I’m black, I’m a transfag, I’m disabled, and I’m a survivor of violence and abuse. I’m also a proud kinkster and active member in the BDSM/fetish community.
Yet I’ve heard BDSM be accused of perpetuating racist stereotypes via kinks such as race play. Many trans folks rail against the BDSM community as a place where we are exoticized as kinks and not seen instead as kinky people. BDSM spaces can often be extremely alienating and inaccessible for disabled folks, neuroatypical, and chronically ill.
More than anything else though, I am bombarded with the implication that my participation in BDSM is somehow a self-retraumatization, that I am re-living my abuse, and that myself and those I play with are abusers and abusees alike.
In fact, any one of these identities can be seen as a conflict with my love of BDSM, and I do not disagree that these spaces can do harm as easily as any other space. Neither do I wish to invalidate the stories of those who feel the ways I’ve described above.
However, today in the wake of yet another murder of a black man, I thought about my BDSM community. In the mess of trans erasures (particularly trans women/femmes), the glossing over of violence against black women, the ignoring of the higher rates of violence and genocide against Indigenous Peoples, the silencing of the queer voices that created and lead the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the perpetual inaccessibility of anti-racist actions that is sure to follow this latest act of violence, I thought about my BDSM community. In the wake of so much ongoing Islamaphobic violence, attacks against the sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples, deportations of undocumented folks, constant racist actions taken by the prison industrial complex, and so much more violence besides, I thought about my BDSM community.
I thought about my BDSM community today because they are where are go for healing. They are where I go to be seen in all my racially oppressed, gender non-conforming, crippled, and violated glory and to share in a group release of the constant pain we are so thoughtlessly, casually bombarded with daily.
When i say this, so many people ask me how that is considering all the points I’ve brought up and more besides. The fact is, one of the ways I view BDSM is as a particular kind of therapy.
In Somatic Therapy, one focuses on addressing the symptoms of trauma by focusing on body sensations (or somatic experiences). Physical and mental tensions can remain after a traumatizing incident is long gone because our bodies unintentionally hold on to the energy that makes us want to fight or flee the source of our trauma, leaving us physically frozen in that moment. Somatic Experiencing teaches that this tension can be released through experiencing small amounts of similar distress at a time to give release to that stored tension without retraumatizing us (among other strategies).
In other words, controlled consensual releasing of our desires to fight or to flee our hurt, actually heals us. When put that way, somatic healing sounds very like BDSM play.
The fear, rage and powerlessness I am holding on to every time a cop harasses me, or a community member is jailed or killed, is slowly released with each swing of my riding crop against the body of a willing partner. The terror, helplessness, and distrust caused by a childhood peppered with abuse gently gradually melt away through setting boundaries for myself, using safe words, and experiencing pre-negotiated domination from a responsible and caring partner that I am actually in control of. Giving and receiving after-care with partners who share so many of my intersections grounds me in the present and lets me breathe, cry, and finally let go of so much of the stored negativity we worked out together in our session.
So when I think of how folks like me navigate and live through each day in a world that we were never meant to survive, I think of how BDSM is one of the many beautiful, powerful tools in my arsenal against our oppression. I think of how those who try to shame me for this and those whose micro- (and macro) aggressions I am forced to endure regularly are often the same people, and that is telling. I think about how every time I come together with all my lovely brown, broken, striving, struggling, loving, faggy, glitter-coated kinky unicorns, I AM HEALED. Each time I am healed. Maybe not completely, but a little more every time.
I know this is not everyone’s narrative but it is mine and I wanted to share this for those who feel similarly but may not have the words, the access, or the freedom to say so. And also to say Thank You to my entire kink/fetish/BDSM trans, intersex, two-spirit, gender non-conforming, non-binary, queer, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, lesbian, and gay community of color for living out loud, encouraging me to do the same, and sharing space with me. You mean more than you will ever know.