Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

My Evolving Masculinity, Part Four: Personal

January 8, 2010  |  essays  |  20 Comments

See also: Part One, Introduction, Part Two, Yin & Yang, and Part Three: “Daddy”

I started this series in the summer, nearly six months ago now. I have already written a post about some of what I dealt with personally in the late summer and early fall, and some of my point of part four I have already gone through – some of it was about me processing through what I was struggling with in light of masculinity and the ways that thinking about maturing my gender helped me overcome some of the hardships.

There were a variety of things I was struggling with—all of the major elements in my life were shaken, just a tad, and then there was a personal crisis (related to someone who I continue, somehow, to allow to haunt me) that was the straw that broke the Jameson glass. And I kind of lost it. I was full-on in crisis, fairly unable to keep myself stable. I have a lot of tried-and-true “coping mechanisms,” tricks that make me feel whole and solid and thoroughly like myself, and are comforting and grounding, but they were failing me too. Nothing was working.

Here’s what’s interesting: everywhere I went, in my own writing, in my conversations with Kristen, in my psychotherapy work, in my bodywork, I was hearing from everyone that I needed to be stronger. To contain more, let it out less. Hold my own better. To “man up,” in other words.

Part of me oh so resented that! I mean, excuse me? I am a dyke, by definition I overprocess! Are you telling me that because of my gender? Would the universe be telling a femme the same things?

But once I got over myself a little, I thought, what the hell. I can’t keep going like this, I may as well try anything because I can’t continue this way. So I tried some new things on. I tricked myself into being stronger for a while, to see what happened.

It’s kind of the psychic equivalent of holding your breath, and letting it out in a slow, controlled stream.

But – this is a double edged sword, isn’t it, for someone masculine? Hold back your emotions? Don’t express yourself? Handle it on your own, don’t ask for help? These are classic PROBLEMS with masculinity, not necessarily what should be encouraged in someone masculine.

But despite that, I was willing to give it a try, because I could tell I was in dangerous slippery territory and needed to get myself back to somewhere stronger. Things started shifting. I attended a yoga class where the instructor spoke about making the pose effortless, and I thought: that is my problem. I extend so much effort to everything in my life. What would happen if I didn’t? I mean, do I really need to extend so much effort in getting on the subway and commuting to my job daily? Or in meeting a friend for drinks? Or in writing, or meditating, or doing yoga, or preparing food? These things could be effortless parts of my life, why do I waste so much energy thinking they are hard and require so much work? They could be easier than I let them be.

And then there was the Modern Love column in the New York Times, Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear:

You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “The End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

And there was Nicole Blackman’s poem, You Are Never Ready:

You must change your life. You are never ready.

There were other things, too. The new Tori Amos album was comforting. I re-read Tim Ferriss’s article on Stoicism 101 and was reminded of my coworker who used to say, “I like to be stoic about my suffering.” I re-read some of my notes from a recent Buddhist class, and meditated on suffering, and on effort, and on lovingkindness.

Something started unraveling, and my grip on whatever this suffering was started to loosen. I started thinking myself out of my fear of the forward movement, and into what is really happening for me: I’m growing. And growth requires the temporary suspension of security.

I know what I need to do to get to where I want to be. I know how I want to spend my days, I know what I want to do with my time, I know the subjects which I want to study. I have a much better idea of how to get from here to there than I ever have. I have a trajectory, I have thoughts, I have aim, I have focus. And now I need … what? Patience? Or perhaps endurance, perhaps stamina. Sometimes I need to be able to trust that when I take that leap of faith, something will catch me. That is precisely the definition of a leap of faith, after all. And grace, I need more grace, by which I mean “the ease with which one handles crisis,” I need more of that too. I pull so heavily on buddhist teachings when I get in crisis, or when those I care for are in crisis, I think I should really deepen that practice to give myself even more tools with which to deal with hardships and suffering.

I had a Part Five planned for this series, which was titled “In Which I Grow Up,” but that page has been blank since I started this series. I’m not even sure I know what I’m trying to say here. Something about how “grown up” masculinity actually is some of those things that we think are “bad” about masculinity—like stoicism or containing our emotions—and yet it is precisely that which opens up a whole new level of being, of caring for ourselves and others. Something about how that is not the negative, awful, repressive thing that, as a feminist studying masculinity, I was always taught and told. Of course, there are buckets of problems with this … but it is not so simple as just being a 100% bad thing. There are benefits, too. I’m struggling to articulate the ways that it is beneficial, I suppose we are lacking language and theory on this in general. But perhaps this small series—and, now, my Radical Masculinity column—can be a springboard to my further studies which shed more light on the ways this is useful.

Now’s the part where I ask you what you think. Please do chime in on what you think about the evolution of masculinity—your own, or those whom you have witnessed:

What has your experience been with “grown up” masculinity vs a younger masculinity?
What changed for you when you grew up?
What is different? What evolves, if anything?
What kinds of qualities would you like to see masculine folks embody as we get older?
How does masculinity evolve?

Sadism, and the Study of Pain

May 7, 2009  |  advice, essays  |  9 Comments

i have noticed elsewhere online that you have added ’sadistic’ to your lineup of adjectives. i was very interested in your explanation of how you came to claim those words as part of your identity (forgive me if this is not accurate), and would be interested in hearing a similar description of how you came to claim sadistic as well.

Yes, I have added “sadistic” in a couple of my taglines or bios or descriptions recently, and it is an identity label that I claim, at least to a degree. I think the identity of “sadist” is understood much less – outside of kink communities and circles – than the other identity tags I use (queer, butch, top), and it can be incredibly off-putting for folks who don’t understand it.

There’s just so much stigma around it – you like to give others pain? You enjoy that, you get off on it, it turns you on? That’s seen as, well, kind of fucked up by a lot of people.

And it kind of is fucked up, if that’s the way you’re looking at it. But the details of how sadism works a lot more complicated than that – at least, it is for me.

It’s taken me a long time to come to claim a bit more of a sadistic identity, and it’s still something that I say with a little bit of reservation or even shame, partly because I don’t want it to come on too strongly and freak someone out.

First: playing with sadism, for me, must be consensual and intentional. I do not enjoy being cruel in general, and actually it is sometimes very difficult for me to treat someone I love with humiliation or damage, to hit them, to slap someone in the face. I’ve had to go through the feelings of top guilt and, to a greater extend, sadist guilt, when I started exploring this. Those feelings aren’t completely gone, but I know what I’m doing more now and I have more confidence in my perspective and standpoint, so I don’t have as much guilt about it.

I remember precisely when I realized I was a sadist: it was 2002, and I was in a Body Electric workshop called Power, Surrender, and Intimacy. (This is going to get a little bit sacred sex/spiritual, just to warn you.) We had been discussing power, dominance, and sadism – and receiving that with surrender, submission, and masochism – and had been doing exercises all relating to tapping into those feelings. We were in the middle of a ritual (I won’t go into details) when someone had a very strong reaction, and began crying. I was going through my own experience and starting to really feel myself come into some power and dominance in a new way, and I was flooded with the witness of her release. It was a solo ritual, so we weren’t working together or touching, and she probably wasn’t even aware of me, she just started sobbing, loudly, in her own world of release, and I felt the energy as the grief and emotion flooded through her, I was so attuned to the shifts of energy in the room, and started realizing that I was incredibly turned on by her release. It was beautiful – pure and unhindered, just letting go of some really deep things that she’d been carrying and holding on to for who knows how long. I wanted to coax her through it, support her, and in my mind I was soothing her, cradling, holding the space around her so that she herself could have room to be safe and release. I loved the feeling of doing that for someone (even though I wasn’t really doing that for her, I was just imagining the scenario where I would do that) and I got such a rush and release myself from witnessing someone else get into that space of deep release, deep surrender, and then come back, smiling and whole.

So there’s a lot of psychology to it for me: we carry around all sorts of grief, pain, shame, anger, rage, distrust, disassociation, and guilt, especially about our physical bodies and our sexualities. And one of the ways that BDSM and power play and pain play taps into that is through acknowledgment and, ultimately, release – which is why we can feel renewed, refreshed, energized after a deep scene.

We also just don’t have very good tools for release and replenishment available to us. We’re not exactly taught how to remake ourselves and let go of some of our deep grief, and I believe this kind of emotional release is one of those ways.

Aside from the psychology, I also like pain. And as much as I talk about being a sadist, I have spent many years as a masochist also – I’ve been beaten, flogged, caned, whipped, pierced, cut, and slapped; I’ve had 13 piercings (only one of which I wear anymore); I’ve had some experience submitting and surrendering, and using pain as a way to get more present in my body, and then to let go.

There’s a degree to which, though, at this point, I feel like I’ve had enough of that kind of release, I seek something else now. I know how to get myself into a state of deep body release, mostly through yoga or meditation or masturbation or running, and I wanted to explore other things related to that kind of bodily release – namely, guiding it in others. I get more out of the experience of taking someone through it than I do going through it myself, these days. I don’t expect that to be permanent, but I don’t expect it to change either – for now, I know I’m a top who really likes to play with my sadistic side, and that really works for me.

So, after this series of revelations and after some further investigation, and being very sure that I wanted to get deeper into this kind of play, I began studying it more intentionally: how to get someone into that state, how to keep them safe when they’re there, how to encourage the release (but not overwhelmingly so), and how to bring them back from it.

There’s also that moment … how do I describe it. Where put your hand in water and you can’t tell if it’s super hot or super cold – how our senses cross-fire sometimes when sensation is so deep and heavy and stimulating that we can’t tell if it’s pain or pleasure.

I love playing with that line, partly because it is a way to practice pain without suffering – a way to practice pain without being hurt, but to experience it as a release, change, and growth. I think pain play can do a lot of that, too, and it is very interesting to me, as someone who is interested in algology (the study of pain), and someone who studies the cessation of suffering, how to encourage these moments of transformation where pain becomes pleasure, useful, and a methodology of study.

What I’m saying is: sadism is the intentional use of pain, discomfort, and other dark emotions to find deep release, move energy, and renew the self. As someone who is deeply interested in dark emotions, the messy stuff, the hard stuff, and personal transformation and self-awareness, this is a tool that I find incredibly useful.