lotusWelcome! I’m Tai Quyn Kulystin, the creatrix of Purveyor of Pleasure. I am a educator, artist, occultist, harlot, and gentlefemme about town. This blog is my personal exploration of gender, sexuality, spirituality, kink, and the pitfalls of an overanalytical nature.

I currently identify as a queer fat genderqueer polyamorous switch and prefer the pronouns ne/nem/nir or they/them. I spend a lot of my time thinking about sacred sexuality, sacred kink, relationships, queer theory, depth psychology, sexological bodywork, and so much more. I'm in a long-term live-in relationship with my partner Onyx, and I also have a few other relationships and lovers.
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30 Days of Kink: Ethics

This is the eleventh of my 30 Days of Kink, coming after quite a long hiatus. I will be answering each of the thirty questions in different posts. I thought these would be interesting to answer and (hopefully) interesting for you to read. These will be posted in order, but not always back-to-back (as I have shown).

Day 11: What are your views on the ethics of kink?

I’ve been stuck on this question for a while now, partially because I don’t know where to begin there is so much that could be covered with this question so I’m just going to start anywhere and see where this goes.

First, I have to define ethics. Ethics are a type of moral philosophy. In the realm of kink/BDSM/WIITWD1 it can apply to a variety of things but mostly I’m going to talk about the moral philosophy of kinky activity in general. That is how we make sure that the play we engage in is itself ethical.

I’m a firm believer in RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink) and SSC (Safe Sane and Consensual) which are both familiar terminology in the BDSM/kink world. They are slightly different but essentially mean the same thing. Some people say RACK is better because some activities–breath play, for example–are rarely if ever “safe” but they can be done in a “risk aware” manner or you can do things to make them “safer”2. Basically this means not engaging in anything without consent or thought. The more you know about what you are doing the less likely you are to make a mistake and actually cause damage.

Consent and intent are what separates bdsm & kink from abuse. Which is also why I have a difficult time playing with anyone who is angry or who has been drinking, as it is far more difficult for the intent to be acceptable to me when either of those have occurred. Mollena wrote an amazing post about intent: “The intention of the person in a Leather or BDSM interaction is mutual satisfaction, whatever form or means that takes. Sometimes it looks so much like an abusive interaction that our only signal is context.”

I agree with her assessment, also, that intent matters far more than consent since so many of us, myself included, love to play with consent and push that line between consent and non-consent. However, if mutual satisfaction is not the intent of the interaction then where is the line between play and abuse? When does it become taking advantage of the other person? It’s called power exchange for a reason. Just like everything there is an exchange: an exchange of enjoyment, energy, pleasure, pain, satisfaction, power, etc.

There are outsiders who think of kink as horrible, wrong, terrifying, and so on simply because they don’t understand this simple difference. They assume that all participants must either have been (sexually) abused when they were a child or victims of patriarchal socialization (especially for female submissives & male dominants), that in order to engage in such practices there must be something wrong with us. Little do they know, playing with power and pain can be a way to empower ourselves, to break away from the socialization, to make up our own minds about what we want, to use a “base” tool (sexuality/sexual interaction) for a “higher” type of liberation3. Of course, not everyone is engaged in kinky activity in search of personal enlightenment but I do think it’s a by-product of it, or at least it can be. This topic is getting away from me a little bit, though, so I will bring it back to ethics.

Part of the appeal of kinky activities is often walking that line between consent and non-consent, between acceptable and too much, testing our limits and finding out if we can handle as much or more than we thought we could. The thrill of it is just as fun as the taboo. In order to play with the edge without going over it requires skill, knowledge, and communication. If the intent is negative or one-sided that makes it far too easy to cross lines that shouldn’t be crossed or do negative damage.

  1. What It Is That We Do []
  2. just as it is now referred to as safer sex rather than safe sex []
  3. I put those both in quotes because I do not necessarily agree with all that connotes, but I do not have better language right now to express those ideas without writing many more paragraphs []

Equality in Inequality

I was sitting at his feet as we watched a show, the most normal of circumstances, my head resting on his thigh and his hand in my hair, and I came to a micro revelation. This isn’t really new, I’ve written about this same thing before and it’s how Onyx and I have operated for quite a while, but I had not really put the pieces together as to why I’m considered a “bad” submissive by some and why I had such trouble accepting some of the submissive tropes I had heard in the past.

I used to have more trouble submitting than I do now. I was told constantly that in order to submit I must think of my Top/Owner/WhatHaveYou as someone better than myself, higher than myself, someone to look up to not just literally. I was told that in order to be a submissive I must think of myself as less than or inferior.

While I will admit there are things which Onyx is better than me at there are just as many things which I am better than him at. We’re pretty fairly balanced as far as skills and intelligence goes, I believe. For a long while I had trouble with this concept because I was trying to fit our equality, or equity, along lines of a differentiated power dynamic.

It was from me sitting at his feet, my hair being stroked as I laid my head upon his thigh and we both watched the screen before us, that I understood this difference. For me it’s never been about being less than someone else that makes me want to submit, it’s about relinquishing control to another and trusting someone else completely enough to do that. Enjoying being treated like Onyx’s pet or prized possession, has nothing to do with being less than him or inferior to him, but is simply the dynamic we choose to enact.

The power dynamic between Onyx and myself comes from a place of equality. We are equals and because we are equals I can choose to be his property, because I have power I can choose to give that power over to him. If I had no power, if I had no choice, then there would be less enjoyment for both of us. It’s never been about inferiority for us, although there is nothing wrong with playing with that dynamic as well, but it’s just not where either of us live.

When I was having trouble submitting, when we were having trouble with our dynamic, I was told to think of him as better than me, to trust that he knows better than I do or that he is more capable than I am so that he could lead me. I had trouble with this. The real issue that was happening was I didn’t trust him and he didn’t trust himself, so we both were sabotaging the dynamic we both wanted but also feared. What I needed to do was trust that he knew what I wanted and needed and would choose what to give me, not to hold him up as greater than myself as I was told.

Although we play with power and pain there is no inequality in our relationship dynamic, which may sound like an oxymoron. I put my trust in him to take care of me and give me what I need and he puts his trust in me that I will take care of him and give him what he needs. We’re each giving and taking in different ways, but we’re both equally valued and appreciated and both getting and giving.

Perhaps equity is a better term for it than equality. Unfortunately equality comes along with all sorts of connotations that are not necessarily all good. Equality does not mean identicality or sameness, although a lot of people seem to think that is true. Equality doesn’t mean abolishing differences but it’s about celebrating sameness and differences. Really the way I use equality is the same as equity, but for the sake of minimizing confusion I think equity makes more sense in this instance.

Obviously by imposing a power dynamic on our relationship we are not equal in some senses of the word, but our contributions to each other and the relationship are equitable. They are valued the same and we are valued the same because of it. We are equals although we do not always interact in ways typically thought of as equal. We play with inequality in our actions because we are equals in every other way.

Structures and Differences

Onyx and I have had many conversations since Marla came into the mix, understandably so. Sometimes things like these happen at the times you least expect them to, but they usually come at the right times for your life. The universe decided that now was the time for us to get a third or someone who may resemble a possible third or something similar, however it all works out.

These conversations have consisted quite a bit about our own relationship in addition to how Marla might fit in to that relationship. Basically we’re very open to whatever happens as far as her joining both of us or she and I foraging out our own relationship while she and Onyx getting to know each other and be friends as well. We kind of think the former is more likely than the latter, but it all depends on what happens and we aren’t going to put caveats on possibilities. She seems to be thinking along the same lines as us as well.

We’ve had many talks about how strange this all seems, how suddenly it has happened, how we weren’t looking for it to happen but it suddenly did. We’ve talked about how scary it is that it seems to all be working out so well and we all seem to be fitting in together. It’s not often that something comes along that feels so right.

Really the only thing that’s “wrong” with her is that she is also a Top/bottom switch (and I use “wrong” very lightly here). She and I had a conversation about that a bit tonight in which I don’t think she fully understood my meaning for a while. I’m not sure if she still understands what I meant by that, actually.

I went back and read through a few of my entries regarding switching, including the first one I wrote last summer, and I am amused at the changes that have happened since then. I wrote that I wouldn’t want to Top Onyx because I wouldn’t want to switch with one person but rather I would want to have set roles but be able to explore different set roles with different people.

This is still true to an extent, but not the extent that I don’t want to Top Onyx ’cause, well, that happens often. We’ve moved comfortably into a space where we switch freely. What is still true is that I do want to have set roles with different people, but those set roles can include switch. Maybe that seems counter-intuitive in a way, because how can switch be a set role, right? Basically what I mean is having a set role of a switch with someone means that you don’t have set roles, so it’s a bit of an oxymoron, but that’s the way I see it or at least the way I choose to label it, and I’m not sure if I made that clear.

I enjoy switching with one person. I enjoy switching with Onyx and I imagine I’ll enjoy switching with Marla, though our relationship hasn’t progressed to the physical just yet.

I think (and I could be wrong for everyone but at least for me) that switching with one person is mostly done on a Top/bottom level as opposed to a Dominant/submissive level or an Owner/slave level. This is opposed to switching with multiple people which would mean having different roles with different people–being submissive with A, an Owner with B, and a bottom with C for example.

Personally, I want to both be able to switch with one person and multiple people. Have set non-switch roles with some and switch with others. I’m pretty much up for whatever it is that works best with any given person I desire to have a relationship with.

The reason why Marla being a Top/bottom switch is something “wrong” with her (again, not really “wrong” just not ideal is more accurate) is because I already am with a Top/bottom switch and I have no outlet for other levels of power play. It’s not a bad thing or a negative in any way on her or on our potential for a relationship, but it’s a hindrance to something I’m desperately needing: power play.

This is not to say that Top/bottom play isn’t great, because it is, and I enjoy it immensely, but I also desire something more… permanent is maybe the best word? It’s difficult to use terms like this without sounding like I think that there is some inherent betterness to other forms of power play, but I don’t think that way. Power play is just one way to play and regardless of the permanence of the power (Top/bottom to Owner/slave) none is better except what works best for you.

That said, I do have the desire to work on different levels of power play, but I am also over trying to make my relationships to conform to something I want them to be, instead I just want them to be what they are. This may seem like a “duh” kind of attitude, but that’s what Onyx and I tried to do for so long: operate on a level that we didn’t work on. I didn’t really realize what I was doing at the time with trying to make us squeeze into that box, but now that I am aware of it I can try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I guess it comes down to the fact that I’m open to whatever happens. I want to grow and explore with her and figure out what works right for us without putting limitations on it, and I think that’s what’s going to happen.

At the same time I also really want someone or someones I can play on a different power level with too. Basically: I just want it all.

03.09

2008

Degradation

Foucault, in an interview in Salmagundi, said “Men think that women can only experience pleasure in recognizing men as masters”(1) (talking about cisgendered regular men who buy into the compulsory misogynist hegemonic paradigm, of course). He also, in the same interview, “praises sado-masochistic practices for helping homosexual men (many of whom share heterosexual men’s fear of losing their authority by “being under another man in the act of love”) to “alleviate” the “problem” of feeling “that the passive role is in some way demeaning”(2). The article this was in, by Leo Bersani, was one I had to read for my Queer Theory class. Bersani basically says that Foucault is wrong, and that the point of the “passive” or bottom or powerless role is that it is degrading and it should be valued as degrading. I think they’re both right.

In some ways, the point of submission, the point of putting oneself in the powerless role, is the ability to feel that loss of control, the ability to not have to think, but it also is a way to grow. Though experiencing degradation (and I don’t mean specifically degradation play, I mean degradation in the sense of being “reduced in rank, position, reputation, etc.” (3), which is, the way Bersani used it as well) one is able to find out what is truly valued as well as truths about the self which may not be known any other way. When one is reduced to a state of powerlessness, that is when one is degraded, there is a vast amount which one can learn about oneself. In this way it should be valued as degrading, as Bersani said, but viewing it in that light can also take away from the fact that it is degrading and demeaning, as Foucault said.

There is great power in submission and powerlessness, and great value in it. However, I wonder if it is the ability to be powerful or powerless at will that makes this more valuable. That is, if one is always powerless, constantly powerless, and unable to change their power for some reason or another would the worth of powerlessness be able to be seen, or since it is simply the way that one has to be would it not have the same kind of value? I’m honestly not sure. I’m also not sure if there is a situation where power could never change, never being so absolute. I think this is a catch in/emphasis of my power drag theory as well.

Since bdsm is power drag, and power drag is emphasizing the non-essential nature of power dynamics, that power dynamics are ever present, and that power is fluid and changeable, what would it mean if there were situations where power was never able to change? Like I said, I’m not sure if there are instances of this, but there probably are. Though, looking at gender drag and mirroring it, I’m sure there are situations where people feel like there is no way they would want to or could change their gender, so this might not be much of a snag after all.

(1) “Sexual Choice, Sexual Act: An Interview with Michel Foucault,” Salmagundi, nos. 58-59 (Fall 1982-Winter 1983), p. 21.
(2) Bersani, Leo. “Is the Rectum a Grave?” The MIT Press October, 1987 p.212-213.
(3) “degraded – Definitions from Dictionary.com

11.29

2007

Power Drag

This is just a draft, I’m working on organizing my ideas of this, once I get it down perfectly I’m going to post it to communities and such.

This concept was actually the idea of Lisa Diamond, Ph.D, a professor of mine here at the University of Utah. We were talking about BDSM in my Gender and Sexual Orientation class yesterday, and this is a concept which she came up with.

What does it mean?
The term “power drag” is playing on the same idea as gender drag is, most notably Judith Butler’s idea of performativity, that all gender is drag, all gender is constructed “woman is to drag not as original is to copy, but as copy is to copy. all gender is drag” (paraphrased). This does this by showing that gender is simply a performance, and regardless of the body that masculinity or femininity is placed upon it is still masculinity and femininity.
What power within BDSM and specifically D/s or M/s relations does is emphasize the power dynamics between the two people, going to one extreme of power, with absolute power and absolute submission, it is showing that power is a performance, and without an exchange of power no power can be gained or lost. Power drag shows that there is no natural power dynamic between people just as there is no natural gender.
However, just as one cannot escape gender, one cannot escape power dynamics either, but power drag brings awareness to the power dynamics between all people, not just people within BDSM relationships. It shows the constructedness of “natural” power, such as white dominance or male dominance, even when it is a white male dominating a non-white female there is still a choice being made as opposed to blindly accepting the dominance of the white male. Most obviously this constructedness or non-naturalness is shown when a female dominates a male or when a non-white person dominates a white person, or any other inequalites (age, class, ability, etc.).

Why is it important?
By exposing the non-naturalness of power dynamics between people we can begin to play with power (though we in BDSM have been doing that for a long time now already) and we show how power is fluid, and power dynamics can change from moment to moment. The realization of power drag could help both with keeping roles within relationships strict or being able to relax the usually strict roles within our relationships.

Gender drag is to Gender as Power drag is to Power?

What else? I’m sure there’s more I can/should talk about. What kinds of questions do you all have about this? What else should be included in a conceptualization of power drag? What else do I need to discuss?
This is so huge and I’m so excited by it that I don’t quite know how to cover everything or what I’m missing.