Getting Into BDSM: Questions from a Closeted Kinkster

Header image by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid — Post last updated on 7/8/15

hi there, i saw you on twitter and noticed yr going to geeky kink! i’m a closeted young(ish) kinkster who would love to be the type that goes to cons, has play partners, etc, but doesn’t know anyone or have any connections. do you have any resources or tips? what was yr first bdsm con like? were you intimidated? do you have a kink coming out story? feel free to neglect any of my questions if they’re too prying.

The Resource Questions

Online Community and Building Networks:

Check out Fetlife—which is like a kinky Facebook, sort of. On there, be active on discussion boards for things that call your attention [though you should be aware that Fetlife can also be a hot mess, and that its founder is not a commendable dude]. This is a great place to find kink-related event listings, too! More on that later.

On Twitter, find folks that are awesome and engage with them. You can start by following people’s curated lists, like these and these, and by searching relevant hashtags.

Tumblr, as a platform, is also fantastic. Find BDSM bloggers, follow kink-related tags, reblog some things you find hot and start making connections with other people that share those tastes/interests! I’m especially fond of Happy BDSM and Perverts of Color, two Tumblrs that defy the stereotypical images of kink. Those online friendships can sometimes translate into in-person friendships or even relationships, too. Speaking for myself, my primary partner and I started talking through OKCupid. Many of the people I smooch and/or am GOOD friends with right now, I met online first through various means.

Joining pre-existing networks of kinksters makes your circles grow exponentially. If you’re in college/that demographic, there are some colleges with BDSM groups, most notably Columbia with Conversio Virium, and locally to Rhode Island, College Hill Kink. Beyond the college setting, though, there are “munches” where kinksters gather to chat and eat at places like food courts in a low-pressure environment. These are usually organized by a group, like BTNG—Boston’s Young and Kinky. [Pro-Tip: If you’re under 35, specifically looking for “TNG” groups—The Next Generation—can be fabulous so you’re not awkwardly the only 19 year-old in a sea of 40-somethings.]

Events And Dungeons:

Go to events, definitely, if you feel comfortable (or ok) doing so. The Internet is awesome, but in-person interactions can also be very important, especially if you want to engage in play and, say, need specialized gear or other humans to help. There are a wide variety of cons (some that allow play, some that don’t) for different demographics (trans folks, queer women, youngsters, yada yada) and different proclivities (e.g. rope cons, high-protocol cons, etc.). You can search for them, and here’s where Fetlife also comes in handy.  A safe way of dipping your toes in might be to go to conferences that don’t allow play (e.g. Fetish Fair Fleamarket, which is also pretty cheap) or going to conferences with curious friends and sticking together. Generally, though, here are some names of cons/events you could check out [including them here doesn’t mean I’ve attended or personally endorse them]:

take Classes / Learn Some Things:

The best book for newbies that I’ve found so far? Playing Well With Others  by Lee Harrington and Mollena Williams. It’s a primer on everything you need to know as a new kinkster, or just someone curious about breaking into “The Scene.”

Beyond official conferences, different organizations host parties and/or do classes too, and some of them are free and open to the public (e.g. New England Leather Alliance, New England Dungeon Society, The Society in CT, MOB New England, and those that tackle sexuality though not limited to BDSM/kink, like the San Francisco Center for Sex and Culture).

My ultimate favorite resource, though, is a treasure trove of information from a variety of different perspectives. Awesome multi-media education on-demand (by subscription). Totally worth it, and they have been very supportive of their educators and workers, so from an ethical standpoint, I love recommending them.

Final Words of Wisdom:

Don’t feel pressured to have 69 play partners and hundreds of toys. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it’s about satisfaction, not numbers. Similarly, it’s not about being on ALL THE SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS EVARRRR, but being happy with the stuff you’re on and making the best use of them for your needs.

The Personal Questions

My First Con:

was the Fetish Fair Fleamarket in Providence back in 2009. Fun classes, cool fashion show, lots of people, vendors, the whole thing—but no public play, no dungeon. It was a “safe” con in that respect; no need to put myself out there (even though I would have done so if I’d had the chance). Didn’t feel intimidated,  but instead thought “holy shit, these are my people” when I walked in. Super happy to see so many kinksters in one place. It was joyous. Not everyone feels that way, though; some people are overwhelmed, intimidated, scared, nervous, and the list goes on. It’s about seeing what ways make you interact, but also feel comfortable. As of last year or so, the conference has moved venues and I haven’t attended for a while.

Coming Out:

I’m always coming out to new people! My favorite stories usually stem from trips in airports or on mass transit. Hilarious conversations usually ensue. One involved 2 drunk guys talking to my boss/colleague and I when we were in Florida for an adult novelties convention, and us showing them male chastity devices because they wanted to see toys and those were at the top of our bag. Perfect coincidence. On a more family-related level, I came out to my mother indirectly when she read my chat logs and some stuff in my journals when I was a teenager. I’ve come out to her again since, both directly (saying I’m into a variety of kink stuff) and indirectly (hello, bruising!). I’ve come out to friends, but usually without making a big kerfuffle about it because sexuality is such a huge part of my life in general, that it’s not super surprising or unheard of in the circles that I travel.

My Kinky Root:

The first big inklings came when I was 14 and I had this kind of random role-play via chat with a guy (he was 18) from an art-site I frequented (deviantART). It started out pretty mellow, and then it turned into this sexualized, chatty but violent thing. I don’t even know. It was bizarre. I was confused and turned on and mildly horrified…and that began my first online dating situation. Looking back on it, that was such a strange time in my life…? Anyway. The other big milestone was watching Secretary. Classic. I have SO many fond memories of that movie (and making my MSN nickname—back when MSN Messenger was  A Thing—basically “Aida loves tree trunks” due to a scene in the film). It’s kind of become code for kinky. If someone tells me they like that movie, it’s usually a sign that they’re not the most vanilla of people. NOT always, but often. For some people, it’s like flagging—the hanky code, but with movie choices.

Conceptualizations of Sex

The sex itself? It’s sweatier and it’s sweeter, all at once. When it’s tender, it’s not tender like a Hallmark card, but like a cookie fresh out of the oven: steaming, moist, delectable and melt-in-your-mouth. When it’s forceful, it’s not so because one partner is being assaulted or dominated, but because the energy and strong unity of a shared desire feels so urgent and deeply wanted that both partners leap upon it like someone who has been on a hunger strike for a week might approach an all-you-can-eat buffet. Her expectations and the experience of her sexual initiation seem less like a country-western serenade and more an 80’s power ballad.

And another quotation, because it’s what I want out of my sex-life (and so far, what I have):

This sex doesn’t just feel okay, nor is it good simply because it is painless. This sex feels freaking magnificent. Sure, sometimes it’s magnificent like riding a rollercoaster or having a near-death experience, and at other times it’s magnificent like soaking your feet after a long day, but it’s always so much more than just okay.

Via Scarleteen: An Immodest Proposal (which, is in turn: Reprinted from Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape, edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, Seal Press, 2008)

Pain vs. Harm (and some other thoughts)

Via Nonzer0 (which you should check out because it’s fantastic).  
Emphasis mine. 

From my limited experience:
Pain is different from harm. Whether the two coincide often has to do with intention or context–the pain felt during childbirth is processed and experienced differently (and usually not as psychic or emotional harm, even if the body is injured) whereas an equal amount of physical pain felt when being tortured in someone’s basement or in a POW camp I would guess is much more likely to be harmful.

In less dramatic senses, I think there is more risk of harm when we are acting out of any sort of malice, retributive anger, hatred, resentment, defensiveness, aggression–anything that Yoda would put on the dark side of the force.
This purtains to kink in that, when it is done in a “safe, sane, consensual” manner, one of the intentions may be to cause pain–physical or emotional–but not to harm. Anyone who wants to do you lasting damage isn’t someone that it would be healthy for most people to get kinky with. A good top, when you are not “playing” with power or other kink stuff but doing something more serious, is more like a spiritual guide, knowing when to push and when to slow down, open to feedback, offering support and encouragement when necessary, with steady love beneath whatever else is going on or whatever the expression of it is (you know I don’t necessarily mean romantic love). And in this context, the sub has the opportunity to experience and confront some of the things we struggle most with as humans– perhaps, physical pain, which she will learn is easiest when one surrendors to it or accepts it wholely; mentally, humiliation–which can be an joyful release from selfhood, an entry into intense trance states, a way of taking the ego and breaking it against a rock, failure or guilt–which, in going into fully in the safety of the setting she will learn to fear less in daily life, and to meet fully when it arises, her psychic and physical limitiations–which may help release her from some of the perfectionism conditioned into us by our culture, fear–which she will become intimate with and learn to and enjoy, create for herself the tool of imbuing the terrible with the erotic thus helping her to face it, to make it bearable.

It is a grounds, perhaps most of all, for giving and recieving unconditional love. There is incredible risk on both sides to exposing “shadow” sides, in asking for obedience or giving it, in giving a command or following it. The scene can exist only when both parties conspire together, are in it together. And it is amazing, to humiliate oneself completely in front of someone, to for a period of time exist in a state of utter trust and let someone cause you pain without trying to escape, and instead of leaving, the person stays, appreciates, loves you all the more. And the top, I would guess, has a reciprocal experience–to demand, inflict, command, humiliate, and still be loved. It’s breath-taking, isn’t it?
The difference between this and actual abuse has much to do with explicit consent and intention. Abuse often comes from intentions to harm, defend, protect, intimidate. Kink, in good situations, comes from intentions to expand and open emotionally and experientially, to achieve intimacy, to give and recieve love, and often includes inflicting pain in the service of these things.
Of course some people use kink to channel hatred of various sorts, or to put themselves in harm’s (rather than pain’s) way, and in those scenarios, there is great potential to damage all involved. But in the best cases, sex can become a pretext, a means, a background, or simply a component of a deeply intimate, alchemical process.

Sacrifice vs. True Contribution / Poly-positivity

Because there’s more to giving and making compromises than just saying YES or OKAY. Realizing that there’s a difference between complying willingly and happily and saying yes out of a feeling of obligation that will eventually lead to resentment and guilt-tripping other people involved is the first step in NOT doing the latter. It’s unhealthy and only leads to problems–bitterness, passive/aggresiveness, feelings of being unfilfilled, and the list goes on. The next steps are figuring out how to recognize what choices would lead to each of these two and picking the ones that will lead to HAPPYTIMES. It’s also a matter of boundaries. But don’t listen to me–just go read the article/entry!

Now, a link to an LJ entry (written by the same person) describing how they’ve navigated the seas of communicating, establishing boundaries, and TRULY giving (not giving to then hold that over someone’s head). = polyjoy (that sounds like a candy bar!) 🙂 Read it and feel the warm n’ fuzzies. Personally, I’d one day like to have a wife or partner write/talk about me that way. I strive for showing respect, love, and all that good stuff, and it would mean the world to me if a partner’s partner valued me in such a way and said such lovely things. 🙂 I mean, I think I’ve (sort of) been in that position already, but this all sounds way more intense and serious.

Anyway–these are good articles for poly, mono, and unlabeled/otherwise-labeled people alike. 🙂 These lessons and examples can be used in a wide variety of situations.

Some good articles

1. Things your partner wants you to know. [Mono to Poly and Poly to Mono]

2. BDSM Scenarios and sexual exploration ideas. Some of these I heard at the Fetish Flea. 🙂

3. COMMUNICATION. Yep. There’s some good stuff in this article. “Communication works best when it’s an ongoing process. It’s not something you do when things get out of hand; it’s something you do all the time. Don’t wait for small problems to become big problems before you talk about them! Keep checking in with your partner all the time; make it a habit. (…) Even though it can sometimes seem uncomfortable or even frightening to bring up something that bothers you or that is affecting you in your relationship, you need to do it anyway. Anyone can have good communication skills when communication is easy; it’s how you communicate when it’s difficult that counts.”

4. Thriving as a Secondary. It’s interesting to read this now because, being as introspective and analytical as I am, I have already asked myself SO many of these questions, especially the ones that relate to what my own boundaries and wants/needs are. 🙂

5. Total non-sequitur: Transhumanism!

Knowledge vs. Ignorance : Unhappiness vs. Bliss

Before analyzing Sollors’ own words, I read the quotation he included by Alexis de Tocqueville—one that seemed to establish a correlation between happiness and a lack of history, heritage, and national character. This reminded me of a text I read last semester, which argued in favor of moving beyond ethnicity and/or race and instead focusing on other concepts that could bring us together as a people. At first, this seemed absurd on a practical level. How could we all abandon the things that shaped us as we grew up? How could we forget the past that brought humanity to where it is today? In addition to absurd, the very idea of moving beyond race or ethnicity seemed somewhat insulting. To move beyond our roots seemed to imply an erasure of that past which, not only molded us, but also established the hierarchies that were currently in place and accounted for most, if not all, the systems of oppression that worked against people characterized as “The Other” by some dominant group. It would effectively erase the history of inequality faced by millions and silently deny and invalidate the feelings left over from their struggles because they would “no longer be an issue.” To begin completely anew while people still had their past in their minds would be impossible. It would be too silencing, too alienating, and too complicated.

Finally, on a very personal level, I just couldn’t imagine the world without ethnicity, race, or such categories for identification and differentiation. It seems too homogeneous, too boring, too…robotic. But what if it WERE somehow possible to achieve a complete and successful erasure of our routines, prejudices, memories, etc.? Would I be willing to give up these “luxuries” in exchange for happiness? After all, isn’t that what most people say they strive to have in their lives, at least to some degree? The situation is somewhat parallel to the picture presented by the saying “ignorance is bliss.” If we were ignorant of our differences, or if they were completely nonexistent to begin with, we would be blissful and happy. However, would this last? Wouldn’t we just find new ways to build coalitions, and in so doing, separate ourselves from others? Imagining that this state of blissful ignorance could be forever maintained, how would society progress? If revolution is a means to achieve progress, if difference and dissent and argumentation are the biggest ways in which we expand our minds and our points of view, how could we keep achieving these things in a society full of happy lemmings? Isn’t a balance required? Is it possible to have a lot of ying and no yang and STILL move forward?

My mind tells me that we need contrasts—that we need the sour to balance the sweet, the sad to balance the happy—but I wonder how much of this way of thinking is informed by the way I’ve been taught to analyze such things in the first place and how I could think about them differently if I had another way to frame them. Regardless of this last train of thought, would we even NEED progress to be happy? How much would progress, scientific discovery, and all these other things matter if we were blissful? Just like a fish living in an aquarium, one that can’t dream of the sea because it doesn’t know it exists, we would be content with our lives because we wouldn’t be dreaming of the possibilities; we wouldn’t know of their existence and thus couldn’t be unhappy about our inability to reach them. I guess what this all boils down to, in simplistic terms, is a choice between happiness and uniqueness…bliss and diversity, and all the things that go along with those two concepts.