How the first five people I met in the BDSM community saved my life.
A few years back I tested for and received my third-degree black belt.
I won’t waste your time failing to impress you with stories about it, other than to say it was the toughest thing I’ve ever lived through — physically, mentally and emotionally.
Once I recovered from the test I made myself a promise: I would never be ruled by fear again. Notice what I didn’t say — I didn’t promise myself I would never feel fear again. A truly fearless person is, IMHO, stupid or insane.
Fear is often healthy, appropriate and wise. It’s a great tool — even, as Gavin de Becker puts it, a gift. But fear is also often a curse, liar, a fool and a cruel taskmaster. If you’ve never read de Becker’s seminal book The Gift of Fear (which I highly recommend, by the way), let me sum up part of it: We have civilized ourselves out of healthy fear while at the same time letting irrational, unwarranted fears rule us. Listen to your fear, but don’t let it rule you.
Having had my marriage fall apart that same year in addition to weathering some other sucker punches from life, what I promised myself was that I would make decisions with my mammalian brain, not my lizard brain (and especially not with Mr. Stupidhead). I would face my fears, things I’d avoided or been afraid to do for years. Go me!
One of the things I’d been desperately wanting to do, but too afraid to start, was to start exploring the fetish/BDSM lifestyle and learning about my long-dormant kinky side. I’d been longingly browsing the Pavlovia site, trying to screw up the courage to pick up the phone and call. No more! No more dithering around like Charlie Brown trying to talk himself into saying Hi to The Little Red-Haired Girl! Not this stud! I was a 3rd-degree black belt now! No more fear! I sat down at my laptop and pulled up PavloviaDenver.com for the thousandth time and started composing an e‑mail.
Nine months later I sent the e‑mail.
Sozz the Great and Powerful
Okay, so I can be a slow starter. But I did finally make that call and I did jump in to the lifestyle.
Okay, okay: I cringed my way over to the RACK Room to present myself to MsSaskia, a.k.a. Sozz the Great and Powerful. Saskia formally welcomed me into the fetish community for the first time, introducing me to MsVylette, one of her apprentices. And much fun was had. I eagerly returned; within just a few weeks I’d experienced a bunch of flavors of the bondage and BDSM play I’d dreamed about for so long. I started with Vylette taping me quite firmly to the RACK Room’s CBT chair, where I failed utterly at balancing an empty tape roll on top of my head and we laughed and giggled and no one acted all deadly serious and dramatic the way they do in porn.1
After my 30-year warmup, Saskia immediately started asking me to join her for one of the two or three events they have every month. That took another year. I finally went, and spent the evening standing in corners, too terrified to talk to anyone. Saskia, seeing I was a bit of a non-starter, grabbed me and introduced me to Miss Daisy, who eagerly introduced me to some people.2
One of them was KinkyKittyPlayKat, with whom I played at a public event for the very first time. After discovering we lived close to one another, we started getting together for rope practice.
KKPK invited me to be a demo bottom for a rope class one day. And a woman named Lily attended that class.
I spent most of the class tied to a post in KinkyKittyPlayKat’s basement as she demonstrated various knots and ties. It dawned on me slowly (the way most things do) that every time I happened to glance in Lily’s direction, she was looking not at what KinkyKittyPlayKat was doing, but at me. At me. Right into my eyes.
When the class was over, I walked over and introduced myself.
Two days later, Lily invited me to meet her for coffee.
And that was the day my life began.
Mistrust Never Sleeps
Which brings me to Edie:
Edie was a shelter resident up for euthanasia; she’d been classified as too aggressive for adoption. A bare hour ahead of time, a shelter worker named Bronwyne Mirkovitch decided she saw something in the scruffy little dog and asked a vet friend, Eldad Hagar, to evaluate her.
You can see why Edie wasn’t the kind of dog that melts your heart when you browse the shelter for a pet — her fur is matted, she’s filthy, and she snarls and barks and snaps and whines and won’t let anyone touch her.
Why? Fear; mistrust. There’s no detail in either video about what happened to Edie before she wound up at the shelter, whether she was abandoned or abused or both. But she had obviously lost any trust she might have had in people. She’d forgotten what it was like to be loved, if she’d ever known at all. She was lonely and didn’t know it; she didn’t know life could ever be any different.
When Dr. Hagar opens Edie’s crate, she cowers in the back and won’t come out. Dr. Hagar finally just takes the top off the crate. Edie immediately leaps out of the crate and huddles in the nearest corner, snarling. Dr. Hagar approaches her quietly and calmly and even though Edie plunges back and forth to avoid it, he finally slips a leash on her and gently tugs her into his lap. She is so terrified she defecates all over the place during the process.
If you took a minute to watch the video, you know what happens next: Instead of jamming in a thermometer and palpating her abdomen, Dr. Hagar tucks Edie’s head under his arm and just sits quietly for a moment. And the transformation is astounding: Edie is still trembling with fear, but sits quietly, gradually realizing Dr. Hagar means her no harm. She calms down and tentatively allows herself to enjoy being cuddled, scarcely daring to believe someone is actually being kind to her.
Mere minutes after she had been snarling and shitting all over the examination room, Edie is willingly lying on her back, wagging her tail and allowing Dr. Hagar to stroke her as he gently examines her.
Six days later, Edie was off death row, clean and groomed, and sitting in the front seat of Bronwyne’s car on the way to her new home. She meets her new owner shyly but with far more confidence than when she met Bronwyne and Dr. Hagar, greeting her with a wag and a sniff and eagerly hopping up into her lap when invited.
When I sent that fateful e‑mail to Saskia, I was 47. It took me more than 30 years to confront my sexuality and finally begin to reach out and explore relationships honestly for the first time in my life. Despite my vow never to live in fear, it was desperation as much as courage that forced me to turn away from the disappointing relationships that resulted from me trying to hide from myself and everyone else.
I have no illusions about being such an amazing person that people fall all over me. On the contrary — I was terrified, nervous and uncomfortable at all four of the stages I just described. And I know it showed. In fact, I know now that standing around just watching at a play party puts off a stalkerish, creepy vibe in this community.
Like Edie, I was scared and had trust issues. I’d been hurt, so much so that I didn’t know how to meet people and build relationships. Maybe I wasn’t filthy dirty and shitting on everything, but those things are incidental — fear made me difficult to approach and it made me look as if I wouldn’t be worth the effort.
But five amazing, wonderful people did precisely what Dr. Hagar and Bronwyne did: They saw through my defenses and decided not to be put off. They coaxed me into venturing out and leaving my fear behind, into risking that first contact and into giving myself permission to be okay.
Sometimes that’s all you need — permission to be okay. To be yourself and let people see you.
Imagine you’ve been secretly obsessed with basketball your entire life. You live in fear that people will find out and laugh at you, that they’ll sneer at you for being such an idiot you deluded yourself into thinking you’d ever have the chance to try.
One day you screw up your courage, go to a gym and manage to play some pickup with a handful of other guys. You’re nervous and awkward and totally unskilled and frankly embarrassing to play with and you sure as hell don’t score, but they’re encouraging and kind and you have a lot of fun in spite of yourself and decide Hey, I’m gonna DO this.
Now imagine that it’s a couple of years later and you know a lot more about basketball now. And you belatedly realize the first five guys you met were Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkeley, Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan.
The Dream Team. The best on the planet. Players who could have anyone they wanted on their team, but they stooped to conquer and chose you.
Maybe that will give you a glimpe into why my love and affection and gratitude for all five of these ladies is so fierce and unconditional and loyal. Or why if I ever introduce one of them to you, I might tell you she saved my life. Because they did.
They could have had anyone, but they chose me.