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Playing Like Adults
Issue 08, 1995

There's a broad variety in the intensity and manner of leather play. Some dabble with a bit of light-hearted bondage and a little ass-slapping. On the other end of the SM spectrum there are those who use long whips and (consensually) draw blood. Most players fall somewhere in the large bell curve that makes up the middle.

Facts probably show that the term R&P, for restraint and pleasure, is much more descriptive of the games people play than is the more drastic label of S&M. In any case, no matter what your place in the lifestyle may be, adulthood is necessary for the best results.

This past week I got three different indications for the need to play maturely, reasonably, and responsibly: a letter from the Gay Male SM Activists of New York, a phone call from David in North Carolina, and a message on my machine from Bob, a friend who lives here in Chicago.

Included in my monthly mailing about up-coming GMSMA meetings was a short, one piece flyer warning me, and everyone else on the mailing list, about a top in New York City who doesn't respect limits and is accused of causing harm to his sexual partners. I can't give you all the details but it suffices to say that this organization thought him enough of a threat to publicly acknowledge his activity and warm its members not to associate with him.

They described him in terms that would match most tops in any leather bar but went on to say that he would be identified as soon as possible to the local bartenders so that they could point him out to anyone needing further clarification.

Looking out for one another has long been a hallmark of our community's strength. The leaflet about this guy was specific but the message it contained was general enough for all of us: know with whom you are playing. I'll grant you that I've gone home with more strangers than my Mother could ever worry about, but I trust I've always done it in a way that was responsible.

There are lots of ways to know if a person is safe or not. It is your responsibility to do the legwork needed to protect yourself. When in doubt ask, and if you don't get re-assuring answers, go home alone. You can always get a person's phone number and meet them later. A person who won't share a phone number is hiding more than you need to know. Forget him.

David is a married man who travels for a living. I've never met him. He read my book, looked up my phone number and has called to talk about leather on several occasions. He likes the advice I give him and so continues to call. He's a brand new and only sporadic player in the scene.

Like many married men he can't get the domination he seeks in his life from his wife, and so looks elsewhere. He's just begun to explore what leather means to him. On my suggestion he answered a few ads and met a guy that he's seen a few times.

He wants to be a slave to this guy but finds that the Master he has met is moving too fast for his tastes. He likes the guy but isn't ready to give as totally to this man as the Master wishes. It's not that he wouldn't want to get there eventually, rather he wants to feel his way through this brand new leather experience.

Understandably he has a lot to sort out: his sexuality, his marriage, his family responsibilities, his new and erotic relationship. In many ways he is in the midst of a very traumatic coming out process. I can not predict where it will take him, but I can agree with his deeply felt need to take it more slowly than his Master desires.

His phone call told me the crux of his problem: as submissive how should he respond to his "Master's" demands? My answer was as straight-forward as possible. Be honest.

There are Master/slave relationships that are totally one-sided in terms of control, but they are neither newly-formed nor of an occasional occurrence. David, brand new in the scene, and without experience or self-confidence, is in no position to jeopardize his permanent family relationships or to be the kind of slave he's not ready to be.

My advice was to meet the guy again, but before starting another scene, to tell him that they needed to talk seriously, and as adults, about limits, fantasies, and reality. In short, David was to approach his partner not as a submissive, nor a slave, but as an adult. They needed to negotiate, in a responsible manner, just exactly what the two of them could and couldn't do.

I advised him to do it in a humble and respectful way, but that he had to make himself clear. It would be better to end the relationship than to continue playing in ways that were unacceptable to one or the other of the partners.

I'm a firm believer that submissives can't abrogate their responsibility. Master or slave, each is supposed to be a reasonable, consenting adult, neither ought to give up his will to create an unsatisfactory relationship.

Now, I will fully admit that there are relationships where the submissive can, and should, abrogate all self-will, but only where that relationship is mutually and fully agreed upon by both parties with neither coercion nor deceit. I'm all in favor of total obedience, but you're going to find that only on the fringe of the bell curve. Most SM is still R&P!

I never got past the answering machine story to know exactly what happened to Bob. It seems that he and a friend agreed to do a cigar burning scene where the top would burn Bob. I don't know the circumstances of the agreement, but it was negotiated and done.

The next morning Bob was angry to see that he had been badly burned and perhaps scarred for life. The cigar-imposed marks hurt and hurt badly. What was a good scene was now a bad one.

Regrets can be such bad feelings. That's another reason to negotiate responsibly. Once again, I have no problem with a Master marking, even scarring a slave, for life, but it is probably not appropriate to do it as part of a one time, one-night scene.

In this situation both top and bottom needed to be more responsible in their mutual decisions. I would suggest that their negotiation wasn't explicit enough. Did Bob know there would be scars the next morning? Did the top want to make permanent alterations to Bob's flesh? When two people agree to a scene they need to know exactly what they are agreeing to.

I once had a scene with a guy who chose to handcuff me behind my back and then had me lie on the cuffs. In time, the circulation to my hands was cut off and they fell asleep. Long after I should have said something, I asked to be put in a new position. I was playing "tough" and so delayed my very appropriate request.

The result was that my hands were still numb five days later. Eventually my body was restored to its natural state, but I was worried for a few days. Now one might criticize the top for not checking my circulation, but as I think on it now, I doubt he had the competence that I assumed he had.

On the other hand, my bravado in not saying something sooner was foolish. I really had myself to blame for the numb-ness in my hands. I should have been responsible enough to speak up. It just boils down to the fact that we are responsible for our own actions and we have to bear the consequences of our agreements.

I suspect that the marks on Bob's skin will go away rather quickly. I trust that their lesson will stay with him for a long time.

There certainly is a case for mutual responsibility here. Perhaps Bob should say something to his master for the night so that they both can learn from the incident. I'm not sure that bad-mouthing the master to others, though, would be productive. The incident, by prior agreement, was co-created. Each must bear their fair share of blame.

In fact, it may be that the master thought he was doing exactly what Bob wanted. If such is the case, though, he should have been more insistent in knowing that as a fact. In this respect, verbal clues, such as "I'm going to really mark you", aid in communicating what is going on. It's at that point, too, that Bob would have had the opportunity to say "Stop."

We all get into the flow and the excitement of the scene and it is then that our emotions can over-power our reason. As responsible adults, either on top or bottom, it means that we have to know with whom we are playing and what we are doing. Better end a scene than wake up with regrets.

If, on the other hand, there are regrets, they pose an excellent chance to consider exactly what you did wrong. It's too easy to blame the other guy. My Mother says "It takes two to tango." Whether you're top or bottom, be an adult. It'll make your scenes more fun now and the next morning as well.

Copyright 1995 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay in any form, contact mrjackr@leathermail.com


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