Three years ago I sat my mother down and asked if she knew what BDSM was. She thought I was trying to tell her I had Body Dysmorphic Syndrome. She'd asked me at least once a year since I was sixteen if I had an eating disorder, convinced bulimia was something all of today's girls did, like learning guitar or having sex in the back of a Suburban after prom.
Now at last her nightmare had come true.
Unaware she’d confused the abbreviations, I took one look at her face and thought I’d finally managed to devastate a mother I considered undevastatable. I wanted to turn around, walk right back into the kink closet, and shut the door, but it felt too late for that.
We straightened things out pretty quickly. My mother was so relieved I didn’t have an eating disorder that my sex perversion barely fazed her. We talked for the next hour about BDSM. She asked a lot of questions; I tried my best to answer them. Then we went to Ruby Tuesday, and she joked about the use I might make of the rope decorations on the wall.
I told myself that coming out to my family meant I was now confident enough in my orientation not to think of it as a perversion (as it is commonly portrayed in mainstream culture), or as a joke (perhaps an even more common portrayal). I tossed my bisexuality in with the BDSM confession, thinking it was best to come out of all my closets at once, and my family's completely-cool-with-all-of-it reaction encouraged my hope that I could live an outish and proudish life.
I recently watched the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet, about the depiction of LGBTQ characters in movies. Susie Bright made an appearance, and said something I'll butcher if I try to quote, but the gist of it was no matter how many signs we hold up declaring we’re out and proud, it’s nearly impossible for people who identify as LGBTQ to fully divorce ourselves from the shame we’re taught to feel.
I think that’s probably true of many people who are BDSM-oriented as well. We know from experience that BDSM is a beautiful, fun, hilarious, wacky, intense, dark, sexy, delicious psychological adventure. We know that while our desires and urges are not a choice, we do have the choice to embrace these desires as part of a lifestyle – and a community -- with its own culture, code, literature, art, subcultures, and of course, fashion.
But it’s hard to be completely unashamed. To shut out the voices that call BDSM an illness, a joke, or a means of glorifying and perpetuating violence. The world of BDSM is different from the vanilla world -- though probably not as different as some might imagine. Its activities, equipment, and protocols are frequently amusing. They can also seem, to an observer, dark, violent, and dangerous. BDSM is as multifaceted as its participants -- though most of these facets are all but invisible in mainstream society.
Growing up, I didn’t have access to novels about kink romances. I never saw a BDSM relationship portrayed in movies or on television until Secretary in 2002. (I'd seen the Law & Order episode “Stocks & Bondage,” and chains/leather/whips bits in various comedies. Handcuffs = easy laugh. But a story about two -- or three, or more -- kinky people experience the challenges and rewards of loving one another? Nope.) When I got my hands on a copy of Mr. Benson in college, I wrote two pages of notes in my journal on it, thrilled by the novelty of having an actual book, with a cover and pages and everything, that dealt with a BDSM relationship.
The internet helped. Though there are as many false, unflattering, and porno-fied depictions of BDSM online as there are honest and thorough portrayals, the amount and variety of information available means a kinkster looking in the right places no longer has to feel alone, confused, or hidden. With the rise of the ebook, more and more literature is available to those of us seeking fictional heroes of all genders and orientations who love butt plugs, floggings, enemas, pony play, hot wax, restraints, and more -- almost as much as they love each other.
Next week, Loose Id releases my first BDSM romance novel, By His Rules. Undeterred by my increasingly desperate warnings about the book’s graphic and maybe-kinda-out-of-your-comfort-zone-Mom-and-Dad (god I hope) sexual content, my family has sworn they’ll read it. I’m not sure whether to be delighted or wildly embarrassed, but I’m leaning toward delighted.
The best way I’ve found to combat shame is to celebrate. And the best way I can think to celebrate is to write the heroes I never had -- and share them.
Thank you for visiting, and happy reading.