Not Really About Shadow Lane

“It’s good that you haven’t heard of me, because I manage so many websites.”
— Overheard in lift during Shadow Lane, 2013*

This isn’t really a piece about the last Shadow Lane party. It’s more of a stumbling, rambling assessment of what’s up with Paul’s kink these days, huh?, with Vegas as a MacGuffin.

I came back from Vegas feeling — in a slightly achievement unlocked sort of way — that after years of seeing it as a worthy but unattainable goal, my kink has surprisingly settled into a pleasing balance between top and bottom desires. This makes me happy. In the same way that I’ve always aspired to bi/pan-sexuality, for vague intellectual reasons, but been aware that my brain doesn’t really want to know, a wider spectrum of kink interest and facility has mostly seemed out of reach, despite some fumbling attempts in that direction: seemed out of reach despite the attempts; seemed out of reach because of the fumbling. And “wider” is deliberately relative here; these are still baby steps for me. But as steps go, baby steps are pretty significant.

A scene with a friend pushed me to explore a top space that’s instinctively difficult for me. There’s a sort of spectrum of top/bottom dynamic, based on who the scene is ostensibly for. (The layering in kink makes “ostensibly” necessary here; consciousness and outward projection of the layering varies hugely among players.) At one end of the spectrum, where the top’s position is presented as almost entirely functionary, a scene might be “for your [the bottom’s] own good”. Here, the top assumes a role which almost explicitly denies their pleasure (“this will hurt me more than it hurts you”). Introducing a degree of agency for the top, a scene might be about “what I think will work for you”. There’s still some denial that such a scene is for the top, but the role here is more of a collaboration. The scale is tipped further towards top agency and desire when it’s about “how I want you [the bottom] to feel“. This sort of mindfuck entails a consideration of the bottom’s headspace, but the subject of the scene (“I want”) is now the top. Finally, if/when a top talks about “what I want to do to you”, they’re not just taking control of a scene; they’re presenting the scene as unequivocally for them.

This is a complicated dance, obviously, with desires spoken and unspoken, agency taken explicitly, taken implicitly, and sometimes taken by being untaken. But the willingness of a top to claim — to admit — that a scene is for them, is still a brave leap. Tops can settle into a scene dynamic which denies their agency and pleasure because the role of quasi-teacher/parent works for them, but I think there are plenty of others for whom the selfishness of the act just tastes wrong. Perhaps it reveals something about themselves that they’d rather not see, so there’s a retreat into a safer dynamic of justified discipline. It’s one thing to want to hurt someone you care about; it’s quite another to want to do it without apparent regard for their pleasure or well-being. That’s, you know, sadism.

When the friend asked me if I wanted to “beat her”, and made it clear that it would work for her if I actively expressed the selfishness in topping that exists at that end of the spectrum, I knew it would involve flexing muscles that aren’t well developed. Ultimately, what made the scene possible for me was knowing her well enough to be sure that she was sincere; and also, I suppose, knowing that she knows me well enough to have some sense of the parameters we’d be playing within. But still, there was no negotiation or collaborative planning beforehand, I genuinely tried to please my own desires, and I knew that short of a medical emergency the scene would follow my path. It’s revealing of my latent insecurities that it’s still not especially natural for me to talk about having enjoyed a scene like that. I’m always instinctively drawn to discussing scenes as having “gone well”, or not having gone well — the point being competence, proficiency, performance, rather than enjoyment. But I did enjoy it. I enjoyed being selfish, and I enjoyed hurting her.

Intermission music. Refreshments are available in the foyer. Intermission music.

Dear Paul,

Thank you for you order.

Unfortunately we are unable to sell specific blazers to non school attendees.

If you can provide us with your sons name, year and form teacher we would be happy organise a blazer for him.

Our apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused and i look forward to hearing from you.

The e-mail wasn’t entirely unexpected — it doesn’t seem unreasonable for schools to have issues with pervs playing with their specific image — but it was a bit disappointing. The shop is one that I’ve used many times, both in person and by mail order, and all has been well in the past (my California address might have rung some alarm bells). The order that was being questioned was for a blazer to complete a uniform I was putting together for Vegas; it’s one I’m familiar with from where I used to live, and had most of the pieces for already. I thought about bowing out gracefully — I did feel somewhat busted, as if I was doing something unethical and had been caught out (“as if”?) — but decided to try again. I made up a story about the blazer being for a “theatrical production” (Shadow Lane being a bit theatrical?), which I’m sure wasn’t at all convincing, but the shop bent a little. They weren’t willing to sell me the blazer I wanted, but let me have a similar blazer, from a school that either isn’t so protective of its image, or that the shop cares about less. I was still slightly deflated — the integrity of the complete uniform would be lost, which for a fetishist like me is significant — but it was a decent compromise. I had something for Vegas.

I’ve been trying to let this side of me out a bit more the last couple of years, and Vegas has been a nice stepping stone in that process. I wore a different uniform to the vendor fair last year, but it wasn’t quite right. I’m not sure why: some pieces didn’t fit properly; my mood wasn’t entirely there, perhaps. This year, I was hoping to make a better stab at it. What uniform means to my kink is complicated. The links to spanking/CP are obvious, but it has its own life and significance for me, that are to do with stripping away a cloak of invisibility — and, hence, the psychological protection that invisibility provides. Uniform is about being seen, and specifically about that part of my personality being seen. Insofar as a six-foot, 280-pound man can be invisible, in my daily life I feel — and probably strive to be — invisible to the people around me; to be unobtrusive, to not draw attention. Uniform is a layer that’s added, in order to reveal. For me, it’s neither age-play, nor role-play. If there’s such a thing as “me-play”, that’s what it is: it’s me playing at being bits of me that don’t come out naturally. And since it’s about being seen, what better place than around hundreds of people in the ballroom of a Vegas hotel?

Another reason for wanting to present myself in this way was to strike a small, token blow for male submissiveness at Shadow Lane. There are plenty of submissive (and switchy) men there, but very few are willing to present in that way — and even fewer so overtly. The party itself isn’t unfriendly towards /M, but the public tone tends very much towards M/F, with anything else hidden in suite parties. I liked the idea that I might draw some eyes; that some men who saw me might wish they were dressed in a similar way — or their own equivalent — and feel empowered to do that later. For someone with plenty of body image issues, who is anything but an exhibitionist, this was a strange brew.

So: how was it? With the caveat that this was still Vegas, where hyper-reality is the norm, I felt comfortable, and normal. I felt like me. Mostly, it was easy — which surprised me. I did feel very visible, and that was okay. Did I feel submissive? Not especially — the connection between uniform and submissiveness remains tangled. If the right hand had taken me by the ear to a corner, or across their lap, I’d probably have gone willingly; but that wasn’t especially the goal, and it didn’t need to happen for the experience to be complete. (I managed not to have any pictures taken at the party, so find some selfies below.)


After about a decade and a half of doing this, more and more I feel like I’m barely starting to figure a lot of it out — and I suspect that’s the way it should be. My kink feels more balanced and flexible now — less dependent on play working in a particular way, or having a huge significance for someone’s life. I’m getting better at being ethically selfish in play. I’m also moving towards realising that bottoming, for me, is about submitting to being passive and quietly obedient — which I’ve always seen as making me a terrible play partner, and tried to deny because of that, but I can’t really choose what I have to work with. A small scene with a friend at the start of the year even helped me to let down the barriers to pain that make me instinctively tense and resist during play, and find a better place for it. Another one of those baby steps.

*Yes, I know who it was.

Can You Fuck If You Don’t Fuck?

A couple of months ago, Gloria Brame wrote a short piece on her blog about the relationship between BDSM and orgasm, suggesting that there’s been a historical (mis-)perception that BDSM play is far more non-sexual than it actually is — mostly because the public face of BDSM has avoided portrayals of sex for legal and protocol-y reasons. Fair enough. The piece then headed in a direction that struck me as a huge leap:

But the reason we DO BDSM in the first place is because it turns us on, and with the right partner, we are going to cum and cum again and then some more. If you’ve never had orgasmic sex WITH your BDSM, you just don’t know what you’re missing.

A couple of things bothered me about this. The first is the projection (“with the right partner, we are going to cum and cum again and then some more”) of what might well be a common experience, but definitely isn’t universal. (Aside: Can we be done already with the idea that “cum” is a word that belongs in anything remotely serious? Merriam-Webster, which is as loosely descriptive a dictionary as they come, doesn’t even recognise it. If you want a word that’s informal, “come” is plenty informal already. And Brame is a sexologist.) The second is the slightly smug, slightly patronising, certainly essentialist attitude towards someone who doesn’t mix BDSM with sex (“you just don’t know what you’re missing”). From someone who’s written widely about kink, it’s surprising and unhelpful. I hammered out a self-righteous comment:

Saying that “If you’ve never had orgasmic sex WITH your BDSM, you just don’t know what you’re missing” feels a bit one-true-way. There are plenty of people out there who practise BDSM without sex, and aren’t missing anything. Your wording implies that their position comes from being blinkered, or inexperienced, and that strikes a bad note here.

Brame’s reply didn’t help much:

OK, then, let me put it this way: if you are into orgasms, and you are into BDSM, combining them is a peak experience.

I’m a sexologist. I see everything as sexual. Especially BDSM. I am open to hearing from people like you [who] don’t combine BDSM and sex. I guess my first question to you is why? Or, rather, why not?

(If all you have is a hammer….) Again, this is a faulty projection of a personal preference and experience onto the universal. I tried to explain:

“If you are into Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, and you are into boeuf bourguignon, combining them is a peak experience.” That’s facetious, but it does capture how distinct orgasms and BDSM are for me, and how adding two things I like together might subtract, rather than add.

I do like orgasms. My sexuality might be weird, but I’m not asexual. But orgasms are a solitary thing for me; I need/want to be entirely inside my own head, and alone. BDSM play (which for me is part head play, part impact play), on the other hand, is about connection with another. And I’m not denying myself sexual pleasure during BDSM — it genuinely isn’t on my mind either during or after play. What there is instead is a buzz, and a calm, and a connection, that for me hugely surpasses the junky hit of an orgasm. If an orgasm for me is the Creme Egg, BDSM play is the boeuf bourguignon, and they don’t mix.

I have no idea if this helps. It’s as obvious to me as mixing sex and BDSM is to you, so it’s hard to describe well. My bristling was at the idea that sexual BDSM is for everyone, and if they don’t feel that way, they just need their eyes opened. Society bombards us with images of normative sex all the time, and kink should be about being aware and understanding of the different.

Brame’s reply to this (of which the following is just an extract) was better, but still betrayed a certain bafflement with non-sexual BDSM:

For those who sexualize BDSM (which is what I was referring to), the experience of orgasm mixed with BDSM as the ultimate sensual pleasure is what many of us do feel. For those who come to BDSM for other reasons, I can only suppose it’s a more visceral thrill.

Adding “[f]or those who sexualize BDSM” is a big help here. That’s where the exchange ended, so I’m not sure whether Brame really, truly gets people for whom BDSM is non-sexual, or if she was just being accepting (“I can only suppose”) of what I was claiming for myself. (I should clarify here, because “non-sexual” for me might well not even be the same as “non-sexual” for someone else. “Non-genital”, or “non-orgasmic”, might be more helpful. For example, anal play might be sexual as hell for someone else, but it’s well within what I’d think of for myself as “non-sexual”. It’s not an essential part of my kink, but it’s there, and when it happens it involves neither genital contact (much less penetration), nor sexual arousal.) Also: more visceral than sexual pleasure? All of this is visceral; that’s why it’s hard to communicate.

This stuff bothers me for a couple of reasons. I know I’m not the only person out there for whom BDSM play isn’t sexual, and I’d like to think that non-sexual BDSM can be promoted by people with kink clout as potentially fulfilling and complete, and not as flawed or (maybe worse) immature.

But it also taps into what I suspect is a genuine insecurity that sex in fact is the “ultimate sensual pleasure”, and that my lack of interest in sex makes that pleasure inaccessible. More than that: that there’s a profound connection and intimacy to be had from the sex act — because, I suppose, of millions of years of reproductive hard-wiring — that I’m incapable of feeling, and that the connection with a play-partner I feel through non-sexual BDSM play can only ever be a pale imitation of that. I’m not sure I do actually believe that’s the case, but when accounts such as Brame’s present sex as the ne plus ultra of human experience, there’s a nagging doubt; and there’s no shortage of reinforcement of that idea in both popular culture and kink narrative. BDSM play is all well and good, but in an ideal world it’s only really preparation for the climactic fuck, which is where the story ends.

If I don’t accept that position — if I believe, or hope, that the full range of both personal pleasure and interpersonal connection is accessible to me through non-sexual BDSM — then it’s worth considering how the conventions and language of sex might map onto non-sexual BDSM. If non-sexual BDSM is the extent of my sexuality, does that mean that all BDSM play is, for me, sex? If it is, it casts the play in a very different, unsettling light. If it isn’t, then which play is sex, and which isn’t? Is some of the play fucking? Can I fuck, if I don’t, you know, fuck?

Tears are sometimes described as a quasi-orgasm in spanking/discipline play. The mutual trust of real-life punishment might lay claim to being an analogue of fucking. And the endorphin rush of a heavy impact scene has a similar effect of transportation. But these are arbitrary, and vary from person to person. More appealing is to suggest that what’s important is the shared intimacy and intensity of experience, no matter what shape the play has. This has the curious effect, though, of pointing out that we don’t assess sex in the same way — though perhaps we should. Sex on a hardcore porn shoot is still sex, though the participants might not be emotionally connected. A loveless fuck is still a fuck. If “sex” is deemed to be one of a set of specific and finite acts, no matter how intensely the participants feel, should we hold non-sexual BDSM play to a higher standard, in which emotional connection is necessary?

An interesting, unsettling corollary of the notion that some, but not all, non-sexual BDSM play is analogous to sex, is that “sex” for one partner might not be sex for the other. Separated from a specific physical act, understood by both participants, the notion of sex is entirely personal, and asymmetric. This obviously has all sorts of interesting social complications.

So. Can I fuck if I don’t fuck? I suppose so. I hope so. I certainly aspire to the intensity of personal experience and intimate connection that’s traditionally ascribed to conventional sex, and I hope the toolbox my brain has provided me with allows me to get there. It’s the sex itself I can do without.

Watching Xanadu

A short story from a couple of years ago, which was initially published in a collection entitled “The Spanking Collection” — and which you can still find at iTunes,, Amazon,, and other places. Use the links below to download the story as a PDF file, or for your e-reader. Right-click (Windows) or control-click (Mac) for various download options. Please let me know if you have any problems with the files.

Watching Xanadu | Download as PDF (63 KB) | Download for Kindle/mobi (65 KB) | Download for Nook/ePub (12 KB)

In Defence of Secretary (again)

[This was written as a comment on a blog post by Greta Christina, but it seemed worth posting here, not least because I’ve written something like it three or four times before, and if I have it here I can just point.]

I’d like to say something in defence of Secretary, because I think it’s wildly kink-positive, and that “their brokenness is intimately tied in with their kink” is a mis-reading. The characters are (start off) broken and damaged, but I don’t think the film suggests that’s because of kink. They’re damaged-and-kinky, not damaged-because-kinky, or kinky-because-damaged. And it’s a drama. If you’re going to portray kinky people in a drama, they’re going to have to be flawed and have issues. What you hope is that the drama doesn’t link flawed and kinky causally, and I honestly think that Secretary doesn’t do that. In fact — and maybe uniquely — it does much better than that: it shows the characters becoming stronger as they become more aware of and comfortable with their kinks.

The film makes pretty clear that Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character is being slowly fucked up by her family. The cutting is about her taking control of her life when her family situation allows her no control. That’s entirely separate from kink — to the extent that the cutting disappears as she takes control of her life in other ways, and discovers herself through kink. It’s entirely right to argue that most portrayals of kink in popular culture are awful, but it’s a mistake always to read causality in the characters, or intentionality in the writing, because we’re so used to seeing it.

The connection between James Spader’s character’s fucked-up-ness and kink is a bit more complicated, but I don’t think it reflects badly. To the extent that he’s fucked up by kink, it’s not his kinkiness that does that job, but his insecurity about it. That’s actually very real, and makes his character sympathetic (to me, at least). Again, this brokenness disappears as he becomes more aware of and comfortable with his kink. It’s very hard to read that as anything other than kink-positive. It does portray someone for whom kink is — at least at first — massively conflicted and challenging, but I like that. It’s interesting, and certainly reflects my experience of being a man coming to terms with reconciling M/F dominant feelings with feminism. I’d probably have some qualms about a man in that situation who didn’t find that there were some emotional rocks on the road. Too much kink writing portrays two-dimensional dominant partners as monolithically in control and sure of themselves. Spader’s character finds a nice balance between that and a Fifty Shades wanker.

Being kink-positive is great, and, yes, there could be a lot more of that in popular culture, but in a drama it’s just not especially interesting. I’d much rather have drama that explores the challenges of kink — especially in the context of a society where kink is so stigmatised. So long as it doesn’t link kink and character flaw causally, recognising that kinky people are just as fucked up as the rest of society is great. Damaged-and-kinky is how most of us are, isn’t it?

Rosa et Sorbus

A new story, that I’ve been working on, in some form, for about a dozen years. Usually I have some idea if I think a piece of writing of mine is any good or not. This, I genuinely have no idea. I think there are some good things in it, but whether the whole thing hangs together or not, you’ll have to decide for yourselves. It’s not sexually explicit (nor explicit in any other way, really), but some bad things happen that might be triggers, so be careful.

It was written, in the end, using the brilliant Scrivener, which also was used to generate the Kindle/mobi and Nook/ePub versions. I’ve opened those in previewers, and they look okay, but I don’t have an e-reader, so if there are issues with those versions, please let me know and I’ll try to fix them. My e-mail address is in the column on the left.

Download the complete story below. Right-click (Windows) or control-click (Mac) on the links for various download options.

Rosa et Sorbus | Download as PDF (162 KB) | Download for Kindle/mobi (199 KB) | Download for Nook/ePub (47 KB)

More Discrimination by HarbeJoe Marketing/

A lot of the hits this blog gets come from people Googling, or having problems with using and looking for help, and landing on a post of mine from a couple of years ago. This always makes me happy, because there’s a chance that some of them might (some; might) read a little about that site’s discrimination against M/M content. I don’t imagine many minds are changed, but it can’t do any harm.

So. I’m hoping that this post might do something similar with regard to, a new site started recently by HarbeJoe Marketing LLC, the company behind both that and — among many others. (What was that URL, you ask? Was it Yes, that’s right,

I took a look at the boilerplate beneath the surface of today, actually feeling optimistic that it might describe policies more enlightened than those of In some ways the spanking/CP scene is more explicitly gendered than the wider BDSM scene, so I’d imagined that this new site might be designed to provide a more egalitarian space. In fact, its policies with regard to sexual orientation are much worse. Where does allow M/M content, but ghettoises it into its own section, and omits it from the most significant site searches, keeping it from all but the most determined users, explicitly disallows all M/M content completely. Its FAQ couldn’t be clearer:

6. Male Videos are not allowed on

Though this detail is buried very deep, and the site’s description of itself appears open to and welcoming of all orientations: was created to let users upload BDSM and Fetish Videos and Photos and share them with the world. We also wanted to give Adult Producers a place to publish their free movies and advertise their content.

We specialize in bringing you the best in BDSM and Fetish Videos. – Your source for free BDSM Videos, Femdom Videos, Spanking Videos, Bondage Videos, Rope Videos, Sex and Submission Videos, Domestic Discipline Videos, Slave Videos, Breast Play Videos, Foot Fetish Videos, Strap-on Video, Strapon Videos, Machines Fucking Machine Videos, Device Videos, Women Wrestling Videos, Face Sitting Videos, CBT Videos, Cock and Ball Torture Videos, BDSM Videos and Photos Movies Stories, Movies, Films, Clips. From sensual to severe, OTK, Over the Knee, strappings, paddlings, hairbrush spankings, whipping, flogging, caning, corporal punishments, domestic discipline, fem/dom, exclusive spankings, and more!

Did you catch the mention there of M/M content being disallowed? No, nor did I. and currently share a great deal of both content and advertisers, which suggests that one of the reasons for creating the new site — other than simply to widen the scope of advertisers beyond those who provide spanking/CP content — might be to basically double the revenue from the same streams. That would be a sharp practice, but the ethics of running a business which provides a service that discriminates based on sexual orientation are much murkier.

Whether HarbeJoe Marketing LLC discriminates based on personal conviction or prejudice, or fears of a business damaged by the prejudices of others — and I never did get a reply to either of two e-mails I sent them two years ago — isn’t really relevant. Legal jurisdictions notwithstanding — and goodness I’m not a lawyer — a rough parallel with the owners of a British B&B who lost a civil case brought against them by a gay couple whom they’d refused to accommodate doesn’t seem too far fetched.

In any event, maybe consider not dealing with this shitty company?


#tinyspankingstory “Not white,” she said. “You start with grey.” I changed, slowly. “Good.” A finger in my collar, pulling. “Come with me.”

#tinyspankingstory 7pm, I told them both, separately. Deadbolt the door as soon as you get in. Ignore any knocks. I lay out the cane; bend.

#tinyspankingstory “One, thank you sir!” “Two, thank you sir!” “Three, thank you sir!” “Sir?” I sighed. The machine readied the next stroke.

#tinyspankingstory By the Rosetta Stone, schoolchildren everywhere.

In my ear: “Aren’t you a bit old for that uniform, miss?”

“No, ma’am.”

There Is No Bus

I’m writing this partly to think aloud about something that’s been churning around in my head since last weekend at Shadow Lane, but I’m concerned that if I write it well enough so that I’m not misunderstood it’s going to be mostly caveats. Because what this is about is a wonderful, joyous thing, which nevertheless gets under my skin in a bad way, and I’m not sure why. I really, really don’t want to even indirectly imply that there’s anything wrong with it, but I do want to explore some of the reasons why it jars for me — hopefully the thoughts will have some usefulness, if only for me.

I’m reminded somewhat of this piece I wrote a while ago about the layers of consent in BDSM/CP play, and how they’re different. The aim of that piece was to champion the idea of a bit more explicit negotiation in CP play. The issue that’s in my mind now is similar, but comes from the other direction: the flirty negotiation that’s quite prevalent in CP circles, which — and this is the essence of it — plays with non-consent, or semi-consent, makes me uncomfortable to be around.

To be clear, my discomfort doesn’t come from misunderstanding what’s going on, and thinking that there’s any absence of consent — although I do have a teeny tiny concern that inexperienced attendees in that sort of party environment might not be aware of the tacit layering that’s going on, or think that the encoded flirting is an expected protocol. But, no, the issue isn’t lack of consent; it’s much more to do with how consent is performed, especially in public.

The flirty male-top metaphor that I always tend to reach for is “moustache-twirling”, but the game involves participants of all genders and orientations. A metaphor in common use at Shadow Lane, and among the attendees in other mediums, is “throwing under the bus”, which serves as code for getting someone else into trouble. Or, rather, into “trouble”, trouble itself being an encoded form of showing desire to play. There is, of course, no bus, just as there’s no real trouble — absent a real-life punishment relationship, but that’s not the sort of thing I’m talking about here.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of the dance that this sort of flirting represents. It’s light, and fun, and playing with the idea of non-consent can be really powerful and resonant. Even without the frame of a clearly-defined, consented-to scene, within which non-consent can fly freely, it’s not the case that there isn’t a frame of consent. The frame is just defined differently, with a more implicit protocol — but no less a protocol for being implicit — of back and forth signals. And it’s a very easy way into play for people who want to just dip a gentle toe in.

So why should it bother me? Why would I have found myself at one point over the weekend having to bite my tongue to stop myself snapping at a roomful of people having great, flirty fun, that if they wanted to play with person X, they didn’t have to pretend that, Oh No!, they’d said something inappropriate and would have to be punished. Or whatever. They could, you know, just say that they wanted to play. What a fucking killjoy. (And, yes, I do see that removing the flirting would be removing an important part of the play itself.)

I don’t know why. It’s a visceral reaction, and because of that hard to poke around in. Some possibilities that I’ve considered:

Because I very rarely play publicly, and prefer to both negotiate and play in private, the teasing, flirting party protocol is a bit alien, and because of that creates a space that I don’t feel that I quite fit in — analogous to being in a space where everyone else is speaking a language I don’t understand, or following some protocol that hasn’t been revealed to me.

I don’t particularly enjoy feeling like an audience for other people’s play. If I know play is coming, I can choose whether to be around it or not. But play which occurs spontaneously — as is typically the case with flirty play — can change the mood of a room in a second, taking attention away from whatever was happening, or being discussed, and turning everyone into a perhaps-unwilling audience. When play can begin at any moment, there’s a quite different atmosphere in a room, a heightened tenseness that works (for me) against quiet and relaxed discussion.

In general, I much prefer to be clear with others what I want, and hope that they feel able to be clear with me. I react to encoded requests — even those which are intended to be politer or gentler by way of the encoding — with annoyance, frustration, and a kind of passive-aggressive deliberate refusal to understand. This reaction might well translate to a CP setting, where encoding is perhaps even more part of the protocols of negotiation than in daily life.

Finally (and it’s only finally because I’m stopping here, and not because I probably couldn’t come up with other potential explanations), I wonder if, despite every caveat and qualification I’ve included above, I react viscerally to the use of protocols which seem to imply that it’s possible for person X to “deserve” some sort of consequence for this action, or those words, because they do on some buried level echo social structures in which that cause and effect would in fact have been the norm. This might be especially the case for M/F play, which is dominant at Shadow Lane. Maybe.

Okay. That’s enough digging a hole for myself. In the end, the moral here isn’t anything other than that I should be aware of how I react in certain situations, and avoid them a bit better. Aside from anything else, no-one’s play is improved by having a cranky Paul about the place.


To the list of tech stuff that I’ve been around to see both the beginning and the end of (VHS, Concorde, the Space Shuttle…), I can add something that’s a bit more personal: kink on Usenet; specifically, the Usenet group soc.sexuality.spanking (SSS), and its predecessor (ASS). I hope I’m wrong about seeing the end, but it’s hard to summon up a great deal of optimism.

My first sight of ASS, in the early ’90s, was magical but sporadic, through a string-and-sealing-wax web-interface to Usenet running on a server in the Czech Republic — my only ‘net access at the time being through my work, a place with liberal attitudes and an early installation of Mosaic. I posted a little, under a hastily-chosen pseudonym, but there were gaps. Reliable access came later, with my move to a university system, and I ended up being part of the group that huddled together in long and emotional negotiation of the formal proposal for the creation of SSS — whose place as the very first sexually-oriented group in any of the “big-8” Usenet hierarchies made it a political issue far wider than its own remit.

And then, off-and-on (but mostly on) for the last 14 years, I’ve been one of the moderators of SSS, the last few as its technical bod, responsible for keeping everything working smoothly. Add to that thousands of postings over the years, including original fiction posted there first of all; the creation of friendships, including a long-term relationship; annual short-story contests; the loss of friendships to untimely death; and spam, and trolls, and many, many ferocious arguments.

But now, for reasons too many to enumerate, Usenet is being slowly forgotten, and my own ability to give it time and energy has more or less gone. A couple of days ago I posted my intention to resign from the job, and that post itself has echoed in a bit of a void, which tells its own story.

For a while I had pipe-dreamish plans to build a nifty web-interface to the group that would help pervs new to the ‘net both to find the group — “Can you give me the web address of the group?” being an understandable but frustrating and impossible-to-answer question that we frequently encountered — and to interact with it in a way that wasn’t so far from their experience of web == ‘net. But even if I had the time for that sort of work, it’s likely too late. Even with a spiffy new front-end, Usenet can’t really compete for the attention of users used to Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and Fetlife and on and on.

All of this seems a shame, since the bones of Usenet are still extremely strong. It’s a bomb-proof, self-owned system, more or less as impossible to shut down as the ‘net itself. Those features aren’t any less important now than they were when Usenet was something like the only game in town for global discussion. Being dropped by some large ISPs — notably AOL, though at the time an AOL in decline — wounded Usenet a little, but it has the ability of Python’s Black Knight to not care much about losing a limb.

I do still have some pipe dreams. I can imagine a social media system which used Usenet as its distribution layer — SSS for textual content, ABPES (or somesuch) for image content — hidden below an application layer that could run on thousands of servers across the world, packaging together text and image content into a rich user experience that made use of Usenet’s strengths while accepting that its geeky weaknesses are a serious barrier to new users these days. It would be owned by no-one, just as Usenet is owned by no-one, with distributed management of independent, non-commercial nodes.

In the end, I think I probably stuck around on Usenet for too long. Notwithstanding the fact that finding replacement moderators was flagged as a problem even a decade ago, causing my reluctance to leave, for at least a few years my input to the group has been token and joyless, and perhaps even drained my ability to experience the kink as a source of plain fun. Turning one’s sexual self into an administrative drone will do that. But I’m nonetheless glad that I had the opportunity to help in the building of what was genuinely a community — social media before anyone had thought to call it that.

Now, though, I’m trying to re-learn that enjoying kink isn’t something to do once the spammers have been dealt with, or in-between flame wars, and that it’s not an indulgence — at least, not a bad indulgence — to see kink as pure personal expression, rather than something that’s primarily a worthy community-building imperative.

Just have to get rid of this damn job.

Grounding Consent

One way in which my approach to kink is closer to (what we stereotypically think of as) the BDSM way of doing things, rather than (what we stereotypically think of as) the spanking/CP way of doing things, is that I’m much happier with clear and explicit negotiation and consent. I don’t mean to imply by that that negotiation and consent are necessarily lacking in the spanking/CP community, but the style is generally more informal and — and this is the key point here — more flirty. It’s not hard to see how this came to be the case: BDSM play is typically more planned, more structured, and more abstract; spanking/CP play can tend that way too, but its most accessible form bleeds very easily into/from non-kink activity. Someone who turns their partner over their knee for a spontaneous hand-spanking for being pesky isn’t necessarily doing BDSM; someone playing with Japanese rope-work pretty much necessarily is. So (what we stereotypically think of as [and that’s the last time I’m saying this; feel free to add it yourself in the following]) BDSM activity both has greater need for a more planned, formal approach, and has naturally developed such an approach.

In an earlier post, I characterised a common spanking/CP way of negotiation of consent by analogy with two modems following the handshake protocols by which a connection between them is established:

Person #1: *pours water on Person #2* [Hello! I’d like it if you spanked me! Is that okay?]
Person #2: “Do that again, miss, and there’ll be trouble.” [That would be fine, but I’d like to confirm I have your consent.]
Person #1: *pours more water* [This is confirmation that I want you to spank me, and am giving my consent.]
Person #2: “Come here!” [Your consent has been received!]
Person #1: “Ouch! I’m being spanked by you!”
Person #2: “I’m spanking you!”

The part of that analogy that’s relevant here isn’t the back-and-forth, but the fact that the human protocols involve encoding of the negotiation as subtext. The surface form of flirting carries embedded within it a request for consent, a giving of consent, and an acknowlegement that consent has been agreed. That approach can work, and often does — though is liable to be broken, with nasty consequences, if and when appreciation of the subtext is poor — but I find I’m not drawn to it. I like the clarity and honesty of clear consent.

What that doesn’t mean, however, is that I’m not into flirting. I just want the whole process to be grounded somewhere; to bring in another analogy, I want the logical deductions to be grounded by really clear and solid axioms. In order to feel free to flirt — never mind to play — I want to know that such flirting is consented to, and what the ground rules are. Without going into Jay Wiseman-ish fetishisation of the very process of negotiation, I suppose I want to know that I’m not being a pushy and tedious and inappropriate asshole.

This was clarified for me by something I wrote in an e-mail to a friend a few days ago:

There’s definitely such a thing as consent for flirting, over and above consent for play. What I think a lot of spankos do is negotiate the consent for flirting by flirting, which gets a bit messy. Much better to basically give explicit consent for flirting, and then one can be a lot more playful, knowing that it’s completely welcome/reciprocated.

The part of the process, then, that I missed out from the modem negotiation analogy, is that flirting in the spanking/CP world is often not yet encoded negotiation for play, but actually encoded negotiation for the act of flirting itself. We flirt in order to find out whether flirting is okay, hopefully reading responses appropriately and calibrating onwards from there. (I will note in passing only that such reading of responses in this situation often doesn’t go as planned.) This, again, bleeds into/from non-kink life. Young people discovering whether they’re into each other don’t ask for permission to flirt, they just dive in head-first, and damn the consequences.

It’s clearly the case that many people much prefer this approach, and see explicit negotiation as numbing of their desires — insofar as they even consider that there’s an alternative to flirting in order to request implied consent for flirting. The effect is one of ungrounded consent pulling itself up by its bootstraps. The BDSM tenet of more formally negotiatied consent is clearly an abstracted construct on top of the natural social interaction, but I find I’m much happier in the space created by explicit consent to flirt. What happens from there onwards can be flirty as hell, but it’s grounded by the knowledge that both people are inhabiting more or less the same conceptual space. It feels liberating, rather than restrictive. Can we have a bit more of it, maybe?