I’m Alexander Cheves, a sex writer, worker, and educator. Friends call me Beastly. My book, My Love Is a Beast: Confessions, is available now everywhere books are sold.
We’re going to try something different. More people visit this blog on Wednesday than any other day of the week, so I’m going to post on Wednesday — humpday, fittingly — for a few weeks and see how folks respond. Please let me know what you think about this in the comments.
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I’m an out gay man who has a kinkier side that I am just starting to explore. In general, I enjoy being submissive and being dominated sexually. I also have childhood sexual trauma that I’ve been working through in counseling.
I’ve really allowed my trauma to define me my whole life, which has led to a strong sense of worthlessness. As an adult, I have realized that some of my sexual interests and desire to be dominated are connected to my childhood experience.
While it’s totally fine that I enjoy being dominated, I tend to emotionally conflate my childhood experience and current sexual interests. It almost feels as if I’m reliving that childhood experience, which has led to a lot of shame, depression, and self-loathing. I am sure every person is different and there are those who love being dominated who haven’t had an experience similar to my own.
In my exploration of self, I would like to know more about how people might experience their kink in a way that allows them to reclaim past trauma. What do they experience when in the midst of being dominated? How does that translate to self-acceptance and love? Do you have any advice or books you would recommend?
When I was seven, my dad took me to a hut in a village in Zambia, Africa. At first, I thought the people lying on the floor of the hut were dead until I realized they were looking at me. They were skeletal, Black skin wrapped around bone, barely moving, dying. My dad said they have AIDS.
That hut has haunted me my entire life. I was too young to ask why he thought it necessary to show that to a seven-year-old, but of course, I now know why. He knew I was gay or at least suspected it, and that was his way of saying, “This is what will happen to you if you go this way.” It was a warning.
That’s just one glimpse of my childhood and my relationship with him. There were better parts, sure, but I still feel hurt, shame, fear, and anger when I think about my dad. When I came out at sixteen, he said his thoughts more explicitly: “You’ll die of AIDS before you’re thirty. And you’ll go to Hell.”
I’m now HIV-positive, but I will never have AIDS. I will never be left to die in a hut like those people were, and like so many people in America were, too — left to die on the streets of cities and in hospital wards where no one would touch them. I have queers, not Christians, to thank for the life I have now and the meds I take. And I have kinky people to thank for my healing, my sense of family, my sense of home. No one can tell me that kink doesn’t save people.
Home for me is a complicated and touchy topic; nothing breaks my heart more. I have no single place that I can return to and feel as though I’m back where I belong, but I have leather bars and friends across the country and across the world, so in a way, my home is everywhere. My home is a constellation of intense sexual encounters and short intimacies. My home is made of people like you. The kinky community is a powerful tool to combat trauma.
When I’m being dominated, some difficult emotions come up: my body dysmorphia and self-doubt invariably rise to the surface. In the middle of a scene some years ago, I felt intense anger at my dad and my dominant knew to push me a little further, let me use that anger to go harder. After we finished, I felt like a weight had lifted from me, and from that day on, my feelings about my dad have not been as strong — I was able to release them a bit. That’s the beauty of kink — it pulls these feelings to the fore and forces us to recognize them and use them. If a dominant playmate can’t help me work my way out of my head, I take it as a sign that we’re either a) not a match or b) not mentally connected and should stop. My traumas and insecurities are “tells,” like in poker: if they don’t go away, let’s quit for the night, but if we can work through them on my way into subspace, true and beautiful submission will follow.
Submitting to someone is a delicate dance between confidence and doubt, fear and wonder. It should bring up some traumas and bad feelings; we’re all playing with our shames and pasts, and often our shames and pasts are what make our turn-ons so intense. I grew up in the fiercely masculine world of the Bible Belt, where the only thing worse than being a fag was being a feminine one, so for years I was terrified of femininity. I have conquered that fear thanks to kink; I discovered that women are powerful and own their sexuality in powerful ways — and I’ve met many dominant women and dominatrixes — and I learned that being feminized is fun and sexy. My favorite kink is to wear panties and hear guys call my hole a pussy while it’s getting stretched.
I don’t think my past experiences “made” me kinky. I don’t tie kink to trauma, but being submissive has helped me through my trauma. Many people experience kink as some experience meditation and working out — it makes them feel stronger, boosts their confidence, gives them a community, and helps them navigate the world.
I do not share the widespread belief that there must be a “why” to kink, and I do not pathologize kinkiness as a symptom of past trauma. Many people disagree with me on that. I think those people misunderstand what kink is. They see it as “non-normative” and so it must be caused by something. I don’t think kink is as “non-normative” as many therapists and psychologists believe — in fact, I think most people given access to sex-positive information about kinks would discover they have a few.
For people in kink who suffer from pronounced trauma, kink often becomes a way to heal from the trauma rather than relive it. That’s not to say that every kink and fetish practice is healthy and healing; anything can be taken to harmful extremes. But instead of seeing kink as self-harming pathological behavior, I see it more as therapy — hard BDSM can involve powerful physical and emotional release, especially with good partners who practice proper aftercare.
Seek out a good, sex-positive therapist (it sounds like you might already have one). If your counselor or therapist is not queer-friendly or if they try to dissuade you from kink, find a new one. There’s nothing wrong with wanting kinky sex — kink is healthy and fun — but if it’s stirring up some difficult emotions, you should be able to talk about them with someone who won’t shame you for what you enjoy.
There are sadly not many good books on kink — the literature is lacking because our knowledge is lacking. Few academically sound studies have been conducted on kink. Kink is only beginning to come out of the underground — we’re still figuring out what it is. But we know people have been doing it a long time, so nothing about it is unnatural.
Find a good therapist and befriend other kinky people. You need your tribe.
Hi. I’m a gay male of 28 years old. I recently came out of a relationship where my partner was not kink-positive. I want to get into the community and the environment; however, I find myself very intimidated.
I work in a STEM field, and my social circles are usually hetero and conservative when it comes to sex; so I find myself a bit stranded and alone.
I’m very shy meeting new people, and I find the community a bit difficult to get into. I feel that this holds me back sexually; I really want to discover new scenes but this feels like the one thing that holds me back.
Do you have any advice to putting yourself out there for someone like me?
The kink scene can be intimidating. But I promise you it is filled with people who work in STEM fields, who have to wear ties and hop on Zoom calls all day. By night, they are their truer selves: fist pigs, rubber gimps, cigar daddies, whatever.
They all felt just as intimidated by the scene as you do — and just as drawn to it. If you go to a cruisy leather bar right now, you would not be the only first-timer there; every time I visit the Eagle, my local leather bar, I meet people who are first-timers. Some of them are nervous, but often they seem relieved to find that everyone is nice and normal. Unless you’re going to a hardcore sex party, you’ll likely find that kinky spaces (and kinky people) are pretty casual and humdrum — we’re not constantly whipping each other. I think going to an in-person space — a leather bar, leather and fetish shop, or some similar space or event where you know kinky folks will be there — is the better way to get started, which is to say I don’t necessarily suggest starting online or on apps. With kink culture, you need to be there in person as much as you can, at least in the beginning, and this is why there are so many in-person kink events across the world.
And this is important: by simply wanting to be there, you belong.
Desire is your kink admission ticket. The only requirement at the door is curiosity (and maybe a cover charge or ticket fee). I’ll tell you what I have told others in your shoes: You will not be comfortable when you first start to explore a new space, regardless if that space is online or in-person (and again, I strongly suggest starting in-person if you can — even if that means traveling a bit). There is no way to mentally prepare for “the scene.” All unfamiliar sexual and cultural spaces are intimidating for beginners and the only way to become comfortable in them is to become familiar — to put in the time, talk to people, make friends, make mistakes, and learn.
I have heard questions like yours from many queer men who avoid gay bars for the same reason: they are intimidated, so they just don’t go. They believe they will be judged or will feel uncomfortable — and both of those things will almost assuredly happen. Learning a new space isn’t about avoiding judgment or discomfort — it’s about recognizing and avoiding the people who judge and listening to your discomfort and using it to make smart decisions without letting it control you.
Let me expand on that a bit. Some nervousness is good. Wariness is smart. Like any group of people, there are some bad apples in kink. While I think they are eclipsed by all the wonderful kinky folks out there who help and nurture, the unfortunate reality is that bad apples go for beginners and newbies. In kink, word gets around, and unsafe playmates tend to garner a reputation quickly and are rooted out. Sexual playmates talk, and the community is not large. So you’re most likely to encounter a bad apple when you’re first getting in the scene — people who don’t know what they’re doing and say they do, or worse, people who know exactly what they’re doing and intentionally hurt you. There are people who use kink as a cover to do real manipulation and abuse, and then, like in any group of people, there are just the untrustworthy folks, the ones who aren’t completely honest or who hide severe substance abuse problems. This is why it’s important to be a little wary and to meet as many people as you can. If you connect with, say, a dominant who tries to isolate you from the community and doesn’t want you to go to fetish events or meet other kinky people, that’s a red flag. The best kinksters introduce you to more kinksters and bring you into the community before claiming you.
All this information is intended to be helpful, but please don’t misread it. Don’t interpret this as a reason not to explore kink. If you need it, you need it. Those of us who love it know that we have to keep at it even when we encounter bad apples, because we know there are great people out there, too — people who change the way we understand our bodies, people who make us feel strong, sexy, and free.
What you should take from my reply is that it’s actually easy to get started. All you have to do is show up — at your nearest leather bar or wherever else you can find others (if you need to ask around on apps and websites to find these places, that’s fine). You don’t have to feel confident or “ready” — you will likely feel the opposite. You don’t need the proper gear or the right clothes or the right words. You just have to want in.