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Personal Journey

How I Love Humanity After My Trauma

A friend and I were on his back porch, huddled up against the slight chill of the winter nights here in the South. The topic of love came up. Not romantic love, but “Love thy neighbor” love. Christ-like love, if you will. As two fellas with Christian background, we discussed 1 Corinthians 13 in depth. This scripture in particular has been on my mind recently since it was written on my back during a scene.

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 7, Christian Standard Bible

My friend looked out at the canal behind his house, lost in thought. Finally, he said, “I try to show that Christ-like love to everyone I meet. I mean, of course I fail. I’m only human.” As I knew we had both experienced trauma, the topic came to mind, and I said, “One thing that’s difficult about loving everyone, loving my neighbor and all that, is that with my trauma, it’s so difficult to have that view of humanity.” He nodded in empathy as I explained that, for the longest time, I couldn’t trust people enough to love them.

“What I’ve learned, though, that really helps me, is Nonviolent Communication. One thing Marshall Rosenberg spoke about is that everyone has the same needs. We all need safety and need community and need fun, things like that. You, me, everyone. Everyone before us and everyone after us have the same needs.” He looked at my curiously, his face lit by the ember of his cigarette. “I don’t really understand how this relates.”

“Well, when I think of the people who’ve hurt me, either little bit or a lot, I think about how they were trying to meet their needs. They didn’t hurt me for no reason. They didn’t hurt me because they were evil. They hurt me because they didn’t know a different way to get those needs met.”

My friend shook his head, and looked pained. “I know this isn’t what you’re saying, but my heart says that you’re saying that my abusers needed to abuse me.”

Oh. Oh no.

Feeling that I was siding with his abusers, even if he knew it wasn’t true, was very challenging for him. We shifted to emotional first aid, and the topic changed. But that conversation has lingered with me.

I wanted to write this out to say everything I wanted to say to him, and to people who’ve been abused, especially those searching for a trauma-informed perspective.

See, my mistake with my friend was failing to mention this important ‘AND’ fact. This conversation (and healing in generally) is made of a lot seemingly contradictory ‘AND’ facts. We can humanize those who have harmed us AND condemn their actions. It’s not either or. Holding those two things in our heads at the same time is key to growth.

It’s easy to think of people as evil. It’s simple. You can see harmful acts as isolated and caused by an internal character flaw. Viewing people as complex beings ill-equipped for meeting their needs takes a systemic view. Maybe they were abused as a child. Maybe they didn’t learn other coping skills. Maybe they were taught this behavior by someone else. There are infinite maybes that affect the situation. That doesn’t mean they aren’t culpable for the harm they caused.

You may never know the reasons that someone hurt you. Perhaps you know the reasons all too intimately. I don’t think it’s helpful or effective to dwell on the reasons. However, knowing that someone had reasons, any reasons at all, can impact your understanding of the situation.

We look at those reasons. We turn to our own hurt, and we say “This person hurt me because they were trying to meet their needs AND what they didn’t isn’t okay.”

I make it sound simple. It’s not. It’s a very, very long process.

Here’s another important ‘AND’ fact. I truly believe that viewing those that hurt you as complex people is a vital part of your healing journey AND I believe that not everyone is ready for that.

This kind of work can bring up a very strong trauma response. My friend had one when we discussed it. I said something to him in the moment that could have been misinterpreted as hurtful or sarcastic, but was intended genuinely: “I thought you were at a different place in your healing journey.”

I’m at a place where I can think of certain situations and understand that the people involved where trying to get their needs met the best they could, and they hurt me.

I don’t feel a trauma response anymore. I don’t feel anxious or angry. I feel sad for the people that hurt me. I pity them. Sometimes I wonder what made them the way they are. but usually I leave it at that.

Then I turn to my own hurt, and acknowledge that. I hold myself, usually literally as well as metaphorically, and I acknowledge the needs that weren’t met in that situation. I think of ways I can make sure that those needs are extra met in the days ahead. Then I move on with my day.

It’s hard. It’s a process. It’s scary, and it doesn’t feel good when you’re in it.

But this is the way I can live with what I’ve been through, all the hurt and pain. And yet, always see the life and love in other people.

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Personal Journey

Personal Reflection: Dominant Little / submissive daddy?

Autumn ends, and Winter begins. Much of my life changed this Autumn. In the spirit of the season, I discovered and developed new relationships. Likewise, I experienced a great deal of change. Some aspects of my life changed in difficult ways, while other aspects continue to change as we enter the winter season. This is a time of reflection, renewal, and hope.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on my burgeoning relationship with Dally. We fell very naturally into power dynamic roles, with him as a guiding force in my life, directing my service. However, as trust grew, he allowed his little side to come out, and I quickly found myself overjoyed as his daddy. However, limited models of ageplay relationships led me to try to be Daddy Dom to his little side, while servant to his big side. This proved difficult and led to multiple small conflicts where I would attempt to discipline my little, when in fact he was in a big headspace. 

We’re working on articulating a relationship where both his little and big sides are dominant over me. I’m still his daddy, but rather than commanding as his Daddy Dom, I serve as his daddyslave. That’s something that we don’t have many models for, so I hope to write about our journey and share what we’ve learned so others in our position can benefit from what we’ve experienced.

Here’s what I’ve found the words for so far: I’m not possessive over him as a little, but I am protective. One way we’ve used archetypes to discuss this is the idea that he reigns as a young prince, and I’m his knight –  his protector. While he can command me, I ultimately must look after him when he’s little because he doesn’t always have the capacity or intention to avoid harm. I find that this role empowers me and allows me to express a healthy masculinity.

Empowerment may seem to be the opposite of what a slave wants, but the disempowered slave isn’t my thing. Instead, I love to be the powerful enactor of my powerful person’s will. I find that being under the direction of another person empowers me, not the other way around, because my actions are led by a purpose bigger than myself. The knight archetype works well for this, as the historic knight ultimately serves as a warrior under the direction and guidance of his lord, their king, and their God. In a modern power exchange context, that can translate to a strong personal code of values.

Another aspect of the archetypical ideal knighthood that calls to me is the expression of healthy masculinity. The platonic knight serves not for himself or personal glory, but instead for the protection of the innocent and the purpose of eliminating evil in favor of righteous justice. I find this fascinating, as I desire to represent masculine traits without being a toxic person, and I feel that this description of knighthood resonates with the strong innate notions that I have to protect those that I care about. This doesn’t necessitate a sword and shield, but instead a strong will and commitment to both my own ideals and the ideals of my young prince.

I will continue to write as we explore and learn more together.

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Personal Journey

Reflections on Uncollaring

The kink community regards a collar as a powerful symbol. There’s something of a shared respect for collars, even if the understanding of what it means may vary throughout different communities. A play collar can represent the bottom in a scene, while an ownership collar can symbolize a near absolute transfer of authority. 

Today, I’d like to reflect on what collars mean to me. The collar I’ve worn. The happiness of a collaring ceremony and the grief of an uncollaring. 

Collaring

When I met Fit Miss, I was so excited that she found me appealing. She didn’t want what I wanted, but I was sure that was okay. Either I would become happy with what she could give me, or she would eventually become comfortable giving me what I needed. 

I desired a Master and slave relationship, giving everything I had. I desired a level of micromanagement. Fit Miss desired something casual, less ownership based and service-focused. I thought that I could be happy with that. I thought that Fit Miss was the closest I could get to what I wanted. 

In online forums, multiple people told me that I needed too much. I needed to lower my expectations. So I did.

That’s not to say that Fit Miss isn’t an amazing person and Dominant. She’s wonderful. We just want very different things. Fit Miss and I are incompatible as power dynamic partners. It’s inaccurate to say that she failed me or that I failed her. In fact, our relationship served us both for quite some time. It is not that I want more and she can’t give me that. I want things that she doesn’t desire. She is not inadequate by any measure. Instead, our desires aren’t aligned.

Nonetheless, with that in mind, I really pressed Fit Miss for a collar. Framing it as a symbol of mild commitment, I devalued it to her. I didn’t consider that what I wanted it to mean was absolute ownership. I wanted to give my all. Not just in word, but for a Master to enact their control over every level of my life. 

I don’t know how I did it, because I truly don’t remember my thought process at the time, but my cognitive dissonance allowed me to accept what I portrayed to Fit Miss as a ‘going steady’ collar. 

Fit Miss and I provided for each other for several wonderful months. We set protocols together, developed and achieved goals together, and I served her in the ways I could from a distance. We’ve seen each other in person for three amazing vacations, one which we are on right now. Our physical and romantic chemistry is palpable. Still, I feel sad when I think about it now.

Sad because I misrepresented what the collar meant to me.

Sad because I wanted it to mean something different.

Sad because I feel that I’ve hurt Fit Miss in this process.

When I met Dally and started spending time with him as a Dominant, I realized something. Not that Fit Miss was awful and that Dally was wonderful. Not that amazing cock made me want a cis man as a Master instead. 

What I realized is how I fooled myself and this beautiful person into accepting much less than what I needed. I know every relationship, even power dynamics, involve compromise. I realized, though, that I didn’t need to compromise my desires nearly as much as I had. Even if Dally and I didn’t develop a power dynamic, I know that people like him existed.

Yes, one of the reasons that I asked to return Fit Miss’ collar is so that Dally can collar me one day. That’s true. 

What’s also true is that, even if Dally wasn’t in the picture, I would want to return Fit Miss’ collar. If Dally decided to drop me tomorrow, I would still want to return it. I asked for it without respecting what it meant to me. 

It needs to be returned.

Uncollaring

The standard narrative that I have heard about uncollaring or returning a collar involves a conflict. A fight, then a forced removal. Someone takes off their collar in a fit of rage, returning it to their Dominant.

I don’t want this uncollaring to go that way. Fit Miss and I are partners. We have released each other of any power dynamic expectations, and declared that we are polyamorous partners who sometimes have kinky sex.

Some people might think an uncollaring is sad. And it is. Change is often sad.

However, I’m partnered with three amazing people. Very different people. One of those partners is the intelligent, witty, and beautiful Fit Miss. It’s not sad to declare that. 

People might anticipate that we’d distance more from each other. That we’d promise to be ‘just friends,’ then avoid each other at events. 

But I want this wonderful person in my life. Yes, I may not be in service to her anymore. But I love her. I want this uncollaring ceremony to be a celebration of everything we’ve provided for each other. A celebration of our egalitarian partnership. A celebration of the connections we have. 

I’ve heard funerals described as a celebration of life. Why not an uncollaring ceremony be a celebration of what was, what is, and what will be?

Fit Miss and I try to be emotionally intelligent about all of our relationships. One aspect of that is recognizing one’s mistakes and working to fix them. We made our mistakes. Alignment on the meaning of this powerful symbol, this collar, wasn’t present. Here’s how we’re fixing it: We are, together, removing the collar. Filled with grief with what could have been, yet ultimately happy that we have such love and care in our lives.

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Kink Reflection

Universal Needs and Power Exchange

I am fascinated with the mental aspects of power exchange. Rope and pain play are wonderful, and yet they only call to me as a physical manifestation of the mental control that power exchange offers. And I often wonder how needs play into power exchange relationships. Does one person give up their needs for another? Who really has a choice in the matter?

I have found that the best methodology to discuss needs in a meaningful way is Nonviolent Communication (NVC). For those unfamiliar, NVC is a communication methodology and philosophy of life that was pioneered in the 1960s by the late Marshall Rosenberg. NVC has flourished and is practiced all over the world, in interpersonal relationships and international crises.

A core principle of NVC is that there are a universal set of needs that humans share. You might relate this to a pyramid representing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that you have seen. Everyone, across all time, geography, gender, race, and other separations share the same needs, yet strategies to meet those needs differ. For example, we all desire connection, yet while I might want to catch up over coffee, you might want to go to a dance party. (Ohh, to be in the days of coffee dates and dance parties once again!) 

As I am deeply interested in both NVC and power exchange, I often wonder what different needs are being met for various people in power exchange relationships. Perhaps a particular submissive craves safety, belonging, and demonstrating competence in their relationship, while their Dominant may desire pleasure, consistency, and ease. These roles are intentionally different, so the needs satisfied are also different. 

I can see that a power exchange relationship, and in fact every relationship, is made up of a series of strategies. In my article “What’s Choice Got to Do With It?: Thoughts on Choosing Submission,” I explored choice. I contradicted a common refrain about Master/slave relationships when I discussed choice in these relationships.

Even in a relationship with a blanket consent policy, we actively choose to view how we perceive the actions of those that control us. We chose who we gave that power, and we choose to stay with them every day. Our lives are full of choices, even a life filled with submission.

Yet, that’s not the full extent. 

In the past, when I was first taught the language of Nonviolent Communication, I believed that strategies that met someone else’s needs must be at the expense of my needs. If my partner wants to watch a movie, and I want to play a card game, when we watch a movie at the end of the day, aren’t I sacrificing for him? Thus, I have the moral high ground, and I can leverage that against him when we next have a conflict: “I watched a movie for you! Don’t you want to meet my needs?” I know now that this is using the language of NVC to contradict the intentions.

The intention I’ve been focusing on lately has been prioritizing connection. According to Miki Kashtan, this involves “…[focusing] on connecting open-heartedly with everyone’s needs before seeking solutions, even in challenging situations.” When I watch a movie with my partner, I am choosing to meet one need over another. Perhaps I wanted stimulation through the game, yet I chose peace by preventing a conflict with my partner. Again, this comes back to choice. Even when I’m in a dire situation, I choose how I view a situation and that impacts the needs it meets. If my initial strategy isn’t the one we do, I can choose to pick a fight, thus satisfying my need to be seen and express myself authenticly. However, by turning the mind, I can focus instead on empathy and companionship.

When I bring this to a power exchange context, I am reminded of a passage from Slavecraft:

…[S]laves with this point of view get to a place in our heads where every time we give something up for the Master, we feel that our slavery, our surrender, is renewed and reinforced. So i’ve lost the pleasure of seeing the building [that i wanted to see], but i’ve gained my slavery. i’ve lost the opportunity to make that phone call [that i wanted to make], but i’ve gained my slavery. And when slavery is the most important thing in the world, joy is the result in my life.

SlaveCraft: Roadmaps for Erotic Servitude by Guy Baldwin

The perspective of slavery, that intentionally cultivated frame of mind, deeply meets the needs that the author prioritizes. He chooses to see the denial of his personal strategies as a strategy in itself. It’s beautiful to me.

Perhaps I’m getting too heady here. Does this view of needs within power exchange resonate with you? Please let me know.

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Personal Journey

My Biggest Communication Fuckup & What I Would Do Differently Now

Right now, while I begin the journey of becoming an educator, I want to be honest with you. I want to be authentic. If I claim to be a communications educator but don’t share how I’ve fucked up along the way, I fear that I’m concealing something. Making mistakes and learning why you made them is key to developing communication skills and maintaining healthy relationships. That’s why I want to tell you how I destroyed a relationship with codependency, a lack of responsibility for my own feelings, and the expectation of romance.

I was a senior in high school. At this point, I’d been dating the same guy for three years, and we’d had nonmonogamous experiences. I’d figured out, through trial and error, that he preferred when I had sex with women over when I had sex with men. We had very little communication about this – Those experienced with nonmonogamy might call it a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” situation. All I knew was I wasn’t getting the attention I wanted with my boyfriend, and I wanted to seek it elsewhere.

Ultimately, I began a relationship with a person I’ll call Jay. We both had some ideas of transitioning socially at some point, but neither of us was out as trans yet. I don’t know what pronouns Jay uses now, so I’ll use they/them pronouns.

Jay invited me over for a small gathering at their house, and I attended with my boyfriend. They invited me to stay the night, and, anticipating something from the flirting we had been doing, I asked my boyfriend if he was okay if Jay and I did sexual things. I don’t remember the amount of detail that went into the request, but he agreed. That was the entire conversation I had with him about my relationship with Jay. No boundaries discussions or assessments of comfort. Just a yes-no question.

The night proceeded as normal. At one point we were laughing, and I kissed them on the cheek. I asked, “Was that okay?” They nodded. “Can I kiss you more?” They nodded. And so it began. For a few months, I would spend the night at Jay’s house about once a week. We would kiss and have faltering sexual interactions. In a light amount of detail, I will say that I  often asked Jay to top and take control, and they seemed enthusiastic about these activities.

This was okay, but I had an ulterior motive; I thought that if I simply continued to be friendly and likable, Jay would develop romantic feelings for me. I desperately clung to the idea that they might love me because I felt unloved and neglected in my primary relationship. This expectation was the source of several issues that grew out of control and destroyed our friendship.

I developed codependency with Jay, my friend with benefits, which is considerably worse than “catching feelings.” My self-esteem was entangled with Jay’s opinion of me. If Jay wanted to have sex with me, that meant I was desirable. If Jay fell in love with me, that would mean I was lovable. Anything else meant I was worthless.

This situation was tense but sustainable until Jay and another friend with benefits started having sex. I didn’t have the emotional literacy to name my feelings and needs. I didn’t have the emotional maturity to know that I was obsessing over Jay’s opinion of me. When Jay entered a monogamous relationship, I fell apart. I took it extremely seriously, and I also didn’t take responsibility for my own feelings – I called them multiple times in one day, weeping that I was unlovable and ultimately abandoned. I put everything I was feeling, all of my baggage and codependency onto them. It was extremely difficult for Jay. Soon afterward, they asked to end our friendship.

What I Know Now

For a while after the relationship ended, I struggled to understand what exactly had gone wrong. I could tell you that I did something bad, but I couldn’t articulate the steps along the path that led me to that moment.

After more than eight years, I can now retrospect on what happened with Jay. Here’s what I know now that I wish I had known then.

1) I can’t make someone love me. No matter how attractive, likable, and funny I am, it’s impossible to develop someone’s feelings for me. Romantic feelings develop naturally or not at all. I also know that even if someone doesn’t love me, it doesn’t mean I’m not lovable. I’m attractive, likable, and funny, even if no one has romantic feelings for me. I didn’t need Jay’s desire or love to be worthy or good.

2) I am open and honest about expectations and desires. I now have a discussion early on with anyone I have sexual relationships today about the expectation of romance or any sort of partnership. If our desires are misaligned, we have follow-up discussions about how to proceed in a way that is satisfying to everyone. Sometimes that means ending the relationship, and sometimes that means intentionally changing the relationship in a way that serves us both. If I had been open with Jay about my desire to have a romantic relationship with them, we could have approached that with mutual understanding, and perhaps parted ways amicably.

3) I am the only person responsible for my feelings. I deeply appreciate it when someone wants to contribute to my life. However, I want people to help me when they want to, not out of guilt, shame, or obligation. I was expecting Jay to help me cope with my feelings around them, which was clearly a tender spot because they felt the intensity of my codependency!

4) My extreme feelings are warning signs. Feelings that are intense or last an unusual amount of time can serve as a signal that things might be out of balance. I didn’t have the insight to examine my intense feelings for Jay. If I had, I could have consciously dealt with the codependency I was developing.

I have learned from this relationship, and I hope that any suffering I caused Jay has healed.

You should know that I don’t want to be an educator *despite* this relationship. I want to teach communication and peacemaking skills because I want others to work through difficult relationships like this one. If I can, I want to prevent the suffering that Jay and I suffered. 

If you’re still here after I’ve shared this, I hope we can continue to learn together. Thank you.