Orlando C. is one of my favorite kinds of people, men who are intelligent, articulate, submissive, and masochistic. I’ve enjoyed his blog for about a year now and find his writing to be thought-provoking, entertaining, and deliciously erotic.
This is my interview with him.
- Labels and the associated stereotypes tend to be lame and/or inaccurate but they do serve the purpose of quickly identifying roughly what someone is interested. Tell me about the labels you embrace, reluctantly use, and passionately despise, and how you describe yourself and your kinks.
The labels you’d be looking for are cis-male, white, hetero-leaning bisexual, submissive, masochistic, married.
- You skipped over the part about labels you hate. Was that intentional? I was sort of expecting some righteously kinky anger. No?
No, I don’t mind labeling myself, though I understand the frustration with being forced to label oneself, or to use labels whose ontology is lousy. I suppose I would add that we are a “24/7” couple, even though we don’t really use that term. I don’t mind the label, as such, but it seems to carry around a weird kinkier-than-thou discourse with it.
- You’ve written at length (and beautifully, I might add) about how your relationship with Murre came to be. Could you give the cliffnotes version, with emphasis on the domination and submission aspects?
Both of us had had previous kinky lovers, although we were never part of any BDSM scene, and still aren’t. At the time we got together, Murre was burned out on BDSM, and I had given up looking for that in a lover. From the beginning, we both knew a little about each other’s kinks, but that wasn’t the main point of connection between us at all. So there was this very long process of feeling things out and discovering what worked for us, and what we were comfortable with. I think that if we had met each other through our kinks, that process might have been much faster, but it wouldn’t really have been our own. There is something lost and gained in even having names for things. I remember Murre and I having these intricate discussions about whether or not our dynamic involved “domination” and “submission,” even when she was merrily giving me all these crazy rules and punishing me for infractions. Meanwhile, there are people who’ve pre-defined their roles as “mistress” and “slave” long before they meet in person. I like to think that our experience allowed us more room for reflection, but it was also very slow: maybe eight years before we settled on an arrangement that we are both (usually) happy with.
- There are two recurring questions I get from submissive guys. Would you advise them? The first question is, “How can I find a dominant woman?”
I think the simple scary answer to all relationship questions is honest, open communication. It would be nice if we lived in a world where it was OK to casually ask someone how they felt about nipple torture before you’d been out to dinner with them three times (or, more typically, married to them for five years). But most of us don’t live in that world. Internet search tools offer a technical fix for this problem, which is great. But they can also create a false sense that we can bypass all the preliminaries of discovering who someone really is, negotiating with them, compromising with them. In the Pixar movie Up, there is a talking dog who comes running up to the heroes and says “I have just met you and I love you!” I think there are a lot of male subs who seem to think this is an appropriate way to approach dommes. It isn’t.
- The second is, ”How can I get my current woman to dominate me?”
It’s a much trickier situation when someone has made major relationship commitments without being candid about their own sexual desires, or without even being aware of them. When I was a kid, in the ’80s, I remember seeing a few marriages implode in my parents’ circle of friends. It was a generational phenomenon. One partner would finally realize that they were gay, or perhaps realize that it mattered that they were gay. It was always very tragic. And at that age, it was also incomprehensible to me. Most of my generation grew up with an acute awareness that queerness exists, that we might be queer ourselves, that the people we were attracted to might be queer. The idea of getting married to someone and having kids and only then looking in the mirror seemed pretty much inconceivable.
Kink is not always a neat parallel with sexual orientation, but I think it in this case it is. Because the tragic story above is still going on with lots of couples in terms of BDSM. For some people, of course, BDSM is a sort of erotic hobby that they can easily compromise on if need be. But for many, it resembles a sexual orientation, and being in a relationship where it’s mismatched is almost untenable.
So what then? The best-case scenario is that the male sub comes out of the closet to his wife, who says “OMG, I thought you’d never ask.” Which happens. Otherwise the basic options, of course, are to negotiate a compromise, to look elsewhere (with or without one’s lover’s knowledge), or to break up. None of those is necessarily easy or harmless. They are all probably better than campaigning to fundamentally change one’s partner’s sexuality. But my hope is that kids these days will look back on mismatched-kink marraiges the way I look back on mismatched-orientation marraiges: a problem for a generation that hadn’t yet learned how (and when) to discuss something.
- As a sadist I occasionally have a hard time getting my head around what I like, and what I do. As someone who seems to enjoy sadistic attention, do you have any encouragement to offer?
First of all, my sympathies. I often think that of the major gender/orientation/role permutations, dominant heterosexual women have one of the more difficult ones. The dominatrix script is so strong, even outside of kinky media, and so awful.
I don’t know how encouraging this is, but my impression is that submissive men generally have a very extensive scope of fantasy. That doesn’t mean that Johnny wants you to actually do all the things he’s imagining, but he probably won’t be shocked or scared off by any questions you might have.
- Ok, you addressed dominant women but I wanted sadism specific info. Getting off on hurting a man is much harder for me than sexual dominance. I love what you said, but sometimes it’s hard to look at the part of yourself that gets hot and wet because you’ve hurt a man. I’m thinking as a man who likes it…maybe you would have some general words of encouragement.
Well, the usual scripts for sadists are mostly modeled on villains, abusers, rapists, torturers: not a very admirable crowd. The only sadistic scripts I can think of that have a sort of positive connotation are the teacher / trainer / coach roles, and even those are pretty villainous in their kink versions. So I imagine that there’s considerable values dissonance in being a top. We all learn not to hit people, and not to be bossy, and so forth. Women especially. Eventually we have to revise those general guidelines to deal with particular situations. I’m thinking of a lacrosse coach I met, who talked about having to urge young women to be more aggressive, more violent, when they are conditioned not to be.
Obviously, if you don’t have any qualms about tying a guy down and putting clamps on his nipples, then you’re a sociopath. But if you do have those doubts, and you manage to overcome them when the situation calls for it, I think that’s a remarkable demonstration of self-confidence. Maybe it’s an act, but maybe all self-confidence is an act, right?
And I admire this all the more because I can’t do it myself. I’ve been a top on maybe half a dozen occasions, and I think I’m pretty creative in that position, but I have no resolve at all. Someone could spend an hour telling me in advance how they want me to dominate them mercilessly, but the first moment they say “Ouch!” I’ll get all flustered. So I think being able to stay on task when someone is obviously in pain, or pleading for mercy, or crying, that takes a lot of self-control.
- Recently I’ve been involved in an online conversation about the devaluation of male submission. Do you experience that?
Sure. It hasn’t been a defining feature of my life; in general I feel like the most privileged kid in the candy shop. But clearly, as a submissive male who isn’t gay, there are some parties whose guest list I’m not on.
- What are your thoughts on the subject in general?
What I think we’ve seen in the last decade or so is an increasingly articulate critique of BDSM scripts that’s coming from within the BDSM milieu, or at least from sympathetic outsiders. This is healthy and it’s overdue. At the same time, more sophisticated theory often comes with a trade-off in a community’s sense of priorities and scale.
When I change gears from other sorts of political work to thinking about the BDSM scene, part of me always groans: “….and now we will struggle to make sure that the rich white kids in their private sex club are folding their napkins correctly.” Don’t get me wrong. I care about those napkins. From my distant perspective, it would appear that BDSM scene marginalizes a large number of groups, including male subs, and this sucks.
But I’m suspicious of the tendency of movements to identify themselves as their own arch-nemesis. It can become obsessive. I think the struggle for acceptance of sexual diversity is more urgent with the popular and pornographic media, and in the old running battle with moral entrepreneurs. If we make progress on those fronts, we’ll see the results in the clubs. But definitely not the other way around.
- I was asked last week about the connection between feminism and femdom. Do you think there is one and if so, how would you characterize it?
Well, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was a feminist, after all. But even in the 1860s, it must have been clear that the dominatrix image was not going to be very useful for that movement. Perhaps it is an icon of female empowerment, but only in a role that is carefully defined by men. And her corset has gotten tighter in the last century and a half. Femdom imagery is a fairly homogenous field, and it is well insulated from feminist concerns. At best, the usual dominatrix scripts are apolitical; at worst they are actively misogynistic in very pernicious ways.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Beyond a carefully metered and selected menu of options, any sort of kink is deviant in our society. Dominant women are deviant, and submissive women are also deviant if they don’t adhere to certain very specific formulas. I think it is at least a corollary of feminism to provide greater opportunities for women to be deviant: in that sense, femdom benefits from feminism.
Feminism probably also benefits from femdom, in the sense that liberation movements can’t evolve unless people actually explore and re-imagine the spaces that they’ve won entry to. We are certainly seeing exploration; I think we’re only starting to see re-imagination.
- Kink research, there is soooo little, and what there is often makes me feel overlooked (those surveys in which only dommes for money are counted). What has surprised you most? Do you see this being an area that will get more attention soon?
I started the reading project that is now Kink Research Overviews because I kept running into pseudo-science about kink. Whatever people’s pet beliefs are, we tend to believe that Science Has Proven them. Even fairly sober websites about BDSM (for instance, the wikipedia pages) recycle all this bullshit. Perhaps it ties into what I said earlier about self-doubt, but I just wanted to know that I, personally, had read everything that’s ever been written about this subject in the scholarly world.
About 150 books and papers later, I would say the main thing that has surprised me is how bad most of the research is. As you point out, there is a constant focus on populations such as pro-dommes and club members who are clearly going to be non-representative. There are very few studies that use control groups. There is no consensus on terminology. There are very few studies broken down by race, or even by kink role. Finally, a large number of studies set out to test the hypothesis that kink is related to other forms (sic) of mental illness, even though it’s been established over and over, ever since Freud, that this is not the case.
That said, some of the work out there is very good. The Richters et al. survey in 2008 was really groundbreaking, and should be the reference point for future research. Unfortunately, it’s not especially well known. I’m not sure that this is a field that will ever attract a great deal of scholarly attention, so I think it’s important to collate and communicate the research that already exists.
- You’ve written a bit about how a lack of submale images, info, and role models affected you, especially in your teen years. How does that play into your own sexuality, and your perception of masculinity, etc. ?
I think everyone is faced with a challenge in looking for imagery that matches our erotic fantasies. And, you know, unless you have an identical twin who’s a porn model, it’s not likely that you’ll find exactly what what you were looking for. So there is always some process of cooperation and accommodation with images.
For me, personally, as a submissive young man, the media that was closest to my fantasies was infra-kinky stuff, mainly with female bottoms, and mainly pre-modern. I’m thinking of damsels-in-distress type stuff, Andromeda or Angelica chained to the rock, that kind of thing. And this is very problematic: it’s the appropriation of a false narrative of gender experience, it has irrelevant symbolic baggage, and so on and so forth. On the other hand, the available imagery for male submission (or female domination) is much worse. So I guess I’m glad I didn’t find much of it until later.
I have to believe that our choices of pornography (and here I’m counting, like, Ovid and Michealangelo as porn) influences our sexuality, but it’s a two-way street. I was very deliberately seeking out a certain kind of image and story from maybe age nine. And I was fortunate to grow up in a house full of books and paintings. I had a wide range of options to choose from.
- Talk to me about anti-kink sentiment, and if you think being kinky bears some sort of responsibility to other kinksters.
Well, American kink is in a funny place. We haven’t yet had a Spanner scenario: there’s never been a national decision on how to deal with BDSM. In fact, it has almost never been a focus of national attention, except as a sort of sideshow within queer politics. In the last decade, probably the highest profile BDSM story has been the McGeorge case in 2002.
In that environment, ironically, the major volume of anti-kink discourse per se comes from radical feminists. That line of criticism is extremist and plays no real role in American politics, but it is discussed a great deal within the BDSM world, simply because no one else stoops to critique us.
So we have this weird situation where Rick Santorum is running for president, and probably a third of the country would like to see every kinky person in the US sent to re-education camps, but discussions of kink politics focus on whether or not gender inscrutability can be subversively reconceptualized as a non-binary non-continuum.
The Achilles’ heel of the BDSM world is its dependence on the internet, where we are positioned on the very fringe of what’s legal, and quite a ways past what any politician is enthusiastic about defending. We are currently losing ground on internet free speech laws throughout Europe, and last year’s intimidation of Craigslist is bad news for the situation here in the US. The most articulate critiques of BDSM come from a handful of radical lesbians, and are 30 years old. But the real danger is from parents who just want to make their web browser safe.
I don’t know if people who are kinky have a duty to other people who are kinky. But perhaps people who like to speak, or listen, have a duty to free speech.
- What are the best and worst things about being a submissive man?
Speaking only for myself, the best thing would be that it is a field of experience with relatively few voices in it. So we who are here don’t have to work all that hard to make a halfway interesting point. The worst things about it….well, I enjoy them very much.