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She ain't satisfied without some pain."
I grew up in an Allman Brothers song, making peanut butter sandwiches using butter knives blackened by hash oil. Every Saturday morning, I'd trip over an assortment of "aunts" and "uncles" who drank until they passed out on the floor, and nobody bothered to move them. I'd come home from school some Friday nights and know the night's agenda by the line of motorcycles and vintage cars hoarding both sides of my humble little street. Most of my decisions about drugs were made long before they could infiltrate my life, mostly by watching my "aunts" and "uncles" act the fool. I got my first tattoo at eight. To suggest that my upbringing was unconventional is such an understatement as to approach absurdity.
That part of my life ended in the nineties when the critical fusion of neoliberal economics and government arrogance collapsed the curious safety net that had held us aloft. We moved from a house to an apartment, and the rules of the our new economic and social reality asserted themselves. The party was over.
Enter puberty, accompanied by an oppressive pubescent depression. There was music and writing to fill the gaps. I'd like to say that my discipline with writing is the result of decades of inculcation and repetitive practice, stemming from my youth, but I'd be lying. I wrote when the muse struck. But that's not what we're here to discuss. We're here to discuss the lyrics I've cited before the first paragraph. They're from a song called "Pretty Tied Up" from Guns N Roses, (specifically the first song on their B-side of Use Your Illusion II if you're at all curious) and they were the first time I felt the early stirrings of kink.
I remembered waking up as a young boy still dressed in my jammies on some Friday night, and walking down the hallway towards the bathroom. I heard the retorts, the sharp subtle moans, and heard something that I now know as the whistle of a whip as it cuts the air, and ever the curious child (a trait I haven't lost), I investigated. I saw one of my "uncles" at play with his girlfriend. She was on her knees with her hands tied to the headboard, with red welts crawling up and down from her leg pit to the cleft of her ass. They didn't know I was there and frankly, I wasn't there long. I was well aware that I was an interloper, seeing things best left to the adults, but her facial expression in the mirror: eyes hazy, mouth open, ecstatic, stayed with me well into adulthood. When I heard the song for the first time, I remembered that expression.
Like many hometowns, mine is full of small-minded provincial attitudes towards life. Reaching out and grasping something greater is beyond most people, who believe their lives to be governed by the will of a higher being - be it God or the pursuit of the almighty paycheque. Mostly the latter when the chips are down. You have the standard patriarchal attitudes regarding sex; girls are to be chaste, not chased, but boys will be boys. Girls who came from Toronto were thought to be either educated or wild, and never the twain shall meet. Guys were probably badasses. Nobody gave any thought to anything in between. Binary thinking. When I started into sexual activity, I grew up frightened of my impulses. During my awkward teen years, before girls started looking at me as a sex object, girls around me talked about their fears—that their man would be a brute like their fathers—that their brute of a boyfriend would leave them like their father left their mother. Meanwhile, there I was thinking about the woman in the lyrics: a large woman, sweaty from exertion, tied up and whipped and loving it. Finding a freedom in bondage that none of these women would ever know, and I lamented my options.
I grew out of my awkward teenage years and wouldn't make a triumphant return to the 'friend zone' until much later in my life, when I had grown to appreciate it. It didn't take me long to get a reputation. My suggestions were increasingly strange. Could I... pinch? How about... biting? What would you do if I... held you down? To their credit, nobody ever left me because the sex was bad. My own introduction to kink came at the behest of my second ever lover, who opened me up to all varieties and vistas, but would never indulge me when I wanted to hurt her. To my credit, I knew enough not to push, even at seventeen. So I pushed it down and swallowed it. Ignored it. Suppressed it. I've always thought of Pet Sematary from Stephen King in this regard, as I think it's a stand-in for the unconscious; if you bury something there, it comes back stronger, and meaner. It was the partners after her that earned me the reputation for strangeness.
Exit my hometown. Enter a larger, but still quite backward city. No changes, really.
It wasn't until after college, in Winnipeg, that I really got a chance to play. My lover enjoyed a frisson from what she called my "serial killer eye." Sometimes, I suppose, I can be intense. We explored some but always on the fringes of what I didn't know I wanted at the time. In the end, it was the gap between what I didn't know I wanted and what I was getting that contributed to our dissolution, even as our issues extended well past sexuality to include the social and psychological and ultimately, I left in search of greener pastures. I joined my first triad, and knew a different kind of love. Subordinate not necessarily by choice or design, but necessity; I was the secondary, and found that rather appealing. I enjoyed the freedom. I wrote. I grew. I went for long after midnight walks and chased the wind. That ended, as these things often do.
Then Vancouver, where the fun really began.
There's a fantasy series from an American author named Jacqueline Carey that I would suggest to anyone interested in kink. There are three series of three books each, and the beginning of the series is called Phedre's Dart. It deals with a woman in an alternate-history (with fantastic elements) France who's born with a peculiar curse to experience pain as if it were pleasure. Far from being porn, although there are definitely elements of well-written sex and sexuality involved (think: a feminist inversion of the standard fantasy fare's fetishization of violence and supplementation of said violence with aggressive sexuality) and quite enough to tantalize the imagination, it's a worthwhile read. Having some of the specifics described produced the frisson in me, and I thought it would be a useful Trojan horse to determine whether or not my partner (any partner) would be somehow amenable without unnecessarily outing myself. My first partner in Vancouver cowered away from some of the descriptions, and the second grew uncomfortable in an entirely different fashion. Test balloon successfully floated. Soon we were discussing scenes. Ten years later (I like to be sure), I married her.
My job at the time stuffed most of my personality away in a jar made of sleep deprivation. But I left that job behind five months ago. Remember the Pet Sematary analogy? That's where we are right now. Now my lovely wife looks up at me with those eyes from her place at my feet, and I smooth away her hair, smile down at her, and reach for my next toy. Even now, I can't quite entirely tap into that inner place where the sadism finds its best expression, and truth be told, that's probably for the best. I feel I'm getting closer with each kiss of the falls. I've since come to believe that these things happen in increments, and I intend to enjoy every wince, every whimper, and every thundering, shuddering moment.