Dexx: You’re a BDSM speaker and educator, submissive, and active participant in the Austin and DC BDSM communities. You’re proudly contributing to keeping Austin weird, so how is the scene out there?
Sea: Austin has a terrific scene. Lately I’ve spent more of my time in the DC area but I’ve been going back to Austin regularly enough where I’ve kept in touch with it. It has grown and expanded, so many things have happened. There’s something happening every night of the month so we’re grateful for that. I used to help keep it weird by arranging a fetish night and we’d have lots of fun with it. We’d come up with a skit and get all creative. It was like performance art-we felt that was a way to introduce BDSM to some people even outside of it. Performance art is a good medium to do that. So that was my contribution to keeping Austin weird. These days my contribution is more within the kink community. Occasionally I’ve done things like recently I was on a panel about sex and technology and I was representing BDSM. So if a BDSM question came up they would all turn to me and somebody asked what sounding was-all heads turned to me. So I proceed to demonstrate using a pen and a sprite bottle! But beyond that most of my participation has been just within the kink community
What are the notable dungeons or other facilities in Austin?
You know that’s one place where perhaps Austin doesn’t have as much as DC. So we have one place called The Community Place which is a house outside of the city limits so it’s more like a small town area. But that means we’ve got some privacy from the neighbors and that house exists simply to host events, parties, or if somebody wants to have a day of education. There are rooms that have play furniture. So it’s much like a commercial dungeon but it’s in a house. So we have that then there’s also a place called Austin Dungeon which is a location for professional domination but they also host parties. Those are the only two venues we have of that type. But still that’s good. That’s two more than what some of the other cities might have.
And so you spend a lot of time in DC as well. How’s the scene out there?
You know, people are kind of surprised when I say this, I myself was sort of surprised to come to this realization. But I think right now DC has the best scene in the country. And that’s because it has something happening every night of the month and other cities can claim that. It has four to five commercial play spaces of the type like Sanctuary LAX. There are some other cities that can also claim multiple play spaces. I think what really sets it apart is its got six or more weekend conventions a year and a multiple of them are major conventions with a thousand plus people. There are outdoor festivals where we take over an entire private retreat. That brings yet another dimension because now you have all these activities you can do outdoors. Attendees are creating their own events. So there’s a lot happening for people who are living there. I think the east coast corridor where the distance is smaller, that also adds to it because we have people coming in from different cities. And when I say the DC scene I mean the DC metro area nearby; so Baltimore is another major east coast city which is about thirty miles away from DC and the two scenes have a mutually beneficial relationship. People from both of them go to each other’s events. I think one thing that makes the DC area scene that active is that it has a big population pool. It has people who began to set it up years ago so it has had time to mature. There are various other things about it like a greater emphasis on safety and hygiene.
Are there some particular leaders or pioneers in the DC area that have helped push it to become such a great area for the kink scene?
I’m sure there are in general. I appreciate all the people who help make different scenes what they are. I think many cities that have a terrific scene, it usually comes down to a few people who are stepping up and making that effort and channeling everybody’s energies together. There are probably lots of people who deserve credit for this in DC but the first name that comes to mind is Jack McGeorge. He was the founder or one of the founders of Black Rose an organization that’s been around in DC for a while. It has a strong education focus, it used to host a large annual event and I think that some of the DC area groups formed as the DC scene grew and splintered, and some came originally from Black Rose.
How’s the community’s relationship with local government and law enforcement and I suppose combined DC areas?
I have not come across any incidents where there has been any trouble with law enforcement. I do know of one case where we host a happy hour/play party. It’s a happy hour where some play can occur because we pretty much have the entire space and then there are also play parties that happen there. Because that place is usually a bar there were some question of what’s ok what’s not and so the guy who runs that happy hour went to talk to the authorities and got a letter from them that said “hey this is ok” so if anything does happen or an inspector does come he’s got it laminated and he can pull it out. That makes me think the environment there is somewhat open and accepting to it.
There is some concern by participants in that area because there are different types of government security clearances and people to whom they apply are generally more cautious. There was some incident in the past which began to attract the press’s attention and there were some people who were worried about it. A pro domme said in an interview that her clients included people who rubbed elbows with Obama and people were worried that the press would start poking into kink events. I was somewhat new to the DC community at the time so I thought maybe they were overreacting. But sure enough as we were talking about the press at a happy hour; we sort of had a group discussion hey what does this mean for us. So this one guy is talking and we start talking about reporters and this one women gets up, hands him her card and walks out. Turns out she was a reporter. So it looks like they didn’t overreact, maybe I underestimated it a bit. That’s the one thing I can say in that regard, that incident happened but I have not come across any incidents with law enforcement.
That’s great! It seems like certain areas around the country have different issues they face so its good to hear that area is not one of them. I understand you had a pretty conservative upbringing, how did you find your way to BDSM?
I did have a conservative upbringing. I had been aware of my interests since early childhood. I remember liking the Cinderella story. I felt bad for Cinderella but I was kind of intrigued by her cruel stepmother and sisters who beat her and treated her like a servant. Those are my early signs of interest and you can imagine is makes some really interesting childhood games. Captured spy. My writing teachers probably scratched their heads a little but after reading my stories because there were always violent female characters in them. Then when I was older, I had this sense that there were others like me. I wasn’t sure of it but when I was about eleven, my brother, he’s a couple years older than me somehow found some porn magazines and you know how brothers are. He shared them with me. One of them had this special edition on BDSM and it blew my mind. It had everything, a glossary so that’s how I learned what the word fetish meant. It had stories, some hardcore stories, photos, personal ads, so I knew, yes, there are other people like me who are trying to find each other. I’m not a big consumer of porn but that made me interested in porn because I discovered I could find bits about BDSM in it. Eventually through that, through porn I found my way to the internet and eventually learned that there were things happening in my city. I was in Austin at the time and I thought I’d have to go to New York city for something like this. So I was delighted to learn that there was a munch just a few blocks from where I lived. Eventually made my way to a fetish night. It was my very first public event and it’s been great since.
Fantastic. I’ve found that BDSM can be thriving in the most unexpected places. You’ve coordinated and directed music for a number of fetish events, I’m interested to hear your thoughts about how the choice of music can influence a BDSM event or even a scene.
It started with, in the beginning I think my choices were affected by what music I had but in general my approach towards scene music is that I think a dark and sensual sound are appropriate for it. So we would pick things for shows based on the energy they had like if it was a scene where the intensity was increasing, or some type of torture I had a couple of go to songs that had that dark feeling to them. I’d go with a song that had a nice slow sexy sound to it for a scene that was more sensual. Those were some of the influences, and genres that I usually pick from are world fusion and what you might consider gothic industrial. Those are the things I go for the most.
Clearly you’re educated on a number of different topics and I found a few that you teach. Masochism is one you’re pretty well versed in. How would you describe the different types of masochists?
The type of masochism that we most commonly think of in the BDSM community is physical masochism where somebody enjoys physical pain. Then there is a parallel to that which is emotional masochism which somebody likes the parallel element of pain which is emotional. We call it emotional SM. That’s perhaps a loaded term for some people but I think that if we can understand why people like to play with physical pain we can understand why people like to play with emotional pain. Its less intuitive, more edgy, risky but people play with emotional SM, there’s nothing wrong with it, they’re not damaged. Somebody could perhaps be damaged who also plays with emotional SM but it’s not an equivalence. So we’ve got physical SM, we’ve got emotional SM, and then there’s a third type called status masochism. And by status masochism I mean somebody who gets gratification from taking a lesser or inferior status. So forms of that might be where somebody likes to be treated as less than human or like an object and just like in physical masochism you have different degrees of intensity from a bunny flogger to a single tail you can have different degrees of intensity in status masochism.
So, physical masochism, gratification from physical discomfort, emotional masochism, gratification from emotional discomfort, status masochism, gratification from taking a lesser status. Then that’s one dimension. Another dimension that is central to this I call masochist centric masochism. To give an example, let’s start with physical masochism. Somebody who likes to be single tailed because the endorphin rush, chemical flight-that’s what I’m calling a masochist-centric masochism–masochist-centric physical masochism to be complete. Now imagine somebody else who enjoys being single tailed or flogged not because they’re getting the endorphin rush but they’re getting off on the idea that the sadist wants to inflict this. That’s what I call sadist centric physical masochism. Some people say oh that’s like taking pain as a service? Not quite, somebody who’s into sadist centric physical masochism is getting off on the idea. You can imagine somebody that’s not into kink agreeing to accept some kind of pain to please their partner who’s a sadist, that’s taking pain as a service. Sadist centric masochism is getting aroused by the idea that the sadist wants to do this. So the three categories I’ve described, each of them has a masochist centric and sadist centric component so in total there are six types and they’re not mutually exclusive. The way that I think of it is if you imagine that we can rank each of those types of masochism from one to ten, that creates the overall masochistic profile for a masochist, it tells which types of masochism appeal to them.
Alright, so humiliation play for example might be one form of emotional masochism?
When we talk about that we need to talk about two broad types of humiliation, one is about emotional SM and that draws upon emotional masochism. Then the other element for humiliation play is to lower somebody, it is to say hey you’re beneath me or perhaps somebody wants to be shown that and that draws upon status masochism. So humiliation play can be to play with emotional masochism or status masochism. Or both.
And what is it about those types of play that can be so erotic?
I think that with status masochism the different reasons why people are drawn to this will vary across people. I think one powerful motivation is that its sexually arousing for people but its not just that. I think that we have different types of gratifications that add together to create to our response to something and so when we’re doing any kind of BDSM play, D/s play, humiliation play, it can be causing a sexual response, it can be having what you might call a spiritual response and by that I mean where somebody gets into an altered headspace that could be they feel perhaps a calm, its like they’re buzzed and I think that-and I lump those experiences with altered headspace into a spiritual experience. I think different reasons people enjoy this is they’re having different types of gratification coming together that are sexual, that are spiritual, social as in a way of connecting with somebody, feeling intimate. The overall result is they feel good, why they’re feeling good will vary across individuals. All those little things that make them feel good add together.
For any given person who really enjoys humiliation presumably there are still some aspects of humiliation that might be a bad experience for them. Have you encountered that yourself?
Absolutely, so I spoke briefly about two broad types of humiliation play, one of whom draws upon status masochism. I called that D/s humiliation, it’s more about being dominant and submissive rather than causing emotional pain. Another I can call SM humiliation which draws upon emotional SM. That is about causing emotional pain. So my experience lies more towards D/s humiliation and I think that in general more people are comfortable with D/s than SM and the lines that get crossed more commonly occur within the realms of SM humiliation. With D/s humiliation it’s a bit subjective about what’s humiliating and what’s not. I could go through an experience where somebody uses me as furniture. I’m not going to feel any emotional discomfort, I’m going to process that entirely as a mutual consensual expression of dominance and submission. Somebody else might feel that emotional burn doing the same thing feeling what you might associate with humiliation in the everyday world.
Lets talk about coming out about BDSM to people. How would you advise, if somebody was interested in taking that step to tell their friends or family or even their coworkers about it, what would you recommend as a way to do that?
I think that it depends a little bit on the person. Some conversations might be more sensitive than others so for instance telling a parent or a spouse might be more sensitive than perhaps telling a friend where there’s less consequence if the conversation doesn’t go well. If it is a sensitive conversation then other things matter. You want to be more careful about the timing and that they’re not distracted, that they’re in a good state of mind. Pick the right time and place. If it is an example of coming out to family and if you think you’ve got somebody in your family who would be open to it, a one on one conversation with them first would be better because now you’d have an ally versus a bunch of people.
If somebody does respond negatively, this ally can intervene perhaps on your behalf. Then there is conveying the human aspect of it. Saying to someone that the same way you feel happy when somebody loves you, or when somebody holds your hand…that’s how I feel when I do these things. So I want you to know I’m happy. I’m doing this because I’m happy. It’s not crazy, that’s where you can cite studies. It’s not very well understood or widely known but it is one aspect of human sexuality and there are lot of everyday, fully functional people that do this so there’s nothing wrong with it. There’s this great study that came out of Australia and you’ve probably seen all of these University of Sydney warnings that might be related to this study. But basically that study is good for the BDSM community because its conclusion is that people who are into BDSM are no more likely to have suffered abuse or commit abuse, that they are functional people. There’s no greater incidence of dysfunction within the BDSM community.
Would you say in recent years as awareness of BDSM has increased its become easier for people to come out about their kinks?
Absolutely. I like seeing BDSM in films and mainstream stories and videos and celebrities doing it because I think that helps the overall cause. I think there are two things that help; I think of it almost as a vaccination. When somebody is exposed to an idea perhaps from a movie it makes them better prepared for them to encounter a larger dose of it, like if a partner tells them “hey I’m into this” they’ve had that exposure. So I think that the general public being exposed to little doses of this makes it easier for us. And Fifty Shades of Gray gets a lot of criticism for the way it’s written and for the way the dynamic is. It’s not based on a consensual dynamic. It’s a story. Those points may very well be valid. I think still it has helped BDSM in the sense that its furthered that exposure. Michelle Obama was reading the book! So I think it’s also created a bit of an openness. Overall I think it’s helped the BDSM image.
Are you aware of cases where people have been “outted” non-voluntarily by others around them to their friends or family?
Yes, I’ve come across several cases of this happening, hearing people’s account of this happening and the first one that comes to mind is that there is a guy named Sean Gray. He wrote a journal entry about it so this information is openly available. He was at this event called Exxxotica in Dallas which is a general adult sexuality event, a porn event. He is a very accomplished rigger and he was doing rope demos and somebody came and asked hey can I take your photo and he said he preferred not to be photographed. The guy took the photo anyway and it got published in one of the Dallas publications. Shortly after that he got let go from work. But that’s one example. Certainly people he didn’t intend for this information to reach found out about it.
So last subject, one of the topics you talk about is if a partner asks somebody to dominate them, they express that they are submissive and perhaps that person hasn’t encountered that before, what should they do and where do they start?
We can talk about that at two levels, when I do that as a class, I take some of the models for submission and explain it–like the different types of masochism. Telling them that there are different ways people do this. There’s no one way. So if you’re going to be taking on a dominant role, one important step is to figure out how you’re partner is wired and not to go by the stereotype and make assumptions. Uncover, dig deep, have those talks to figure out your partner. Then the other is that if somebody is doing this for their partner they have to find a way to make it fun for themselves otherwise there can be resentment and burn-out that serves neither person. Talking to their partner, perhaps other people. If somebody is new I would encourage them to join some discussion forums where they can asks questions. Those types of discussions whether with your partner or others can also help you understand why this type of play is important to the other person and shift some paradigms.
Generally hitting somebody we may regard as a hostile, unfriendly act so one point to try to convey to people is it’s not the act but the context around it that matters. The example I usually give is if you imagine a man goes and smacks this other man on the head usually that’s going to lead to violence but if I tell you the context is a football field and they’re wearing the same jersey and the guy that hit the other guy was congratulating him for making a big play then the context is now different. It’s a positive act. So similarly the context, the intention is one of good will. So what might otherwise be a hostile act may become a positive act.
Many people in the BDSM community have stories of trying to help get a vanilla partner interested in kink and many of those are ultimately unsuccessful, are you aware of cases where kinky people have been successful at getting an otherwise vanilla person interested in their kink?
You have many cases. And I think that there are different reasons for that. One is that I think an interest in BDSM also falls on a continuum. There are some people that must have it. Some people are take it or leave it. If somebody has a partner who is a take it or leave it type then that is one way it can work. Earlier I talked about how we have different types of gratification: sexual, spiritual, social gratification. So engaging in BDSM can be gratifying for someone. Say we have someone who is not wired for BDSM but doing things we do in BDSM can be gratifying for them in a social or spiritual sense. It’s intimate so they could be accustomed or begin to enjoy it for these reasons. And another way is, it kind of goes along the question of the continuum, it’s related to that. The percent of the population that’s part of organized kink is small. So when I looked at these numbers about two years ago it was less than half of one percent of the US population which was on Fetlife and I think the percent of the population that’s into kink, there are different studies that give different numbers and I think it’s also affected by what is considered the criteria for someone who is into kink. So something like scratching or biting, I think the numbers could be up to 50% but if you look at someone who responds to books like Story of O, that percentage from one study I recall is about 12% in women and 20% in men. So the point is there are a lot more people out in the world who are into this than those who come to the organized kink community. So somebody approaching a seemingly vanilla partner saying “hey what do you think about this,” does have some room for success based on these two points I’ve made. One they might be into it but haven’t actively explored it or they might like it for non sexual reasons. It can happen but still that’s one in five if you go with the 20% so your odds of that happening is not great. Greater odds are four out of five that they are not into BDSM.
Sea has attended events across BDSM, Leather, and Fetish communities for 16 years. He presents at BDSM events nationally with an emphasis on communication and psychology, especially submissives’ psychology.
He serves on Advisory Board for weekend conventions DomCon Los Angeles and DomCon Atlanta. His projects include writing a BDSM column for website fearlesspress.com, speaking at college human sexuality class, visiting vanilla forums to take a tactful stand for BDSM, and providing information to those seeking out BDSM. His past contributions include chairing the Austin chapter of TNG BDSM group for four years. You can learn more about Sea here.