Sunday, June 12, 2011

Kink: My Perspective: Part 2.

When I came out in my early thirties, after a brief disco period, I found my niche in the gay community to be the leather world. That was partly because I found leather itself to be sexy and sensual, but also due to other characteristics of that scene. Although there were many drawn to the leather bars for whom leather was their chosen fetish, the community tended to gather within it all who were into kink in its many forms with the exception of cross-dressing. It was to a leather bar that you would go to find others drawn to your particular, alternative form of sexual expression; among them, those drawn to S/M and rough sex.

In addition, it was my impression that people who were part of the leather scene tended to be more politicized than the gay community as a whole. It makes sense that the two communities which were minorities within a minority, those into leather and those into gender non-conformity (trannies, drag queens and others), would have tended toward the most radical social perspectives; it was in the world of main-stream gay bars, what some would call "vanilla", that those more drawn to social conformity were more expected to gather. Leather people and the gender benders played a leading role in the gay liberation movement; during the AIDS epidemic the leather community was the most active both in terms of political action and fundraising. Partly as a result of the minority status of the leather scene within the gay community and of its openness toward diverse forms of sexual expression, there tended to be less emphasis on standard notions of attractiveness and youth. There was more focus on the look associated with the expression of a particular fetish and on the what players in the practice of S/M might have to give and receive from each other; something often more based on skill and experience than attractiveness.

A dom with no or little experience is a person of whom it makes sense to be wary; does he know how to give a sub the pain he desires without harming him; will he respect the limits of the sub? While a newbie sub might have some attraction, hesitations arise regarding whether he knows what he's getting himself into; he might think he would find pain or humiliation exciting or pleasurable, but have a negative reaction to the actual experience. For example, I was told of  situation where a dom tied up an eager, newbie sub, who quickly became so angry and threatening that the dom had to call the police before feeling it was safe to untie him. It being Montreal, in the small hours of the morning, on a weekend, the police just hung around until he was untied, dressed and left the building.

Which brings us to a question several have raised: what would lead a person to desire pain in the context of a sexual encounter? The association of pain and pleasure is, actually, not a great mystery. The experience of pain in an erotic context can produce an endorphin rush comparable to that experienced through orgasm and exposure to risk. Considering that an S/M session can bring all three endorphin boosting experiences to the sub, there's clearly a possibility to experience intense pleasure, including the alternative state of consciousness known as ecstasy. For as long as the achievement of ecstasy has been valued in the religious experience of man, its association with pain has been known. Religious practice of a wide range of cultures has involved the infliction of pain as part of the rites intended to result in an altered state of consciousness; understood as a closeness to or experience of unification with the holy.

Although the People of the Book have been suspicious of such an intense experience of pleasure, largely because of its importance in the pagan religions surrounding their own tribal cultures, the association between pain and spirituality lived on in Catholicism; often with a sexual dimension barely concealed beneath the surface. Paintings of St. Francis receiving the stigmata and St. Theresa in ecstasy, for example, often represent the saints in what can easily be read as postures of sexual submission. There are some women's religious orders in which nuns pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit while lying in a posture resembling intercourse. I don't know if it is still the case, but it used to be that every novice in the Society of Jesus was issued a flogger, which he was intended to use on himself every evening as part of his religious observance. If you compare the physiological, especially facial, expressions of a sub being pushed against his limits of pain with a person experiencing religious ecstasy, I don't think they would be distinguishable; even though the narratives shaping the two experiences would be radically different. It is not by chance that our word "passion" comes from the Latin term for suffering and is applied in both sexual and religious contexts involving very strong emotion.

It is one of the many paradoxes of S/M that it's more difficult to understand just what the dom gets out of his participation. Perhaps he enjoys the exercise of control and power granted to him by the sub; perhaps he enjoys vicariously the extreme pleasure he can give to the sub; however, he doesn't seem to get to experience the same intensity of feeling as does the sub. Once again, if, as in my last post, pornography is used as a window onto the practice of S/M, it is interesting that the focus of the camera is almost always on the sub; the dom often being barely seen; in the background; assuming an almost purely instrumental role. He receives the most direct camera time at the beginning and end of an S/M session, while for the rest of the session the camera focuses lovingly on the experience of the sub.

I want to reflect, briefly, on the capacity of a sub and dom to form a loving, domestic relationship. In my experience that would seem to represent quite a challenge, especially in relation to same-sex couples. Most people, living in a post-industrial society, in the first world, and having even limited exposure to gay and women's liberation would not willingly enter into a domestic couple in which power and control was given to one member of that couple. In my experience, relationships in which both members of the couple are exclusive in their sexual practice as dom and sub and in which their power and control dynamic is carried into all aspects of their couple relationship seldom last for very long; the sub nearly always begins resenting the exercise of control in which he is always expected to submit; being ordered to do all of the cooking and housework is not experienced by most people as especially sexy or exciting.

In my opinion the domestic relationship of a same-sex couple in which both partners are involved in S/M has a greater chance of surviving for a longer period of time, should that be their desire, if they work at establishing strict boundaries between their sexual practice and the other aspects of their couple-relationship; an ability to relate to each other as equals in power and control apart from the practice of their sexual life together. That boundary is not an easy thing to accomplish and maintain; but it is possible. When both partners are somewhat versatile in the practice of dom and sub roles in their sexual relationship, their chances of staying together are augmented; that sexual versatility serves to underscore their flexibility in terms of the power dynamic between them apart from sex. The alternating of sexual roles serves to re-enforce the understanding that neither perceives the other as continually in the position of being either a sub or a dom in their relationship.

When mentioning that few people living in the post-industrial first world would willingly accept being in a position of submissiveness to another person in all aspects of their domestic relationships, I limited myself to speaking of same-sex relationships. In the world of heterosexual relationships there are many women willing or forced to enter into a submissive relationship with a man. Once again, the People of the Book, along with many other tribal cultures, come to mind. Those religions in their most traditional forms stipulate that the woman or women in a married relationship must accept living in just such a position. While more enlightened versions of those religious traditions have abandoned that expectation, there are probably a majority of believers still clinging to it; some may do so with the concession that a woman gets to choose her lord and master; but in many cultures she continues to have no choice.

Amusingly, were such a traditional religious couple to practice an S/M sexual relationship with each other, I assume they would need no boundary separating their sexual and domestic lives; both aspects of their lives would embrace the same inequalities in control and power; their relationship has a good chance of lasting, as intended, for all eternity. If any such relationships exist amongst heterosexual believers, and I'm sure they do despite religious interdictions, they share some characteristics of those rare same-sex doms and subs who believe they are born to be subs or doms; much as men and women are said to be ordained by God to their roles as master or servant in some traditional, religious cultures. Unfortunately, without the religious, cultural and family supports such same-sex couples are not likely to experience the same longevity of relationship as their religious, heterosexual counterparts.

It is possible to envision a continuum of liberation as it relates to the dynamic of power and control in domestic relationships. The least liberated of relationships being those in which all power rests with one of its members; the other member or members having no choice but submitting to him (almost always a "him") in all aspects of their relationship. The practice of S/M is not possible in such relationships because there is no concept of consent. Any sadistic behaviour on the part of the person having all power in such a relationship is actually assault. Next would be relationships in which one member voluntary submits to another in all aspects of their relationship; sexual and domestic. While there could be S/M play within such a relationship there is a caveat related to each: in the case of heterosexual, religiously motivated submission, there are likely to be interdictions agains such sexual activity; in the case of same-sex relationships, whether the motivation for submission is religious or secular, it will likely be short-lived. Next on the continuum would be relationships in which there is S/M play, understood as a consensual power-exchange, within their sexual relationship; however, in all other dimensions of their relationship there is equality of power and control. Such relationships are, probably, the most common in our society amongst those who practice S/M. At the end of the continuum would be relationships in which power has no determined role in any of its aspects; while those relations may be seen as the most liberated, some would say they're missing out on the sexual excitement that can accompany S/M play.

No comments:

Post a Comment