I don’t know what it’s like to be bound to most bondage furniture. But I do know what it’s like to be bondage furniture.

I was reminded of this when I showed up as a volunteer for Mark’s Dungeon Crew, part of the group who had offered to help set up the Portland Leather Alliance’s post-Thanksgiving Play Party at the TA Events Center. I’d volunteered in exchange for free entry to the $20 per person party that evening, but when I got to the Events Center and stood at its doors as the big U-Haul with all the bondage furniture backed up towards us, I was overcome with an active disinclination to help.

This wasn’t laziness or freeloading; I didn’t just not want to help, I actively wanted to not help. The feeling came over me in a wave and I was briefly confused. I stood at the doorway to the party space, silent, motionless, with my hands in my pockets.

“Do you want to not help because you’re not sure if you’ll have a good time at the party?” Mish, who I’d convinced to come with me and with whom I was ostensibly volunteering for free entry, asked me after I found some awkward words for my feelings.

“No….” I said it softly, and slowly, thinking. My mouth had trouble forming the word. I felt less like I was answering her question and more like I was trying the answer on for size. “No,” I said again after a moment, more self-assured this time, for now I knew why that was not the answer.

“This needs two people,” the man unloading the U-Haul called out. He pushed a padded bondage chair toward the edge of the truck. Several volunteers appeared near him. They lifted the chair a few inches off the ground and began moving it towards the party space.

The chair was facing me head-on. I stared back at it, and that’s when I saw her. She was naked, and ugly. Her flesh was molting like a sick bird’s feathers and her bony face and hollow cheeks made her whole head resemble a skull. Her eyes were large and what thin layer of skin was stretched across her jaw curled into a mean smile. Her legs and arms were bound to the heavy wooden frame of the chair the volunteers were carrying and as they moved it into the play space the ghost turned her head, locking her eyes on mine.

Your skin makes me cry.
You float like a feather
in a beautiful world.
I wish I was special.
You’re so fucking special.

But I’m a creep,
I’m a weirdo.
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here.

“No way I’m helping,” I said aloud to myself. I turned my back and walked to the street corner without ever saying goodbye to anyone on the PLA dungeon crew.

Most submissive men hate themselves. That makes it easy for us to hate other people. That also makes it easy for other people to hate us. The BDSM Scene wouldn’t have it any other way; The Scene-State’s corrupt plutocrats have too much riding on it.

I hated myself for a long time because I want to be sexually submissive and yet I was unable to access a relationship that felt good to me. I didn’t hate myself because I wanted to be sexually submissive, I hated myself because I felt incapable of being attractive and I felt incapable of being attractive because I wanted to be sexually submissive; no one wants a submissive man.

The hatred didn’t start that way. It started as hope. I used to keep a coil of rope beneath my pillow, and I would wrap it around my wrists to comfort myself at night. I hoped that one day someone who loved me would sleep next to me, our naked skin keeping one another warm, the weight of their arms on the sides of my exposed chest as my own arms were kept above my head by the ropes.

When I first joined the BDSM Scene in 2002, I naïvely believed people there gave a shit about me. By the time my then-partner, Cookie, had burned through two relationships, I was still coiling rope under my pillow hoping I could be sexy like she was. I saw Cookie on a trailer for Kink, Inc.’s Wired Pussy porn site before I ever really played.

That’s when the hope dissipated, never to return. In that moment of invasive surprise at unexpectedly seeing my ex-partner show up on my screen as I browsed for porn, all the hope I had mutated into confusion: Why doesn’t anyone want to play with me the way I really want? Why am I not attractive? What am I doing wrong? What’s wrong with me?

Years pass.

It was getting late, but neither Eileen nor I were tired. We cast about the group, conducting an informal poll of who wanted to continue bar-hopping. The Professor was up for more, and so was C, so we said goodbye to the others as the four of us headed to the bars near St. Mark’s Place in New York City. It was an area where The Professor said he knew where to find the cheap drinks.

The Professor was a (straight) dominant man who, despite his age and ingrained ignorances, was far cooler than most of us young BDSM’ers who hung out at Conversio Virium in 2007. C was a college student, and a sex worker—a self-identified switch, a fetish model who semi-regularly bottomed for various Kink, Inc. sites, and a pro-domme. Eileen—my live-in partner, love of my life—was a dominant woman. And, well, you all know I’m a submissive man.

The four of us drank, talked, and eventually headed home to mine and Eileen’s apartment. The conversation had become flirty at the last few bars, implicitly sexual on the ride home, and explicitly so back at the apartment. I fetched us all more to drink. I remember returning to find C making out with Eileen. It wasn’t much longer before C’s clothes were on the floor. Eileen held C’s hands behind her back as they kissed, The Professor fondled C’s thighs and legs and cunt, and I stood back, smiling awkwardly and feeling very out of place in my own bedroom.

“Do you want to put an ice cube in her pussy?” The Professor asked me, taking one out of his drink and handing it to me.

I thought maybe he was being generous, trying to include me in the play scene that had “just happened.” It wasn’t just a question, it was an invitation. But it was an invitation to top. I knew how to say “no, I don’t want to put an ice cube in her pussy,” but I didn’t know how to say, “I’d rather you tie me up and put the ice cube in my ass.”

So I said nothing and slipped the ice cube I’d been handed past C’s vulva anyway. I hoped I’d feel some kind of erotic charge, but as C reacted to the cold with lustful gyrations and her perfect, practiced, pornonormative moan, I just felt worse. It was as though I was now out of place in my own skin, not just my own bedroom. The wrongness of what was happening right in front of my eyes, the stereotype that the love of my life was embracing, the offensive cliché I had so casually let enter my home, and then my bedroom, and then my bed, had now snuck its way into me. I was no longer an observer; I was a participant in something I actively wanted no part of.

The play intensified. They moved to the living room so C could feel the single-tail whip. My whip. The one that had been gifted to me for my birthday the prior year. There were no good places to throw it in our apartment so The Professor held C against his body, tits facing Eileen, near the middle of the room. Eileen ranged herself to the four-and-a-half-foot single tail. I watched it all, paralyzed, literally voiceless, like it was a train wreck in slow motion.

Bright red stripes appeared on C’s breasts and torso as Eileen singletailed her. C twisted in The Professor’s grip, lifting her legs. “Stay still,” the co-tops said several times, before finally concurring, “We need to hold her ankles in place.”

That’s when I did the most shameful thing: I prostrated myself on the floor, face down on the wood, laying myself between Eileen and C, under the range of the single-tail whip. I held onto C’s ankles with my fists and kept them in place. Eileen began to throw the whip again. Every time she did, I heard C yelp.

Sometimes, when Eileen threw a vertical strike, the follow through would land weakly across my back. It was nothing like actually being hit with the thing, nothing of consequence. But I remember wishing for it to continue, pining for just one thing: more—play with me more. There I was, a ridiculous fool, splaying myself out on the floor, doing my best imitation of bondage furniture, and feeling all but grateful for accidental swishes of single tail strikes. Strikes that weren’t even meant for me!

She wasn’t even aiming for me.

I felt so stupid. I felt so used. I felt so bad. I just wanted so much to be played with the way they were playing with C. In the moment when what I had seen in so much porn on my computer was actually happening in my own home, I was “counting my blessings,” hungrily lapping up whatever regurgitated bits of eroticism fell from the feast above me like the forgotten creep I’d become, when I should have at least said, “No way I’m helping,” turned my back, and walked away.

Later, Eileen would praise me as being “so good and helpful” during the scene, and a painful pang would explode in the middle of my chest, the emotional puncture wound in my heart draining it of blood. It would be all I could do to feign another smile.

When you were here before,
Couldn’t look you in the eye.
You’re just like an angel.

[…]

I don’t care if it hurts.
I want to have control.
I want a perfect body.
I want a perfect soul.
I want you to notice when I’m not around.
You’re so fucking special.
I wish I was special.

[…]

Whatever makes you happy.
Whatever you want.
You’re so fucking special.
I wish I was special.

But I’m a creep,
I’m a weirdo.
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here.
I don’t belong here….

Creep

I had failed by not speaking up. I hated that I participated, and then I started hating myself for participating. And then I hated Eileen, C, and The Professor for being so ignorant of the societal pressure that had built up against the thing I wanted; for not knowing how long I’d kept a rope coiled under my pillow; for making me sacrifice my wants for their orgasms—again.

My hate became righteous anger. A few days later, I wrote this:

A lot of things are wrong and were never right; these things have hurt me from the first moment I interacted even remotely sexually with another person, but they are especially painful right now because of a few personal experiences that I’d much rather not go into on such a public forum. I mention that now to tell you, dearest reader, that these things are not solely the belligerent words of an angsty youth. These things do happen. They happen all the time.

[…]

I wanted to write about how submissive men will pretty much always, without fail, lose a race for sexual satisfaction out of any gender/sex/orientation combination you can come up with. Always. I’ve had a sex life that any submissive man you point at would kill to have, yet stick me in a room with other orientations and I’m still the first one sidelined, the last one standing by the fruit punch and chips, so to speak. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before, and it’s certainly going to happen again.

[…]

I’m way too angry […] to make any kind of coherent sense. So like I said, move along, keep channel surfing. There’s nothing to see here that you haven’t seen a million times before.

I used to have hope because I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to expect exclusion, to predict ostracization. Then it happened with such disturbing regularity that I became unable to imagine what it would be like not to expect exclusion, what it would be like not to be pining for that unattainable thing forever barricaded on the other side of societal pressures: more—play with me more—PLEASE. And it doesn’t just happen out there, in the world outside my bedroom, but in here, at the core of my relationships, during all of my sex: every time one of my well-meaning partners, in their lust, whispers “please fuck me” in my ear.

It didn’t take long for the calm horror to set in, the realization that I’m broken, and—worse—that everyone I ever love is going to suffer this pain because unless I see them empathize with this misery, I could never feel seen enough to love them.

I tried to maintain the pretense of friendship with The Professor and with C, but I couldn’t. Every innocent remark about playing that night in my apartment punctured my heart all over again. I smiled back at them, and they never seemed to suspect anything amiss. Over time, remarks about that night faded along with their memory of it, but by then their mere proximity—C’s beauty and the marks she loved showing off, The Professor’s suave flirting and his wild stories of the submissive women he was dating—were intolerable because my heart never healed. I started avoiding them at parties, declining invitations to events to which they had expressed an interest in attending. I don’t hate them, but I don’t miss them.

Earlier this year, Cookie left me a voicemail. She said she was writing a memoir of her coming out to the BDSM Scene, a story that is intricately entangled with my own story of the same, since her initial exposure not just to the BDSM Scene but to BDSM itself was through me. I told her I had no interest in revisiting the portions of my life with her in it and that she should not contact me unless I chose to contact her again, and good luck on her memoir.

These are some of the earliest people whose stories in my life end with, “And now we don’t talk to each other anymore.”

Nevertheless, sometimes I see their faces when I least want to; Cookie’s, C’s, countless other women I’d seen bottom, their partners’, the privileged shits, like Cookie’s dom, who thinks I’m “like an annoying five year old” asking too many questions. They were there, all of them, a composite in ghoulish form with that sick, molting flesh and that mean smile on the bondage chair that the PLA Dungeon Crew were moving in front of me: “Displays of privilege unshared are forever painful to the underprivileged.”

I hate bondage furniture. I wish I knew what it was like to be bound to it, and played with in it, and loved in it. But I hate the thought of it now, because I used to love the hope for it.

I hold my hatred close because I loved my hope too hard, and for too long, to be indifferent about wanting to have the kind of sex I want with the people I love. I can’t be indifferent, no matter how often I try to convince myself I’m being petty. Because it’s not petty to want the sex you like with the people you love. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

And that’s what The Scene doesn’t want you to know.

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