INTRODUCTIONThinking about violence in its everyday iterations—those structural and systemic violations we have internalized as necessary and even common-sensical to such a degree that, though ubiquitous, they become hard to see—I was struck by the unwitting and at times involuntary intimacy we have with the experience of perpetrating and experiencing forms of violence. This intimacy, in turn, brought my friend Mistress Mara to mind: a professional dominatrix whose public performance work unfolds at the very intersection of intimacy and violence. Rather than a mere matter of eroticizing power, domination, and submission, it seemed that in her interactive and improvisational performances, violence itself was being symbolically reconfigured when bodies submit to experiences both painful and cathartic. Like other queer artists whose work lives in club spaces, at drag shows, raves, and burlesques, Mara’s performances may not fit into a narrow, exclusive white-cube art world. Yet the radical potential of her work to offer transformative experiences to participants and audiences alike is hard to miss, even for a recent first-time attendee like myself.
Christina Schmid, Mn Artists Guest Editor
I’m writing from home right now, on self-imposed “queerantine” in response to the global pandemic of COVID-19, as I’m sure many of us are.
When my friend Christina asked me to write about the reconfiguration of violence through art, I originally thought I would be writing a piece about the public work that I do as a professional Dominatrix.
How, through the context- and consent-making lens of BDSM, I am able to perpetuate acts of violence against the perpetuators of violence—ball crushing and humiliation for the cis het white businessman as an excellent (and typical) example—and how, through those acts of violence, we are both able to experience healing and empowerment. He is able to express vulnerability via naming his desire, and experience the opportunity be seen and celebrated in his interest, versus begrudgingly tolerated or seen as aberrant. And I am able to find a consensual outlet for my own sadism and my deep desire to smash the patriarchy—and in this instance, literally! That experience of being met in our respective desires is so valuable, and once we feel that, it is a transformative bell that can’t be un-rung.
Peeking into my kinky keyhole, you might see a queer dyke railing some business dude in the nuts, but what’s really happening underneath that is a torrid transmutation: of violence into exactly the kind of attention and validation that we both crave, and in a way that is intentional and consensual.
And while that is an important conversation, I can’t help but notice what’s really in the forefront of my (and everyone else’s) mind: the right now of what we are facing as a global community, and the much more private and internal work of navigating the landscape of my own anxiety about what’s to come (as it were).
I am filled with grateful awareness of how my work in BDSM, and the tools that I have gained as a part of a larger kinky community, are going to be the things that keep me sane: an already integrated knowledge of how to find freedom in powerlessness, the ability to clearly name my needs and desires, and for me, the catharsis and subsequent calm I find in enduring pain. How I can choose to fight against the restrictiveness, or be held by it. Both are options, and each has their place. I am thankful to have awareness of that choice, so it is one I can make mindfully, versus having my body make that choice for me.
I remember an early experience with serious bondage: weight supported, arms and legs stretched open and bound with innumerable straps, a leather hood obstructing my vision. At one point I started to get freaked out, and my play partner told me I had a choice—that we could stop, or we could try some breathing exercises and see if I could level myself out, in which case, we would keep going. Being a highly motivated slut, I opted for the latter. Little did I know that she was teaching me basic mindfulness practices, ones I still use to this day to manage stress and pain. Grounding into my body, noticing where in my body I am holding stress and tension, focusing my breathing, and nurturing into those places to bring forth my inner reserves of calm. I have been using that same breathing technique every night this last week to help myself go to sleep—and it all started in a sex sling!
With business as usual being, ahem, suspended for a time (can’t stop, won’t stop!), I am choosing to use this time as an invitation to tap into my desires and to practice radical self-care. The more loving I can be to myself, the more I can show up for others. And the more expansive I can be in my definition of love and self-care, the more spaces of healing I will find.
If folks can wrap their heads around the benefits of working out as a way to combat stress, why not a thoughtful and thorough spanking? You get the rush of brain chemicals brought on by intense physical sensations, the high of anticipation, and the relaxing lethargy of the afterglow—it’s working out plus sex!
Which is why I find myself leaning into my switchy side: doing more getting in addition to giving, which has been an unexpected plus of this freaky furlough. More time for me to get tuned into my body and my desires, and an opportunity for me to channel all this unknowingness into something more concrete and embodied, which feels like sexy self-care and pervy pragmatism. I can put myself into restrictive rope bondage that I can push and fight against, and be held in my struggle by the rope. If I want to cry but can’t access it, I can ask my beloved to spank me until that room inside me unlocks and releases the tears I’ve been holding inside. Being able to create a physical manifestation of my internal struggle has been so helpful for me in navigating this new and very scary landscape, where so much feels unknown and out of my hands.
Whether I am the one doing the controlling, or letting someone control me, that turning over power is a choice. Places of choice are places of empowerment and agency, and those are in desperate need right now.
So! I may be at home practicing #solidarityspacing for the greater good, but right now, part of my self-care plan includes daily doses of deviance. A flogging a day helps keep anxiety at bay!
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Try it for science, try it for yourself, and see if it helps ground you into your physical experience. Get out of your brain and into your body!
See y’all on the other side, folx. I hope that when we see each other next, you tell me all about your sexperiments!
Until then— be well, be weird, and be the change you seek, humans!