Get to know our regular contributor Jenn Masri by reading this interview!
Dexx: You’ve been a pro switch and you’re a kink aware therapist. But for many in the LA kink community, you’re perhaps best known as the friendly face guiding them into the world of kink as the teacher of your BDSM 101 class series, which you’ve been doing for about a year and a half. What inspired you to start teaching the classes?
Jenn: Well a couple of things. As a newbie, when I came into the scene, I had no idea where to start, or what to do, or what mistakes I might make. I came in un-partnered, and not knowing anybody. And I really had wished that there had been a series that was very fundamental – just first baby steps. And I didn’t really find anything like that. The only 101 type classes that I knew of were either offered sporadically, on a certain topic typically or there was this series at the Lair – but it goes just slightly beyond the fundamentals and isn’t a weekly class. So I wanted something that everybody could join as soon as they came into the scene, at any time. And really be the first steps. I mean even getting people before they get on Fetlife – I get a lot of that too.
The other part of it was… the last pro session I had as a switch, I was trying to teach about 20 vanilla women everything I could in an hour. And I realized I had so much more I wanted to explain – they had so many questions – that combined with my experience coming into the scene, I decided to go ahead and create something and that was was sort of the push, and I realized I love to teach, to create my own curriculum and series, and see if it took off.
And it seems like it has been taking off?
Yeah, it’s successful, and it’s my baby, so I’m very very proud of it.
What do you cover in your classes?
First class is – like I said it’s so fundamental – it’s definitions – defining the most common terms. Whether it’s terms that are exclusive to the scene, or terms that are used in the vanilla world that mean a little bit different things in our community. So defining terms, orientations, roles, and then common terms that they will hear if they go out, or that they’ll see on Fetlife.
Second class is on safety. This was actually the first class I came up with on the curriculum. Because I felt like it was the most important. And what I wished I’d had when I started. So many of the safety classes in the scene have to do with physical safety in play, and I go over some of that. But I also go over red flags in terms of meeting people in the scene, because that’s where I felt like I could have used help when I first came in. You know – do’s and don’ts in terms of staying safe when you’re out there dating, or trying to meet play partners, or long term partners. Things to look out for. And again – not just for submissive, or s-types, but also for Doms. Because there are red flags on both sides, for sure.
Third class is the toy and play demo – which is definitely one of the more popular of the classes. I have a live demo bottom for this one, and pretty much go through any starter impact toy. Talk about different types of play. I mention, but I don’t show, edge play – because it’s a 101 class, I don’t want people to see a two minutes demo and think they know what they’re doing when it comes to stuff that’s more dangerous. So it’s basically a sampling of stuff that newbies can pick up relatively quickly, so that they can see what they’re interested in, and go out and find other classes that are specific to those types of play, or those types of implements, and learn more.
My fourth class is defining D/s relationships. This one I was kind of back and forth on including, because so many newbies come in and they’re focused on physical play, and a lot of people in the mainstream don’t even realize that there can be an entire relationship dynamic that we have. That’s not to say you have to have it – you can just play of course. But I felt like it was important to go over the types of dynamics that are out there, because even if somebody comes in and just wants to play and has no interest in a D/s relationship, they’re gonna meet people that are. So if somebody says this is my Master, or whatever, you can have a basic idea of the concept they’re referring to. And of course some people do come in a dynamic, and what to explore more of that.
What does a typical person attending one of your classes look like?
I would say 95% newbies. Sometimes I’ll get people who aren’t even on Fetlife, and have no idea what that is – they maybe found me through Google or Sanctuary’s web site. So some people are really really new. But most of them, you know they’ve joined Fetlife, but they haven’t really gone to many events, maybe one, usually none. And they want to start getting into things. Occasionally I’ll get people that have been in the scene, or I’ll get people that come to my classes as a newbie, and then they just keep on coming back!
Sometimes I’ve had people ask me, “is it ok for a single male to come?” And of course the answer is yes – this is a class. I get the whole gamut – I get single people, I get couples, I get all different orientations.
Once people complete the class series, do you then typically see them becoming pretty active members of the kink community?
I do. Actually it’s been interesting, because I’ve become friends with a lot of the people that come through my classes. And I’ll see them at parties, or I’ll see them active on Fetlife, or going to other classes. Sometimes people will get really excited and report back to me – “I went to this” or “I tried that”. And that’s great, you know – that’s the whole point. I usually do see people get more active, and that’s why I also try to include suggestions in class about where to go and which events to check out.
It must be very rewarding when you hear about people’s positive experiences since doing your classes. Do you ever have people come back and tell you about negative experiences that they’ve had?
It’s not very often that I get that. Usually I’ll get people who will come in and they’ll have had a negative experience already, and wished they would have taken the classes before. I have had that. Because of the safety class – the red flags and all that – I’ve had people come back and say “thank goodness I took that class” because I stepped into this scenario right after and I knew because of the discussion that it was a red flag. So… that’s awesome.
So I want to change topic a little, and talk about you. When did you first realize that you were kinky?
[Laughs] I was a late bloomer. It was really after my divorce. And just getting into the dating scene, and meeting different people – so it was in my 30’s.
I often hear people say that they feel like they were born kinky, and they always knew they were kinky, and maybe it just took them a while to figure out what they meant, and to embrace it and actually get into it. Not the case for you?
Yeah… there were maybe certain indicators that I would not have recognized until I got into the scene. And I’ll just leave it at that…
Alright, fair enough. And so then how did you first discover and get into the BDSM community itself?
I was dating somebody that I had met online. The whole online dating thing was brand new to me. I was dating someone who was totally vanilla, and it just so happened that his ex girlfriend was in the scene. He basically referred me to her when he realized I had interests in that area, and connected me with her on Facebook. She introduced me to Fetlife. I joined it, and just started showing up at whatever classes or munches I could put on my calendar – just kind of jumped in.
Tell me about the first time you went to a play party.
Hmm, let me think, it was a spanko party. It was actually at Dragons Gate and I was so nervous that I called a friend of mine to come out to the parking lot to walk in with me, because I was worried that I wasn’t dressed the right way.
I think that’s something a lot of people can really relate to going to their first play party.
Yeah, absolutely and that’s the reason why I tell people in my class, if I’m going to an event and you want to go, let me know. That way at least you’ll know somebody there. It is nerve wracking to go to your first play party. And I’m totally extroverted so I can only imagine for somebody who’s not as outgoing how nervous they would be.
So yeah… but, I made it inside my first party and it was all fine from there.
So switching to your therapist hat, what are some of the common themes of issues that kinky people might face that are different to those that vanilla people deal with?
A lot of the issues boil down to the same. A lot of the issues are the same individual or relationship issues that I see in the vanilla world. The differences are… I see people where one person is interested in the scene and the other isn’t or D/s issues like how to go from a vanilla relationship and incorporate D/s. Or poly scenarios – people dealing with poly dynamics that maybe it’s a first for them, and dealing with everything that comes along with that, even though the issues themselves breakdown to very similar ones as you’d get in any other relationship.
Modern society often isn’t particularly encouraging of a woman being submissive or a man being dominant – just as a couple of examples. It can seem to run counter to feminism and gender equality. Do you think that feminism can be compatible with BDSM concepts like submission?
Absolutely, because the true nature of feminism is for women to have the right to choose how to live their life, right? If somebody chooses and feels comfortable in the position of a submissive than why not? If somebody says well that’s not ok because that’s not how we want to see a woman be, well that’s no longer feminism.
It’s great hearing you explain it like that and I think for some people it can take a while to get their head around that concept. Do you think though that there are people out there that have either dominant desires or submissive desires that feel shameful about them and so don’t explore them?
I know there are, absolutely. If we feel pressure by society to suppress sides of ourselves then it can turn into shame. I think one part of this community that is fabulous is helping the people that do reach out and do come to the “dark side” to realize that that side of them is not necessarily horrible, they just needed to meet partners and people that accepted that side and actually balance that side, and so that they can come to accept and love that side of themselves.
I’ve heard it mentioned a couple of times in the community that they’ve noticed that kinky people tend to be quite intelligent people so I’m curious to know if you have any thoughts on whether there is some kind if correlation between intelligence and the predisposition towards kink.
(laughs) I think you have the whole gamut like you do in mainstream. I think in terms of traditional intelligence, I don’t know if there’s a difference – I’ve not researched that. I do think you probably get a lot more people who are open minded and that may cross over into other areas. So perhaps that’s where the correlation lies. Somebody who’s more open minded to sexuality or relationship dynamics might also be more open minded to other concepts in regards to other topics and so, therefore, maybe they’re willing to take in more ideas and debate and research. I don’t know, I’m throwing out a guess off the top of my head on that one.
So in any discussion of kink and culture it seems impossible to avoid bringing up 50 shades of grey, which of course has been quite polarizing within the community. But what impact do you think its popularity has had on the kink community.
I don’t go to one extreme or the other – I think there are pros and cons. I’ll go with the cons first. I read all of them, because I felt, given my position and my classes, that I needed to read them and know if I was to speak to them that I would be coming from a place of knowledge. (Sighs) I did not enjoy the writing. I’m a reader and I’ve never been one to read romance novels and things like that. The writing itself I thought was pretty subpar. I’m trying to be nice. And you know, the bdsm stuff, for somebody that’s is in the scene, it got a little repetitive, a little bit boring. Although for mainstream people reading it I could see where it could be very titillating, very exciting, if its something they’ve never experienced. One major concern was people taking stuff from the book, and not being in the scene, and not going to classes and just going out and trying stuff and having things happen, having accidents, or people getting hurt and then them looking at our community and thinking “oh, well they’re a bunch of irresponsible people that hurt each other” – not realizing that we’re all about education. And the representation of it being so far off from reality, and hoping that people take it as it was which is fiction.
On the plus side it did bring it more into mainstream, it made it a topic of conversation. And for me personally it was actually something that I used to come out to my mom about being in the lifestyle. I don’t know if she’d want me to say this – she was reading it… but you know the fact that it was out there and mainstream and people were talking about it, I was able to use that to say “so you know this book, well that’s kind of my life.” Now I had to explain beyond that because obviously the books don’t represent the real life. But it was my sort of segue into having that conversation.
One aspect of 50 shades which I have heard disparaged by some people in the community is that the character of Christian Grey is portrayed as being interested in BDSM because he had this horrific abuse-ridden childhood. In your experience, is being kinky typically linked to these types of childhood events, or are they unrelated?
That was actually one of my biggest problems with the books, having read all of them, because I don’t think you get so much of that just reading the first one. But if you read the whole series that was one of my biggest issues, that it made it seem like he was in this because of the messed up childhood and that the way he ended up becoming happy was actually by becoming more vanilla… to “fix” him. That pissed me off. I did not like that at all. Because yes, while there are people that are in the scene maybe due to things that happened in their childhood, I certainly know that that’s not everybody and I think that it’s perpetuating that stereotype that it is everybody. That if you’re into kink you must have been molested as a child or abused as a child and that’s simply not true. Can it be true? Absolutely. But it can be true for somebody that is vanilla as well.
Do you think that BDSM is becoming more accepted by mainstream society and do you think that kinksters today have a legitimate fear of being outed or kink shamed?
I think because of things like 50 shades, again there are some positives to that. And it’s not just 50 shades, somebody was pointing out the other day that there are so many TV shows now that incorporate bdsm and kink.
True Blood is full of it!
(laughs) …yes but even, you know, crime shows and regular dramas and things like that. It might just be a two second scene but there’s a lot more of it out there in mainstream society and media. And I think it does open up the mainstream society to becoming more accepting. We still have a while to go – it’s baby steps – just like with anything else. Just like with women’s rights and LGBT issues and all of these things. I mean you look at Caitlyn Jenner and that whole story and that will be another baby step for the transgender community. But absolutely if people feel like their families or their jobs are at stake i think it’s sad that that’s the case because i feel like it’s your personal life. But yes, some people are worried about that. I get it and I understand it and it’s why we have so many things in place to protect people’s identity. My personal opinion is it sucks that people have to worry about it. Like nobody would want to have to be worried about being fired because they really enjoy horseback riding. It’s your personal life. So I think it’s sad but at the same time it is slowly becoming more accepted.
Do you ever run into your therapy clients at play parties? And is that awkward?
I do. It is a conversation in our first session. I let them know just like I let vanilla clients know before I was even in the scene, “look… I may run into you”. I live where I work. I might run into you at the movie theater. I might run into you, in this case, at a party, or a munch. “Do you think that’s going to be an issue?”, is the first part of it and they generally say that’s not a big deal. My second part of that is “OK, if it happens and if there are any feelings about it or awkwardness or you or I feel like it’s affecting our work then we’ll have a discussion about it.” But it’s something I do bring up mostly just to prepare people in the very first session so that they understand that that could happen. I also explain just like with vanilla clients that their confidentiality is theirs to break. I will never run up to them and talk about our last session or whatever and have someone else ask how I know them and say they’re in therapy with me! I’m never gonna break that confidentiality. If they break it that’s on them. But that’s one nice thing about my classes is that it’s also very easy to just say they took my class. So I do go over that one. I can’t claim to be a therapist that is active in the scene if I’m too worried to go out, right?
Jennifer Masri is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in Alternative Lifestyles for individual and relationship issues. She also teaches the BDSM 101 class series at Sanctuary LAX in Los Angeles every Monday evening.