By Alexa Day
Were you here for Bridget Midway’s visit the other week? She wrote two of the very first BDSM romances I ever read, Fascination Street and Woman in Chains. Fascination Street, which I recommend to people looking for an unconventional housewarming gift, is the story of a couple discovering that the suburbs are full of kinky surprises. Woman in Chains follows a heroine out of the darkness of an abusive BDSM relationship and into a loving, fulfilling one. Both feature black heroines.
I asked Midway what she would say to black kinksters and the kink-curious who were conflicted about the outer trappings of BDSM. Chains, restraints, whips, and the power exchange are pretty loaded for a great many black people in this country, and the emotional impact borne by those accoutrements is sufficient to make some folks keep their distance.
She had this to say:
“No matter the kink, people who are involved in the Lifestyle are doing it for themselves and no one else, unless your thing is being an exhibitionist. If it is, you still wouldn’t care what anyone thinks. A person of color who enjoys being tied down or whipped should want it because it’s what they desire and it’s consensual. That’s the most important thing.”
And she’s right. I agree with her 100 percent.
But everyone brings something different to bed. And for every woman who lives her desires with complete comfort, there’s at least one more who finds the journey to “Yes, Sir” a little more challenging.
Maybe she doesn’t know what her thing is.
Maybe she knows this is her thing but she doesn’t know if she wants to pursue it.
Maybe she knows she wants to pursue it but doesn’t know where to start.
And maybe … maybe the notion of being on her knees or bound hand and foot or using the word “Master,” even in theory, makes her that uncomfortable. Pleasantly uncomfortable and also unpleasantly uncomfortable.
Black womanhood is not a monolith, to be sure, and we are often met with any number of baseless stereotypes and generalizations about everything from religion to body image to sexuality. We are not any one thing. And yet the bloody path out of slavery, marked by a long tradition of whips, chains, and total disregard for sexual consent, is a powerful part of the black collective consciousness in America. Black women might not all have the same response to it, but I would venture to guess that we all have a response of some kind.
Between the woman who knows she’s into BDSM, and the one who is just as sure that she isn’t, stands the kink-curious black woman, examining whether she wants to take her exploration of BDSM out of her imagination and into reality. That process comes with its own hazards.
Sajae Edwards writes for Vice about her first forays into BDSM, describing a journey fraught with triggers and presumption, with many obstacles to and diversions from the pleasure she sought. “I learned there’s a considerable amount of room for black dommes and other such figures,” she writes, “but it can get fuzzy for those of us who fall under submissive categories and as a black woman, there’s something that rubbed me the wrong way about having a white male dominant. … There were too many implications of power at play for me to ignore or not be troubled by.” Between men who ignored her self-identification as submissive and insisted on making her a “dominant Ebony goddess,” and one man who took playful name-calling too far with a racial epithet, Edwards never finds real success with her exploration. “There already exists plenty of tropes about black women’s inherent hypersexuality,” she writes, “and it’s something that made me shy away from my curiosities in the past.” Finally, she decides that “my experiences in kink have somewhat scared me off from experimenting with it again—for now, at least.”
In a pair of 2012 articles for Bitch media, Catherine Scott looks at the intersection of race and kink. Scott speaks specifically to race play, BDSM sex play that focuses on race, including antebellum-style slave auctions the use of racial slurs. On the one hand, Scott interviews a black submissive who draws the line at race play, saying that “I have people in my family who had to submit to that, where they had no choices. It’s too close to home for American black people.” She also interviews a submissive who observes that her black ancestors fought and died for her right to pursue her pleasure wherever and however she wished. For still another commenter, the deciding factor is whether or not the play is public. No one else gets to dictate what happens in a private bedroom, but once race play is out in the world, resistance to it is predictable.
But there are more accounts of black women finding their place within BDSM. In submission, Michelle Ofiwe finds freedom from the burden of strength and the constraints of her tough outer image. Her carefully cultivated facade shattered the first time she had her hair pulled. The shock and pleasure of that gesture opened her to the possibility of more, and after that, she found that pain gave rise to honesty and a vulnerability she rarely experienced. In bed, she controls the type and duration of pain she will endure, and she finds pleasure in that power and in that release.
Writer Glamazon Tyomi had never seen a dominatrix, let alone a black one, before meeting Mistress C at a demonstration. Mistress C explains to Tyomi that black Americans have always been involved in BDSM — they just spent many years playing outside the public eye. When images of black BDSM become exploitative and fetishistic, Mistress C explained, organizations specifically for black kinksters emerged to welcome the curious. When Janet Jackson and Rihanna brought provocative images of kink to the public eye, black interest in BDSM increased. Mistress C told Tyomi that the decision to check out BDSM belonged to each woman individually, but that the public perception that black women don’t engage in BDSM shouldn’t restrict potential players. “When we grow up as adults and we look at our lives, it’s a matter of choice,” Mistress C said. “Do you choose to experiment and to exercise your mind to see what’s on the other side of the veil?”
Erotic coach Phyllis-Serene Rawley agrees. After discovering BDSM in her twenties and winning the Southern California Leather Woman pageant at fifty, she says she’s enjoyed working with Black women because there’s an assumption we’re not into BDSM. Rawley’s truth is very close to Midway’s. “Whatever your pleasure fantasy is, fulfill it,” Rawley says. “It’s your life. It’s your body. Do what turns you on. For me, that’s red leather and a leash.”
So where is a kink-curious girl to turn? As Midway said in the interview, BDSM is a real lifestyle with participants doing it all over the world. After finding a local BDSM group — nearer to home than she imagined — she met members, attended meetings, and learned about BDSM from those who knew it best. Today, her 2017 Royal Pains event brings together writers of BDSM romance with members of the community. I myself found a local BDSM group through an easy online search, and before long, I was at a munch (a casual informational meeting) with a roomful of wonderful, welcoming folks ready to answer any questions I might have about the lifestyle.
It takes courage to follow secret, sexual curiosity into the real world. That much is undeniable. But if exploration and experimentation can lead to larger truths about individual identity, can any of us afford to stay hidden? Can any of us risk being defined by stereotypes when a little courage might change everything?
Follow Lady Smut. We won’t lead you astray.