Y is for Yourself
Say what you want about 50 Shades of Grey, it brought the BDSM scene into the mainstream consciousness and it did so in a fairly positive way. This is great, because prior to 50 Shades’ popularity, the face of BDSM was essentially this one.
Whereas now, we in the Scene are mostly defined as 40-something, repressed Twilight fans. Which…now that I think about it, is really kind of a lateral slide. Anyhoo, this article is not about bashing 50 Shades of Bella, it’s about the backlash that book has had on the Scene. You see, yes, it has elevated BDSM to a more socially-acceptable level, rather than something to be strictly played for laughs or used as the go-to kink for a Hollywood serial killer, but on the flip-side, it has brought a whole new wave of people into the scene who believe all subs ought to look, think and act like Ana, and all Doms ought to be shapeshifting dragons disguised as billionaire playboys (I haven’t read the book). My point is, I have personally met people, real people, who think that because they don’t have the same experiences as were written in a piece of, for Crissakes, revamped BDSM fan-fiction, they aren’t doing BDSM “right” and therefore maybe shouldn’t be in the Scene at all. No shit, I heard from one guy whose girlfriend of five friggin’ years broke up with him after she read that book, solely because she didn’t have an orgasm from having her toes sucked and therefore, he could not possibly be her true soulmate. “I didn’t even want to suck her toes in the first place!” he said. “What’s true love if it isn’t sucking on your woman’s gross feet?!”
First off, guy, you can do better than a girl who leaves you for a fictional wannabe vampire. Secondly, for the rest of you, there’s a real danger in defining yourself by a subculture, in that no one person can completely encapsulate an entire lifestyle. Heck, even my cross-stitch club comprises dozens of differing preferences and viewpoints, and prejudices absolutely do exist, even on that ridiculously irrelevant level (nor am I immune to them; I have a difficult time taking my sister’s stitching seriously because she still stitches on aida cloth rather than linen, whilst at the same time, I have to deal with the not-so-subtle condescension from the club moderator who thinks I’m a poser because I don’t like sampler patterns). In fact, when it comes to subcultures of any kind, everything is relevant to those who live there and everyone is an expert on who belongs. I’ve been told I’m not a “real” gamer because I don’t like first-person shooters; I don’t read the “right” comic books or listen to the “right” music; I don’t like Dr. Who, so obviously, I’m not a “real” nerd; and of course, I’m not a “real” author because I’m self-published.
My point is, I will not measure my life against the impossible standard set by a book, any book, even one of my books. I am not Ana, and my husband is not and never will be Christian (thank God). Most importantly, we understand that building a working sub/Dom relationship in the real world is not “settling” because we can’t live up to the fantasy. I would friggin’ hate to be Ana. I would much rather be me, precisely because I know who “me” is as a sub and in the “real world” context. Baby, I already live the fantasy; Cullens need not apply.
Once again, not bashing on E. L. James, but I do want to make it clear that the success of any scene is not the fantasy backdrop or the characters we play in Subspace, but rather, ourselves. Our true selves. Not to put too fine a point on it, but BDSM is a fringe culture and for many of us, it is the first and possibly only place we feel like we can be open about who we are. It takes a lot of courage to reach out to others in the Scene and the damage that can be done by one douchebag who’s appointed him- or herself Keeper of the Way is immense. So remember that, forget the media standard, and be yourself.
Be yourself. What fantastically bullshit advice, huh? On the surface, so obvious; on second glance, so vague. Who the hell else would you be? (“I’d be a T-rex,” says my sister, reading over my shoulder, and off she stomps into the kitchen for dino-coffee with her hands tucked up in tiny claws. She’s 39.) Well, look, we all know how to answer that question, because we all spend our days as a veritable cast of thousands. On any given day, I’m an administrator, a peace-maker, a sexy succubus, an errand-girl, a home-maker, and a moral compass (My sister, by contrast, is almost exclusively a T-rex. Did I mention she’s thirty-friggin-nine???). It is only under very special circumstances that I allow my inner self to fold over to my outer self, but I like to think I always carry that inner self with me. I may put on different make-up, but it’s always the same face.
Now, I’m a writer, I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not going to talk any more about finding your ego or self-expression or how to be a special little snowflake in a conformist society. Instead, I’m going to talk about books and specifically, I’m going to talk about sexual normativity in books, because, frankly, it bothers me that I can’t just write what I want to write, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.
I recognize that I write for a publisher and as such, I must conform to that publisher’s idea of what sells (and what’s more, I recognize that my publisher has far and away some of the most lenient and permissive standards in the business). I also know that writing within a genre means either following the accepted formula for that genre and making sales, or coloring outside the lines and alienating your readers. Having said that, I don’t live in a genre and there is rather a large part of me that resents like hell being forced to rework endless variations on the same overdone themes while pretending that other aspects of perfectly normal behavior does not exist. I have been asked to remove homosexual characters, interracial couples and “ethnic” surnames on the grounds that they were too controversial, because apparently, this is the 1950s and all our BDSM-themed erotic literature had better represent a homogenous, heteronormative, middle-class, Republican kink.
Here, let me say again that my present publisher allows me to push the envelope in a lot of different directions, but even she is not wholly comfortable with the idea of bisexual Wiccan, Lucy Stein, infiltrating a sex dungeon with her transgendered partner, Mei Feng, while her two husbands stay home with the kids. And, no, I don’t blame her, but yeah, I do sometimes wonder why not. When I write a book, the story is not about the sex or even the kink that colors the sex, it’s about the characters. Emotions should be relatable to every reader and not dependent upon race, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, height, weight or favorite color. I write about the human experience and yes, it’s that small slice of human experience that overlaps OTK spankings and figging, but there’s still a place for Lucy Stein and Mei Feng!
People, this article is about knowing yourself, representing yourself, being true to yourself. In BDSM, this means relinquishing control of your boundaries to another person (or taking control of another person’s boundaries). In writing, that means exploring new perspectives beyond your personal comfort zone and presenting them with dignity and passion. And in reading, that sometimes means being willing to put the formula aside and read about something brand new. You might just be surprised by the inner self you find hiding in the pages.
I knew which two authors I wanted to show case for this post before I even knew I wanted to make a post about the importance of not just being yourself but in being comfortable with yourself. Bold, brave, unashamed, both in who are you are as it relates to BDSM and in your own sexuality. Anastasia Vitsky and Joelle Casteel are two of my favorite authors in this field. If you are unfamiliar with either one, please take a minute now to get to know them both.
Joelle Casteel has been around the blogging world far, far longer than I have. I’d read some of her work off and on, and considered her something of a nodding acquaintance right up until ‘shit got real’ just a few months back. I don’t know what set it off, I wasn’t privy to that event, but I remember when she posted her ‘I am so fed up with people using homophobia as an excuse for intolerance.’ Now, I’m paraphrasing. I went back in search of the specifics of that post. Unfortunately, I have a lot of friends and, like me, none of them knows how to shut up. So the original post has long since dropped off my page. However, I loved her for saying that. I am one of those people who firmly believes that gender is a non-issue. What another person’s sexuality is is nobody’s business but that person and their partner. You as a human being have absolutely no business foisting your political, religious, or sexual beliefs off on any other human being. Period. There is no place in this world for intolerance of any kind.
In that vein, I think that Joelle Casteel’s 5-book series in which the first has already been released, Out of the Night: Book One, is the perfect example of embracing acceptance. If you haven’t already checked it out, please do so. The Queen is one of the hottest Dom characters that exemplifies all that Joelle Casteel (and I) whole-heartedly supports.
Anastasia Vitsky has a new book which is soon to be released. The title is Living in Sin and it deals with the strain that gay/lesbian people go through just in dealing with the prejudices within their own families, the people you love the most and who should always love you no matter what. Here’s a little sneak peak taste of the story. I think I might actually be the first person to offer that, too. 🙂
Audra slides her hand over my collarbone, slipping the satin pink bra strap over my shoulder. I bat her hand away and adjust my bra.
“Ouch,” she says, withdrawing to her end of the couch. “I did take a shower this morning.” She picks up her neon pink coffee mug and takes a sip.
“I love you.” I scan my pile of papers, frantic to finish my report before the deadline. “I’m just…”
“Busy,” Audra offers. She takes another sip, watching me.
“I’ve got to finish before Grandma’s birthday party.”
At the silence, I realize my mistake. “Look, I’m sorry. I know you want to go, but it’ll be tapioca pudding and cake with dull conversation.”
Two patches of pink appear on Audra’s cheeks, and she clinks her cup onto the ceramic mosaic coaster. We chose the set together when she first moved in. “You act like you’re ashamed of me.”
I groan. “We’ve gone through this a thousand times. That’s not how my family works.”
“Huh.” Audra stands up and carries her mug to the kitchen sink. “Thought I was part of your family.” She returns to the living room and sits in the chair furthest away from me.
I pound away for five full minutes until I give in. Audra has silent treatment down to a science. I can apologize, but it won’t change anything. “I need some space,” I plead.
“That can be arranged.” She stalks out of the room and slams our bedroom door.
* * *
“Sorry I’m late.” An hour later, I lay my silver-wrapped package on the divider next to my parents’ entryway. “I had to finish some work.”
Dad gives a grunt as he carries an enormous box fan to set up in the hallway. Company means more body heat, and this spring is warmer than usual. “Everyone else is in Grandma’s room.”
My aunt and uncle must have arrived earlier than usual. I wonder if Mom is upset at my tardiness, but I head down the hallway before I can think.
“Ciara!” My mom senses my entrance even though she seems preoccupied with helping Grandma sit up. Grandma’s white hair waves around her face, a testament to Mom’s skill in rolling the multicolored curlers. Pink for smaller curls on the top, blue for larger ones toward the back, and green at the bottom for a hint of curl.
“Hi, Grandma,” I say, and I hug her in between her oxygen tubes. I’m glad they keep her alive, but I hate how they’ve turned my grandmother into a frail old woman. “Happy birthday.”
“Adele,” she replies, and everyone avoids looking at my mother. I’m her twin, everyone says, and Grandma gets confused. Today must be one of her bad days. “What are you doing out of school? Tell Dad to come home early.”
“Okay,” I answer, and I kiss her cheek. What good would it do to correct her? I’d only make her upset, and she wouldn’t believe me. I turn to hug the others. “How’re you, Uncle Ted? Auntie Marge, how’s your knee?”
Auntie Marge smells like lilacs, the way she always does, but she has a new cane. “Can’t complain,” she says, tapping the four-pronged tips against the floor. “You’re looking tired. Don’t you get any rest?”
Not much, but I don’t say the words aloud. Today’s fatigue reflects conflict with Audra rather than lack of sleep. “My roommate kept me up.” It’s a handy tactic, telling the truth in order to deceive.
“You should bring her over,” Uncle Ted says, leaning back in his upholstered armchair and folding his hands across his ample stomach. “Nice girl.”
I made the mistake of bringing Audra to a family picnic when we first met, and everyone loved her. She hates the same football team as Uncle Ted, which made her a favorite for life. Then Audra and I became more than friends, and everything changed. I couldn’t risk having her in the same room as my family.
There is no cover to reveal just yet, but the tentative blurb is this:
Living in Sin
“Come out to your family, or we’re through!”
Twenty-something Ciara divides her time between work, her family, and her secret, live-in girlfriend. Audra tires of being excluded from family gatherings and gives her an ultimatum: Come out, or Audra will leave. Ciara must choose, but how can she give up her family or her love? Her grandmother, dying quietly on a ventilator, would die of shock if she knew. Her aunt sets up Ciara on blind dates…with men. How can Ciara respect her family and Audra at the same time? Is true love worth losing her family?