Things that made me hard

Get your mind out of the gutter – that’s not what I’m talking about here.

On second thought, don’t – I like your mind in the gutter.  This is a pretty sinful website, after all, isn’t it?

Anyway – that really isn’t what I’m wanting to talk about today.

There have been a number of events in my life that affected me and the way that I interact with the world.  These are things that have shaped who I am and how I interact with people, places, and things – but most importantly, people.  These are the things that made me a hard man, that gave me an edge, that continue to give me the gravitas and presence that caused one of my former subs to remark, “you read as DOMINANT from about 1000 paces… I kind of went o.O GAH the first time I saw your photo… and you do the Dom voice.”

The funny thing is, I’m kind of moving away from that nowadays, by choice.

For much of my adult life, I’ve been hard like a brick.  I was strong, with edges that were mostly sharp.  But the thing about a brick is that while it’s very strong, if you pound on it long enough or hard enough, it shatters.

I had a real brick-shattering event a few years back, and it left me broken for awhile, but I learned from it, and with some minor stumbles here and there, I’ve come back stronger than I was before.

It sounds a bit arrogant to my ears, but I’d prefer to think that I’m more like water now.  I seamlessly mold myself to my environment, I resist blunt force, and given time I even tear down mountains.

But it took me a long time to get here.

I grew up in a mostly boring home.  I’m caucasian and have lived in California for my entire life.  My father is an attorney and my mother was a stay-at-home housewife.  We lived in the country, on a horse ranch.  My family always seemed to have minor money troubles. My father had a very feast or famine income stream and he did none of the things that one should do to even out such things, so there were always lean times to contend with, but my biggest worries as a young child were never about the necessities of life.  I was fed, clothed, housed, and had adequate medical care.

And yet, I suffered a bit from the problems that are endemic to that sort of life.  My father was absent most of the time.  Even when he was physically present, the power imbalance and lack of communication between my parents made him emotionally distant and my mother lived with a siege mentality.  Her livelihood depended absolutely on this man who was extremely cold, mostly absent, and who derived more enjoyment from his relationships outside of the marriage than with my mother and it terrified her.  She lived in a constant state of fear that he would leave her, and assumed that every relationship that he had with any other woman was a sign of infidelity.  While I don’t know that was ever actually the case, he did eventually leave her, so I could go off on a tangent on the topic of whether or not that was causal or predictive, but I don’t have enough information to talk about it and don’t really care.

I have a sister, and while my strategy to deal with early life hazards and isolation was to take up the family banner and try to show the world that we were a successful family unit – she took the opposite approach, as one might expect.

To borrow from psychology, in the dysfunctional family archetypes, I was the Hero, and she was the Scapegoat.  I did my best to excel in everything, and I achieved most of my goals.  She refused to compete and drew all of the attention she could by acting out and getting into trouble.

And, as the popular adage goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” and she was certainly a great deal more squeaky than I was.  Despite my accomplishments, within the family I tried to stay mostly invisible, but one can never completely hide from family (or relationship) dysfunction.

On the eve of my first wedding, my father met with me one-on-one and told me that I was a mistake – my mother was not meant to become pregnant when she did, and I was responsible for the misery that followed my father for the rest of his life.  I forced him to abandon his dreams and to instead do the responsible thing and ‘settle down.’

As if this were not enough of a blow on its own, I further led the discussion into tones of denigration when I asked him why he gave so much more attention to my sister than he did to me, and his response was roughly, “You have such a bloated ego of your own, I figured you didn’t need any praise from me.”

Perhaps I can forgive him for failing to recognize how my outward appearance was compensating for a lack of true personal confidence, but to use diction like that with your own child seems to be pretty inexcusable to me.  When he told me, “…you didn’t need any praise from me,” what I heard was, “you don’t deserve any praise from me.”  This is a notion that I do still have trouble with even today, but being aware of it takes most of the strong away.

Parents out there – do not make this mistake, please.  I strive to be certain that I encourage my own children without turning them into narcissists, but I also try very hard to remember that even as young children, the face that they show to the world, the face that they sometimes show even to me, does not always represent their true emotional state.  Children are much better at developing and showing these false fronts than even adults can be.  Love is the currency that they trade in, not dollars.

My father told me that I was a mistake and an egotist and that I didn’t need him so he didn’t either want or need me.  This wasn’t exactly a revelation – after all, he’d been showing me this same behavior for my entire life, making me hard, but that act was the kiln that fired the brick that was my personality.

He repeatedly told me, throughout my youth, that I was doing things wrong, and he seemed to want to compete with me ex post facto for all of my academic and athletic achievements.  Everything that I did was compared to something that he did better.  Every time that I would show initiative or innovation, I was told that I was doing things wrong, if only because I didn’t do them his way.

My mother was only slightly better.  She was effusive with her praise of my accomplishments, but she used my success as a lever against the mothers of the children in my peer group.  For every success that one of my friends would have, something that their parents would show pride in, she would rattle off five things that I had done which were superior.  I knew that she loved me, but I felt that love was always conditional.  I had to continue to succeed or I would lose my vaunted place on the pedestal of achievement.

I was loved, as long as I remained ubermensch.

So I learned that love was dependent upon my supremacy.  I could depend on none but myself.  My place in the world was tenuous, apart, aloof, alone, dependent upon factors that I could not directly control, but oh, how I did try to control them anyway…

I was an arrogant prick in the extreme.  I simply refused to acknowledge any event that did not show my superiority.  I would not even try to do something that I didn’t know I would dominate.  I was hard, but brittle, and my need to dominate things was established, for only through controlling every aspect of every interaction could I be certain that I would not need to depend on anyone but myself, and while I was absolutely certain of my ability to handle a small subset of possible interactions, I was completely incapable of handling anything else at all.

Eventually I came to understand how this was affecting my relationships with others.  I had a few sycophant friends who would follow in my wake, lauding me for my superiority in the things that I chose to take part in, as my ego demanded, but I was completely incapable of forming lasting and meaningful relationships with anyone who refused to admit my rightful place at the top of the order.

Is this my version of 50 Shades of Fucked Up?

No, of course not.  That whole notion is a logical fallacy and merely a straw man argument put forward by a woman who does not even really understand the dynamic that she was trying to portray.  I do not share the bilious contempt for her work that many of my peers do, and while I have suffered events in my past that instilled coping mechanisms in me that are not always the most efficient or beneficial, I am also a reasonable and rational human being who can learn from his mistakes, and I do not think that to be a superhuman feat or that it requires finding a naive virginal personality to fix me.

I choose this lifestyle because it is something that works for me, not because I am trying to compensate for some lack of affection in my youth.  The affection may have been lacking, but I’m not trying to solve the problems of my past any longer.  I look to the future and I look to the things that make me happy.  I look to fulfilling my genuine desires, and while those may have been informed by my past, they are not defined by it.

Of course, I am also motivated by my fears or repeating patterns that did not work for me in the past, even when I am rationally assured that the current reality does not match that old situation, and so, life is a learning process.

I’m still building my circle of friends.  People who respect me for who I am and who I want to be, not people who pity me for who I once was or who want to exploit me to achieve their own goals.

And while I may be more malleable than I was in the past, I am stronger for it, and I can accept the adulation and love that I am worthy of receiving.

I’m still hard, but I’m hard in a way that lends strength rather than projects it.  I am secure in myself and I offer that understanding and security to those that I choose to admit into my life.  Together we are so much more than the sum of our parts.  I don’t need people to be complete, but I can offer much to those that wish to join me.

This world has become hard.  In many ways, the world at large is harder and more brick-like than I ever was.  Just the other day I was walking through a mall and I could not help but notice how people treated each other, how strangers reacted to each other.. each unintentional bump was met with extreme vitriol, each interaction between strangers was tense.  As the population increases, and the economic status of individuals continue to stratify, and the stresses on each person increase, the tension that I can feel emanating from people increases dramatically.

Those in this lifestyle who still react to stresses as I once did, those who feel the need to assert their Dominance in every situation… they are becoming more and more obsolete.

I do not think that this is a sea change, and I do not think that I have all of the perfect answers, but I do think that there is strength in malleability.  There is strength in knowing when to remain silent.  There is strength in seeking harmony.

Each generation says of the next that cynicism is encroaching on our values and making us hate more, that the great reckoning or the great race war or the great revolution is coming, and the fact that this motif repeats itself from generation to generation without great upheaval makes it easy to dismiss, but just because a thing is commonly misunderstood does not make it entirely false.

The songwriter Nick Lowe wrote a song in the 70’s that has come to encompass many of my feelings on this idea.  The song itself has been covered many, many times by many, many artists in different genres.  It’s a meme that holds true and that we can all agree with if we take a moment to lose the veneer of strength that we’re attempting to project.  ‘What’s so funny about peace and understanding?’

If you are aspiring Dominant and you are reading this, know that compassion is a show of strength and Dominance.  Know that you prove your worth by reasoned interactions and that while you may some day be required to hold the line, there is strength in knowing where that line needs to be drawn, and letting people in and holding compassion can be stronger than holding people at a distance.

I’m every bit as strong as I ever was – in many ways I’m much stronger – but I am nowhere near as hard as I once was, and I neither need nor want to be.

I usually think that quoting song lyrics in a blog makes for an uninteresting read, but I’m going to violate my own policy here.  Think of it as poetry.. courtesy of Nick Lowe:

 

As I walk on through this wicked world,
Searching for light in the darkness of insanity,
I ask myself, Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain, and hatred, and misery?

And each time I feel like this inside,
There’s one thing I wanna know,
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?,
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?

And as I walked on through troubled times,
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes,
So where are the strong?,
And who are the trusted?,
And where is the harmony?,
Sweet harmony

‘Cause each time I feel it slipping away, just makes me wanna cry,
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?,
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?

Trust, But Verify

A friend of mine was recently interviewed by The Atlantic for an article about this thing that we do.

They used very little of what she actually said, which was somewhat disappointing to me,  but if you’d like to read the article, you can find it here and while most of my readers are already well aware of her blog, just in case you are not one of those, you can find it here.

The article was supposed to be about the impact of the 50 Shades movie on the BDSM community, or so I was led to believe, but it turned into a condemnation of Fetlife instead.

I don’t think that the author of The Atlantic piece did a poor job, but I think that perhaps his lack of personal experience in the arena may have made him somewhat blind to the nuance involved.

By way of disclaimer, I should point out that I’m a lifetime supporter and member of Fetlife – in fact, it is the only social networking site of which I am a member, and I have had many good experiences facilitated by that site, but I’m neither a predator nor a potential victim, so much of what they speak about in the article is outside of my experience.  However, there is still the core of the message, which I still support entirely.

BDSM is not a license to be stupid.

There are people who use BDSM as an excuse to commit abuse.  These are not all outliers of the community.  Some of the core people who make up my own local community have engaged in practices that I find somewhat questionable, and I’ve heard accusations about others that I have not personally witnessed.  A person’s standing in the community is not a blanket endorsement by the members of the community and cannot substitute for caution on the part of newbies.  Even if they are wonderful, it is still very possible that your experience with them might not be satisfactory, and if you are not careful, possibly even dangerous.

It’s possible that Autumn will condemn me for what I am about to write, but I doubt it – I know her to be a rational and intelligent woman, and while she may not agree with what I am about to say, I doubt that it will lessen her opinion of me.

I have no doubt whatsoever that abuse does occur within the auspices of BDSM.  However, I understand and actually commend the people at Fetlife for the way that they have handled things – primarily by staying out of the conflicts.

Fetlife is a corporate entity and therefore is legally obligated to be largely blind to anything that is not provable, so they maintain a practice that is not unlike my own faith – in the absence of the provable, I choose to believe nothing – but they differ on some very important points that I will get to after an illustrative example to follow.

Add to this the fact that personal preferences and even the individual desires of a single person can vary greatly for a given time span, and you run into the fact that some interactions between some people are simply always going to be bad and there is very little that can be done to avoid this other than to communicate and negotiate.

For instance, as a completely hypothetical exercise, let us evaluate the following scenario:

 

A Top in the local community is well known to a lot of people, has many friends, is known to be particularly skilled at flogging, is well known for being patient and kind, especially with newbies, and he has had strong D/s relationships with multiple partners over the years, including a few that are currently going on.

Less well known are the personal proclivities of this person – things not shared except in intimate settings: he has a deep desire for anal penetrative intercourse, he likes asphyxiation, he thinks of himself as being able to read emotional and physical cues well and so he doesn’t place a great deal of emphasis on safewords, and he always has sex as part of a scene.

Now we introduce two newbie female bottoms to the mix.

Newbie bottom A becomes involved with the community and learns that our Top might be a good play partner for her first scene.  She has never been flogged, but thinks she might like it, she loves sex, including anal sex.  She has a deep desire to submit and to be used as an instrument of pleasure for her partner, and this, coupled with a desire to experience the sensation-heightening aspects of light pain lead her to believe that she wants an encounter with our Top.

She seeks him out at an event, they talk briefly, and with very little negotiation, agree to a private scene.  She meets him at his home, he takes her to his playroom, they engage in some petting, he binds her and flogs her, getting her into subspace for the first time in her life.  She is euphoric and he decides to extend things by gagging and blindfolding her to which she does not object.  He continues to flog her and she fights against her bindings, moaning and crying as she does so.  He interprets this as a good sign and then proceeds to take things further, having anal and vaginal intercourse with her while she is bound and gagged, sending her into even higher and tighter spirals of ecstasy.  When her thrashing becomes particularly passionate, he chokes her with his hands until she starts to lose consciousness and she immediately calms down as she surrenders and floats in subspace and then he lets go and she lies limp, savoring the experience.

When he is done, he un-gags and unbinds her while she is still floating.  She is euphoric and so is he.  She can barely move with the intensity of the experience that she has just had.  They share some quiet time together after the scene without speaking and then she leaves, believing that she has just undergone a transformative experience and is ecstatic.

 

Newbie bottom B becomes involved with the community and learns that our Top might be a good play partner for her first scene.  She has never been flogged, but thinks she might like it, she loves sex, but has some very deep personal aversions to anal sex.  She has a deep desire to submit and to be used as an instrument of pleasure for her partner, and this, coupled with a desire to experience the sensation-heightening aspects of light pain lead her to believe that she wants an encounter with our Top.

She seeks him out at an event, they talk briefly, and with very little negotiation, agree to a private scene.  She meets him at his home, he takes her to his playroom, they engage in some petting, he binds her and flogs her, getting her into subspace for the first time in her life.  She is euphoric and he decides to extend things by gagging and blindfolding her.  He continues to flog her and she fights against her bindings, moaning and crying as she does so.  He interprets this as a good sign and then proceeds to take things further, having anal and vaginal intercourse with her while she is bound and gagged, causing her to panic and fight against him.  He mistakes this as more of the same sort of euphoric passion and continues to have sex with her.  When her thrashing becomes particularly violent, he chokes her with his hands and she, unable to take any more abuse, begins to withdraw as the violation completely overwhelms her.

When he is done, he un-gags and unbinds her while she is still floating.  She is in shock and nearly catatonic and he is deeply euphoric.  He lies back to savor the experience and she lies there, unable to respond for some time until finally she wordlessly leaves, believing that she has just been raped and abused, while he thinks that things went extremely well.

 

Now – in this scenario, who is right?

You probably have your own opinion, but in my opinion, they are all wrong.

I’m going to momentarily overlook the complete lack of aftercare in this scenario (which is all too common in my opinion) and just talk about the interpretations of the scene itself.

It is convenient to assign blame for the bad experiences to either our Top or even to bottom B here, but in my own personal opinion the issue is not that simple, and turning Fetlife into a yelp-like rating system for Tops (or bottoms) is not going to help because the problem comes down to one of communication and personal preferences.

If you take the prevailing wisdom of the common culture from a few decades ago and apply it to these scenarios, it would tell you that our Top had no ill intent in either case and that the ideal scenario as presented with bottom A is wonderful and that the worst case scenario as presented with bottom B is the bottom’s fault.  She should have understood what she was getting herself into better and the fact that she didn’t object at a time where she could have objected is her own fault.

If we instead take the prevailing wisdom of today’s post-Feminist-revolution society and apply it we see the polar opposite.  The Top is entirely at fault for not explicitly getting permission for his actions at every step with bottom B and is even guilty of abuse in the case of bottom A, because while she enjoyed the experience, he did not fulfill his duty and it was mere happenstance that she felt good about things instead of bad.

Personally, I believe something different.  They’re all at fault for failing to properly communicate and negotiate.

Our Top did not do his duty in communicating up front, and as the more experienced partner, he bears the majority of the burden here.  He should have known better, but he did not intend to hurt anyone and felt that he was in the right all along.  That does not make him right.  He screwed up, to the point of breaking the law and deserves whatever consequences befall him, but if our bottom had been better informed, this scenario would never have occurred.  Our Top is not a predator, he was just criminally negligent.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it until I can’t speak any longer.  The heart of what it is that we do is negotiation and unfortunately people just don’t do enough of it.

The reason that we have contracts and safewords (or other signals when gagged, etc.) is to help ameliorate situations like these.  If you are in scene with me and we didn’t negotiate something in advance, I’m unlikely to try it, but if I do and you don’t like it, I’m counting on you to use your safeword or other signal to cue me to stop.  If you fail to do that and I fail to stop, we are both at fault.  I misread your cues and you didn’t explicitly signal me.  Our lack of pre-negotiation creates a bad experience for us both.

I think I’m an anomaly though and that most people don’t see things the way I do.  People like black and white outcomes.  They like to feel that they are right, and sometimes that has to mean that the other person is wrong.

Fetlife does not have the resources to adjudicate these cases, and therefore they simply refuse to allow their platform to be the battleground, and I believe that is the only viable course of action they have.  That’s what we need to remember.  Yes, there are people at Fetlife.  Yes, there is the Fetlife community itself, and communities are often capable of policing themselves – as they should – but Fetlife is not a community itself, it is a platform that hosts many distinct communities, and unless we want that platform to fail (which I don’t think anyone is suggesting) we have to view it as a what it is.

Fetlife has not failed its users, because Fetlife has no stake in these arguments and they are right to try to remove them from the platform completely.

If you have been abused, you have every right to seek restitution, and you should do that through the channels available to you.  Your own local meatspace community is a good place to start.  Most real-world communities are generally self-policing, and word of mouth can get you ostracized.  You may be the Top in this scenario and may have an encounter turn bad on you despite your intentions, and if that’s the case, you screwed up by not negotiating properly and you deserve the consequences that you receive.  The police might be another good place to go.  Only you can determine whether or not what you experienced is actually abuse, and only you can determine what the proper course of action should be, but Fetlife is a platform for people to engage with each other and is not itself a policing force, nor should it be.

This is all, of course, very complicated, and I’m not a lawyer.

But if I can get one message through to my readers, it is this:  think before you act.

Have an exfiltration plan.

Have a check-in person.

Have a safeword

Negotiate in advance.  Contracts and limits lists are a great way to do this.  Check my earlier posts if you need some examples of these.

This thing that we do is extremely risky – for Tops as well.  Protect yourself.

Trust, but verify.

Distrust gets you nowhere, but misplaced trust can get you hurt, badly.

And the last thing I ever want is for anyone to get hurt.

Fetlife is a tool, and use it for what you will, but remember, no tool, no database of players, no word of mouth reputation, nothing whatsoever can take the place of mindfulness, caution, and good sense.  There is always a first person to be abused – make sure that it isn’t you.

 

Pain vs Hurt

Pain is part and parcel of the BDSM lifestyle, but there is a difference of nuance in the meanings of pain and hurt in this context.  As practitioners of this thing that we do, we are no strangers to pain.  As human beings, we are no strangers to hurt, but while those words are synonyms, the English language has different words for similar concepts because those concepts are separated by subtle differences.

For the purposes of this entry, I’m going to define these words according to my own terms.

Both pain and hurt are used as verbs, though the use of pain as a verb is somewhat archaic.  One might say, “my arm pains me” to mean the same thing as, “my arm hurts.”  At the end of that second phrase, there is an implied “me,” but it is not usually explicitly stated in modern language.  Usually pain is a noun – it is a state of being, a thing that is being experienced, while hurt is a verb.. it is an action word and like all action words it requires an actor and intent.

However, while these synonyms can pretty much be used interchangeably if you so choose, I like to think that they have evolved to have subtly different meanings.

When I say that I am in pain, I mean that I am experiencing the physical sensation of pain.  When I say that I don’t want to hurt you, I mean that I don’t want to cause you unintentional distress.  For submissives under my care, I will often say, “I have no desire to hurt you,” and then proceed to slap, smack, spank, flog, whip, bite, and toss them into furniture.  In the absence of a way to properly distinguish my meaning, this would seem to be a case where my actions are not in line with my words, and yet, no one in this position with me has ever given me any indication of being confused on this point.

How is that possible?

I will attempt to elaborate by way of example…

The other day, I was in bed with my girlfriend, post-coitus, and she was expressing some concern about an interaction that we had has previously that day.  I failed to pick up on some of her emotional cues and created a situation where my lack of action caused her emotional turmoil.  I didn’t intend to hurt her in this case.  We do not have a TPE relationship and even if we did, I am not the type of Dominant partner who would ever want to create an emotional rift like that.  So in our discussion of what happened and how to best avoid similar situations in the future, I said to her, “I never wish to hurt you,” and then had to pause and chuckle, following up with, “well, you know what I mean…” and of course she did, but it brought to mind for me the unvocalized nuance that followed with that statement.

The words do not support this notion natively.  We have to imbue them with subtlety of our own.  And yet, because she is a smart woman and because she knows me rather well by this point, she understood my meaning without the need to elaborate significantly.

Hurt is a part of every relationship.. mistakes happen, people will fail to live up to our expectations, especially when those expectations are not vocalized – perhaps because the effort of so doing is extreme.

Pain is not a part of every relationship, and for most people, it really ought not to be.  I’ve said it before and I’m certain that I will say it again, but without consent, what we do is abuse.  For most relationships, there is no desire for pain, there is no discussion of appropriate applications of pain, and without the acknowledgement and discussion, the infliction of Pain is no different at all from Hurt.

Pain is a part of most BDSM relationships, but while we can revel in the pain, use the catharsis that follows, have a release of endorphins and emotions, we usually try to avoid Hurt.  Pain is part and parcel of the lifestyle that we choose to lead, but Hurt is abuse.

For my girlfriend, for my friends, even for my family, I try very hard to avoid Hurt.  I have felt Hurt from my family.  From some members of my family, that hurt has never abated.  We so very often hurt those that we love when we are, ourselves, hurt.  But I try very, very hard not to do so intentionally, and for those I love, this is especially true.

If you put yourself under my power, I will cause you pain with intent.  I will willfully bind you so that the bindings are tight enough to cause you pain.  I will willfully flog you with enough force to mark your skin and leave behind reminders of the experience.  I will bite you hard enough to leave a bruise that lasts for weeks.  But I will not intentionally pull the rug out from under you or cause you to question your trust.  I will not intentionally belittle you or put you down unless that is a specifically negotiated arrangement and executed at specifically designated times so that you can understand the difference between my words and my beliefs.

I respect those that I encounter, and even for those that have hurt me in the past or continue to hurt me now – I try to be respectful and forthright, but make no mistake, I will not idly sit by and continue to take the abuse, nor will I suffer it as you apply it to others.  I will at the least ostracize you and may even confront you, depending on the situation.

I have often said that I think I’m more of a masochist than a Sadist, and perhaps that fact is informing my opinions here.  I make no broad statements to say that a majority of Dominants feel as I do, nor do I necessarily think that they should, but this is what works for me, and it is a continuing part of my education and growth in this wonderful and scary world we inhabit.

I’m not sure at what point in my life I started to make this distinction, and I know that I’ve never successfully conveyed the nuance before, but I suspect that this is the kernel that exists behind my personal difficulties in causing pain in those that I love.

When you look back at me and say, “please hurt me,” this is the difficulty through which I have to process before I can act.  Like my grasp of other languages, I have not yet (despite my advanced age and position) been able to completely internalize these things and so I must go through a process of translation and change this to, ‘please render pain unto me,’ in my own particular and rather archaic idiom.

But my life, my experience in BDSM, and my experience in relationships is an ever evolving process and this is yet one more thing that I am refining and will probably further refine again over time.