“I am Black, kinky and seriously considering leaving The Life.”
I think about these words now from where I’ve been commanded to be on my knees, hands on my thighs, completely still. I am rarely ever still. There is always one more thing to do, another task I start to think of while pretending to relax. My feelings of gratitude to this man for seeing this, for taking the time to help me conquer my racing brain, give way to thoughts of how I thought I could live without this.
I wrote those words with foolish assuredness and a gnawing pain I didn’t want to acknowledge. I wrote them thinking of my near-girlfriend asking me softly, “I love you… why do you want me to hurt you?”
The shame I felt then could overtake me now in this moment with him. She was asking the question that haunted me since I became cognizant of all the ways I was different: What is wrong with me?
Raised by strict, traditional parents in a community of equally traditional immigrants, my sexuality never looked like anyone’s I knew. I have been pansexual as long as I have been able to understand “like” and “kinky” — and long before I knew there were words for it. But I am Black and a woman — and the world cannot seem to process these identities next to what I am and what I want sexually.
And yet here I am, on my knees learning to be still, at his command, finally open and vulnerable enough with someone and myself to admit that this isn’t just a passing interest in “roughness.”
No, this is how my sexuality works and manifests: I am what is known in the BDSM community as a “switch” – someone who can be either submissive or dominant, though I much prefer to be led. I have accepted it. Finding someone else who does has been harder, and it is constantly testing what I embrace in myself.
When I wrote those words, I knew it wasn’t BDSM that was the problem. The ridiculous expectations and perceptions of Black female sexuality and BDSM itself are the issues. The problem is in how we are so often seen by everyone as aggressive and domineering, and how racist images of us as sassy, fast-talking nannies who take no direction or lip have overshadowed who we are as people, even when we scream it.
The problem is also in how Black men demand I respect myself enough to want a sexuality they approve of, and in how white men refuse to see me as who I say I am. Like so many Black women subs, I was constantly approached by white men in “The Life” who wanted to be submissive for me, though I’d made it clear I wanted a Dom/domme. It even happened on dating sites where I chose not to disclose an interest in BDSM. On OKCupid, for example, I was approached once a day with white men asking for a “strong, Black woman” to dominate them or an “angry Black goddess” to humiliate them.
Who I actually am and what I actually want doesn’t factor into how they have been told Black women are, which is the problem. Often, when dating Black men I found my sexuality snatched away from me. I was smart, college educated. Surely I was respectable enough to be afraid of my body and desires. After confessing my desire for BDSM to another black male partner and seeing the respect die in his eyes, I realized maybe men wouldn’t know how to respect me as a person if I let them dominate me.
I thought I would have to learn to leave kink behind, that I could only find someone to love me without the kink — or love the kink without me — but not both.
Still, they were better than the Dom/dommes and couples who wanted to humiliate me as a way of engaging in racist fantasies of violating and harming Black women, without concern for my/our boundaries or safety. Navigating kink and seeing only white women lovingly collared while confronted with images of Black submissives of all genders being brutalized left me afraid the kind of D/s relationship I wanted was just not available to me.
Feeling out of place in kink, I have tried to suppress who I am— but dating “vanilla” left me only frustrated or ashamed.
In my brief experiences as a sub, I have never felt more deliciously myself. I was empowered while on my knees. When I lamented about my situation over and over again, I heard the same thing from other Black women — they all shared the same feeling of being unacceptable outside of kink, yet unrecognized in The Life.
But this is who we are.
And this is me taking a chance on being truly fulfilled. I am choosing to be with someone who challenges me to be my best self and to live authentically, even if it means disturbing established notions of Black sexuality.
Who knows if queer, kinky little Black girls get their happy endings? If any girl ever does, really. In the interim, I am just learning to kneel and be still, to live honestly, and to rise from the bed I share, empowered and affirmed.
I am Black, kink, and both unable and unwilling to leave “The Life”.
A version of this story was originally published January 2017.
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