May 15, 2013 § § link
[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?
April 18, 2013 § § link
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.
The first section of the story follows. You’ll need to download the rest. Hope you enjoy.
Rosa et Sorbus
Sometimes the name of a boy, is just boy. It was all he had ever been called, so it served, though in fact he turned at once toward the calling of any name, to save his backside should he be the one required.
The scullery maids, in their own way, loved him, perhaps as the child they would never have. It was also the love of familiarity. He was always there, somewhere, if not working up a sweat with huge trays, pots and pans, then getting under their busy feet as he snaffled bits of grub like a ravenous ghost. More recently he’d taken to sitting at the tiny window gazing upwards into space, an activity which had earned him more than one skelping already.
He’d grown up as the maids’ odd charge in the kitchens which fired the castle’s belly. They roused him in the morning with a plate of fried bacon and toasted bread — which, to be sure, would have to keep him going through the day besides what he could steal. They covered his curled body as it lay sleeping under the window in the quiet hours. Between, they worked him hard. But then they all worked hard. And, though they were not slow to lift him across their laps and apply a work-hardened hand or wooden spoon to his bared bottom when he was careless or lazy, still they busied themselves with loud, unnecessary jobs when the steward took him by the ear to his rooms to be strapped. His howls made them cry. His wide blue eyes seemed as deep as the sea, Luisa, the small, dark one who had grown up in the mountains of the north was fond of saying. Most of the others had not seen the sea, but they somehow understood all the same. They came to imagine the sea to be as deep as the boy’s eyes.
Though it was an occasional subject for tired, rambling speculation in the quietened kitchens once the castle had been put to bed, no-one seemed to be able to remember a time when the boy hadn’t been around. His being there was just how things were. And, they concluded each time, they would not have things any other way.
He listened to their conversation this time, comforted by its familiarity, and by their presence. This was all he knew, but that did not mean that he was unaware of other possibilities. His bed, such as it was, allowed him to look upwards toward the castle towers which it seemed must pierce the sky, bring it tumbling down like a piece of torn blue cloth. The highest tower of all was dark, but in the tower below that a light still shone. From that window, down and down and down to his, a sound came, a rhythm dimmed but not diminished by distance, a slow, deliberate thrashing of leather against bare flesh. He listened, waiting for it to end, which it finally did. He listened still, waiting for an aftermath of tears. As usual, it did not come.
Download the complete story:
Rosa et Sorbus | PDF (162 KB) | Kindle/mobi (199 KB) | Nook/ePub (47 KB)
November 26, 2012 § § link
A lot of the hits this blog gets come from people Googling Spankingtube.com, or having problems with using Spankingtube.com 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 Punished.net, a new site started recently by HarbeJoe Marketing LLC, the company behind both that and Spankingtube.com — among many others. (What was that URL, you ask? Was it Punished.net? Yes, that’s right, Punished.net.)
I took a look at the boilerplate beneath the surface of Punished.net today, actually feeling optimistic that it might describe policies more enlightened than those of Spankingtube.com. 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 Spankingtube.com 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, Punished.net explicitly disallows all M/M content completely. Its FAQ couldn’t be clearer:
6. Male Videos are not allowed on Punished.net.
Though this detail is buried very deep, and the site’s description of itself appears open to and welcoming of all orientations:
Punished.net 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. Punished.net – 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.
Spankingtube.com and Punished.net 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?
November 14, 2012 § § link
#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?”
September 6, 2012 § § link
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.
October 13, 2011 § § link
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 alt.sex.spanking (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.
September 25, 2011 § § link
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?
August 30, 2011 § § link
Well, hello there kinky reader. (And also hello there potentially-kinky-but-not-quite-sure reader.) How does helping to cure cancer by reading 250 pages of high-class smut sound? You with me? Good. Abel & Haron of the Spanking Writers have put together a collection of original spanking fiction by twenty of their favourite authors, including both of them, Pandora, Zille, Serenity, Graham, Casey, and lots of others. Go to their site to get the full details.
Yes, there’s also a story by me in there, “Watching Xanadu”. I don’t want to say too much about it, except that I think it feels to me to be quite dark and edgy. It’s spun from scraps of reality, and this song, but isn’t real, and it’s definitely not fantasy. It contains the words “fucking”, “cosplay”, and “knee-socks”, and might just involve @xan_a_duu and @S_T_Coleridge. To find out more you’ll have to buy the collection. I’ve read all of the stories, and apart from being high-class smut, it’s a brilliant demonstration of how diverse our kink can be. The stories come from all sorts of directions and perspectives.
All of the proceeds are going to Cancer Research UK, so clearly you need to buy a copy for all of your friends as well. You can get very-nicely-printed-and-bound copies at Lulu, and Kindle copies at Amazon. Go to Abel & Haron’s blog to see the other options.
July 15, 2011 § § link
I don’t come either to praise or to bury them — not least because I count myself among their number — but to acknowledge the existence of, and characterise in a very low-rent amateur psychology sort of way, a generation of men in the kink who, due to temporary and never-to-be-repeated circumstances, are more than usually fucked up.
The men I’m talking about are those whose traditional period of sexual and emotional development — basically, puberty and adolescence – occurred before the popularisation of the Internet, but who then landed in a post-popular-Internet world in young adulthood or middle age with desires and skills that suddenly had a place and a value, but without the hardening and emotional maturity of years of relationship beginnings and endings when those would normally have occurred.
It’s probably bizarre to the point of Four-Yorkshiremen-sketch quaintness how meagre the scraps available to pre-’net kinksters were — at least those with a measure of insecurity or introversion sufficient to keep them from the small, secret, metropolitan underground. For most, the experience was of differentness and isolation, with no particular expectation of that situation changing. At best, there might have been unfulfilling vanilla sex — society’s pressures to conform being pretty strong — and clumsy fumblings towards BDSM. At worst, vanilla sex not being interesting or fulfilling at all, the engine which powers adolescent connection never really got going, and the result was a turning inwards. In any event, the exploration and maturation of what they were really into was retarded, delayed, postponed, perhaps indefinitely. Crucially, not only were idiosyncratic BDSM desires not explored and understood, but the basic social grammar of relationship management wasn’t learned by direct experience. Crushes were distant, and hearts didn’t get used to being broken and put back together again by the next fling.
For previous generations, this situation was just how it was, and for most entailed a settling into an incomplete but safe relationship, perhaps with an illicit cherry on the side. The Internet changed all of that, offering education, kinship, and the possibility of a complete and fulfilling expression of kink. And so a generation of kinky men launched themselves into a brave new world in which their desires fit, and were valued, with raging hormones and long-held fantasies, but little in the way of relationship skills and experience. Being male and middle-aged in this world was/is no particular disadvantage, since father figures are highly sought after — ironically for the experience that many such men conspicuously lack.
All of this is old-hat and uncontroversial, but I’d like to add something that I think is a key aspect of the dynamic. Many kinky men whose sexual and emotional development was pre-Internet, but whose expression of kink is post-Internet, missed the learning curve that ought to have come with normal relationship patterns, but they also missed something else: affirmation of their desirability. And also: absent some pretty expensive therapy and self-awareness work, for many I’m not sure that lack ever goes away. The corollary is to see kink expression as an adult as a search for affirmation that one is desirable; that what one can do, or provide, is cherished and valued.
If the search for affirmation never goes away, how does it express itself? There are lots of ways, I think: men who keep a pseudo harem of partners, for example; or who flit from one bright young thing to the next; or who seek out models as trophy play partners or “interviewees”. In myself I recognise that, curiously but revealingly, I value the fact that someone might express a desire to play with me more than the play itself. The play might be fulfilling, but the expression of desire is affirming. I would rather know that someone I found desirable found me desirable in a kink setting, but we never played, than play with someone for whom the desire wasn’t there in the same way. This might seem self-evident, but it clearly isn’t universal. It’s one reason — in a mess of reasons — why I’m very unlikely to make a first move towards playing with someone: one can have greater trust in the existence of desire if asked to play, than if one’s own request is accepted.
It’s obviously true, but worth reinforcing anyway, that even if any of the above is true, it’s a small part of a complex of emotional issues that men have with kink relationships. But I do think that the pre- and post-Internet aspect of this issue for a specific generation of men is significant. Assuming there’s some validity, is it just kink-related? Probably not, but it’s what I have the greatest experience and visibility of. It seems likely that any emotional or sexual trait which led to a difficulty forming significant relationships during childhood and young adulthood — and a consequent lack of affirmation — but which difficulty was then alleviated by the popularisation of the Internet, would contribute to similar patterns of male fucked-upness.
It’s also worth reinforcing that none of the above is meant to condone being a wanker, just to discuss some of the context. In any event, it won’t be very long before time helps to work this out; pretty soon, “pre-Internet” will go the way of “WWI veteran”, or “Titanic survivor”.
* I’m only talking about men here, partly because I don’t feel qualified to do anything else (and barely even that), and partly because the situation for women is/was somewhat different. For example, a woman launching into a kink world in middle-age is faced with a very different landscape than a man of the same age.
February 9, 2011 § § link
I came to think of myself as a theoretical switch. At Shadow Lane parties, for example, when I’ve deigned to fill in the name-badge orientation bubbles honestly – and didn’t fill them all in, or fill none in, in a petty and self-righteous attempt to deny any categorisation – it’s been “Switch” that I’ve chosen. But it always came with lots of unsaid caveats. And while I’ve pretty much always brought some configuration of school uniform with me, it’s never been used there, and I haven’t ever genuinely expected that it would be. To be clear, my failure to express this side of myself in any significant way is solely down to an inability to find a way through the thicket of insecurities and dissonances and emotional barriers that surround the side of me that sometimes wants/needs to be a spanked and disciplined boy: in short, it’s my shit. This piece is mostly about those insecurities and barriers, but it has a positive conclusion.
Some of the outer layers can be cleared away quite easily. I’m not a masochist. To the extent that kink play involves pain, it’s quite incidental for me. There’s no brain alchemy that translates impact play into arousal, say, or some other pleasing emotional state. I did play once – documented elsewhere – where the scene was more or less context-free impact play, and it was heavy enough that the endorphin after-rush from the physical effects was a happy, druggy glow, but the ratio of hurt to happy was far too high for it to be anything more in my life than an interesting learning experience. It turned out to be a endurance test with a nice little payoff, but an endurance test nonetheless. What this means in practice is that impact play on its own is an empty and frustrating experience for me. Some pain in the right context is a consistent part of the deal – though the symbolism of kink is important, kink shouldn’t be only symbolic – and it’s the context that matters.
Nor am I a role-player. This might seem inconsistent with talk of school uniforms and being a “spanked boy”; if it still seems that way by the end of this piece, it means I’ve failed to explain how my head works. In many ways I regret that role-play is so alien to me. It’s an endlessly mutable form which allows all manner of interaction. My kink often feels quite narrow, and wouldn’t be hurt if it had access to that range of expression. Nor would it be hurt by the bonds of shared experience that role-play can provide; I’m aware of the fact that my kink feels somewhat alienating even from the community of friends and acquaintances around me – rather than something that brings me closer to them. Much as I might rue the fact, it’s nevertheless true that role-play – for me – doesn’t seem like a different path, so much as the right path but in the other direction. If the goal is for kink to be resonantly personal, isn’t it missing the point to start by putting on a mask?
It might make sense to see me as an anti-role-player, because – and we’re getting rid of some more of the thicket here – the reason it seems so unhelpful to express kink by putting on masks is that I’ve lived my whole life with masks of my own, and don’t need any more. My weaknesses and vulnerabilities have always been protected – or numbed, if you like – behind a reassuringly thick carapace, which is extremely hard to lower, and which I’m not about to even try to lower except in the right place, for the right person. It’s about control, of course: control of myself, control of my emotions, and also control of what I allow of myself to be seen by others. Almost nothing coming in doesn’t get dampened and intellectualised until there’s nothing raw left. And almost nothing going out doesn’t get checked and checked again to make sure that it’s really what I want to say, or to show. These are neither healthy nor helpful, of course, but I try to see them as features rather than bugs, both because they’re entirely instinctive, and because they’re not going away. Nor do I honestly want them to go away; they’re as much a part of me as my big nose. What I look to kink to provide is a venue, and a tool-box, to lower the carapace now and again, in a controlled way. This is true when I’m topping – if a top doesn’t make themselves emotionally vulnerable when they play, they’re not doing it right – but it’s especially true of my bottoming desires and fantasies. I see kink as both a way to help reveal the vulnerabilities and insecurities and weaknesses, and then to look after them – honour them, even. Ah, but, one might argue, role-play is another way of doing exactly that! Yes, absolutely. Just not for me.
There are, of course, fears and insecurities about the whole process, some more significant than others. It’s hard not to be aware of the fact that I’m a six-foot, 280-pound, middle-aged man. I don’t, therefore, make an especially convincing schoolboy, even if the accessories are authentic. Nor is a fantasy of being spanked while draped across a disciplinarian’s lap – feet dangling helplessly – necessarily likely to be practical. It’s worth saying a little here about the value of fantasy itself. Chambers provides a definition – “something longed-for but unlikely to happen” – that neatly captures that there are two aspects: that we long for something; but that it’s unlikely to happen. The mistake we too often make in kink is to feel that the goal is to pull the “unlikely to happen” towards the “longed-for”, such that it then becomes realisable, missing that a key purpose of fantasy is to capture the unrealisable and give it a virtual existence in our imaginations. We talk pejoratively about “living in a fantasy world”. If that’s all there is to life, then of course the balance is wrong, but it’s equally lacking in balance to feel that the way to approach fantasy is always with the goal of making it “real”. Perhaps we can make it real – perhaps it’s about the “longed-for”, rather than the “unlikely to happen”. But a crucial reason why something might be unlikely to happen is that it’s literally fantastic: unrealistic, incredible, impossible to realise. We then diminish fantasy by deeming it unfulfilled or incomplete. The trick, I think, is just to recognise the separateness and to value both. I can hold in my head the perfect image of the perfect disciplinarian in the perfect warm cosy study, holding perfectly-manageable me across her lap in my perfect school uniform, spanking me to a Goldilocks just right-ness. I can also muddle through with the real 280-pound me, and the uniform that kinda sorta works, and my awkwardness with impact play, and that can be fine. But I want to hold onto the idea that the latter might not work, and regard the fantasy as undiminished because of that.
A further insecurity concerns a fear of selfishness. I’ve always tried to live my life as self-sufficiently as I can, meeting my own needs as much as possible, and avoiding any imposition on others. I actively dislike being fussed over or served, and I’m generally very uncomfortable being the centre of attention. It’s perhaps a sign of inexperience in the process – as well as the obvious insecurity – but the act of bottoming feels a very selfish one for me to tend towards, and I struggle with that. Submissive men in the scene are often quite blindly selfish and needy. I don’t honestly think that I could behave that way; my actual concern is perhaps that an acute conscious awareness of not wanting to go there might result in an additional perverse reluctance to open up.
But the greatest fear I have with respect to bottoming – both in the sense that it’s the most looming, and the least to do with irrational insecurity – is that I might not be able to feel enough; that all of the instinctive barriers protecting my vulnerabilities might remain in place, and that the process might therefore just fail to get anywhere. Worse than that, I worry about something that I think of as “the hypnotism thing”. Conventional wisdom is that the apparent ability of stage hypnotists to compel their (un)willing subjects to perform bizarre, out-of-character acts is mostly explained by social pressure: they comply because the situation seems to require them to – it would be more awkward not to do what they’re told – and not because they’re under any particular control. The analogue for me would be finding myself in the middle of a scene that was plainly failing to resonate, and going through the motions mechanically. The source of difficulty wouldn’t be an inability to stop things – discomfort caused by lack of a safeword, for example – so much as a vivid emptiness, a sense of sucking at something I would quite like not to suck at. It would hammer home how inaccessible the relevant emotions can be.
Even with my limited experience, I do know that there are some things that help me to lower my defences. Perhaps obviously, perhaps paradoxically (I can’t decide which), being tired creates a mood of openness; not so much tiredness at the end of a long day, as the calm exhaustion that comes from having experienced a period of considerable stress and endured it. Being around the right person clearly is significant, but short of encountering my old French teacher – who seemed to know exactly what was in my head, whom I adored, and the only teacher who ever gave me a detention – in an extremely surprising context, that’s not something I have much direct control of.
Notwithstanding what I’ve said about role-play, the physical trappings of kink are also greatly helpful to me. They might not always be sufficient for resonant play, but they’re necessary. A couple of months ago, after a day of quiet work at home, I went with a urge to try on a pair of (very short) grey school short trousers that I’d nabbed from eBay a couple of months before that, but not yet properly worn – and which still had tags on. They turned out to be a little snug here and there, but no more than that, so I picked out some more pieces – white shirt, grey knee socks, sensible black shoes, brand new schoolboyish M&S white underpants, real school tie, and took ten minutes to see how it all looked and felt. The answer was: good. I tweeted as much, then took everything off and put it away before I was no longer alone in the apartment.
Flash forward a few weeks, and the morning found me putting on the same uniform, although with a little more care this time, for what turned out to be a largely unplanned day of structure and gentle discipline with A. I won’t simply repeat her account here, but I would like to take a couple of points and expand on them.
In her piece, A. talks about the significance of clothing for a scene – dressing the part. That’s just as true for me, but – I’ve come to realise – not for the reasons that one might necessarily assume. If I put on a school uniform, I’m not adopting a different persona or age: despite the obvious associations of the uniform, it’s neither role-play nor age-play. It’s me, wearing a school uniform. Where, then, is the significance? Setting aside the object fetish – the power of which I’m not going to deny, but which isn’t quite the point here – the significance of wearing a uniform, of having to wear a uniform, is in the control of the body. The carapace that I carry around with me day-to-day includes control of my immediate physical space, and how I present myself to the world: notably, what I wear, since that constitutes a big part of what people see. Desire for that control is sufficiently strong that being required to wear something else punches quite a big hole in my psychological defences. The effect is only compounded when what it is that I’m being required to wear is both so radically different from what I choose to wear outside of kink – as anyone who knows me will be very conscious of – and such a clear signifier of someone subject to discipline. My ability to control how I appear to the world is deftly cut off at the knees, because I look – six-foot, 280-pound, 42-year-old Paul Bailey – like a schoolboy. Every movement I make is also a reminder to myself that I’m not in control of my physicality: the stiff collar around my neck; the glaring incongruity of the formality of the school shorts and their embarrassing shortness; the need to keep my knee socks pulled up; all that scratchy polyester. School uniforms might well have been designed for the specific purpose of drawing attention to themselves, both for their wearer and the people around them. This is as powerful an act of submission as I’ve yet encountered for myself.
Surrender/taking of control over my body is also the key to the significance for me of over-the-knee spanking, because it’s the position which enables genuine letting go of physical control. If I were required to bend for a caning, contrariwise, I’d be using the control I still retained in order to comply. Even lying across a bed, or pillows, control is retained, even if it isn’t used. But to completely rest one’s body across the lap of a spanker, feet lifted from the floor, hands perhaps managing to stretch at most for a chair-leg, is to transfer all the control that one has. Obedience and submission are not necessarily the same thing. When A. put me across her knee for a spanking, I tentatively rested all of my weight on her lap, then lifted my school shoes off the floor. She held me.
It wasn’t the perfect moment of fantasy, but it was good. I’ll happily keep the fantasy intact, and experiment with what’s possible for the very imperfect me.