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Convo

I'm having a rather interesting convo over here with a woman named Cindy, who was involved in BDSM and then left. Unlike a lot of "I've SEEN THE HORROR" types around Blogistan, Cindy's been very honest and reasonable about her experiences. I thought I'd capture the convo here.

Cindy, comment 1:

9…

After reading all of the comments here, I’d like to add a private aside to you. I participated in the Phoenix, AZ bdsm community (see APEX…ArizonaPowerEXchange) for close to 5 years. The choice to do so was based on quite a bit of research, and a desire to explore certain aspects of my own sexuality. Many other issues played into that decision.

Most recently, I made another decision to remove myself from that community based upon my experiences, and observations of those living within the context of this ‘lifestyle’. I would agree with one response that said you found the sexual predators who would disguise their desires under the guise of practicing d/s-bdsm when placing your ad on Craigs List. There are far, far too many who would prey upon both male, and female practitioners. I would also add that many seek a return to what they see as a more traditional way of living relationships…patriarchal?…certainly. However, I think some of that is a desire for a simpler, more innocent time, as well…patriarchal issues aside.

There are also large numbers of people involved in this community who have mental health issues. Many claim that the numbers are in line with general society, but seem larger due to the fact that bdsm communities are smaller, sub-groups of society.

BDSM is a practice that involves a chemical change in our chemistry…an increase of adrenalin, and endorphins that will affect the participants in such a manner that they feel ‘high’…stoned…an altered state of reality. I encountered many who were addicted to that ‘high’, needing the next ‘fix’ to assuage their addictions to that chemical change physiologically. As a recovering addict/alcoholic of 25 years, I was ever aware of that potential, myself. There are many in this community who are also clean/sober individuals. As a matter of fact, I was initially quite surprised to find so many…until I exprienced my first bdsm scene, and reached that plateau that they describe as “sub-space”. I get it…at that level, anyway.

My involvement in the bdsm community was, overall, a positive one. I learned an awful lot about myself, personal interactions, and the levels to which so many will wander in order to avoid personal intimacies. Eh…a confusion of what constitutes intimacy is one of the greatest flaws in that community.

I’ve no doubt that you’ve done the research necessary to evaluate one’s involvement in this community. I’m looking forward to reading the remaining elements of your series. For the record…chucklin’ now…I have a triple Masters’ degree in English, Creative Writing, and Women’s Studies from Prescott College…Prescott, AZ. I am a retired high school, and college teacher, a feminist (no, not a ‘radical’ one), a mother, Grandmother, and…well…you get the picture. Just your normal, everyday Jane.

Me, comment 1:

Cindy,

I know you were writing as an aside to 9-2, but I wanted to thank you for being so frank about your experiences, even to the point of mentioning which group you left. Every now and again, I and other people still active in the scene will see someone posting about how she left, saying “I know how it really is”, but rarely saying: “Look, these are the people I was around, this is what they did that I found uncomfortable, and this is why it didn’t suit me any more.”

I really appreciate your being willing to say flat-out that you were in APEX, as well as mentioning that you ran into many different kinds of people, rather than just saying we’re all one way or another way, all subscribe to some theory of what sex or love is like, etc.

If you don’t mind my asking, would you be willing to tell me what you saw that indicated that people were “avoiding intimacy?” Do you just mean that people played casually a lot, or did you see patterns in long-term relationships that troubled you, as well?

Again, thank you for your honesty, and for talking about your experiences in a nuanced, detailed, and careful way.

Cindy, comment 2:

Trinity,

In advance, I’ll apologize for such a long post. I don’t do secrets, and believe if I‘m willing to say something, then I need to be willing to say where, when, and who, as well, or simply keep my mouth shut.

In all honesty, I should have made my comments about APEX, and the “bdsm community” a bit more clear. I moved back to Illinois a little over a year ago, and became involved in the community here, as well…in several towns…in an effort to find a group in which I might feel comfortable. When I say the “bdsm community”, I include all facets within my experience…APEX (and AZ kinksters I know outside of APEX), Illinois groups, and online.

There is certainly quite a bit of casual play, Trinity, but I also saw patterns, and had ‘inside’ peeks at long-term relationships that were troubling, as well. I believe that many in this lifestyle falsely mistake sexual intimacies (whether actual penetrative sex is involved or not) for intimate relationships…issues of patriarchy, and such aside.

One of the things that is promoted vehemently as an almost absolute in bdsm circles is the ability, and need to communicate with one another, to be open about who we are, and what we want from these relationships. There is an arrogance in thinking that we are much more apt, and able to be so than other members of society…the ‘vanilla’ folks. I’ll say up front that I have a great dislike for that term for many reasons, but will use it as a commonly understood distinction. I, personally, don’t compartmentalize my life in such a way. What I observed from the majority is that communication skills within the bdsm community are as lacking, vague, and misdirected, in general, as they are in the vanilla community. The dysfunctions created as a result are probably more damaging than with vanillas because of the betrayal felt as a result of those miscommunications, and an inherent belief that what we do is so much more honest, and open than the general population. I’ll give an example, and please understand that this is only one of many such.

I know a couple who have been married for about 15 years; they’re a poly family. He is dominant, she is also, but submits to him. They both have submissives, and play casually with others, as well. The façade presented to the community is one of unity, near-perfection, openness, honesty, strength, etc…all the qualities that are seen as hallmarks of an open, poly family. They are seen within the community as paragons, examples by which those interested in such relational dynamics should model their own. They give many demos/presentations of their bdsm skills, and poly dynamics.

The reality is that the jealousies experienced amongst the family members are intricately interwoven, which manifests in rather manipulative, dysfunctional behaviors for all concerned. For example, the primary couple have an acknowledged agreement that they will discuss, and integrate new submissives into their family amongst themselves prior to such taking place. Imagine her surprise, well hidden except with friends in private, when she was presented with a new submissive that he had been fostering for some months…unbeknownst to her. All of this is justified as his being the dominant partner, and, therefore, within his right to choose, and do as he pleases within that dynamic…regardless of their agreement. She seethes with resentment, and anger, but does not discuss this with all involved. Ultimately? I don’t see any of them surviving the lack of communication, and openness needed in such a dynamic.

The facades presented are often just that…facades. They are not the reality underlying relationships generally begun with a focal point of bdsm, and little, or no exploration of commonalities beyond those. When the relationships fall apart, there is usually great dismay. When there are no commonalities beyond bdsm, or d/s, what will hold them together within a relational context? What of values, life practices, common likes/dislikes, politics, family, emotional wants/needs, means of interacting relationally, and so on? Rarely have I seen anyone within this community approach a relationship as a relationship, but merely as a means of practicing their kinks. It’s as if the intimacies found within a relationship are after-thoughts when, in fact, they are the glue that will hold the rest together in practice.

I’ve been told that those are ‘vanilla’ values, and morals, which have no place within this community. I’ve also been told that I need to open my mind to the openness by which those in the bdsm community live their lives. I disagree. I see a lack of basic relational foundations (and skills) that, when present, will strengthen a relationship, and when absent, will destroy one. Period. Sexual practices do not build relationships, but this is how they are largely approached within this community. I can only name two relationships that are more well-rounded, and inclusive of all facets of life…they’re strong relationships (one of 20+ years, the other nearly 10 years). Most often, there is a shuffling of partners that continues to move rather rapidly as one relationship ends, and another begins…always with play as the central focal point to who they are as a couple.

It’s been my experience in life (both personally, and through observations) that when any one ‘thing’ becomes a focal point of living, it has the greatest potential of becoming a dysfunction. There needs to be balance in life…a means by which I, as an individual, feed needs/wants on all levels of who I am…not just one aspect. I don’t think I’m unique in that, but hesitate to say this as seeming to say that my way is the right/only way.

As a woman in recovery, involved in yet another community…way of living life…I see similar dysfunctions within that group, as well. I don’t think these are issues that are specific to the bdsm community. I believe it’s a manifestation of a deeper issue that is buried in a very sick society that has come to a point where personal intimacies aren’t the norm. We are, largely, a throw away society, one that wants what it wants when it wants it…immediate gratification. Individuals rush headlong into relationships that have no chance of surviving because they don’t take the time to know potential partners, and see if they are, indeed, mated matches. We have little sense of commitment…long-term. Doesn’t work? Leave it. Doesn’t work? I would ask, “Why?” Is there a true reflection given to the why, and a commitment to self and others to approach things differently so as to meet wants/needs within that context in a healthy way, and not perpetrate further dysfunctional interactions? Not usually.

For me…it’s about balance in life. Again, I really don’t think I’m unique in this, but I also don’t think most people approach life in that manner, either. It’s far easier to surf the surface than to delve more deeply. It also points to an inability to accept personal responsibility, and be accountable for self. Far simpler to say, “He/She just wasn’t right for me” than to look at the why of it, and make changes in self to help one choose a ‘right’ partner.

I often heard, “We know ourselves better within the bdsm community.” Again, I would disagree with that. They are more open about their sexuality than the general population, but there isn’t more depth to most involved beyond that. Many don’t understand why it is they do what they do…what attracts them to bdsm-d/s. It could be as simple as…it just turns them on, or as complex as a nurtured nature that is more dominant, or submissive, and finds great joy in serving from either perspective. “I just am” is a common response. Why are you…just you? Most don’t have a clue.

Largely, from what I observed, the power exchange that takes place within d/s relationships is not a balance of energies as it’s proclaimed, but one in which one is subjugated to another in such a way so as to stifle emotional/mental/spiritual needs while more exclusively feeding the physical. How can there be an exchange when so much of any one part of that dynamic is so stifled? How can there be true intimacy when so much of ourselves, and lives are left out of the communication of who we are?

Anyway…a very long response, and, again, I apologize for that.


Here's my last comment, in moderation for the moment:

Cindy,

No apologies necessary. And again, I disagree with you on several points, but I deeply appreciate both your honesty and your talking realistically, rather than bringing in the Nazis, Pol Pot, the idea that people who aren't where you are need therapy, etc. :)

I too have seen things like what you describe, and I don't like them either. I think the difference is that you seem to ascribe them to people's being kinky, or to people's socializing in kinky circles. I don't -- I think most humans I've met act that way, and that it takes careful and serious work to separate the wheat from the chaff anywhere.

BDSM or not, anywhere I've gone in my life I've found there were people who were keepers and people who were not. I don't really buy that somehow people who don't do or like things I enjoy in bed have a better shot at finding someone to love. I just can't make that make sense in my head: Be dishonest about something you need in your sex life, be more likely to find someone who loves you and have less drama in your life? It's like telling a gay person that the gay scene is full of club bunnies, so date a nice woman instead. I can't make that make sense in my head -- wouldn't it make more sense to cultivate discernment, and find the person to date who isn't a club bunny?

Maybe this is because my first relationship happened after I got into the Scene, and is with someone who is still a dear best friend who I'd take a bullet for, and I know he would for me. Maybe this is because I'm in a relationship now that's lasted a year, and I feel damned sure that whatever happens to him and me, whether we stay together or split, do D/s or don't, fuck or watch television, we love one another and that is NOT going to ever change, sex or not. The fact that he's attracted to me and enjoys submitting to me is just gravy on top of "You're nifty. I like you."

But that's what I tend to think a lover is: gravy on top of a friend. And you don't find those often. People to fuck, sure, or people to play with -- and I don't begrudge anyone any of that, it's fun. But it's easier to find those than anyone.

"It’s been my experience in life (both personally, and through observations) that when any one ‘thing’ becomes a focal point of living, it has the greatest potential of becoming a dysfunction. There needs to be balance in life…a means by which I, as an individual, feed needs/wants on all levels of who I am…not just one aspect. I don’t think I’m unique in that, but hesitate to say this as seeming to say that my way is the right/only way."

I agree with that, and I think that's part of why Monkey and I (silly name yeah, but I'm not outing people just to make their nicknames less goofy!) aren't always going to meetings and munches and demos and on. Sometimes it's fun to be really involved like that, and sometimes it's a good way to see dear friends from far away geographically, but yeah, that way lies burnout., too.

"I often heard, “We know ourselves better within the bdsm community.” Again, I would disagree with that. They are more open about their sexuality than the general population, but there isn’t more depth to most involved beyond that."

Bragging is usually a sign of insecurity, unless it's done with tongue firmly planted in cheek and a healthy ability to laugh at yourself. :)

That said, I've known a *lot* of people who've been too scared to admit the first thing about what they wanted if it didn't fit the norm. And I think BDSM people can fairly brag that many of us have gone through that struggle of "Shit, I'm supposed to be normal!", realized that sometimes you just don't fit, and taken the first step towards looking at themselves and what they really want, rather than "well, the culture says I was supposed to get married and have two kids, and I did that and the whole time my life felt like an itchy sweater. I wish I'd looked inside myself a little more at eighteen."

I was looking inside myself at eighteen, because at eighteen I knew I was wired different than most people around me. I don't think that makes me a better person than anyone, and I sure don't think I was the most reflective person ever... but I do think that it forced me to be reflective. It forced me to ask myself WHY exactly the cultural message was "Let men dominate you," and what that really meant people thought about women, me, and individual choice.

"Many don’t understand why it is they do what they do…what attracts them to bdsm-d/s. It could be as simple as…it just turns them on, or as complex as a nurtured nature that is more dominant, or submissive, and finds great joy in serving from either perspective. “I just am” is a common response. Why are you…just you? Most don’t have a clue."

Thing is, though, there's not having a clue because you're not very introspective, and there's not having a clue because years of thinking about it hasn't yielded an answer. I've got this amazing book from when I was a kid, called The Gifted Kid's Survival Guide II (I never found Vol. I), and one of the things in it that affected my life very deeply from the time I was twelve was a panel that said something like "The real questions are the ones where you lie awake at night with your head buzzing and buzzing and you're no closer to an answer in the morning. The real questions refuse to be placated."

I don't know why I'm sexually sadistic. I don't know whether the patriarchy had anything to do with it. I do know that it's one of the real questions, and that it's been with me all my life, and I don't think "patriarchy! ding!" placates it any better than any of the other ding!s I've tried. But to say I haven't thought about it, that I haven't lain awake with those pistons moving and moving and moving in my head, is to miss what I'm saying, which is: Real questions? Are worth asking precisely because they don't budge.

I don't say "I don't know" because I'm shallow and gave up. I say "I don't know" because it's the only real answer I've ever found to a big, big question.

"Largely, from what I observed, the power exchange that takes place within d/s relationships is not a balance of energies as it’s proclaimed, but one in which one is subjugated to another in such a way so as to stifle emotional/mental/spiritual needs while more exclusively feeding the physical. How can there be an exchange when so much of any one part of that dynamic is so stifled? How can there be true intimacy when so much of ourselves, and lives are left out of the communication of who we are?"

I can't really answer you here, because I don't think I'm doing this. :) I think we do some stuff that we like because we like it, and it makes us feel good. Hell, half the time we forget our protocols (such as we have) are even there. They're for us when we want them and not when we don't.

But I do think what's consistent, and what I like and makes me happy, is the way that Monkey sees things in terms of service. If I do something he likes, even if I've had a blast myself, he wants to do some service to thank me. He feels weird if we play and he doesn't massage my tired muscles. It's just how he sees things. I don't think it's stifling to be "Wow, thanks, that makes me feel really special and loved."

As far as the desire to "own" him and keep him and treasure him... it's another thing that I don't know the why's of. I do know that if I thought that was stifling him, I would miss it, but I wouldn't do it any more. First and foremost he's my beloved friend.

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
roykay
Dec. 3rd, 2008 05:44 pm (UTC)
Trin, uh........................

I am not sure how to break this to you, but............... uh,

well.................

.............for a sick twisted fuck you are,

now please don't feel insulted,

................but I'm just going to have to blurt this out...............

disturbingly wholesome.
shimmerdance
Dec. 3rd, 2008 06:32 pm (UTC)
:: spits tea all over keyboard AND monitor ::
belledame222
Dec. 3rd, 2008 07:36 pm (UTC)
Just quickly going off as far as I got so far: the thing is, yes, I am sure there -are- plenty of people in the BDSM community who don't have basic relationship skills; this is because there are plenty of -people- who don't have basic relationship skills. And the thing is, yeah, sure, you're gonna find a number of people who rely on their shared kink to bind them together, -possibly- (I've no idea how one would determine such a thing with any degree of scientific objectifivity) even more percentage wise than the number of vanilla people who rely on the "well we both have PhD's, love Thai food and Bergman movies and long walks on the beach and everyone says we look so good together and besides we already got all this matching furniture from the bridal shower," because people with non-normative sexualities may well take -even longer- getting through those early dating and community-building stages that straight vanilla people at least -theoretically- are encouraged to go through in their adolescence.

and then, too, most of the self-help books and couples' counselors (how many triad-plus-more counselors do you even -find- outside the Bay area and maybe one or two other urban centers? and that's with actively looking for it) are geared toward, surprise het vanilla couples.

Is it any wonder that people cling to dysfunctional relationships when it's probably still the most fulfilling approximation they've had?

And the trouble is, of course, as with decades' worth of solemn pronouncements wrt "homosexuals just are too promiscuous and fucked up to build relationships, which is why we mustn't let them get married like normal people"--hello! It's nothing inherent about the "lifestyle," it's that already fucked-up human beings (humans being what they are) are coming into the already difficult arena of building adult relationships not only without the encouragement you probably take for granted, but in the face of active pathologization!
fierceawakening
Dec. 3rd, 2008 07:40 pm (UTC)
Belle,

I heart you. Post this there, mebbeh?
belledame222
Dec. 4th, 2008 06:58 am (UTC)
-groan- I hadn't realized it's at wosit's. (Twisty: The Next Generation, or something). Posted it addressed to you and Cindy; lemme know if it gets out of mod. I can't get into it over there more, I've a final due on Friday, plus, you know, eyeballs.
fierceawakening
Dec. 3rd, 2008 08:21 pm (UTC)
I also think there's an element in the community of self-selecting that's weird.

Not that Cindy's doing this, but I've done it.

Like, I have no interest in swinging. I know people who do it, but I don't get it, and I don't particularly want to get it. So in times past, I'd get annoyed that the club was hosting Swingers' Night on some night I wanted to go to MY party and do MY thing, so the minute I saw a swinger being a jerk I could "heh heh, those swingers."

Or when a polyfamily around here that was kind of like what Cindy describes, really into giving presentations that sounded great about how well they communicated but privately seemed to be fraying around the edges, "See, this is why I'm just plain old mono, heh heh."

Where really, that didn't come from knowing people. It came from only knowing the loudest, and from reading a lot into the loudest having drama.

That's why I wasn't a D/ser for a long time. All I knew was that famous peeps had drama. I didn't know the much more low-key people I know now, who sound an awful lot like regular married couples, complete with lovey bickering.

So yeah... I have no reason to think Cindy herself is doing this at all, but I think some people just... don't realize that not everyone need be the same, and read too much into other people's silly dramae.
jkatkina
Dec. 3rd, 2008 08:07 pm (UTC)
This is absolutely an informative read. Are you going to post more if/when she replies?
fierceawakening
Dec. 3rd, 2008 08:22 pm (UTC)
Sure, why not? :)
miz_evolution
Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:13 pm (UTC)
Damn those swingers! ;)

Hell, I don't even get "poly" people. At all. EMotionally mono- that's me...sexually indiscriminate ;)

Very interesting read though, and at least there is some in-depth stuff there rather than BDSM=BAD!

fierceawakening
Dec. 3rd, 2008 09:21 pm (UTC)
Yeah... and I don't think sexually indiscriminate is at all bad, unless you WANT intimacy. Then it can get really wearying... 's happened to me.

But if all you want is a bit of fun, why not? It's when you munge up the two that it gets loneliness inducing.
shidoikarji26
Dec. 4th, 2008 02:10 am (UTC)
Yep. Seconded on the anti-poly.Swinging is an exchange, not a live-in. Poly feels like it's permament. If you hurt one, then the entire family can get messed up. That's TOO much loving going around. I couldn't do that, let alone keep up with it. BDSM, D/s can introduce something new and possibly bring various people together, even if they're just bonded by their kinks.
fierceawakening
Dec. 4th, 2008 02:44 am (UTC)
Yeah, one of my "why I'm not poly" thingees is that it's direct and simple to ask for consent from one person. When someone else has to consent too, someone who I may well not know or be close to, that's just... too many variables.
roykay
Dec. 4th, 2008 07:05 pm (UTC)
Aw, fuck. Now I have to defend Poly.

(And I'll believe miz_evolution is all pure emo-mono when she quits being so caring and protective of her friends, not until! Hater of humanity, my ass.) ...snerk...

Well, okay there are some poly dealies that are tied way too taut for my tastes. I play it a lot looser and I think more loving. For one thing, we ain't live in except me and my primary. For another, I don't want my partners so yoked to me that they can't breath. I need free partners that are growing; and if they're too tied to me, they won't spread their wings and see people and sights outside my ken.
miz_evolution
Dec. 4th, 2008 07:09 pm (UTC)
Don't make me come kill you.

And sorry, for me there is a huge world of difference between people you fuck, friends (who you might or might not fuck but care about) and the kind of bond I have, with, oh, Mr.E. It's just very, very different.

I couldn't do poly, I'd end up in prison.
roykay
Dec. 5th, 2008 01:20 am (UTC)
I'm not afraid of you!

Sam Berg will protect me.

:-P
nerdanel
Dec. 5th, 2008 11:17 pm (UTC)
Ack - I hadn't seen this was a public post, so I deleted my comment - but I assume you got it by email, which is good enough for me.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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