Older Boy

Friday, October 21, 2005

Question

I am an FTM (female-to-male transsexual). I moved in with my current partner the same year I started testosterone injections. It has been an intense and sometimes rocky relationship. In previous relationships, I have topped and bottomed a fair amount. I am a pain slut: S/M has to be a big part of any relationship I'm in.

When we first got together, I wasn't sure if she was into S/M or not, although being with her inspired submissiveness in me. But we started playing immediately. I asked her if she would consider a full-time, 24/7 Master/slave arrangement. She thought about it for a long time. We tried it, and it was awful. I was the worst-behaved boy you can imagine—insecure, disobedient, attention-seeking. I kept second-guessing her decisions.

In addition to my new relationship, I was dealing with a lot of trauma around coming out to family and friends, feeling ostracized, and T (testosterone) was making me express anger in a much more scary and explosive way than I ever had before. We stopped the contract three days after having signed it. And it took a while for her to trust me again. Today, she is still my Daddy and I am still her boy. I have dealt with my anger issues.

However, we have an ongoing conflict around S/M. I see part of my need to experience pain and humiliation as a way of letting off the steam of my self-loathing. I have massive self-esteem issues, stemming from childhood mistreatment. I've been in counseling for years now and am gradually dealing with it. But sometimes I just need someone to whip me silly or tell me I'm dirty so the emotional beating up I do on myself can be externalized and exorcised.

My partner, on the other hand, refuses to do scenes involving humiliation or punishment. She wants the pain she gives me to be pleasurable only, not psychically cathartic or "therapeutic." She wants the pain to be completely separate from my psychic state. She says this is about her own safety—that I have a tendency to confuse scene space with reality. If she punishes me in play, she believes that I will treat her as if she is really an ogre, or really my father.

I tend to resent her anyhow because when we do play, she hardly ever takes me to the edge. She always stops a flogging or caning when I start screaming. I ask her to hurt me more, and she tells me I am being greedy. She seems scared of taking me to the dark place, and the dark place is often the only place I want to be.

I love her deeply. Part of me yearns to do what she asks. On good days, I consider this an opportunity to learn how to take responsibility for my own pain. On the other hand, I am constantly fantasizing about someone—her or someone else—whipping me to a bloody pulp, forcing me to choke on their cock, taking me far beyond the point of (obvious) pleasure.

At the worst, I feel she is simply manipulating me by withholding what she knows I want. She has the strength to take me where I want to go; she's a natural top. I know my fantasies of the Überdaddy who can solve all my problems are unrealistic. But I can't help wondering if someone else into heavy play would understand.

We are now at such an impasse that we're not fucking anymore. Nor are we sleeping in the same bed. Playing with other people is not an option. We have always been monogamous, and it wouldn't work to change that. We've been through so much already. Our connection is deep. I don't want this relationship to end. But how do we resolve this issue? Should I try to find someone who is more willing to take me outside myself? Is it unreasonable of me to feel that emotional stuff like this can enter play space, if we're honest about what it is?

Thanks for all of your writing over the years which has made me understand it's okay to be a slutty, hungry, submissive masochist with a dose of switchy top; a masculine-identified dyke who loved to play with gay men; and finally, an FTM who is also the most flaming queer.

Answer

Before I get into your letter, I want to let my other readers know that we are dealing with advanced forms of S/M play. (In fact, we're getting into the territory where it's not play.) The issues that I will be discussing are not representative of the way that most BDSM people play. And I am by no means recommending more intense play or "edge play," as it is sometimes called. But my policy with this column is to respond to my readers' questions without moralizing about what they need to know. I feel that it's important for me to provide people with sex education information and allow them to make their own moral or aesthetic choices about what they do.

Now back to you, Older Boy. I think you realize that you are asking me several questions. Because I haven't heard your partner's side of this or taken a complete history of the relationship, I can't guarantee that what I have to say will be accurate or helpful. But I've had similar issues come up in some of my relationships, so I can at least make a few comments that could point you in a constructive direction.

The first thing I have to say is that tops, as well as bottoms, have a right to their limits. Your partner seems very clear about hers. Once you start screaming, she doesn't want to continue to hurt you. She doesn't want to take you to the dark places in your psyche with verbal abuse or other forms of humiliation because she is afraid you will confuse her with a genuine perpetrator once the scene is over. She prefers play in which the pain is moderated so that it stays on the safe side of pleasurable sensation.

Please remember that her desire for these limits is strongly affected by your abuse history, the failed attempt at a 24/7 Master/slave relationship, and your testosterone-enhanced outbursts of rage. Such experiences aren't mended simply because the contract is torn up and you've allegedly "dealt with your anger." I think there must be some lingering resentment or lack of trust on her part that needs to be vented. Closure on these issues can make your relationship better even if she isn't willing to beat you to a bloody pulp. For example, it could get you out of the stalemate of no sex and separate beds.

Having said that, I will perhaps seem to contradict myself when I say that some masochists are not satisfied by scenes that stop as soon as they cry or otherwise react to physical or emotional pain. And some bottoms like and need intense humiliation. You are not wrong or bad to want these things. They can indeed provide catharsis that is useful for rebuilding self-esteem and helping people feel more centered in their lives and in their bodies. But I think you must realize that it would take a very experienced top to provide a safe container for you while you experienced this much suffering. Your lover doesn't have the right stuff, even though she seems like a natural top to you. It wouldn't be safe for you to go there with somebody who doubts their own capacity to pull this off. You need a paradoxical sort of person who is both very caring and happy to be a bit of a bastard. I would further suggest that it might be hard for you to be in a day-to-day relationship with such a person. A top like that would maintain their mystique more effectively if you only saw them once in a while.

Do you think your partner would be amenable to loaning or temporarily giving you to someone who can thrash the daylights out of you and chew you out like the dirty pig you are? Could she see this as an extension of her power over you? This other top would be her surrogate, an extra pair of hands, a sort of assistant. It might even be useful if the top was a professional who was paid for their time. This puts up another boundary between the play that you do with them and the primary relationship that is based on love.

Even before you talk to your lover about this, I think we should consider whether you are strong and healthy enough to do your part of the work in this form of edge play. (I am thinking of your needs as a form of consensual-nonconsensuality because you want a top who will go on even though you seem to be pleading with them to stop.) My personal standard for whether a scene is okay or not is to ask the question, Does everybody feel better about themselves after it's over, or do they feel worse?

Let's discuss humiliation and heavy pain as two separate things.

Some leather people feel that humiliation, even within the context of a fantasy scene, is wrong; that it will only impair the bottom's self-esteem. These concerns are multiplied when a bottom has low self-esteem and a history of traumatic child abuse or violence endured as an adult. It's my belief that someone with a trauma history still has a right to his or her sexuality, and it's up to them to define how they want that to look. But does verbal humiliation in a scene really leave you feeling purged and stronger because you have endured it? Or does it cause a flashback to a time when you were violated, or make you feel unloved and unworthy? You may have to experiment to find out. But such an experiment has to be no-fault. If a top gives you what you say you want, you can't be pissed at them, even if it doesn't work out. It's just useful information to avoid trying that again. But I wouldn't make this experiment unless the top knew that's what you were doing (i.e., trying out a new kind of play that you have fantasies about, but don't really know whether you'll like or not). And the top has to be prepared to provide you with some care if you come out of the scene feeling bad or frustrated.

Heavy pain often has to be administered in spite of the bottom's protests, if he or she is in fact an intense masochist. There is a moving passage in the Story of O about this, where O muses that she absolutely hates being beaten and would do anything to stop a whipping once it is in progress. But when it's over, she is only satisfied if it was prolonged and agonizing. A top has to be a sadist to enjoy doing this to somebody. In our culture, sadists are thought to be evil people who are intent on doing real harm to others. But in a BDSM context, that's not so. A heavy top needs to be safe as much as you need to be safe. He or she needs to know that you won't turn on him or her once play is over. You can't retroactively withdraw consent. You can't expect a top to push you over the edge if you are going to demonize or bad-mouth them later. The fact that you resent your lover for sticking to her guns about her own limits makes me feel considerable caution about this point. She is not obligated to do whatever you want her to do; she's not a vending machine.

Do you really know that you want or enjoy being beaten until your skin is broken? If you don't have actual experience with this, I would suggest doing an intermediate scene in which the top will push you to the point where you are bleeding from only one or two strokes with a cane or whip. You may find that the real experience is not as effective as your fantasy about it. I've had many bottoms who advertised themselves as heavy masochists fold and bow out of the game once their limits are truly pushed. There aren't very many people who want to be turned into hamburger. (And the few who do should, in my opinion, be voted National Treasures and supported for life by the state as a scarce natural resource.)

Search your soul, Older Boy. If you really want an Überdaddy to solve all of your problems, you can postpone dealing with your own shit, pine away for such a wondrous but insubstantial personage, and criticize your own top for the rest of your life. And absolutely nothing will change. Tops do not solve any of their bottoms' problems. They can only assist you or empower you to get off your ass and solve them for yourself. S/M is not therapy, although it can be therapeutic, and it is not a constructive substitute for the unpleasant adult responsibilities that everyone has to endure.

Finally, is your lover's concern that you will see a heavy top as a villain a valid one? I don't know anybody with their keys on the left who enjoys being punished by a bottom because they gave him or her what they wanted. If "no good deed goes unpunished" in your case, it would not be ethical for you to ask a top to join you in edge play. You first need to do the work that you need to do in order to hold on to the truth of that top as a person who is both good and bad, but essentially on your side and desiring what is best for you.

Please show your partner your letter and my response, and see what she has to say. Perhaps she is tired of being compared to a sort of top that she will never be, and tired of you being ungrateful for what she can give you. Finding a top of any sort is challenging, as you well know. I would be interested in hearing from either or both of you again, to see what further light can be shed on these problems.

Best of luck to you! Neither one of you is wrong in this situation; you just both have different needs and boundaries. It's quite painful hen two people love each other but their sexual or emotional needs have diverged. Some relationships do motivate the people in them to grow and change together, which is the only way to really keep Eros alive and genuine. I've been quite sharp with you, but only because there are legitimate tarpits and other dangers ahead. I'd like to see both you and your lover happy as individuals and as a couple. But if that isn't going to be possible, well, perhaps it is time to discuss a trial separation. Only you can say how important it is for you to enjoy a style of play that takes you to the outer limits. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee you'll find a partner for the edge play you crave just because you get a divorce. Keep in touch.

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