Growing Up Kinky: a.k.a. Baby (I’m Pretty Sure) I Was Born This Way

Being kinky does have one thing in com­mon with being gay: A lot of peo­ple say they know where it comes from, and they’re all full of shit.

I love bondage. Always have. This is sup­posed to describe how I got here — how I turned kinky — but I don’t think there was any­where else to come from, or that I ever turned kinky, any more than I came to be human or turned right-handed.

Sado­masochism has­n’t received a frac­tion of the amount of study and scruti­ny of homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, but being kinky does have one thing in com­mon with being gay: A lot of peo­ple say they know where it comes from, and they’re all full of shit.

I’m not talk­ing just about those who say sado­masochism or homo­sex­u­al­i­ty are immoral or sick, either. Plen­ty of preach­ers and politi­cians claim homo­sex­u­al­i­ty comes from bad par­ent­ing. I sup­pose the best thing you can say about that is since there are lots of gay peo­ple, some of them are bound to have rot­ten parents.

But the oth­er side is guilty of spout­ing off from igno­rance too. From time to time you’ll hear about this or that ground­break­ing study that claims to have found a “gay gene” or some­thing sim­i­lar. No one has found any­thing more than frus­trat­ing hints that a gay gene even exists, though. Per­son­al­ly I doubt it, at least in the sense that eye or hair col­or is genet­ic. If there’s a genet­ic com­po­nent to being gay or kinky, I sus­pect it’s like being a musi­cian or ath­lete: You can be born with an apti­tude, but there’s far more at work than your ancestry.

If I’m right, then — and I am until you start read­ing some­thing else1 — being kinky or gay is more than all these things: It may be genet­ic, but it’s not just genet­ic. It’s some mix­ture of genes, expe­ri­ence, par­ent­ing, envi­ron­ment, expe­ri­ences and influ­ences no one has yet unrav­eled. And which, like sex­u­al devel­op­ment in gen­er­al, is unique for each per­son to boot.

So here’s my answer to the ques­tion of why I’m kinky: I haven’t the faintest bloody idea. I know some things that weren’t fac­tors, though: Bad par­ent­ing? Nope. Abuse? Nope. Molesta­tion? Nope. Mom­my or Dad­dy issues? Nope. My par­ents are still mar­ried; my child­hood was bor­ing­ly normal.

I’m not much for omphaloskep­sis,2 but writ­ing this pro­voked me to spend some time think­ing about all this. So here, sports fans, is when I first began to real­ize I was different:

When I was 4.

Brain Bomb

I had a stack of Big Lit­tle books when I was lit­tle; still have most of them, in fact. And one was Pop­eye: Ghost Ship to Trea­sure Island.

I could­n’t read much yet, but I remem­ber flip­ping through it, look­ing at the comics, when I came across two pic­tures that explod­ed in my imagination.

This was back when an anorexic bag of antlers wouldn't have been on the cover of Cosmo.
This was back when an anorex­ic bag of antlers would­n’t have been on the cov­er of Cosmo.

In the first, Popeye’s ene­my, Bru­tus, has just kid­napped Olive Oyl and is car­ry­ing her away, bound and gagged; in the sec­ond, Olive Oyl is sus­pend­ed, still bound and gagged, over a pool filled with sharks.

I stared at the pic­tures for hours, like a ston­er peer­ing at Grate­ful Dead LP cov­ers, entranced: Olive was tied up. She was gagged. She could­n’t move; she could­n’t talk! What would that be like?

Think this was sex­u­al? Don’t make me laugh. I was only 4 — noth­ing was sex­u­al yet.3

I began notic­ing that girls, some­times guys, got tied up a lot on TV, espe­cial­ly on the Sat­ur­day morn­ing car­toons I liked and the detec­tive shows my dad liked. As I learned to read, the ram­pant bondage in com­ic books leaped out at me as well.4 And it was end­less­ly fas­ci­nat­ing, all of it. Not so much to look at, but to imag­ine myself as the victim.

I fig­ured get­ting tied up and gagged was just some­thing that hap­pened to you when you grew up, like get­ting to dri­ve a car or stay­ing up as late as you want­ed. I looked for­ward to it.

Before long I became a bit of a bondage snob. Well, snob is prob­a­bly the wrong word here; it implies I had a lot to choose from. I did­n’t, though — the Inter­net was near­ly 30 years away — so I could hard­ly afford to be picky. Nev­er­the­less I com­plained inter­nal­ly when I came across bad­ly exe­cut­ed bondage. My dad and I both liked the Bat­man series with Adam West and Burt Ward, for instance, and while it was often good for some bondage, it was just plain unre­al­is­tic. Bat­man and Robin would be chained up with wrist shack­les big enough to stick their heads through, or stuck to a wall with tape or some­thing else equal­ly ridiculous.

Sat­ur­day morn­ing car­toons were espe­cial­ly bad — like Olive Oyl, the damsels and occa­sion­al dudes in dis­tress were often “bound” by a cou­ple loose turns of rope around their waists and fore­arms; they tend­ed to be “gagged” with a hand­ker­chief or scarf tied over their mouth. Yet they were as help­less and silenced as if they’d been mum­mi­fied in duct tape from the nose down. So although I seethed like a Game of Thrones fan when Robb, Cate­lyn and Tal­isa all got mur­dered in the “Red Wed­ding” episode,5 I devoured it all and kept com­ing back for more.

Brain Bomb II: Try to Detect It

A few years after The Olive Oyl Inci­dent, I’d out­grown Big Lit­tle Books and trad­ed up to The Hardy Boys. One of the first books in the series I read was titled While the Clock Ticked (the full title appar­ent­ly being Two Boys Gagged and Tied to Chairs For Hours While the Clock Ticked). The cov­er art showed ama­teur detec­tives Frank and Joe Hardy gagged and tied to chairs in front of a huge grand­fa­ther clock; the book’s cli­max con­sist­ed of Frank and Joe strug­gling to escape as a bomb wired up to the clock count­ed down to here comes the boom.

I was, again, entranced. Not by the cov­er art (today I find it a bit dis­turb­ing, actu­al­ly, more so since I Googled it and dis­cov­ered numer­ous repro­duc­tions on sites devot­ed to under­age male bondage), but by the chap­ters devot­ed to the bondage.

Left: Clas­sic chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture. Right: Creepy adults’ wank­fod­der. (Click to embiggenate.)

For three chap­ters, our heroes are tied and gagged, right up until a last-sec­ond res­cue. They strug­gle as the bad guy gloats and reveals all the miss­ing plot points; they strug­gle some more as he wires the bomb to the clock and leaves.

Now for the best part: Joe squirms about, try­ing to reach his pock­etknife, but he can only touch the edge of his pock­et. Frank thrash­es, chaf­ing his wrists raw to no avail, then tries to tip over his chair.

Final­ly, a friend shows up to free them and in the finest dude/­damsel-in-dis­tress tra­di­tion, he does­n’t notice the bomb and does­n’t under­stand what the gagged vic­tims are try­ing des­per­ate­ly to say. He cuts Frank free; Frank lunges for­ward, still gagged, and dis­arms the bomb at the last second.

And then I flipped back and read it again. And again and again. My imag­i­na­tion ran down the check­list end­less­ly, as if it was an ear­worm from a favorite song: They were tied up. They were total­ly help­less. They could­n’t beg the bad guy not to kill them; they could­n’t do any­thing to stop him. They tried to free them­selves; they tried to reach the bomb, but they could­n’t. When they need­ed to warn their friend about the bomb, they could­n’t talk — they were gagged.

The sce­nario, like the much sim­pler scene in the Big Lit­tle Book, total­ly enthralled me. What would that be like? I won­dered end­less­ly. Will I ever get to expe­ri­ence some­thing like that? And a few oth­er ques­tions began qui­et­ly, uneasi­ly drift­ing around: Why am I so inter­est­ed by this? Is some­thing wrong with me?

Like most oth­er sado­masochis­tic peo­ple I’ve known, I start­ed exper­i­ment­ing with self-bondage. I was still a lit­tle kid, but despite the end­less fan­ta­siz­ing I knew I was­n’t real­ly going to be kid­napped, or sus­pend­ed over a shark pit, or strapped down to a chair because some bad guy resent­ed my ama­teur sleuthing. Some­thing deep inside me hun­gered to feel it, though, to feel all of it: to be help­less; to be unable to free myself; to strug­gle as hard as I could but not get loose; to try to call for help; to try to reach a knife or a key, but be thwart­ed by ropes or chains or straps.

It did­n’t take long to hit the same wall most peo­ple do when they try self-bondage: No mat­ter how well you tie your­self up, you know you can get loose. Even if you arrange some sort of elab­o­rate timed release, you’re not real­ly help­less — soon­er or lat­er you can get free. It’s just not the same as real­ly being tied up and help­less.6

I was frus­trat­ed and more than a lit­tle scared by this bar­rage of dreams and desires and the actions they pro­voked. Although I could­n’t have artic­u­lat­ed it, I knew there was more to all this than bondage. As much as I want­ed to expe­ri­ence real bondage, I knew there was a hole in me that it would­n’t fill. Some­thing was miss­ing; I did­n’t know what it was and I had no one to talk with about it. Want­i­ng to be tied up and gagged seemed like the most nat­ur­al thing in the world to me, but I sensed it was­n’t nat­ur­al at all. I could­n’t express the desire to be in bondage the way I could say I was hun­gry or thirsty. You just could­n’t go around doing stuff like that.

Brain Bomb III: Not the Comfy Chair!

My par­ents enjoyed cop shows on TV, as I men­tioned before. One sum­mer evening I wan­dered into the liv­ing room just as McMil­lan and Wife came back from a com­mer­cial, and my jaw dropped as I beheld Susan St. James, gagged and tight­ly bound to a chair.

I plunked down on the floor and watched, stunned, as she rocked and squirmed, bounc­ing the chair across the room toward the phone. She man­aged to bump for­ward on to her knees in front of the phone, leaned for­ward — still fas­tened to the chair — and used her lips to lift the receiv­er. It fell off the table, so she knelt down and picked it up, put it on the table, picked up a pen­cil and dialed O.

I was amazed as she argued with the oper­a­tor, try­ing to tell her she could­n’t dial the police her­self because she was tied to a chair. This was­n’t crum­my fake bondage; this was real. When she leaned over to pick up the phone I could clear­ly see that her wrists were tied to the back of the chair. The scene was played for laughs, but the bondage was serious.

Once again I could­n’t stop imag­in­ing what it would be like — to have to wrig­gle to move the chair; to have to try pick­ing up some­thing with my mouth because my hands were tied; to try explain­ing what was going on when I was gagged and could­n’t speak clearly.

I final­ly tore my eyes away when my moth­er cross­ly informed me I made a much bet­ter door than a win­dow, and hus­tled back to my room, hop­ing my par­ents would­n’t notice my Ther­mos bot­tle-sized erec­tion.7

That’s right: Hor­mones had start­ed rear­ing their ugly heads by that time. I said ear­li­er I felt some­thing was miss­ing, and although there was more to it than sex, puber­ty def­i­nite­ly kept me busy for quite a while.

I won’t bore you with how I man­aged — with no guid­ance from school, my par­ents or the Inter­net — to fig­ure out the basics of mas­tur­ba­tion and orgasms any­way. I’ll just say this: I can’t speak for any­one else, but for me, sado­masochism isn’t just about sex, and sex isn’t just about sado­masochism. They might cross over and mix, but they aren’t same thing.

Be that as it may, at long last the day arrived on which I final­ly start­ed get­ting some author­i­ta­tive guid­ance on sex: I found my dad’s porn stash in the garage.

Brain Bomb IV: The Nuclear Option

My father was nev­er the tini­est bit kinky, judg­ing by his taste in porn. By today’s stan­dards, his stash was both pret­ty small and rather tame: about 75 mag­a­zines, most of which were Play­boy or Pent­house or oth­er semi-respectable titles. But there were a few more hard­core mag­a­zines too; one was an issue of Club. Flip­ping through it, I found a sec­tion titled “Teth­er Report,” which was devot­ed most­ly to sado­masochism. That mon­th’s “Teth­er Report” was a bio of an artist named Robert Bish­op, and it fea­tured some of his work. I don’t remem­ber exact­ly how many were on dis­play, but I still remem­ber the first three.

I can’t over­state the impact those illus­tra­tions had on me. If the bondage I’d seen in com­ic books or detec­tive shows fired my imag­i­na­tion, Bish­op’s draw­ings went off like nuclear weapons.

Like most of Bish­op’s work, they fea­tured improb­a­bly pro­por­tioned women sub­ject­ed to impos­si­bly strin­gent bondage.

bishop1 bishop2 bishop3

Warn­ing: Do not try these at home. Even if you do have access to nude, will­ing young women with joints made of Sil­ly Put­ty. (Click to embiggenate.)

First was a woman with her wrists and elbows tied behind her back. Her ankles and wrists were sus­pend­ed togeth­er from a T‑shaped bar fast­ed to the floor; the rest of her was sus­pend­ed by her hair. Anoth­er woman was whip­ping her feet as she hung there, stretched as tight­ly as gui­tar string.

The next was­n’t quite so elab­o­rate; it was a woman, gagged with tape, her wrists and ankles all tied togeth­er and fas­tened to a hook that sus­pend­ed her off the floor and pulled her into a back­break­ing arch.

Final­ly there was yet anoth­er woman, this one with what looked like a rub­ber ball jammed in her mouth, with a strap going through it and secur­ing it behind her head. Her wrists were tied behind her back; her ankles were tied to either end of a long pole, spread­ing her legs wide. She was held up by a large, mus­cu­lar guy who was about to low­er her vagi­na-first onto an enor­mous dil­do mount­ed on a waist-high pole. She strug­gled to no avail, star­ing wide-eyed at the toy about to impale her.

Keep in mind that I was 15 and this was in 1978: There was no Madon­na, much less Robert Map­plethor­pe. No sex edu­ca­tion at school or adult cable chan­nels, at least not where I lived; most par­ents did­n’t have The Talk with their kids either. No MTV; no Vic­to­ri­a’s Secret TV shows; no ocean of free porn online; no Fifty Shades of Grey; no 1–900 sex lines; no Drs. Ruth or Phil or Oz talk­ing frankly about sex on TV; no FetLife or Match.com or Craigslist or Face­book or Twit­ter or any access to stuff like this.

I had nev­er seen, or even heard of, a hogtie, a ball gag or a dil­do, of being tied up (tied up naked, for the love of Cthul­hu!) so some­one could whip you or spank you or do oth­er things to your pri­vate parts. The near­est thing to any fetish cloth­ing I’d ever seen was Bat­girl on the Bat­man show, or a rare glimpse of Mrs. Peel in her cat­suit on The Avengers.

I’d been glimps­ing and fan­ta­siz­ing about G‑rated bondage for 10 years by then and exper­i­ment­ing with self-bondage to boot; with the onset of puber­ty I’d begun to sus­pect, vague­ly, that the peo­ple writ­ing com­ic books and TV shows knew some peo­ple found the whole damsel-in-dis­tress meme titillating.

But I was afraid, with­out real­ly admit­ting it to myself, that some­thing was seri­ous­ly wrong with me. I already felt guilty and embar­rassed about sex­u­al things: my naughty bits respond­ed enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly when I saw or thought about girls, or when I touched myself as I explored my body (or, being a pubes­cent guy, when I dried myself after a show­er or saw a bra in a TV com­mer­cial8 or pret­ty much any­thing else).

Fan­ta­siz­ing about touch­ing or kiss­ing or sex was arous­ing, although I had only the dimmest under­stand­ing of how sex even worked, and like most guys I was scared and ashamed by the pow­er of my new­ly-mint­ed sex dri­ve. I was far more embar­rassed and scared by the way bondage also excit­ed and inter­est­ed me.

When I saw Bish­op’s art­work, I felt as if I’d been try­ing to teach myself to draw stick fig­ures with a pen­cil and some scrap paper, but was sud­den­ly plunked down in The Lou­vre. A name­less some­thing inside me was burst­ing to be released and explored. I could­n’t clar­i­fy what I want­ed to cre­ate and express, and now I was abrupt­ly con­front­ed with the real­i­ty of it.

For the first time I thought maybe, just maybe, I was­n’t such a sicko after all. Or maybe that I was a sicko, but at least there were oth­er peo­ple out there who under­stood — who got it. Enough peo­ple to pub­lish mag­a­zines and devote some pret­ty good art­work to it, at least. I had no clue how I might ever find any­one else who felt the way I did about bondage, but I knew they were out there. I was­n’t alone!

It took many more years before I could give myself per­mis­sion to be okay, even after dis­cov­er­ing I was­n’t alone. But dis­cov­er­ing I was­n’t alone was half the bat­tle won.

Footnotes

  1. Hey, it’s my arti­cle. Write your own if you dis­agree with me.
  2. Navel-gaz­ing as an aid to med­i­ta­tion. Used col­lo­qui­al­ly to refer to self-obses­sion. From the Greek ompha­los, mean­ing “ass­holes who talk about them­selves,” and kep­sis, mean­ing “until even Katie Couric wants to blow groceries.”
  3. If you’re read­ing this, Dr. Freud, kind­ly fuck off.
  4. Not in Won­der Woman comics, though. I didn’t dis­cov­er her until years lat­er. Sigh.
  5. Sor­ry if you haven’t seen it already.
  6. This is where I should announce in a ring­ing, sten­to­ri­an voice that self-bondage is Very Bad and Dan­ger­ous and you should Nev­er Ever Try It, all the while know­ing most kinky folks are going to try it any­way. Yes, it’s dan­ger­ous, even poten­tial­ly dead­ly — I had a few scares myself. You’ve prob­a­bly heard of auto­erot­ic asphyx­i­a­tion, but self-bondage has also killed peo­ple via posi­tion­al asphyx­i­a­tion, suf­fo­ca­tion, chok­ing or aspi­rat­ing vom­it, even from expo­sure or thirst when a release mech­a­nism failed (check out stud­ies like this one and note many of these weren’t even attempts at sex­u­al grat­i­fi­ca­tion). If you can’t find some­one to exper­i­ment or play with, please do take safe­ty precautions.
  7. I was maybe 11 or 12 when this hap­pened, so “bro­ken cray­on-sized erec­tion” is prob­a­bly more accu­rate, but I’m pret­ty sure puber­ty affects most boys the way it did me — viz., being sure your bon­ers are vis­i­ble from out­er space.
  8. Right there is a per­fect exam­ple of how dif­fer­ent things were back then: The first time a TV com­mer­cial was allowed to show a woman wear­ing a bra was in 1987. Before that they some­times showed a woman wear­ing a bra on top of a sweater (which looked just as stu­pid as it sounds), or more often showed a woman in a blouse while the announc­er said, “Cross­es over, lifts and sep­a­rates!” while car­toon arrows vague­ly point­ed at the approx­i­mate region where a bra might be if a bra was actu­al­ly there some­where, but we real­ly can’t say in polite company.