The men awkwardly hug the walls of the room, unsure of how to act, their hands nervously clutching their red plastic beer cups. Before them lies a naked woman being beaten with a cattle prod. Should they hoot and holler? Cheer on the abuse? Take out their iPhones and snap some photos?
Sex parties. How do they work? No one gave these men a how-to manual and being a pervert doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
You almost feel sorry for them. They look out of their element, as if sadistic aliens had plucked them from their plush Silicon Valley cubicles and dropped them off at the Armory, headquarters of Kink.com, San Francisco’s BDSM mecca.
“Boring office drones, your bland existence offends us!” the aliens might have told their victims. “We sentence you to a kink party. You will not have sex at this party. Instead, you will watch other people have sex. And you will feel very awkward while you watch it. Like you expect your parents to barge into your bedroom at any moment, catching you mid-masturbation. Your awkwardness will be immortalized on film and made available over the Internet for all to see. Ha. Ha. Ha.”
The vignette I described above, minus the aliens, has been captured countless times by Public Disgrace, one of Kink.com’s porn properties. As its name suggests, the site’s dedicated to public humiliation. Their videos offer us a case study in why BDSM is often a code word for unbearably dorky.
Do a google image search for some of their pornography, and you’ll find picture after picture of damsels in distress surrounded by crowds of yuppie nerds who look like they’d rather be playing Super Mario Smash Bros than watching a woman get face fucked with a giant dildo. There’s so much awkward magic going on in the background of their videos, that I’m surprised no one’s earned a Ph.D by analyzing them.
“Crowd Dynamics in Public Humiliation Porn: Gaucheness Quantified.”
I’d read the hell out of that.
WHIP THE RICH
The fact that the BDSM scene attracts the socially awkward is an issue that’s worth exploring. You’d think that a community dedicated to pushing human sexuality to its absolute limits would be awash with twisted casanovas and damaged debonaires, but instead, it tends to attract well educated, well adjusted, affluent people. An 1980 study by Raymond Eve and Donald Renslow shows that the higher your social class, the more likely you’ve dreamt about being tied to a radiator and violated with a plunger. The researchers didn’t use those exact terms, but their study still boils down to four words: more money, more bondage. Other researchers have corroborated their findings. Working class people are much less likely than the bourgeois to have ever felt the electric touch of a violet wand or the snug embrace of a gimp mask. A working class man who hires a hooker just wants to fuck her and get out, whereas a wealthy man is much more likely to ask to be tied up and whipped. The reason so many BDSM parties are magnets for awkwardness comes down to class dynamics.
SWING DANCERS VS. PERVERTS
Years ago, I managed a dance studio. The modern swing dance scene and the BDSM scene are strikingly similar. They attract the same kind of people: middle to upper class, well educated, and nerdy. Both scenes are sanitized versions of communities that were once dominated by oppressed minorities. Swing was once poor, black, and visceral. It belonged to 1930s Harlem, and its every nook and cranny was permeated by sex and drugs, by poverty and want, by struggle and discrimination. The people who made swing possible knew what it was like to have society press its boots against their necks. A culture that had once been messy and alive has been transformed into something that is now clean and lifeless.
Today’s swing community is rated PG. The sex is of the stork and cabbage patch variety and the only drugs you’ll find are the kind you get over the counter at the pharmacy. It’s a thoroughly inoffensive community that has had all its rough edges polished off. There’s nothing low-class, working class, or underclass about it. Where modern swing dancing is a hollow version of a once vital black subculture, the straight BDSM community is a hollow version of old school gay kink scenes that date back to when men who were public about sucking cock got their teeth kicked in by angry bigots. The gays of the antediluvian pre-civil rights era were, like the blacks of 1930s Harlem, intimately familiar with being rejected by society. Suffering and struggle suffused their communities, and that reality helped shape the subcultures they created.
The modern swing scene and the straight BDSM scene are poor copies of the real deal, the cultural equivalent of generic store brands. They are, by design, bland. The Chinese and the Japanese have been making bondage art since before America was even a wrinkle on George Washington’s scrotum. Tying people up and beating the shit out of them for sexual gratification has a long and storied history.
Pain and suffering are rocket fuel for creativity. In the case of both swing and BDSM, well-adjusted bourgeois people created soulless, gentle versions of subcultures that had originally been built on a bedrock of misery and rejection.
GET HARD WITH FRICTION
We’re left with a frictionless BDSM community that doesn’t offer much in the way of cultural resistance. It’s dominated by a sense of ease, and that sense of ease is what enables social awkwardness.
You don’t get the luxury of being awkward when you’re part of a community that’s being challenged by the full might of society. Awkwardness is often a sign that someone’s been coddled by the world, which is why the sex parties of the bourgeois are more likely to have gauche men hugging the walls, clutching their drinks, nervously hoping no one makes eye contact with them.
Not all BDSM parties suffer under the weight of awkwardness, but nearly all of them are afflicted by a lack of cultural resistance. The BDSM community is what you’d get if you hired the CEO of Disney to package and sell human perversion. It’s a sanitized approximation of rebellion; a half-hearted venture into human darkness where participants are armed with a Winnie the Pooh security blanket and a Fred Flintstone flashlight.
They want to experience pain, but they don’t want to own their experiences. The rituals and traditions of the kink community are built in ways that prevent people from truly confronting their actions and desires, of coming face to face with them, and exploring them in all their broken ugliness.
I’M NOT FUCKED UP, HONEST.
Consider the word that BDSM practitioners use when they act out their kinks — they call them “scenes.” They assume roles so as to better deny ownership of their actions. He’s not the one tying up that woman and calling her a dirty worthless whore. She’s not the one getting turned on by it. They’re just actors taking part in a scene, a scene that delineates their identities from their desires, and creates a buffer zone between themselves and the brutality that motivates their pleasure.
Their unwillingness to own their actions cheapens them. The scene implies that desires are irrelevant. If it’s just a scene, does it really matter what the actors want? The word is a shield wielded against the possibility that there might be deeper truths hiding beneath the surface. The logic of the scene is the logic of moral cowardice.
BDSM practitioners rationalize their desires. They want to do bad things while remaining good people. Their experiences are so corseted by bourgeois morality that physical bondage almost seems redundant.
Everyone is broken in their own delightfully awful way. Kink, at its best, is a form of sexual kintsugi. Kintsugi is a Japanese art that involves filling cracks in broken pottery with powdered gold. They do this in order to appreciate the beauty of imperfection. Sexual kintsugi is finding gold in the cracks of our being and seeing value in the raw truth that we are not angels and that we all have demons lurking inside us. BDSM practitioners dress their demons up with halos, but that doesn’t turn them into angels. They don’t want to face the possibility that there is dirt in their souls that will never be cleaned.
We should celebrate our demons. They are part and parcel of who we are, and accepting that we are bad doesn’t stop us from doing good. We all contain multitudes. Denying that we’re sinners doesn’t turn us into saints but refusing to recognize our sins does prevent us from fully enjoying them.
If you’re going to be an asshole, don’t be half-assed about it and don’t hide behind “the scene.” If hitting someone with a cattle prod turns you on, own that shit. If I put on a Hamburgler mask and steal all your hamburgers, I don’t get to blame the Hamburgler for it. I did it. The end. In the same way, if you electrocute people for fun, and the people you electrocute enjoy it, good on both of you. It’s fucked up, and that’s fine. Neither of you have to rationalize it or pretend that it doesn’t say anything about who you are on a deeper level. It does. So what?
It’s okay to be broken. Everyone’s broken. It’s part of the whole being human deal. Imagine how boring life would be if you were perfectly put together, if everything always went your way, and if life was safe and risk free.
When we try to be perfect, we destroy our ability to enjoy our imperfections and we rob life of its color. Live a colorful life. Accept the fact that you are fucked up and you like fucked up things.
THE FUTURE OF KINK
We now have social networks that cater to BDSM, and these networks are helping to homogenize sexual “deviance.” The networks help popularize kink gurus, who write kink books, and offer kink seminars. Everyone ends up drinking from the same well of inspiration.
Remember your safe words (tunnel play is bad), don’t forget it’s just a scene (nothing is real, everything is permissible), and make sure to do some after-care (talking after sex needs it’s own special term). BDSM has its own rulebook when it comes to sex, much like most religions.
There’s nothing wrong with following the pervert’s bible, but people who are new to kink should know that the mainstream BDSM scene isn’t the end-all be-all of consensual sexual deviancy. There is a place in this world for a different kind of deviance than the sort you’ll read about on the internet or learn about on Fetlife.
The BDSM community embodies the bourgeois morality. It promotes sex without moral accountability and pleasure without consequence. It is, in other words, disposable, easy, and shallow. It offers the appearance of sexual variety while narrowing the moral depth of sexual experiences its members engage in.
Before you put on your leather pants and head out to your first munch, embrace your cracks and your faults, your flawed desires, and your messed up fantasies. Own your kinks. You are broken, and that’s okay.