Where do I start? Do I begin with the retelling of the stories from years now long past, or with this weekend? It’s hard to tell what would be more effective. This weekend, while filled with spectacularly virginal experiences for most people in the realms of play, pain, pleasure, and of course sex, was actually somewhat old news to me. After all, unlike for most of my friends, this was not my first BDSM convention.

So what was new for me? Some play was new, like participating in a friend’s gangbang fisting along with seven other people, getting suspended in rope bondage by two switches, and getting jumped by I don’t even know how many people for a “forced” sex scene. Those things were new for me, but after the fact I am finding that my mind is reflecting on quite another element of this past weekend that is new to me.

For the first time in my life and the first time in all the (more than five) years I’ve spent in the public BDSM community, I felt that other people who are not necessarily friends actually respect me for more than just my pain tolerance, that they began to actually see some things about me that don’t have to do with how hard I like to be hit.

As a person who primarily bottoms, I’ve often felt that people in general only listen to me when I talk about what it’s like to get hurt. It’s as if, in their minds, all I am is a punching bag. For some reason, it’s hard for people—even other bottoms—to see bottoms as anything else.

The awful phrase “take it like a man” rings loudly in my ears whenever I see this because more than anything else I see it cause self-doubt in men who bottom, and makes them afraid they won’t be able to “take enough pain.” I will instantly confess that I, too, once felt and sometimes still feel this pressure. I think this is stupid.

Mind you, I have little trouble playing the part of a punching bag. In fact, I rather like it, I think I’m very good at it, and wish I had more opportunities for it sometimes. But after more than five years of interacting with people at large, being a punching bag is a very unsatisfying, frustrating social existence. It’s made even worse by the fact that I’m a rather picky punching bag to begin with—I don’t let just anyone hit me. You have to earn it first.

On the first night of the three-day weekend, as a kind of appetizer scene, I got whipped ’til I bled and that night the white hotel sheets were speckled red. Shortly after the whipping scene was over, Anita Velez, the official event photographer, asked if she had permission to take a photo of my back (I said yes). After that, Eileen and I found her again and asked her for a photograph of our own.

On the second night, after I fisted my friend along with seven other people, I got suspended in a rope bondage scene, and then after that I got jumped by I don’t even know how many people who all beat my arms, ass, thighs, and chest ’til they were bruised using a rubber nightstick, an acrylic cane, and some other heavy objects I couldn’t identify due to the spandex hood they put over my head. They pushed an NJoy wand into my ass and then made me go down on some of them while beating my already-whipped back with what I’m pretty sure was a rubber tire tread flogger. (I had felt that particular rubber flogger before.)

On the third night I got bound in a hog-tie with my hands behind my back and my legs kept bent with thick leather belts. Once secured, I was again beaten on my back and ass, this time with what I could identify as a (probably deerskin) flogger, a flat paddle-like object (but it was small, so I’m guessing a kitchen implement), and a heavy rubber taws, among other things. The rubber taws hurt the most, especially when it struck my already-bruised ass.

So like I said, I rather enjoy playing the part of a capable punching bag.

Of course, I got the usual, “Wow, great job,” awed comments from all sorts of people who had seen us play (and who I didn’t even know were watching the scenes). I also eventually overheard from second-hand accounts that others had more negative remarks, such as things like “That’s wrong; you should never crack a whip on someone’s back.” (Fuck that, whoever you are, by the way. I’ll play the way I want, thank you very much.)

Of course, this wasn’t really the hardest Eileen and I have ever played with a single-tail. I even have another picture of more marks taken some time ago, for example. I have been beaten much worse before, like the week before that previous photo was taken; Eileen gave me my first caning which an inch-wide acrylic artist’s cylinder, which resulted in purple and yellow bruises that lasted well over a week and a half. Another time, my friend who made the tire-tread flogger brought over a wooden table leg and bruised my thighs so badly that they swelled to the point where I could no longer fit into my jeans.

Nevertheless, people were still impressed by the intensity of my play this weekend and they still expressed their respect in the form of an appreciation for my personal preferences for pain. Misguided as I think this expression is, I did (and still do) enjoy the recognition.

This kind of misplaced respect happens to me all the time. It’s happened many times in the past, when “heavy” single-tail scenes have earned me the respect of someone who prior to witnessing it didn’t seem to think very much about me.

In 2003 I was a fixture of the New York BDSM scene among the ranks of TES members, quickly earning a reputation as the quiet, shy boy in the corner who watched but never played. Reminiscent of all my school years, most people treated me with an uninterested attitude evidenced by their neglect to acknowledge my words or my presence. Later that year at TES-Fest I had my first single-tail scene that ended with band-aids and a giddy if somewhat worried pair of tops who relished in retelling the story of how the waifish, quiet boy took the hardest whipping either of them had ever given. I’ll admit to being very surprised at my own enjoyment and what I interpreted back then as “stamina” and now simply call my usual preference. All of a sudden people were coming up to me and remarking on how impressed they were with me.

The lesson was clear: to get noticed, play extremely hard.

Even though I was certainly getting noticed a lot more, I hardly felt respected. Perhaps that seems strange to many people because playing that way is exactly how a lot of people who bottom, such as myself, earn respect in the scene. (We would all also be wise to remember Richard’s words when he reminds us that the scene is actually representative of a tiny minority of kinky people and we are, for the most part, the public exception to the normal kinky person.)

We play “hard.” We can “take more.” We have a “higher pain tolerance.” We can “handle it.” Tops respect us because we can challenge them, bottoms respect us because they’d consider themselves broken by things we consider warm ups. People think we deserve respect because of the way we play, because they are scared of how we play. And they’re completely wrong.

Bottoms who don’t play as hard as I do feel bad about it; they feel frightened and inadequate. What a horrible shame that is. Tops who don’t want to rip open flesh or turn skin rainbow colors or emotionally batter a bottom until they sob and beg also feel bad about not wanting to do these things. Again, what a horrible shame that is.

Respect should not be accorded based on someone’s preferred physical intensity of play, and yet every time I play that way in public I get at least someone coming up to me and saying, in an often dejected tone of voice, “I could never do that.” I try to tell them that they don’t have to, that it’s silly to think they should try if they don’t want to. As Eileen said cleverly before me,

And then let’s talk about the fuckupery of according respect to a scene member based upon the intensity of their play. What kind of logic is that? That’s like saying that you respect The Rolling Stones more than The Beatles because The Rolling Stones are louder. Respect isn’t about what people do in the scene; it’s about how they do it. I have young friends who have been in the scene just as long as me, who don’t get the respect I do because they don’t have the balancing factor of being intense players as a weapon to carve out a place for themselves. God help you if you’re perfectly content with a light spanking now and then. The patrionizing smiles will probably drown you.

(Emphasis added.)

In other words, I’m not more worthy of respect than any other bottom because I have a higher pain tolerance than they do. If you respect me for that reason, I feel invisible. I’m worthy of respect because I have impeccable judgement, a razor-sharp mind, incredible intellect, a generous attitude, a commitment to my scene partner as well as myself, and because I respect these same things in others. If you respect me for that reason, I feel seen.

So this weekend I didn’t feel respected when I was asked “How much were you really struggling in that take down scene?” I didn’t feel respected by the people who thought I was on the Power Bottoming panel because I like to limp for days after I play. I definitely didn’t feel respected by all the people who stopped me in the hallways and told me what an intense scene they saw me do (though, again, I did appreciate the kind words and enjoyed the obvious admiration and surprise—I don’t look like someone who likes to scream until my throat is hoarse, but I do).

On the other hand, I did feel respected when a fellow attendee approached me and asked for my opinions regarding TES’s web site (and others) because he had heard people mention my name in conversation about the topic. Likewise, I also felt respected when people came up to me privately after some of my presentations and told me that they thought I had made good points, that I articulated myself well, and that I exposed them to something new and provoked some new thought or insight inside of them.

Thanks to the transman who told Eileen and I that we had finally articulated his primary kink in our Sexual Teasing and Denial presentation. Thanks to the young woman who taught me the word cyberbalkanization in my Sex and Technology presentation. Thanks to the people who congratulated me on my bravery and willingness to get naked on the first night in front of more than thirty clothed people during the demo for the G and P Spot Stimulation presentation.

In other words, thanks for seeing underneath all the cuts and bruises and welts. Thanks for rejecting the rhetoric that to be worth a damn as a bottom you need to have a pain tolerance that rivals a super hero’s. That’s the kind of thing that makes most men think they need to be stoic and “strong” when they are in pain, which is stupid because the last thing a sadist wants to see when they’re hurting someone is a lack of painful reaction (duh).

The people who did this with sadness and envy in their voices made me the most upset at the BDSM community’s constant self-aggrandizement through what amounts to nothing more than fear mongering. The people who I think should be the most ashamed of this are the ones who call themselves teachers, who present so-called “classes” in thinly-veiled attempts to advertise themselves as “intense players” in order to earn what they think is credibility and respect, like the one Switch encountered and wrote about in her post.

Those people are spreading a culture of fear through BDSM that is damaging to people’s self-esteem (both bottom’s and top’s), to the BDSM community’s image in mass media, and—most importantly—to their own partners. Playing at a certain physical intensity is simply one very mechanical aspect of what makes a scene work. It is natural that players with more physically intense tastes would be drawn to one another. There should be no reason to fear that you’re “not playing hard enough.”

It’s just a matter of BDSM chemistry. No one’s going to put you down for liking blondes over brunettes. Don’t let people put you down for liking, or not liking, a certain kind of play.

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