or hurt him. But I want to make him happy and I know that he wants to make me happy. As we talked and explored, it became clear that the most likely way was for me to find a way to embrace the role of his dominant. Maybe it’s not fundamentally important to me to control him, but it’s important to me that he fulfill his promises to me. If he doesn’t, I feel foolish and jerked around. If submission is how he frames his love for me, then his submission is very important to me.

So I dove in, joined FetLife, ordered every book I could find about BDSM, and read the articles and listened to the podcasts that he recommended. We started attending munches, went to Fetish Flea, and connected with an old friend who revealed that he’s a dominant. In the process, I started paying attention to a couple of writers and lecturers who talked about dominant-centered rather than submissive-centered D/s. Ms. Rika, Midori, and Princess Kali talk about concentrating on what I as a dominant would love for my husband to do for me, rather than acting out his submissive fantasies.

Wow, that turns out to be hard for a mom! Raising children was such a lesson in surrender and in putting my children first. When the kids were little, there was no point in getting in touch with what I wanted, because I probably wasn’t going to get it anyway. Now the kids are grown and my submissive husband wants to do whatever I want. What the heck is that? It’s like Joseph Campbell advising people to “follow your bliss.” If I knew what my bliss was, I could think about following it. I have work to do. It’s probably good spiritual work — what do I want to do with my one wild and precious life, as Mary Oliver asks?

That’s where my husband and I are in our journey of creating a D/s relationship that works for us. D/s is just a part of our relationship — we’ve parented, worked, traveled, loved, grieved, and celebrated together most of our lives and we are each others’ best friends. We have lots to work on, but we have an agreement that we are working on it. From denial to pity to grudging involvement to active participation has taken us over 20 years, and who knows how long it’ll be until we have an arrangement that feels perfectly right. Actually, that will never happen — I’m sure we’ll be learning and loving and adjusting for the rest of our lives. I hope so, anyway.

What Would “Out” Look Like?

I don’t remember the exact date that I wrote this; March 2015 is approximately right.  I’ll refine it some time soon, but lest the best be enemy to the good:


So what do I want from being “out”? For one thing, in most cases I suspect people don’t want to know what their friends do in the bedroom. But as an argument for not coming out, this seems similar to the argument used by people to talk about why they wanted gay people to disappear – “we don’t care what you do in the bedroom, just look like everyone else the rest of the time.” Which is fine until you want to hold hands with your partner in public.

So what would “out” look like? I suggested that out would be analogous to wearing a wedding ring. It says something about our relationship without going in to too much detail. Following that thought, my beloved suggested I could wear my collar over my clothes rather than under, at least at church. That was pretty thought provoking. I already get the occasional comment on it when it peeks out from my Oxford or golf shirt neck line. I just say that my beloved gave it to me and that it’s very meaningful to us. I don’t recall anyone ever asking if I could take it off. No reason I couldn’t use the same line at church.

She already gets comments on her hair, which I fix for her in the morning. And she graciously responds that I fix it for her. I haven’t been around for those conversations so I don’t know where it goes from there. How much more would it be to say that the collar is really special to us, or that I can’t take it off? That latter, though unlikely to come up, is certainly the gateway to a larger conversation.

We are members of a Unitarian Universalist congregation. It’s interesting to think what a congregation would look like if there were no assumptions about what relationships between adults looked like, just as there is increasing awareness that assumptions about what gender people are, and what gender means to people, are much more diverse than masculine and feminine. In our congregation I’m sure it would mean that the vast majority of couples (and the majority would be couples) would express fairly normative egalitarian not-particularly-sexually-dimorphic relationships – we have few stay-at-home moms and 9-to-5-business dads.

And what would our relationship look like? I’m not sure it would look all that different from these egalitarian relationships. If we were “out” in this context, maybe it would let me defer to my beloved more explicitly, and maybe it would allow me to serve her more naturally and her to accept or expect or require such service in those social situations, but, I suspect, no so much as one would notice much.

And would it be okay if someone wanted a more overt display, if someone referred to their partner as master or mistress or slave (aside from being confusing)? Right now I would argue that this would be non-consensually involving others in your own play, and could be avoided without doing violence to the nature of the relationship by careful choice of words. But doesn’t that get one started down the slippery slope to “don’t make me recognize your gay partner?”

One wonders about the slippery slope. To what extent would a woman in a hijab be welcome in a liberal religious community? Or a comprehensive covering that included a niqab or burqa? The question is relevant because, in the kink context, someone is going to want to have their partner on a leash – because it expresses their relationship, and where does it go from there?

The real problem here is that we’re attempting to redefine social relationships and what is “normal.” And that’s hard to do, particularly in an intentional way, because a lot of what’s normal and accepted isn’t based on facts or rationale, but rather on what feels comfortable. So really, we’re trying to get people to expand their comfort zones – a laudable objective but not necessarily an achievable one.

Finally, it occurs to me that wearing my collar out at church is probably something I have to do as a service to others, just as the person who wore his kink-event t-shirt to a social event (perhaps inadvertently; I’ll have to ask) performed a service for me and motivated the start of my coming out process. But that’s another story.