Better Living Through BDSM

photo credit: Jon Jacobs, 1988

Note: I was enjoying a sweetly loving evening with my life-partners last week when I succumbed to a fit of exuberant wise-cracking on social media that I should title my next memoir “Better Living Through BDSM,” because, well, that’s actually how I feel. So many of my followers said they want to read that, so here comes the mini-edition, with special thanks for your ongoing interest in my work. G

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Openly embracing my authentic sexuality was the best choice I ever made — and I say that despite enduring decades of discrimination, prejudice, economic penalty, and censorship for daring to speak truths about BDSM. Not to mention my share of the romantic disappointments and bitter surprises that come with an active BDSM life.

Never mind. They were worth it. I learned lessons every hard step of the way but I learned, and they have accumulated into a life that is so radically transformed from my beginnings that it feels like my identity shifted on a molecular level.

I wouldn’t say I’m a different person. Not at all. I’d say I’m the real person. I’m the person behind the person and in front of her too. The what-you-see-is-what-you-get Gloria. Yeah, it took work. First I had to become myself, the me I was born to be who got damaged and led astray by a clusterfuck of social norms, broken parents, and a million voices telling me to be less than I am, to fit myself into a pre-assigned box, and to be ashamed of my true self. Growing up as a woman in the 1960s and 70s, the pressure was on for me to settle before I understood what I was settling for, to give up power to men, to act like everyone else, to dress like everyone else, to accept whatever crumbs society deemed fit for a woman of my age, race, religion, and class, and, most of all, to lower my expectations of life.

While some of my personal evolutions were just part of the natural arc of experience and maturity, I credit BDSM with giving me the tools and all-new reference points to make sense of those experiences in fresh and independent ways. Today, I live in a unique, self-invented paradise, one I built step by tiny step since first coming out, replete with the best chosen family anyone could ever hope for, a menagerie of awesome pets, the most exciting and fascinating work I never even dreamed I could do, and an astonishing number of friends and extended family. I am surrounded by love! Me! The kid who felt like the ultimate loser, destined to failure and suicide, the young woman who never felt good enough, the human who lived in the shadows of her own life, not knowing how to climb into the light.

So to cut to the chase, here are three reasons why BDSM changed my life for the better. There are so many more reasons but this is my toplist.

 

3 Ways BDSM Redeemed My Life

 

BDSM Gave Me a New Beginning. For my whole life, I never felt I belonged anywhere. I didn’t even feel like I was leading a real life. No matter where I was or what I was doing, all the way through two marriages, endless affairs, a string of jobs and commitment to a career, it still felt like my real life was out there waiting for me someplace. It didn’t matter where I went or who I was with — sooner or later, the same feeling would start gnawing at me. This wasn’t the real me. I wasn’t leading my real life. I was lost in some kind of cobbled-up fantasy of what other people told me was the best way to live.

I don’t know how or when that changed exactly. I had a kind of spiritual revelation (as spiritual as it gets for an atheist) the summer after I began exploring BDSM. One night, late, while the world was silence and the skies an infinite blanket of stars, I felt a higher calling. Light filled me up inside. Maybe it was the ecstasy of being in a simple adobe cottage in Taos, NM, and feeling the holy spirits of Native America blow through the Sangre de Cristo mountains and into my being. Or, ok, maybe it was the amount of pot I’d smoked that day, I don’t know. But I heard the call and I followed it, so shaken and woke by the vision of light that I resolved that night to stop lying about who I was and what I wanted. I made that year all about the revelation. I stopped lying to myself and I stopped lying to other people and it was the most self-liberating experience of my life.

Or I could be more dispassionate about it and point to the first time I logged into a BDSM bulletin board a few months before the Taos vision and realized there were other people like me. That woke me from groin to brain with a blinding intensity that seemed instantly to rewire me. OMG, I was kinky. I mean, REALLY kinky! There was even a clinical name for me: I was a sadomasochist. Holy shit — that was scary at first. I’d heard about their kind — weren’t they all psychopaths? That’s what psychiatry said. Was psychiatry all wrong? Why yes, yes they fucking were! (And I’ve had the honor of proving just how wrong in all my sex books.) So that once-scary word became beautiful to me: it meant there were enough people like me for them to think up a category to stick us in. There was a word for me and it wasn’t “weird” or “freak.” It was, as I saw it then and still do today, just another manifestation of the human psychosexual condition, normal for some and not for others.

I could also point to the first time I accidentally walked in on the tail-end of a Mr. Drummer contest ca. 1986. Ecstatic men were kissing and jumping for joy as results were announced, tears of joy mingling with sweat in the summer heat, and their energy filled me from head to toe, their joy seeping into me. I could almost feel my genes tingling! I always thought I was the only one, or one of a handful hiding out on a secret bulletin board. But here they were, en masse! Real people! MY PEOPLE. I was too shy to approach them and I doubt any of them noticed the lone female at the dark bar, but no matter. In that sea of flesh and leather, I glimpsed my first vision of a world that looked like home.

And then there was the first time I attended a Dressing for Pleasure event a couple of years later. At the formal banquet, I looked at all 300+ pervs squeezed into the ballroom and suddenly was overwhelmed by the understanding that there wasn’t any sex fantasy or BDSM craving I could tell anyone that would shock anyone in that room. I knew that, in fact, the desires I had always considered so dark, so shameful, so loathsome to “normal” people, the ones I never fully confided in my lovers, would get me laid in this crowd. That blew my brain into glittering pieces. It motivated me to found Variations II on Compuserve. I wanted to reach out to all the people still struggling with their BDSM/fetish identities, to give them a place to call home, to be among others who would try to understand them and not just judge them or tell them to ignore their authentic needs and abandon their most dearly-held dreams.

So…lots of awakenings led to the same mega-change. BDSM gave me a clean foundation to build my life on. It gave me a door to a new world where I could start building the life I really wanted. It freed me of a burden I’d carried until then — the burden of feeling ashamed of being sexually different. It showed me that not only were there people who were like me, but there were people who could understand and maybe even love the REAL me.

 

BDSM Taught Me About Power I don’t mean that BDSM taught me about consensual power relationships, though obviously it did (and does all of us). Sure, I learned volumes about how to get inside a submissive’s mind and how to exploit my own penchants for control and mind-games and channel them into eliciting quivers and whimpers — and how to do it not just consensually but with the intention of bringing both partners joy.

Even more important to the rest of my life, though, BDSM taught me volumes about how people use, abuse and surrender power in ordinary life too. BDSM power exchange taught me that power is as often about an attitude a person projects as it is about what she or he actually brings to the table. People who push hard get more of what they want than people who need to be pushed, regardless of whether the hard-pushers are worth a damn as human beings. Sometimes you didn’t even have to push. All I had to do was show up at a BDSM club in a leather mini-skirt and mean-looking heels, and men begged to serve me before learning my name. On-line, just using “Mistress” in my handle drew wannabe-slaves ready to give up time, money, and emotional currency to a woman they’d never met. That was a life lesson right there. You don’t even need to BE powerful to get people to give you power — they do a lot of the work in their own minds, by projecting their own image of what makes someone powerful onto you. All you have to do is provide a few fetish accessories or a nifty handle. Mind=blown.

The question is not whether you give up power, but whether
you give it up wisely.

 

These awakenings made me re-examine who I’d given power to in my own life. I developed a personal mantra, “Consider the source.” This power-exchange-aware mantra became my strongest ally in deflecting advice from people who didn’t know were talking about or who wanted to make me feel small so they could feel bigger. It helped me keep bullies, narcissists, and manipulators away, and to spot a con artist from across a crowded club. I learned that unless someone is holding a gun to your head, literally or metaphorically, giving up power is a choice. The question is not whether you give up power, but whether you give it up wisely.

BDSM taught me how to identify that sharp line between giving informed consent to trusted parties who really did have my (or our mutual) best interests in mind v. caving to outside pressure from people who did not. It’s the difference between taking charge of your own life or leading a disempowered life, where you let others make your decisions and choices for you. BDSM empowered me with a healthier, whole philosophy on how power and control play out in human life.

 

BDSM Taught Me Self-Discipline I get complimented on my self-discipline these days but once upon a time I was the least self-disciplined person I knew. See above for “not my real life,” which may explain why I was often late, hated getting out of bed, never met deadlines, could fuck off for days at a time doing literally nothing except maybe crossword puzzles, ate whenever, and never met a challenge I didn’t turn away from.

Being a dominant though was a shiny new phenomenon. Suddenly, the age-old expression “with great power comes great responsibility” became tangible. I had to be someone that someone else relied on for his or her actual well-being. I had to be strong for someone else in real ways, by behaving maturely, responsibly, thoughtfully and with respect for their bodies and minds. I had to be able to parent them when they needed to be comforted; I had to build compassion and forgiveness; I had to place their interests alongside mine and not give into the toxic fantasy that it’s okay to abuse people as long as they agree to it. I had to be there for them when they needed me; I had to give them the experience we mutually agreed to or face their disappointment and loss of trust.

In other words, I had to be moral! I had to grow my emotional intelligence so I could be the owner/caretaker/leader/guide with people who all had different stories, different needs, different life paths. But I’m not a service dom by nature. I wanted to lead by example. The only way to do that was to be just as pro-active about my own life. I had to dominate myself, mother myself, make better decisions for myself and create visions to guide my own life.

So I learned to become disciplined. I learned to glue my ass to a chair and work until I was sure I’d gotten enough done. I learned to work as hard for myself as I’d worked at various shit jobs. I learned to persevere in the face of massive rejections. I learned to treat every day as an opportunity to do something meaningful, whether it was teaching my dogs a new behavior or finishing an article ahead of deadline.

More than that, I learned to discipline my emotions. I learned how to get through bad days with dignity, how to demonstrate compassion, how to forgive human shortcomings (in others and in myself), and, on the other side of the equation, how to ruthlessly eliminate negative people and pointless distractions from my life. I learned, also, how to love more and better and with as few limitations and conditions as possible, because that too took a lot of moral discipline. I do not come from a forgiving people. I come from a very judgy, insular people.

Self-discipline helped me fully become who I really am. By forcing myself to focus on the things I could control — my work life, my BDSM life, and my personal relationships — I changed the scope of my external realities as much as the internal ones. And, these days, I think this is what’s created the most redemptive magic of all: self-actualization through sexual authenticity.

 

 

Remember, folks — Pride doesn’t end in June, it lasts all year round! I’ll be blogging lots more about BDSM. Keep those colors flying in your hearts.