The Politics of Spanking
Those of us who've dutifully plowed through Michel Foucault's A History of Sexuality know that the exercise of power is not merely a top-down dealie, nor even a dialectical, back-at-ya force-and-counterforce affair. Nope, the exercise of power is a multidirectional web in which lines of control go every which way. Or something like that.
Which sure does apply to those of us who have merrily gamboled in the thorn-filled meadows of leathersex. Double. No matter what SM play may look like from outside, we have—sometimes ruefully—learned that the top who wields the hairbrush does not in fact rule the world. In a consensual kink scene, the bottom oft as not has the final say. Which is to say, "power."
If you've ever wielded a flogger or "suffered" beneath its blows, you understand what I'm talking about, right? It's a dirty little secret that what looks like punishment is in fact a reward, and that what looks like untrammeled top-itude can be a butt-banging burden. Beneath the well-worn rituals of SM lurks not just the mutuality of a negotiated "power exchange," but something gnarlier, deeper, and more…well, I hate to use the word "real," so I won't.
A week or so ago, I did a rare double-header, spanking not one, but two, bottoms' bottoms in a single memorable if exhausting day. (Sequentially, not simultaneously; I'm not as young as I used to be.)
Bottom #1 was a stoic, chubby little hippie. I'd hit him before, so I knew what to expect. He had high limits and a low sense of drama, unemotionally lying there while I whaled away at his chunky butt. If there were a scenario at play—a manhood initiation, say—it was well hidden. But there were limits. "I don't want to cry," he'd told me the first time, "or to have sex." I acceded without a whimper.
Bottom #2, on the other hand—a handsome, tattooed hipster kid—was not only an enthusiastic cocksucker, but the kind of role-playing bottom who encouraged abuse, apologized profusely, and squirmed like crazy while I reddened his furry butt. You want Daddy's punishment? You got it.
A civilian observer might figure that by making those bottomboys suffer, I was exerting power. Which I was, kind of. But I was also trying my damnedest to do what each of my partners wanted me to. One friend has told me that I "bottom from above." That's perhaps too pat a formulation; there were a whole bunch of reasons why I worked so hard to please my masochistic buddies. I found them attractive. I wanted to show them what an accomplished spanker I was. I was reinforcing my threadbare images of masculinity, of mastery. The world is full of bottoms, and one way to get laid is to put oneself out there as a top. I aim to please. Et fucking cetera.
But hey, I won't pretend that I do not in fact possess a sadistic streak. Those boys with blistered butts gave me what I wanted as well—a chance to let the monster out to play—and it was all rather jolly in the end.
Now, consensual sadomasochistic play is, by definition, um….consensual. There are plenty of power relationships that aren't, though.
The oppression of LGBT folk is at the very least annoying, at most life-destroying for queers. By any reasonable standard, homophobic hets have done us very real harm. And yet, as seen in the same-sex marriage debate, as in the Pope's statements on homosexuality, straight people are, with increasing frequency, claiming that they're the victims.
This might be written off as mere disingenuous bullshit, an attempt to justify their own aggressions. A sexual Reichstag Fire, as t'were. But there is, under the bigoted surface, a good deal more at play. Sure, hets have the whip hand. But, like the pushy bottoms we are, we homos have our own—often unacknowledged—power.