It was foggy in my (new) hometown of San Francisco today. I like fog. If I were weather I would be, I think, a dense fog. A friendly acquaintance of mine is fond of asking, “How’s your weather?” She does this instead of using the more common, “How are you?” I like her rephrasing because the frequently flippant answer of “fine” seems out of place, and so even if one is unwilling or unable to answer, one is prompted to consider the question.

When I moved to San Francisco, I was told the city would take me in, that I would be welcome here, that I could fall and the city would catch me. San Francisco: sanctuary for the sexually open. San Francisco: home for wayward queers. San Francisco: Fog City.

In one sense, San Francisco is a fitting place to make my residence. When I walk its hills I (literally) can’t foresee what I’ll encounter at a peak; a street fight, an emergency vehicle, or a gorgeous vista all seem equally likely. When it is foggy, this sense of uncertainty is even more pronounced. But in another sense, San Francisco has been predictably cruel.

A growing solicitude over my prolonged mental isolation keeps me up at night; I hug myself under the covers to remind myself of the sensation. There seems to be an ever-expanding cerebral distance between myself and others, like a great chasm carved with the simple force of circumstance and material. Did the Earth scream in pain when the Grand Canyon was cut into its crust like a wound on its flesh?

The other day I wrote about why BDSM and self-harm can not, using any empirical analysis, be considered similar and the responses I got felt like water cutting through rock; predictable and inevitable and overwhelming and elementarily antithetical to that which they engaged. They are good comments, or would be if attached to a post about coping with a cruel world as a person into BDSM—so, perhaps, a post like this one.

Last Sunday, I spoke with Dr. Staci Newmahr on Kink On Tap about her ethnography of a public SM community. What’s not in the show recording is the exceptionally personal 4 hour conversation Staci and I had after show close. I felt a little like we had (consensually) turned the tables and I was answering, instead of asking, questions. At one point, someone in the chat room asked me how often I play.

“I don’t think I’ve played seriously, in public, for years—in private, for probably about a year. Maybe about a little bit more, at this point,” I answered. Play is—in no metaphorical sense—an expression of intimacy, and my feelings of isolation are as much a result of my difficulty in finding safe, understanding play partners as they are a result of my cerebral dissonance with the BDSM community at large. But it’s worse than that because the BDSM community is, ostensibly, the pool from which a person into BDSM (such as me) can most easily engage play partners. This is a vicious cycle, a catch 22 in which this dissonance—whether on intellectual grounds or, equally likely, a failure to engage with what Staci described as my “sophisticated” gender—precludes playing with others in “the community” as a likely outcome for me.

What would you do after you’ve given up on having the sex life you want?” I once asked. For many people—and on a personal level, notably submissive men with “sophisticated” gender identities—this is not a hypothetical question. And I am obscenely privileged for having the resources needed to merely identify this reality.

In conversing with Staci, I continued, “playing was cathartic for many people. You know, you discuss in the book people who you interview who talk about playing as something that is very calming and sort of a release of stress and…can be very nice. […Play] was the only tool for emotional self-regulation I had for a very long time, and [now] I’ve sort of had to deal with not having that for a very long time.”

From the moment I can remember claiming my own autonomy (in second grade, actually), my life has been a struggle to hold onto that right for self-determination. It too often seems everything in the world is stacked against me in this: the education system is a corrupted racist prison pipeline; prisons themselves are slave camps for warmongers; the farcical “Land of the Free” is more aptly termed the Land of the Fearful. As I grew, I saw how insidious the enemy is, how it seeps into the tiniest crevices even within myself, if not rushing into places where it once could find no footing.

And they say my generation is apathetic. Well, I won’t believe it. I say we are overwhelmed, for we are the first generation who hear others’ suffering in their own words.

Do you hear them? The billions of voices, all crying out in anguish, every day, again, and again, and again? I can’t stop hearing them. You may say this is all just “a…bit of history repeating,” but I say that doesn’t stop “your hips from swinging.” After all, suicide and revolution are just two sides of the same coin.

Sometime last year, I got a surprise and much-needed affirmation from two out-of-State friends. At the time, I wrote about it privately but didn’t have the guts to publish what I wrote:

It had already been several days since I’d eaten comfortably. Every time I tried, I would get this hideous, nauseous feeling deep in the pit of my stomach. It felt as though the food was toxic. Or maybe I was. But that didn’t stop me from trying.

Dinner, that night, was no different. I had arrived ten minutes late, apologized, and ordered mushroom soup. I tried making small talk while the soup cooled in front of me. It didn’t work.

“Why don’t you tell us what’s bothering you?” [She] asked.

“You can’t dodge it forever,” [the other] added.

I deflected, again, with a joke.

[…]

“You don’t want to hear me rant,” I offered. But neither [of them] wanted to let it go. They no doubt saw how hurt I felt.

Yet another potential friend whom I knew for too short a time, the opportunities with whom were stolen by distance. And by New York, to boot. And by that group. That xenophobic group.

So I told them after all. I told them of the struggle to work on Kink On Tap, on KinkForAll. How important those projects are to me, and to others. And I told them why. I told them about spaces, and how I had none. Have none. Still. How I’d given up having spaces.

[…]

I don’t get to have a space made for me, but maybe I’ll be able to make a space for someone else. So I have to.

[…]

I was crying now, as I explained why I cared so much. The anger gave way to the sadness as the story turned from facts to feelings. “They don’t HAVE to care as much,” I said between tears, “because they HAVE a space, with each other, in their own insular group. So they don’t have to care as hard as I do, and I get that. I get that they have 9-5′s, that they’re not always working on making this culture better every waking moment. But I am, because I have to, because I don’t have a space like that, and I don’t even want one for me anymore. All I want now is help. Somebody to help me make a place where someone like me 8 years ago could go and wouldn’t suffer the way I did back then. Because I REMEMBER the pain, I REMEMBER what it felt like to be so alone, and so I can’t not care this hard, this much, even if they can.”

[…]

They were both done with their meals. I hardly touched mine. I didn’t feel hungry. I had spoken all through dinner, and apologized for monopolizing the conversation, and for being a downer. They said it was all right, that they wanted to have dinner with me. They asked if they could take care of me tonight. I hesitantly agreed.

[…]

With no sign that I had overstayed my welcome and in such soothing company, I walked with them to their hotel room. They gave me a spare key on the elevator, “just in case.” Indoors, eventually, awkwardly, the conversation drifted towards play. They told me they’d wanted to play, if I was interested. I was, and I was scared to—it had been so very long—and I said as much. They offered me cuddles, to start, and I graciously accepted.

We talked about mostly inconsequential things some more on the bed, slowly removing bits of one another’s clothing as we got more comfortable. I was surprised at my level of comfort with them. Soon we were playing, and kissing. [One] held my arms behind my back and touched her lips to my neck. [The other] squeezed my nipples and nibbled at my chest and raked her knife across my body.

“It feels so good to touch and be touched,” I said, remarking on the plain catharsis. It was void of romance or deep love, but it was just as necessary and just as healing and for which I was just as grateful.

The night was magical in that when the darkness of the evening finally enveloped us on the bed, there was nothing else in the world. No billions of others in anguish. No spaces needed to be made or unmade. Just us. For the first night in a long time, I rested in peace.

I desperately needed that; it is so healthy and I, like so many others, get it so rarely. Sexuality communities talk a good game about acceptance but they don’t do it so well in the face of this enemy, for it is far more deeply rooted even here than they are aware. And because they are not aware, because they are often willfully unaware, they are, themselves, oppressive.

And for me, since many of my own personal wounds were themselves created by the sexuality communities’ ignorance, every time I write or speak about this issue—and, yes, every time I so much as try to flirt, far less actually have sex or play with someone—I am picking at scabs. On multiple levels, I live in a mad world:

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for the daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere

Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I wanna drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it's a very, very
Mad world, mad world

Children waiting for the day they feel good
Happy birthday, happy birthday
And I feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen

Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me, what's my lesson?
Look right through me, look right through me

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles its a very, very
Mad world, mad world, enlarging your world
Mad world

I understand that BDSM play can be—and, for some, is—an internal process, an emotional “self-medication.” I don’t think playing from that place, or drinking from that place, or doing whatever the fuck it is that you do from that place is wrong if it keeps you alive. Because, as far as I’m concerned, as long as you aren’t imposing your will on others or violating others’ physical and emotional boundaries, you get to do whatever you need to do to stay alive.

This is a cruel world. The BDSM community is no less cruel—not to me, and not to thousands upon thousands of others. So stop saying you are. Stop it. Please stop, because you’re hurting me, and I didn’t consent to this.

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