One of my favorite writers, Nathan Rabin, became a dedicated Juggalo while attending the Gathering of the Juggalos for the purpose of writing a book. It’s the kind of “going native” association with one’s subjects that would make a social scientist cringe, but for a pop culture writer, it provides a valuable outsider-turned-insider perspective that I enjoy reading about.
This year’s Gathering, according to his field reports, has been dampened significantly by the current political climate. Moving the venue to Oklahoma City and reducing the availability of drugs has cast a pall on the proceedings, already facing the bizarre and daunting situation of being declared a gang by the FBI. In response, the Insane Clown Posse and their associates have announced a Juggalo March on Washington. The surreal nature of even uttering that sentence is truly a sign of the times.
Within the proceedings, there seems to be a muted tension and widespread inability to grasp these developments in their entirety. Some dedicated members of the group feel energized by the FBI’s designation, because it confers a type of “badass” real-world status. In contrast, Nathan points out, declaring fans of a music group to be a criminal gang is, in fact, an unconstitutional threat to their rights of association and free speech. The idea that Juggalos are actually conducting organized crime beyond the local distribution of controlled substances is patently implausible.
There are some odd parallels here to the world of kink. Many kinky people seem to delight in the disapprobation of the vanilla world, and wear it as a badge of authenticity. Certainly, our preferences and peccadilloes don’t conform to any mainstream notion of acceptability, in a moral or legal sense. A penchant for odd and often violent sex acts is no way to win the hearts and minds of a nation that traces its roots back to puritanism.
But as with the Juggalos and their misapprehension of gang status as a kind of power, being outsiders doesn’t make us better or more worthy in any way. It certainly doesn’t make us a force of change that threatens the establishment. As I have noted previously, a subculture that centers the sexual desires of heterosexual, cisgender and mostly white men isn’t even close to being revolutionary. It’s downright normal, in many respects. The only aspect of kink culture that challenges mainstream sexual mores is our outspoken insistence that sexual behavior is something we do because we wish to, not because we are obligated to propagate the species within the confines of Christian, heterosexual marriage. And as such, it requires the consent of all involved. The consent narrative in kink culture, as contrasted with its absence in mainstream culture, highlights just how mainstream our interests truly are – without a commitment to that narrative, most of us are just performing the same patriarchal, cishet sexual politics of our vanilla neighbors.
A march of kinky people for our rights conjures images and bizarre and unlikely as one made up of Juggalos. And as with this parallel universe of a subculture, being dangerous, disagreeable and edgy doesn’t equal speaking truth to power, any more than taking drugs and engaging in assorted acts of chaos and mayhem. The fact that straight, white cisgender men who enjoy being Dominant in their sexual relationships may feel put upon for their sexual preferences speaks more to their resentment at not being able to fulfill those desires with greater ease, as the wealthier and more powerful men in society are wont to do. It doesn’t mean that being a straight, white, Dominant man is a kind of oppression. The entire concept of sexual gratification as reward for winning the game of power and privilege is one steeped in patriarchy and rape culture, and flies in the face of our stated group values of consent, honesty and free self-expression. If sex is a game to be won, then one’s sexual partners are game tokens, not human beings with their own desires and agency.
If we really want to speak truth to power as kinksters, we can easily do so by supporting the political rights of our kinky friends who are transgender, queer, Black and Brown, immigrants, non-Christian, and disabled. They can tell us much about what it’s really like to live as an outsider, not someone who embraces an outsider identity because it makes us feel important, or someone who can easily shed that outsider identity and appear perfectly normal when it suits us.
For anyone who might be tired of reading my autopsy of my most recent long-term relationship, I apologize, but I’m not done yet.
In retrospect, our approach to open/poly was burdened with the same lack of communication that plagued the rest of the relationship. Looking back, I regret that I didn’t ask him to sit down and have a real, honest conversation about it. But then, I don’t know how much good it would have done.
Our failure to maintain intimacy and connection fills me with sadness. But when I consider some of the other issues and players involved, I feel angry.
All but one of our additional partners were met and arranged by me. The only one he found himself, he ended up choosing over me.
I could have restricted my search to men – people he, by definition, wouldn’t want to be involved with. And I did have some male partners. But I put a significant amount of energy into finding women, sometimes single, more often as part of another open/poly couple, who would be interested in both of us. I enjoyed expressing that part of my sexuality, and even more so, I enjoyed bringing that fun and pleasure to him.
The first time we had a play date with a female partner, I was a bit nervous. He asked me how I would feel if he were to kiss her. I was unsure how that would make me feel, but I said to go ahead and do it if he wanted. Watching him kiss her was actually very erotic for me, so I had absolutely no regret. A lot of bisexual women complain, and rightly so, about men’s assumption that dating them will equate to automatic three-ways. I am simply wired in such a way that all manner of sex with multiple partners turn me on, and I happen to also be bisexual, so I am indeed that rare unicorn.
He certainly seemed to enjoy the adventures I brought to him. He never did any of the work. But then, that was a theme in our relationship. Asking him to lift a finger in any way, shape or form was met with the petulance of a toddler.
But there was one person in particular who ended up playing a significant role, and not the one he found himself. She was a person I met for casual play, and we got along well with her and her primary partner. So well, in fact, that when she was fired from her job and lost her housing in one fell swoop, I offered to let her stay with us while she returned to school to train for a new job.
I don’t regret doing this at all. I was happy to help her out. It did become more difficult than I had anticipated, though, because she ended up being as lackadaisical about housework and frequently whiny as he was. She had claimed when I made the offer that she would help out around the house. When that didn’t materialize, I called her on it. Her response was not too positive.
We had thought, originally, about renting a house as a foursome, after she had found new employment. But after living together for some time, I lost interest in that. My ex, well, his attitude towards the whole thing was consistent with everything else – bland neutrality. It was as if he had completely lost the ability to imagine himself in any kind of new situation.
Around the time that she graduated from school, I lost my job. We waited a few months, as she still had some things to take care of before finding her own place. And then I decided that it was time to move on. I needed the space because I was transitioning to home-based work, and she was not holding up her end of the deal.
After she left, we maintained contact, and spent some time together. I had invited her to several gatherings, and was generally a bit displeased at her behavior there. She tended to become dramatic when drinking around people, and could be downright obnoxious at parties. So I tried to arrange time together with just the two couples.
In the physical arena, we hadn’t had much contact in a long while. On one occasion, I was playing with her and her partner, and having a good time. My ex decided to barge in, although he generally declined to participate if there was another man involved, and tried to lecture them on the correct way to stimulate me. I happened to have been enjoying myself, and told him so. He was not happy about it.
On other occasions, I would get word that he was doing things with other people that I had asked him to do with me, but that he hadn’t done. This hurt, and I told him so. He didn’t have an explanation.
He continued to see her occasionally. I didn’t have a problem with that, except for one thing. She stopped responding to my requests to spend time together. I had considered her a friend, and I felt that asking him not to see people who had been rude or dismissive of me was not unreasonable. I didn’t want to make it an outright declaration, but I found it hurtful. I think that after I talked to him about this, he continued to see her, but didn’t tell me about it. Neither of them cared much about my feelings, it seemed.
So in the end, he put nothing into building a healthy open relationship, and then disregarded the only thing I asked of him.
The whole thing has made me far more aware of the potential issues involved whenever I set a boundary and the person affected by it gets angry. That was a common theme with him. He would complain about gaining weight and wanting to be healthier. OK, I said, let’s go for a walk. He would begrudgingly agree, then complain the whole time that I couldn’t walk as fast as he could. On one of our last outings, we walked about halfway up a park trail. I said I wanted to turn around and go back. He told me I should keep going. So I said, “or you could respect my limits.” He looked like I had slapped him.
And the whole time we were at the park, he looked at his phone. I had just that morning told him, when he picked up his phone and started looking for something – literally, while I was in the middle of a sentence – that that was hurtful and I wished he wouldn’t do it. But his constant disregard for me and my feelings was unabated.
I know I can’t force someone to do, or want to do, something they don’t. But his actions just sank deeper and deeper into selfishness and callousness, and any communication on his end as to why was non-existent. I don’t miss who he became. I miss who he used to be.
“Dear Prudence,Three years ago I met a man who was wonderful, smart, kind, funny—and he loved me. He was the first person I’d been seriously involved with since I left an abusive relationship, and I pushed him away, which hurt him badly. Over the past few years I’ve seen him around occasionally, and I’d think about how much I missed him. A few months ago I saw his profile on a dating app, and we talked a little. I asked if he wanted to go for a walk. He said yes, to my amazement. We started spending time together again, and I realized, more than ever, what I had given up. He said he wanted to take things slowly, and I agreed.Then he started bailing on me…. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/dear_prudence/2017/07/dear_prudence_i_m_a_military_officer_and_i_m_sick_of_being_thanked_for_my.html
I didn’t break up with him, but in 2010, we hit a real low point. He was struggling with professional school and exams, and I was in a very stressful job. In addition to being severely overextended, he had unresolved health problems. Specifically, untreated sleep apnea that made him a zombie 24/7. He had taken to sleeping during the day, and at night, and was pretty well checked out whenever he wasn’t sleeping. Any time I tried to get him to spend some time with me was met with angry protests that he was too busy to do anything.
I went to a weekend event without him, because he was too busy to go. I met up with some people who I played with and really enjoyed. I wanted to do more, but it was not an open relationship at the time and didn’t have permission for that.
After I got home, I felt incredibly frustrated. I really wanted to pursue more contact with the people I met, but he remained unwilling to give permission for that.
As the excited and elated feelings of that weekend wore off, they were replaced by sheer panic. I felt like I was falling out of love with my partner. I was terrified at the thought of losing him. I didn’t want to feel that way. After feeling terrible for a few days, I told him I had to go somewhere else for a little while. I stayed with friends for a few weeks. This was right before his exam, and the last thing I wanted to do was add more stress to his life. I felt that just getting some space would be the only reasonable solution.
After the exam was over, I came home, and I began to feel better. The intense feelings subsided and I was able to think more clearly. I really didn’t want to leave him. What I wanted was for him to get through his struggles and feel better, so we could have a healthy relationship again. I also wanted a different job, but things were still pretty rough in that department.
Things got a bit better. He got tested and treated for sleep apnea. He didn’t pass the first exam, though, so he had to do that again.
That’s when he told me he was going to move back to his home town so that he could work for the family business. I knew it was a safe option for him, definitely not his ideal, but I understood why he had to do it. It would allow him to make some income while still having the flexibility to continue the exam process.
We wouldn’t have enough resources to get our own place until I found work, so I had to stay behind. Soon thereafter, the panic set in again. I felt abandoned. This time it didn’t subside so easily, and I checked myself into the hospital. I got a med change and began to feel better. I got a little time off for work on temporary disability.
Eventually I found a job that would allow me to move, and we were together again. But the past year had been very difficult, and in some ways, I feel like we never really recovered. At one point he said that he felt like he didn’t get all of me back. There was still some distance, emotionally, but I didn’t know how to fix it myself. On some level, I feel like he still felt hurt by my leaving the first time. I think he never really let that go or figured out how to get past it.
I still wanted more variety, and our sex life was not great. He refused to put even the smallest effort into our play. I told him that just saying we would have play time on Saturday and then spending all day Saturday in front of a computer screen not interacting with me did not work. I felt like he was distant and unhappy. He told me that he was having difficulty at work. I tried to be supportive, but he generally disliked being helped. His way of dealing with problems was to withdraw and isolate. There was little I could do.
It wasn’t long after that that we opened the relationship. I still feel like his motivation for doing that was more guilt than anything. He knew that I was frustrated, and he felt bad about that. But his efforts to change that were minimal. Any time I said I didn’t like something or asked for something different, he seemed to take it personally, as a criticism. And then he would continue doing the same things. I really feel like he wanted some way to punish me, to express his hurt and anger. He wanted to feel powerful, but he didn’t want to do the relational work of understanding and respecting limits. I often felt very isolated during our playtime, because he would be detached. He wouldn’t touch me with his hands, or talk to me, or do anything to increase the intimacy. At one point he said that thinking about those things took him out of his headspace. He wanted the power, but not the responsibility.
I guess it was inevitable, but I still can’t help but feel that if he had only been willing to talk to me. If he had only opened up to me about his feelings. But there’s nothing I can do about that.
Well, maybe it happened once. One time, when we were having anal, he said he felt like maybe, possibly, he had an orgasm.
But in nine years, that was the only time I can remember that he actually had an orgasm with me, physically. The only times he had an orgasm during play with me were when he did it with his own hand.
There were always reasons, of course. His health issues. I was patient and understanding about that. And being kinky, intercourse doesn’t have to be the main course. We had plenty of other things to do.
It’s not like I didn’t try. I tried giving him oral. I tried jerking him off. It never worked. And I grew to dislike doing those things because I felt like there must be something wrong with what I was doing. He must not have been pleased with me.
I knew that he wasn’t totally happy, because D/s really didn’t work for us. He was perpetually vague about what he wanted from it, and for me, submitting to someone who doesn’t say what they want felt frustrating. I felt emotionally and mentally neglected, and that doesn’t help me feel submissive at all.
But he said that he still wanted me. He said that D/s was only five percent of what he wanted, and that 95 percent was still good.
And yet, he never had an orgasm.
As much as it might seem obvious to say he wasn’t turned on, or he had physical problems, I think the real reason was emotional. He didn’t want to let go. He didn’t want to be vulnerable. He wanted to feel in control.
And in a lot of ways, I think he didn’t feel in control. Not just because of our failed D/s experiment, but in many areas of his life. He didn’t feel in control of himself, his body, his work, or his life.
Sometimes, I felt like his approach to Domination was punitive, or compensatory. He would do things that I had asked him not to, and I couldn’t help but feel that this was his way of trying to establish control. He said that being sensitive to my feelings during play took him out of Dominant head space. I don’t want to give the impression that he was a bad Dom. I just think he struggled with feeling in control.
And that’s also, I feel, why he didn’t want to ask for what he wanted, or ask for help. Asking for help tends to make us feel powerless, and he already felt powerless for a lot of reasons. So I kept asking, and he kept saying, “I don’t know.” He grew resentful of me, for reasons I found baffling. I was going through my own struggles, and he responded by pulling away more and more. He claimed to still love me, but acted like he wanted nothing to do with me. I think our relationship just made him feel even less in control, and telling me how he felt wouldn’t help that.
At the end of the day, I can’t change what another person feels. I doubt that proactively serving him would have made him feel more powerful in his own life. That kind of security and confidence has to come from within, and whatever issues were making him feel that way, only he can know and address it.
I want to say that I hope he does figure it out, and that he does become happier as a result. But it cost me dearly, both while we were together and now that we’re not. I’m not ready to be that magnanimous. I can’t wish him ill, but I have a hard time wishing him well if it doesn’t bring him back.
I know full well that I don’t want more of what our relationship had become. I want intimacy, and without a willingness on both parties to be vulnerable, intimacy is impossible. It takes genuine strength to open up to another person. Why exactly he closed himself off, I will probably never know. If anything, I just wish I could hear him say that he knows how much it hurt me.
Today I will accept responsibility for myself, my feelings and my actions.
Today I will accept that others are who they are.
Today I will offer love and support in proportion to my ability to give, their abiity to accept, and their ability to respond in kind.
Today I will not accept responsibility for the feelings of others.
Today I will not seek connections at the expense of my well being, safety or values.
Today I will not make change in another person a condiiton of my happiness.
Today I will move towards my visions and goals.
Today I will do at least one thing that represents my deeply held values.
Today I will do at least one thing simply because it brings me joy.
Today I will ask for what I want and accept the answer.
Today I will make what I cannot find elsewhere.
Today I will love myself unconditionally.
Was I born anxious?
According to my mother, I was an easy baby to raise. I was good-natured and well behaved.
But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t anxious. Some research has indicated that babies learn to smile as a way to encourage their caregivers to pay attention to them, and that well behaved children are often afraid of being punished or abandoned.
My mother and my grandmother have both had anxiety and depression, as well, and it has sometimes manifested in eerily similar ways. All three of us have experienced anxiety around highway driving, for instance, and discomfort with crowds to varying degrees.
My symptoms started making themselves known when I was very young. Like most young children, I was easily frightened by certain sights and sounds. But unlike most children, mine persisted as a I grew older, and some have remained phobias to this day. I still feel afraid whenever I see the alien from E.T., for example. I remember seeing the film as a kid, and I don’t remember being afraid in that moment, but later, a family friend had an E.T. Halloween mask, and I know that that frightened me.
Other things that frightened me were Skeletor of the He-Man Universe, nutcrackers, and the band, Kiss. Now, a lot of people say they can really understand about Kiss, but this isn’t just a momentary startle or a feeling of general dislike. My mother took me with her to her bowling league on one occasion, and there was a Kiss themed pinball machine. The sight of that pinball machine was so terrifying for me that I would instantly scream and burst into tears. And unfortunately, the bathroom was on the other side of it. So when I had to go, my mother buried my face in her shoulder so that we could safely get past it without causing a scene.
I reacted similarly in places like toy stores. My grandmother even remarked that I was the only child she knew that refused to go to the toy store, because some of the toys frightened me so much.
Eventually, most of this behavior subsided, but then, the anxiety came out in other ways.
At 11, which happens to be the most typical age for anxiety disorders to manifest, I started pulling out my facial hair – my eyebrows and eyelashes. It got to the point that I was missing half an eyebrow, and my grandmother would use her makeup to disguise it so I wouldn’t get teased at school, at least not for that.
Even at this point, nobody thought that I needed help. Instead, they lectured me, and told me that I was distressing my mother, and that I just needed to stop doing it.
I developed other coping mechanisms. Overachievement. Food. Escapism. And eventually, sex. I still feel resentful that my caregivers’ approach to my mental health problems was to tell me to “stop doing that.”
I’ve been in treatment since college, almost 20 years now. And I’m pretty sure that my anxiety has been the result of both biological inheritance and upbringing. It makes me wonder how it got so bad, when I was still so very little. What was my underlying fear? It does seem like I was fixated on faces that seemed angry, or at least not pleasant to me. And children are very interested in facial expressions, since the mood of their caregivers is so closely tied to the childrens’ survival. Someone was harsh to me, and while some children get angry and lash out when they are treated this way, others, like me, internalize the stress until it erupts in strange and unsettling behaviors.
It wasn’t, and still isn’t, my fault. It’s easy to say, but harder to believe.