by Jacqueline Chase
Rape fantasy. Bondage. Doms and Subs. BDSM. If you associate yourself with these words in the wrong crowd, people will think you’re a freak, that you have no limits. They’ll think you’re a rapist or that you want to be raped. So let me clear this up right now:
As a woman who’s into BDSM, do I want to be raped for real? No.
Of course not.
One of the things that makes BDSM exciting is the element of trust in the danger. You trust this person enough to show them the deepest, darkest, dirtiest side of you. The fact that you’re in this position means you talked about being tied up or with a knife to your throat. One of the biggest differences between BDSM and real sexual violence is the choice in one’s partner. And once you do choose that partner, we have… The Conversation. Establishing a game plan and each other’s do’s and don’ts. This prologue usually ends by picking the safety word. And here’s a little tip: if you never picked a safety word, then the safety word is “no.”
Words are powerful, and it is imperative that they are understood and defined properly. If words didn’t demand clarity, then the tree of knowledge would be more like a stump. We would be using such basic exchanges as “after-baby-sadness” instead of “post-partum depression,” “big storm” instead of “hurricane.” Before you form an opinion and let the world know about it, it’s important to understand the words and subjects you’re discussing. “Rape fetish” does not mean “rape.” “Dom” does not mean “rapist.” “Sub” does not mean “down for anything.” And “insert safety word here” and “no” do not mean “keep trying and see what happens who knows you might end up liking it try it just try it come on just try it you might change your mind just try it.”
No means no. Stop. Don’t. Seems simple, I know. And yet I’m sadly never surprised when this concept confuses people. “You want to be dominated, but at the same time you don’t…” It’s an explanation I’ve had to give many times before and, by God, I’ve got a feeling that I’ll give it again. Thinking that a girl who’s into bondage wants to be raped is like thinking that a girl in a schoolgirl uniform is going to take the SAT in front of you. It’s important to differentiate between the role and the reality. A little over a year ago, I learned just how important that differentiation is.
I met a guy, we hit it off, and we started seeing each other. We were about three weeks in and I had hinted that I was into some bondage, but he was still a new partner and was beginning to get on my nerves, so I wasn’t sure how long he was going to last. I kept my darkest fetishes under wraps…for the time being. One night, we had a few good rounds of “normal” sex and I decided that I was ready for bed. Now, here’s one of the biggest rules of bondage play and sex in general: when the play is over, you need to check in with your partner before you start playing again. After the third or fourth round, I was just about done. I had a feeling he would want another round and I didn’t want to encourage him, so I gave him no body language. Zero. I looked straight at the ceiling and gave absolutely no indication that I was interested in another round, soft or rough. So I was surprised and annoyed when he started to crawl over and begin touching me, stroking me, climbing on top of me, sticking his fingers in me. I told him, “no.” We had not discussed a safety word, which means it’s “no.” That should have been the end of the evening. It was not.
He wasn’t stopping. In fact, he was getting closer and going deeper in me. I squinted, squeezed and distorted all of the muscles in my face, trying my damnedest to make it visibly clear that I was uncomfortable and not into it. I then spoke up again, saying “I don’t really…No, I don’t want…” All of a sudden, my brain began to short-circuit because I looked into his eyes and realized that it wasn’t working. Saying “no” wasn’t working. Everything I had been taught when it came to sociological morals, everything I had been told regarding the dichotomy of right and wrong dictated that “no” means “no.” I couldn’t understand what was happening. I told him I didn’t want to have sex…and yet it seemed that I was about to have sex. But there wasn’t a weapon. There was no gag. Nothing tying me down. I wasn’t drugged. He didn’t threaten me.
The sad thing is, I don’t think this guy even realized that he was doing anything wrong. I think he thought he was just having sex. He didn’t see the problem in skipping a “no” or two because it’s so intrinsic in our culture. For generations, we’ve heard stories of the boy who finally won the girl of his dreams by being persistent with her until she finally said “yes.” We’ve heard far too many stories of giving “boys being boys” a pass. Look at Brock Turner. Look at our president.
I think there are a lot of rapists out there who don’t even know that they’re rapists. And at that moment, even I had trouble registering what he was or what was happening. I was more confused by my reaction than anything else. I didn’t want it, but I didn’t fight. I froze. I fell into a state of shock, and then it happened so fast…so I just laid there. I said “no,” but I just laid there. I thought to myself, “Okay, you can make this awkward and traumatic by struggling, you can force yourself to try and enjoy it or you can just look away and go somewhere else in your head and it’ll be over before you know it.”
The generic image of rape is a man in a mask with a gun to the girl’s head. A fight. A struggle. Something to make it obvious that it wasn’t consensual. But since there was no violence that night…plus, I had been having consensual sex with him for weeks…I couldn’t understand what it was. And I couldn’t understand why I was suddenly so repelled by him. And he couldn’t either. He thought I was running away from a fear of commitment every time I dumped him…all three times that I dumped him. The last time, he had stalked me at work and followed me to the subway station. Finally he walked away when he realized that I never wanted to see him again.
I now recognize that my instincts were, understandably, getting bad vibes from him since the beginning. I guess when I started dating him, I tried to look past it, thinking that I was just being cynical, that his clinginess annoyed me. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. And those vibes didn’t make sense until months later, when I found the word that suited the action.
A few months later, I was talking about him to a friend, telling her a story of how one night—a different night—he physically wouldn’t let me leave his apartment. He kept pulling me back towards the bed (and NOT in a cute way). He wasn’t letting me put on my clothes or grab my things to go home. My friend, bug-eyed, asked me if I had called the police. And it was only at that moment that I began to realize how unusual, how troubling that story must have sounded to her and how disconcerting his frighteningly clingy behavior had been to me. His obsessiveness. His refusal to believe that I wasn’t into him. After talking about it with her, I began to think about the night….and what those words and actions really meant.
I wasn’t even throwing the “r” word around to describe it just yet. I didn’t know what it was or what to call it. All I knew was that it started bothering me. The fact that I hadn’t been given the choice to do (or, rather, not do) what I wanted with my own body. And the fact that I couldn’t define it frustrated me even more. Since there was no violence or a weapon, I felt like calling it “rape” would be an insult to women who had survived violent attacks. It’s cliché to say that victims blame themselves, but it’s also profoundly true. I felt stupid for not fighting back or speaking up more. I thought maybe my “no’s” weren’t clear enough or loud enough, that it wasn’t his fault because maybe he didn’t hear me, maybe he didn’t know or realize that I didn’t want it. Maybe, if he had heard me, he figured I had changed my mind because I didn’t fight him. Maybe I had been too physical with him before that night. I thought it was my fault because I had slept with him on the first date, thus giving him the green light to think that I was down for anything anytime. I even thought that maybe he had picked up on the depths of my BDSM fetishes and went with what he thought I wanted. I didn’t want to call it what it was. Find another word. Any word. I wasn’t raped. But I said “no.” But I wasn’t raped… But I said “no.”
I understand things by talking about them. So I realized that if I was ever going to get some answers for myself, I needed unbiased opinions from outside of my own head. I started going to a select few of my close, trusted friends and told them about what had happened to me, always ending it with my dilemma over the definition. But despite my misgivings, every single one of them said the same thing: “that sounds like rape to me.”
There’s still one thing that gives me hope: my sexual identity remains intact. Don’t forget how this article started. Remember? This did, indeed, start out as a defense article for BDSM. I know it sounds fucked up for me to be talking about my rape fantasies while, at the same time, telling my rape story, but I think it’s important to put the two next to each other so we can understand the difference between role and reality.
My BDSM kinks make me who I am. It’s who I was before the rape and if that had changed after the rape, that would’ve meant that he had changed me. That he had taken something away from me. But he didn’t. He did, however, trigger me months later, right when I was beginning to understand what really happened that night. He called me out of the blue after months of no contact, and then texted me his baffled disgust when I hung up. I blocked him immediately and began to emotionally spiral out of control. It wasn’t long before I started dipping into self-destructive behaviors that I thought I had shaken out of my system. I finally decided to shed myself of it once and for all in January 2017, almost a year later.
Another way I process things is though art and performance. Enter my friend Sage Sovereign, a fire priestess of the Brooklyn underworld. She performs regularly with her Ignite Fire & Variety Show at BIZARRE Bushwick, where I used to bartend. She was one of the many beautiful souls of the nightlife freak family that welcomed me with open arms. She had been giving me fire eating lessons and trying to convince me to perform with them for months. Desperate to rid myself of everything that had happened in 2016, I told her I needed a cleanse. I wanted to somehow incorporate shaving off my nearly waist-long hair in my first act with her. She loved the idea and decided to add an extra element from the BDSM world: a rope artist who would tie me up and suspend me from the ceiling. We had arranged to meet at brunch where I would meet the rope artist, Ian Karmin. However, as soon as Ian walked in, I began to freak out because he looked exactly like the guy who raped me. Sage was trying to talk to me about the act, but I couldn’t pay attention. Obviously, it wasn’t him, but it was enough of a trigger to convince me that it was. I interrupted Sage and demanded to know his name. My mind was put a little more at ease when, of course, Ian was a different person.
Suspension and ropes create a particularly intimate experience, even on the BDSM scale, because it’s one of the most vulnerable, exposed and helpless positions you can be in. Not to mention the potential for head rush and claustrophobia-related panic attacks. So it’s important the rope artist knows not only the (literal) ropes, but also knows to make sure you’re still okay. That you’re not too deep in your head and freaking yourself out. Let’s just say I lucked the fuck out on all counts. As soon as Sage introduced us, Ian shooed her away to give me the speech in which he forewarned me about the intimacy of this experience, how it was important that we established the meaning of the word “consent.” Ironic, right? We did an exercise where we each took turns asking the other if we could kiss them and the other would respond with a firm “no.” It may seem dorky, but it was very necessary, especially in that moment for me. I have never been sent from tense to relaxed so quickly by a stranger in my life. At that moment, I decided that I trusted him enough to explain what had happened to me. I explained to him and Sage why I was doing this act and why I had such a strange reaction when he walked into the room. He sweetly apologized on my rapist’s behalf and extended an offer to shut down the act if I was too uncomfortable, saying that emotions would play tricks on me during the suspension and that he wasn’t sure if it was going to help me. I immediately realized that this was a blessing. It would, in fact, help me face this more than I’d even imagined. It would force me to deal with it head-on, naked and tied up in a room full of friends and strangers.
The night of the performance was one of the most liberating and meditative moments of my life. Everything seemed to melt away, including and especially all concept of time. The only constant and my greatest comfort was the rope artist’s dedication to maintaining a physical connection with me, making sure that I was okay and establishing that I had the power to tap out any time I wanted. But I didn’t. Instead I took this person who looked exactly like my rapist, grabbed him by the hands, squeezed them for support and wouldn’t let go until the memories of 2016 were finished shedding their skins, all in silence except for Sage’s monologue and the buzzing of the razor. By exposing myself and making myself vulnerable, I felt like I was actually regaining control of my body. While it may have seemed like I had no control being strung up from the ceiling, in reality I was the puppeteer who made that act happen in the first place. I wasn’t shaving my head upside-down and naked because someone talked me into it. It happened because I wanted it to happen.
I know that one night and one act doesn’t suddenly make everything okay for me. I know that this will be a journey and I know that this means I have some new psychological bullshit to add to my laundry list. Here you go, little guy. I think there’s some room for you on the dysfunction shelf in between “daddy issues” and “mental illness” so let’s just squeeze you right in there. There you go, I’ll see you again when I have money for therapy. In the meantime, I find comfort in the fact that, at the very least, the strength that I needed for the performance gave me the strength to tell my mother about what happened. After a year of trying to figure out how to have that conversation, I called her from the Women’s March in DC just a few days after the show. Also, I have since learned how to trust people with my body again. I have relearned how to trust someone enough to let them tie me up and take me down. Because the difference between BDSM and real sexual violence is this: in BDSM, you can always tap out and you’re still always in control. Even if you’re hogtied and upside down. And that’s just one of the reasons why so many people love it. You’re both in control and letting go at the same time. There’s an element of danger but there’s also a safety word. You’re trapped but you’re free.