How I Reconciled Feminism with My First Step into the ‘Dark Side’ of BDSM

Radical feminist philosophy balks at any suggestion that a woman might choose to submit to sexual domination by a man, yet here I am.

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Feb 5 2016, 8:31pm

My body is buzzing—a feeling that reminds me of cocaine or ten cups of the worst brew, courses through me.

I'm about to embark on my first ever BDSM experience with Sir Dragon Z, a stranger nearly twice my age. He has a preference for intense scenes, mentally and physically with an element of D/s. Dominance and submission (D/s) is based on the premise that a willing exchange of power can be a gratifying and arousing experience for both parties. Submitting means I offer to hand over my personal power and autonomy to this leather-studded Dom, knowing he will push me and hurt me, yet I also trust he will respect my boundaries. I hear the echo of radical feminism, railing that BDSM supports femicide and legitimizes violence against women. Yeah, the D/s scares me. It also turns me on.

I'm wearing black tight pants open to the thigh, a pinstripe bustier, and fishnet body-suit covering select regions, then knee-high boots. One of the great things about embracing kink is slutty-superhero couture.

When we meet at a Vancouver kink conference, his pull is magnetic—his large, six-foot-plus frame poised. I'm intimidated yet excited.

Extensive planning goes into a consensual BDSM scene; partners discuss what they will and will not do. Informed consent is heavily encouraged in the kink community, unlike what Jian Ghomeshi is accused of doing.

Imagine such planning in the vanilla world. Sitting down with a lover-to-be and letting them know what you're into. "Yeah, I like my nipples played with," or "No, please don't stick your fingers up my asshole." So clean, so obvious, so never-fucking-happens.

Dragon Z and I find an X-shaped cross in the conference's dungeon room and discuss limits. I explain that I have a high pain tolerance but am untried. He nods and gives me an example of someone whose limit was insertion. Not just no sex, but no insertion. Ah, the specifics. I agree that is a good limit. Sexual touching is fine. "What about kissing?" he asks, "That can be insertion." I look at him, tilt my head, and nod. Kissing as insertion is fine.

"What about a hood?" I think I'm scowling. I might be making a growling sound in the back of my throat. "We'll leave the hood out for now. What about a blindfold?"

"That's fine."

"Thuddy pain or stingy?" he asks. "Thuddy," I reply.

"What about a collar?" I just look at him. "I like to use a collar when I scene because it is like an agreement of what we are doing," he says. I consider. "I'll let you think about it while I show you my other tools."

One by one, he hands me an array of tools. Whips and floggers thick and thin. A long, evil-looking stick about an inch wide.

Dragon holds up two lengths of thick metal chain-link, "I don't use ropes. I use chains." Is he proud of that?

He looks around his collection, then back at me. "This is the hardest part. Knowing how to start," he says, flexing his hands.

"Kneel in front of me," he says.

Awkwardly, I kneel.

He stares down at me and holds up the collar. I hadn't said yes. Nor had I said no.

How did I get myself into this?

***

Name: Friday. Experience: Brand-spanking new. Likes impact play and some pain. Looking to bottom to whoever is up for working with a newbie. No humiliation.

So read my ad in the "pick-up-and-play" thread for Westcoast Bound's dungeon party. That's how I got myself into this situation. Hosted by Metro Vancouver Kink (MVK), Westcoast Bound (WCB) is one of dozens of Kink/BDSM/Fetish conferences that take place each year across Canada and the United States. WCB presents numerous classes over the weekend that aim to educate new and old kinksters alike, exposing them to new techniques with which to delight—or terrify—their partners. It also promotes a safe community in which one can fly their freak flag. Well, I am one of those freaks.

Now, just to be clear, I am a card-carrying, argumentative, patriarchy-battling, colonialism-hating, pro-choice feminist. I am not one of those sniveling ignoramuses who thinks that declaring on YouTube that they don't need feminism anymore is an enlightened idea. I'm a woman working in male-dominated industries who has experienced sexual assault. I am also kinky as shit and enjoy getting choked-out and giving and receiving bruises during freaky encounters.

But it is time to put aside the rationale, the mental aerobics and just experience what I say I want to experience. My mind is swirling, tumbling down the rabbit hole.

I kneel before the man in leather, collar in his thick hands. Sir Dragon Z speaks slowly, ritually.

Donning the collar represents the responsibility you have to this scene, he says. "It is not a collar of permanence, or of ownership, but it is a collar of commitment to the scene we are engaging in. If you do well while wearing it, that reflects well on me. If you do badly, it reflects badly on me."

"When you are ready, kiss the collar and place your head in my lap." I kneel there for a breath, then another. I am going to do it. I am okay with doing it. But there is this massive stubborn resistance that wells up as I breathe and glare at the collar. I feel my mind try to lean forward on the exhale. Yet there I kneel, riding through my next inhale. I wonder if he will prompt me. Or perhaps let me out of making that decision. But he sits there, immobile, hands at rest in his lap, waiting. The mental psych out.

Collars are a sensitive subject for many anti-kink contingents. They are a highly visible, tangible symbol of ownership, power, dominance. Indeed that is why they are so popular among kinky folk. Good doggy.

Radical feminist philosophy balks at any suggestion that a woman might choose to submit to sexual domination by a man, discounting it as the result of cultural victimization and socialization. According to Gail Dines, a professor of sociology and an international anti-porn activist, BDSM is the same as actual torture and violates the the United Nations Convention Against Torture. She states in an article for CounterPunch that torture cannot be consented to and therefore the same should go for consensual BDSM.

***

My teeth clench. I lean towards the man in leather and kiss the damned thing, laying my head on his lap while he collars me.

I am to call him Sir. Yes, Sir; no, Sir; with respect, Sir. He attaches the hardened leather cuffs to my wrists and instructs me to undress—slowly, deliberately, with purpose.

Naked, he has me swivel, showing my ass, before instructing me to kneel and run my hands over his boots. "Smell the leather. Everything begins and ends with the leather." Blacked-out goggles snuff out the world.

I've done something wrong, something about the order of my hands. "Shit," I say.

"What did you say?" he barks. "Shit, Sir," I respond. "And did I tell you, you could say that?" "No, Sir." "Get up, lay across my lap." Like a recalcitrant child, he paddles my ass.

Moments later I commit my next foible, saying something other than the honorifics. Suddenly he is standing, bending me over the chair. "Ass up! I am going to hit you ten times. You are going to count them out and after each strike, say 'Thank you, Sir, may I have another?' Do you understand?" "Yes, Sir," I husk.

It fucking hurts. I call out the strikes, ask for another, miss number seven, and hear my voice crack.

My brain changes gears. It is a strange space to be in, to know that I am here willingly and not fight back, to just accept the punishment, to want it. Sir hauls me to the cross and chains my hands up against it.

I try to absorb each blow and not reveal the pain. Sir tells me I can express myself, but I do not want to be weak. Another hit catches me across the shoulder and the intensity and speed increases. I have to let the pain out somehow, so I move into and away from the blows. My body dances. "Good girl," he whispers. Eventually I yell and that becomes my release. I shake those chains.

The absurdity of my situation strikes me. Trussed up like an erotic turkey, unwilling to tap out, not really wanting to escape but knowing I should want to. My lips curl. Sir catches sight of the grin. He gives me a choice between ten strikes to remember or one that will lift me off the ground. "Answer quickly!" he snaps. "One!" I rasp and before it's fully vocalized my right ass cheek is hit—hard.

"Breathe. Breathing will save you." I breathe.

Then a sharp sting flares across my back and breathing is not enough. I rattle the chains and scream in gutter Spanish. "Eeeway puuuutaa!"

"What did you say? Answer quickly!" he snaps. "Son of a bitch, Whore!" I heave. "You're not calling me that, are you?" he asks. "No, Sir," I say quickly. "Good girl," He grinds himself against my ass. "But you'd like to call me that wouldn't you?" "Yes, Sir," I agree, my teeth bared. "Maybe I'll let you call me that later, but you have to earn that," and he wails on my back and hoists me two-feet high by the meat under my armpits. I yell.

He pulls me back to feel the way my screaming has turned him hard. "I love when people scream in foreign languages."

I can feel tears gather, seeping under the goggles. Tears of pain, tears of release. Sir likes the tears. Sir licks them from my cheeks. My breath hitches as the stick beats the soles of my feet. "Do you like that?" "No, Sir," I rasp. That is not a good pain. I could say Uncle, our safe word, but I won't. I do not show weakness. I will endure. That is how I show my strength in submission. "Good, I want you to remember this." He moves to the other foot.

Time swirls past, cresting waves of hurt and sensation, of harsh words and gentle praise. I am lost.

Then Sir is embracing me. "I got you. I'll take care of you." I shudder, muscles in my body spasming from tightening and relaxing and tightening again under the blows. I breathe in leather and man. He whispers, "I want to do so much more, but I'm not sure I should." I chuckle wetly.

"I'm proud of you," he says. Removing the goggles he tugs me to the ground and crawls over me. "Do you like breath play?" My lids are at half-mast. I am drunk on endorphins. "A little. Not enough experience to know, Sir."

He stares down and begins to constrict my throat. I sink into it, eyes closing. I feel a veil fogging over my mind. My body is loose as I mull over my questionable life choices. He slackens his hold, eyes peering down, possibly concerned. "Are you alright?" he asks. "Yes, Sir," I sigh. I am. Just pumped with endorphins and nearly catatonic. But I feel... safe.

***

Adherents of radical feminism believe that egalitarianism means eradicating the desire for men and women to partake in domination games, particularly in sexuality. They criticize the consensual pain and domination experienced by submissive women yet gloss over the reality of submissive men, dominant women, and a plethora of powerful gender-bending LGBTQ people who partake in BDSM.

Human sexuality is not a neat and pretty package. It is the most lizard-like part of our brains. It is dark, dirty, mean, playful, dominant, submissive, and messy. That complexity and wildness is what makes sex fun, intense, complicated and dynamic. I won't be trading my kinky proclivities for the civil love-sessions of the sanctimonious.

With me at the Dragon's knees, we reverse the ritual of the collar, "Smell the leather. Everything begins and ends with the leather." He hands me half a protein bar and says he will check on me later. I totter off in my boots and thong. Heated and bruised, my ass and back on display. Battle scars, I think to myself, with a cat-ate-the-cream smile. I'm still a fucking feminist.

All photos via the author

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