So, apparently this is my week for rants. No, Mercury is not retrograde. Nor am I PMSing. I have no idea WTF is going on, but be warned.
I’m gonna come right out of the gate saying this: I don’t practice humiliation kink. I’m not a dominant at all, and I have a particular history and set of neuroses that would make anyone pulling humiliation kink with me as a sub pretty bad.
However, there’s this lovely little phrase that I’ve seen used in fandom circles–actually, it started in the BDSM community in the 90s–and I think it needs to be more widely adopted out here in the LGBT romance genre: YKIOK (Your Kink is OK–a shortened form of Your Kink is Not My Kink But Your Kink is OK–as opposed to its self-righteous evil twin, YKINOK, or Your Kink is Not OK.)
I think a lot of us in this genre have been forgetting that. I’ve seen a lot of kink-shaming and a lot of people savaging perfectly good books just for having kinks they don’t enjoy. And it pisses me right the hell off.
But, you ask, if you don’t practice humiliation kink, why do you write it?
Short answer: My characters are not me. They choose their own kinks. Sometimes those kink are things I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot bamboo cane.
Longer answer: My characters are not me. They have their own history, personalities, and neuroses that might make humiliation kink appealing, or even cathartic and healing. But what’s the appeal, you ask? It’s no different than masochism, really. It’s just masochism of a different sort. Instead of getting off on physical pain, one is getting off on shame or emotional pain.
Or, for those submissives who aren’t masochists (physical or emotional) it’s something else entirely.
It can be a removal from self. It can be a test of submission. This is how pain play works for me, in fact. I’m not a masochist. I don’t find pain to be pleasure. But if my dominant can do something to me that I find patently unpleasant, then I’ve truly surrendered, see? I’ve yielded myself, preferences, my will, to someone else and let them have complete control. If it pleases them to hurt me, then I’m pleased to be hurt, not because I enjoy being hurt but because it means I’m not calling the shots and my preferences are not driving the encounter (within negotiated boundaries, of course.)
It’s no different for humiliation kink (except that, for me, it falls outside the negotiated boundaries.) Instead of being removed from control of one’s physical self and preferences, one is removed from one’s ego. If a submissive has given the dominant the power to say or do or force the submissive to do anything the dominant commands, no matter how shameful or humiliating, there is surrender in that. And that surrender can be a beautiful thing.
My first experience writing humiliation kink came from the character upon whom I based Derrick from my Impulse books. It wasn’t in a story at that time, it was in a role-play. He and his partner were talking and trying to get an idea of his turn-ons, and the partner asked if proto-Derrick (who was named Garrick, in the role-play) would want to be nude or perform sexually in public. Garrick’s immediate reaction was “No” but even as Garrick was giving that response, I–being deep in Garrick’s head at the time–knew that if a partner made Garrick do it, he’d do it, even if it was something he would flinch away from or reject otherwise.
So, having made that discovery about Garrick, I had to ask myself why. Why would Garrick do that? And the answer was that his pride, his ego, his sense of self, was his final hold-out, the thing that would always keep him from surrendering entirely. And if he wanted surrender, then the dominant would need to break down that wall.
This is why you see Gavin, in the Impulse books, call Derrick names like “bitch” and “whore” and “slut.” Does he mean it? No, of course not. But it chips away at Derrick’s resistance, puts him in a position where he has to choose between surrendering his pride, or safewording. And once he surrenders his pride, that’s when he becomes truly open and vulnerable to Gavin and gives Gavin complete control, rather than just playing a part.
And in the complete paradox that only makes sense to those who truly understand BDSM, that total surrender becomes a source of even greater pride. On the other side, the sub emerges to say, “Look what I endured for my dom. That took a lot of strength.” It leaves the sub feeling even more confident and sure of themselves (assuming it’s done correctly.)
This is actually a bit of a recurring theme in my books, at least those dealing with kink. I have a lot of prideful characters, so finding various ways to slip past that pride to get to the vulnerability underneath becomes something the dominant must do.
There are lots of ways to accomplish this. Forced exposure and exhibitionism is only one way. Infantilism might be another. Or treating the sub as an animal (where do you think the collar and leash thing comes from?) Toilet play might be part of it, or even just taking away privacy where such bodily functions are concerned.
For example, I have a manuscript I’m working on (Risk Aware) where the dominant character, Robin, denies his submissive partner, Geoff, the right to close the bathroom (or any) door. On one level, it’s just a flat-out control thing. “You aren’t allowed to shut me out of wherever you are.” But on the other level, what he’s doing is depriving Geoff of the dignity of privacy, even when Geoff is using the toilet. Geoff is not allowed to hold back even his most embarrassing moments of biological functioning (arguments of whether basic biological functions should be considered embarrassing aside.) If he farts, Robin might hear it. If he makes a stink, Robin might smell it. If he pees, Robin might watch. Is it because Robin has some sort of toilet fetish and finds these things sexy? No. It’s just about denying Geoff the ability to hold back any part of himself from Robin (again, of course, always within negotiated boundaries, so keep that in mind if you’re going to try this at home, kids.)
We see some of this in The Professor’s Rule, as well. In the first book, Giving an Inch, we see James expose himself to Professor Carson in a way that he finds deeply embarrassing. But that is part of James’s submission, part of what he needs to do to get to the place of surrender he desires. He’s a masochist, so pain play isn’t going to break him down, at least not entirely. He has other hold-outs.
Leta Blake does something very similar in Training Season. The dynamics of Matty and Rob’s relationship and why this sort of play might be appealing and even beneficial for the two of them, I will leave you to discover for yourselves. But there is a moment in the book where, unless you get into the deeper intricacies of what submission and surrender mean in various circumstances, they could seem gross. I know a lot of people go off on “BDSM is not therapy” rants and that is, to a degree, very true. BUT. Just because it isn’t therapy doesn’t mean it can’t be cathartic or healing. Yes, a lot of people practice BDSM just because it’s fun and because it feels good for whatever reason. But we each of us come into it with our own unique set of life experiences and issues, and we each of us might find something within it that helps us in ways perhaps therapy can’t, because it fulfills a need or helps us face a fear, or for any of a multitude of reasons.
And here’s the thing: romance fiction isn’t real life. In romance fiction, people’s issues often infiltrate parts of their lives that in reality, might not be such a big deal. I mean, if I wrote a story about a character with A, B, and C neuroses, and I set it up so that those neuroses don’t come into play when he’s doing BDSM scenes just because he finds BDSM fun and pleasant, most readers would cry foul. Because we’re in his head. We want to know what affect this is all having on him emotionally and psychologically.
Sex isn’t just about tab A into slot B and BDSM play isn’t just about swinging a whip and “oh, ow, that hurts.” Those scenes would be exceptionally boring if we didn’t get into the characters’ heads and go deeper with it on the emotional level (as my esteemed editor Sarah Frantz likes to say, “but what is he feeeeeeeling?”) And going deeper with it includes figuring out how it plays off of and into the neuroses that are part of the character’s journey through the book.
So. Your Kink is not My Kink but Your Kink is OK. Does name calling or toilet play put you off? Yeah, me too. But I’m not my character, and neither are you, and you might find your reading experience enhanced if you look beyond “would I enjoy doing that?” into what the play in question is accomplishing for the character. Because the odds are that if an author has gone there, they’ve done so for a reason. Look for it.
In other news, Inch by Inch (The Professor’s Rule #3) is already available for download at Riptide Publishing, and will be available at most other ebook retailers later tonight or tomorrow. And Heidi Belleau and I will be on a blog tour this week discussing James, Satish, and the Professor, and what we can expect from them going into the last two Professor’s Rule books. This will include a couple sneak peeks at Every Inch of the Way (The Professor’s Rule #4) and a chance to win ebook copies of TPR books you might not have read yet, so be sure to check it out!