Reality vs. Fantasy in BDSM

Posted: January 4, 2011 in BDSM, M/s

There are those people who love to stir up “debate” (and I use that term very loosely here) just for the sake of debate.  Generally these fall under the category of trolls online, but sometimes they do venture out of dark corners and into real life.  These are the people who seem to have an axe to grind about life in general and will try to find some way that their particular axe is remotely relevant to the conversation in order to bring it up and then regurgitate any number of canned arguments.  Then again, there’s probably a little of this behavior in all of us at times.  This week, though, one of these types did actually get me thinking…and thinking…and thinking, so I guess I should thank the anonymous donor of the fodder from which these thoughts came.

The thoughts were about two different perspectives for viewing our BDSM experiences, one based on BDSM as an escape from reality and another based on BDSM as reality.

The starting point for this mental wandering was the aforementioned person’s online rant about how, basically, the country known as the United States is on a downhill roll and all the groups of people he blamed for this decline.  While I won’t go into details because I’d definitely fit into some of the groups blamed for the downfall of our great nation, what was interesting was the picture he painted of a time now passed which seemed to be absolutely idyllic.  This time was, rather obviously post World War II America, and it got me to thinking how many Americans really do idealize that point in time.  In another, somewhat related rant, he asked others how they planned for their M/s or D/s dynamics to survive the upcoming economic and social apocolypses he had predicted for us all to suffer.  It was then that it hit me that we have two very different perspectives at play here.

The more I learn about M/s dynamics and, indeed BDSM relationships in general, power exchange or not, it seems that there are two very different way to approach living a life that includes kink.  I’m not making value judgments on either since I have seen both work.  I think whether one works better than the other depends entirely on the people involved, but I do see there as being a strong difference between the two.  One perspective sees BDSM, power exchange, and kinky activities in general as an escape from the reality of day to day life.  The other embraces these very same things as reality itself.  Part of my problem in understanding my online friend was that he is coming from one perspective and I am coming from the other.

As an example, I will go back to M/s dynamics because I think this is where the difference can be the most easily described.  On the one hand, we have people who base their dynamics off of any number of sources.  Goreans use the books of John Norman as a starting point.  1950’s households use an idealized version of the 1950’s as well as a world shown in Leave it to Beaver episodes to model theirs.  Then there are Victorian households, medieval households and any number of other archetypes.  Within these structures, those in the dynamic find roles that act as guides for behavior as well as a way to create a comforting haven from the chaos of 21st century life outside.  For many of them, this works wonderfully and gives them a safe place when they walk through the door and fall into their space.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have M/s households that have little to no archetypes and seem to be grounded more in the brute reality of the chaos outside.  These dynamics can sometimes seem unromantic or even difficult to distinguish from vanilla life except when it comes to who makes decisions or how they have sex.  What protocol there is seems to have grown organically from the dynamic without much outside inspiration and these dynamics can seem less driven by ritual than those that do gain inspiration from archetypes.  I’ve seen many very longlasting M/s dynamics that follow this methodology as well.

As a Buddhist, while I enjoy a good fantasy as much as anyone else, I am very wary of doing anything in my day to day life that distracts me from reality.  Perhaps as a consequence, I ended up with a Master who takes a very reality based approach to our M/s dynamic.  There is little fantasy here, but it works for us.  This is not to say I don’t sometimes admire those who can base their dynamic off of a fantasy and then work together to create a reality based off of it.  While it wouldn’t work for me, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for many or doesn’t have value.  What it does do, however, is create a very different point of view when considering BDSM and the world around us.

My online friend, while not in an M/s relationship, does take a very similar view to BDSM, treating it mostly as an escape from a reality that, to him, has become very dark.  This leads him to worry about the feasibility of continuing his pursuits as economic and political conditions decline.  To me, this point of view seems similar to those who work on an M/s dynamic, but then set that dynamic aside whenever life sends the inevitable obstacles their way.  This is similar to those who live good times in a power exchange and argue as equals.  This works for many, many people, but it does make it so that they see BDSM as more of a luxury item in their lives, something they can indulge in when they have enough time, the right person, etc.  BDSM is their dessert and they treasure it, but if times get very tough, they can live without it until another opportunity comes along.

For me, it was difficult to relate to this perspective.  BDSM is no longer something I do, if it ever was, it is something I am and a part of my reality and my identity.  Instead of being my escape from reality, my kinks and my M/s dynamic are my way of coping with reality.  When I am stressed out at work, I concentrate on my protocols.  When I worry about bills, I fall back on my communication with my Master.  Each challenge that life sends us is tackled with the same skills we use in play.  We argue as Master and slave, not as equals.  From this perspective, any adversity faced, whether economic, political, or personal, simply leads us both to dig in deeper into our BDSM lives, rather than back out and deal with life as a vanilla couple.  BDSM is not a luxury item, but a necessary survival tool.  It is not dessert, but the bread that sustains us.  Granted, this would not work for everyone and is certainly not the only path, but it gives me a very different perspective from someone for whom BDSM is an escape.

As a Buddhist, I’m guided to focus intently on reality as a spiritual path.  A lot of people think that the goal of meditation is to come to some kind of lofty realization about the universe or my place in it.  The reality, though, is that the goal of my meditation is to empty my mind of all the useless chatter that goes on it, of all the fantasies that I think up to explain who I am and what I am and instead to find the ability to focus on reality and the world around me.  The idea is to stop living in a fog of my own creation and start living in the world, awakened to what’s going on.  My meditation sometimes takes place on a St. Andrews cross to the sound of a whip driving all distraction from my mind.  Other times, it takes place in my Master’s rope.  Still others, it takes place with a pair of boots in front of me.  I find life much easier to deal with when I am in touch with it and I can choose my reactions to it rather than being knocked out of a fog I’ve thought up by life and then having to react to it.

As a result, it is difficult for me to understand those who choose to turn away from the reality of life and carefully create a fiction to replace it.  While I can understand the allure and the comfort in it, I find a hard time understanding how it helps them deal with reality.  Rationally, I can understand that they must then come up with ways to reconcile things when reality and their fantasy collide and it is obvious that many have very good ways of doing this given the timespan that some people manage to do it in.

For me, though, simply facing reality head-on, with BDSM and M/s as tools in my kit to deal with it, is far simpler.

And I like simple.

Really.

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