Fear Is Not Pretty

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.

We just met and this is crazy, but HERE’S SOME DOG SHIT GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS OFF ME!

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.

Dusty in here, isn’t it? Go grab a tis­sue and blow your nose; I’ll wait.

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.

Solid Gold

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.


  1. Isn’t it strange that I was ter­ri­fied to meet peo­ple, but per­fect­ly okay with let­ting two women I real­ly did­n’t know yet strip me naked and tie me to a chair?
  2. Notice how I avoid­ed say­ing “Show me the ropes”? I respect you too much to inflict a pun like that on you.